Cornwall  Smugglers


Coast Guard / Revenue / Salt Officers




Recounted by : Al. George of Mullion
Friday, December 28, 2007

Henry Bobo George Baptised : 30 MAR 1820 Mullion, Cornwall. son of Richard George and Grace
 - 1898 and his wife Precilla [nee Munday].

The George family had passed this story down through the years of their close encounters with the Excise Men and was re-told by Stanley Tonkin when in his 90s Henry frequently had contraband hidden in the house. One day the revenue men came in to search the George property and wife, Precilla, quickly sat on the full barrel of brandy and started feeding her son Samuel. The skirt of her dress was draped over the barrel and when the men entered they did not disturb the mother and child.
Empty barrels were often used as makeshift seats and perhaps to have stored a full barrel in view would have been unlikely. They searched the rest of the house thoroughly but left after finding no contraband.

Henry George I have seen in many publications was reported to be the last smuggler in Cornwall. I have a photo of him and this was, I believe, used to create the cast of a Cornish Smuggler (above) that was sold in the " Boson Heads" series.

Al George


Henry George the Mullion Spotsman and Lieut. Drew

By George Pritchard

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Henry George of  Mullion was known as "the spotsman" (that is, one who determines the precise spot on the coast where a cargoe is to be landed) and he made one of the the last smuggling trips to land a cargoe at Mullion in 1840. Although he had made many successful trips in the past George had become well known to Lieut Drew the chief Coastguard officer at Gweek. 

Drew was determined to capture George and his crew and having got wind of their departure for France, he ordered the revenue cutter to cruise off the Mullion coast in the hope of catching them at sea on their return. He also organised a land force to keep watch from the cliffs yet despite all these precautions George and his crew managed to row the Mounts Bay lugger close under the cliffs around Men-te-Huel and entered the Zawn to the south of " The Chair". Here they sunk the kegs off a little beach at the foot of the cliff  undiscovered by the coastguards either at sea or on the cliffs between Mullion Cove and Predannack Head. 

Once the goods were sunk, George sent off the Mounts Bay lugger with two hands, while he and another of his men, went to meet others of the gang at Predannack Wartha. When they got there they found the gang about to go out to the cliffs to light a large signal fire to warn them of the presence of the coastguard.  To their astonishment Henry George told them that "Cousin Jacky," which was the slang for "the Cognac," was, safe on the seabed at The Chair. No time was lost in getting to the beach and making a start on recovering the cargoe. So quietly was everything done, that they actually heard the sound of the bow of the revenue cutter's gig hitting their own retreating boat which of course was empty of any contraband.

Henry and his men pulled the line of kegs into the shore and as each keg reached the beach willing hands took it up and carried it into an old adit tunnel of a nearby abandoned mine. Part way through however, they had to leave a number of kegs in the sea when they heard the  preventive gig which had captured the Mounts Bay boat and the two men on board returning to search the cliffs for the cargo. Hiding the end of the rope under some rocks, The smugglers hid in the Adit and although the Coastguards landed within a hundred yards of the rope, they failed to discover it, and as darkness fell they pulled back to the cutter for the night after a fruitless search

As the coastguard withdrew the smugglers returned and recovered all but two of the remaining kegs which had somehow broken from their moorings. All the kegs were then recovered from the adit and taken up the cliff. Henry could see by the light of the moon, the revenue cutter lying at anchor in the roads, with their own boat made fast to her astern. Henry sent a message to Henry Williams who was a fishermen in Mullion Church town to the effect, that, although almost the whole cargo had been safely landed, there were yet two casks  that might be recovered. A fishing boat went out from the Cove, and under the pretext of "whiffing," [long lining] the Henry Williams and his brother soon had the two kegs on board. Shortly after they came across the Revenue cutter's gig engaged in "creeping" or dragging the bottom, in the hope of lighting upon some portion of the suspected cargo. The fishermen,s whole attention was of course absorbed in their fishing. "Any luck, lads ?" asked one of the coastguard,  "fish is very slight this mornin', very slight," was the reply, and, with a sort of malicious self-satisfaction, was added, "but we don't seem to be doin' so bad, neither."

Now the whole of his cargoe was safe, Henry went for a walk along the cliffs where he found some of the coastguard still keeping watch along with Lieut. Drew. Henry George  told the Lieutenant and his men, "You may go home again now boys, if you mind to, I won't keep 'ee here no longer." The Lieutenant vowed this would be the last time the men of the trade would better him and the next time Spotsman planned a run he and his men would be ready.

Some weeks later and following a tip off, Lieut. Drew and his men made their way to the cliffs by "the Chair" where they came across a party of smugglers hiding amongst the rocks. Drew challenged them and they all took to their heels pursued by the Coastguards. The smugglers let off a few random shots one of which almost hit Drew but he pressed on down into the cove where after a search the coastguards found a rope attached to one of the rocks and running out to sea. they hauled in the line and a keg of spirit appeared followed by over a hundred more. Drew set off rockets to summon in the other coastguards who were staked out along the cliffs and a guard was placed on the booty till morning. 

Henry George the Mullion spotsman had been hiding in nearby rocks and saw all these events take place, and the next morning he was amongst the crowd of  people who gathered to see the tubs being hauled up the cliffs and taken away to the Customs House at Gweek. Lieutenant Drew had another victory a fortnight later when  he captured two of the smugglers and six tubs.

The Mullion Spotsman's final run is believed to have taken place on April 3rd 1840 and was reported in the Cornwall Gazette on April the10th: -

"On Friday night last a smuggling vessel attempted to run her cargo at Mullion, when a fight took place between the smugglers and the Coastguard, in which, our informant says several persons were wounded on both sides. The goods were sunk; but the Dove cutter and her tender are keeping a look-out for them." 

A second report appeared on April 17th: - 

"Mullion, near Helston. - Since the affray between the Coastguard and a party of Smugglers, which occured here on the night of the 3rd inst., the Dove and Sylvia revenue cutters with their respective tenders, and parties from the Coastguard stationed at this place, Porthleven and Coverack, have continued to seek for the smuggled goods, which were sunk on that occasion; and after great labour and perseverance, they have at length succeeded in creeping 98 tubs of foreign spirits, which have been taken to the Customs House at Helford, in the port of Gweek. - We do not hear that any of the smugglers have been apprehended."

Although the Spotsman seems to have retired, there was at least one more run into Mullion some seven years later. The Royal Cornwall Gazette carried the following report on the 13th of August 1847:

    "Early on the morning of August 8th some carriages were seen passing through the parish of Cury, loaded with foriegn spirits, and well guarded by a company of armed men. These were goods that had been landed at Mullion and it is believed that the whole cargo has been got ashore, with the exception of one keg, which was found floating in the water and secured by one of the Coastguard belonging to that station after the smugglers had left." 







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

    Copyright George Pritchard of Penhalvean 

Last modified: Saturday July 06, 2013 .

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