This wonderful six stamp collection aims to capture the essence and the appearance of the Island at the time of Wordsworth’s visit to the Island in 1833, and is presented through period paintings chosen in relation to the Manx scenes discussed.
The poetry of William Wordsworth, and the surviving journals of his sister Dorothy, are important literary legacies, but hidden amongst them are details of two visits to the Isle of Man and a number of interesting links to local people.
It was Dorothy who first sailed to the Island from Whitehaven in 1828 – her final journey before decline into ill health. Her original manuscript (also containing other material) faded and scattered with corrections, comprises two small notebooks held at the Jerwood Centre of the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere.
Although seasick on the inbound sailing, Dorothy was welcomed on land with a dish of tasty crabs and stayed with the siblings of her brother’s wife - Joanna and Captain Henry Hutchinson, who lived on South Quay in Douglas, a fashionable area at that time. Both unmarried and driven here by economic circumstances, Joanna, who was godmother to T. E. Brown’s sister, Margaret, was left disabled after an accident on Douglas quayside. Captain Hutchinson (the ‘ex- mariner’ of the sonnets) is buried in Braddan churchyard, with an epitaph said to be written by William Wordsworth.
Their nephew, also named Henry, was married and lived in Peel. Dorothy spent the first ten days in and around Douglas with Joanna, Henry and their friends, before heading in a clockwise direction with Henry and her brother’s son, Willy, to explore the hidden delights of the Isle of Man. Upon reaching Ramsey and Maughold, Dorothy returned to Douglas by horse and cart before spending her final week in and around Douglas. She declared that Douglas, Ramsey and Peel were charmingly situated, the latter being the most unforgettable. She remarked that the Isle of Man, with proper culture, could be even more beautiful than the Isle of Wight.
William, however, only spent four days on the Island during July 1833, as part of his journey to the Scottish islands with his eldest son John and old friend Henry Crabb Robinson. He was urged to visit the Isle of Man by Dorothy, who furnished him with details of where to visit and avoid. Indeed, it is said that the Reverend Robert Brown (father of the Manx poet T. E. Brown) implored Dorothy to persuade her brother to visit the Island - exclaiming it to be ‘a national honour’. He later received a signed copy of William Wordsworth’s collected poems and it is known that a volume of Reverend Brown’s own works was in William’s collection.
Although advised by his sister to travel anti-clockwise, William pursued the other direction, expressing an interest in ascending Snaefell. He did, however, visit Ballasalla, described as ‘a little wood-embosomed village by the side of a stream upon which stands the ruined walls of an old Abbey’. He visited Thomas and Elizabeth Cookson, connected with the Wordsworth family but residing on the Isle of Man for the sake of economy. Thomas was buried in the grounds of Ballure chapel. A water-colour of Rushen Abbey, painted during the 1830s and given by William Wordsworth to Thomas Cookson, has latterly been gifted to Tynwald by his descendants.
William lingered in the Castletown area and King William’s College before heading towards South Barrule. He too expressed much pleasure with Peel Bay. He also confessed that on the whole he liked the Isle of Man better than he had expected, and vowed, unsuccessfully, to return with his wife. He produced ten sonnets about the Island, although one was written by Captain Henry Hutchinson.
Links with the Isle of Man and the Wordsworth family abound. One of his sonnets is dedicated to Sir William Hillary (founder of the forerunner of the RNLI) who rescued many shipwrecked mariners in Manx waters and had built the Tower of Refuge in Douglas Bay. He also sent a copy of his plan for a Great Central Harbour in Douglas, dated 1836, to the poet. Both William and Dorothy also made friends with Sir Walter Scott, who wrote Peveril of the Peak - partially set on the Isle of Man. He was persuaded by William to include an appendix in his 1831 edition of the novel, to correct the misrepresentation of the Manx historical figures William and Edward Christian.
Additionally, another William Christian (from the Cumberland branch) became William Wordsworth’s headmaster and later represented the Wordsworth family in a dispute. Both families were also linked by marriage. William Wordsworth also assisted in the campaign to clear the name of Fletcher Christian (Mutiny on the Bounty) who was also part of the Cumberland branch of the family. Rumours abound of his escape after the mutiny, with suggestions that William Wordsworth may have met the celebrated mutineer, forwarding information about the saga not in the public domain - to emerge later in The Rime of an Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.