[From Extracts from pre 1867 House of Key's Journal]

Constitutional Questions.



The question of trade was constantly before the Keys. We have already seen, under our first heading, how that, in 1765, they appointed two of their members to go to London to represent their views. On the 21st of March in that year these members received the following instructions from the House : —

"Proposals to be laid before His Majesty by the 24 Keys, the Representatives of the People of the Isle of Man:

1st— That all Goods of the Growth, Product, or Manufactory of the said Isle, may be imported into Great Britain and Ireland free of all Duty and Custom; and that afterwards upon the Exportation of Mannin Cloath (the Manufacture of this Isle) from England, the same Bounty be allowed as upon Irish Linnens. And that also the Produce, Manufactorys, and Grocerys of Great Britain may be imported into this Isle free of Dutys.

2ndly.— That the Natives and Inhabitant of the said Isle be allowed the same Liberty and Freedom of Trade to Africa and America, and other His Majesty’s subjects of Great Britain, together with the Liberty and Privilege of Fishing and curing Fish on the coast of Great Britain and elsewhere, with the Benefit of Bounty, as is at present allowed to His Majesty’s Subjects of Great Britain.

3rdly.— That the Merchants and Traders of the said Isle be allowed to import and carry into said Isle from any Foreign Port, Brandy, Wine, and other strong and distilled Waters ; as also Rum from any of His Majesty’s Plantations abroad, Duty free ; and the same to be lodged in Stores, under the Inspection of His Majesty’s Officers. And that they be afterwards allowed to export the same Goods after the necessary Allowance for the Island’s consumption into Great Britain or Ireland, on entering into Bonds that no part thereof shall be imported and carryed into the said Kingdoms in a clandestine Way, but on the Payment of Dutys as aforesaid. And that the merchants be also allowed to export Brandys, Wines, and other strong Waters to the Coast of Africa, on Bond that no part thereof be landed in Great Britain and Ireland, as aforesaid

4thly.— That all Teas and other East India Goods now in the Isle may be imported into the Kingdom of Ireland upon payment of the Irish Duty ; otherwise that the Honourable East India Company do purchase the same here upon the Spot, at the Price of 5 per cent. under the Rates and Prices of such like Goods at last East India Company’s Sales at London ; and that all Brandys, Rum,and other Spirituous Liquors and Wine, now in the Isle, may be also exported to the Coast of Africa on Bond aforesaid, if the merchants shall see proper so to do.

5thly.— That His Majesty will be graciously pleased to grant his Protection to the Society lately established in the Isle for the Encouragement of Agriculture and Manufactorys.

"6thly.— That His Majesty will be graciously pleased to recommend to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland the Repeal of an Act or Law now subsisting there, which precludes and debarrs the Merchants and People of the Isle from suing for and recovering Debts due them by Persons residing in the said Kingdom, and to enable the Inhabitants of this Isle to recover their said just Demands, notwithstanding said Law.

7thly.— That as the Legislative Body of the Isle have, from Time to Time, borrowed several Sums of money to carry some Repairs and other Improvements in the several Ports and Harbours, and have engaged the Public Faith and Credit to reimburse the same out of the Money arising on certain Customs, chargeable on the Importation of Rum, Brandy, Teas, etc. That as there is now resting due on said Securities several Sums not exceeding £700, which, by the present System and Change, will become insufficient to discharge the said Debts. It is, therefore, recommended and humbly hoped that some equitable plan may be fallen upon to reimburse and discharge the said Public Debts."

On the same day the Keys sent the following address : —

To their Excellencies the Duke and Duchess of Atholl, Lord and Lady of Man and the isles May it please your Excellencies: We, the Keys of Man, now assembled, do humbly beg leave to implore your Excellencies’ most gracious Favour and Protection in our present calamitous situation, and consequent to your late Agreement with His Majesty, do beseech your Excellencies will be most graciously pleased to interpose in our Behalf, to procure and obtain advantageous Terms, tending to promote the Interest and welfare of your People in general, as well as secure their Property and Effects, in place and Lieu of their late Commercial Plans and Operations, which we dread and apprehend the Merchants, who are Props and Supports of this poor Country, are now to be totally excluded and deprived of. With this Prospect and View, we have thought proper to dispatch the Bearer to wait on your Excellencies with some Proposals, while we humbly crave leave to request your Excellencies will be graciously pleased to lay before His Majesty, or aid in such other Way as shall be thought proper to obtain Relief or Redress in all such matters as shall be found for the Good and Welfare of .‘ your poor distressed Inhabitants, who, we fear, will he reduced to their primitive state of Distress and Poverty, and disabled from paying your chief Rents and Customs, if some new plans of Commerce be no I procured and obtained for them. At a meeting at Castle Town, the 21st March, 1705."

Shortly afterwards, the annexed petition was handed "To the honourable the Commons of Great Britain, in Parliament assembled ": —

The humble Petition of Thomas Moore and Hugh Cosnahan, two of the 24 Keys of the Isle of Man, on behalf of "themselves and the rest of the said Keys, as representatives of the People of the said Isle: Sheweth,— That your Petitioners observe, by the votes of this Honourable House, that a Bill is depending for a third reading, intituled a Bill for the more effectually preventing the mischief arising to the Revenue and Commerce of Great Britain and Ireland from the illicit and clandestine Trade to and from the Isle of Man. Your Petitioners beg leave humbly to represent that the Isle of Man, for Time immemorial, hath been governed by its own Laws and Customs. That the Right of enacting and abrogating Laws hath been always vested in and jointly exercised by the Lord, the Governor, Principal Officers, and Deemsters (who constitute the Lord’s Council), and by the Commons, represented by their Keys ; when this concurrence is obtained, Laws are compleated, and from thenceforth binding, without any further sanction whatsoever. That the inhabitants of the said Isle, being expressly prohibited by the Laws of Great Britain to’ import Foreign Merchandise from the said Isle into Great Britain and Ireland, and also virtually prohibited by high Duties from exporting the Produce of their own Island into Great Britain, have, for Time immemorial, traded with Foreign Countries importing Goods and Merchandizes to said Isle on Payment of certain Duties to the Lord, which were imposed thereon by the Law of the Isle, and, according to the Constitution thereof, could not be altered without the Consent of the People. That whenever any Complaint hath been made against the Trade of the Island, or the Practice of Individuals, as prejudicial to the Revenue of Great Britain, the Keys have been always desirous to contribute everything in their power for the Remedy of such Mischief s. And particularly in the year 1711, upon the like complaint being made against the Trade of the Isle, a Treaty was entered into between the Commissioners of the Customs in England, authorized, as it was understood, by the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Treasury, and certain Deputies from the then Lord and Keys of the Island. It was agreed that a Law should be passed in the said Isle to regulate their Trade to Great Britain ; and in Consideration thereof that the Cattle and all other Goods of the Growth, Produce, and Manufacture of the Isle of Man should be imported to Great Britain Duty free. In Confidence whereof, a Law, reciting the said Agreement, accordingly passed in the said Isle. But the Terms not being in any Manner complied with, the Law of the Island was, in the year 1713, suspended until the Liberty of Trade should be granted them as aforesaid. That Since it is thought expedient for the Public Utility that, in the View of Regulating Trade, any Part of the Laws and Customs of the said Island should be altered (in which Case your Petitioners resign themselves with all Duty and Submission to the Pleasure of the British Parliament), your Petitioners humbly supplicate the Justice and Compassion of this Honourable House to interpose Behalf of the Inhabitants, near 30,000 in Number. That some reasonable Indulgence may be given to them for the ancient Privileges they must in such case be deprived of. And your Petitioners the rather presume to hope for such Indulgence, as they observe by the Votes the House hath come to a Resolution that a very considerable Sum should be paid to the Noble Proprietors as a Compensation for the Rights which the House thought expedient to be taken from them, and vest in the Crown. That your Petitioners beg leave to represent to the House, in order to obviate any objection that may be made on Account of the Delay of this Application, that upon the first notice they received of the Bill being presented, they applied to the Governor of the said Island, according to the settled Forms and Constitution thereof, to be convened to consider of the Situation of their Affairs. The Governor was pleased, by written answer on the 28th January last, to refuse your Petitioner’s Request ; and that your Petitioners were not convened till the 19th March last, since which they have used all possible Dispatch in making this their humble Application. Your Petitioners, therefore, humbly pray this honourable House will give them Liberty to be heard by their Council (sic) for their interest against the said Bill, and that your Petitioners may have such Relief in the Premises as to the Wisdom and Justice of this honourable House shall seem meet."

Their application was, however, too late, as this Bill, which, from part of its title, was called "The Mischief Bill "(a), had been passed by the House of Commons on the 19th of March, and the accompanying "Revesting "Bill (b) was passed by it on the 30th of April. Another deputation of the House went to London in 1767, and, though no record has been preserved of their proceedings, it is probable that their efforts had some effect in inducing the Government to make provision for encouraging the trade, manufactories, and fisheries of the Island by the Act for this purpose passed in that year(c). This Act was the first which was passed by the English Parliament for levying Customs duties on the Isle of Man. Two years later we find the Keys, in a petition to the King, complaining of the restraint put upon their trade by the Act in question, and stating, somewhat inaccurately, that smuggling had come to an end. "However obnoxious," they say, ‘ the Trade of this "Island may have been in its Proprietary state to your Majesty’s Revenues, it was "no sooner invested in the Crown of Great "Britain than due observance was paid to the Laws of the British Legislature. . That the restraining Laws which the wisdom of your Majesty’s Parliament has "thought it expedient to lay us under were calculated to prohibit a Trade which no longer subsists, but we are thereby unhappily excluded from every kind of profitable commerce. . . . From thence our distresses are infinite and daily increase.. . Our young people, destitute (sic) of employment, are abandoning their homes, by which our herring and other fisheries must go to decay. Our harbours are becoming ruinous for want of timely reparations. The value of our Lands daily decreasing, the Rents of our Houses in the Towns have sadly fallen above £15,000 a year, so that this Island, from it; nature and situation, capable of affording many advantages to your Majesty’s Empire, must, without some seasonable relief, gradually become a desert. And, as a further addition to our distresses, so as to extinguish totally all circulating cash, the Regiment of Infantry and two Troops of Cavalry which your Majesty was graciously pleased to send hither have since been replaced and their numbers reduced to four companies only. .. In remedy of these grievances we most humbly supplicate your Majesty to take our present distressful situation into your Royal consideration , that we may be allowed such privileges and indulgences as the rest of our fellow subjects."

The Governor was requested to lay this Petition before the King.

Complaints both to the King and the Governor about the want of a copper coinage are found at intervals. In 1780 the Keys declare that "as no coinage of copper currency has "been made since 1758, the same has become "extremely scarce, which both occasioned great numbers of counterfeit pence and halfpence to be imported . . . to the great loss and injury of the several inhabitants of this Isle "; and, in 1796, they passed a resolution to the effect that a copper coinage of pence and halfpence to the (extent of £500 was absolutely necessary.

Issues of pennies and halfpennies were made in 1786, 1798, and 1813.

In 1777, in a petition to "The Right Honourable Henry Earl of Suffolk and Barkshire, his Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for the Northern Department " they returned thanks" for that inestimable blessing. . the freeing of our fishermen’s Sons and servants from the present press," and they then proceeded to solicit his "protection, countenance, and consideration of our trade", assuring that they were "well persuaded" that he will "see the compulsory and prohibitive revenue Acts, successful in their first intent, and intended against smugglers and aliens, but when passed against faithful subjects are oppressive to the fair trader. Having exerted ourselves in everything within our power for the bettering of our laws, the suppression of smuggling, improving agriculture, and forwarding our tradewe must earnestly hope that the hour is near at hand when the depressed and languid state of our present circumstances and trade, and the future happy existence of thousands of loyal Protestant subjects shall meet with relief and encouragement. We may now justly hope to claim some right to claim from your Lordship’s moderation, liberality of mind, those universal blessings that cement the British Constitution, and are diffused most generously over all its more happy subjects . . We find also requests for a bounty on the herring fishery, which is stated to be suffering "from want of being countenanced and encouraged by a bounty, as in Scotland," while, in the Isle of Man, "it is laid under particular restraints and charges, with a heavy duty upon importation into Great Britain "(d).

In 1798 a Committee of the House was appointed to take "such measures as are necessary to prevent the impressing of the fishermen."

In 1783 they passed a resolution that the illicit importation of brandy, rum, Geneva, distilled spirits, and all Indian goods whatever, be strictly prohibited. In 1791 the Royal Commission of Enquiry to which we have already referred was appointed. In announcing this appointment, Lieut.-Governor Shaw said, inter alia This Island, from a local situation the most happy in respect of Commerce, and from other advantages, both internal and external, is capable of much and solid improvements, and under proper encouragements and attention from the Mother Country, and proper care on our part, of becoming rich and flourishing as any spot of its extent of which we have any knowledge in this, or perhaps any part of Europe ; and in that, of course, of contributing in a handsome proportion to the general strength and exigency of the Empire."

The Keys then addressed the Commissioners : "We conceive that the commercial regulations of this Isle may be much improved, and we are ready to give our aid to Government by any Insular Acts of Legislation for the more effectual prevention of illegal practices, in a great measure occasioned by the absolute prohibition which exists against the importation of French brandys and Hollands Geneva into this Isle. . . . We conceive that the Inhabitants of this Isle labour under peculiar restraints — Southampton and Whitehaven are the only Ports from which they can import grain into this Island, and they are not allowed to draw the debentures on the importation of hops and other debenture goods for the consumption of this Isle . We conceive that it would be for the interest of this Island that the inhabitants should not be limited to any particular Port, but allowed to import grain and sugars from any Port of Great Britain, and that they should be entitled to draw the several debentures allowed to the People of the Island. We conceive that the tonnage of vessels on the importation of several commodities into this Isle is excessive and ought to be reduced to the par of Great Britain or Ireland, and we are convinced that the trade and manufactures of this Island in general, without detriment to the revenues of Great Britain and Ireland, can, under wise regulations and encouragements from Great Britain, be greatly extended, be productive of a considerable increase of Revenue, and render thirty thousand loyal subjects flourishing and happy."

They also adverted to the question of harbours, stating how well the local Harbour Act of 1734 had worked, how they had "fully and usefully exercised" the powers conferred upon them by that Act, and had borrowed considerable sums, which they had expended upon the harbours, and to this day they remain unpaid owing to the operation of an Act of Parliament of the 11th of the King, which changed the system adopted by this Act of Tynwald."

In 1793 there was a failure of the herring fishery, and the Keys concurred in an order allowing the importation of herrings.

There was another failure in 1796 and the importation of herrings was again allowed. There were then 1,200 troops in the Island, in addition to the Fencibles, and it was found difficult to provide food for them all.

In 1820 the Keys protested to the Lieut. Governor against "the system which has of late prevailed of importing foreign wheat into this Island at times when the ports of Great Britain were shut against the same," and they asked him to lay this petition before the English Government. In 1821 they again protested against this system, which they described as a practice which manifestly tends to the ruin of the agricultural interest of the Island, Farmers being now driven to the British Market with their Produce, or compelled to dispose of the same in the Island to speculators in grain at very reduced prices, and that during the sale of foreign wheat in the Island the value of Manx produce is necessarily reduced, and does not bear that near proportion to the British prices which formerly existed, and that the smaller farmers are now deprived of the home market with the baker, by which they were enabled to discharge the immediate pressing expenses of their farms. Also stating that the importation of foreign wheat into the Island has a very considerable effect upon the price of barley, the consumption of barley meal by the lower classes being in a material degree lessened by the low price of flour and that in this instance the people have not the benefit of a good English market, the generality of Manks barley not being saleable to the English brewer."

And further stating that "the present system affords to speculators in grain a strong temptation to smuggle part of such foreign wheat to England under the denomination of Manks wheat. That your Memorialists beg leave to express our concurrence with the sentiments expressed in the said Petitions, and humbly pray that your Honor will be pleased to lay this, our representation before His Majesty’s Government, praying that means may be taken to prevent the importation of foreign grain into this Island at times when the same cannot be imported into Great Britain."

We are informed that 4,544 quarters of foreign wheat, besides 129 quarters of rye, peas, and beans, and 382 barrels of American flour were imported into the Island, between October, 1819, and February, 1821.

The Journals, as we have seen, were not kept between 1826 and 1843, and so there is no reference to the deputation, on which there were two members of the House—John Moore and Philip Garrett—which went to London in 1837 to interview Lord John Russell about. the alleged proposal to alter the Customs duties(e), and, though continued in the latter year, they contain only a very brief reference to the agitation on the subject of the Manx tariff. On the 5th of July, 1843, the Keys asked the Governor to intimate to the Imperial Government that the representations made to it. on the subject of the fiscal laws "do not express the opinions of the wealth and intelligence of this Island, but arise from the personal feelings of a few individuals, and that this House feels well assured that the great body "of people in this Island are perfectly satisfied with the present fiscal laws."

In March, 1844, a letter from the "Lords "of the Committee of the Privy Council for Trade," suggesting changes in the tariff, was submitted to the Keys in order that they might obtain the opinion of the Manx people thereupon. After doing so they passed the following resolution : "That the "Keys maintain the principle that the British Government have no right to tax the people of the Isle of Man without the consent of the Insular Legislature, except ‘where it shall be found necessary for the ‘British Revenue.’ They accepted suggestions to abolish the 2 per cent. ad valorem duties, and to practically do away with the 15 per cent. duties. They objected to the increase of duties on wines and spirits. They agreed to the duty on tea and refined sugar, but objected to the suggested increase on mascovado," because it was much used by the poor." They agreed generally to the other proposals, but they called the attention of the Government "to the poverty of the Isle of Man, without trade or manufactures the landed property deeply mortgaged to English capitalists, and the imports so greatly exceeding the exports, which are confined to a small quantity of agricultural produce and and they stated that "in consenting to the imposition of the several duties referred to" they did so "upon the express understanding that the increased revenue created thereby shall be at the disposal of the Insular Legislature for the internal improvement of the Island." The only references to the important fiscal changes in 1853 and 1866 in the Journals are in connection with Constitutional Questions, and will be found in Chapter II. Fortunately, however, the correspondence of the Keys in relation to these changes has been preserved in reports Printed by order of the House of Commons (f), and a brief account of them will be found in the writer’s History of the Island. The Act of 1854 is mentioned in the Journals, as follows : —

"House of Keys, 8th June, 1854. The Keys were summoned to meet in Tynwald to consider a further communication from the Treasury relative to the Customs duties. Upon meeting the Lieut.-Governor laid before the Court a letter from Mr. James Wilson, Secretary to the Treasury, dated 2 June, offering certain explanations as to the Resolution of the Tynwald Court of the 5th May, and forwarding copy of a Bill brought into Parliament upon the subject, and stating ‘ in order to give every opportunity to the Insular authorities to make any observations on the course proposed to be followed in the Bill now before Parliament, my Lords will postpone going into Committee on the Bill until Monday, the 12th June, by which time, no doubt, you will have been able fully to ascertain the feelings of the Legislature on the subject of the changes proposed.’ Upon receipt of this letter, the Lieut.-Governor immediately issued a precept to assemble the Tynwald Court, and replied to Mr. Wilson informing him that he had done so. The Lieut.-Governor also said he was amazed to see in 'The Times' newspaper that instead of the Bill not being brought before the House until Monday next it passed through Committee on Friday night, the 2nd June, and that he had this morning received a letter, which he then read : ‘Mr. Wilson presents his compliments to the Lieut.-Governor of the Isle of Man, and begs to state ‘that the Public Revenue Bill passed through Committee on Friday night, as it was for the convenience of the Government that it should do so, but that the third reading will not be taken till Monday, 12th instant.’ "

It is pleasant to see the Governor (Hope) so determined to protect the rights of the Legislature over which he presided. This Act, which was ultimately passed on the 15th of August, made the payment of the net Customs revenue, less the one-ninth for Public purposes, into the Consolidated Fund, and the expenses of the Government, and the annual sum of £2,300 for harbours, chargeable on that fund, instead of on the revenue. Any other " fit and, proper charges", previously paid out of the Customs revenue, would have to be voted by Parliament, instead of the payment being directed by the Treasury, as previously. Questions relating to the harbours would, of course, be discussed in Tynwald. We find a Resolution, dated the 23rd October, 1856, in the Journal on this subject : " That it is of the utmost importance to the Island a that no further delay should take place in proceedings with the works in question (i.e., Harbour Works at Douglas), and that the Lords of the Admiralty be respectfully requested to let their opinion upon the " proposed improvements to be given as speedily as possible."


(a) 5 Geo. III. c. 39

(b) 5 Geo III c. 26.

(c) 7 Geo. III. c. 45.

(d) For an account of the bounties granted, see "History of the Isle of Man"(A. W. Moore) pp. 945-7

(e) See correspondence on Customs Reform in "The Isle of Man Times," and "History of the Isle of Man (A. W. Moore), pp 605-6.

(f) Customs Reform (Isle of Man), 19th August, 1853; and Isle of Man (Financial Measures), 15th March, 1886- See "History of the Isle of Man,"pp- 620-2.


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