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Coastguards and Customs & Excise Officers (England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland) (Occupations)

Nature of Source

Records of the coastguards formed in 1822 from a merger of the Revenue Cruisers, the Riding Officers and the Preventative Water Guard. Since then, the service has been administered by various government departments including the Board of Trade, the Admiralty and the Board of Customs. Therefore the records are scattered amongst the various series at The National Archives covering these departments with no central index of individual names.

The men who worked for the service were variously known as customs men/officers, excise men/officers, coastguards, revenue men, and preventative officers. The coastguard was originally employed to counteract smuggling activity and to collect duties on imported goods.

Her Majesty's Customs and Excise was established in 1909 following the merger of the Board of Inland Revenue (which had combined with the Board of Excise and the Board of Stamps and Taxes to become the Board of Inland Revenue in 1849) and the Board of Customs. As they operated as separate government departments, the records of those who worked for the service are scattered amongst various series at The National Archives. Customs officers were responsible for collecting duty payable on imported goods and for the prevention of smuggling whilst excise officers were responsible for collecting duty on home-produced goods.

The most senior officials working for the Customs and Excise were known as Senior Customs Officers who had the task of searching newly arrived vessels for goods liable for duty payments. They were sometimes referred to as Tide Surveyors or as a Collector of Customs. General customs duties were carried out by Waterguard Officers. Revenue Cruisers patrolled the coastal waters and had the authority to board a vessel, while Boatmen were employed as oarsmen. Watch Officers were based at fixed sites along the coast monitoring smuggling activity. An Excise Officer was responsible for the policing of duties payable on home produced goods. Some people assisted the Customs and Excise in a private capacity and were known as 'customers' or sometimes as 'farmers'. The terms became obsolete by the end of the 18th century. Others could be called upon when the work demanded and were known as a Glutman or Extraman.

A useful source of information on Irish individuals can be found in the records of the Revenue Board and Irish Boards of Customs held at The National Archives in Kew. The records begin in the late 17th century and are largely indexed by name. A list of those that served in the revenue police from 1830 to 1857 and the Irish coastguard from 1821 to 1849 are also housed at The National Archives.

The station served at must be known as many records are only indexed by the station. As coastguards moved frequently use census records to trace the individual and to establish the potential station he served at. Also note that a man's occupation described as a customs officer found on a document such as a marriage certificate might refer to the coastguard.

Many men who worked for the coastguard had served in the Royal Navy, see Royal Navy - Registers of Seamen's Services for more information. Officers who served in the Revenue Cruisers are included in Navy Lists from 1814. Check medal rolls in series ADM 171, as many coastguards qualified for WWI medals.

Consult newspapers for reports of incidents involving coastguards. It is also worth consulting two reference books namely Ham's Customs Year Book and Ham's Inland Revenue Year Book. Both directories contain name indexes of customs officers, excise men and Inland Revenue officials covering the years from 1875 to 1930.

Also see
Apprenticeship Agreements, Trade
Apprenticeship Indentures, Parish
Directories, Trade, Professional, Telephone & Street
Occupational and Labour Records (Includes links and guidance on calculating historical wage rates and the cost of living)
Trade Union Records

Where Found

The National Archives (CUST 18 & CUST 19, Board of Customs establishment records including Customs Officer pay lists; CUST 39, Board of Customs Staff Lists; CUST 47, Excise Board Minute Books; CUST 28, Board of Customs Minute Books; CUST 47, Excise Board Minute Books; CUST 50, Includes biographical information on officers working in ports outside of London; T 44, Excise Salary Lists; CUST 116, Entry Papers of Excise Men. The name index to CUST 116 is available at TNA Discovery. First click on ‘Advanced search’ and then type in the name being searched. Then under ‘Search within’ select ‘Enter a reference’ and type ‘CUST 116’)
The National Archives (ADM 175 & ADM 6, Coastguard records of service and discharge records. Registers of nominations for appointments, service records of Royal Naval ratings and Royal Marines; PMG 23, Coastguard: Civil Pensions; ADM 23, Admiralty: Registers of Pensions and Allowances)
The National Archives (CUST 20, Irish Revenue Board and Irish Board of Custom: Salary Books and Establishments, 1682-1826; CUST 110, Board of Excise: Irish Board and Establishment, 1824-1833; CUST 111, Irish Revenue Police, 1830-1857; ADM 175/99-100, Irish Coastguard. These records are available to download)
TNA Library, the British Library and other Research Libraries (Ham's Customs Year Book and Ham's Inland Revenue Year Book. These periodicals are name indexed directories of customs officers, excise men and Inland Revenue officials covering 1875 to 1930)
National Records of Scotland (Post 1830 Scottish coastguard records and Scottish customs and excise records. The National Records of Scotland was created on 1 April 2011 by the amalgamation of the National Archives of Scotland [NAS] and General Register Office for Scotland [GROS])
County Record Offices (Local Customs and Excise records. ARCHON Directory: Find the details of a UK archive from a searchable list of over 2,500 archives The catalogue can be found on the TNA Discovery home page)
National Maritime Museum
Society of Genealogists (The Coastguard Index created by Eileen Stage)

Period Covered

1814 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Name, age, marital status, place of birth, date of appointment.

Further References

Atton, Henry & Holland, Henry Hurst. The King's Customs: J. Murray, 1910  Buy Now on Amazon
Bevan, Amanda. Tracing Your Ancestors in the National Archives: The National Archives, 2006  Buy Now on Amazon
Carson, Edward. The Ancient and Rightful Customs: A History of the English Customs Service: Faber and Faber, 1972  Buy Now on Amazon
Foster, Rear-Admiral D Arnold. At War with the Smugglers: Career of Doctor Arnold's Father: Conway Maritime Press, 1970  Buy Now on Amazon
Hoon, Elizabeth Evelynola. The Organization of the English Customs System 1696-1786: David and Charles, 1968 (1938)  Buy Now on Amazon
Jones, Evans. Inside the Illicit Economy: Reconstructing the Smugglers' Trade of Sixteenth Century Bristol: Ashgate Publishing, 2012 Buy Now on Amazon
McCooey, Chris. Smuggling on the South Coast: Amberley Publishing, 2012  Buy Now on Amazon
May. Trevor. Smugglers and Smuggling: Shire Publications, 2014  Buy Now on Amazon
Milton, Rosemary & Weston, Eileen. Index to Coast Guards Working on a 16 Mile Stretch of Sussex Coast Round Eastbourne, Taken From the Census for Eastbourne & District 1841, 51, 61, 71 and 81: Family Roots FHS, 1989  
Milton, Rosemary. Index to Parish Register Entries Concerning Coast Guards and their Associates in the Eastbourne Area c1813-c1841: Family Roots FHS, 1989  
Milton, Rosemary. Index to Coastguards in the District of Eastbourne from the Censuses 1831-1891: Family Roots FHS, 1994  
Morley, Geoffrey. Smuggling in Hampshire and Dorset, 1700-1850: Countryside Books, 1983  Buy Now on Amazon
Pink, John Raymond. Excise Officers and Their Duties in an English Market Town: Kingston Upon Thames, 1643-1973: JRP, 1995  Buy Now on Amazon
Platt, Richard. Smuggling in the British Isles: A History: The History Press, Aug. 2011  Buy Now on Amazon
Rodger, N. A. M. Naval Records for Genealogists: PRO Publications, 1998  Buy Now on Amazon
Smith, Graham. Something to Declare: 1000 years of Customs and Excise: Harrap, 1980  Buy Now on Amazon
Waugh, Mary. Smuggling in Devon & Cornwall 1700-1850: Countryside Books, 1991  Buy Now on Amazon
Waugh, Mary. Smuggling in Kent and Sussex, 1700-1840: Countryside Books, 1985 Buy Now on Amazon
Webb, William. Coastguard: An Official History of HM Coastguard: HMSO, 1976  Buy Now on Amazon
Wilkins, Frances. Family Histories in Scottish Customs Records: Wyre Forest Press, 1993  Buy Now on Amazon

TNA Research Guide: Coastguard

Websites (TNA Guide: Looking for records of a member of the Coastguard) (TNA Guide: Looking for records of a Customs officer)
(National Archives of Scotland Guide: Customs and Excise Records)
(HM Waterguard: A web site dedicated to the memory of the Preventive Service of HM Customs & Excise - covering its History, the Officers and their Work. The site has research sections covering management structures, pay & conditions, recruitment, training, staffing & promotion, the people including staff lists, uniforms, photos & images and selected editions of the Customs Journal, the Official organ of the Customs Waterguard Associations) (Irish Records In the UK: Customs and Excise, Revenue Police, Coastguards) (British Coastguard Records, by Alfred Collins)
(British Customs & Excise Men) (TNA, Your Archives: Coastguard History) (UK Border Force National Museum) (Maritime and Coastguard Agency: History of the Coastguard) (Merseyside Maritime Museum: Revenue and Customs uncovered)
(Merseyside Maritime Museum: Sheet No. 24: Smuggling) (H.M. Coastguards A Brief History) (Site dedicated to the Coastguards who lived and worked around the Irish coastline between the 18th and early 20th centuries) (Ancestry Message Boards: Occupations)

Online Databases

Online Catalogues (Listing of online catalogues for the partial whereabouts of records including Access to Archives [A2A], National Register of Archives [NRA) (TNA Digital Microfilm: ADM 175: Records of service of the Coastguard 1816-1947. Digital Microfilm allows free downloads of records which were previously available only on microfilm in the reading room) (Customs and excise appointments)

Some indexes can be found at a local level.