Bid to track down portraits of Manx national poet T.E. Brown

Katie Roberts and Samuel Hills-Field with the picture at Michael School

Katie Roberts and Samuel Hills-Field with the picture at Michael School

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The Isle of Man’s oldest schools are being urged to dig out portraits given to them a century ago to celebrate the work of Manx national poet T.E. Brown.

Brown was born in Douglas in 1830, attended King William’s College and gained a double first at Christ Church, Oxford, then entered teaching, retiring as master of Clifton College, Bristol, in 1892. He died five years later.

His most noted collection, of 12 poems, is F’o’c’sle Yarns, 10 of which are tales told in the forecastle of a ship by Tom Baynes, a steadily ageing mariner.

The first yarn, Betsy Lee, told by Tom when he is in his mid-20s, is probably Brown’s best-known dialect work.

In May 1914, to commemorate the centenary of the poet’s birth, the Manx Society, now long defunct, gave a portrait of Brown to every island school to encourage pupils to read his works.

Manx National Heritage has the original newspaper article about the donation in the iMusuem in Douglas.

Reporting on the presentations, the Isle of Man Examiner of May 9. 1914, said: ‘The rising generation should, as a result of the actions of the Manx Society this week, be encouraged to devote to the literary work of the Rev Thomas Edward Brown that attention and study which its intrinsic merit should in itself be sufficient to command.’

It lamented: ‘So far the poet has not reached the heart of the masses, as Burns, for example, appeals to Scots.’

It said ‘this probably ascribable in large measure’ to a lack of education about the poet’s genius.

Now, a century later, the Department of Education and Children is asking schools to dust off the portraits and put them back in pride of place on their walls to mark Island of Culture 2014.

It is inviting schools to look back through log book entries of 1914 to see how the presentation was marked.

Michael Primary School’s portrait hangs in the infant library. As far as Tony Robinson, the headteacher, is aware, the picture has been on the school’s walls ever since it was presented.

Jo Callister, advisory teacher for the Manx Curriculum, said: ‘T.E. Brown is one of our greatest ever cultural figures.

‘It will be fascinating to see how many of these portraits still exist, whether still on walls or stored away in attics or archives, and to raise the awareness of today’s pupils to Brown’s work in this culturally significant year.’

In an interesting development to coincide with the ‘call’ to schools, the World Manx Association has found 18 copies of the portrait given to schools, tucked away in an attic. These are now to be gifted to the newer schools so they can have a copy for their walls, along with copies of ‘Treasure of the Island Heart’, a CD of Brown’s poetry read by Major Geoff Crellin.

As well as this, Culture Vannin is presenting all schools with copies of Dollin Kelly’s book ‘T.E. Brown: An Anthology.’

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