[from D. Robertson, Tour, 1794]
SALE OF THE ISLAND VIEW OF TRADE PREVIOUS, AND SUBSEQUENT, TO THAT PERIOD ESTABLISHMENT OF THE CUSTOMS PRESENT IMPORTS INSULAR REVENUE.
DURING the civil contests in England, occasioned by the weakness and ambition of Charles the First, several persons of fortune, having sought an asylum in this Island, introduced among the natives a greater flow of money. Previous to this period, their trade was chiefly transacted by an exchange of commodities; and their manner of conducting this business was not only beneficial to the community, but distinguished by its virtuous simplicity. To prevent any avaricious monopoly, four merchants were annually elected by the people to purchase foreign merchandise for the whole country. These, on the arrival of any vessel, laden with salt, pitch, iron, &c. &c. appeared with the owner of the cargo before the Governor of the Island; when the value of each article was ascertained; and to the contract, then made by their commercial representatives, the country cheerfully acceded. The articles given in return were wool, hides, tallow, and other produce of the Island; but if these proved inadequate to the cargo imported, the residue was then paid for in money by a general assessment,
To a better acquaintance with the utility of specie, this primitive mode of commerce gradually yielded; and about the beginning of the present century wholly disappeared.
The increase of the customs, and the establishment of the excise in the neighbouring kingdoms, uniting with other causes, afterwards proved highly beneficial to the trade of this country: the Isle of Man thus became an important mart for those luxuries, which the prodigality or policy of the state had loaded in Britain with oppressive imposts.
Cambrics, silks, tobacco, tea, wines, spirituous liquors, &c. &c. were imported from the continent (1); and on their being landed here, paid a very trifling duty to the Lord(2): but such were the quantities admitted, that they formed an ample revenue to him. Merchants from various countries flourished in every town of the Island; which, from its vicinity to the surrounding kingdoms, and the plenitude of unexcised luxuries, was much resorted to, by various hords of smugglers. Besides foreign adventurers, several of the inhabitants were actually engaged in this illicit commerce. An unlimited importation of goods was legal: but every exportation of them was in defiance of the laws of the land, which, at that time, were shamefully evaded.
This traffic was certainly injurious to the Island; yet many of the natives still look back with regret to that period. Individuals were certainly enriched thereby, but the body of the people were impoverished. The lands lay uncultivated, the fisheries were in a great measure neglected, the morals of the people debauched.
Another evil attended this clandestine trade. It affected the revenue of Britain and Ireland to that degree, that it demanded the attention of the British Legislature. Accordingly, in the reign of George the First(3), an act of parliament was passed, purporting, that as the commerce of Man was injurious to the interests of his Majesty's dominions, a pecuniary compensation should be granted to the Lord, and the feudal sovereignty of the Isle be in future annexed to the British Crown. But this, from various causes, was not accomplished till the fifth year of the reign of his present Majesty (4); when the royalty, with all its dignities and emoluments, (the patronage of the Bishoprick excepted) was for ever revested in the Crown of Britain: the Duke of Athol enjoying, in lieu of his regalities, a grant of 70,000l. and a liberal annuity for the lives of himself and his Duchess.
The sale of the Island spread an universal terror through the country. The bustle of commerce ceased; and every countenance indicated fear and amazement. The merchants, imagining that the treasures of their warehouses would be immediately confiscated, disposed of them greatly beneath their original value, and retired to other countries; while many of the possessors of landed property, now deeming it of little consideration, sold it to any purchaser. Consequently, some were ruined, several were injured; and a very few individuals, of greater policy and penetration, amassed by this universal alarm, an immense fortune (5). But though the sale of the Island was, in its immediate consequences, thus partially injurious to the country, it has since been deemed universally beneficial; and the natives are now taught by experience to regard it, as the greatest blessing.
Though the constitution of the country was in no instance affected by its revestment in the crown of Britain, the government of the Island certainly was. The revenue-department was now separated from the civil establishment. A custom-house, in his Majesty's name, was erected at Douglas, and subject-offices in Peel,Castletown, and Ramsay; the establishment consisting of a Receiver-general, Collector, Comptroller (6), and some inferior officers.
On completing the sale of the Island, Government, at the requisition of the Duke of Atholl, consented to retain every officer of his appointment, except the Collector of the Customs. This office was then conferred on Richard Betham, Esq. L.L. D.(7); who died in 1789, and was succeeded by the present Collector.
Since the establishment of the customs, the importation of foreign luxuries has been limited; and the imposts on them (though much inferior to the English duties) increased. There is however still an abundant variety. Exports may be made at Peel, Castletown, or Ramsay: but all imports of rum, tea, sugar, wine and tobacco, are only admissible at the Custom-house of Douglas.
The imports of the Island are numerous; and the duties various; but from every impost payable in England they are exempt (8).
The oppression of excise is still unknown in this country. The duties are paid on the arrival of the goods, and they are then free from all future inspection. Foreign brandy and gin, being prohibited, may be seized by a custom-house officer; but all other articles of commerce are secure from his annoyance, unless they are detected in a clandestine exportation.
From the annual amount of the Imposts arises the insular revenue. Part of this supports the Civil Establishment, and the residue is annually remitted to the British Treasury; where it either lies dormant, or is applied to foreign purposes; although the principal harbour of the Island is in ruins, and the jail a disgrace to humanity!
1: According to the report of the Commissioners in London, were annually imported into this Island, wine, brandy, &c. from France and Spain; rum and coffee from the British Colonies; and East-India goods from Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Hamburgh, and the Netherlands.
2 Trifling as the insular duties were, the Lord was frequently defrauded of them: notwithstanding this, they produced from 1754 to 1764 about 6,000l. annually.
3 March 7th, 1765.
4 By a person who had been an eminent merchant in [..] I was assured, that on the sale of the Island he sold fifty pipes of brandy at 16. per gallon' payable by bills at three month'; and before the time of payment arrived, every gallon of the brandy had been resold, at the advanced price of cot. 6t.
5 The salary of the Comptroller is, exclusive of the fees, tool. that of the Collector, considerably more.
6 Dr. Betham was father-in law to Captain Bligh, whose fortitude, amid unequalled dangers) the public have so justly admired.
7 French wines are charged with 41. per non, and Portugal wines with 2l. Rum pays 1s. a gallon; tobacco 3d. per lb; black tea 6d. and green tea 1s. Soap, sugar, and silk goods are charged with an inpost of s per cent.; and other wares with z I ad valorem. The wines come directly from France and Portugal. The red port is greatly superior to what is generally drunk in England; and, including every duty and expence, costs the importer little more than 7d. a bottle. Thirty thousand gallons of rum are annually permitted from England, and 20o,000 from Scotland. The duty was originally only lad. a gallon; but an additional 6d. was afterwards imposed. Tobacco and loaf sugar are generally imported from Liverpool. Previous to 1788, great quantities of each were annually imported; but this indulgence being abused, the former was confined to 4o,000 lb. and the latter to 4o tons; a limitation more than adequate to the annual consumption of the Island.
8 Every boat engaged in the herring fishery pays annually s. to the Customs; which sum, with the amount of the bay fisheries and the harbour dues, is applied to the temporary repairs of the various ports in the island. See page ...