Coal Trade: Minutes of evidence, 03 April 1830

Pages 1492-1495

Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 62, 1830. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, [n.d.].

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In this section

Die Sabbati, 3 Aprilis 1830.


The Lord President in the Chair.

George Lowe Esquire is called in, and makes the following Statement:

Since my former Examination, I have, at the Suggestion of the Honourable Committee, made Experiments as to the Quantity of Water which a Bushel of Coals would retain. In order to do this most fairly, and also to learn the Average Weight of the Bushel of Coals as sold to the poorer Customers at the Retailers or Coalsheds, I sent Three laboring Men to Three different Coalsheds to purchase a Bushel of Coals each. The Weights of each were 69¼lbs., 66¾lbs., and 67¾lbs., making an Average of a little less than 68lbs. per Bushel. I found that on sprinkling One Quart of Water or 2½lbs. with a fine rosed watering Pot, that it made the Bushel of Coals so thoroughly wet that no Person would buy them. This was repeated in the Presence of Witnesses conversant with the Trade, and who were perfectly astonished that so little Water had so great an Effect. In One Experiment was added Two Quarts, and then the Water drained out of the Bushel Measure. This proves that to add Five per Cent. in Weight of Water is to render Coals unmarketable. But a yet more practical Proof of this Fact can be shewn, by stating the Weight of Coals coming out of a Barge which sunk in the Basin of the Regent's Canal, February 23d, 1830, out of the Ship Bill and Ann, loaded with Dean's Primrose Coal. The Name of the Barge was the Well, loaded with 47¼ Chaldrons, the Average Weight of which was 80¾lbs., and the Remainder of dry Coals 78lbs. I have made numerous Experiments on the specific Gravity of Coals; but I conceive very little practical Information can be adduced from this Source, seeing that from almost any Piece of Coal Six Inches thick as many different Degrees of Density may be obtained, varying from 1.45 down to 1.23, whilst the Average would range about 1.35, Water being Unity. I conceive these bear no Proportion between the Liability to Fraud, were the Duty to be taken on Weight at the Pit's Mouth, in place of the present wretched and demoralizing System of Meterage. In order to prove the Fallacy of such Tables which state that the Newcastle Keel is (or rather ought to be) only equal to 15½ London Chaldrons, I beg leave to put in a tabulated Statement, shewing what the same Ship has made out under different Voyages, having the same Kind of Coals on board.


A Table shewing a comparative Statement between the Invoice Quantity and that of the Meter on board the same Ship, loaded with the same Coal, under different Voyages; extracted from the Documents delivered in Evidence.
Name of Ship. Description of Coal. Quantity. Difference between the Invoice and Meter's Quantity. Increase per Cent.
Invoice. Meter.
Chaldrons. Chaldrons. Chaldrons. Chaldrons.
Perseverance Pelaw Main 85 190 20
85 186 16
85 172¾
255 548¾ 38¾
Kate Pelaw Main 107 225¾ 11¾
108 228¾ 12¾
108 226 10
108 229¾ 13¾
107 237½ 23½
108 231 15
646 1,378¾ 86¾
Percy Pelaw Main 132 286¼ 22¼
132 285¾ 21¾
132 288 24
396 860 68
Recovery Pelaw Main 123 270¼ 24¼
125 276¼ 26¼
125 275¾ 25¾
126 269¾ 17¾
125 271¼ 21¼
624 1,363¼ 115¼ 9
Malta Pelaw Main 120 270¾ 30¾
114 247¾ 19¾
116 246 14
116 248¾ 16¾
116 249¾ 17¾
582 1,263 99


Note.-The Average of these Cargoes proves that the Newcastle Chaldron, as put on board, makes out in the Pool Eight per Cent. more than the double Chaldron (of Two London for One Newcastle); or that a Keel of Coals of Eight Newcastle Chaldrons put on board measures out in the Pool full Seventeen London Chaldrons. It also shews that in this Mode of importing Coals there does not exist that Difference in the making out of the same Ship on different Voyages as is so generally found to be the Case when the Cargo is bought at Market. Now, if the Newcastle Chaldron weighs 53 Cwt., and Eight of them make a Keel, which in the Pool makes out Seventeen London Chaldrons, then the Thirty-sixth Part, or One Bushel, will weigh 77½lbs., which corresponds with the above Evidence.

The Result of the Witness's Conclusions as to the Weight of the Bushel of Coals is, that it varies just as the Circumstances under which it is taken. The Meter's Bushel, if taken on Coals imported, is 80lbs.; if bought at Market, 76¾lbs. The Coal Merchant sells 66 Sacks out of every Five Chaldrons, which makes his Bushel 73½lbs., and the Retailer sells 68lbs., being a Reduction of not less than 19 per Cent. from the presumed Weight of 84lbs. per Bushel. It would therefore, I humbly conceive, be difficult to alter the present State of the Coal Trade, and its Duties, for the worse.

The Witness is directed to withdraw.

Richard Betenson Dean Esquire is called in, and examined as follows:

You are Chairman of the Board of Customs?

I am.

Are you acquainted with the Mode of collecting the Duties upon Seaborne Coals in this Country?

Yes, I am.

Describe what that Mode is?

The only Mode with which I am acquainted is, that the Coal from the Shipping Place is furnished with a Document called the Fitter's Certificate, and when brought to the Port of London it is delivered through the Hands of the City Meters, and from their Account the Duties are raised.

How is it in the other Ports?

The Fitter's Certificate is the original Document upon which the Amount of the Duty is calculated. It is delivered by Measurement at the different Outports in the same Manner.

Is the Duty collected on the Amount of the Fitter's Certificate, or the Meter's Certificate?

The Duty is collected on the Measurement; and the Measurement and Fitter's Certificate are very apt to vary.

Do you collect at the same Time The King's Duty and the Duty which is applicable to the City of London?

It is collected in the Office of the Customs. The whole is paid at the same Time.

Do you account for any Duty to the Chamberlain of the City of London?

I rather believe they have an Officer who is there for Purposes connected with their own Establishment; but it is accounted for through the Medium of the Officers. There are Officers called Coal Officers under the Long Room at the Custom House.

The Witness then delivers in the following Account, which is read:


Amount of the Duties collected by the City of London on Coals, Culm, Cinders and Small Coals, during the Year 1829.
£ s. d.
Bailliage, ¼d. per Chaldron, Newcastle 815 2 5
Groundage, 6d. per Ship 175 0 0
Market Dues, 1d. per Chaldron 6,639 18
Orphans and Metage Duty, 1s. 2d. per Chaldron 91,589 8 8
Lord Mayor's Permit, and for registering Certificates, 1s. 6d. per Ship 537 0 0
Deputy Sea Coal Meters, 3s. 6d. per Scoare of 21 Chaldrons 13,279 17 6
Deputy Sea Coal Meters Sample, or Guinea per Ship 7,372 1 0
120,408 8
Deputy Sea Coal Meters Allowance of 3s. per Day, in lieu of Provisions on board Ship 5,691 6 0
Deputy Sea Coal Meters Certificates 900 0 0
£ 6,591 6 0
The above Dues are collected by the Officers appointed by the City, except the Two last, which are collected by the Deputy Meters.

How do you collect the Duty upon what is called Oversea Coal?

That is collected at the Port of Shipment.

Upon what Ground is it collected; how is that managed?

That is managed, if I recollect right, by Weight. I think 17s. is the Duty on the large Coal, and 4s. 6d. upon the small Coal, if to a Foreign Possession; and 1s. 6d. upon the large Coal to a British Possession, and I think the small Coal is 6d.

Is that collected when it is put on board the Ship?

When it is shipped, the Party must make his Entry at the Port of Shipment, describing the Quantity which he is going to ship, and the Duty would be collected upon that Quantity, upon the Certificate given by the shipping Officer that the actual Quantity is on board. There must be some Check upon the Quantity shipped before the Duty would be received.

Is the Officer on board?

There is generally a Tide Waiter, or lower Officer, to see the Quantity weighed. It is not weighed on board, but before it goes on board.

Does it actually pass through Scales, or is it from any Mark in the Ship the Weight is ascertained?

I believe it is shipped either from Waggons which are marked containing a certain Weight, or Keels, in the same Manner as if shipped Coastwise. Very often the Ships lie at a Distance, and the Coals are conveyed to them by means of Keels containing a certain Quantity, which are put on board the exporting Vessel.

Do you collect the Duty for Oversea Coals on Weight or upon Measure?

Upon Weight, as I understand; upon the Tonnage.


The Duty collected upon Seaborne Coals carried Coastwise is by Measure?


You take those Weights, not from actual weighing, but from Waggons or Keels marked with a certain Weight?


That Weight having been previously ascertained?

Yes, under an Act of Parliament.

Would there be any Difficulty in taking the Duty on Coals imported into London, or on Coals carried Coastwise to the Outports, by Weight instead of by Measure?

I am not prepared to say that there would be any Difficulty.

Would you still propose to take the Weight from the Waggons, or would you pass the Coals through the Scale?

It must be quite clear that if the present Mode of taking the Duty at the Port of Landing by Measure, which is now obtained only through the City of London, should be abandoned, and that the Duty should be taken by Weight at the Shipping Port, there must be some Means of ascertaining, when the Coals arrive at the Port of Destination, that the Weight taken by the Officers at the Port of Shipment is correct; it would be necessary, therefore, to have some Process by which that Weight should be ascertained both at the Port of Shipment and at the Port of Landing. What that should be I am not prepared to say.

Would you collect the Duty at the Port of Shipment or at the Port of Disembarkation?

I should say in some Instances at the Port of Shipment; but there are very many Questions arising upon that which appear to me to deserve Consideration.

What are those?

In the event of Coals being shipped to Scotland, there being no Duty collected on Coals in that Country, and in the event of Coals being shipped to Ireland, where a very minor Duty is collected, the Duty would in the first instance be taken on the Coals as going Coastwise, because the Party might say or swear he is going to Scotland, and not go there; the Duty would therefore be in the first instance collected at the Port of Shipment, and the Party required to produce a Certificate of the actual landing of the Coals in Scotland or Ireland, in order to entitle him to a Return of the Duty paid.

If you took the Duty on all Coals by Weight, how would you manage the Duties on Oversea Coals?

Just as they are managed now; the Duties are so variable that it is a very common Case. In the event of a Party having entered his Coals for a Foreign Possession, for which he pays 17s., if he can bring a Certificate that they have been landed at a British Possession, he will then be entitled, on the Document or Certificate clearly ascertaining the Fact, to a Return pro tanto of that Duty.

How would you make it certain that he went abroad with a Cargo of Coals paying only 4s. Duty?


I rather believe that in that Case the Party would in the first instance have Documents stating to what Place he was going, and we should have a Certificate of the landing of Coals; and it is no uncommon Case, where Parties have entered out for a British Possession, to have gone Foreign, and under those Circumstances, not having a Certificate, Proceedings have been instituted against the Parties for the Payment of the higher Duty.

Would the Mode of taking the Duty at the Port of Shipment by Weight create any additional Expence to the Crown in Officers or in other Charges for collecting the Duty?

I am not prepared to say that it would to any very great Extent. I have an Account estimating the probable Amount of Expence; but at the present Moment, and until we could go into Detail of the precise Operation at the Shipping Place, the Number of Officers required could not with any Accuracy be given; but if I recollect right, the Amount of Expence in London, that is including the Metage paid to the City of a Halfpenny a Chaldron, is about £4,000 in round Numbers; the Sum paid by the Crown for Metage in 1828 is £3,085, in 1829 £3,206, and the Expence of the Office is £1,150. I also find from the Accounts, to which I cannot speak from my own Knowledge, that the Number of Officers employed by the Crown as Coal Meters, who are often also Tide Waiters, and paid at the Rate of Two-pence per Chaldron, according to the Return presented to Parliament the last Session, were 659, and the Payment in 1828 amounted to £11,354, in 1829 to £11,945; at the several Ports in Ireland the Number of Meters appears to be 334; making the Expence about £15,000. Exclusive of the great Coal Ports, there are other Ports, particularly the Welsh Ports, of which I have not any Account; but referring to the Northern Ports, which are the great Mart, it would amount to that. There are however Exemptions from the Payment of the Coast Duty on Coals deserving of Attention, a Statement of which I have had prepared, which I will beg to deliver in.

The Witness delivers in the same, and it is read, and is as follows:

Memorandum respecting Coals being exempted from the Coast Duty.

The First Exemption is in favour of Coals and Culm carried to any Place between Ellenfort and Bank End, in Cumberland, upon Bond being given to land such Coals within such Limits; which applies to Coals carried to any Place within the Limits of the Port of Whitehaven; and under Mr. Herries' Letter, 12th May 1823, that Exemption is extended to the Port of Carlisle.

The Second Exemption applies to Coals and Culm carried on the Monmouthshire Canal, or Railways connected therewith, and afterwards carried from any Place to the Eastward of the Holms to any other Place in or upon the River Severn; also to the Eastward of the Holms without passing to the Westward of the said Islands, except in going to Bridgewater, and without touching to the Westward of the said Islands.

These Coals are carried into Gloucestershire, Somersetshire, Wiltshire, Devonshire, and Part of Dorsetshire, and are stated by Coal Merchants on the South Coast to interfere with their Coals which have been brought Coastwise, and on which the Coast Duty has been paid.

Representations on the Effect of this Exemption have been made at divers Periods by the Owners of Coal Mines in the Forest of Dean, as also from Parties interested in the Coal Trade on the South Coast. The former shew the evident Partiality and Injustice of the Exemption from Duty, while the Coals from the Forest of Dean, though higher up the Channel, become liable to Duty on being carried to the same Places; the latter, that their Coals on which Duty has been paid have to compete with Coals which are specially exempted from Duty.


The Third Exemption applies to Coals carried from any Part of the Lancaster Canal, or any of the Branches thereof, or from any Place within the Hundred of Lonsdale, in the County of Lancaster, into the Ulverstone Canal, across or along the Bay or Estuary separating the Two Canals.

This Exemption applies only to Coals carried within Part of the Port of Lancaster.

The Fourth Exemption from the general Coast Duty is granted by 7 Geo. 4, C. 48, S. 34, which reduced the Duty upon Coals brought Coastwise into any Part of Wales to 1s. 8d. per Ton.

Liverpool.-It is the Practice at Liverpool to sell all Coals by Weight, and to deliver them in Bulk to the Purchaser from Carts which contain from 42 to 45 Bushels, which weigh about 1 Ton 16 Cwt., and are accompanied with a Note from the Seller, stating the Weight, which is usually accepted by the Purchaser.

Grove Park.-Duties received in last Five Years.

£ s. d.
1825 64 18 3 Salaries of C. and C. £350 per Annum.
1826 74 4 6
1827 50 1 0
1828 27 7 3
1829 60 3 9
£ 276 14 9

Staines.-Duties received in last Five Years.

£ s. d.
1825 2 9 3 Duty collected by Officers appointed by the City of London.
Since Nil.

(Mr. Dean.) - I have brought with me an Account of the Quantity of Coals shipped to Foreign Ports, both large and small, and also other Accounts.

Which are severally read, and are as follow:


An Account of all Coals, Cinders and Culm exported from Great Britain in the Years 1825, 1826, 1827, 1828 and 1829 respectively; distinguishing the Quantities shipped to British Possessions and to Foreign Countries, with the Amount of the Duties received thereon.
PARTS of the WORLD to which exported. Quantities of Coal, Cinders and Culm exported from Great Britain.
Large Coals and Cinders. Small Coals. Culm. Total Quantity exported. Amount of Duties received on Coals, Cinders and Culm exported from Great Britain.
Years Chaldrons Imp. Meas. Chaldrons Imp. Meas. Chaldrons Imp. Meas. Chaldrons Imp. Meas. £ s. d.
To British Possessions. 1825 77,335 4,991 63 82,389 10,283 7 3
1826 85,842 2,795 288 88,925 6,725 11 3
1827 85,181 3,210 269 88,660 7,408 7 3
1828 89,702 2,458 118 92,278 6,785 11 10
1829 89,852 2,887 117 92,856 7,375 10 4
To Foreign Countries. 1825 49,640 91,008 1,441 142,089 32,752 5 11
1826 50,397 109,897 515 160,809 33,478 5 8
1827 60,736 114,292 913 175,941 37,595 13 0
1828 48,848 115,147 506 164,501 34,460 14 11
1829 52,709 120,561 244 173,514 36,262 11 10
To all Parts. 1825 126,975 95,999 1,504 224,478 43,035 13 2
1826 136,239 112,692 803 249,734 40,203 16 11
1827 145,917 117,502 1,182 264,601 45,004 0 3
1828 138,550 117,605 624 256,779 41,246 6 9
1829 142,561 123,448 361 266,370 43,638 2 2
Custom House, London,
2d April 1830.
An Account of the Amount of all Drawbacks or Repayments of Duties upon Coals exported from the United Kingdom in the Five Years ended 5th January 1830.
£ s. d.
Year ended 5th January 826 5,822 0
1827 7,291 17 9
1828 4,059 14
1829 3,893 17
1830 4,377 7
Custom House, London,
2d April 1830.
An Account of the Amount of Duties drawn back on Coals re-exported from the Port of London in the last Year. £ s. d.
Year ended 5th January 1830 2,527 3 9
Custom House, London,
2d April 1830.


The Weight of the Waggons of course is ascertained easily upon a Weighing Machine?

I believe it is adjusted so as to be about 53 Cwt.

The Keels are only adjusted in comparison by Measure, are they?

By Weight. There is a certain Weight put in, and when the Keel sinks to a certain Point, it is supposed that there is a certain Weight of Coals; the Keels generally carry Eight of the Newcastle Chaldrons, and when the different Marks reach the Water's Edge it is concluded that they contain about that Average Weight.

In case of Coals being sent from London to our Foreign Colonies, a Drawback is allowed, is there not?

Yes; the Coast Duty, which has been paid in the first instance; but I would beg to say I am not aware that this is of frequent Occurrence. Coals go out sometimes as Ballast to the British Possessions, now and then; but I could get the Amount if your Lordships desire it. It would be managed in the same Way as any other Drawback; the shipping Parties would come forward and shew they had paid so much on a certain Quantity of Coal carried Coastwise, and on the Officer certifying that the Coal had been shipped for Foreign Parts, so much of that Sum would be repaid to the Party, he paying the Export Duty, whatever it may be.

Would that be repaid to him before the Ship sailed from the Port?

No. There must be some Process to go through in the Office before he would get his Debenture, which is a Parchment made out to enable the Officer to check and controul the Sum due. The Debenture might be paid within a Week or Ten Days, or sooner.

You would not wait 'till the Ship was unloaded in the Foreign Colonies?

No. The great Principle of Drawback is Shipment; and if the Goods be shipped bonâ fide on board a Vessel, though she be afterwards lost, the Effect is the same.

Supposing the Duty to be taken on the Weight, as put on board the Ship at the Port of Shipment, how would you propose to allow the Drawback in case of those Coals going to Scotland or Ireland?

By the Officers in Scotland or Ireland certifying that such a Quantity of Coals had been landed at such a Port from such a Ship, at such a Time from such a Port; and on that being certified by the proper Officer the Party would apply to the Port from whence the Coals were shipped, to receive back the whole Duty, if the Coals were landed in Scotland, and if landed in Ireland pro tanto deducting the Amount payable there.

Does not the Captain of a Vessel taking on board Coals from Wales to Ireland enter into some Security to the Custom House that he will carry those Coals over Sea?

Yes; a Bond.

Supposing the Duty to be taken on the Weight at the Port of Shipment, and that he was to claim the Drawback in consequence of going to Scotland or Ireland, might not some Means be devised by which a Drawback would be allowed to him on the Weight taken at the Port of Shipment, instead of the Measurement when he gets to the Port of Delivery?


I do not think it would be necessary to have a Measurement; all that would be necessary to ascertain would be, that the Coals which have been taken on board have been bonâ fide landed at the Port of Delivery.

That would create of necessity the Interference of an Officer of the Customs at the Port of Delivery?

He would be there; they must go to some Port to discharge, and an Officer must be there.

Would that increase the Expence of the Establishment?

I do not think it would to any degree.

Must not they be weighed again there; or what Security would there be that that for which he paid the Duty had been delivered at the Port?

They must be weighed again there, no doubt, to ascertain that they were delivered; the Duty paid could not be returned until the Departments had been satisfied that the Coals had been actually delivered.

If any Plan could be devised for expediting the Discharge of the Coal Vessel's Cargo at the Place of Delivery, would it not tend to diminish the Freight very much?

I should apprehend, certainly, because the Freight is payable 'till the Cargo is completely delivered.

Then suppose a Detention of Vessels for the Time necessary to go through the Forms, there must be a great Expence?

To a certain Extent; but they are delivered with great Rapidity, and particularly in a Harbour which has a Lee Shore, as at Brighton, for instance.

Was your Attention ever drawn to the possibility of a Ship being the Measure of the Quantity taken on board the Ship by the Register Tonnage of the Ship?

Never. I should think that very difficult; and with regard to Weight, it is always different. I believe when Coals are broken they take a great deal more Room, and One Act of Parliament speaks of middling Coals. Weight must apply, I apprehend, to all Coals indiscriminately.

Are you of Opinion that a Ship would be able to carry so much more than she was registered at as to render the Measurement of the Cargo indefinite?

I should think that no Register Tonnage would be a Criterion by which the Quantity could with any Accuracy be calculated upon. In the first place, the Mode of measuring Vessels for Register is imperfect to a certain degree; it has been repeatedly under Inquiry; and I believe there is no Vessel of any Description that will not take a great deal more than her Register Tonnage.

And some much more than others?

Just so: in the Build of the Hold and other Particulars. I think that would be no Criterion.

You probably know the Means which are resorted to at the Port of Dublin for taking the Duty on Coals by Weight?

No, I am not well acquainted with it; there is Eleven-pence paid, I know, into the Port of Dublin, but I do not know the Mode in which it is ascertained.

It has been found to answer, so far as you have heard?

I believe it has.


You are not aware of the Reasons for granting the several Exemptions to which you have referred?

No, I am not.

You have referred to the Exemption of Coals, which is an Exemption from the Port of Newport; you are aware that other Ports higher up, in short more within the River, do not enjoy that Exemption?

I should say that the Forest of Dean does not. I am not able to give your Lordships a satisfactory Reason why that is so.

The Witness is directed to withdraw.

Sir Cuthbert Sharp is called in, and examined as follows:

Have you a Paper to deliver in to this Committee?

Yes. It is a Copy of the Commission for weighing Coal Waggons and Keels at Newcastle and Sunderland.

The Witness delivers in the same, and it is read. Vide Appendix to this Day's Evidence.

Have you given, since you were last here, any further Consideration to the Subject of taking the Duty by Weight at the Port of Shipment, instead of by Measurement at the Port of Delivery?

Yes, I have; and I think it might easily be done.

No difficulty has occurred to you which you have not previously stated in your Evidence?

None whatever.

The Witness is directed to withdraw.

Ordered, That this Committee be adjourned to Monday next, One o'Clock.