Cornwall  Smugglers


Coast Guard / Revenue / Salt Officers


cust. 68/1 Outpost Records - Penzance, Scilly and St Ives

The following are excerpts are taken from the Custom House outpost records for Penzance.

The Board of Customs performed many functions apart from the main one of the collection of the customs revenue. That work carried with it the prevention and detection of smuggling and other evasions of the revenue laws, and the collection of statistics of imports, exports and shipping. Customs officers were stationed at all chief ports and harbours, their services were utilised in relation to many matters and a regular correspondence took place between these outposts and the National office. The following come from the archive of the letters between the Penzance Customs House and the Collector.


CUST 68/1 Penzance collector to board 1738 Nov. 4 - 1741 Feb. 27

20th Jan 1740

Wm. Ward made oath that he went on board ye "Neptune" wich arrived in the pier on 20th Dec. last. John Thwaite master: that he belonged to Cork and came from Campheere bound for Lisbon... This depondent ordered John Cornwell and John Tremaine, Tidesmen, then present to light a candle and go down into the hold, which they did in company with the depondent and on rummaging the vessell and removing the ballast we found concealed amongst a great number of water casks and berried in the ballast one half anchor Geneve and one anchor of Brandy. On removing a cable in the hold we found 22 casks and 2 bags of tea and on a further rummage in the forecastle under some old rope and firewood 1 Geneva and 1 cask of Tea.

The Master then begged they would not ruin him.

CUST 68/7 Penzance collector to board 1768  - 1771

Sent 15th Sept. 1768

In consequence of ye honours orders of 17th June... we had caused to be arrested three of the people concerned in running wool to France... Richard Tresidder, Rich. Tresidder the younger and Thos. Tresidder, and sent to be secured in the Sheriffs ward for want of proper security. (John Tresidder and Richard Richards not yet taken.

Oct 17th 1768

To Mr Scobell Collector of Customs Penzance from Cap'n Barclay of HMS Wolf.

"On Friday morning last I met with a vessell off the Lands End, laden with Brandy which I have brought into Penzance Key. The reason she was known to have hovered off the Lands End upwards of Twelve Hours, had sent her boat on shore there with her Supercargo and Mate, the latter of who is of Mounts Bay, in order to contract as I suppose with the country people for such cargo. For when my boat came to the said vessell about ten at night, they found her within a mile of the shore lying with her sails aback, her hatchway open, and tackle fixed thereon, and having three boats lashed fast to her side, full of notorious smugglers, (two of whom I seized in the very act, some time since.) who were so surprised they cut loose and ran. The Master said he was from Guernsey for Bristol with Brandy.

On arrival at Penzance, Earle of the Excise Service at Penzance had behaved with insolence and abusing language that I was obliged to turn him out of the vessel.

There then followed a sworn statement from Methusaleh Taskus a fisherman of the Parish of St Levan who declared:

That on Thursday morning 13th inst as he was walking on the cliff near Penberth in the parish of Buryan he saw a vessell lying to and a boat pull off from her towards the shore. that he made for the cove called Porgwenna Cove (Porthgwarra) whither they seemed to be steering, and on his coming thither, one Richard Quick, whom he knew very well came out of the boat and immediately told him that their was Brandy on board. that quick did not directly say t'was to be disposed of but he understood that to be his meaning. That he and Supercargo and others who had rowed Quick on shore went into the boat. Quick went up into the country.

That on there way back to the vessell he and Supercargo had some talk on the price of Brandy on shore, (told Supercargo it was 5/-) .... had gone on board to have an advantage. Once there asked the master what price he sold at but received no reply, but asked for a sample of it and brought a large glass.

Whilst he was on board his own boat came off and went backwards and forwards to the shore several times in quest of Quick as he believes. Declares there was no goods taken out of her whilst he was onboard.... there were 14 other men of the parishes of Buryan, St Levan and Sennen. 

Two further sworn statements were given by William Spalding and Moses Pitt , mates of the "Hopeful" sailing from Guernsey to Bristol. These were witnessed by Penzance Solicitor William Tremenheere.

Came to Treen Castle near Penberth last Thursday morning about 10 or 11 o'clock, where they lay too. The Supercargo and this deponent rowed the mate Richard Quick ( a person well acquainted with the parishes adjoining the western coast) on shore at Penberth and as soon as they landed him, returned to the vessel with a pilot on board, who ordered the ship to be worked off and on... till the mate should come on board.... That Richard Quick never came near them again till Friday evening when the vessell was detained in Gwavas Lake.

(The Brandy was carried in a load of sand).

Sufficient facts could not be proved against her and is ordered to be restored.

Sent 8th Nov. 1768

Loss of ship "Gabriel", Master Jacob Hansen; blown ashore off Lands End in a gale. Details sworn before J Price Mayor of Penzance.

Sent 24th Dec. 1768

Only 16 casks from the "Gabriel" were secured under the King's Lock. Since the weather has become fairer near 400 bales of Barillia (Tea) have been since taken up out of the sea.

Sent 4th May 1769

Francis Bradley and Geo. Mathews officers of the Customs make oath..."that in the night of 2nd of May they met in the Kings highway near the town of Penzance Isaac Wright and Nicholas Pentreath, both fishermen of the parish of Paul. The said Isaac Wright having on his shoulder a bag containing 52 pounds of Boinea Tea of which the duties had not been paid... of which these deponents seized and it being then midnight carried the same to Francis Bradley's house. A few minutes later Isaak Wright came to beg them to let him have the tea back, being all his own and a great loss for one man to bear. Again and again, finally throwing a guinea and a half on the table, but deponents disdained to be bribed."

Sworn in front of  G Scobell, Collector Penzance.

Sent 17th March 1770 

Letter from G Scobell to Commisioner of Customs.

We eg leave to represent that we have the greatest reason to believe that there is a great quantity of goods constantly smuggling in Mounts Bay within this port and are sorry to say that very little of late was seized; the cause of which seems principally to be owing to the want of a cutter on this station.

The "Wolf" sloop of war has for some time been stationed here, (she is now in Plymouth), she sails very badly. Sometime since the collector applied to the Captain of the "Wolf" representing to him the great number of boats that constantly went from these ports to France supposed on the illicit trade and desired his assistance, he replied that with the "Wolf" he could never take any of these boats.... a large sailing Cutter was the only vessell for this service.

Sent 10th January 1771

"Duchess of Buccleigh" came into Penzance her crew impressed by the "Wolf" was suspected of smuggling. False ceiling to cabin, false bulkheads etc and a quantity of silk, silk hankerchiefs, lace, black and white were found and seized.

CUST 68/8 Penzance collector to board 1771  - 1774

Sent 23rd Jan 1772

On 26th Sept. last was brought to His Majesty's warehouse in this port by Cap't Williams of H.M. Sloop "Wolf", a parcel of Brandy and Geneva. (William Williams would not give up his moiety) Taken from John Thomas and Richard Mann in a small boat which was stove on the rocks.

Ed note. Because the boat had been wrecked on rocks, Cap'n Williams of the sloop "Wolf", who may well have been pursuing the smugglers, claimed half the cargo as salvage. This obviously upset the Collector of Customs who must have thought the cargo should have been given up as smuggled goods.


    Copyright George Pritchard of Penhalvean 

Last modified: Saturday January 18  2020

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