Shipping Wonders of the World

 © Shipping Wonders of the World 2012-23  | Contents  |  Site Map  |  Contact Us  |  Cookie Policy

Smugglers and Revenue Cutters

Many and ingenious were the devices used by the smugglers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to deceive the Revenue men. There are few stories of adventure as exciting as some of the incidents in the hazardous life of these law-breakers

The revenue cutter the Greyhound

A REVENUE CUTTER in full chase of a smuggler. This illustration is reproduced from an aquatint in colours after T. Soutter, published in 1794 and now preserved in the famous Macpherson Collection at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. The revenue cutter is called the Greyhound.

MOST of us at some period of our lives have revelled in those exciting stories about the old smugglers and their enemies, the preventive men; the secret signals on the cliff-top; the nocturnal encounters on the beach; the hurrying of kegs inland up country lanes. We may have wondered how much of these yarns was truth and how much of them fiction. The following account, however, is nothing but fact, based on original contemporary documents.

The grand adventurous epoch, with all its thrills and subterfuges, lasted from about 1700 to 1860. During that brief span of 160 years we have so many escapes and counter-moves, so much ingenuity and such varied suspense, with thousands of people for a background and many kinds of small craft in the foreground, that the true account is often as exciting as some gripping film.

While naval battles were being fought in ocean-going three-masters, this drama of luggers, cutters and sloops went on unendingly and with fierce zest round part of Great Britain. Whatever may be said against the old-time smugglers, they were among the bravest and ablest fore-and-aft seamen the nation has ever produced. Time and circumstances have changed, and descendants of those adventurous lawbreakers are now some of our finest yacht-racing crews in the summer, or oyster-dredgers and fishermen during the winter.

Along the whole English coast-line there is scarcely a bay or suitable landing place that has not been the scene of cargo being illegally run ashore. Nearly every sea village has been concerned with the clandestine landing of casks and bales. The whole countryside, even to the local magistrate and the parson, was frequently entirely sympathetic with the smugglers. It was difficult for the Revenue men to catch the smugglers, and even more difficult to obtain conviction; for the juries were terrorized even if the judges remained impartial.

From the earliest days - and particularly since the thirteenth century - that portion of south-eastern England comprising the counties of Kent and Sussex became notorious, sometimes for its pirates and sometimes for its smugglers. The Strait of Dover was the gateway to eastern Europe, as well as the shortest route to the Continent, and this part of the English Channel provided a powerful temptation to the smugglers. Curiously enough, the medieval delinquents were exporters as well as importers. During Edward III’s reign, when heavy penalties were threatened against the dispatch of wool across to the Continent, nothing could stop its being carried over to Middelburg (Holland), where it was made into cloth and then smuggled home again.

Right down to the days of Charles II sailors still “risked their necks for 12d. a day”. The greatest amount of the wool was sent from Romney Marsh (Kent), whence it was smuggled after nightfall on board small craft. In the year 1676 was started a service which finally became that of the Revenue cutters. Among the smaller seventeenth-century sailing craft were a number of smacks and coasters from which the newly established Custom House organization hired a nucleus to keep watch on the “owlers” - so called because the wool-smuggling had to be done by night when the owl was abroad.

These smacks had what was then a somewhat new type of rig, the sail being set on a long gaff resembling that of the Norfolk Broads wherry. They were selected from such places as Margate, Gravesend and Queenborough, and hired by the Commissioners of Customs, but they did not have much effect. Although William III sent two small warships and four armed sloops to cruise constantly between the North Foreland and the Isle of Wight, and although he forbade any one living within fifteen miles of the Kentish or Sussex shore to buy wool, yet the secret exportation still continued till the end of the eighteenth century. Long before this time it had become more profitable to smuggle by import. The Romney Marsh wool-owners organized their trade with great detail. To the beach came the horses laden with packs that were soon dumped aboard the waiting craft. It any official of the Crown should be there with warrants to arrest the owlers, the owlers first gave him a good beating and then chased him out of the district.

The wars with France during the reign of William and Mary rendered the smuggling into England of silk and lace (as well as much Jacobite correspondence) fairly easy, and thus the menace increased. Small gangs of ten expanded into hundreds of villagers, and those with cellarage arranged to store the illicit imports carried across by French armed luggers, whose crews openly defied the Revenue men.

Distance No Deterrent

The situation became so bad by 1713 that while His Majesty’s naval ships were active in the English Channel doing what they could, dragoons were sent to co-operate with the Revenue people ashore. So widely did smuggling spread that patrol vessels were then cruising on their respective stations all the way from Milford Haven on the west, eastwards past Folkestone and the Downs, and northwards up to Newcastle and the Firth of Forth.

Considerable trouble was also caused because the Isle of Man had become a great contraband depot whence dutiable goods poured into Liverpool. The problem of the Revenue men was twofold; first, the uncertain and shifting sands of the Mersey were too dangerous for a Customs’ sloop - one had been tried and failed - and secondly, the Manxmen were such lawless, desperate smugglers (recognizing only a slight respect for the Duke of Atholl who then owned the Isle of Man) that they would stop at nothing.

It was most certainly a thoroughly corrupt age, and moral standards had descended to a low level. Not even the Admiralty sloops could be trusted. Thus in 1729 the Southampton Customs officers reported that every time the Admiralty sloop Swift went across to Guernsey on her preventive duties, she used to arrive back with large quantities of wine, brandy and other dutiable goods, her excuse being that they were “ship’s stores”. She therefore had to be examined every time she reached Southampton.


A MODERN STREAMLINED REVENUE CUTTER used in Canada against rum-runners on the St. Lawrence River and off the coasts of the Canadian Maritime Provinces This modern craft provides a striking contrast to the Revenue cutters in use only a century ago in Great Britain.

The Hampshire coast in the neighbourhood of Hurst Castle and Beaulieu was a popular dumping area for goods from the Channel Isles. Essex, Kent and Sussex were favoured localities for smuggling from such ports as Calais, Dunkirk and Flushing. Distance was no deterrent. One small Bridlington (Yorks) sloop used to sail over the North Sea to a Zeeland harbour, fill up with tea, tobacco and gin, and then land the cargo quietly anywhere between Bridlington and Spurn Lighthouse. So also Dutchmen would come over to Grimsby Roads or farther down the coast. One notorious foreigner, skipper of The Brotherly Love, used to run as many as 166 half-ankers (a half-anker held 3¼ gallons) of brandy and 50 lb. of tea near Great Yarmouth (Norfolk), though he was captured with his vessel after a long while.

The task of the Revenue authorities was still difficult, and life aboard their craft was not always enviable. The crews in normal times were cooped up for lack of space, and when it came to a real fight they might be maimed for life or killed. Moreover, some were disinclined to attack their own friends. It should be remembered that no small proportion of these Government crews were themselves ex-smugglers of many years’ standing. Even the home-coming East India ships, with all their privileges, cheated the Customs of large sums annually. The more wealthy passengers used to land at Portsmouth and finish the journey by coach to London, often smuggling silks as well as tea. Other passengers would be taken off from the Downs by Deal luggers, and these boats were most cunning in bringing ashore dutiable goods.

On one occasion fifty smugglers by sheer determination ran a valuable cargo of tea and brandy at Benacre in Suffolk, and another band of sixty at the same place repeated the performance only a fortnight later. On such ventures fifty local horses were needed to carry the goods away. In one half year over 3,500 horse-loads of tea, brandy and other commodities got into Suffolk without paying the Government one penny. Matters went from bad to worse. When the consumption of tea rose to 4,000,000 lb., at least 3,200,000 lb. of this had been smuggled. If this is multiplied by a period of years, and the evaded duties on spirits and tobacco are added, the enormous losses to Revenue will be appreciated.

A good deal of this tea came from the East in Dutch vessels and reached Flushing. But the Dutch were not great tea drinkers, so Dutch and English smuggling vessels used to run this produce in their cutters of forty and fifty tons towards Folkestone. These vessels would approach to within three or four miles of the shore, and be met at night by smaller boats which at the right opportunity landed the stuff. This was easier than might be imagined. In view of the assistance of middlemen, the dissemination of false news, the warning lights from the cliff, the terrorizing of Customs officers and civil magistrates, and the local fishermen’s audacity, the trade could not be stopped.

The revenue cutter viper

THE ARMAMENT OF A REVENUE CUTTER sometimes included as many as twenty-two guns, although this illustration of the Viper shows only two. The illustration at the top of this page shows eight ports for guns on the starboard side of the Greyhound. The names of many revenue cutters are striking and appropriate, as for instance, Viper, Eagle, Badger, Tartar and Speedwell.

Twenty or thirty cargoes a week came in safely, and Flushing became so important that it bought Folkestone craft and tempted English shipbuilders to pursue their calling in Dutch territory. The smugglers themselves were rewarded by the tea-dealers with eight shillings for every pound of tea, but the dealers could well afford to be generous. One of them never had a boat seized in six years, and his profits thus rose to fabulous figures. Occasionally there would be some ugly scenes on the south-east coast. It may have been intended to land an especially large cargo one night, but the Revenue officers had been warned in time. Suddenly the sound of a pistol shot and angry voices would summon the local fishermen and farm labourers down to the beach. Men and women would rush out from their cottages to swell the mob, angry words would follow, and then would begin a general affray with fists, clubs, pistols and cutlasses, amid the noise of shouting men and screaming women, the galloping of horses, and the

jeers, as a posse of dragoons arrived. If these occasions were rare, it was partly because the shore arrangements of the sympathizers were so excellent. When once the tea had been hurried inland from the beach no more fears need be entertained. It was readily sold to middlemen, who bought 1,000 lb. at a time. There were also a number of men known as “duffers”, who used to walk into the villages and towns wearing coats heavy with tea concealed between two layers of stitched cloth; hence they were said to “quilt” so much. At one time no fewer than 20,000 people were employed in England smuggling, and a gang of 500 men could be collected in many spots within an hour.

A serious feature was that at least £1,000,000 sterling was yearly being taken out of the country to pay for these illicit imports. Quite £800,000 was for tea alone and, when the price of tea rose, the dealers were making a profit of £2 on every 100 lb. of tea. The carrying of brandy in casks had additional advantages, because the weight made excellent ballast; and money was so plentiful that fore-and-aft rigged vessels could be built regardless of cost. These smugglers could outsail both the King’s ships and the Custom House sloops. Smuggling became not merely a dangerous trade, not merely a means of getting rich quickly, but also a fascinating adventure. Robert Hanning, who for years resided at Dunkirk as the principal dealer with the smugglers, admitted that he had sold £40,000 worth of teas, brandies, and wines every year to be secretly run into England. And these are eighteenth-century figures, tar below modern values.

Smuggler Turned Naval Officer

Another remarkable personality was Captain Joseph Cockburn, who in the mid-eighteenth century commanded one of His Majesty’s sloops. This breezy old sailor had previously been a privateer, and before that had been skipper of several smuggling vessels. Right from infancy he had been brought up in this kind of activity, for he served his apprenticeship to a Rochester smuggler who nominally was a fisherman. Cockburn’s knowledge of the illegal trade was unsurpassed, and, having long since become a reformed character with a safe job, he had no qualms in revealing that he knew of five cutters which every week used to run over from Boulogne to Kent and Sussex with six tons of tea and 2,000 half-ankers of brandy. Since, the tea would be bought abroad for £1,920, and the brandy for £1,000, this meant that nearly £3,000 of specie was being carried out of the country weekly by these five vessels alone.

This could be done only by careful organization. The cutters needed to take out with them plenty of men, considerable sums of ready cash and merchandise by way of exports. To deceive the English authorities, whether at London, Dover, Rye, Folkestone or any other port, the cutter would sail with only a few hands and pretend she was about to fish. Having arrived some miles from the shore, she would be met under cover of darkness by a number of smaller craft bringing plenty of tough men, the necessary money and the merchandise. Before daylight these small boats would have got back home, and the cutter would be well on her way to Holland or France. There she would sell her cargo, buy the tea and brandy, and, having set sail, would be met at a convenient distance off the southern English coast. Having chosen a dark night and waited for a favourable signal from the land, she would disembark her goods. The boats would run the casks and bales into a suitably quiet spot, while the cutter came back into her original harbour.

An old trick practised by the richly-laden East Indiamen three-masters approaching the Thames was for small boats (by previous arrangement) to go alongside while the Customs officer was being entertained on board with food and drink. Through the large square portholes an accomplice would drop down parcels of muslins and silks which escaped duty and fetched high prices later. Sometimes the dishonesty was perpetrated even more blatantly. During the summer of 1814 the West Indiaman Caroline was sailing up the English Channel full of a dutiable cargo. She had arrived abreast of Fairlight (between Hastings and Rye) where the local people were on the lookout. A boat put off and came alongside, a rope was thrown down and several men climbed aboard and were taken below to the cabin. After having bargained for some time, they bought from the Caroline a 25-gallons cask of rum, 3 cwt. of coffee in a barrel, and 2 cwt. in a bag. All this was quickly lowered into the boat, and the ship resumed her voyage towards London. On this occasion, however, the smugglers did not succeed, for the Customs authorities got wind of the affair and prosecutions ensued.

The Deal boatmen who used to go out from the beach in their little luggers were first-class sailormen, plucky and resourceful, but as dishonest as the worst. They would go aboard an East Indiaman suitably and ingeniously attired. In the crown of a hat, such as a sou’wester, was fitted a cotton bag which could carry 2 lb. of tea. Round his body a man fixed a waistcoat with deep pockets; for the lower part of his body a bustle and thigh pieces were similarly provided. Thus it was possible for one person to come ashore each time with not less than 30 lb. of tea perfectly concealed about him. Several boats with half a dozen men would make repeated trips and managed to reap a good harvest every time an East Indiaman came home.

We need not marvel that the Admiralty and Custom House sloops were apprehensive of their own fate when opposed by the smugglers in strength. The smugglers would stop at no extremity when angered, and one July they had the audacity to seize the Custom House craft at Dover and coolly employ it for tea-running.

The West of England followed the example of the south-eastern counties. The neighbourhoods of Lyme Regis, Torbay, and Plymouth were much used for running goods from Guernsey. The smugglers openly despised the Revenue cutters, did not hesitate to fire on them, and even chased them away.

Formidable Craft

Some of the North Sea smuggling vessels were formidable craft. They were powerful cutters of 130 tons, armed with fourteen carriage guns, four three-pounders and many swivel guns, and carrying about forty men. Others Were 200-tons schooners with sixteen four-pounders. and twenty swivel-guns. These ships frequented such parts of the Yorkshire coast as Saltburn, Robin Hood’s Bay, and Bridlington, though the ships had been built at Folkestone, Kent.

The West Country smugglers could boast of two notable cutters. One was the Swift, of Bridport, Dorset. She was of 100 tons, mounted sixteen guns and had a crew of fifty. Her cargo space was large and she more than paid her owners during the year 1783; for she used to come across and land near Torbay in each trip 2,000 casks of spirits, as well as five tons of tea, which needed a beach party of 200 men to run it inshore. So, too, the 250-tons Ranger, which had been built in the pleasant village of Cawsand, looking out on to Plymouth Sound, was likely to scare any opposition. Mounting twenty-two guns, with a crew of nearly 100, the Ranger had an easy time bringing her unlawful cargoes to the east of Torbay.

The St. George is one of the fleet of H.M. Customs cutters

STATIONED AT GRAVESEND, on the River Thames, the St. George is one of the large fleet of H.M. Customs cutters. She does not chase smugglers, but her “rummage” crews detect large numbers of them and thus assist in the routine which, without causing any disturbance to shipping, saves the Treasury the loss of a great deal of revenue.

When we learn that such irregular sea strength was allowed, and that only forty-four Revenue cutters with 1,041 men in their crews were at this date commissioned, we can understand that the menace might have been tackled more sternly. The largest of these Government cutters was the Repulse, stationed at Colchester. She was of 210 tons and carried only thirty-three men. The next biggest were the Tartar, stationed at Dover, the Speedwell, which cruised between Weymouth and Cowes, and the Rose, whose headquarters were at Southampton. They were of about 190 tons and carried thirty men, with about a dozen guns. Other cutters were as small as 41 and 52 tons. In the eighteenth century there was slight difference between sloops and cutters.

Side by side in the same shipbuilding yard a smuggler and a Revenue cutter would often be under construction. Such good builders were the ablest firms that, a generation afterwards, they had become some of the leading British yacht designers. White of Cowes (I.W.), and Inman of Lymington (Hants), had launched numerous Revenue cutters long before Queen Victoria came to the throne.

The crews of these Revenue cutters wore red flannel shirts and blue trousers, with tarpaulin petticoats (so often shown in old paintings and prints). These petticoats were greatly appreciated when much boat work had to be done. So also the smugglers wore them for handling the brandy tubs. The cutters themselves, with enormous sail-plan, immensely strong hull and sometimes seven square port-holes a side, were good for keeping the seas in most weathers. They had exceptionally high bulwarks, and in general were somewhat clumsy compared with modern standards For running before a fair wind they set also a large squaresail, square topsail, and even t’gallantsails and studding-sails. There were many occasions when every square inch of canvas was needed for chasing the enemy.

Many were the prosecutions made against landsmen signalling to smugglers in the offing. The commonest night signals were to wave a lantern from hill, house or prominent landmark; to take a flint and steel and set fire to a bundle of straw near the cliff’s edge; or to burn a blue light or fire a pistol. If signalling by day, the smuggling vessel could communicate with the shore by

lowering and raising a certain sail an agreed number of times. By about 1815 armed resistance and brutality among smugglers were largely being replaced by ingenuity and cunning. Still first-class seamen, they realized that their best chances of evasion were during gales and fogs. Some of them owned luggers which were fast on a wind and could often leave the Revenue cutter miles astern during a long chase. So an Act of Parliament was passed which made liable to forfeiture all luggers exceeding 50 tons burthen.

Ingenious Hiding-Places

During the period 1816-1860 smugglers left scarcely one device untried. A fairly obvious ruse was to conceal contraband goods between the hull and its wooden lining, though the marks of fresh nails were hard to disguise. The boatmen at Deal for several years maintained hiding-places ashore for their goods right under No. 1 and No. 2 batteries. The discovery of this was the solution of a puzzle that hitherto had been most difficult. These little store-holes on the beach were about four feet deep, made of 2-in. planking, with a scuttle at the top. In the scuttle was a trough filled with shingle, so that no amount of pricking would indicate the secret door. A popular trick was to secrete brandy casks beneath a ship’s ballast of stone and iron. False bulkheads, with a space of several feet between and filled with spirits or wine, took some discovery until careful measurements revealed the ruse. False bottoms were tried over and over again. It was common knowledge that if a smuggling vessel from the Continent had almost reached her destination and was overtaken by a Revenue cutter, she would dump the kegs overboard secured by anchors or sinkers and connected together. At a good opportunity the longshoremen would come out in their small boats for them.

This practice was convenient in other ways, for if a smallish vessel were found with the kegs on board, her skipper would pretend that he had been out fishing, and that his nets had accidentally brought them up.

The United States Revenue cutter Manhattan

SEVERE WINTER CONDITIONS put a big strain on North American Revenue cutters as they have to operate in all weathers. This photograph shows the United States Revenue cutter Manhattan steaming through ice-clogged waters. She is stationed in New York Harbour.

One smuggler had iron blocks for ballast cast hollow inside, and then sealed up again after having been filled with contraband. There was a phase when Kentish galleys rowed by six to twelve oars used to risk the weather, make for the Continent, and fill up with goods. Later legislation forbade the presence of small craft with more than four oars in the counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Kent or Essex. Even ballast stones Were found hollowed out and fitted with tins containing spirits, and potatoes from the Channel Islands proved to be rolls of tobacco covered over with a thin skin and clay.

It was customary for a smuggling vessel to be fitted with a rail just below the gunwale on the inside, running right round. When she was near her destination, and about to sink her brandy tubs for her accomplices to recover, these small casks were all fastened to a long rope and placed outside the bulwarks. To the rail this warp was fastened at intervals by stop-ropes which, on being cut, would allow tubs with warp to be released. The stone weights or anchors immediately sank and secured the cargo. Sometimes, when these had been let go hurriedly, a section would break adrift and float to the surface. One night, off St. Alban’s Head, Dorset, when the Revenue cutter Tartar sent a party to examine the suspicious French sloop Diane, no fewer than fifty-nine such casks suddenly floated to the surface. This presently led to the discovery of 154 more casks at the spot where the Diane had been arrested. Fortunately the Tartar had immediately fixed the position by taking cross bearings.

Sometimes, to prevent anything suspicious from being found aboard, brandy-runners would tow astern a boat 16 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 2 ft. 2 in. deep. Flat-bottomed and roughly built, this boat had three large holes bored in the bottom to let in the water; but,even when filled with tubs of brandy, she would not altogether sink, and the netting spread from gunwale to gunwale prevented these tubs from getting adrift. Thus she would be towed astern of a smack or lugger, but under water; and, when the agreed destination was reached, the rope had only to be slipped and the boat’s grapnels let go at bow and stern. The boat herself would then take anchor below surface, and the goods be recovered by the longshoremen at a suitable opportunity, when low tide corresponded with the early hours before dawn.

The late autumn and winter, with their long nights, were always much favoured by the smugglers. One evening in November 1819, the Revenue cutter Badger, commanded by Captain Mercer, was cruising between Dungeness and Boulogne. At about 7 p.m. a lugger was sighted only a quarter of a mile off, steering towards the English coast.

The Badger gave chase and, as she drew near, the lugger kept altering course and agoing about on the other tack. Being a handy craft, she could do this more quickly than the big-bellied cutter, so what the lugger lost on a long run she gained when making the chaser lose way at each tack.

The Badger, however, was one of the fastest vessels in the Revenue service and, having once got the wind on her quarter, she reeled off her eight knots to the lugger’s five, until at last she ran right past and luffed up into the wind. Captain Mercer fired a warning gun, and ordered the lugger to heave-to. Just as the Badger was about to lower a boat, a Revenue man overheard their rivals talking. “Now’s your time,” remarked a smuggler, and the lugger also lowered her small boat. With great speed the smugglers leaped in, and began rowing off at their best speed. To them Captain Mercer called, ordering them under pain of being shot to come alongside the cutter. It was a little difficult in the darkness to see exactly what was happening, and the escapers pretended they were coming but could not find their tholepins, adding that they had only two oars on one side and one on the other.

THE FASTEST CUTTERS in the Revenue service, the Badger

ONE OF THE FASTEST CUTTERS in the Revenue service, the Badger, gave chase one evening in November 1819 to a lugger, the Iris, of Boulogne With the wind on her quarter the Badger could make 8 knots. By a clever ruse the smugglers escaped in an open boat in the mist, but the Iris was boarded and an enormous amount of contraband was found in her. The smugglers were given up for lost, but only a month later one of them was captured by the Eagle.

This was really a lie to gain time, and the men got right away. The Revenue people rowed aboard the lugger and found 110 half-ankers containing 382 gallons of brandy, 157 half-ankers of gin, 55 bags of tea and 355 lb. of tobacco. They also discovered that the lugger was the Iris of Boulogne. Away went the Badger in pursuit of the smugglers’ boat, followed shortly after by the Iris with her prize crew.

Because of the darkness and the seas, neither the cutter nor the prize crew ever saw the smugglers’ open boat again. On such a night it would have been madness to try rowing across the strong Channel tides to Boulogne, some twenty-seven miles away. The Badger’s Chief Mate presumed that the open boat must have foundered.

A month later, on December 10, another Revenue cutter, the Eagle, was sailing off the Kentish coast at eight in the morning when she observed a lugger under all canvas heading for Boulogne. It was bitterly cold, and the falling snow made patrolling irksome. The Eagle’s captain had his suspicions and gave chase, running before a north-west wind. These luggers were always fastest when sailing near to the wind, so the smuggler hauled close, hoping to get away. These tactics did not succeed and the cutter overtook her; but not until the Eagle threatened to fire did the lugger lower sails.

The cutter’s boat, in charge of Mr. Gray, the Chief Mate, came alongside. Gray’s questions were answered in French. He was told there were seven men on board.

Gray summoned them aft, and found five French and two British. A man named Hugnet insisted that the British were merely passengers. Presently Hugnet contradicted himself and said there were not seven but nine in all. Gray therefore jumped down the fore peak to make a search. The place was dark, so he thrust in his cutlass and the cutlass reached something soft. It was the leg of a man.

When told to come out, this fellow obeyed instantly. He was followed by one more, and by others. In all, seven British men emerged. Most of them were dressed in short jackets and petticoat trousers - a fact which proved that they were sailors, and not passengers, but smugglers. Moreover, their trousers were wet right up to their middles, and their jackets wet to their elbows. Obviously they had recently left the English shore after having landed a contraband cargo by wading from lugger to beach, the thick atmosphere of the previous night having greatly assisted their operations.

A Fateful Coincidence

Gray soon found that altogether this lugger carried nine British and five French. No tubs were discovered, though other evidence such as a hoop and slings indicated that half-ankers had not long ago been on board. Reckoning her speed at about four knots and her capture having taken place eleven miles from the English shore, it was inferred that she had spent the previous night unloading somewhere near Rye (Sussex) and had started off for Boulogne about 5 a.m. The lugger was taken into Harwich as prize, and an interesting revelation was then made.

It turned out that Albert Hugnet was the leading man not merely of this lugger, but of the Iris, which the Badger had chased a month earlier. He and the rest of the boatload that night had not rowed far, but had luckily been picked up by a French fishing craft only a quarter of a mile away. It was an escape from death, though this survivor now had to take his trial for both occurrences, and a sentence of imprisonment ended his cross-Channel activities for some time.

As we search through musty old records, we find certain families through several generations engaged in smuggling and becoming notorious.

The smuggling industry flourished till about the year 1860. The high taxation had long since been removed from tea, and a gradual' preference for Scotch whisky rather than French brandy became a social characteristic. Thus the adventurous days, involving risky seafaring, passed away. With better wages, improved education, a higher moral code and more opportunities for honest recreation, there is no longer the same incitement to defraud His Majesty’s Revenue.

The Revenue cutter Eagle

OFF THE KENTISH COAST early in the morning of December 10, 1819, the Revenue cutter Eagle, illustrated here, gave chase to a lugger that was heading for Boulogne under ail canvas. She overtook the lugger and discovered five French and two British sailors on board. A further search revealed seven more British. One of these men proved to have been among the smugglers who had escaped in an open boat from the Iris after her capture by the Badger a month before.

You can read more on “Fishery Protection”, “HM Coastguard Service” and

“His Majesty's Customs Service” on this website.