[From Wood's Account of IoM, 1811]


The Sale of the Island.

IN order to prevent the smuggling trade of the Isle of Man, which, in the beginning of the last century, began to prognosticate great evil to England, and perhaps for other reasons, it was the wish of the British government that the sovereignty of the island should be re-vested in the King. An act consequently passed the legislature in 1726, authorising the Earl of Derby to sell his royalty and revenue.

Although many proposals were made to him, and his successor, they always made delays, unwilling to complete the sale; and the object of government remained incomplete till John Duke of Athol and his Duchess succeeded to the royalty. In the first and last year of their reign, and in the fifth of that of his present Majesty, A. D. 1765, the sovereignty was re-vested in the King of England. The people were at first much alarmed at the consequent change of affairs, but experience has since taught the industrious part of them to consider it a great advantage to the country; the Duke however was ever afterward much disliked on this account.

A song, of which the following is a verse, vas composed on the occasion, and is well remembered to this day:

" For the babes unborn will rue the day,
That the Isle of Man was sold away;
For there's ne'er an old wife that loves a dram,
But what will lament for the Isle of Man."

The sovereign formerly bore the title of King, and his consort is styled Queen in some of the statutes. This title was, about three centuries ago, abandoned by Thomas, Earl of Derby; and Lord of Man assumed in its room. The reason which he gave for so doing was, that he thought it an empty title, since the country could no longer maintain itself independent of other nations; and that he deemed it more honourable to be a great Lord than a petty King.

The preamble of the Act of revestment recites the grant of Henry IV. and the confirmation of it by Act of Parliament of 7th James I. regulating the entail of the island, and the succession to it. It mentions the death of Charles, Earl of Derby, in 1735; and that the property was consequently vested in James, Duke of Athol, as heir general to James, Earl of Derby, who was beheaded in 1651; that James, Duke of Athol, conveyed it to trustees in a deed of feoffment executed on the bth of April, 1756, to make an absolute sale of it after his death, with the consent of the then Lord-proprietor his heir; the money arising therefrom to be laid out in the purchase of lands in Scotland, to be entailed in the strictest manner according to the law of that kingdom on the heirs male of his body, with remainders, designed to prefer the line of the Murrays to the line of heirs from the seventh Earl of Derby, with an ultimate remainder, not to the heir general of James, seventh Earl of Derby, but to Duke James's heirs and assigns. It says, that James, Duke of Athol, died in 1764, and that his only child, Charlotte Murray, and her husband, then Duke of Athol, became entitled to the Isle of Man according to their estates and interests under the prescribed entails.(1)

The treaty specifies that the Duke and Duchess shall receive 70,000l. to be laid out in estates of Scotland to be entailed for ever on their heirs in purchase of their royalty, the revenues arising, or to be raised from the custom-duties and some other perquisites; themselves retaining the manerial rights, with many other advantages and emoluments. This sum was consequently paid into the Bank of England in the names of the Duke and Duchess of Athol, Sir Charles Frederick, and Edmond Hoskins, to be by them appropriated to the purpose above specified. Respecting the perquisites and emoluments, some misunderstanding had arisen; the English government having claimed more than the Duke by this treaty intended to give up; and the Duke and Duchess had the further grant of an anmlity of 2,0001. upon their lives.(2)

In the year 1781, the present Duke, son to the vender of his royalty, presented a petition to parliament,which stated, among other complaints, that many parts of the Act of the fifth year of George the Third required explanation and amendment, and that proper remedies or powers were omitted to be given by flee said Act to the Duke and Duchess of Athol, their heirs or assigns, seneschals or stewards, and moors and bailiffs, for the obtaining, of the several rights and interests, or, for the exercise or enjoyment of such as were intended to be reserved: and , therefore prayed that leave might be given to bring in a bill to explain and amend the said Act, made in the fifth year of the reign of his present Majesty, and to enable the said Duke and his lairs to obtain, exercise, and enjoy, certain powers and remedies(3).

He alleged, that the revenues arising to his family were not fairly collected prior to the revestment, many frauds being then practised; and consequently that the annual revenue to which the purchase money was proportioned was much too small, the frauds having been since prevented by the regulations of the English government: that his father had the power of increaseing the duties with the consent of the council and the Keys, and that such consent, to any reasonable degree, would not have been withheld; that some rights, not intended to be vested in the crown, had been so vested, such as herring-custom, salmon-fisheries, and treasure-trove.

A petition, being a memorial of John Cosnahan, of the House of Keys, and agent for that body, was laid before parliament against the passing of the bill. It stated that the proposed bill contained many provisions against the present constitution, and injurious to the inhabitants of the island.

Counsel having been heard on both sides, the bill, somewhat amended, passed the House, under the following title: "An Act to explain and amend an act of the fifth year of the reign of his present Majesty, intituled, " An Act, &c"—; and to ascertain and establish the jurisdiction of the manerial courts of the most noble John Duke of Athol, in the said island; and to enable the said Duke and his heirs to exercise and enjoy certain rights, powers, and remedies, therein contained."

Counsel was again heard in the House of Lords. The Lord Chancellor was against the bill. He said that what the public purchased of the late Duke of Athol seemed to him of very little importance, no more, in his apprehension, than certain rights and privileges, incident to the proprietor for the time being, as first magistrate and Lord of the soil, and which his Majest;''s servants in the year 1765, very wisely deemed to be improper to be longer vested in the hands of a subject, who exercised those rights independent of, and uncontrolled by, the British parliament. There were many instances to prove that the Lord of Man and the inhabitants were amenable and controllable by the British legislature. One instance only he should mention. In the reign of Henry the Eighth an act of parliament passed for abolishing all monasteries and abbies, and vesting the lands which belonged to them in the crown. In this bill were included those of Man; and the Earl of Derby, so far from exclaiming against the usurpation, or complaining of the injustice or oppression of such a stretch of foreign power, actually became a lessee for them under the king. Much had been said about manerial rights, whereas they appeared to have no real foundation whatever; these rights which had been thus claimed, having at different times, and upon various occasions, been granted to the Lords of Manors, and of course divested out of the Lord-paramount.

The Duke of Athol wished to have every paragraph examined by their Lordships with the minutest attention, being persuaded that the more pains there were taken to develope the real purport and objects of the bill, the more supporters it would have(4).

The bill was finally lost in this House.

In the year 1790 the Duke again petitioned parliament; and General Murray moved for leave to bring in a bill for appointing commissioners to inquire into the extent and value of certain rights, revenues, and possessions in the Isle of Man.

Mr. Dundas supported the bill.

Sir Joseph Mawbey spoke against it.

Mr. Rose said, that the bargain of 1765 had been made in a hurry, that it was an unfair one, and required re-consideration.

The House of Keys petitioned that the bill might not pass into a law, and were heard by Counsel against it.

On the second reading it was opposed by Mr. Law, who denied any precipitancy in the bargain, the English government having had the purchase in contemplation ever since the reign of George the First. He considered 70,000l. and an annuity of 2,0001. on the lives of the Duke and Duchess an ample compensation.

Mr. Curwen said, that in 1787 the Duke promised the House of Keys that he would never introduce any bill respecting the island into Parliament without giving them sufficient previous notice, and that of the present bill he had not given them the least. He could prove from authentic documents that the allegations of the noble Duke were utterly unfounded. If any greater compensation ought to be granted, the Duchess Dowager was entitled to receive it. She had been silent upon the subject, and he believed content. He had every reason for supposing that the late Duke was perfectly satisfied with the bargain he had made. What had been already granted, he maintained to be a most ample consideration. If the rights of the Duke had been invaded, he should resort for redress to the laws of the island, and not to the House of Commons.

General Murray defended the noble Duke ; from beach of promise, and said that the present could not be called a bill immediately affecting the inhabitants of the Isle of Man.

Sir James Johnston spoke in favour of the Dukes claims, but added, that whoever "injured the inhabitants of the Isle of Man ought to be plunged in hell."

:Mr. Fox said there was a variety of allegations that the Duke's family had been injured, but no proof whatever.

Mr. Pitt on the other hand replied, that the committee appointed to inquire into the allegations had thought that there was proof sufficient

Sir John Miller wished the House joy of what they were going to do. Henceforth they would have business enough upon their hands in remunerating every contractor who had made a bad bargain.

Mr. Henniker maintained that the late Duke held only a life interest in the island, and had no right to sell.

The order of the day for the commitment of the bill being read, Mr. Chancellor Pitt rising, observed, that notwithstanding his full conviction of the propriety and even necessity of proceeding with such a measure, yet, after the unfavourab1e impression which had gained ground upon the subject, he should think it in no degree prudent to attempt to push the bill further at present, and should therefore move that the bill be committed for that day three months.(5)

The bill was consequently lost.

In the year 1805 another petition was presented by the Duke to parliament, which, like the former was referred to a committee.

On its being moved that Colonel Stanley do bring up the report of the committee.

Mr. Curwen rose, not to oppose the bringing of it up, but to entreat sufficient time for a full investigation of the subject. The noble Duke had preferred a claim in the present petition, on which till now he had been silent, asserting that by the grant of James I. his ancestor had been invested with absolute royal authority.

A member said, that in the administration of Lord Sidmouth a negative had been put upon the claims of the Duke of Athol, and why should that be reversed ?.

Mr. Pitt stated that the evidence on which the committee proceeded, was drawn from the able and elaborate report of the commissioners, appointed by his Majesty in 1792 to make inquiry into the present state of the Isle of Man.

On the reading of the report,

Mr. Curwen observed that the late Duke of Athol, on selling the island, had no right to sell the revenues. They belonged to the people, and were inalienable, and therefore he could not in justice claim any compensation, on the ground that the revenues had increased. The late Duke had, in fact, nothing to sell but his estate on the island, accompanied by a barren sceptre.

Sir W. Burroughs endeavoured to prove by the authority of Lord Coke, that the Lord of the island was formerly an independent monarch, and that the House of Keys was not a legislature, but only a judicial body(6). The customs' revenue since 1798 had increased from £6,000. to £16;000. a year.

Mr. Bond opposed the bill on the principles laid down by Coke and Blackstone, that the authority of parliament was paramount, and that it had an unquestionable right to legislate for the Isle of Man. There were no facts to show that the Duke of Athol was independent of this controul. The memorial stated that the revenues of 1802 were greater than those of 1765. This circumstance had nothing at all to do with the present business.

Lord Glenbervie maintained that the opinion of Lord Coke was unfounded.

Lord Temple thought,it his duty to resist a transaction which had the appearance of a job.

Mr. Pitt supported the petition on the justness of the claims.

Mr. Sheridan supported the bill in opposition, to most of his friends.

Division: for receiving the report 114 : against ditto 48 ; majority 66 .

On the taking of the report into consideration, Mr. Rose observed that the late Duke had been frightened into the bargain, that Lord Mansfield had told him that if he did not accept what was offered he would lose all(7). Parliament ,had certainly no right to legislate for the island. Lord Coke lead never asserted that parliament had a right to legislate for the island, but only that some special provisions might extend to it(8). There was now a surplus revenue from the island, and from this the compensation was proposed to be paid.

Sir William Young said that the ancestor of the Duke of Athol ( the last Earl of Derby) had farmed the revenue of the island to a Merchant at Lit erpool for 1,000l. a year, and the Duke hail no right to claim additional compensation in consequence of the increase of that revenue under the fostering care of the British Legislature, and from the influence of the British laws. The nett revenue of the island had been reckoned at much too high a sum: for the bounty on herrings amounted to 4,0001. a year, and this should be first deducted.(9)

Mr. Windham wished to record his sentiments upon the subject. The whole transaction appeared to hint what is vulgarly called a job. There was no compulsion upon the Duke of Athol to assent to the terms he agreed to in 1765. It was said that if the Duke had not agreed to the terms proposed he would leave lost all. He might have lost the greater part of his revenue; but he would have retained his estate, his regalities, his honours; and these alone he conceived to be saleable articles. The revnue of a people is public property.

Mr. Sheridan suspected that from the manner in which his honourable friends opposed this claim, they had not given themselves the trouble of reading it. He thought the Duke an injured man. In a letter of the late Duke to Lord -Mansfield, requesting his advice, he sent a detailed estimate of the losses at 620,0001.(10)

:Mr Wilberforce ridiculed the estimate of 620,0001. and said it would seem as if his Grace had considered the sovereignty of the Isle of Man as something nearly equivalent to the crown of Poland.

''The crown of Poland, venal twice an age,
To just a million stints the modest guage." .

The house divided: for the Duke's petition, 95 against it, 38 majority 57

On the further consideration of the report Mr. Pitt moved that one fourth of the gross revenues' of the Isle of Man be allowed to the Duke and his heirs for ever, which being estimated at 12,0001. would yield an income of about 3,000l. per annum.

Mr. Creevey complained of a great deal of canvassing by the friends of the petitioner.

Mr. Sheridan, kindling at the expression, said, that if there had been canvassing on the side of the petitioner, there had been much more shameful canvassing on the opposite side. He had been canvassed by both parties, but in a very different manner. The justice of the cause had made him espouse it. He had not the least partiality for the noble Duke.

After some opposition this motion passed, Ayes 79 Noes 26, Majority 53

On the second reading of the bill were, Ayes 50. Noes 12 Majority 38

Sir William Young previously moved an amendment, that the Duke, instead of receiving one fourth of the revenues of Man, should receive annually, out of the consolidated fond, sum equal to one fourth, which was agreed to.(11)

On the 2d July the bill was read a third time and pled, Mr. Curwen having, in every stage, exerted all his strength against it.

Ayes 42 Noes 12 Majority30:

In the House of Lords it again met with opposition.

Lord Ellenborough expressed his surprise at the appeal of the Duke and his absolute disapprobation of the parliamentary proceedings. A moment before he is called upon to consent to that stage of the bill, in which it is his duty to oppose the principle, if he thinks it wrong, a huge folio volume is put into his hands (12) so reeking from the press, that it is with danger to his health that he can hold it to read it through. The bill contained, and was founded on propositions untrue in fact and in law. The very first was, that the former right of the Duke of Athol in the Isle of Man was a sovereignty. It was alordship a dominion; but no lawyer, no historian had ever named it a sovereignty. The priviliges and the rights of the Duke in the Isle of Main there held by petty serjeantry. Yet the bill three times repeats the false assertion

"Like a tall bully––(13)

He Gerald not finish the sentence in its own words; but every man saw the epithet that would apply to the conduct of the bill. It was falsely asserted either that the noble Duke's. ancestor was compelled to alienate his rights in the Isle of Man, or that he did not receive full compensation.

Lord Harrowby supported the bill.

The Marquis of Buckingham repelled the attacks made against Mr. Grenville, Chancellor in 1765. He denied any precipitancy in the measure, the treaty having been two years in hand previously to its conclusion.

Lord Sidmouth opposed the bill at great length. During his administration of 1802 the Duke presented a memorial to his.Majesty which was referred to the privy council. After consuiling the law-officers of the crown, they came to the unanimous resolution that there was no ground for conceiving the former compensation inadequate. Soon after the change of administration a similar petition was referred to the privy council., and they came to a resolution exactly the reverse of the former.

Lord Mulgrave replied, that the first set of lawyers, to whom the claims had been submitted, had said only that they saw no reason to thinlt that the compensation had been inadequate; but that the second set had positively given their opinion that it was inadequate. He much lamented that such rude and boisterous language had been used by a noble Lord early in the debate.

Lord Helenborough asserted that his language was neither rude nor boisterous, but only such as the subject required.

The Lord Chancellor could find nothing in the evidence to show that the compensation granted in 1765 was inadequate in 1805.

Lord Hawkesbury said that he came to the consideration of the claim with an unblessed and impartial mind, and, from the evidence before the House, was firmly of opinion that the bargain had been forced upon the Duke and Duchess of Athol, and that the compensations had not been adequate.

On the question being put on the second reading of the bill, there apppeared—
Contents 35
Non-contents 11
Majority 24
On the third reading of the bill, Contents 24
Non.contents 5
Majority 19

The bill soon afterwards received his Majesty's assent.


1: See Statutes at large; Vol X

2: The date of this grant, I know not, being unable to find any account of it in the statutes.

3: Vide Journal of the House of Commons, Vol.38

4: Vide Parliamentary Register. Debrett. Vol. iv. 350, 351.

5: Vide Parliamentary Register. Debrett.Vol.xxvii.p307, 315, 383, and 561.

6: Previously to the year 1430, the Lord of Man had certainly exercised very arbitrary power, but at that aera the constitution of the government was rendered much less monarchical.

7: In order to give to the reader as comprehensive a view of the subject as possible, I here subjoin an extract of an Act of 5 George 311. which refers to a letter, addressed to the Lords of the Treasury, written in the names of the Duke and the Duchess of Athol, and dated Feb 27, 1765,

"They did declare that they were ready, if it should be deemed necessary for the public service, to part with all the. rights held under the several grants of the Isle of Man; but apprehended that the reservation of their landed revenue, together with the patronage of the bishoprick, and other ecclesiastical benefices of the island, could not interfere with the interest of the public; and notwithstanding the difficulty of proposing a proper compensation (which might expose them to the imputation of making an unreasonable demand on the one hand, and of not doing sufficient justice to the family on the other), yet as the circumstances of the case had made it necessary, they did therefore hope that neither his Majesty, nor the parliament, would think the clear sum of 70,0001. too great a price to be paid them in full compensation for the absolute surrender of the Isle, Castle, and Peel of Mau, and an rights, jurisdictions, and interests, in and over the said island, and all its dependencies, holden under the several grants thereof, or any other title whatsoever, reserving only theirlanded property, andall their rights he and over the soil as Lord of the Manor, with all courts-baron, rents, services, and other incidents to such courts belonging, their wastes, commons, and other land s, inland waters, fisheries, and mills, and all mines, minerals, and quarries, according to their present rights therein, felons' goods, deodands, waifs, estrays, and wrecks at sea, together with the patronage of the bishoprick, and of the other ecclesiastical benefices of the island to which they were entitled." Vide Statutes at large, 4to Vol. x.

It appears to me, for reasons given in a former part of this work, that the revenues of the late Duke, with the exception of manerial rights, and possibly of 1,000l. or at most of 2,0001.besides, arose from the smuggling trade. Postlethwayte says, that " the revenues of the Duke of Athol arise for the most part from small duties and customs paid upon goods entered, and afterwards smuggled upon the coasts of England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland." See his Commercial Dictionary, Article, Man.

On the 17th January, 1765, a bill was ordered to be brought into parliament " to prevent the mischiefs arising to the revenue and commerce of Great Britain and Ireland from the illicit and clandestine trade to and from the Isle of Man." The Duke and Duchess petitioned against the passing of this bill; and expressed a Fear that their ancient privileges, and their revenues, were about to be wrested from them. While it was pending, their treaty with the treasury was concluded. They saw that the English government were taking every means in their power to check this illicit traffic, and justly dreaded a loss of the greater part of their revenue. Vide Journals of the Commons, Vol. 80, p. 30 and 139.

8: " The Isle of Man is not governed by our laws, neither doth any act of parliament extend to it, unless it be particularly named therein, and then an act of parliament is binding there." Vide Blackstone, Vol. I. p. 106, who gives Coke as his authority, 4' Inst. 284..

9: This statement appears very erroneous, and drawn from I know not what document. Herrings were entitled to a bounty, according to circumstances, of is., Is. 9d., or 2s.8d. per barrel. The commissioners appointed in 1792, report the bounty for the years 1787, 1788, 1789, 1790, to be 39061. 18s. 3d. making an average of 9761. Ifs. 7d. per annum. The herring trade since that time is allowed rather to have fallen off than increased. The same report states the expences of the island, including bounties, for the year 1790 to be 32721. 2s. 2d.

10: It would be amusing to learn how much of this sum was put down to the account of honours.

11:The state of the case in no case altered by this amendment.

12 The report of the commission,

13:The remainder of the line is "rears its head and lye.."



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