Cornwall  Smugglers


Coast Guard / Revenue / Salt Officers



By Commander H.N. Shore (1890)

EARLY in 1830 the following description of the Daniel and William, of Portsmouth, was sent round the preventive stations  She is sloop-rigged, black, with white ribbon, upright stem, green inside; white masthead, without cross trees; about thirty tons, crew of four men ; has on board Thomas H ,lately belonging to the  Repulse, Revenue cruiser. Is occasionally employed in the Plymouth trade. Master, Daniel Maddock. The preventive men were further enjoined to keep an eye on her, as she was strongly suspected of smuggling.

 The fact is that, although ostensibly employed in the conveyance of passengers and goods between Portsmouth and Plymouth, it was rumored that her enterprising skipper was in the habit of making clandestine trips to the French coast for contraband, a species of commerce which paid better, in those days, than a strict adherence to the straight and narrow path of legitimate trading.

 Two years elapsed without any further allusion to her in official documents, but in June 1832 the significant entry occurs that she  sailed from Devonport for Roscoff, on a smuggling trip; and from this time onwards the records teem with notices of her movements. In fact, during the three following years there was not a more successful smuggling craft sailing the Channel, or one whose proceedings possessed a greater interest for the preventive men, than the  Daniel and William.

In September came word from a well-informed correspondent at Roscoff, that she is occasional]y employed in smuggling;  while in January following we find her crossing from Plymouth to Roscoff for a cargo, with two men from Downderry a village in Whitsand Bay which in those days could boast of some active smugglers; and returning to Plymouth in February, having, it is supposed, sunk her cargo off Downderry.

I must explain that after the close of the war with France, in 1815, the practice of sinking cargoes in convenient places off the coast became almost universal, in consequence of the increasing vigilance of the preventive men, and the risk of detection in running cargoes direct from vessels. A practiced smuggler would stand in towards land alter dark, sink his goods, take cross-bearings, with a view to identifying the spot afterwards, and run away to the haven he was bound for without anyone being a bit the wiser. The goods would be lifted by local men who were well posted up in the movements of the preventive men, and  run at some secluded spot.

In March the Daniel and William again returns to Plymouth under very suspicious circumstances having only two men on board. And in June following she is reported as leaving Plymouth with a notorious smuggler from Millbrook on board. And soon after, the coastguard are warned that she is daily expected back from a smuggling trip, having had a concealment fitted under her at Roscoff, and eased with fir planks so as to show a smooth surface  with which useful appendage  she has recently made several successful voyages.



a.                   Six timbers on each side, fastened to the keel, and bilge, 4 ft. above keel.


b.                  Nails through false timbers.

c.                   Sheathing of  inch planking nailed to each timber, finely edged above, forward and aft; the tubs being built in and stowed fore and aft in the chambers.

  Next we hear of her being chased by the Admirals tender near the Eddystone, but lost sight of in a fog. And a few days later she is expected from Roscoff, the first southerly wind.

How did the authorities get hold of these interesting scraps of gossip? the reader may ask. Simply enough. There was a well-informed correspondent  at Roscoff, whether salaried or not I cannot say, who kept the British customs authorities well posted up in the movements of English smuggling vessels. And the scraps of gossip he transmitted were retailed along the coast for the benefit of the preventive men. To be forewarned is to be forearmed; hence the men were very much on the alert when a smuggling craft was expected across.

In September we read of the wreck of a boat, marked Daniel and William, being picked up on the beach near Looe. And soon after there comes word, from  our own correspondent, that  a sloop belonging to Portsmouth, which sailed from Plymouth with passengers, is at Roscoff, and will sail the first strong southerly breeze, with 350 tubs, for the Hamoaze. The parties concerned reside near Passage. Now, to be found loitering in mid-Channel with a cargo of tubs aboard was a risky proceeding, which might lead to detention, and other things. Hence the anxiety of homeward bounders for a  strong southerly breeze. Next we hear of her as bound for Looe island with 130 tubs; but, adds the informant,  she will likely try elsewhere in the Fowey district. A smuggling vessel, it may he observed, had always two, sometimes three, variable spots  for landing the goods, according to the weather, and in case of being frightened off. Moreover, if she was delayed for any length of time, before sailing it was customary to send across in advance and fix fresh spots, lest the original ones should have been divulged. 

On November 13 a boat is found on Lantivet beach, near Fowey, and sixty nine tubs in the cliff, believed to have been landed from the  Daniel and William  early that morning. A Cawsand man and another from Port Wrinkle (in Whitsand bay) who were believed to have been in her when she sailed, were seen near the place of landing. A fortnight later comes news of her being bound for the Fowey district - she will run her cargo without first sinking it. And soon after she is boarded off Fowey, at daylight, by the Fox, revenue cruiser but she had no boat on board and two of the crew short, and is supposed to have landed her cargo.

Let me again explain, for the benefit of the uninitiated, that in searching suspected craft attention was especially directed to the following suspicious items left-handed, or French, rope; pieces of  seizing-stuff; French bread; sinking-stones ; marks of tubs ; a smell of spirits, or the absence of fishing nets. A smaller number of men on board than the vessel was known to have sailed with or time absence of a boat was generally accepted as clear evidence of a cargo having been recently landed. It was part of the business of the preventive men on shore to watch closely the movements of suspected men or boats; the absence of either from their accustomed haunts for more than twenty-four hours was regarded as proof positive of illicit enterprise, and immediately reported to headquarters for transmission along the coast. Before a boat could be condemned, however, it was absolutely necessary that spirits should be found in her.

The following year, 1834 - to judge by the number of entries - was a very busy one for the Daniel and William. And now, for the first time, she seems to have adopted a disguise, the better to elude her pursuers. For in June it is reported that she has two sets of sails on board, one tanned, one white. About this time, too, some of her goods went astray, for we read of seventy tubs belonging to the Daniel and William being taken at Penzance. And again, in July, forty-eight tubs supposed to belong to her are crept up by the coastguard.Once more, in January 1835, there is mention of her ruse de guerre:  She is generally seen with white sails, but has barked sails on board which she occasionally sets for disguise. Her gaff-topsail has a square head, but when she is on smuggling trips she often sets a jib for a gaff-topsail one day, and the other the next.

 The last mention of this famous smuggling craft in official records occurs in May, the same year, to the following effect The Thetis, pilot vessel of Cowes, sailed from Cawsand on a smuggling tri; it is believed she is in the place of the Daniel and William, whose real owners live inland, not far from Fowey.

The fact is that at about this time her career was abruptly cut short. From information received  from an old smuggler who was on board at the time, I happen to know that she was caught, in flagrante delicto, by a revenue cruiser, towed into Fowey harbour, condemned for smuggling, and sawn into three portions. But that is another story.




    Copyright George Pritchard of Penhalvean 

Last modified: Saturday July 06, 2013 .

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