[From Feltham's Tour, 1798]
To the same.
IN this letter I propose to give you an abridged statement of the Commissioners' report, who were appointed, in 1792, to make various enquiries relative to the additional compensation, urged in Parliament by his Grace the Duke of Athol, for the benefits derived to this country from the possession of the Isle of Man; and to examine into those rights, of which his Grace complained he was unintentionally deprived, and in which, therefore, he requested to be reinstated. A fair and equitable compensation was required for that, which his Grace considered the re-vesting act had in its operation divested him of; and in his last bill, finally to adjust the business between his family and the crown, he prayed that leave might be given for a bill appointing commissioners to enquire what rights and species of property were necessary or expedient to remain vested in the crown, for the protection and security of the public revenues, and what was the value thereof; and also how far, and to what extent and value, his remaining rights-and interests in the said island had been or would, by the dismemberment thereof, be impaired or diminished, and to afford him relief*
The commissioners appointed in consequence were, Mr. Spranger, master in chancery; Mr. Grant, an English lawyer, and M.P.; Mr. Osgoode, an English lawyer, and chief justice of Quebec; Mr. Poe, commissioner of the customs at London; and Mr. Reed, commissioner of the customs at Edinburgh.
As soon as they arrived in the island, a committee of the Keys was appointed to attend and assist them. The result of their labours forms a very thick folio; and as it was only printed for private use, I mean to give you the substance abbreviated.
The first attention was to the allegations of his Grace the Duke; and then they proceeded, 2ndly, to the revenue; 3rdly, to the constitution; 4thly, Beneficial suggestions, not included under the other heads, with appendices.
The Duke of Athol's allegations were, 1. That the revenues arising to his Grace's family were not fairly collected, even prior to the re-vestment. 2. That his family had the power of increasing the duties with the consent of the legislature; and that such consent, to any reasonable degree, would not have been wanting. 3, That some rights, unnecessary to be vested in the crown, have been so vested; while others, meant to be retained, have, by the operation of the act of 1765, been rendered nugatory by being left in a mutilated and unprotected condition; the protections which they enjoyed under the former government of the island, having been destroyed, and no new or adequate protection substituted in their room.
After examining the witnesses in support of the first allegation the commissioners were of opinion, as well from the positive testimony adduced, as from the necessary consequence of that defective system, which appeared in evidence to have been established for collecting the duties, that, although the amount of the loss sustained cannot be estimated, the lord's revenues were not fairly collected or paid, prior to the re-vestment.
The 2nd allegation was divided into two parts; the first was self-evident, but as to the latter part, the commissioners thought that it was not probable (after they had examined the subject) that a consent to any increase of duties would have been given without an equivalent. Respecting the 3rd allegation, that was likewise divided into two branches; and his Grace delivered in a paper, stating what rights had unnecessarily been vested in the crown, and wishing to be reinstated in all his lawful rights; viz. the Herring Custom of 10s. on each boat, Salmon Fisheries, Isle and Castle of Peele, Treasure Trove, &c. The commissioners conceived, indeed, these as not necessarily vested in the crown for the purpose of preventing illicit practices. On applying to the Attorney-General for his opinion on these subjects, the result was,
" that he could not take upon himself to say, that the rights specified are absolutely necessary to be possessed by his Majesty, in order to the suppression of smuggling, but, as far as he could judge, he does conceive that the possession of each of them by the crown, excepting perhaps treasure trove, as a real and beneficial check upon such practices. The trifling privilege of treasure trove might, he believes, be resigned without mischief; but all the rest would, if belonging to any other than the sovereign, be liable to be made, in a greater or less degree, the means of defrauding the revenue."
The commissioners continued in their original opinion. In support of the last branch of the 3rd allegation, the Duke delivered in papers on the subjects of wrecks, boons and services, game, unappropriated lands, tic. But, in general, the commissioners thought that these rights were not left in that unprotected and mutilated condition stated by his Grace. After discussing these several points, the causes of a misunderstanding between the Duke and House of Keys was proposed to be investigated. It respected laws being made in the island, materially affecting his Grace's property, without his knowledge, on which ground he had entered caveats against his Majesty's assent; and the Keys complained of the delays occasioned thereby. But the House of Keys entering into a resolution to inform his Grace of any new laws a proper time before they should pass, with copies of any new bills, &c., the parties being satisfied, farther discussion was waved: and the resolutions then adopted, were acknowledged a remedy for some other insular grievances complained of by the people.
The 2nd general head of the Commissioners Report is on
Containing, 1. The receipt and expenditure. 2. The establishment of the customs. 3. The system of duties. 4. Illicit practices. 5. Proposals for the relief or benefit of the inhabitants.
By the return of the deputy Receiver-General, it appears that the Receipts and Payments from Jan. 1790 to Jan. 1791, amounted to 3,0161. 8s. 11d. raised by collections at the different ports. The total disbursements on this account is 3,2721. 2s.2d. The payments contained in this account are either to officers in the civil or revenue departments, incidental on the head of customs, or bounties on herrings. Two other funds exist in the island, coming within the produce of the Receiver-General, distinct from the customs in their origin, collection, mode of account, and application, namely, the Harbour duties, and the Herring custom, and Bay fisheries. The harbour fund is levied under the Act of 2 Geo. III. cap. 52. The herring custom is ancient, and was originally a payment in kind; a maze, or 500 herrings, being due from every Manks boat, for the supply of the garrisons of the island; hence called a castle maze. But it is now commuted for a money payment of 10s. for ten maze, or in proportion to the quantity caught. Irish boats pay double the custom, in the same proportion which is paid at sea, or in the harbours, as occasion offers. The Manks boats pay after the season is over, on the proprietors' oath as to the number of boats employed, or quantity caught. In the year 1790 the number of boats paying herring custom in the island was 233. Sometimes above 340 have paid, and in that year four British boats paid The revenue yielded by the Salmon fisheries, arises from rents paid to the crown, for the liberty of fishing in the bays of the island. The commissioners of the treasury let them on lease by auction for seven years, at 221. per annum.
The harbour duties for one year, ending in July 1791, were 3191. 5s. 1½d. nett. And the herring custom and bay fisheries net, were 951. 19s. 3½d. from which 3271. was disbursed in repairs; which, together with some deductions for salaries, left only 471. 7s. 10¾d. balance in favour of the fund that year. The joint produce of these funds were, by 2 Geo. III. appropriated to the benefit of the harbours. The execution of this duty is principally in the management of revenue officers, which the commissioners justly conceived to be taking them off from their direct and especial duty; and that, as the ports and harbours were objects of great importance, and that competent knowledge and incessant attention were essential requisites in those to whom the management of them was entrusted, they therefore recommended a reconsideration of the act in question.
In the list of ports are named four, Douglas, Derby-haven, Peel, and Ramsay, with twenty creeks; but in the commissions one creek, Castletown, is only named. The essence of a creek, in the language and sense of the custom department, is, the having officers stationed to perform certain branches of the business, and as that is wanting, they hardly appear hitherto to have merited the appellation. Douglas, also, is styled a head port, and the other ports members thereof,
" a distinction " (say the commissioners of 1792) in our opinion useless and unwarranted; as the sole ground we know of for that distinction, a right exercised by patent officers, appointed to head ports to extend their jurisdiction in respect of their offices to members hereunto belonging, no ways obtains in the Isle of Man."
The officers in the customs are thirty: their salaries amount to 9321. 6s. 6d. Many are paid at Whitehaven. The whole expenditure in 1790 for the island, inhered by the crown, was 3,7651. 8s 7½d. fees are received by many of the officers. No deductions of any kind for taxes on the emoluments of office, are made in the island. The commissioners also conceived the abolishing of all fees a measure of a very salutary tendency; and they stated the whole management; of the customs to be ill-digested, incomplete, and unfit. They: proceed to point out the most striking defects, and the subject is laid down and reasoned on with precision and knowledge; and the result was, that the revenue was not nearly so productive as it ought to be. They thought nothing short of a radical change could reach the errors and defects of the system, and communicate order, regularity, and energy; for which they advised its being put under the management of the commissioners of the customs for England and Scotland, and that this should be done without any detriment to the island.
The duties of customs now payable in the island, are by 7 Leo. III. cap. 45, and 20 Geo. III. cap. 42. The duties are laid on either by a specific rate, according to quantity; measurement or weight; or ad valorem. Spirits, tea, coffee, tobacco, wine, and coal, are classed under the former; all other articles subject to duty, under latter. A laxity prevails in enforcing the oath, as to valuation, and general mode of collection The lists annexed in letter 6th, show the articles which may be imported, or exported, or prohibited in the island, &c.; What improvements are wanting, are stated at length in the Report.
The testimony of the officers, and the weak system of prevention, concurred to establish the truth that illicit practices do still prevail in the island: 1st., by a fraudulent evasion of insular duties; and 2ndly, by importing into Great Britain or Ireland, articles liable to duty without payment thereof; of articles which have received bounty or drawback on exportation; or of articles prohibited.
The island is made part of a circuitous smuggling to England, Scotland, or Ireland; here the contraband traders stop and dispose of part of their illicit burdens. The principal subjects of clandestine importation are, brandy, geneva, and tea. Of outward smuggling, salt is the most considerable. The commissioners offer a variety of remarks on these heads, and on the plans necessary for their prevention, convinced, as they observe, that, in proportion as this illegal traffic is rooted out, a relish for honest industry and enterprise will gain strength; and the growth of trade and manufactures, the improvement of agriculture, the extension of the fisheries, and with them the advancement of the Isle of Man to a more flourishing state, will be ensured.
5thly. The proposals for the relief and benefit of the inhabitants in regard to trade, respect licensed articles; foreign brandy and geneva; tonnage of vessels; corn and grain; hops; herring fishery; cotton manufactory; hemp, iron, deal-boards, and timber; tar, salt, oil, and fruits of all kinds; showing how pertain Convenience with regard to these exist, and stating the means to obviate them, with remarks thereon; also a proposition for erecting a warehouse at Douglas for foreign European goods, which is, however, deemed a plan big with innovation, and to which strong objections occur. After remarks on these heads, they proceed to part the Third, on the Constitution, &c, which shall be pursued in my next letter.
*1 In a case respecting the validity of this sale, laid before council in 1788, it is stated that the sum of 70,0001. was paid only for such Legalities, and other branches of this royal fief, as appeared to be convenient for the public; that what was reserved to the Duke did not comprise one-fourth of the yearly revenue from the island; and that his family have by it lost, at the rate of 4 or 5,0001. a-year, for twenty-three years successively; such being nearly the difference between the net revenue from the island for ten years preceding the sale, and the net revenue of the purchase-money and the reserved parts of the island put together. It becomes a question how far Duke James, the present Duke's grandfather, was competent to dispose of the island at his pleasure, and overturn the order of succession guarded by act of James I., under which he himself derived; and whether it is not incumbent on the legislature, either by restoration of the property, or a liberal compensation for every possible damage from retaining the island against those entitled under the right of succession, to redress the injury of which, through the precipitation of a bargain, they have been the unintentional authors.-See the printed opinion of Mr. Hargrave on this case.-Gough's Camden, vol. iii. 700.