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The Old House of Keys Shenn Thie yn Chiare-as-feed

The 19th Century

The fight for Democracy - the public view.

James BrownThe campaign for democratic elections for members of the Keys became increasingly focused during the first half of the 19th century, and was led by two local journalists and newspaper editors, Robert Fargher and James Brown (right). They attacked the Keys on a weekly basis from the pages of their newspapers.

Prior to the 1830s the sense of injustice felt by the newspaper editor Robert Fargher, about the lack of public elections, led him to demand admission to the Private Sittings of the Keys in the name of the people of the Island. The Keys were not impressed at being interrupted and ordered the doors to be closed and bolted in Fargher's face.

A public war of words continued for the next thirty years, with defenders of the self-elected Keys hurling abuse at Fargher:

'...popular election would be the greatest curse that ever fell on the Island. The Manx people may depend upon it that… unless we are to have Republicanism inflicted upon us in order that the rabble may be dominant and Lynch Law triumphant - the wealth and intelligence of the community must always prevail. Only give the Manx Radicals power and every respectable stranger would leave the country in disgust and in time the English government would be so teased and harassed that every remaining privilege would be swept away at one fell swoop and we would become an appendage of one of the opposite English counties...'
(Manx Sun 1845)

Mona's Herald masthead

Robert FargherFargher defended himself in his newspaper, the Mona's Herald, and his inflammatory 'letters to the editor' resulted in a series of acrimonious libel actions being brought by George William Dumbell of the Keys. Fargher was also imprisoned in Castle Rushen on various occasions.

James Brown had first arrived on the Island in 1846 to work as a jobbing printer, but eventually he started his own newspaper, The Isle of Man Times, with himself as editor.
Brown started a public 'war of words' with the Keys, continuously attacking them for being unrepresentative and full of political dynasties where son followed father.

James Brown's political commentaries in The Isle of Man Times newspaper became increasingly radical during the 1860s. By 1864 he was established as the public champion of democratic rights and journalistic freedom on the Island.

A turning point was reached in 1864 when the Keys rejected a Bill requesting additional powers to develop and regulate the rapidly growing town of Douglas and its 'visiting' (tourist) industry. The Keys not only rejected the Bill but made offensive remarks about the Douglas Commissioners. Brown countered this in his newspaper by describing the Members of the Keys as 'donkeys'. He even referred to them as 'the extraordinary freaks of men who presumed to legislate for the Island'.

Brown was summoned to appear before the Keys to answer charges of libel. He continued to defend the freedom of the press and the cause of democracy. As a result, the Keys ordered that he be arrested and sentenced him to imprisonment for 6 months in Castle Rushen gaol.

His arrest did not discourage Brown from making attacks on the Keys, and he continued to write from the prison. At the same time, his son had organised an appeal to the Court of Queens Bench in London. The Court's verdict was that the Keys had no powers to try or even sentence Brown. After 6 weeks Brown was released, and was awarded £519 in damages against the Keys.

 

   
All text is copyright Manx National Heritage. Images marked '© MNH' are copyright Manx National Heritage. Text and images are reproduced here by kind permission of Manx National Heritage.
 
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