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The Teares of Ballawhane

by Bernadette Weyde

Memories of Charles Teare’s wonderful powers seem inexhaustible and there is no question of the natural skill in medicines both human and animal, enjoyed by the Teare family for several generations. Charles’ descendants carried on the tradition after his death.

The Teare’s possessed a mysterious book of charms and remedies, a volume which had been handed down the family for an unknown length of time and the story about the book is that on a dark and stormy night long ago, a French ship was wrecked at Rue Point on the coast of Andreas. The men of the Teare family of Ballawhane, or wherever they lived then, rescued some of the crew at great personal risk and the Teare women-folk gave them shelter, food and clothing until they had sufficiently recovered to depart. Among the rescued men was the captain of the ship and he, when quitting the Teares, left them, as a mark of his gratitude, a manuscript volume of a medical nature. It is said that he gave it to the celebrated Charles Teare’s father but it seems likely that the family skill is to be dated back to an earlier generation than that. At any rate, the man in whom the family genius flowered most brightly died over 60 years ago. He was then aged and bent, but clear-minded and in full possession of his powers, I have been told by one or two people who remember him.

Some stories on the skills of Charles Teare:

Besides possessing the power of stopping the flow of blood in man or beast, Teare could cure the “fairy stroke.” A man named Tom Kermode woke up one morning with his mouth all twisted to one side. Teare got herbs together to make a drink and sent them to the man’s wife. She boiled or simmered them and gave them to him and he was cured completely.

A boy, a lumper of about 12 years old, who fell asleep among some gooseberry bushes in the garden of a Maughold farmhouse was taken ill immediately afterwards and nothing could be done with him. His father was advised to send for Teare. He refused, for he did not believe in him. A neighbour, seeing how bad the boy was, set off to Ballawhane on his own account. Teare said to him, “The boy has been lying where he should not.” He gave the man some herbs out of his garden and sent him back with a warning to the parents never to let the boy lie there again. The liquor from the herbs was given to him on the sly by his mother but he was a long time getting better.

The father of the boy may have had a religious objection to Teare’s methods. But it is acknowledged that the “doctor” had not everyone’s confidence. One evening he was drinking in a public house in Andreas with three other men (It is not impossible that this was really his son Charley Chalse i.e. Charley, son of Charles) and when he hinted that it was now their turn to stand treat they began to abuse him, accusing him of “blindfolding” (hoodwinking) people and taking their money under false pretenses. For Teare always expected a half-crown or two if he could get them for doing a cure. At their words he got up to go out. As he walked to the door he looked at the men over his shoulder and said…”There’s more than one of you fellows won’t get home tonight.” After leaving the inn one of them fell into a hole and broke his neck. The other two got strayed and fell asleep by the roadside and when they woke up next morning they were in the wrong direction from their homes.

That, as I have said, may have been one of Teare’s sons for the kudos enjoyed by the father was immense and is strikingly shown by what happened when he accidentally left his purse in a fishing-boat he had been “doctoring.” The purse, appropriately a net purse, was a tempting fetish of which the crew at once availed themselves. Any money there may have been in it was, I have no doubt, put by to send to its owner. But the purse itself was cut by the skipper into as many pieces as there were men in the crew and shared round. They were boiled with the tea in the boat’s teapot, the liquor drunk and the residue of tea-leaves and bits of purse thrown over the nets. This was at Peel.

The “doctoring” of the boat probably consisted of sprinkling it and the nets with broth from herbs supplied by Teare from his celebrated garden and perhaps dosing the skipper with the dregs. A Northside man and his wife whom I know remembers Teare giving a big bunch of cushags to the crew of a Ramsey boat that was going to Kinsale, “for luck at the fishing.” One of the same couple mentioned where a cow was cured by Teare and the cow’s trouble was not due to “buitching,” (witchcraft) but to a piece of turnip that had not been chopped small enough and had stuck in her throat.

An informant’s elder brother – they were farming together at Maughold – had a remarkably fine and valuable sow which he was keeping in his cart-house as she was near to farrowing. She had been warmly praised by a Manx-American who had returned from Illinois on a visit and in consequence of his envious feelings, it was believed she “went mad” the same evening, refused to eat, broke out into the fields at the back of the house and disappeared.

My friend and his brother lit the stable lantern and went out with two men to look for her. At last they found her in the mill-ditch, in a fair way to be drowned or smothered. With great difficulty they got her out and back into the cart-house but she was still very queer and wild and would not eat. They thought she was going to die and decided to send word to Ballawhane, a distance of 8 miles. Teare said to the messenger, “Sit down and wait and I’ll give you something.” After a time he went out to his garden and cut a herb here and herb there and came back with a bunch which he handed to the messenger with instructions for its use. When the man got back to Ballasloe they boiled the herbs to a broth. Then they slung up the sow (for by that time she could not or would not stand) with ropes made fast to the roof; my friend, though but a youth, lending what help he could in the awkward business. His brother put a stick between her teeth, the way she couldn’t bite him and poured the broth down her throat out of a beer-bottle. Then they all went in to their suppers. When they looked at her again after supper, she was as right as the mail and came running for her food when they called her.


A further article on the Teare’s:

Long before 1797, when Feltham wrote his Tour, the Teare family of Ballawhane in Andreas must have been noted for their skill in human and animal medicine. By degrees their willingness to practise it for their neighbours’ benefit was given a supernatural colouring, until in the first half of the 19th century Charles Teare’s adroitly spectacular use of the family recipes made him the most famous of all the Manx charmers. The confusion in the popular mind between witchcraft and fairydom is seen not only in his title of ” fairy doctor,” but in the name, still remembered, of his little plot where he grew his herbs, the “fairy garden,” to which men came by stealth at night and rolled themselves on it before going to the fishing.

With regard to the question of whence such powers are believed to emanate, it was commonly agreed that Teare possessed, like Ewan Christian of Lewaigue, a mysterious book of written charms and other magical formulas. But we have Teare’s statement on oath in the presence of a magistrate and of Train the historian who reports it in 1845, that he “never called evil spirits to his assistance.” Nor, it is still said, would he on any account operate between midnight and cockcrow. He was, in short, like most men of his profession in the Isle of Man, a “brother of the light,” not of the shadow. Nevertheless, the original prescriptions had resolved themselves, by degrees, into magical practices of the traditional sort.

A. W. Moore says that one of Teare’s daughters was carrying on the family traditions at the time he was engaged on his Folk-lore of the Isle of Man (1880s & 1890s). Another at least of Teare’s children, known as Charley Chalse, inherited some of his skill. Mr. C. H. Kee, of Ramsey, when a boy of ten, enjoyed the privilege of witnessing Charley’s curative powers in action, and I append his story as an illustration of the methods of these “charmers.” Mr. Kee’s elder brother returned from a sea-voyage to their home at Leodas, and found one of their cows sick. She had been standing for days refusing to eat or drink and taking no notice of anyone, but roaring all the time. The brother went, taking the little boy with him, to Teare at Gat y Whing near Ballawhane, and asked him to come at once. Teare was lying on his bed half drunk, and there was no food in the house. This was about 10 a.m. The brother gave Mrs. Teare two half-crowns to buy something to eat. Thereupon the fairy-doctor got up, went round to the back of the house, and cut with a knife some herbs from two or three different spots in the garden. They then went back to Leodas, Teare accompanying them. When Teare entered the cowhouse the cow turned her head round and looked at him. He rubbed the herbs along her back and threw them down before and beside her. She let out one final unearthly bellow and quietened down. Then she began to eat and drink, and was all right afterwards. My informant does not remember that Teare spoke any words when applying the herbs; if he did, it was under his breath.

This scion of the Ballawhane family was exceptional in being sometimes the worse for liquor, but he was seldom or never quite incapable. One night, however, he came out of the Friendship Inn at Ramsey, walked straight into the harbour, and was drowned.

After his death his widow practised similar cures with success, and so did their crippled son, Danny. In 1894 T. E. Brown, then living in Ramsey, took Mr. George B. Cowen, the well-known Ramsey photographer, to Mrs. Charley Chalse’s house at Gat y Whing and persuaded her to sit for him. It was much against her will, for she feared she was committing the sin of vanity, and quoted Scripture texts and the Commandment forbidding graven images.

She had “Navar been tuk before,” and in all probability never was again.

Her cottage, in front of which she sat for her portrait, was a good specimen of the type which succeeded the sod houses two rooms below and a loft to sleep in.

(source: first article is from A Third Manx Scrapbook by W Walter Gill (1963); second article is from A Second Manx Scrapbook by W Walter Gill (1932); photographs: top middle, shows Mrs Charley Chalse outside her cottage (courtesy of A Manx Notebook, note: larger image not available); the remaining photographs show the ruins of the cottage some time in the 20th century but by 1964, when the lower middle photograph was taken, the cottage had all but disappeared (photographs courtesy of MNH at the imuseum).

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