Thursday, 27 December 2012

Cheating maltster

When tax was levied on malt rather than beer (1830 to 1880), there were incredibly complicated rules about malting. Basically to try to stop maltsters cheating the Excise out of  tax. I won't pretend to understand them. I don't.

Many rules were to do with how and how long you soaked the grain. The whole thing was complicated by the fact that the tax was levied per bushel, a volume measure, rather than by weight. Maltsters weren't keen on all the regulations. They felt forced to operate in a way they didn't believe was the best from a technical point of view. And the Excisemen could turn up and pester you whenever they felt like it. They must have been ecstatic when the malt tax was repealed. Except then brewers no longer had to brew from 100% malt.


A court of the Justices of the Peace was held on Tuesday - Sheriff Shirreff, and Mr Stenhouse, of Stevenson's Beath, on the bench. Mr George Ainslie, Maltster, Brucehaven, Limekilns, was placed at the bar, at the instance of Mr Turner, Superintendent of Excise, charged with having, on the 30th of Nov. last, removed 8 bushels of grain from a cistern, to a place not entered in the Excise Books. Mr Ainslie pleaded not guilty, and was defended by Mr Macbeth. Mr Darling, writer, appeared for the Inland Revenue. The case then went to proof.

Mr Baxter, Excise-officer, being sworn, deponed - I am an officer of the Excise. I know the defender; he is a maltster at Brucehaven, Limekilns, and has three malting houses, all numbered in the Excise books. I visited defender's premises on the 30th November last, about 7 o'clock in the morning, for the purpose of inspecting the premises. On entering I met Alexander Small, one of defender's men, inside the gate, he was carrying a four-bushel bag, apparently full. I asked him what he had got there? He replied, "Naething." I then observed Wm. Black, defender's foreman, coming along to the west of the boiling-house ; he was carrying a four-bushel bag full of something. Observing me, be turned quickly round and entered the boiling-house, and emptied the contents of the bag into a tub. I asked what he had got there. He then said, "Beasts' meat." Part of the grain was in the tub, and a portion remained in the bag. I then took a sample of the grain, and said to Black, "Recollect that's seized," and cautioned him not to meddle it. I then ran to No. 2 malt-house, knowing that grain was in the cistern. Black ran after me; I got in first. I found they had been robbing the cistern ; a hollow was in the side, and some grain taken away, and a shovel remained sticking in the hollow from which the grain had been removed. On the 28th, at mid-day, I had seen the barley in this cistern; it was then all level, and no hollow in it. The barley was covered with water, and should have remained 40 hours in the same condition. It ought, then, to have been removed to the couch frame in connection with the cistern. There was no barley in the frame at this time. I took a sample of the grain in the cistern, and compared it with the sample I took from Black's bag, and found them to be the same. Black then commenced to throw the grain into the couch frame, while I went off after Alexander Small. On meeting him, I asked him to show me the bag he was carrying. He promised to do so. He then showed me a bag full of birds' seed ; it was not the bag I had previously seen him carry. The first bag was wet ; the one he afterwards showed me being quite dry. I then went to No. 3 house, and found a young flore or casting from the cistern. I found the slanting edge all broken and trodden down, Small having emptied his bag on the top of it, and scattered it over the flore with his foot. At this stage of my survey, Mr Ainslie, the defender, came to me. I charged his men with removing grain from the cistern. He said, "I know nothing about it, having been in bed." He then said if I would pass it over he would put away his men; it would raise such a talk. He then said, "I'll go and see what Will Black says about it," and then left me. I then proceeded to finish my survey of the premises. I gauged the grain in the couch frame and found it 3 bushels more than at my last survey, that being 28 hours previous. This was not a fair increase, the swell ought fo have been greater. Witness then produced his survey books, which were examined by the Court.

Mr Macbeth then cross-examined Mr Baxter, but failed a to shake the testimony of the witness. Mr Brown, Supervisor, was then examined. He met the defender on the 31st Dec. last, who spoke to him regarding a paragraph that had appeared a few days previously in the Alloa Journal. The paragraph in question hinted that a brewer in the vicinity of Dunfermline had been tampering with the Excise laws. Mr Ainslie then said be intended to prosecute his men, and expected a letter about it that night from Mr Macbeth.

This being the evidence for the Crown, the Court adjourned till the following morning, to hear evidence for the defence.

The Court met on Wednesday - the Sheriff and Mr Stenhouse on the bench - when the following evidence was led for the defence:-

William Black, foreman to defender, being duly sworn, deponed - I remember putting barley to steep on the 27th of November last; I put 64 bushels into the cistern. I had given 24 hours' notice to the Excise. Mr Baxter gauged the cistern on the 28th November. I commenced to cast the cistern on Monday morning at 7 o'clock, the legal hour for that purpose. Small went to the cistern to cast the grain into the couch frame, and remarked that the barley was not thoroughly drained. I told him to make a hole in the barley above the couch frame. He did so. He then left for No. 2 loft and filled two bags - one full of birds' seed the other full of cummings or refuse. It took the bag of cummings and went to the door with it, and carried it to a platform in the barley house. I had no light there. I then met Mr Baxter, who asked what the bag contained. I said "Beasts' meat." He took a sample of it. We then went to No. 2 house and found the cistern the same as we had left it. I went into the cistern and commenced to cast the grain into the couch frame, Mr Baxter standing looking on. I then smoothed it for Mr Baxter taking the gauge of it. The cistern often gets choked up with grain, or dust, according to the quality of the material. I removed no grain from the cistern that morning.

Alex. Small, John Macleod, David Mollison, workmen at defender's establishment, corroborated the evidence of Wm. Black.

Mr Sturpton, manager of Well Park Brewery, Glasgow; Mr Tait McMillan, brewer, Alloa; Mr James Grant, manager, Glen Forth Distillery, South Queens ferry; were examined regarding the process of brewing, and the swell that wetted grain usually takes on. This was the evidence for the defence.

Mr Macbeth then addressed the Court for the defender, and was followed by Mr Darling for the Crown. The Sheriff then said - The bench having given the case a patient hearing, were of opinion that the defender was guilty. He then sentenced him to a fine of £150. On both days the Court was crowded, those engaged in the malting trade being well represented."
Dunfermline Saturday Press - Saturday 06 February 1864, page 2.

Looks like they were bang to rights. The cheating bastards. I think I understand what was going on here. They were removing grain before it could be measured by the Excise. That is, they were going to make malt that no tax had been paid on.

£150 is a hefty fine. The equivalent of a few years pay for most people. But that's the way the Excise system worked. Because it was difficult to check up on maltsters, the fines were enormous to act as a disincentive to cheat.

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