The Tale of the Six Cocoa Nuts

Extracted from the Charge Book of Cowes, Isle of Wight Customs in which was recorded charges made against Customs Officers for dereliction their duty.


Robert Corke was a Glut Tidewaiter employed at Cowes in 1821. He was responsible for checking ships arriving at Cowes (see below). In this case he was accused of allowing six Cocoa Nuts ashore without duty payment and also of incorrectly seizing a keg of blacking. A full investigation was carried out and the entry in the charge book transcribed (to the best of my ability) below.

This book was until recently held at Cowes but has now been removed to the mainland.

TIDEWAITER: Customs officer responsible for searching ships arriving in port to ensure that no goods are concealed for running as contraband.

GLUTMAN (GLUT): Extraman, Customs Officer who was not employed full time by Customs but called upon wheen needed.


The Information

Of George Hodgson Mate of the Brig Margaret of London - James Weir, Master, from Jamaica - London with Sugar, Rum and Coffee - Who says that he was visited by Mr Elderton - Master of the Schooner Grecian and that on leaving the Brig he gave him Six Cocoa Nuts - in the Presence and by the permission of Robert Corke Officer then of board, who permitted him, Mr Elderton, to take them away in the Schooners Boat. that while Mr E. was on board the Brig, he observed that the sided were very foul and in want of scraping and Blacking before she proceeded to London that informant replied Captain Weir was in London and that he could not lay any claim on the Ships Account during the Masters absence, and without his order that Mr E said he would with the permission of the commander lend him a Keg of Blacking till the Masters Return from London, and accordingly the next day - Sunday 11th March sent the Schooners Boat to the Margaret with a small keg of varnish, contents about 5 Galls which was put on board in the presence of the Tidewaiter Robert Corke - who the following day thought proper to seize the Keg supposing it to be Kings Stores - Informant says he was not aware he was doing anything wrong in accepting the Loan of so small a Quantity of Varnish particularly as there was no mark on the Cask of Hoop denoting it to be Kings Stores.

Informant swears the aforegoing Statements of Facts is Just and True.

Sworn at the Custom House, Cowes 14th March 1821

George Hodgson


To Robert Corke –  Glut Tidewaiter at Cowes.

Representation having been made to Us that yesterday when you were boarded in the ‘Margaret’ Brig from Jamaica, in Cowes Roads you permitted Six Cocoa nuts to be put into the Boat of the Grecian Schooner when alongside the Margaret contrary to you Duty and Instructions, You are to make a plain and Distinct Answer in writing on or before Friday 16 March next making care to avoid all scurrilous or abusive Explanations.

Dated at the Custom House the 13th Day March 1821.

T N Ward  Collector

J Chapman  Surveyor?


I beg to represent to you that on Saturday last the 10th  inst. About 6 o’clock, P.M. I boarded in the Margaret Brig, from Jamaica in Cowes roads. The Master and Mate of the Grecian Schooner came on board the Brig and requested permission to take one Cocoa Nut, which I granted, not considering it of any consequence but I most solemnly declare that I never saw them take any more than the one in question, and if any Error has been committed by me in so doing, I am extremely sorry for it, and shall take particular care that no such thing will happen in future.

Robert Corke

To the Collr. of Customs


Examination on Oath of John Blankinsop, Mariner of the Brig Margaret of London lying in Cowes Roads.



By Collector

Do you remember the crew of the Grecian Schooner coming alongside the Margaret - Saturday 10th March?

I do

Who were in her?

The Master of the Grecian, Mr Elderton and another Officer. I believe a master Mate of the Boats Crew.

How long did any of them remain on board the Margaret?

About half an hour

On going away did you see anything taken away by the

Offrs of the Grecian?

Not on Saturday

When did you next see the Grecians Boat alongside the


Sunday about noon

Who were in her?

The same Officers and people as before and a woman

Did they all come on board?

They did

How long did they stay on board Sunday 11th March?

Better than an hour

Were they entertained in the cabin? Yes
By whom? By the Mate
When they left the Brig, did you see any Article in the possession of any party?

No I did not, but I fetched up myself Cocoa Nuts and I put one into the Grecians boat; the people handed to more and the mate another.

Where was the Tidewaiter Robert Corke at that time?

He was walking on the same side of the deck, close by.

Did he attempt to prevent their being put overboard?


Did he give permission to their being put into the Grecian Boat? I cannot say

By Corke

Did you see any Cocoa Nuts go out of the Brig on Sunday when the woman was on board? Yes I did on the day the woman was on board

By Collector

Was any article bought to the Brig at that time by the Grecian Boat?

Not at that time
When did you see any kegs bought to the Brig?

I did not see any Kegs bought to the Brig but on Monday 12th March I saw a keg laying along the spars by the Brigs Long Boat which I understood to be Black varnish

How many Cocoa Nuts did you see in the Boat together on Sunday? I did not see any

Sworn the 16 March 1821 by John Blankinsop to whom the aforegoing was duly read after being recorded.

The mark


Of John Blankinsop


T N Ward

J Chapman



on a charge given to Robert Corke, Tidewaiter at Cowes

Customs Cowes

17 March 1821

Honourable Sirs,     

A seizure of a small cask of Black Varnish of 5 Galls worth about 10/- an board the Brig Margaret from Jamaica lying at Cowes Roads by Robert Cooke, Glut Tidewaiter on board on justification of it being Kings Stores, we felt it right to institute an Enquiry therein when explanation of the Circumstances the mate, Geo. Hodgson says that it was lent to him by the Master of the “Grecian” Schooner to black the Brigs side till his own Captain returned fro London, and he was not aware that he was doing wrong, as there was no Mark whatever on it denoting it to be Kings Stores.

In the elucidation of the Business Corke appears to have acted right in stopping the Keg, but the Representation given by the Mate in his own justification implicated the conduct of the Tidewaiter in permitting and conniving at the six Cocoa Nuts being put over the Brigs side into the Schooners Boat. We had desired it incumbent on us to charge the Offr. with such Culpability. Mr Corkes answer admits he allowed one Cocoa Nut on Saturday 10th March to be put into the Grecians Boat and no more but by evidence of Mr Blankinsop one of the sailors of the Margaret bought by the Mate to support the complaint against Corke it appears in contradiction to the Mates allegation / viz that six Cocoa Nuts were put in on the Saturday that four only were put into into the Grecians Boat and those on Sunday 11 March instead of Saturday and that such took place when Corke the Offr. was walking on the Brig deck close at hand thereby establishing in our opinion the privity of Guilt of the Glut Tidewaiter.

The transaction we are describing, if nothing more had happened and which we have endeavoured to discover is not of much interest to the revenue in point of loss, but as it has a two fold character we should have been deficient in our duty if we had not taken the steps that we have done, to ascertain the Extent of the Officers Misconduct.

Robert Corke is a decent, sober man, has been a Glutman now three years and never before been charged and we are strongly inclined to believe has been lead into the culpability which attaches to this transaction by the little value of the Cocoa Nuts.

I’ve had the Keg of varnish minutely examined and the hoops taken off and there does not appear to be any Kings Mark on it whatever, all of which is respectfully submitted by

Honourable Sirs

Your most obedient Servants,

J N Ward, Collr

T Chapman, Surv

The Honourable Commissioners.


No 81

                                                                                                                        Custom House, London

                                                                                                                                    21 March 1821


                        Having read your Letter of 17th March transmitting a Charge by you to Robert Corke a Glut Tidewaiter at your Port for having permitted six Cocoa Nuts to be unshipped from the Brig “Margaret” on which vessel he was boarded, and put into the Boat of the “Grecian” Schooner together with his answer thereto and the Evidence examined on the occasion;

                        We find Corke guilty of the Charge and direct you to severely reprimand him, and to acquaint him that he is not on any pretence to suffer any article however inconsiderable to be delivered from the slip on which he may be boarded, and that should he be found guilty of any Offence of that nature he will be dismissed the service.

(4 signatures)

To the Collr of Customs at Cowes

Corke was reprimanded accordingly 24th March

  (Initialled by Collector and Surveyor)

Customs Cowes

Note: These pages are my transcriptions of original documents, they are accurate to the best of my ability but I do not take any responsibility for errors.

19 August 2005