The 19th Century House of Keys

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Some important members of the House of Keys

During the time the Old House of Keys was in use, the role of the Speaker was to act as Chairman during the meetings of the House of Keys and also to act as Spokesman for the Keys in dealings with the Lords of Mann and later with the Island’s Governor and with the British Government.

Who were the Speakers?

Unfortunately it is not known when the twenty-four members of the House of Keys first found it necessary to elect one of their number to act as chairman, as the post was originally known.

However, on the basis of the order in which signatures were appended to Acts of Tynwald in the Statute Book from 1649, it is likely that the first ‘Speaker’ was Major Richard Stevenson who appears to have served from 1649 to 1660. Major Stevenson would seem to have been succeeded by Edward Christian, who left the House of Keys in 1663. Edward Christian’s brother, Charles, held the office for the following three years. There followed Captain Thomas Stevenson, who appended his name to all Acts ahead of his colleagues

The first definitely recorded Member to formally Chair the House was Captain John Stevenson who was Speaker from 1704 until his death in 1737. He had several confrontations with the Lord of Mann and on two occasions was even imprisoned.

The first Member to insist on the title of Speaker was Sir George Moore, who was Speaker from 1758 to 1780. He introduced a silver mace for use at sittings of the Keys, in imitation of the pomp and ceremony of the English Parliament in the Palace of Westminster.

As ‘the worthiest men in the land’, Members of the Keys, and in particular the Speakers, came from the leading and most influential families on the Island. Often relation would follow relation, and the appointed Speakers would come from the same extended families. From the 1750s to the 1900s, the position of Speaker was either held by a member of the Moore or Taubman families or by gentlemen who had married into these families.

Much of the business of the House of Keys before 1866 was judicial with the Keys functioning as a Court of Appeal, the highest legal court on the Island.

Also, until 1866, Members of the House of Keys were self-elected and appointed for life. The procedure for selecting a new Member involved the Keys submitting the names of two ‘gentlemen’ to the Governor, who then selected one of them as the new member of the Keys.

The Role of the Secretary

For most of the 19th century the Secretary of the House of Keys was traditionally a member of the House. The duties of the Secretary involved recording the meetings of the House, and attending to the correspondence and administration of the House.

The longest serving Secretaries were George William Dumbell MHK, who was elected in 1841 and resigned in 1858, and Robert John Moore MHK, who served from 1858 until 1884.