In our regular feature in Isle of Man Newspapers, authors from different walks of Manx life offer a personal perspective on #MyBiosphere. This month, Allison Fox writes:

In our regular feature in Isle of Man Newspapers, authors from different walks of Manx life offer a personal perspective on #MyBiosphere. This month, Allison Fox writes:

The seascape of the Manx coast has always been an important part of my sense of belonging and identity. 

That dynamic, transitional space between land and sea has always held a fascination, which started in the Isle of Man and has accompanied me to other places.

It’s also fair to say that many of the iconic monuments in the Manx landscape have just, well, always been there, part of my life’s general background. 

I grew up in Castle Mona Avenue and, walking to St Thomas’ School each day along Douglas promenade, the Tower of Refuge, in particular, was always in my peripheral vision. 

Allison Fox 

Years later, returning for holidays whilst living and working away, the tower was always a welcome site towards the end of my journey home. 

The tower was originally commissioned by Manx resident Sir William Hillary. Hillary lived at Fort Anne, overlooking Douglas Bay, in the early 1800s, where many (but not all) ships of the time would come in to berth, or to shelter from storms in the Irish Sea. 

He witnessed numerous shipwrecks and participated in many rescues himself, not least that of the crew of St George on 20th November 1830. Trying to shelter from a severe gale, the ship crashed into Conister Rock. All of the passengers were safely rowed ashore, but the crew remained on board. After two hours of hard rowing in dreadful sea conditions, and a further two hours trying to approach the ship, a lifeboat reached the St George and the crew were saved. 

Douglas harbour then stopped much closer to shore, and large ships like the St George couldn’t always make it in. Sir William Hillary saw this and began a campaign for the harbour to be extended. In the meantime, he also began raising support and funds to build a structure on Conister Rock that would show that the rock was there, but that could also shelter any souls who had the misfortune to be wrecked upon it, until help arrived. In 1832, Hillary laid the first stone of what was to become the Tower of Refuge. 

Hillary had, for many years, seen the need for an organised, equipped, supported and inclusive organisation to help people in distress on the sea. Indeed, eight years before the tower was started, his vision for a National Institution for the Preservation of Lives from Shipwreck became a reality on 4th March 1824. It would later become known as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. Two hundred years on, the RNLI have saved thousands of lives.

It is fair to say that I knew none of this all those years ago, going to and from school. But now, when the waves of Douglas Bay are hurtling themselves over the railings, or when the surface of the sea is flat calm, the familiar landmark of the Tower of Refuge reminds me of the legacy of Sir William Hillary and the huge contribution that events around the Isle of Man have made.  

Posted up on 24th June 2024


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