THOMAS GROVES, INSPECTOR GENERAL (EXCISE), PORT OF LONDON
He was born at Hutton near Bossall, Yorkshire in 1757 and christened 8 January 1758. His father was Thomas GROVE (christened at Bossall 20 January 1726) who married there Mary BENTLEY. His father died at Bossall 18 August 1799. Thomas GROVES' brother Edward (christened 17 November 1752 at Hutton) became a Port Surveyor, Hull but by 1823 had retired to Aldborough where he was styled “Gent”. Edward's daughter Mary married Robert WRIGHT of Hedon Hall, York. Clearly the family name in early generations had been GROVE.
It is impossible to know precisely when Thomas GROVES began work as an Excise Officer. Unlike those for Customs, few early records for the Port of London have survived. However, by his own account he became an Inspector in 1783 although other records suggest he was an officer by 1781, when aged about 23.
In proceedings at the Old Bailey Court in London, 1787 he gave evidence in the trial of John MACKEY who was indicted for assault on another excise officer the previous December. This is his evidence – (abstracted from “Proceedings of the Old Bailey” which is on-line).
“I am an inspector on the Thames. I remember the ship “Mary” laying at St Catherine's Stairs, that is within the Port of London. I had been on board that ship in consequence of an information from the last witness (Thomas DUNGATE), on the 28th of December. In the morning my assistant seized 340lb weight of chocolate. That was in consequence of Dungate's information about eleven or twelve (o'clock). I did not see Dungate till the next morning about nine. He was on shore then, laying in the office. He was in a very bad condition. A surgeon had just bled him. Dungate had not been above two months in the service. He was put on board to prevent any goods being clandestinely carried off. I saw Mackey when I went to make the seizure. I had some conversation with him in the cabin for half an hour. He was there at the time. There were two Custom-House officers on board. I have been Inspector of Excise about a year and a half.” Mackey was the mate aboard the “Mary”. (Captain Barnard) and the charge was one of assault on Dungate. “One of the Excise Officers of Our Lord the King, in due execution of his duty – and did hinder, oppose and obstruct him – against the peace.” Verdict – not guilty (a peculiar outcome as anyone who reads the transcript may agree).
In 1802 Thomas GROVES was involved with persuing a more accurate hydrometer for precise measurement of spirits. That year, following the Union with Ireland it became apparent that both “countries” were using different types of hydrometers. Groves showed that by using Sikes' instrument the revenue would reduce by 356,376 pounds per annum. The Excise Board asked Groves for a full comparison of Clarke's and Sikes' instruments.
But, after years of criticising Clarke's model; Groves inexplicably changed his mind and in his report, February 1813 he began to defend Clarke's, arguing that it took twice as long to test spirits using Sikes'. He reported that the traders who paid the duty now told him that Clarke's method “through its simplicity and application affords greater dispatch than any other and they are satisfied with it”. But he did admit that “Clarke's hydrometer is erroneous and Sikes' is more accurate”. He concluded - “I do not myself see nor have I ever heard a rational account of the real benefit which the Publick are to derive from the change”. Clearly he sided with the importers and brewers favouring expediency. Perhaps his judgment and lack of objectivity was clouded by his friends and relations in the wine and spirit trade? His wife, Elizabeth CAPEL, nee WARDELL was the daughter of a wine merchant in Arundel, Sussex and sister of another, Edward WARDELL of Guildford. And his nephew in the “half blood” a wine and spirit importer in London.
All of this had followed and was in spite of, recommendations made by a committee of the Royal Society in 1802 - “An Inquiry into the Causes of Errors and Irregularities which take Place in Ascertaining the Strength of Spiritous Liquors by the Hydrometer”. Members of the committee included an eminent chemist, William WOLLASTON, William FARISH of Cambridge University and “Thomas GROVES, the Inspector of Imports (Excise), Port of London” - “the excise man who had accused Steele & Co. of adulterating spirits in 1781.” The design chosen was Bartholomew Sikes' “a peripatetic employee of the excise commissioners”. It was enshrined in legislation in 1816 and remained the legal standard until 1907, though used for many years later.
Other records relating to his career include a list of Excise employees 1783, when he was described as “one of the “officers on the Quays”. The British Imperial Calendar lists him as “Thomas GROVES Esq, Inspector General of Imports, London” (up to the 1825 edition). His salary in 1810 was 740 pounds, last reviewed in 1806.
He married Elizabeth CAPEL (widow of Thomas CAPEL) at St George's, Hanover Square, 4 July 1799 (found fortunately in Boyd's Marriage Index which led to the Parish Register). It was “just in time”. Three of their children were christened on the same day, 17 December 1802 at St Mary Lambeth – John born 13 August 1796, Charles born 23 May 1798, Edward born 18 July 1799.
Of these children John became a merchant at Abchurch Lane, London (but was in Paris 1842 – perhaps a wine merchant too?); Edward joined the Madras Infantry but was back in London on half-pay in 1841. Charles after a stint at the Excise (for which a wine dealer named Ella of London was surety for his application) - became an insurance agent, Liverpool. A daughter of Thomas GROVES, Mary, married Theodore WALSH, Lieutenant, 6th Regiment of Foot. His wife had children by Thomas CAPEL, including Henry CAPEL Jnr of Feltham. Wine and Spirit Merchant and they had other family connections to warehouse proprietors.
In his application to join the Excise in 1820 Charles GROVES was examined and it is recorded that he understood “the first four rules of vulgar and decimal arithmetic”. Presumably his father had been examined similarly.
Thomas GROVES, after living at Tower Hill retired to Hampstead in 1826 where he died the following year, his wife in 1826. (Both were mentioned in “Gentleman's Magazine”). He left a considerable will including estate in Ireland (unspecified!) worth 5,000 pounds. Irish probates were destroyed in 1922 during the “troubles” leaving only an indexed reference that the will was proved by his son John. Because of annuities bequeathed and value of estate the Death Duties Register enabled links to his Capel and Harbridge connections.
Prior to amalgamation in 1909 the Customs and the Excise operated separately. Records of Customs Officers appear more complete, that of the Excise less so. And survival depends on location. The Public Record Office has a good paper on-line describing in broad terms what is available. There are also some specific references to excise officers in the on-line A2A catalogue. Note too that the excise (tax) was applied not only to alcohol but also to goods such as salt, soap, candles – and pepper. Regarding the latter, Groves' relation by marriage was one James CAPEL “of the Pepper Office” - a branch of the Exchequer. This, and the Groves' connections with the East India Co., the Royal African Co., wine and spirit Merchants almost suggests they were “all in it together”.
My connection to Thomas Groves is through his wife and her first husband Thomas Capel of London and Kennington. Their daughter married at St. Mary Lambeth in 1800, Thomas HARBRIDGE, a teacher. They were living in Hamburg, Germany during the Napoleonic War. Their daughter Marianne married Joseph PAPPRILL a tailor and emigrated to Christchurch New Zealand in 1856, following children who had arrived in 1851.