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The Merchant of Ramsey

The 19th century saw a progressive decline in the Kissack population of Lezayre. Whereas 113 baptisms in the family were recorded in the 18th century, there were only 42 in the 19th. A family whose births had peaked at 20 in the 6th decade of the earlier century fell to 2 in each of the three decades between 1860 and 1890. Only three of the 18th century families survive to the 1841 census - Isaac's widow and daughter, childless John and Ann of Kerrowmoar, and the line of John Vark (LzXXIX). Only this last persists into the '80s, reduced to a widow and an unmarried daughter living on 5 acres. The last male had been described as Gardener and Agricultural Labourer. Three other Kissack families had meanwhile established themselves. but they all originated in Jurby (JuXX, XII and XVII), For it is in that parish and in Maughold that we find the family now increasingly locating itself.

There was a moment in the Kissack Saga when it seemed as if the family might break out upwards, perhaps even to reach the importance that trading success had brought to the names of Christian, Moore and Quayle. For in the first decade of the 19th century a William Kissack in Ramsey was building up a business house able to circulate its own hard currency, so much so that it attracted the attention of forgers, and cautionary notices appeared in the press, whilst all over the north of the Island Mr. Kissack's store was the place to find anything you needed. But we look in vain for any personal portrait of the man, such as other Maughold and Lezayre members managed to leave of their colourful personalities. He gives the impression of being a retiring man, unostentatiously cloaking his shrewdness in civic decencies, forwarding the building of St. Paul s Church, counting his pew there as a privileged asset, serving as Churchwarden from the 1780s, and (apart from one mysterious incident involving the Fencibles) in every way fitting the only two words the press seemingly used as his obituary, "much respected", and receiving from society in general the accolade of 'Mr'.

In Maughold the family-lore goes :- 'Callow, Christian and Kerruish all the rest are mere refuse'. William married Margaret Christian in 1772 (MgXIII). Over the next 21 years she bore him 16 children, and died in 1811. He himself died in 1813 within a year of his three-score and ten. Only nine of their children survived them - two daughters dying in the brief interval between the parents' deaths. There was a dispute over his will between his eldest daughter Isabella, and his eldest son William. So an inventory of his possessions had to be made. It totalled ?9,943.9s.3d., a remarkable figure for those days, especially for a Kissack.

In the event there were legacies for 4 sons and 4 daughters. Of two of these sons, John and Ewan, no trace remains. But another, James was a doctor. But though the Merchant Kissacks were prolific, they were not long-livers. The doctor died at 36. It was William who inherited the business, which he at once began to expand and diversify. He had mills in Glen Auldyn and Andreas, a rope-walk at Milntown, as well as shares in a whole fleet of light craft. He was Consul for Sweden, and shipping agent for Scandinavian firms. It was to his office in Ramsey that Colin Watson and his teenage crew went on Saturday, June 24th, 1815, when their ship Elizabeth, was 'obliged to bring up in Ramsey Bay, an accident throwing off one of our paddles'. Here they drew 6 guineas on William in the name of their company, made repairs and continued the voyage that was to be historic, the Elizabeth being the first steam-driven vessel to enter the port of Liverpool. (As Watson`s log shows, the voyage from Glasgow to Liverpool lasted from June 2 to June 28, and most of the period, June 4-24, (during which the Battle of Waterloo happened to be fought) detained in Portpatrick 'by accident but principally the want of money'.) In 1814 William married Sophia Mary Hill, an Irish girl, and they had 8 children (RyXII), six of whom hardly lived to be 40, though John James lived to 77.

But William himself was to die at 55, and this ended the hopes of any commercial empire There was no son of mature enough age to succeed. Indeed the eldest died at 23, three years after his father. The second, Edward Hendry, began as a draper in Douglas, but died at 31, leaving a son and two daughters (DmXIII). It was the third, best known as James Kissack the Grocer, who inherited his father`s warehouses, and put his inheritance to best effect (DmXV). He showed the family acumen in establishing the Douglas House of Provision Merchants which was to carry his name for almost a century after his death in 1893, and over half a century after any member of the family was actively engaged in it. This was to be the climax of what William the Merchant had begun.

The son of Edward the draper entered the Church, and served the parishes of Andreas, Rushen, Ballaugh and Bride, before leaving the Island for Chillington, Kent, in 1890, where he was buried in 1902. Three of his sons by Jane Le Mare (RuI), also entered the Church, Edward becoming Archdeacon of Orkney, Wilfred Archdeacon of Demerara, and Bernard Vicar of Knaresboro'. Henry a fourth son remained on the Island and died in 1966 (NrIII).

The fourth son of William II was Henry Oscar. Like his brother Edward he married a Corlett, Catherine Stephen (DmXIV). Ten years later the family is living in Ramsey where he is an Accountant. There is no record of his death, but in 1861 Catherine is living at Ballamanagh Cottage, Lezayre, with three of the younger children, and is described as 'Annuitant', which suggests that she had been widowed. In 1871 she lives at Sulby Bridge with two adult sons (Robert and Oscar, both 'mariners') and Kate a schoolmistress daughter. In 1881 with an unmarried daughter Catherine, she is in the Grange, Lezayre. Edward's widow Eleanor, aged 55 and Sophia Elena, her daughter, are also living in the neighbourhood. She is described as 'owner of houses'. In 1881 they were living in 19 Oxford St., Douglas. One later glimpse of this family is the marriage certificate of Robert Kerruish of Ballastole and Catherine Ethel Kissack in 1923. Her father is described as John James Kissack, Gentleman. He would be the third son of Henry Oscar.

James the Grocer (DmXV), lived long enough for his wife Eliza Clague to bear him ten children. Among them were twins, born in 1854. The girl died, the boy Arnold later went abroad as a trader in Australia and the neighbouring Pacific Islands. His grave is in Cookstown, Queensland, where he died in the '90s. Two other children died in infancy. Five never married, including the eldest, John James, who succeeded his father in the business, which on his death in 1924 passed out of the family involvement. William, another bachelor, owned the Billown Quarries. His impeccable dress and aristocratic bearing earned him the epithet of "Lord Kissaige". Frank Hill was found drowned in 1919, also unmarried. The only grandchildren of James were, Freda, daughter of Alfred Douglas of Windsor (a photographer, who did much professional work for Eton College), and the 2 daughters and 2 sons of Edward Thomas (DmXX), who as one of his nieces put it, was a dentist in Manchester, and did exceedingly well. "He charged a guinea a visit when other dentists charged 7/6d." He returned to the Island and lived in Eyreton in Quarterbridge Rd. The charisma of old William the Merchant was clearly on him. He laid out his money well, and when he died in 1928, he was worth £20,000. He won this distinction for the family; as a director of the Isle of Man Railway, he had locomotive No. 13 named after him, and so Kissack is the only Manx surname to be borne by a Manx engine!

He was probably the wealthiest of the Kissacks, but his sons followed other careers, Percy (SaXIX) as a farmer in Santon, Harry (DmXX and DrXXXIII) as a professional soldier, who bore the sword of State before the Governor at Tynwald through the '30s.

Percy's only son Lawrence (SaXIX) was killed in the R.A.F. in 1941. Harry's issue was Paul, William and Ann (DrXXXIII). Paul is a doctor in Australia, and his 2 sons are the last of James' male line. William returned to the Island in 1982, on retirement from the Zimbabwe Police, and writes poetry in Manx.

But of what stock did William the Merchant come?

From time to time families encounter a plug of silence in their family traditions. No-one has ever heard who were the parents of someone only a few generations back. This seems to have been the case for six generations of the Merchant`s family.

There are a pair of graves in Maughold Churchyard of John and Isabel Kissack, who died 1775 and 1776 (MgV). John's age is given as 70 years. It is not hard to recognise these as William`s parents : two of the children of William and Margaret have been buried later, one in each grave. Since both Isabel and John died intestate, the Court's grant of administration mentions two sons, Ewan and William. Ewan declined administration; he spent periods away from the Island in Whitehaven, so William accepted it. There exists also a bill of sale from Ewan to William of his share in his parents' house in Maughold St., which not only identifies the relationship. but indicates that Ewan was married to Mary Magee, and was a tobacconist.

John had married Isabel Kerruish at Lezayre in 1726. Their home was in Kirk Maughold St., Ramsey, and they had a shop, as custom was, in their home. Isabel features in the case of the disputed will of an aunt, Ann Kerruish, in which the evidence contains a lot of women's chatter and gossip by which she shows her social environment and family to be of the commercial bourgeoisie of the Ramsey of the day. We do not know what sort of a shop it was. Was it tobacconist, as their elder son Ewan's trade was?) Or general goods, as William later favoured? Was it based on evasion of the British customs operation? In any case William grew up in commerce. He was their youngest child. His four eldest brothers all died in childhood.

It was round John's provenance that the mystery lay. His tombstone and the parish registers indicate that he would have been born in 1705. But there is just no record of any such John Kissack. A child of that name was born that year in Lezayre but died within the year. A John, son of Ewan of Kerrowmoar was born in 1708, but died in 1714. In Maughold, no John was born in the family between 1692 and 1726.

It was a sheer piece of serendipity that solved the mystery. Dredging through a microfilm of 18th century wills of Maughold, I suddenly noticed the name of John Kissack in the text of a will made by Ewan Christian in 1716 - and incidentally, witnessed by a Ewan Kissack. He left a sheep 'to my grandson, John Kissack'. There was something out of place here. His wife was Ann Gill, his executor seemingly his only child, a daughter, Ann Kermeen. How then could he have a Kissack grandson ? Then it dawned on me that I had stumbled on the answer to the question of the identity of the characters of that adultery and incest case for which a William Kissack had been so heavily sentenced in 1705. The woman had been Ann Christian. Here was a child, John Kissack, which smacked of illegitimacy. Ann Christian's mother was a Gill. I could identify a William Kissack whose wife was Mariod Gill. Ann Christian was indeed the "wife's sister's daughter" of the miller of Close-y-Killip (LzVI), the father of Ewan the Miller. (see note 1)

And the child that was the centre of the scandal? Though there was no baptism at Maughold of any John Kissack in 1705, there was a baptism on Jan. 6, 1704/5 of John the son of Will Kermeen, Ann's husband. When the scandal broke a few months later, Manx custom would have given the child his confessed father`s surname. I found too a shred of corroborative evidence. Some of William the Merchant's Card-money has survived. One piece of 1805 is signed 'William Kissack, Ballig, Merchant'. The name Ballig is puzzling. There seems no place of the name in Ramsey. Maughold indeed has a Ballig, but it as the other extremity of the parish, and there is no record of Kissacks residing there. But it was the home of Kermeens. Though William's father John, lived his adult life in Ramsey at his shop in Kirk Maughold Street, he had probably been brought up by his mother, Ann, with the Kermeens. He could conceivably have spoken of Ballig as the quarterland of his provenance, and his son might have adopted the gesture in his turn. So through two illegitimacies by father and son, William the Close-y-Killip miller was grandfather to both William the Merchant of Ramsey, and Isaac the labourer of Narradale.

There is surely sociological significance in the stark contrast of the lives of those two families that sprang from those two misdemeanours in the Close-y-Killip family. William's son John (MgV) was mothered by one of the family, accepted, recognised in the wills of both father and grandfather, brought up by Christians, married to a Kerruish, and set up in a shop in Ramsey.

Ewan's Isaac (LzXXVII) was mothered by a notorious woman, unrecognised by his father's family, and soon separated by death from both his natural parents. While he, an illiterate labourer up Narradale, watched sheep stray into Shimmin's crops, William kept his books and watched his investments.

In the next generation, Isaac's William and his brothers were turning their back on the shame and misery of Lezayre (GrVII and XIII, SaXI) while William the consul for Sweden was superintending his Ramsey Rope-walk on the Lezayre Road (RyXII).

A generation more, one James (DmXV) makes his name and fortune in Douglas as a Provisions Merchant, the other gains respect for the drains he digs in the fields of German (GrX).

In the next generation, Thomas leaves the Tops for Liverpool and local government service, and Fred to help build the Rockefeller mansion in Cleveland; while the Merchant's Edward Thomas (DmXX) becomes the fashionable dentist of Manchester, and Edward William (Run is Rector of Ballaugh. And so on, balancing Henry Oscar`s ships with the Buttermilk boat, and, most poignant of all, the wretch ed Thomas Edward of Isaac's line hunted on the mountains, with Col. Harry Kissack carrying the sword of State.

Then in the 7th generation from the Miller's sin, members of each family had holiday homes in the same glen on the Island, and without knowing anything of this history became good friends with mutual regard. The scion of Isaac's line had in 1929 managed to write the family name among the Alumni Cantabrigienses. He admired the life-style of an officer and a gentleman; they were taken by academic prowess. Ten years later Paul Kissack kept up the name at the same College, and in turn another of Isaac's line followed him there.

For the two great new factors in Manx life in the 19th century were the linking of the Island with the Mainland by reliable steamer service, and the development of popular education. For Education is the great social equaliser, and exposure to English culture a quickener of Manx potentialities. Families driven off the Island by economic stringency have often found in Britain, and even more America, advancement through education denied to the more comfortably placed Manx who stayed behind.

Note 1 - Correspondence received casts some doubt on Rex's conclusion - read more


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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