The Smugglers of Sennen
By George Pritchard
Ship Inn Sennen Cove (now the Old Success Inn)
There is no doubt that William Bottrell had relatives who were engaged in both piracy and smuggling, and he relates a number of stories about pirates and smugglers in his three volumes . Many people think that these relate to events in the 15th and 16th centuries as it is generally not known that in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the fast sailing Cornish luggers were very profitably employed, during peace time in smuggling. However, at the end of the 18th century the Government had put a lot of effort into bringing the trade to an end. Many of the Sennen smugglers had fled to the Channel Isles in order to escape prosecution amongst them some of my wife's relatives.
In 1803, the forces of the Crown were once again involved in fighting the Napoleonic War. This meant that the Smugglers of Cornwall took on a new lease of life. One might even say that the Government was in some measure responsible for stimulating it. For in the early months of the war, owing to the need of men for the services and home defense, Royal Proclamation was made that any smuggler who had fled the country should, provided he was not charged with murder, be permitted to return without fear of arrest, on his entering into bond to refrain from smuggling practices for the future. Copies of this proclamation were posted in all Cornish villages, and it was not long before the news filtered through to those who were lying in exile overseas. Among the first to take advantage of the amnesty was a certain Christopher Pollard, of Madron. The latter had been charged some 9 years before with obstructing and assaulting the revenue officers, and had fled to Guernsey in order to escape the consequences of his crimes. He now returned to Cornwall and signed the requisite bond, his brother, Joseph Pollard, standing surety for the sum of 200. But for him, as for many another, the allurements of the old adventurous life were too strong, and little more than six months had elapsed before Pollard, as appears from a brief to counsel, dated 1805, was again concerned in a charge of smuggling. The prosecution states that on this occasion the accused had assaulted the officers of H.M. excise when occupied in their duty at Sennen, and had incited a crowd of three or four hundred persons to attack the excisemen with a view to carrying off the smuggled goods which they had captured and were defending on the beach. This landing was indeed a valuable one, consisting as it did of one thousand gallons of brandy, one thousand gallons of rum, one thousand gallons of Geneva, and five hundred pounds of tobacco. In addition to the general charge of inciting the mob, Pollard was accused of having offered 100 for the rescue of a hundred ankers of the spirits and of using other violent and improper language. The counsel for the defense admitted that Pollard was part-owner of these goods, but stated that what had actually happened was that on going to Sennen he had found the cargo in the possession of the revenue authorities, and that so far from inciting the mob to a rescue he had gone straight home, only calling in on the excise officer at Newlyn in order to advise him to go to Sennen at once lest any unforeseen circumstances might ensue. It further appears that in the evening of the same day on which the cargo had been landed, Pollard was in a public-house at Penzance trying to sell a yoke of oxen to a farmer of Nancothnan, named Pool. The latter afterwards accompanied Pollard to Sennen and agreed to provide him with horses wherewith to remove the cargo in return for the promise of a cask of brandy for his own use he having a number of workmen and tradesmen about him at the time. On arriving at the beach, however, about eleven oclock at night and finding a huge crowd firing muskets and throwing stones at the excisemen, they decided that that was no place for them to stay for that they would be killed. So both returned home.
The principal witness for the prosecution was a certain Anne George and according to the counsel's brief she appears to be a woman of notorious character. The brief goes on to described her as being the wife of Joseph George who, up to a short time before, had been the keeper of the Bell Inn in Sennen Covea place which had the reputation of being the resort of all the idle blackguards in the county. It was also claimed that some years previously following an argument with her brother-in-law, John George, over a few pounds of tobacco she had turned kings evidence, accused the victim of her malice of firing on a revenue officer, and so incriminated him that the poor wretch was actually convicted and hanged on 5th June 1802.
In a district in which almost every inhabitant had probably had some hand in smuggling at one time or another, the presence of such a malicious and wholly unscrupulous informer caused widespread fear, and no doubt accounted for the difficulty which was experienced in obtaining witnesses for the defence. The brief continues: The terror and dismay, indeed, which this woman has been the means of spreading throughout the county are not to be described. Independent of the present prosecution no less than five persons have been capitally indicted by her means, one of whom, John George, had already been executed, and so callous is her conscience, and deadly her revenge, that persons who may have given her slight cause for offence are now trembling for fear of the consequences, expecting to be made the next victim of the detestable passion with which she is actuated. On this occasion the jury chose not to believe her evidence and Pollard was found not guilty and allowed to go free.
Last modified: Saturday July 06, 2013 .
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