No better instance of the strained relationship existing between the Royal Navy and the Revenue Service could be found than the following. It will be seen that the animosity had begun at any rate before the end of the seventeenth century and was very far from dead in the nineteenth.
The first incident centres round Captain John Rutter, commander of “one of the smacks or sloops in the service of the Customs about the Isle of Wight.” He stated that on April 24, 1699, about eight o’clock in the evening, he went on board to search the ship Portland at Spithead, the latter having arrived from France with a cargo of wine. At the same time there put off the long boat from Admiral Hopson’s Resolution demanding four hogsheads and four tierces, which (said Rutter) “I denied, but however they took it out by force and carried it on board.” Rutter then went on to the Resolution and there found the wine lying on deck. The Admiral sent for him aft, and said that he would see the wine forthcoming, for he would write to the Commissioners of Customs.
Some time afterwards Rutter was ashore at Portsmouth in company with Captain Foulks, who was one of the officers stationed on land. The latter informed Rutter that he was a rogue for having informed against the Admiral. Foulks drew his sword, and, had he not been prevented, would have murdered Rutter. Apparently Admiral Hopson never forgave Rutter. For, some months later, Rutter was riding off Portsmouth “with my Pendent and Colours flying, rejoicing for the happy arrival of His Maty.” Hopson was being rowed ashore, and when near “my yacht ordered my pendent to be taken down. I being absent, my men would not do it without my order, whereon he sent his boat on board and one of his men took it down. I coming on board to goe upon my duty ordered it to be hoysted again and imediately he sent his boat with one of his Lieutenants to take it down again with a verball order which I refused to lett him do, but by strength overpowered me and my company and took it down by force, and beat us to ye degree yat I know not whether it may not hazard some men’s lives, which I acknowledge I did not wear it in contempt, and if he had sent another time I would readily have obeyed his Order. Now I humbly conceive that it was merely out of malice as I can prove by his own mouth.”
Arising out of this incident, a letter was sent from the Admiralty to the Portsmouth Custom House and signed by “J. Burchett.” The latter opined that it was not a fault for the Custom House smacks to wear a pendant, but pointed out that the Proclamation of 1699 obliged the Custom House smacks to wear such a pendant as was distinct from the King’s “as well as their Jacks and Ensigns.” Furthermore he suggested that it had always been customary to strike such pendant when in sight of an Admiral’s flag, especially if demanded.