[from History of IoM, 1900]




§ 2. Trade and Industry.

As the island had, in 1765, changed its status with regard to England from that of being practically a foreign country, to that of being one of the possessions of the Crown of Great Britain, its inhabitants naturally supposed that they, owing to the new connexion, would be in a more advantageous position than before. But this was very far from being the case, for, though Man did obtain some privileges by means of it, the Manx people, like the Irish, were subjected to an oppressive and shortsighted commercial system. Thus, if there were any of their products which were likely to come into serious competition with those of Great Britain, their export was either prohibited or hampered with heavy duties ; the importation of foreign manufactured goods, except from Great Britain, was strictly prohibited ; and the interestš of the British manufacturers were further consulted by the prohibition of the export of Manx raw material to any country except Great Britain ;* and no foreign, or, till 1801, Irish, ships were permitted to carry goods to or from the island. The effect of these restrictions was to restrict Manx trade mainly to Great Britain.

Among other grievances were the " Licence System," to which we will refer further on, and the confining all exports and imports to the port of Douglas. Speaking generally, Manx trade with the United Kingdom was, during the whole of this period, burdened, as regards by far the greater number of articles of commerce, with all the restrictions and regulations usually imposed upon foreign countries. That such restrictions upon trade were favoured by intelligent men, even as late as 1791, is shown by the fact that the commis-sioners, while recommending " uniformity of principle in imposing duties on the same article in Great Britain and the Isle of Man," expressed their concurrence in the maxim that " Foreign articles, which for the protection of British manufacturers, are forbidden to be imported into Great Britain, or are made liable to heavy duties, should be prohibited to be imported into the Isle of Man."1 But the worst drawback to Manx trade was the introduction of the licence system.

The licence system and the results.

Under it only limited quantities of such articles as spirits, tea, tobacco, sugar, coffee, and salt, could be imported, and, for these articles, licences had to be obtained from the Board of Customs in London. These arrangements resulted in a few English merchants giving a number of fictitious names and so obtaining a monopoly of the licences. They then had the Manx merchants and people at their mercy, charging them enormous prices for the most inferior articles.3 After the report of the commissioners was issued in 1792, the licences 4 were granted to Manxmen only, but the chief consequence of this change was that a few Manx merchants made large fortunes, while the unfortunate consumers paid too much as before. The licence system continued in force till 1844 (nominally, till 1853), though it was not only unfair to the consumers, but furnished a strong incentive to smuggling because the quantities of the articles allowed to be imported were frequently 5 too small for the consumption of the rapidly increasing population. And yet it is curious to find the Treasury in 1853, while fully assenting to the evils of the licence system, which they then abolished, stating that they believed it to be " the only means by which extensive smuggling can be prevented " 6 when there was a large difference between the amounts of Manx and English duties.

Avantages from the connection with England

There were, however, some points in which the English connexion was advantageous to Manx trade. Manxmen obtained bounties on the export of linen goods and cured herrings, articles which did not compete with those made by British manufacturers. 7 They also obtained the permission, asked for in vain in 1711, that all " Bestials or any other goods of the growth, product, and manufacture" 8 of the island, with, however, the important exceptions of woollen goods and beer, should be landed in Great Britain duty free. Further, they were allowed to import, free of duty, salt, boards, and timber, being the produce and manufacture of Great Britain, and iron, cotton, indigo, naval stores, &c. , from the British Plantations in America, on condition that they were shipped in British vessels ; while brown linen cloth, hemp or hemp seed, utensils and instruments employed in manufactures, fisheries, or agriculture, bricks and tiles, young trees, &c., might be imported on the same conditions from both Great Britain and Ireland.9 It must be remembered; too, that, as Manx ships had now become British ships, Manxmen were allowed to convey their exports and imports to and from the United Kingdom in their own ships. And it should also be mentioned that the free 10 importation of " corn or grain coming from any part or place whatsoever, except from Great Britain, 11 which they had previously enjoyed was not interfered with. So much for the influence of the English connexion on the Manx trader.

Effect of the regulations of the local authorities upon trade.

Let us now see how he was treated by his local authorities. Forestallers and regrators were punished as strictly as ever, and embargoes on the export of corn and other provisions were frequently imposed on the most inadequate pretexts.12 The effect of the embargoes was, as regards the traders, to curtail their opportunities of making money. They were, in fact, in such bondage to the landowners that they did not, as a rule, venture to take advantage of the free trade in foreign corn, 13 except for the purpose of the smuggling trade with Great Britain. Another circumstance which prejudicially affected Manx trade during the first few years of the nineteenth century was the existence of an enormous number of promissory notes or cards,14 issued by Manx tradesmen, for sums under twenty shillings. The circulation of these notes injured public credit, facilitated forgery, and nearly banished legitimate currency. 15 In 1813, the Duke of Atholl expressed his abhorrence of the system, 16 and, in 1816, a local newspaper remarked that "the circulating medium is universally allowed to be in the most deplorable condition," and that " the inconveniences therefrom are such as to threaten the island with general ruin."17

Notes under £1 are abolished in 1817.

To cure this state of things, an Act was passed in 1817 which abolished all notes under the value of £1, made the real and personal estates of the issuers liable for their payment, and ordered that no bank notes of the value of £1 or above should be issued without a licence costing £20. 18 This legislation produced a very wholesome effect in promoting the improvement of trade which gradually revived.

This and other causes of the revival of trade.

The revival was assisted by the initiation of occasional steam communication in 1819, and by the regular 19 establishment of stage coaches in 1821. Very remarkable was the change which the use of steamers for transit between Man and the mainland made in bringing the little island into closer and less intermittent connexion with its neighbours.20 Its full advantage was not felt till 1829, when the steam communication between Douglas and Liverpool became a regular one by the institution of sailings in accordance with the tides, three times weekly. So great was the consequent influx of strangers that, at the end of the year, a Manx company 21 was formed to purchase " a steampacket for the exclusive service of the Island." 22

A Check to this revival in 1849 is only temporary.

In 1840, a check to this revival of trade was caused by the troubles about the currency to which we have referred in a previous chapter ; 23 and, in 1843, it suffered a still more serious reverse by the suspension of the Isle of Man Joint Stock Banking Company.24

Thanks, however, to the abolition of harbour dues in 1844, to the partial removal, in the same year, of the oppressive monopolies granted by the licence system, to a more liberal tariff, and to the permission given to the other towns, as well as Douglas, to import produce direct, trade soon improved, notwithstanding the general commercial depression between 1847 and 1851.

Causes rendering Manx trade more profitable.

Further causes which tended to render Manx trade more profitable than it had been formerly were :

(1) the provision in the Imperial Act of 1853 that the Isle of Man should be deemed a part of the United Kingdom and that therefore foreign goods, except tobacco and spirits, might be bonded there ; 25 (2) the abolition of the last remains of the licence system in that year ; and (3) the great reduction made in the number of dutiable articles in England in 1843, 1853, and 1860.26 In 1851, the Bank of Mona, a branch of the Bank of Glasgow, was founded. In 1853, on the failure of Messrs. Holmes’s bank, Messrs. Dumbell commenced a private banking business which has since 27 been formed into a public company ; and, in 1858, the Isle of Man Banking Company started. In 1859, an insular telegraphic company established communication with England. Since 1821, the insular Government has not attempted to interfere with the ordinary course of trade, its work, in this respect, being chiefly in the direction of regulating weights and measures.28 The increase of joint-stock undertakings rendered the Acts of 1851, 1856, and 1865 necessary. 29 The last of these acts recognized the principle of " Limited Liability," and it ordered that no company of more than twenty persons should henceforth be formed, unless registered as a company under it or another Act of Tynwald.

Chief exports and Imports.

The chief exports of the island were horses, cattle, sheep, swine, coarse linens, including sailcloth, potatoes, butter, hides, lead, and zinc ore, fresh and cured herrings and other fish, and, till about 1830, kelp ; while its chief imports were coal, salt, iron, tobacco, spirits, groceries, and haberdashery.


We now have to deal with the insular industries. After 1765, as we have seen, all Manx products, except woollen goods 30 and beer, the exportation of which was prohibited, could be landed in England duty free ; 31 and, till 1833, bounties were given to those who span the most linen yarn, and wove and exported the greatest number of yards of linen cloth. 32 The domestic manufactures of the island were no doubt stimulated by this legislation, and continued to flourish during the greater part of this period, such articles as linen and woollen cloths, nets, coarse hats, 33 gloves and snuff 34 being the chief products till they were gradually superseded by the introduction of machine-made goods. 35

The manufacture of kelp 36 (for the most part, consumed at home in soap-making) was, till about 1830, when it was put an end to by the discovery of a process for decomposing sea-salt,37 a fairly large industry. Notwithstanding the bounties, the Manx export trade was comparatively a small one, until factories were established.

Establishment of factories.

The first of these was started at Ballasalla, in 1779, for spinning cotton, which was exported to England to be woven into cloth there. It was at this factory that the spinning-jenny was first used in the island. For twelve years 38 a flourishing business was carried on, but, in 1791, the customs officials in Liverpool discovered that it was in direct contravention of the Act of 1765, which prohibited " the importation from Man into Britain of any foreign goods, hemp and flax excepted, whether in their raw state, or wholly or partly manufactured, either with or without any native materials,"39 and they, therefore, put a stop to the importation of cotton yarn into Liverpool. The owner 40 of the mill complained to the commissioners, who were then sitting in the island, and they recommended that he should be allowed to export his yarn duty free. But no notice was taken of this recommendation till 1798, so that the factory had, in the meantime, to be closed, and was not re-opened, though, in that year, " cotton yarn or cotton cloth, being the manufacture of the Isle of Man " 41 was allowed to be imported into Great Britain duty free, and this was confirmed in 1805.42 A manufactory for the printing of cotton cloth was also established about this time, but was soon abandoned. About 1790, flax mills began operations, and these were successful because there was a considerable home demand for linen goods, and, as we have seen, their export was not only permitted, but, until 1833, encouraged by bounties. 43 They were also favoured by possessing excellent water power.44 The largest of these mills, which originally made " sheeting, towelling, sailcloth, and sackcloth," 45 but, since about 1850, sailcloth only, is at Tromode, near Douglas. 46 Cotton nets for the herring fishery 47 were also made there by machinery between 1852 and 1866. 48 A woollen mill was started at the " Union Mills " in 1807, where the fleeces of Manx sheep were mainly used, and, at a later date, similar mills were founded at Sulby and St. John’s, 49 as well as paper mills and tanneries in various localities. For a time, too, the illegitimate trade in corn and flour, referred to in § 3, flourished,and was the cause of the building of some large flour mills. It was about 1848 that machinery driven by steam power was first used in any of these factories and mills, and this, being applied to weaving as well as spinning, led to a large and profitable expansion of their output. Breweries also flourished, there having been, in 1810, no fewer than twenty-two of them.50 In 1823, the brewers were prohibited, in the agricultural interest, from using sugar molasses or other substitutes for malt, and this remained the law till 1874.51


The next important Manx industry is shipbuilding. There must always have been a considerable amount of it in the island, and, notwithstanding the imposition, in 1780, of a duty of 10 per cent. ad valorem on the importation of foreign timber, 52 it slowly increased till 1828, when it received a sudden impetus from the establishment, in Douglas, of a shipbuilding yard, called Bath Yard, where several fine barques were launched, some being of as much as 500 tons burthen. 53 In 1834, a shipyard was started at Ramsey, and another, in 1835, at Peel. A local newspaper at this time expresses an opinion that " the gigantic strides of our shipbuilders have excited the alarm of our neighbours,"54 and that the agitation on this question in England would cause a higher duty to be laid on timber. In 1837, the British Government had actually intended to do this, but the Manx delegates protested so strongly against it, both then and in 1845, that, though the form of duty was altered in the latter year, its amount was only slightly raised. 55 Shipbuilding, therefore, went steadily on and, between 1853 and 1866, when there was no duty on timber imported into the island, it greatly flourished.56

Many fine schooners of from 100 to 200 tons were launched, mainly from Peel, and they earned such a reputation for swiftness that they were largely employed in the fruit trade.57 Herring fishing boats were also turned out in increasing numbers, and their size and speed underwent steady improvement.


Between 1834 and 1848, another industry, that of printing newspapers, attained abnormal dimensions. This was due to an Imperial Act, passed in 1834, which granted to the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands the right of transmitting newspapers post free to all parts of the Empire. One result of this was that adventurers set up printing presses in the island and produced extensive issues of newspapers solely for circulation out of it. So many persons of doubtful character embarked in this business that, in 1846, an Act of Tynwald was passed which enacted that no persons should print or publish a newspaper till they had signed a declaration specifying their names, descriptions, and place of abode, the places where their papers were printed and the titles of their papers. 58 These regulations, however, had but little effect in checking the number of the publications, and to such an extent did they interfere with the circulation of English newspapers that, in 1848, an Imperial Act was passed 59 to make all newspapers sent from the islands aforesaid liable to the full rates of postages to Great Britain and Ireland ; but they were permitted, for some years longer, to send them free to France, Belgium, Spain, and any British Colony. When this last privilege was withdrawn, they soon disappeared. These newspapers were quite distinct from the ordinary local newspaper, the earliest of which, The Manks Mercury and Briscoe’s Douglas Advertiser, was first issued in 1792.60 It came to an end in 1801. The more successful Manks Advertiser began in 1801 and lasted till 1845. The newspapers at present circulating in the island are the Manx Sun, 61 the Mona’s Herald,62 the Isle of Man Times,63 the Isle of Man Examiner,64 the Peel City Guardian,65 the Ramsey Courier, 66 the Ramsey Weekly News,67 and the Manxman.68

Acts dealing with industries

The spread of industrial enterprise generally after 1860 is shown by the passage of Acts for abating the nuisances arising from the smoke of furnaces and factories in or near towns and for making arrangements for the working of telegraphs and construction of railways.69 No railway was, however, constructed during this period, though, as early as 1845, there had been a scheme for one between Douglas and Peel.


1 The restrictions on trade varied in their details from time to time, but full particulars would be both wearisome and unprofitable.

2 Comrs.' Report, p. 38.

3 Comrs.’ Report, Appendix (B), Nos. 77, 84, and 86.

4 The process of granting these licences was as follows : The governor allotted them " among the different applicants in such proportions as " he judged " fair and equitable," and then the applicants had to give a bond with sufficient security that they would import the whole of the goods mentioned in their licences (advt. in Manks Advertiser, May 11, 1801).

5 Up to 1816. After that date the quantities were often below it.

6 Parl. Papers (1853), p. 1. In 1826, sugar was selling at 1s. 6d. per stone, coffee at 6d. per lb., tea at 1s. per lb., and rum at 1s. per gallon more than in England (Manks Advertiser).

7 The linen trade at this time was almost entirely Irish.

8 See Comrs.’ Report, App. (A) No. 7 and (B) No. 86 and Statutes, vol. i. p. 187.

9 But it should be noted that the same articles from " foreign parts " were subjected to heavy duties.

10 Except for harbour dues. On British corn £5 ad valorem had to be paid. Flax seed, brown linen yarn, wood ashes and weed ashes, and flesh of all sorts were free, but the quantities of these imported were very small.

11Geo. III. c. 45.

12 See Lib. Scacc., 1775, 1784, 1787, 1795-6, 1798. For discussion of the effect of this on prices see pp. 558-62.

13 Comrs.’ Report, App. (B) No. 21 and Ch.

14 There were also a large number of forged Bank of England notes in the island (Manks Advertiser, isii).

15 The only Manx notes of undoubted value at this time were those issued by Taubman, Quayle, and Kelly, at their bank in Castletown, which was established in 1802. It may be noted that an " Isle of Man Insurance Co." was started at Castletown in 1811, but it only lasted a short time.

16 Manks Advertiser,1811.

17 Ibid. £4,400 of old silver was sent from the island in 1815 and new silver got from the mint.

18 Statutes, vol. i. pp. 393-4.

19 A coach was first established in 1803, but did not run for long.

20 In 1798, there were thirty-two vessels, mostly of small size, plying between Liverpool and the island. Twenty-five of these belonged to Douglas and seven to Ramsey. Thirty of them were traders only, the other two, The Duke of Athol and The Lapwing also carried mails and passengers, and usually did the passage between Liverpool and Douglas in 24 hours. The Duke of Athol, which was the largest, was a sloop of 50 feet keel : the fares 7s. 6d. and 5s. each way. There was a fee on landing of 1s. 6d. to the customs searcher. Passengers found their own food. The first steamers which called at the island were the Robert Bruce and Highland Chieftain, in 1819, which plied between Liverpool, Port Patrick, and Greenock. In 1821, the St. George S. P. Co. began to run steamers between the same ports, as did the City of Glasgow, Majestic, and Superb, steamers of another company.

21 Still in existence.

22 Manks Advertiser.

23 P. 416.

24 This bank was founded in 1836 with a capital of 10,000 shares of £5 each, the Bank of Wulif and Forbes, which had been established in 1826, having been merged in it. Wulif and Forbes were the first in the island to do a purely banking business, since Messrs. Taubman, Quayle, and Kelly (see p. 587) had other business as well.

25 By Section 346. This was conceded to Douglas in 1854 and to Ramsey in 1862.

26 In 1842, 1,052 articles paid duty ; in 1853, 466 ; and, in 1860, 48

27 In 1874.

28 Its main object was to insure that such articles as coal, potatoes, bread, corn, flour, and meal should be sold by weight and not by measure. It therefore fixed the weights of a bushel of corn, &c., as follows : Wheat or rye, 64 lbs. ; barley, 56 lbs.; oats, 42 lbs. ; peas or beans, 60 lbs. A boll of wheat or rye was 256 lbs., at 4 bushels to the boll, while a boll of barley was 336 lbs., and of oats, 252 lbs, at 6 bushels to the boll. (Statutes, vol. ii. pp. 32-3, 137-41, and 293-4 ; vol. iii. pp. 100-2.)

29 Statutes, vol. ii. pp. 282-8 and pp. 360-419 ; vol. iii. pp. 258-321.

30 Manx wool was allowed to be exported to England only.

31 Commissioners’ Report, App. (A), No. 17 and App. (B), No. 44.

32 Acts 5 and 7 Geo. III.

33 These were made " of coarse woollen, in substance extremely thick and heavy " (Teignmouth, vol. ii. p. 209). They cost 2s.

34 Woods, p. 166. Ballasalla was famous for its gloves.

35 A small quantity of flannel and woollen cloth is still spun and woven.

36 Quayle, p. 141.

37 By this the crude carbonate of soda was obtained at a lower price and of a better quality than from sea.weed.

38 Woods, p. 57.

39 Act 5 Geo. III. See Commissioners’ Report, App. (B), No. 44. It may be noted that, in 1778, Ireland had obtained the privilege of exporting cotton yarn.

40 Abraham de la Pryme.

41 45 Geo. III. cap. 99.

42 38 Geo. III. cap. 63.

43 The average annual number of yards of linen exported between 1781 and 1790 was 50,640 ; between 1791 and 1800, 50,685 ; and between 1801 and 1810, 58,830 (Quayle, p. 179).

44 This was applied to spinning only, not to weaving, which, till the introduction of steam power, was carried on by hand only.

45 Woods, p. 58.

46 There was a large flax mill at Laxey which was destroyed by fire in 1812.

47 Till 1852, herring nets were made of coarse hempen thread called jeebin, which was spun by the fishermen’s families.

48 In 1866, these machines were sold to a Peel manufacturer.

49 Woods p.58

50 Distillation was forbidden by the Act of 1767 (7 Geo. III. cap. 45)., but, up to 1813, when the stills were discovered and destroyed, a good deal of illicit distilling went on.

51 Statutes, vol. i. pp. 420-1, and vol. iv. p. 383. The export of malt to England was forbidden in 1828.

52 In 1767, a tax of 5 per cent. was imposed

53 The " King Orry " steamer belonging to the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company was built in this yard in 1841.

54 Manks Advertiser.

55 See Appendix A.

56 The Manx duty on timber was abolished in 1853 and therefore Manxmen could import timber from Norway free, though Englishmen had to pay a heavy duty on it. In 1860, the English duty was considerably reduced, and, in 1866, it was repealed, so that this advantage ceased.

57 In 1853, six of them were chartered by Portuguese merchants for this trade.

58 Statutes, vol. iii. pp. 159-166.

59 11 and 12 Vie. c. 117. See Gell (Manx Soc., vol. xii. p. 216).

60 Dates of first issue are given.

61 Originally " The Rising Sun," 1821.

62 1833.

63 1861. A daily issue of this paper was started in 1897.

64 1880.

65 1882.

66 1884.

67 1889.

68 1895.

69 Statutes, vol. iii. pp. 36-40 and 209-48.


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