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Agriculture

The 19th century concern for every son to have a trade rooted in the pervading deep disillusion in agriculture as an economic way of life. As far. back as the 17th century the Stanlagh Moar had similarly despaired . 'This Isle will never flourish until some trading be'. But it was Christian-Curwen both an MHK. and an MP, a shrewd agricultural economist with one foot in Cumbria an another in his ancestral Mann, to offer an early 19th century assessment of Manx agriculture. Since the Kissacks were almost completely employed on the land in those centuries it is worth quoting what he reported to the Manx branch of the Workington Agricultural Society about the time of Waterloo.

His theme was that an upturn in Island affairs had indeed begun with the Revestment - the re-assumption of sovereignty by the British Crown in 1765. From some 20,000 in 1755 the population had risen to 35,000. Trade benefited more than just the smuggling Community who had so successfully exploited the Freeport status of the old regime. There was an increase of residents escaping the mounting luxury and taxation in Great Britain. The shortages had made the farmers prosperous, and induced a "general spirit of speculation". There were visible signs too. "Everywhere the mud-walled cabins and thatched roofs give way to erections of brick or stone with slated roofs."

But of greater interest is his analysis of the conditions of the past :

"For the present highly-improved state of the country the Manx are certainly indebted to those of their fellow-subjects whom they are too fond of separating from themselves by the offensive designation of 'Strangers'. It is those strangers who have ascertained the grateful nature of the soil, called forth and applied the various species of manure which nature had for ages offered in vain to native indolence or prejudice. To the same class of visitors may also be ascribed the revival of planting trees which, if it proceed a few pears more as rapidly as it has done the last 20 years, will render the legend of naked valleys and unclothed hills of Man incredible to future ages . .

"The generality of the land, in a good situation and well-cultivated, will give of oats 40-50 bushels per acre . Thirty years ago the instruments of agriculture were so few that scarcely 20 carts were to be found on the Island, and farmers had no, mode of carrying their corn, but in kreils fixed on their horses backs . . . A person who occupied 400 acres of his own estate had only one plough and one harrow. In abundant years the estate produced bread-corn, i.e. oats and barley, for the family, in failing years not that. The cattle depended on gorse and furze for food and shelter. The same estate now is let to a thriving tenant for a rent of £800 p.a. . . .

"There is a tract of excellent land within 3 miles of Douglas, the owner so bigoted in his ancient habits that if out of 300 acres he can raise enough to supply the instant needs of his family and retain seed for the coming year, he thinks he has done all that foresight and industry can require . .

"The estate by the laws of the land must descend to the next heir, the rest of the progeny during the lives of their parents will live at home in unthinking and inactive stupidity, and at their death must turn out with no provision but their own labour for support. The proprietor does as his father before him: he himself has enjoyed the estate as his due; and his brothers who were brought up with him are now in extreme age, spending the remains o f their strength as daily labourers on the roads or in the neighbouring farms . . :

The Manx have always combined farming and fishing, but Curwen calls the practice an impediment to agriculture :-

"At a time when an increase of hands are most wanted, the cultivator is left wholly to the aid he can derive from feminine assistance, by which alone he can carry in the harvest, while hundreds of stout young men are waiting the arrival of the fish in listless idleness."

My own great-aunts would speak in like vein of their father and his boat. It had gained the epithet of the Buttermilk Boat, because his moral principles had insisted he launch it without the customary alcoholic celebrations :- "It was always us women who brought in the harvest on the croft".

My great-grandfather actually owned some 20 acres briefly in the 1890s, but they had been mortgaged away when he died in 1903. Indeed, apart from their houses and gardens, few Kissacks were land-owners by then. One of his uncles owned some mountain pasture on South Barrule, and the Rhenab Kissacks in Maughold, and possibly some of the Ballakissack family had reasonably large acreages.

Two centuries before, the Lezayre Kissacks had held between them nearly one third of the rich Abbeylands that stretched from Sulby to Lezayre Church. Their neighbours were Christians, Standishes and Garretts, and already English-sounding names, such as Frissells and Llewellyns, allied by marriage to the Christians, and well-apprised of the un-profitability of land 'unless there trading be'. The second half of the 17th century marked only deepening trouble for the family, and formed the sad background to the pleas of inability to pay the Lord`s Rent, to the sales and mortgages, the marriages of convenience, and other devices 'to keep up the name of Kissage' on the Kerrowmoar, under which it was 'antiently held'. Hence the dealings with John MacKissack of Mutehill Grange in Kirkcudbright, and the half dozen marriages of Kissack with Kissack within a bare decade.

William and his son Ewan were still desperately staving off bankruptcy when in 1703 the Act of Settlement was passed, and at last the Earls of Derby recognised that Manxmen held their lands under him by freehold, and not in any form of feudal feoffage. But liberty for a family to deal with its own entails merely conjured up the temptation to solve their insolvencies by parting with their fields. And as will be seen, the Kerrowmoars were fatally caught in the general economic torrent.

Please note that the copyright of the 'Seed of Isaac' and 'The MacIsaacs' remains with the family of Rex Kissack and no part may be reproduced from this site without their permission.


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