Perquisites And Pilfering In The London Docks, 1700-1795

D'Sena, Peter A. M. (1987). Perquisites And Pilfering In The London Docks, 1700-1795. MPhil thesis The Open University.



During the eighteenth-century the busiest part of London's port was an area on the North Bank of the Thames, from London Bridge in the west, to Limehouse, in the east. It was here that many ships and smaller vessels loaded and unloaded their cargo, and goods were often moved into nearby warehouses or stored on the quays themselves. As the volume of trade increased during this period, so too did congestion on the waterfront, providing ample opportunities for the appropriation of' many goods, especially those in transit.

However, the appropriation of goods was something that could be interpreted in different ways. For example, many appropriations were viewed as criminous. First, those cases that were deemed petty were often dealt with in the City of London's Court of' Summary Jurisdiction, the famous Bridewell. Other offences, which magistrates and prosecutors preferred to see as more serious, were prosecuted by indictment and therefore came before the Court of the Old Bailey. Furthermore, Dockside Constables also had a special part to play in detecting and apprehending suspects. Their role in the chain of decision-making constituted another variable in the complex legal mechanisms.

Other appropriations were not seen as criminal at all, but rather as the legitimate payment or perquisite of workers in return for a service rendered. However, employers, employees and constables sometimes disagreed (or were uncertain) about the boundaries of legitimacy and, on such occasions, an appropriation was liable to be interpreted as theft. Cases that could only be resolved in Court, particularly those which led to an Old Bailey appearance, have left some important testimonial evidence. That, therefore allows an investigation of the fine line, which divided perquisites and pilfering on the London Docks.

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