HM Coastguard owes its origins to the efforts made to combat smuggling throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The Board of Customs and the Board of Excise were responsible for the prevention of the evasion of duty by smuggling and by the end of the 17th century they had a small fleet of boats and a few men on the coast. The service was expanded throughout the 18th century with the use of the naval vessels, revenue cruisers, dragoons and a shore based mounted force called Riding Officers. Despite these efforts, it was estimated that towards the end of the 18th century, about two thirds of the brandy drunk in this country had been smuggled in.

The aid given to Napoleon by the smugglers spurred the government to strengthen the preventive forces and a Preventative Water Guard was established in 1809. The coast was divided into three divisions, Carlisle to Landsend, Landsend to North Foreland and North Foreland to Berwick. Naval Officers with the title of Inspecting Captains were appointed to each division with this title and given command of a small fleet of cruisers and boats.

The end of the Napoleonic War saw the discharge of 300,000 soldiers and sailors who provided a fertile recruiting ground for the smugglers. Further measures were therefore necessary and the preventative forces were strengthened and reorganised and 'Land Waiters', 'Tide Waiters' and 'Searchers' were employed on customs work. In 1816 the Preventative Water Guard was made responsible to the Treasury, they appointed Captain Hanchett RN as Comptroller General of the force. The preventative cruisers came under the Admiralty and Riding Officers under Customs. The Preventative Water Guard operated in coastal waters to tackle smugglers who evaded revenue cruisers. If the weather was rough, they operated from the shore. All recruitment was from demobilised Royal Navy sailors.

But in 1816 the Preventive Water Guard had been withdrawn from parts of Kent in favour of shore based naval crews when a naval commander introduced a scheme whereby Royal Navy shore patrols would catch the smugglers as they came ashore. The Admiralty favoured this Coast Blockade, as it was known, as a reserve of trained seamen, and later extended it from the Isle of Sheppey to Seaford, Sussex. The Blockade's methods were harsh and uncompromising but they proved to be the most effective force yet applied. The Blockade functioned until 1831 when it was absorbed into the Coast Guard.

Captain Hanchett built up a sound and efficient organisation and by 1821 the Water Guard was divided into 31 districts, each under an Inspector Commander and 151 stations were established round the coast commanded by a Chief Officer with a Chief Boatman and Boatmen to kept guard. Inspecting Commanders were required to make frequent checks on the stations and combined operations with the revenue cruisers and the Riding Officers were conducted in order to test the efficiency of the system. A similar force was established in Ireland in 1819, at first under Captain Hanchett, and then a year later under their own Comptroller-General.

Although the primary objective of the Water Guard was to prevent smuggling, it was also made responsible for giving every assistance when a ship was wrecked. Each Water Guard station was issued with Manby's Mortar which was invented by Captain G B Manby, a boyhood friend of Nelson. The mortar fired a shot with a line attached from the shore on to the wrecked ship. It was a device which was to save many lives and was used by the Water Guard and later by the Coastguard for many years to come.

When East India Company aborted its mission in India during 1874, the charge of Indian Government was taken over by the Majesty`s Crown in United Kingdom. At that time the necessity of a Sea Customs Act was felt and accordingly Sea Customs Act was enacted in 1878. Her Royal Majesty Queen Alexander Victoria approved the Sea Customs Act 1878 and allotted her Majesty’s crown to be worn by Customs Officers which was decorated on shoulders epaulette and peak cap. The department of Customs was designated as (HMC) “HER MAJESTY CUSTOMS”.

The Bombay Presidency was a former province of British India. It began in the 17th Century as trading posts of the British East India Company, but later grew to include much of western and central India as well as parts of (Sind) Pakistan.

During the British rule, the Governor of Bombay Presidency Sir, James Fergusson the next high ranking person after the viceroy, made the first appointments to H. M. Customs in Karachi subsequent to the promulgation of the Sea customs act, 1878. The first Collector of Customs Mr. C. A. Galton was appointed in 1878 and Mr. Edward Hamilton Aitkin the first chief collector of Customs was appointed for Karachi in 1906.

The Governor in council of Bombay Presidency vide Notification issued on 12.04.1901 under section 11 of Sea Custom Act, 1878 declared the Karachi as Chief Port of Sind and attached six minor ports to it for the purpose of shipment and of landing of goods. The Customs administration was regulated by sea Customs Act, 1878 and certain other allied acts which were in operation up to 1969 in Pakistan. When all the statutory provision were consolidated and the Pakistan Customs Act, 1969 were enacted.

Brief history of Custom House Building is that on 17th February 1902 the Finance and Commerce Department of the Bombay Presidency allocated some piece of land to the Customs and Port Trust Authority for the construction of permanent offices. Mr. G. Wittet, F.R.I.B.A.F.U.B. consulting architects to the Government of Bombay a plan for construction of joint building. The construction of joint building it was to be semi-circular building made in the Victorian tradition.

The Construction of joint KPT – Customs Building commenced in 1910 and was completed in 1914. The total cost upon completion, came to US. $ 57,338/- But the newly building first used by military in world war-1 as a hospital and transit camp. After end of world war-1, new building was opened by His Excellency Lord Willington Governor Bombay Presidency on 5th January, 1916. The first meeting of the board of Port Trustees and Customs was held in the newly constructed premises on 12th January 1916. Since then it was used by the Customs Department till it shifted to new Custom House on 08.05.1987.

Muhammad Shamim Akhtar,
Inspector Preventive Service (H),
Custom House, Karachi.