[From Land of Home Rule, 1893]
THE measure, whose passage has been related in the preceding chapter, would have been remarkable in any country and in any age; but it was of especial importance at the time at which it was passed, because the Manx people were soon afterwards to be deprived of a profitable though discreditable calling, and were consequently free to devote their energies to the more regular and reputable pursuit of the cultivation of the soil.
From the first mention of the Isle of Man at the dawn of history, we find that its inhabitants had taken advantage of their geographical position to derive some illicit gains from the nations which surrounded them. Mananan MacLir had exacted only rushes from his Manx tenantry, but he had probably levied much more valuable contributions from the vessels which conducted some sort of traffic on the adjacent coasts. Edwin of Northumbria, some centuries later, would never have attempted to seize on a distant island if he had not desired to establish that order on the sea which he had succeeded in maintaining, on land; while, in the centuries in which the Norse had held the island, they had used it as a place d'armes from which they had issued on the expeditions which carried terror to the surrounding countries. Thus the people in the earlier ages with which history deals had been accustomed to gather spoil from the vessels which passed their shores or the nations which lay near them. With the rule of the Saxon the opportunity for these irregular enterprises was lost, but the old courage which had prompted these exertions survived; the old lawlessness which had occasioned these acts of warfare remained; and the Manx were still ready to seize any new chances of wealth which fortune threw in their way, without inquiring. too closely into the rights or wrongs of the plunder which they could obtain. The age of the pirate was over, but the age of the smuggler was beginning.
Smuggling, paradoxical as the statement may seem, has in every country been the creation of law, for the difficulties which law has imposed, and the exactions which it has levied, on the trader, have alone called the smuggler into being and made his calling profitable. The regulations which were placed on the trader in the Isle of Man in the sixteenth century must necessarily have given an impulse to smuggling. The trader was treated almost as an enemy; his approach was signalled by the watch from Snaefell or Barrule. On his reaching. the Island, he was to appear " personally before our Captaine or his Deputy, and show him what his loading is, and to tell him news from whence he came. If the Captaine or his Deputy think that the wares he hath is for the commonwealth of this countrey, he drives him (if he can) to a bargain, and commands him to stay till his pleasure be further known." But the merchant had only gone through a portion of his ordeal. The Captain, having concluded his provisional bargain, was to send for the " clearke of the ships," who, in his turn, was to communicate with the four merchants, " they to bargain with the merchant stranger rather for less than Mr. Captaine could drive them unto or thereabouts."
Trade, which is nurtured by freedom, must necessarily have languished under these restrictions; but, in addition. to the complicated rules to which the trader had to submit, he probably had to pay heavy duties. " The rates of the customs at every port within the Isle of Man " 1 seem never to have been reduced to writing till 1577. The tariff which was drawn up at that time purports to have been "confirmed and allowed" on the sole authority of Lord Derby as Lord ; and, at a time when Tudor monarchs were claiming the right to impose customs duties by their own prerogative,2 there is every reason for supposing that the Lords of Man would have exercised the same right and imposed "books of rates " without the aid of their little Legislature. The present Attorney-General of the Isle of Man is, indeed, probably right in his conjecture that the tariff of 1577 was no new creation, but that Lord Derby merely reduced to writing, and probably revised, the rates which were already payable by the customary law3 Whether this be so or not, in 1692 the Governor, with the aid of his Council, drew up a new book of rates without taking the trouble to consult the Keys. The tariff of 1692 was much more complicated and much higher than the tariff of 1577 4 . In 1577 it comprised some 120 articles which were to pay duty on import; in 1692 it enumerated some 200 articles which were to pay duty on import, and some eighty articles which were to pay duty on export. Such a tariff was conformable to the ideas which prevailed in England before the days of Mr. Huskisson and Sir Robert Peel. And in accordance with the views, which were accepted in England at the same time, a preference was given to the native over the stranger, the countryman (the native of the island), being allowed, so far as many articles were concerned, to import them at half the rate of duty.
An elaborate tariff of this kind was certain to produce smuggling, and, as a matter of fact, smuggling in the island, soon became prevalent. The ease with which it was conducted probably suggested its extension, and at the latter end of the seventeenth century the Isle of Man became an entrepôt from which contraband goods were run to the adjacent shores of Great Britain. So openly was this trade conducted, that "about the year 1670 a company of adventurers from Liverpool settled at Douglas for the avowed purpose of conducting the contraband trade;5 and "the goods thus landed were, from the convenient position of the Isle, exported by the barks, boats, and wherries of the Island into Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland, to the detriment of the revenue and the prejudice of the fair-trader. The profits attending this iniquitous trade soon induced many of the most wealthy of the Manx people to engage in it like wise. The great body of the people, who had no capital to embark in speculation, became carriers: for which hazardous employment they were suitably qualified, being inured to hardships and trained to a seafaring life."
Oddly enough, the new traffic which thus arose had the effect of checking smuggling into the Island. The Manx tariff, compared with the English tariff, was so low, that its existence detracted little from the profits of the smuggler. Vessels, therefore, from the East Indies, from Europe, and from elsewhere, were openly consigned to Manx ports ; and the cargoes which were thus landed were run at any convenient opportunity, to the English, Scotch, and Irish coasts. So extensive was the traffic, that the Commissioners of Customs and Excise in Scotland, writing in 1764, officially estimated the loss to the revenue of Great Britain at no less than £350,000 a year.6 As almost every one in the island, from the Lord downwards, drew some advantage from the rich stream of wealth which was being suddenly poured upon its shores, no one displayed any anxiety to stop the trade The Legislature in 1697 even repealed the statute which had been passed more than 250 years before to regulate the conduct of aliens, and they declared, in doing so, that "it was the goodwill and pleasure of the Right Honourable the Lord of the Isle to have the said laws repealed, for the encouragement of all foreigners and strangers to reside here." 7
It was natural, however, that these nefarious proceedings should be regarded with different views in England; and soon after the Union with Scotland a proposal seems to have been made in Parliament to assimilate the fiscal laws of the Isle of Man to those of Great Britain.8 The Manx Legislature was not unnaturally alarmed at a suggestion which struck a blow both at the wealth and independence of the Island, and the Keys decided on sending a deputation to London to resist the project, or, as they phrased it, "to obtain a free trade for the island with Great Britain." They even persuaded Lord Derby to lend them £100 to pay the expenses of this deputation. No account is in existence of its proceedings, but it is reasonable to infer that it succeeded in obtaining some sort of promise that-if the legislature of the Island would pass an Act prohibiting., the export of foreign goods thence into Great Britain-Parliament, in its turn, would sanction the importation of purely Manx produce into Great Britain free of duty. The inference is reasonable, because in 1711 Tynwald distinctly prohibited the illicit traffic,9 " being in hopes that the Parliament of Great Britain will, in consideration of this law, and the poverty of this island, mike it lawful that the bestials or any other goods of the growth, product, or manufacture of this island may be imported and landed in Great Britain free of all customs whatsoever ; " and because in 1713 Tynwald suspended the Act, which had thus been passed, alleging that Parliament had not carried out its part of the bargain, and that the commodities of the island "stand still burthened with the same high duties as heretofore." 10
Strangely enough, large as was its interest in preventing illicit trade, the Government of Great Britain for some time took no effectual steps to stop it. Ships were indeed stationed on the coasts to watch or seize the smugglers, and commissioners were sent to the island to watch and report on the trade. Waldron, whose description has been referred to in these pages, acted in this capacity; but Waldron seems to have wearied of his protracted residence in the island, and to have despaired of success in his duties.
"Douglas," he wrote, "is full of very rich and eminent dealers, the reason of which is plain. The harbour of it being the most frequented of any in the island, there is the utmost opportunity that can be wished for carrying on the smuggling trade. So much, it must be confessed, do some men prefer their gain to their safety, that they will venture it anywhere ; but in this place there is little danger in infringing on the rights of the Crown; and here I must inform my readers that, though his Most Excellent Majesty of Great Britain is master of the seas, yet the Lord of Man has the jurisdiction of so much round the Island, that a master of a ship has no more to do than to watch his opportunity of coming within the piles, and he is secure from any danger from the King's officers. I myself had once notice of a stately pirate that was steering her course into this harbour, and would have boarded her before she got within the piles, but for want of being able to get sufficient help could not execute my design. Her cargo was indigo, mastic, raisins of the sun, and other very rich goods, which I had the mortification to see sold to the traders of Douglas without the least duty paid to his Majesty."
Instructed probably by Waldron's reports, Parliament at last in 1725 took some steps to prevent the mischief which the repeal in 1714 of the Act of Tynwald of 1711 had occasioned. In an Act passed mainly for the improvement of the revenue, it inserted some remarkable clauses dealing with the trade of the Isle of Man. Acknowledging that large sums were paid, as drawback on tobacco and other foreign goods, exported to the island, and that they were so exported "with no other intent than fraudulently to Ireland the same on the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland," it decided that no such drawback should be allowed in future. And it went on to enact that no foreign goods of any kind other than the growth and produce of the Island should be imported from the Island into any port of Great Britain or Ireland.11
These provisions, however, Parliament could hardly have avoided perceiving, did not remedy the real mischief . It was the irregular, not the regular, trade, which was injuring the revenue of Great Britain ; and no rules for the conduct of a recognised trade touched the true evil. Parliament accordingly went on to authorise the Treasury to treat with Lord Derby and his immediate heirs for the purchase of the royalties of the island on such terms as might seem fitting.
At the time at which the Act was passed, James, the tenth Earl of Derby, had been for some fourteen years Lord of Man. He was married, but he had no children ; and on his death, ten years afterwards, the earldom reverted to a very distant cousin, Sir Edward Stanley, a lineal descendant of the first Earl. The Isle of Man did not pass with Lord Derby's best known title and his English estates. The succession to it was governed by the conditions under which it had been re-granted to the sixth Earl by James I., and by the provisions of the Act of Parliament which affirmed the grant. By these conditions the Island reverted on failure of heirs male to the sixth Earl to the heirs general or right heirs of James the seventh, or great, Earl of Derby. In 1726 the right heir of the seventh Earl was Lady Harriet Ashburnham, the only daughter of Lord Ashburnham by his wife Henrietta, daughter of William, ninth Lord Derby. The Act of 1726 empowered Lady Henrietta, as well as her trustee, to treat for the sale of the Island; and, in the event of the treaty being made, to make the sale effectual notwithstanding her minority. Lady Harriet, however, died while she was a child, and the succession to the island then reverted to the Duke of Athole, whose maternal grandmother was daughter of the seventh Earl of Derby. In 1736, on the death of the tenth Lord Derby, the sovereignty of the little Island of Man passed accordingly to the Athole family.
From an English point of view, this change in the dynasty, if so large a word may be applied to so small an island, was of much significance. In the Island the change in the succession was hailed with feelings of hope. It seems, in fact, to be natural to humanity to expect that the evils which have been experienced under one man will be remedied under his successor; and these hopes were encouraged by the Duke's conduct. He showed the interest which he took in his new possession by at once announcing his intention of visiting it, and of coming at a time which would enable him to be present at the annual Tynwald; and he was not discouraged by the unfriendliness of the winds, which forced him, like Duckenfield in the previous century, to seek shelter at Holyhead, and which thus protracted over six days a journey which is now accomplished in four hours. The Duke on his arrival was received by the Governor and his officers with all the state which the Island could afford, and was greeted with addresses of welcome from all classes of the people. His first Tynwald revived the splendours of the old court. The Duke was escorted to it by " three squadrons of horse militia, one bay, the second black, the third grey, well mounted and armed, commanded by their officers, and with their drums and standards, in the latter of which were embroidered the arms of the Isle;" on the hill the Bishop did homage, the officers of the Lord's Council were sworn; and at the conclusion three "great huzzas were made by the whole spectators, waving their hats in the air, and a general volley from all the militia and soldiery followed."12
And the, conduct of the Duke justified the warmth of the reception. He stayed in the island for some weeks, long enough to sanction fourteen Acts, or rather fourteen sections of one Act, which has sometimes been styled the Manx Bill of Rights. By this statute, among other things, accused persons were in all cases assured the right of trial by jury ; questions of title were directed to be tried at common law, and not otherwise, and by sheading juries. Traverses were ordered to be heard within three months, and appeals to be entered within six months of the verdict. The power of the ecclesiastical courts was to a certain extent limited. They were in future debarred from administering an oath to an accused person, by which he was compelled "to confess or accuse or to purge him or herself of any criminal matter or thing." But, while the Church was deprived of the power of forcing, those whom they suspected to confess their guilt or swear their innocence, the accused were still allowed to clear themselves by their oaths. Their oaths, therefore, were to be still available for their defence ; they were no longer to be used for their conviction.
The power of the ecclesiastical courts was further restrained by other provisions. A reasonable fine, instead of imprisonment, was in future to be paid by persons guilty of contempt for non-appearance. While "instead of the rigorous punishment and forfeiture " to which excommunicated persons had previously been liable, they were thenceforward to be subjected to only three months' imprisonment in one of the castles.
One other provision of great constitutional importance was added. The customs tariff had hitherto been collected on the sole authority of the Lord, and had not had "the consent and concurrence of the twenty-four Keys; " it was now adopted on the authority of Tynwald, and it was enacted that " no order, precept, or command, prohibiting the importation or exportation of any foreign goods, or any other goods of the growth, product, or manufacture of the Isle, shall be granted or made without the consent of the Governor, Council, Deemsters and Keys of the said Isle."
The first of the Atholes had thus supplemented the legislation of the last of the Stanleys. The one ruler had given the people fixity of tenure; the other had curbed the power of the ecclesiastical courts, had regulated civil judicature, and had placed the sole power of taxation in the hands of the Legislature. The Atholes were destined, in the course of the next eighty years, to lose the popularity which they had acquired in the Island. They were said, and perhaps with reason, to think too much of their own rights and too little of their people's interests. But, if Manxmen knew the history of their own Island, they would at any rate except the first reigning Duke of the House from these censures. He, at least, celebrated his accession by signing an Act worthy to be bound in the same volume with the great charter of the last of the Derbys.
1 Statutes, Isle of Man, vol. i. P. 37.
2 Mary imposed a new duty on foreign cloth; Elizabeth, a new duty on foreign wine, without the authority of Parliament.
3 Sir J. Gell, in Manx Soc. Pub., vol. xii. p. 189.
4 Report, Royal Corn., 1791, App. A., NO. 3.
5 Train, vol. ii. P. 306.
6 Papers respecting Isle of Man, 1805, P. 75.
7 Statutes, Isle of Man, vol. i. p. 153.
8 Train, vol. ii. p. 308.
9 This Act admits in the preamble the whole case against the island. It alleges that " great quantities of tobacco and other foreign goods and merchandise which have been imported into the island from Great Britain . . . . have afterwards been exported from hence and privately carried back into some port of Great Britain or Ireland .... and also that great quantities of wine, brandy, and other foreign goods and merchandise have been shipped of (sic) and exported from this island and privately landed in Great Britain and Ireland without paying her Majesty's customs and other duties."
10 This Act in its preamble distinctly alleges that the Act of 1711 had been passed in the hope and expectation that Parliament would give the free trade according to the proposals laid before the Commissioners [of Customs] considered and agreed upon by them, which said proposals were by them, the said Commissioners, laid before the Honourable the Lords of the Treasury to be forwarded into Parliament. It is not clear why the bargain was not carried out; but possibly the change of Government in England, where Harley succeeded Godolphin, may have had something to do with conduct which was certainly a little shabby.
11, See 12.Geo. I., c. 28, sec.21, 22.
12 Manx Soc. Pub., vol. xix. p. 105-109.