Cornwall  Smugglers


Coast Guard / Revenue / Salt Officers



The Old Smugglers Tale

  Commander H.N. Shore. 1899

The following account of a trip in the once famous sloop was related to me many years ago by an old Cawsand smuggler, who very shortly after passed away.

  �The only trip I ever made in the � Daniel and William was when Dan Maddocks was skipper; Chenoworth and John Dunstan were along with me. We were bound to Cherbourg for a cargo of sperrits, in four-gallon tubs. It was all brandy what was brought over then - white brandy - but we called it sperrits, for it was a deal above proof; four gallons of sperrits would make six, with the right quantity of water and colouring matter along with it. And that was the stuff we took in.

  We ran across to Cherbourg without any bother, shipped the goods, and made a try back. But the wind headed and blew up strong, so we had to run back and wait for a fair slant. The spot we were bound for was Looe Island, a nice quiet place, where you could land your goods and stow �em away in the caves without being interrupted, and get them run ashore to Looe afterwards, whenever the coast was clear of preventive men. It was just about this time, though, that the coastguard got wind of the dodge, and set a couple of men to watch the island.

  We had two Cawsand men waiting for us on shore, stowed away out of sight, so that the coastguard shouldn�t get wind of the affair. You see, in those days there was only one cottage on the island, in which an old man, called Hamram, and his daughter �Tilda lived. They had a cave somewhere, but no one ever found it; and they took jolly good care no one should see them put the tubs into it - they always sent the chaps inside the house while that was going on. They were staunch smugglers, both on �em, and the goods would lie there safe enough till a chance offered to get �em landed. They�d get a small sum for every tub they took care of - I don�t think they ever got tubs brought across themselves�and that�s how they made a living.

  WelI, we had to wait at Cherbourg some time before we got a proper slant of wind. At last we ran across with a regular gale from the south-east, and anchored under the lee of the island about midnight. Now, that was the best of this spot, no matter which way the wind was you could always get shelter, one side or t� other; and after the goods was landed, why, we didn�t care. There was a ter�ble sea running, the craft was pitching bows under and presently the anchor began to drag and we nearly druv ashore, as the cable ran right out to the clinch. Oh, it was a dre�ful night, to be sure made sartin we should have to swim for it.

  After waiting for close on an hour, watching for the boat to come off, and seeing no signs of anyone, we launched our own, though she was little better than a dinghey, and set to work landing the tubs. My word, we had a job but we got them all ashore without losing a tub. There wasn�t a soul on the island, barring Hamram and �Tilda - our chaps had gone home, thinking we�d run in to another spot to land. However, they soon got the tubs carried up with their donkey, and stowed away safe.

  As it happened, things couldn�t have turned out better for us. For, although our two chaps weren�t there, we had the place all to ourselves. It was pay-day with the coastguards, and they�d all gone ashore to Looe, and it was blowing so hard they couldn�t get off again that night. That was a good job for us I It was close on to four o�clock of the morning before we got everything clear; and dre�ful work it was, in a devil of a sea, and with nothing but a small boat to land in. As it was, she pretty nigh got her bow knocked out of her, and she leaked so bad we had to pass a line round her to keep the planks together the last trip we made.

  Directly everything was clear we slipped our cable and ran round to Plymouth - the wind had shifted, you see. But before we could get under weigh the boat had her bow pulled clean out of her, and she drifted ashore, somewhere by Downderry, I believe. Did I say we saved all the tubs? Well, then, I lied for two were washed out of the boat while we were landing them, and were picked up afterwards by the coastguard on the beach near Looe.

  When we were abreast of Cawsand we were boarded by Mr. Foote, the officer stationed there, to search us for a double bottom - he�d information against us, you see. He found nothing, though, of course, he knew well enough what we�d been after. The fact was some one had informed against us, and if it hadn�t been for the pay-day at Looe, and the boatmen not being able to get off to the island, we should have been nabbed, sure enough. Some of our friends had sent a boat across to Cherbourg with a letter telling us that information was out against us. We saw the boat pass, but took no notice of her, not knowing where it was bound to; and as the chaps aboard her didn�t know our craft we heard nothing of the affair till we got back. The man who informed was a labourer by name of Sparkes, living at Millbay, who had a lot of private places about the country, and made a good bit of money by keeping tubs for parties. He wanted to get into the revenue cutter, and so he gave the information to the officer at Looe. However, he got nothing by it, for, you see, we saved all our goods.

  The morning after we�d landed the cargo the coastguard came off to the island, almost before Hamram had properly cleared up his place after stowing away the tubs. You see, they had dead information against us, even if it hadn�t been for their finding the boat and the two tubs we�d lost, and they searched and dug all over the island for days, but they found nothing. The tubs�there were three hundred of �em�lay in the caves on Looe island for three months before there was a chance of running them. �Now, that was the only trip I ever made in the �Daniel and William but there�s no doubt she was one of the most notorious smuggling craft on the coast.

  Did I ever see the caves? No! Why, now, it would never have done to let people into the secret. It mightn�t have mattered for once, but in the long run some blackguard would have been sure to have informed agin Hamram, and then the game would have been up. What�s more, the caves never were found, the secret died along with �em.�

  Since the above was related I have succeeded in quarrying out from official and other virgin fields quite a mass of interesting material relating to Looe island and the enterprising parties who frequented the spot in days gone by. The �cave dwellings� wherein the trusty Hamram and his daughter imprisoned the spirits entrusted to their care were subsequently discovered�one accidentally, the other by a process known in the profession as �pricking.� The position of both has been pointed out to me by old men who were �in the know.� The story of the Looe island caves and their guardian angels would make quite an interesting chapter of history. Alas all who could speak of them from personal knowledge have, since imparting their experiences to the present writer, passed away to the �happy smuggling grounds.�



    Copyright George Pritchard of Penhalvean 

Last modified: Saturday July 06, 2019 .

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