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Title Page
General Notes
1. Agriculture
2. Famine
3. Hardships
4. Governing
Appendix A
Appendix B
2003 Update
Manx flag (14k) ‘Considering the extraordinary dearth and scarcity of bread…’: Aspects of life on the Isle of Man in the years 1647 to 1651

2. Evidence for Famine

(See 2003 Update Notes)

It is tempting to use the word famine when discussing shortages of food and their consequences. A dictionary defines famine as ‘a severe shortage of food, as through crop failure or overpopulation.’ [87] Crop failure was discussed earlier, but overpopulation is more difficult. Limited evidence makes it impossible to be certain about population figures or trends on Man in the seventeenth century. Dickinson provides a ‘crude estimate of the island’s population in c. 1670’ of 10,464. [88] A perhaps more accurate figure, for 1726, suggests a population around 14,426. [89] But neither figure helps in determining population trends in the middle of the seventeenth century.

In England, populations were increasing in this period,

In 1550 the population of England . . . was rising fairly quickly. From about 2.3 millions, . . . for 1522-5, it had risen to 2.8 millions by 1541, 4.1 millions by 1601 and 5.281 millions by 1656. This was the peak which marked the beginnings of a dramatic transition to a period of population stagnation and even decline, . . . [90]

Blundell told of a declining population on Man, but no conclusions can be drawn from his remarks.

The Island of Man is at this day in a mean populous; it neither wanteth nor aboundeth, much less is it overburthened by its natives; all confess it to have been in antient days and times much more populous, and more fully inhabited, but neither now nor at any time heretofore, was this island famed to abound with numerous natives; their kings were truly called kings of Man but not kings of Men, . . . [91]

Without reliable population figures, it is difficult to determine the severity of the food shortages. Some attempt was needed, however, to analyse the evidence available. Appleby’s work concentrates on the north west of England and Sharpe has called it ‘. . . the standard introduction.’ [92] Appleby redefines famine in his study.

What is famine? It is defined here as a crisis of mortality caused by starvation and starvation-related disease, a crisis measured by the increase in the number of deaths. In many of the localities under consideration, the number of people dying doubled or tripled, compared to an average of deaths in noncrisis years. [93]

He uses an eight-point method for determining ‘whether or not people died of famine’ [94] in a given crisis year or years. This chapter will be an attempt to apply his method to the Isle of Man for the period considered. Appleby’s method has been used because of the range of materials that he suggests be considered. While parish register evidence is vital, it is not the only source of evidence examined. Appleby provides a structured framework from within which the evidence for Man in the period can be presented and discussed.

The term famine would, most likely, not have been used in contemporary records of the day. Slack states that:

. . . governments could not acknowledge its [famine’s] present existence without implying their own lack of control. For the Council therefore ‘famine’ was what would follow if its policies were not enforced. It regulations were intended to prevent ‘misery and danger of famine’, ‘famine and the diseases which follow the want of wholesome food.’ The actuality was usually ‘dearth and scarcity’ or ‘scarcity and dearth’ – where dearth meant high prices, ‘dearness’. [95]

Parish Register Evidence

Many of Appleby’s points rely on parish registers. Because they are church records, only those activities that took place within the church are included. Civil records of marriages, births and deaths did not begin until later. Coward identifies difficulties in using English parish registers as sources, many of which also apply to Man. ‘Many registers contain gaps in the series and those that survive often suffer from under-registration because of inefficient clergy, . . . the gap between birth and baptism, and the existence of non-Anglicans.’ [96] Sharpe states that ‘Religious nonconformists, the irreligious, and marginal elements within the parish were all unlikely to have their births, deaths and marriages recorded.’ [97]

On the Isle of Man, parish registers were transcribed, hand written and microfilmed around 1944. While these copies are invaluable for family research, they are less helpful for the purpose here. The copies can be imprecise, some registers note where information has been worn away, but in others there are large gaps, sometimes covering several years, with no explanation. Additionally only a few of the parishes on the Island have records dating to the period under consideration here. For some there are low numbers that may indicate under recording or simply be accurate accounting of a small parish. More details about specific shortcomings in each parish are provided within the discussion of that parish.

The following four of Appleby’s points rely exclusively on the evidence from parish registers. (The order in which they are discussed here is different from the original.)

1. There must be a dramatic increase in mortality, rising either rapidly or gradually. It is difficult to give a precise range, but burials twice normal would alert a researcher that some type of demographic crisis was present. (“Normal” is here defined as an average of burials for a number of non-crisis base years. The base years will vary from parish to parish because of gaps in the registers.)

2. This increase should be detectable in several neighboring (sic) parishes at approximately the same time.

3. The dead should include a high proportion of infants and children, who are physiologically the most vulnerable to starvation and also of economically marginal persons, such as wanderers, beggars, widows, and – again – children.

4. There should be fewer conceptions than usual, as food shortages induced amenorrhea. A fall in conceptions is more likely to indicate famine than epidemic disease, but this decline is not conclusive proof of the presence of famine. [98]

For the third point the registers on Man are unhelpful. While most registers note “infant” after some burials, it is generally the only note that refers to age or status. Some registers record “son of” or “daughter of”, and in common with Appleby, [99] these burials have been counted as children. There is no means of determining the ages involved in these burials; some can be traced back to earlier baptisms, but this is not always true and has not been attempted generally. There is no further indication of status recorded in the registers of the time. As Sharpe points out above, the marginal elements of the parish might not be recorded at all. The only exception is in Malew in August 1649. One woman buried there has the word “poore” written after her name. [100] It is unlikely that this was the only poor person buried in the parish that year; what made this woman noteworthy is unknown.

The period from 1640 to 1655 was researched for all seventeen parishes. For the limited number of parishes with records an attempt was made to identify a ten-year continuous period with records that included the years 1647 to 1649 to provide enough non-crisis base years for successful analysis. Only eight parishes were complete enough to be included for further discussion, and the ten-year period used varies from parish to parish. For some parishes the term was extended to 1656 in order to get ten years to discuss.

For further information, Appendix B contains a list of every parish that has records in the period 1640 to 1655 with monthly burial and conception (Conceptions are defined as the ‘. . . time of christening minus nine months’ [101] ) totals for each year. It includes parishes that have records for only a few years in the period that are not discussed below. Discussions by parish, considered in alphabetical order, where a ten-year span could be identified follows in terms of the above points one, three and four. The second point will be considered at the end of this section. Burial totals by year for the six parishes that were included for further discussion are summarized in Table 2. Table 3 shows the same for conceptions by year for the five parishes used.

Table 2: Burials by Parish

Ballaugh [102]2227201819128121624      
Jurby [103]   963491014375   
Malew [104]  23162523232565322412    
Maughold [105]      2102666108238
Michael [106]    111051219645137  
Onchan [107]      592221255533

Table 3: Conceptions by Parish

Ballaugh [108]17141427121718151123    
Braddan [109]26473110252518182124    
Jurby [110]   20166710131311718 
Marown [111]12891411111311617    
Michael [112]    1822161682511171416

Many of the registers show a drop in burial and/or baptism rates in 1651 or 1652 that might be at least partially accounted for by the political upheavals of the period leading to under recording. There are similar drops in some court records and in customs revenues in 1651, which suggests that life on Man was not proceeding normally at this time. This will be discussed further later.


Ballaugh records become fragmentary after 1650, with only one recorded burial in 1651 and none for 1652. Similarly, baptisms fall off in 1652 and 1653 with only five baptisms being recorded for those two years. The ten years considered, therefore, for both conceptions and burials are 1641 to 1650. Figure 1 shows burials.

Figure 1 [113]

Figure 1 (10k)

The parish register for Ballaugh is the only one on the Island that refers to a shortage of food in the period. Between the records for 1648 and 1649 the clerk wrote ‘In this year there was great scarcity of Corne’. [114] However, the burial register does not reflect an increase in deaths during the time. The average number of deaths for the ten-year period is 18 per year and the shortage years show death rates below this average. Burials do increase from 1647 to 1648 and again in 1649, but they seem to be returning to an earlier higher level after a low rate in 1647, rather than actually increasing. Missing records for 1651 and 1652, with the years immediately following appearing under recorded, means that further verification is unavailable.

Considering Appleby’s third point, the register in Ballaugh records “infant” deaths, but does not indicate “child of” deaths or any other information about status. The burial of infants does not rise proportionally for Ballaugh in the shortage years. 1642 and 1650 have the highest death rates and also high proportions of infant deaths, but the parish register offers no explanation for these increases.

Conceptions in Ballaugh in the same period are more difficult to discuss because the register has worn away in parts, obscuring the dates when baptisms took place. These worn sections are in the years 1649 and 1650 (showing conceptions for 1648 and 1649). Between July 1648 and June 1649 seven conceptions took place and between July and December 1649 six more can be determined. The later six can be placed within totals by year but the earlier seven are less straightforward. By considering the percentages of conceptions each month over the years that are complete, an attempt has been made to assign the seven conceptions to a month and year to provide totals for comparison. Two of the questioned conceptions were placed into 1648 and the remaining five into 1649. These are the totals that were used in Table 3 and are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2 [115]

Figure 2 (9k)

The exact distribution of those seven conceptions is unknown. If more belong to 1648 then the fall in conceptions in 1649 becomes even more marked. If more belong to 1649, then the fall there is less significant, but the fall in 1648 becomes more pronounced. Regardless of the distribution of these conceptions, there appears to be a slight fall in 1648 and a larger fall in 1649. However, the conception rate varies a great deal over the ten-year period, with other years showing totals nearly as low.

The average conception rate for Ballaugh for the ten years is 17 per year and five of the ten years fall below this average. The years that follow 1650 appear to be under recorded. Appleby suggests that a fall in conceptions might occur where a population was suffering but not actually reaching starvation level and that might be an argument for the evidence shown here. ‘This pattern of falling conceptions but no rise in the number of burials suggests that food shortage caused amenorrhea but never reached the point of starvation -- and therefore left traces on the baptismal register but not on the burial register.’ [116]

Generally, for Ballaugh, it appears that the food shortages had a minimal effect. While the parish register itself tells of scarcity, burial rates do not increase. Neither does the proportion of infant deaths rise; in fact it is higher in years outside of the shortage period. Conceptions do appear to have decreased over the years of the shortages, but the change is small and possibly insignificant.


The burial registers for Braddan are not complete enough to be included in this discussion. The baptism records are better and for conceptions the years 1641 to 1650 were used. The totals given in Table 3 are shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3 [117]

Figure 3 (9k)

It is probable that the total for 1644 reflects a gap in the records. There is a gap of seven months with no conceptions, the longest single gap in the entire period. The next closest gap is one of only four months in 1648, during the period of food shortages. The average for the ten years is 25 conceptions per year and 1644, 1647, 1648 and 1649 fall below this average, as does 1650, which saw conceptions just one below average. Conceptions actually increase in 1649, however, nine of the 21 conceptions occur in October or later, that is, after the more successful harvest at the end of 1649. Overall, a small drop in conceptions in the food shortage period appears evident.


Records exist for baptisms and burials for Jurby and the same ten-year period has been used for considering both, the years 1644 to 1653. Burial totals are represented in Figure 4.

Figure 4 [118]

Figure 4 (10k)

The average number of deaths per year over the ten years is seven, with 1643, 1648, 1649 and 1650 showing totals above this average. The small rises in 1648 and 1649 are followed by a larger rise in 1650, by which time the food shortages were over. Eleven of the 14 deaths take place in the first four months of 1650, possibly the result of a winter disease taking hold in a parish weakened by the food shortages. That is merely speculation, however, and as the numbers involved are small, there may be no special significance to the pattern of deaths. The number of infant burials recorded is small for all years and may indicate under recording rather than a true count of children and infant deaths. If it is accurate, then it does not reflect a higher proportion during the food shortage years.

Conceptions for Jurby are made more complicated by a lack of baptismal records for 1647. Assuming some baptisms took place in that year, conception totals for 1646 and 1647 are too low in Table 3 and Figure 5.

Figure 5 [119]

Figure 5 (9k)

The average number of conceptions for the years 1640 to 1645 is sixteen. (Not all of these years are shown above, but they are in Appendix B.) There is no way of knowing what accurate figures for 1646 and 1647 would show, but the records for 1648 and 1649 are below this average. Conceptions remain below this average, however until 1653, so it is not possible to state that the food shortages were responsible for the drop.

For Jurby overall there is no conclusive evidence that food shortages either raised the burial rates or lowered the conception rates. Though there is a rise in burials and apparently a fall in conceptions in the shortage period, both of these continue into the years that follow.


Malew has some of the best burial records for the period in question with some years verified by a second set of registers. The Malew registers also sometimes include additional information about causes of death in exceptional circumstances that help to build a more accurate picture of the period. There is nothing in the register that refers to food shortages in the period. Malew records start in 1643, as do the ten years considered here and shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6 [120]

Figure 6 (9k)

The average number of burials over the ten-year period is 27 and only 1649 and 1650 exceed this average. Of the 32 burials in 1650, six can be accounted for by a shipwreck in April that year. The rise in the proportion of infant burials could be attributed to food shortages, though they remain higher than normal in 1650 as well. For the first time a parish meets Appleby’s point one, with deaths more than double the ten-year average, and point three as the proportion of infant and child burials rises from eight percent in 1648 to 17 percent in 1649. It remains at 19 percent for 1650 before dropping back to eight percent in 1651 and even lower thereafter.

There is no way of determining how many of the dead were “economically marginal persons” but, as mentioned above, one person is described as poor in 1649. Unfortunately, the baptismal records for Malew do not survive until 1654, as conception information would help to confirm or refute the burial register evidence.


Marown burial registers do not begin until later, but baptismal records are available and conceptions have been considered for the period 1641 to 1650 and are shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7 [121]

Figure 7 (10k)

The average for the ten-year period is 11 conceptions per year. Only 1642, 1643 and 1649 fall below this average. The largest drop occurs in 1649, being just over half of the average. With such small numbers, it is difficult to know how much weight to give this evidence. A gap in the records from 1650 to 1655 precludes further analysis.


Maughold’s baptismal records begin in September 1647 and are fragmentary. Conceptions have, therefore, not been included here, but are included in Appendix B. Figure 8 shows burials for the years considered, 1647 to 1656.

Figure 8 [122]

Figure 8 (8k)

The first year with records is 1647 and is possibly incomplete. The ten-year average is eight and only 1648, 1649 and 1652 rise above this average. 1649 is three times that average. Because the numbers involved are small, the average number of burials for the five years following was also calculated to determine whether the numbers are small from gaps in the records or from the size of the parish. From 1657 to 1661, the average number of burials per year was 11. While two of these years exceed this average, one with 13 burials and another with 16, 1649 is still the highest.

The numbers buried most years are so small that even one or two infant or child burials make their percentage large, but in 1648 they make up 20 percent of the burials and in 1649, 23 percent. After 1649 the proportion of infants being buried stays high, but the total numbers being buried are lower. Overall, burials are considerably higher in 1649 with infants and children making up nearly a quarter of the total, meeting two of Appleby’s criteria. The lack of useful baptismal records means that conceptions cannot be considered.


The ten-year period considered for Michael for both burials and conceptions is 1645 to 1654. For burials the years 1644 and 1655 are both missing, but the years between them seem fairly complete. Figure 9 shows burials.

Figure 9 [123]

Figure 9 (10k)

The average for the ten-year period is nine deaths per year with 1645, 1646, 1648, 1649 and 1653 all exceeding this average. 1649, however, is more than double the average and the highest yearly total for the period. The percentage of infant and child deaths does not increase, however, which might suggest causes other than starvation for the increased burial rate. Lack of information about the economic status of the dead does not allow a conclusion for this point. Conceptions are shown in Figure 10.

Figure 10 [124]

Figure 10 (10k)

The ten-year average is 16 conceptions per year, with 1649, 1651 and 1653 all falling below that average. 1649, however, falls furthest, to only half of the average. Taken in conjunction with the rise in the death rate in the same period, the evidence for Michael seems to suggest starvation was affecting the parish. The lack of evidence about economic status, however, does not allow point three to be satisfied.


Lastly, for Onchan baptismal records are incomplete, appearing for only three years of those considered. They have, thus, not been included. Burial totals are shown in Figure 11.

Figure 11 [125]

Figure 11 (9k)

Records begin in 1647 and may be incomplete for that year. Again there is a dramatic increase in 1649 with a large percentage of the dead being described as infants or children, but the death total for 1650 is nearly as high and is higher proportionally in terms of infant and child deaths. Both years are nearly three times the average for the ten-year period, which is eight. Another five years were considered to ascertain if the low numbers were credible. From 1657 to 1661 the average number of burials each year is six, therefore Onchan appears to have been a small parish. It might be suggested that starvation took a number of lives in 1649 and weakened others so that they were more likely to die from disease the following year, but this cannot be proven.


Overall, in terms of Appleby’s first point, ‘. . . a dramatic increase in mortality. . .’ [126], Malew, Maughold, and Michael show such an increase, as does Onchan. With Onchan, however, the burial rate remains high in 1650. Jurby shows a less dramatic increase in 1649 with a further increase in 1650. Ballaugh’s burial records alone fail to show any increase in burials in 1649 over the average for the ten years considered.

The third point, ‘ . . . a high proportion of infants and children . . . and . . . economically marginal persons . . .’ [127] as discussed above, is more difficult to prove. In 1649 in Maughold the percentage of infants and children buried is nearly a quarter of the total; in Malew they represent a higher than normal proportion of burials for that year. Similarly, they represent a higher than average proportion of the burials for Onchan, but the percentage is still higher in 1650. In Michael, however, the proportion is lower in 1649, in spite of the increase in burials. In Jurby no infant or child burials are recorded for 1649, though some are included in the higher burial totals in 1650. Without any evidence as to the economic status of the people involved, it is impossible to satisfy the second half of this point. One burial in Malew is certainly that of an “economically marginal person” but no other evidence exists.

Evidence to satisfy Appleby’s fourth point, ‘fewer conceptions than usual’ [128] exists for Marown and Michael, with both showing noticeable drops in conceptions in 1649. Ballaugh’s conceptions also drop in the shortage period, but because of the uncertain dating of some it is not possible to determine the severity of the drop. Missing data for 1646 and 1647 confuses Jurby’s conception rates; there does appear to be a drop in conceptions, but perhaps not a significant one. Finally, for Braddan, conceptions are lower but only slightly below average.

The second point, that of neighbouring parishes, can now be dealt with. Appleby refers only to the increase in burials and the following map is shaded to reflect the summary above. Unshaded parishes have no records (or insufficient ones) for the period.

Map 1 [129]

Map 1 (64k)

The shaded map fails to satisfy Appleby’s second point. The parishes that show an increase in burials in this period are scattered around the Island, with their important neighbouring parishes missing in the records. Ballaugh, which borders both Michael and Jurby, does not show any increase in burials in the period. It could be argued that the importance of neighbouring parishes is less significant on a small Island, such as Man, where what affected any part of the Island affected the whole. Without further parish registers coming to light, however, this point must remain unsatisfied. Map 2 shows the summary of evidence for conceptions. Again, unshaded parishes have no usable records.

Map 2 [130]

Map 2 (63k)

The evidence for falling conceptions is less compelling, but all parishes that have records seem to have been affected to some extent. The evidence that does exist is concentrated on the centre of the Island.

While the maps are to hand, a few comments on the locations of the parishes that appear to be the worst affected by the food shortages is needed. Weather, soil, and other factors that affect farming are different throughout the Island; however, no attempt has been made to differentiate between these factors on a parish-by-parish basis here. That sort of study falls outside the scope of this work, but could prove interesting for further research. The manorial rolls could also prove valuable resources for considering the sizes of farms within certain parishes and transfers of ownership in the period under consideration.

Two things are interesting to note. The first is the location of soldiers and Royalists during the period. Three camps were formed in the north of the Island and four in the south to be served by the militia of the parishes. Each parish was assigned to a camp. [131] This should have had little effect on food supplies, as they were made up of local men. However, the garrisons at Peel and Castletown were increased [132], and these additional soldiers presumably put added pressure on food supplies. Malew, which contains Castletown, was apparently badly affected by the shortages. Derby brought some soldiers with him when he came to Man, however it is not certain how many remained or for how long. [133] Chapter Three discusses the provisioning of the soldiers on the Island.

It is not known how many Royalists sought shelter on the Island in the period and their numbers would have changed throughout the period. [134] As Castletown was the capital of Man at the time it would have been a likely location for Royalists to seek accommodation. Similarly, towns such as Douglas, in the parish of Onchan and Ramsey, in Maughold may have attracted Royalist settlement, which would have increased demands on the food supplies. Michael, however, did not have a town located within it in this period and it still shows a large rise in burials in 1649. The other major town of the day was Peel, in German parish, for which there are no records.

The second point to consider with the maps is the location of “surplus” grain found when an assessment of every parish was ordered in 1649. This order will be discussed further later, but surplus was found in Maughold, Braddan, Rushen, Arbory and Malew. [135] The surplus amounts were small, however, it is interesting that parishes that appear to have loss of lives due to the shortages also apparently had farmers with surplus grain. Because so few parishes are represented, both issues are raised merely for information; otherwise no attempt has been made to determine why some areas seem more affected than others.

One further note on parish registers before moving on. A fall in the number of weddings taking place can also indicate famine according to Appleby. [136] For the Island, only three registers have records of weddings in the years 1647 to 1649. Jurby’s records are suggestive, while the ten-year average from 1644 to 1653 is only 3.4 wedding per year, no weddings took place in 1649. [137] With such small numbers however, this may not be significant. Maughold’s records begin in 1648 but the numbers are small and the records are fragmentary. Malew’s records begin in 1649, and may be incomplete for that year. No conclusions, therefore, can be drawn from the wedding evidence, which is listed in Appendix B with annual totals.

Epidemic Disease

The next point to consider reads: ‘Epidemic diseases should be considered and eliminated as probable causes.’ [138] This is difficult for Man, because the parish registers, as discussed above, rarely record any cause of death in this period. The burial records for Malew occasionally contain more information, but they do not contain any mention of disease. As quoted earlier, the Ballaugh register does refer to food shortages, but outside these few exceptions, the registers are silent as to causes of death.

Appleby offers a means of eliminating some common epidemic diseases as likely causes of increased deaths, beginning with plague. It is not known if the plague ever caused deaths on the Island. Moore mentions plague only to say that it is not known if it affected the Island in 1348. [139] Blundell wrote that ‘The plague was never known to have been there in any of their ancestors’ memory; . . .’ [140] Further, records for the Island in 1650 suggest that plague was not a factor in the late 1640s. An order dated the 12th of August 1650 at Castle Rushen, states that ‘ . . . it is well knowne that the plauge is in sev[er]all places both of England & Ireland . . .’ [141] The order puts into place a number of restrictions designed to prevent the spread of the disease to the Island which suggests that it was not active on Man at that time.

The following February it is recorded that two boats have been brought to the Island, one of which had come from Dublin ‘ . . . where the sicknes now is or there lately hath beene . . .’ [142] Neither document makes any mention of the plague having recently taken lives on Man, which may have been included if there had been plague deaths as recently as 1648 or 1649. These were the only references to plague found in the written records for the period studied for this dissertation. Appleby states that ‘If plague was in an area, much normal activity came to a halt. Justices of the peace stayed home – and wrote the Council justifying their inaction by reference to the disease.’ [143] The records for the Island for 1647 to 1649 seem to show that normal activities continued throughout.

Further, Appleby identified the common pattern for plague deaths.

. . . virtually all plague epidemics in England and on the European continent in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries followed the same actual pattern: the first cases appeared in late spring or early summer, then mortality curved upward to a peak in late summer or early autumn, followed by a decline, with plague deaths stopping altogether about the first of December. Sometimes the disease then disappeared until it was reintroduced from outside. At other times it remained dormant while the fleas hibernated during the winter, and reappeared in epidemic form again the following spring. [144]

A look at burials by month for 1648 and 1649 in Malew (Figure 12), Maughold (Figure 13) and Michael (Figure 14), (the parishes that showed a dramatic increase in burials in 1649 followed by a fall in 1650) shows that this pattern is not followed.

While burials in Malew are highest in the summer of 1649, they are also high in October 1648 and March 1649. Malew is closest to the plague pattern. It is also consistent with food shortages that were getting worse throughout 1649 until the more successful harvest in autumn that year.

Figure 12 [145]

Figure 12 (8k)

Burials in Maughold begin to increase in December 1648, which is clearly not the plague pattern. They then fall in the summer months when plague would have taken the most lives had it been present.

Figure 13 [146]

Figure 13 (7k)

Deaths in Michael are high beginning in November 1648 and throughout most of 1649, with no seasonal pattern discernible. (There is no way of determining if the gap between May and October 1648 reflects missing records or a period when no deaths took place.) Michael seems to fit Appleby’s description: ‘If starvation was the culprit, most of the deaths should have coincided roughly with the harvest year, following a harvest failure. . . . harvest years do not correspond to calendar years, but run approximately from the end of one September to the end of the next . . .’ [147]

Figure 14 [148]

Figure 14 (9k)

Overall none of these parishes follow the plague pattern Appleby described. When taken with the other evidence discussed, plague can be eliminated as the cause of the increase in deaths in 1649. Appleby also discusses typhus, stating that ‘Epidemic outbreaks of typhus usually begin in winter, when the cold discourages bathing and changing clothes, and disappear with the coming of warm weather.’ [149] Typhus does not fit any of the patterns above and can also be eliminated from consideration. He suggests that ‘ . . . an epidemic of influenza runs its course in approximately seven weeks.’ [150] This would not account for the rise in deaths over a longer period on Man. He also considers smallpox, but states that ‘ . . . a widespread epidemic would probably have caused some comment in the registers or in other material. Smallpox is an ugly affliction; . . .’ [151] Finally, he suggests dysentery, but states that ‘ . . . it raged in late summer, killed primarily the young, and did not cause a drop in conceptions.’ [152] This, again, does not fit the pattern on Man at this time.

It is not possible to be certain whether or not epidemic disease caused the rise in burials in the period. The evidence cited above suggests that an epidemic was not, however, a major factor in this period. Appleby states that, ‘The diseases I have mentioned are generally considered by medical historians to have been the great epidemic killers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries . . .’ [153] Sharpe discusses a number of diseases that were present in the period, the quote here only highlighting those not already discussed above.

There was diphtheria, a winter disease which mainly attacked children under five and which could, on occasion, kill up to 40 percent of those it infected; . . . measles, again a child’s disease, which all too frequently led to pneumonia; scarlet fever, another child’s disease, although with a low fatality rate; . . . typhoid, an autumn disease which affected all age-groups, with a case-fatality level of 15-20 percent; . . . whooping cough, fatal mainly among young children; . . .there also existed a host of lesser diseases. [154]

Most of these follow seasonal patterns which is not the case with the deaths on Man in 1649. Others are primarily children’s diseases and none of the rises in burial rates in 1649 were primarily made up of children. Limited food supplies could have led to lowered resistance and any disease could have been a factor. However, in the absence of any additional evidence, epidemic disease can be eliminated as the primary cause of the rise in burial rates in 1649.

It might be suggested that disease is indicated, however, for the continued high death rates in some parishes in 1650 and the rise in deaths in Ballaugh in that year. The burial rates show a high percentage of infant and children deaths in Ballaugh and Onchan and, to a lesser extent, in Jurby. Ballaugh and Jurby are neighbouring parishes and it is possible that one of the diseases mentioned above affected many children in both parishes and possibly Onchan as well. This is speculation; there is no other evidence for disease.

Contemporary References to Dearth

The next point on Appleby’s list reads: ‘Some contemporary accounts should refer to dearth, misery or death from want, either in the registers or in other material.’ [155] On the Isle of Man, in this period, there is a great deal of material that answers this point, from a number of sources. Perhaps most significant is the document that this research started from, (see Appendix A) which refers not only to dearth, but also to people dying from starvation. The reference to scarcity in the Ballaugh parish register has been discussed, and there are other documents that refer to the period as a time of suffering and difficulty as well.

An early mention of dearth occurs in December 1647 in a petition from the residents of Castletown to the governor, which is discussed further elsewhere. It begins by telling of the ‘lamentable condic[i]on they and theire poore ffamilies are in . . .’ [156] They state that ‘In this misery and constrayned dearth, yo[u]r petic[i]on[e]rs fearinge least ffamyne might ensue.’ [157]

A request from Derby to the Keys in 1649 regarding the provision of muskets for the defence of the Island is met with a limited solution and the statement that

. .noe further they are willinge to speake unto at this tyme, in regarde of the greate poverty & scarsety divers of the Countrey are in at this pr[e]sent, but desire that they bee forborne untill they bee of better abilletyes for the buying of such Armes. [158]

A land transfer recorded in Lib. Canc. in 1649 also contains such a reference. Dated the 29th of June 1649, the land is sold by Roger and Kathren Taylor for £3 5s. in ‘their great need & necessityes for & towards their reliefe & payment of their Rents &c in this tyme of dearth & scarsety . . .’ [159] While land transfers often mention the need of the sellers, this was the only reference found to general dearth in the five year period considered. In terms of Appleby’s point, therefore, there are sound contemporary references to dearth, misery and even death from want of food.

Prices and Mortality

The penultimate point in Appleby’s method states that ‘A correlation should exist between prices and the mortality curve.’ [160] Moore tells that prices were rising throughout the civil war period.

Writing in 1640, Lady Strange speaks of the Isle of Man as “a place where one can live for almost nothing.” But by 1645, owing to the numerous English soldiers and refugees there, prices had greatly risen, sheep costing 3s. to 4s., bullocks 40s., cows 33s., horses 30s., and geese 6d. In the same year, wheat was 20s. a quarter and malt 9s., and, in 1651, the price of wheat had risen so much that it was not permitted to be sold above 32s. a quarter. [161]

It is difficult to discuss prices generally for the period; Dickinson suggests several complications to determining prices on Man.

The problem of detecting any movement in Manx prices over a long period from such meagre information is rendered even more intractable by the haphazard survival of price data, an incomplete record of Manx harvest failures and consequently an inability to distinguish short term variations in the prices of foodstuffs and other commodities from an underlying trend. [162]

There is, however, significant information about the price of grain which shows that it increased during the years of shortage. In 1645

. . . barley was being sold at 9s. per boll and wheat at 10s. per boll. Three years later, in July 1648, the maximum price at which wheat, barley, malt or rye were to be sold in the markets was set at 16s. per boll for the best quality grain and 14s. for the inferior grades. [163]

There could have been many reasons for the rise in prices, including the Royalist presence, but Dickinson believes ‘It seems more than likely . . . that the main cause of the price increases was a poor harvest in 1647.’ [164] The regulations that were passed regarding prices for staple items [165] are considered further in Chapter Four.

Some people, in spite of the regulations, sold grain at higher prices, for example: ‘In May 1649, Edmund Kewne of Jurby took 9s. 3d. from William Fargher of Patrick for a firlot of meal, which was nearly twice the maximum rate set.’ [166] In June of that year, Robert Creere was fined for selling corn for 8s. a firlot. He argued in his own defence that he only did so because of the need of the other party. ‘. . . the saide Gamell [the purchaser] . . . makinge his neede soe much knowne and how long hee was without breade . . .’ [167] He states that he sold the corn from his own supply and ‘. . . that hee would willingly give the same rate for the like quantity . . .’ [168]

Nothing can be said absolutely about prices for general commodities in the period. Grain prices, however, did increase during the shortage years. That the government felt it necessary to set maximum prices for grain and other foodstuffs is an indication that prices would have risen higher had they been left unregulated. Some people sold grain at higher prices against the law, which seems to indicate that supplies were short and buyers were willing to pay high prices. The seller risked fines if he was caught, but presumably some sold at higher prices to buyers who kept quiet to obtain food supplies. Overall, to satisfy Appleby’s point a conclusion of higher prices corresponding to the increased mortality curve can be drawn.

Absence of negative evidence

Appleby’s final point is: ‘There should be a total absence of negative evidence unless such evidence can be proved to be spurious. Examples of negative evidence would be any reports of good harvests or of general prosperity.’ [169] Negative evidence is difficult to determine and is subject to further research.

Harvests have already been discussed and evidence suggests deficit harvests in 1647 and 1648. The harvest in the autumn of 1649 appears to have been more successful, with the brewers of the Island appealing to Derby for permission to raise prices ‘considering the greate Blessing of Almighty god to send so good a yeare of plenty.’ [170] Derby’s reply is dated the 18th of December 1649, which indicates a more successful harvest in 1649. [171] This petition is discussed further in Chapter Four.

For ‘reports of general prosperity’, William Blundell’s History needs to be considered. Dickinson comments ‘It is not certain how long Blundell spent in the island . . . he . . . based some of his work on literary sources and information supplied by some of the inhabitants, he obviously had some opportunity to observe Manx farming at first hand.’ [172] Blundell gave a positive account of the Island’s agriculture.

All parts of the Island, as well as the north as the south, yieldeth store of all sorts of grain, both barley, wheat, rye, and oats (yet of ye last the most), but not only of each satisfying the inhabitants’ necessity, but also affording an overplus for exportation unto other parts;. . . [173]

The outgates for the period, however, show that no grain was being exported from 1646 until the crisis was over. [174]

It is clear that Blundell was writing after the shortage period. His work includes comments on the writings of Chaloner [175], whose own book on the Island was published in 1656. Blundell’s comments might be seen as explaining what usually happened on the Island, as opposed to what happened in any given year. It can also be argued that Blundell’s observations were not always accurate, for example Dickinson notes ‘. . . Blundell clearly underestimates the number of craftsmen working in the towns.’ [176] While Blundell is a valuable source for information about life on the Island in the mid-seventeenth century, his writing cannot be considered as strictly factual. He was a Royalist seeking refuge on the Island and presumably wanted to paint a flattering picture of Man. His comment about grain being produced in quantities sufficient for the Island’s use and for export, in light of the evidence to the contrary, can be regarded as inaccurate for the shortage years.

Later in his discussion Appleby redefines his point, stating that negative evidence is ‘. . . evidence of good times or other circumstances, besides famine, that would explain the heightened death level.’ [177] In light of this slightly different interpretation of the point, it is necessary to discuss any role that the English civil war might have had in causing burials to rise or conceptions to fall on the Island. No fighting took place on Man, and while Derby raised and drilled troops on the Island throughout the period under discussion, he and his army remained on Man until 1651, after the shortage period. [178] A drop in conceptions might have occurred in 1651 or 1652 as a result of troops travelling with Derby to England, (and this may be the case in some of the parishes discussed above) but not earlier.

The additional pressures placed on the Island’s food supplies by the presence of additional military and Royalist refugees has been discussed above. Some of the other effects that they had on the Island are discussed further elsewhere. It is not possible to determine the size of either group, which was changing throughout the period. So for Appleby’s final point, no negative evidence exists that points to causes of death other than starvation. Evidence suggests bad harvests and Blundell’s comments can be discounted. The royalist and military presence would have increased the shortages, not added any different causes of death, and would presumably have increased conceptions if they had any effect on conception records.


Any conclusion relies on the amount of weight that can be put on the evidence from the parish registers. It could be argued that there are insufficient numbers of registers for the Island in this period to prove convincingly that famine took place.

From seventeen parishes, five of the six registers that do exist show an increase in burials in 1649, with four of them showing burial rates that are double or triple the ten year average for their parish, the ‘dramatic’ increase that Appleby requires. As discussed above, enough records do not exist for his point on neighbouring parishes to be satisfied, but on a small island, this is perhaps less significant. The distribution of parishes showing a dramatic increase in burials throughout the Island is possibly more notable than if adjoining parishes were involved. It appears from the shaded map that all areas of the Island were affected by the shortages, which agrees with the other evidence that follows.

Appleby’s third point, about proportions of infants, children and marginal persons can not be conclusively proven due to a lack of information about the economic status of the dead. Three parishes do see a marked increase in percentages of infant and child burials. A fall in conceptions occurs in every parish for which there are records, and the two parishes with the best records show significant drops. The drops in the other parishes, however, are smaller.

Disease has been eliminated as a probable cause, using Appleby’s suggestions and methods for identifying disease. There are several contemporary references to dearth for this period so Appleby’s sixth point is satisfied. A rise in prices is difficult to confirm, however based on the government regulation of grain prices, Appleby’s seventh point can be considered as satisfied. His final item, the absence of negative evidence, can also be satisfied barring further research.

It appears then, that most of Appleby’s points can be satisfied. If the limited number of registers available is considered sufficient, the evidence suggests deaths by starvation or famine by Appleby’s definition. Because so few registers are available and some of the conclusions have been tentative, it is safer, however, to suggest the following conclusion. Evidence shows that food shortages from 1647 to 1649 caused hardship on the Island, with some evidence, in some parishes, that people may have died of starvation, though this is not completely proven. Barring the discovery of additional parish registers for the period, the weakest link in the argument, any stronger conclusions based on Appleby’s method would be unjustifiable.

Appleby’s method provided a useful framework for discussion, including using sources other than parish registers. However, the Manx evidence suggests other indicators of food shortage that Appleby does not include. One example would be action taken by the government to deal with such shortages which will discussed in Chapter Four. An extended study of famine on Man would benefit from an adapted application of Appleby’s methods to take into account all of the Manx evidence.

Food shortages were not the only concern for Island residents at the time. The next chapter is devoted to discussing some of the other difficulties with which the people had to contend.

87The Collins English Dictionary, 2nd Edition, 1986, William Collins Sons & Co., Ltd., Glasgow, 549.
88Dickinson, LMUS, 10.
89Ibid., 11.
90Coward, Social Change and Continuity, 37.
91Blundell, History, vol. i, 54.
92Sharpe, EME, 356.
93Appleby, FTSE, 1.
94Ibid., 116.
95Slack, 1992, Dearth and Social Policy in Early Modern England, 8.
96Coward, 1988, Social Change and Continuity, 37.
97Sharpe, EME, 36.
98Appleby, FTSE, 116-18.
99See Appleby, FTSE, 103-105 for his reasons for doing so.
100PR 1649: Malew burials (MF/PR19)
101Appleby, FTSE, 116
102PR 1641 – 1650: Ballaugh burials (MF/PR4)
103PR 1644 – 1653: Jurby burials (MF/PR15)
104PR 1643 – 1652: Malew burials (MF/PR19) and MNHL 10216
105PR 1647 – 1656: Maughold burials (MF/PR22)
106PR 1645 – 1654: Michael burials (MF/PR24)
107PR 1647 – 1656: Onchan burials (MF/PR25)
108PR 1641 – 1651: Ballaugh baptisms (MF/PR4)
109PR 1641 – 1651: Braddan baptisms (MF/PR5)
110PR 1644 – 1654: Jurby baptisms (MF/PR15)
111PR 1641 – 1651: Marown baptisms (MF/PR22)
112PR 1645 – 1655: Michael baptisms (MF/PR24)
113PR 1641 – 1650: Ballaugh burials (MF/PR3 & PR4)
114PR 1648 – 1649: Ballaugh burials (MF/PR4)
115PR 1641 – 1651: Ballaugh baptisms (MF/PR4)
116Appleby, FTSE, 108.
117PR 1641 – 1651: Braddan baptisms (MF/PR5)
118PR 1644 – 1653: Jurby burials (MF/PR15)
119PR 1644 – 1654: Jurby baptisms (MF/PR15)
120PR 1643 – 1652: Malew burials (MF/PR19) and MNHL 10216
121PR 1641 – 1651: Marown baptisms (MF/PR22)
122PR 1647 – 1656: Maughold burials (MF/PR22)
123PR 1645 – 1654: Michael burials (MF/PR24)
124PR 1645 – 1655: Michael baptisms (MF/PR24)
125PR 1647 – 1656: Onchan burials (MF/PR25)
126Appleby, FTSE, 116.
127Ibid., 118.
129Modified from Dickinson, LMUS, 12.
131Moore, History, vol. i, 245.
132Kinvig, R.H., 1975, The Isle of Man: A Social, cultural, and political history, Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, 104.
133Ibid., 102.
134Dickinson, LMUS, 98.
135Ibid., 101.
136Appleby, FTSE, 9.
137PR 1644 – 1653: Jurby marriages (MF/PR15).
138Appleby, FTSE, 118.
139Moore, History, vol. i, 284.
140Blundell, History, vol. i, 38.
141Lib. Scacc., 1650, 75 (MF/RB445).
142Lib. Scacc., 1651, 12 (MF/RB445).
143Appleby, FTSE, 125.
144Ibid., 100.
145PR 1648 – 1649: Malew burials (MF/PR19).
146PR 1648 – 1649: Maughold burials (MF/PR22).
147Appleby, FTSE, 114.
148PR 1648 – 1649: Michael burials ( MF/PR24).
149Ibid., 103.
150Ibid., 120.
154Sharpe, EME, 52.
155Appleby, FTSE, 118.
156Lib. Scacc., 1647, inter 82-83 (3) (MF/RB444).
158Lib. Scacc., 1649, inter 62-65 (2) (MF/RB444).
159Lib. Canc., 1649, 97.
160Appleby, FTSE, 117.
161Moore, History, vol. i, 288.
163Ibid., 98.
165Ibid., 99.
166Ibid., 102.
167Lib. Scacc. 1649, inter 67-68 (1) (MF/RB444)
169Appleby, FTSE, 118.
170Lib. Scacc. 1650, inter 40-41 (5) (MF/RB444).
171Lib. Scacc. 1650, inter 40-41 (8) (MF/RB444).
172Dickinson, LMUS, 89.
173Blundell, History, vol. i, 39.
174IO (bundles 1644-1647 and 1648-1651), Waterbailiff’s accounts 1647 – 1651, outgates.
175See for example, Blundell, History, vol. i, 43.
176Dickinson, LMUS, 140.
177Appleby, FTSE, 121.
178See Moore, History, vol. i, 231-258 for more information.

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