Cornwall  Smugglers


Coast Guard / Revenue / Salt Officers



The following is taken verbatim from The Times of London newspaper for Friday the 9th of May 1786. It appears on page three.

Whitehall April 29th 1786.

Whereas it has been humbly represented to the King, that in the morning of the 4th April 1786, the Hawke and Larke Revenue luggers stationed at the Port of Falmouth, fell in with [in Mounts Bay on the coast of Cornwall] the Happy-Go-Lucky, a smugglers shallop belonging to Cawsand and commanded by Thomas Welland. When the said shallop, feloniously fired into the Hawke, whereupon an engagement ensued, which lasted a considerable time; but the smugglers, finding themselves overpowered by the revenue vessels and their commander killed and several others killed and wounded, thought fit to surrender; and being taken possession of, were afterwards committed to Pendennis Castle, from whence, they having knocked down the sergeant and some of the sentinels, they made their escape between 7 and 8 o clock in the evening of the 9th instant.

His Majesty for the better security and bringing to justice the persons concerned in the atrocities outrage and felony, is hereby pleased to promise his most gracious pardon to anyone of the said offenders who shall discover his accomplice or accomplices so that any two or more of them may be apprehended and convicted


And as a further encouragement the Commissioners of His Majestys Customs do hereby offer a reward of ONE HUNDRED POUNDS to any person who will discover any one or more of the said offenders [whose names and descriptions are under mentioned] to be paid by the Receiver General of the Customs on Conviction.

Dated at the Custom House, London, 28th April 1786.

                                                 By order of the Commisioners

                                                           W STILES : SECRETARY



JOHN KELLY alias MARTIN, alias LITTLE JACK: A thickset man, wears his own short dark hair about 5 feet 2 inches high, 26 years of age and lives at Cawsand.

JOHN MOORE : A thick set man, short dark hair, brazen complextion, about 5 feet 6 inches high, 21 years of age and usually resides at Cawsand.

FRANCIS WEBB, alias SCOTTS FRANK : a very stout man light hair tied, has very thick lips and a cut on the upper one. Has a scar on the back of his right hand; is about 5 feet 10 inches high and 26 years of age.

WILLIAM STONE, alias QUIN :  a very stout man black complexion, fat face, with a large flat nose like a mulatto, lives in Guernsey, an Irishman, black hair tied , about 5 feet 10 inches tall, 24 years of age.

JAMES HOY : an Irishman, short dark hair, lives in Guernsey. When he speaks shows his teeth very much. About 5 feet 6 inches high; 24 years of age.

BENJAMIN AVERY : a thick set man, short brown hair, belongs to Cawsand; about 5 feet 5 inches high 25 years of age.

JOHN THORNE : a thick set man, black hair tied, dark complexion; an Irishman 5 feet 8 inches high, about 30 years of age.

WALTER CROSS : a well made man. Marked with the smallpox; deep brown hair tied; was second mate and boatswain of the shallop; about 5 feet 10 inches high, 28 years of age and belongs to Mevagissy in Cornwall.

JOHN HAMILTON : a thick set man; short light hair � an Irishman, married in Guernsey; about 5 feet 6 inches high and 27 years of age.

JOHN SPILLOR : a tall man slight legs, stout badly marked with the smallpox, short brown hair, belongs to St Germans, usually resides at Wrinkle [Port Wrinkle], about 5 feet 10 inches high and 23 years of age.

BENJAMIN GREEN, alias JOHN FEATON : a stout well made man marked with the smallpox; a scar in his left arm near the elbow; brown hair tied; an Irishman about 5 feet 10 inches high; 26 years of age.

WILLIAM BALL : a stout man, short hair born in Mevagissy, married in Wales, lived at Tenby; about 5 feet 7 inches high.28 years of age.

WILL THE FIDDLER : much marked with the smallpox; short light hair, born at Sunderland or Shields, about 5 feet 5 inches high; 25 years of age.

JAMES alias THE DOCTOR : was a servant to the captain; has a mole on his cheek, with hair on it, thin man about 5 feet 6 inches high, 28 years of age.

JAMES RILEY :  a well made man; short brown hair, no marks except smallpox. Born in Ireland, about 5 feet 8 inches high; 28 years of age.

STEPHEN McBRIDE : a short swarthy man, short black hair, about 5 feet 5 inches high, 25 years of age.

The following were WOUNDED IN THE ACTION but were nevertheless carried off by the rest of the gang. Vis

JOHN DONOVAN : a stout tall man, wears his own light hair; has a scar in his neck, the tip of his left ear shot off in the action; is about 5 feet 10 inches high 28 years of age, and belongs to Wexford in Ireland.

GEORGE LETHERIDGE: a thin made man, short brown hair, curls much; speaks very slow; wounded in his left thigh; is about 5 feet 5 inches high; 27 years of age; belongs to Cadgwith, Cornwall.

JOHN WILLIAMS : a thin boney man, straight brown short hair; belongs to St Austell, about 5 feet 9 inches high; 27 years of age, AND WAS SHOT IN THE THIGH..

JOHN CAMERON:  a short thick man, short black hair; belongs to Newcastle; 5 feet 7 inches high, 33 years of age. WOUNDED IN THE SIDE.

JAMES DILLON :  a stout well made man; short light hair; marked with the smallpox, born in Ireland; about 5 feet 10 inches high, 28 years of age.

ROBERT MASTERTON : a short thick set well made man. Very swarthy much marked with the smallpox. 5 feet 6 inches high; 28 years of age. SHOT THROUGH THIGH.

WILLIAM WILLIAMS alias �WICKED WILL� : a thick set young man, sandy hair, marked a little with the smallpox; 5 feet 7 inches high, 28 years of age. WOUNDED IN RIGHT LEG, SHOULDER, GROIN AND THUMB.

THOMAS BLAIR : an Irishman, black tied hair; marked with smallpox; very long red nose; about 5 feet 10 inches high; about 30 years of age and SHOT THROUGH THE RIGHT KNEE.

JAMES JAMERSON alias MURPHY : an Irishman dark complexion, a slight man short brown hair; is about 5 feet 10 inches high; 24 years of age and SHOT IN THE BREAST.

THOMAS BRYAN : an Irishman, dark complexion; black tied hair, married in Guernsey; is about 5 feet 8 inches high; 28 years of age and was SHOT IN THE LEFT THIGH.

JAMES BALL: belongs to Fowey, marked with the smallpox; blusters much, talks course; is about 5 feet 8 inches high; SHOT THROUGH THE BACKSIDE AND DOWN THE THIGH.


The Times of London, Monday 10th July 1786

It appears on page three.

On Friday a man by the name of John Martin was committed to Newgate, charged with wilful murder, He was one of the crew on board the Happy-go-Lucky smuggler. Which after a desperate resistance was taken off the Lizard by Capt. Douglas of the Hawke revenue cutter and made his escape with others from Pendennis Castle, Cornwall, and for the taking of whom a reward of £100 was for long advertised in this paper by His Majestys Commissioners of Customs.


The Times of London, Monday July 24th, 1786,

The Trial of John Martin of Cawsand 

Old Bailey. 1

John Martin was indicted for maliciously and feloniously shooting at Edward Williams, an officer of his Majestys customs, commanding the Hawke lugger, in the service of the customs, within the limits of the port of Penzance, in Great Britain, on the 4th of April 1786, in attempting to board the Happy-go-Lucky, a lugger in which the said John Martin then was contrary to the statutes etc.

There were several other counts.

Previous to the prisoner being put to the bar Mr, Attorney General intimated a desire that he should not be tried by the same jury who had tried Grey*; but the prisoners counsel strenuously objected to changing the Jury, as the prisoner had been arrained before them, and had approved of them, when called to make his challenges. The Judge gave no decided opinion, but seemed to think it was a matter for the discretion of the court. Mr. Attorney General, however, thought proper to wave his objections.  The Attorney General opened the case, by observing upon the necessity of forming laws to prevent smuggling, which had arisen to such an enormous pitch, and was so prejudicial to the revenues of the kingdom, and the trade of the fair dealer, that Government were obliged to have recourse to severity for the preservation of both. He observed to the Jury, that in point of law it would not be indispensably essential to prove that the prisoner had actually fired; for that every person giving countenance to the transaction were equally guilty with those who actually fired. Mr Attorney General then called his witness: 

John Douglas said, he was first mate of the Hawke revenue cutter. On the 4th of April, at five in the morning, he was off the Lizard in company with the Lark revenue cutter; saw the Happy-go-Lucky lying under Mullin Island, at anchor, and about two miles from the shore. The Hawke hoisted revenue colours; the Happy-go-Lucky cut her cable and made sail. The Hawke made sail, stood to the westward, and gave chase. The Hawke came up with the Happy-go-Lucky before seven o-clock; the Hawke carries fourteen sixteen pounders. They hailed her to bring too; she paid no regard to them. They fired two muskets; She paid no regard to the firing. They came up within pistol shot; saw her guns all pointed aft and ready for a broadside. An action immediately commenced but he could not say which vessel fired first. It lasted for about an hour, when the Lark cutter came up; ran between them; fired a broadside into the Happy-go-Lucky, upon which she struck, and the revenue cutters sent each a boat onboard. He was positive the prisoner was on board. There was all kinds of ammunition, and the captain and mate were killed.

John Foote and Francis Watty deposed, that the Lark fired two muskets shots which were returned. When they came up with the smuggler, he was preparing to fight every man at his quarters, they fought above an hour.

James Cotton, Kings evidence, said he was one of the crew of the Happy-go-Lucky, which consisted of thirty three hands. The Captain ordered the cable to be cut, and everything to be got ready to receive the cutter. There was no passengers on board. The prisoner was one of the crew. The Captain had a brace of pistols and a cutlass and threatened that if any man struck he would blow his brains out. He is convinced the Captain would have done so. When he first came on board, the guns and ammunition were hid under sails. He had been two trips with goods; never saw the guns till they were ordered up. The prisoner called no witnesses, and the Judge having summed up the evidence, and stated the clauses of the act, observed, that the Jury were to decide whether the facts alledged in the indictment were proved? He observed that as the counsel for the prisoner had intimated there was no actual malice proved, it was his duty to tell them, that in the eye of the law, constructive malice was sufficient; that is, where the intent was to commit the offence prohibited, though no actual malice appeared against any particular person or persons.

The foreman of the jury observed upon what had fallen from Mr. Attorney General at the opening of the trial. And defended the conduct of the Jury; in the present case, he said it appeared that the crew submitted the instance their captain was killed, and although they had still ammunition onboard.

After three minutes consideration they brought in their verdict  Not Guilty.


1. See Index page for link to Old Bailey Trial Transcript.

2 In the previous case the Jury found Grey not guilty of rescuing several casks of Brandy and Geneva from His Majestys Customs at Portsmouth whilst being armed with offensive weapons.




Researched and compiled by George Pritchard of Penhalvean, Cornwall, UK.

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