Most of us were aware smuggling had taken place in this area but none of us knew it was much more prolific here than it ever was in Cornwall! This was one of many facts imparted by Michael Andrews in his talk at our March meeting that kept our members enthralled.
Michael explained the trade developed as a consequence of high excise duties imposed by the Government in order to pay for our participation in various wars during the 18th and 19th centuries. Smuggling drew to itself people of all ranks from ordinary workers, who were desperately poorly paid, to businessmen and gentry who put up capital to fund the smuggling enterprises.
The smugglers had a reputation for ruthlessness in order to protect their business and their freedom and the locals were either bought off or scared off. The “excisemen” were woefully under-resourced in both manpower and equipment.. Their sailing craft were no match for the heavily-armed luggers of the smugglers and so the trade flourished almost unchecked.
It wasn’t until after the fall of Bonaparte and their end of hostilities on the Continent that the authorities started to fight back. With more warships and soldiers being returned to the UK, more resources could be deployed against the smuggling gangs. An example of this was seen in the Battle of Mudeford, when a pitched battle took place between smugglers and a force of sailors and marines landed from a warship in the area as part of an anti-smuggling patrol.
This sort of effort, and the fall in excise duties consequent upon the end of the war, saw a reduction of the quantity of goods landed such that by the 1870s the trade had all but ended. We look forward to welcoming Michael back with more of his fascinating smugglers’ tales.