[Appendix D(34) 1792 Report of Commissioners of Inquiry]

N° 34.


LETTER from the Duke of ATHOLL.

GENTLEMEN, London, January 13, 1792

I Mean as briefly as I can to recapitulate the heads of some of the evidence I had the honour before you in the Isle of Man, in support of the respective allegations I have made; making at the same time such general observations as present themselves to my mind on any of these subjects.

My first allegation was, " That the revenues arising to my family prior to the revestment were not fairly collected."

It has been proved before you, that Paul Bridson, our principal Revenue Officer at Douglas ( which always has been, and will probably continue to be, the first port of the island,) was himself, and a factor for others ; that his salary was 3l. Manx ; that he made entries from Great Britain and Ireland, the Custom-house being at Castletown, a distance of nine miles ; that almost every species of goods and spirits were smuggled in quantities from the duties payable to my family ; and that India goods especially were considered as fair game. (As it was thrown out by some of the Keys that India goods could not be imported under the act of 7 Geo. I. I wish to shew the futility of such an assertion, by referring you to the speech of our Counsel in 1765, (Sir Grey Cooper,) who has treated this subject very particularly, page 26, 27, 28, and 29.) That the Collector at Castletown was Comptroller of his own accounts. One witness expressly says, that it consists with his knowledge, " that the revenues arising to my family were neither fairly entered, collected, or paid," prior to the revestment ; meaning thereby, that the goods were taken on shore without being entered.

The salaries paid by my family to the Officers of Revenue in the Isle of Man, whose collections, by the accounts they gave in, amounted to between 5 and 6000l. on an average of ten years were


£. s. d.


John Quayle, Collector and Comptroller

31 13 4


William Clague
Mark Nixon, his assistant

5 0 0
1 0 0


Paul Bridson
Ewan Callister, his assistant

3 0 0
3 0 0


G. Murray

3 0 0


William Lidderdale

3 0 0



£49 13 4


We had besides, a Receiver General, at

40 0 0

When I hear of people on such salaries as these, living splendidly, bringing up numerous families,or dying opulent, I cannot but doubt the fair collection ; and when I further consider, that a principal part of these duties were paid ad valorem, agreeable to whatever account the importers chose to give, without any sufficient check, I shall conclude by asserting, that it was impossible under such a system for duties to be fairly collected.

My next head of allegation is, " That my family had the power of increasing the duties, with the consent of the Legislature ; and that consent would not, to any reasonable degree, have been wanting."

Not insisting at present on my reasons for thinking that the Lord of the Isle of Man had a right, under his grant, to lay on duties on imports without an application to the Legislature ; or shewing, that, in fact, he did so for upwards of three hundred years ; or shewing, that the Parliament of Great Britain have, in consequence of the purchase made from my father, exercised that right since, the revestment ; you have had in evidence before you, that the inhabitants had it not in their power to make any decisive propositions to my family, the Isle of Man being given up unknown to them. (Whether our confidential agent acted a proper part by withholding intelligence from them, is another question.) From the attachment of the inhabitants, and from the evidence of those sent from the island at that period, I think I may fairly infer, that the islanders would, if they had been called upon by my father, have given any increase of duties that could with reason have been asked. That some of them would have wished to have kept up their former practices, I believe ; but finding that impracticable I have no doubt they would have submitted cheerfully to every necessary restriction, and turned their capitals to the extension of such trade as might have been carried on without detriment to the revenues of Great Britain and Ireland ; and I cannot have a conception but that, long before this, the Isle of Man would have been not only the most splendid, but one of the richest inheritances under the Crown of Britain.

"This island will never flourish until some trading be ; and though you may invite strangers or natives to be merchants, yet never any thing will be done to purpose until yourself do lead; and therefore get some sum of money, as God willing I. shall ; for I rather will sell land in England, than miss so excellent a design.

 There is no doubt but hereby you may grow rich yourself, and others under you ; your people may be set to work, and in a short time you will have no beggars ; where one foul is now, there will be many ; every house almost will become a town, every town as a city ; the island full of. ships, &c. &c. This country is so seated as I cannot conceive but all this is very feasible.

" When I go to the mount called Barrool, and turning me round see England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, I think shame so fruitlessly to see so many kingdoms at once, (which no place I think in any nation that we know of under Heaven can afford such a prospect of,) and to have such little profit by them.

" But I have considered hereof, and find as I think the reason. The country is indeed better than I was told, for which I blame myself that I inquired so little of it ; for indeed he who seeks not to know his own, is unworthy of what he hath ; but I well remember who told me it was so little worth, even those who had thriven by it.

A master, whose servants prosper under him, is commended; but when they thrive unknown to him, the wisdom of the one, and the honesty of the other, will be suspected."

So says my wise and great ancestor James Earl of Derby ; and he would doubtless have carried his intention into execution, but for the civil war, in which, aiding the royal cause, he first lost his estates, and ultimately his head upon the scaffold.

Fortunate would it have been for me had any of his successors followed out his plans; but from 1651, when James Earl of Derby lost his life, until 1765,when the Isle of Man was revested in His Majesty, (as I have more fully stated in a former paper delivered into you,) due attention was not paid to this most valuable property. I always have maintained, and ever will, that the species of trade carried on before the revestment, and which injured the British revenues, was a curse to the inhabitants, and a curse to the Lord of the island from which it accrued ; it made the islanders dissipated and idle ; it drew on the Lord the vengeance of an adversary he was unable for an instant to cope with. I aver, a more ample revenue might have been drawn from the fairest sources. From what source is the present revenue drawn ? From the consumption of the island. Under unwise and harsh restrictions, under many species of monopoly, I aver, that revenue, if fairly collected, would amount to as much, or more, than the average that my family received for ten years preceding the revestment. The people complain of unwise restrictions, harsh regulations, and injurious monopolies ; but they do not complain of the weight of their present duties ; on the contrary, they pay them without a murmur. But I have heard it said, the Isle of Man, under the protection of the British Government, receives advantages which my family could not have given. those advantages, I assert, have not been given yet ; they are all to come ; take away harsh restrictions, protect and foster the Isle of Man, and the revenue from thence will be very different to any that has hitherto been drawn from it.

I have always considered it a peculiar misfortune that this isle should have been so precipitately parted with, at the very period when, by the succession of my father, there was an immediate prospect of our true interest being known and pursued. But he had not time given him to view it, or personally to make himself acquainted with the nature of the estate there. Pushed to an immediate decision by the urgency of the moment, and trusting to the information of others, he concluded a transaction, which, to the day of his death, he never thought upon but with the deepest regret and dejection. But I well know, to use the words of my great ancestor, who it was that told him it was so little worth, even they who had thriven by it.

My next allegation is, " That some rights unnecessary to be vested in the Crown, for the purpose of preventing illicit practices, have been so vested ;

Such as Herring Custom,
Salmon Fishings,
Isle and Castle of Peele,
And Treasure Trove."

The evidence adduced before you respecting these went so clearly, in my opinion, to the establishing, that they were not necessary to be vested in the public for the purposes alluded to ; that until I perused a most extraordinary paper signed by Sir Wadsworth Busk, Attorney General of the Isle of Man, I did not imagine my allegations respecting these could be controverted.

I allege, that other rights meant to have been retained have, by the operation of the act of 1765, been rendered nugatory, by being left in a mutilated and unprotected condition ; the protection which they enjoyed under the former government of the island having been destroyed,and no new or adequate protection substituted in their room. .

The rights which I consider as of this class are,

Wrecks of the Sea,.
Services or Works of Tenants,
Unappropriated Lands,
And Game.

On these points I have already produced evidence before you ; but as I think they are intimately interwove with the general nature of the revestment, and the difficulties under which I have since laboured, by reason of the want of proper authorities on the one hand, and the assumption of. unconstitutional power in some parts of the Legislature on the other, I will briefly recapitulate the causes, and shew the effects produced.

The account of the Constitution of the Isle of Man prior to the revestment, as delivered in by the Deemster, I believe to be correct. By that Constitution the power and authority of the Lord of the island was very considerable ; the higher branch of the Legislature, the Governor and Council, were expressly of his nomination ; the subordinate one, the Keys, might almost be said to be in his nomination too. Short of actual oppression and injustice, the power of the Lord, I may almost say, was unlimited.

By neglect and inattention the Isle of Man became injurious to the parent state ; an application was made by the Treasury to my father and mother in July 1764, under the authority of the 12th Geo. I. for the purchase of the Isle of Man, or such parts thereof as it might be necessary to vest in the public for the prevention of the mischiefs complained of. My having answered this letter, would immediately have visited the island ; but the then situation of his family prevented him. On receiving a second letter, he came to town to be at hand to enter into a treaty. He immediately waited on the First Lord of the Treasury, who refused to treaty whatever ; but said, he did not know well what it was they meant to purchase that he did not wish to strip a noble family of their honours and distinctions ; that as Parliament had already made regulations respecting the Isle of Man, they had a right to go a little further; and that he meant to bring in a bill for this purpose. My father proceeds to say, I could do nothing further until by the proposed bill being brought into the House of Commons I should see if my rights were affected by it. The bill was brought in the of January 1765. 40,0001. was offered to my father ; it was refused. Counsel were heard against the bill on the 18th of February: 70,0001. was then offered, and an annuity of 2,0001. This, with a reservation of ecclesiastical and insular rights, was accepted by my father, under the pressure of a bill being in existence, and there being a probability of its passing on the morrow, which went, in his mind, to take away his rights and interests, without any compensation whatever. His acceptance (which, in my opinion, was improperly turned into the light of an offer) was contained in a letter, dated the 27th of February 1765;the revestment was the 5th of March following. From the shortness of the time in settling that Revesting Act, all the internal mischiefs I complain of arise. Sir Fletcher Norton, the then Attorney General, I have heard declare, knew nothing about the Isle of Man, except that it was the full intention of Government to prevent any injury arising in future to the revenue from thence : I thought it, he said, the surest way for Government to have their object, by insisting on the whole being given up, and then give back such parts as your family insisted upon, and did not appear to be necessary to be vested in the public for their proposed purposes.

Unfortunately my father knew as little of the nature of the Isle of Man as Sir Fletcher Norton did. That dilemma he wished to shun, we were thrown into ; reserving considerable estates, considerable rights, considerable patronage, not merely as a common Lord of a manor, but as remnants of still higher authorities, in as ample a manner as if the Revesting Act had never been passed ; in fact, we have not so enjoyed any of them ; all our ancient authorities for their protection and exercise taken away, and no new ones substituted in their place ; while my father, on his part, performed every part of this hard bargain, the public have not performed theirs. It was the intention, Sir Fletcher Norton said, when the Revesting Act was drawn up, to bring in an explanatory bill the following session, to correct or remedy any inconveniences which might arise from an act, necessarily, hastily drawn up.

Now let me shew what effects this hasty bill produced in the Isle of Man

Our Revenue Officers, with the exception of Mr. Quayle, were dismissed ; the rest of our servants were recommended by my father, and were continued in their respective offices Although they ceased to be our immediate servants, yet they gave such assistance in the administration of our affairs, that many of the evils since complained of did not immediately appear. Mr. Quayle still continuing our confidential servant, (although become a Crown officer,) in a letter to my father soon after the revestment, lays, " Your Grace cannot imagine the aid I derive from Governor Wood ; I could not go on with your Grace’s affairs without his assistance. All the old landmarks are taken away or destroyed, and no knew ones substituted in their room." Governor Wood, in a letter or memorial to the Treasury about 1774, after describing the Legislature, and the mode of passing laws prior to the revestment, requests to know what is to be the mode in future. Receiving no answer to his application, as he had not before that time, so while he continued in. the Isle of Man he never called the Legislature together, and no Court of Tynwald was held. My father repeatedly gave in memorials to the Lords of the Treasury, praying for an explanatory and for sufficient power kind authority to preserve his rights unmutilated : (And here I beg leave to observe, that all the memorials presented were drawn up from such materials as Mr. Quayle chose to send ; that my father, so far from visiting the Isle of Man after the revestment, could scarcely bear to hear it mentioned, which was the reason of these memorials never embracing all the objects which required redress) : yet he died without receiving any satisfaction.

From the period of the revestment until the death of my father in 1774, many of the grievances complained of arose from the rapacity of Mr. Lutwidge, who, at the head of the New Revenue Department, willed to engross the management of every thing ; who, under the pretext of their belonging to the Crown, had seized upon wrecks of the sea, herring custom salmon fishings, derelict ground, harbours, &c. &c. ; while our Agent, who ought to have protected these, being a Crown officer, was, as he expressed himself to me, in a delicate situation how to act ; in fact, he did not exert himself for the maintenance of these rights in us as he ought to have done.

Mr. Lutwidge too industriously sowed the feeds of jealousy in the Lords of the Treasury, that my family were aiming only at possessing again the power of countenancing illicit proceedings ; some of our grievances arose too from our internal jurisdictions not being properly defined ; and one complaint went against the Governor for taking the boon services. He defended himself by saying, the King’s commission gave him all rights as Governor; that he enjoyed the boon services as a perquisite before the revestment, and therefore had a right to them since. In a memorandum of my father’s, of things to be settled in the Isle of Man, prior to any idea of a revestment, is this : " To inquire of the Governor about the application of the boon services, and to direct that the money received for them may in future be brought to account." Under the Act of Settlement the boon services are as much ours as the quit-rents and fines : but the Governor being our friend in other matters, this point does not appear to have been sufficiently pushed ; while on his part, by reason of our claim, he does not appear latterally to have made much by it.

A new aera, I may say, with respect to the Isle of Man, took place on the death of Governor Wood, and the promotion of Colonel, now General Smith to that situation. Mr. Wood seeing that the ancient constitution of the Isle of Man had, by the operation of the Revesting Act, been destroyed, and no new one substituted in its room, and receiving no instructions, did not, in fact, act. But Colonel Smith, though a total stranger to the manners, laws, and customs of the Isle of Man, had been but a few weeks possessed of his new dignity, and indeed I believe only a few days in the isle, before he called such parts of the Legislature together as he thought proper, (excluding the Bishop and Clergy,) and passed, and sent up, a variety of bills, which received the King’s assent, (in a mode not agreeable to the accustomed forms of the island,) and became binding upon me without the slightest consent or knowledge on my part. One act, indeed, had passed in 1776 before Colonel Smith’s appointment, for the repairing highways, draining fens, making boundaries, and preventing trespasses. These favour pretty strongly of manerial or territorial purposes ; and some, indeed, are expressly reserved to us : but this was passed under the pretence, that it was only re-enacting an Act of Tynwald near expiring. And here it may be necessary just to mention, that Governor Wood having quitted the island on account of his health, the Commanding Officer of the troops, Captain Dawson, acted in his absence as Lieutenant Governor ; and it was under his auspices that this act, which was not in fact a re-enactment, but in many instances a new law, was passed.

Then come Colonel Smith’s acts : the first of which is, for the Confirmation of the Act of Settlement, or manerial holding of the inhabitants, (without the slightest knowledge of the manenial Lord.) This too has a very unjustifiable preface, and not warranted by the Act of Settlement itself. Another act is, for the Ascertainment of Weights and Measures, although this was among our reservations; another act abolishes the Great Inquest which was absolutely necessary for the preservation of our property ; another institutes new courts and authorities under a High Bailiff in each of the four market towns; and it is to be observed, that the salaries of these High Bailiffs were to be paid from what was before given to one of the Deemsters, whose office in consequence was discontinued , by which means the island sustained more detriment by the abolishment of the old, than they received benefit from the new-established Judicature. But the Governor seems to me to have wished for patronage, and the places of High Bailiffs were to be in his gift. Another law of a mischievous tendency also took place ; and this was establishing high fees for practising Attornies. Before this period every man in the island had a right, which many exercised, to plead their own cause. Though this is not specifically taken away, yet by the increase of Attornies in consequence of that act, so many difficulties are industriously thrown in the way of the lower class, that they are very seldom able to exercise their former privilege. Prior to that act, by what I can learn, 2001. was the utmost extent of what was annually spent in litigation in the Isle of Man. it is credibly asserted, that the different Attornies (none of whom it is necessary should be regularly bred, but the Governor may license who he will) now squeeze from the inhabitants above 1,5001. yearly : a monstrous grievance, in my humble opinion.

The next step taken by the new Governor was, the recommending three companies of Fencibles to be raised in the Isle of Man, in which I not only was not offered the disposal of a commission (although raised for the defence of an island, in which I was more deeply interested than any man) but on my application to recommend to an ensigncy, was refused. Having about this period dismissed Mr. Quayle from any charge in my affairs, I too soon found, that whatever cause I had to be dissatisfied with his conduct, yet that I had acted injudiciously by turning him off in the then perplexed state of my affairs ; for from his connexions and estate, he had the power to do me mischief:, and to do him justice, I must own, he has neglected no opportunity that has offered of exerting that power, by misrepresentation or otherwise

My first attempts in 1779 were, to endevour to arrange and settle my remaining rights and interests by a explanatory Act of parliament In the prosecution of this plan, I followed the best lights and opinions I could get , and after a bill, which had these objects in view , passing the House of Commons, I withdrew it myself in the House of Lords, and principally by this reason, that the business, in the course of my investigation, had opened up and appeared so much more considerable to my mind, that I became of opinion I ought to take it up on a much broader basis than that bill did, and that a minute inquiry and investigation ought to precede any thing definitive being done

The Government and Keys in the interim sent up a bill for the royal assent, which was to settle and define my marerial jurisdictions Hearing of this by accident, I inquired after, and found it laying before Lord Kenyon, then Attorney General, who very properly scouted the idea of my tenants defining my manerial rights without my knowledge or consent ; and the bill, which was highly injurious to me, was reported against

Since that, two bills have been sent up, the one for imposing a tax on the inhabitants under specious public purposes, but in reality to be at the disposal of the Keys, under the pretence of defending or paying the public debts of the island, as they chose to call them, (but which in fact arose from a junto of the Keys opposing me, or, more properly speaking, the person I had placed in Mr. Quayle’s situation, and in which opposition they had incurred an expence they wished to throw on the island generally to pay ;) the other was, to correct the blunders of one of their former acts, which had abolished the Grand Inquest, and taken away the appellate jurisdiction of the House of Keys.

The first I desired to be heard by Counsel against, before it should receive the royal assent. 1 have not been called upon ; and indeed the bill so materially affects the interest of the Crown, that the Attorney General of the isle has not signed it ; and, as I understand, the Crown officers here too have reported against it.

But be that as it may, I am ready at any time to bring forward what appear in my mind most substantial reasons why that bill ought not to pass.

Instead of the other bill receiving the royal assent, which goes to remedy inconveniences and grievances occasioned by their own acts, (and which have fallen heavier on me than any person,) in my humble opinion all those acts of 1777 ought to be revised ; those that are fitting, passed into a law in a constitutional manner ; and those which are either imperfect or unnecessary, be amended or repealed,

From the day in which the Governor first began to legislate with the Keys, and an imperfect Council or Upper House, indeed sometimes,as in the case of the Taxation Bill, with only one of the Council, with close doors, and in so secret a manner, that even the principal merchants and inhabitants (without they were of the Keys, and then they were sworn to secrecy) did not know the substance of the laws until they became binding upon them, the Keys have assumed a consequence as if they were to be considered as of themselves the Legislature of the island : aided by the Governor, here was soon a majority, (and that once being obtained, from the mode in which they are chose, can always be continued,) who, from thinking their fictitious consequence might be lessened, by matters being cleared up between the public and me, or for other private reasons, endeavoured by every means to prevent any measures being pursued which tended to investigation respecting the Isle of Man, and made use of the name of Representatives of the People, as if they were standing up on their behalf, or as if an inquiry and settlement was intended to ruin the inhabitants, whole defenders they were. But I am happy to think that the veil of ignorance, which has hitherto shrouded the Isle of Man from the view of Great Britain, will in consequence of your researches be withdrawn, and that little spot become one of the most flourishing parts within His Majesty’s dominions.

When the public purchased, or rather took that island for the purpose of preventing their revenues being injured, sufficient internal authority ought to have remained with my family, in order to preserve those rights and estates which were reserved. You, Gentlemen, will be the best judges if it appeared to you, if there either had been, or could be, any with on the part of my family to exercise or enjoy any rights or interests which were not clearly ours before the revestment, and have either been unprotected, undefined, or vested in the public by the operation of that act. I should ill merit the kindness and attention with which I have ever been received, (except by a levy of the Keys,) whenever I have gone to the Isle of Man, if I could for a moment meditate any injury to them, and if it was not on the contrary the first with of my heart that every measure should be pursued which can tend to their benefit.

Boon services, which appeared to me the principal point refuted by some of the Keys, were proved to have been drawn by our Governor as a perquisite ; were proved to have been enjoyed by a Mr Radcliff, the brother-in-law of our confidential servant, for his emolument. The demesne lands, before 1765, might be considered as a perquisite too, the rent paid was so trifling in respect of their real value : but these were given up on the revestment ; and so would the boon services too, if the very Governor, who had been in the practice of drawing them as a perquisite, had not been continued in office. It is remarkable, that the very act which injures the tenures of the inhabitants, and in which these services are specifically defined, was confirmed by the Governor and Keys themselves in 1777. Is it common sense to say, that that act made in 1703-4, and which was so advantageous to the inhabitants, that it was confirmed, I may add clandestinely, by themselves, should be binding in all parts against me, and not against them ? I may, perhaps, be thought, Gentlemen, to be wasting your time in pushing this argument any further.

The present existence of illicit practices, and those too of the most daring nature, were too evident while you were in the island to make it necessary for me to say one word on that subject, or on the absolute necessity of preventing such practices, if any fair revenue is expected to be drawn from thence. On the erroneous system too which has prevailed since the revestment, and the consequent loss of revenue, you must have made your remarks. On the possibility of giving advantages to the trade, &c. of the Isle of Man, and that too consistent with the security of the British and Irish revenues, I have already delivered my sentiments.

The present ruinous state of the harbours, and the advantages which might be derived from their repairs, both to the trade of the Isle of Man, and to that of Great Britain, has no doubt made a forcible impression on your minds ; the state of the gaols and public buildings too, I am sure, you must be of opinion are such as calls loudly for the attention of Government.

It does not occur to me that I have any thing further to lay before you relative to the subjects of your inquiry, convinced, from the assiduity with which you have investigated every object recommended to your attention, that your report will be framed with ability and candour, and will in its consequences be beneficial to the public, to the islanders, and to my family ; to the public, by shewing the means of preventing the mischiefs which still arise to the British revenues from the Isle of Man, and rendering that which flows, or may flow, from that island itself productive ; to the islanders, by granting commercial advantages they do not at present enjoy, and relieving them from the heavy restrictions and monopolies under which they now labour ; and to my family, by shewing the nature and value of an estate which, for national purposes, was taken from my father and mother by the public, and by securing in future the permanent and peaceable possession of such rights and interests as are not necessary to be vested in the public for the attainment or security of their object in the original transaction, viz. the power of preventing any mischiefs in future arising to the revenues of Great Britain or Ireland from the Isle of Man.

It only remains for me earnestly to entreat you to give in that report, as early as the weight and consequence of the different points to be reported upon will admit ; and if in the course of framing such, you may with for further or more explicit information on any of the points expressly alleged, I shall be ready to wait upon you at any time for that purpose.

I have the honour to be,


Your most obedient and most humble servant


To John Spranger, William Osgoode, William Grant
William Roe, and David Reid, Esquires,

Commissioners for the Isle of Man. .


* The bill was read a second time, and committed for the 28th of February.


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