(by Mrs. Estelle Leslie, Assistant Comptroller of Customs)
In the early days of the 19th century the inhabitants of British Honduras felt that their
territory would amount to something and that it was here to stay. They wanted to build
streets and public buildings, a church, maybe even a school. Consequently they voted for
taxes on a number of items that were imported such as liquor, tobacco and slaves. In 1810
Colonel John Smyth, the then Superintendent, appeared before the Magistrates to discuss
the “considerable amount of contraband goods that was said to be landed and vended in
the Settlement”. On June 6, the Magistrates asked him to issue a proclamation,
“prohibiting the introduction into the settlement from the USA all articles except
provisions, lumber, livestock, tobacco, pitch, tar, turpentine and resin”. They also
proposed to advertise the post of Searcher or Boarding Officer to enforce the law.
On 9 June, 1810, the post was filled; his instruction was that he boards every vessel from
the USA on anchoring; remain on board all day until she discharged and to secure the
hatches and bulkheads every night. Belize consequently had its first Customs Officer. This officer reported to the Public Treasurer who was responsible for the Treasury, the
Post Officer and Customs.
In February 1852, London suggested that an Excise Tax be levied on rum made in
Corozal and Orange Walk by the newly arrived refugees of the Caste War of Yucatan.
Nevertheless, it was not until 1856 that the Public Meeting passed the first Excise tax on
rum and sugar made in the north.
By 1856 shipping in and out of Belize City amounted to about one vessel every three
days, and the then Superintendent, William Stevenson, reported to London that
inefficiency, fraud, and smuggling required immediate consideration. As a result, a
Collector of Customs was appointed to administer Customs and Excise functions.
Mr. Chas Huyter was the first Collector of Customs, and he held that post from 1856 until
1861. The post of Collector was upgraded to Comptroller in 1955, and Mr. H.J. Sabben
was appointed as the first Comptroller in that year.