Yesterday I wrote about the Crown’s prosecution of my 6 x great grandfather, John Gibson (1699 – 1763), a ‘crimp’ or agent in the coal trade, for fraud relating to unpaid duties. One of the sources I quoted referred to a pamphlet that John published in his own defence, insisting that the bonds had in fact been paid. I’ve now managed to find and download a copy of this pamphlet, a transcript of which I reproduce below.

Reception of a debtor in the Fleet Prison during the reign of George II (i.e. roughly the period when John Gibson was imprisoned there)

I’ll discuss John Gibson’s defence in detail in another post, but here I wanted to note that, although the pamphlet is written in the third person, John is obviously its author. And towards the end, when he describes his current imprisonment and the impact on his family, a more personal voice is clearly heard. Incidentally, John mentions his ‘wife and nine small children’: I have records for only seven children born to John and Mary Gibson, so that’s another area for further research.

Here’s a screen shot of part of the first page of John Gibson’s pamphlet:

And here’s my transcription:

In the year 1721, he entered into a Partnership with Nicholas Furs, who was then, and had long been, a Coal-Factor at the Port of London; and he, Gibson, was to have the first Year 50l. the next 100l. and then the Stock was to be made up, which was done, and he equally concern’d with Furs.

By the Nature of this Business the Factors and Masters of Ships give Bonds for the King’s and Church Duties, payable at three Months after Date, for so many Coals as shall appear to be delivered out of each Ship respectively by a Certificate signed by one of the 15 Sea-Coal Meeters, with a Proviso, that if the said Duties are paid in 16 working Days, the Obligors should be allowed two one half per cent. Discount, and for the Management of these Duties, the Commissioners of the Customs appoint a particular Collector and a Comptroller to be a Cheque upon him, who is to deliver all Bonds over to the Commissioners or their Solicitor, to be put in Suit, if not paid in 14 Days after they become due.

In the Year 1723, soon after the Stock was made up, Furs took Care of the Afffairs of the Compting-House, and the Management of the Business without Doors was left to Gibson; and to induce Gibson to Sign all the Bonds, and that he might run but half the Risque, Furs gave one Bond to the Crown; in a large Penalty, to be answerable for every Thing Gibson agreed for, which Bond must be in the Custody of the Commissioners of the Customs.

From Christmas 1720, to Christmas 1729, Gibson carried on the Business in Partnership with Furs, and the Partnership being then expired, Gibson agreed with Furs to give him 300l. a Year for 12 Years, on Condition he would quit the Business wholly to Gibson, and never act in it more; which Annuity was paid, and that together with Furs’s Stock, then drawn out of Trade, amounted to several thousands Pounds.

From 1729 to June 1742, Gibson carried on the Business on his own Account, and the Method was generally to pay the duties to the Receiver General’s Certificate and carry to the Collector’s Office, to have Credit given for the Sum so paid; Yet the Collector would sometimes (for Reasons best known to himself) direct the Money to be paid to him for a Week, or so near Quarter Days, which all the other Factors comply’d with as well as Gibson: But the Collector being frequently absent, and the Office always in a Hurry and great Confusion, by the Ships arriving in large Fleets, Gibson could never get the Bonds regularly deliver’d up to him, notwithstanding the Duties he was engaged for, were regularly discharged; and he usually paid so large a Sum as near 50,000l. a Year, having almost one fifth Part of the whole Business. And altho’ he had experienced,  by the Hurry and Confusion of the Office, that he could not get his Bonds regularly delivered up, yet, for the Benefit of the Discount, paid in his Money daily, as the Loss of two one half per Cent. on the Sum he dealt for, would soon prove his Ruin; and whatever Bonds he did get, some of them were cancell’d, and others not: But this being the Case of other Factors, as well as Gibson, and he apprehending the Entries of Money received, were (as they ought to be) for the identical Bonds, which in Consequence must be a Cheque upon any Neglect of not delivering up, or not cancelling them, rested satisfied as well as the other Factors, more especially as none of them was put in Suit, or even any Demand made of them.

Mr. James Deacon was Collector of these Duties upwards of 30 Years, and in June 1742 died, and soon after his Death, several hundred Bonds given by the Masters of Ships and Factors, most of them in the Years, 1723, 1724, 1725, 1726, 1727, 1728 and 1729, and all of them before the Year 1737, was found in his House, and not under the Comptrolers Lock and Key (where they ought to have been, if unpaid, as other Bonds were) many of them wrote on the Back paid, and the Day of the Month when, the Seals tore off others, and the rest uncancelled, amounting together, as he is informed, to the Sum of 200,000l. or upwards, which were delivered over to the Commissioners.

Thereupon Extents were taken out against one Factor, and the Effects of another then deceased, and Letters wrote to the several Masters, who were Obligors with the Factors for Payment; and Gibson being informed by the Soliciter to the Commissioners of the Customs, that an Extent would be taken out against him: Whereupon there being three Bonds then due to the Value of about 350l. and others growing due, which together would amount to about 4,500l. (And was the whole Ballance then owing by Gibson?) He some Days before the Extent was executed, deposited with Mr Hughes for the Commissioners of the Customs Cash, to the Value of about 1700l. and delivered a Bill of Sale for one Ship and Freight then due, worth 1500l. and assigned over his Property in Parts of Ships, worth 1600l. amounting in the whole to 4,800l.

Upon this, Gibson waited on the Commissioners of the Customs, who declared he had acted honourably, but that they had examined the Accounts, and also the Comptroller’s, and his Debt appeared to be near 8000l. which greatly supprized him, knowing it could not exceed the aforementioned Sum of 4,500l. however, he had Assurances from them, that they would act with him in Return for what he had done, in the best Manner they could.

Notwithstanding which, in less than an Hour, an Officer went into his Compting House, seized his Books and Papers and about 3 or 400l. in Cash, and some Days after, all his Goods and Effects, to the Value of about 450l. so that what was deposited, and what was seized, by Virtue of the Extent, amounted to about 5,500l. which was more than was really due, but cannot State the exact Sums, by Reason his Books are in the Hands of the Commissioners of the Customs, or their Officers, or the Assignee of the Commission of Bankruptcy.

The Sum of 8000l. must be made up, by tacking the old Bonds of almost 20 Years standing (which ought to have been delivered up or cancelled) to those then which were just then due, notwithstanding the Collector is obliged to pass his Accounts annually, and Deacon had passed his Accounts to Christmas 1737, and had a Quietus est thereon, therefore the old Bonds, if they had not been paid, but have been delivered over long since, to be put in Suit.

Gibson’s Case being thus circumstanced, and he having given full Satisfaction for the Debt ready due to the Crown (if his Effects have been made the most of) and having given the Extent Preference to the Commission of Bankruptcy, some of his private Creditors brought Actions against him, and two Judgments being obtained, he was so terrified with the Miseries of a Gaol, that he has absconded ever since his Surrendering himself to the Commission of Bankruptcy, until September 1748, but with out any Design of Defrauding the Crown (which it was not in his Power to do, the Commissions of the Customs being possessed of all his Effects) and is now a close Prisoner in the Fleet, whereby his Wife and Nine small Children are reduced to the greatest Miseries.

He therefore humbly prays that he may be indulged with his Liberty, so that he may be able to get his Bread, which he humbly Hopes he is intitled to, for the following


First, For, that if Gibson’s Accounts is fairly stated (abstracted from the old Bonds found after the Collector’s Death) his Debt to the Crown cannot amount to more than 4,500l. as before-stated.

Secondly, For, that the Commissioners are possessed of all Gibson’s Effects, to about the Value of 5,550l. which overpays the said Debt.

Thirdly, For that is manifest, the old Bonds were duly paid, or otherwise they would have been in the Custody of the Comptroller, and delivered over by him to the Commissioners to be put in Suit, especially in the Year 1737, when the Collector and Comproller passed their Accompts in the Pipe Office, and obtained a Quietus est thereon, (so that in fact they have accounted for these very Bonds with which Gibson is now charged) which they could not have done but by having a State of their Accounts certified by the Comptroller General to the Commissioners of the Customs, and by them to the Lords of the Treasury, and it is impossible that if these Bonds were not paid, it could not be kept a Secret from the Comptrollers of the Coal Duties, and in Consequence must be known to the Commissioners, as these Duties are collected by Certificates signed by some of the 15 Sea-coal Meeters; which Certficates are compared Quarterly, or oftner, with the Collector’s Accompts: so that by them, and the Duty collected for Meetage, the Comptroller and Commissioners must know to a Farthing, what Sums, Bonds were given for, and what Sums remained unpaid; and more especially as one of these Commissioners was all the Time one of the Sea-coal Meeters also.

Fourthly, For that neither Masters or Factors, who are Obligors in these Bonds, ought to suffer for the Neglect, either of Collector of Comptroller, mediately under their Inspection and Power; therefore as these Bonds were never so much as demanded, till after the Death of the Collector, they ought not to be put Suit at this Distance of Time, but cancelled or delivered up.

Fifthly, For that if these Bonds had not been paid, and had been put in Suit when due, Gibson had not paid the Money he did to Furs, who is since dead, but he and the Commissioners would have availed themselves on Furs’s Effects.

Sixthly, For if there had been any Embezlement by the Collectors, the Fraud had been carried on by the Combination of Gibson, he could never have rested till the Bonds had been delivered up or cancelled, because otherwise it would be actually giving the Collectors so much Money out of his Pocket, which he and the other Obligors, were obliged to pay.

Seventhly, For that Sir Maltis Ryall, under the Power of an Extent, has been indulged with his Liberty, and others against whom several of these Bonds are outstanding, have not had any Suit at all commenced against them.

Therefore what Gibson desires, is no more than has been granted to others in the like Circumstances.