BUTCHER'S NIGHT - AUGUST 4, 1790
Juan Christian escaped from the clutches of the angry mob in Ramsey and took his sailwagon to Bride, where for a few days he laid low and formed a plan to destroy the Isle of Man.
Feeling hated and rejected by the Manx community, he resolved to extract his revenge on the people of Ramsey. He disguised himself as a travelling purveyor of marrows from Cathay and bought up yards and yards of cotton from local merchants.
He rented a storehouse in Andreas and in the middle of the night took the sailwagon inside. For three days and nights, all that could be heard was hammering, sawing and cursing. But on the early evening of the fourth day the doors were flung open and out he sailed.
He’d converted his sailwagon into a pirate whip which he named Butcher’s Revenge, made black sails and a jolly roger flag and clothed himself entirely in black. Being of a mechanical bent, he’d made a number of ingenious modifications to the Butcher’s Revenge allowing him to sail her single-handed.
Tipping his hat at several ladies working in the fields, he set about his nefarious plan.
First was a daring attack on Ramsey harbour where an English sloop was being repaired after a battle with smugglers in the Irish Sea. The crew of the Mary Louise had no idea Christian had climbed aboard until he’d simply walked away with two small cannons and enough ammunition to level the town.
He fixed the guns to the side of the Butcher’s Revenge – and they saw their first action shortly thereafter when Christian delivered a broadside that managed to hole the Mary Louise. She sank within seconds.
Cackling maniacally, he then cruised through the streets of the town firing at random into buildings. In a single night of fiery vengeance, he managed to utterly destroy the town centre.
Consumed by the flames which devastated the town hall was the Isle of Man’s Hat of Justice, an unremarkable looking piece of headwear which was worn by judges when they presided over trials. Without a hat, ancient Viking law forbad any man to be tried for any crime.
When the fires were out, the dead counted and a mourning breakfast of kippers and potatoes had been served at Mooragh Park, the townspeople gathered and demanded Christian be hunted down and executed.
Invoking the Norse custom of holding a Thing in times of crisis, the mob assembled in Parliament Square. As required by law, each man or woman who wished to lay a grievance before the town council wore a hat and shouted a verbal vote of “guilty” or “not guilty” when each charge against Christian was read.
In total, they found him guilty of 6,903 charges of arson, 18,944 counts of criminal damage, 121 counts of discharging an artillery-piece in public, 43 counts of dangerous waggoneering, 2 counts of culpable murder of white dogs (an offence since Celts settled the Island), and 43 charges of murder.
Further charges of using abusive language, sabotaging a vessel of Her Majesty and road piracy were thought too serious to be heard by a mostly-illiterate multitude and were ordered to lay on file.
Each year on 4th August, Ramsey still remembers the so-called “Butcher’s Night” by setting off fireworks, performing sundry pranks on sailors and firing a small white dog from a ceremonial cannon from the end of Queen’s Pier.
But in 1790, thoughts of celebration were far from the minds of the masses gathered to see justice done. Taking to carts, horses or whatever form of transport they could, they set out on the trail of the only land-pirate ever to have terrorised the British Isles.
Labels: Fletcher Christian, isle of man, isle of man manx, Juan Christian, Norse, Parliament Square, Queen's Pier, ramsey, Thing
Written at 15:50 by
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