The Johnsons

Maddocks in the Isle of Man

Back to The Birtles

Mary Johnson, who married James Wilson Birtles in 1852, was born in Manchester in 1827, daughter of Samuell Mallett Johnson (1788-1868) and Grace Lockwood.  She was the mother of Eliza Birtles, my great grandmother. She was the seventh of nine children. Her siblings were:
  • Thomas, 1812-1885
  • Elizabeth and Martha 1816
  • Samuel 1820
  • Joseph 1822-1907
  • John Michael 1825-1885
  • Grace 1831
  • Ann 1833

Her father, Samuell Mallett Johnson was born in Coventry, Warwickshire in 1788 to Samuell Johnson (1763-1853) and Ann Mallett (b. 1762). He became a bookseller and had a store in Manchester (Mosley and Fountain Streets) and later added printing to his business. When his eldest son Thomas was old enough he became his father’s assistant.

Samuel Mallett Johnson arrived in the Isle of Man in 1847 with two of his sons Joseph and John, his wife and younger daughters. He came as a bookseller, rather than a printer. He was also a publisher, for example he published “Johnson's Historical, Topographical, & Parochial Illustrated Guide, and Visitor's Companion Through the Isle Of Mann", by James Brotherston Laughton, B. A. Sixth Edition. Douglas. Printed And Published By Samuel Johnson, Duke Street. 1850. More information about Johnson’s book business.

He was a Wesleyan Methodist preacher and early supporter of Methodist Local Preachers’ Mutual Aid Society and attended their inaugural meeting in 1849. He was publicly criticized for forming the Mutual Aid Society and wrote a letter to the Mona Herald

“...we have been denounced as acting unconstitutionally, my meetings have been branded as illegal and remarks were made at the last Quarter day which, to say the least of them, bespoke little for the sympathies of the man who gave utterance to them! It was said by the Superintendent that such a Society would lay the brethren open to temptation and acts of imposition! It was also intimated that local preachers were generally gainers by their position in society and that many of them had an advantage over their fellow tradesmen that were not so circumstanced! This MAY apply in some few cases – but how does it bear upon me? One preacher remained here three years and to oblige him I travelled many extra miles to fulfill his appointments, and for other purposes in connection with them. But what was the amount of my gain by his custom? Can it be credited? Just one half-penny! Yes, precisely two farthings!! So much for the patronage of a Superintendent Preacher! I have never sold a book to the committee of the day or Sabbath School, for teaching, or for library purposes since I came to the town of Douglas; and although we are in the constant habit of using stationery etc. in my Quarterly and Leader’s Meetings, yet I never supplied them with a sheet of paper, a pen, or a book of any kind during my residence on the Island! “Well, why do you explain? You are only a poor emaciated old man and can do but little for the society”. Quite true: I know I have many infirmities, yet I have done something. Since I came to Mona – little more than three years ago – I have travelled 1602 miles, preached 269 times, led classes twice a week, and attended most of the social meetings. But I have sympathised with the oppressed: I have wept with those that weep and I have remembered those that are in bonds, as bound with them, and this is the sum and substance of my guilt. I have only add, that if this makes me vile, I will be yet more vile”. Samuel Johnson (Jan 10 1850)

In 1851 (I.of M Census) Samuell is living with his wife Grace and daughters Mary and Grace. His wife Grace died in 1860 and is buried in Braddan New Yard.

In 1861 census shows Samuell living alone at 2 Fort Street, still described as Bookseller. His daughter Martha and son-in-law Simon Howarth live next door. He died 1st May 1686. His executors were Joseph Johnson, his son, and Thomas Richards (a tea merchant).  His probate record shows he left under 100 pounds sterling.



“It will be learned with deep regret throughout the Isle of Man, and particularly in Douglas, that Mr Joseph Johnson died at Waterloo, near Liverpool, on Thursday, March 7th, Mr Johnson, who had reached the great age of 85 years, had for some time suffered from an internal complaint, in connection with which he, on Wednesday, underwent an operation. The operation was a rather severe one, and from the effects of it the subject never recovered, death taking place at half-past one o'clock on Thursday morning.

Mr Joseph Johnson was a Manchester man, and in the 'fifties and early 'sixties he carried on business as a bookseller in Cottonopolis. While still resident in Manchester,he had paid several visits to Douglas and indeed had delivered a course of lectures in the town, Forty years ago he decided to make the Isle of Man his home, and came to reside in Douglas, Starting business as an auctioneer and valuer, he soon secured a large connection, and up to the day of his retirement from business a few years ago in favour of his only surviving son, Mr Fred D. Johnson, he held a foremost position among knights of the rostrum and hammer in the Island, During his Manchester days, Mr Johnson took a deep interest in religious, political, and social questions. He was a pronounced Liberal and ardent advocate of reform, and the practical interest he took in public questions brought him into frequent personal contact with many of the men whose advocacy of liberty, peace, retrenchment, progress, and temperance made them famous in the latter days of the first half of the nineteenth century. He was a keen and able controversialist, and employed both his voice and his pen in his efforts to bring home his beliefs to others. In Douglas he engaged in both religious and social and political debate with many doughty opponents, and he inevitably held his own with remarkable success. Believing in Pope's dictum that the proper study of Mankind is Man, he earnestly sought to acquaint himself with human problems, and this search after knowledge secured for him an un-commonly particular knowledge of the aspirations and of the difficulties of his fellows. His mind was of a literary turn, and he was the author of several pamphlets and books, the latter being mainly of a minatory and educational character. The bulk of these were published by Messrs Thos. Nelson and Sons, of Edinburgh, and although many years have elapsed since Mr Johnson gave up writing books, his works are still in demand. He also in the days of his activity contributed largely to the newspaper Press, and even to the very end his articles frequently appeared in the "Manchester City News," that most literary of provincial weekly newspapers. In the early days of the "Isle of Man Examiner," his pen was often at the service of the editor, and many powerful pronouncements upon questions of importance to Manxmen emanating from him appeared in these columns. Mr Johnson had a lively appreciation of the ridiculous and the humorous, and he was an admirable raconteur. Particularly did he relish relating a good story when it told in any way against himself, for he was too considerate to impart sufficient zest to the stories in which his friends or enemies did not show up very well.

Occasionally — very occasionally — his humour was caustic in character, but generally it was kindly. Indeed he was a most companionable man, and there was not a spark of malice in his composition. An ardent believer in popular education. Mr Johnson was elected as one of the first members of the School Board of Douglas, after the passing of the Education Act of 1872. His experience on the board was not an over-pleasant one, as he was in the minority of advocates of board schools who were opposed and dominated by the supporters of denominational education. He served but a term, and then decided not to seek re-election, feeling that upon the education question he was out of touch with the majority of his townsfolk. Yet was he but a little in advance of his time, for the educational policy which he as a member of the School Board advocated is that which now obtains in Douglas, with the hearty approval of Douglas people. Mr Johnson was an enthusiastic member of the Douglas Progressive Debating Society; frequently while resident in Douglas he read papers before the society, and invariably when present at the society meetings he took part in the debates — the instinct for discussion was strong in him to the last. Upon retiring from business, Mr Johnson resided for some time in Douglas, but two years ago he went to live at Waterloo. He was a widower, and he leaves two children, one of whom is the wife of Mr F. C. Poulter, The Belvedere, Douglas, while the other is Mr Fred D, Johnson, auctioneer. His first-born, the late Mr Harry J. Johnson, a man of much promise, died some years ago.

On March 10th, the funeral of the late Mr Joseph Johnson took place, There was a numerous attendance of relatives and friends following the hearse from the Belvedere Hotel, but the early hour of the funeral — nine o'clock — and the tempestuous weather, prevented great numbers from attending the obsequies, The coffin was covered with beautiful wreaths sent by members of the deceased gentlemans' family and by friends, including the Douglas Progressive Debating Society, the Misses Cartwright, Mr John Spence, Mr W, A. Waid, Mrs Gradwell, Mr Greenburgh, and Mrs Bruce, of Stronvar, Waterloo, where Mr Johnson has chiefly resided of late years. The chief mourners were Mr Fred. Johnson (son), Mr F, C, Poulter (son-in-law), Mr S. J. Poulter (grandson), Mr P, F. Johnson and Mr George Johnson (nephews). The interment was at Braddan Cemetery, Canon Savage read the funeral service in an impressive manner, and the deceased was buried beside his son, Mr Harry Johnson, who died about 15 years ago”


“This business, which has been in existence for close upon half a century, continues to receive the cordial support of the residents of and visitors to Douglas. It was founded by the late Mr. John Johnson, who died in 1885, since which year it has been ably carried on by, his widow. The business occupies a large four-storeyed building and basement, with a frontage of twenty-four feet. The spacious shop is set out with a large assortment of goods of a most attractive nature, and the masterly way in which they are displayed greatly adds to their effect. The interior of the shop is also suitably furnished and fitted. The stock on view is of a most extensive character, and represents many of the leading productions of English and foreign fancy goods manufacturers. In. eluded are many exceedingly artistic examples of jewellery, leather goods all kinds of bags, mechanical toys, games and puzzles, ornaments, photographic views, guide-books, medallion and other views, &c. The whole forms a pleasing and miscellaneous selection, affording ample choice for customers in any of the articles named. There are useful and ornamental goods suited for any kind of presentation, or for personal adornment, or household use. The latest and best novelties are being constantly added to the stock as they appear in the market. Visitors and residents alike speak most highly of the courtesy they receive on visiting the establishment, Mrs. Johnson and her assistants sparing no pains to thoroughly satisfy all wants.”


Mary moved with her parents to the Isle of Man and is living with them in 1851. In 1852 she married James Wilson Birtles and shortly thereafter they set sail for the Australian gold fields. They returned to the Isle of Man in 1860.  They had 4 children but only Eliza Ann Johnson Birtles survived childhood.  James died in 1868 and in 1871 Mary is living with her sister Martha Howarth and 14 year old daughter Eliza Birtles.