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Redress, Retrenchment and Reform! First World War Petition in favour of a new Governor

Posted on 03.01.2019

Names from a petition containing over 2,000 signatures are now published to iMuseum. The petition was circulated in 1916 by the War Rights Union, who was unhappy with the government’s failure to deal with the decline in tourism and its impact on the Manx economy.

Visitors arrive at Victoria Pier at Douglas during the hey day of  Manx tourism, late 19th century

The Manx tourist industry was brought to a standstill with the commencement of the First World War. Previously the Isle of Man had enjoyed up to 635,000 visitors each year – the sole means of financial support for many Manx people – but by 1915 this was gone. Appeals for help from tradesmen and boarding-house keepers went unanswered by the Governor, Lord Raglan. Whilst apparently being charming in personality, politically Raglan was resistant to reform on the Isle of Man. He blocked all the measures which the 1906 Liberal government was introducing in the UK, such as pensions and workmen’s compensation. It was said that Raglan had more power over the Isle of Man than King George V had over his subjects in England.

Lord Raglan, Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man 1902-1918

In 1915 the War Rights Union was established by Samuel Norris, to protest against the lack of government spending on war relief measures and the imposition of food taxes.  The War Rights Union consisted mainly of boarding-house keepers and tradesmen, however by 1916 the War Rights Union had taken on a distinctly more political slant, as labour leaders such as William Clucas, J.D. Fell and Christopher Shimmin joined the campaign and gave stirring public addresses, rallying people for a mass demonstration in which a memorial would be presented to Governor Raglan on Tynwald Day.

Samuel Norris: Journalist, Politician and Secretary of the War Rights Union

On Tynwald Day 1916, large crowds of people gathered at the Hill, holding placards of protest. Five thousand copies of the memorial were circulated among the crowd, as well as small cardboard badges with the letters R.M.G, which stood for ‘Raglan Must Go’, although some people speculated that they might stand for ‘Rotten Manx Government.’ This protest was unprecedented in its nature. There were boos, jeers, hisses and cries for reform, as Governor Raglan walked from the Chapel to the Hill. One incident in particular made this protest stand out in Manx history. As Governor Raglan returned to the chapel, a grass sod was thrown from the crowd, and hit him. It appeared as a sensational item of news in the Manx papers, described as “a deplorable incident.” Samuel Norris was quick to release a statement to confirm that his party were not directly involved in what he called that “ugly moment.” This was, however, a turning point. The events of Tynwald Day 1916 revealed a political mood-shift, which had started on the ground and was swiftly gaining momentum. The protest of 1916 was the start of a mass Labour movement in Manx politics.

Lord Raglan at the Tynwald Day procession

When Lord Raglan did not signify his intention to resign and the memorial was not read in the Court immediately after the demonstration, a petition was prepared and circulated for signature, asking for Raglan’s recall. It was deposited in various shops in Douglas, Peel, Ramsey, Port Erin, Castletown and other parts of the Island. Only residents in the Isle of Man over 21 years of age were entitled to sign. The petition was sent to the Home Secretary by post; this was acknowledged but nothing was done. According to Samuel Norris a second petition containing 6,000 plus signatories was sent to House of Commons. Norris served 28 days in prison in 1916 for his efforts in the rate refusal campaign. By late 1918 with the end of the Great War and Lord Raglan’s resignation as Lieutenant Governor the War Rights’ Union campaign subsided.

‘Raglan Must Go’ badge (front and reverse shown) distributed  amongst the crowds on Tynwald Day 1916

Hannah Murphy (Manx National Heritage Assistant Curator)

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