In my latest Austen-inspired story, Losing Lizzy: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary, smugglers in Kent were mentioned several times. Yet, what do we know of these smugglers?
Daniel Defoe wrote a poem about smugglers in Deal, Kent, who turned the town into a sea of violence and debauchery. They ran the town for almost fifty years. No one could stop them until the crack down came because the gold from England was going to French smugglers and then straight to Napolean’s coffers. Only then did the Crown really take notice, and Dragoons were often sent to stop them.
“If I had any satire left to write,
Could I with suited spleen indite,
My verse should blast that fatal town,
And drown’d sailors’ widows pull it down;
No footsteps of it should appear,
And ships no more cast anchor there.
The barbarous hated name of Deal shou’d die,
Or be a term of infamy;
And till that’s done, the town will stand
A just reproach to all the land”
A good source on smugglers, in general, and specific to Kent is Smuggling in Kent and Sussex 1700-1840 by Mary Waugh.
Also, here is a website with much information about other aspects of smuggling, though, including some of the methods of concealment.
It is several pages long. The last page names some of the ones who opposed the smugglers.
Marked with a long and controversial history, it is likely the act of smuggling dates to the first time duties were imposed in any form on products used by the masses. In England smuggling first became a recognized problem in the 13th century, following the creation of a national customs collection system by Edward I in 1275. [Norman Scott Brien Gras, The Early English Customs System (OUP, 1918)]. Medieval smuggling tended to focus on the export of highly taxed export goods — notably wool and hides. [N.J. Williams, Contraband Cargoes: Seven Centuries of Smuggling (London, 1959)] Merchants also, however, sometimes smuggled other goods to circumvent prohibitions or embargoes on particular trades. Grain, for instance, was usually prohibited from export, unless prices were low, because of fears that grain exports would raise the price of food in England and thus cause food shortages and/or civil unrest. Following the loss of Gascony to the French in 1453, imports of wine were also sometimes embargoed during wars to try and deprive the French of the revenues that could be earned from their main export. [Smuggling]
Generally, we use court records or the letters of Revenue Officers as the resources for tales of smuggling operations. In England, wool was smuggled to the Continent in the 17th Century due to high excise taxes. In England wool was smuggled to the continent in the 17th century, under the pressure of high excise taxes/ In 1724, Daniel Defoe wrote of Lymington, Hampshire, on the south coast of England
“I do not find they have any foreign commerce, except it be what we call smuggling and roguing; which I may say, is the reigning commerce of all this part of the English coast, from the mouth of the Thames to the Land’s End in Cornwall.” [Defoe, Daniel (1724). A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain: Letter III. London.]
Smuggling gangs formed to avoid the high rates of duty levied on tea, wine, spirits, and other goods coming into England from Europe. The high duties were required by the government to finance a number of extremely expensive wars with France the United States. Smuggling became a profitable venture for impoverished fishermen and seafarers. In many smaller villages peppering the southern shires, especially, smuggling was what kept the villages viable.
Revenue agents, the military, constables, the JP’s , the navy, and custom agents all had a part to” play in combating smuggling. Members of all of the groups were suborned over to the side of the smugglers at one time or another. However, what might have been possible in 1780 was less likely to be possible in 1818. Smugglers rarely used regular harbors or had anything to do with harbor masters, The Preventative men—the Riding officers were revenue men . The local JP was often in cahoots with the smugglers, and it was difficult to gather a jury to convict or even to bind men over. There were also Smuggling Wars. They were “WARS,” despite our tendency to romanticize the men.
Other Sources on Smuggling:
Losing Lizzy: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary
She thought him dead. Now only he can save their daughter.
When Lady Catherine de Bourgh told Elizabeth Bennet: “And this is your real opinion! This is your final resolve! Very well. I shall now know how to act. Do not imagine, Miss Bennet, that your ambition will ever be gratified. I came to try you. I hoped to find you reasonable; but, depend upon it, I will carry my point,” no one knew how vindictive and manipulative her ladyship might prove, but Darcy and Elizabeth were about to discover the bitter truth for themselves.
This is a story of true love conquering even the most dire circumstances. Come along with our dear couple as they set a path not only to thwart those who stand between them and happiness, but to forge a family, one not designed by society’s strict precepts, but rather one full of hope, honor, loyalty and love.