Fraud and Corruption
contributed by Jenny Oliver
In July 1682, William Culliford, an officer in the King’s Customs Service, arrived in Poole prepared to delve into the all too cosy relationship between the Poole merchants and local customs officers. Culliford had been appointed by the Board of Commissioners to survey the efficiency and integrity of the Customs Service in western ports from South Wales to Dorset. In Poole he found widespread corruption involving merchants, ship-owners, masters and customs officers of all ranks, one of whom was Thomas Barney, Surveyor of Customs for the port. Among the ten charges of fraud made against Barney was one concerning the Robert of Poole and her master Robert Bennet who also kept the George Inn (now Scaplen’s Court). The following statement of two tidesmen gives a flavour of the fraud.
The Information of Wm Vincent & Thomas Keeping
Tydesmen in the Port of Pool
Saith: That about the latter end of May past came into this Harbour the Robt of Pool, Robt Bennet Masr, from Virga Loaden with Tobacco, upon the accot wholely of the said Mar and Mr Wm Orchard of Pool, which said shipp was full & had between decks, in the Steerage and great Cabbin 38 hhds of Tobacco, & the hold of the said shipp was as full as could be stowd, the said shipp being upwards of 60 Tuns, on which shipp these Informts & Richd Checkford, together with Richd Gardner & Richd Westover, two Extraordinary men were appointed Tydesmen, & did keep carefull Watches thereon, till Munday the 12 June last, when Mr Barney suspended this Informt Tho Keeping for being off the shipp about two houres (the Sunday before in the day time, tho all the other Tydesmen were at the same time upon the shipp) And this Informt Wm Vincent sayeth, that the same night Keeping was taken off, upon the importunity of John Penny, the King’s Searcher, & the Mar of the shipp who earnestly solicited this Informt to consent to the running some Tobacco, by giving this Informt severall hints, that Mr Barney was willing thereto whereupon this Informt and the two Extraordinary men did agree to go off the shipp & there was that night run out of her 17 hhds of Tobacco & severall Baggs and Bundles, which was conveyd away by Mark Adams, Wm Bonham, Samll Wallis, & Wm Wallis, & by them carried into the Stock Celler, which is in the possession of Mr Wm Orchard, & as soon as they had left work, which was about 3 of the Clock in the morning, this Informt saw Mr Barney (who had been drinking with Mr Orchard, Mr Miller the Collector, & Mr Emerson the Deputy Comptroller all the night at the Mars House whilst the fraud was committed) go into the Shipp Alehouse upon the Key, with the said Mr Orchard, Mr Penny & the Mar of the shipp, where they staid not long before they returned to the Mats house to the Collector & Deputy Comptroller, with whom they continued drinking together till 6 a Clock in the morning, & then the very next night in a like manner was run out of the said shipp 30 hhds more, & a very great quantity of Baggs & Bulk Tobacco, which both these Informts saw delivered out of the sd shipp & conveyed away by the four aforenamed men, & by them carried pt into the Stock Celler, & pt into the Cole Celler, (both which are in the possession of Mr Wm Orchard) & the other pt thereof into a Celler in the George Inn in Pool, being the Mars house where was the said Collector, Mr Barney, Mr Wetwang, the Landwaiter, in company with Mr Orchard, Mr Penny and the Mar: drinking together all the night long, till about 7 a Clock in the morning, & this Informt William Vincent further saith, that he acquainted Mr. Barney of the running the 17 hhds of Tobacco the first night, who made no search for the same, nor removed the Extraordinary Tydesmen, that this Informt told him, had consented to the said fraud, but continued them on the said shipp till her delivery, by which this Informt was satisfied, the said Barney was consenting to the said fraud, & these Informts did receive of Robt Bennet the mar of the said shipp forty shillings a peece for consenting to the said fraud, & Richd Gardner did receive twenty shillings.
Another witness, shipwright Charles Daw lived next door to the George and was awoken in the middle of the night by a noise outside. Looking out of the window, he saw the bundles being carried into the inn. The next day more tobacco was brought round by boat, landed near the church and carried through the alleys to the back door of the George in broad daylight. With the inducement of backhanders and all-night drinking sessions, William Orchard and Robert Bennet were able to get the tidesmen removed from the ship and land a large part of their cargo without paying customs dues. They also claimed that some of the tobacco was damaged and not eligible for customs, even though it had not been inspected or certified.
For this and a whole list of other frauds, Thomas Barney was dismissed from the service as were Thomas Miller, John Emerson and several other officers. The informing tidesmen were not dismissed. Culliford also hired a better located building to serve as the custom house, and tightened up procedures to make future fraud more difficult (at least for a time).
The Report of Wm Culliforde Gent of his Survey of the Port of Pool. 1682 TNA Ref T 65/139 pp.43-52
Stephens, W. B. The Seventeenth Century Customs Service Surveyed: William Culliford’s Investigation of the Western Ports, 1682-84. Routledge 2017
Guttridge, Roger. Dorset Smugglers. Dorset Publishing Company 1984