James Brown (1815-1881)
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
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
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
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
He polished up the rusty Keys and bore the prize away...