Story board

I thought a seperate page might be useful, so that people can post different stories etc that they might have heard about – so here it is! anything related to smuggling, Kingston, the South Hams, or just smuggling in general, get it up here!



  1. Peter Girard’s Guernsey, 1986, has a chapter on smuggling, in 1798 alone he reveals that Guernsey and Alderney ‘traders’ had succeeded in depriving the Crown of revenue to a value, at present prices, of approximately £20 million. He also remarks that “there is no doubt at all that smuggling and privateering together brought the island to a previously unknown level of prosperity”. Hinting that the practice was only discontinued within living memory, he says that the “social position of the men involved ranged from the highest to the lowest in the island”.

    The immense importance of smuggling to the Guernsey economy is made very clear by the following excerpt from Smuggling, by David Phillipson, 1973: “Throughout the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth, the Channel Islands, and Guernsey in particular, were an entrepot for contraband goods. By 1750, virtually the entire economy of the island was built upon the transhipment and warehousing of goods destined for the holds of smuggling craft from the south of England. By ancient charter, Guernsey was exempted from Excise and Custom levies; neither was she bound by the various anti-smuggling statutes in force on the mainland. Lying snug in harbours where the Revenue writ did not run, the smugglers loaded their illicit cargoes into their illegal craft, sometimes masquerading under false colours and noms de guerre as a precaution against Customs spies…. This happy state of affairs was allowed to continue unchecked until 1767, when the British Government established a Custom House at St Peter Port and stationed two revenue cutters there. Their commanders were ordered to ensure that ‘no brandies or spirits be imported into or exported from these islands in casks of less than sixty gallons, or in vessels under fifty tons burden. Such unwonted interference on the part of the central government was not taken too seriously in Guernsey, nor did it continue for long; the cutters were soon withdrawn to perform a more pressing naval function. It was not until 1805, and in the face of much protest from the islanders, that Guernsey and her sister islands were drawn into the ambit of Customs law by Act of Parliament.”

  2. Well done ‘Guernsey Gal’, spreading the net!! This is a really good base to the link to Roscoff that is up as well, and starts you thinking about the law as a real force in attempting to break up the smuggling bandwagon… Makes you think of smuggling as ‘illegal’ rather than romantic as well!

  3. Just some interesting information and ‘tales’ from a piece by Alan Jamieson which is very informative about the South Hams! A bit worrying as well!

    according to Jamieson, at the end of the 18th century, even after the intervention of the 1746 Smugglers Act, smuggling was rife in most maritime counties in England. even at this point, however, much had been done to arrest the rise in smuggling. By 1718, customs cruisers patrolled the port of Dartmouth, whilst boats under 50 tons were banned from loitering within 6 miles of the coast.

    In terms of violence, although not as bad as some of the tales told around the Eastern Counties, Jamieson relates two tales of violence direscted towards preventative officers (the coastguard of the day). In 1785, the Customs Officer at Bantham, having ridden out to look for smugglers, was found at the bottom of the cliff. with his dying breath, he supposedly accused smugglers of throwing him over, though noone was ever found guilty.

    in 1788, again at Hope Cove, Customs Officers were savagely beaten attempting to stop a landing of smuggled goods.

    Finally, of much interest to residents of Kingston (!), by 1799, there was a customs rowboat on the Erme estuary. The increase of Crown forces, seems really to have started from this point – by 1844, Customs and Coastguard forces were said to be quite formidable.

    Source: Jamieson, A G (1993) ‘Devon and smuggling, 1680-1850’, in Duffy, M, Fisher, S, Greenhill, B, Starkey, D J, Youngs, J (eds.), The new maritime history of Devon, vol. 1 : from early times to the late eighteenth-century, Conway, London, pp244-50.

  4. Some more stuff on Kingsbridge – to appropriate Farquharson-Coe (1975), the story goes that a farmer was riding home from meeting a smuggling vessel, when he spied a Customs Officer riding towards him in the distance. Thinking quickly, he pricked the pig-skins of brandy that his horse was also carrying, and so, by the time he was met by said Customs Officer, the contents had drained away into the River Dart. As he was no longer in possession of smuggled goods, there was nothing the poor Customs Officer could do, than let him pass!

    Source: Farquharson-Coe, A (1975) Devon’s Smugglers, James Pike Ltd, St Ives

  5. Both The Sloop at Bantham and the Journeys End at Ringmore are reported as ‘Smuggling Inns’ by Robert Hesketh (2007)

  6. Some common terms

    Creeping: Dragging the sea bottom with something like a grappling hook to gather the crop.
    Crop: Cargo – also refers to the goods stowed beneath the sea
    Flasker: Spirit smuggler
    Hide: place where cargo was stored
    Owler: Wool smuggler
    Porters: the men who carried the casks
    The Gentlemen: smugglers
    The Darks: moonless nights
    Running: The movement of goods, including the trip from coast to inland destination
    Sweeping: Creeping with more than one boat

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