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Currency & Customs

When not occupied in seeing sights and visiting the country, I frequently accompanied the Master in waiting upon different merchants who had freight to send to England. On some days this was no very pleasant job in the eye of the sun & along the ill-paved streets of Buenos Ayres - but as it was for the Captains interest, we were content to undergo the fatigue consequent upon it. We obtained a good deal of freight, at least more than we had expected & more than any other packet for a long time before us had obtained. This consisted of dollars, a few doubloons, and some large slabs of gold. The two former are now allowed in a very limited quantity to be exported upon then payment of a heavy duty - but the latter is strictly prohibited and must therefore be smuggled off.

In other places in general we have had no trouble whatever in collecting the freight - at Buenos Ayres they (i.e. those connected with the customs) like to give you as much annoyance as possible. No money could be shipped except from the Custom-house - & thither all the money, for which permission had been obtained, must be brought to be counted over - first by the Officers & afterwards by us – & finally to be carried nearly a mile to our gig in a cart. Many a tedious hour has the deleteriousness of the official insolence caused me to spend among a parcel of low rascally ill-omened – ill-visaged – eternally smoking fellows, while no doubt they experienced great pride and satisfaction in having it in their power to make us wait & cool our heels till they pretended to be at leisure – But no let me stop a little, & quitting the strain of an invective which the annoyance I individually suffered has led me into, let me acknowledge that they are most strict and attentive in their duty, & as far as came under my observation very civil, even when they are executing the most unpleasant part of their office. Altho’ there is so great an extent of beach & so many vessels in the harbour, it is extremely difficult to smuggle, owing to the vigilance which the officers exercise. At the different stations men are constantly on the look out, provided with excellent telescopes. When any boat leaves a vessel, they watch its progress & direction and should any circumstance excite their suspicion, an officer will be in readiness to overhaul the boat & the persons in it. If the officer does not go down, they never suffer parcels however small to pass without being searched. So in going off to your vessel they employ the same Argus like circumspection, as I believe they will examine without success twenty times than fail to do so when the least suspicion is excited.

You will perhaps wonder within yourself & say ‘To what does all this praise of the vigilance of the officers lead?’ I will tell you that these observations arose partly from a view of doing real justice to these persons after carping much at them & partly because they made a valuable seizure from our men, which I shall mention as an illustration of their duty. In order to export money, or take it from the shore, you must first have a written permission from then proper authorities, and next pay so much per Cent duty. I believe no person can go on board a vessel with more than 10 dollars on him – otherwise the whole is liable to be seized. Now the ignorance of this on the part of our men proved a most serious loss to them. Having disposed of their potatoes, [10] they were paid for them in silver on shore – and not being exactly aware of their danger, they brought off a part one day – and while in the boat an officer came, singled out [Dyer Williams] whom he searched & took him with 140 dollars (£28) from him to the custom house, leaving the others untouched, altho’ they were almost equally well loaded – a proof either of their goodness, or of their being in doubt whether it would be safe to lay hands upon all. We happened to be there at the time but of course utterly unconscious of what had occurred. The first intimation which we received was from one of the crew [Phillip Waistcott], whom we saw flying full speed & stopped to ask him the reason. Very shortly after, we beheld another [Charles Richards], exerting himself in running to his utmost bent & looking the very picture of terror and bewilderment. We called him several times but he never heard us – but at last we arrested his progress & enquired, if he had any money about him. He answered no – but seemed afraid that by merely being in the boat, he would be subject to a long and rigorous imprisonment – and having merely replied to our questions shortly, he started off again.

This business seemed to wear a very ugly aspect. Of course it would not have been advisable, nay it would have been worse than useless for us to have intermeddled in the affair. We were particularly anxious about poor [Dyer], of whose fate we were quite uncertain, not being acquainted with the laws of the country relative to such a breach of the custom’s regulations  - and we were on the point of going to see, if we could learn any thing about him, when we met him coming towards us & learned that being very well satisfied with their prize, they had set him at liberty. In this state of matters it was deemed most advisable to speak to the Consul, & obtain our Minister’s interference to procure – the restitution - of the money. Application was accordingly made, - and when it was known that the money belonged to 17 different men, a promise was given to use every effort to recover it. This promise was faithfully kept - but owing to the dilatory mode of proceeding usual among Spaniards the day of our departure arrived before the affair could be settled, so that our men were obliged to trust their cause entirely to the Consul, who said that he expected to be able to recover the sum, altho’ he was by no means certain of it. And so the matter rests at present - but in my opinion the money may be considered as good as lost.

One would have thought that this heavy loss would have been a sufficient warning to any of our men not to run any risk again – but no. Not many days afterward, & in the face of what had happened, our [Steward’s Mate] tried to take off about 50 dollars – but information having been given by a person who had seen him concealing them about his person, the whole was seized and irrevocably lost.