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REPORT OF H.M. ATTORNEY-GENERAL OF NEWFOUNDLAND RELATIVE TO CUSTOMS PAYABLE AT THE LABRADOR.
DUPLICATE DESPATCHES, ST. JOHNS'S, NEWFOUNDLAND, 1842-3.
In order to fulfil the Commands of His Excellency the Governor by explaining to him the authorities under which I conceive the Customs duties on the Coast of Labrador have been levied, I shall endeavour to present a concise history of their origin, and of the operations that have been pursued through a series of years, in order to collect the duties in question. By the 14th Section of the Imperial Statute 49 Geo. 3 Cap. 27, the Coast of Labrador from the River St. John to Hudson's Streight, and the Island of Anticosti, together with certain other smaller Islands were re-annexed to the Government of Newfoundland.
The Imperial Statute of 51st Geo. Cap 45 authorized the Governor to institute Surrogate Courts of Civil Indicature on the Coast of Labrador which Courts established and continued through a series of years, when the Imperial Act of 5 Geo. 4 Cap 67 was passed, “for the better administration of Justice in Newfoundland, and for other purposes and by the 18th Section of this Act, the institution of Surrogate Courts on the Labrador was abolished and another species of Court of Civil Judicature was instituted, which Court subsisted until the Colonial Act of 4th Wm. 4 (2nd Sep.) Cap 20 repealed its great expense compared with the small advantages which it was conceived the public derived from its administration. No Court has been since substituted in its place.
The Commission conferred on Governor Sir Thomas Cochrane who entered on his Government in October 1825 narrowed the boundaries of that part of the Coast of Labrador thence before annexed to the Government of Newfld. and defined the boundaries to be and extend from the entrance of Hudson Straits, to a line to be drawn due North and South from Anse Lablon on the said Coast, to the 52nd degree of North latitude, and comprising also all the Islands adjacent to that part of the said Coast of Labrador, which boundaries have been continued and set forth in all the Commissions subsequently issued to the Governors of this Colony.
I have had recourse to the documents in the Custom House here, but have been unable to ascertain the year when duties were first collected on
the Coast of Labrador, the extracts however which I have obtained from such documents as I can procure access to, show the amount of duties collected from the year 1826 to 1840, and copies of certain correspondence between the Officers of Customs and the Board of the Commissioners of Customs, will explain, in some degree, the causes which have operated at intervals to suspend the collection of the duties, which consisted chiefly in the difficulty of getting a person competently qualified by character &c. to undertake the collection, and at same time afford him an adequate compensation for his trouble, to which must be added the want of means for his conveyance from place to place, sea-ward along a Coast of considerable extent. During the latter three years that the Court of Civil Judicature exercised its functions, the vessel which served to convey the Judge and Officers of the Labrador Court, was availed of to convey an Officer also to collect the duties of Customs. The extracts from the Customs here referred to I beg leave to submit herewith, under the imperfect system which has been pursued, if system it may be called, it may be reasonably assumed that the duties have not at any period been efficiently collected. The duties in question are those which are levyable under the provisions of certain Acts of the Imperial Parliament enumerated in the accompanying extracts from Customs Documents, and those also which are prescribed in the annual Revenue Acts of the Colonial Legislature which are made operative throughout the Island of Newfoundland and the Dependencies of its Government.
I humbly conceive that it can scarcely be doubted that certain goods when imported on the Coast of Labrador within the Government of Newfld. are legally subject under the several Acts of the Imperial Parliament, and also under the Legislative enactments of the Colony, to the payment of certain duties specified under those authorities, and I also believe that for the protection of the public Revenues and also for the protection of the fair Trader, it is essential that such duties should be efficiently collected. Besides those Establishments on the Labrador belonging to persons exclusively resident in England and Jersey, there are numerous trading and fishing Establishments on the Coast belonging to persons resident in Newfld., and carrying on business at St. John's and other places intermediate between that place and Twillingate, and it is too notorious to be questioned that illicit trade prevails to a considerable extent on that Coast on the import of goods without payment of duty, which was vended and brought into Newfld. by the numerous vessels employed at the Labrador which are outfitted chiefly at St. John's and in Conception Bay, Trinity, Greenspond, Fogo and Twillingate and which are cleared out at the Customs “for the Fisheries” under the provisions of the 19th Section of the Imperial Statute 3 & 4 Wm. 4 Cap. 9, but whose people constantly deviate from the conditions of such fishery-clearance, and enter into traffic. It is equally true that vessels of the United States and French Vessels also pursuing the fisheries on the Coast of Labrador, and also vessels our any neighbouring Colonies practice such illicit trade and cause serious injury to the Newfld. Merchants, in the Barter of goods, which have paid no duties, for fish caught by British fishermen, thus inflicting
a double wrong in cheating the Merchant of fish which he ought to receive and defrauding the Revenue of the Customs duties.
While Newfld. continued to be a Naval Station for H.M. Ships, the numerous cruisers operated powerfully to check such illegal practices; but subsequently no provision has been made or efficient means adopted to prevent those injurious practices, and the consequence has been as in all such cases may be reasonably expected, that illicit trade on the Labrador has prevailed to a very injurious extent.
Among the names of parties to the representations made in England to H.M. Secy of State for the Colonies, I observe the firm of D. & J. Slade. The Messrs. Slades are among the oldest Houses established in Newfld. and carry on business at Fogo, Twillingate, and Greenspond, with which locations their establishments at Grady Harbor and Francis Harbor &c. on the Labrador are in immediate connexion, Mr. John Stabb is also of the firm of Stabb Row & Holmwood of St. John's, and Messrs. C. & E. Hunt until very recently were connected with a Mercantile House in St. John's.
The duties which have been made the subject of complaint by certain Labrador Merchants, are thus seen to be such that are imposed under certain Imperial Statutes on the Newfld. trade and Fisheries generally in common with the fisheries and trade of other British North American Colonies; and also certain other duties imposed by the Colonial Legislature of Newfld. on the trade and fisheries of this Colony in particular; and I am of opinion that it would be very difficult to show that any portion of the dependencies of this Government are entituled to claim an exemption from those duties. I am however of opinion that it is very desirable that the duties on the Labrador should be more punctually collected, and that there should be a sufficient number of small cruising vessels employed on that Coast during four months of the Summer for the protection of the Revenue in the prevention of illicit trade and the fraudulent traffic between British fishermen and those of France and America.
The amount of Labrador Revenue collected may appear small, compared with the expense incident to its collection; but I consider that it is essential that the duties nevertheless ought to be collected more punctually on that Coast, and the unlawful traffic prevented, in order to frustrate the practices of the fraudulent trader, which spread a demoralizing influence through all classes, whether Merchants, Planters or Fishermen, while they obviously diminish the Revenues of the Colony.
I am not aware that I can state any other matters material to the subject in question, and I presume that it is unnecessary for me to make any observations on the allegations of the Memorialists who have moved in this matter, “that the Labrador is not included in the Electoral Districts of this Colony, and that therefore the Legislature of the Colony are not competent to impose duties on the goods imported at the Labrador.”
(Signed) JAMES SIMMS,
H.M. Attorney General,