Tom Crocker


Tom Crocker was a renowned Smuggler who was reputedly based on Burgh Island – or Burr Island as it would have been known then. Little is actually know ‘for certain’ about this character, although many rumours persist. The Pilchard Inn is supposed to have been a favourite haunt and the headquarters for his various exploits (Wood 1966), and two caves are supposed to be located on the far side of the island, only reachable by sea.

The following is an extract from one of the many books the sadly now deceased Chips Barber (1998) wrote on the Island and Bigbury Bay: “There are some stories that Tom Crocker’s Ghost stays close to his old ‘haunts’ and, at one time, his ghostly wanserings were always noted on or about 14 August, the anniversary of his death. On these occasions, not only did he rattle doors and cause mischief, but it seems he would walk all over the island, presumably searching for his hidden booty.” (1998:6)

 The PIlchard Inn also holds momentos of the legend that followed him (Wood 1996). It is said that an outline of Crocker and the Excise man who shot him were carved on either side of the fireplace, although these are now irrecognizable. Whether or not his pirate flag existed until the last war (Wood 1996), can only be relayed in tales now I suppose.


Barber, C (1998) Around and About Burgh Island and Bigbury-on-Sea, Obelisk Publications, Exeter

Wood, G B (1966) Smuggler’s Britain, Cassell, London



  1. Some say he haunts the Pilchard every year on Tom Crocker day in August. I is also rumoured that he was shot (by other smugglers or the Preventative) at the door of the Pilchard, or hung somewhere else.

  2. Thanks Matt for putting the link to Tom as there’s virtually nothing about him on the web. I guess with no records from that period (I’ve looked) and especially from someone evading the law, it’s difficult to know what happened. My grandmother was a Crocker and relayed similar stories that she said were handed down. Her family all came from the area and as kids we were enthralled by the stories she told – even if they were partially made up for our benefit!

  3. Hi Margaret – I wish I could put more, but as you say, there are few if any records from that time! I suspect something might have been wrritten in/formally closer to the time, but finding it would be difficult! Its really interesting to hear of the stories your grandmother told you – was that in England, or in Australia? (your email address gives you away!) And what were they? I heard that there were ‘Crockers’ in the area until recently, and there were/are a lot of Jarvis’ around in that area! Great to hear from you, I will see if I can find anything else on Tom Crocker

  4. Hi Matt
    I was born in Plymouth and go back each year to top up the accent! My grandmother always said “we were related of course” but who knows? She used to say about the cave and also a tunnel. It’s a good story anyway – it would be great to one day find a link but I doubt if that will happen. My Crockers originated in Ugborough and then found their way to Kingston and Yealmpton but there was also a branch in Bigbury. Crocker and Jarvis were most certainly the “Smith’s” of the day!

  5. Ah, I live in Kingston – I dont remember them, but I’ve read about Mr W H Crocker, who wrote a fair amount in Kingston Remembered (1980) a publication of the Kingston Local History Society, have you seen it? Theres a picture of “Mrs Crocker and her brothers outside 1 Brittania Cottages” – relations?! I’ve heard about Tom Crockers hole – got to get my brother to get the kayaks round to have a look at it! If only there was a tunnel!

  6. Hi Matt,
    Just read about Tom Crocker on your sight,my mothers maiden name was crocker, she often spoke of a distant relative who was a tea smuggler. I am now researching my family tree on the crocker side. Myself and my husband are looking forward to a couple of days in devon to be at the pilchard inn on the 13th august, Tom Crocker day. I am hoping to find out a little more about Tom Crockers life, and maybe make some connection. Look forward to reading any other info that you may come accross on Tom Crocker.

  7. Hi Jackie,

    Great to hear about another possible Crocker connection! Did your mother originate from Devon? I know very very little about Tom Crocker, in fact I didn’t even know about Tom Crocker day! thats a must then! I will be very interested to see if any ‘fact’ or records of his existence exists. Time to read up some more I think. Maybe see you on the 13th!

  8. Hi Matt
    I was in Devon one “Ton Crocker Day” and there were very few people who knew about it and even less who turned up.
    Yes I have seen the publication from the Kingston FHS. Those Crockers were linked to Masters in the mid to early 1800’s.
    You have no doubt done as much research as I have and come up with virtually nothing on Tom so it’s probably all down to old family tales. The one remaining member of my direct line remembers no more than what I already know.
    I wonder if Jackie is the same line as mine? Please forward my address to her so as we can check.

  9. Hi Matt,
    Hope your research is going well, we went to the Pilchard Inn for this years Tom Crocker day, its the first time I have visited there,I was rather dissapointed at the lack of reference to it being a smuugglers rest, the few bits of memrobelia didnt relate at all to Tom Crocker, all one could do was imagine the smugglers enjoying their scrumpy. I spoke to two people who were also visiting the Inn and they knew nothing about the smuggling history of the island, so I told them all that I knew about Tom Crocker a notorious smuggler on the island and being shot by customs and excise, they were absolutely fascinated and wanted to know why there was no mention of it anywhere in the Inn. It seems sad that this is how history becomes lost as the generations pass, if we dont remember these times. The holiday makers just wandered in the Pilchard Inn oblivious to its rich and fascinating history, to buy food and drink. I really think that there sould be some info of the tales and history of The Pilchard Inn and the island, before it all gets lost and forgotten. We enjoyed south Devon, what a beautiful part of the country.
    Good luck with your research, will let you know if I find out anymore on Tom Crocker.

  10. It’s good to hear someone else say that really nothing is mentioned about Tom on the island or anywhere in the vicinity. It seems few people know anything about him. I’ve searched the internet for a long time and there’s just nothing there until you added your page Matt. I’ve only found one publication that mentions him. I guess the only way to find out anything is for more people to find your page, and maybe they’ll have family tales about him!

    • I’ve also been researching my family history. I can trace my line back with certainty to the 1650s at St Michael Penkevil, Cornwall. However, I’m tols I have a direct DNA link to a family branch in Ireland (Croker) who trace their line back to the Wars of the Roses and a Sir John Crocker, the King’s cup-bearer, who lived & is buried at Lineham/Lyneham just south of Ivybridge, Devon, not too far from Burgh Island. What dates/period relates to the pirate Tom Crocker? There is a possibility that we’re related! There were loads of Crockers in Devon & Cornwall – it is a West Country name and quite a few still live in the area (I have relatives in Ivybridge & Plymouth that I know of & probably loads I don’t know of. Are you (or indeed anyone who reads this!) able to help with any dates/info on Tom Crocker? Look forward to hearing from you/someone/anyone!

      • Hi Andy
        Great to get your response – Matt told me that there was another message added – thanks Matt!
        Unfortunately I have no actual proof only what my grandmother used to tell us that we had a connection to Tom, and the chances of finding anything are slim. I’ve gone to the early 1700’s with my Crocker line but this year I plan to try and go further whilst I’m in the UK.
        Where do you live Andy? In Yealmpton church (11 miles east of Plymouth) there is a brass for Sir John Crocker and I did a rubbing of this several years ago and have it hanging on a wall – it’s a beautiful brass and worth seeing. There’s a mention of it in Arthur Mee’s “The Kings England – Devon” and I have newspaper cuttings also. Sir John Crocker was a standard bearer to Edward IV. I understand he died in 1508 and was buried in Yealmpton, although I have also read there is a monument at Lyneham which is not far away. My grandmother always said for me to find out about him as as he was an ancestor, but I didn’t start the research until after her death in 1986. This information was obviously something handed down over the years.
        As far as Tom is concerned I only know it was early 1600’s as I can find very little information. This website has the most on-line information available.
        Contact Matt and get him to give you my email address and we’ll see if we’re related.

      • I and a number of other American (Massachusetts) Crockers would be very interested in comparing our patrilinear DNA to this line of Crockers/Crokers. Could you please email me on this? Thank you.

  11. Hi! sorry for the extended absence! I’ve been in London for a couple of weeks, but will get back to this properly next week! There are several publications (non-internet) that mention him, but i’ve never found one that goes into any real depth – the best (and this is off the top of my head) is in a book about Burgh Island by Chips Barber – if you search it online you should fine it – theres a page or so on him – not great, but ironically, the most I’ve found anywhere! On Jackies comment, it might be worth trying to get as much information as possible here, and then presenting it to the owners of Burgh Island… just a thought, but I suppose it takes one group of people to take a real interest! I’ll get back to this properly next week! cheers for now! Spread the word!

  12. Matt, thank you so much for enriching my life with tales of Tom Crocker. He sounds like a hero. I will endeavour to be like him, and you.

  13. Hi Matt
    I have the Chips Barber book and another which I left in the UK – can’t remember the title though. It gives no more than any other information though. Great that someone else found your page and responded!

  14. Wow, it’s been a really long time, sorry about that! Never again! I was just looking through an old book, the Wood (1966) as referenced above, and found some more interesting stuff that I missed before – might especially be of interest to Margaret and Jackie with their ‘Crocker’ links… let me know if you know, don’t know etc any of this!

    P160: “More to our purpose is a finely painted coast of arms from the same source. The three birds in one quarter are often mistaken for Cornish choughs; actually they are crows and comprise the crest of the Crocker family.”

    actually, all the rest is stuff we already know – interesting about the crest though – I’m guessing, like most family crests it has been ‘created’ in the last couple of centuries, although I may be very mistaken! Anyone know any more?


    Just thought, maybe spread the net a bit wider to Nat Cleverly of Bantham, and the Kingcup brothers of Hope Cove

  16. Yes the Crocker coat of arms does have 3 crows (or similar) on it with a red inverted V going toward the top of the shield. Was there anything else of interest in the book Matt?

    • Please see my response to your message of 20th Aug 09.
      Andy Crocker

  17. Hi Tom
    My maternal grandmother was a Crocker and always told my sister and I that we were descended from Tom Crocker. However I have no way of getting any DNA evidence as the sole remaining male Crocker passed away a number of years ago. My grandmother also told us Sir John Coker was also an ancestor. You may know of the large brass plaque in Yealmpton Church – I have a rubbing of this hanging on my wall.
    I have been in contact with other Crocker’s in the USA and have been told the only way for this evidence is for the direct male line.
    I was born in Plymouth but now live in Sydney , Australia, returning to England each year.
    I am currently researching my family history also.
    Kind regards
    Margaret Jarvis

  18. I don’t know if this site is still in use but I thought I’d put my knowledge of Tom Crocker on here. Based on what I’ve heard from old relatives in the area:

    Tom lived in Buckland, just inland from Bantham. Buckland was a much bigger village back then, bigger than Bantham. He use to do smuggling runs to and from Roscoff in france which is directly south of Plymouth.

    Although the authorities new he was smuggling, they couldn’t get any evidence so they blamed him form deliberatly wrecking the British navy ship HMS Ramillies and shot him.

    True or not, who cant tell, but the dates seem to add up!

    • Hi Toby
      I haven’t heard that one before. I thought the Ramillies went down in a storm after springing a leak in a storm – she was already past her use by date according to records. Also I thought the time frame for Tom was earlier – mid 1600’s.

  19. PS. That was the HMS Ramillies sinking in 1760 not WW2.

    • Hi, everyone, I can trace my mother’s branch of the Lyneham Croker/Crocker/Crookers from now right back to 13C, I am very interested in the Tom Crocker story, also in tracing the early members of the family that went to New England.. I also believe that because the family lived close to Plymouth that they went as early settlers to Australia and other parts of the world as well. What does anyone know about a junior branch of the family that settled in Mithian? and then went to Ireland where they played quite a part in early history of southern parts.

      • Hi Sue, I have been researching my husband’s Crocker family back as far as Parkin/Parking Crocker who died in Ruan Lanihorne, Cornwall in 1631 but can’t make the connection to the Lyneham Crockers. Would love to hear about your mother’s line. We are in Australia. My husband’s great grandfather emigrated in the 1880s from Wales. Virginia

  20. Our 5 yr old son is called Thomas (Tom) Crocker behaves like a little terror sometimes lol very interesting. I’m called John too ironically

  21. My name is Paul Whiteman,my mothers maiden name is Monica Crocker.She was born on January 27 1936.Her fathers name was Frank/George Crocker.Considering the lack of ready information in those years my sisters and I have been brought up to believe we were related to Tom Crocker the pirate.I have visited Burgh Island several times and feel connected to that part of the world.My grandfather Frank had a brother whose name may have been Leo Crocker moved to that part of the world many years ago.It seems sure to me that I could many relatives there.

  22. Good to see that new people are looking at the website. I still haven’t found anymore information – spending only 3 months each year in the UK limits this. Born in Plymouth, Australia has been my home for more than 40 years. Unfortunately my sole remaining link to the Crocker/Croker (female) line passed away recently, but she didn’t appear to know anymore than I knew from her mother (my grandmother). Paul, unfortunately I’m pretty certain we do not share a link – it would be nice to find one, that’s for sure!! I suspect we are only ever going to get family stories about Tom – I wouldn’t imagine he would appear on any record. Strange things do happen I guess.

  23. He is my ansester

  24. Greetings, my Great Grandfather was Edward Jarvis Crocker 1853-1934. Born in Salcomb, died here in the United States. Always interested in researching more of my Crocker line.

  25. Hi Jon
    My great grandfather was Walter Crocker living in Yealmpton, born Kingston but unfortunately none of my ancestors went to the US. Good luck in your research!

  26. Hi i wonder if you could help, im doing my partners family history and have traced her ancestors to bigbury,

    the earliest ancestor ive found is henry crocker b c1828 would this be a relative of tom crocker at all?
    Many thanks for your time


  27. Hi Mick
    Trying to trace a line to Tom Crocker is almost impossible. Crocker is one of the foremost surnames in that area of Devon – I too have a Crocker line. It is also quite difficult to actually find the correct Crocker line because there are so many with the same christian name and parents names. So the problem is to determine which one is yours? 1828 isn’t very far back to attempt to find a link to someone who lived in the 1600’s, so it’s not possible to answer if your Henry from 1828 could be Tom’s ancestor. Good luck with tracing your partner’s family history!

  28. Hi
    I’ve written a musical called FRECKLES based in Bigbury in the 1930s. Kids comes over to Burgh island and get cut off by the tide…. It just happens to be August 14th……. and who should appear in the Inn???

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