Celtic Congress Talks – Abdullah Quilliam by Dollin Kelly

The first talk in this season of lectures was given by the General Editor of New Manx Worthies Dollin Kelly, who revealed the bizarre story of Abdullah Quilliam.
His curious audience heard how Quilliam became a very successful solicitor whilst residing in Liverpool where he was remembered for helping the poorest of the community. But Quilliam was forced to flee to Turkey after being struck off the solicitors’ roll in 1908 for falsifying evidence in a divorce case.
Reported to be from a Methodist background Quilliam discovered Islam at the age of 17 and subsequently adopted the name of Abdullah. He is credited with opening the first Mosque in Britain and lives on through the work of the ‘Abdullah Quilliam Society’.
Quilliam led an extraordinary colourful life, and although associated with the Isle of Man his true identity continues to tax the brains of historians and academics. His occasional appearances as Henri Marcel Léon only served to add to the confusion.
Doubt has also been expressed about his Manx heritage with the suggestion that Quilliam took his name from the gravestone of a young child buried in a Liverpool graveyard.
There is little doubt about his academic contributions concerning the Isle of Man and other subjects, and although recalled by some as a charlatan Quilliam was nonetheless an educated man.
He is remembered by Manx people chiefly for his time spent living at Woodland Towers in Onchan and scandalised local society with rumours of multiple marriages and orgies. Dispute continues as to the exact number of wives and children Quilliam actually had during his lifetime. He is reported to have spent time in a property known as ‘Seaview’ in Peel at the end of the nineteenth century. Does anybody know of its location?
Controversy dogged his entire life and followed him into death when he was spotted amongst the mourners of his own funeral in France. Upon opening the coffin it was found to be full of stones.
Later, in 1932, Quilliam/Léon was said to have died following an operation for an enlarged prostate and buried with full Muslim rites at Brookwood Cemetery in Woking, but an element of doubt remains as to the validity of this episode.
An extensive biography is currently being written about the life of Quilliam/Léon, but I don’t envy the author’s gargantuan task in separating the facts from the falsehoods.
Valerie Caine
© January 2010