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Philip Wilby Caine

Epithet: Manx poet and antiquarian (1887-1956)

Record type: Biographies

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

The story is told in the Caine family of Philip, setting off to go to Port Erin one stormy night to report on the commissioners' monthly meeting. Important decisions had to be made and, anxious for newspaper coverage of their meeting, the commissioners held back the start of proceedings when at the appointed hour there was no sign of the Press.

Eventually they could wait no longer and had to get on with the business. After much argument and close votes on various propositions, the meeting was drawing to its conclusion just as a wet, windswept and very apologetic Philip arrived. The bad weather had caused his train to be delayed but he was determined to make it to Port Erin, he said, and here he was. 'What's gone on?' he enquired.

The commissioners went into a huddle and decided that as the reporter was now here, they would not disappoint him, but go through the motions, as it were, starting at the top of the agenda again - it would not take long, or so they thought. However, acrimonious discussion ensued, many of their earlier decisions were rescinded, in some cases the vote went the other way, and the result was entirely opposite to what had been previously decided.

Philip took it all down in the shorthand of which he was a master, sublimely unaware of the chaos his belated presence had caused, and his report duly appeared in print!

The other legend which circulated in the family involved the novelist Sir Thomas Henry Hall Caine - no relation - who, having been elected to the House of Keys, was more conspicuous in the House for his absence than his presence. In one of his leading articles Philip had seen fit to criticise Hall Caine's non-attendance and had in consequence incurred the great man's wrath. Philip remained unperturbed.

These stories may be apocryphal, but what is certain is that when Philip Caine died suddenly and unexpectedly one wintry evening in 1956, he had become the doyen of Manx journalism and the Island mourned the loss of a great Manxman. Paying tribute to him in the House of Keys, whose proceedings he had recorded for a number of years, the then Speaker Sir Joseph Davidson Qualtrough referred to Philip Caine as a most distinguished Manxman, a great scholar who had devoted his life to the Isle of Man.

Ramsey Bignall Moore, chairman of the Manx Museum and National Trust of which Philip had been a member, spoke of him as a man of high purpose and brilliant achievement, intensely patriotic and 'a profound influence in the work of informing the public and moulding public policy'.

Everyone who knew him spoke of his natural modesty and good nature. At his funeral in Rosemount Church, where he was a trustee and lifelong worshipper, the Revd Leonard Duchars referred to Philip Caine as one of the best-known men in the Island - a true friend, ever ready to share his vast knowledge of all things Manx, with 'an old world courtesy about him that showed the true gentleman'.

Philip Wilby Caine was the eldest child of James and Mary Caine. The couple had eight children, some of whom were born in Manchester where for a time James Caine had worked as a printer. Philip Caine, however, was born at his widowed maternal grandmother's house, Wilby, in Victoria Terrace, Douglas. Philip was named after his two grandfathers - Philip Caine, a jobbing tailor who had moved from Kirk Michael to Douglas - and Wilby after his mother Mary's father, Captain Wilby Rackham, who had been lost at sea.

James and Mary and their family had returned to live in the Island in the mid-1890s when James took up a position on the 'Manx Sun'. Then in 1900 he decided to devote himself full-time to the business which he and his sister Catherine had established in Douglas in 1885 and which still prospers as James Caine Ltd. Subsequently Philip would become chairman of that company, a position which he held until his death.

At the dawn of the 20th century, Philip had started at the 'Manx Sun', following in his father's footsteps as an apprentice compositor. In a very short while, however, and long before he was out of his teens, his enquiring mind had led him to journalism and he became a junior reporter, still with the 'Sun'. It was to be the beginning of a long and distinguished career.

Very soon he joined the 'Isle of Man Times', and then was chief reporter for the 'Isle of Man Examiner' - until 1928, when he rejoined the 'Times'. Altogether he was to serve the 'Times' for over 30 years. In that pre-television age, newspapers and their leading articles in particular carried a lot more weight than they do now. Apart from its weekly edition, the 'Isle of Man Times' was published daily throughout the first half of the 20th century, and Philip Caine's leading articles were eagerly awaited. As the Island's Attorney General, Ramsey Moore, said of him: `Mr Philip Caine has for many years been a powerful influence on the work of informing the public and, indeed, moulding public opinion'.

Philip Caine was married to Isabella Fayle from Regaby in the north of the Island. They lived at Westminster Terrace in Douglas and enjoyed cultural continental holidays together in the 1920s and '30s. His wife's premature death in 1947 was a great blow to Philip but he was sustained by his work, his church, and by the great support of his brothers and sisters and their families. With no children of his own, Philip always took a keen interest in all his nieces and nephews and their doings. A fount of knowledge, he was always ready to help them.

Apart from his work as a journalist, Philip was a Manx scholar and historian. As Sir Joseph Qualtrough said in the Keys 'Nobody knew more, or was better informed on Island life than was Philip Caine'. His output was prodigious: articles on all things Manx, plays (his two act The House of Keys, 1851, not in Manx dialect incidentally, is still occasionally performed), and especially poetry, with several volumes of verse to his credit.

'When I was young and comparatively merry, I worked off some of my mental energy in rhyme', so begins the preface to one of his collections. He was inspired in some cases by his study of Manx folk tunes, and fragments of the original verses which he translated. Philip was proficient in the Manx Gaelic as was his sister Nance, herself a poet and folk-dance enthusiast.

Philip also collaborated on several songs with his friend and contemporary, the composer Haydn Wood. 'The End of the World', his adaptation of an ancient Manx carnal, has enjoyed a revival in recent years. His interests were many and varied: he had served on the executive committee of the Manx Museum, was a president of Yn Çheshaght Ghailckagh, chairman of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, and a keen supporter of the World Manx Association.

A friendly man, he took a keen interest in the doings of various branches of the Caine family and could be an entertaining companion. He could tell fascinating tales of the pioneer days of Manx motor sport - he had reported on the very first TT!

Philip was a short man - 5ft. 5ins., of medium build and looking the typical newshound with his long fawn raincoat, his battered old trilby hat, his pebble-lensed glasses and the inevitable cigarette dangling from his lower lip - you never saw him without one.

Modest Philip Caine may have been, but to quote Ramsey Moore once more:

' ... he was indeed a most distinguished Manxman, who served his generation and the land he loved so well and has left an honoured memory of a life well spent'.

Philip Wilby Caine died on 23rd January 1956 and his body lies with his mother's in Braddan Cemetery.

Biography written by James A. Caine (nephew).

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.51-3.)

Culture Vannin


Nationality: Manx

Gender: Male

Date of birth: 9 January 1887

Date of death: 23 January 1956

Name Variant: Caine, Philip W.


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