[from History of IoM, 1900]



§ 3. Smuggling.

Smuggling began at the end of the 17th century.

During the last twenty years of the seventeenth century and the early part of the eighteenth, the rapid increase of Manx trade, to which we have already referred, was mainly caused by the large consignments of foreign goods to Manx ports, not, to any extent, for the consumption of the residents, but in order to smuggle them into the United Kingdom, from the adjacent ports of which Man lay at a convenient distance. The earliest authentic intimation of this state of things is derived from a letter written by one Edward Tildesley, in 1682,1 who was then in the Isle of Man, to a Commissioner of Customs in England, in which he informs him that the island " was become a magazine of all sorts of foreign goods . . . as might from thence clandestinely be transported into any of the three kingdoms." 2

It being encouraged by the increase of English duties.

A few years later, on the outbreak of the war with France in 1689, excessive duties were imposed in England on French wine and brandy, also on salt and on all East India and China goods, those on French wine and brandy being practically prohibitive, thus offering an irresistible incentive to smuggle these articles out of the island. At the same time, owing to the heavier insular tariffs, imposed in 1677 and 1692, there were also some attempts to smuggle goods into the island, though they did not amount to much. About 1692, the English Commissioners of Customs, in consequence, it would seem, of Tildesley’s information, took the strong step of appointing a customs officer to act for them there. Lord Derby was very indignant at this, protesting that " there was never any just grounds for such an informacon,"3 and he remarks that " If the customs-house officers at the small ports in England do there dutyes what occasion can there be . . . for there sending such an officer into the Isle of Man."3 In consequence of this remonstrance and of a promise from the earl to be more diligent in watching smuggling, this officer was instructed merely to report on what took place.

Stricter regulations about custom in 1694 and in 1698.

In 1694, Lord Derby endeavoured to fulfil his promise by instructing the Council to make much stricter regulations " about the levying and collecting of the Customes and Dutyes payable and arising upon all goods and merchandizes."4 Orders were, therefore, given that a customs office was to be kept in Castle Rushen, that the searchers were " to take diligent care that no goods whatsoever were to be landed before they receive entry from this office and that storehouses were to be built in every port."4 For the same reason it was ordained, in 1698, that the ancient laws concerning " merchants, shipmen, and chapmen, ‘ ‘ were to be put in force, and stringent regulations were addressed to the " searcher " in each port. 5

Their result

One result of these regulations was that the smugglers, finding it not worth their while to try and evade payment of the comparatively trifling Manx duties, openly discharged their cargoes in the Manx ports, to the great benefit of the Stanley and Atholl exchequer, and then took any opportunity that arose of running them clandestinely to the adjacent coasts. In 1700, Earl William wrote to the governor with reference to this practice, urging him to direct that the laws against it should be put in force more strictly, and that the customs officers should be more diligent in their duties.6 Under the circumstances mentioned, however, it is not improbable that there was a distinct understanding as to how far these instructions were to be carried out, and, indeed, it is clear that very little was done to check the practice in question.7 Among smuggled articles at this time, the chief was tobacco, " which was bought in Great Britain ; and the drawback being obtained on the exportation of it, it was transported hither ; and from thence reconveyed into Great Britain." 8

Proposal to assimilate Manx fiscal laws to British

Smuggling had, soon after the Union with Scotland (1707), attracted increased attention in England, and a proposal was made in Parliament to assimilate the Manx fiscal laws with those of Great Britain. 9 Great alarm was caused in the island, and it resulted in the Keys sending a deputation to London to try and obtain " free trade." 10

Nothing came of this, nor of the Manx Act of 1711.

There is no authoritative record 11 of their proceedings, though some understanding was probably arrived at, since, in 1711, an Act of Tynwald was passed whereby, on the understanding that Great Britain would import " the Bestials, or any other goods of the growth, product, and manufacture " of the Island, 12 duty free, it was ordained that foreign goods were not to be shipped from Man to Great Britain, unless all persons exporting them entered into bonds to pay the English or Irish duties, upon such goods being landed in Great Britain or Ireland, that Manx wool should be sent to Great Britain only, and that smuggling should be suppressed.

Act of 1711 suspended.

But, inasmuch as Great Britain made no move to carry out the understanding, this Act was suspended by a further Act passed in 1714 for twelve months, and, " from year to year afterwards, or untill freedom of trade . . . be granted, as the same was agreed upon with the Honourable Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Customs in London." 13 Smuggling was, therefore, resumed, especially in tea, upon which article the enormous duty of 5s. per lb. had been imposed in 1711.

So that, in 1714, the English Government sent commissioners and cutters.

The English Government consequently stationed ships on the Manx coasts to watch the smugglers, and again sent commissioners 14 to report upon the way in which Manx trade was carried on. One of these commissioners, George Waldron, states that Douglas was the headquarters of the smuggling owing to its good harbour, and he points out that the fact of the Lord of Man having jurisdiction over the sea for three leagues beyond the land added very much to the facilities for smuggling, because the smugglers, when once within this distance, could defy the King’s officers,15 who, by reason of the Act of 1714, were powerless.

Smuggling increased in 1720.

A vast increase of smuggling took place about 1720, owing to two rich merchants, one, Richard Maguire, belonging to Dublin, and the other, Josiah Poole,16 to Liverpool, entering into partnership, in that year, for the purpose of leasing the Manx customs from Lord Derby ; 17 but also, secretly, for entering upon what was euphemistically called " the running trade." 18 In the same year, an Act, which was passed " for encouraging and securing the trade of the East India Company," 19 contained a clause prohibiting the importation of East Indian commodities " into the Isle of Man, as well as the other Dependencies belonging to the Kingdom, from any other Place than Great Britain." 19 The two merchants, nevertheless, persevered in their designs. Besides continuing and extending the former contraband dealings in tobacco, &c., they purchased spirits and wine in different countries and East India goods in Holland, as well as in England. These commodities they imported into the island, stored them in the lord’s warehouses (these being included in their lease), and ran them, as opportunity served, into the neighbouring kingdoms. This traffic they maintained for a few years, to a very large amount ; and it was likewise engaged in by other adventurers. 20

Parliament interfered in 1725.

Such a state of affairs necessitated the serious interference of Parliament, which, in 1726, enacted that no goods whatever should be imported into Great Britain or Ireland from the Isle of Man, save what were of the growth, product, or manufacture of the island, also that no drawback 21 should in future be allowed on tobacco and other foreign goods exported to the island, as they had been so exported " with no other intent than fraudently to re-land the same on the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland." 22 One result of this Act, together with the renewed vigilance of the King’s two custom-house officers on the island, was, towards the end of 1727, the surrender by the two merchants of the lease of the customs, which the Earl of Derby consented to accept, being probably alarmed by a clause in the Act referred to which empowered " The Treasury to contract for the Purchase of his Dominion of Man." 23 Nothing, however, was yet to come of this. The smuggling decreased 24 till 1732, when we learn that " the running trade goes on briskly, especially tea from France in abundance." 25 One cause of this seems to have been the great increase of the tax on tobacco in that year. A large number of Manx and other smugglers were employed in receiving the tobacco exported from England for the sake of the drawback, which seems to have been again allowed, and then in re-landing it. From the fact that, between 1728 and 1734, the receipts from duties on exports practically ceased, there is little doubt that, at this time, smuggling received less hindrance than ever from the insular customs officials. 26 In 1737, the export duties were entirely done away with, the import duties alone remaining.27 In consequence of this and of the India companies of Sweden and Denmark furnishing them " with more convenient marts at Gottenburg and Copenhagen than Holland afforded," 28 for the purchase of teas and other East Indian commodities, the smugglers increased in numbers and their dealings became more extensive.

Dealings of the smugglers became more extensive.

In 1743, the Keys were unanimously in favour of trying to put a stop to the exportation of tobacco, but on representing this to the duke they received no encouragement, because he feared a loss of revenue. Numerous letters at this time testify to the increase of smuggling. For example, in 1743, William Murrey, a Douglas merchant, states that the running trade had been " aggravated " by the clause in the Act of 1737 which " virtually gave persons coming to reside in Man immunity for all debts contracted elsewhere," 29 and many of these persons went in for smuggling ; in 1750, Dr. Wilson, Bishop Wilson’s son, writes, " I believe the running trade from this Island is doubled since I was here last, and all the ships and wherries employed by the Government do not catch one in fifty, as a merchant of this place assured me himself." 30

In 1761, smuggling received a check.

From about 1761 the smuggling trade began to be diverted to the Faroe Islands. The vigilance of the preventive department was also greatly increased 31 so that the " trade " was " considerably impaired, and it was apprehended, if rigorous measures had been adhered to, it might have been well-nigh suppressed." 32 This statement appears to refer to smuggling from the island into England, since, during the last ten years before 1765, there was undoubtedly an increasing disposition to smuggle goods into the island, without paying duty, to the detriment of the income of the Atholls.33 But, though the trade was " impaired," it was still active, and the loss it caused to the Imperial revenue was estimated at a very large sum. 33 We have already seen in Chapter I. how the Government endeavoured to suppress smuggling by the passage of the Mischief Act, in 1765, and, in Book IV., we propose tracing the further history of the smugglers till their final disappearance.



1 Train says that " about the year 1670, . . . a company of adventurers from Liverpool settled at Douglas for the avowed purpose of carrying on a contraband trade," but he does not give any proof of this assertion. (Vol. ii. p. 306.)

2 Knowsley Muniments, 1719/1 The commissioners who reported in 1791 dated the smuggling as commencing early in the eighteenth century. (App. (A) in their report.)

3 Knowsley Muniments, 1719/1.

4 Lib. Irrot.

5 These regulations were as follows :
(1) " You are not to suffer any vessel or boate to take any men out of this Island and that noe native or person resident within this Isle presume no goe without speciall Lycense from the Governor or his Deputy . . . and that noe chapman or shipman goe for England, Ireland or Wales without first acquainting the Governor and obtaining his Lycense and knowing of him what business he may have to those partes or back againe upon the forfeiture and penaltys in the Statute Book.

( 2) " You are to informe all merchant strangers of their dutyes (as soon as they come into the Island) that is that they personally appear before the Governor or his Deputy to lett him know from whence they came and what their loading is, to the end that if it be thought fitting that his loading be for the use of the Country that notice may be given to the 4 merchants of the Country to come and bargaine with them before any other person be allowed to deale with them as is provided.

(3) " You are to take care that noe person or persons transport any men or women servants or young persons, and that noe such persons transport themselves, nor that any person take out any servants as aforesaid without Lycense upon the penaltys and forfeitures in the Statute Book. And if any ship vessell or boate that by contrary winds come into and anchor in your Road, Bay or Harbour, you shall goe on board and inquire from whence she came, whither bound, of her loading and what passengers on board, and likewise to inquire of the news and affairs abroad and forthwith to certifie the same to me." (Lib. Irrot.).

6 Lib. Scacc.

7 It is quite possible that the repeal of some of the laws against aliens in 1697 was induced mainly by considerations of the amount of trade they brought to the island. (Statutes, vol. i. pp. 153-4.)

8 Commissioners Report (see their Appx. (A).)

9 Train, vol. ii. p. 308.

10 Statutes, vol. i. p. 189. They obtained £100 from Lord Derby for their expenses, which was repaid by an assessment on the land. It must be remembered that Scotland, by the Act of Union, had obtained equal commercial privileges with England.

11 In a petition to Parliament in 1854 it is stated that " we inhabitants and legislature of the island being desirous to co-operate with the British Government to prevent the frauds on the British revenue " (in 1710) deputed persons to treat, and that they came to the agreement embodied in the Act of Tynwald in 1711. (Parl. Papers, p. 6).

12 Statutes, vol. i. pp. 187-8.

13 Ibid., vol. i. p. 197.

14 It would seem that the English watcher had been withdrawn in 1711.

15 Waldron (Manx Soc. vol. xi. pp. 8-9).

16 The agreement was signed between Richard Maguire and Lord Derby in 1720 ; and, in 1721, Maguire assigned half the rents and half the receipts to Josiah Poole.

17 See note + p. 425.

18 Commissioners’ Report, Appx. (A.) No. 9. They paid him £1,050 a year. This is perhaps the company referred to by Train as having been started in 1670 (see p. 429).

19 7 Geo. I. c. xx., sec. ix.

20 In other commodities, however, owing to the wise reductions of taxation made by Walpole in 1720, and the obligatory warehousing of tea and coffee, there was less smuggling at this time.

21 Or return of the duty.

22 12 Geo. I. cap. 28, secs., 21, 22. The amount of the customs at this period was about double the rent paid. This was the first direct interference of Parliament with Manx trade.

23 Commissioners’ Report, Appx. (A) No. 9.

24 The temporary repeal of the tax on salt in 1730, put a stop to smuggling that article.

25 Bishop Wilson (MS. letter).

26 Appendix A.

27 See p. 425.

28 Commissioners’ Report, Appx. (A), No. 9.

29 Keble, pp. 932-3.

30 Ibid., p. 948. A good idea of the income derived from it will be obtained from an inspection of the import duties between 1702 and 1763 in Appendix A.

31" Two large Dutch vessels particularly, which had for some time before accustomed to bring valuable cargoes of teas into the ports of the Isle of Man, were seized at Liverpool." Commissioners’ Report, Appx. (A), No. 9.

32 Commissioners’ Report, Appx. (A), No. 9.

33 Commissioners’ Report, Appx. (A), No 9, pp. 6-7. It is not unlikely that the duke was defrauded to the extent of about £2,000 annually.

34 In a pamphlet entitled The Case of John, Duke of Atholl (published in 1788), it is stated that an investigation by the Commissioners of the Treasury showed that the loss to the British revenue by Manx smuggling had been £350,000. This is, however, an exaggeration, unless the pamphlet is correct in stimating the value of the merchandise smuggled into the Island at £700,000 annually (p. 15). But we have no hesitaion in saying that there is no proof that smuggling went on into the island to so great an extent (see note 33, above). The pamphlet referred to (p. 15) strives to demonstrate that, assuming only goods upon which insular import duties had been paid were smuggled out of the island, the average insular customs revenue between 1755 and 1764, when it reached its highest level, ought to have been at least £17,500, whereas it was actually less than one-third of that amount.


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