[From Wood's Accout of IoM, 1811]
On the Manufactures of the Island
IN SO low a state, till lately, were manufactures and mechanics, that the inhabitants had not mills enough to grind their wheat, being, in the practice of exporting it and importing flour. The first, upon a large scale, was erected by Major Taubman; and, from being in the vicinity of his seat, is called the Nunnery mill. Several others have been since built; but the chief business is supposed to be done here.
How far the introduction of manufactories might be expedient and likely to answer the purpose of the manufacturer, would be an amusing and useful inquiry. Those established for articles consumed by the natives only must, of course, be of small magnitude, and if there be not too many will necessarily succeed, provided no peculiar obstacles arise. Of this class are breweries, candle and soap manufactories, tanyards, and some others, which the freedom from excise laws tends greatly to encourage. Malting and brewing being uncontrolled, ale and beer may be made for considerably less than half the price which they cost in England. These last mentioned trades, centering in the same person, are, probably, the chief in the island: and, judging from the quality of the ale, and the number of people who daily get intoxicated with it, particularly in the fishing season, the business of brewer must be extremely profitable. The fondness of the people to ale does not however diminish their attachment to spirits. Townley imagines that nearly half the inhabitants die of the grog consumption, which complaint, he facetiously adds, is accounted very catching and infectious. Candles and soap are comparatively dear. The business of the tanner is chiefly confined to Manks skins and hides, and he does not make sufficient, or sufficiently good, leather for the supply of the natives. The article is reckkoned much inferior to that imported from England.
These trades are considered profitable in proportion to their extent: but the question is materially altered when we inquire into the expediency of manufacturing goods for exportation, or of erecting manufactories which are not likely to answer, except upon a large scale. No products of the island are in sufficient abundance to be manufactured for foreign use. Whatever articles are employed for this purpose must therefore be first imported. The eligibility of establishing manufactories is reckoned to arise from the number of small, rapid rivulets, and the consequent convenience of erecting mills: and I have not heard the most sanguine speak of the probable success of introducing any such as do not require mill-work. The cheapness of labour, the freedom from excise laws, and, in a great measure, from custom-house duties, are not sufficient inducements: for labour is nearly as cheap in the north of England, and quite as cheap in Ireland; and manufactured articles, if admitted at all, would be charged with the customary duty at any port of the British dominions, greater indeed than the excise upon the manufacture in those countries. The discretionary powers claimed and used by the English Government, respecting all matters where revenue is directly or indirectly concerned, somewhat damps the ardour of the speculatist. Distilleries are absolutely prohibited, under the penalty of forfeiting for each offence 2001. besides the implements used in the process. Some years age a cotton-spinning manufactory was established at Balasalla by Messrs. De-la-primes. They in tended not to weave the yarn, but to send it to Lancashire. By these means most of the duty on cotton would have been evaded. I was informed that it was the opinion of an eminent counsellor, consulted upon the occasion, that the scheme might be carried into execution, either in the Isle of Man or the Isle of Skye. How such an idea could be entertained I cannot conjecture, since an act of 5th Geo. III. expressly prohibits 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. Previously to this period, the laws were still more severe.(1) The speculation was soon discovered to be vain, and the mill-work was afterwards used in the manufacture of twine for fishing nets; but owing to the circumstance of the fishermen usually, in their leisure time, making their nets from the raw material, the second project was no more successful than the first. Flax mills have been lately introduced. The demand for linen goods, including sail-cloth, is greater than that for cotton, and the expense of the machinery much less. They are therefore more likely to answer here. Those belonging to Messrs. Moores, near Douglas, though, I believe, the newest, are reckoned the most considerable. The spinning is by machinery throughout, two hundred and forty spindles performing the work of an equal number of people, being constantly at work, attended by only ten or a dozen children, and one overseer. The weaving is by hand. Here they make sheeting, towelling, sail-cloth, and sack-cloth. One woollen manufactory has been established within these few years; and the home consumption may reasonably be supposed sufficient to keep it at work. The proprietor uses chiefly the fleeces of the Manks sheep, and has, in some cases, adopted the system of barter, exchanging a certain quantity of cloth for a certain quantity of wools
Under existing circumstances I cannot think expedient the establishment of manufactories upon a large scale for the purpose of exportation. England usually takes care to allow a drawback upon manufactured goods, subject, in their raw state, to heavy duties, in order to preserve their trade in foreign markets. I cannot therefore imagine, that the Isle of Man can vie with her in commerce.
1: See 15th Charles II.