Home Customs The Water Bayliff

The Water Bayliff

by Bernadette Weyde

The Water Bayliff was not only an important figure in the Island’s maritime activities, but his office reaches very far back in our nation’s history. One of the Customary Laws of 1422 reads:

Alsoe be it ordained that the Water Bayliffe have his Deputy in every Haven, to make Defence in all Causes, and to make the Profitts thereof, if any Forfeit be lawfully made in the Lord’s behalfe, and to write what Goods is taken out of the Country and what is brought in.”

In the Regulations for the Castles made in 1651, it was “ordained and ordered that the Water Bayliff is to have his Liveries and Allowances as is appointed to the Receivers,” namely “to have one Bottle of Ale, Half a Loafe of Bread, one Candle in Sumer, two in Winter, and reasonable Fuell within his chamber within the House, one Man, two Horses, and twelve Bowles of Oates for his Horses.”

It was one of the Water Bayliff’s duties to keep a Register of “every Shipp, Pickard, and Boat that bringeth any Wares into the Country and the Daye when she cometh and what Wares she brings into the Land and what Wares she taketh out of the Lands and what Customs is due for the same and to deliver a Copy thereof to the Comptroller or his Deputy.”


A curious feature was the Water Bayliff’s Court. He could “as often as Occasions fall out, call a Court and impanel Jurors to determine all Controversies that concern Seafaring or Maritime Affairs betwixt Party and Party…in what convenient place he pleaseth to sit.”

He was “ye Admirall of ye Island.” He was the judge in all matters appertaining to sea-faring; he had under him what were called “Customers” (officers of the Customs) at Douglas, Ramsey, Derbyhaven and Peele Town; and was responsible for giving out what were known as “cockets” for goods to be shipped.


In the “Book of Allowances” for 1581-82, the Water Bayliff’s total income on account of harbour dues for the year was £52 5s. 1d. (52 pounds, 5 shillings and one penny), and after all the expenses were paid he had a balance of £39 10s. 6d. to hand over to the Controller at Castle Rushen.

His own salary was £6 13s. 4d. and that of his assistance £1. The “Customer” (that is the Chief of Customs) at Douglas, who probably did most of the work, got 13s. 4d. Although the whole of the expenses came to only £8 12s 0d. the audit of the accounts, which took forty-one- days, involved a cost of £4 3s. 4d.

In view of such low salaries there is no wonder that the officers undertook many commercial ventures on their own account.

(source: IOM Natural History & Antiquarian Society Proceedings Vol IV No.IV 1940-1942; artwork is by Hans Holbein the Younger)

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