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Joseph Qualtrough

Epithet: MHK, MLC, receiver general, ship-owner and shipyard proprietor (1855-1933)

Record type: Biographies

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

Joseph Qualtrough was born near the quay in Port St Mary. After serving his apprenticeship with his father as a boat-builder he, along with his sister's husband James Coole, bought a boat-building business in Castletown. Using the schooners on which they worked, they began importing building materials and coal under the name of Coole & Qualtrough. This side of their work grew and soon became their main source of income. The growth of the visiting industry in the south of the Island was a blessing to them and many more.

A short story which is amusing concerned their building of a schooner in Castletown. Every day an old man came to see how they were getting on and would ask Vel shoo Jannoo cosney? (loosely, in English this means 'Art thou making progress?') When it came to naming the boat, they said that they had been making progress for so long they might as well call the boat Progress. [In 1929 the vessel caught fire just outside Port St Mary break-water. She was towed into the inner harbour where the fire was extinguished but she never sailed again. Photographs and paintings of the period show her lying as a hulk against the New Quay under the Albert Hotel where she was broken up in the late 1940s.

In 1891 James Coole died and Qualtrough carried on the business on his own, renaming the firm J. Qualtrough & Co. In about 1903 the Coole family questioned the partnership and after a High Court battle Mrs Coole (Qualtrough's sister) was awarded a half share. Qualtrough bought her out and continued to run the business with two of his sons. Building wooden schooners and nickies would not last for many more years, but when he was not building for customers, he built up a fishing fleet of his own. These vessels were operated from Peel and Glandore in the south of Ireland. At the age of about 75 Qualtrough laid the keel of his last fishing boat, the Cicely, named after his youngest granddaughter [daughter of Sir Joseph Davidson Qualtrough]. This was a huge task for a man his age as the Cicely was well over 45ft. long.

Joseph Qualtrough stood for the House of Keys in 1897 for Rushen and topped the poll. For years he strenuously waged a battle for constitutional reform, and in 1919 the reformers' efforts to widen the gaps between the judiciary, the executive, the church and the legislature were partially successful when ex officio membership of the Legislative Council was abandoned for the Archdeacon, Vicar General and Receiver General. The Act empowered the Keys to elect four members to serve eight-year terms on the council, and Joseph was one of this first group to be elevated. He was immediately elected to the chairmanship of the Harbour Board which under the reforms also included the office of Receiver General. Joseph Qualtrough occupied this combined position until his death and so was very much involved in the construction of the Edward Pier in Douglas, which is an extension of the old Red Pier. His very wide grasp of practical matters, sound mind and drive saw this project started, but he died before the work was completed.

Joseph Qualtrough was a typical Victorian self-made man who had very strong principles. Being a lifelong member of the Rechabites, he was a staunch advocate of total abstinence. He was also a Methodist local preacher of whom someone once quipped, when hearing he was going to preach, 'The Devil will get Hell tonight'.

His sound business mind drove him on to own numerous properties in and around Castletown. The term 'hedge lawyer' was a good description. Many a person sought his advice and help to sort out their legal and family problems. His large build and forbidding countenance, and his eloquence, were attributes which won over many opponents.

Joseph Qualtrough's death in 1933 was mourned by a great crowd. Motor vehicles were fairly uncommon in those days. Nevertheless, over 100 cars followed the hearse to Malew, where he was buried with his daughter and his wife who had died ayear earlier. He was by then the longest-serving member of Tynwald. 'The Father of the Manx Legislature', as he was called in the Press, had many opponents but few enemies.

Many tales were told of this very strait-laced man, but one of the strangest facts was that he and his bride had eloped to London to get married in 1883. For such a no-frills type of character this was quite remarkable, but it demonstrates that nobody would dare stand in his way if his mind was made up.

Biography written by Ian Qualtrough (grandson).

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.374-5.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Male

Date of birth: 1855

Date of death: 9 December 1933


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