[from History of IoM, 1900]




§ 3. Smuggling.

The Mischief Act of 1765,1 though it did not, as will be seen, put an end to the operations of the smugglers, reduced, at first, not only them, but the inhabitants of the island generally, to a panic-stricken condition.

Position of affairs after the passage of the Mischief Act.

This is graphically described by an eyewitness as follows : " Nothing now, but anarchy and confusion . . . as it was not possible, on so short a time, to get off all the inhibited stuff, the merchant was obliged to secure it as well as he could in remote and distant places. Those who knew of this in many cases betrayed their trust, either directly or indirectly giving informations; others purloined what was thus deposited, others stole from the stealers, and others from them again. Bands of armed men go about the country terrifying the people and entering their houses in search of teas, &c. Mr. Lutwidge, the general surveyor, has no less than 50 coast officers and tide waiters along with him, planted in the several ports, besides the crews of 2 or 3 cutters at call. All this must naturally occasion riotous and tumultuous doings. One side in pursuit of and chastising with great severity those they suspect to be informers, and the other side protecting and defending them.

‘Tis a very melancholy situation we are in . . . all our people of property are making up their matters as fast as they can and preparing to quit a place governed by martial law and the violence of arms." 1

The Act of 1767

This state of things, however, did not last long. Smuggling soon recommenced, and, in 1767, the passage of an Act which repealed the duties imposed by Tynwald, substituting for them much heavier duties levied by the authority of the Imperial Parliament, and limiting the quantities of spirits, tea, and tobacco to be imported from England,2 actually encouraged it, though it injured legitimate trade.

The smuggling continues.

The same effect was produced by the large increase of taxation in England after 1776. These statements are proved by the evidence given to the commissioners, in 1791, to the effect that large quantities of French brandy and geneva were smuggled both into and out of the island, though their importation was prohibited,3 that not a gallon of British spirits, and not one pound of tea 4 had paid duty for many years, though these commodities had been largely consumed.5 Tobacco was also extensively smuggled into the island because persons unconnected with the island got licences " under fictitious names, for the quantity importable," 5 and then sent " the refuse of the market " 6 to Man, where it was sold at an extravagant price. Salt, which was allowed to be imported in unlimited quantities to any port in the island from Great Britain and Ireland, without duty, was illicitly sent back again.6

Recommendations of the Commissioners of 1791.

To cure this state of affairs, the commissioners recommended an annual admission of a limited and 7 licensed quantity of foreign spirits, subject to a small duty, a reduction of the duty on tea, 10 the stationing of revenue cutters off the island,11 and the extension of certain of the salt laws of Great Britain to it. 12 They also advised the registry of all boats employed in the herring fishery,13 and the revision of the revenue laws. 14 Most of the commissioners’ suggestions were carried out by the Act of 1798 ; 15 the whole system of collecting customs was radically changed, and the staff of officials largely increased. These reforms, together with the stationing of armed revenue cutters and cruisers off the island, resulted in the decrease of smuggling and the rapid increase of the insular revenue. After 1798, smuggling still continued, but it consisted, almost entirely, in smuggling out of, not into, the island. Thus, in 1805, J. C. Curwen, speaking in Parliament, said, " No inconsiderable proportion of duties arise in the Isle of Man on commodities paying low duties, afterwards clandestinely re-shipped and smuggled back again " to England. The total amount of smuggling was, however, evidently much smaller, though salt,12 till about 1810, brandy 13 till 1846, and tobacco, between 1819 and 1826, 14 were objects of a considerable illicit traffic. For a short time, also, two other methods of defrauding the Imperial revenue were practised. The first arose after 1823, when the privilege, which the Manx had always enjoyed, of importing foreign corn free 15 was abused by importing foreign wheat from the bonded warehouses in Liverpool into the island, grinding it into flour there to avoid the duty, and then exporting it to England as Manx flour.16

This practice continued till 1828, when an Imperial Act 17 was passed to put an end to it. The other method of cheating the customs was the importation of English machinery into the island, as if for insular manufacturers, and then exporting it to the Continent. This was stopped in 1844. Isolated cases of smuggling occurred till 1853, after which date, owing to the increase of duties, it practically ceased.


1 Letter from Philip Moore to Bishop Hildesley, dated July, 1765 (MS.).

2 7 Geo. III. C. 45.

3 Commissioners’ Report, Appendix (B), Nos. 77 and 79. See also § 2 " Trade." It should be borne in mind that these commodities were not allowed to be imported from any other country but England.

4 Ibid. No duty had been paid on tea since 1764, though the amount of the duty does not appear high, being 1s. up to 1780, and 6d. after that date, especially considering that the price of tea was about 6s. per lb. ; but it must be remembered that, till 1784, when it was reduced to 12½ per cent., the English duty was 119 per cent. By: 1806, it had again risen to 96 per cent., and, after that date, it gradually fell.

5 Ibid., (D), No. 26.

6 Commissioners’ Report, Appendix (D), No. 26 and (B), No. 82.

7 Ibid., p. 44.

8 Ibid., p. 47.

9 Ibid., p. 48. Hitherto, in accordance with the Act of Parliament of 1780, only boats over fifteen tons burden had been registered.

10 Ibid., pp. 49-50.

11 " An Act for the further encouragement of the Trade and Manufactures of the Isle of Man, for improving the Revenue thereof, and for the more effectual prevention of Smuggling." This Act was continued till 1805, when, with some alterations in the proportions of spirits allowed to be imported, it was confirmed. By it the importation of British spirits, except rum of the British colonies, was prohibited. As British spirits were not consumed in the island at this time, it had of course no effect (38 Geo. III. c. 63).

12 The tax on salt was 15s. per bushel, or about fifteen times its value in 1805, but it was soon afterwards greatly reduced.

13 The English tax on brandy was 14s. per gallon in 1807, 20s. 7d. in 1812, 18s. 10d. in 1814, 25s. 6d. in 1825, 22s. 10d. in 1840, 15s. in 1846, 10s. 5d. in 1860.

14 This tax was largely increased in the former year and reduced in the latter.

15 See p. 586. Till 1822, practically no foreign wheat was imported into England. In 1830, 1,701,885 quarters, and in 1842, 2,977,302 quarters, were imported.

16 No less than 25,141 quarters of wheat are said to have been treated in this way in one year (Manks Advertiser).

17 9 Geo. IV. c. 20.


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