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WEST INDIES / ECOMOMIC HISTORY: A Letter to the Rt. Hon. Henry Goulburn M.P. Chancellor of the Exchequer, &c. &c. &c. from John Innes, Esquire on the Claims of the West India Distiller to an Equalization of the Duties on Rum and British Spirits.



A rare pamphlet written on the eve of the Abolition of Slavery, urging that the uniquely high duties on West Indies Rum be lowered and harmonized with the tariffs placed upon other hard spirits made across the British Empire, written by John Innes, a prominent merchant and lobbyist, addressed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

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During the period following the Napoleonic Wars the economy of the British West Indies colonies was in dire straits.  The all-important sugar industry was collapsing due to competition from cheaper product from India and Mauritius, while slavery, the lifeblood of the plantation economy, was being progressively restricted by Parliament, on the road to Abolition which would occur in 1834. 

The distillation and sale of West Indies rum, a by-product of the sugar industry, was also in trouble.  The rum industry was traditionally immensely profitable and so was subjected to super-high imperial duties upon its export to other parts of the British Empire.  These duties were much higher than those placed upon spirits from the British Isles or Canada.  For generations this situation was considered acceptable by the West Indies distillers and traders, as their profit margins were so great, the duties were no big deal.  However, as the rum distillers’ and traders’ margins were squeezed, the duties threatened to make the rum industry unviable.

John Innes (1786 – 1869) was a merchant, rum trader and lobbyist who wrote several pamphlets advocating the interests of West Indian planters and associated industries.  In the present work, he urges Henry Goulburn, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to lower the rum duties, at least to the levels of other imperial hard spirits, so as to restore the competitiveness of the West Indies liquor industry.  However, despite fierce lobbying, the pleas of Innes and his colleagues would fall on deaf ears, as lobbying from places such as Scotland (as well as Whitehall’s love of duty revenue) caused the Crown to keep the rum tariffs in place.  The rum industry would thus face a difficult generation and would have to transition from the mass production of ‘grog’ to seeking profit from higher quality rums, targeted to specific markets.

The present work is very rare; we can trace only 4 institutional examples (King’s College Library (London): International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam); Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto); and the Seagram Collection at the University of Waterloo, Ontario); while we are aware of only a single other example as having appeared at auction during the last 30 years.

References: Kress, no. 26268; OCLC: 71478249.

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