Sometimes, the Parish Captains were required to bring their musters to carry out public works, as in 1682, when the Marown and German companies were assembled at Greeba to break rocks and make a level way to give easier access from Douglas to Peel, and in 1692, when the Malew and Arbory men had to repair the highway from Castletown to Peel, which ran through the parishes. In the same year, the male inhabitants of Arbory were unfortunate again, when, with their neighbours from Rushen, they were ordered to go to Derbyhaven to clear ballast unloaded by ships in the Bay. In 1703, it was the turn of the Northsiders, when groups from Andreas, Bride, Lezayre, and Maughold brought stones to repair Ramsey Fence (or sea-buttress). Such works of public necessity became progressively more and more unpopular.
It fell to both Parish and Town Captains to maintain the peace, and, if necessary, suppress riots. It was also their responsibility to recommend the granting of licences for brewing or selling ale, in very widespread use in the days when tea and coffee were expensive luxuries. At times, the roistering which accompanied the many parochial fairs got out of hand, and it was the Captains’ duty to control this, and generally to regulate the conduct of the fairs, which were important occasions for business and pleasure in the parishes up to the middle of the nineteenth century.
Another area of concern for the Captains was the national problem of the circulation of counterfeit coins, because of a perennial shortage of Manx currency up to 1840.
In short, although they lost their military duties in the nineteenth century, they were called upon to play their part in any matter relating to the work of government in the countryside until the Local Government Acts of 1886 and 1894 were passed, and Parish Commissioners were elected. It is noteworthy that, as late as 1894, the names of Captains in Brown’s Directory are recorded under the heading “Militia”.
Their involvement in three other matters of parochial interest in the nineteenth century illustrates the importance of the central role they continued to play in their own localities, as they still do.
The ancient custom of PERAMBULATING THE BOUNDARIES of a parish had always been the concern of the Rector or Vicar until the end of the eighteenth century, as it was accompanied by a religious service and blessing of the crops. Before the first Ordnance Survey Map of the Island was published in 1870, it was the only method of establishing where parochial boundaries lay, areas in dispute being clarified by sworn statements from the oldest persons present, for large crowds took part in the exercise as a matter of course, the Captains along with the rest. Two reminiscences of late formal perambulations are on record. At Andreas in 1845, Archdeacon Moore and a dozen parish notables, including Captain John Kneale of Regaby, walked the boundaries from the Lhen to Regaby, thence to the boundary of Jurby near Close y Kewin, and back to the Lhen shore, a walk which took nearly 10 hours. At Arbory in 1912, Canon Kewley (later Archdeacon), and a representative group including Captain W A Stevenson of Arbory and a number of schoolboys, walked the winding Arbory-Rushen boundary from Scard Reservoir down to Strandhall.
Many people are familiar with the picture of country schooling presented by T E Brown in The Schoolmasters. It is only fair to add that in the 1830s and 1840s, strenuous efforts were made by Bishops Ward and Short to raise standards in this important area of the Church’s ancient responsibility. The Captains also became involved after the Parochial Schools Act of 1851 (or Act for making better provision for Parochial and other Schoolmasters) was passed by Tynwald. This enabled Parish Vestry meetings to levy a rate to pay for schools, schoolhouses, equipment and salaries, the arrangements (following Privy Council regulations) being controlled by a Committee in each parish under the chairmanship of the Rector or Vicar, the other members being elected annually. In this revolutionary introduction of a parochial rating system, albeit a voluntary one, the Captains had almost as important a part to play as the incumbents, as they could speak for all residents of a district, and not only those who attended the Vestry meeting.
After Tynwald, with its self-elected House of Keys, passed the Asylum Act in 1860 in order to make provision for a Mental Hospital, every landowner, no matter how small his or her holding, had to provide a plan of it as the basis of assessment for the ASYLUM RATE. (These Asylum Plans, which are still preserved, were incorporated into Woods’ Atlas). It took some time for the implications of the new measure to be fully understood, but, in the Summer and Autumn of 1864, a series of parochial meetings was held, and delegates assembled several times at St John’s Schoolroom, under the chairmanship of John Stevenson Moore of Lhergydhoo, a long-standing political reformer and Methodist Local Preacher.
As a result, Governor Loch was approached by a Committee, and a Memorial was presented to Tynwald, a document very difficult to frame, as some parishes were opposed to the very idea of an Asylum, while others objected to the size and cost of the building proposed for Ballamona, Braddan. The Captains (nine of whom were members of the House of Keys) in general supported government policy; indeed, only two (Evan Christian of Maughold and Thomas Craine of Ballaugh) took an active part in the movement, as members of the Committee which demanded that the Board which would control the hospital should be elected by the ratepayers, who were to meet half the cost. As well as being one of the factors leading to the House of Keys Election Act of 1866, which made the Keys an elected body with a modicum of control over its own finances, the episode underlines the Captains’ traditional view of their duty being to uphold the existing order.
Only one of the newspaper accounts of the protest meetings contains the information that it (the Braddan meeting) was summoned as a result of a requisition served on the Captain, but because of this account, it is clear that the popular and unique Manx custom of REQUISITION MEETINGS has been in existence since the early 1860s, and is the successor of the Mustering Cross as a mark of parish involvement in important events. Today, when, in the course of a political election, a formal request in writing by a body of electors in a parish reaches a Captain, arrangements are made to invite all candidates to share a platform, usually under the chairmanship of the Captain in person. Occasionally, as, for example, when the Captain is a candidate, another suitable person, often a neighbouring Captain, is requested to take charge of the meeting. After the candidates have delivered short statements of policy, questions are invited from those present, the chairman deciding as to whether they are accepted only from voters in the constituency concerned. Far from disappearing with the passage of time, this type of election meeting has also been adopted in at least one town, where an independent chairman has to be enlisted by the local authority.