[Appendix D(6) 1792 Report of Commissioners of Inquiry]
LETTER from Lieutenant Governor SHAW.
SIRS, Castle Rushen, November 17, 1791.
SINCE you left this island, a case has occurred, at least first to me, which as I do not know that it has, by the Attorney General, or any of His Majestys servants, (and requested by many people,) I think it a duty to lay before you.
In September 1788, a number of casks or ankers of spirits, rum and geneva, were taken up, floating in the sea, decidedly within what have been, and still are, deemed the limits and jurisdiction of the Isle of Man, and carried to and lodged in the Kings warehouse at Douglas, the people who saved and so lodged the goods putting in their claims for the salvage. It appears that the then Collector of the Customs, wishing, I believe, to have the said goods to be considered as contraband and therefore a seizure, reported the incident to His Majestys Board of Customs : by them the matter was referred to the Lords of the Treasury, and by their Lordships to the Court of Admiralty . This Court, most properly considering it as a droit of Admiralty, in the proper form and due time were pleased to direct a commission and instructions to Mr. Senhouse Wilson of the town of Douglas, and Deputy Receiver General of His Majesty's revenues in the isle, to appraise and sell the said goods by public auction, and to remit the proceeds to the Registry of that Court, where the salvers, proving their claims by themselves or their attornies, were to be paid a certain proportion, I believe one third, for the salvage. The goods were sold accordingly ; and Mr. William Crebbin of Douglas became purchaser of a lot or parcel of them ; but who, instead of paying for the same, demanded payment of, or deduction of one half, for the salvage, agreeable to the law and custom of the isle. Mr. Crebbin was or had been owner of a boat or vessel which had saved the said goods, or a considerable part of them ; and had agreed with or paid to the people, their shares. Mr. Wilson acting by his instructions, and refusing therefore to come to any settlement with him on the head, Mr. Crebbin instituted a suit against him before the Water Bailiff, the constitutional judge in all such matters (if in fact such officer or office legally constituted does now exist in the isle, which is questioned) ; and the Water Bailiff gave judgment in favour of the salvers as by the copy of the said judgment herewith transmitted will more fully appear. From this judgment, however, Mr. Wilson has appealed to the Lieutenant Governor in Exchequer ; and there the matter now rests. I know that Mr. Wilson has been advised to plead the authority of the Water Bailiff as incompetent to the said trial. Whether he will or not now take this ground, I as yet know not. It is certain, however, that by or under what has been and still is deemed the constitution of the isle, the office of Water Bailiff was held of high importance.. As chief Judge of the Admiralty, he had cognizance of all matters of maritime concern ; and his commission was direct from the Sovereign : and it is conceived, that since the revestment of the isle immediately in the Crown, the office has in great measure abated, or been suspended, inasmuch as since that period the commission of the Water Bailiff has been only from the Lords of the Treasury ; whereas by all the lawyers and others of the isle, it is humbly conceived that to His Majesty alone belongs the power of appointing to judicial offices, and more especially of the importance of this in question. If they are right in this opinion, it must be supposed that the Lords of the Treasury granting such appointment has been owing to some misrepresentation or misconception of the late Receiver General, Mr. Lutwidge, (and first for His Majesty,) with respect to the nature and functions of that office, and arising in his desire to ingross to himself every office and place he by any means could. It is only known, however, that he never gave his commission as Water Bailiff to be registered in the isle : but it is certain that this office has scarce, if at all, any more concern with the revenue, than the other judge of the isle, chief in his line, the Deemster. A question therefore arises on this head, which it is humbly conceived requires to be ascertained, Whether or not the present Water, Bailiff is legally empowered to hold Courts of Admiralty by his commission from the Lords of the Treasury ? But a question, perhaps, much more material, as considerably alarming to the people, arises in the interference, in this case, by the High Court of Admiralty of England, with or in the interior of the Isle of Man, and which the people with great submission apprehended to be in some degree an infringement on their constitution and privileges Under their ancient constitution they enjoyed a complete system of legislation and jurisprudence, or for the distribution of justice in all cases whatever, at least of ordinary or probable occurrence in the affairs of men Among others, they had the tribunal in question for the trial and decision in all maritime causes, or, like the present, connected with such, and they know not that any law has been made by which any alteration in this regard has been effected , the act fifth of His Majesty in 1765, by which, to their great joy and new experienced comfort, the island became revested in the Crown, still, as they humbly conceive, leaving their constitution otherwise, as before, annexed not the Isle of Man to the realm of England The people therefore humbly contend, that, under those circumstances, if the writ of the Lord Chancellor, or Lord Chief Justice of England, reach nor, nor have effect within the Isle of Man,or limits thereof, the Court of Admiralty cars have as little jurisdliction within the said limits. The goods in question were cleanly droits of Admiralty, and as such pertaining to His Majesty ; but, as they humbly apprehend, it was as Sovereign of Man, not as Sovereign of Britain; and therefore that the rate ought to have been tried in the courts of the isle, and that there the salvage ought to have been ascertained and adjudged, with the rights of appeal only, as in all other cases whatever, to His Majesty in Council, from the said courts. I have been requested to represent further, that the maritime limits of the Isle of Man extend three leagues from and without the headlands, as the same have been ascertained by custom immemorial, and by many decisions in the Courts of Britain and Ireland. That the quantum of salvage in cases like the present, allowed by the law and custom, is as follows : For goods taken up on the sea beach, one quarter; within the headlands, one third ; and beyond those, and within the limits, one half of the whole quantity or value. But more especially I have been requested to represent the very great hardship it would be to the people of the Isle of Man in this case, and the precedent in others which thereby might be established, if, whilst believing they had laws and courts of their own to resort to for justice, and the protection of their privileges and properties, they found themselves summoned to appear and plead before a very distant, and to them in some respects a foreign tribunal, where, besides being entire strangers, and ignorant therefore of the laws, and of who they might employ as agents or lawyers in their causes, they might not possess the means of such attendance, nor expect from a decision the most favourable of their cause, a reimbursement of the expences necessarily incurred in a litigation or application so distant, and of course so expensive. The necessary consequence of which would be, their acquiescing in or putting up with the first loss ; and it might induce the people in all future cases of the kind, knowing that for the salvage they must apply in England, to attempt at least secreting the whole, to the great injury of the proper owner, in the event such owner might be found..I hope, Sirs, for the trouble I have here given you, you will find my apology, in conceiving it, as I do a duty to represent these matters to you at length, and as well otherwise as in my power. You will see likewise, that in this business altogether I stand in a disagreeable predicament : First, in respect to the authority or validity of the commission under which the present Water Bailiff acts, whether competent or not to empower him to act in a high judicial capacity ; and next, a clashing of jurisdiction, or which appears such, between the Court of Admiralty of Britain and that of this isle : In either of which I would not wish to decide any thing, or even give any opinion without having first received instructions. I would not be thought of as giving up, if they shall appear to be such, any of the just privileges of the people, in which I have been sworn to maintain them ; and you may be assured I would as little wish to offer even an opinion which might be improper, or in any degree implying disrespect I cannot feel to the very and most justly respectable Boards, whose authority in the cases stated seem to be questioned by the people ; yet I am called upon to decide by the appeal above mentioned. I have thought it therefore proper to lay the whole, Sirs, before you, and also before His Majestys Secretary of State; praying to be instructed.
But I hope, Sirs, you will pardon me, if on this occasion I cannot conclude without offering my feeble but willing testimony to those merits, in the discharge of the trust reposed in you, so very conspicuous during your residence in the Isle of Man, and as now a Manxman, endeavouring with my fellow subjects to express my sincere gratitude for that generous and well-directed zeal, that unremitting care and assiduity with which, on your parts, you fulfilled the various objects of your mission ; meriting, I am sire, the approbation of our most gracious Sovereign, and ever claiming, as deserving, the highest gratitude of every good Manxman, for labours which, I doubt not, will be productive of highest benefit to this isle.
Suffer me, Sirs, to add, that of the civilities with which personally you were pleased to honour me, I shall ever retain a most grateful and pleasing remembrance ; having the honour to be, with most sincere respect,
Your most obedient and most humble servant,
Honourable His Majestys Commissioners of Inqury to the Isle of Man, &c. &c. &c,