Navigate Up

James Brown (1815-1881)

Democratic Reformer

Journalist and founder of the Isle of Man Times. Challenged the unrepresentative nature of the House of Keys.
 
James Brown, who was born in Liverpool on 2nd August 1815, moved to the Isle of Man in 1846, at the time of the so-called Printing Boom.  The lack of taxes on newspapers in the Isle of Man and the other Crown Dependencies, along with a loophole that allowed them to be posted free of charge to subscribers on the mainland, formed the conditions for a flourishing printing industry on the Island.  brown.png
 
The Post Office Act 1848, which made newspapers published in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man liable to postage, put an end to the Printing Boom.  Most of the printing entrepreneurs left the Island, but Brown stayed, working in advertising through the 1850s. 
 
On 4th May 1861, Brown launched the new Isle of Man Times.  Along with Robert Fargher’s Mona’s Herald, this newspaper campaigned for a democratically elected House of Keys.  Like Fargher, in 1864 Brown found himself called before the House of Keys accused of libel and contempt.  The recently established Douglas Town Commissioners had petitioned the House of Keys to introduce a Bill that would enable the Comissioners to make by-laws.  Brown’s report on the Keys’ consideration of this petition included the remark by one MHK that the Commissioners were only fit to control the donkeys on the beach; Brown went on to insult the Keys in a similar fashion by commenting that this remark ‘elicited marks of approval from the donkeys around him’, before accusing the Keys of being ‘despotic rulers’. Brown refused to apologise, and so was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment in Castle Rushen.
 
Brown continued to publish defiant articles, calling for freedom of the press and democracy, during his time in prison.  In the end, he served only 6 weeks of his sentence, after an appeal made by his son (and financed by donors) to the Court of Queen’s Bench ruled that he had been unlawfully imprisoned.  Brown then sued the House of Keys and was awarded £519 in damages. 
 
Within two years, the House of Keys had become an elected body.  Although the extent to which Brown’s actions directly led to this reform is up for debate, there is no doubt that his unlawful imprisonment badly damaged the reputation of the House of Keys.  This marked a turning point in the movement towards enfranchisement. 

He polished up the rusty Keys and bore the prize away...