‘We want men and not encyclopaedias’
Joining the Customs Service
in Empire careers
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This chapter pursues dual aims of elucidating the Customs’s recruitment procedures and exploring the socioeconomic factors that influenced decisions to relocate overseas. Despite the enduring caricature of the upper-class Englishman as the quintessential colonist, the socioeconomic profile of Customs employees presented in this chapter demonstrates the diverse range of people for whom the empire world spoke of opportunity. Furthermore, this chapter shows how global networks of patronage, family, education and employment propelled the international migrations of employees of colonial institutions. This chapter finds that expatriates were not primarily motivated to seek work overseas because of a single-minded commitment to imperialism; rather, family links to empire, previous employment in the empire world, a desire for adventure and, importantly, the prospect of a reliable career were more significant factors.

Empire careers

Working for the Chinese Customs Service, 1854–1949




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