More about Norfolk Smugglers


This post is a follow-up to my recent article on the heyday of smugglers along the Norfolk Coast in the 1780s. Looking through the local newspapers of the time shows graphically how violent and desperate the smuggling gangs could be.

To so daring a pitch are the enemy’s privateers arrived, that on Monday last, a lugsail boat, armed with two carriage and four swivel guns, captured a brigantine, laden with coals, in sight of Yarmouth; and though the privateer, and her prize, were several hours in sight of the FLY sloop of war, then in Yarmouth roads, it was judged extremely hazardous (as the lugger was manned with a desperate set of smugglers) to attempt retaking the brig!!!

Then there’s the case of the wonderfully named Captain Haggis.

On Friday night last arrived the ARGUS cutter, Captain HAGGIS, from a cruise, and brought in with him a large lugsail boat with 20 half ankers of geneva [gin], which he seized below Baudsey cliff, with sundry other contraband Goods; but before he had brought them off, upwards of twenty smuggling riders came down and fell upon Captain HAGGIS, and three of his People, and beat them with Sticks, etc, in an unmerciful manner, and threatened their lives; but, by the prudent Conduct of Capt. HAGGIS, in expostulating with them on the bad consequences that would follow such inhuman behaviour, the smugglers made off with the Goods, except the above 20 casks. Capt. HAGGIS was bruised very much about his head and body, and one of his people received a deep cut in his head.

(The Norfolk Chronicle, 27th May, 1780.)

It didn’t always go the smugglers way either.

Last Friday, Messrs. BROCK, CARTER, MASON and other excise officers, seized about 1500 gallons of foreign brandy, rum, and geneva, at Huntingfield, and lodged in the excise office at Halesworth; the smugglers collected their forces together, and attacked the officers, as they were conveying the goods to Halesworth, but were obliged to retreat precipitately.

(The Norfolk Chronicle, 8th July, 1780.)

However, for the authorities, trying to apprehend the smugglers was often a hazardous business in its own right.

Saturday last a large smuggling cutter lay hovering off Cromer, for several hours, being confined by the wind, the custom-house officers went off to make a seizure, with a party of solders, and in making an attempt to board her the boat overset, and several of them were drowned.

(The Norfolk Chronicle, 8th February, 1783.)

So sometimes, they had no option but to stand aside.

We hear from Thornham, that on Sunday morning last, about nine o’clock, a large smuggling cutter brought up at anchor off there, and immediately the smugglers, who were assembled to the number of about 200, began to unload her, which they continued till after two in the afternoon, and carried the goods off unmolested, the officers not having assistance enough to oppose them.

(The Norfolk Chronicle, 27th September, 1783.)

However, the authorities could always wield the bigger stick and counter by calling in the cavalry!

On Monday a troop of the 15th regt. of Light Dragoons, commanded by Gen. ELLIOTT, marched into Lynn, for winter quarters, in order to assist the Revenue Officers against the smugglers, who are arrived to the most daring height ever remembered.

(The Norfolk Chronicle, 8th November, 1783.)

About William Savage

Author of mystery stories set in Georgian Norfolk.
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3 Responses to More about Norfolk Smugglers

  1. noelleg44 says:

    They all look a bit too clean and neat!


  2. noelleg44 says:

    Viewers of the series Poldark got a good introduction to the art of smuggling!


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