It would appear that Robert Willis was born in Niton on the Isle of Wight in 1750, son of Robert and Mary Willis and Baptised at St John the Baptist Church, Niton on the 15th July 1750. He married Sarah Whitwood at the same Church on the 23rd February 1773.
He joined Customs in 1785, the method by which he was appointed is not known.
31 May 1785 Robert Willis having by your Order of the 23rd Instant been nominated to the Employment of Boatman at this Port, we inclose transmit a Certificate of his Qualification.
This is to Certify I have examin’d Robert Willis nominated to be a Boatman at this Port and find him to be a Seafaring Man and qualified for the Management of a Boat. (Signed John Miller, Tidesurveyor).
We certify that Robert Willis nominated to be a Boatman at this Port is / as appears by an Extract from the Register of Baptism which has been produced to us / in the Thirty fifth year of Age & we further certify that he appears active an capable of performing the Duty of a Boatman.
It becomes clear that at a fairly early date he was well thought of by the Collector, as in October 1787 he was asked by the Collector William Arnold to Officiate for the Tide Surveyor John Miller:
1 October 1787 Mr John Miller Tide Surveyor at this Port being at present very ill & unable to attend his Duty, we have thought it necessary for the Service to direct Robert Willis one of the Established Boatmen on a salary of Thirty pounds per annum to officiate for the Tide Surveyor during his illness and we shall take care that Mr Willis’s Station at Yarmouth be in the meantime supplied by a proper Extraman if the Service is to require it.
This was a very responsible post, among the duties being control of incoming Vessels and supervising Tide Waiters, but it clearly did not last long, John Miller died on the 14th October and was replaced on the 24th November 1787, following which he returned to his post as Boatman Yarmouth.
In February the following year an interesting Letter giving details of his family background and Salary, it is notable that an Officer of Customs is considered a ‘poor man’. There is no result shown for the letter, but it appears that he was not required to serve and continued his role a Boatman at Yarmouth
26 February 1788 Inclosed we transmit a letter from Robert Willis, a boatman upon the establishment and at present stationed at Yarmouth signifying that he has been drawn to serve in the Isle of Wight Militia.
We beg leave to observe that if officers of Customs in general cannot plead a legal exemption from serving in the Militia, we apprehend those of the Waterguard cannot be compelled to serve. We think also in the present case, Willis having a family of six children to support upon an income of thirty pounds per annum might with ‘no impropriety, plead an exemption as a poor man added to which he is by your Honor’s Deputation liable to be called upon to do duty at any port if and where his service may be required.
We are likewise told that neither ourselves nor any other officer of Customs are exempted from serving in the Militia that our names must be included in the lists returned and that if balloted for, we must either serve or find substitutes.
In 1792 he was appointed as temporary Sitter (Captain) of the Six Oared Boat, based at Bembridge following the resignation of the then Sitter. This Boat had a wide range and appears to have covered the whole of the Island coast.
4 December 1792 Inclosed we transmit a Letter from Mr C Ritchie Sitter of the Six Oar’d Boat upon Incidents at this Port praying on account of his ill health to Resign his Employment.
Mr Ritchie not having for some time past been able to give that attention to Business which the Service requires, we found it necessary of the 3rd Ultimo to direct Robert Willis a Boatman upon the Establishment of this Port to act as Sitter of the Boat during Mr Ritchie’s indisposition so that the Boat may not remain unemployed.
And we propose that he should continue to act in that capacity for which he is in every respect qualified until we receive your Honors further directions.
He was Sitter from 3rd November 1792 until 30th April 1793, when he was stated to have been ‘taken ill and unable to continue the Charge of the Boat’, the nature of the illness is not specified. The Boat was nine years old and was discontinued, broken up and sold in early 1794.
In May 1794 he put in a request for payment of an additional Salary as Sitter in addition to that of Boatman, the normal procedure was to apply for the difference between the Salaries.
27 May 1794 We hereby transmit an application from Mr Robert Willis a Boatman at this Port praying to be allowed the Salary of the Sitter of the six Oard Boat in addition to his own Salary as Boatman during the time he was acting as Sitter of the Boat under our Order of which we acquainted your Honors by our Letter of the 4th December 1792.
We have known no Instance where your Honors have allowed the Salary of two Officers to one Man but Willis who receives a Salary of £30 per annum on the Establishment having acted as Sitter of the Boat from the 3rd November 1792 to the 30th April following the Resignation of Charles Ritchie who was paid a Salary of £40 per annum by Incidents.
We submit to your Consideration if it may not be proper to allow him the difference of Salary for the time he was acting as Sitter of the Boat & which at the rate of £10 per annum Amounts to Four Pounds Eighteen Shillings which is respectfully submitted.
Payment of £5 – 0 – 6 agreed by the Board on 6th June 1794, the basis of which is not detailed, but appears to be the difference between his two salaries.
In October the Cutter based at Cowes was captured by the French and it appears that a Vessel seized in 1794, the Nancy, was put into Service as a Temporary Cruizer on 3rd November 1795 with Robert Willis as Commander, initially on a trial basis.
15 March 1796 In return to your Order of the 10th Inst. we beg leave to report that the Nancy temporary Cruizer at this Port is of the Berthen of 34 Tons & commanded by Robert Willis, a Boatman on the Establishment of this Port. The only Seizures hitherto made by this Cutter are Six small Casks of Spirit & one Cask of Snuff, nevertheless we think it but justice to add that we believe the Cutter since she was appointed to the Station has kept cruizing as much as the Season of the Year would admit of, and that it has not been for want of a look out that the Commander has not yet met with more Success.
The Cutter is also very much in want of a proper Boat but as we are as yet without any Orders to provide one although an Estimate was transmitted in our Letter of the 10th November last.
17 August 1796 Since we communicated your Order of the 10th March last to Mr Robert Willis Commander of the Nancy Temporary Cruizer Stationed at this Port, we think the Cutter has kept a diligent look out, and has sent in upwards of 400 casks of Spirit & Tobacco with a large Lugsail Boat which the Commander seized, and we are humbly of the opinion that it may be for the Benefit of the Service to continue the Cutter in the Employ some time longer on a further Tryal especially as we have reason to believe that there is much Smugling on this Coast in small Vessels & large open Boats.
And the Services of Thomas Lean who is a Deputed Mariner belonging to the Swan Cutter and who was acting as Mate in the Nancy Cutter being much wanted by Captain Sarmon in fitting out & rigging out the new swan Cutter which is now getting ready for Sea – we have thought for the benefit of the Service to keep the Nancy Cutter properly mann’d to direct Luke Lidiard the Younger who has been a Deputed Mariner in the Service on board the Roebuck Revenue Cutter to act as Mate on board the Nancy Cutter on the Cruize she is now upon & humbly pray your Honors to grant him your deputation as Mate of the Cutter, provided you judge it expedient as we humbly submit it may be to continue the Cutter upon the Station for 3 Months longer on further Tryal.
This trial appears to have continued indefinitely, probably as the replacement Swan had also been captured by the French in December 1796. As Commander of the Nancy he was responsible for keeping the Accounts and other paperwork. Problems were encountered with the Victualling of the Vessels (which was seemingly common at this time as the allowance was below the rising cost of Stores):
29 May 1797 At the request of Mr Robert Willis Commander of the Temporary Cruizer the Nancy in the Service at this Port, we beg to lay before you an Account for his disbursements for Victualling the said Cutter for one Year Viz. from the 5th January 1796 to the 5th January 1797 together with the Allowance made him by your Honors for the same, by which it will appear that he has sustained a loss of Thirty four Pounds 10s/5d in the year by Victualling the Cutter.
When Willis first took Command of the Cutter he expressed his doubts of the Allowance of One shilling per Day per Man being sufficient for Victualling the Cutter properly on Account of the very high price of Provisions. We then recommended him to make the tryal for a Year & to keep an exact Account of his Disbursements for Victualling the Cutter separate from other Accounts, to take care to purchase the Provisions on the best Terms he could & to be as economical as possible in his expenditure, promising him that if it should appear at the expiration of that time by Voucher accompanying his Account that the Allowance he had received was not sufficient for the purpose we would represent the same to your Honors for your Consideration.
With the Account we transmit the particular Disbursements in each Quarter & Vouchers, and having no reason to doubt the truth thereof & that the loss stated has been incurred. We beg leave to submit the same.
In September 1797, concern was expressed at the state of the vessel
5 September 1797 Mr Robert Willis Commander of the Nancy temporary Cruizer at this Port has represented to us by Letter that the Cutter is become very leaky not only in her bottom but upper Works and Deck, that the Men cannot be dry in their Cabbins, nor the Cutter kept at Sea without great hazard unless she undergoes a thorough repair, and he add that the Sails are in such a state as to require being replaced with a new set.
Under the Circumstances of the case, the Cutter being a Seized Vessel condemned and represented as being twelve Years old and originally a slight built Vessel, we are humbly of the Opinion that she cannot be worth the Expence of thorough Repair.
But Willis being an active Officer, having kept a good look out against the Smuglers, and made some considerable Seizures since he has cruised in the Nancy Cutter and Smugling also we have reason to believe being now carried out to a considerable degree on the Coast.
We beg leave to propose to your Honors that he be allowed to make use of the Eagle Cutter which was left at this Port when the new Cutter of that name was delivered for the Service at Newcastle as we are informed she would answer the purpose of a temporary Cruizer without much Expence and if it meet your approbation we would propose that in addition to his present Crew of nine Men should be added Thomas Lane the Deputed Mariner of the late Swan Cutter recently returned form a French Prison / no Mate or Deputed Mariner having been appointed by your Honors to the Nancy Cutter / and five of the Mariners belonging to the Swan who we think might be usefully employed for the Service in the Eagle Cutter ‘til the Swan now building is ready for the Seas.
Details of the Crewing of the Nancy was given on the 8th September 1797 as:
Nancy Cutter Robert Willis, Commander Salary £30 per annum Commenced March 10 1796
Luke Lidiard, Mate
8 Mariners 1/- per day
The Board did not take up the suggestion of the use of the Eagle, and the Nancy continued for the next Year but in October 1798 an order was given for its discontinuance:
24 October 1798 Having communicated to Mr Robert Willis Commander of the Nancy Temporary Cruizer at this Port on coming into the Road Yesterday your Order of the 17th Instant for discontinuing the said Cutter, we have since received from him the inclosed Letter which he has requested us to transmit praying for the reason therein stated that he may continue his Cruize until the end of the present Quarter.
We beg leave to represent to your Honors that Mr Willis has shown great Activity since he has Command of this Cutter, has made many Seizures as the enclosed Account thereof will show and we have no cause to be dissatisfied with his Conduct.
Willis’s request to be allowed to Cruize until the end of the Quarter was granted and it was then ordered that the Cutter was then to be laid aside, broken up & the pieces sold. Willis subsequently requested the difference between his Boatmans Salary and that of Cutter Commander:
1 March 1799 Inclosed we transmit an Application from Mr Robert Willis late Commander of the Nancy Cutter a temporary Cruizer at this Port praying that his Salary of £30 per Annum which he has received as a Boatman upon the Establishment at this Port may be equal to the Salary of other Commanders of Cutters in your Service during the Time he Commanded the said Nancy Cutter.
We beg leave to report that Mr Willis under your Order of the 30th October 1795 commanded the Nancy Cutter from the 3rd November to the 5th January last being a period of 3 Years and 64 Days, that the Difference between his Salary of 30£ per Annum and that of 50 usually paid to a Commander of a Cutter in the Service in that Time amounts to Sixty four Pounds five Shillings & eight Pence.
This was paid. It must also be borne in mind that as being a member of a Cutter Crew he would also have received a proportion of the value of any seizure made.
In June 1799 the Collector, William Arnold again attempted to persuade the Board that another temporary Cutter was required, with the alternative of using the six Oared Boat previously belonging to the Nancy with Robert Willis as Sitter:
15 June 1799 The Swan Cutter in the Service at this Port being Ordered on Special Service / as we are informed / with several other Revenue Cutters the Smuglers will be left to carry on their without any Checks which induces us to submit to your Honors the propriety of Employing a Temporary Cruizer on the Swan station.
If the Speedwell Seized Cutter of the Burthen of 41 Tons which was returned into the Court of the Exchequer from this Port in the Easter Term last has been condemned we submit that a more proper Vessel for the purpose cannot be had she would be ready for the Sea immediately & fitted with little Expence.
If this Cutter cannot be so employed and your Honors have no other proper Vessel ready to Order we are humbly of the Opinion it might be for the benefit of the Service to hire a fast Sailing Cutter or Pilot Vessel of which there are several at this Port and Hire it by the Month on the best terms it can be procured and to be a Master and sufficient number of Men we are humbly of the Opinion would answer to the Revenue if carried into execution immediately and if approved by your Honors we humbly beg leave to recommend Robert Willis a Boatman at Yarmouth in this Port to be Commander, he acted in that capacity with good success & advantage to the Revenue during the Time the Nancy Cutter was employed as a temporary Cruizer, and that the 6 Oar’d Boat belonging to that Cutter and now remaining in this Isle should be used on the present occasion if the proposals meet your Honors approbation.
There does not appear to have been any specific Order from the Board to use the six Oared Boat, but it appears that the Collector put it into effect on a train basis as the result of another Order (the full text of which is not preserved):
4 September 1799 In return to your Order of the 19th July we beg leave to acquaint you that on receiving the Order we did not fail to inforce in the Strongest Manner we could to the Officers of the Water – Guard and also the Riding and preventing Officers the necessity of Active and Vigilant lookout particularly at this Time when the Coast was left open to the Smuglers by the absence of the Revenue Cutter and having in the Store House a Boat belonging to the Crown we thought it would be for the benefit of the Service to fit it out and Man it with five of the Established and Extra Boatmen who were willing to Cruize under the Direction of Robert Willis one of the Established Boatmen at Yarmouth as Sitter thereof to intercept any small Smugling Vessels or Boats carrying on their illicit Trade between Yarmouth, Hurst Castle & the Needles and the West End of the Isle of Wight and to ask in Conjunction with the Riding Officers stationed on that Coast in discerning Goods sunk by the Smuglers at the Back of the Island reported to us to be very much the practice.
Success has not hitherto attended them but we do not think it owing to any want of Activity on their Part. And we are humbly of the Opinion that Yarmouth is so proper a Station for a Boat Crew and Mr Robert Willis so fit a man to act as Sitter of a Boat to cruize against the Smuglers that we cannot but recommend a further Tryal of it as necessary for the Service.
Initial results do not appear to have been good (which the Collector stated partially resulted from the mere presence of the Boat) and he put forward a further trial period.
23 October 1799 In our Letter of the 4th Ult. we acquainted your Honors that we had thought it necessary for the Service to employ a Boat with a Sitter and five Men to be stationed at Yarmouth within this Port during the Time the Swan Cutter was absent from the Station on Special Service.
That we had directed Robert Willis a Boatman at Yarmouth on a salary per Establishment of £30 per Annum to act as Sitter and to form his Boat Crew from such of the Established & Extra Boatmen as were willing to cruize under his direction till your further pleasure respecting it should be known.
That no seizures have hitherto been made by this Boats Crew are attributable to the very bad weather we have lately had and to several Vessels belonging to Yarmouth & that Neighbourhood and suspected of following the Smugling Trade not having gone to Sea for some Time part considering this Boat only a temporary thing.
But we are humbly of the Opinion that Yarmouth is a proper Station for a Boat Crew not only for the purpose of checking the Smugling Trade carried on in that Neighbourhood and near Hurst Castle as well as other parts of the Isle of Wight where the Smugglers are in the practice of landing their Goods but also to assist in enforcing the Orders of Quarantine and to Examine Vessels from Ireland arriving with Passengers to see that they are furnished with proper papers that we think it our Duty to recommend to your Honors a further Tryal of the Boat for Six Months that the Crew should consist of a Sitter & Six Men with such allowance for their Service as your Honors may think fit to fix.
This further trial was approved, but again with little success. The Collector attributed this to the worn out state of the Boat and put forward an Estimate for a replacement.
20 February 1800 Mr Robert Willis Sitter of the Six Oar’d Boat directed by your Order of the 19th December to be stationed at Yarmouth at this Port for a Trial of Six Months have represented to us that his Boat now in Use and which is above Ten Years old in nearly worn out and unsafe to go to Sea in and that in order to Cruize with Effect on his Station a new Boat is necessary for the Service.
We have caused an Estimate of the Expence of building a new Six Oar’d Boat & also for a suit of sails for the same should those belonging to his present Boat being old and nearly unserviceable to be given in and transmit the Sum amounting to £43 – 15 – 10 and pray your Order for providing the same.
As no authorization has been received, a further letter was sent to the Board in May:
7 May 1800 On the 20th February last we transmitted an Estimate of the Expence of building a New Boat for the Station and Boats Crew at Yarmouth in this Port on a Tryal for 6 Months by your Order of 19th December.
We have not yet received your Orders for the said Boat which we humbly submit is necessary for the Service to enable the Crew to Cruize without the Needles and round the Coast of the Island & the Boat at present in use being above ten Years old & unfit to go to Sea in.
To the want of a new Boat for the Service we attribute in a great Degree no seizures having been made by the Boats Crew during the last three Months.
And the season now coming when in all probability Smugling in small Craft will increase more especially as several of the Revenue Cruizers are order from their Stations for other Public Service, we humbly pray that we may receive your Orders respecting the said Boats as soon as conveniently may be that we may expedite the Building thereof.
Orders were clearly eventually given for its building as in August necessary supplies were requested:
27 August 1800 The Six Oard Boat being built by your Orders for the Service at Yarmouth in this Port being nearly ready to launch Mr Robert Willis the Sitter humbly prays to be supplied with Colours, Compass, Spy Glass & Arms necessary for their use on the Boat.
The Boat was put into service and appears to have operated with a degree of success, but in August 1801 the crew were accused of taking Spirits and Tobacco from a Prize Boat seized by a Naval Vessel, although at the time Robert Willis was not on board (being indisposed):
6 August 1801 In return to your Letter of the 31st Ult. on the Seizure of the Lord Jarvis Lugsail Boat carried into Portsmouth by the Fortune, Lord Amelias Beauclere, We have to state to your Honors the Declarations of Robert Willis Sitter of the Six Oard Boat at Yarmouth, and his Boats Crew, all of whom we have strictly examined on the Matter.
Robert Willis says that on the 19th May and three Days preceding he was so indisposed as to incapable of performing his Duty in the Boat, that in the Morning of that Day he sent to his People and ordered them to row to Alum Bay and the Needles, and when there, to ascend the Cliff and if they saw anything likely to come in, to hasten back and acquaint him with it (neither of them having a Deputation). The Men returned to Yarmouth about one o’clock and reported that off Hurst Castle they had boarded a Lugsail Boat laden with Tubs and Tobacco, taken by the Fortune Frigate with a Prize Master on board proceeding to Portsmouth. They also mentioned to Willis that the Prize Master whilst they were alongside but not more than ten Minutes at farthest had given them a Pint and a half of Grog to drink in their own Jug, and that they had put an old Man ashore at Hurst Castle by consent of the Prize Master, who said at the time, if they could not land him there, he should be put ashore on the Isle of Wight.
The said Willis has no reason to believe that any Spirits or Tobacco was taken by any of his People.
John Allen, James Andrews, James Stephens, John Hardey, Robert Squire and Henry Dore composing the Crew of the Six Oard Boat at Yarmouth say, that on the 19th May having been to the Needles on look out, by the Order of Mr Willis the Sitter, who was ill, they boarded a Lugsail Boat with Tubs and Tobacco, and were informed by the Midshipman in Charge of her that she was a Prize to the Fortune Frigate – during which time they were alongside the Prize, the Midshipman gave them a Pint and a half of Grog to drink, made in their own Jugs, an old Man in the Boat, unknown to these Informants, ask’d to be put on Shore at Hurst, and the Midshipman declaring if they could not land him, as he desired it was his intention to put him on Shore on the Island side, the complied with the Mans request and landed him accordingly at Hurst Castle.
The Informants further declare that as that as the Man was stepping from the Prize into the Boat he caught hold of the Slings of a Cask and had it upon the Gunwale; but on the Midshipman telling him to desist he accordingly did, and the Cask fell among the Rest in the Prize Boat, which they are willing Solemnly to declare on Oath, as well as to testify that not a single drop of Spirit (except the Pint and a half of Grog) given them by the Midshipman or Tobacco was taken from the Prize into their Boat.
The said Men further declare that they should not have so willingly the Man on Shore, had they not learned from the Conversation which took place when alongside the Prize Boat that the Smuggling Crew had been kept by Lord Amelius aboard the Fortune.
Having ourselves received Information that a Complaint had been made against these People by the Officer who carried the Seizure into Portsmouth, we considered it our Duty to interrogate Mr Willis on the Business but hearing afterwards that the Collector of Portsmouth would be directed by your Honors to investigate the matter we forbore to report then, what we now transmit in obedience to your Honors command.
No further action appears to have been taken on this complaint.
In early 1802 the Boat was moved from Yarmouth to St Hellens, a real hotbed of Smuggling, the inhabitants of which were not particularly friendly towards the Boat Crew, who could not find accommodation other than in a Public House which was not deemed suitable. The possibility of building a Watch House was investigated as was the use of a seized vessel, but neither of these appears to have been adopted:
7 June 1802 Inclosed we transmit an Application from Mr Robert Willis Sitter of the Six Oared Boat at St Hellens who by your Honors Order of the 7th March was removed from Yarmouth in this Port to that Station and who in consequence of which removal we have the Satisfaction to State has Seized and brought to the Warehouse between that period and the 27th Ultimo 252 Casks of prohibited Spirits St Hellens being a place principally inhabited by Smugglers who send to Sea no less a number than 18 small Vessels for the purpose of carrying on their Trade, it is not expected Mr Willis can receive much civility from them but on the contrary every hostility they can shew him and the Crew without proceeding to Violence, in addition Willis’s endeavours to obtain accommodation for himself and people we have Interested ourselves with a Gentleman of Landed property and influence in that Neighbourhood to assist him but without effect.
A Public House of all places we consider the most improper for Revenue Officers to Resort to for reasons so obvious that we apprehend it unnecessary to detail them, we submit to your Honors as the practice of the St Hellens Smugglers is Systematic and of long standing and likely to continue, if it would not be desirable to erect a small watch House on the Beach if land can be obtained for that purpose or for the present to order some Seized Sloop, their being none at this Port, to be brought from some other and to be moor’d in St Hellens Harbour which would afford lodging and accommodation for Mr Willis and his Crew and protection to the Boat when unemployed which must be reasonably the Case at Intervals. Mr Willis begs us to inform your Honors a Sloop that would answer the object suggested is now under Seizure at Portsmouth as he has been informed.
5 July 1802 As directed by your Order of the 18th Ultimo we have procured from the Officer at Portsmouth the description of a Sloop condemned at that Port (the particulars of which we inclose) that would afford Mr Robert Willis the Sitter of the Six Oared Boat and his Crew accommodations and shelter it being impossible to obtain any from the inhabitants of St Hellens 9/10 of them being Reputed Smugglers. We have also in obedience to the said Order applied to Sir Richard Worsley the Lord of the Manor of St Hellens and Bembridge, who approving much of the Scheme of Erecting a Watchhouse has Authorised us in a very liberal manner to acquaint your Honours he will readily lease to the Crown for 99 years determinable on three lives, sufficient space of ground on any part of the Shore that shall be thought most Eligible to give efficiency to the Plan, at the annual quit rent of Ten Shillings. We humbly apprehend a Building to answer the purpose suggested would not be required, to be more than 30 feet by 14 feet, six feet high in the lower part for Stowing the Boat and her Materials, with a Room over the same fitted with 3 or 4 Cabin Berths and a fire Place for the Crew when the Boat is housed on account of the Badness of the weather to Cook occasionally their morsel, and that could be erected at Moderate Expence, we take the liberty to submit the proposal for your Honors Consideration being satisfied in our own minds that very beneficial Consequences to the interests of the Revenue may arise from such Establishment.
20 October 1802 As instructed by your Letter of the 14th Inst. we transmit inclosed a Sketch of a Watch and Boat House proposed to be erected at St Hellens and an Estimate for building the same amounting to £232 for the purpose of affording Shelter to the Crew of the Six Oared Boat and housing occasionally the Boat and her Materials as suggested to your Honors in our Letter 5th July last to which we now beg to refer for the Terms and Conditions on which Sir Richard Worsley the Lord of the said Manner will permit the same to be put up.
When we assure your Honors that we have most incontrovertible Authority for believing 4/5 of the Inhabitants of St Hellens and its opposite Shore Bembridge exist from Smuggling only, who sent to Sea 20 Sloop Rigged Vessels purposely to carry on their fraudulent practices and that several of these people have and are now enriching themselves by their clandestine Trade with Guernsey and Jersey; we trust we shall not be thought too zealous in the discharge of our Duty by earnestly recommending the expediency of immediately providing some accommodation for Men whose Services are more often engaged by Night than Day and to whom all Shelter and Lodging have been refused by those People whose conduct they are appointed to Watch for these last Eight Months.
In support of which we inclose a Letter from Mr Robert Willis the Sitter, expressing the Inconveniences and Hardships himself and Crew have experienced this last Summer.
Should your Honors after consideration of the Facts (we have thought fit to lay before you) feel disinclined to Order the Plan of this Building to be carried into effect, we are humbly of the opinion if your Honors were pleased to grant Mr Willis and Crew, the use of some Seized Vessel of the Burthen of 30 or 40 Tons he may employ her, without any additional hand, in Cruizing round the Isle of Wight to much advantage and when the Weather might prove to boisterous, to keep and Watch the Coast, she might be moored in St Hellens Harbour which would answer the united purpose of accommodations and being a Check on the Smugglers when they run into Creek for Shelter from the Winds.
The Six Oared Boat may be used by them alternatively, that is in Calm and Moderate Weather.
On this Subject we have conversed with our Tide Surveyor and the Supervisor of Riding Officers both of whom from their local knowledge of St Hellens, Bembridge and the Isle of Wight Coast in General, assure is they have no doubt, the most favourable consequences may result from giving Willis a Vessel to Command.
The Collector and Comptroller of Southampton having by Letter the 11th Inst. apprised us, that in Christchurch and Needles Shores, would be in great degree left unguarded, by the absence of the Rose and Batt Lugger now under Repair at Debtford, we have directed Mr Willis and his Crew to keep a strict Watch on these parts of the Coast and to make Yarmouth pro tempora, that is until some arrangement made at St Hellens his place of Rendezvous which we hope under the circumstances before mentioned your Honors will approve.
As no satisfactory solution could be agreed with the Board, the Boat was moved to Yarmouth. This did not, however remove hostility towards them as in December 1802 an attempt was made to sink the Boat:
21 December 1802 We are requested by Mr Willis Sitter of the Six Oared Boat representing to your honors that in the Evening of the 12th Instant when himself an Crew were endeavouring to intercept a Crop of Contraband Goods which he had received Information would be run in Freshwater that Night.
Several disposed Persons went on board the six Oared Boat then lying off Yarmouth Quay took out the Plug from the bottom of the Boat and sank her whereby the Oars and materials left in her were floated alongshore and some arms remaining in the Chest have become considerably injured.
To discover the Offender Robert Willis the Next Morning offered a Reward of Five Guineas and a Person by the name of John Broadly has given information and is willing to depose on Oath that about half past 10 o’clock on Sunday ninth the 12th Instant he saw a Young Man named Robert Squire get into the six Oared Boat stoop down it being moon light and he verily believes take out the Plug and sink her that during this transaction James Cammell a reputed Smuggler, in whose employ the said Squire is sometimes engaged, passed the Quay with a view as Broadly believes to give the Alarm and that he has no doubt Cammell also aspiring to the Act. We think it our duty to communicate the foregoing particulars to your honors hoping that you will be pleased to direct such steps be taken against the Offenders as may prevent similar outrages being made on the Kings Boats. (A footnote states the Oars and Materials were recovered.)
21 January 1803 In obedience to your Order of 4 Instant directing us to set forth the Circumstances of the sinking of the Six Oared Boat at Yarmouth in an Affidavit on a two Shilling Stamped Paper, we have to report that Thomas Broadley, the only Person who saw the Act and the Informant against the parties is not to be found within the Isle of Wight.
Robert Willis the Sitter of the Boat acquaints us that about the 20 Ultimo a Week subsequent to the transaction Mr Serani of Alderney, a Person who supplies Smugglers with Contraband Goods came to Yarmouth in a Cutter belonging to himself and took Broadley with him. One of Willis’s Crew John Dyer was told by Broadley that Serani should say he whould not have had the Boat sunk for 50 Guineas, that it would be a most serious Business if anything happened to Cammel and Squire, the People who sank her, and that Broadley the only Evidence should not stay in Yarmouth and that he Serani would provide for him in his Employ which we understand to be the case. Broadley has not been on the Island since, but is supposed to be on board a Smuggling Vessel.
In January 1803 the Collector made another attempt to have a Watch House built at St. Hellens and also to press for a small Cutter to patrol the Back of the Wight, this was again unsuccessful, but the request for the Cutter repeated in May, together with a glowing testimony for Robert Willis, but this was again unsuccessful:
5 January 1803 As directed by your Order of the 4th Ultimo we transmit inclosed an Estimate for building with Brick a Watch House on land at St Hellens to be leased by the Sitter of the Six Oared Boat amounting to £201 – 14 – 5.
We take the liberty of stating to your honors that from the increase in Smuggling at the Back of the Isle of Wight we have considered it our Duty to confer with Captain Ferris of the Swan Cutter and the Supervisor and Riding Officers who are Stationed on that part of the Coast for the purpose of receiving their opinions as to what plan may be submitted to your honors to suppress Smuggling which is these parts since the end of the war has increased beyond any former instances.
These Officers unanimously agree that as the sinking of Casks now practised by the Smugglers and frequently done in open day, a small Vessel of about 40 Tons to be Commanded by Robert Willis with the addition of two Men and a Boy to the present Compliment of the Six Oared Boat would stand as much chance of intercepting the Illicit Traders than a Boat and prove ultimately of less expence to your honors than building a Watch House to afford shelter to the Sitters Crew. It is well known that Cutters from 80 to 100 Tons do not work in the Bays at the Back of the Isle of Wight on account of their draught of Water and a Vessel of 40 Tons could act in such places safty and we are confident with success as we have no less than 20 Vessels from 15 to 40 Tons belonging to this Port where owners have no other employ but smuggling.
We would recommend in case your Honors feel inclined to adopt our proposal, which we submit from a Sincere Conviction that it would be attended with Success, that Robert Willis should be confined to Cruize round the Island only and under no pretence ever to extend his Limits farther than the Owers or Portland and that the place of Rendezvous when in Port on account of bad Weather should be St Hellens Harbour which is surrounded by People who exist by Smuggling alone and who we have already represented to your honors have refused Willis and his Crew Lodgings to accommodate them from the Inclemency of the Winter and it further being their policy to keep Revenue Officers at a great a distance as possible.
24 May 1803 It being reported that the Coast of the Isle of Wight and from the Needles westwards will in a short time be infested with small French Privateers and Boats as was the Case at the Commencement of the last War.
We submit to your Honors if it may not be thought expedient to employ under the Command of Mr Robert Willis a fine fast Sailing Lugger Seized at this Port 34 Tons register called the Fox of Dover returned in the Court of the Exchequer this present Term and we presume now condemned.
The Vessel is in a Good State well found in Sails Stores and a proper Boat and may fitted out at a few Pounds Expence.
Mr Willis is Sitter of the Six Oared Boat and would require only three Men in addition to his Boats Crew to make his Complement 10 altogether which would be sufficient.
He is an Intelligent active Officer and has lately taken two very good Prizes of Contraband Spirits and a Sloop.
For his Character and merit when he Commanded a Temporary Cruizer last War similar to that we are now recommending, we beg leave to Solicit your Honors perusal of a Letter wrote by the late Collector to Mr Secretary on Mr Willis’s Capture of a French Privateer off Portland on the 25th April 1797.
The Boat appears to have stayed at Yarmouth for the next year, and in March 1804 an example of the problems encountered by Customs staff is recorded:
11 March 1804 An outrage having been committed against the Revenue by a Body of Soldiers stationed at the back of the Isle of Wight not only by opposing the operations of your Honors Officers endeavouring to make Seizure of a quantity of Prohibited Spirits which had been drifted on Shore but by rescuing 5 Casks from Mr Robert Willis Sitter of the Six Oared Boat and Mr James Williams Mate of the Cutter belonging to Christ Church and carrying them away with at least 200 more Casks into His Majesty’s Barracks at Sandown.
We have upon the back of the inclosed Information caused two of the Leaders who the Officers could identity to be apprehended and Committed to Goal to wait your Honors directions on the process to be adopted for the punishment of the Offenders.
As soon as we were appraised of the resistance shown to Willis and Williams the Collector called on Major General Lord Caron and communicated to him the conduct of the Military, his Lordship expressed his displeasure at their behaviour in mat indignant terms and gave an Order to the Commanding Officer Lt Col. Young of the 8th Regiment to have the Barracks immediately searched which was done but unfortunately too late to recover any number as only 86 Casks could be found.
We are since informed that the majority of the Spirits were disposed of by the Soldiers to Smugglers 2 Country People at 10 & 5 Shillings per Cask & that upwards of 20 Privates of the 8th Regiment concerned in this shameful transaction have been severely flogged for their misbehaviour and getting Drunk with the Spirits carried from the Shore.
20 March 1804 In pursuance of your directions signified in Mr Secretarys Letter of the 17th Inst. we have sent for Mr Robert Willis and Mr James Williams Master of the Batt Cutter who lives at Christ Church that they may make a full Affidavit of all the circumstances of obstruction met with in making a Seizure of Prohibited Spirits at Sandown Barracks which shall be transmitted to your Honors as soon as possible.
In the meantime we have received Notice from the Justices Clerk that the Soldiers now in Prison for being Principals in the rescue must now be liberated in the course of two or three Days unless proceedings are entered against them, we earnestly entreat your Honors directions thereon by return of Post.
In obedience to that part of your Honors Letter respecting the names of the 20 Soldiers flogged, Mr Chapman the Comptroller waited yesterday on Lt Col. Young of His Majesty’s 8th Regiment at Sandown Barracks for the purpose of obtaining them, but received for an answer that he could not give the names and explained that he had punished these Men for Breach of Military Discipline in getting Drunk in the Barracks with part of the Spirits found on the Shore, and added that those Men were no way concerned in the Obstruction. (The Affidavit was transmitted on 23rd March.)
The Collector, John Ward, continued to press for Robert Willis to be allowed to use a small Cutter, again emphasising his previous conduct, yet again without success:
25 June 1804 We be to submit to your consideration the inclosed Letter from Mr Robert Willis Sitter of the Six Oared Boat at St Hellens humbly representing that he is of the opinion a small Cutter of 40 Tons may be used by him with more advantage at this Crisis / now Smugling is increased / than the Six Oared Boat as he is often prevented by the high Seas that prevail at the back of the Isle of Wight from pursuing Contraband Traders through carrying on their Actions in an open Boat.
We beg to remind your Honors that Mr Willis was by your Order of 18th March was directed to fix his Station at St Hellens rather than Yarmouth, but such has been the Hostility shown to Mr Willis and his Crew by the Inhabitants / most of whom are determined Smuglers protected by Sea Fencible Certificates / that your Honors Directions could not be carried out for want of Lodging and accommodation when the Boat was employed along Shore.
It is but a few Weeks since a party of these People attacked Daniel Dore and George Granger two of your Honors Officers for the discovery of whom you have been pleased by your Order of 21st Inst. to offer a Reward of £50.
Robert Willis is an Isle of Wight Man, bred to the Sea and possesses accurate local knowledge of the small Bays and Shoals at the back parts of the Island where Smuglers run with their Goods and where Revenue Cruizers of any Burthen or Depth of Water cannot pursue them without risk – Mr. Willis’s application is for a small Vessel Condemned at Portsmouth called the Hiram, to be employed looking after Isle of Wight Smuglers and requires only an augmentation of Three Men to his present Boats Crew which on the presumption of making more Seizures would not put the Crown to any additional expence – but in all probability would prove an advantageous and profitable experiment.
The facts in Mr Willis’s Letter we can Certify correct and meritorious and we hope will entitle him to your Honors support as the interest of the Revenue is likely to be served by the purport of his application.
Once again problems were encountered by Willis and the Crew of the Six Oared Boat in August 1804, although it does appear that some recompence was obtained on this Occasion:
20 August 1804 Mr Robert Willis Sitter of the Six Oared Boat at St Helens having on the 7th Inst. having been hindered and opposed in the execution of his Duty at Chilton on the south side of the Isle of Wight at a time when he had an opportunity of making a Seizure of a considerable number of Casks of Contraband Spirit which himself & people on the look out saw put overboard & sunk from two smuggling Vessels at a short distance from the Shore – and at the same juncture been ill treated and threatened James Dyer a Notorious Smugler who they verily believe was interested in the Contraband Goods they saw sunk & who intentionally to hinder Willis from proceeding to Sea took up a Hammer & beat a hole through the Six Oared Boat into the bilge thereby disabling her from floating & consequently Willis of going in search of the Goods.
Your Collector immediately had Dyer committed before the Magistrates who have / in the depositions of Willis & his people / committed his to take his Trial at the ensuing Quarter Sessions for the County under the Act of the 24th of His Majesty Chap 41 Sect 15.
We transmit your Honors inclose copies of the Information made before the Justices against Dyer & humbly entreat your Directions for further government in prosecuting this Offender.
31 October 1804 We are requested by Mr Robert Willis on whose Information a Penalty of £168 – 9 has been recovered from James Dyer Senior & Abraham Bickerton for Smuggling, to forward the inclosed Application humbly praying to be allowed the usual reward granted to Officers when penalties have been paid by Offenders against the Revenue.
A major report was submitted to the Board concerning Smuggling around the Island (which is reproduced in full here) giving details of how it was carried out and possible methods of reducing it, on of which was another attempt to obtain a cutter for Robert Willis. This, and the request for additional Riding Officers do not appear to have been actioned by the Board.
31 December 1804 In obedience to your Order of 14th Inst we have obtained from the different Sources therein pointed out the Information required as to the extent and nature of Smugling now practiced on this Coast and with a view of rendering the report as explicit as possible we beg leave to submit distinct answers as under to the several enquiries made by Your Honors on this subject.
1st What is the nature of Smugling on the Coast of the Isle of Wight – Spirits, Wine, Salt, Cards in small Casks and Tobacco in small Bales.
2nd The mode of Smugling the Articles – In Vessels called Cutters, Sloops and Smacks from Ten to Thirty Tons having one sometimes two Boats of a flat Build purposely constructed for landing Casks.
3rd The extent of Smugling on your Coast – Within the Port of Cowes comprehending the whole of the Isle of Wight we have ascertained there are eighteen Vessels of the description mentioned in the preceding Answer which follow the Smugling Trade entirely and make one voyage per Month to Guernsey, Jersey or Alderney bringing on an average of One hundred & Fifty small casks of Spirits with small quantities of Tobacco, Salt & cards.
4th The places where the Smugled goods are landed – Previous to landing the Prohibited Spirits on the Isle of Wight Smuglers generally sink the Casks some little distance from the shore and when they can advantage a favourable opportunity from the absence of the preventive Officers they take up their casks and land them at the undermentioned parts of the Isle of Wight Viz. St Hellens, Ryde, Yaverland, Shanklin, Luccomb, Mill Bay, Wharfield Rocks, Chilton, Brook Chine, Freshwater and Gurnard.
5th What becomes of the Smugled Goods that land on different parts of the Isle of Wight – The greater proportion is conveyed away by the receiving Smuglers on the shore in parties of Six, Ten or Fifteen to various parts of the Island and sold to the Inhabitants and to the Soldiery in the Barracks. The lesser proportion is often carried away on men’s shoulders from the landing spots on the south part of the Island to the North part and then put into Boats and conveyed to Stokes Bay Gosport, Southampton River and the new Forest on the Main Land.
Having thus laid before your honors the extent and mode of Smugling within our District we beg to suggest as means of checking this Illicit Trade that a Cruizer of about 40 Tons should be established to watch and guard independently of all other Service the Coast of the Isle of Wight and that she should be restricted from Cruizing farther than the Owers to the East and Purbeck to the West of the Isle of Wight. That the Command should be give Mr Robert Willis the present Sitter of the Six Oared Boat who is a capable intelligent Officer and acquainted with all the locations of the Island and know the depth of Water of the different Bays and Inlets where our Smuglers sink their Goods.
That in addition to his present Boats Crew he should have four Men and a Boy allowed him, that his rendezvous whenever in Port should be the Harbour at St Hellens which is the residence of all our principal Smuglers & that alternately as the weather may direct the vessel or Boat should be used.
We are aware that this augmentation of the water guard will create an increase in the expence of the management at this Port, but that increase will be so trivial in comparison with the benefits that must arise to the Crown from such an establishment that we venture to hope after the Data & Proofs we have given your Honors of Smugling at this Port that you will permit at least a trial for a Year or two of the experiment we now submit.
But should we be disappointed in your Honors approval of our suggestion for strengthening the water guard we can only propose in pursuing our desires that the number of Riding Officers should be increased the Supervisor alledging that three only now serving at the back of the Island are insufficient to detect and prevent Smuglers from prosecuting their nefarious Traffic particularly so as the stations of these Officers are so distant from each other and from his own residence that they are seldom able to operate & give that prompt and mutual aid so necessary on the discovery of these Contraband Traders landing their Goods.
No alteration has ever been made to the original Establishment of Preventive Officers at this Port nor should we be inclined to recommend it now if we did not conceive that the increased population of the Island which at the lowest estimate may be computed at 5000 inclusive of the Permanent and Stationary Depot of Troops in the Isle of Wight warranted our suggesting of some augmentation of the Revenue Force to counteract the Smuglers which these new and multiplying numbers encourage.
We have likewise to submit to your Honors as Regulation that no Vessel under 70 Tons (unless Square Rigged as a Ship or Brig) should be allowed more than one Boat the length of which Boat shall be not exceed 14 Feet nor Vessel of 70 Tons and not exceeding 150 Tons to be allowed more than two Boats the largest shall not exceed 15 Feet security to be given by the owner of the Vessel that they shall not smugle.
That no Vessel or Boat laden or in Ballast shall proceed across the Channel unless the Master first make his Report of his Intended Voyage and Destination at the Custom House and in case any Information should be given that any such Vessel or Boat is or had been seen at any Foreign Port or Guernsey Jersey or Alderney without having reported she may be seized on her return by any Officer of the Customs as forfeited and prosecuted to condemnation
Also might it not be revised to institute also that a Master of any Vessel before alluded to should have granted to him a Certificate of the one he reported at the Custom House and in default of producing it when boarded by a Cruizer that Vessel should be subject to detention, this measure to regard only Cutters, Sloops, Smacks, Luggers, Shallops, Wherries and not Square Rig Vessels.
That Information should be obtained from some private source at Guernsey Jersey and Alderney of the several Smugling Vessels that have been or may still be there for the purpose of taking in Contraband Goods with the name and port to which they respectively belong and on such notice being sent to the Collector and Comptroller where they are Registered these Officers should communicate the same to all Officers of the Port and Commanders of Cruizers on the station. Might not an advertisement in the Provincial Papers of by Handbills announcing such a Vessel or Vessels to be in Guernsey Jersey or Alderney for the purpose of taking in Contraband Spirit have a good effect of exciting Officers to particular vigilance in watching their return to the Coast.
We also beg to suggest with great deference one other Measure which if adopted would we have no doubt tend more to the suppression of Smugling (and perhaps ultimately its complete annihilation) than all the existing Regulations now in force against Contraband Traders Viz. To abolish limits altogether with regard to English Smuglers and make it legal for any Revenue or Admiralty to seize on any part of the High Sea any British Vessel or Boat having on board Spirits, Wine, Tobacco &c in illegal Packages – for in our humble opinion Limits on the Coast operate more as an encouragement and safeguard to the Smuglers than as a Terror or Risk in carrying their daring projects into execution.
An unfortunate incident occurred in May 1805, when Willis had his Deputation stolen when at Lymington Market, it does not appear to have ever been recovered.
10 June 1805 Mr Robert Willis Sitter of the Six Oared Boat having had the Deputation he held from your Honors stolen out of his pocket the 13 May last at Lymington and there being no probability of recovering it as will appear by the within Affidavit.
He most respectfully solicits your Honors to grant him a new one with the loss of as little time as possible Two seizures as below described having been made by him since the loss accident of losing his Deputation.
1 June 1805 Hazard Sloop of Rye, 14 Tons Register, 33 Casks of Foreign Spirit & 400 lbs of Tobacco
6 June 1805 Ann Sloop of Cowes, 14 Tons Register, 54 Casks of Foreign Spirit.
Affidavit (extract) – Robert Willis Sitter of the Six oared Boat as Cowes Makest Oath that on the 13th Ult he was walking to a Cheese Fair at Lymington and at about Twelve Noon in the open street after he had made a purchase of some Cheese for his Family his Pocket Book containing his Deputation & sundry other Papers was Stolen out of his Coat Pocket.
31July 1805 As directed by your Order Mr Robert Willis Sitter of the Six Oared Boat has advertised for one Month in Two Provincial Papers for the recovery of his Commission lost at Lymington but without being able to obtain the smallest Information respecting it. We therefore humbly pray your Honors to grant him a new one that he may carry on his Official Duty with Security.
In September 1807 Willis, who was at that time 57 wrote to the Collector requesting to give up his position as Sitter of the Six Oared Boat, which appears to have remained being stationed at Yarmouth, but its role does appear to have been reduced to part time, and Willis carried out his other Duties at Yarmouth. His request appears to have resulted in a request from the Board as to whether two officers were still required at Yarmouth.
25 September 1807 We are requested by Mr Robert Willis to lay before your Honors the inclosed representation of his inability on account of his Years & Infirmities to continue the Duty of the six Oared Boat, on incidents at Yarmouth, with that activity that the nature of such an employment requires.
Mr Willis was appointed by your Honors on 7 June 1785, a Boatman on the Establishment at Yarmouth to act in conjunction with Mr Charles Leigh the Coastwaiter and Boatman there, in boarding all vessels that arrive from Foreign Ports or otherwise in that Harbour & Roadstead & to detect illicit Trade.
Smuggling having increased on this Coast some years since he was directed (on our recommendation) by your Honors order of 19 December 1799, copy of which is annexed, to take charge of the six Oared Boat holding his Commission as Boatman. The Station at Yarmouth requires two Officers to be constantly on the spot for the purpose beforementioned & when Mr Willis has been absent two or three days on the look out Mr Leigh could not use the punt for Boarding Ships & vessels from foreign parts without getting some auxiliary assistance.
Mr Willis has been a very active successful Officer having made many good Seizures of Contraband Goods within the last 3 Years. We humbly recommend him to your Honors as deserving the indulgence he solicits.
The continuance of the six Oared Boat at Yarmouth we humbly conceive as indispensably expedient for the protection of the Revenue which we have not failed to state regularly in our half Yearly Account of Incidental Officers.
19 October 1807 In reply to your Order of enquiry we have to state that Yarmouth being a creek of considerable population much increased within these last 20 years & by the Establishment of Barracks in the vicinity and there being in consequence an hourly intercourse by numerous Vessels & Boats with Lymington and the appropriate necessity of Two Officers being stationed at that Town. We have no hesitation in saying it is now tenfold what it was when Chas Leigh and Robert Willis were originally appointed to execute the Coast and Harbour duty at that place.
The particular service required of these Officers the Shipping and Landing of all Goods Coastwise, to board all Ships and Vessels arriving in the Roadstead for which Duty a two Oared Boat is allowed to guard the Harbour & Shore against the introduction of Smuggled Goods.
Since the period of Mr Willis’s appointment to be the Sitter of the six Oared Boat in the Year 1799 the Act of 45 George Chapter 10 empowering Regulations for the due performance of Quarantine has passed & Willis as well as ourselves & the Tide Surveyor received a Commission from your Honors to execute this Duty & when at Yarmouth if any Vessel coming from any infected place or carrying Goods on board unaccompanied by a Declaration as to their Growth; is thereby liable to Quarantine. He with becoming vigilance & propriety always ordered them to proceed immediately to the Quarantine Ground a consideration which at this moment that will have no doubt strike your Honors as to the absolute expediency of having an experience & intelligent Officer constantly resident at that Port which we can say Willis is.
His Partner Charles Leigh who by his Commission is nominated Coastwaiter & Boatman at Yarmouth is an old faithful Officer but of very humble abilities & during Mr Willis’s absences sometimes 3 or 4 Days & Nights together looking for Smugglers in the Sitters Boat the Duty of guarding the Harbour at Yarmouth & boarding the arrival of Ships from foreign Parts has been very inefficiently performed we fear & by no means to our satisfaction in as much as Leigh when occasionally required his rowing of to the Roadstead to obtain the requisite Information of the Ships voyage & Cargo, he has been dependent on any accidental aid that offered to assist him in rowing the Boat to the Ships Anchorage, which cannot be done but by 2 people. The Duty of the Sitter of the six Oared Boat should we conceive be detached from all others to enable him to keep a vigilant & strict look out & if the district of the six Oared Boat at Yarmouth is limited from Cowes Westwards to the Needle Point Freshwater Bay and Gate and the proposition which we submitted in our letter of 15 Inst. to your Honors for increasing our Waterguard are adopted we are in return almost to pledge that the Smuggling on the Isle of Wight Coast will be almost annihilated.
Robert Willis’s request to be relieved of Duty as Sitter of the Boat was accepted and William Arnold appointed in his place as Sitter. The Manning of Yarmouth Station remained unchanged. From the Collectors comments in Letters to the Board it is clear that Willis was, despite being the Officer at Yarmouth with the lower grade considered the most able.
19 June 1810 The six oared boat stationed at Yarmouth being on want of a new lugsail inclosed we submit an application from Mr William Arnold the Sitter, and also an estimate for the same amounting to £9 – 4 – 4 the necessity for which is duly certified in the accompanying letter from the Inspecting Commander Captain Blake.
It appears that the two Officers continued their duties at Yarmouth without particular incident, occasionally requesting new equipment:
1 December 1812 The two oared boat used by Mr Robert Willis and Mr Chas. Leigh, Boatmen at Yarmouth for the purpose of Guarding the Harbour and Roadsted of that port being decayed and worn out having been used for almost six years. Inclosed we transmit an estimate from Mr Robertson a Boat Builder for providing a new one for £14 and an estimate for two sails at £3 – 7 – 6.
23 September 1815 The Boatmen at Yarmouth and the Officers at this port who go out by Land to search the shore and other suspect places for Smuggled Goods having represented their being in want of Tucks. We Humbly pray your Honors will be pleased to order a supply of one dozen for this service to be immediately forwarded. (A Tuck Stick was a long stick which was pushed into the sand/ground to determine whether any goods were hidden).
The inadequacies of other Officer at Yarmouth, Charles Leigh was again raised in 1815, when the Collector suggested that certain of his duties be assigned to Robert Wallis. It is interesting to note that Charles Leigh’s Salary was £60 and Robert Willis’s just over £40.
7 November 1815 The Creek of Yarmouth is distant from this Office 12 miles and according to ancient Laws and Petitions shippers of goods Coastways and Masters of Vessels are compelled to come to Cowes at much personal inconvenience and expense to obtain sufferage for goods and clearance of their vessels. The business of the creek is trifling yet the accommodation asked for would be a considerable relief to many Individuals. The present Coastwaiter and Boatman at Yarmouth Charles Leigh at a salary of £60 per Annum is an old Man and very bad scribe. The other Boatman Robert Willis on the contrary writes a good hand and is a competent Book keeper. We therefore beg to suggest in order that the Duty at the Creek of Yarmouth may be properly done that Charles Leigh should continue to examine and endorse Sufferances as is now his practice.
And that Robert Willis be specially directed to make out Sufferance, file up Bonds and draw out Cockets and Transires, for which Service in addition to his salary of £5 per Annum & 2/6 per Diem, he should have granted him an allowance of £10 per Annum.
These comments by the Collector about Charles Leigh continued the following year and it appears Robert Willis was effectively running the Yarmouth Station. Leigh was put forward for Superannuation, but the Board do not seem to have accepted the proposal.
20 January 1816 On the 12 inst we announced in a letter to your Honors the Death of Mr John Miller a Riding Officer on the Establishment of this Port on a Salary of £50 per annum stationed at Shalfleet and which Officer received all an incidents allowance of £10 for acting as Coastwaiter at Shalfleet and Newtown. Seeing no necessity for a Riding Officer at Shalfleet we submit to your Honors the propriety of not filling such Office.
As however the Business of Salterns and Brick Kilns at Newtown and Shalfleet require the Occasional Attendance of some one to see Goods Landed and Shipped and to endorse Sufferances we recommend that Mr Robert Willis the Boatman at Yarmouth whose Station is the nearest other Office to Shalfleet and who is a competent good Officer be directed to perform such Duty on a continuance of the allowance of £10 per annum on incidents as received by Mr Miller. Shalfleet is 4 Miles from Yarmouth and the Allowance submitted cannot be considered much for such extra Duty.
8 February 1816 Charles Leigh the Coast Waiter at Yarmouth from his age and inability to walk any distance would not be equal to the additional Coach Duty at Shalfleet and if he were we humbly state that he should be not be expected to perform this Additional Duty without Remuneration of at least £10 per annum. We respectfully appraise your Honors that we have had no motive in recommending your Honors to delegate this Special extra Duty to Robert Willis but the General wish to act for the Good of the Service.
2 April 1816 In Obedience to that part of your Honors Order of 13th January 1816 which directs us specially to report on the Competence of Mr Charles Leigh the Coast Waiter at Yarmouth and whether he is equal to the performance of Creek Coast Duty. We have to state that Mr Leighs capacity in early life was always extremely shallow and being in the 62nd year of his age and troubled with Rheumatism he is not only incompetent to the Duties of his Office but unable we believe if a he were to hastily pass a man in the Street with a Cask of Spirit on his shoulder he could not for want of Strength and Activity take it from him. For which Reasons and those more particularly specified in the Surveyors Report, we submit he ought to be superannuated.
The Six Oared Boat had remained at Yarmouth since Robert Willis gave up the post of Sitter, but in 1818 it was moved to Sconce Point:
18 April 1818 The interior of the Battery at Sconce Point belonging to the Ordinance Department having been fitted up with Bed Cabins for the Accommodation of the Yarmouth Preventive Boat Crew pursuant to Treasury Order and your Honors Order and Sundry Materials also having been supplied for use of the said Crew. Inclosed we transmit the workmens Bill for completing and supplying the same amounting to £33 – 6 – 2 which being certified by the Chief Officer, Mr Bourne, the amount is Respectfully submitted for payment. (The bill for building the Boat House, £87 – 5 – 0 was also submitted).
Despite the feeling of the Collector about Charles Leigh, he was required to cover Newtown and Shalfleet, for which he received payments for the Duty, which were considerable greater than the annual allowance proposed, the Collectors Letter to the Board has a degree of ‘I told you so’:
17 July 1820 In reply to your commands on the increase of Expenses which has taken place at this Port from the attendance given by Coastwaiters at Creeks distant more than three miles, we have to explain that the Craves for the Coastwaiters (viz. Charles Leigh, stationed at Yarmouth and Robert Lydall, stationed at Ryde) attendance have been made under your Honors orders, copies of which are enclosed, and that in no case has any account or crave been submitted to your Honors for payment but on our being satisfied from due enquiry that the Officers Bona fide gave their attendance and the period and places specified in the accounts transmitted Quarterly.
We are not aware that less attendance can be given by these respective Coastwaiters at distances from their stations. If your Honors deem it absolutely necessary that they shall have ocular proof of the Packages and Descriptions of the Goods shipped and brought Coastwise but in reference to our original proposition we respectfully submitted to your Honors on 20 January 1816 (copy inclosed) for compensating an Officer for executing extra Coast Duty at Newtown and Shalfleet, distant four miles from Yarmouth, we beg to observe had it been approved £29 – 15 – 0 would have been saved in the last four years, the craves for Mr Charles Leighs attendance in that time having amounted to £69 – 15 – 0 whereas the annual allowance of £10 would have amounted to £40.
Persuaded we feel that it would be a saving to the Crown if your Honors were pleased to allow Messrs. Charles Leigh and Robert Lydall certain allowances instead of craving their compensation Quarterly for executing the extra Coast Duty allocated to them, we humbly recommend for your Honors approval that the Coastwaiter at Yarmouth in addition to his established salary of £60 per annum for doing Coast Business at his Station be allowed an incidental salary of £10 per annum for performing the extra Duty at a distance and that Mr Robert Lydall is £80 at present should receive an additional £15 per annum, the places being more and the distance greater than Mr Leigh’s at Yarmouth, which will make his salary £95, a sum by no means too much for the duty he has to execute.
Age appears to have caught up with him, and in February 1821 he was recommended for Superannuation:
10 February 1821 As directed is relation to Robert Willis, the Boatman at Yarmouth now 71 years of age and whom we have respectfully recommended for Superannuation and his place to be abolished, we report that the Duty he states to have been done for the last 12 months has been watching and guarding the Harbour and Roadstead at Yarmouth against Smuggling which will be found more particularly detailed in Willis’s Journals which were sent from this Port in Boxes with Sundry Office Accounts and which we presume are with the Registrar of the Land Guard, London.
He retired on the 5 April 1821. He died at Yarmouth in 1830 at the Age of 80 and was buried there on 4th May.
20 January 2008