THE TRINIDAD HISTORICAL SOCIETY.
Publication No. 203.
The Attorney-General to the Commissioners of Trinidad.
Source :-Public Record Office. State Papers Colonial C.0295/5.
Published by the courtesy of the Master of the Rolls and the
Deputy Keeper of the Public Records.
28th April, 1803.
I have the honour to enclose some Spanish documents-
the only ones I can find-relative to the present levy of duties
upon exports and imports against which such clamour has
been lately raised and indeed as this suggestion respecting
the illegality of these duties, come from a certain quarter
I shall not be surprised at this failing altogether immediately
as a source of permanent revenue.
Some time since I was applied to by a deputation of
merchants with a fee to give an opinion upon the point.
This I declined particularly as the question put was If I did
not apprehend that the duties collected and collecting upon
imports and exports in this Colony, had been and would be
illegally collected." I declared that I would give no opinion
as I was the King's servant and upon a question in which
his rights were implicated, my sentiments must be preserved
It will therefore I apprehend, be necessary to refer the
matter to the Right Honourable Lord Hobart to have the
sentiments of His Majesty's Law Officers collected thereon.
I am fearful in a matter of this moment to offer my opinion,
I shall however with all deference submit what strikes me.
A tax originally of 5 per cent. existed under the Spanish
Government but levied only by virtue of the 16th, 17th and
i8th Articles of the Royal Cedula (A) enclosed. The material
articles of this paper are translated (B). Here then is 5 per
cent. on produce sent out of the Colony to purchase negroes
in the other Islands and 5 per cent. is also payable on the
value of the negroes imported and sold in the Colony by
merchants; Colonists are specially exempt so as to promote
agriculture. Your Excellencies will also observe by the
17th Article that the trade between Trinidad and Spain is
free of all duties.
The 18th Article declares that Spanish and foreign
produce and merchandise, wines, oil and brandies of Spain,
are free for ten years. There is an exception as to Spanish
articles of merchandise exported to the American dominions
of Spain. This tax so modified of 5 per cent. did not however
long continue for by document (C) it was reduced.
In the Capitulation of this Colony (one of which I enclose)
not a word is said of existing duties or imposts-this bears
date the 18th February, 1797. However upon the 26th of
that month, the proclamation (D) issues by General
Abercrombie and Admiral Harvey and Sir Ralph afterwards
appoints a Mr. Collins, Receiver and Superintendant
of the imposts and gives the following articles of instruction
among others, viz. : Article I. Mr. Collins is to observe the
leading principle of the proclamation issued the 26 February
1797, by the Commander-in-Chief which is that produce
of the Colony should be shipped by Great Britain or Ireland
or some of His Majesty's Colonies subject to the exceptions
therein contained. Article 6. To demand and receive the
duty of 31 per cent. upon all exports and imports.
From this duty the salaries of the Superintendant and
the Assistants, &c., all charges of hire of office, house, boat
and in general all necessary contingent charges, are to be paid.
ARTICLE II.-One quarter per cent. of the duty collected
being as heretofore for the maintenance of the Cabildo and
the Superintendant to account to them for the same
Here then is the only authority since the capture or before
to levy duties upon exports and imports generally which
has been the case to the amount of over 300,000 dollars.
The relative situation of Great Britain and Trinidad would
appear to be the same as that of Spain and Trinidad before
the capture and cession and if so from the papers I see, I can
deem no legal right to exist of levying a tax upon the exports
of the mother country and any duty upon the produce of
Trinidad exported to Great Britain, Ireland or America,
seems equally unfounded; the only levy of duties legally
authorised being by virtue of the I6th, I7th and i8th articles
of the Royal Cedula of 24th November, 1783, modified and
narrowed by the Cedula of 20th January, 1786.
It is certainly true that a duty of 41 per cent. is levied
by Acts of the Colonial Legislatures in some of the West
Indian Islands upon exported productions of the soil but there
is no duty levied upon exports from the Mother Country
into any of the British settlements. It never was the policy
of Great Britain to fetter its own exports with impost nor
would it suffer the Colonies to impose any.
The chief grievance felt in this Island is the duty upon
goods of British growth and manufacture imported and sold
in the Colony and I am convinced His Majesty's Ministers
will think it prudent to order it to be stopped immediately
if only upon the principle that we can only monopolise the
Spanish trade of the neighboring Continent by underselling
the French and Dutch and how can we effect it if one per
cent. is levied before the British manufactures leave England
(one per cent. in lieu of convoy duty) and 31 per cent. upon
importing hither independent of freight, insurance, &c.
And why put the planter of an infant Colony in a worse
position than those of the old Islands ?
As the Capitulation, as before observed, is silent as well
upon the head of duties as upon that of laws-it is really a
matter of surprise to me that the Commander upon the
conquest did not issue a Royal Proclamation declaring the
Island of Trinidad still subject to the same duties payable
to the King of Spain or even to any other duties they thought
proper to impose and to the same laws or British Laws-
which they might have done in my opinion for the King
may (without concurrence of the Parliament) by right of
conquest impose laws upon a conquered settlement.
But instead of such a measure unfortunately, they issue
the proclamation (D) declaring that the King's subjects
might trade subject to the same duties to which trade is
subject in the other British Islands and the produce of Trinidad
is ordered to be shipped to Great Britain or Ireland in British
ships navigated according to law without a single restriction,
duty or impost.
It will be recollected for the due consideration of the
King's Ministers and Crown Officers that this proclamation
is only until the King's pleasure is signified and is not a
Great Seal Proclamation in the name of the King but in
the name of the Commander-in-Chief. If the King's Law
Officers therefore in England should incline to my opinion
that the rate of impost or duty as now levied and received
is not legal as not being in existence in the Spanish
government and consequently at the capture or done away
by the proclamation of the 26th February, 1797, or is in any
way upon a doubtful footing, they will say so and some
substituent tax must be prepared or pointed out and perhaps
it would be more palatable to establish by the Legislative
Council, a tax upon colonial produce.
You will observe that this 31 per cent. tax is the only
one paid by the inhabitants of Trinidad. There is no poll
tax and no general or parochial taxes. As far as my interest
and influence go, Your Excellencies know me to be at the
service of His Majesty's Government and as I am a tolerable
large proprietor in the Colony myself, I may influence others
to come forward and promote a liberal compliance with the
views of His Majesty's Ministers.
When I spoke above of the Legislative Council imposing
a tax, I allude to the Bill I have in hand to be passed by the
British Parliament constituting such a body as was done
in Jamaica at its first settlement in the time of King Charles II.
In Barbados also a Legislative Council first made regulations, & c.,
and latterly such a Constitution was at Quebec for several
years. But our late extraordinary political condition has
prevented me completing the Bill for the present packet.
I have the honour to be, Sirs,
Your most respectful and obedient servant,