Smuggling in and around Burton Bradstock
The history of Burton Bradstock could not be written without reference to its
illegal seafaring association. There are many legends of the activities of smugglers
operating in the area, as Burton Bradstock was a key landing place at the centre
of Lyme Bay. According to experts in the 19th century, "if there was any
smuggling at all in south-west Dorset, the preventive officers could be sure
to find it at Burton Bradstock for this
had long been a noted contraband centre and official fears of a great revival
in the trade there after the peace in 1815 were well-judged. Here and at Swyre,
two or three miles to the east, the Northovers had a finger in every tub and
provided regular employment for the keeper of Dorchester Gaol" (more about
the Northovers later).
The following material is largely taken from an excellent book by Roger
Guttridge entitled 'Dorset Smugglers' and published by Dorset Publishing
Company - sadly now out of print (see Books & Publications). We are very
grateful to Roger Guttridge for giving us permission to use his book.
Introduction to Smuggling
There are two schools of thought on the rights and wrongs of smuggling, and
two strikingly different definitions of a smuggler. Samuel Johnson described
him as "a wretch who, in defiance of justice and the laws, imports or
exports goods either contraband or without payment of the customs".
Whereas Adam Smith, the eighteenth century economist and advocate of free trade,
was more generous: "The smuggler," he wrote, "is a
person who, though no doubt blameable for violating the laws of his country,
is frequently incapable of violating those of natural justice, and would have
been in every respect an excellent citizen had not the laws of his country made
that a crime which nature never meant to be so."
by G Morland
Few smugglers felt the need, or possessed the eloquence, to intellectualise
about the morality of their trade but those who did used much the same arguments
as Smith: the goods which they smuggled had been honestly bought and paid for,
were transported at their own expense and were demanded by a wide cross-section
of the public who, in many cases, could not otherwise have afforded to buy them.
Adam Smith was reflecting not only the viewpoint of a select group of free-trade
economists, but an ancient and deep-rooted national conviction that smuggling
- the evasion of prohibitions or duties - was not truly a crime but rather a
justified defence of people's rights to buy and sell as they chose, without
interference from officialdom. As the infamous Hawkhurst Gang said when they
broke into Poole Custom House to retrieve a cargo which had been seized: "We
come for our own and will have it."
It was an attitude which survived to modern times and which is
now manifest in the evasion of income tax; a twentieth century official who
"cheats" people out of one-third of their hard-earned cash is regarded
by many as fair game for a little cheating in the other direction. In the same
way, the collectors of customs in earlier times were widely regarded as legalised
robbers who, at the very least, deserved a little of their own medicine.
Inevitably though, smuggling, by its very nature as well as its profits, attracted
the worst elements of society. Law-breakers of all kinds were among the first
to jump on the contraband wagon, encouraged by the public support which smuggling
attracted as well as by the prospects of adventure and financial gain. The presence
of ruthless villains and ruffians in the gangs led, in turn, to violent clashes
between smugglers and Revenue men and turned the cliffs and coasts of England's
otherwise fairly quiet land into a blood-soaked battleground comparable with
the Wild West of pre-industrial America.
The history of smuggling in England goes hand in hand with the history of the
Customs institution. The latter dates from Saxon times when King Ethelred II
imposed a toll charge, or import duty, on boatloads of foreign wine arriving
at Billingsgate. Thereafter it became a "custom" for foreign vintners
to give up a portion of their cargoes in return for permission to trade - hence
the origin of the term. Such tolls, however, applied only to certain ports,
so evasion was neither difficult nor illegal.
And the word "smuggle" itself probably dates from this period. Though
primarily from the Scandinavian languages - the Danish smugle which literally
means "smuggle" and the Swedish smuga means "a lurking
hole" - the Anglo-Saxon smugan, "to creep", is probably
cognate with the Icelandic prefix smug which stems from smjuga,
and means "to creep" or "to creep through a hole".
It was not until the last quarter of the thirteenth century that the gauntlet
which inspired England's first true smugglers was tossed in their path: in 1275,
King Edward I, seeking new sources of revenue, introduced a custom on wool exports.
Wool was a mainstay of the national economy and was in great demand on the continent.
To collect the duties, a permanent Customs staff was established and almost
immediately the first smugglers appeared. These were known as "owlers"
because their operations were largely nocturnal.
As the years passed, the economic needs of monarchs increased and duties were
accordingly raised or extended to other commodities; each time this happened
new opportunities were presented to smugglers and another stone was laid on
the foundations of the great smuggling age.
Life for the early generations of smugglers was comparatively easy. It was
not until the fourteenth century that the first revenue cruisers appeared in
coastal waters and even then their areas of patrol were limited to ports and
estuaries; for the determined smuggler, long stretches of coastline remained
totally unguarded. Many, however, did not consider such diversions necessary,
preferring simply to bribe the Customs officers in the ports. This was not difficult.
Corruption was widespread in society generally, Customs men were poorly paid
and the presence of an honest officer in a port was more exceptional than normal.
One notable exception was the searcher at Poole in the mid-fifteenth century,
William Lowe. He had an enormous coastal area to cover and only a horse for
transport: his district stretched from West Dorset through Hampshire to Sussex,
but he performed his duties with dedication and vigour and is one of the most
conscientious Customs officials on record. Countless cargoes of wool and leather
fell prey to his ubiquitous talons and in 1452 he seized a Dutch ship stacked
high with vast quantities of goods which fifteen merchants from Sherborne, Bridport
and Charminster were trying to smuggle out of the country. Lowe came to be despised
by merchant smugglers and the following year was attacked by a London wool merchant,
who "smote me with a dagger in the nose, and through the nose into the
mouth". Lowe survived not only to tell the tale but to write a report
on the incident in his own hand.
A further encouragement to the smuggler was the public support his business
attracted and the favourable consideration he could expect if tried by a jury.
Such was the official concern over the bias of juries that when John Roger of
Melcombe Regis, a suspected wool smuggler, asked for a trial rather than pay
a fine in 1428, the Privy Council refused his request on the grounds that a
local jury was likely to acquit regardless of the evidence. Instead they fixed
his fine at two hundred marks "or more if he can afford it"!
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Smuggling since 1700:
1700's - Smuggling gets
out of hand!
A vivid picture of how developments affected Dorset survives in the correspondence
of Philip Taylor, who was Collector of Customs at Weymouth from 1716 until some
time in the 1720's:
During the winter of 1717-18 he wrote: "the running of great quantities
of goods having of late very much increased" - the government tried
to push through a bill for the prevention of smuggling. It fell down in the
House of Lords and, as a result, reported Philip Taylor the following April,
"the smuggling trade is prodigiously increased and they and all persons
concerned with them are become more insolent than ever and dares any power to
oppose them, which will very soon have a very bad influence on trade. Besides,
as these smugglers are generally the dissatisfied part of the country, their
riding in troops of thirty or forty armed men on the least appearance of an
opportunity will be dangerous to the peace of the country as well as troublesome
to the Government." The smugglers even had the audacity to claim -
and they used the failure of the smuggling bill as their evidence, that they
were now "tolerated in smuggling by the King, Lords and Commons."
The bill, - which, among other things, forbade the importation of cargoes in
vessels of under fifty tons - finally became law twelve months later, but by
then Taylor was writing in colourful style:
"The smuggling traders in these parts are grown to such a head that
they bid defiance to all law and government. They come very often in gangs of
sixty to one hundred men to the shore in disguise armed with swords, pistols,
blunderbusses, carbines and quarterstaffs; and not only carry off the goods
they land in defiance of officers, but beat, knock down and abuse whoever they
meet in their way; so that travelling by night near the coast, and the peace
of the country, are become very precarious; and if an effectual law be not speedily
passed, nothing but a military force can support the officers in the discharge
The contraband boom continued, reaching a level in 1719 which would have been
unimaginable five years earlier. In one week in October of that year, there
were two runs of unprecedented size, one at Worbarrow Bay on the Purbeck coast,
the other further west near Bridport. The run at Worbarrow involved no
less than five ships unloading simultaneously and an observer described "a
perfect fair at the waterside, some buying of goods and others loading of horses;
that there was an army of people, armed and in disguise, as many in number as
he thought might be usually at Dorchester fair, and that all the officers in
the county were not sufficient to oppose them". In the Bridport
run, a great quantity of brandy and salt was brought ashore and "carried
off by great numbers of the country people" in full view of the Customs
Philip Taylor was not exaggerating when he reported that "the tumultuous
and riotous proceedings of the smugglers is not anything abated but daily growing
upon us". He went on: "Most of the smuggling trade in this
country is now carried on by people in such great numbers, armed and disguised,
that the officers, if they meet them, can't possibly oppose them therein, nor
do otherwise than search for the goods in suspected places, which by means of
the country's favouring the smugglers, very often proves ineffectual and expensive
to the officers." But if they did get caught and sentenced, they could
Brandy and wine made up the bulk of the contraband cargoes landed in Dorset
between 1716 and the mid-1730s, but many other commodities appear in the lists
from time to time, including rum, coffee, tea, salt, pepper, cocoa beans, vinegar,
cloth, silk handkerchiefs, tobacco, playing cards, foreign
paper and logwood.
Ships of all sizes, both foreign and English, sometimes hovered off the coast
for several days while gangs were organised for an illegal landing, and until
the first of several "hovering" acts was passed in 1719 there was
nothing the Customs men could do. If questioned by the skipper of a revenue
vessel, the captains usually claimed they were bound for some place which was
of no concern to the officers, such as the Channel Islands, France or Holland.
The act made hovering illegal within six miles of the coast and many smugglers
now found it safer to bring their goods ashore immediately and, when necessary,
hide them among rocks, in hedges and ditches and coastal cottages, or even bury
them on the beach. A useful alternative in the case of smuggled wine and spirits
was to dump them in the sea and collect them later - a method which was to become
standard practice among later generations of smugglers and which became known
as "sowing the crop".
In November 1720, some fishermen from Abbotsbury made an unusual catch a mile
offshore near Burton Bradstock and sparked
off a remarkable chain of events which ended with a question being asked in
the House of Commons. The catch consisted of twenty-three ankers of brandy and
two barrels of wine, which had been "moored with ropes to stones"
and sunk. The casks were brought ashore at Abbotsbury and lodged at the home
of the local Excise officer, a man called Whitteridge, but were then "re-seized"
by William Bradford, bailiff to the Lord of the Manor, Mr. Thomas Strangways.
Bradford kept the wine and spirits under lock and key for several days, claiming
that his master was entitled to take them for his own use, as one of his manorial
The young Customs officer at Abbotsbury, Joseph Hardy, was repeatedly ordered
by Philip Taylor to retrieve the goods, but when he did so, he was obstructed
by a gang of locals and immediately lost them again. Taylor commented sarcastically:
"They [Hardy and Whitteridge] being both the most original fools I ever
met with or heard of, in the scuffle of taking the goods away I can't find any
blow was struck on either side and (it appears) that the heroical officers were
directly frighted out of their goods."
Taylor recognised, though, that just about every person in Abbotsbury was an
employee of Strangways, and he concluded that the only way to settle the matter
was to call in the army, who had been ordered to help the fight against smuggling
when requested. Accordingly he sent a message to Lieutenant Carr, commanding
officer of Lord Irwin's Regiment of Horse quartered at Dorchester, and on November
16, Quartermaster William Thomson left the county town with Joseph Hardy and
eighteen troops. On arriving at Abbotsbury, they found "a great mob
of people gathering themselves about them" and Hardy summoned the parish
constable and tithingman and asked them to help keep the peace. At the sight
of the troops, Bradford the bailiff changed his attitude rather suddenly, handed
over the keys and allowed Hardy to recapture the goods in the face of a vociferous
but otherwise peaceful crowd.
But this was not the end of the story. Strangways, refusing to accept defeat,
later claimed that the casks of wine and brandy were not contraband at all but
salvage from a wrecked ship; he also made a complaint to the Secretary at War
concerning the involvement of the troops; and he persuaded one of his gentlemen
friends to raise the matter in parliament but to no avail.
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Methods of smuggling
in the second half of the 18th century
Customs records show that in 1764 ships of the East India Company smuggled
tea into this country estimated at seven million pounds annually.
Smugglers had by now refined the art of hiding goods and of avoiding duties
on their imported goods. Below are some of the methods used:
Tea cases were fitted between the vessel's timbers and were made to resemble
the floors of the ship.
18 lbs. of tea could be hidden under the cape or petticoat trouser worn by
the fishermen and pilots of the vessels.
Cotton bags made into the shape of the crown of a hat, a cotton waistcoat,
and a cotton bustle and thigh pieces carried in all 30lbs. of tea.
Tobacco, another taxed commodity, was valuable contraband. Made into ropes
of two strands, it was coiled with the real rope in the lugger, and was even
put into a special compartment in casks of imported bones which were used for
The wooden fenders slung over the sides of a ship were hollowed out and filled
There were other ways of bringing in extra tobacco without actual smuggling.
As tobacco readily absorbs moisture from the air, it increases in weight in
damp localities. One manufacturer avoided paying too much duty on his cargo
by establishing a series of drying rooms on one of the Channel
Islands. This room was heated to 90 degrees and he despatched large quantities
of leaf tobacco to the depot.
After it had dried out, the tobacco was tightly packed into barrels and then
imported to England. He paid the duty on the dried tobacco, thus tobacco weighing
100 lbs. could, by drying, be reduced to 60 lbs.
It was then taken to a factory, unpacked, and exposed to the air, and regained
its original weight. A handsome profit was made by the manufacturer. Later,
a law was passed imposing duty on tobacco "according to the quantity
of moisture contained therein". Since the rate was higher if the tobacco
was dried, then there was no point in the tobacco being dry.
Spirits, both brandy and gin, had intriguing journeys into our ports.
Brandy was chiefly imported from France. Excellent cognac was shipped from Roscoff.
Gin, popular with the troops who had taken part in the Dutch wars, was imported
from the Low Countries. Flushing exported gin chiefly to the East Coast.
Brandy or gin tubs, roped singly or in pairs and anchored with sinking stones,
could be cut off easily and left with markers if Revenue Cutters were in sight.
Tubs of spirits were packed into the hollowed keels of boats, hidden under
false bottoms, or fitted into rafts or punts which were floated on a flood tide
to persons waiting on the shore.
In his book on Boldre, in the New Forest, Mr. Frank Perkins tells about smugglers
at Pitts Deep, Boldre, Hampshire.
"The kegs of spirits, roped together, were sunk and marked with a float,
about one quarter of a mile from the shore, in the Pitts Deep stream, at a spot
known as Brandy Hole. The kegs were floated ashore by punts, as by this way
it was easier to sink them if a coastguard arrived.
The kegs were carried from the shore by a gang of local men to carts which
were waiting a short distance away, but if dangerous for the carts to load up,
the kegs were easily slung across the shoulders, generally one in front and
two behind. The pay was 2/ 6d. per keg."
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Not only were women useful to the smugglers as signallers and carriers of messages
from members of the gang to each other, but they actually brought goods in from
the shore for them.
The voluminous skirt was a particularly useful fashion, for the women wound
yards of silk and lace round their bodies and reached home as a rule quite peacefully
with their contraband.
There have been cases, however, when women have, on inspection, been found
to have had their petticoats puffed out by bladders filled with spirits.
A report from a Hampshire Chronicle of March 25th 1799 stated that
"A woman of the name of Maclane, residing at Gosport, accustomed to
supply the crew of Queen Charlotte with slops went out in a wherry to Spithead,
when a sudden squall coming on, the boat sank; the watermen were drowned, but
the life of the woman was providentially saved, by being buoyed up with a quantity
of bladders, which had been secreted round her for the purpose of smuggling
liquor into the ship, until she was picked up by the boat of a transport lying
near." A case of being buoyed up by good spirits no doubt!
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In a report from the Customs House at Weymouth in
1804, Burton's Hive Beach is mentioned:
"The articles generally smuggled from this part of the coast are chiefly
brandy, rum and geneva, to which may be added a small quantity of wine, tobacco
and salt, the whole from the islands of Guernsey and Alderney, which are imported
in casks containing from four to six gallons each in vessels from ten to thirty
tons burthen in the winter, and in the summer season in boats from three to
eight or nine tons carrying three hundred and fifty casks, which are generally
sunk on rafts till a convenient opportunity offers for taking them up, which
they put into boats and distribute them along the coast at Portland and on the
beach called Chiswell Beach as far west as Burton Hive,
which is about sixteen miles in extent. It then gets into the hands of women
and others, who disperse it in small quantities in the country for five or six
miles round, and what is not got rid of in this manner is conveyed on horses
forty or fifty miles up the country; but when from tempestuous weather the smugglers
cannot sink their goods, they then work to the eastward of that island and sink
and disperse it in like manner.
The places for landing the smuggled goods to the eastward of this place
are Jordan Gate, Upton Mills, Ringstead Beach, Mupe, Arish Mill [Mell] and Worbarrow
Beach. The three latter are the most noted places. It frequently happens that
large vessels carrying from four to six or seven hundred casks land their cargoes
at these places, which vessels do not belong to or are known to any in this
part of the coast. This they carry off in waggons, carts or on horse, escorted
by large gangs of smugglers in defiance to the officers on this station, but
goods so brought come not with the calculation we have formed which, from the
best information we have been able to collect, and which concurs with our opinion,
we suppose may amount to ten thousand casks annually, but none of which we apprehend
reaches the metropolis
In 1813, the Poole officers provided more details of
the sinking method:
The practice of sinking tubs (as the small casks of spirits were now known)
became far more common during the Napoleonic wars, from which we must conclude
that the preventive forces had at least become sufficiently effective to force
the smugglers to adopt a little more secrecy than had previously been employed.
As early as 1804 the Weymouth collector stated that casks were "generally
sunk on rafts till a convenient opportunity offers for taking them up",
and in 1813 the Poole officers provided more details of the sinking method.
"The manner in which the contraband trade is at present carried on,
we learn, is for the importing craft to sink their goods according to a previous
arrangement at different and distant places on the coast without the necessity
of any communication on the shore. The goods being in a manner secure by being
thus sunk, the smuggler, proceeding by land, acquaints the owners of the marks
by which they may find their respective goods. The means by which the landing
is effected is small open boats, usually employed during the day in fishing,
which at night are hauled upon the beach, frequently immediately contiguous
to the spot where contraband goods are sunk. These afford considerable facility
to the smuggler, who thereby is enabled to suit his own convenience in landing
his goods, which (availing himself of opportunity) he may effect in a single
hour without previously creating the least suspicion. It therefore is not surprising
that small quantities are introduced into the country in spite of every exertion
and vigilance of the preventive officers.
The number of casks usually landed in this manner is from twenty to forty
and are with inconceivable promptitude conveyed to and concealed in caves (or
as they are demanded by the smugglers' sellers) situated in the vicinity of
the spot where the landing takes place. These caves or cellars are formed with
so much secrecy or ingenuity that their detection amounts almost to a matter
of impossibility. They are known to be capable of containing from two to five
hundred casks. On the North Shore, where heretofore was a good and principal
resort for smugglers, we cannot learn that any goods at all have been worked.
Two casks have been taken but these, we apprehend, were part of a quantity sunk
to the westward and broke up in a gale of wind."
In his book on Dorset smuggling in the 18th and 19th Century ("Smuggling
in Hampshire & Dorset"), Geoffrey Morley talks of the old Dove
Inn in Burton Bradstock (sadly now closed) which was a depot for contraband.
In 1804, Weymouth Customs believed that casks were sunk on rafts between Portland
and Burton Hive beach.
In 1822 coastguard boatmen William Forward and Timothy Tollerway saw two boats
being rowed towards Burton beach, from which whistling signals came. Three smugglers
were confronted, who ran away, dropping their tubs. There were often fights
between smugglers and coast-guards, and those unlucky enough to be caught and
imprisoned, ended up at Dorchester Gaol (Roger - Guttridge adds that the prison
was known as St Peter's Palace).
However, the war against smuggling becomes more effective
in the 19th century
THE YEARS IMMEDIATELY following the Napoleonic wars saw a considerable strengthening
of the preventive forces all around the British coast. The clampdown had begun
in 1805, with the attempt to eliminate the Channel Islands as a contraband trading
centre, and had continued in 1809 when the government, concerned at the help
the smugglers were giving the emperor, introduced a new force, the Preventive
Waterguard, to support the existing services. It consisted of a large number
of cruisers and boats under the command of naval officers, whose duty was to
patrol the coastal areas while revenue cruisers sailed further out to sea and
riding officers guarded the land.
But it was the ending of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 which brought about the
biggest changes. The long-awaited peace led to the demobilisation of three hundred
thousand soldiers and sailors, many of whom had no other trade or occupation
in which to channel their energies. The Lords Commissioners to the Treasury
accurately predicted that "after so long a period of war in every part
of Europe, many of the most daring professional men, discharged from their occupation
and averse to the daily labour of agricultural or mechanical employment, will
be the ready instruments of those desperate persons who have a little capital,
and are hardy enough to engage in this [smuggling] traffic".
Although there were more potential smugglers around, there were also more soldiers,
sailors and preventive men to combat them. Over the next few years, a whole
series of measures were taken to increase the numbers of those employed in the
prevention of smuggling and to improve co-operation between them. The Waterguard
was reorganised into thirty-one districts, each under the command of a naval
officer or a former revenue cruiser commander, and these districts were subdivided
into one hundred and fifty-one stations each manned by a chief officer, chief
boatman and boatmen. Inspecting officers were appointed to visit both Waterguard
and riding officers and combined operations were arranged between the various
lines of defence to improve efficiency. Naval vessels and troops of soldiers
were also drafted in to aid the struggle.
The preventive service
The coasts of Kent and Sussex were given special protection in 1817 with the
establishment of the coast blockade, but this was not extended as far as Dorset.
However, in 1822 the preventive services were given a further overhaul. The
Waterguard, revenue cruisers and riding officers were amalgamated under the
control of the Board of Customs and given a new collective name, the Coastguard.
Terraces of cottages to house the Coastguard officers were built at strategic
spots all along the coast, at Lyme Regis, Chideock, Burton
Bradstock, Bridport, Abbotsbury, Kimmeridge, St. Albans Head, Swanage,
Studland, Brownsea and Bourne Bottom.
In the 1820's
Opening page of instructions to the Coastguard, 1829. Source: HMSO (The instructions
are quite clear!)
All officers and Persons employed in the Coast Guard, are to bear in mind
that the sole object of their appointment is the Protection of the Revenue:
and that their utmost endeavours are therefore to be used to prevent the landing
of uncustomed goods, and to seize all persons, vessels, boats, cattle, and carriages,
in any way employed in Smuggling and all goods liable to be forfeited by law.
Every Person in the Coast Guard is to consider it his first and most important
object to secure the person of the Smuggler; and the reward granted for each
smuggler convicted, or the share of the penalty recovered from him, will be
paid (on the Certificate of the Inspecting Commander) to the person or persons
by whom the smuggler is absolutely taken and secured, and not to the crew in
Every Officer and Person employed in the Coast Guard is hereby strictly
charged not to do, consent to, abet, or conceal any act or thing wherein or
In the 1870s - Bonfire signals
Charles Warne, in "Ancient Dorset", 1872, states that an Act of Parliament
made the lighting of fires along the coast as a signal to homeward bound smuggling
craft, was a punishable offence and Thomas Hardy, in "The Distracted Preacher",
has Lizzy Newberry at new moon light a bush on the cliff, to warn the smugglers
that the "Preventive-men knew where the tubs were to be landed". She
expected they would then sink the tubs, strung to a stray-line at sea, to be
later raised by a "creeper", a grapnel.
Back to Smuggling index
Stories of some less
well known local smugglers
The most persistently troublesome centres in the Lyme Custom House area were
Beer in Devon, and Chideock and Burton Bradstock
in Dorset. At Chideock and Seatown, practically every family was involved in
the trade, with the Bartletts, Farwells, Oxenburys and Orchards leading the
way. A nineteenth century vicar of Chideock, the Rev. C. V. Goddard, wrote in
his notes on smuggling:
"The fishing interest seems to have slipped away with the dwellings
at Seatown. Some say the fish have left the coast but others (with whom I agree)
that in the old days the fishermen lived more by smuggling than by fishing.
They were a hardy lot, and the son of one of them, himself engaged in the trade
as a youth, recalls the smuggling yarns that he, as a little boy, used to hear
them tell and the adventures in which he later took part. There were wild rushes
to the West Rocks (beneath Golden Cap) when a boat-load of spirits was being
rowed ashore from a ship lying out at sea, each man readily shouldering his
share of the load - two small kegs - and scrambling off as fast as his legs
would carry him. He would find his own way inland to a safe retreat. Cranborne
Chase, being a wild, uninhabited district, and the central moors of Dorset,
were favourite hiding places."
There was a rumpus on the beach at Seatown in 1824, when Chideock coastguards
Joseph Davy and John Rigler tried to seize a smuggling vessel, the Fancy, from
Seaton in Devon as she was setting off from the beach. Davy managed to make
a technical seizure by marking the boat with a broad arrow but was then set
upon by Robert and William Foss, two of the smugglers. Robert Foss held up his
fist to Davy and shouted: "Damn your eyes! This shall be the worst day's
work you ever did in your life." William Foss then grabbed Davy by
the collar, demanded to know what business he had in seizing the boat and held
him until a team of horses, which the officer wanted to use to drag the boat
back up the beach, had been removed from the scene.
The mill at Chideock had a secret room under the floor of miller James Gerrard's
living quarters. It was discovered by the village riding officer, Samuel Dawson,
when he searched the premises in 1820, and there he found two casks of brandy
and two of geneva. Gerrard was not the most considerate of millers and tried
to put the blame on his servant boy, Samuel Long alias Dido. He claimed Dido
was "in the habit of going down to the beach to fetch tubs continually",
and that a day or two earlier, he had said to him: "That's a really
good place to hide tubs, master. The officers will never find them there".
Gerrard's story fell flat, however, when it was learned that upon hearing of
the discovery, his brother, Anthony, who also lived in the house, "went
away into the country" and disappeared for a while.
Dawson and Excise man Samuel Hall discovered another secret room at nearby
Whitchurch Canonicorum two years later. They were searching the home of a suspected
tub-carrier, John Wakely, and noticed a new partition in one of the upper rooms.
Wakely insisted it was just a very thick wall and proceeded to leave the house
with his wife and sons without further ado. Left to search the building in their
own good time, the officers eventually found a trapdoor leading from a workshop
below the stairs. In the hollow compartment were four casks of brandy
and three of geneva.
If there was any smuggling at all in south-west Dorset, the preventive officers
could be sure to find it at Burton Bradstock
for this had long been a noted contraband centre and official fears of a great
revival in the trade there after the peace in 1815 were well-judged. Here and
at Swyre, two or three miles to the east, the Northovers had a finger in every
tub and provided regular employment for the keeper of Dorchester Gaol.
There was a violent clash on the beach at Burton
in December 1822 and inevitably at least one Northover, James the younger, of
Litton Cheney, was involved. He was supposed to have struck an officer with
a stone but was later acquitted at Dorchester Assizes. The incident began between
nine and ten in the evening, when Coastguard boatmen saw two boats being rowed
towards the shore and heard whistling, which they took to be a signal to someone
on the shore. Three or four men came down the beach and one was heard to say:
"Go further east." The coastguards, William Forward and Timothy
Tollerway, crept along the beach and came face to face with three smugglers,
who dropped the tubs from their backs and ran off. Their comrades were less
cooperative. Leaving Tollerway to look after the discarded goods, Forward crept
on and seized another dozen or so tubs, then fired his pistol to summon assistance.
At this, the remaining smugglers converged on Forward, held his arms to prevent
his firing again and dragged him to the water's edge. He called for help and
Tollerway fired his pistol, but before other officers arrived, fighting broke
out and several smugglers were wounded, though they still managed to escape
with all but two of the tubs. Only Northover and sixty-four-year-old William
Churchill, of Puncknowle, were detained and the latter spent fourteen months
in Dorchester prison for smuggling and assault.
The Northovers of Swyre and Litton Cheney were anxious to maintain the traditions
established by their forefathers. They and other smugglers threatened coastguards
from Bridport with sticks and bludgeons when a landing at Swyre was interrupted
in 1825. James Northover threatened to kill the chief boatman if he came any
closer, but the officer was undaunted and gave chase. One smuggler escaped by
jumping over a hedge, the others by scrambling over a stone wall. The officer
was about to climb the wall himself when Joseph Northover let fly with his fists
and delivered a blow which "rendered him insensible for a short time".
The smugglers got away but John Thorne alias Thorner was later imprisoned for
obstructing the officers. The Northovers were convicted but not imprisoned,
although James twice visited the county gaol and was impressed into the navy
for another offence in 1827.
The 'last' smuggling run.
The notes of the Rev. Goddard date the last run at Chideock as late as 1882.
It was led by the sixty-nine-year-old veteran smuggler Sam Bartlett and began
with the customary exchange of signals with the French vessel hovering off the
coast. All was well as the Chideock smugglers put off from Seatown in a boat
to collect their tubs. But the transfer took longer than expected and they knew
the Coastguard patrol would now be in position. After delaying awhile, the boat
approached the shore at Eype's Mouth, where other smugglers were waiting. There
was a mishap, with one man falling down the cliff and colliding with another,
scarring him for life. A few tubs were landed but then the patrol was spotted
and the alarm raised. The smugglers decided to open a tub rather than risk having
it seized, but one of them drank so much that he died an extremely merry death.
The boat put to sea again and sank the tubs off Seatown.
Months passed before another opportunity presented itself. This time an attempt
was made at Burton Bradstock, but the surf
was running high and no boat could go in or out. A few tubs were landed, and
removed through a potato field by waggon, but half the original cargo remained
at sea. Another landing was attempted below Thorncombe Beacon, but the preventive
men were alerted, the boat's tackle got hitched and the tubs were dumped back
in the sea once more.
Some days passed before the tubs were raised again. This time the chosen spot
was the sluices of Bridport Harbour. A few more tubs were put ashore
but then the preventives intervened and once more the boat put to sea. Eventually
it made its way to Abbotsbury where, at last, the final part of the cargo was
So ended Chideock's last run and, almost certainly, the last significant run
of good French brandy into Dorset. It had taken six months, three sinkings and
five attempts at landing. Earlier generations of smugglers must have been writhing
in their graves in shame as the last of their breed dithered and dallied and
ferried their tubs hither and thither, desperate to avoid contact with the revenue
men. "What matter if the gobblers were about? Could they not be bribed
with a keg or two, or beaten into submission, or shot out of existence?"
Ghosts in Burton Bradstock?
It has been suggested that local ghost stories were encouraged by smugglers
as a cover up for nocturnal activities, for example, a headless dog which crosses
the road at Catholes. Also, a coach with four headless horsemen and horses between
Burton Bradstock and Shipton Gorge at mid-night. Could it be that these were
smugglers stories to keep people off the roads at night, or are there really
ghosts in Burton Bradstock?
In the 20th century
There was, until 1912, a coastguard station in the hamlet of Seatown to the
west of Bridport Harbour. The old people of the area have said that some
old smugglers' cottages fell into the sea due to the slipping away of the coast.
The fishermen-smugglers who lived there were 'a hardy lot' they say.
From West Bay, the chief route of the free-traders would appear to have
been "through Powerstock and Hooke, then over Toller Down".
At Toller Down there was an inn much frequented by the smugglers called The
Jolly Sailor. The ruins of the inn may still be there.
Back to Smuggling index
Three notorious local smugglers:
The two most famous smugglers in the area were Jack Rattenbury and Isaac
Gulliver. Although neither was based in Burton Bradstock, they would have
used Hive Beach to land many cargoes and no doubt stored the booty in
the village prior to dispersal:
1) Jack Rattenbury - From
'Smuggler' by Eileen Hathaway - see Books & Publications
Throughout his life, John Rattenbury earned his living on the sea, sometimes
as a fisherman, sometimes as a pilot, occasionally as a merchant seaman,
but mostly as a smuggler. As a smuggler he became so notorious that an
enterprising Sidmouth printer prevailed upon him to relate some of his
adventures for a book. The result was Memoirs of a Smuggler, published
in 1837. It was a slim volume which gave contemporary readers tantalising
glimpses of smuggling activities in the West Country in the first four
decades of the 19th Century. But glimpses were all they could be. Writing
within a year of his last acknowledged venture, Rattenbury had to protect
the identifies of former associates, some of whom were still smuggling,
and therefore said little about smuggling activities in which he was not
directly involved. He is virtually silent about the methods used to transport
the contraband inland after it had been landed, and about the places it
was hidden. The effect is a narrative which frustrates through omission.
My aim in producing this publication is to offer the modern reader more
than Rattenbury does, and you will therefore find on these pages not only
his sketchy canvas but much of the detail and colour he left out.
Rattenbury lived in Beer so the emphasis is on that village and its environs,
but he travelled far during his lifetime. His voyages as a youth - some
of them aboard privateers took him as far south as Portugal and the Azores,
as far east as Gothenburg, and as far west as New York and Newfoundland.
As a smuggler Rattenbury conveyed contraband from the Channel Islands
and Cherbourg, and was intimate with the coast from Portsmouth and the
Isle of Wight to Falmouth. At the peak of his career his operations were
variously centred around Weymouth and Portland, Lyme, Seaton and Beer,
Sidmouth, and Dartmouth; and he had skirmishes with customs men and press
gangs in places as far apart as Cowes, Bridport, Newton Abbot,
Dawlish, Teignmouth and Falmouth. His escapades were many, avoiding a
prison sentence in Bodmin jail only by escaping on his way there.
Rattenbury's smuggling boat was a three-masted lugger called Brothers,
built in Beer in 1807. The official owner was Abraham Mutter, a Burton
Bradstock shipwright. She was captured by two Cowes cutters
on 11 May 1808 with 135 small casks of spirits aboard. A report at Cowes
gives the captain of the Swallow as Amos, and the Captain of the
Stork as Ferris. Brothers was condemned for illicit trading.
Its registration was cancelled on 28 March 1809 and it was broken up at
Cowes. The reward for Amos and Ferris - their moiety on the sale of the
spirits and the boat's materials - came to £71 each.
By 1814, things were getting tough as Jack Rattenbury writes:
"At the beginning of 1814 trade was extremely dull because of
fluctuating nature of our public affairs. Smuggling was also at a standstill.
However, I was always on the look-out because I had a large family, so
when I heard that Mr Downe**, a gentleman then residing at Bridport,
wanted a person to rig a vessel and go fishing for him, I immediately
went to see him and offered to undertake the job. He made some enquiries,
found that I was capable of doing it, and agreed to employ myself and
my son (William, then 12) on very liberal terms.
We went to Bridport where we were engaged in this work from
February till the end of April, when the vessel was ready for sea. Mr.
Downe then paid myself and my son at the rate of 27 shillings per week
for our joint labour, and discharged our bill at the public-house where
we had lodged during the whole time we were employed on it.
We went fishing in the vessel until July, and were paid by the share.
We found, however, that this speculation would not answer because Bridport
was an inconvenient place to go in and out at. 0ur employer ordered the
vessel to be laid up, and we went home again.
This engagement proved a great relief to my circumstances for, as
I said, every other kind of trade was very dead."
**In the second half of the 18th Century, the Downes were one of the
leading families in Bridport. William Downe 1744-1820, was the most notable,
being both a ship-owner in Bridport and a merchant in London where he
had a wharf. In about 1789, he built in Bridport a replica of his London
home, calling it Downe Hall. A Nathaniel Downe was bailiff of Bridport
several times between 1807 and 1816. Unfortunately there are no clues
in Rattenbury's narrative as to which Downe it was that hired him and
his son to go fishing.
Back to Smuggling index
2) Isaac Gulliver
Smugglers used the Dove Inn at Burton Bradstock
as a rendezvous, and Isaac Gulliver himself probably drank in the pub,
since in 1776 he
bought Eggardon Hill, a prehistoric earthwork a little way inland, specifically
to guide his ships to the coast.
Isaac Gulliver junior, the uncrowned king of Wiltshire and Dorset smugglers,
was born in true Moonraker country, at Semington, Wiltshire, in 1745.
He is described in the Semington baptism register as the son of Isaac
and Elizabeth Gulliver, though his father seems to have had doubts on
the matter, describing him in his will made in 1765 as "my son
or reputed son Isaac Gulliver, otherwise Matravers". Little is
known of his early life but it is apparent that he grew into a man with
both brawn and brains, an invaluable combination for a smuggler. Someone
who saw him at Wimborne during the last years of his life described him
as having Herculean proportions but with a countenance which, despite
his advanced age, still indicated great determination of character. Even
the Customs officers had to admit (in 1788) that he was a person of "great
It is a fair assumption that Gulliver had an early baptism into the smuggling
trade and it was probably his travels in that connection which brought
him into contact with the people of Cranborne Chase, a noted haunt of
smugglers and rogues of every kind. Presumably this was also how he met
Elizabeth Beale, whom he married at Sixpenny Handley parish church on
October 5, 1768. Gulliver's principal historian, Vic Adams of Blandford,
believed Elizabeth was the daughter of William Beale, who kept the Blacksmith's
Arms at Thorney Down, on the Blandford to Salisbury road, then one of
the main contraband transportation routes. Soon after his marriage, Gulliver
himself took over the pub and changed its name to the King's Arms. In
William Beale, he had probably found not only a father-in-law and fellow
innkeeper but also a partner in crime.
Gulliver developed a large and successful business - he invested his
money widely and wisely and most of his investments were funded directly
or indirectly by the profits from smuggling ventures. His network of carriers
and outlets was vast, stretching certainly into Hampshire in the east
and Devon in the west, and probably much further afield. His fame was
such that the historian of Lyme Regis, George Roberts, wrote in the nineteenth
"A smuggler named Gulliver kept forty or fifty men constantly
employed who wore a kind of livery, powdered hair, and smock frocks, from
which they attained the name of 'White Wigs'. These men kept together
and would not allow a few officers to take what they were carrying when
the law was altered and seizures made from weaker parties. Gulliver amassed
a large fortune and lived to a good old age. Till of late years, a chamber
open towards the sea at the mouth of the River Lyme, was in existence,
where the White Wigs took refreshment and remained in waiting until their
services were required. This was about one hundred yards from the Custom
Isaac Gulliver was regarded by Customs officers as "one of the
greatest and most notorious smugglers in the West of England and particularly
in the spirits and tea trade". Not only was he a speculative
genius: he was also a master in the art of keeping one step ahead of the
law and it was his proud boast that no revenue officer had ever suffered
physical harm at the hands of men under his command. He preferred subtle
Thus, while other smugglers risked prosecution by signalling with fire
from the coastal clifftops, Gulliver bought one of Dorset's highest points,
Eggardon Hill, ten miles west of Dorchester, five miles inland and more
than eight hundred feet above sea level, and created there a small plantation
of trees to serve as a landmark to smuggling ships. The trees are supposed
to have been cut down by order of the government but traces still remain
of the octagonal bank and ditch built by Gulliver to protect his saplings
from the winds which swept across the hill.
To Isaac Gulliver, the best method of secrecy was openness, like selling
wines and spirits from a shop, like posing as a corpse in an open coffin
and, according to another legend, like disguising himself as a shepherd
and spending a whole day in Wimborne Market under the noses of the Excise
men who were seeking to arrest him.
In 1782 he threw all his cards on the table and took advantage of the
government's offer to pardon smugglers who agreed either to serve in the
navy themselves or to provide two substitutes to serve for them. Gulliver
would have had, no difficulty in finding the funds necessary to buy the
services of a couple of volunteers. According to the Poole Customs officials
who may or may not have been telling the whole truth, if indeed they knew
it - Gulliver gave up smuggling tea and spirits after 1782 and concentrated
on wine, which they appear to have regarded less seriously.
Back to Smuggling index
3) The Colonel of Bridport.
For a considerable time a successful gang of free-traders, under the
leadership of a man called the 'Colonel', operated along the coast from
Seatown to Charmouth. Their chief landing ground was St. Gabriel's Mouth.
Much of the contraband was delivered locally and the Church Tower was
used as a hiding place in an emergency, but the free traders usually worked
their way across Marshwood Vale to inland market towns.
However, even the Colonel had his problems - there is a tale of how one
of his organised landings came unstuck and the very large cargo had to
be sunk to avoid discovery by the Authorities. This cargo later floated
ashore all along the coastline at Eype's Mouth, Burton
Bradstock, West Bay and Abbotsbury, much to the joy
of the local villagers.
Legend says that the Colonel's gang was so successful they solicited
orders in advance from their customers, and supplied many local Bridport
Inns on a regular basis.
Back to Smuggling index
Poem on Burton Bradstock:
William Crowe, Rector of Stoke Abbott from 1782-1788, wrote a poem, "Lewes-Dun
Hill" which refers to Burton Bradstock.:
"These, Burton, and thy lofty cliff, where oft
The nightly blaze is kindled; further seen ...
The stealth - approaching vessel, homeward bound
From Havre or the Norman Isles, with freight
of wines and hotter drinks, the trash of France,
If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse's feet,
Don't go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street.
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie,
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark
Brandy for the Parson,
'Baccy for the Clerk;
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
Running round the woodlump if you chance to find
Little barrels, roped and tarred, all full of brandy-wine,
Don't you shout to come and look, nor use 'em for your play.
Put the brushwood back again - and they'll be gone next day!
If you see the stable-door setting open wide;
If you see a tired horse lying down inside;
If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore;
If the lining's wet and warm - don't you ask no more!
If you meet King George's men, dressed in blue and red,
You be careful what you say, and mindful what is said.
If they call you "pretty maid", and chuck you 'neath the chin
Don't you tell where no-one is, nor yet where no-one's been!
Knocks and footsteps round the house - whistles after
You've no call for running out till the house-dogs bark.
Trusty's here, and Pincher's here, and see how dumb they
They don't fret to follow when the Gentlemen go by!
If you do as you've been told, 'likely there's a chance,
You'll be given a dainty doll, all the way from France,
With a cap of Valenciennes, and a velvet hood -
A present from the Gentlemen, along o' being good!
Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark
Brandy for the Parson,
'Baccy for the Clerk.
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie -
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
(from Puck of Pook's Hill)
Back to Smuggling index
Part One: A
parish by parish guide to smugglers appearing in the records of Lyme Regis
Quarter Sessions, 1724-49
SUGG, Mordecai, 1728, 2 gals. brandy or strong waters, seized from his
house, the Full Moon.
PENISHIN, William, 1741, 48 lbs tea from his warehouse.
ROSE, John the younger, 1735, 5 3/4 lbs tea from his house.
RUSSEL, George, 1728, 7 gals. brandy or strong
SYMES, Henry, 1735, 2 gals. rum from his house.
SYMES, John, 1735,1 gal. rum.
LAKE, Philip, 1724, 9 gals. brandy from his house; 1725, 5gals. brandy
COSSENS, Samuel, tailor. 1 cask and 1 jug brandy and 1 cask French wine
from his house.
TRINKHOLE, Joseph, 1725, 15 gals, brandy and strong water (with Richard
ROPER, Richard, 1725, 15 gals. brandy.
STEPHENS, Anthony, 1725, 2 bottles brandy, 1 gray mare, saddle, bridle
& sack bag.
ROPER, Simon, 1730, 3 ½ gals. brandy from a cave in his mow barton.
Part Two: A
parish by parish guide to smugglers appearing in the registers of Dorchester
(Details, where known, are given in following order: Name, trade, year
of arrival in prison, age; crime; verdict/sentence, etc. (e.g. fine and
prison sentence served in default of payment); miscellaneous. The registers
also contain certain other details, such as physical characteristics which
are not given here unless of exceptional interest).
HURDEN, James, sailor, 1817, 31; smuggling; £100, 3 1/2 months.
BLANCHARD, Moses, labourer, 1823, 46; smuggling; £100, 9 months.
BOATSWAIN, William, fisherman, 1825, 18; smuggling; £100. 6 months.
1833, 25; smuggling; £100, 1 year.
FERRY, Thomas, fisherman, 1825, 19; smuggling; £100, 6 months.
COUSINS, Moses, basket maker, 1832, 23; smuggling; £100, 2 months.
CREW, John, labourer, 1834, 29; Assaulting & obstructing Customs officers;
death, reprieved, hard labour 1 year (served 2 years).
HALL, John, labourer, 1834, 21; (as John Crew).
GEE, Martha, fisherwoman, 1839, 58; smuggling; 9 months hard labour, served
GEE, John, labourer, 1840, 50, smuggling; 6 months.
ANGELL, Henry, fisherman, 1841, 66; smuggling; 6 months.
ROPER, William, labourer, 1843, 52 smuggling; 6 months.
BAKER, Ann, needle woman, 1830, 32; smuggling; £12.10s., 2 months.
DRAKE, Charlotte, 'no trade', 1817, 36; assaulting and obstructing Excise
officer; bailed; wife of Henry Drake, lives at Bridport but belongs to
RUTLEDGE, Levia, twine spinner, 1820, 60; smuggling; £23 10s. 5d.,
3 months; blind widow.
POWELL, William, shoemaker, 1821, 26; smuggling; £46 13s. 2d,, 5
1/2 months; discharged on account of His Majesty's Coronation.
HOUNSELL, Ruth, shoe thread winder, 1823, 45; smuggling; £50, 5
POWELL, Benjamin, ropemaker and twine spinner, 1823, 36; smuggling; £50,
GERARD, William, labourer, 1823, 50; smuggling; £50, 5 months.
SYMES, Susan, shoe thread winder, 1824, 46; smuggling; £26, 6 months.
BISHOP, Seth, labourer, 1824, 37; smuggling; £26, 6 months.
MARSH, Sam, shoemaker, 1824, 31; smuggling; £26, 6 months.
SHEPPICK, Richard, sailcloth weaver, 1842, 42; smuggling; 1 month.
STROUD, Joan, twine spinner, 1824, 50; smuggling; £50.
GROVES, John, labourer, 1816, 32; making a light
and fire as a signal to person or persons in smuggling vessel; 6 month's
COOMBS, William, labourer, 1821, 41; smuggling; £100, 9 months.
BUCKLER, Mathew, shoemaker, 1826, 26; smuggling; £100, 8 months.
WOODCOCK, John, flax comber, 1836, 24; obstructing Customs officers; 7
months hard labour.
WOODCOCK, Robert, fisherman, 1836, 47; (as John Woodcock).
WILLIAMS, James, fisherman, 1836, 40, obstructing Customs officers; 6
months 'hard labour.
PARSONS, Thomas, fisherman, 1836, 21; (as James Williams).
GERRARD, George, labourer, 1836, 23; (as James Williams).
BEST, James, baker, 1836, 60, (as James Williams).
CHAINEY, James, blacksmith, 1816, 28, smuggling, £100, 16 months;
'very large wide nostrils'
TOMKINS, John, fisherman, 1822, 28: assaulting Customs officers; acquitted,
released after 4 weeks
CHURCHILL, Willam, labourer, I822, 25; unlawfully making a light on the
sea coast: acquitted, 1823, 26 smuggling; 3 months hard labour and £50
security to keep peace for 5 years.
CHURCHILL, William, labourer, 1822, 64, smuggling, £100, 14 months.
1823, 64; assaulting Customs officers, guilty, remanded to Court at King's
Bench for sentence, 8 months.
HANSFORD, Thomas, labourer, 1823, 23; smuggling; £100, 1 year.
SEAL, Henry, labourer, 1834, 21; smuggling and obstructing Customs officers;
bailed and acquitted after 6 months.
NORTHOVER, Henry, fisherman, 1839, 23; smuggling; 6 months.
PRIOR, Richard, labourer, 1835, 34; smuggling; 6 months.
Back to Smuggling index
ANKER: cask usually holding about 8½ gallons, but sometimes varying
from 6 1/2 to 9 gallons.
BARQUE: vessel with fore and main masts square-rigged, mizen fore-and-aft
BARQUENTINE: vessel like a barque but with only foremast square-rigged.
BAT: stout pole, usually of ash and about six feet long, used as weapon
BATMAN: smuggler armed with a bat to defend contraband; the batsmen of
cricket may owe something to the smugglers.
BILL OF LADING: shipmaster's detailed receipt to consignor of a cargo.
BOATMAN: member of a Customs boat crew.
BORFA: an inferior grade of black tea.
BOOK OF RATES: official list of duties on commodities.
BRIGANTINE: square-rigged vessel with two masts.
CARBINE: a short firearm.
CATERPILLAR: a wool-smuggler.
CAR VEL-BUILT VESSEL: vessel built with planks laid edge to edge to increase
CLINKER-BUILT VESSEL: vessel built with overlapping planks for extra strength
at the expense of speed.
COASTGUARD: service introduced in 1822 initially to combat smuggling.
COAST WAITER: officer attending the shipping and landing of all goods
conveyed from one part of the British coast to another.
COLLECTOR OF CUSTOMS: chief officer of a port, responsible for recording
details of all imports, exports and seizures and for supervising other
COMPOSITION: a fine for smuggling, calculated according to value of goods
seized and the smuggler s means.
COMPTROLLER: officer subordinate to collector, responsible for checking
collector's accounts and forwarding a copy to Comptroller General.
COUNTRY: district; county; rural hinterland.
COUNTRY PEOPLE: people, especially smugglers, from the rural hinterland.
CREEPING: dragging the sea-bed to recover contraband. CREEPING IRONS:
grappling irons or hooks used for creeping up sunken casks.
CREEPING UP: see Creeping and Creeping irons.
CROP: cargo of contraband.
CROWN: five shillings (25p).
CUSTOMER: Customs officer originally appointed when the collection of
duties was farmed out, to send a copy of the collector's accounts to the
Treasury. By 1782, it was considered an "obsolete and sinecure office"
which ''ought to be abolished".
CUSTOMS DUTY: tax on goods being imported or exported.
CUTTER: small single-masted sharp-built broad vessel.
DARKS: moonless nights, ideal for smuggling.
DEBENTURES: certificates acknowledging that a refund of duty is due on
imported goods to be re-exported.
DONKEY: single-legged stool used by coastguards; forerunner of the shooting
DOWLAS: a coarse linen or cotton cloth.
DRAGGER BOATS: definition uncertain; possibly boats used for dragging
or dredging sea-bed for oysters; also medieval word for boats used for
DRAGOON: mounted soldier, armed with carbine and sword.
DRAWBACK: refund of Excise duty.
DRY GOODS: non-liquid contraband, especially tea.
DUFFER: unmounted contraband carrier who could carry up to 1 cwt. of tea
or tobacco hidden in the lining of his coat.
EXCISE DUTY: tax on goods produced and sold within the country.
EXTRAMAN: tidewaiter or boatman hired on a casual basis.
FLASKER: smuggler of liquor.
FUNT: smuggler's warning light.
FREE-TRADER: smuggler's name for himself.
FREIGHTER: person responsible for buying contraband abroad.
GALLEY: large open boat propelled by oars, sometimes with a sail.
GAUGER: revenue officer who measured or "gauged" barrels and
GENEVA: a spirit flavoured with juniper berries; gin.
GOBBLER: smuggler's name for revenue official.
GROAT: a silver coin, originally the 4c1. piece of Edward I, issued 1279-1662.
GUINEABOAT: a fast galley, used for carrying guineas to France.
HAGBOAT: type of 18th century merchant vessel with a beak-head and hull-planking
which continued around the stern.
HALF-ANKER: cask holding about 4 gallons; the favourite size of later
generations of smugglers.
HIDE: place for concealing contraband. HIGGLING CART: cart of a hawker
or peddler of small merchandise.
HOGSHEAD: cask holding about 54 gallons.
HOLLANDS: Dutch gin.
HOT: mixture of gin and brandy served warm; a favourite tipple of smugglers.
HOY: vessel, usually sloop-rigged, used for fishing or coastal trading.
HYSON: a green tea from China.
KEG: a cask.
KETCH: vessel rigged fore-and-aft on two masts.
LANDSHARKS: smuggler's name for land-based revenue officers.
LAND SURVEYOR: Customs officer in charge of landwaiters.
LANDGUARD: collective name for Customs riding officers.
LANDWAITER: Customs officer responsible for recording quantity and quality
of all imported goods on landing.
LUGGER: two- or three-masted vessel with four-cornered sails set fore-and-aft.
MILITIA: non-professional military force, employed when needed.
NOYAU: a French liqueur.
OCTOBER: the strongest beer, brewed in the month of October.
PACKET: vessel carrying mail and passengers.
PIPE: wine cask holding 105 gallons.
PORTER: contraband carrier.
PRIVATEER: privately owned ship, armed, and licensed by government to
capture enemy vessels.
RHENISH: wine from the Rhine valley.
RIDING OFFICER: mounted Customs officer, first appointed 1699, to patrol
in search of smugglers and hidden or abandoned contraband.
RUN: a smuggling operation.
SCHOONER: fore-and-aft-rigged vessel with foremast shorter than mainmast.
SEARCHER: Customs officer appointed to issue certificates for goods entitled
to drawback (refund of duty); office usually converted to a sinecure ,by
appointment of a deputy.
SITTER: officer in charge of a Customs boat crew.
SLOOP: one-masted fore-and-aft-rigged vessel.
SMACK: vessel similar to a cutter, used for carrying merchandise or passengers.
SMOUCH: smuggler's name for elder and ash leaves shredded t'6 resemble
tea and sold as such.
SOOSE: a coin.
SOOSEY: a type of cloth.
SOUCHONG: a type of black tea from India or Ceylon.
SOWING THE CROP: the practice of sinking casks in the sea with weights
SPOTSMAN: member of smuggling crew responsible for choosing safest landing
STINKIBUS: foul-smelling spirits which have gone off after prolonged submersion
in the sea.
STRONGWATERS: diluted brandy.
SUPERVISOR OF EXCISE: officer in charge of Excise officers in a particular
SUPERVISOR OF RIDING OFFICERS: Customs officer in charge of several riding
SURVEYOR: supervising officer of a Customs district. TIDE SURVEYOR: supervisor
of tidewaiters, responsible for rummaging ships arriving in port to see
that no goods are concealed for clandestine landing.
TIDEWAITER: Customs officer responsible for searching ships arriving in
port to ensure that no goods are concealed for running as contraband.
TIERCE: a provision cask equalling one-third of a pipe.
TUB: small cask.
TUB-BOAT: boat used for smuggling small casks.
TUBMAN: smuggler employed to carry small casks.
TURNED OFF: hanged.
ULLAGED CASK: cask only partly full.
VENTURE: an investment in a run of contraband.
VENTURER: smuggler's financial backer.
WATERGUARD: collective name for Customs men operating at sea.
WEIGHER: a labourer or porter employed to unpack and weigh goods for landwaiters,
searchers and coast-waiters.
WORKING THE CROP: the practice of recovering sunken casks.
YAWL: two-masted fore-and-aft-rigged vessel.
YEOMANRY: volunteer cavalry force.
Back to Smuggling index
SMUGGLING CENTRES IN LYME BAY
Weymouth was the centre
of preventive operations for the area, but from custom house correspondence
it would seem that the smugglers were not strongly opposed: at the end of the
17th century, the collector of customs at Weymouth was described in an official
report in terms far from glowing. He had...'a debauched life and conversation,
seldom sober, and hardly ever goes to bed till three or four a clock in the
morning and many times not all night.' The customs officers of Portland were
little help: of one was said he 'never did any service, but rather the contrary'.
Other staff seem to have included the halt and the lame: an official appointed
in 1719 was 'an old man...[who] cannot see anything at a distance'.
The failings and corruption of the Weymouth officials
had historic origins: even in the early 16th century the ironically named
George Whelplay had difficulty making any progress against concerted local
support for smuggling. He was originally a London Haberdasher, but he contrived
to make considerable sums of money by becoming a public informer. As such
he was entitled to half of the fine levied on people caught as a result of
his actions. Since smuggling amounted to a national pastime, this did not
make him a popular man. He overstepped the mark in 1538, incurring the wrath
not only of the crooked merchants, but also of the customs officials themselves.
He had uncovered a plan to illegally export
horses to France, and had intercepted the cargo. However, he was also aware
that 3 French ships were at anchor in Weymouth harbour, ready to set sail with
contraband on board. Whelplay had tried to enlist the help of local officials
in rounding up the three French boats, but far from assisting, the controller,
searcher and deputy customer joined a gang of merchants to set about the informer.
It appears he didn't learn his lessons easily-soon
afterwards he tried again to intercept 200 horses bound for France. This time
he was beaten with bills, swords and staves, again by customs officials among
Weymouth and Portland
With such a history of incompetence
and dishonest staff, and a determined band of local smugglers, it was inevitable
that the Weymouth customs authorities would have problems, sometimes with tragic
consequences. In June 1770 a large run of contraband was expected on the coast
near Weymouth, and the tide-surveyor took a boat out to intercept the smugglers.
According to stories related after the incident, the custom-house boat and its
five crew was run down by a smuggling cutter (allegedly a Folkestone vessel).
The witness to this event claimed that...
he saw a cutter run down the King's boat...taking
her upon the larboard quarter, and that he particularly saw Mr. John Bishop
the tide surveyor take hold of the Bowsprit shroud or Jibb jack in order to
save himself, and on that, the people on board the cutter let go the shroud...
However, it has to be said that the witness was 'much in
Liquor' when reporting the drowning. In another incident a customs house officer
was murdered at the 16th century Black Dog Inn in the town, while trying to
arrest a smuggler who had taken refuge there.
The battle between the revenue men and smugglers wasn't
entirely one-sided, as a tombstone on the outskirts of Weymouth testifies.
In its shadow lies the body of a smuggler cut down by a shot from a smuggling
schooner. His bitter wife had this epitaph carved on the stone :
Of life bereft, by fell design
I mingle with my fellow clay
On God's Protection I recline
To save me on the Judgment Day
There shall each blood-stained soul appear
Repent, all, ere it be too late
Or else a dreadful doom you'll hear,
For God will soon avenge my fate.
Weymouth smugglers had the
unique advantage of Chesil Beach, and the Fleet--the lagoon behind. This extraordinary
bank of shingle stretches unbroken nearly 17 miles, from Burton Bradstock to
Portland. Smugglers landing on the beach in the pitch black of a moonless night
were able to judge their position to within a mile or two by simply picking
up a handful of shingle, and gauging the average size of the stones. At the
Portland end, the pebbles are the size of potatoes, and then progressively slim
down to pea-shingle on the beach at Burton Bradstock.
Tubs landed here were humped over Chesil Beach,
and sunk in the quiet waters of the Fleet for collection at a more convenient
time. Landing, though, was not always straightforward, because in stormy weather
a ferocious sea pounds Chesil Beach, often reducing vessels to matchwood, and
on one memorable occasion lifting a 500-ton ship clean over the beach and into
the Fleet. In 1762 a winter storm destroyed a Cornish ship, killing the crew
and scattering the cargo to drift with the tide to Portland. There custom house
officers were determined to seize the contraband spirits, and 150 local people
were equally determined that they should not. After five hours argument and
battle, the fracas ended at 4 am with a score of Revenue: 26 tubs, Locals: 10.
The 10 that got away were tossed back into the sea and collected the following
day. This opposition from the Portlanders came as no surprise to the customs
authorities, who were reluctant to visit the island 'for fear of being struck
in the head by a volley of stones.'
If they were lucky, the customs officials suffered
only insults. In 1822 a storm loosened a raft of tubs, which floated free, and
a race between the revenue and the tubs' owners ensued, to see who could reach
the contraband first. The revenue boat was in the lead, but the smugglers raised
a sail, and surged ahead. As they passed, the helmsman dropped his trousers,
'striking his posterior in derision' at the downcast revenue men.
Chickerell and Moonfleet
The villages behind the
Fleet developed a thriving commerce in spirits, tea, tobacco and lace. The community
close to Chickerell is today the best-known, since it provided the basis for
J Meade Falkner's novel Moonfleet. Though fictional, the story had its foundations
on the trade that flourished here: in 1717, customs officials trying to prevent
a landing on Chesil Beach reported that they were met by thirty men in disguise,
who drove them away with clubs and other weapons. Some of the places mentioned
in the book can be seen locally. The tiny chapel is especially atmospheric:
it was here that tubs bumped together in the flooded vault. 
Abbotsbury boasts a dramatic
chapel on the hill-top--a fine navigational marker--and the local smuggling
HQ was the Ilchester Arms, once the Ship Inn. In 1737, evidence of the Abbotsbury
group's activities came to light at Bexington, on the Swyre road, where 3/4
ton of tea was found under hedges, along with brandy, rum, silk, cotton, and
Smugglers used the Dove
Inn at Burton Bradstock as a rendezvous, and Isaac Gulliver himself probably
drank in the pub, since in 1776  he bought Eggardon Hill, a prehistoric
earthwork a little way inland, specifically to guide his ships to the coast.
To make it more prominent...'The small enclosure [on top] was prepared for a
plantation to serve as a local mark for vessels engaged in the contraband trade.
' (The revenue men cut them down).
The hill is impressive: it rises suddenly at the end of a
long, flat plain, and a series of concentric trenches and embankments spiral
around its circumference. From the top, it is possible on a clear day to look
out over the sea some five miles away, and the hill gives a good view over all
the surrounding countryside. In Shipston Gorge, Gulliver's Lane runs down from
The villagers of Chideock
were all allegedly involved in the free-trade, and one vicar of the town commented:
The fishing interest seems to have slipped
away with the dwellings at Seatown. Some say the fish have left the coast, but
others ...that in the old days the fishermen lived more by smuggling than by
The Chideock smugglers landed goods between
Charmouth and Seatown, and marked the hills above their favoured landfalls as
Gulliver marked Eggardon Hill--with copses of trees. These grew at Charmouth,
Seatown, Eype's Mouth and Stanton St Gabriel. The miller at Chideock hid his
share of the contraband in a secret room under the floor of his living accommodation
at the mill. When the revenue men found four tubs of spirits there in 1820,
the cowardly miller tried to blame his servant Dido, saying the boy had told
him several days earlier that the cellar was 'a really good place to hide tubs,
master. The officers will never find them there'.
The coast of Lyme Bay and
the town itself were landing places for Isaac Gulliver, but he was simply following
in the footsteps of many who had gone before. Lyme has an especially long history
of smuggling: 16th century merchants were suspected of smuggling bullion out
of Britain, and in 1576 the suspicions became so strong that one Ralph Lane
was despatched to the town to investigate, carrying a warrant to search ships
that were alleged to be taking part. The result was a riot--the warrant was
destroyed and Lane's deputy was thrown overboard. 
According to legend, the principal route taken
by contraband was up the river Buddle where the buildings crowd in  but the truth is more prosaic--most contraband
was probably just sneaked in under the noses of the preventives, who were frequently
understaffed, and handicapped by ludicrous local bylaws about where their jurisdiction
ended: cargoes unloaded on the Cobb--the town pier--could not be inspected until
they had been carried half a mile to the Cobb gate.
However, when caught red-handed, the Lyme smugglers
were as resourceful as the next man. A tub carrier who ran into a senior official
of the custom house reputedly exchanged warm greetings and put the tubs down
at the officer's feet, telling him 'The excise man axed me to take these two
tubs to you, and gied me two shillings for the job; but damn him! If I had know'd
they'd be so heavy, and would ha' cut my shoulder so, I'd seed unto the devil
afore I'd ha' touched o'em'. Whether or not the officer believed the story is
unclear, but unable to carry the tubs himself, he eventually gave the man a
further florin to carry them back to the custom house, and strode off to await
their arrival while the tub carrier 'rested'. As soon as the officer rounded
the corner, the man's exhaustion left him, and he effortlessly shouldered his
burden and made off.
 Soc of Dorset men in London, 1955
 Warne, Charles, 1856
 Goddard, CV Rev, quoted in Omand,
Rev WD, 1965
 Lloyd, Rachel, 1976