Thomas Henry Hall Caine (1853-1931), famous novelist, was the son of John Caine (c.1821-1904) a shipsmith and Sarah née Hall (c.1829-1912). Caine’s father hailed from a farming family in Ballaugh but in 1848 he left the Island and moved to Liverpool. In 1852 he married Sarah Hall, a waist-coat maker from Whitehaven, Cumberland and member of a prominent Quaker-family. Caine was born upon a barge heading to Runcorn but he was brought up in Toxteth.
Caine spent much time on the Isle of Man with his uncle and his grandmother who inspired his passion for Manx folklore. Caine was also close to his maternal grandfather who enriched his mind with Cumberland lore and laid the foundation for his lifelong fascination in the supernatural world.
Caine’s schooling began at the Unitarian British School in Liverpool before leaving aged fourteen and becoming an apprentice architect. By the 1870s Caine was living on the Island and living with his uncle (by marriage) James Teare (c.1827-1871) in Maughold. Teare was a school master and suffered from tuberculosis. Caine offered his services in the school room until December 1871 when Teare died; afterwards Caine taught the students until a replacement was found. Caine moved back to Liverpool and completed his articles. Caine worked for various architectural firms; in addition he worked as a freelance journalist and also started to lecture on art and literature. It was during this period that he started using his Christian name ‘Hall’ within his surname.
In 1878 Hall Caine (and others) founded The Liverpool Notes and Queries Shakespeare Society in which many prominent people were invited to speak. It also became a forum for William Morris’s Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. During this time Hall Caine became acquainted with painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) and they became lifelong friends. Rossetti gave advice on Hall Caine’s ’Sonnets from Three Centuries’ (1881) and Caine played a significant part in the sale of Rossetti’s painting ‘Dante’s Dream’ to Liverpool City Council (now situated in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool).
In the spring of 1881 Hall Caine left the architecture profession and became a full time writer and lecturer. Moving to London he became a correspondent for the Liverpool Mercury newspaper and wrote reviews for periodicals such as The Academy and The Athenaeum. In 1882 he met his future wife Mary Chandler (c.1869-1932) and married in 1886: the couple had two children Gordon Ralph (1884-1962) and Derwent (1891-1971). Hall Caine and his wife also formally adopted their granddaughter Elin Hall Caine [later Gill] (1912-1998). Hall Caine began writing fiction and his first novel entitled The Shadow of a Crime (1885) was well received, catching the attention of Manx poet T.E. Brown (1830-1897). Brown and Caine began a friendship lasting until the former’s death in which Brown advised, read proofs, praised, criticised and became a staunch defender of Caine’s works. His second work A Son of Hagar (1887) received positives reviews but it was his third novel The Deemster (1887) which proved a massive success. The tale was set in the eighteenth century, set in the Isle of Man and full of Manx folklore, phrases and superstitions. Between 1890 and 1923 a further six novels set in the Isle of Man were published all of which dramatically increased Hall Caine’s fame and fortune. Visitors came in the thousands to see the Island that was made so famous within his stories. In 1894 he wrote a guidebook for the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company entitled The Little Man Island.
Hall Caine also wrote several non-Manx works such as, The Scapegoat (1891) a story about a Jewish family based in Morocco. Hall Caine was politically motivated and in his youth was an active Communist. In 1901 he published The Eternal City set in London and Rome with political motifs interwoven into the plot. Other works included The Prodigal Son (1904), The White Prophet (1909) and The Woman Thou Gavest Me (1913). Hall Caine was the first author in the English language to sell over a million copies of a book, firstly, with The Christian (1897), later with The Eternal City. His work was translated into many languages and transferred to the media of both screen and stage plays; in total he was the author of over forty works.
In 1896 Hall Caine became a permanent resident on the Island and lived in Greeba Castle, near St Johns. In private he was a devoted family man, in public, a relentless self-publicist. As a resident he was eligible to stand for election for the House of Keys and in 1901 he stood to be elected a Member for Ramsey town. He wished to see all transport nationalised, the farming and fishing industry subsidised by the government, the banks nationalised to prevent a repeat of the Dumbell banking crisis of 1900, the Legislative Council reformed, the Governor’s powers checked, the financial affairs of the Island handled by the House of Keys (and not by Whitehall) and the land on the Island subject to regulations as to its cultivation. He won his seat by a majority of 267 votes.
He successfully retained his seat in the 1903 election and was made president of the newly-formed Manx Reform League and a member of the Keys’ Reform Committee. Despite this, Hall Caine caused much stir by his frequent absences off Island and his unwillingness to take part in Tynwald debates. He did not seek re-election in 1908.
During the First World War Hall Caine went back to his journalistic roots. He took a particular interest in the Belgium refugees and personally made it his mission to help this country. The result was his publication of King Albert’s book: A Tribute to the Belgian King and People from Representative Men and Women Throughout the World (1914). After the war Hall Caine was honoured as an Officer of the Order of Leopold and had his portrait commissioned by the Belgian Government.
Further war effort activities occurred in the form of pen sketches of the war published in The Drama of 365 Days - Scenes in the Great War (1915), Our Girls: Their Work for the War (1916), two plays The Iron Hand (1916) and The Prime Minister (1918) and a short propaganda film in 1918 Victory and Peace (the film was damaged in a fire and never shown). Post war, Hall Caine worked closely with Robert Cecil (1864-1958), future president of the League of Nations, on draft documents for the organisation. On 11 November 1923 Hall Caine made his first radio broadcast, on the topic of world peace and reconciliation. In 1918 he was made a Knight of the British Empire, in 1922 he was made a Companion of Honour for services to literature and in 1929 he became a Freeman of Douglas.
Hall Caine died in 1931 at Greeba Castle aged 78. The whole Island went into mourning, shops were closed, flags were flown at half-mast and a half mile long cortege accompanied his coffin from Greeba Castle to his final resting place at Maughold Churchyard. Situated on his grave is a slate monument, designed by Archibald Knox (1864-1933). In 1938 Ralph and Derwent Hall Caine published their father’s Life of Christ: it was not well received and within a relatively short space of time his literary success was forgotten. Currently, few, if any, of his works remain in print.