Home Manx Life Strangers on the Isle of Man

Strangers on the Isle of Man

by Ber Weyde

A position of comparative advantage was enjoyed only by native Manxman, and by such strangers as had sworn fealty to the lord of the island. The condition of a stranger resident in Man who had not taken the oath was anything but enviable. Such persons, indeed, were little better than outlaws. On their decease, their property was forfeited to the lord, and, if they were convicted of any crime, however trivial, the penalty was death.

In 1429, aliens were absolutely prohibited from residing in the island unless they had sworn fealty. This law, however, cannot have been rigidly enforced, otherwise there would have been no necessity for the deemsters’ decision, in 1506, that any testament or other disposition of goods by aliens who had not sworn fealty stood “in no force in the law.” In 1582, the lord made all aliens pay a sum of money “for an acknowledgment of their freedom,” but some years later, when an Englishman who had come to the island demurred against making this payment, the deemsters decided that Englishmen were not aliens, and that therefore they need not pay!

Their decision appears to have been afterwards quashed, since there are several instances on record, at a later date, of Englishmen paying for their naturalization. And yet, notwithstanding these disabilities, Man seems to have been considered a desirable place of residence, if we may judge from the numerous petitions from aliens praying the lord that they might become “free denizens,” asking him to accept their “faith and fidelitie,” and paying money for the same. Such aliens were likely to be of some advantage to the land of their choice. But those who were described as “fforaigne beggars” were, in 1658, sent “out of the Isle by the next opportunitie,” in accordance with the order of the Tynwald Court, unless they had special licences. If they bad not, “their goodes were to be seized and they to be confined at the next garrison.”

By 1697, however, more rational ideas with regard to aliens had come into vogue, and the old laws against them were repealed, it being enacted “that all and every person or persons, whether subjects of the Kingdoms of Scotland or Ireland, or any Foraigners or Strangers, of any other Kingdom or Nations coming into this Isle to reside, shall for the future have and enjoy the same imunitys, priviliedges and advantages that any of the subjects of England have or hereafter shall or may have and enjoy by the laws and customes of this Isle.”

Strangers were not yet, however, in the same position as natives with regard to trading privileges, for they had to pay heavier duties, unless they obtained the rights of a “free denizen,” which were acquired only by long residence and by payment as before. Thus, in 1757, David Forbes, “a native of North Britain,” who had resided in Man “and traded and dealt there for many years last past,” prayed that he might have “the freedom and priviledges of a native of this Isle in such manner and form as anciently accustomed, upon paying a fine and taking the oath as aforesaid,” so that he might “carry on his business upon a more equal and equitable footing with other Traders in this Isle.”

This state of things continued till the Revestment in 1765, after which most of the special privileges of natives ceased.

(source: A History of the Isle of Man by AW Moore (1900); artwork by John Young-Hunter of a pedlar selling ribbons)

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