Daniel de Lisle Brock and the British Government
From the Eclectic Review of 1845.
The islands have repeatedly been troubled by the intermeddling of the British Parliament or Ministry: and well do these parts of their history exemplify the words of Solomon: 'wisdom is a defence.'
When England was attempting by the legerdemain of an act of parliament to make a pound note and a shilling worth a guinea, though, de facto, a guinea would buy a pound note and six shillings, the Guernseymen saw no mystery in the currency question, but very wisely determined to say their money was worth, what every body knew it was really worth. Accordingly, in 1811, and again in 1812, the merchants under the presidency of Mr. Brock, unanimously resolved to raise the denominative value of the coin then current among them; and by this natural expedient, they prevented what would otherwise have inevitably followed, the disappearance of a metallic currency from the island.
In 1836 Sir. R. Peel intimated an intention of introducing the British currency into the Channel Islands. Mr. Brock, in a letter relating to this proposal, touched the general question of the currency with the hand of a master, shewed the ruinous consequences of Sir R. Peel's measure in England, and assigned various special reasons why the contemplated change could not be made in Guernsey: and the affair dropped. In 1821 an act, of which the islanders had no notice, received the royal assent, closing the ports of the Channel Islands against wheat, when it was under 80s in England. This was quite a new thing to people accustomed to have their ports open to the productions of all the world, duty free: and the effect of the measure would have been to raise the price of wheat (as often as the price in England was under 80s) to more than double the price for which, after a good harvest, it sells in the islands: and this too among a people dependent, to a great extent, on foreign growth for their very existence. 'Is it possible,' asked Mr. Brock, 'that any intention should exist to take away the very means of our subsistence?' He came over to England together with one of the jurats, to remonstrate, and the obnoxious clause was repealed the next session.
In 1834 the agriculturalists of the West of England complained that foreign corn was smuggled into this country as the produce of the Channel Islands. A blundering report was obtained on the subject, and the President of the Board of Trade, Mr. Baring, introduced a bill to deprive the islanders of their ancient right of sending their home grown corn, free of duty, into the English market. Mr. Brock again took the field, accompanied by two deputies from Jersey. They obtained a committee of the House of Commons, triumphantly disproved the allegations of the report on which the pending measure was founded, which was in consequence withdrawn. We cannot forbear extracting the conclusion of a long letter, addressed by Mr. Brock to the Right Honourable Henry Goulburn, and bearing date April 9th, 1835, as a specimen of the manly bearing of this enlightened patriot, when approaching the imperial government.
It is unfortunately true, that the agricultural interest is depressed. It is wrong, it is ridiculous, to ascribe any part of that depression to the Channel Islands. The four islands do not contain 25,000 acres fit for cultivation—meadows, orchards, and gardens included. How can this, with any man of reflexion, be held up as an object of jealousy to the landholders, many of whom are owners of estates to a larger extent? Our connexion with England can indeed in no way be injurious to her; her commodities, produce, and manufactures, are freely admitted, to an amount exceeding ten-fold the value of our produce which she so reluctantly takes in return. The trifling quantity of corn exported from the islands, and which the commissioners of customs cannot make to be more than 2,151 quarters of wheat, and 86 quarters of barley, annually from all the islands on the average of five years, is not sufficient to feed one-balf, or anything like one-half, ofthe persons employed in England for the supply of the islands. England trades with no part of the world so advantageously as with the islands, in proportion to their extent. The goods exported by her to the islands amount to at least £500,000, while the produce she takes back does not amount to £120,000 ;—must we receive all, and send nothing back? Such a system is too barbarous for the 19th century, and how it could enter into the thoughts of those specially appointed for the encouragement of trade is inconceivable. Some persons are disposed to account for it by reasons unconnected with trade, and dependant only on local and agricultural prejudices; if so, it is in vain to argue; and all I must say is, that I cannot think it possible that any statesman should be found, in this country, ready to sacrifice the rights and interests of the smallest community, for the purpose of flattering such prejudices, and should venture to do so, because the community injured is weak and helpless.
Confident in the justice of our cause, and in the honour as well as justice of his Majesty's Government, I have, &c.