[From Manx Quarterly, #21, 1920]

An Account of Manx Smuggling


The " Impartial Enquiry of the State of the Isle of Man," by Capt. Webber, which is now printed for the first time, is from an old MS. which was formerly in the collection of Sir Thomas Phillips, the well-known bibliophile and collector, and was purchased at the sale of a portion of his MSS. at Sotheby's some, few years ago.

The date of the "Enquiry" is not stated, but from internal evidence it would appear to be about the year 1755, and the author was probably one of the Collectors of Revenue who in that year were instructed by the Treasury to transmit "Estimates of the nature and quantity of the clandestine trade, with their opinions of the most feasible methods of suppressing the same." It deals with the period in Manx history commencing with the Act of Settlement in 1704, and embraces the time when smuggling was at its height. There are side-lights throughout the narrative which reveal something of the social conditions of the Island, and the effect is described of the various remedial legislative enactments upon its trade. The record is brought down to a period antecedent to the Act of Revestment of 1765, when the purchase of the Island was made by the Crown from the Duke of Athol.

By way of introduction I have prepared a short sketch of the rise and progress of Manx smuggling in order to show to what period the " Enquiry" belongs, and I have introduced some fresh matter not hitherto published in any Manx-book. The Isle of Man owed its unenviable notoriety as a smuggling centre to its unrivalled position with respect to the neighbouring shores of Great Britain. Vast quantities of foreign goods: bearing high English duties, principally spirits, wines, tea, coffee, tobacco, and East India goods were imported into the island, and from thence clandestinely conveyed into Great Britain and Ireland. The goods were landed in the creeks and bays of the Island and conveyed to the cellars and vaults which were constructed to receive them ; the narrow streets of the towns lent themselves to the operations in question. The darkest and roughest nights were, of course, chosen, and every wind was favourable to carry the smugglers to some part of the United Kingdom. Their small wherries were able to escape the cruisers sent in pursuit of them by running over the flats of sands which the latter could not cross, and they were directed to safe landings by signals from confederates ashore. Smuggling appears to have started in the Island towards the latter half of the 17th Century, probably during the lordship of Charles 9th Earl of Derby. Train states that it was begun by a company of adventurers from Liverpool, but, if so, it was not long before they were joined by the more prosperous of the Manx people. The working classes, too, who had been suffering from the effects of unjust systems of land tenure under the Stanley rule, saw in smuggling an easy way of making money, and adopted it as a lucrative substitute for agriculture and fishing. Early references to the subject are to be found in the Reports of the Historical MSS. Commissioners. Under date 1681-2 is a letter from the Earl of Derby {William 9th Earl} to the Commissioners of Customs, complaining of the conduct of their agent and other such officers in the Island " who affright almost all boats, especially the Scottish, from all manner of traffic with the Island."

The same year is a letter from the Secretary of State for Scotland calling attention to ships unloading in the Island involving loss to the King's Customs. Following this appears a complaint by Governor Heywood against His Majesty's Searcher for misdemeanour committed against Ferd. Calcott, Water Bailiff, and letters between the London authorities and the Earl of Derby concerning the irregular collection of duties on goods awaiting to be " privately stolen" into England. Other letters in the same series prove that smuggling was rife before the close of the 17th Century. In 1689, war with France brought in its train increased duties on imports, and the Manx smugglers were not slow to take advantage of the opportunities thus afforded. To remedy the growing abuse, an English Customs Officer was appointed to the Island in 1690, but: this step aroused the hostility of the Earl of Derby, who saw in it a reflection upon his administration. An account is published of the Earl's proceedings in disturbing the King's officers of the revenue, and it adds, " since the death of Governor Heywood their Majesty's officers do meet with strange interruptions." This is followed by a letter from the Commissioners to the Earl stating that owing to complaints another officer had been placed in charge of Customs, " but, as your lordship seems resolved not to admit of any commission from us to be obeyed in the Isle of Man, the matter will be reported to our superiors." In due course, and acting partly under the pressure of the authorities and partly as the result of a concession by them, the Earl was constrained to impose stricter regulations to meet the evil, and he had warehouses built in all the ports for the storage of imported goods. The Manx duties at the time were light, and it well-suited the smugglers' purpose to pay them openly, thus respecting the Earl's action, in order to reap their harvest by running the goods into the United Kingdom, where heavy duties ruled. It followed from this that the pecuniary interests of the Earl were well served by the increased activity of the smugglers on, these lines, and their number was increased by the passage of an Act of Tynwald, in 1696, granting the privilege of residence and free intercourse to persons of friendly countries, thus abrogating restrictions previously in force and especially directed against the Scotch.

On the accession in 1702 of Earl James (10th Earl), the old trouble was revived in connection with the faulty system of land tenure instituted by his great grandfather, under which holdings of laud were granted for :three lives. This gave the tenants no inducement to improve their lands, with the result that agriculture became neglected. The leases so granted had been falling in, and to save themselves from famine the people had recourse to smuggling.

Bishop Wilson, from the time he first landed in the Island, had been concerned about its social condition, and the House of Keys, in 1703, led by John Stevenson, their Speaker and friend of the Bishop, nominated three members, including the Speaker, to treat with the Earl on the questions at issue. The Bishop had matured a plan of relief, and with his advice and assistance the Earl enacted the Act of Settlement known as the " Manx Magna Charta," which was passed in 1704, and gave the landholders their holdings in perpetuity on payment of certain fixed rents and fines. The survey of leases drawn up to show the fines due is still in the archives at Knowsley. Although the Act laid the foundation for the future prosperity of the Island, it failed to stop smuggling, which had proved so profitable a means of livelihood, and the heavy Customs duties obtaining in England as compared with those in Man were alleged to obstruct the Insular trade, and became the subject of an appeal to the Earl of Derby by the House of Keys.

As a further attempt to suppress smuggling, an Act of Tynwald was passed in 1711 prohibiting the shipment of foreign goods from Man to Great Britain except under bond securing the payment of the proper duties. This Act is referred to in an interesting letter of the period printed in the Hist. MSS. Commissioners' Report (Portland 'MSS.), as follows: —

Nicholas Davies to (the Earl of Oxford]."

" 1711, December 21. I waited on the Earl or Derby on Tuesday, and he asked me if I had left the 'Isleman' because he had not heard any complaints latealy. . . His Lordship acquainted me that in Scotland he heard there were wines, brandy, silks, and East India goods landed, and not the complaint as against the 'Isleman,' nor the, officers there so exact as Mr. Davies. I begged his Lordship to believe that my actions were always without prejudice both to his Lordship and his island. He told me he had signed an Act for preventing of frauds to the Crown, and supposed it was in force before this time, but if the government would not do something in favour of us the people will not be long easy with it. His Lordship then talked some time of his mines there and some other private affairs, after which he was pleased to say that he heard of a report that he should be offered £50,000 for the ' Isleman.' I said I never heard anything like it but from the Bishop of Man when in town, but the government would make 'a great purchase at that rate; were the Island mine I should be thankful for £40,000, for when that fraudulent trade is effectually prevented I believe your Lordship will not make £1,600 per annum there, according to the currency of money, which will not be more than £1,490 here. No, said he, what loss do you believe I shall sustain by altering the manner of trade — at least £800 per annum. How, said he, do you not then think it is reasonable I should have an equivalent for it? — My Lord. I hope you will. He desired me when I heard that the Board was acquainted with it from the officer in the Island . would let him know, he did expect copies over from thence and then he had thoughts of waiting on the Lord Treasurer about it."

This letter contains, I think, the first mention of the purchase of the Island by Crown, which took place 55 years later.

Referring to the same Act, Mr J. Curwen (who was a member both of the Imperial Parliament and House of Keys) his speech to the House of Commons, in 1805, described it as " an Insular Mischief Act. originated by the Custom House officers there resident, which would have up smuggling by the roots." It remained in force, however, only three years, during which time smuggling decreased, but failing endorsement by the English Government, it was suspended in 1714 by another Act, to the great advantage of smugglers. But the Earls revenues become so seriously affected that he was glad to farm them, in 1720, for 1,000 guineas a year to two merchants of Liverpool and Dublin respectively, who were out to indulge in the illicit trade to the full.

The English Government were then aroused, and an Act was passed in the following year (7 Geo. I., c. 29) prohibiting the import of East India goods into Man except through Great Britain; and it was followed by another in 1726 (12 Geo. I., Cap. 28), enacting that no goods other than the produce or manufacture of the Island should be imported into Great Britain, This so tightened the blockade that the merchants were only too glad to surrender the lease held by them from Lord Derby, on account of the reduced limits of the Insular trade. Various currents were, however, at work which brought about a reaction, and the Act did not prove a permanent remedy. In 1736, James 10th Earl of Derby, and last Lord of Man of that line, died without surviving male issue, and was succeeded by James 2nd Duke of Athol. The duke appointed one of his kinsmen as Governor, and under his regime the trade of the Island rapidly revived, so much so that it is stated the revenue of the Lord increased tenfold.

The reason for this is given in the " Enquiry," and was clearly attributable in the main to smuggling, which it was not in the Duke's interest to suppress. He passed an Act in the first year of his rule which was ostensibly with the object of protecting aliens resident in the Island against proceedings of their creditors for debts incurred elsewhere, but it had the effect of attracting an undesirable class of English and foreign adventurers who were ready to embark in the illicit trade. The attitude of the Duke in this matter is well shown by a letter of 1743, addressed to the, son of Bishop Wilson. The writer states that an Act of Tynwald had been prepared to stop the exportation of tobacco. A representation had been made to the Governor that if passed it would cause a decrease in " a certain treasury" of £1,500 a year, which might, however, be made up by an additional rent on land or otherwise, but such representation " had not found favor." In 1751, an article appeared in the " Gentleman's Magazine" reviving the proposal for the purchase of the Island by the Crown. under the title of "The Isle of Man detrimental to Great Britain." It describes the Island as " a great store-house or magazine for the French and other nations to deposit prodigious quantities of wines, brandies, coffee, teas and other India goods" to be smuggled into Great Britain. The smuggling of tobacco " by Irish Papists who are countenanced and protected in the Island" is also mentioned. The " London Chronicle" also had an article in the same strain, stating that " ten or twelve smuggling boats might be seen every week in a fleet passing by Whitehaven, and in Cumberland "even the beggars stole in order to purchase coarse sugar, and drink tea once or twice a day." Brandy was sold to the Manx smugglers at 18d. per gallon, and the duty on importation was 1d. per gallon to the lord of the Isle.

About this time we meet with the famous Captain Thurot, who started his career in the service of a smuggler. His first voyage took him to the Isle of Man, and between 1748 and 1752 he was continually on the run between France and England. As " King of the smugglers" he is stated to have dealt with goods valued at £20,000 a year. He was subsequently arrested and sent to gaol, while other smugglers were " every day breaking upon the wheel and :hanging."* On his release he was selected to command the " Marshall Belleisle" frigate to take part in a French invasion of England. In 1760, the memorable engagement took place between Capt. Elliott, of the Royal Navy, and Thurot's ships, off Ramsey, when Thurot was killed.

In 1757, owing to the large influx of aliens into the Island who availed themselves of the provisions of the Protection Act. and adopted smuggling as their avocation, the feeling against them became so strong that the House of Keys presented a petition to the Duke of Athol against the usurpation by them of the rights and privileges of Manxmen. It is interesting to note that " an Englishman was not reputed an alien, it was a capital crime to surmise it, but being a stranger he paid double dutys to the Lord on certain commoditys imported." The real offenders were no doubt the Scotch and Irish, who, perhaps, did not so willingly submit to the additional burden. No action appears to have been taken by the Duke on the petition — both he and his Governor being Scotchmen. The Manx people appear to have had much provocation before taking this action, for none are more tolerant of strangers. A Parliamentary paper (of 1805) mentions another characteristic, viz., that " no people are more attached to their own country nor more miserable when detained from it than those of the Isle of Man." It was at this period (1760) that the "Impartial Enquiry" was written, and the words of the writer, " I am sensible how difficult it will be to obtain an Act of Parliament effectually to remedy this [the smuggling] evil," were fully justified by the events which followed.

In 1764, cutters were stationed in the harbours and on the coasts of the Island, it having been reported that there were there 100 tons of tea, 50,000 gallons of wines and brandy, a large magazine of Irish wool and other goods hoarded up for the purpose of smuggling. The smugglers had by this time changed their tactics and conspired not only to defraud the English Customs, but also to evade the Insular duties as well. The losses caused thereby were so great that the English Government were compelled to pass another measure to cope with the evil, viz., the " Michiefs Act" of 1765 (5 Geo, III., Cap. 39). Debates in Parliament showed that in spite of the Act of 1721, goods were landed in the Island for export to Africa, to the detriment of the English Customs. The restrictions placed by the Act upon the trade of the Island were so severe that the Duke of Athol became alarmed at their prospective effect upon his revenue, and he was impelled thereby to accept the alternative of the sale of his rights in the Island to the Crown, which the Government desired.

Terms were arranged and carried into effect by the " Act of Revestment" of the same year, under which the Island became the property of the Crown subject to certain non-included rights. It was expected that by this transfer a final stop would be put to smuggling, and in a pamphlet issued in 1767, entitled " A Short View of the present state of the Isle of Man humbly submitted to the consideration of the Board of Treasury," the author (C. Searle), referring to the illicit trade carried on there, stated that " an efficient stop had been put by the regulations already made so effectual as to make the renewal of it impossible." His conclusion was not, however, destined to be realised so soon. The Revesting Act was followed by another in 1767 (5 Geo. III., Cap. 26), repealing the old duties on Manx imports, which had been levied by local authority, i.e., by the Lord Proprietor and his Council, and based on a Book of Rates dated 1692. New rates were adopted, and these were further altered in 1780 and 1798. The following table shows the duties on the chief articles of consumption then as compared with recent times: —






s. d.

s. d.

s. d.

Spirits (brandy gin, and other foreign) per gall;

0 1

1 0

13 9




wine per gall.

0 0¼

0 4

3 8

Tea per lb. ...... ...

 0 2

 1 0

 0 5

Coffee per lb. ...

 0 4

  0 9

 0 1

Tobacco per lb....

0 0½

0 2

3 8

The immediate effect of the transfer to the Crown was not only to check smuggling, but to depress legitimate trade as well, and so to cause considerable privation and suffering. But in the next succeeding years smuggling again revived. In 1791, a Royal Commission was appointed to visit the Island in connection with the claim made by the Duke of Athol for additional compensation, and they also investigated the condition of the Insular trade and cognate matters. They estimated that the loss to the Imperial revenue through smuggling amounted to not less than £300,000 a year, and they made certain recommendations to which practical effect was given later. The Report of the Commissioners was issued the following year and was printed in 1805 by order of the Government. It forms one of the most important documents relating to the Isle of Man, and with numerous appendices occupies 802 folio pages.

In 1814, following the repeal of the " Protection Act," and the consequent departure of wealthy strangers from the Island, the condition of the whole trade became disorganised and was further aggravated by the passing of the Foreign Corn Act of 1823. This measure, though intended to ameliorate the condition of the Manx, was unpopular and led to rioting and disorders, but it was afterwards found to be capable of being turned by illicit means to their advantage. Foreign corn was bought in Liverpool, ground in the Island, and then run back into England as Manx produce, thus evading the duty. The practice was stopped by an Act of Parliament passed in 1828.

Smuggling in other, though less serious forms, and to a smaller extent, occurred spasmodically until the middle of the 19th Century. The evil has passed through many vicissitudes during its existence of a century and a half, and will be seen to have baffled the skill of legislators and defied the authority of many Acts of Parliament framed to eradicate it.

It had, however, the effect of precipitating the transfer of the Island from private ownership to the Crown, which otherwise might not have been brought about so expeditiously and to such good advantage.

* In France. On the authority of the Rev 1. F. Durant, the biographer of Capt. Thurot. For an account of Capt. Thurot, see "Manx Notes and Queries.'

An Impartial Enquiry of the State of the Isle of Man with respect to its Constitution and the different branches of trade crept into that Island of late years. By Captain Webber'[c. 1760.]

Before the Act of Settlement made in the Isle of Man' in the year 1703, (a) all persons held their lands for a term of years — three lives or during pleasure. But by that Settlement they had their holdings granted for ever on paying a certain rent and a sum of money at the fall of every life. Agreeable to the then composition, the amount of the Lords rent for the whole Island did not exceed £1,500 per annum, exclusive of the fine paid at the fall of each life.

The natives of this Island, before the Union (b), were in general so extremely poor that they could not pay their annual rent, notwithstanding the Lord of the Island) took part of the rent in cattle (c), which was at that time the most valuable produce thereof, for it was a barren place and afforded not a sufficient supply of necessaries to support its inhabitants.

The Isle of Man is governed by 24 members, who are called Keys. They have a, chairman, and proceed in all causes in the nature of a Parliament. All laws, as well as all matters of consequence relating to the Island, fall immediately under their cognisance, but nothing can be enacted nor any Act existing repealed without the assent of the Lord of the Island, who is made acquainted with the whole proceedings of the Keys, and has in all points an absolute negative.

Their military lists consist of a Governor, a Major-General, and a Captain to each of their towns, wherein is also a very inconsiderable number of soldiers. The Civil power is composed of two Deemsters, or Lords Chief Justices, with proper Officers of Court, a Receiver-General for the whole Island, and a Collector for every port; and other inferior officers for the management of the revenue.

The trade of the Island increased and flourished from the Union till an Act passed in England (d) absolutely prohibiting the importation of all goods into England and Ireland from the Isle of Man except what was its own produce. From the commencement of this Act there was a general stagnation of trade in the Isle of Man, and consequently a proportionate decrease in the revenues, insomuch that after paying the Civil and Military Lists an inconsiderable sum remained. In this situation the Island continued till the death of the Earl of Derby (e), and its trade was in the hands of a few natives and some Papists.

Immediately on the Island's devolving to the Duke of Athol (f), trade began apparently to revive, and the revenues, from £500 per year, were increased to £5,000. This was in some measure owing to protection (g) which was offered to all fugitives without any regard had to the nature of the crimes.

The Duke of Athol appointed Mr James Murray, then Receiver-General of Scotland, Governor of the Isle of Man (h). A gentleman of strong parts and great capacity, who had been educated in France, and was on many accounts a fit person to promote the Duke of Athol's interest, he encouraging the importation of Debenture goods from England and East India, and other prohibited goods, on the payment of certain duties, in the Island, afterwards to be fraudulently run back into England, Scotland, and Ireland.

But as the greatest secrecy was absolutely necessary in this matter, the first step Mr Murray took on his entering into office was to lay aside the employment of Comptroller and to authorize the Collector to act in both capacities, by which means he had a very considerable income in consequence, his interest being to keep everything secret. He was the only person entrusted to make up the accounts for the whole Island, so that during the time he continued Governor (i) things were so dexterously managed that there is difficulty in forming any sort of computation of the importations made into the Island of the Debenture and other goods before mentioned.

It is indeed true that three years before the demise of the Earl of Derby (j) they had begin to suffer the importation of debenture goods from England and Scotland under the greatest secrecy and caution, apprehending that, if this most pernicious branch of trade was discovered, might prove a means of depriving the land of its privileges; and therefore, on a tobacco ship discharged, it was done in the night-time, or otherwise she lay out in the bay and put her cargo into small boats, which was privately landed as opportunity offered, in different parts the Island. But Mr Murray soon found that a bare connivance only might give opportunities of defrauding the Duke of Athol of his duties; he therefore peremptorily ordered that no ship should break bulk till the master had regularly reported his ship to the Collector and had actually paid duty for the whole cargo. This order productive of great advantages to Island, for it suppressed a clandestine trade which had been formerly carried on by some of the Irish Papists, who used to import large cargoes of Debenture tobacco from England to Scotland under the pretence of carrying them abroad, with which they remained in some of the bays of the Isle of Man till, by the help of Irish wherries, they privately landed them in the Island or run them to Ireland, which was a hindrance to the traders of the Island and from whence very little profit accrued to the Duke.

This regulation also was an encouragement to the inhabitants to extend their trade, and was a prevalent incitement to others to come and settle there. By this means trade flourished and the revenues were not only increased, but secured, as it was almost impossible for any goods to be imported without payment of the duties; thus we are no longer at a loss to account for the prodigious improvements in the Duke of Athol's income.

When I was in the Island in 1747, 1 had an opportunity of procuring a certain information of the yearly income or produce of the Customs, which, one quarter with another, amounted to about £1,000 ; and this for the produce of Customs only, exclusive of the Duke's rent, which is a separate collection. And here it may not be improper to observe that in this year there was much less importation of tobacco in the Island on account of the stop I had put to some Debentures at Glasgow, and a prosecution carried on by the Commissioner of Customs in England against a merchant at Liverpool for a fraudulent exportation of tobacco into the Isle of Man, and for which the drawback had been received as if fairly exported. However the short importation into the Island for this year serves to show how considerably the revenue in England has annually suffered by these illegal practices, and especially when it is considered that the duties in the Island on spirits are only 1d. a gallon; 5s a cwt. on tea; 6d in £ prime cost on India goods; though indeed there is a halfpenny per lb. on tobacco, the payment of which last duty plainly proves the intention of running it back.

I now come to endeavour to show in what manner the goods before mentioned are brought to the Island, and also in what manner and to what places they are afterwards exported from thence; at the same time to show how and for what reasons this fraudulent trade has of late years so greatly increased.

During the whole course of the war (k) goods were imported into the Island by ships pretended to be the property of Portugal, Swedes, and Danes, which in fact were all our own vessels bearing neutral colours. Several of these have been met with in St. George's Channel by his Majesty's ships, and having been boarded and rummaged by the officers, they have discovered from the declaration of the several masters that those which came from the Southward pretend to be bound to neutral ports in the Northern quarter, and those from the Northward to such ports in the South quarter. And to put the matter beyond dispute, they produce fictitious bills of lading, letters of instruction, and bills of consignment for the nominal port to which they have declared themselves to be bound. But as soon as the King's ship has left them they have stood their course for the Isle of Man and have there discharged all their cargo.

As by the Act 12, Geo. I., Chap. 28, sec. 21 (l), no drawback is allowed for tobacco to the Isle of Man, the exporters of that commodity to the said Island from Liverpool, Whitehaven, and Bristol, generally clear out for Drunton, Christian Sands, and other ports in Norway; those from Greenock and the Northern ports chiefly clear out for Jersey, Guernsey, Camphire, etc., and, in general, as may serve best for a pretence, if they are met with, that they are in a due prosecution of their intended voyage to such nominal port; always having a regard to a necessity which they plead, if they are met with by a King's ship or cruiser, of going close to the Isle of Man, otherwise they stand in for any convenient port of the Island and there discharge their cargo, and thus the Island is supplied with tobacco, spirits, wines, teas, etc.

The Island is situated nearly in the centre of the channel; I mean with respect to the Isle of Anglesea, the Mull of Galloway in Scotland, and the north-east of Ireland. The greatest distance from any of those places to the Island does not exceed 18 or 19 leagues, and in some parts not above 8 or 9 leagues.

In the Southernmost part of the Island is a town called Douglass, which has a commodious port. As this is the nearest port in the Island to Wales and the trade from thence to Wales is on in small sloops; their cargoes tobacco, brandy, rum, wine, tea, etc.

If they are met in the channel by a King's ship, they declare they are bound for Norway, or produce coast cocquets (m) for some other part of the Island. The trade from Douglas extends from Northward of Drogheda to the Southward of Waterford in Ireland. They generally are prime sailing wherries that ply between this part of Ireland and Island, so that it is but seldom they are taken; but when they are boarded nothing is to be found, for when they take their cargo at the Island they put stones into into the bags in which the E.I. goods are contained, sufficient to sink then and as to the casks of spirits, they divide them into lots, which are bound fast to one another by cords to which there also tied large stones, and in this manner they are thrown overboard and sunk. At the times of their sinking the mariners take landmarks to guide them where to creep for the good's so sunk, so that when the ship that boarded them is gone, they return to the place, and by trawling surely find them again. An instance of this happened some time ago, for one of their vessels being chased by a King's ship, they threw overboard all the cargo; three months after, one of her crew turned informer, discovered the marks, and the goods were trawled for and found.

On the North side of the Island is a town called Peel town, which extends its trade from Drogheda, so far to the Northward as Derry. Vast numbers of horses are daily carried from this part of Ireland and clandestinely run into Scotland; the people in their return home call at the Isle of Man and there lay out the money for which they sold their horses in spirits, wines, tobacco, tea, etc. If they are boarded by a King's ship in the channel in their passage to Ireland, they say they are bound for Pharo (n) and Shetland Islands, off the North of Scotland, but subject to the King of Denmark (o). From Peel town to the Mull of Galloway in Scotland is not above 8 leagues, so that from this port all the West of Scotland, even to the Northern Highlands, is supplied with spirits, wine, tobacco, tea, etc.

On the East side of the Island is a town called Ramsey, which, from its commodious situation and its small distance, supplies all the West of England from Liverpool to Dumfries in Scotland, with spirits, wine, tobacco, tea, etc.

These towns I have mentioned are the only places of the Island that either import or export.

I believe, from what has been already said, it must evidently appear that this illegal trade carried on to Isle of 'Man has been of the greatest prejudice to his Majesty's revenues in England and Scotland, and also in Ireland, and I would therefore most humbly submit it to the consideration of the Legislature whether it might not be highly necessary to repossess the Crown of the grant made of the said land, which in my most humble opinion might be done on very reasonable terms, for the following reasons.

I have already taken notice of the poverty of the Island and the difficulty people have of the country had of paying their rents. To this day the same difficulties do the native inhabitants of the land labour under. Few or none of them are concerned in a foreign trade, that all their liberty and property of trade consists in their having a fishery, which, if properly and industriously conducted, would be of infinite profit and advantage to the Island, as the Parliament has granted a drawback on salt for encouragement of that fishery. Now the inhabitants of the Isle of Man are under the strongest apprehensions that, when the Parliament of England is made sensible of what an infinite prejudice the trade carried on by this Island is to the Crown, they will take off the drawback of salt which must end in their inevitable destruction.

The Bishop (p) for several years past has preached against the importation of Debenture tobacco, and the unlawfulness of it, and has most earnestly desired the Islanders not to be concerned in it. One Mr Stephenson (q), who was Chairman of the 24 Keys, joined the Bishop, and they were so far successful that the Keys could never be prevailed upon to make a law to impose those duties which the Lord of the Island laid on spirits, tobacco, and East India goods, etc. So that at this hour they levy those duties without any law, even of their own enacting for so doing.

In the year 1743, the 24 Keys met, and had it under their consideration to address the Duke of Athol and to remonstrate against importing debenture tobacco. This was so secretly managed that the Governor (r) had no knowledge of it till the Chairman represented it to him. He was never more at a loss how to answer than upon this occasion; it touched him in the tenderest sense, and four months after he was recalled and succeeded by Governor Lindsay (s). The remonstrance was suppressed and could not be heard of since, so that from the conduct of the 24 Keys and sense of the Islanders in general, they abhor all foreign and clandestine trade, and only subsist through a fatal necessity of the Island's being the property of a person who has a despotick power and will encourage foreigners to live there and smuggle. So that I am humbly of opinion, if the Parliament would take it into their consideration to prohibit the exportation of salt from Britain to the Isle of Man, that it would so rouse and influence the minds and spirits of the Islanders that they would no longer bear the yoke of bondage and servitude they now labour under. For besides all this there is the strongest antipathy and prejudice handed down amongst the Islanders from one generation to another against the Scotch that can possibly subsist between creatures of the same species, and there was even an old Act that if any person killed a Scotchman he only forfeited three, goats' skins. This law was occasioned by the Scotch making frequent excursions upon them, nor was it repealed till the Duke of Athol became Lord of the Island.

It is the practice of small vessels loaden with contraband goods to or from the Isle of Man, when they are met with by the King's ships or cruisers out of the limits of any port, to produce a croquet, and pretend that they are bound from one port of the Island to another. I am sensible how difficult it will be to obtain an Act of Parliament effectually to remedy this evil, but I humbly hope that the laws now expiring may be so far explained or enforced as to render such small vessels with such cargoes liable to forfeiture, where concurrent circumstances plainly show a fraudulent design, such as the inconsistency or improbability of carrying goods from one port to another where there can be no market for them, or, if pretended to be bound to other ports more distant, such as the Isles of Guernsey, Jersey, or Faroe (which is often the case), the want of sufficient provisions, proper instruments for navigation, vessels without decks, and not proper to undertake such voyages. And if a law of this sort can be made, it must have a very good effect. And remove the objection that may be made to extending the laws as to the forfeiture of ships without the limits of a port; what is here suggested is only meant to extend to ships actually bound to or from the Isle of Man, though pretended to be bound to or from other parts. For, as the case now stands, there is no prosecuting to condemnation East India goods or tobacco, either imported or intended to be imported into the Isle of Man, from the power and prerogative of the Duke of Athol and the officers under him, who imprison the commanders of cruisers for such attempts, as was lately the case of the commander of the Whitehaven cruiser.

And, although by the Duke's grant he may be legally entitled to all the dues and duties, tolls and Customs and privileges therein enumerated, as they stood at time the grant was made, it is h submitted whether His Grace can have a right to impose new duties on goods imported into the Isle of Man, which British Act of Parliament was calculated to prevent being carried thither by disallowed drawbacks, as such goods can only be carried thither in order to be fraudulently brought back to England or Scotland.

As a further proof of the frauds have been committed in the tobacco trade to the Isle of Man, I made one considerable seizure and detected three other cargoes on which the Debentures had paid and the tobacco relanded some in Isle of Man and some in Scotland, which has put the persons concerned in the fraudulent practices under great difficulties how to proceed therein in the future. And here I must do justice to Mr Corthine, the Collector of Greenock, in declaring that I think he is a very good officer and an honest man, with whom I had concerted such measures for the good of the Revenue, that, if I had not soon after quitted the tea service, it is very probable we might have been able in due course of time totally to have suppressed such pernicious practices. For it is well known that during the twelve months we co-operated together there was not a hogshead of tobacco imported into the Isle of Man from Scotland, nor for seven years before Mr Corthine was made Collector of Greenock was it ever heard that any entry was made at that port for the duties of any considerable quantities of spirits. Although since he has been Collector such entries are passed; and by the methods we pursued together to suppress the importation of tobacco into the Isle of Man, the merchants there were driven to the expedient of clearing out the ships for Guernsey or some other foreign part, and there actually to land their cargo; and the ship returns from thence usually laden with wine, and brings a certificate of such landing in order to obtain their drawback. Upon which the same proprietors send another ship and cargo for Guernsey or other foreign part, and exchange the last cargo for the former, which they bring directly to the Isle of Man, or it is smuggled elsewhere as opportunity best offers.

Having thus given a short account of the observations I have made with regard to the present state of the illicit trade carried on to and from the Isle of Man, as also of the means that seem to me most likely to prevent the same for the future, if what I have said is thought worthy of attention, I am ready to clear up any part of what I have laid down that may want explanation, or to support anything that may be contradicted, by proofs incontrovertible.

I had forgot to mention that on a moderate computation 700,000 pounds weight of tea are annually consumed in Ireland, and that the importation of that commodity from England does not exceed 200,000 pounds per annum, so that the difference of 500,000 pounds of tea is known to be brought from Gottenburgh, Copenhagen, and Holland to the Isle of Man, and from thence run into the ports of Ireland between Waterford and Derry. And as tea in Ireland pays one shilling and eight pence per pound duty when imported from England, consequently the Revenue there suffers, by illegal importations, £41,666 13s 4d annually, and the Revenue of England and the East India Company are deprived of the advantages of supplying Ireland with the difference of 500,000 pounds of tea, as before mentioned.


(a) Passed in 1704.

(b) With Scotland in 1707.

(c) At Knowsley are letters from the 8th Earl of Derby dated 1669 and 1680, agreeing to take part of his rents in grain and cattle.

(d) 12 George 1., cap. 23 (1726).

(e) James 10th Earl (1736).

(f) James. Second Duke.

(g.) The Protection Act of 1736.

(h) 1736.

(i) Until 1741.

(j) 1733.

(k) Between England and France from 1714 until 1760 except for an interval.

(l) 1726


(n) Faroe

(o) Inaccurate

(p) Bishop Wilson.

(q) John Stevenson. See Isle of Man statutes 1734-8.

(r) James Murray.

(s) Patrick Lindsay in 1744.


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