Turncoat


Charles Buck was born in the port of Weymouth in Dorset in 1770. He was the third of nine children born to Thomas Buck and Mary Bishop and was elder brother to my 3x great grandfather, Bernard Bishop Buck.

The whole family were tied to the sea. All of Charles’ brothers who survived to adulthood were either mariners or shipbuilders. His sisters married into other seafaring families and their father and grandfathers were also mariners. The Bucks mainly owned small fishing smacks and other boats in which they transported goods along the south coast of the country. Of course, all seafaring communities are well aware of the dangers of their work. In the year Charles was born his grandfather died at sea and his grandmother died from the shock of losing her husband. One of Charles’ brothers was drowned and some of his cousins also perished.

My initial research on Charles Buck came from the parish registers of Wyke Regis and Melcombe Regis churches and from census material. I learned that he married twice, the first time to Letitia Hawkins Cromey in 1792. Letitia and Charles had nine children, only two of whom continued with the seafaring tradition. Of the others, one became a local builder, one a banker and one a teacher. There was some sadness though as Charles and Letitia’s second youngest son, William Bishop Buck, was lost at sea in 1833 aged 23, and the same year his mother Letitia also died. Charles swiftly remarried to Harriet Munro and in 1835 their only son was born. He was named after his half brother, William Bishop Buck, but this was perhaps tempting fate as in 1862 he was drowned when his 126 ton brigantine 'The Good Intent' was lost at sea off the Suffolk coast.

The 1841 census is the only one which shows Charles Buck, as he died in 1845. The census page shows him to be of independent means, but the baptism entries for his children show that in his younger days he was a tidewaiter working for the Revenue Service.A tidewaiter was really an inspector of cargo. When a ship came into port the goods it was carrying would be inspected by the tidewaiter in order to check that no contraband was being carried and that all taxable goods were reported to the customs officers.

So, I felt I knew quite a lot about Charles Buck; I had his baptism, two marriages, the baptisms of his ten children, several of whom seemed to have led successful and respectable lives. I knew where Charles lived in 1841 and had visited the street and knew a little about his occupation. I had also discovered that he was a Freemason of the Arimathia Lodge at Weymouth, as his death was reported in The Freemasons’ Quarterly Magazine. I also knew where he was buried, though there is no headstone surviving.

All nice and tidy. All very respectable.

So, imagine my surprise when reading a book entitled 'Dorset Smugglers' by Roger Guttridge, to come across the following passage:

Not all the Weymouth-based officers were dedicated to their duty. In 1815, the Board of Customs sacked the tide surveyor, Abraham Flew, and six of his tidewaiters and boatmen, and severely reprimanded two others, following the discovery of a brisk contraband trade involving the Post Office packet boats which arrived at Weymouth twice a week from Guernsey and Jersey. It was learned that the crews of the packet boats had been "systematically running on shore every voyage considerable quantities of spirits, with the connivance of the tide surveyor and boatmen". Flew himself was accused of:

"being intoxicated and eating and drinking of the captain's stores on the night of 18th May 1814 on board the Countess of Liverpool, from Guernsey, his being in the habit of demanding or receiving liquor and, by way of treat, of neglecting to acquaint you [Weymouth collector] of the excesses and irregularities of his boatmen, and that in a private conversation with Captain Naylor, of the Countess of Liverpool packet, to let his crew run the allowance of spirits and tobacco brought as stores".

The six tidesmen and boatmen - Joseph Harris, James Bartlett, Richard Buck, James Talbot, William Brinsley, Jonathan Bussell and Thomas Atherton - were charged with:

"receiving and participating in a quantity of spirits from some of the seamen belonging to the Countess of Liverpool as a bribe, with eating and drinking of the captain's stores and committing various excesses and irregularities disgraceful to the revenue and assisting to drink out of a bottle of noyau [a liqueur], the same being a seizure".


It was also alleged that :
 
"on the above and many other occasions they have been in the habit of demanding of receiving liquor and other things by way of present or treat from the commander, officers and crew of the Post Office packets contrary to their instructions and duty".

The pair who escaped dismissal were James Besant and Charles Buck, and the latter was obviously a quick learner. Within eighteen days of his colleagues' departure, he shocked the crew of the Countess of Liverpool by seizing one hundred and twenty-seven pounds of cotton wool from below the galley floor and a further sixty-seven pounds from a seaman's berth; the wool had been taken on board in small quantities and was to have been smuggled out of the country.

 
I don’t know who Richard Buck is, as there was more than one man of this name in Weymouth at the time of these events, but he is probably Charles’ younger brother. Abraham Flew was also a relative of Charles by marriage and James Bartlett probably also was.

But Charles seems the 'worst' of these men. A corrupt customs official, but also a turncoat!! Yet he managed to remain in Weymouth and in the employ of the Revenue Service for many years after these events. I wonder how he managed that? I suppose I’ll never know.

Merry Monty Montgomery

© Merry Monty Montgomery 2009


Sources


Wyke Regis and Melcombe Regis parish registers

The Freemasons' Quarterly Magazine (Google book search)

“Dorset Smugglers” by Roger Guttridge


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