Home Manx Life Earliest Manx Fencible Corps

Earliest Manx Fencible Corps

by Bernadette Weyde

In 1778 the question of the defence of the Island, owing to the withdrawal of the English troops there, became an urgent one and the Keys called upon the Lieutenant-Governor to consult with them on “the most advisable mode of securing the Island from the depredations of the enemy.” They suggested an application to the King for more troops; but the matter was held over till February, 1779, when they pointed out that the Lords of the Isle had formerly maintained the forts and the troops; that the former had fallen into disrepair, and that the latter – one regiment of foot and two troops of horse – had been withdrawn three years before. They, therefore, asked that the forts should be put into a state of defence, and that “a sufficient stand of arms,” with a few companies of troops, should be sent not only to guard the Island, but to instruct the inhabitants in the use of arms; and they stated that, it this was done, a militia could be raised. The Governor then requested the Keys to “revise the ancient laws and customs with regard to Militia and to reduce them into one Act, so that an effectual mode of defence may be immediately established throughout this Isle.”

The Keys at first replied that they would do nothing before the troops were sent and the forts put in order; but, on the 31st July, they stated that they were willing to raise three companies of infantry, each company to consist of one captain, two lieutenants, one ensign, five sergeants, five corporals, two drummers, two fifers, and 100 private men, to be on the same footing as Fencibles; officers to be natives of the Island, except the Governor, who was to be “major commandant.” This offer was accepted, and the King’s word was pledged that this corps should not be moved from the Island. A little later in the same year Governor Dawson wrote to the Keys stating that the King had promised that he would arm and pay these Fencibles “equal to any regiment in his service.”

It was not easy to obtain recruits and between 2 Nov (when a Royal Warrant was issued for raising the Corps) and 8 Dec 1779 only 55 were forthcoming, however, in May 1781 the War Office agreed to an additional guinea per man which vastly improved things. The strength of the Corps now around 300, the detachments were sent to Peel, Ramsey, Douglas and other small posts. Castle Rushen in Castletown was the Corps’ headquarters and the greater part of the strength was usually stationed there. Garrison duty throughout the Island commenced in 1781.

Officers of the Fencible Corps Raised in 1779 with the age of each in brackets:

• Major-Commandant: RICHARD DAWSON (51), Lt.-Governor; Lt.-Colonel Engineers.
• Captains: JOHN TAUBMAN (33), Lt. 6th Dragoon Guards; JOHN FRIZELL (41); GEORGE QUAYLE (24) Paymaster.
• Ensigns: JOHN CLAGUE (17); JAMES QUIRK (26); BASIL QUAYLE (17);
• Adjutant: RICHARD BOWYER (32), Lt. 48th Foot.
• Surgeon: PATRICK SCOTT (-).

Not long after the formation of the Corps desertions were apparently frequent and resulted in the Lt.-Governor addressing the following order to the Coroner (legal official) of Glenfaba sheading:


“Whereas several soldiers duly enlisted into the Fencibles battalion within the Island are often found wandering through the country or otherwise absenting themselves illegally from His Majesty’s service and do thereafter desert… You are hereby ordered forthwith to give personal notice to the Captain of Peel town, the several Captains and Lieutenants and Ensigns and Parish constables and Lockmen within your sheading and you, they and each and every one of them are hereby strictly ordered and required to apprehended all and every soldier or soldiers belonging to the said battalion who shall be found wandering or otherwise in any place or places existing 4 miles distant from any garrison town or other place where the said battalion or any detachment thereof is or shall be then quartered, and in case the said soldier or soldiers so apprehended do not thereupon produce a pass or leave of absence in writing from any of the Officers commanding in the said battalion you and each and every of the said Captains and Lieutenants and Ensigns and Parish constables and Lockmen is and are required forthwith to bring or cause to be brought all and every such soldier or soldiers so apprehended to the commanding officer of the nearest company or detachment of the said battalion…”


At the same time Proclamations were issued by the Lt.-Governor with regard to the penalties for harbouring deserters, seducing men from His Majesty’s service and receiving His Majesty’s property.

A practice grew up of privates mounting guard for each other resulting in a further order being issued requiring each man to mount his own guard.

In October 1781 notice was received from London intimating that 24 18-pound guns had been despatched and were to be sited thus: 8 for Douglas, 8 for Ramsey, 4 for Derbyhaven and 4 for Peel Castle.

The quality of beef supplied to the men by the victualler formed the subject of an inquiry at the end of February 1782, and the inspecting officers considered that it was exceedingly poor and by no means worth more than two pence Manks per pound. The victualler was told that if he attempted again to provide inferior meat his contract would be terminated and he would “no longer be entitled to the great indulgence he now enjoys.”

The Corps’ uniforms were supplied by Nicholas Pearse & Son of London at a cost of £638 9s 0d (£638 and 9 shillings); it is known the jackets/coats were red. The officers’ steel swords cost £1 18s each; their gorgets 10s 6d each and their silk sashes £1 11s 6d each – these were supplied by James Culham. The pay for the Corps for 366 days between 25 Dec 1779 and 24 Dec 1780 totalled £6093 18s 0d.

At a field day in July 1782 the men were ordered to parade in “their gaiters, best clothing and regimental hats, their hair powdered and in every particular dressed in a soldier-like manner.”

From the Orderly Book –  23 April 1783:


“Ordered that Captain Quayle’s company do parade at half-past eleven tomorrow morning with their arms and accoutrements. And His Majesty having ordered the Corps of Fencibles to be discharged; in compliance with the above said orders Captain Quayle is hereby authorised to disband the said company having first returned the Commanding Officer’s thanks to them for their good and orderly behaviour during their service. The officers are ordered to attend.”


Nothing ‘exciting’ occurred within the Island during the period of the Corps’ existence.

(source: The Royal Manx Fencibles by BE Sargeaunt, 1947; Yn Lioar Manninagh Vol 4 pp162/167 http://bit.ly/gYQQ68)

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