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.: Manx palm trees
Field Marshal Thrumplock O’Crackerley (pictured) came to live in the Isle of Man in 1904 after a lifetime spent in the service of the British Army.

His career had been to say the least undistinguished up to that point, after he’d presided over some of the worst military debacles in the Boer War. He was perhaps best known in martial circles for ordering a troop of cavalry to charge into the sea in pursuit of a small gunboat which had been shelling his command post on a beach.

But O’Crackerley will forever be remembered in the Isle of Man as the man who introduced the Manx palm tree.

He’d discovered the hardy tree whilst on a leave of absence in New Zealand. O’Crackerley was profoundly deaf and also colour-blind, which led him to identify English soldiers stationed in New Zealand as Chinese. His lack of knowledge of world politics also led him to believe that Britain was currently at war with the Oriental power, and so one morning after an especially heavy rum-drinking session in Auckland, he awoke with the unshakeable conviction New Zealand had been invaded.

Only after he’d sabotaged a large number of cannon (leading to mayhem when the garrison attempted to fire 12 guns to sound midday) and nailed shut the door of the barracks was he finally arrested and subdued.

Of course, it’s difficult for officers to discipline a Field Marshal and so O’Crackerley was placed under house arrest. The Colonel in charge of the operation managed to convince O’Crackerley he was needed for secret war work which consisted of growing palm trees. He explained to the Field Marshal that the only way to win a war against China would be to carry out guerrilla operations and in order to do this New Zealand would first have to be turned into a jungle.

The plan made sense to O’Crackerley’s withered faculties and he set about developing a strain of palm which would grow almost anywhere under any climatic conditions.

Of course, when the British High Command was informed of O’Crackerley’s madness, they decided he was simply too dangerous to be allowed to wander freely through the Empire – and yet they couldn’t publicly admit such a high-ranking officer was feeble-minded.

Instead, they decided to post him safely out of harm’s way on the Isle of Man, where they told him he could carry out the necessary botanical research to complete his project.

For a number of years, he lived in Kirk Michael in a small compound closely guarded by British military intelligence. He was a modest man with few vices save Navy rum, and lived quietly just outside the village.

But the day finally came when he realised he’d created a variety of palm tree which could happily live in the Gobi Desert as easily as it could thrive in Alaska. He hurriedly fired off telegram after telegram asking for permission for the tree to be widely planted across the Empire in case of Chinese attack.

Of course, the government wanted nothing to do with a plan that would turn vast swathes of the globe into impenetrable jungle on the whim of a madman, and so they repeatedly refused permission – telling O’Crackerley that to begin planting would be to alert the Chinese.

Working in secret even from those guarding him, O’Crackerley came up with a plan. As a keen walker, he would often hike up the side of Snaefell carrying a soldier’s full combat kit (“Have to keep fit, man, just in case the yeller devils get here,” he wrote in his diary). Slowly but surely, he put his scheme into action.

On the summit of Snaefell, he managed to construct a large cannon facing vertically upwards. This he gradually packed with gunpowder he’d salvage from the ammunition he carried for his officer’s pistol. Over the course of three months in 1905, he slowly built up a charge great enough for his purposes.

On February 4 he was ready. He carried a large bag of seeds in his pack, announced he was going for a walk, and began striding up Snaefell. When he reached the summit, he took off the cannon’s protective cover and packed the muzzle with the bag of seeds. Lighting the fuse, he stood back, turned around, placed his hands over his ears and waited.

The resultant blast when the cannon exploded could be seen from the Lake District, and caused many residents of Ramsey and Douglas to believe the day of judgement had finally arrived. When a party of militia were sent to investigate, they found nothing more O’Crackerley except his hat.

But he’d accomplished the impossible – the seeds were fired into the air and over the next few days began to drift down and take root all over the Isle of Man.

To this day, you can still see the results of O’Crackerley’s demented botanical genius right across the Island, including at Ronaldsway Airport where a line of Manx palm trees was planted in 1972 to commemorate his gift to the Manx people.

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Written at 15:37 by G
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