Victorian London - Thames - Management - Customs

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Baggage, Passengers', arriving by way of the river is now examined on board by the officers, who come off at Gravesend and accompany the ship to her destination. According to the Board's minute of February 8, 1867, they are to give passengers the following notice:
    "If you have any tobacco, cigars, gold or silver plate, eau-de-cologne, or spirits of any sort, it is necessary that you should declare the fact previously to examination of your baggage. If you do not so declare it, and if any of the above-mentioned articles should be found, you may be subjected to the inconvenience of a complete examination and the possible detention of all your baggage. The importation of merchandise with baggage is prohibited."
    In practice this notice is commonly subjected to considerable abbreviation, and the restriction as to gold and silver plate may be said to be entirely ignored. There would be no harm, and not very serious expense, in having the caution printed, in say half-a-dozen of the most commonly used languages, and handed to each passenger before search. This precaution would also do much to mitigate a now very prevalent superstition as to the quantity of tobacco, &c., which may be brought in free of duty, and the desagremens likely to follow upon any little mistakes on this head.
    The articles which are subject to duty, are: Ale, Beer, Brandy, Chicory, Chloroform, Cigars, Cocoa, Coffee, Collodion, Currants, Eau-de-Cologne, Ether, Figs, Geneva or Hollands, Gold Plate, Malt, Perfumed Spirits, Pickles in Vinegar, Playing Cards, Plums, Prunes, Raisins, Rum, Silver Plate, Spruce (Essence of), Tea, Tobacco, Varnish containing Spirit, Vinegar, Wine; and any passenger upon being questioned by the proper officer denying the possession of any of such goods, afterwards found to be in his or her possession, is liable to forfeiture of the goods, and a penalty of treble their value.
    Passengers are allowed the following free of duty provided the articles are voluntarily produced for inspection: Cigars and manufactured tobacco, half a pound; Ordinary drinkable spirits, without reference to strength, one pint; Cordials or perfumed spirits, half a pint.
    Passengers from the Channel Islands are allowed one half of the above quantities only.
    In cases where the authorised quantities are exceeded, the full duty on the entire quantity is exacted.
    Tobacco and cigars not exceeding 20 lbs. may be imported for private use in passengers' baggage, whether accompanied or unaccompanied by the owner, and delivered without application to the Board upon payment of duty and fines according to the following rate: Cigars, snuff, and tobacco, manufactured, if reported, or brought in one of Her Majesty's ships, or in passengers' baggage, 6d. per lb.; not reported, 9d. Cavendish and negrohead tobacco is subject in addition to above duty to a fine of 1s. 6d. per lb.; and if unaccompanied, the provisions of the Act 26 Vict. c. 7, as regards labelling must be observed. Tobacco, unmanufactured, if reported, or brought as above, 3d. per lb.; not reported, 6d. Cigars, snuff, and tobacco, whether manufactured or unmanufactured, including cavendish and negrohead, accompanied by the owner, if from the continent of Europe, or other short voyages, and not exceeding  3lbs., no fine; if from the East or West Indies, or other distant places, or when the owner may come overland from India, and the quantity shall not exceed 7 lbs., no fine; and any tobacco, &c, in excess of these quantities is to be charged with fine at the rate fixed for tobacco reported; cavendish and negrohead paying the additional 1s. 6d. per lb.
    In all eases, excepting cavendish and negrohead, when the quantity is more than 40 lbs., but is less than the legal weight, the fine is levied upon the quantity short of the legal weight. When more than 20 lbs. are brought in baggage, application must be made to the Board for delivery, and the amount of fine will be fixed according to circumstances. Upon merchandise brought by passengers and not reported, if under the value of £20 a fine of 10s. is levied; if the value is £20 or more the fine is 20s., but it may be varied. Cigars and tobacco brought by foreign seamen about to join their ships in London are considered as surplus stores and allowed to be shipped as such. Officers of merchant ships are considered the same as passengers in regard to cigars.
    Spirits brought by passengers for private consumption must be in legal packages-i.e. in casks of 20 gallons capacity - or in bottles packed in cases; but they can, with the consent of the Board, be entered on payment of a fine, provided a satisfactory declaration is made to that effect. The fines are, on casks or other vessels of :

1 to 3 gallons capacity 3s
3 to 5 "  5s.
5 to 7 "  8s.
7 to 10 " 10s.
10 to 12 " 8s.
12 to 15 " 5s.
15 to 19 " 3s.

    If reported the fines are reduced one half, and the Board reserve discretion to vary the scale. Surplus stores of wine or small cask may be delivered at the highest rate of duty without testing. The Privilege accorded to British ministers of receiving wine duty free does not extend to delivery from the warehouse; but is limited to such wine as may have formed part of their cellar stock while abroad, and which they may wish to send to this country on the termination of their employment. Secretaries of legation are not entitled to the privileges of diplomatic ministers as to the delivery of wine duty free; but such other articles as it has been the practice to pass duty-free may be so delivered.
    Baggage landed at London and brought by persons in transit to foreign countries may, if the duties are not in excess of £20, and if the officers receive a satisfactory statement, be conveyed by them to the port of embarkation. The goods are to be examined carefully and an account taken at the port of arrival, the duty taken in deposit, and the goods repacked, taped, and sealed without charge. A Post Office Order for the amount of duty and full particulars of examination must be sent by same post to the collector at the port of embarkation, and the expense of remittance rests with the parties themselves. In London the Post Office Orders are forwarded to the outports by the Queen's warehouse-keeper for goods examined in that warehouse, and by the dock officers for goods examined at the docks; but Post Office Orders and goods from the out-ports to London must be sent to the Queen's warehouse-keeper. If the goods are delivered to the officers at the port of embarkation within ten days, the tape and seals being uninjured, and the goods agreeing with the account taken at the port of arrival, the duty is returned to the parties and the goods are conveyed on board the export vessel by an officer.
    If tobacco be forwarded under these regulations no fine is levied on it when belonging to passengers in transit.
    The baggage of passengers by steam-vessels will, when not containing any dutiable articles, be examined on board as far as practicable between Gravesend and London, the owner being present at the examination, and precedence being given to those who have but one package each. Packages containing dutiable articles must be sent, if arriving on week-days, to the Custom House Baggage Warehouse, but on Sundays, or before or after the legal hours of business on other days, the duties on such articles may be received by the officers on board.
    Attendance is given at Fresh Wharf, St. Katharine's Wharf the West India Docks, and the Tidal Basin, Victoria Docks, as follows: From March to October 31 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and from November 1 to February 28 from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., and duties will be received by them free of expense. At the docks the examining officer enters upon a form all particulars of articles found which are liable to duty, receives the sum from and gives a receipt to the passenger whose signature is also required. This receipt afterwards serves as authority for delivery of the goods. These regulations also apply to ships' stores and presents at the docks baggage warehouses. The officers attend immediately on rise arrival of ambassadors, foreign-ministers, bearers of public despatches, Queen's Messengers, and other officers in Government service, as well as, when necessary, on the departure of a vessel with passengers.
    If any person shall, in any matter relating to the Customs, make and subscribe any declaration false or untrue in any particular, or if any person required to answer any question put by officers of Customs shall not truly answer such questions or shall falsify or counterfeit any document, or wilfully use any document so falsified or counterfeited, he shall forfeit for every such offence the sum of £100.

source: Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames, 1881

Customs - HEAD-QUARTER ESTABLISHMENT.-The portion of the Custom House in Thames-street best known by name to the general public, as well as that in which is transacted the greater portion of the routine business of the despatch and arrival of vessels, is what is known as the Long Room. Dingy is an expression which in connection with the appearance of the Long Room is altogether devoid of any kind of adequacy. On one of those charming days not uncharacteristic of our favoured climate, when the deep grey of the heavier clouds is pleasantly toned by the thick brown smoke of the chimneys on whose tops they rest, it is not easy in the Long Room to tell, except by the iron bars, where the windows end or the wall begins. As for the ceiling, that has long since been matter of tradition. The room itself is 186 feet long, by 64 in width, and 45 feet high to the slightly heavier line of dirt which is understood to be a cornice. Above that the ceiling itself is supposed to be arched, but the height of the arch is not recorded. This apartment, which is situated on the first floor of the building, is entered

by two doors in the middle of the north side, opening from a good-sized hall in which are held the meetings of the Benevolent Society and other associations connected with the officers of Her Majesty's Customs. It is surrounded by a flat counter, with a cross section at the east end of the room. Behind this counter sit some four dozen clerks of various ranks, the space being parcelled out among the different requirements of the service in the manner shown in the accompanying diagram; the course of the captain of an English vessel lying, on each voyage out and home, from A to I, in regular alphabetical order. The captain of a foreign vessel commences his travels at C, taking A and B at the conclusion of his experiences.
    At A is kept a careful record of the names, owners, and measurement of all vessels belonging to the port of London, with a full account of all mortgages, transfers, bills of sale, &c., effected on them; the duplicate record of out-port and colonial registry having been transferred since 1873 to the office of the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen in Basinghall-street. At this counter, also, the vessel is supplied on her first entry into life with her nationality papers, or baptismal certificate, in the shape of a parchment document wherein are recorded full particulars of her tonnage, construction, load line, &c., as ascertained by previous survey by officers of the Board of Trade, with her name and official number, the former of which must be painted in letters of certain prescribed dimensions on stem and stern, whilst the latter has to be cut indelibly into the solid wood of the main beam. Should she not be on her first voyage, some of these formalities will of course be omitted; but any structural alterations, any change of name, or generally any departure from the conditions as noted in her original certificate, must here be noted before she can again obtain permission to leave the port of London, even for the most trifling voyage. Until quite recently this permission could be evaded by the simple process of a transfer, actual or collusive, to a foreign flag. A vessel might even have been seized by the officers of the Board of Trade as altogether rotten and unseaworthy; but notice would be given at counter A of her Mons. Crapaud, or Mynheer van Donck, and she would hoist her new flag and defy Her Majesty's Customs to refuse her permission to carry it to the bottom in her own way. Thanks to the strenuous exertions of Mr. Thomas Gray of the Board of Trade, the present Merchant Shipping Act has abolished this privilege. Counter A will still record the fact that the ship has been transferred to a foreign flag, but she will be under just the same requirements as to surveys and so forth as before. These preliminaries completed, she next puts in an appearance in the compartment B, marked off at the east end of the room, where all business is transacted in connection with her entry and clearance outwards; the former phrase, it must be understood, having reference not to her personal coming into harbour, but to her entry in the books of the office as about to sail. Her business in this section concluded, and her papers in due order for departure, she has now nothing further to do in the Long Room until her return, when her captain's first duty is to present himself within at the utmost twenty-four hours of his arrival, in company with the broker or his representative, at counter C, where Bills of Sight and Baggage Sufferances are issued, and where he hands in his report in the shape of a detailed list of every article on board, whether cargo or surplus items remaining from the ship's stores, with all particulars as to addresses, marks, &c., on each individual package. To the correctness of this list he has to pledge himself by a  statutory "declaration:" the clerk at counter C being always a magistrate for the purposes of such declarations. This done - and about five-and-forty such reoports are received on an average daily from foreign-going ships alone - the captain's personal duties in connection with the Long Room are generally over for the voyage: the customary course being for the broker to transact all further business. But it is all supposed to be done by the captain himself, whose position in respect of responsibility is worth a passing glance as affording a more than commonly quaint illustration of the facility with with which logic may be dispensed with in the practical affairs of business life. The process of taking in and delivering cargo is as follows. The bills of lading or lists of articles to be sent on board, with the marks on each package, are made up, of course, by or for the shipper. The articles are then received on board, and in the receipt compared package by package with the bill of lading by the chief mate. On arrival the second mate takes up the running, and personally superintending the re-delivery of the goods which his superior officer has received, whilst meanwhile the bills of lading have been, as a rule, forwarded by post to the broker at the port of arrival, by whom the report is made out from them for the purposes of the declaration at the Custom House. The one person connected with the ship in any recognised position, who has no control over, no connection with, and no personal knowledge of any single item of cargo or stores, is the captain. After which it is probably superfluous to remark that he is the one person responsible step by step for the whole transaction. Accordingly when any error or discrepancy occurs in the report, it is the captain who is officially called upon for an explanation, and on whom in inflicted the fine or other penalty imposed by the Board on the offence. In the case, however, of a foreign captain manifestly ignorant of English rules of procedure, the Board commonly takes a lenient view, and imposes only a nominal penalty. The report delivered, and permission received at counter C for the landing or warehousing of the vessel's cargo, the next visit is to counter D, where light and pilotage dues are paid for the voyage. The remaining operations have to do with the cargo only, and consist in paying at counter E the duty on any tea that may be included in it; or at counter F occupying the whole of the northwest corner of the room, upon all wines, spirits, coffee, or tobacco. These two counters are officially known as constituting the Treasury Branch. The whole Clearance Department is divided for official purposes into two branches, the second being for warehoused tea only, while the first is subdivided into two sections, the first of which is devoted to all goods for house consumption other than tea, wine, or spirits; all "prime" entries of any description of goods, and all fines and monies not duties other than charges. Payments can be made in coin or bank-notes, by transfer, or banker's cheque, which is a draft on the Bank of England which may be obtained from any of the banks in the following list and are accepted as "cash," or by the merchant's own cheque on any of those banks, crossed "Bank of England for Customs' Duties." These cheques, however, are not received after 2 pm., and are only forwarded for clearance three times a day, viz., at 10, 12, and 2 o'clock. Receipts for amounts so paid are only given after the actual payment of the amount into the Bank of England. Receipts for duties are forwarded from the Treasury to the Long Room at alternate intervals of ten and twenty minutes, viz., at 15, 25, 45, and 55 minutes after each hour. These deliveries would be made every quarter of an hour, but despatches being made to the docks every half-hour, the alternate deliveries of receipts are advanced five minutes each to ensure correspondence. Cash is received up to 3.30 p.m., except on Saturdays, when it in received up to 2.30 pm. only. The following are the banks on which cheques may be drawn, and from which transfers may be obtained:
    Alliance Bank, Bartholomew-lane. 
    Bank of England.
    Bank of Scotland, Lothbury.
    Barclay and Co., Lombard-street. 
    Barnett, Hanbury and Co., Bir chin-lane.
    Bosanquet, Salt and Co., Lombard-street.
    British Linen Co., 10, King William-street.
    Brown, Janson and Co., Abchurch-lane.
    Capital and Counties Bank, Threadneedle-street.
    Central Bank of London, Cornhill.
    Cheque Bank, 124, Cannon-street.
    City Bank, Threadneedle-street.
    Consolidated Bank, Threadneedle-street.
    Dimsdale and Co., Cornhill.
    Fuller and Co., Lombard-street.
    Glyn, Mills, Currie and Co., Lombard-street.
    Imperial Bank, Lothbury.
    London Joint Stock, Princes-street.
    London and County, Lombard-street.
    London and South Western Bank, 7, Fenchurch-street.
    London and Westminster, Loth bury.
    Martin and Co., Lombard-street. 
    Merchant blanking Co., 112, Cannon-street.
    Metropolitan, Cornhill.
    National, Old Broad-street.
    National Provincial, Bishopsgate-street.
    Prescott and Co., Threadneedle-street.
    Robarts and Co., Lombard-street.
    Smith and Co., Lombard-street.
    Union Bank, Princes-street.
    Williams and Co., Birchin-lane.
    
    In the opposite corner of the principal compartment of the room, at G, bonds are given for the removal of goods from port to port, either at home or abroad, without previous payment of duty. This is the busiest part of the room, a little string of merchants being almost continually in waiting at the counter.
    Persons desiring to enter into bond must execute a notice of bond in an instrument setting forth the nature and value of the goods according to their tariff rating, together with the name and address of the person proposed as surety and the amount of stamp duty. Before sending in this notice it should be ascertained that the surety will be able to attend at the Bond Office; and if the bond is for exportation of goods, observe that the vessel is entered outwards, and that the port of landing corresponds with the entry of the vessel. In the case of notices of bond for transhipmsent it must be first certified at the Report Office that the goods have been duly reported in transit, and a correct account of them must be endorsed on the transhipment bond-note. An appreciable economy of time is occasionally effected by persons preparing their own bonds. If it is designed to adopt this course it should be signified at the time of tendering notice. Great care must be taken in checking the form of bond and the amount of stamp. Quantities should always be given in words, and erasures and additions avoided. Before the bond is signed it should be handed in for examination. When the bond is executed the fact is certified upon the bond-note, and the same is returned to the merchant in cases of exportation or transhipment ; but when the removal of warehoused goods is in question, the bond-notes are taken to their destination by the appointed messengers, who are despatched from the Long Room every thirty minutes during office hours. In the case of warehoused tea the bond-notes are taken to the tea department every fifteen minutes. By a general order dated August, 1849, it is permitted that articles of the same nature taken out for exportation may be described in the bond under their generic instead of their specific denomination, as "Spirits," &c. When this is done security is exacted in double the highest rate of duty on the article, it resting with the Controllers of Accounts to see that the correct description is endorsed upon the bond-note before delivery. Under the Act 33 and 34 Vic. C. 97, the stamp duties payable upon bonds taken in the Long Room are:
    When the penalty does not exceed £25    0s.  8d
    When the penalty does not exceed £50   1s. 3d.
    When exceeding £50 and not exceeding £100    2s. 6d.
    When exceeding £100 and not exceeding £150   3s. 9d.
    When exceeding £150    5s.  0d.
Under the Cattle Plague Act the amount of bond to be given on the importation of a milch cow is fixed at £100. Bonds for passenger vessels, for the removal and deposit of oysters, and for the exportation of tobacco entitled to Customs' drawback, are exempt from stamp duty. The time allowed for the due landing of goods exported under bond to any port of Europe, including Malta and its dependencies, or to the east coast of North America, is three months ; to all other ports six months; but discretion is vested in the collector to allow a longer period in such cases as may seem to him to require it.
    These bonds are all ready printed, and the process of filling up and completing barely occupies a minute; but the applications are like those at the pit-door when a popular piece is running, and the shillings and half-crowns for the needful stamps pass in in a continuous stream. At counter H, occupying the whole north-east corner of the longer compartment of the room, a good deal of business is also carried on, duties being here paid on bonded goods taken out for sale. Finally, at the little office at I, at the inner end of the southern half of the cross counter, are paid the City Coal and Wine Dues, together with what are known as the "Orphan Dues," formerly collected its this office for the direct benefit of City orphans.
    Finally, when a British vessel's last voyage is done, either merely as such by reason of a change in her nationality, or absolutely through her actual decease, whether by stranding or foundering, or by the rarer "natural death" of the ship.breaker's yard, her last official obsequies are celebrated at the same counter A at which her official career commenced; her ultimate fate and its cause is duly noted in the ponderous register wherein has been recorded, step by step, every important incident of her life, and a closing endorsement on her baptismal certificate converts it into one of death and burial, henceforth to be laid up among the archives of the Registrar-General of Shipping and Seamen.
    Remains only the little counter it between the two entrance doors, the functions attached to which are quite distinct from those of the remainder of the Long Room. Counter K neither receives money nor issues documents, nor, indeed, transacts any actual business of any kind. Its property is solely thus collecting and affording information as to the doings of the rest of the room, and its wording is of the utmost importance to the convenience of the mercantile world.
    If any person shall, in any matter relating to the Customs, make and subscribe any declaration false or untrue in any particular, or if any person required to answer any question put by officers of Customs shall not truly answer such questions or shall falsify or counterfeit any document, or wilfully use any document so falsified or counterfeited, he shall forfeit for every such offence the sum of £100.
    After office hours the Long Room is used as a drill-room for the two Custom House regiments of volunteers, the 26th Middlesex (Rifles), and the 2nd Middlesex (Artillery), whose guns are housed at either end of the entrance-hall.
    The remainder of the establishment is divided into the following departments:
    WEST WING. - Ground Floor: Tea Office; Comptroller of Tea Accounts; Laboratory; Dry Goods, London Docks Pay Office; Controller of Outdoor Staff; Surveyor Inspector General; Principal Inspector of Gaugers. First Floor: Comptroller of Accounts ; Legal Quays Department; Pay Office; Treasury; Bench Office; Principal Surveyor for Tonnage. Second Floor: Customs' Benevolent Fund; Accountant and Controller General.
    EAST WING - Ground Floor: Register Office; Home and Statistical; Fishing Office; Superintendents of Lockers Medical Inspector. First Floor: Petition Office: Secretary's Department; Official Post Office. Second Floor: Bill of Entry; Sugar Assessment Surveyor of Buildings; Solicitor; Surveyor General. Third Floor: Fireman. The Long Room on the first, and the Queen's Warehouse belonging to the Receiver of Wrecks on the ground floor, stretch into both wings, occupying the chief part of the whole area.

source: Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames, 1881

Custom House Museum, adjoining the east side of the Queen's Warehouse, on the ground floor, is a curious and interesting museum, formerly occupying a space which allowed of its being inspected to some purpose, but within the last few weeks swept ignominiously away for some inscrutable reason into the dark recess at the inner end of the department formerly devoted entirely to it and inaccessible except to a very resolute explorer. Visitors armed with the requisite robur et aes triplex of authority and perseverance, may still find there a very interesting collection of documents bearing upon the history, duties, privileges, &c., of Her Majesty's Customs Establishment, not the least curious among which are the neatly transcribed Pay Lists of the old heroic age, when time was not reckoned by minutes, and well-grown goose-quills considered themselves well employed in ornamenting their careful work with intricately artistic flourishes laboriously executed in ink as deeply and lustrously black at this present speaking as when first uncorked, hundreds of years ago. Occasionally a neatly indited memorandum will be found in the margin to the effect that Mr. So-and-so, being a Papist, his salary for the current quarter is not to be paid. On one occasion, at least, a similar stoppage is inflicted as punishment for a similar indiscretion on the part of some other Mr. So-and-so's wife. Another interesting collection is that of the official standard samples of the various articles of commerce with which Her Majesty's Customs have to deal. A good many of these are now obsolete; the abolition, for instance, of the sugar duties having done away with the necessity of a good many curious specimens of sugar of various kinds from various countries, and in various stages of preparation. But it seems a pity that the collection should be broken up. The most interesting, however, and certainly by far the quaintest feature of the museum, is to be found in the collection of articles seized by the Custom House searchers as having been used for the purposes of those very small smuggling transactions which in these days of Free Trade and low duties have taken the place of the old heroic exploits of galley, and lugger, and smuggler's cave. Here we have the Havre stewardess's crinoline, its fashionable sweep maintained by means, not of steel or whalebone, but of circular bladders, duly distended with many pints of excellent old cognac. Then a packet of books with nothing but the bindings and the margins left, and the place of the missing literature filled up with cigars. Another seeming volume is altogether a delusion and a mockery, being merely a large brandy-flask artfully constructed in that semblance, with the nozzle projecting from one end just where it can hide itself snugly in the palm of the innocent student who is carrying it out of dock. A loaf with the bottom crust neatly removed, and replaced after the indigestible crumb has been taken out, makes a capital nest for a pound or so of cigars, a considerable reserve of which may rest securely in either of those tall hollow pedestals which once supported the handsome cuddy lamps of some 'cute American trader.  More elaborate still in their immoral ingenuity, are the battered  old pitch-kettle and the greasy oil-can : the latter with a false stomach like a conjuring trick; the former with a tin-plate soldered right across it, a couple of inches or so below the edge, and covered with a thin film of innocent-looking pitch, only waiting to be melted. No doubt  good number of gallons of "right Nantz" had made their way ashore in both before some unlucky chance or, as is just as often the case, some Bacchanalian indiscretion of the bold smuggler himself, or some unkind "rounding" on the part of an insufficiently propitiated friend, made them targets for the fatal broad arrow. Of the snuff, made up into a semblance of oil-cake so absolutely natural in appearance that Mr. Mechi himself might have served it out to the most apoplectic prize monster of his model farm, a considerable cargo had actually passed under the eyes of the Customs' officers, - and was on its way to the ingenious importer's warehouse, when one of them, profoundly occupied in the consideration of a new scheme of retirement, which somehow could not be made, by any rule of mental arithmetic of which he was master, to develop a satisfactory pecuniary esult, abstractedly nibbled at a tiny fragment with which he had been playing as he paced the quay. Whereon the origin of that irrepressible sternutation which had been so strangely epidemic among the men who were handing the supposed oil-cake ashore became suddenly apparent, and the oil-cake, with its accompanying fines and penalties, returned into the safe keeping of Her Majesty's Customs.

source: Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames, 1881