Charles G. Harper_
Nineteen and Nine_
“Free Trade,” we are told, “killed smuggling.” It naturally killed smuggling so far as duty-free articles were concerned; but this all-embracing term of “Free Trade” is altogether a mockery and a delusion. There has never been—there is not now—complete Free Trade in this so-called free-trade country.
“Smuggler.—A wretch who, in defiance of the laws, imports or exports goods without payment of the customs.” — Dr. Johnson
Opinions have ever been divided on the question of the morality, or the immorality, of smuggling. This is not, in itself, remarkable, since that subject on which all men think alike has not yet been discovered; but whatever the views held upon the question of the rights and wrongs of the “free-traders’” craft, they have long since died down into abstract academic discussion. Smuggling is, indeed, not dead, but it is not the potent factor it once was, and to what extent Governments are justified in taxing or restricting in any way the export or the import of goods will not again become a living question in this country until the impending Tariff Reform becomes law. There have been those who, reading the proofs of this book, have variously found in it arguments for, and others arguments against, Protection; but, as a sheer matter of fact, there are in these pages no studied arguments either way, and facts are here presented just as they are retrieved from half-forgotten records, with no other ulterior object than that of entertainment. But if these pages also serve to show with what little wisdom we are, and generally have been, governed, they may not be without their uses. England, it may surely be gathered, here and elsewhere, is what she is by sheer force of dogged middle-class character, and in spite of her statesmen and lawgivers.
Charles G. Harper -- Petersham, Surrey
The Month of July -- the Year Nineteen and Nine
Customs dues and embargoes on imports and exports are things of immemorial antiquity, the inevitable accompaniments of civilisation and luxury; and the smugglers, who paid no dues and disregarded all prohibitions, are therefore of necessity equally ancient. Carthage, the chief commercial community of the ancient world, was probably as greatly troubled by the questions of customs tariffs and smuggling as was the England of George the Third. Without civilisation, and the consequent demand for the products of other lands, the smuggler’s trade cannot exist. In that highly organised condition of so-styled civilisation which produces wars and race-hatreds and hostile tariffs and swollen taxation, the smuggler becomes an important person, a hateful figure to governments, but not infrequently a beneficent being to the ill-provided—in all nations the most numerous class—to whom he brought, at a reasonable price, and with much daring and personal risk, those comforts which, when they had paid toll to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, were all but unattainable.
The chief defence, on the score of morals, set up by those few smugglers who ever were at pains to prove that smuggling could be no crime, was that customs duties were originally imposed in the time of Charles the Second to provide funds for the protection of our coasts from the Algerine and Barbary pirates who then occasionally adventured thus far from their piratical lurks in the Mediterranean and ravaged the more remote villages of our seaboard. When these dangers ceased, contended these smugglers on their defence, the customs dues should automatically have been taken off; but they were, on the contrary, greatly increased.
This view, or excuse, or defence—call it how we will—was, however, entirely without historical foundation. It is true, indeed, that some ports had been taxed, and that customs dues had been imposed for this purpose, but customs charges were immemorially older than the seventeenth century. There were probably such imposts in that lengthy era when Britain was a Roman colony, and we certainly hear of customs charges being levied in the reign of Ethelred, when a toll of one halfpenny was charged upon every small boat arriving at Billingsgate, and one penny upon larger boats, with sails.
These pages will show that not only import, but also export smuggling was long continued in England, and not only so, but that the export smuggling, notably that of wool, was for centuries the most important, if not the only, kind. The prohibition of sending wool out of the kingdom was, of course, introduced with the object of fostering the cloth manufacture; but there are always two sides to any question, and in this case the embargo upon wool soon taught the cloth-workers that, in the matter of prices, they had the wool-growers at their mercy. By law they could not sell to foreign customers, or (later) only upon paying heavy dues; and the cloth-workers could therefore practically dictate their own terms. In this pitiful resort—an example of the disastrous effect of government interference with trade—there was nothing left but to set the law at defiance, which the wool-growers and their allies, the “owlers,” accordingly did, risking life and limb in the wholesale exportation of wool. It is the duty of every citizen to oppose bad laws, but this opposition to ill-conceived enactments creates a furtive class of men, very Ishmaelites, who, with their liberty, and even their lives, forfeit, are rendered capable, in extremity, of any and every enormity. Hence arose those reckless bands of smugglers who in the middle of the eighteenth century became highly organised and all-powerful in Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire, and, realising their power, developed into criminals of the most ferocious type. They were, properly regarded, the products of bad government, the creatures brought into existence by a vicious system that took its origin in the coming of William the Third, the “Deliverer,” as history, tongue in cheek, styles him.
The growth of customs dues in the last years of the seventeenth century, and so onward, in a vicious progression until the opening years of the nineteenth, was not in any way owing to consideration for home traders, or to a desire for the protection of British industries. They grew exactly in proportion as the needs of the Government for revenue increased; and were the direct results of that long-continued policy of foreign alliances and aggressive interference in continental politics—that “spirited foreign policy” advocated even in our own times—which was introduced with the coming of William the Third. We did well to depose James the Second, but we might have done better than bring over his son-in-law and make him king; and we might, still more, have done better than raise the Elector of Hanover to the status of British sovereign, as George the First. Then we should probably have avoided foreign entanglements, at any rate, until that later era when increased intercourse between the nations rendered international politics inevitable.
Foreign wars, and the heavy duties levied to pay for them, brought about the enormous growth of smuggling, and directly caused all the miseries and the blood-stained incidents that make the story of the smugglers so “romantic.” Glory is very fine, and stirs the pulses in reading the pages of history, but it is a commodity for which victorious nations, no less than the defeated, are called upon to pay in blood, tears, and privation.
With the great peace that, in 1815, succeeded the long and harassing period of continual war, the people naturally looked forward towards a time when the excessively heavy duties would be reduced, and many articles altogether relieved from taxation. As a matter of fact, some of these duties scarce paid the cost of their collection, and simply helped to keep in office a large and increasing horde of officials. But the price of glory continues to be paid, long after the laurels have faded; and not for many years to come were those imposts reduced.
Sydney Smith, writing in 1820 on the subject of American desire for a large navy, even then very manifest, warned the people of the United States of the nemesis awaiting such indulgence. “We can inform Jonathan,” he said, “what are the inevitable consequences of being too fond of glory: Taxes upon every article which enters into the mouth, or covers the back, or is placed under the foot; taxes upon everything which it is pleasant to see, hear, feel, smell, or taste; taxes upon warmth, light, and locomotion; taxes on everything on earth, and the waters under the earth; on everything that comes from abroad, or is grown at home; taxes on the raw material, taxes on every fresh value that is added to it by the industry of man; taxes on the sauce which pampers man’s appetite and the drug that restores him to health; on the ermine which decorates the judge and the rope which hangs the criminal; on the poor man’s salt and the rich man’s spice; on the brass nails of the coffin and the ribands of the bride; at bed or board, couchant or levant, we must pay. The schoolboy whips his taxed top; the beardless youth manages his taxed horse with a taxed bridle on a taxed road; and the dying Englishman, pouring his medicine, which has paid seven per cent., into a spoon that has paid fifteen per cent., flings himself back upon his chintz bed which has paid twenty-two per cent., makes his will on an eight-pound stamp, and expires in the arms of an apothecary who has paid a licence of a hundred pounds for the privilege of putting him to death. His whole property is then immediately taxed from two to ten per cent. Besides the probate, large fees are demanded for burying him in the chancel; his virtues are handed down to posterity on taxed marble; and he is then gathered to his fathers—to be taxed no more.”
The real cost of military glory was aptly shown by a caricaturist of this period, who illustrated the general rise of prices consequent upon war in the following incident of an old country-woman buying a halfpenny candle at a chandler’s shop:
“Price has gone up,” said the shopkeeper curtly, when she tendered the money. “What’s that for, then?” asked the old woman. “On account of the war, ma’am.” “Od rot ’em! do they fight by candlelight?” she not unnaturally asked.
Housekeepers of the present day may well enter—although somewhat ruefully—into the humour of this simple story, for in the great and continued rise of every commodity since the great Boer War, it is most poignantly illustrated for us. In short, the people who pay for the glory see nothing of it, and derive nothing from it.
How entirely true were those witty phrases of Sydney Smith we may easily guess from the mere rough statement that there were, in 1787, no fewer than 1,425 articles liable to duty (very many of them taxed at several times their market value), bringing in £6,000,000 a year.
In 1797 the customs laws filled six large folio volumes. The total number of Customs Acts prior to the accession of George the Third was 800, but no fewer than 1,300 were added between the years 1760 and 1813, and newer Acts, partly repealing and partly adding to older enactments, were continually being added to this vast mass of chaotic legislation down to the middle of the Victorian era, until even experts were frequently baffled as to the definite legal position of many given articles. Finally—it is typical of our English amateur way of doing things—in 1876, when so-called “Free Trade” had come in, and few articles remained customable, the customs laws were consolidated.
Many years before, at one swoop, Sir Robert Peel had removed the duties from four hundred different dutiable articles, leaving, however, many hundreds of others more or less heavily assessed.
In consequence of this relief from taxation, smuggling rapidly decreased, and the Commissioners of Customs were enabled to report: “With the reduction of duties, and the removal of all needless and vexatious restrictions, smuggling has greatly diminished, and the public sentiment with regard to it has undergone a very considerable change. The smuggler is no longer an object of general sympathy, as a hero of romance; and people are beginning to awaken to a perception of the fact that his offence is not only a fraud on the revenue, but a robbery of the fair trader. Smuggling is now almost entirely confined to tobacco, spirits, and watches.”
No fewer than four hundred and fifty other dutiable articles were struck off the list in 1845, and the Cobdenite era of Free Trade, to which, it was expected, all other nations would speedily be converted, had opened.
“Free Trade,” we are told, “killed smuggling.” It naturally killed smuggling so far as duty-free articles were concerned; but this all-embracing term of “Free Trade” is altogether a mockery and a delusion. There has never been—there is not now—complete Free Trade in this so-called free-trade country. Wines and spirits, tobacco, tea and coffee, cocoa and sugar, are not they in the forefront of the articles that render regularly to the Chancellor of the Exchequer? There have been, indeed, throughout all the years of the Free Trade era, some forty articles scheduled for paying customs duty on import into the United Kingdom. They help the revenue to the extent of about £27,000,000 per annum.
The romance of smuggling has very largely engaged the attention of every description of writers, but we do not hear so much of its commercial aspects, although it must be evident that for men to dare so greatly as the smugglers did with winds and waves and with the customs’ forces, the possible gains must have been great. Time and again a cargo of tea or of spirits would be seized, and yet the smugglers be prepared with other ventures, knowing, as they did, that one entirely successful run would pay for perhaps two failures. When tea could be purchased in Holland at sevenpence a pound, and sold in England at prices ranging from 3s. 6d. to 5s., and when tobacco, purchased at the same price, sold at 2s. 6d., it is evident that great possibilities existed for the enterprising free-trader.
As regards spirits, if we take brandy as an example, we find almost equal profits; for excellent cognac was shipped from Roscoff, in Brittany, from Cherbourg, Dieppe, and other French ports in tubs of four gallons each, which cost in France £1 a tub, and sold in England at £4. One of the ordinary smuggling luggers, generally built especially for this traffic, on racing lines, would hold eighty tubs.
On such a cargo being brought, according to preconcerted plan, within easy distance off-shore, generally at night, a lantern or other signal shown from cliff or beach by confederates on land would indicate the precise spot where the goods were most safely to be beached; and there would be assembled a sufficient company of labourers engaged for the job. A cargo of eighty tubs required forty men, who carried two each, slung by ropes over chest and back. According to circumstances, they marched in company on foot, inland; or, if the distance were great, they went on horseback, each man with a led horse, carrying three or four tubs in addition. These labourers, although not finally interested in the safe running of the goods, and not paid on any other basis than being hired for the heavy job of carrying considerable weights throughout the night, were quite ready and willing to fight any opponents that might be met, as innumerable accounts of savage encounters tell us. Besides these carriers, there were often, in case of opposition to the landing being anticipated, numerous “batsmen,” armed with heavy clubs, to protect the goods.
The pay of a labourer or carrier varied widely, of course, in different places, at different times, and according to circumstances. It ranged from five shillings to half a sovereign a night, and generally included also a present of a package of tea or a tub of brandy for so many successful runs. It is recorded that the labourers engaged for riding horseback, each with a led horse, from Sandwich, Deal, Dover, Folkestone, or Romney, to Canterbury, a distance of some fifteen miles, were paid seven shillings a night. The horses cost the smugglers nothing, for they were commandeered, as a general rule, from the neighbouring farmers, who did not usually offer any objection, for it was not often that the gangs forgot to leave a tub in payment. The method employed in thus requisitioning horses was quite simple. An unsigned note would be handed to a farmer stating that his horses were wanted, for some purpose unnamed, on a certain night; and that he was desired to leave his stables unlocked for those who would come and fetch them. If he did not comply with this demand he very soon had cause to regret it in the mysterious disasters that would shortly afterwards overtake him: his outbuildings being destroyed by fire, his farming implements smashed, or his cattle mutilated.
The farmers, indeed, were somewhat seriously embarrassed by the prevalence of smuggling. On the one hand, they had to lend their horses for the smugglers’ purposes, and on the other they discovered that the demand for carriers of tubs and other goods shortened the supply of labour available for agricultural purposes, and sent up the rate of wages. A labourer in the pay of smugglers would often be out three nights in the week, and, with the money he received and with additional payment in kind, was in a very comfortable position.
The First of Chapters_ The “Owlers” of Romney Marsh, and the Ancient Export Smuggling of Wool_
The earliest conflicts of interests between smugglers and the Government were concerned with the export of goods, and not with imports. We are accustomed to think only of the import smuggler, who brought from across Channel, or from more distant shores, the spirits, wines, tea, coffee, silks, laces, and tobacco that had never yielded to the revenue of the country; but before him in point of time, if not also in importance, was the “owler” who, defying all prohibitions and penalties, even to those of bodily mutilation and death, sold wool out of England and secretly shipped it at night from the shores of Kent and Sussex.
English wool had from a very early date been greatly in demand on the Continent. The England of those distant times was a purely agricultural country, innocent of arts, industries, and manufactures, except of the most primitive description. The manufacturers then exercised their skilled trades largely in France and the Low Countries; and, in especial, the cloth-weaving industries were practised in Flanders.
So early as the reign of Edward the First the illegal exportation of wool engaged the attention of the authorities, and an export duty of £3 a bag (in modern money) was imposed, soon after 1276. This was in 1298 increased to £6 a bag, then lowered, and then again raised. English wool was then worth 1s. 6d. a pound.
In the reign of Edward the Third a strenuous attempt was made to introduce the weaving industries into England, and every inducement was offered the Flemish weavers to settle here and to bring their art with them. In support of this policy, the export of wool was, in various years, subjected to further restrictions, and at one time entirely forbidden. The royal solicitude for the newly cradled English weaving industries also in 1337 forbade the wearing of clothing made with cloth woven out of the country; but it is hardly necessary to add that edicts of this stringency were constantly broken; and in 1341 Winchelsea, Chichester, and thirteen other ports were named, whence wool might be exported, on payment of a duty of 50s. a sack of twenty-six stone—i.e. 364 lb.
The interferences with the sale and export of wool continued, and the duty was constantly being raised or lowered, according to the supposed needs of the time; but nearly always with unforeseen and disastrous effects. The wool staple was removed to the then English possession of Calais in 1363, and the export of it absolutely forbidden elsewhere. The natural result, in spite of the great amount of smuggling carried on, was that in a long series of years the value of wool steadily fell; the cloth-makers taking advantage of the accumulation of stocks on the growers’ hands to depress the price. In 1390 the growers had from three to five seasons’ crops on hand, and the state of the industry had become such that in the following year permission to export generally, on payment of duty, was conceded. This duty tended to become gradually heavier, and, as it increased, so proportionably did the “owling” trade.
The price of wool therefore declined again, and in 1454 it was recorded as being not more than two-thirds of what it had been a hundred and ten years earlier. The wool-growers, on the brink of ruin, petitioned that wool, according to its various grades, might not be sold under certain fixed prices; which were accordingly fixed.
But to follow, seriatim, the movements in prices and the complete reversals of Government policy regarding the export, would be wearisome. We will, therefore, pass on to the Restoration of the monarchy, in 1660, when the export of wool was again entirely forbidden. Smuggling of it was in 1662 again, by the reactionary laws of the period, made a felony, punishable with death; yet the active smugglers, the rank and file of the owling trade, who performed the hard manual labour for wages, at the instigation of those financially interested, continued to risk their necks for twelvepence a day. The low price their services commanded is alone sufficient to show us that labour, in spite of the risks, was plentiful. Not only Kent and Sussex, but Essex, and Ireland as well, largely entered into this secret “stealing of wool out of the country,” as the phrase ran; and “these caterpillars” had so many evasions, and commanded so many combinations and interests among those officials whose business it was to detect and punish, that few dared interfere: hence the readiness of the labourers to “risk their necks,” the risk being, under the circumstances, small.
Indeed, readers of the adventures of these owling desperadoes and of the customs officers who hunted them will, perhaps, come to the conclusion that the risks on either side were pretty evenly apportioned, and they will see that the hunters not seldom became the hunted.
The experiences of one W. Carter, who appears to have been in authority over the customs staff in the Romney Marsh district, towards the close of the seventeenth century, were at times singularly vivid. His particular “hour of crowded life” came in 1688, while he was engaged in an attempt to arrest a body of owlers who were shipping wool into some French shallops between Folkestone and New Romney.
Having procured the necessary warrants, he repaired to Romney, where he seized eight or ten men who were carrying the wool on their horses’ backs to be shipped, and desired the Mayor of Romney to commit them, but, greatly to the surprise of this zealous officer, who doubtless imagined he had at last laid some of these desperate fellows securely by the heels, the Mayor of Romney consented to the prisoners being admitted to bail. Mr. Carter, to have been so ingenuously surprised, must have been a singularly simple official, or quite new to the business; for what Mayor of Romney in those days, when every one on the Marsh smuggled, or was interested financially in the success of smuggling, would dare not deal leniently with these fellows! Nay, it was even abundantly probable that the Mayor himself was financially committed in these ventures, and perhaps even among the employers of Mr. Carter’s captives.
Romney was no safe abiding-place for Carter and his underlings when these men were enlarged; and they accordingly retired upon Lydd. But if they had fondly expected peace and shelter there they were woefully mistaken, for a Marshland cry of vengeance was raised, and a howling mob of owlers, ululating more savagely than those melancholy birds from whom they took their name, violently attacked them in that little town, under cover of night. The son of the Mayor of Lydd, well disposed to these sadly persecuted revenue men, advised them to further retire upon Rye, which they did the next morning, December 13th, pursued hotly across the dyke-intersected marshes, as far as Camber Point, by fifty furious men.
At Guilford Ferry the pursuers were so close upon their heels that they had to hurriedly dismount and tumble into some boats belonging to ships lying near, leaving their horses behind; and so they came safe, but breathless, into Rye town.
At this period Calais—then lost to England—alone imported within two years 40,000 packs of wool from Kent and Sussex; and the Romney Marsh men not only sold their own wool in their illicit manner, but bought other from up-country, ten or twenty miles inland, and impudently shipped it off.
In 1698, the severe laws of some thirty years earlier having been thus brought into contempt, milder penal enactments were introduced, but more stringent conditions than ever were imposed upon the collection and export of this greatly vexed commodity, and the civil deterrents of process and fine, aimed at the big men in the trade, were strengthened. A law was enacted (9 & 10 William the Third, c. 40, ss. 2 and 3) by which no person living within fifteen miles of the sea in the counties of Kent and Sussex should buy any wool before he became responsible in a legal bond, with sureties, that none of the wool he should buy should be sold by him to any persons within fifteen miles of the sea; and growers of wool in those counties, within ten miles of the coast, were obliged, within three days of shearing, to account for the number of fleeces shorn, and to state where they were stored.
The success of this new law was not at first very marked, for the means of enforcing it had not been provided. To enact repressive edicts, and not to provide the means of their being respected, was as unsatisfactory as fighting the wind. The Government, viewing England as a whole, appointed under the new Act seventeen surveyors for nineteen counties, with 299 riding-officers: a force barely sufficient for Kent and Sussex alone. It cost £20,000 a year, and never earned its keep.
Henry Baker, supervisor for Kent and Sussex, writing on April 25th, 1699, to his official chiefs, stated that there would be shorn in Romney Marsh, quite apart from the adjacent levels of Pett, Camber, Guilford, and Dunge Marsh, about 160,000 sheep, whose fleeces would amount to some three thousand packs of wool, “the greatest part whereof will immediately be sent off hot into France—it being so designed, preparations in great measure being already made for that purpose.”
In fact, the new law at first did nothing more than to give the owlers some extra trouble and expense in cartage of their packs; for, in order to legally evade the extra disabilities it imposed, it was only necessary to cart them fifteen miles inland and make fictitious sale and re-sale of them there; thence shipping them as they pleased.
By this time the exportation of wool had become not only a kingly concern—it had aroused the keen interest of the nation at large, fast becoming an industrial and cloth-weaving nation. For two centuries and more past the cloth-workers had been growing numerous, wealthy, and powerful, and they meant, as far as it was possible for them to do, to starve the continental looms out of the trade, for sheer lack of material. No one cared in the least about the actual grower of the wool, whether he made a loss or a profit on his business. It is obvious that if export of it could have been wholly stopped, the cloth-workers, in the forced absence of foreign buyers, would have held the unfortunate growers in the hollow of their hands, and would have been able to dictate the price of wool.
It is the inalienable right of every human being to fight against unjust laws; only we must be sure they are unjust. Perhaps the dividing-line, when self-interest is involved, is not easily to be fixed. But there can be no doubt that the wool-growers were labouring under injustice, and that they were entirely justified in setting those laws at naught which menaced their existence.
However, by December 1703, Mr. Baker was able to give his superiors a more favourable report. He believed the neck of the owling trade to have been broken and the spirit of the owlers themselves to have been crushed, particularly in Romney Marsh. There were not, at that time, he observed, “many visible signs” of any quantities of wool being exported: which seems to us rather to point to the perfected organisation of the owling trade than to its being crushed out of existence.
“But for fine goods,” continued the supervisor, “as they call them (viz. silks, lace, etc.), I am well assured that the trade goes on through both counties, though not in such vast quantities as have been formerly brought in—I mean in those days when (as a gentleman of estate in one of the counties has within this twelve months told me) he has been att once, besides at other times, at the loading of a wagon with silks, laces, etc., till six oxen could hardly move it out of the place. I doe not think that the trade is now so carried on as ’twas then.”
Things being so promising in the purview of this simple person, it seemed well to him to suggest to the Commissioners of the Board of Customs that a reduction of the annual charge of £4,500 for the preventive service along the coasts of Kent and Sussex might be effected. At that time there were fifty preventive officers patrolling over two hundred miles of seaboard, each in receipt of £60 per annum, and each provided with a servant and a horse, to help in night duty, at an estimated annual cost of £30 for each officer.
We may here legitimately pause in surprise at the small pay for which these men were ready to endure the dangers and discomforts of such a service; very real perils and most unmistakable disagreeables, in midst of an almost openly hostile country-side.
Mr. Baker, sanguine man that he was, proposed to abolish the annual allowance to each of these hard-worked men for servant and horse, thus saving £1,500 a year, and to substitute for them patrols of the Dragoon regiments at that time stationed in Kent. These regiments had been originally placed there in 1698 to overawe the owlers and other smugglers, the soldiers being paid twopence extra a day (which certainly did not err upon the side of extravagance) and the officers in proportion: the annual cost on that head amounting to £200 per annum. This military stiffening of the civil force employed to prevent clandestine export and import appears to have been discontinued in 1701, after about two years’ experiment.
These revived patrols, at a cost of £200, the supervisor calculated, would more efficiently and economically undertake the work hitherto performed by the preventive officers’ horses and men, still leaving a saving of £1,300 a year. With this force, and a guard of cruisers offshore, he was quite convinced that the smuggling of these parts would still be kept under.
But alas for these calculations! The economy thus effected on this scheme, approved of and put into being, was altogether illusory. The owling trade, of which the supervisor had supposed the neck to be broken, flourished more impudently than before. The Dragoons formed a most inefficient patrol, and worked ill with the revenue officers, and, in short, the Revenue lost annually many more thousands of pounds sterling than it saved hundreds. When sheriffs and under-sheriffs could be, and were, continually bribed, it is not to be supposed that Dragoons, thoroughly disliking such an inglorious service as that of chasing smugglers along muddy lanes and across country intricately criss-crossed with broad dykes rarely to be jumped, would be superior to secret advances that gave them much more than their miserable twopence a day.
Transportation for wool-smugglers who did not pay the fines awarded against them was enacted in 1717; ineffectually, for in 1720 it was found necessary to issue a proclamation, enforcing the law; and in five successive years from 1731 the cloth-workers are found petitioning for greater vigilance against the continued clandestine exportation, alleging a great decay in the woollen manufactures owing to this illegal export; 150,000 packs being shipped yearly. “It is feared,” said these petitioners, fighting for their own hand, regardless, of course, of other interests, “that some gentlemen of no mean rank, whose estates border on the sea-coast, are too much influenced by a near, but false, prospect of gain”: to which the gentlemen in question, being generally brought up on the dead classic languages, might most fairly have replied, had they cared to do so, with the easy Latinity of Tu quoque!
This renewed daring and enterprise of the Sussex smugglers led to many encounters with the customs officers. Among these was the desperate engagement between sixty armed smugglers and customs men at Ferring, on June 21st, 1720, when William Goldsmith, of the Customs, had his horse shot under him.
A humorous touch, so far at least as the modern reader of these things is concerned, is found in the Treasury warrant issued about this time, for the sum of £200, for supplying a regiment with new boots and stockings; their usual allowance of these indispensable articles having been “worn out in the pursuit of smugglers.”
In spite of all attempts to suppress these illegal activities, it had to be acknowledged, in the preamble of an Act passed in 1739, that the export of wool was “notoriously continued.”
The old-established owling trade of Romney Marsh at length, after many centuries, gave place to the clandestine import of silks, tea, spirits, and tobacco; but it was only by slow and insensible degrees that the owlers’ occupation dwindled away, in the lessening foreign demand for English wool. The last was not heard of this more than five-centuries-old question of the export of wool, that had so severely exercised the minds of some twenty generations, and had baffled the lawgivers in all that space of time, until the concluding year of the final wars with France at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Many other articles were at the same time forbidden to be exported; among them Fuller’s-earth, used in the manufacture of cloth, and so, of course, subject to the same interdict as wool. A comparatively late Exchequer trial for the offence of exporting Fuller’s-earth was that of one Edmund Warren, in 1693. Fortunately for the defendant, he was able to show that what he had exported was not Fuller’s-earth at all, but potter’s clay.
The Second of Chapters_ Growth of Tea and Tobacco Smuggling in the Eighteenth Century—Repressive Laws a Failure_
Side by side with the export smuggling of wool, the import smuggling of tobacco and tea grew and throve amazingly in later ages. Every one, knowingly or unsuspectingly, smoked tobacco and drank tea that had paid no duty.
“Great Anna” herself, who was among the earliest to yield to the refining influence of tea—
Great Anna, whom three realms obey,
Doth sometimes counsel take, and sometimes tay—
in all probability often drank tea which had contributed nothing to the revenue. Between them tea and tobacco, in the illegal landing of the goods, found employment for hundreds of hardy seafaring men and stalwart landsmen, and led to much violence and bloodshed, beside which the long-drawn annals of the owlers seem almost barren of incident.
Early in the eighteenth century, when continental wars of vast magnitude were in progress, the list of dutiable articles began to grow quickly, and concurrently with the growth of this list the already existing tariff was continually increased. The smugglers’ trade grew with these growths, and for the first time became a highly organised and widely distributed trade, involving every class. The time had come at last when every necessary of daily use was taxed heavily, often far above its ordinary trading value; and an absurd, and indeed desperate, condition of affairs had been reached, in which people of all ranks were more or less faced with the degrading dilemma of being unable to afford many articles generally consumed by persons of their station in life, or of procuring them of the smugglers—the “free traders,” as they rightly styled themselves—often at a mere one-third of the cost to which they would have been put had their illicit purchasers paid duty.
The Government was, as we now perceive, in the mental perspective afforded by lapse of time, in the clearly indefensible position of heavily taxing the needs of the country, and of making certain practices illegal that tended to supply those needs at much lower rates than those thus artificially created, and yet of being unable to provide adequate means by which these generally detested laws could be enforced. It was, and is, no defence to hold that the revenues thus hoped for were a sufficient excuse. To create an artificial restraint of trade, to elevate trading in spite of restraint into a crime, and yet not to provide an overmastering force that shall secure obedience, if not in one sense respect, for those unnatural laws, was in itself a course of action that any impartial historian might well hold to be in itself criminal; for it led to continual disturbances throughout the country, with appalling violence, and great loss of life, in conflict, or in the darker way of secret murder.
But no historian would, on weighing the evidence available, feel altogether sure of so sweeping an indictment of the eighteenth-century governance of England. It was corrupt, it was self-seeking, it had no breadth of view; but the times were well calculated to test the most Heaven-sent statesmanship. The country, as were all other countries, was governed for the classes; and governed, as one would conduct a business, for revenue; whether the revenue was to be applied in conducting foreign wars, or to find its way plentifully into the pockets of placemen, does not greatly matter. This misgovernment was a characteristic failing of the age; and it must, moreover, be recognised that the historian, with his comprehensive outlook upon the past, spread out, so to speak, map-like to his gaze, has the advantage of seeing these things as a whole, and of criticising them as such; while the givers and administrators of laws were under the obvious disadvantages of each planning and working for what they considered to be the needs of their own particular period, with those of the future unknown, and perhaps uncared for. That there were some few among those in authority who wrought according to their lights, however feeble might be their illumination, must be conceded even to that age.
At the opening of this era, when Marlborough’s great victories were yet fresh, and when the cost of them and of other military glories was wearing the country threadbare, the most remarkable series of repressive Acts, directed against smuggling, began. Vessels of very small tonnage and light draught, being found peculiarly useful to smugglers, the use of such, even in legalised importing, was strictly forbidden, and no craft of a lesser burthen than fifteen tons was permitted. This provision, it was fondly conceived, would strike a blow at smuggling, by rendering it impossible to slip up narrow and shallow waterways; but this pious expectation was doomed to disappointment, and the limit was accordingly raised to thirty tons; and again, in 1721, to forty tons. At the same time, the severest restrictions were imposed upon boats, in order to cope with the ten, or even twelve and fourteen-oared galleys, rowed by determined “free-traders.”
To quote the text of one among these drastic ordinances:
“Any boat built to row with more than four oars, found upon land or water within the counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Kent, or Sussex, or in the river Thames, or within the limits of the ports of London, Sandwich, or Ipswich, or any boat rowing with more than six oars found either upon land or water, in any other port, or within two leagues of the coast of Great Britain, shall be forfeited, and every person using or rowing in such boat shall forfeit £40.”
These prohibitions were, in 1779, in respect of boats to row with more than six oars, extended to all other English counties; the port of Bristol only excepted.
As for smuggling craft captured with smuggled goods the way of the revenue authorities with such was drastic. They were sawn in three pieces, and then thoroughly broken up.
The futility of these extraordinary steps is emphasised by the report of the Commissioners of Customs to the Treasury in 1733, that immense smuggling operations were being conducted in Kent, Sussex, Essex, and Suffolk. In twelve months, this report declared, 54,000 lb. of tea and 123,000 gallons of brandy had been seized, and still, in spite of these tremendous losses, the spirit of the smugglers was unbroken, and smuggling was increasing. An additional force of 106 Dragoons was asked for, to stiffen that of 185 already patrolling those coasts.
It was clearly required, with the utmost urgency, for such a mere handful of troops spread over this extended seaboard could scarce be considered a sufficient backing for the civil force, in view of the determined encounters continually taking place, in which the recklessness and daring of the smugglers knew no bounds. Thus, in June 1733, the officers of customs at Newhaven, attempting to seize ten horses laden with tea, at Cuckmere, were opposed by about thirty men, armed with pistols and blunderbusses, who fired on the officers, took them prisoners, and kept them under guard until the goods were safely carried off.
In August of the same year the riding-officers, observing upwards of twenty smugglers at Greenhay, most of them on horseback, pluckily essayed to do their duty and seize the goods, but the smugglers fell furiously upon them, and with clubs knocked one off his horse, severely wounded him, and confined him for an hour, while the run was completed. Of his companions no more is heard. They probably—to phrase it delicately—went for assistance.
In July 1735, customs officers of the port of Arundel, watching the coast, expecting goods to be run from a hovering smuggler craft, were discovered by a gang of more than twenty armed smugglers, anxiously waiting for the landing, and not disposed for an all-night trial of endurance in that waiting game. They accordingly seized the officers and confined them until some boatloads of contraband had been landed and conveyed away on horseback. In the same month, at Kingston-by-the-Sea, between Brighton and Shoreham, some officers, primed with information of a forthcoming run of brandy, and seeking it, found as well ten smugglers with pistols. Although the smugglers were bold and menacing, the customs men on this occasion had the better of it, for they seized and duly impounded the brandy.
A more complicated affair took place on December 6th of the same year, when some customs officers of Newhaven met a large, well-armed gang of smugglers, who surrounded them and held them prisoners for an hour and a half. The same gang then fell in with another party, consisting of three riding-officers and six Dragoons, and were bold enough to attack them. Foolish enough, we must also add; for they got the worst of the encounter, and, fleeing in disorder, were pursued; five—armed with pistols, swords, and cutlasses, and provided with twelve horses—being captured.
A fatal encounter took place at Bulverhythe, between Hastings and Bexhill, in March 1737. It is best read of in the anonymous letter written to the Commissioners of Customs by a person who, for fear of the smuggling gangs, was afraid to disclose his real name, and subscribed himself “Goring.” The letter—whose cold-blooded informing, the work evidently of an educated, but cruel-minded person, is calculated to make any reader of generous instincts shiver—is to be found among the customs correspondence, in the Treasury Papers.
“May it please [your] Honours,—It is not unknown to your Lordships of the late battle between the Smuglers and Officers at Bulverhide; and in relation to that Business, if your Honours but please to advise in the News Papers, that this is expected off, I will send a List of the names of the Persons that were at that Business, and the places’ names where they are usually and mostly resident. Cat (Morten’s man) fired first, Morten was the second that fired; the soldiers fired and killed Collison, wounded Pigon, who is since dead; William Weston was wounded, but like to recover. Young Mr. Bowra was not there, but his men and horses were; from your Honours’
“Dutifull and Most faithfull servant,
“There was no foreign persons at this Business, but all were Sussex men, and may easily be spoke with.
“This [is] the seventh time Morten’s people have workt this winter, and have not lost anything but one half-hundred [of tea] they gave to a Dragoon and one officer they met with the first of this winter; and the Hoo company have lost no goods, although they constantly work, and at home too, since they lost the seventy hundred-weight. When once the Smuglers are drove from home they will soon all be taken. Note, that some say it was Gurr that fired first. You must well secure Cat, or else your Honours will soon lose the man; the best way will be to send for him up to London, for he knows the whole Company, and hath been Morten’s servant two years. There were several young Chaps with the Smuglers, whom, when taken, will soon discover the whole Company. The number was twenty-six men. Mack’s horses, Morten’s, and Hoak’s, were killed, and they lost not half their goods. They have sent for more goods, and twenty-nine horses set out from Groombridge this day, about four in the afternoon, and all the men well armed with long guns.
“And if I hear this is received, I will send your Honours the Places names where your Honours will intercep the Smuglers as they go to Market with their Goods, but it must be done by Soldiers, for they go stronger now than ever. And as for Mr. Gabriel Tompkin, Supervisor of Dartford, there can be good reason given that Jacob Walter brought him Goods for three years last past, and it is likewise no dispute of that matter amongst allmost all the Smuglers. The Bruces and Jacob fought about that matter and parted Company’s, and Mr. Tompkin was allway, as most people know, a villain when a Smugler and likewise Officer. He never was concern’d with any Body but Jacob, and now Jacob has certainly done with Smugling. I shall not trouble your Honours with any more Letters if I do not hear from this, and I do assure your Honours what I now write is truth.
“There are some Smuglers with a good sum of money, and they may pay for taking; as Thomas Darby, Edward King, John Mackdanie, and others that are rich.
“The Hoo Company might have been all ruined when they lost their goods; the Officers and Soldiers knew them all, but they were not prosecuted, as [they] was not at Groombridge, when some time since a Custom House Officer took some Tea and Arms too in Bowra’s house at Groombridge.
“The first of this Winter, the Groombridge Smuglers were forced to carry their goods allmost all up to Rushmore Hill and Cester Mark, which some they do now, but Tea sells quick in London now, and Chaps from London come down to Groombridge allmost every day, as they used to do last Winter. When once they come to be drove from home, they will be put to great inconveniences, when they are from their friends and will lose more Goods than they do now, and be at more Charges. Do but take up some of the Servants, they will soon rout the Masters, for the Servants are all poor.
“Young Bowra’s House cost £500 building, and he will pay for looking up.
“Morten and Bowra sold, last Winter, some-ways, about 3,000 [lb.] weight a week.”
We hear nothing further of “Goring,” and there is nothing to show who was the person whose cold malignance appears horribly in every line of his communication. Any action that may have been officially taken upon it is also hidden from us. But we may at least gather from it that the master-men, the employers of the actual smugglers of the goods, were in a considerable way of business, and already making very large profits. We see, too, that the smuggling industry was even then well on towards being a powerful organisation.
Still sterner legislative methods were, accordingly, in the opinion of the authorities, called for, and the Act of Indemnity of 1736 was the first result. This was a peculiarly mean and despicable measure, even for a Revenue Act. There is this excuse—although a small one—for it; that the Government was increasingly pressed for money, and that the enormous leakage of customs dues might possibly in some degree be lessened by stern and not very high-minded laws. By this Act it was provided that smugglers who desired (whether on trial or not) to obtain a free pardon for past offences, might do so by fully disclosing them; at the same time giving the names of their fellows. The especial iniquity of this lamentable example of frantic legislation, striking as it did at the very foundations of character in the creation of the informer and the sneak, is a sad instance of the moral obliquity to which a Government under stress of circumstances can descend.
The Act further proceeded to deal with backsliders who, having purged themselves as above, again resumed their evil courses, and it made the ways of transgressors very hard indeed; for, when captured, they were charged with not only their present offence, but also with that for which they had compounded with the Dev— that is to say, with the law. And, being so charged, and duly convicted, their case was desperate; for if the previous offence had carried with it, on conviction, a sentence of transportation (as many smuggling offences did: among them the carrying of firearms by three, or more men, while engaged in smuggling goods), the second brought a sentence of death.
With regard to the position of the pardoned smuggler who had earned his pardon by thus peaching on his fellows, it is not too much to say—certainly so far as the more ferocious smuggling gangs of Kent and Sussex were concerned—that by so doing he had already earned his capital sentence; for the temper of these men was such, and the risks they were made to run by these ferocious Acts were so great, that they would not—and, in a way of looking at these things, could not—suffer an informer to live.
Thus, even the additional inducements offered to informers by statute—including a reward of £50 each for the discovery and conviction of two or more accomplices—very generally failed to obtain results.
Many other items of unexampled severity were included in this Act, and in the yet more drastic measures of 1745 and the following year. By these it was provided that persons found loitering within five miles of the sea-coast, or any navigable river, might be considered suspicious persons; and they ran the risk of being taken before a magistrate, who was empowered, on any such person being unable to give a satisfactory account of himself, to commit him to the House of Correction, there to be whipped and kept at hard labour for any period not exceeding one month.
In 1746, assembling to run contraband goods was made a crime punishable with death as a felon, and counties were made liable for revenue losses. Smuggled goods seized and afterwards rescued entailed a fine of £200 upon the county; a revenue officer beaten by smugglers cost the county £40; or if killed, £100; with the provision that the county should be exempt if the offenders were convicted within six months.
As regards the offenders themselves, if they failed to surrender within forty days and were afterwards captured, the person who captured them was entitled to a reward of £500.
Dr. Johnson’s definition of a smuggler appears on the title-page of the present volume. It is not a flattering testimonial to character; but, on the other hand, his opinion of a Commissioner of Excise—and such were the sworn enemies of smugglers—was much more unfavourable. Such an one was bracketed by the doctor with a political pamphleteer, or what he termed “a scribbler for a party,” as one of “the two lowest of human beings.” Without the context in which these judgments are now placed, it would be more than a little difficult to trace their reasoning, which sounds as little sensible as it would be to declare at one and the same time a burglar to be a dangerous pest and a policeman a useless ornament. But if smugglers can be proved from these pages wicked and reckless men, so undoubtedly shall we find the Commissioners of Excise and Customs, in their several spheres, appealing to the basest of human instincts, and thus abundantly worthy of Johnson’s censure.
The shifts and expedients of the Commissioners of Customs for the suppression of smuggling were many and ingenious, and none was more calculated to perform the maximum of service to the Revenue with the minimum of cost than the commissioning of privateers, authorised to search for, to chase, and to capture if possible any smuggling craft. “Minimum of cost” is indeed not the right expression for use here, for the cost and risks to the customs establishment were nil. It should be said here that, although the Acts of Parliament directed against smuggling were of the utmost stringency, they were not always applied with all the severity possible to be used; and, on the other hand, customs officers and the commanders of revenue cutters were well advised to guard against any excess of zeal in carrying out their instructions. To chase and capture a vessel that every one knew perfectly well to be a smuggler, and then to find no contraband aboard, because, as a matter of fact, it had been carefully sunk at some point where it could easily be recovered at leisure, was not only not the way to promotion as a zealous officer; but was, on the contrary, in the absence of proof that contraband had been carried, a certain way to official disfavour. And it was also, as many officers found to their cost, the way into actions at law, with resultant heavy damages not infrequently awarded against them. It was, indeed, a scandal that these public servants, who assuredly rarely ever brought to, or overhauled, a vessel without reasonable and probable cause, should have been subject to such contingencies, without remedy of any kind.
The happy idea of licensing private adventurers to build and equip vessels to make private war upon smuggling craft, and to capture them and their cargoes, was an extension of the original plan of issuing letters of marque to owners of vessels for the purpose of inflicting loss upon an enemy’s commerce; but persons intending to engage upon this private warfare against smuggling had, in the first instance, to give security to the Commissioners of a diligence in the cause thus undertaken, and to enter into business details respecting the cargoes captured. It was, however, not infrequently found, in practice, that these privateers very often took to smuggling on their own account, and that, under the protective cloak of their ostensible affairs, they did a very excellent business; while, to complete this picture of failure, those privateers that really did keep to their licensed trade generally contrived to lose money and to land their owners into bankruptcy.
The Third of Chapters_ Terrorising Bands of Smugglers—The Hawkhurst Gang—Organised Attack on Goudhurst—The “Smugglers’ Song”
But the smugglers of Kent and Sussex were by far the most formidable of all the “free-traders” in England, and were not easily to be suppressed. Smuggling, export and import, off those coasts was naturally heavier than elsewhere, for there the Channel was narrower, and runs more easily effected. The interests involved were consequently much greater, and the organisation of the smugglers, from the master-men to the labourers, more nearly perfect. To interfere with any of the several confederacies into which these men were banded for the furtherance of their illicit trade was therefore a matter of considerable danger, and, well knowing the terror into which they had thrown the country-side, they presumed upon it, to extend their activities into other, and even less reputable, doings. The intervals between carrying tubs, and otherwise working for the master-smugglers became filled, towards the middle of the eighteenth century, with acts of highway robbery and house-breaking, and, in the home counties, at any rate, smuggling proved often to be only the first step in a career of crime.
Among these powerful and terrorising confederacies, the Hawkhurst gang was pre-eminent. The constitution of it was, necessarily, a matter of inexact information, for the officers and the rank and file of such societies are mentioned by no minute-books or reports. But one of its principals was, without question, Arthur Gray, or Grey, who was one of those “Sea Cocks” after whom Seacox Heath, near Hawkhurst, in Kent, is supposed to be named. He was a man who did things on, for those times, a grand scale, and was said to be worth £10,000. He had built on that then lonely ridge of ground, overlooking at a great height the Weald of Kent, large store houses—a kind of illicit “bonded warehouses”—for smuggled goods, and made the spot a distributing centre. That all these facts should have been contemporaneously known, and Gray’s store not have been raided by the Revenue, points to an almost inconceivable state of lawlessness. The buildings were in after years known as “Gray’s Folly”; but it was left for modern times to treat the spot in a truly sportive way: when Lord Goschen, who built the modern mansion of Seacox Heath on the site of the smuggler’s place of business, became Chancellor of the Exchequer. If the unquiet ghosts of the old smugglers ever revisit their old haunts, how weird must have been the ironic laughter of Gray at finding this the home of the chief financial functionary of the Government!
In December 1744 the gang were responsible for the impudent abduction of a customs officer and three men who had attempted to seize a run of goods at Shoreham. They wounded the officer and carried the four off to Hawkhurst, where they tied two of them, who had formerly been smugglers and had ratted to the customs service, to trees, whipped them almost to death, and then took them down to the coast again and shipped them to France. A reward of £50 was offered, but never claimed.
To exhume yet another incident from the forgotten doings of the time: In March 1745 a band of twelve or fourteen smugglers assaulted three custom-house officers whom they found in an alehouse at Grinstead Green, wounded them in a barbarous manner, and robbed them of their watches and money.
In the same year a gang entered a farmhouse near Sheerness, in Sheppey, and stole a great quantity of wool, valued at £1,500. A week later £300 worth of wool, which may or may not have been a portion of that stolen, was seized upon a vessel engaged in smuggling it from Sheerness, and eight men were secured.
The long immunity of the Hawkhurst Gang from serious interference inevitably led to its operations being extended in every direction, and the law-abiding populace of Kent and Sussex eventually found themselves dominated by a great number of fearless marauders, whose will for a time was a greater law than the law of the land. None could take legal action against them without going hourly in personal danger, or in fear of house, crops, wheat-stacks, hay-ricks, or stock being burnt or otherwise injured.
The village of Goudhurst, a picturesque spot situated upon a hill on the borders of Kent and Sussex, was the first place to resent this ignoble subserviency. The villagers and the farmers round about were wearied of having their horses commandeered by mysterious strangers for the carrying of contraband goods that did not concern them, and were determined no longer to have their houses raided with violence for money or anything else that took the fancy of these fellows.
They had at last found themselves faced with the alternatives, almost incredible in a civilised country, of either deserting their houses and leaving their property at the mercy of these marauders, or of uniting to oppose by force their lawless inroads. The second alternative was chosen; a paper expressive of their abhorrence of the conduct of the smugglers, and of the determination to oppose them was drawn up and subscribed to by a considerable number of persons, who assumed the style of the “Goudhurst Band of Militia.” At their head was a young man named Sturt, who had recently been a soldier. He it was who had persuaded the villagers to be men, and make some spirited resistance.
News of this unexpected stand on the part of these hitherto meek-spirited people soon reached the ears of the dreaded Hawkhurst Gang, who contrived to waylay one of the “Militia,” and, by means of torture and imprisonment, extorted from him a full disclosure of the plans and intentions of his colleagues. They swore the man not to take up arms against them, and then let him go; telling him to inform the Goudhurst people that they would, on a certain day named, attack the place, murder every one in it, and then burn it to the ground.
Sturt, on receiving this impudent message, assembled his “Militia,” and, pointing out to them the danger of the situation, employed them in earnest preparations. While some were sent to collect firearms, others were set to casting bullets and making cartridges, and to providing defences.
Punctually at the time appointed (a piece of very bad policy on their part, by which they would appear to have been fools as well as rogues) the gang appeared, headed by Thomas Kingsmill, and fired a volley into the village, over the entrenchments made. The embattled villagers replied, some from the houses and roof-tops, and others from the leads of the church-tower; when George Kingsmill, brother of the leading spirit in the attack, was shot dead. He is alluded to in contemporary accounts as the person who had killed a man at Hurst Green, a few miles distant.
In the firing that for some time continued two others of the smugglers, one Barnet Wollit and a man whose name is not mentioned, were killed and several wounded. The rest then fled, pursued by the valorous “Militia,” who took a few prisoners, afterwards handed over by them to the law, and executed.
Surprisingly little is heard of this—as we, in these more equable times, are prone to think it—extraordinary incident. A stray paragraph or so in the chronicles of the time is met with, and that is all. It was only one of the usual lawless doings of the age.
But to-day the stranger in the village may chance, if he inquires a little into the history of the place, to hear wild and whirling accounts of this famous event; and, if he be at all enterprising, will find in the parish registers of burials this one piece of documentary evidence toward the execution done that day:
“1747, A, George Kingsmill, Dux sclerum glande plumbeo emisso, cecidit.”
All these things, moreover, are duly enshrined, amid much fiction, in the pages of G. P. R. James’s novel, “The Smuggler.”
And still the story of outrage continued. On August 14th, 1747, a band of twenty swaggering smugglers rode, well-armed and reckless, into Rye and halted at the “Red Lion” inn, where they remained drinking until they grew rowdy and violent.
Coming into the street again, they discharged their pistols at random, and, as the old account of these things concludes, “observing James Marshall, a young man, too curious of their behaviour, carried him off, and he has not since been heard of.”
History tells us nothing of the fate of that unfortunate young man; but, from other accounts of the bloodthirsty characters of these Kentish and Sussex malefactors, we imagine the very worst.
Others, contemporary with them—if, indeed, they were not the same men, as seems abundantly possible—captured two revenue officers near Seaford, and, securely pinning them down to the beach at low-water mark, so that they could not move, left them there, so that, when the tide rose, they were drowned.
Again, on September 14th of this same year, 1747, a smuggler named Austin, violently resisting arrest, shot a sergeant dead with a blunderbuss at Maidstone.
In “The Smugglers’ Song” Mr. Rudyard Kipling has vividly reconstructed those old times of dread, when, night and day, the numerous and well-armed bodies of smugglers openly traversed the country, terrorising every one. To look too curiously at these high-handed ruffians was, as we have already seen, an offence, and the most cautious among the rustics made quite sure of not incurring their high displeasure—and incidentally of not being called upon by the revenue authorities as witnesses to the identity of any among their number—by turning their faces the other way when the free-traders passed. Mothers, too, were careful to bid their little ones on the Marshland roads, or in the very streets of New Romney, to turn their faces to the hedge-side, or to the wall, “when the gentlemen went by.” And—
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 ask 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.
... but no historian would, on weighing the evidence available, feel altogether sure of so sweeping an indictment of the eighteenth-century governance of England ... it was corrupt, it was self-seeking, it had no breadth of view ... but the times were well calculated to test the most Heaven-sent statesmanship ...