Memorial Notices :  Material and photo courtesy of Manx National Heritage

April  2001 by  Brian E. P. Kneen

Thomas Kneen ( H.M. Clerk of the Rolls ) 1852 - 1916

Mr. Thomas Kneen, H.M. Clerk of the Rolls for the Isle of Man, died at his residence  Glencrutchery, on Thursday, November 23rd 1916 after a some what long and painful illness.  

As a youth he had none of those social advantages which have such a help full affect in connection with a man's career his father, the late Mr. Thomas Kneen of Ballasteen, Andreas, was a yeoman of old Manx family. It is true, but moving in a circle remote from the seats of influence, the Clerk of the Rolls was brought up amid a rural and agricultural environment, and he always retained a passionate attachment for the soil and for the calling in which he was cradled.

He was educated first at the Ramsey Grammar School, and subsequently at King  William's College, his school career being a creditable one. Upon completing his school education he was articled to the late  Mr. Alfred Walter Adams, advocate, Douglas, undoubtedly in those days the ablest leader in Manx Courts- of Law.

Mr. Adams was at that time in partner - ship with Mr. W. F. Dickinson, who is now senior partner in The firm of Dickinson, Cruickshank and Co., advocates, Douglas and Ramsey. by the way a Mr. Adams subsequently became Clerk of the Rolls a position in which he was some years later followed by his pupil who is the subject of this sketch. Mr. Kneen, having completed his articles, was as admitted to the Manx Bar in 1877. He being then 24 years old, here it may be convenient to mention that he was the oldest son of his father, and was born at Ballasteen in October, 1852, he thus being 64 years old at the time of his death.

Almost immediately after admission , he commenced practice at Ramsey, and soon obtained a reputation as a sound lawyer and as a leader of parts. His great chance came in 1880, when upon the elevation of Mr. Adams to, the office of Clerk of the Rolls, Mr. Dickinson invited him to become his partner in one of the largest legal practices in the Isle of Man, Mr. Kneen accepted the invitation, and, of course, removed to Douglas, soon afterwards marrying Miss Eleanor J. Corlett, daughter of the late Mr. James Corlett, of -Ramsey, who survives him.

On joining the firm which became known as Dickinson & Kneen, the young advocate at once sprang into fame, and for the next twenty years or so he was engaged as counsel in connection with almost every lawsuit of any importance in the Isle of Man. A very fine cross-examiner, his splendid knowledge of Manx character enabled him to handle Manx witnesses--especially Manx witnesses from the agricultural districts in such tactful fashion that he hardly ever failed to extract from them points which favored the side be was on. 

When persuasion was advisable, nobody could be more persuasive, and when a militant attitude war likely to be attended with good results, nobody could be more militant when, too, be had in a degree of almost perfection that jury manner which commends itself most to Manx jurors- could well-nigh do as he liked with a jury of agriculturists. 

With all he was a very sound lawyer, and while Practicing at the Bar he was scrupulously careful to keep himself up-to-date- The judges ever listened attentively to his arguments, and were very chary (if suggesting that he might be mistaken in his views of the law. His rival-his always friendly rival at the Bar was the present Attorney-General. When these two were associated on the one side in connection with a court case the odds were strongly against the other side, and very frequently they were so associated. They were together in the defence of George James Barker Cooper, who was tried for the murder of his wife 23 Years ago.

The son of a Manchester merchant of great wealth. there was un-limited money behind the accused. Mr. Ring and Mr. Kneen were retained for the defence, and their conduct of it -as a masterpiece of legal skill. There was a very strong case indeed against Cooper, but his advocates fought for him so strenuously and so ably that they persuaded the jury to ignore the capital charge. The accused man was, however, found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years' penal servitude.

While still a young man. Mr. Kneen took a considerable interest in politics in this respect be first came into Prominence by "stumping" the country in conjunction with Mr. Ring, their object being to persuade the rural ejectors of the  injustice that was being done. Douglas as a consequence of insufficient representation of the town in the House of Keys. In large measure as the outcome of Mr. Kneen's persuasive oratory the country espoused the cause of the chief town , and in due course the town's representation in the, house was increased from three to five members---the figure which still obtains, In 1890 Mr. Kneen was returned unopposed to the House of Keys, to fill tile vacancy in the representation, of Glenfaba Sheading, caused by the death of Mr. John Quayle of Glenmave. His career in the House was not a long one but in the course of it he got through the House a very useful Licensing Bill. which being subsequent accepted by the Legislative Council became law. This measure empowered the Licensing Court. when considering applications for retail liquor licenses to take, into account requirements of the neighborhood previously. Such applications could be refused on one ground-that of the applicants character If the applicants character was good, the court had perforce to grant the application The result was that, retail liquor licences multiplied to such all extent particularly in Douglas that they threatened to develop into a great evil.

The demands made upon his time and energies by his extensive legal practice influenced him in not seeking re-election. and for the next eight years he devoted himself to the practice of his profession. He was. by the way, advocate to the, Douglas Town Commissioners and subsequently to the Douglas Corporation and as the municipality was frequently a party to applications to the Tynwald Court, or was interested in legislative proposals Mr. Kneen probably felt that he could not do his duty to his client in full the while he was debarred by his membership of the legislature from parliamentary practice. In the year 1899.

Deemster Gill died, and Mr. Kneen was appointed to succeed him as second Deemster He became first Deemster in 1900 on Deemster Sir. James Gell being appointed to succeed the late Sir Alfred Dumbell as Clerk of the Rolls ; and in 1905 on the death of Sir James Gell Mr. Kneen became Clerk of the Rolls, and senior judge of the Manx High Court In this judicial capacity he presided in the Chancery Jurisdiction, and here his fine knowledge of procedure and precedent had useful scope. The equity applications ever received from him most careful consideration, and especially was he regardful of the interests of infants and certuigue trust , Many of his judgments were masterly declarations, and will, in days to come be aidful to his successors in the office of Chancery judge. 

On being appointed to a Deemstership, Mr. Kneen became ex officer, a member of the Legislative Council, and thus after a lapse of eight years or so he resumed his parliamentary career. During his membership of the Council Commissioners his political views underwent considerable modification in that they became more Conservative of hue.

In his early days he was what is termed a Liberal-Conservative but of late years he had well-nigh embraced Tourism He became a tenacious stickler for the privileges which the landed interest enjoy in the, Isle of Man, though it is 'but fair to say that, he always impressed upon land owners and agriculturists that they had their duties as well as their privileges. He for two periods act-ad as Deputy-Governor during the illnesses of Lord Raglan.

The first occasion was in 1905, and the last was from November or 1915 to July of the present year As King's representative, and head of the Executive Government in the Island, he had during the eight months in question a very anxious time in connection with fiscal changes arising out of demands made up-on the Accumulated Fund of the Island and increases of taxation in the United Kingdom. He was severely criticized both inside and outside the Legislature for his failure to initiate proposals for Income Tax, and especially were the working classes angry with him for the lead which he gave in the direction of increasing indirect taxation. It is highly probable that the strain attendant upon some rather stormy scenes in Tynwald affected him physically and rendered him the less able to resist the serious illness which resulted in his death. 

Not withstanding the fact that Mr. Kneen's attitude in connection with political matters caused considerable dissatisfaction among a considerable section of the population of the Island, his honesty of purpose was admitted on all hands, and there was unanimity of appreciation of his outstanding ability. As was only fitting, he took the lead in the movement which resulted in the creation of a Board of Agriculture for the Island, his enthusiasm for agriculture and his practical knowledge of the subject rendering him perhaps the most suitable person -for the position to be found in the Isle of Man. He was, of course, chairman of the board. The Clerk of the Rolls took a great interest in the Isle of Man Hospital, and was largely instrumental in securing for the Island the magnificent new building in Westmoreland-road, which is of such enormous benefit to the Manx community. He was chairman of the Hospital committee and in this capacity be displaced wonderful met in furthering the interests of the great institution. 

Some years ago Mr. Kneen was co-opted a trustee under the will of the late. Mr. Henry Bloom Noble, and in due course became chairman of the body of trustees. His breadth of view and business ability were of great assist, &nee in connection with the application of funds bequeathed by Mr.. Noble for charitable purposes. As a trustee under the will, he bore a, prominent part, in the provision of new buildings for the Isle of Man Orphan Home, a very beneficent institution in which he always took great interest. Also, be was a. warm advocate and supporter of the scheme which resulted in the gift by the trustees of the Douglas Playing Fields. Ex ,officio he was a trustee of King William's College and a. Justice of the Peace. In this latter capacity he for several years was chairman of the Justices of the Island.

Up to a year or two ago he was Captain of the Parish of Onchan. Indeed he took a deep and very active interest in Onchan parochial affairs, and it is mainly due to his untiring efforts and great influence that the voluntary system of poor relief survives in the parish. About thirty years ago, Mr. Kneen purchased the beautiful residence, Glencrutchery, in which he spent the remainder of his days. To Glencrutchery is attached a large quantity of agricultural land, which under his direction was maintained in a high state of efficiency. The purchase of Glencrutchery turned out very advantageously to him, as its proximity to Douglas enabled him to dispose profitably of a considerable quantity of building land. Douglas Borough Cemetery site and the site for the Orphan Home were also part of the estate, and their purchase from him must have brought him a large sum of money. In private life the Clerk of the Rolls was one of the most genial and kindly of gentlemen. He had a most delightful manner-one that at once commanded confidence and respect. As a young man, he was remarkable for great physical strength, and this attribute rendered him a formidable opponent on the football field-in those days he was passionately devoted to the Rugby game. 

His fondness for athletic exercise never deserted him. When of middle age he took up golf with great enthusiasm, and very quickly developed into one of the finest exponents of the game in the Isle of Man. Taking him all through, Mr. Kneen was a Manxman of whom the Island has great reason to feel proud. He had the Manxman's virtues in high degree, while such of the Manxman's faults as were innate in him were subdued and softened by a liberal education and constant contact with a wider world of thought than is usually available to natives of this Isle. He had a most charming personality, he was a great advocate, a judge of learning and integrity, and a, legislator influenced in his legislative work by love. of country and a desire to advance what he conceived were the best interests of his countrymen.

The Clerk of the Rolls leaves a. widow one son, and one daughter. Mr. Edwyn Kneen, the son. is a promising member of the Manx Bar. The daughter is the wife of the Rev H. Butler, M.A. Mr., Edward C. Kneen, of the firm of Dickinson, Cruickshank and Co., is a, brother of the late Clerk of the Rolls. On Saturday afternoon, the funeral of the late Mr. Thomas Kneen, of Glencrutchery, H.M. Clerk of the Rolls, took place, and was made the occasion of a great manifestation of the high respect and esteem in which the deceased judge was held by his compatriots.

People from all parts of the Island attended, and the cortege was fully half-a-mile in length. The coffin was borne along Glencrutchery to St. Ninian's Church by detachmerits of the Isle of Man Constabulary and Isle of Man Volunteers in turn. Following were two nurses from Noble's Hospital and the boys of the Isle of Man Industrial Home, in charge of Mr. Fraser (superintendent). The coffin was met at the west gate of St. Ninian's Church grounds by the Rev H. C. McNeil, Vicar of St. Ninian's and the Rev Canon Kermode, Vicar of St. George's. At the church were his Excellency the Lieut.Governor and Lady Raglan, the Attorney General and Mrs. Ring. 

The lesson was read by the Rev Canon Kermode, and the prayers were recited by the Rev H. C. McNeil. During the service, Mr. George J. Burtonwood, Hon, organist of St, George's Church, Douglas, presided at the organ, and while the mourners were assembling he played " But the Lord is mindful of His own," from Mendolasohn's" St. Paul," and after the opening sentence's he rendered 0 rest in the Lord" from Mendelsoohn's Elijah." The psalm was sung to Turles chant. The hymn was " 0 God our Help in ages past." The " Nunc Dimitti's was sung to Felton's chant. As the coffin was being borne out of the church, Mr. Burtonwood played impressively, as a recessional, Handel's Dead March in " Saul." The Police and Volunteers carried the body from the church to the Borough Cemetery, where interment took- place. The chief mourners were Mr. Edwyn C. Kneen (son) , the Rev. H. S. W. and Mrs. Butler (daughter and son-in-law), Mr., T. Kneen, Mr. R. Kneen, Mr. R. Kneen, junior, Mr. J. Kneen, Mr. C. Kneen, Sister Collister Nurse Broadbent, Staff at Glencrutchery and. Mr. W. F. Dickinson, for many years in partnership with the deceased .

A carriage full of beautiful wreaths followed the coffin Floral tributes were sent by the following :- Brother, and Sisters, Sister Collister and Nurse Broad bent, Staff at Glencrutchery, Maids at Rose Bank ' Lucy, Ida and Amy, Jack and Kate, Mrs. Dearden, Jack Violet and Molly, the Governor and Lady Raglan, the Lord Bishop and Mrs. Denton Thompson, Deemster and Mrs. Stevenson Moore, the Mayor, Members and Officials of the Douglas Town Council, the I.o.Man Agricultural Society, "with deepest sympathy and affectionate remembrance of Thos, Kneen, Esq.,, H.M. Clerk of the Rolls, who was a former President of the Society, and their firm friend and counselor-from the Agricultural Society, Godfrey Greene, President; Win. Thom&on, Secretary" ; Mr. F. J. Johnson (Record Office), the Chief Clerk (Mr. J. Cannell and Staff of the Rolls Office, Committee of the Douglas and District Needlework Guild, the House Surgeon, Matron, and Nursing Staff of Noble's I of Man Hospital, the Committee of Noble's Hospital, Principal of K.W. College and Miss Owen, Staff of K.W. College, Boys of K.W. College, Howstrake Estate, Ltd., Mr. and Mrs. Dickinson, Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Okell, Miss Harris, Mrs. Spittall and family, Mr. and Mrs. G, M. Jones, Mr. and Mrs. R. F. Douglas, Mr. G. L. Colebourne and Mrs. Colebourne, Mr. W. D. Cowin and family, Canon and Mrs. Kermode Miss Smith, Mr. and Mr. Sergeant Capt. and Mrs. J. Mylchreest, Mr. and Mrs. W. Beckton Messrs AV. H. Walker and Co. Mr. and Mrs. Lay, Mrs. G. L. Kermode Mr. and Mrs. E. T. Kissack and family, Mr. and Mrs. Hyde, Col. and Mrs. Nicholson, Mr. and Mrs. F. R. Gelling, Mr. and the Misses Clucas (Thornhill), Col, and Mrs. Madoc and Mr. MacDougall Rawson.


At the sitting of the House of Keys on the 28th the Speaker (Mr. D. Maitland). speaking under the influence of deep emotion made reference to the death of the. Clerk of the Rolls, the members of the House standing the while he made his remarks. The Speaker said : During the past week, death has deprived us of one of the most Dominant and highly esteemed members of our Insular Legislature, in the son of Thomas Kneen. Clerk of the Rolls. The loss of his services to the State is a very real one, while the loss to the Island is irreparable. As, is only to be expected, we could not all at all times agree with his views, but he always received credit for earnestness of purpose and a desire to promote the welfare of the Island of which be was so proud. A good, but fair fighter, it was always a pleasure to find he was fighting on the side on which one held particular views, and we shall sadly miss his voice from the debates in the Tynwald Court. It has always been a delight to his friends to watch his advancement and no one ever grudged him his success or questioned his right to, and qualification for, any of the positions he has held. As a successful advocate at the Manx Bar, and is a member of this House for a short time, as a Deemster, then Clerk of the Roils, and finally to occupy the chair in the Tynwald Court, and perform the duties of Lieut.-Governor on more than one occasion, is a career of which any man might be proud, more especially when the verdict of the whole Island is that he deserved and adorned every one of those positions. As a Manx man amongst Manxmen he easily took first place, and from -North to South his name has been a household word for years. His genial and happy manner, his interest in everything (concerning the welfare of the people, and his unbounded confidence in the future prosperity of his beloved Island home always acted as an inspiration, and we shall sadly miss him when we return to normal times and the dark cloud of cruel war and devastation which hangs over us at present has passed away . This is not the place in which to refer to his many activities and charitable work, outside his official : duties there will be other opportunities, for that, but I the House to permit me to write a letter to, Mrs. Kneen and the other members of the family, expressing our deep sorrow at the death of one we all so much admired, and of sympathy with them in their sore bereavement.

The End

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