• General information about smuggling
• The cause of smuggling in Britain
• Who were the smugglers?
• Financing the “adventure”
• The different ships
• Defeat of smuggling


General information about smuggling:

• illegal transport, particular across border
• Taxes avoided or goods illegal or people transported to a place not allowed to be

The cause of smuggling:

• 18th century: illegal trade with France across England’s coast grew at prodigious rate
• extraordinary situation: not result of some plan or plot hatched in smugglers’ tunnel
• rather: natural, inevitable result of punitive taxation imposed by government each more desperate than last to pay for expensive wars in Europe
• during years Civil War (1642- 1649) tax covered many different items, but its scope reduced ten years later to cover just chocolate, coffee, tea, beer, cider and spirits
• but after 1688 progressively widened to include other essentials like salt, leather and soap
• as 18th century progressed, the slice taken by the exchequer increased sometimes fast, sometimes slowly, dependent of conflicts with France
• by the middle of the century the tax on tea for example was nearly 70% of its initial cost

Who were the smugglers?

Sea smugglers:

• most sea smugglers: seafaring men who had sense of adventure or eye for quick profit
• fishermen with colliers, coasters or river vessels
• times hard, they’d look for new way to use their knowledge of navigation and sailing
• smugglers permanent slipped in and out of the trade
• Jack Rattenbury, for example, started his life learning fishing, but got bored and joined privateer
• semi piratical pursuit perhaps pushed him towards smuggling, but he did honest trade from time to time too, working in a pub or as a pilot for instance
• stereotyped sea smuggler, of course, easy to picture
• wears enormous seaman’s boots, perhaps smock or striped jersey, baggy trousers and maybe a handkerchief round his neck
• In fact, was traditional garb of sailor of the 18th and 19th centuries

Foreign smugglers:

• Surprisingly, perhaps, smugglers had a good chance of being foreigners
• After all, smuggling only illegal form of the import and export business, wasn’t restricted to English citizen

Dry-land smugglers:

• group of shadowy figures who skulk around the coast waiting for landing of cargo and protect it on journey inland

Financing the “adventure”:

• Smugglers’ costumes paid for illegally imported goods on delivery
• So clearly any smuggler had to find money to buy the goods abroad
• many ways of financing smuggling trip
• earliest method was, that east-coast smugglers slipped out bales of wool, which was cheap in England because of mass production, but it was valuable in France, to destination in Normandy and returned packed with tubs of wine or bales of silk
• no money changed hands
• was simple and direct arrangement
• As trade developed, number of new forms of financing started to emerge
• smugglers from West Country operated in sort of club scheme in neighbourhood
• everybody bought a share in trip, each according to their means
• system had much to recommend it
• If trip went badly wrong, no one was ruined


The different ships:

• with contraband safely stowed, smugglers awaited tide for return trip to Britain
• in harbour, ship would rub shoulders with all manner of other smuggling vessels
• vessel with square sails has to have the wind coming from behind to make any progress
• cannot move across wind or into it
• by contrast, fore-and-aft rigged vessel travels most quickly across wind, and can move into wind by tacking
• early 18th century, small smuggling vessels popular because were highly manoeuvrable
• later in century smugglers began to use larger vessels, which could travel faster and carry greater burdens

The defeat of the smuggling:

• smuggling was seen not just as business transaction, but also as act of rebellion
• 1746: government add to the penalties
• core of this act was publication of names of known smugglers
• smuggler has 40 days to turn himself in
• at end oft that period he was effectively outlawed, with a bounty of £500 on his head
• bodies of smugglers who killed officers were to be hung on gibbets around coast
• all this penalties were not enough to stop smuggling
• 1784: government decided to make smuggling unprofitable by reducing the taxation
• duty on tea, for example, which had risen to 129% went down to 12,5% now
• because of that there was no more necessity for smuggling in Great Britain


429d980fa5d147f096e4371233a78991 - Smuggling in Britain
Smuggling in Britain
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