John Hayter v Board of Customs, 1861

Relationships between the local fishermen and the coastguards were sometimes strained. The following interchange and court case between John Hayter (a fisherman who had just been appointed coxswain of the Brooke Lifeboat) and the Brook Chief Coastguard, shows the tensions:


On the 15th May 1861 the Treasurer of IOW Lifeboats, wrote to the Customs Office in Cowes on behalf of John Hayter whose fishing boat had been seized by the coastguards:

Mr John Hayter the coxswain of the Brooke lifeboat having called on me this morning stated that his fishing boat had been seized by your orders on Monday 10th inst...and he is thereby prevented from following his occupation and gaining his daily bread as a fisherman.

The only reason for the seizure being that his name was painted on the inside instead of the outside of his boat and Hayter not being aware that he has in any way acted contrary to the laws of his country, feels deeply that his liberty as an Englishman, when following an honest calling has been interfered with in a most arbitrary manner . . .

Seven days later Lieutenant Cutajar (Chief Coastguard), Brook replied:

I have the honour to report that on the 9th inst. I observed a boat on which the name was so effaced as to be quite unintelligible. I informed him (Hayter) that the law required that every boat should be legibly marked with the name and port or abode of the owner... The weather being fine I allowed him 24 hours to complete the work and informed him that unless it was executed I must seize the boat. I found that my request had not been complied with, I allowed him a little longer. Finding that all my efforts to obtain compliance with the law were fruitless, I was reluctantly compelled to desire my man to seize the boat. Five days later the Board of Customs decreed: Upon the provision of the law being duly complied with the boat may be restored but the owner is to be cautioned as to his future conduct.

Two months later nothing had happened and the Customs office in Cowes wrote to the Customs Board in London:

it appears that Hayter refuses to take his boat on the ground that she has deteriorated in value or become useless since her seizure.

The Board of Customs in London replied:

The only course now open is to treat the boat as condemned. . the owner appearing determined not to receive the boat back . . . care should be taken to give him the notice required by the Act.

In August things were still at an impasse. By this time the Chief Coastguard in Brook appears exasperated:

I beg to report that Hayter’s boat is in as good a state as she was on the day she was seized. The fact of Hayter’s refusing to take the boat (is) that she was getting useless to him and at the time of the seizure he was already provided with another and a new fishing net, which they worked ever since. Hayter is a very obstinate man and his only reason for refusing to take the boat back (is) that he never intended to work her again.

To resolve the situation once and for all, the Chief Coastguard in Brook visited Hayter (who lived all of 300 yards away from the coastguard station...) on 16th August 1861:

I have been to John Hayter with the letter which I read to him but I could not leave with him as he would not take it. I should be glad to hear from you what I am to do with it. I hope the Board will see what an obstinate fellow we have to deal with … it’s quite miserable to have to deal with such a fellow, when I read him the letter he would not stop to hear however I followed and read it to him … I think the best way is to send it to him by post. I sincerely hope that the Board will soon settle this affair.

By the 31st October instructions were given from London to sell the boat to the best bidder.