[From Wood's Account of IoM, 1811]
On the Privileges enjoyed by Debtors.
A FEW anecdotes arising out of the real; supposed privileges of the island, will form the Subject of the present chapter.
Although persons having debts abroad or actions determined against them are privileged, excepting so far as respects their moveable property, yet no asylum is here afforded for any one guilty of criminal conduct.
About sixty years since, a lady of the name of Hingstone was imprisoned in this island for a debt of her husband's, the particulars of which transaction I am unable to give the reader. It gave rise to a pamphlet, published in 175 l, entitled "Liberty 'Invaded," and to another by J. Baldwin, Esq. entitled " British Liberty in Chains, and England's Ruin on the Anvil in the Isle of Man, now commonly called, Little Frace addressed to all Free Britons, zealous for the glory of their King, the Liberties of the People, Safety of the Realm, especially to the laudable Association of Antigallicans,"1755, 8vo.
A considerable time ago, a man of the name of Wood escaped from Dublin goal and found his way to this island. He was either traced, or discovered by advertisement; and a correspondence respecting him ensued, between the Governor of Man and the Secretary of State for Ireland. The nature of his crime I have been unable to learn, but am informed that it was not felonious. He was finally escorted back to Dublin
Scotch bankrupts refusing to surrender themselves, have sometimes been apprehended on this island and sent back to Scotland, even at a time vhen such conduct was not in that country felony.
A few years ago a stock broker of the name of Daniels, nephew to Mr. Goldsmid, arrived here from London with about eleven thousand pounds in his pocket. He had been employed by a person to sell out stock to the amount sixteen or eighteen thousand pounds, and received the money of the purchaser. He gave his employer, as is usual, a draft upon his banker for the amount; but not thinking proper to pay in any of the money received, and not having sufficient effects there, the draft was returned for non-payment and the drawer was not to be found. It appears evident from the transaction that his design was fraudulent, but not more so than that of any person purchasing goods, re-selling them, and making off with the money; which latter practice is deemed in law, unless the articles be bought under false pretences, to be a private and not a public wrong! There is no law to prevent a man's drawing upon his banker for a greater sum than the effects in his hands. The vendor, in accepting the draft instead of cash, took it upon the reputed credit and integrity of Daniels: and although many persons considered the transaction as a fraud which the law could reach, yet the greater number of those, well informed on subjects of this nature, did not imagine it to be so. Of the former opinion was the Chief Magistrate of the city of London, who, on complaint being nade to him, gave immediate directions to have the offender advertised in all the papers, with a reward for his apprehension. These advertisements very accurately described his person; and the High Bailiff of Douglas was the first who perceived a resemblance between their description and a gentleman who had lately taken lodgeings in that town. He communicated his suspicions to others, and an examination was determined upon. The account which he gave of himself was so contradictory as nearly to determine their opinion; and, instead of conveying him to the Castle, the more lenient measure was adopted, of placing sentinels at the door of his apartments till the Governor's pleasure could be known. He afterwards confessed to Lieutenant Governor Shaw and the High Bailiff, that their suspicions were well founded. The Council was convened upon the occasion, and it was determined to deliver him into the custody of two Bow-street Officers, Also had come in pursuit of him. It was thought expedient to gain Daniels' consent to his return. This and the money in his possession were obtained by the Officers, on giving their promise that no criminal prosecution should be carried on against him. On his arrival in London, a process of this nature was, nevertheless, immediately commenced, and he was finally acquitted by the jury.
This transaction gave rise to a long paper war, carried on by the High Baillff and a resident of Douglas, supposed to be Sir John Macartney, through the medium of the Manks Weekly Journal, respecting the legality of the arrest. It was affirmed by the former to be legal on account of the criminality of the party; and of precedence in similar, or less fraudulent cases, The latter urged, with some plausibility, that it was at least a question which admitted of doubt that it had been the immemorial custom in all doubtful cases, to summon the Keys and take their opinion upon the subject; and that the delivery of Daniels, without previously so doing., was an illegal act.
Soon after the agitation of this question, the High Bailiff published in the Manks paper, a resolution which he intended to move in the House of Keys, himself being a member of that body, that all privileges enjoyed by foreigners should be annulled, and that the island should be no longer an asylum for the unfortunate, or the fraudulent. His former opponent was again roused to action. He asserted, that much of the prosperity of the country arose from its being the residence of strangers (himself being one), and that without them it would be a miserable place. The framer of the bill replied, that it would be more creditable to the island to be without such strangers as he alluded to. The controversy died away, either without any bill of the kind being submitted to the consideration of the legislature, or of its being quietly negatived.
Since the affair of Daniels an attempt was made to apprehend and take away a gentleman now resident at Douglas, for having sent a challenge to a nobleman in Ireland, both at that time residing there, and having been consequently indicted by the Grand Jury for his breach of the peace. A correspondence again took place between the Governor and the Secretary. The former finally declined to issue any order for his apprehension, probably not thinking it a matter of sufficient criminality and knowing that the object of the indictment was merely to procure his return to Ireland, where he might have been arrested for a debt to the very large amount of 20,0001. due to his Lordship, for damages rerovered in an action against the defendant for criminal conversation with his lady. For the debt, indeed, he was here arrested according to the Manks law; and for a short time confined in the castle of the metropolis, the plaintiff being apprehensive that he would otherwise make his esspape from the island, while the more important case was pending. On its being decided he was immediately released, his opponent well understanding that, although he was a man of property, he took care to have none liable to seizure His credit here stands very high, and I heard the Chief Deemster say in open court, that he should consider his security for the payment of a debt equal to a bank note(1).
It seems now sufficiently determined by precedents, that except in merely civil cases, no persons are here privileged from the common course of law, unless the Governor refuse, as he did in the one last mentioned, to sanction such proceeding. In case of notorious criminality he would never do so.
When a debtor whom the law cannot reach has taken refuge upon the island, it has not unfrequently been the custom (to the shame of the island be it spoken) for a creditor to hire five or six ruffians to carry him away by force. They seize him in an unguarded moment, take him off his legs, hurry him into a boat, and thence put him on board a vessel lying ready to receive him. The Manks Government has not interfered or made any inquiry into such infamous transactions. Could any villains be found sufficiently hardy to attempt the seizure of the last mentioned gentleman, their courage need not, probably could note be put to any further trial. It is said, I know not with what truth, that a reward of five thousand pounds has been offered to any one who will deliver him into custody, in Ireland.
It is a remarkable fact, that all who have been thus carried away were Scotch drovers, persons employed to buy and sell cattle, who by fraudulent means had obtained large sums of money, and who had brought in their pockets several thousand pounds.
An instance of the kind happened at Douglas during my residence in that town. A drover of reputed honesty had obtained money to a considerable amount from various persons, under the pretence of making for them advantageous purchases of cattle. Having amassed as much as possible, he immediately proceeded to Whitehaven, intending to spend in the Isle of Man, the supposed place of security, his ill-gotten wealth. The wind was boisterous and adverse: no vessel would put to sea. He had no authority like Caesar, to tell the captain that he would carry a drover and his fortune: but I saw the master of an open coal boat, to whom he in vain offered one hundred pounds to perform the voyage This man said he believed he should have struck the bargain, had not his vessel been then aground . Disappointed and fearful. of delay, he proceeded to Liverpool, and was obliged to remain two or; three days in that town, awaiting the departure of a vessel for the desired port.
In the mean time the creditors heard of his decampment, and judging it probable that he had fled to the privileged island, determined if possible, to use force against fraud. One to whom he owed 1,0001. embarked without delay and arrived at Douglas before his debtor. He. was permitted by law to imprison any debtor till he could find bail for his personal appearance; and the delivering up of his effects upon the island, or till the action, never long postponed could he heard; and still expecting the arrival of the drover, he procured a warrant to arrest him. He hired a Vessel and half a dozen sturdy fellows, and examined each ship as it arrived, At length came the packet from Liverpool, and: the rascal on landing was conveyed to prison.
He little dreaded his adversary's power, and hired a post-chaise to carry him the next morning to Castletown. A person who has power to confine another, has power also to release him. In the dusk of the evening he set his men upon the watch, and dismissed the action. The prison is close to the sea: the gate was thrown open, and out walked the drover, exulting in the confirmation of his liberty, and the success of his plans. Scarcely had the door shut after him, when he was seized by the men in waiting, hurried to a boat, and thence put on board a vessel. The ship soon weighed anchor; but to what port he was carried, or what afterwards became of him I could never learn.
For these anecdotes I am indebted to Mr. Cosnahan, High Bailiff of Douglas.