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Bertram Edward Sargeaunt

Epithet: Government secretary and treasurer, 1910-1943 (1877-1978)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: From ‘New Manx Worthies’ (2006):

After leaving King's College in 1899, Bertram Edward Sargeaunt was appointed assistant secretary of the Royal United Service Institution and assistant curator of the Royal United Service Museum. He served as an officer in one of the volunteer battalions of the King's Royal Rifles. In 1908, when the Territorial Army was created, he was one of the first officers to be appointed.

In July 1910, the year of his marriage, he was appointed by the British Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, to be Government Secretary and Treasurer of the Isle of Man. He also served as Registrar-General, Clerk of the Legislative Council and a member of the Government Property Trustees. A tall, thin man with a somewhat austere manner, he lived with his wife and daughter at Eaglehurst, Belmont Hill in Douglas. He retired in December 1943 after working under the Governorships of Lord Raglan, Major-General Sir William Fry, Sir Claude Hill, Sir Montagu Butler and Vice-Admiral the Earl Granville.

Sargeaunt entered office in the Manx government for the latter part of the Governorship of Lord Raglan (1902-1919). Raglan was a convivial man, but a firm imperialist and Conservative who steadfastly resisted change at a time when a reforming Liberal government was for most of the time in power in Britain - a recipe for trouble. In 1911 there was a disagreement between the Keys and the Governor over financial sanctions and the Keys 'went on strike'. The news of this constitutional crisis prompted Churchill to appoint a Committee of Enquiry, under the chairmanship of Lord MacDonnell, to look into the grievances. Sargeaunt assisted the committee to produce the important Report of the Departmental Committee on the Constitution, etc., of the Isle of Man, recommending reform. On the whole, the Home Office was sympathetic to reform, but Lord Raglan's obstinacy and World War I combined to create delay.

During the war Bertram Sargeaunt was responsible for administering detention camps (the converted Cunningham's Holiday Camp in Douglas and Knockaloe Moar Farm in Patrick) for 26,000 internees - the Island's resident population was only 52,000. The most unfortunate incident during this time was a fatal riot at the Douglas Camp in 1914, during which six German prisoners were shot dead. Sargeaunt was rewarded for his services by being appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1918. When King George V and Queen Mary visited the Island in 1920 he was made a Member of the Victorian Order.

Directly after World War I there continued a growing feeling in the Island for the need for greater constitutional, financial and social reforms. A more sympathetic Major-General William Fry took up the position of Governor in 1919, and the Isle of Man Constitution Amendment Act (1919), encompassing the pre-war proposals, had a smooth passage in Tynwald. The British authorities had already introduced their own reforms and were unlikely to object in principle to the Island following suit. The successful state of the Island's finances under Sargeaunt's direction enabled the funding of social reforms, though the recessions of the 1920s and 1930s somewhat limited these aspirations. Sargeaunt chaired an emergency committee which successfully dealt with a two-day General Strike in June 1935.

At the beginning of World War II, despite inevitable problems, the Manx Exchequer under Sargeaunt's supervision showed a record surplus of £100,000 (1939-40 financial year). During the early years of the war, Sargeaunt served on the Island's War Cabinet. His extra duties included heading an Isle of Man government internment camp division which administered camps for 16,000 internees who were housed in empty boarding houses and hotels throughout the Island. The Island was also extensively used for military training.

The retirement of Sir Montagu Butler as Governor in 1937 would have coincided with Bertram Sargeaunt's own retirement at the age of 60. It was considered undesirable for the two to go at the same time, so Sargeaunt's service was extended for a year. Subsequent extensions, until he finally retired in 1943, were approved by the Home Office without any consultation with the House of Keys. This led to protests both in the Keys and the Island Press. Governor Granville, in correspondence with the Home Office on the matter, commented that one of the principal
objectors in the Keys 'is quite gaga. He is fond of libelling myself, Sargeaunt and Government Office in general. He is quite a
pleasant amusing old man to meet and no one takes him seriously'.

The government of the Island at the time of Sargeaunt's appointment in 1910 consisted of the Governor, in whom legislative, judicial and executive power had been largely concentrated, save only for the limited functions of a number of statutory Tynwald boards. But even the Governor's powers were subject to the direction of the Home Office on matters of policy and the powerful Treasury on matters of finance. Any allusions to Manx self-government or home rule during this period are misleading.

During Sargeaunt's time in office there was a gradual relaxation of the imperialistic British attitude, helped by the appointment of more liberally-minded Governors. The Island sought increased self-government, particularly on internal affairs, though the United Kingdom Treasury still maintained formal control over the Island's revenue. Sargeaunt headed the Island's administration throughout this time of change - including the years of World Wars I and II. He was a man of great influence in Manx affairs. However it needs to be remembered that, along with the Lieutenant Governor and the other Crown appointees, he was duty bound to represent Britain's interests when overseeing the 'good government' of the Isle of Man.

Outside his professional life Sargeaunt was involved in a variety of pursuits. He was a Church Commissioner for the Isle of Man from 1943 to 1953 and a member of the Council of the Church Union in London. A keen amateur musician, he represented the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music in the Island, and was the first president of the Isle of Man Music Society. He was a trustee of the Manx Museum (1922-1953), the first editor of the Journal of the Manx Museum , and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians. He was chairman of the Isle of Man branch of the St John Ambulance Brigade and was awarded the Insignia of an Officer of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in 1936. He was also involved in the Isle of Man Scout Council. He was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Geophysical Society in 1976, having been a Fellow since 1899.

Sargeaunt's published works included: Weapons, The Royal Monmouthshire Militia, The Isle of Man and the Great War, The Royal Manx Fencibles, and A Military History of the Isle of Man.

When Bertram Sargeaunt celebrated his 100th birthday on 4th December 1977 Governor Sir John Paul and the members of Tynwald sent him a telegram of congratulations. On his death two months later, the following telegram was sent to his daughter:

On behalf of the legislature and people
of the Isle of Man, may I express our
gratitude for the faithful service which
your father gave to the Island for so
many years and extend our sympathy to
you and your family on his death.

Sir John Paul, Lieutenant Governor.

Biography written by Kit Gawne.

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.417-9.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Male

Date of birth: 4 December 1877

Date of death: 2 February 1978

Name Variant: Sargeaunt, B.E.


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