Tynwald, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the city of Edinburgh have all played their part in a tribute to be made to the memory of a man born a slave in St Helena but who died, emancipated, in the Isle of Man in 1822 aged just 18.
At the British Island and Mediterranean Region annual conference in June this year, hosted by the Scotland branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in Edinburgh, the Speaker of the House of Keys, the Hon Steve Rodan SHK, had occasion to recount the story of the slave Samuel Ally to a member of the St Helena Legislative Council, Hon Councillor Mervyn Yon.
Samuel Ally was born into slavery but was granted his freedom by his master, Kirk Michael-born Colonel Mark Wilks, the governor of St Helena at the time of Napoleon’s exile there. Colonel Wilks later returned to the Isle of Man, bringing his servant Samuel with him.
When Samuel died at the age of 18 he was buried at Old Kirk Braddan Church in a grave with a headstone paid for by his employer Colonel Wilks.
Councillor Yon has agreed that a wreath be sent and laid on the grave at a ceremony later this year, ahead of which efforts have been made to tidy the site. Mr Speaker and the Clerk of Tynwald Mr Roger Phillips have cleared the grave of weeds while Manx National Heritage conservator Christopher Weeks has cleaned the headstone, the inscription upon which remains, in part, legible:
‘An African and native of St Helena. Died the 28th of May 1822 aged 18 years. Born a slave, and exposed to the corrupt influences of that unhappy state, he became a model of TRUTH and PROBITY for the more fortunate of any country or condition.
‘This stone is erected by a grateful master to the memory of a faithful servant who repaid the boon of Liberty with unbounded attachment.’
Mr Speaker said: ‘This story is a moving one that highlights the loyalty of Samuel Ally and the humanity of Colonel Mark Wilks, a former Speaker of the House of Keys.
‘From a parliamentary perspective this account is yet further demonstration of the many opportunities the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association affords member nations – even those some 5000 miles apart - not only to forge new but also preserve valuable links from the past.’
Colonel Mark Wilks FRS (1759–1831) was a Manx soldier and administrator.
He was born in the Isle of Man, the son of the Rev. James Wilks and Elisabeth Christian.
At the age of 18 he went to India and was commissioned in the Madras Army. He served as the Town Major at Fort Saint George, the capital of Madras Presidency and later he was appointed the acting Resident at Mysore.
He married twice. His second wife was Dorothy Taubman, daughter of the Speaker of the House of Keys, whom he married in 1813.
In 1813 he was appointed Governor for three years of St Helena, while Napoleon was imprisoned there, and Napoleon is stated to have found Mark Wilks a highly engaging and affable man.
On his return in 1816 he was elected to the House of Keys. In 1822, after the death of his father-in-law, he became Speaker of the House.
In February 1826 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.
For further information contact: