Memorials and Papers relating to Harbours in the Isle of Man

Sir, Treasury Chambers, 22 November, 1850.

I AM commended by the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury to acquaint you that they have carefully considered the memorial from the Harbour Commissioners of the Isle of Man, which was forwarded by you to this Board on the 26th July last, praying that additional funds may be advanced to them for the purpose of proceeding with improvements of the harbours in the Isle of Man, but their Lordships are unable to comply with the prayer of the petitioners, as there are no funds at their Lordships' disposal available for such purpose.

My Lords have, however, consented to reduce the rate of interest payable upon the debt now due to the Crown to 4 per cent., and they have given the necessary directions accordingly to the Public Works Loan Commissioners.


Right Hon. Charles Hope,

Government House, Isle of Man.

(signed) G. C.Lewis.

The humble Petition of the undersigned Shipowners, Merchants, and Dealers of the town and Port of Douglas, Isle of Man.


THAT the harbours of the said island are governed by Acts--of Parliament of 11 and 54 Geo. 3, only partially repealed by 7 &; 8 Victoria,; the Authority to make bye laws remaining the same.

Under the former Act the commissioners are constituted, those commissioners being the receiver-general, the deputy receiver-general, the collector, comptroller and searcher of the Port of Douglas; the deputy water-bailiff of each of the ports of Derbyhaven, Peel, and Ramsey, and four Creditable and substantial merchants, one belonging to each of the Four ports, to be elected by the officers aforesaid, or the major part of them, to be commissioners for three years.

That of the said commissioners it has seldom happened that the collector ,the comptroller, or the searcher of the Port of Douglas has ever been present at any meeting of said commissioners, or taken any part in their proceedings.

That on the removal of any one of the above-mentioned officers to another port, his successor becomes ex-officio a commissioner of the harbours, and that< these accounts within the last eight or nine years there have been four different collectors and nine different comptrollers, thus making it obvious that the appointment of such officers to be ex-officio commissioners of the harbours is a great defect, and quite inoperative for any good purpose.

That the impropriety (not to say absurdity) of such ex-officio appointments was pointed out so long ago as in the report made by certain commissioners sent to inquire into and report upon the state of the island in or about the year 1793.

That Captain Washington, R. I, one of the honourable Commissioners under the Tidal Harbour Commission, presided at a meeting held under the said Commission, at the Court-house in the said town of Douglas, on the 5th day of November 1845.

That at such meeting statements were publicly made, and not refuted, to the effect that the harbour commissioners audited their own accounts; that those accounts had not been published for some time, viz. not for nine years previous to 1844; that the contracts for the harbour works had been entered into without due publication; that the harbour was not in the condition it should have been in; that large and valuable portions of the land which had belonged to the harbour had been enclosed and appropriated to private individuals; that nautical men never were consulted by the commissioners in preparing plans or estimates for proposed improvements; that there was not a proper place where a vessel could be repaired; that the harbour commissioners had been memorialised to make improvements, but that no notice had been taken of such application; and that a graving dock, &c. were greatly required.

That your petitioners humbly submit that the present mode of appointing the commissioners is repugnant to the requirements of the times and the interests of those connected with the ports and harbours, amounting as it virtually does to self-election, as will be seen when it is stated that the receiver general, as the chairman of the commission, appoints his deputy receiver, and also in the present instance being water-bailiff, appoints his deputy water-bailiffs for Derbyhaven, Peel, and Ramsey. Added to this, in many instances; instead of merchants, as contemplated by the Act of Parliament, other parties, not in any way interested either in the commerce or shipping of the island, have been from time to time appointed commissioners.

That your petitioners find that encroachments have been made by private individuals on places over which ordinary tides used to flow; those places being of essential service to the security of vessels and other purposes connected with the shipping.

That great and general dissatisfaction exists on the subject of the present constitution of the harbour commissioners.

That, in the opinion of your petitioners, and they may add of the public in general, it is deemed indispensable for the prosperity of the ports and for the proper management of the harbours of the said island, that the harbour commissioners should be elected for the most part by those who are most interested in the trade and shipping of the island.

'That, considering the geographical position of the island, it is an object of the highest importance that its ports and harbours should be placed and maintained in the most efficient state possible, and that the funds appropriated for that purpose should be expended with prudence and economy under due control and supervision, of which there can be no reasonable expectation so long as the harbour commission is permitted to exist on its present unsatisfactory, inefficient, and almost irresponsible footing.


Your petitioners therefore humbly pray your Lordships will be pleased to take the foregoing statements into your most serious and favourable consideration, and grant such relief in the premises as to your Lordships may appear advisable. And your petitioners will ever pray, &c.


This memorial was on the 6th October 1850, referred to Captain Washington for any observations he might have to make thereon.

Sir, Woolwich, 4 December 1850.

IN reply to your letter of the 6th October, referring to me a petition to the Lords of Her Majesty's Treasury, signed by 40 shipowners, merchants, and others of the town and port of Douglas, Isle of Man, and requesting any observations I may have to offer thereon, I have the honour to state, for the information of their Lordships, that in November 1845 I visited the Isle of Man, and, in company with the resident engineer, I personally examined all the harbours of the island, holding public meetings of inquiry at Douglas, Ramsey, Peel, and Castletown, at which all parties interested were invited to attend. The result of that inquiry, as chiefly shown in the printed Evidence, a copy of which I annex, may be briefly stated under the following several heads:

1. Constitution of the Board.

According to the Act of Parliament, 11 Geo. 3, c. 52, sec.5 [1771], the commissioners for the management of the island harbours consist of the receiver-general, the deputy receiver-general, the collector, comptroller, and searcher of Customs at Douglas, the deputy water-bailiffs of the ports of Derbyhaven, Peel, and Ramsey, and "four creditable and substantial merchants, " one for each of the four principal ports, elected by the officers aforesaid to be such commissioners for the term of three years; and on the expiration of the said term the rest of the commissioners shall elect another merchant in his or their stead, to continue in like manner for three years.

This apparent protection of the public interests, it was urged, is practically null, inasmuch as the receiver-general is chairman, and appoints his deputy; holding also the office of water-bailiff, he names his three deputies, one for each port. The collector, comptroller, and searcher of Customs at Douglas are also ex-officio commissioners; and these eight persons, four of whom are nominees of the' chairman, have to elect the four merchant commissioners., It is manifest, therefore, that the chairman can, if he pleases, command a majority of votes at the Board. Great complaints of this mode of election were made during my inquiry, and in the various petitions from the island that have been transmitted from time to time to the Treasury and to the Admiralty.

The Act specially requires that another merchant commissioner shall be elected at the expiration of three years, whereas it was stated in evidence, and not refuted, that the merchants, though nominally elected every three years, are in fact elected for life; one had been a commissioner for 40 years.

It was further complained of that the word " merchant " not being defined in the Act, other persons not interested in the commerce or shipping of the island have been continued as commissioners.

At the period of my visit (with the exception of the collector of Customs at Douglas), none of the commissioners in office were sailors or shipowners, or, as far as I could learn, at all connected with the sea, or knew anything practically of the wants or requirements of shipping or of a harbour.

It was also pointed out as a grievance that all infractions of the harbour laws should be prosecuted by the receiver-general, as chief commissioner, before the water-bailiff, but the receiver-general and water-bailiff, or prosecutor and judge, are the same person. It is true that the harbour-master may be directed to prosecute, but this is an inconvenience that would be better avoided.

2. Meetings and Proceedings of the Board.

The commissioners construe their Act to require only an annual meeting of the Board. The meetings do take place oftener, but at irregular intervals. The harbour funds are paid into the hands of the chairman quarterly, and as the deputy receiver-general stated in his evidence, " there was then to be an audit of the accounts;" yet in the year 1845, seven months and a half had elapsed without a meeting of the Board.

There is no question but that a fair construction of the Act requires quarterly meetings.

No complete minutes of the proceedings of the Board are kept; and the minutes that are kept, it appears, are not always signed. A memorial to the Board from Peel in favour of improvements was not even noticed in the minutes.

Verbal orders were given for works to be executed, or, as one of the commissioners complained, " the first he knew of works being ordered was being called upon to sanction the money expended." Whereas the Act (sec. 5) expressly states that the said commissioners, or the major part of them, shall from time to time contract with the workmen for repairing and enlarging and improving the harbours.

In designing works and preparing plans, it was given in evidence, that no opinion was asked of nautical men; and in the case of the new harbour or basin at Castletown, neither pilot nor fisherman was consulted as to its utility. When questioned by me, they stated that the plan of extending the old pier, and deepening the water, as recommended by Sir John Rennie and Mr. Walker, " would have made a better job. "

The meetings of the commissioners are with closed doors, which is contrary to the practice of nine-tenths of the harbours of the United Kingdom.

3. Accounts.

By the Act 7 & 8 Vict. c. 43, the rates levied on goods and shipping were done away with, and the sum of 2,3001. a year (the average net annual amount of the dues) is paid quarterly, from the Custom-house of Douglas, into the hands of the receiver-general; an undoubted boon to the island on the part of Her Majesty's Government, which made all the ports free and greatly increased the traffic, and for which all feel grateful.

It was stated in evidence, that for seven or nine years prior to 1844, no statement of accounts had been made public. It must, however, be mentioned that on demand the books are open to the rate-payers for inspection. In 1844 the accounts were called for by the House of Commons, but the return made was rejected by The House as incomplete; no amended return had been made in November 1845,.

The commissioners audit their own accounts; but even this auditing was as informal as it could be.- The account book was handed to me, and on turning over the- pages I could not find a single signature. The deputy receiver general (who acts as secretary) explained, "That owing to the peculiar way in which they accounts were kept, rendered it necessary that the auditors should sign a separate minute in another book." It is not surprising that the public are dissatisfied with such a mode of dealing with accounts, and that they complained loudly against it, both at the inquiry and in all petitions.

4. Expenditure and Works.

The annual charge upon the fixed harbour revenue of 2,300l. a year, is about 1,300l., leaving 1,000l. a year available for repairs and improvements. Since 1840 the commissioners have borrowed 6,000l., besides which, as far as could be made out, a balance of about 1,800l. was due to the bank in November 1845.

The chief works executed during this time, and their cost, as far as could be ascertained, were, at



Ramsey; extension of pier- and lighthouses


Derbyhaven; building a breakwater


Peel; pier widened and harbour deepened


Douglas; excavations in harbour


Port St. Mary; new quay wall


Castletown; new basin


With the exception of Castletown, all the above works were necessary and proper.

It appears that during the year 1838 a sum of 2,900l had been expended upon a south jetty at Douglas of more than doubtful benefit; and in 1844-5 a sum of 2,7001. upon a dry harbour or basin at Castletown, not recommended by the engineers, Mr. Walker or Sir John Rennie, nor sanctioned by the Treasury or the Admiralty; while at Douglas, with a population of 8,000, or one-fifth of the whole island, the post-office packet station, the port of the Liverpool and other steamers. the principal resort as a watering-place, it was stated that the commissioners refused to lay out 1001. in erecting; a low-water landing slip, to the extreme discomfort and inconvenience of all passengers and visitors.

Another complaint was, the want of any place to repair a vessel at Douglas; there was no beaching place, no gridiron, no patent slip, no graving dock. The agent to the steam packet company complained, that even to paint his vessel's bottom, he was obliged to send her to Liverpool, thereby causing much delay and expense, the company " had memorialised the commissioners to erect a slip on the Tongue, but no notice had been taken of their application."

With the exception of the Douglas Head Light, which is well maintained at a cost of 200 l. a year, the lights at all the small harbours were in a very inefficient state at the time of my visit.

5. Encroachments below High-water Mark.

Great complaints were made that a space of 12 acres in extent, at the upper part of Douglas Harbour, called the Lake, over which the tide flowed at all spring tides, has been enclosed and taken from the harbour within the last 30years, as it appeared in evidence, by the proprietor of the Nunnery Estate.

Now this lake was exactly in the position for a tidal reservoir at the upper extreme of the harbour; it was a safe place for, and formerly was frequented by fishing boats.

By excavating a portion of it, much additional space might be got in the harbour, in the best place, and free from swell, which is one of the greatest evils of the port; and at far less expense than advancing piers into the sea. Had the 2,9001. expended upon the south jetty been laid out in excavating the Lake, it would have been an invaluable boon to Douglas Harbour.

I am aware that it has been stated that the Lake was " generally supposed "to have formed part of the Nunnery Estate, but as there was some doubt about it, the owner of the Nunnery property obtained a license from the Duke of Atholl, dated 3d May 1769, and has since paid lord's rent, fines, &c. To this I answer:

1st. That by Magna Charta, c. 16, and c. 23; by the 25 Edw. 3, c. 4;and by Lord Hale, De Jure Maris, p. 17, and De Portibus Maris, p. 81, the soil of any shore or river, subject to the flux and reflex of the sea at ordinary spring tides is the property of the Crown.
2dly. The Duke of Atholl had no power to grant a license in 1769, having disposed of his right in the harbours to the Crown in 1765, four years previous.

It was distinctly stated to me in evidence, and not refuted, that the ground when not overflowed by the tide,- was used as a common by the public,- and that boats went up at every spring tide " until the year 1820, when the late Major Taubman built a wall, and enclosed it piece by piece.

" About 30 yards were left open for hauling up boats,- and- for the cattle to water; some years after this opening was closed up. At-high tides the whole Lake was covered with water." ;

Had the harbour commissioners done their duty in 1820, the Lake would not have been enclosed. The ground is clearly Crown property, and should be immediately resumed for the benefit of the harbour.;

Complaint was also made that another piece of public property near the Court House was enclosed in 1813, in consequence of which the sea, which had formerly a beach to expend itself upon, now broke on a steep slope, and caused much more swell.

The above are the principal grounds of complaint. To those unacquainted with the management of harbours, they may possibly appear trifling in detail; they are, however, far from being so in the aggregate, and when the grievances above stated are submitted to year after year without any hope of redress, when those residing on the spots and largely interested in the traffic of the ports, daily feel the annoyance and loss arising from the crowded harbour; the entire absence of accommodation for repairs, the indifference, and the want of knowledge of the subject evinced by those -in whom the management of the harbour is legally vested, I must own that 1 think they afford sufficient ground for the very general dissatisfaction expressed at the time of my inquiry, and in the several memorials and petitions which, from time to time, have been addressed to the Treasury and the Admiralty.

I gladly turn to a pleasanter task.

The value of the fisheries of the Isle of Man, which, besides 400 stranger boats and 90 snacks, employ 600 # boats belonging to the island, manned by 3,800 men and boys, at a total cost of 83,000l. for boats, nets, and lines, and which produce 80,000l a year, must be too well known to their Lordships to be dwelt on here. But the important position occupied by the island in the Irish Channel, either in peace or war, lying directly in the track of communication between Liverpool, Fleetwood, Glasgow and Belfast, and of the coal trade from Whitehaven and Maryport to the whole of the east coast of Ireland, may not perhaps have received the full attention it appears to me to be entitled to .To give some notion of this traffic, I may state that, independently of vessels in ballast, fishing, and revenue craft, 17,039 vessels, of 2,438,264 tons, paid dues as passing the Calf of Man lights in the year 1849. The island has been not in aptly termed the " Beacon of the Irish Sea," and as such, everything that care and skill can suggest as to lights, beacons, and improvements in its harbours would be well bestowed. The fearful list of 144 wrecks around the coasts of the island in 25 years, during which 172 lives were lost, and 250,000l.of property destroyed, makes it imperative that all that can be done should be done, to render those shores less fatal to the mariner.

What then can be done:? I am not sure that my " observations " are expected to extend so far, but as: I have felt myself compelled to find much fault, I feel bound to suggest what appears to me:the remedy.:


1st. Repeal the four actual governing-Acts, and introduce-during the coming Session a short Harbour Act, embodying the recent Consolidated Clauses Acts; vesting the election of the commissioners in the hands of the rate-payers, whose interest-it is to choose the best men; roviding always that each of the principal harbours in the island shall be represented at the Board, and having the collector of customs of the Port of Douglas, as at present, a commissioner ex-officio.

2d. Require all plans of harbour improvement to be submitted to the Admiralty, as indeed they now should be by the Act 46 Geo. 3., c. 153.

3d. Put an immediate stop to any further expenditure on the new harbour at Castletown.

4th. Erect forthwith a self-acting bell-beacon (not a light) on Langness, a low, dangerous, projecting point on the south coast, past which the tide rushes occasionally at the rate of five miles an hour, and on which more vessels have been wrecked than on any other point on the island. Estimate, 100l. Also improve at once the small harbour lights.

5th. Relieve the harbour funds of the cost of maintaining the Douglas Head Light.- This light is, to all intents and purposes, a coast light, not a harbour light and the only light between the Calf of Man and Point of Ayr, a distance of nearly 40 miles. The cost, 200l. a year, presses heavily on the harbour funds, nor is it just, in fact, that the island should maintain what is a Channel light, nor is it safe that it should be entrusted to such keeping.

The Commissioners of Northern Lights maintain brilliant lights at the Calf of Man, and at Ayr Point, and would, I have no doubt, take charge of this also, if repaid the extra expense, as they are at Portpatrick Harbour.
[ * One thousand fishing boats are employed nightly during the herring season.]

6th. Resume as Crown property the ground formerly overflowed by the tide, called the Lake, and excavate it as required to form a portion of Douglas Harbour, removing every impediment to the upward flow of the tide.

7th. Improve the harbours of Peel, Port Erin, and Port St. Mary; Peel, as being the only harbour on the west coast, and all three as of great importance on the early season of the fishery.

Lastly. Run out a breakwater 200 yards long, in a northerly direction from the Two-gun Battery in Douglas Bay, having 17 feet of water at its outer end at low water of spring tides.

I do not recommend this measure with a view of making Douglas Bay a general harbour of refuge, for which I do not think it adapted, but in order to avoid the serious inconvenience now felt of the mails being delayed commonly for eight hours, and occasionally for 24 hours, and to ensure a place of landing and embarkation at all times of tide for Her Majesty mails, for troops, and for coaling a war steamer in case of need, a point of some consideration in a channel where, on both sides, all are tidal harbours. Also to shelter the coasting trade, and especially the fishing boats and vessels, until the tide will admit of their going into Douglas Harbour. Such a pier might probably be built for 25,000l., and I think the trade of the island, the fisheries, and other considerations above named' would fully justify the outlay.

I am, &c.

(signed) John Washington, Captain, R. N.,
The Secretary of the Treasury. Inspector of Harbours.

Castletown, Isle of Man,

4 January 1851.



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