News from the gaol registers project: remembering the men and women who served time in Castle Rushen Search of iMuseum

News from the gaol registers project: remembering the men and women who served time in Castle Rushen

Posted on 03.07.2019

Those who visit Castle Rushen in Castletown may well know that it served as a prison for many years.  In 2019 a team of dedicated library volunteers completed a project to extract names and details of prisoners recorded in the gaol registers which span 1825 until the close of the gaol in 1891.  These prisoner names may now be searched using the green People search tab and Advanced Search option on iMuseum.

Castle Rushen portcullis (Image ref: PG/9346).

Manx National Heritage is very grateful for the contribution and output of this team.  Over several years eleven people have transcribed handwritten entries from the registers, double-checked work for accuracy and shown great diligence and enthusiasm for the work.

Six of the current team of eight gaol register volunteers who gathered at the Manx Museum recently to mark their achievements.

Over 14,000 name entries have been transcribed from the registers.  Because of the nature of the registers and the fact some people were repeat offenders there is some duplication of names.  The offences, ages and circumstances of those recorded vary enormously.  The details enable us to learn more about the individuals and their sentences.  These might range from a few days inside, a sentence of hard labour or even transportation off the island for seven or fourteen years.

Castle Rushen functioned as the Isle of Man’s gaol until inmates were transferred to a purpose built new prison on Victoria Road, Douglas in 1891 (Image ref: PG/9395).

The offences recorded for those transported from the Isle of Man included stealing linen cloth in 1829 (Patrick Quirk), sheep stealing in 1829 (John McGhee) and theft of a watch in 1834 (Thomas Hillhouse).

Above, an entry for deserting a vessel.

Over several years the volunteers have transcribed handwritten entries from the registers, double-checked work for accuracy and shown great attention for detail, making sense of sometimes unclear, handwritten details.

Information from the registers is of interest for those looking into their family history – additional details about particular cases may even be contained in the digitised newspapers of the day.  The data may be used in other ways including school projects and outreach, criminal justice studies, curatorial interpretation at the castle and creatively using stories for theatrical effect in our amateur Labyrinth productions staged at Castle Rushen.

iMuseum search result showing pick-pocketing on a Steam Packet vessel in 1890. Others were sentenced for offences such as ‘driving a cart and horses furiously on the highway. Fined 10/-‘ and for breaching the peace, provoking language, assault and being drunk.

The registers include the entry for James Brown, reformer, journalist and founder of the Isle of Man Times (1815-1881) who was imprisoned in Castle Rushen in 1864 for attacking the House of Keys in his newspaper. An extract from the diary which Brown kept during this time says: “April 4 – Rose at half-past 7.  …Mr Austin, hair dresser, called, & cut my hair.  Mr Gregson, Photographer, brought his instruments & took several photographs of myself.  I ordered 4 dozen of him.” The original photograph of Brown in Castle Rushen Gaol is here.

Some debtors’ registers from 1884 to 1886 and a description book for 1875-1891 recording physical characteristics of prisoners are still receiving work – their contents will be released to iMuseum in due course.  In the meantime we remember all those who ‘did time’ in this era in Castle Rushen and thank the volunteers who made this happen.


Wendy Thirkettle (Manx National Heritage Archivist).

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