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Philip Moore Callow Kermode

Epithet: Naturalist and pioneer of Manx archaeology (1855-1932)

Record type: Biographies

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

Philip Kermode, self-taught naturalist and archaeologist, laid the foundations for the study of both subjects in the Isle of Man and was at the centre of events which led to the establishment of the Manx Archaeological Survey, and the opening of the Manx Museum in 1922. He earned for himself and the Island an enviable international reputation.

Born in Ramsey, Philip was brought up in the family home at Claughbane. His father, who had fourteen children by three wives, was chaplain of St Paul's, Ramsey and later Vicar of Maughold and Rector of Ballaugh. William Kermode was a founder member of the original Manx Society in 1858, a member of Governor Henry Brougham Loch's Archaeological Commission appointed in 1876, and a founder member of the Isle of
Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society in 1879, becoming its president in 1884.

Philip's upbringing laid the foundations for his lifelong interests. A gravestone for a family pet erected in the garden at Claughbane and now in the Manx National Heritage collection hints at the nature of his family life. The slate shows an incised dog's head above which an inscription reads 'Rune' (the dog's name) in the runic alphabet.

Philip was articled to Sir Alured Dumbell and admitted to the Manx Bar in 1878. He became Clerk of the Northern Deemster and Sumner General. He was a town commissioner for Ramsey, for a time chairman, and Clerk to the Justices from 1888 to 1922. Despite this official 'career' in the legal profession for over 40 years, it was thanks to his family's financial resources and the lifelong support of his sister Jospehine Kermode ('Cushag') that he was able to pursue his natural history and archaeological research to a significant degree.

During his youth he had fallen under the spell of his uncle Robert Garner who was known as 'the Staffordshire Naturalist'. Kermode was impressed by the need for systematic recording as the basis for any biological study and also (he saw the North Staffordshire Naturalists' Field Club in action) by the contribution that could be made by a well-led and organised amateur body.

His first reported publication, in 1876, was entitled 'After Cormorants' in Science Gossip. He read 'A Plea for the study of Natural History' to the IoMNHAS in 1880, and in the same year published his first list of Manx birds in Jefferson's Almanack, including 142 species.

In 1881 he became a member of the British Association, taking part in its bird migration project between 1881 and 1883. In the same year he joined the British Ornithologists' Union, to whom he read a short paper.

In 1885 he published lists of mammals and butterflies, and in 1886 wrote An Introduction to the Study of Lichens.

In 1893 his 'Contributions to a vertebrate fauna of the Isle of Man' was published in The Zoologist. It contained descriptions of 76 fish, thirteen mammals and two reptiles. In 1897, as secretary of the British Association Committee, he excavated the Close y Garey great elk that is still on display at the Manx Museum. In 1899 he published a final list of birds numbering 175 species in Yn Liaor Manninagh. In 1916 he reviewed Manx mammals again, this time listing fifteen species.

Kermode's contribution to natural history was recognised in 1891, when Professor Kendal named a fossil shell from glacial drift in the north of the Island, Nassa Kermodei.

Despite this impressive record as a naturalist, Kermode is now better known as the founder of Manx archaeology. In 1893 his excavations at the Meayll Circle with Professor William Abbott Herdman provided the first evidence of early farming in the Isle of Man. In 1904, again with Professor Herdman, he published a list of Manks Antiquities, issuing a final version in 1930.

Kermode is probably best known for his untiring work on the Manx crosses. He spent a great proportion of his working life locating, identifying, deciphering, conserving, publishing and presenting them to his countrymen. The culmination of this activity was the publication in 1907 of Manx Crosses and the opening of the cross-house at Maughold.

In 1887 Kermode listed 82 crosses. In the 1907 volume there are detailed descriptions of 117. By the time of his death in 1932 he had increased that number to 161. Today, over 200 examples are known. Before his efforts many of the stone crosses had been neglected and often abused by being used for general building purposes. On one such episode of abuse Kermode commented:

"When will Manksmen realise that these monuments, so few in number, are of priceless value, that their beauty and their interest consists in the intricate details of their sculpturings, and that every year's exposure to the weather alone, apart from the risk of accidental or wanton injury, is depriving future generations of their rights in the only National Art monuments the Isle of Man has produced, and which should be our greater pride to repair."

In 1908 the Manx Archaeological Survey was established, with Kermode as its secretary and a brief to examine, parish by parish, the 'Keeills or Chapels, and Rhullicks or Christian Burial Grounds' of the Island. The survey was a massive task, involving as it did excavation and restoration as well as surveying over 100 sites. Between 1909 and 1915 four reports were issued and a fifth, edited by William Cubbo, in 1935. The sixth and final report for the Sheading of Rushen was compiled by John Ronald Bruce and published in 1969. In his foreword to the fifth report Archdeacon John Kewley commented:

"The Survey was something entirely new ... Mr Kermode, who had conceived it, was practically single-handed in carrying it into effect, and one cannot but wonder at the devotion, industry and skill with which he achieved so much without anything approaching adequate assistance in the way of skilled labour or financial support."

In 1926 Kermode identified and excavated the Neolithic tomb at Ballafayle, Maughold, and in 1927 excavated the important Viking ship burial at Knock y Doonee, Andreas. A few days before his death in 1932 he visited Fleure and Neely's excavation at Cashtal yn Ard.

Kermode's contribution to Manx natural history and archaeology went far beyond a narrowly personal interest; throughout his life he sought to convey his fascination with Manx natural history and archaeology to his countrymen.

In 1879 he was a founder member of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, its first secretary and editor for 25 years and president five times between 1886 and 1929, its golden jubilee year.

The culmination of his life's work was his appointment, in 1922, as the first director of the Manx Museum, with his friend William Cubbon as librarian and secretary. Kermode described the thinking behind the museum displays in a paper on 'The Manx Museum written in 1932, the year of his death, in a series in North Western Naturalist entitled 'Some Notable Museums'. Two days before his death he showed a final proof of the paper to William Cubbon. He had added a sentence at the end, which read: 'Visits from schools are encouraged' - a sentiment that underlines all that was progressive in his thinking about museums and society.

Kermode travelled widely in Italy, Scandinavia and Iceland and published many articles in international journals such asArchaeologia Cambrensis, The Antiquaries' Journal, The Reliquary, The Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Saga Book of the Viking Society, Zeitschrift fur Celtische Philologie, Sornlandsbygden and Blandinger. In 1889 he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He served as a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science. In 1929 he became president of the Cambrian Archaeological Association and was awarded the honorary degree of Master of Arts (honoris causa) by the University of Liverpool. On the day of his death news arrived that he had been made Knight of the Order of the Falcon by the Government of Iceland.

To many of his contemporaries Kermode appeared aloof, a coldly impersonal academic. A serious outlook on life was at least confirmed by a tragedy in which he was involved at the age of 21. He and a friend, Alfred Rudd, had gone bird-nesting on Skinscoe cliffs. Kermode slipped and fell 100ft. into the sea. Rudd went to get help, but fell to his death. Kermode later wrote a poem which included the following verse:

Alfred, best friend, who gavest
thy life for mine:
I here devote what days to me remain To God and to thy Memory, to the end That, through my life,
thy influence shall shine,
And I, ere long, may be with thee again
My brother, Alfred, my beloved friend!

Yet despite such an apparently sombre outlook, the evidence of his many long friendships, especially that with the ebullient William Cubbon, suggests that he was also faithful, warm-hearted and generous.

The appreciations that were read at the memorial meeting of the Antiquarian Society on 16th February 1933 included the following:

There is no question that at the present time the Isle of Man is far better known to the scientific world than it has ever been, through his lifelong energy, and whether we look at the matter from the point of view of museums or from natural history, or from science generally, Manx people have benefited wonderfully as a result of his labours. (Tom Sheppard, editor of The Naturalist).

I helped him in a small way, but he gave me more than I could ever hope to give in return. He has made for himself a sure place amongst the great archaeologists of Greater Britain. (Sir Arthur Keith).

... With him has departed one of Man's best sons ...He was a good and hon-ourable advocate for our cause. Norway has all reason to preserve his memory in thankful remembrance. (Professor Carl Johan Sverdrup Marstrander).

... but what is beyond research is the influence of his intercourse with Scientists beyond the Island, and his stimulation and encouragement of likeminded students in his own Isle. Such influence will survive him and, we
hope, carry on his work far down the generations which we shall not see. (Pilcher George Ralfe).

Perhaps the final word should go to William Cubbon:

I only knew Philip and 'Cushag' intimately (out of the whole family). Both had the same gentle kindness and old-fashioned courtesy; proud yet modest; sensitive yet lovable. I worked alongside Philip for ten years and observed with admiration his critical judgement. He thought, planned and worked unselfishly, and made a contribution to the Manx people of great cultural value. He built well and will be remembered. Without hesitation I would claim him to be among the first half-dozen great Manxmen.

Biography written by Peter Davey.

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.247-9.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Male

Date of birth: 24 March 1855

Date of death: 5 September 1932

Name Variant: P.M.C. Kermode


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