Collector to Board Letters Book 1788 - 1789


These extracts are a partial transcription of the book held at the National Archives reference, CUST 61/8, words are shown in italics in case of doubt. Items in blue are additional or background information. I do not accept any responsibility for any inaccuracies.


27 June 1788                 Inclosed we transmit an account of seizures brought in to this Port between 29th Ult. & 26 Instant respecting the prosecution of which we pray your directions. We beg leave to submit to your Honors that we doubt whether the Seizure of 50 lbs of Tobacco in Article No. 9 of the enclosed account can be supported on the ground upon which it was determin’d by the Officer of Excise namely that of being found in the House of Joseph Glover the Proprietor without any Certificate. The 39 Sect. of the 25 G 3 Ch. 81 subjects to Forfeiture any Tobacco or Snuff exceeding  6 lbs found removing without a Certificate, the Tobacco in question was not in that predicament, it was in the House & not concealed as the Officer of Excise informs us, of the Proprietor Glover who is a retailer of Tobacco & Beer dealer & as such under the survey of the Excise Officer.

That it was brought in the fair way of Trade appears by the inclosed Bill of Parcels, and which appears to have been brought Coastwise from Portsmouth by regular Coast Dispatches dated 24th April referring therein to the date of the Land carriage Certificate accompanying the same from London, under all which Circumstances, we are humbly of the opinion the Tobacco in question ought to be restored to the Proprietor, there not appearing to be any fraud upon the Revenue either committed or intended.


28 June 1788                 Mr Charles Ritchie Sitter of the Six Oar’d Boat at St Hellens at this Port having represented to us that the said Boat is in want of Sundry Stores and particularly a new suit of sails with an anchor to replace the one some time since lost at the south part of the Isle of Wight also 8 Ballast Bags in the room of some he was obliged to throw overboard. We directed Mr Francis the Tide Surveyor to examine the said Boat & he having reported the stores & repairs are necessary, inclosed we transmit the Sail Makers Estimate of the expense which will attend the furnishing of the Sails and Ballast Bags amounting to Six pounds twelve shillings and six pence and pray your directions respecting the same, begging leave to report it is more than 3 years that the present suit of sails have been in use.

Mr Ritchie further prays to be supplied with two small Blunderbusses, one for the Sitter and the other for the use of the Bowman, also with four Pistols in the room of that number which are become unserviceable and likewise a proper Quantity of Gunpowder.


16 July 1788                  In return to your Order of 12th Instant, we transmit inclosed a copy of the Register of Baptism delivered to us by Mr Henry Cox nominated to be a Landing Waiter at this Port in the Room of William Andrews deceased. [He was admitted on the 4th February 1789.]


7 August 1788               To remedy the inconvenience and lessen the trouble & expence which the Inhabitants of the Isle of Wight were hereto-fore subject to in transporting and conveying Sheep & Cattle to and from this Island and the Ports of Southampton & Portsmouth it was enacted by the 6th of his present Majesty Ch 50 that no Coquet or Bond should be required for carrying or conveying Sheep in open Boats or Hoys, nor any other kind of live Cattle / Horses and Lambs excepted / between the Port of Cowes and the Ports of Southampton or Portsmouth or either of them.

On reading the act of the last session Ch 38 we observe that by the 1st Section thereof, all and Singular the several Acts of Parliament then in force relating to any manner of carrying Coastwise and Live Sheep, Rams & Lambs were repealed.

And we do not see any exceptions, either in the 6th or subsequent Sections of the Act in favour of this Island, the peculiar situation of which has been thought by the legislature to require the indulgence stated above in order to enable the Farmers & others to convey their Cattle to and from the neighbouring Markets at the least possible expence and Trouble.

Nor are we supposed it was the intention of the Legislature in passing the Act of last session Ch 38 to repeal the Act of the 6th of his present Majesty, as no instructions have come to our knowledge nor have we heard it suggested that the indulgences granted by that Act of conveying Sheep in open Boats & Hoys has been abused or complained of.

But doubting if we shall in future be justified in permitting the Practice to be continued we humbly pray your directions for our Government and beg to be informed under what restrictions and regulations Sheep are now to be conveyed to and from this Island and whether the carrying of the Coastwise is not by the later Act absolutely prohibited, all former Acts relating in any manner thereto being repealed. And the 34 Section only regulating the manner in which Wool and sundry other enumerated Articles are to be carried Coastwise without including any mention of Sheep or Lambs, which is respectfully submitted. [The Collectors interpretation was deemed correct and he was told ‘A Clause would be laid before Parliament’ to remedy the situation.]


8 August 1788               As directed by your Order of 29th Ultimo we have called upon Emmanuel Read now a Prisoner in Winchester Goal to know whether he is able and willing to make any discoveries for the good of the Revenue.

And he has by letter to the Collector dated the 9th Instant acquainted us that it is out of his power to make any discoveries for the benefit of the Crown at present, his long imprisonment having worn out of his memory every circumstance of former transactions, but humbly hopes your Honors will think that what he has already suffered is no small amount for his offence and desires to assure your Honors that if you are pleased to consider his case and grant release that he will never in future give the least aid or consideration to those who in any way the like unlawful traffick.


16 August 1788             The Tide Surveyor of this Port having represented to us that the Boat used by the Officers stationed at Bembridge to board ships anchored in St Hellens Roads and occasionally in crossing from Bembridge to St Hellens is worn out and unfit for Service being eleven years old and that is necessary that a new one should be provided for the use of the said Officers.

Inclosed we transmit the Trademans Estimate of the expence that will attend the providing of the same together with proper Sails, and which amounts to Eleven Pounds thirteen Shillings & three Pence as is respectfully submitted.


2 September 1788          Mr Francis Tide Surveyor at this Port having represented to us that he is very much in want of a new Four Oar’d Boat for the Service of this Port to supply the Place of one now in use but which is become nearly unserviceable & not worth repairing having been in constant use almost ten years.

We have caused an Estimate to be made of the expence that will attend the building of a Boat proper for the Service which Estimate amounting to the sum of Sixteen Pounds one Shilling, we believe to be reasonable & beg to submit the same to your Honors for your consideration & directions thereon.


3 September 1788          Thomas Corke, the Deputed Mariner belonging to the Swan Cutter stationed at this Port, having lost out of his Pocket from the Mast Head the Tin Case which contained his Deputation, humbly prays your Honours will be pleased to grant him another Deputation.


4 September 1788          In return to your Order of the 16th Ult. We beg to report that exclusive of the Free Quays there are only two Wharfs at this Port at which it has been usual to Ship or Land Wool namely:

            Newport Quay

            Messrs. Kirkpatrick’s Store House

the Proprietors of which being desirous of having the same generally Licenced for the purpose of Shipping and Landing Wool & have entered into Bond as required by the Act of the last Session Ch. 38 which Bonds are herewith transmitted and they humbly pray that your Honors grant Licences for the said Wharfs to be used for the Landing and Shipping of Wool under the usual Regulations of Laws.


9 September 1788          As directed by you Order of the 5th Instant we have called upon the Sitter of the Six Oar’d Boat stationed at this Port to account to us from what cause the Pistols which were appropriated for the use of the said Boat in April 1784 so soon become unserviceable.

And he reports to us having been used in an open Boat they are liable frequently to rust and require often cleaning whereby the springs are weakened & the locks so much damaged as to render the Pistols of no use, and that four New Ones with a supply of Powder and Balls are required for Service.


11 September 1788        The Head of the Custom House Quay which forms the Dock where seized Vessels & Boats are deposited being broken down and very much out of repair, we have caused an Estimate to be made of the expense that will attend the rebuilding & putting the same into proper repair which amounts to the sum of Nine pounds four Shillings and six pence. We are humbly of the opinion that the Estimate is a reasonable one and beg to transmit it for your approbation praying your directions thereon.


24 September 1788       In return to your Order of the 17th Inst. directing us to report our reasons for not causing a Suit of Sails to be provided for the Swan Cutter immediately after receiving your Orders for providing them.

We beg leave to acquaint you that your order to provide the sails was received here on the 22 August 1787 soon after which, and before the sailmaker had procured the canvas namely on the 15th September it was signified to us by your Honours’ letter No 130 that you had resolved to discontinue the Swan Cutter on the 5th January following. We therefore directed the Commander to make shift with the old ones until further orders.

On the 4th January last your orders of the preceding day was communicated informing us that you had then resolved to continue the Swan cutter upon incidents at this Port upon which we thought it unnecessary to make any further application respecting the sails but directed the sail-maker to proceed in executing the order which had before been given him.


2 October 1788             Several Swedish Merchant Ships Homeward bound and laden with Salt, Wine & Brandy have lately put into this Port, few or none of the Masters have come to Custom House to report and we understand that their Agents tell them it is not necessary.

The reason assigned to the Tide Surveyor for these Ships coming in and continuing in Port is to wait for Convoy. We beg leave to observe that we are not aware of any legal excuse for ships not proceeding on their voyage but contrary winds or damage received by Distress of Weather in both which cases we apprehend it to be incumbent on the Masters to come to the Custom House and make proof of the necessity of coming in, so make known the contents of their Cargoes and obtain permission from the Collector for continuing in Port.

The waiting for Convoy may be a Political Necessity but in our opinion it ought not to subject the Revenue to Expence, which it does, and a considerable one, for the Master and their Agents not only refuse to pay the Expence of Tide Waiters placed on board the Ships but even refuse in many instances to allow them the Ships Provisions and we do not think it expedient to leave even the Ships loaded wholly with Salt to the care of the Salt Officer only as we find that the persons so placed on board by that Revenue are men only hired upon the emergency & not even under Oath or Security.

With respect to the Ships laden with Salt we submit you your Honors consideration whether under the 7 Sect Act of She. A of Anne Ch. 20 the Collector will not be justified in refusing permission to such Ships to remain in Port longer that 20 days unless the Master or their Agents will engage to pay and give Security for so doing, the Expences incurred in placing Proper Officers on Board the Ships.

We have been infor’d that it is practice for the Merchants to pay after the expiration of 20 days, the expense of Officers placed on board Ships with Salt by Direction of the Commissioner of that Revenue; and we think that it is equally necessary that the Revenue of Customs should be relieved from the expence of Officers attendance if the same can be legally insisted upon.

As there are at this time nine Ships in the Harbour under the above circumstances and more dayly expected and it is supposed they will remain here a great part of the Winter, we humbly pray your instruction for our Government. [A marginal note states “Ships laden with Salt, no necessity for a Custom House Officer to be boarded, they are guarded by a Salt Officer, but Tide Surveyor to Seal down the Hatches, Order 6 Oct.”.]


21 October 1788           We are requested by Mr Thomas Francis Tide Surveyor of this Port to transmit to your Honors the inclosed Memorial wherein he prays to be allowed the same Salary as was allowed to his Predecessor, or such additional allowance as your Honors think him entitled to for the Extra Duty he performs in surveying the Officers stationed at Yarmouth & St Hellens.

We beg leave to report that in addition to the Salary of £40 per Annum allowed by the Treasury Establishment to the Tide Surveyor at this Port £10 per Annum was granted by your Order of 5th October 1727 in consideration of the Tide Surveyor being directed to survey the Boatman stationed at Leap.

It was confirmed by sundry Orders to succeeding Tide Surveyors and to Mr Francis’s immediate predecessor John Miller by your order of 6 May 1769 on account of his being directed to survey the Officers which had been removed from Leap to Yarmouth.

Since that time the Tide Surveyor has been enjoined to survey the Boatmen stationed at St Hellens at the East end of the Isle of Wight in a like Manner as he surveyed those at Yarmouth but without any additional Allowance for such additional Duty.

And in consequence of the resolution of your Honorable Board communicated in your Order of the 18th September 1782 the incidental Salary of £10 per Annum first granted to the Tide Surveyor in the year 1727 was directed to be discontinued on the first Vacancy which happened on the 14th October 1788 since which the Tide Surveyor has only been paid after the rate of Forty Pounds per annum.

We are humbly of the opinion that is necessary for the Service that the Tide Surveyor should continue to inspect and survey as often as he can consistent with other Duty required of him the Boatmen stationed at Yarmouth & St Hellens which Service cannot be performed without trouble & some expence to the Tide Surveyor on which Account the propriety of Mr Francis’s application is respectfully submitted. [The additional £10 was approved by Boards Order dated 31 October 1788.]


24 October 1788           In return to your Order of the 27th Ult. we beg to report that we have referred to the Lease of the Custom House at this Port which is deposited in the Kings Chest & find that the present lease will expire on the 29th September next.

But we also observe that by a Coven­ant in the Lease, the Lessors have covenanted to grant a new Lease upon the Rent now paid viz Twenty four pounds per annum for such further time as your Honors shall think proper upon Notice being given at any time during the existence of the present Lease.

We beg leave to add that the Present Proprietor, a Mrs Dorothy Jones, who was one of the Lessors at the time the present Lease was taken under your Order of 23 September 1766 is a very old Widdow Lady & resides in North­amptonshire.           


3 December 1788         Mr Sarmon Commander of the Swan Cutter at this Port having receiv’d Information that part of the Seizure delivered by him to Custom House the day before had been embezzled by the Deputed Mariner and Boats Crew who made the Seizure communicated to the Collector his Information & suspicions who thereupon him to charge the Parties with the Fact and to search the Lodgings of those men who had been on shore with a Writ of Assistance accompanied by a Peace Officer in consequence of which Three Pieces of East India Silk Handkerchiefs exclusive of one Piece that was voluntarily given in have been recovered.

One piece was found in the Lodgings of Thomas Corke the Deputed Mariner another in the Lodgings of Sam Courtney Mariner and a third in the House of ---- Williams who Mr Sarmon was informed had bought one of the Pieces of handkerchiefs for twelve Shillings.

In the course of our examination into this Embezzlement the Men who had been in the Boat at the time of making the Seizure which consisted of a Boat 252 small Casks of Spirit 7 bags of Tea and 2 Bales of Handkerchiefs confessed to each having taking a Piece of Handkerchief except Corke the Deputed Mariner who positively denies having taken any or he knew that any bale being opened or gave directions for any part to be brought to his House. 

But he admitted that a piece was brought to his Lodgings on Sunday the 30th Ult. by one of the men and he received it nor did he afterwards make any discovery of the transaction until he was charged with it by Mr Sarmon and threatened with having his Lodgings searched.

It further appears that one Piece has been sold to a Seafaring Man of Southampton and two others taken to Portsmouth for sale by one the Mariners belonging to the Cutter who had obtained a day or two’s leave of absence.

Mr Sarmon whose diligence & activity in detecting this Fraud we think commendable has dismissed from the Cutter the six Mariners who were in the boat at making the Seizure and we have thought it right to suspend Thomas Corke until your Honors further pleasure respecting him is known.

We likewise beg leave to submit that it would be proper that --- Williams should by way of an example be prosecuted before the Justices for treble the Value of the piece of Handkerchiefs found in his House as she could not but know that it had been stolen or smugled.


11 December 1788         Under your Order of the 11th Ult. we think it incumbent on us previous to our making application to the Lessor of Custom House for a renewal of the Lease to represent to your Honors that the present Office is in want of Repairs, Alteration & Enlargement to render it comfortable and commodious for doing business in.

That your Honors having an unexpired Term of about Twelve Years in a House adjoining to the Custom House and which is now made use of to store seized Goods, as a Warehouse to deposit Goods secured for Duties & as a Sale Room and for other occasional purposes, if the Proprietor who is also the Proprietor of Custom House would sell both at a fair Price to the Crown, or grant such a Lease as would warrant your Honors the opportunity of thorough Repairs and of laying both Tenements into one, the present Custom House might be much more convenient than it is now and the Offices particularly the Comptroller, Surveyor and Landing Waiters accommodated as the Service and Nature of their respective Officers require – but as the Buildings are old and we are not proper Judges of the Expence that the Repairs and alterations necessary for the Service may amount to.

We beg leave to submit if it may not be proper previous to applying for a new Lease of the present Custom House that your Surveyor of Buildings should have directions to view the Premises to see if they will bear the necessary Alterations and to lay before you a Plan of the same with the probable Expence thereof.

Your Honors will then be better able to judge whether it will be most expedient to repair and enlarge the present Custom House or to look out for a Spot to Build upon on the West side of the Town a situation equally convenient for Trade and in many respects more so for Officers in general who from the difficulty they experience in procuring Houses to live in at East Cowes are obliged to cross the Harbour in a Ferry Boat to and from the Custom House, an inconvenience which the Collector in particular has been subject to since he has been at the Port and especially in Winter is often very disagreeable.


3 January 1789              In return to your Order of reference upon the Memorial of Francis Terrell Waiter and Searcher at this Port praying your Honors to take into consideration the smallness of his Salary and make some addition thereto.

We beg leave to report that the Memorialist acts as Coast Waiter at Newport in this Port and performs his Duty as stated in his Memorial for which he is paid a Salary only of Thirty Pounds per Establishment.

His immediate Predecessor received for some time an additional Allowance of Fifty Shillings per Quarter for the Hire of a Boat to assist him in the execution of his Duty, but that allowance having been originally granted on account of the Embargo at that time subsisting on Black Cattle. We were directed by your Order of the 1st September 1778 to discontinue craving the same in our preparatory Account of Incidents but to crave it in a separate Letter at the end of every Six Months in obedience to which Order on the 16th January 1779 we stated to your Honors the reasons for thinking that the continuance of the Allowance would be necessary and proper, but not receiving any directions in answer to the said application the allowance has from that time been discontinued.

We are still humbly of the Opinion that such an addition to his Salary would put the Memorialist on a footing with the other Coast Waiter at this Port who is paid £40 per Annum as we are informed are also Coast Waiters at Neighbouring Ports would be proper and operate as an encouragement to a diligent discharge of his Duty which will unavoidably be increased as we apprehend by the attendance that it will be necessary for him to give at the Shipping and Landing of Corn & Flour at the new Mill lately erected upon the Newport River about Two Miles from his Residence.


22 January 1789            The Landing Surveyor and Landing Waiter having represented to us that they are in want of good Padlocks to secure the Warehouse in which the Cargoes of Ships putting in at this Port in distress are deposited under King’s Locks.

That they have previously had common locks which may be opened without difficulty by almost any Keys and that they differ nothing in size of shape from those used by Merchants or other Persons, they cannot be easily distinguished to be the King’s Locks which is often productive of mistakes.

To prevent which is future and to render the Warehouse more secure we humbly pray your Honors will Order Two dozen of good Padlocks to be provided and sent for Service at this Port together with a suitable number of Keys and Staples thereto.

We also beg leave to submit that they should be to a size larger than common Padlocks, that no one Key should open two Locks and that a Progressive Number should be put on each Lock and the same Number on the Key belonging thereto also that the letters G R should be cut or painted upon each Lock to denote their being the King’s Locks all of which we deem necessary for security of the Revenue.


2 January 1789              A Charge given by the Collector & Comptroller of Cowes against Thomas Corke a Deputed Mariner in the Swan Cutter in the Service of His Majesty’s Customs at the Port of Cowes.

In pursuance of directions from the Honorable Commissioners we hereby Charge you with the following Offence:

That contrary to your Duty and the Oath taken by you on your admission to the Service, you have secreted and embezzled or suffered to be secreted and embezzled several Pieces of Silk Handkerchiefs part of a Seizure of Foreign Spirits, Tea & Silk Handkerchiefs made by you on or about 29th November last the whole of which Seizure it was your Duty to have delivered into His Majesty’s Warehouse for Condemnation.

To the above Charge you are required to a plain and distinct Answer in Writing on or before Thursday the 8th Inst. taking care to return this Charge with your Answer.

7 January 1789              Answer to the Charge by Thomas Corke.

In answer to your Charge of the 2nd Inst. the pieces of Handkerchiefs mentioned to be secreted and embezzled was taken out of the Tub Boat which I seized 29th November last / in the night whilst I was busy in removing the Goods from one Boat into the other, and one piece was conveyed to my Lodgings by some Person unknown to me.

23 January 1789            Report by Collector and Comptroller

Inclosed we transmit the Charge given to Thomas Corke Deputed Mariner in the Swan Cutter at this Port pursuant to your Order of 24th Ult. for secreting or embezzling part of a Seizure made by him on 29th November last together with Corke’s Answer thereto and we beg leave to report that it was proved by Mr Sarmon Commander of the Cutter that the day after the Seizure had been delivered to the Custom House, William Place one of the Mariners in the Boat making the Seizure came to him with a Piece of Handkerchief which had belonged to the Seizure and on being asked how he came by it said that every Man in the Boat had a Piece, but that he had thought they had no right to it and therefore would not be easy without delivering his Piece up, & on being further interrogated said he had by Corke’s Order also carried a Piece to his Lodgings, that after communicating this information to the Collector and consulting with him Mr Sarmon went to Corke’s House and charged him with the Fact, that he at first denied it, but on Mr Sarmon persisting in the charge and saying he was prepared to search his Lodgings being provided with a Writ of Assistance & Peace Officer Corke produced and gave up the Piece.

William Place corroborated the above testimony, and further added that at the time of making the Seizure there were several Pieces of Handkerchiefs bourne on the Smuglers Boat that he believes every one of the Men in the Custom House Boat being Six in Number took a Piece or there might be 9 or 10 Pieces taken but says he does not know or believe that at the time of the Seizure was made, Corke was privy to or knew of any being taken.

And thinks that it was not until they got on board the Cutter that Corke was acquainted with it by William Hall one of the Boatmen for Corke on going on Shore said to Place if there is anything for me bring it to my House, that he supposed he meant the Handkerchief as Hall gave him a Piece for that purpose and Corke knew it – that he did carry the said Piece of Handkerchief to Corke’s and gave it to Corke himself.

Two other of the Mariners were examined but they proved nothing Material only acknowledging that they each had a Piece of Handkerchief but said they should not have taken them if they had not been very much in Liquor that they did not know or believe that Corke did not take any himself or knew of any being taken at the time the Seizure was made.

Corke upon being called upon for his defence did not deny having a piece of Handkerchief brought to his Lodgings but said he gave no Orders for having it brought nor could he contradict the testimony of Place who said he delivered it to Corke himself, notwithstanding in his answer to the Charge he says it was brought to his Lodging by some Person unknown to him.

Corke produced no evidence but only said that if the other Boatmen who were in the Boat and who are not now to be found had been present they could have proved that he, Corke knew nothing of any part of the Seizure and he gave no direction for any being brought to his House.

Upon the whole we are humbly of the opinion that it is fully proved and indeed not denied by Corke himself that he had in his possession a piece of Handkerchiefs which were part of a Seizure he had made some days before and not delivered to the Custom House with the rest of the Goods. Nor does it appear that he had any intention to deliver it up until Charged with having it, tho’ it certainly if not proved that he was privy to any being taken or secreted at the time of the Seizure.

Corke has not before been charged with any offence since he has been in the Service nor to our knowledge or Mr Sarmons suspected of acting improperly on the contrary is a sober well qualified person for his Station, has been active and instrumental in making many Seizures and promises faithfully to give no cause for future complaint if your Honors will be so kind as to pass over this Offence.

6 February 1789             As directed by your Order of the 3rd Instant we transmit the Bond entered into by Thomas Corke late Deputed Mariner on board the Swan Cutter, and who has been dismissed for Malpractice.

With respect to the Bonds of the Mariners we beg leave to report that it has not been usual here to take Bonds for any other Persons belonging to the Cutters than those who are under Commission to your Honors and that owing to the impracticability of the Mariners finding Security, as very few People are willing to become bond for a common Seaman, and the Commander reports to us that he is often obliged to take Men at different places which renders finding Security still more difficult.

But we beg leave to submit, that if it meets your approbation, we see no objection in taking the Bond of each Seaman himself and his Oath for the due execution of his Duty when he has been entered by the Commander of the Cutter and is presented for approbation, and we think it may be operated as some Check and restraint against Fraudulent Practices.

7 March 1789                In obedience to your Order of the 24th December last John Williams has been prosecuted before the Justices for the treble value of one Piece of East India wrought Silk Handkerchief found and Seized at his dwelling House having previously been bought by his Wife of one of the Mariners belonging to the Swan Cutter who had secreted and embezzled the same out of a Seizure made by the Boats Crew belonging to the Cutter.

And the said Williams having knowingly been convicted of knowing by harbouring and concealing the said Handkerchief has been fined by the Justices in the Penalty sued for namely Three Pounds three Shillings which is respectfully submitted.


10 March 1789               The warehouse in which the five Pieces of Brandy saved out of the Gosport and Havre Paquet stranded within the limits of this Port in December 1787 having twice been attempted to be broke into and being situated at Nine or Ten Miles from the Custom House we have thought to order to prevent similar attempts and that the Brandy may more immediately be under our Care to give directions that it may be moved to the King’s Warehouse at Cowes as soon as the Tides will admit of its being shipped from Brading Quay, and humbly hope our proceedings will meet your approbation.

We beg leave to submit to your Honors we think the above step more particularly necessary because the Conduct of the Proprietors appears to be so mysterious and extraordinary that we are at a loss to guess what their intention are. In November last Mr Forbes Agent to the Proprietor made a Deposit of Fourteen Guineas and a half to Answer the Duties of Customs on the Brandy but has not since passed any Entry with the Collector or paid the Duty of Excise.

In December he caused the Collector to be served with the copy of a Writ to which your Honors were acquainted by Letter dated the 12th of the same month, but we have not heard that he has taken any further steps in the Action and since that time has paid the Salvage Charges as allowed by the Justices to the Revenue Officers and which for some time he refused to pay unless permitted to do so out of the produce of Goods sold Duty free, and he has also sent to the Collector to acquaint him that he has taken his Lock off the Warehouse in which the Brandy is deposited.

Under all which circumstances added to his not having taken any Notice of a Letter wrote to him by the Collector on the 6th Ult. of which we enclose a copy, we submit if your Honors will not think it expedient to Order the Brandy in question which has now been under the King’s Locks for more than a Year to be advertised and sold for the Duties applying the Deposit as part thereof in case the Proprietors any longer neglect to put an end to the Business.


28 March 1789 (extract)              In return to your Order of the 13th Inst. we beg to report that we have had no Complaints from the owners of Fishing Boats employed on this Coast of difficulties arising to them from in the way of Business from the Operation of the 10th & 11th Sect of the Act of the last Session Ch. 34. Gentlemen and others who are Owners of Pleasure Boats and Wherries exceeding 18 feet in length employed in Harbours along the Coast complain of being restricted in the Depth of their Boats and the trouble which attends the procuring of Licences from the Admiralty.

Smuglers do not appear checked in their illicit Trade by the operation of the Act, for the Boats principally used by them upon this Coast are reduced under 18 Feet in Length consequently not within the Act, are built very wide very deep and flat floor’d and called Tub Boats.

We take the liberty of enclosing a Drawing of One, which may convey a better idea of them, several of similar dimensions are now under Seizure here many more have been condemned & when sold purchased much under their value for Smuglers, for not being calculated to be employed in a fair Trade it is seldom there are any other Bidders and such Boats being very frequently condemned for being used in landing and running Goods and not as the Importing Boats are not ordered to be broken up, consequently return again to the same fraudulent Trade, and without the Crown or Seizing Officer reaping much benefit from the Seizure and sale of them.

Smugling within the limits of the Port and nearly as far West as Portland is chiefly carried on in Vessels from 25 to 60 Tons Berthen aided by Tub Boats one of which every Vessel carries, these Boats from their great Breadth and greater Depth will contain from 2 to 3 Hundred half Ankers of Spirit besides Tobacco and other Goods. (An Anker was 10 Gallons.)

In Summer time or very calm Weather we are informed that the Smuglers bring the loaded from the French Coast, Guernsey of Alderney having them astern of their Vessels until they get near the Shore or are seen by Cruizers when they slip and with three of four Men in, make for the Shore and land the Goods while the Revenue Cutters is chasing the Vessel which when he comes up with is found in Ballast. At other times the Goods are unshipped into these Boats when they come upon the Coast and have opportunities of landing them.

And in order to check the use now made by Smuglers of Tub Boats we would recommend that no Vessel under 80 or 100 Tons Burthen should be allowed to carry to Sea more than one Boat being as we apprehend all that is necessary for Vessels Employed legally, and that all Boats belonging to Vessels should be proportioned to the Burthen of the Vessel to which they belong, and with which they are used for if a Vessel’s Boat is large enough to carry out and heave up an Anchor, we conceive it will answer any other necessary use of the Vessel.


April 1789 (extract)                     Inclosed we transmit an account of the Seizures brought to the Warehouse at this Port since the last account on the 31st December and we humbly pray your directions for returning the same into the Exchequer for condemnation.

With respect to the Vessel from which the Goods in Article No. 5 appear to have been unshipped, we think the Officer was rather remiss in not detaining her at the time, but on examining him concerning it he says that when he boarded the Vessel she was in ballast, and that altho’ some of his Boatmen saw the people on board before they could come up with the Vessel, throw something overboard which they supposed to be Casks of Spirits yet as the same were sunk and could not be taken up until the Tide ebb’d, he was doubtful if a Seizure of the Vessel would have been justified especially as he himself did not observe the Smuglers in the act of throwing anything overboard altho’ by the inclosed Account from two of his Boatmen it appears they did.

Phillip Riddett Master of the Vessel is a reputed Smugler and as we are informed has since the transaction sent his Vessel to Alderney to prevent as we suppose her being Seized.

Whether the circumstances stated in the Mariners Account are sufficient to ground a prosecution against Riddett upon or to authorize a Seizure of the Vessel if at any future time she can be met with.

9 February 1789  Copy of Letter from Joseph Attwell and William Rous, Boatmen Bembridge

At Nine O’Clock Past Morning we whose Names are undermentioned were at Nettlestone with our Boat saw a Vessel reaching from the East and as she came near made her to be the Triall Phillip Riddett Master and about half an Hour later she ran on Shore on the Sand Head, we then put off the Boat to go on board her and as we were sailing to her we see the people in the Vessel heaving Tubs overboard, we immediately we on board & examined her but did not find any Thing we directly got into our Boat and hove the Anchor over with a Buoy made fast to the end of our Cable and as the Tide Ebb’d saw some of the Tubs floating on the surface of the Water. This we are ready to attest on Oath.

 8 April 1789                  In return to your Order of the 3rd Instant, we beg leave to report that the first of two impressions on the Margin hereof is of the stamp used at this Port to stamp Seized Goods with previous to the Act of the 27th of His present Majesty Ch. 32.

That on the 17th of March 1788 in our Letter to which we beg to refer, submitted to your Honors the propriety of having the name of the Port inserted in the Stamp used upon such occasions we have since received a Stamp, an impression of which is also herewith sent and is what we now make use of, which is respectfully submitted     


17 April 1789                 In return to your Order of yesterday I beg to report that in the Afternoon on Saturday the 14th Ultimo the Deputy Comptroller acquainted me that he was going from home for a day or two but should be at the Office the Tuesday following.

On the 18th I received a Letter from him saying that he had been obliged to go on to London in Business of Consequence that would detain him until next day Evening.

On the 26th I received another Letter signifying he should be down in a day or two at furthest but intended the next Morning to go to the Custom House to settle the matter of his Absence.

And on 31st he acquainted me that as his return had been so long delay’d on Account of particular Business he had thought it necessary to apply for leave of Absence which he had no doubt would be granted. From that time to the present I have been in dayly expectation that his Leave of Absence would be granted and officially communicated to me, or that he would return to the Port, neither of which event has yet taken place and I am totally at a loss to assign the reason for so long an absence and which at the time of his going from Home I am persuaded he had no idea of as he did not apply to any person in the Office to Officiate for him.


21 April 1789                 Since my Letter to your Honors of the 17th April I have received the Inclosed Letter from Mr Cockell Deputy Comptroller at this Port signifying his intention of leaving England for some time and desiring to resign his Office of Deputy Comptroller of Customs.


17 April 1789     Letter from the Deputy Comptroller to the Collector

It being my intention to leave England for a short time, consequently cannot attend my Office, I have therefore to desire you will signify to the Commissioners of His Majesty’s Customs, my resignation of the Office of Deputy Comptroller in the Port of Cowes and you will oblige.


2 May 1789                   In return to your Order of the 30th Ult. we beg leave to report that Mr John Ward who is nominated to be Deputy Comptroller at this Port in the room of Mr William Cockell Resigned appears to be sufficiently active and capable of performing the Duties of the Office, is Man of good Character and never to our knowledge suspected of being in any respect involv’d in Smugling or in obstructing any Officer of the Revenue in the execution of his Duty.


6 June 1789                   In obedience to your Order of the 30th Ultimo we have called on Mr Sarmon Commander of the Swan Cutter in Service at this Port to explain the reason for omitting to specify in his Journals the loss of some Arms at the time they were lost & also to assign his reasons for craving so many Beer and Water Casks, and inclosed we transmit his Answer to the said enquiry.

We beg leave to report that in the return of his Seizure made the 27th September 1787 he did make mention of the Skirmish between the Smuglers and the Cutters Men and that the Arms in the Boat were thrown overboard by the Smuglers, nor have we reason to suspect any embezzlement on any part of them.  

The reason assigned by Mr Sarmon for craving such a number of Casks for the use of the Cutter is that those of eighteen Gallons each are a more convenient size for stowage & taking on shore than those which the Cutter was before supplied which are all now nearly worn out and unserviceable. We are humbly of the opinion that the number craved according to the size is not more than are necessary for the Cutters.


6 June 1789                   No Warehouse Keeper having been appointed to take an Account of Tobacco imported at this Port and warehoused under the King’s Lock and being humbly of the opinion that it is necessary for the Service that some Person should be appointed to that Business and to keep the several Accounts required to be kept by the Warehouse Keeper under the Regulations of the Tobacco Act 23rd of His present Majesty Ch. 81.

We beg leave to recommend to your Honors as a proper Person to be Warehouse Keeper Mr John Pain who is the Collector’s first Clerk and has been in the Office seven Years, he is a sober, steady honest Man capable of & qualified for the employment and we trust will not discredit our recommendation of him upon this occasion.

And at this time having two Cargo’s of Tobacco delivering into the Warehouse we propose to employ Mr Pain as Warehouse Keeper upon the Business until your further pleasure is signified.


9 June 1789                   Pursuant to your Orders of the 11th November last we have caused a Draft to be prepared for the Lease of the Custom House to commence from Michaelmas next, and transmit the same inclosed for your approbation and further directions.


13 June 1789                 Having lately had more Ships discharging their Cargoes of Timbers & Deals, Rice & Tobacco at this Port than the Landing Waiters were able to attend and perform their Duty with that accuracy and correctness which the Service requires, we have been under the necessity of appointing Mr John Cheverton Coast Waiter here to Act as assistant Landing Waiter in conjunction with an Established Landing Waiter in the discharge of Rice & Tobacco which we humbly hope will meet your Honors approbation.

Mr Cheverton was under instructions for the Office of Coast Waiter two Months and during that time learn’d to Gauge, but not having been instructed the full time required to qualify him as a Land Waiter , if you Honors think proper to allow him to complete his instruction under the Surveyor and Landing Waiters here as such times as he can attend the Keys without neglecting his Business as Coast Waiter it will not subject the Revenue to any additional Expense and we shall have the benefit of Services upon any emergency when an additional Landing Waiter is wanted. [This proposal was accepted 23rd June.]


30 June 1789                 The small Custom House Boat appropriated for the use of the Collector & Comptroller at this Port to cross the Ferry to and from the Custom House and occasionally used by other Officers upon the Service having been in constant use about Nine Years is so much decay’d and worn out as to be incapable of further repair.

We have therefore procured an Estimate of the expence that will attend the building of a new Boat proposed for the same Service and which amounting to the sum of Seven Pounds nineteen Shillings is herewith transmitted and we humbly pray your directions for providing the said Boat.


27 July 1789                  A Ship called the Prince Kaunnidtz of Brussels said to be an Imperial East Indiaman from Ostend bound to Bengal and other places in the East Indies is now at Anchor in this Road having put in by contrary Winds.

The Cargo consists of Copper, Iron and various other Articles of Merchandize, and as we are informed the Commander Pendock Neale, all his Officers and the greater part of the Mariners on board are British Subjects.

Apprehending that His Majesty’s Proclamation dated 22 March 1788 prohibiting and forbidding British subjects enter­ing the service of any Foreign Prince or state or to serve in any Foreign Ship or Vessel whatever is still in force, we think it our Duty in pursuance of your Order of the 1st April last to apprize your Honors of the aforegoing circumstances an humbly pray your further directions for our Government.

PS The Collector has just been informed that the name of the first Mate is Osborn, the second Mate Marchant & the third Mate Ross, on sending the Tide Surveyor to desire the Captain to come to Custom House he sent Mr Ross the third Mate who says he is a Burgher of Ostend and that the Captain is also one and he produced the Emperors Commission under which the Ship Sails, and now says they are not bound for Bengal, but to some of the Settlements on the Malabar Coast belonging to the Emperor, that they have several Passengers on board & Young Gentlemen going out as Midshipmen, that there are only four English Men amongst the Seamen, the greater part of them being Danes or Swedes, that the Ships Company consists of about fifty in Number. The Ship will sail at the first change in Wind.

[Marginal note to the preceding letter. – ‘The seamen to be acquainted that they must withdraw themselves immediately from the said service or they will be liable to be prosecuted for a breach of H.M. Proclamation.’

Further note. – ‘The ship had sailed some, time before the above letter was received.’]


6 August 1789               In return to your Order directing us to report whether there is any particular necessity for putting the Revenue to the expence of building a new Boat for our use in crossing to Custom House.

We beg leave to submit to your Honors, that there is only one Public Ferry employed in the Passage between East and West Cowes, and waiting on one side or the other for the arrival of that Boat would often be very inconvenient and disagreeable, especially in the Winter season when we are occasionally obliged to attend at the Custom House of an Evening after the Public Business of the day is over and not infrequently after the Ferry Boat is Locked up in order to prepare and make up Official Accounts and transact other necessary Business.

That having also on frequent occasions to send the Tide Surveyor at the Watch House situated on the opposite side of the Harbour to the Custom House, we should without Command of such a Boat as is craved be subject to great inconvenience & delay in Business as the Messenger if obliged always to cross in The Ferry Boat would have to go more than half a mile round about.

For all which reasons we are humbly of the opinion that the Boat is very necessary for the Service, nor it attended with any considerable Expence to the Revenue as it is generally used by the senior Tide Waiter and Boatmen who attend the Lock up at the Custom House & to go on Errands & Messages.

And we beg leave further to add that we desire no private pecuniary advantages from using the Boat instead of the Ferry Boat as we subscribe annually to the Ferry as other inhabitants do and are frequently obliged to make use of it.  [A marginal note states the ‘Commissioners of Opinion a New Boat is not necessary but that one of the Tide Surveyors may be used when wanted.]


26 August 1789             Account of the charges paid for Carriage of Seized Goods to the Warehouse.



Seizing Offrs Name

Quantity & Quality of Goods

Sums Paid

Distance Goods Carried & what place Seized

Feb 12th 1789


John Grimes Ridg Surveyor

Edward Dixon & William Robey

Ridg Officers

27 small Casks of Foreign Spirit

1 –1 – 0

16 Miles Viz. from the place of Seizure near Atherfield Rocks to the Officers House at Sutton 2 Miles and from thence to the Custom House at Cowes 14 Miles

March 25th


George Granger & Jos. Atwell Boatmen

67 small Casks of Foreign Spirit

1 –1 – 0

9 Miles from Ryde to Cowes

April 18th


John Grimes Ridg Surveyor

William Robey

Ridg Officers

69 small Casks of Foreign Spirit

2 –2 – 0

19 Miles Viz. from the place of Seizure at Atherfield Rocks to the Officers House at Sutton 5 Miles and from thence to the Custom House at Cowes 14 Miles

The above Charges we believe have been unavoidably incurr’d and that the Officers could not get the service performed at a more reasonable rate.

N B The Boat out of which the Goods in Article No. 2 were landed was also Seized but the Smuglers having carried away all the materials, and the Casks being Seized upon the Shore the Officers were under the necessity of Hiring a Waggon to secure the Goods and convey them to the Custom House.


1 September 1789          The Landing Surveyor having represented to us that some of the Scale Boards which are used in weighing Tobacco Rice and other Goods at this Port are become old and unserviceable and that it is necessary two new ones should be provided for the Service.

Inclosed we transmit an Estimate of the Expence thereof which inclusive of the value of the old iron to be deducted at the rate of 14/- per cwt. will not exceed the sum of Eight Pounds eleven Shillings and eleven Pence and we humbly pray your Order for providing the Scale Boards.


11 September 1789        Observing that in the inclosed Draft of a Lease of the Custom House at this Port which accompanied your Order of the 8th Instant the last part of the Draft is struck out & the words “Not in the old Lease” noted in the margin.

We think it necessary previous to our writing again to the Lessor who resides at some distance from hence to acquaint your Honours that that part of the Draft was inserted in consequent of a representation from your Honorable Board communicated in your Order of the 11th November last that the Lessor would grant a new running Lease for 7, 14 or 21 Years, to which our application to her she consented.

We therefore humbly submit, if exclusive of the delay & loss of time it will occasion whether it may not appear like an inconsistency of conduct after having wrote to her to grant a running Lease determinable either at 7, 14 or 21 Years to apply again for a Lease for 21 Years absolute particularly as we are not aware any advantage can be derived for the Crown by taking the Lease for 21 Years in preference to a running lease determinable at your Pleasure on the expiration of any Period. But on the contrary are of the opinion that a running Lease is preferable for the following reasons.

The premises are old & not in all respects convenient for Officers as could be wished as we have already represented in our Letter of the 11th December last to which we beg to refer add to which your Honors have an unexpired term of between 11 & 12 Years of a House adjoining Custom House now used as a Storehouse, Sale Room & for other occasional purposes part of which House it will be necessary to lay into Custom House in order to accommodate Officers who are much straighten’d for room to do their Business in, and as that House on the expiration of your present Lease will fall into the Proprietor of Custom House, we think your Honors will become likely to renew upon fair and equitable Terms a Lease of the whole Premises if it should at the end of 14 Years be thought advisable so to do than if you are tied down by a 21 Year Lease to hold that part which constitutes the present Custom House 7 or 8 Years longer than your House in the other part of the Premises.


1 October 1789              Mr Ritchie Sitter of the Six Oar’d Boat stationed at St Hellens in this Port having represented to us that several of the Vessels belonging to Smuglers in the Neighbourhood were expected home with their illicit Cargoes.

And that if he were permitted the temporary use of a Seized Lugger of about 20 Tons Berthen now lying at this Port, he should be enabled to cruize in the Track most likely to fall in with them with a much greater probability of success than he could do in his open Boat in the present unsettled weather.

And as the Swan Cutter of this port is at present in London to be refitted and the Swallow cutter which by the Secretary’s Letter of the 19th Ultimo your Honours signified to us, was ordered to cruize in the Swans Station during her absence, has not yet made her appearance, we have thought it for the good of the service to encourage Mr Ritchie’s zeal and activity by permitting him to make temporary use of the Lugger especially as it is not attended with any additional Expence to the Revenue, which we humbly submit for your Honors approbation.

We beg leave to add that although Mr Ritchie has not yet cruized a week in the lugger he has sent in a boat with 116 Casks of Spirits which is a proof that the Smuglers are availing themselves of the Cutters absence by carrying on a brisk Trade.

And as his men have an opportunity of shelter on board the Lugger which in the open Boat they are deprived of, we are humbly of the opinion that if he is permitted to continue Cruizing in the Lugger during the Winter it may benefit the Service without additional expence to the Revenue and will be a proper encouragement to Mr Ritchie & his Boat’s Crew. [A marginal note states ‘ To report the Services perfom’d by Ritchie in the lugger at the end of a Month’.]

1786 - 1788

1789 - 1791

Customs Cowes Letters Book

© Transcription by Steve Holden, 2008. Original Book held at the National Archives.

2 August 2009