Please update your browser

You're using a version of Internet Explorer that isn't supported by Questia.
To get a better experience, go to one of these sites and get the latest
version of your preferred browser:

Railways and the Mid-Victorian Income Tax

By Colley, Robert | The Journal of Transport History, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Railways and the Mid-Victorian Income Tax

Colley, Robert, The Journal of Transport History

In October 1857 the South Yorkshire Railway Company was the subject of a damning report by the Government Surveyor of Taxes at Sheffield.1 As a joint stock company it was under a legal obligation to perform certain duties in the collection of taxes. It was required to deduct income tax from the rents which it paid, and from the dividends and debenture interest which it paid to its shareholders and mortgagees, and to account for this to the Board of Inland Revenue.2 Although it had, for many years, regularly deducted this tax, much of it had been retained and used for the company's own purposes. The Surveyor considered that the revenue had been 'grossly defrauded, not in ignorance, but with deliberate intention'.3 he estimated that the company had been underassessed for 1857 by L30,000.4 Two years later, his successor calculated that, in addition to this, assessments had been deficient by almost L300,000 in the previous decade.5

The Acts which governed joint stock companies and railway companies present a complex picture that includes assorted interventionist and regulatory elements, both in the free incorporation Act itself and in the complementary railway legislation.6 These, together with the income tax Acts, were steps in the direction of further regulation and intervention by the State that was growing in the mid-nineteenth century. Tax regulations relating to the deduction of tax at source had been in force since the beginning of the century but they assumed greater significance with the emergence and rapid expansion of the railways.7 As Alborn has observed in the context of railways and the mechanisation of joint stock politics, despite their largely regional conception, the logic of rail transport and an integrated national network imbued the railways with a deep sense of national scope and led them to seek capital from a broad investing public.8 Indeed, many railways presented themselves as national institutions in order to attract funds that were unavailable in their immediate districts.9 The diffusion of ownership through shareholdings, the need to raise capital from the public through debentures, and the consequent stewardship of large amounts of money received from investors, invited government intervention and regulation - not only to give protection to investors and creditors, but also to safeguard its own interests by ensuring that substantial amounts of income tax were properly accounted for both by the company and by its members and mortgagees.

The railways' vision of national identity, however, quickly outpaced the administrative framework of taxation, which was still rooted essentially in the parish. How was the government to cope with these large multi-parish corporate forms, which grew rapidly in the nineteenth century, using local apparatuses which had changed little since the seventeenth? Though regulatory elements may be evident in the taxing statutes, their realisation was often impeded by the imperatives of local politics. It was thought that the regular dissemination of information to shareholders about the state of a company's finances, through its balance sheet, would act as a check on fraud and malpractice; and that the deduction of tax at source, which would effectively satisfy the tax liabilities of thousands of investors, would act as a check on tax evasion. Whilst theoretically straightforward, rules such as these posed immediate problems, since they presupposed a high degree of compliance and raised several questions. How and by whom were national laws to be enforced at a local level? Who was to police their application? How were infringements to be detected and penalised? At its simplest, the legal framework envisaged a system in which local, lay commissioners would administer the income tax, with subordinate supervision by government officials, termed Surveyors of Taxes. Although a degree of surveillance and information gathering was essential in order to monitor compliance, the law made inadequate provision for it and the task was undertaken, in the main, by the Surveyor through an often serendipitous collection of information from local sources, the use of informers and his own initiatives.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Railways and the Mid-Victorian Income Tax


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.