Home Manx Life Corn Law Riots of 1821

Corn Law Riots of 1821

by Ber Weyde

During the Continental wars, corn was, in the British Isles, frightfully dear. With peace came a fall in prices and farmers were in despair. Then foreign corn was prohibited, and the price went up.

In 1821 the Isle of Man Corn Bill was passed, placing the Manx landlord in much the same situation as the English as regards the importation of foreign wheat; “but,” as one person of that day wrote, “the consumer may bid adieu to a big and good loaf from the moment its operation commences.”

Prices went up in England, and the Manx exported all they could till the Keys laid an embargo on oats, barley, and then meals, wheat, and potatoes, which was not taken off for some months.

On Sunday evening, September 30th, 1821, a sensation was created in Peel when a number of people became incensed at certain persons who had signed a petition to prohibit the importation of foreign corn stuffs. The mob did much damage — smashed the window of Ward’s house and shop and the shops of the flour dealers. In consequence of this, Mr Ward applied to Deemster Gawne, who came to Peel on the following Tuesday and convened a Court to investigate the causes of the outrage, when one, Shimmin* — a leader in the riot — knocked down the witness who deposed against him. A scuffle ensued wherein which it took six men to bind the “hot-headed Manxman,” the judge himself descending from his seat to assist. Shimmin being secured, he, with some women, was confined in the “black hole.” The rest of the rioters, enraged at the proceedings pelted the Deemster and Karran (the chief constable of Castletown who had come from the south with the Deemster), and then assailed the door of the cell and rescued Shimmin and the ladies. Meantime the Yeomen Cavalry were sent for, but, owing to the harvest and the fishing, only six could be found, who, on arriving at Peel were attacked and completely out-generalled by the women, whereupon the troops turned tail and disappeared.

Mr Ward, in consequence of the riot, published the following: —


“To the Public. Whereas some ill disposed person has circulated a report, for the purpose of injuring me in the eyes of the public, stating that I was a promoter of a petition to prevent the importation of foreign grain into this Island, and that I have been active in getting others to sign the said petition, and to injure the poor in general, I solemnly swear that I had neither act nor part in the said charge, nor did I know that such a note was in existence until the Rev J. Cottier presented the said petition to me and others for signature, when without thought or consideration of any harm, I did sign my name; and, of course, coming through his hand, could have no evil thought. I refer to the poor of Peel whether at all times and according to my abilities, I have net rendered all the pecuniary assistance in my power when called, upon. JOHN WARD. Peel, October 8th, 1821.”


The riots at Peel frightened some of the Douglas tradespeople. Messrs Garrett and Barry in Douglas sent the bellman about proclaiming the sale of fine flour at eight pounds for a shilling. But on application it was found they would not dispose of more than four pounds to any one person; that amount being as much as a poor person would require at one time. This it was thought would appease the lower class; but events turned out different to what was hoped.

The success of the Peel rioters induced others to follow their example; and, in the course of some ten days, a riot occurred in Douglas where the mob, headed by a man in woman’s clothes (said to have come from Peel), who wielded a large hammer, attacked the shop of Craine, baker, of Drumgold-street — smashed his windows and destroyed everything in the shop.

Next they went to Garrett the grocer’s, in Duke-street, “whose shop was entirely demolished, leaving not a pane or frame of the windows.” They turned the tap of a rum puncheon and flooded the lower partt of the house, and ran off with the sugar loaves.

Then to the Nunnery Mills, where they broke Whittingham’s windows, and were trying to get into the mill when Major Taubman of the Nunnery appeared at the head of a party who soon routed them, securing two, “who, to save time, were at once sent in the family carriage to Castle Rushen.”

Next day the High-Bailiff had a meeting, when several of the “first persons in the town” offered themselves to be enrolled in its defence – a hundred were sworn in as special constables; Major Nichols commander. From the meeting they marched to the school in Athol-street, where an armed force was kept and periodically relieved,and a store of ammunition supplied from the Douglas Head magazine. In consequence of these riots a company of the 89th Regiment was landed at Douglas a day or two afterwards.

On the 20th of November at Castletown Shimmin** of Peel, who led the riot there, was indicted for his conduct, Deemster Gawne, in his evidence said that he had hundreds of stones thrown at him in the “execution at his perilous duty as commander of the Yeoman Cavalry.”

* the article says Shimmin or Siddleton and I have used Shimmin for continuity
** the article says Siddleton which is confusing so I have stayed with Shimmin

(source: A Manx Notebook http://bit.ly/12ckpqe; plate is of rioters http://bit.ly/1gS7HEp)

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