The 20th Century description of this profession is a Customs & Excise
Officer, but it must be remembered that the two services did not join
forces until 1909, and if you do not know which a man served in, it may
be necessary to search the separate records of the Board of Customs and
the Board of Excise in order to find him.
The proximity of Britain to the continent meant that smuggling was an
ever present threat and the resultant evasion of duties on imported
goods was a loss of valuable revenue for the British Government. Customs
men operated within ports, collected duties on goods and endeavoured to
prevent evasion of duties, a small fleet of Revenue cruisers patrolled
the coastal waters, and a force of Riding Officers patrolled the
coastline to ensure that smugglers were unable to land their goods. The
Board of Excise was set up in 1643 to collect duties on certain British
Records of the Board of Customs
There are no official registers of service, and in order to trace a
Customs Officer it is necessary to search several record series.
Cust 18 Board of Customs: Pay Lists 1675-1813
Cust 19 Board of Customs: Pay Lists 1814-1829
These records include names listed alphabetically, port by port. Men
from the London Headquarters are listed first, followed by those at the
remaining ports of the British Isles going in a clockwork direction
around the country. The name and salary should be shown.
Cust 39 Board of Customs Staff Lists 1671-1922 (Incomplete series)
These records require care in searching as the organisation of the lists
varies. Reference to the instructions at the beginning of the class list
is important before conducting a search of individual lists in this
class. Some are arranged in geographical order around the British Isles,
some are divided into areas and then listed in alphabetical order.
Cust 39/145-159 Board of Customs: Superannuation Registers 1803-1922
These registers whilst not service registers, are however the key to
compiling a career. By following each section in the book it is possible
to find rank, dates of commencing and ending service, and the ports from
which superannuation was transferred. Certain other biographical
information may also be obtained from these records, including date of
death (at which time superannuation ceased), any widow's pension and
date of cessation, and if this latter is given, then also included is
often the names and dates of birth of any children. Cust 39 also
includes superannuation records for Irish Board of Customs.
Cust 28 Board of Customs: Minute Books 1734-1885
Note was made in these books of all successive postings during a man's
career. The search may be time consuming but the full career of a
Customs Officer can be compiled.
The main records of the Irish Board of Customs and the Irish Revenue are
in a similar record series:
Cust 20/154-159 Irish Board of Customs Register of Appointments
Board of Excise
Cust 116 Board of Excise, Entry Papers 1820-1870
Entry papers usually contain a letter of recommendation, giving name,
age, place of birth, plus a written character reference. There is
usually a letter of confirmation from the Excise Officer in charge,
stating that the man was literate and numerate. There is an alphabetical
card index to this class.
Cust 47 Board of Customs, Minute Books 1695-1867
These contain all successive postings of a man's career. There are
approximately 6 books covering each year, each internally indexed. These
records do not contain information of a biographical nature.
Cust 48 is a class comprising correspondence with the Treasury
department, also indexed.
Irish Board of Excise
Cust 110/1-8 Irish Board of Excise, Minutes and Appointments 1824-1833
As stated earlier, in 1909 the two Boards merged to become HM Customs &
Many of these records have been filmed and therefore may be available
through LDS libraries.
This is a brief overview of a large class of records. They are simple to
search once the organisation of the various records has been understood,
but are time consuming and not always correctly alphabetical so care
must always be taken. Outports may be given unfamiliar names and you may
need access to a good atlas to assist in identifying a location. The
Public Record Office has a series of on-line leaflets including records
for the Boards of Customs and Excise, which explain in greater detail
what may be obtained from a search in the records
Information courtesy of Debbie Beavis