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THE SECURITY OF THE NOTES

Guernsey, like other places, fell on evil days early in the nineteenth century, the period of history with which we have to deal; and the islanders suffered from the burden of a heavy debt and from the depression and want of employment which followed the close of the Napoleonic wars.

Its condition at this time is graphically described in the following extracts taken from a document presented by the States to the Privy Council in 1829.

“In this Island, eminently favoured by nature, antecedently to the new roads first projected by Sir John Doyle, Bart., nothing had been done by art or science towards the least improvement; nothing for the display or enjoyment of local beauties and advantages; not a road, not even an approach to Town, where a horse and cart could pass abreast; the deep roads only four feet six inches wide, with a footway of two to three feet, from which nothing but the steep banks on each side could be seen, appeared solely calculated for drains to the waters, which running over them rendered them every year deeper and narrower. Not a vehicle, hardly a horse kept for hire; no four-wheeled carriage existed of any kind, and the traveller landing in a town of lofty houses, confined and miserably paved streets, from which he could only penetrate into the country by worse roads, left the island in haste and under the most unfavourable impressions.

“In 1813 the sea, which had in former times swallowed up large tracts, threatened, from the defective state of its banks, to overflow a great extent of land. The sum required to avert the danger was estimated at more than L10,000, which the adjoining parishes subject to this charge were not in a condition to raise. The state of the finance was not more consolatory with a debt of L19,137, and an annual charge for interest and ordinary expenses of L2,390, the revenue of L3,000 left only L600 for unforeseen expenses and improvements.

“Thus at the peace, this Island found itself with little or no trade; little or no disposable revenue, no attraction for visitors, no inducement for the affluent to continue their abode, and no prospect of employment for the poor.”

After considering various means of raising a revenue, the States asked the Privy Council for permission to levy a duty on spirituous liquors. Notwithstanding some opposition by the inhabitants, permission was granted by an Order in Council of the 23rd July, 1814, to raise 1s. per gallon on spirituous liquors consumed in the Island. This was granted for a period of five years.

A second Order in Council, dated 19th June, 1819, renewed the duty for ten years. Again there was opposition from a section of the inhabitants. This made itself felt by the insertion in the Order of the following words: “That One Thousand Pounds per annum of the produce of the said duty be applied solely to the liquidation of the present debt, together with such surplus as shall remain out of the produce of the tax in any year after defraying the expenses of roads and embankments and unforeseen contingencies. And that the States of the said Island do not exceed in any case the amount of their annual income without the consent previously obtained of His Royal Highness in Council. And the said States are hereby directed to return annually to the Privy Council an account of the produce and application of the said Tax.”

In 1825 the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir John Colborne, desired to erect a new College and to carry on other important works. But these plans could not be accomplished without the assurance of the renewal of the duty. A third Order in Council of 30th September, 1825, gave this permission for a period of fifteen years, that is to say, from 1829 to 1844. On this occasion there was no opposition from any of the inhabitants.

As will be seen in the next chapter, it was this duty on spirituous liquors that formed the security on which the notes were issued.