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The excise officers were generally men who had been trained to, and understood, their work; but many of the customs officers were old butlers, gardeners, &c., who got their appointments by parliamentary influence, and were of course entirely ignorant of their duties. Even their superiors both at the Excise and Customs boards, at that time consisted, with few exceptions, of men whose lives had been passed in occupations unfitted to qualify them for such important posts.
The whole system, in short, was a mass of confusion, annoyance, delay, and expense; but I remember that, bad as it was, it was keenly defended by all the old clerks and others who had surmounted its disficulties and mysteries, and were therefore opposed to every change which tended to deprive them of their monopoly by facilitating the despatch of business.
There is still much room for simplification and improvement, but those who have now to do with revenue officers can have but a slight conception of the very superior class of men they are, in contrast with those of former years.
Since that period a great change has taken place in the way of conducting the wholesale part of the trade. Then it was very unusual to purchase even a single cask without going to the docks to taste it; but now, sales are almost invariably made by samples. Formerly, every house of importance had a partner or a representative to show their bonded stock; and
TASTING AT THE EAST VAULT.
there were generally from fifteen to twenty to be found, every afternoon, at their usual exchange, at the East Vault, London Docks. The only shelter being an open shed, it was often cold shivering work in the winter, waiting without anything to do but to gossip about people and things, and scandal, true or false.
It was also necessary to attend to the landing of wines, to see that they were properly laid up for gauging, to have them sampled, to taste them, to report opinion, and to have those housed on which duty had not been paid. I have often thought of an amusing piece of red-tapism connected with these proceedings. The Act of Parliament stated that all casks brought into the docks must be bonded; and thus a cask that was to be sent from the quay would be actually placed in the slings, lowered into the vaults till it touched the ground, and then hoisted up into the wagon waiting for it. Without this ceremony it was feared that there would be an infringement of the Act.
No casks smaller than a hogshead, nor cases of less than three dozen, were then admitted for home use.
The broad arrow' was put upon them, but the Honourable Board, after a week's deliberation, generally condescended to let them pass with a fine.'
When a west-end, or country, or other dealer came to the Docks, he was probably the known customer of one of the houses; and, addressing himself to its representative, they would enter one of the vaults. Supposing it to be the East, the man who attended to the lamps, would hand one to each person, and call the cooper whose turn it was to show wines. The cooper enquired the names of the import ships, by whom bonded, the date, and the marks and numbers of the casks; and if he did not know where they were, referred to a book in which all are kept.
On being told which the dealer wished to taste first, he would probably have to squeeze himself in between casks in one of the narrow gangways off the main one, and driving his fret into the cask named, would bring forward a large glassful.
When this had been duly criticised, more of the same or of other importations might be tasted; or the customer'would perhaps return to the quay, and go into other vaults with some one else.
The coopers were a shrewd intelligent set of men, and never did I see one of them tipsy. But other temptations were held out, too powerful to resist. From the conversations they overheard, and from being frequently asked to give their opinion, they picked up a good deal of knowledge, and especially became acquainted with many of the dealers who came to the docks to buy. By speaking to them in a confidential way, of certain casks they could privately show, that were worth notice for goodness and cheapness, they were considered men whose services were worth securing
Accordingly, it was known that several were in the pay of houses, and that they took every opportunity they safely could to show the wines of those firms. They also managed to fine a cask or two of each parcel, which was thus bright, with a beautiful face ;' while others were out of condition. It is also alleged, probably not without grounds, that when a glass of another cask was desired to be brought forward, still the same “fined' cask was the one drawn from, and its contents exhibited to the dealer.
About the year 1853 it was discovered that great frauds were carried on, and almost every cooper
in the East Vault was dismissed.
As soon as a cask is in the slings of the dock company to be hoisted from the hold of the ship, the company become responsible, and continue so while it remains in the docks. If it is taken away at once, there are certain charges for landing, cooperage, wharfage, &c. ; but if it is placed in the vault, there is a charge of about 20s. per pipe per annum, called the consolidated rate, which includes everything, and three months' rent; but is exclusive of tasting, which is 2d. per cask each time.
For this consolidated rate, the cask is under the care of the company, and if any accident occurs before it has been placed on the merchant's cart, they must pay all damage. They are not, however, responsible for any deficiency which does not exceed one gallon per cask per annum, it being considered
that this may arise from natural evaporation and leakage; and thus, if a cask of 100 gallons were housed on the 31st of December, 1861, and taken away on the 30th of December, 1862, the quantity being found on regauging to be 99 gallons, the merchant could make no claim; but if it were 98 gallons, he would be entitled to send an invoice to the company for 1 gallon.
The dock rates are somewhat higher than at wharves, and in bonded vaults in provincial towns; but the security, and the satisfaction of knowing that the casks are properly attended to, are worth an extra charge. It is, of course, impossible to prevent frauds occasionally in these and other establishments, but great care is used to check their
I leave this as it appeared in the first edition, as a specimen of the rules and regulations in my old dock days; but here is a copy of the present rates and charges of the London Dock Company :
A bill is now passing through parliament for the amalgamation of the London, St. Katherine, and