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The Callister Tragedy Centenary and an Archibald Knox headstone:

One hundred years ago, on 15 August 1918, William E Callister, a 37 year old schoolmaster from Onchan, and his five year old son of the same name, went to Onchan harbour to look for crabs.

Neither were seen alive again and the Isle of Man Times for Saturday August 31 1918 ran the story of “The Onchan Drowning Mystery” Schoolmaster still missing:

An "inquest was held yesterday at the Bay Hotel, Onchan, on the body of Wm. Edward Callister, the five year old son of Mr Wm. Ed. Callister, Science Master at the Eastern District Secondary School. -Mr Callister and his only child left their home, 2, Woodland-terrace, Douglas, on the morning of August 15, with the intention of going to Onchan harbour to look for crabs. They intended to be back for dinner; but as they did not turn up, Mrs Callister thought that they had gone to Mr Wm. Callister's, her husband's father, at Onchan Schoolhouse. In the evening, Mrs Calliister got anxious and telephoned to Mr Wm. Callister, but they had not been there. Search was made round the cliffs at Onchan harbonr that night without success, and continued next day, when Mr Callister's coat, two pairs of shoes belonging to the lad—one for walking and one for playing on the shore —and the little boy's wooden spade, were found on the rocks just north of the mansion. The search was continued daily till August 21st, when the little boy's body was found, lying in a gully, in about eight feet of water. The search for Mr Callister's body has been continued since without success, and it is feared that it has been carried out to sea. Evidence was given by Mrs Callister as to her husband and son leaving home, and by Mr Thomas Arthur Kissack, an assistant in Mr Gell's, grocer, Broadway, where Mr Callister called on his way to Onchan to buy some biscuits. Mr Callister told Mr Kissack that he was taking the boy to Onchan to get some crabs.—Mr A. J. Cormode deposed to finding the body; and Dr. Caird stated that death was evidently due to drowning. A verdict of "Found drowned" was returned. On behalf of the jury, Mr Frank Newton expressed sympathy with the widow and grandfather in their sad bereavement."

Mr Callister’s body was not found until September 5th and the circumstances were written up in the Isle of Man Times for Saturday September 14 1918 under the headline “Onchan Drowning Mystery” Mr W. E. Callister’s Body Found:

"The following appeared in the “St. Annes-on-Sea Express" on Friday of last week:—
'The body of a man was picked up on Wednesday by the Preston Corporation tender Aid in the Ribble, at a point east of the Lytham Pier, and was removed to the Lytham Mortuary. A letter found in a pocket of the clothing, and dated August 12th, proves that the man had not been in the water more than about three weeks. The letter, which it is hoped may lead to identification, is headed with the address ''Brunswick-road." but no town is mentioned and the letter is signed "A. Bawden " On the envelope is a name which appears to be "W. E. Cattaker, Woodlands-terrace." And again there is no town named."
There can be no doubt. from the letter found on the body, that it is that of Wm. Ed. Callister. science master at the Douglas Secondary School, whose home was at 2, Woodland-terrace Douglas. Mr Callister has been missing from his home since August 15th. On that date he left home with his only child, a boy of five, with the intention of going on the rocks to the north of Onchan harbour to get crabs. As neither the boy nor the father turned up at night, search was made, and next day Mr Callister’s coat, two pairs of shoes belonging to the lad—one for walking and one for playing on the shore—and the little boy's wooden spade were found on the rocks just north of the Mansion. Search was continued daily; and on August 21st the little boy's body was found lying in a gully in about eight feet of water. Nothing was heard of Mr Cailister's body, till it was found as described above, off Lytham, just three weeks short a day from the day be was missing. The river Ribble where the body was found, is about 70 miles from Douglas, and about five miles south of Blackpool.
Mr W. Callister, of Onchan, father of the missing man, left the Island on Tuesday for Lytham, and a telegram received yesterday from that town states that the body has been identified as that of Mr W. E. Callister."

The five year old son “Will” was buried in New Braddan churchyard and his father is also remembered on the tombstone.

Mr Callister was a Worshipful Master in the Spencer Walpole Temperance Lodge (Lodge No. 2197) and, presumably, as his body could not be sent back to the Isle of Man, the Freemasons of the Isle of Man paid for a headstone to be erected at his last resting place – St John the Divine church in Lytham.

It was another Freemason and famous designer, Archibald Knox, who was asked to design the headstone for the grave in Lytham and below are shown photographs of the grave taken by Mrs Louise Piscina. Knox was the Lodge Almoner of the Spencer Walpole Temperance Lodge.

The Callister family are linked to the Knox clan by marriage as William Knox (Archibald’s father) had a sister Margaret who married a Manx fisherman named Callister.

The Knox design is immediately recognised as such, and on the back is a cross motif often used by Knox on other headstones.

If you would like to find out more about this story and the gravestone or Archibald Knox please contact The Archibald Knox Forum at or visit

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