The 'Customer' of Jersey and the 'Register' of certificates

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The 'Customer' of Jersey and the
'Register' of certificates

This article by Philip Ahier was first published in the 1965 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

The word 'customer' is one of those which has changed its meaning within the last 300 years. Originally, it meant a person who collected custom duties imposed upon goods imported into a country or even exported from it. The present meaning of the word is that of a purchaser, a retailer who buys goods from a wholesale store, or a private individual from a retail shop. The current use of the word dates to 1480.

Likewise, there have been two meanings to the word 'register'.

Imports and exports

There were two (three?) distinct officers collecting dues on imported goods and preventing the re-exporting of goods from Jersey (which had come from England) into France:-

  • The Farmer of the Impots. The first recorded person who is known to have been the Receiver of the Impots was George Messervy, the Attorney-General, (1584-1590) on 27 May 1585.
  • Sir Walter Raleigh suggested to the States that import duties should be levied for three years only on knitted stockings, wines, beers; export duties on horses, bulls, cows, shoes, wool, hides, pelts, tanned bark, wheat and broad beans. Nicolas Durel was appointed to hold the joint posts of Collector and Treasurer for one year only.

Unfortunately the Actes des Etats from 1617 to 1643 are missing, consequently it is impossible to say whether any custom duties were levied on wines and spirits.

On 19 March 1649, the Acte for the day, recites:

"At the request of His Majesty, Charles I, of blessed memory, the States have decreed, granted, and given permission to collect and levy a sou upon each pot of wine, which would be sold and retailed in public houses and taverns in the Island to be placed in a public fund for the benefit of the Island, according to the intent of the Patent which has not yet been accomplished. HM Charles II, now King, having deemed that this Patent should be put into effect, orders that it be put into execution."

Amyce de Carteret and Philip Le Geyt were appointed to collect un sou per pot of wine.

The subsequent occupation of Jersey by the Parliamentarians resulted that the above scheme was not put into operation.

Charles II charter

The Impots, as they are known today, originated from the Charter of Charles II dated 24 July 1669, which deemed that the money collected from the dues on wines and brandies should be devoted at the time for three purposes:

  • Building of a college
  • Building of a house of correction
  • Building of a pier for the greater security of the Merchants.

The first Treasurer of the Impots was David Bandinel, the Greffier of the Royal Court.

In early Stuart days, the 'Customer' of Jersey was appointed either by the Crown, or by its representative in Jersey, the Governor, to collect dues on sundry articles imported into the Island. As far as can be ascertained, the holder of this office is first mentioned on 16 April 1632, when Edmund Dean, the 'Chief Customer of Jersey' gave a certificate at the request of John Hardy, that there had been no passages from that Island to the Eastern parts of England.

States petition

During the Governorship of Sir Thomas Morgan (1665-1679), his 'Customer' does not appear in a very favourable light. Morgan had authorised him to receive a sol or a penny for every tobacco roll (about five pounds weight) "for license to transport the same quantity out of the Island in Jersey vessels. As for strangers (foreigners) transporting the same quantity, they were free for a Crown tunnage. By which course, whether he had to do with strangers or Islanders, he was always sure of something to his purse." So petitioned the States of Jersey in their Memorial to the Privy Council.

This allegation was continued at further length in Article 18 of this Petition, "they (the Governor and his 'Customer') levy upon every passenger of five sols, or pence per head and thus for a poor boat going from hence the Governor receives very often a crown or a crown and a half - a pressure not heard of before"

When the Privy Council discussed this petition of the States on 1 May 1679, the Lords of the Council gave the following ruling concerning the levying of tunnage:

"Whereas it hath not appeared to his Majesty that there is sufficient ground for the levying of the same, and that it becomes very burdensome to the Island, His Majesty doth hence forbid all persons to demand, collect or receive the sum of 5s or any other sum or sums of money whatsoever for any French vessels trading to the Island which vessels are to be free from the said imposition which was levied and enacted from them."

The next Governor, Sir John Lanier, (1679-1684) appealed against some of the rulings which had been decreed by the Privy Council. He sent a petition to that body, and, curiously enough, on 17 December 1679, it reversed its decision on the question of the import duty of 5s to be levied on French vessels:

"We are humbly of opinion that the same be continued and that the product thereof be wholly employed by Your Majesty who shall from time to time direct it for the benefit of the Island and not to the private advantage of the Governor or of any other person."

The States had their own views as to the type of person who ought to fulfil the office of 'Customer'. They told the Privy Council:

"The 'Customer', who should be an officer of great trust and authority, having a large power to exercise either in good or evil, is at the sole and entire disposal of the Governor who places in each port a common soldier, without any knowledge of the Royal Court, or any oath taken there of faithfully discharging his trust, and if he finds them not for his turn, turns them out at pleasure. And so, the 'Customer', who should be properly Your Majesty's officer here, is the Governor's servant and tenant-at-will, which is certainly a great fault in Government".

The States met on 1 April 1680, with Sir John Lanier present. He proposed that they should petition Charles II to authorise some person to collect the Tonnelage on French vessels arriving in Jersey. The States, by way of diversion, suggested that the office of Collector should be put up by auction to the highest bidder and appointed Saturday 17 April 1680, as the day on which this officer should be so elected. The Collector, who was to be known as L'Adjudicataire was ordered to collect the levy on French vessels as from the previous 31 January1680.

This attitude of the States was in direct contravention of the Orders of the Privy Council dated 17 December 1679, which had decreed:

"We are of opinion that the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury and the Lord Treasurer do nominate an officer and authorised by Order of Your Majesty-in-Council to sign and seal certificates of landing of such commodities".

Laurence Cole

In virtue of this ruling, the Privy Council appointed Laurence Cole on 4 August 1680, while their Order so nominating him was registered in the Royal Court on 19 March 1681, 'under protest'.

The States met the same day when it was reported that they had only been informed by Cole himself on 14 February 1681 that he had been so appointed. They wanted Cole to take an oath, arguing that it was an innovation for an officer of such magnitude to fulfil so important a post without first taking an oath that he would perform it efficiently, while a form of declaration had been previously drawn up to this effect.

Laurence Cole at first objected to taking an oath, regarding his appointment by the Privy Council as sufficient. He was given 15 days to think the matter over and was informed by the Lieut-Bailiff that he could not be accepted officially until he took an oath, as no official "of any quality" had held office without this formality.

Cole took the oath on 19 May 1681. He declared his allegiance to the Crown and that he would observe punctiliously the Order-in-Council of 17 December 1679g. He was expected to make returns of all merchandise, particularly of raw wool, brought to Jersey by licence, and of the manufactured articles exported to England. He had to collect the levy of tonnage on French vessels entering the Island. The States hoped that he would be content with the wages and bonus paid to him by His Majesty and would not accept bribes. If any divergency of opinion occurred during the execution of his office, he should submit it to the Royal Court while he had the right of appeal to the Privy Council in the event of his being injured in the course of his duties or being maligned.

William Hely

Cole continued as the Collector of Tonnage till some time in 1685 when he was succeeded by William Hely, nominated by Order-in-Council dated 4 October 1685, which contains the following excerpt:

" Whereas Our Lord Treasurer has nominated William Hely as a fit and proper person to be employed in the same services (whom we do approve to be employed accordingly ... ".

William Hely's appointment as Register of Certificates was reinforced by a Royal Letter, but no action was taken upon it when it was read to the States on 12 January 1686.

Another Royal Letter dated 24 February 1686 was sent to the States and received by them on 15 April, authorising William Hely to visit all vessels on their arrival in Jersey, to take note of their cargo, whence they come and whither they pretend to be bound, and requesting the States to give him "all due assistance and encouragement for Our Service".

The letter was duly registered" without prejudice that the States can address a remonstrance to the King if Hely's services were contrary to the King's as well as to the Public Peace." Hely was duly sworn in on 15 April 1686.

A further Royal Letter was sent to the States on 8 September 1687, pointing out that one single officer was not sufficient to deal with the smuggling that prevailed. Orders-in-Council were issued that the States should give assistance to such auxiliary officers as the Commissioners of the Customs would name.

By a subsequent Order dated 4 November 1687, the Register of Certificates was authorised to ask for the assistance of the Constable or other officer, during "his searching of houses, shops and caves", particularly for tobacco. The Register could administer oaths in the exercise of his duty of questioning witnesses as well as to those who desired to export goods.

The Privy Council must have been informed as to what was going on in Jersey, namely, the transporting of English wool into France, for, on 15 June 1688, Thomas, Lord Jermyn, received a letter from that body saying:

"That they lately received information of a practice commonly used in the Island of Jersey of transporting wool of the growth of that place into France and that upon a late trial in the Royal Court there, the same had been justified on pretence of the privileges granted to the said Island".

In 1689 William Hely complained that he had been "affronted and beaten in the discharge of his duty" ; and that he had been "discouraged in several prosecutions undertaken with the Island for their Majestys' Service, particularly by the Deputy King's Advocate.

The Order-in-Council dated 19 April 1670 stipulated that the Crown Lawyers should not thwart the Register of Certificates.


In 1689-1690 there broke out the War of the English Succession, when England declared war against France. At its commencement William Hely became a traitor and completely forgot his oath of allegiance to the Crown, now in the persons of William III and Mary II. He assisted in a smuggling racket in which the Lieut-Governor (Edward Harris), the King's Deputy-Advocate (Philippe Richardson), the Viscount (James Corbet) and several Jurats of the Royal Court were implicated.

The following judgment was passed upon him in A Narration of Things as they are now in Jersey as reported to their Majesties drawn up by Major Charles Le Hardy:

"One Hely now in Guernsey is probably one of the greatest traitors in the Kingdom. He has sent lead to France during the war. The Captain of the Elizabethan yacht last year brought brandy and white wine from Guernsey to Plymouth without paying duty, by the connivance of Hely, who is the Collector of Customs."

Samuel Dassel

An Order-in-Council dated 23 March 1693 stated that Samuel Dassel had been appointed the Register of Certificates in place of William Hely, but it was not registered as being contrary to the Island's privileges; one clause, in particular, stated that Dassel, in the event of his injuries, could commit his assailant to prison when the latter could remain there "until he was set at liberty by the Exchequer."

Apparently, Samuel Dassel would not comply with the demands made by the States and consequently this office of Register remained vacant for some time.

On 15 August 1694, Francis Watts presented an Order-in-Council to the States appointing him Agent pour les Prises, but that body declined to accept his credentials and declined to register the Order on the ground that it had been obtained on information devoid of fact.

As can be imagined, there was certain to be friction between the Collector-Farmer of the Impots and the Agent for Prizes (the new name given to the Customer). The first occurred in 1697, when the Agent for Prizes, Francis Watts, seized a "parcel of wine, brandy, etc." The High Court of Admiralty in England condemned the goods and ordered them to be sold. But Philippe Patriarche, the farmer of the Impots, seized them for having been landed in Jersey before the quantity of the goods had been declared to him. Philippe Patriarche appealed to the Privy Council, the Committee of which considered that the goods were "perishable and might be much damaged if detained under the said seizure".

Consequently, the Lords of the Privy Council ordered that the wines and brandies should be delivered to Francis Watts, the Agent for Prizes, who had "to give security to answer and abide by His Majesty's determination upon hearing the said appeal so far as shall relate to the repayment of the value of what the said wines, brandy etc shall be sold for." A prize ship Notre Dame de Bruges, had been taken and brought to Jersey in 1695 by Captain George Bennet, Commander of the Privateer named St Albans. Philip Patriarche once again seized the wines and brandy, etc.

Once again Francis Watts appealed to the Privy Council as well as Capt George Bennet, who desired that the "said matter might be speedily heard".

The Lords of the Privy Council decided that the wines etc should be delivered to the Agent for Prizes in the Island and sold to the best advantage, and that out of the money arising by the sale thereof, the accustomed and usual import be paid to "Philippe Patriarche who was the farmer of the Import then". As to the latter's appeal that the wines had not been declared before the unloading, " that it be dismissed."

William Chamberlain

And so the battle between the States and the Privy Council continued until 21 August 1696, when William Chamberlain exhibited to the States that day an Order from the Lords Justices to the Lords of the Privy Council dated 9 July 1696, wherein it was decreed that he should be appointed Register of Certificates in the Islands.

After taking the Oath to do his job "well and truly", to be faithful and loyal to His Majesty ... and to "conform to the laws of Jersey," he was admitted to exercise the office.

The Privy Council did not approve of the smuggling which was going on between Jersey and France and Jersey and England. On 7 May 1700 William Chamberlain brought to the Notice of the States an Order in Council dated 11 April 1700:

"Relating to the unlimited practice of the Island of Jersey, by the help of their small craft, to run French goods upon the coast of England notwithstanding the care that is taken to prevent them."

In this Order, instructions were given to the Register of Certificates that he should obtain on oath a declaration from all masters of ships with any foreign goods, specifying the cargo, etc.

This Order was registered "under protest".

William Chamberlain reported to the States that the information supplied to the Privy Council was ill-founded; he stated that he did not know of any Jersey vessel which had "run" French goods to the English Coast; Perhaps one vessel had attempted to do so but had not succeeded. The States were prepared to accept the Order, provided it was not "to the prejudice of the Island's privileges" and "that with His Majesty's good pleasure they will seek to justify it".

Their Acte for 7 May 1700 concluded with this clause:

"Meanwhile, the Register has promised neither to take, nor to demand money for the issue of certificates, oaths or other duties which he had to observe according to the Order, and he has fixed his office hours from 9 am to noon, and from 2.30 to 4 pm each day of the week."

In 1701, William Chamberlain encountered a problem which the Crown officers and himself referred to the Privy Council for advice. A ship named Rachel, partly "owned by aliens", trading to and from Virginia had brought "a loading of tobacco" to Jersey contrary to the Navigation Act passed in 1651, which permitted goods to be imported into England and its dependencies in English ships only, or in those from which the goods originally came. The Privy Council on 18 March 1701, ordered the Royal Court to come to "a final sentence or determination touching the ship Rachel and her loading".

John Robertson

The next holder of the office of" Register of Certificates was John Robertson, who was appointed on 12 August 1704, by the Privy Council. During the War of the Spanish Succession, 1702-1714, much vigilance was required on Robertson's part to combat the smuggling of French goods into Jersey, especially in view of the embargo placed on the exportation of Jersey and English goods into France and the corresponding one of French goods into England and the Channel Islands.

The work entailed must have been tremendous. John Robertson had three assistants, Temple Harling (or Hawling), Ross Loughton and Henry Harrison, who were on the alert for any breaches of the Embargo Act as well as the Navigation Act. Four such cases of attempted smuggling were presented before the Royal Court.

There were repercussions to these Court cases. On 17 January 1708, Daniel Messervy, Attorney-General and John Durel, Solicitor-General, intervened with the result that John Robertson was ordered to hand over to Philippe Pipon, the Receiver General, acting on behalf of General Henry Lumley, the Governor of the Island, half the goods (which by law belonged to Queen Anne via the Receiver), seized by Henry Harrison, Ross Loughton, Robertson's Assistants on 17 July 1707, in whose possession they are now, as well as also the boats and the goods which came from France contrary to the Order made by Act of Queen Anne entitled "An Act for prohibiting the Trade and Commerce with France seeing that both boat and goods were confiscated by Order of the Royal Court dated December 20, 1707"."

On 31 October 1709 John Robertson was ordered to deliver to the Queen's Attorney-General, and to the Receiver-General, the goods seized on 6 June 6 of that year by Temple Harling, Ross Loughton and Henry Harrison, together with half the boat John of London, with its gear confiscated on 30 April 1709. The goods in question were ordered to be handed over to the Governor of the Island, General Lumley.

The last holder of the office of Register of Certificates to be appointed by the Privy Council was Dixey Coddington on 10 December 1744.

Customs Officers

This scheme of appointing a Registrar of Certificates was not satisfactory; for nearly half a century much unpleasantness had arisen between the States and the Privy Council over the matter of smuggling, etc. In the early part of 1765 the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury received a report from the Commissioners of Customs recommending that Customs Officers should be appointed both in Jersey and Guernsey.

This Report was fairly well-known in both islands; the merchants and inhabitants of Jersey sent a petition to the Privy Council against this innovation. The States on 11 November 1765 requested Charles Lempriere, the Lieut-Bailiff, to write to Lord Albemarle, the Governor of the Island, to come to the help of the Jersey folk in this matter. In his letter Lempriere stated that no illicit trade was carried on between Jersey to Great Britain or Ireland, either by the inhabitants or by vessels from those parts, and said that the appointment of Custom House Officers would soon put a stop to the trade carried on by the French, who exported from Jersey to their own coasts, tobacco, goods from East India and manufactured British goods; that the Jersey folk were apprehensive that the establishment of these officers might be productive of encroachments, etc.

He suggested the enactment of regulations; but the petitions, the memorial of Charles Lempriere and Lord Albemarle's feeble intervention, all proved desultory, for on 13 February 1767 the Privy Council appointed Officers of the Customs by an Order-in-Council; it was duly registered in the Royal Court on 4 April 1767, with the following reservations:

"The Court, in obeying the good pleasure of His Majesty, has ordered the Order to be registered in the Book of the Rolls kept for that purpose, and has published it at the usual place (the Statue of George II) as well as in the parishes, without prejudice, that in consequence, it is found that the execution of this Order might injure the privileges and franchises of the Island, it will be permissible (in conformity with a clause of an Order-in-Council dated 22 August 1709) to petition humbly to His Majesty to ask for relief for any injuries which might arise from this Order dated 13 February 1767, inasmuch as this Order has been obtained without the Royal Court, nor the States having been heard on the matter".

The Order-in-Council gave the following "Scheme of Officers":

A Register as at present - £60
Two waiters and searchers each £40 per annum - £80
Two boatmen and to keep a boat - £50
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