I left England for Scotland in 1834, on promotion to a division at Campbelton, a town in Argyishire, noted for its many distilleries. When I went there first the number would be about thirty. A very large revenue was derived from them, which necessitated a considerable staff of Gaugers to look after it. Each Gauger had a distillery and a certain number of malt-houses placed under his immediate charge and inspection.
Campbelton whiskey was somewhat celebrated, and was in great request both in the home and in the foreign markets. Distilled in stills of small size, and made from peat-dried malt, there was a flavour about it peculiar to itself, and which was much relished by consumers of that kind of spirit.
The peat-dried malt from which this whiskey was produced was made from grain designated in Scotland "Bere or Bigg," a small kind of barley grown on the light sandy soil of that country. The tax on that description of malt was something like one-fifth than that on malt made from barley, a kind of boon or protection to the grower of this lighter kind of grain. To guard against any abuse of this privilege, and to prevent imposition on the revenue, stringent and vigorous laws were in force relating to malt, subject to these different rates of duty, or tax, similar to the laws applying to every other indirect tax, which were found very difficult strictly to adhere to at all times; especially when there happened to be a limited supply of home grown grain, which would sometimes be the case in bad harvests. An illustration or two will be sufficient to shew how these laws affected the makers of malt.
For instance, to give the maltster a right to the lesser tax on the malt made from bere and bigg, he was required to produce to the Excise a certificate from the grower of such grain, that it was really what it was represented to be.
Then again, the maltster was not allowed to malt barley and bere and bigg at the same time, on the same set of premises. They were required to be kept entirely apart, which was found to be a great hindrance to business, and led to infraction of the law, as I will presently explain.
The supply of bere and bigg was not sufficient for the demand, therefore the distillers and maltsters imported barley from the north of Ireland, which is of easy access to Campbelton, at a cost, freight included, not much over that for the lighter grain, bere and bigg. The difference of the tax on the two kinds of malt was a temptation to attempt to pass barley on the excise for bere and bigg, which, considering the regulations I have alluded to, was not easy to resist.
A smart young Irishman whom I was friendly with, and who understood more about the importation of barley than I did, suggested to me that the revenue was imposed on by that system. We acted in concert, and by watching carefully the stocks of grain, bere and bigg, at the maltsters under our survey, we found them increase much beyond what the growers certificates would cover. There was sufficient evidence to satisfy us that barley was being introduced into stock to be malted under the regulations applicable to the lighter grain, with a view of evading the higher rate of duty.
In every case where we considered barley had been introduced into stock surreptitiously, we laid the whole under seizure, much to the consternation and dismay of the parties implicated in these transactions, and to the distillers in general.
The whole trade of Campbelton was up in arms against us on account of our large seizure. Landowners and proprietors were in our favour, and in the prosecutions that ensued the magistrates who adjudicated were landowners, and therefore were not entirely disinterested. The onus was on the parties implicated, to prove that the impounded grain was bere and bigg. This they failed to do. They were fined heavily, and in addition forfeited the seizure.
My colleague and myself were commended by the whole bench of magistrates for our vigilance and zeal, praise that I look upon now as rather equivocal, when I think of the feeling that dictated it. Could the free trade policy of Sir Robert Peel, which has proved so successful, have been foreshadowed to my mind, I should have strongly recommended its application to Campbelton at the period I am writing about. I would have advocated an equalization of the malt duty, a free import of barley for malting or otherwise, without restriction, leaving the landlords and tenants to settle the matter of rent between themselves. Blinded somewhat by official zeal I did not view the matter in the same light then as now, or I might possibly have been a little more forbearing.
The distillers at Campbelton were respectable, intelligent, clever men of business, and were disposed, I believe, to render to Caesar the things belonging to Caesar. The town itself, although isolated, I considered pleasant, and the splendid deep bay at its entrance is magnificent. It was a remarkably cheap place for a family to live in, and had I been a private individual instead of a Gauger I could very well have settled down there.
I had previously offended the trade in the part I took in the great seizure of barley, and had to endure a good deal of petty persecution by reason of it. This I expected. I had no right to suppose that men smarting under severe penalties, inflicted on them partly by my agency, would be likely to offer me the right hand of fellowship, or even common civility. I could not help this; my duty was clearly defined, I did it, and braved the consequences.
There was an absence of all litigiousness connected with what I may call an unpleasant duty. I had no personal desire of a conflict with what I knew to be a powerful interest; but when I was convinced the law was being evaded and the revenue defrauded, I could not rest satisfied without joining, in all the vigour I could command, to break down the system. The more powerful the interest I had to combat, the more gratifying to my nature. I was delighted in meeting a formidable foe, for in such a case defeat is not ignoble, whilst victory is glorious.
The foregoing is an excerpt from Reminiscences of a Gauger by Joseph Pacy. The book from which it is taken was kindly lent by Mrs Peter Armour widow of a keen member of the Society whose ancestors supplied stills, both legal and illegal, as recounted in previous issues of the Magazine.
No 38 Autumn 1995
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Page 2: Some Campbeltown Memories
Page 3: Pigs, Police, The Peace and Dr. Pirie
Page 4: Sheriff Court, Tarbert, 1683 - Part 2
Page 6: The Galbraith Poet-Harpers of Gigha
Page 7: The Victorian Largie Castle
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