King's Cutters and Smugglers 1700-1855
by E. Keble Chatterton
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Two obvious typographical errors were corrected in transcribing this text. For a complete list, please see the Transcriber's note at the end of the file.



E. KEBLE CHATTERTON Author of "Sailing Ships and Their Story," "The Romance of the Ship" "The Story of the British Navy," "Fore and Aft," Etc.

With 33 Illustrations and Frontispiece in Colours

London George Allen & Company, Ltd. 44 & 45 Rathbone Place 1912 [All rights reserved] Printed by Ballantyne, Hanson & Co. At the Ballantyne Press, Edinburgh


I have in the following pages endeavoured to resist the temptation to weave a web of pleasant but unreliable fiction round actual occurrences. That which is here set forth has been derived from facts, and in almost every case from manuscript records. It aims at telling the story of an eventful and exciting period according to historical and not imaginative occurrence. There are extant many novels and short stories which have for their heroes the old-time smugglers. But the present volume represents an effort to look at these exploits as they were and not as a novelist likes to think they might have occurred.

Perhaps there is hardly an Englishman who was not thrilled in his boyhood days by Marryat and others when they wrote of the King's Cutters and their foes. It is hoped that the following pages will not merely revive pleasant recollections but arouse a new interest in the adventures of a species of sailing craft that is now, like the brig and the fine old clipper-ship, past and done with.

The reader will note that in the Appendices a considerable amount of interesting data has been collected. This has been rendered possible only with great difficulty, but it is believed that in future years the dimensions and details of a Revenue Cutter's construction, the sizes of her spars, her tonnage, guns, &c., the number of her crew carried, the names and dates of the fleets of cutters employed will have an historical value which cannot easily be assessed in the present age that is still familiar with sailing craft.

In making researches for the preparation of this volume I have to express my deep sense of gratitude to the Honourable Commissioners of the Board of Customs for granting me permission to make use of their valuable records; to Mr. F.S. Parry C.B., Deputy Chairman of the Board for his courtesy in placing a vast amount of data in my hands, and for having elucidated a good many points of difficulty; and, finally, to Mr. Henry Atton, Librarian of the Custom House, for his great assistance in research.





























































King's Cutters & Smugglers



Outside pure Naval history it would be difficult to find any period so full of incident and contest as that which is covered by the exploits of the English Preventive Service in their efforts to deal with the notorious and dangerous bands of smugglers which at one time were a terrible menace to the trade and welfare of our nation.

As we shall see from the following pages, their activities covered many decades, and indeed smuggling is not even to-day dead nor ever will be so long as there are regulations which human ingenuity can occasionally outwit. But the grand, adventurous epoch of the smugglers covers little more than a century and a half, beginning about the year 1700 and ending about 1855 or 1860. Nevertheless, within that space of time there are crowded in so much adventure, so many exciting escapes, so many fierce encounters, such clever moves and counter-moves: there are so many thousands of people concerned in the events, so many craft employed, and so much money expended that the story of the smugglers possesses a right to be ranked second only to those larger battles between two or more nations.

Everyone has, even nowadays, a sneaking regard for the smugglers of that bygone age, an instinct that is based partly on a curious human failing and partly on a keen admiration for men of dash and daring. There is a sympathy, somehow, with a class of men who succeeded not once but hundreds of times in setting the law at defiance; who, in spite of all the resources of the Government, were not easily beaten. In the novels of James, Marryat, and a host of lesser writers the smuggler and the Preventive man have become familiar and standard types, and there are very few, surely, who in the days of their youth have not enjoyed the breathless excitement of some story depicting the chasing of a contraband lugger or watched vicariously the landing of the tubs of spirits along the pebbly beach on a night when the moon never showed herself. But most of these were fiction and little else. Even Marryat, though he was for some time actually engaged in Revenue duty, is now known to have been inaccurate and loose in some of his stories. Those who have followed afterwards have been scarcely better.

However, there is nothing in the following pages which belongs to fiction. Every effort has been made to set forth only actual historical facts, which are capable of verification, so that what is herein contained represents not what might have happened but actually did take place. To write a complete history of smuggling would be well-nigh impossible, owing to the fact that, unhappily through fire and destruction, many of the records, which to-day would be invaluable, have long since perished. The burning down of the Customs House by the side of the Thames in 1814 and the inappreciation of the right value of certain documents by former officials have caused so desirable a history to be impossible to be written. Still, happily, there is even now a vast amount of material in existence, and the present Commissioners of the Board of Customs are using every effort to preserve for posterity a mass of data connected with this service.

Owing to the courtesy of the Commissioners it has been my good fortune to make careful researches through the documents which are concerned with the old smuggling days, the Revenue cutters, and the Preventive Service generally; and it is from these pages of the past and from other sources that I have been enabled to put forth the story as it is here presented; and as such it represents an attempt to afford an authentic picture of an extremely interesting and an equally exciting period of our national history, to show the conditions of the smuggling industry from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, and the efforts to put a stop to the same. We shall soon find that this period in its glamour, romance, and adventure contains a good deal of similarity to the great seafaring Elizabethan epoch. The ships were different, but the courage of the English seamen was the same. Nor must we forget that those rough, rude men who ran backwards and forwards across the English Channel in cutters, yawls, luggers, and sometimes open boats, stiffened with a rich ballast of tea, tobacco, and brandy, were some of the finest seamen in the world, and certainly the most skilful fore-and-aft sailors and efficient pilots to be found anywhere on the seas which wash the coasts of the United Kingdom. They were sturdy and strong of body, courageous and enterprising of nature, who had "used" the sea all their lives. Consequently the English Government wisely determined that in all cases of an encounter with smugglers the first aim of the Preventive officers should be to capture the smugglers themselves, for they could be promptly impressed into the service of the Navy and be put to the good of the nation instead of being to the latter's disadvantage.

As everyone familiar with the sea is aware, the seamanship of the square-rigged vessel and of the fore-and-aft is very different. The latter makes special demands of its own which, for the present, we need not go into. But we may assert with perfect confidence that at its best the handling of the King's cutters and the smuggling craft, the chasing and eluding in all weathers, the strategy and tactics of both parties form some of the best chapters in nautical lore. The great risks that were run, the self-confidence and coolness displayed indicated quite clearly that our national seafaring spirit was not yet dead. To-day many descendants of these old smugglers remain our foremost fore-and-aft sailors, yet engaged no longer in an illicit trade but in the more peaceful pursuits of line fishermen, oyster dredging, trawling during the winter, and often shipping as yachts' hands during the summer.

But because we are to read fact and not fiction we shall scarcely find the subject inferior in interest. Truth often enough is stranger, and some of the tricks and devices employed by the smuggling communities may well surprise us. And while we shall not make any vain attempt to whitewash a class of men who were lawless, reckless, and sometimes even brutal in their efforts, yet we shall not hesitate to give the fullest prominence to the great skill and downright cleverness of a singularly virile and unique kind of British manhood. In much the same way as a spectator looks on at a fine sporting contest between two able foes, we shall watch the clashing exploits of the King's men and the smugglers. Sometimes the one side wins, sometimes the other, but nearly always there is a splendidly exciting tussle before either party can claim victory.

No one who has not examined the authentic records of this period can appreciate how powerful the smugglers on sea and land had become. The impudence and independence of some of the former were amazing. We shall give instances in due course, but for the present we might take the case of the Revenue cutter which, after giving chase to a smuggling vessel, came up to the latter. Shots were exchanged, but the smuggler turned his swivel guns on to the Government craft with such a hot effect that the Revenue captain deemed it prudent to give up the fight and hurry away as fast as possible, after which the positions were reversed and the smuggler actually chased the Revenue cutter! In fact during the year 1777 one of the Customs officials wrote sadly to the Board that there was a large lugger off the coast, and so well armed that she was "greatly an overmatch" for even two of the Revenue cruisers. It seems almost ludicrous to notice a genuine and unquestionable report of a smuggling vessel coming into a bay, finding a Revenue cruiser lying quietly at anchor, and ordering the cruiser, with a fine flow of oaths, immediately to cut his cable and clear out; otherwise the smugglers promised to sink her. The Revenue cutter's commander did not cut his cable, but in truth he had to get his anchor up pretty promptly and clear out as he was told.

It was not till after the year 1815 that the Government began seriously to make continuous headway in its efforts to cope with the smuggling evil. Consider the times. Between the years 1652 and 1816 there were years and years of wars by land or by sea. There were the three great Anglo-Dutch wars, the wars with France, with Spain, to say nothing of the trouble with America. They were indeed anxious years that ended only with the Battle of Waterloo, and it was not likely that all this would in any way put a stop to that restlessness which was unmistakable. Wages were low, provisions were high, and the poorer classes of those days had by no means all the privileges possessed to-day. Add to this the undoubted fact that literally for centuries there had lived along the south coast of England, especially in the neighbourhood of the old Cinque ports, a race of men who were always ready for some piratical or semi-piratical sea exploit. It was in their blood to undertake and long for such enterprises, and it only wanted but the opportunity to send them roving the seas as privateers, or running goods illegally from one coast to another. And it is not true that time has altogether stifled that old spirit. When a liner to-day has the misfortune to lose her way in a fog and pile up on rock or sandbank, you read of the numbers of small craft which put out to salvage her cargo. But not all this help comes out of hearts of unfathomable pity. On the contrary, your beachman has an eye to business. He cannot go roving nowadays; time has killed the smuggling in which his ancestors distinguished themselves. But none the less he can legally profit by another vessel's misfortune; and, as the local families worked in syndicate fashion when they went smuggling, so now they mutually arrange to get the cargo ashore and, incidentally, make a very handsome profit as well.

We need not envy the Government the difficult and trying task that was theirs during the height of the smuggling era. There was quite enough to think of in regard to foreign affairs without wanting the additional worry of these contraband runners. That must be borne in mind whenever one feels inclined to smile at the apparently half-hearted manner in which the authorities seemed to deal with the evil. Neither funds nor seamen, nor ships nor adequate attention could be spared just then to deal with these pests. And it was only after the wars had at last ended and the Napoleonic bogey had been settled that this domestic worry could be dealt with in the manner it required. There were waiting many evils to be remedied, and this lawlessness along the coast of the country was one of the greatest. But it was not a matter that could be adjusted in a hurry, and it was not for another forty or fifty years, not, in fact, until various administrative changes and improvements had taken place, that at last the evil was practically stamped out. As one looks through the existing records one cannot avoid noticing that there was scarcely a bay or suitable landing-place along the whole English coast-line that did not become notorious for these smuggling "runs": there is hardly a cliff or piece of high ground that has not been employed for the purpose of giving a signal to the approaching craft as they came on through the night over the dark waters. There are indeed very few villages in proximity to the sea that have not been concerned in these smuggling ventures and taken active interest in the landing of bales and casks. The sympathy of the country-side was with the smuggling fraternity. Magistrates were at times terrorised, juries were too frightened to convict. In short, the evil had grown to such an extent that it was a most difficult problem for any Government to be asked to deal with, needing as it did a very efficient service both of craft and men afloat, and an equally able and incorruptible guard on land that could not be turned from its purpose either by fear or bribery. We shall see from the following chapters how these two organisations—by sea and land—worked.

If we exclude fiction, the amount of literature which has been published on smuggling is exceedingly small. Practically the whole of the following pages is the outcome of personal research among original, authentic manuscripts and official documents. Included under this head may be cited the Minutes of the Board of Customs, General Letters of the Board to the Collectors and Controllers of the various Out-ports, Out-port Letters to the Board, the transcripts from shorthand notes of Assizes and Promiscuous Trials of Smugglers, a large quantity of MSS. of remarkable incidents connected with smuggling, miscellaneous notes collected on the subject in the Library of the Customs House, instructions issued at different times to Customs officers and commanders of cruisers, General Orders issued to the Coastguard, together with a valuable precis (unpublished) of the existing documents in the many Customs Houses along the English coast made in the year 1911 by the Librarian to the Board of Customs on a round of visits to the different ports for that purpose. These researches have been further supplemented by other documents in the British Museum and elsewhere.

This volume, therefore, contains within its pages a very large amount of material hitherto unpublished, and, additional to the details gathered together regarding smuggling methods, especial attention has been paid to collect all possible information concerning the Revenue sloops and cutters so frequently alluded to in those days as cruisers. I have so often heard a desire expressed among those interested in the literature of the sea to learn all about the King's cutters, how they were rigged, manned, victualled, armed, and navigated, what were their conditions of service at sea, and so on—finally, to obtain accounts of their chasing of smuggling craft, accounts based on the narratives of eye-witnesses of the incidents, the testimony of the commanders and crews themselves, both captors and captives, that I have been here at some pains to present the most complete picture of the subject that has hitherto been attempted. These cutters were most interesting craft by reason both of themselves and the chases and fights in which they were engaged. The King's cutters were employed, as many people are aware, as well in international warfare as in the Preventive Service. There is an interesting letter, for instance, to be read from Lieutenant Henry Rowed, commanding the Admiralty cutter Sheerness, dated September 9, 1803, off Brest, in which her gallant commander sends a notable account to Collingwood concerning the chasing of a French chasse-maree. And cutters were also employed in connection with the Walcheren expedition. The hired armed cutter Stag was found useful in 1804 as a despatch vessel.

But the King's cutters in the Revenue work were not always as active as they might be. In one of his novels (The Three Cutters) Captain Marryat gives the reader a very plain hint that there was a good deal of slackness prevalent in this section of the service. Referring to the midshipman of the Revenue cutter Active, the author speaks of him as a lazy fellow, too inert even to mend his jacket which was out at elbows, and adds, "He has been turned out of half the ships in the service for laziness; but he was born so, and therefore it is not his fault. A Revenue cutter suits him—she is half her time hove-to; and he has no objection to boat-service, as he sits down in the stern-sheets, which is not fatiguing. Creeping for tubs is his delight, as he gets over so little ground."

But Marryat was, of course, intentionally sarcastic here. That this lazy element was not always, and in every ship, prevalent is clear from the facts at hand. It is also equally clear from the repeated admonitions and exhortations of the Board of Customs, by the holding-out of handsome rewards and the threatenings of dire penalties, that the Revenue-cutter commanders were at any rate periodically negligent of their duties. They were far too fond of coming to a nice snug anchorage for the night or seeking shelter in bad weather, and generally running into harbour with a frequence that was unnecessary. The result was that the cutter, having left her station unguarded, the smugglers were able to land their kegs with impunity.

But we need not delay our story longer, and may proceed now to consider the subject in greater detail.



It is no part of our intention to trace the history of the levying of customs through different reigns and in different ages, but it is important to note briefly that the evading of these dues which we designate smuggling, is one of the oldest offences on record.

The most ancient dues paid to the English sovereigns would seem to have been those which were levied on the exportation and importation of merchandise across the sea; and it is essential to emphasise at the outset that though nowadays when we speak of smuggling we are accustomed to think only of those acts concerned with imports, yet the word applies equally to the unlawful manner of exporting commodities. Before it is possible for any crime to be committed there must needs be at hand the opportunity to carry out this intention; and throughout the history of our nation—at any rate from the thirteenth century—that portion of England, the counties of Kent and Sussex, which is adjacent to the Continent, has always been at once the most tempted and the most inclined towards this offence. Notwithstanding that there are many other localities which were rendered notorious by generations of smugglers, yet these two between them have been responsible for more incidents of this nature than all the rest put together.

What I am anxious at first to emphasise is the fact that, although smuggling rose to unheard-of importance as a national danger during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (and this is the period to which we shall especially address ourselves presently as affording the fullest and the most interesting information on an ingenious phase of human energy), yet it was not a practice which suddenly rose into prominence during that period. Human nature is much the same under various kings and later centuries. Under similar circumstances men and women perform similar actions. Confronted with the temptation to cheat the Crown of its dues, you will find persons in the time of George V. repeating the very crimes of Edward I. The difference is not so much in degree of guilt as in the nature of the articles and the manner in which they have been smuggled. To-day it may be cigars—centuries ago it was wool. Although the golden age (if we may use the term) of smuggling has long since passed, I am by no means unconvinced that if the occasions of temptation recurred to carry on this trade as it was pursued during the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries, there would not be found many who would be ready to apply themselves to such a task. To some extent the modern improvements in living, in education, and increased respect for lofty ideals would modify this tendency; and long years have awakened so keen a regard for the benefits of law and order that the nefarious practice might not break out immediately on a large scale. But when we speak of smuggling it is perhaps more correct to speak of it as a disease which has not been exterminated from the system, but is, as it were, a microbe that is kept well under control and not allowed to spread.

Everyone who is familiar with English history is aware of the important position which was occupied by the wool trade. Because of the immense value to the nation of the fleece it was necessary that this commodity should be kept in the country and not sent abroad. If in the present day most of our iron and coal were to be despatched abroad regardless of what was required by our manufacturers it would not be long before the country would begin to suffer serious loss. So, in the thirteenth century, it was with the wool. As a check to this a tax was levied on that wool which was exported out of the country, and during the reign of Edward III. attempts were made by the threat of heavy penalties to prevent the Continent from becoming the receptacle of our chief product. But the temptation was too great, the rewards were too alluring for the practice to be stopped. The fleece was carried across from England, made into cloth, and in this state sent back to us. Even in those days the town of Middleburgh, which we shall see later to have been the source of much of the goods smuggled into our country in the grand period, was in the fourteenth century the headquarters abroad of this clandestine trade. We need not weary the reader with the details of the means which were periodically taken to stop this trade by the English kings. It is enough to state that practically all the ports of Sussex and Kent were busily engaged in the illegal business. Neither the penalties of death, nor the fixing of the price of wool, nor the regulating of the rate of duty availed in the long-run. Licences to export this article were continually evaded, creeks and quiet bays were the scenes where the fleece was shipped for France and the Low Countries. Sometimes the price of wool fell, sometimes it rose; sometimes the Crown received a greater amount of duty, at other times the royal purse suffered very severely. In the time of Elizabeth the encouragement of foreign weavers to make their homes in England was likely to do much to keep the wool in the country, especially as there began to be increased wealth in our land, and families began to spend more money on personal comforts.

Even in the time of Charles I. proclamations were issued against exporting wool, yet the mischief still went on. In the time of Charles II. men readily "risked their necks for 12d. a day."[1] The greatest part of the wool was sent from Romney Marsh, where, after nightfall, it was put on board French shallops with ten or twenty men to guard it, all well armed. And other parts of Sussex as well as Kent and even Essex were also engaged in similar exportations.

But it is from the time of King Charles II. that the first serious steps were taken to cope with the smuggling evil, and from here we really take our starting-point in our present inquiry. Prior to his time the Customs, as a subsidy of the king, were prone to much variability. In the time of James I., for instance, they had been granted to the sovereign for life, and he claimed to alter the rates as he chose when pressed for money. When Charles I. came to the throne the Commons, instead of voting them for the extent of the sovereign's life, granted them for one year only. At a later date in the reign of that unhappy king the grant was made only for a couple of months. These dues were known as tonnage and poundage, the former being a duty of 1s. 6d. to 3s. levied on every ton of wine and liquor exported and imported. Poundage was a similar tax of 6d. to 1s. on every pound of dry goods.

It was not till after the Restoration that the customs were settled and more firmly established, a subsidy being "granted to the king of tonnage and poundage and other sums of money payable upon merchandise exported and imported." Nominally the customs were employed for defraying the cost of "guarding and defending the seas against all persons intending the disturbance of his subjects in the intercourse of trade, and the invading of this realm." And so, also, there was inaugurated a more systematic and efficient method of preventing this export smuggling. So far as one can find any records from the existing manuscripts of this early Preventive system, the chronological order would seem to be as follows: The first mention of any kind of marine service that I can trace is found in a manuscript of 1674, which shows the establishment of the Custom House organisation in that year for England and Wales. From this it is clear that there had been made a beginning of that system which was later to develop into that of the Revenue cutters. And when we recollect how extremely interested was Charles II. in everything pertaining to the sea and to sloop-rigged craft especially, it seems very natural to believe that this monarch inspired, or at any rate very considerably encouraged, the formation of a small fleet of Custom House sailing craft. Elsewhere I have discussed this matter at length, therefore it may suffice if attention is called to the fact that to Charles was due the first yacht into England, presented to him by the Dutch; while from his encouragement were born the sport of yachting and the building of English yachts. He was very much concerned in the rig of sloops, and loved to sail in such craft, and his yacht was also most probably the first vessel of that rig which had ever been employed by English sailors. Further still, he was something of a naval architect, the founder of the Greenwich Royal Observatory and the Nautical Almanac, and under his rule a fresh impulse was given to navigation and shipbuilding generally.

At any rate by the year 1674 there were among the smaller sailing craft of England a number of sloops and smacks employed doubtless for fishing and coasting work. As a kind of marine police, the Custom House authorities determined to hire some of these to keep a watch on the "owlers," as the wool-smugglers were termed, so called, no doubt, because they had to pursue their calling always by night. Whatever efforts had been adopted prior to his reign probably had consisted for the most part, if not entirely, of a land police. But under this second Charles the very sensible and obvious idea of utilising a number of sailing craft was started. In the above MS. volume the first reference is to "Peter Knight, Master of ye smack for ye wages of him self and five men and boy, and to bear all charges except wear and tear ... L59." "For extraordinary wear and tear," he was to be paid L59. His vessel was the Margate smack. In the same volume there is also a reference to the "Graves End smack," and to "Thomas Symonds for wages and dyett [diet] for himself, master and six men ... L56, 5s. 0d." And for the "wear and tear to be disposed as ye Commrs. direct ... L14, 15s. 0d." There was yet a third vessel stationed a few miles away, the "Quinborrough smack," and a reference to "Nicholas Badcock for hire of ye smack, two men, and to bear all charges ... L23." These vessels were not known as Revenue cutters at this time, but as Custom House smacks. They were hired by the Commissioners of the Customs from private individuals to prevent the owlers from smuggling the wool from Kent, Essex, and Sussex. But it would seem that these smacks, even if they modified a little the activities of the owlers, did not succeed in bringing about many convictions. Romney Marsh still sent its contribution across to France and Holland, much as it had done for generations.

But in 1698 the attack on the men of Kent and Sussex was strengthened by legislation, for by 7 & 8 William III. cap. 28, it was enacted that "for the better preventing the exportation of wool and correspondence with France ... the Lord High Admiral of England, or Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral for the time being, shall from time to time direct and appoint one ship of the Fifth Rate, and two ships of the Sixth Rate, and four armed sloops constantly to cruise off the North Foreland to the Isle of Wight, with orders for taking and seizing all ships, vessels, or boats which shall export any wool or carry or bring any prohibited goods or any suspected persons." It was due to William III.'s Government also that no person living within fifteen miles of the sea in those counties should buy any wool before he entered into a bond, with sureties, that all the wool he might buy should be sold by him to no persons within fifteen miles of the sea, and all growers of wool within ten miles of the sea in those counties were obliged within three days of shearing to account for the number of fleeces, and where they were lodged.

Instructions were duly issued to captains of sloops, and a scheme drafted for surrounding the whole of the coast with sloops, the crews consisting of master, mate, and mariners. But from an entry in the Excise and Treasury Reports of 1685, it is clear that a careful regard even at that date was being had for the import smuggling as well. The reference belongs to September 24, and shows that a "boarding" boat was desired for going alongside vessels in the Downs, and preventing the running in of brandies along the coast in that vicinity. The charge for building such a boat is to be L25. In another MS. touching the Customs, there is under date of June 1695 an interesting reference to "a Deale yoghall to be built," and that "such a boat will be here of very good use." She is to be "fitt to go into ye roads for boarding men or other ocations when ye sloops may be at sea."

So much, then, for the present as to the guarding by sea against the smugglers. Let us now turn to look into the means adopted by land. The wool-owners of Romney Marsh were still hard at their game, and the horses still came down to the beach ladened with the packs ready to be shipped. If any one were sent with warrants to arrest the delinquents, they were attacked, beaten, and forced to flee, followed by armed gangs on horseback. But it was evident that the Crown was determined not to let the matter rest, for a number of surveyors were appointed for nineteen counties and 299 riding officers as well, though they made few seizures, and obtained still fewer condemnations, but at great expense to the State. In 1703 it was believed that the owling trade, especially in Romney Marsh, was broken if not dead, although the smuggling by import was on the increase, especially as regards silks, lace, and such "fine" goods. At that time for the two hundred miles of coast-line between the Isle of Sheppey and Emsworth—practically the whole of the Kentish and Sussex shore—fifty officers were being employed at a salary of L60 per annum, with an allowance to each of another L30 annually for a servant and horse to assist them during the night. And there was authority also for the employment of dragoons to aid the riding officers, especially in the neighbourhood of Romney Marsh; but there was a number of "weak and superannuated" men among the latter, who did not make for the efficiency of the service.

We need not say much more about the wool-exportation. In spite of all the efforts of the Custom House smacks and the assistance of his Majesty's ships of war, in spite, too, of further legislation, it still continued. It went on merrily at any rate till the end of the eighteenth century, by which time the smuggling by imports had long since eclipsed its importance. It was the wars with France during the time of William and Mary which increased and rendered more easy the smuggling into England of silk and lace. And by means of the craft which imported these goods there used to be smuggled also a good deal of Jacobite correspondence. As Kent and Sussex had been famous for their export smuggling, so these counties were again to distinguish themselves by illicit importation. From now on till the middle of this eighteenth century this newer form of smuggling rose gradually to wondrous heights. And yet it was by no means new. In the time of Edward III. steps had to be taken to prevent the importation of base coin into the realm, and in succeeding reigns the king had been cheated many a time of that which ought to have come to him through the duties of goods entering the country.

It was impossible instantly to put down a practice which had been pursued by so many families for so many hundreds of years. But the existing force was not equal to coping with the increase. As a consequence the daring of the smugglers knew no bounds—the more they succeeded the more they ventured. A small gang of ten would blossom forth into several hundreds of men, there would be no lack of arms nor clubs, and adequate arrangements would be made for cellar-storage of the goods when safely brought into the country. Consequently violence became more frequent than ever—bloodshed and all sorts of crimes occurred.

In the year 1723 several commissions or deputations were issued by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to captains of his Majesty's sloops to make seizures, and the following year the Treasury authorised the construction of seven sloops for service off the coast of Scotland. The smugglers had in fact become so desperate, the English Channel was so thoroughly infested with them, and the Revenue service was so incapable of dealing with them in the manner that was obviously essential for effectiveness, that the Admiralty ordered the captains and commanders of His Majesty's ships to assist the Revenue officers all they could in order to prevent the smuggling trade, and to look out and seize all vessels employed in illegally exporting wool; for the Admiralty had been informed by the Commissioners of Customs that the Revenue officers frequently met with insults from French smuggling luggers manned by armed crews, who carried on a brisk smuggling trade by force and even dared the Revenue men to come aboard them.

But as the Revenue service afloat was assisted now by the Navy, so the Revenue land guard was also aided by the Military. In 1713 arrangements had been made that dragoons should co-operate with the riding officers in their operations against the owlers, and there are plenty of skirmishes recorded showing that the dragoons were actually so employed. Originally these soldiers were employed under the direction of the riding officers, but, as can well be expected, there was a good deal of jealousy and friction caused through the sharing of the soldiers in the rewards for seizures, and after the year 1822 this military assistance was not utilised to any great extent, although legally Army officers can still be called upon to render assistance against smuggling. And, in passing, one might mention that this co-operation afloat between the Customs men and the Navy was equally noticeable for a certain amount of ill-feeling, as we shall mention on a later page.

Before the first quarter of the eighteenth century was completed, smuggling between England and the Continent was proceeding at a brisk pace, and by the middle of that century it had well-nigh reached its climax for fearlessness. We have already alluded to the establishment of hired smacks and sloops inaugurated towards the end of the seventeenth century. The sloop rig, as I have shown in another volume,[2] had probably been introduced into England from Holland soon after the accession of Charles II., but from that date its merits of handiness were so fully recognised that for yachts, for fishing craft, for the carrying of passengers and cargo up and down the Thames and along the coast as well as across to Ireland and the Continent, the rig was adopted very readily in place of the lug-sails. The smack was also a sloop-rigged vessel. We need not enter here into a discussion as to the comparative merits of sloops and cutters and smacks. It is enough if we state that when it was realised that a vessel of say 100 tons, sloop-rigged, with her one mast, mainsail, and two headsails and square topsail (set forward of the mast on a yard) could be handled with fewer men and therefore less expense than a lugger of similar size; was also more suitable for manoeuvring in narrow channels, and for entering and leaving small harbours, the fishermen, coasters, and so on took to this improvement. Thus most naturally the larger smuggling craft were till well on into the nineteenth century sloops or cutters, and equally natural was it that the Revenue availed themselves of this rig first by hiring smacks, and, later, by building for themselves. These sloops, whether hired or owned, were given each a particular station to guard, and that plan was followed by the Revenue cruisers for many years to follow. Among the Exeter documents of the Customs Department is included an interesting document dated July 10, 1703, wherein the Board of Customs informs the collector at the port of Dartmouth of the list of vessels appointed by the Commissioners to cruise against owlers, the district comprised extending from Pembroke in the west to the Downs in the east. The following is the list of these vessels with their respective cruising territories:—


Rye Pembroke to Lundy Island Discovery Milford to Swansea Dolphin Milford to Exmouth Hastings " " " Woolwich Downs to Falmouth Swan " " " Fly Off Folkestone Dispatch " "

This fairly well covered the region to which goods were likely to be run from the Continent as well as that from which the owlers were wont to export their wool. From an entry among the documents preserved in the Custom House at Newcastle, dated September 1729, we can see that also the north-east coast was guarded thus:—


Cruiser Flamborough Head to Newcastle Deal Castle Newcastle to Leith Spy Firth of Forth to Newcastle

And about the last-mentioned date the Deal Castle had succeeded in capturing four French smuggling craft and brought them into Shields.

To the other side of England the Isle of Man, which was a veritable contraband depot, used to send quantities of dutiable goods, Liverpool being the favourite destination, and it was a more difficult matter here to deal with than in many other ports. On October 9, 1713, the Collector at Liverpool writes to the Board of Customs that he thinks a sloop would be of little service for that port. Some time ago they had one, which was not a success "by reason of ye dangerousness and difficulty of the harbour and ye many shoales of sand, which often shift in bad weather." The Manxmen were a thoroughly lawless, desperate species of smugglers, who stopped at nothing, and were especially irate towards all Revenue and public officials, recognising no authority other than might and a certain respect for the Duke of Atholl, the owner of the Isle of Man.

Among the letters to Southampton there is a record dated June 14, 1729, which shows that a number of his Majesty's sloops were appointed by the Admiralty to cruise off the coasts of the kingdom to prevent the exporting of wool and the running of goods by the import-smugglers. For instance, the Admiralty sloop Swift was appointed to cruise between Portland, Poole, and Jack-in-the-Basket off the entrance to Lymington Harbour, Hants, her commander being a Captain Cockayne. Similarly the sloop Success (Captain Thomas Smith, commander) was to cruise between Portland and Spithead, and the Rye (Captain John Edwards) between the Isle of Wight and Beachy Head to the eastward. It was part of the duty of the Revenue officers at Southampton to see that these three ships constantly cruised on their station, and if their commanders were found negligent of this duty the matter was to be reported to the Board of Customs. The Revenue craft were apparently not above suspicion, for in November of 1729 the Southampton officers of the Customs reported to headquarters that this very sloop, the Swift, every time she went across to Guernsey in connection with her duties of prevention, used to bring back quantities of wine, brandy, and other dutiable goods under the pretence that they were the ship's stores. The intention, however, was nothing less than that which dominated the actions of the smugglers themselves—the very class against which the Swift was employed—for Captain Cockayne's men used to find it no very difficult matter to run these goods ashore clandestinely under the very eyes of the unsuspecting Customs officers. The Commissioners of the Customs therefore sent down strict instructions that the Swift was to be rummaged every time she arrived at Southampton from Guernsey. We shall have reason presently to refer more especially to the Channel Isles again, but it may suffice for the present to state that they were in the south the counterpart of the Isle of Man in the north as being a depot whence the import smugglers fetched their goods across to England.

Additional to the Naval sloops just mentioned, there were two other cutters belonging to the Southampton station under the Revenue and not, of course, Admiralty-owned craft. These vessels were respectively the Calshot and the Hurst, and it is worth noting that at the time we are thinking of (1729) these vessels are referred to generally as "yatchs" or "yachts." It was not quite seventy years since the first yacht—that presented to Charles II., named the Mary—had arrived in England, and it was only in 1720 that the first yacht club had been established, not in England, but in Cork. If we may judge from contemporary paintings of yachts we can visualise the Hurst and Calshot as being very tubby, bluff-bowed craft with ample beam. But what would especially strike us in these modern days would be the exceptionally long bowsprit, the forward end of which was raised considerably above the water than its after end, both jib and foresail each working on a stay.

The commander of the Calshot yacht was a Captain Mears, and there is an entry in the Southampton documents to the effect that he was paid the sum of L2, 12s. 6d. for piloting his vessel from Southampton to Guernsey and back in connection with the Preventive duties. This trip took him five days, his pay being half a guinea a day. It is clear from a record of the following year that Mears was employed by special arrangement, for on July 18, 1730, the Board of Customs decided that it was necessary that Captain John Mears, commander of the Calshot yacht at Southampton, should now be placed on the same footing as the other commanders of the Revenue sloops and smacks in regard to the matter of wear and tear. Henceforth the sum of 30s. per ton was to be allowed him instead of L47 per annum. Both yacht and her boats were to be kept in good repair, but the commander was first to give security to have the vessel and her boats generally in good order and reasonable repair, loss by violence of the sea or other unavoidable accidents excepted. The commander was also to find the sloop and her boats with all manner of necessaries and materials, so that the Crown was to be at no charge on that account in the future; and every quarter the Comptroller and Collector of the port were to certify to the Board as to whether the yacht and boats were in good repair.

It would appear that these two vessels were not actually owned by the Customs but hired from Captain Mears; and less than a month before the above order the Surveyor-General of the Customs for Hampshire represented to the Board that it would be necessary to allow the commander of the Hurst half-a-dozen muskets, two pairs of pistols, half-a-dozen swords or cutlasses, and these were accordingly ordered to be sent, together with two swivel guns, from Weymouth to Captain Mears "by the first coast vessel bound to" Southampton. There was certainly need for a strict vigilance to be kept in that neighbourhood, for there was a good deal of smuggling then being carried on along the Hampshire shore in the vicinity of Hurst Castle and Beaulieu.

In another chapter we shall go into the important matter touching the flags that were worn by the vessels employed in looking after smuggling, but, in passing, we may call attention to a letter which the Board sent to Southampton at this time referring to the proclamation of December 18, 1702, by which no ships whatsoever were allowed to wear a pendant excepting those engaged in the service of the Royal Navy, but that the sloops employed in the several public offices (as, for instance, the Customs and the Excise) should wear Jacks, whereon was to be described the seal used in the respective offices. And Captain John Mears, senior, of the Calshot, and Captain John Mears, junior, of the Hurst, were to be informed that they must deliver up their pendants to the Customs' office at Southampton and for the future forbear wearing a pendant. Instead thereof they are to wear a Jack and ensign with the seal of office therein, "but the mark in the ensign is to be twice as large as that in the Jack; and if the captain should hereafter find that the not wearing a pendant will be any obstruction or hindrance to the service," the Board of Customs is to be informed.[3]

We have now seen something of the sloops and cutters on the south, the west, and the north-east coasts. Let us take a glance at the district to the southward of Flamborough during this same period. From the Hull letter book we find that in September of 1733 the Admiralty appointed Captain Burrish of the Blandford and Sir Roger Butler of the Bonetta to cruise between Flamborough and Newcastle; but Captain Oates of the Fly and Captain Rycant of the Tryal were to cruise between Flamborough and Yarmouth. There is also a reference to the Revenue sloop Humber employed in this neighbourhood on Preventive work. She was a somewhat expensive craft to keep up, as she was frequently needing repairs and renewals. First, she was to have a new cable which was to cost L20, 14s. 3-1/2d.; and it is a striking reminder of those days of hemp and sail that this bill was paid to the "ropemakers." A few months later she had to undergo repairs which amounted to L31, 10s. 6-1/4d., and less than six months afterwards she had to be given a new anchor which cost L18, 8s. 9d. Three years later she was given a new suit of sails which came to L25, 17s. 1d. but her old suit was sold for the sum of eight guineas. And finally, in 1744, as she had begun to cost so much for repairing, the Board determined to sell her.

Notwithstanding that the south coast, by reason of its proximity to the Continent and the Channel Isles, was a convenient and popular objective for the smugglers running their goods from France and Holland, yet the Yorkshire coast was by no means neglected. From Dunkirk and Flushing especially goods poured into the county. There was a small sloop, for instance, belonging to Bridlington, which was accustomed to sail across the North Sea to one of the ports in Zealand, where a cargo was taken aboard consisting of the usual dutiable articles such as tea, tobacco, and gin. The return voyage was then made and the goods landed clandestinely at some convenient spot between the Spurn Lighthouse and Bridlington.

Similarly, farther south than the Humber smuggling by illegal importation went on extensively in the early eighteenth century. Sometimes a Dutch vessel would arrive in Grimsby Roads and succeed in quietly running her goods to the shore. In the autumn of 1734 the master of the Dutch schuyt The Good Luck of Camphire, alias The Brotherly Love, had succeeded in running as many as 166 half-ankers[4] of brandy and 50 lbs. of tea on the coast near Great Yarmouth, the skipper's name being Francis Coffee. He was a notorious smuggler. But on this occasion both he and his vessel were captured.

Still, matters were not always satisfactory on board the Revenue sloops and smacks, for whenever, at this time, there was an encounter with the smugglers afloat the latter were so violent and desperate that the captors went about their work with their lives in their hands. Furthermore, it was not altogether a pleasing business to have to fire at fellow-countrymen, many of whom they had known from boyhood. Then, again, there was not the space on these sloops and cutters, nor the amount of deck room to be found on the men-of-war; and to be cooped up in these comparatively small vessels always on the qui vive, usually near the shore but able to have shore-leave all too rarely, was calculated to make for restlessness. Added to which a very considerable portion of the crews of these Revenue craft was composed of men who had spent years of their lives as smugglers themselves. Consequently it was not altogether surprising that mutinies and refusals to obey their commander's orders were of frequent occurrence. After a time it was decided that those members of the crew which had to be dismissed for such offences were to be handed over to the commander of the next man-of-war that should come along, and be pressed into the service of the Navy, though, it may be added, this was not always a welcome gift to the Naval commander compelled to receive a handful of recalcitrant men aboard his ship. Then, again, when at last a handful of smugglers had been captured it was the duty of the Revenue officers to prosecute them before the magistrate at their own expense. This was regarded as an unfair hardship, and in 1736 the system was modified by the Treasury allowing an officer a third of whatever amount was recovered, the prosecution to be carried on at the King's expense. At the same time it was undeniable that some commanders of these sloops and cutters were not quite as active as they might be on their station. There was too ready an excuse to run in from the sea and too great an inclination to spend valuable time in port. They were accordingly now enjoined not to presume to lay up for the purpose of giving the ship's bottom a scrub, or for a refit, without previously giving the Collector and Comptroller of the port ten days' notice. This was not to occur unless the cruiser really needed such attention; but if it was essential then to prevent the station remaining unguarded some other smack or vessel was to be sent out to take her place for the time being. For the smugglers were kept so well informed of the movements of the Revenue ships that a contraband cargo of goods would soon be found approaching the shore during the night when the watch had been relaxed.

But from an early date—at any rate as far back as 1694—the East India ships were notorious also for smuggling into the country a considerable amount of goods that ought to have paid duty. We shall bring forward instances presently of East Indiamen, homeward bound, being boarded as they come up Channel, or while waiting in the Downs and putting some of their cargo on board smuggling cutters and Deal boats, which was subsequently quietly and secretly brought into the country. Silks were especially popular among the smugglers in this connection. In those days, too, the more wealthy passengers coming home by these East Indiamen used to leave the ship at Spithead, where they came in for that purpose. These passengers would then be put ashore at Portsmouth, and, proceeding by coach to London, thus shortened their sea journey. But notwithstanding their ample means, many of these travellers were constantly found endeavouring to land dutiable articles. In short, rich and poor, high and low, there was no class that did not endeavour to engage in smuggling either directly or indirectly. Even if the party never ventured on the sea, he might be a very active aider and abettor in meeting the boat as it brought the casks ashore, or keeping a look out for the Preventive men, giving the latter false information, thus throwing them on the wrong scent. Or again, even if he did not act the part of signaller by showing warning lights from the cliff, he could loan his cellars, his horses, or his financial support. In fact there were many apparently respectable citizens who, by keeping in the background, were never suspected of having any interest in these nefarious practices, whereas they were in fact the instigators and the capitalists of many a successful run. And as such they were without doubt morally responsible for the deaths by murder which occurred in those incidents, when violence was used after the Revenue men had come on to the scene.

But as to morality, was there ever a period when the national character was so slack and corrupt as in the eighteenth century?


[1] "Smuggling in Sussex," by William Durrant Cooper, F.S.A., in vol. x. of the Sussex Archaeological Collection, to which I am indebted.

[2] Fore and Aft: The Story of the Fore-and-Aft Rig. London, 1911.

[3] "Southampton Letters," November 6, 1730. But in 1719, the Customs Commissioners had, inter alia, agreed to provide Captain Mears with "a suit of colours" for the Calshot. This provision was, therefore, now cancelled in the year 1730.

[4] A half-anker held 3-1/4 gallons.



About the middle of the eighteenth century the smuggling of tea into the country had reached such extensive limits that the revenue which ought to have been expected from this source was sinking instead of rising. In fact it came to this, that of all the tea that was consumed in this country not one half had paid duty and the rest was smuggled. The bands of smugglers were well financed, were themselves hardy sailors and skilful pilots. They had some of the best designed and best built cutters and luggers of that time. They were able to purchase from an almost inexhaustible market, and to make a quick passage to the English shores. Arrived there they could rely on both moral and physical support; for their friends were well mounted, well armed, and exceedingly numerous, so that ordinarily the cargo could be rapidly unshipped, and either hidden or run into the country with despatch. Not once, but times without number the smuggling cutters had evaded the Revenue cruisers at sea, showing them a clean pair of heels. With equal frequency had the Preventive men on land been outwitted, bribed, or overpowered. And inasmuch as the duties on the smuggled articles were high, had they passed through the Customs, so, when smuggled, they could always fetch a big price, and the share for the smugglers themselves was by no means inconsiderable. But it is always the case that, when large profits are made by lawless, reckless people, these proceeds are as quickly dissipated in extravagance of living. It is sad to think that these seafaring men, who possessed so much grit and pluck, had such only been applied in a right direction, actually died paupers. As one reads through the pitiful petitions, written on odd scraps of paper in the most illiterate of hands begging for clemency on behalf of a convicted smuggler, one can see all too clearly that on the whole it was not the actual workers but the middle-men who, as is usually the case, made the profits. A life of such uncertainty and excitement, an existence full of so many hairbreadth escapes did not fit them for the peaceful life either of the fisherman or the farmer. With them money went as easily as it had come, and taking into account the hardness of the life, the risks that were undertaken, the possibility of losing their lives, or of being transported after conviction, it cannot be said that these men were any too well paid. Carelessness of danger led to recklessness; recklessness led on to a life that was dissolute and thriftless. And in spite of the fact that these tear-stained appeals were usually signed by all the respectable inhabitants of the seaside village—the rector, the local shipbuilder, Lloyds' shipping agent, the chief landowners and so forth—many a wife and family had to starve or become chargeable to the Union, while the breadwinner was spending his time in prison, serving as an impressed sailor on board one of his Majesty's ships against the enemy; or, if he had been found physically unfit for such service, condemned to seven or more years of transportation.

But by the year 1745 smuggling had reached such a pitch that something had to be done. The country was in such a state of alarm and the honest traders made such bitter complaints of the disastrous effect which these illicit practices were having on their prosperity that, on the 6th of February in that year, a Parliamentary Committee was formed "to inquire into the causes of the most infamous practice of smuggling and consider the most effectual methods to prevent the said practice." For it was clear that in spite of all that had been done by the Customs and Excise, by the Admiralty and the military, they had not succeeded in obtaining the desired effect.

And during the course of this inquiry a great deal of interesting evidence came out from expert witnesses, some of whom had not long since been the greatest smugglers in existence, but had come forward and received the pardon of the State. We may summarise the testimony obtained by this Committee as follows. The smugglers, after sailing away from England, used to purchase the tea abroad sometimes with money but at other times with wool. That was a serious matter in either alternative if, as was the case, the transactions were carried on to any large extent; for the country simply could not afford to be denuded either of its valuable wool—since that crippled the wool manufactures—or of the coin of the realm, which made for bankruptcy. But this was not all. England was at war with her neighbours, and the French only too gladly admitted the smuggling vessels into her ports, since these lawless and unpatriotic men were able to give information of the state of affairs in England. There was in the Isle of Man at this time no levying of Customs or other duties, so that between that island and France there was kept up a constant trade especially in teas, other East India goods and brandies, which were afterwards conveyed clandestinely to English ports, especially to Liverpool, as already we have noted, and also to Glasgow, Dumfries, as well as to Ireland. In the days when there were sloops at Liverpool doing duty for the Crown they used to set forth and do their best to stop this running, "but as it is a very dangerous station, a seizure is scarce heard of."

As illustrative of the achievements of smugglers at that time let us mention that it was reported officially from Yarmouth that on July 11 fifty smugglers had run a cargo of tea and brandy at Benacre in Suffolk, and only a fortnight later a band of sixty smugglers landed another contraband cargo at the same place, while a gang of forty got another cargo safely ashore at Kesland Haven. A week later a still larger band, this time consisting of seventy, passed through Benacre Street with a large quantity of goods, a cart and four horses. The smugglers at Kesland Haven had been able to bring inland their cargo of tea and brandy by means of fifty horses. In one month alone—and this at the depth of the winter when cross-channel passages could not be expected to be too safe for small sailing craft—nine smuggling cutters had sailed from the port of Rye to Guernsey; and it was estimated that during the last half of the year there had been run on to the coast of Suffolk 1835 horse-loads of tea as well as certain other goods, and 1689 horse-loads of wet and dry goods, to say nothing of a large quantity of other articles that should have paid duty. These were conveyed away up country by means of waggons and other vehicles, guarded by a formidable band of smugglers and sympathisers well armed. Notwithstanding that the Revenue officers were in some cases aware of what was going on, yet they positively dared not attempt any seizures. And in those instances where they had undertaken the risk they had been frequently beaten and left cruelly wounded with bleeding heads and broken limbs.

One reliable witness testified that whereas it was computed that at this time about 4,000,000 lbs. of tea were consumed in this kingdom, yet only about 800,000 lbs. of this had ever paid duty, so that there was considerably over 3,000,000 lbs. weight of tea smuggled in. Therefore on this one item of tea alone the loss to the Crown must have been something enormous. Multiply this by the long years during which the smuggling went on, add also the duties which ought to have been paid on tobacco and spirits, even if you omit to include the amount which should have accrued from lace and other commodities, and you may begin to realise the seriousness of the smuggling evil as viewed by the Revenue authorities.

It was noted that a great deal of this contraband stuff was fetched over from Flushing and from Middleburgh, a few miles farther up on the canal. The big merchant sailing ships brought the tea from the East to Holland, France, Sweden, and Denmark. But the Dutch, the French, the Swedes, and the Danes were not great tea drinkers, and certainly used it in nothing like the quantities which were consumed in England. But it was profitable to them to purchase this East Indian product and to sell it again to the smugglers who were wont to run across from England. It should be added, however, that the species of tea in question were of the cheaper qualities. It was also frankly admitted in evidence that many of the civil magistrates, whose duty it was to grant warrants for the arrest of these delinquents, were intimidated by the smugglers, while the officers of the Customs and Excise were terrorised.

At this period of the smuggling era, that is to say prior to the middle of the eighteenth century, most of the smuggled tea was brought over to the south coast of England in Folkestone cutters of a size ranging from fifty to forty tons burthen. These vessels usually came within about three or four miles of the shore, when they were met by the smaller boats of the locality and the goods unladened. Indeed the trade was so successful that as many as twenty or thirty cargoes were run in a week, and Flushing became so important a base that not merely did the natives subsidise or purchase Folkestone craft, but ship-builders actually migrated from that English port to Flushing and pursued their calling in Dutch territory. As to the reward which the smugglers themselves made out of the transaction, the rates of payment varied at a later date, but about the years 1728 and 1729 the tea-dealers paid the men eight shillings a pound for the commodity. And in spite of the seizures which were made by the Revenue cutters and the land guard, yet these losses, admitted a witness, were a mere trifle to the smugglers. In fact he affirmed that sometimes one tea-dealer never suffered a seizure in six or seven years. We can therefore readily believe that the financiers netted a very handsome profit on the whole, and there are still standing plenty of fine mansions in different parts of our country which are generally supposed to have been erected from the proceeds of this form of activity.

There was a kind of local intelligence bureau in most of the smuggling centres on the south coast, and so loyal and so watchful were these craftsmen that the inhabitants of the coast-line managed to let their confreres know when the Custom House sloops had sailed out of port or when they hauled up for repairs and refit. As a consequence the smuggling craft commonly escaped capture. Animated by a natural hatred of all Government officials in general, especially of all those whose duty it was to collect taxes, dues, and any kind of tolls; disliking most of all the men of the Customs and Excise, and, further, being allied by sympathy and blood relationship to many of the smugglers themselves, it was almost impossible for the representatives of the Crown to make any steady progress in their work. We all know that when a number of even average law-abiding people get together, that crowd somehow tends towards becoming a mob. Each person, so to speak, forfeits his own individuality, that becomes merged into the personality and character of the mob, which all the time is being impelled to break out into something unlawful of a minor or greater degree. Whenever you have stood among crowds you must have noted this for yourself. It gets restive at the least opposition with which it is confronted, it boos and jeers with the smallest incitement; and, finally, realising the full strength of its unity, breaks out into some rash violence and rushes madly on, heedless of the results. Many murders have been in this way committed by men who ordinarily and in their individual capacity would shrink from such crimes. But having become merely one of the limbs, as it were, of the crowd they have moved with the latter and obeyed its impulses.

It was just the same when many of the dwellers of the country-side, many of the fishermen, labourers, and farm-hands found themselves assembled on the report of a pistol shot or the cry of angry voices coming up from the beach below. Something was happening, some one was in trouble, and the darkness of the night or the gloom of the fog added a halo of mystery round the occasion. Men and women came out from their cottages, some one got hit, and then a general affray began. Clubs and pistols and cutlasses were busy, men were bellowing forth oaths, women shrieking, and the galloping of horses heard rapidly approaching. Amid such excitements we can readily understand that a good many acts of violence and deep injury occurred which afterwards, when the heat of the event had vaporised, were regretted. At the same time, notwithstanding that one is aware that the men were engaged in an unlawful pursuit and that they themselves fully appreciated their degree of guilt, yet we cannot but feel some sort of sympathy with a crew who, after a long and exciting passage through bad weather all the way across the Channel, after perhaps a breathless race against the Government cruisers, had finally succeeded in landing their tubs on the shore only to be pounced on immediately by the riding officers and a posse of dragoons. It must have been heart-breaking that all their carefully laid plans, all their hardships and trials should end in disaster. Realising this and that their craft as well as their persons would be seized, it was but natural that they would fight like the most desperate of men. And, at the same time, those their relatives on shore who largely depended on them for their bread and butter would rush to their aid with a spirit and an impetuosity that could only end in one way. The pity of it all was that so much fine daring and enthusiasm were not being employed for a better cause and for more worthy results.

But the smugglers found that, contrary to what one would expect, their greatest risk was not when landing the goods, but when bringing them across from the Continent. A seizure on land was, at any rate during the first half of the eighteenth century, comparatively rare if they had been able to get away from the sloops and cutters. For the bodyguard of armed men on horseback who promptly met and escorted the contraband into the country frequently did as they had planned. And when once the tea has arrived inland it was easily sold to people who bought it not in small quantities but took as much as 1000 lbs. at a time. In addition, there were a number of men called "duffers," who used to walk inland wearing coats in which a hundred-weight of tea was concealed between two layers of cloth stitched together. They were accordingly said to "quilt" so much of this commodity. These duffers, having set forth on their walk, would eventually arrive in London and dispose of the tea to hawkers who, in turn, carried it about the town and sold it to the consumers, who, even if they had possessed any scruples, could not possibly know that the leaves had been smuggled in without paying the Crown's levy.

But it was not merely by exercising the strictest vigilance on the activities of the Government sloops and land officers, nor entirely by resort to trickery and violence, to threats and intimidation that the smugglers managed to keep out of the hands of justice. They even advanced one step further still, for there was a man named Norton whom they employed as their agent to defend them against prosecutions. This Norton at one time had actually been in the employ of the Crown as clerk of the late Solicitor to the Customs. And it was generally believed that Norton by some means—most probably by offering tempting bribes—obtained news from the clerks of the Customs' solicitor when a smuggler was likely to be arrested and a warrant was about to be issued. Norton was then supposed to give the smuggler an immediate warning and the man was able to make himself scarce. It was quite an easy operation, for in those days when there was no telegraph and no steamboat service across the Channel, all the "wanted" man had to do was instantly to board his cutter, set sail, and hurry across to France or Holland, where he was sure of a welcome, where also he could employ himself in arranging for cargoes to be run into England perhaps in the very vessel which had brought him across. There were plenty of his compatriots resident in Flushing, so he need not feel homesick, and when at last the incident had blown over he could find his way back to Kent or Sussex.

It was reckoned that about this time there were at least 20,000 people in England employed in smuggling, and in some parts (as, for instance, the village of Hawkhurst, about which we shall have more to say presently) gangs of large numbers could be got together in a very short time. In Hawkhurst alone 500 smugglers could be collected within an hour. Folkestone, however, ran Hawkhurst fairly close with a similar notoriety. Such gangs, well armed as they were, went about with impunity, for notwithstanding that they were well known, yet no one dared to molest them.

We mentioned just now that the danger to the State of this import smuggling was not merely that goods were brought into the country without payment being made to the Customs, but that inasmuch as the contraband goods were purchased abroad partly by wool and partly by actual coin England was being robbed both ways. And as the wool exportation declined and the import smuggling rose, so the amount of gold that passed out of the country seriously increased. At least L1,000,000 sterling were carried out of the kingdom each year to purchase these goods, and of this amount somewhere about L800,000 were paid for tea alone. At a later date the price of tea often went up, but the dealer still made a profit of 40s. on every 100 lbs. We alluded just now also to the dangers of seizure, and it is worth remarking that these were recognised by the smugglers as being greater in one district than in another. For instance, it was much more difficult to run goods into the counties of Kent and Sussex than into Suffolk, owing to the fleet at sea and the troops on the coast. And as to the amount of support which could be relied on it was an admitted fact that there was not one person in ten in the country but would give the smugglers assistance, and even lend them horses and carts. For the use of these the smugglers made payment at an increased rate.

There was one witness before this Commission who stated that he knew of about sixty English cutters of from thirty to forty tons burthen each, and five or six vessels of the same burthen belonging to merchants at Flushing which were employed constantly in running goods across to England, and several of those who gave evidence confessed that they had for years been actively engaged in smuggling, but had taken advantage of the late Act of Indemnity. One reason alleged for smuggling tea was that the East India Company did not sufficiently supply the dealers with the low-priced kinds, whereas the Dutch did. And it was further contended that if the price of tea were lessened sixpence per lb. it would put a stop to smuggling of the commodity, for at this date, although other articles such as spirits and tobacco were brought in, yet there was far more tea run than anything else. But at the same time the smugglers rather liked to include a quantity of brandy casks among their cargo for the reason that they were heavy and made very good ballast. And as to the ships themselves, it was agreed that those of the smugglers were the best sailing fore-and-afters that were built in those days, and could easily out-sail both the King's ships and the Custom House sloops. Finally, it was shown that in spite of the large and tempting rewards that were offered by advertisement for the apprehension of those persons who had been concerned in smuggling, no one had come forward to give information for the reason that, even if he would, he dared not. And so fascinating was the call of smuggling, that although there were those who had willingly embraced the pardon granted them by the recent Act, forsaken this illegal trade and settled down on farms or devoted themselves to other occupations which were within the law, yet there were many others who had returned to their former practices.

After accumulating this evidence, the Committee issued their first report on March 24, 1745, and expressed themselves of the opinion that the high duties charged on tea and other commodities had certainly been one cause of smuggling. But they also added that the exposing for sale of those boats and vessels which had been seized from the smugglers was certainly another potent reason, for these craft were frequently bought back by the men; they therefore recommended that all captured craft should be burned. Furthermore, the Commission condemned the custom of allowing penalties to be compounded so easily. As an instance of this last-mentioned custom we might call attention to three smugglers belonging to the county of Hampshire. There is a reference to them in the Southampton Letters under date of April 28, 1730, from which it appears that Matthew Barton, John Gibort, and William Moadon of Fordingbridge were under prosecution for running goods ashore. They subsequently offered to compound for the said offence on the following terms: Barton to pay the sum of L35, Gibort to pay L25, and Moadon L15. But before allowing the matter to be settled straight away the Collector and Comptroller at Southampton were ordered to look carefully into the affair and to inquire what these men were generally esteemed to be worth.



It was not till June of 1746 that the Committee issued their second report, and the evidence therein contained is even more interesting to us than any which had hitherto been given. After the Solicitor to the Commissioners had shown how biassed juries frequently were towards prisoners brought up on charges connected with smuggling, how they declined to bring in a verdict against them even in spite of the clearest of evidence, another official (the Surveyor of the Searchers in the Port of London) stated that when he had received information that there had been a run of goods in a certain locality and had even received information as to the road along which they would be brought, he had been compelled to travel by night and carefully to avoid all the beaten paths. Indeed, if people whom they might meet on the road noticed a Custom House officer and any soldiers together, their design would immediately be suspected and warning would promptly be sent to the smugglers, who would hide their goods. He added, also, that he remembered on one occasion that a couple of vessels landed in the Isle of Thanet as much tea as could be loaded on the backs of two hundred horses.

But it was when the ex-smugglers came to give their evidence that the real secrets of the trade were unfolded. Robert Hanning, who for years had been one of the most distinguished members of the industry, informed the Commission that formerly he was the principal dealer with the smugglers when he resided at Dunkirk. Some idea of the colossal business which he had carried on may be gathered from his admission that he had sold teas, brandies, and wines to be run into England to the extent of L40,000 per annum. And let us not forget to bear in mind that of course this probably represented the value of the goods when they were put on board. What they actually realised after they were smuggled into the English market must have been something considerable.

Hanning was followed by a certain Captain Joseph Cockburn, who had a very instructive story to tell, which must have amazed even the Commissioners. This gallant skipper was now commanding one of his Majesty's sloops, but prior to that he had been engaged in privateering, and before that had commanded several vessels employed in smuggling. From his very infancy he had been concerned in the practice of running goods, and his apprenticeship had been served to a smuggler at Rochester, who was nominally a fisherman. Consequently, with an accumulated knowledge obtained first as a smuggler and subsequently as a pursuer of smugglers, there was not much, if anything at all, in connection with the work which could have missed his attention. He proved himself a veritable encyclopaedia of smuggling information, and even the following brief summary will show that his experience was something exceptional.

First of all, he instanced the case of five cutters which he knew were constantly employed in running tea and brandy from Boulogne into Kent and Sussex. They imported at least six tons of tea and two thousand half-ankers of brandy every week. He estimated that the six tons of tea would be purchased abroad for L1920. The two thousand half-ankers of brandy, even if they cost but ten shillings apiece, would represent the sum of L1000; so altogether there was a total of nearly L3000 being carried out of the country in specie every week by these five cutters alone. But he also knew of five other cutters which were constantly employed in fetching brandy and tea from Middleburgh and Flushing, and he reckoned that these ten cutters in the aggregate smuggled into the United Kingdom each year goods to the value of L303,680. Possibly there was no living person who possessed so perfect and exact a knowledge of the smuggling trade, so we can have little reason to doubt for a moment the veracity of his figures.

Passing, then, to describe the methods employed by these men, he divided them into two classes. Firstly, there were those adopted by the cutters and smacks which did little else than smuggle, and, secondly, there were the British ships which primarily carried on a legitimate trade to foreign parts. As to the first class, the practice of these cutters and smacks was to put to sea from whatever port to which they belonged—London, Dover, Rye, Folkestone, or wherever it might be—having on board a small number of hands, their professed object being to fish. Having stood some distance away from the land, they would be met during the night by a number of smaller craft, and under cover of darkness would take on board from the latter large crews, much merchandise, and a considerable amount of money. The smaller craft rowed or sailed back to the beach before daylight, and the bigger craft, now well supplied with men, money, and merchandise, stood on their course for some Dutch or French port. There they purchased such goods as they required, disposed of those which they had brought, and again set sail for home. The vessel was again met at a convenient distance from the English shore by smaller boats if a favourable signal had been flashed from the land; and, using the darkness of the night, once more both the cargo and the supernumerary men were put into the boats, after which the latter ran the stuff ashore in casks already slung and in bales, while the smack headed for her harbour whence she had set out. As she had just the same small crew as before no suspicions were aroused, and it was presumed she had been out fishing.

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