incompetently surveyed, presumably
Wyatt's responsibility. The Select Committee of 1824 explained:
'It was, however, discovered before the completion of the building
that the situation had been injudiciously selected, and the
intended Institution was in consequence abandoned and the
materials disposed of by order of the Government.'91 A
London merchant was more forthright: 'The ground was found to be
so marshy that they could not get a foundation or attempt to erect
a superstructure upon it.'92
The fate of the buildings completes this
tragicomedy and is linked to the collapse in 1824 of part of the
(London) Custom House. The link is Henry Peto, master-builder of
Little Britain. When the job of building a new Custom House was
put out to tender in 1812, the contract was let to Peto and his
partner John Miles, a City merchant.93 They finished in
1817, and but for war damage to the (now demolished) east wing the
result is essentially the Custom House as it exists today. The
story of the building operations is of misfortune, incompetence,
negligence and inevitable delay, leading later to involved and
bitter litigation when an action for fraud, negligence, and breach
of contract was taken against Peto and his bond escheated in the
sum of £33,000. In 1820 cracks appeared in some arches in the
building; in 1823 the roof of the Long Room was found to have
sunk; in December, 1824, enough ceiling and flooring in the Long
Room had collapsed to require major construction. During this,
second-hand timber and other faulty materials were found in the
roof—where only subsequent accident could have disclosed them.
These may have been some of the unspecified materials, from the
Chetney Hill lazaret, purchased in 1815 by Peto for £1,600 for
the stated purpose of using them in the Custom House.94
Without an inventory this must be conjecture, but it seems
probable because at this time Peto was under pressure of time and
finance, his partner and financier Miles having died in 1814.
Additional disposable materials fetched £13,000 by
public sale in 1815.94 How far the lazaret was
then dismantled is not known, but some 'salaries and
disbursements' for attendants at Chetney Hill were paid up until
1820 (see above). However, floating lazarets were by then mostly
re-established with eight vessels in the quarantine service in
Stangate Creek alone in 1820.95 The most likely date
for its final abandonment is between 1820 and 1824 (when the
Select Committee sat).90 Since then the island has
reverted to pasturage; foundation lines
Select Committee (1824),
op. cit., Preamble.
92 Ibid., Mr. Levy's evidence.
93 Unreferenced details concerning the
Custom House, from R. C. Jarvis, op. cit.
94 Select Committee (1824), op.
cit., Appendix G.
95 Accounts and Papers, 1821 (727)
xiv, 190 seq.
96 This agrees with Bagshaw's 'about
thirty years ago' (S. Bagshaw, History Gazetteer and Directory
of the County of Kent, etc. Sheffield. G. Ridge, ii (1847)).