Front Page Titles (by Subject) APPENDIX D: Custom–house Documents - Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence Vol. 6 Correspondence of Adam Smith
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APPENDIX D: Custom–house Documents - Adam Smith, Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence Vol. 6 Correspondence of Adam Smith 
Correspondence of Adam Smith, ed. E. C. Mossner and I. S. Ross, vol. VI of the Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1987).
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Adam Smith’s father (1679–1723) became Comptroller of Customs at Kirkcaldy in 1714, at the same time as his cousin Hercules Scott Smith (d. 1738) became Collector. Smith’s ‘tutor’ or guardian, also Adam Smith, became Collector at Kirkcaldy at a later date, as well as Inspector of Customs for the outports (Scott 16–17, 134). Yet another Adam Smith, cousin to the man of letters, was Collector at Alloa in 1754 (Letter 16). With this family background, it is not surprising that Smith was both revenue–minded and an acute critic of the revenue practices of his time, as is revealed in WN (e.g. IV.ii–v; V.ii.), also that he took readily to a post as Commissioner of Customs from 1778 until his death.
Letters 184–8 and 190–3 deal with his appointment; 208 and 274 have references to his attentiveness to duty; and 196 and 197 reflect his reading in a comparative European source on customs, as well as the interest his ideas aroused in politicians. Letter 235 is concerned with the management of funds under the Customs Board which were applied to the civil list. Special problems connected with the revenue service such as smuggling and trading patterns are discussed in 203, 233, 234, and the issue of free trade for Ireland in 200–2. Smith’s work as a Commissioner and his access to official returns probably influenced the important revisions for WN ed. 3 of 1784, as indicated by Letters 222 and 227. He was also prepared to make revenue data available to George Chalmers, a contemporary analyst of economic conditions: 249–52.
Smith’s colleagues as the other four members of the Customs Board at different periods were as follows: Mansfeldt de Cardonnel, grandson of the Duke of Monmouth and reputed to be as good a raconteur as his great–grandfather Charles II (Carlyle 228–9); Basil Cochrane (1701–88), relative of James Boswell and a former soldier, who was made Commissioner of Excise in 1761 and of Customs in 1763; James Edgar (d. 1799), old soldier and former Collector at Leith, who shared with Smith an interest in the Greek classics (John Kay, Original Portraits, 1842, i. 384–8); George Clerk Maxwell; David Reid; James Buchanan; John Henry Cochrane; and Robert Hepburn. The Solicitor to the Board and Inspector–General of Customs was the giant–like Alexander Osborne (Kay, Portraits, i. 344), and the Secretary was R. E. Phillips, who lived to be 104 and was buried in the same grave as Adam Smith in the Canongate kirkyard (Rae 330).
The bulk of the documents connected with Smith’s service on the Customs Board are now in SRO, e.g. the minutes of the Board, from which a representative sample is drawn below. Other examples in the same repository are original letters and orders bound in volumes containing a large number of items signed by Smith and his colleagues: CE56/2/5A–5D, 5F (Dunbar), and CE62/2/1–4 (Inverness). There are a few documents with Smith signatures in CE67/2/1 (Alloa), CE71/2/1 (Irvine), and CE77/2/1 (Stranraer). Copy documents with copy Smith signatures are to be found in CE52/2/2–4 (Perth), CE60/2/271–6 (Port Glasgow and Greenock), and CE82/2/1–4, 83–6 (Campbeltown). Copies with copy Smith initials only are to be found in CE51/2/3–4 (Dumfries), CE53/2/1–2 (Montrose), CE60/2/319–27 (Port Glasgow and Greenock), CE73/2/1–2 (Rothesay), and CE76/1/10–6 (Ayr). The places listed in the parentheses were outports.
It is possible that some documents connected with Smith are in the library of H.M. Customs and Excise, King’s Beam House, Mark Lane, London EC4, where is to be found his copy of Henry Crouch, A Complete View of the British Customs (London, 1727). Another likely source is the collection of Treasury papers in the Public Records Office, Chancery Lane, London WC2. In particular, for the relevant period there are Treasury in–letters, Treasury Board Papers (T.1), the Treasury out–letters, Customs (T.11), and the Treasury Minute Book (T.29). There are, in addition, important Customs documents among the Chatham papers (G.D.8), which have a bearing on the revenue service in Smith’s time e.g. Bundle 231 (including an MS. booklet describing the business of various branches of the Treasury in 1782), and Bundle 283 containing letters and reports of the Customs Commissioners to the Treasury, and Customs accounts for the later part of the eighteenth century. These items at the PRO have been picked out from the useful bibliography in Elizabeth E. Hoon, The Organization of the English Customs Systems, 1696–1786 (New York and London, 1938), 294–5.
Some notable figures have been connected with the revenue service or supported by it: Chaucer, William Prynne the Puritan pamphleteer, Elias Ashmole the antiquary, William Congreve, John Dennis the critic, and Tom Paine, to say nothing of Nell Gwynne, Charles II’s mistress, who was maintained at the rate of £6,000 per annum out of the yield of the Excise duties. It is said that Smith recommended that Robert Burns be given a post as a Salt Officer in the Customs service, to assure him of a permanent income (F. B. Snyder, The Life of Robert Burns, New York, 1932, 232, n. 8). Among this company, perhaps the fullest record of service is available for Adam Smith, and it is proposed to illustrate this by presenting an extract from the Customs Board minutes, followed by a calendar of official letters, both handwritten and printed.
customs board minutes, sro
1. Kirkcaldy Museum
1779, 8 Feb. Rejection of claim by the commander of the King’s boat at Eyemouth and two of his crew for a share of a seizure. Sgd. Adam Smith, Basil Cochrane, George Clerk Maxwell.
2. Library, H.M. Customs and Excise, King’s Beam House, Mark Lane, London EC4
[Addressed to the Collector and Comptroller, Dunbar]
Custom–house, Edinburgh  September 1779
Number One hundred
We have received yours of the 14th inst. by express relative to three Privateers and a Frigate Supposed to be French, being off the Coast of Dunbar and Eyemouth, and also your Letter dated the 15th at one o’Clock noon signifying that four Vessels were then standing with their heads to the Northwards about twenty four Miles off Dunbar which it is beleived are Enemies Ships; And we command your Attention herein; and have communicated the Intelligence to the Commander in Chief, and to the Commanders of His Majesty’s Ships in the Firth. We are,
Your Loving Friends
George Clerk Maxwell
[The story associated with this letter is the most stirring one of the period of Smith’s commissionership. The squadron seen off Dunbar was commanded by John Paul Jones (1747–92) in Le Bonne Homme Richard, and it appeared off the Isle of May on 16 September. A revenue cutter was ordered to reconnoitre, and her captain made a deposition the following day in the presence of the regulating officer and Commissioners George Clerk Maxwell and Adam Smith: ‘at Daybreak, [he] found himself within Pistol Shot of a fifty Gun French Ship, upon which he tacked about and afterwards retook a prize they had taken in the Mouth of the Firth but a French twenty four Gun Frigate immediately made up, and obliged him to abandon the Prize, they brought on Shore a Boy from the Prize who says they put four Soldiers, four Men and two Officers on board him. The French Squadron consists of a fifty Gun Ship, a twenty four Gun Frigate and a Brig mounting ten Guns. The Ships sail ill, and they say they are determined to come up to Leith Road. The Commander of the fifty Gun Ship is said to be acquainted with the Coast. Both the fifty Gun Ship and Frigate are painted Black. The fifty Gun Ship has a White Bottom and very clumsy mast head. The Boy says seven Sail of them sailed in Company they went north the length of Shetland, and returned Separated in a Gale of Wind some Days ago from the rest of the Squadron. 17 September 1779’ (Customs Board Minutes, 21 Dec. 1778–17 Jan. 1781, 197, SRO). The Commissioners transmitted this deposition by express to the Treasury in London the same day, and gave orders for the three revenue cutters on the East coast to be placed under the direction of the Commander–in–Chief in Scotland. It appears that the British Government had prompt information about Jones’s movements from the time of his leaving France, and the revenue cutters were accordingly manned and armed ‘to the fullest extent’ (Henry Atton and Henry Hurst Holland, The King’s Customs, London, 1910, ii. 490–1). For all that, John Paul Jones gained a famous victory on 23 September, when he closed with the Serapis convoying merchantmen returning from the Baltic, and fought with her from sunset until she surrendered three hours later under moonlight. Jones and his men then boarded her, leaving the burning Le Bonne Homme Richard to sink, and returned to France to be lionized.]
3. SRO, GD24/1/591
1780, 19 Dec. Appreciation expressed to Lord Kames for his interest in improving legal procedures before the justiciary court involving revenue officers. Enclosed is a circular letter of 24 Jan. 1776 describing the Board’s practice which coincides with Kames’s ideas. Sgd. Adam Smith, George Clerk Maxwell, Basil Cochrane.
4. EUL, Dh. 6. 58*
To Collectors and Comptrollers of the Custom–houses
1782, 2 Sept. Instructions concerning the movement of goods and coal by transire, i.e. Custom–house permit, within the firths of Forth, Clyde, and Tay, and ‘the River extending up the Country within the Heads of Cromarty’. Sgd. David Reid, Adam Smith, James Edgar.
5. Vanderblue Collection of Smithiana, Kress Library, Harvard: see Letter 220 To George Rose, Esq., [Secretary to the Treasury]
1782, 3 Sept. Encloses a report (31 Aug.) from the tide surveyor at Newburgh as to the unfitness of John Greig to be an ‘Extraordinary Boatman’ there. The reasons given are that he was ‘quite unacquainted with Handling the Oar, Sails or any Article belonging to the Duty of a Boatman, aside so Extremely short sighted, that . . . he is very unqualified for this Employment’. Sgd. James Buchanan, Adam Smith, Basil Cochrane.
To Rose, 19 Sept. Board interviewed Greig and arranged to have him tried out by the Tide Surveyor at Leith, then directed that further trial was to be made of him at Newburgh. Sgd. Basil Cochrane, Adam Smith, James Buchanan.
To Rose, 24 Oct. Encloses a further report (21 Oct.) from the Newburgh officer to the effect that Greig being a countryman did not take well to handling a boat and that his shortsightedness was a ‘Deficiency for day Duty, and . . . much more so for Night’. The Board recommended that Greig’s appointment be stopped and that someone formerly employed as boatman be taken on again. Sgd. James Buchanan, James Edgar, Adam Smith.
6. University of Illinois
To the Commander of the Cumbraes Cutter
1783, 28 May. Concerns information about seizures by this officer. Sgd. Adam Smith, James Buchanan, James Edgar.
7. EUL, Dh. 6. 58*
To [Collectors and Comptrollers of Custom–houses]
1783, 8 Sept. Deals with a plan to prosecute the masters of fishing boats and to burn the boats if it could be proved they were engaged in bringing ashore cargoes from smuggling vessels lying twenty, thirty, or even forty miles offshore. Sgd. James Edgar, Adam Smith, George Clerk [? Maxwell].
8. EUL, Dh. 6. 58,* printed
To the Collector and Comptroller of the Customs Dundee
1784, 2 Sept. Concerns arrangements for the administration of the transire and the collection of fees. Instructs the officers to double their diligence in preventing frauds in the shipping and discharge of coals by transire. Sgd. David Reid, Adam Smith, James Edgar.
9. GUL, printed
1786, 20 Dec. An Account of What Number of Ships from Scotland have been employed in the Whale Fishery to Davis’s Streights, and the Greenland Seas. . . . From the 10th of October 1784 to the 10th October 1785. Sgd. Adam Smith, David Reid, Basil Cochrane.
10. University of Illinois, printed
To [Collector and Comptroller of Customs Thurso]
1789, 2 Dec. Notice of the dismissal of two land waiters at Alloa for taking unofficial fees and granting undue allowances to merchants: this to made known to all officers ‘that they see what will be their Fate if they do not discharge their Duty honestly and fairly in all Cases’. Sgd. Adam Smith, James Edgar, J.H. Cochrane.
11. Kirkcaldy Museum
Custom–house, Edinburgh 6 Aug. 1789
We have received your Letter of the 4th instant stating the proceedings of Mr Oliphant Tide Surveyor; Mr Stewart Commander of the Justice Hulk and the officers under their Survey, in watching a Lugger commanded by . . . Yawkins, so as to prevent her from landing any part of Her Cargo on the Coast, which Vessel has been captured and carried into Liverpool by Capt. Burges of His Majesty’s Sloop Savage, who sailed in quest of her, in consequence of information from the Collector; and submitting, on account of the severe duty the officers and military were subjected to on this occasion, that they may be allowed a Gratuity out of the Service; We acquaint you that tho’ the Services stated are very commendable, and what we much approve of, they are only such as come within the Line of their duty. We are,
Your Loving Friends
J. H. Cochrane
[The smuggler Yawkins was the prototype of Dirk Hatteraick in Guy Mannering. Scott provided some details about his career in an additional note printed at the end of the novel, ‘Galwegian Localities and Personages . . . Alluded To’: ‘This man was well known on the coast of Galloway and Dumfriesshire, as sole proprietor and master of a Buckkar, or smuggling lugger, called The Black Prince. Being distinguished by his nautical skill and intrepidity, his vessel was frequently freighted, and his own services employed, by French, Dutch, Manx, and Scottish smuggling companies. . . . In those halcyon days of the free trade, the fixed price for carrying a box of tea, or bale of tobacco, from the coast of Galloway to Edinburgh, was fifteen shillings, and a man with two horses carried four such packages. The trade was entirely destroyed by Mr Pitt’s celebrated commutation law, which, by reducing the duties upon excisable articles, enabled the lawful dealer to compete with the smuggler. The statute was called in Galloway and Dumfriesshire, by those who had thriven upon the contraband trade, “the burning and starving act”.’ In WN V.ii.k.35, Smith had argued that ‘the temptation to smuggle can be diminished only by the lowering of the tax; and the difficulty of smuggling can be increased only by establishing that system of administration which is most proper for preventing it’. This theme was taken up by the House of Commons Committee appointed in 1783 to inquire into ‘smuggling and other illicit practices’ (see Letter 234 and the Parliamentary Papers cited below in the bibliography). Acting on the reports of the Committee, Pitt settled on tea for the experiment of lowering duty and brought in the Commutation Act of 1784. The smugglers took to the auction rooms to force up the price of tea but were outsmarted by Government–supported buying, and by 1789 it was reckoned that the contraband trade had been dealt a severe blow (Ehrman, The Younger Pitt, 1969, i. 242–5).]
12. Kirkcaldy Museum, copy
1790, 21 Jan. Query concerning the seizure of a box of tea in a swine house and two ankers of rum found among whins. Sgd. Adam Smith, James Edgar, Robert Hepburn.
select bibliography dealing with the customs service
A. Parliamentary Papers
XXXVI, Reports, VI, H.C. No. 58 (1783): ‘First Report from the Committee appointed to Enquire into the Illicit Practices used in Defrauding the Revenue’; No. 59 (1784) ‘Second Report’; No. 60 (1784) ‘Third Report’.
The Reports of the Commissioners Appointed to Examine, Take, and State the Public Accounts of the Kingdom, by John Lane, Secretary to the Commissioners (London, 1787), iii, ‘Thirteenth Report Relative to the Manner of Passing the Accounts of the Customs, in the Office of the Auditors of the Imprest’, 1785; ‘Fourteenth Report, Relative to the Charges of Management of the Customs Duties in the Port of London for the Year 1784’, 1785; ‘Fifteenth Report, Relative to the Payment to the Officers of the Customs at the Out Ports, etc. for the Year 1784’, 1786.
Atton, Henry, and Henry Hurst Holland,The King’s Customs, 2 vols. (London, 1908–10).
Baldwin, Samuel,A Survey of the British Customs; containing the Rates of Merchandise (London, 1770). [In Smith’s Library: Mizuta 4.]
Carson, Edward,The Ancient and Rightful Customs: A History of the English Customs Service (London, 1972).
Chester, W. D., Chronicles of the Customs Service, priv. ptd. (London, 1885).
Crouch, Henry,A Complete Guide to the Officers of His Majesty’s Customs in the Out–ports (London, 1732).
—, —, A Complete View of the British Customs (London, 1727). [Crouch was regarded as an official guide until late in the eighteenth century when errors were found in his statements. Smith’s copy of this second book by him is in the library of H.M. Customs and Excise, King’s Beam House, London EC4.]
Dowell, Stephen,A History of Taxation and Taxes in England from the Earliest Times to the Year 1885, 4 vols. (London, 1888).
Hall, H., A History of the Customs Revenues in England from the Earliest Times to the Year 1827, 2 vols. (London, 1885).
Hoon, Elizabeth Evelynola,The Organization of the English Customs Systems, 1696–1786 (New York and London, 1938).
Saxby, Henry,The British Customs, containing an Historical and Practical Account of each Branch of that part of the Revenue (London, 1757). [In Smith’s Library: Mizuta 54.]