Notes - Smuggling Reports

Smuggling was a way of life from early times, boat trips to France were relatively straight forward from Scilly.  As sea traffic increased during the sixteenth century however, and more vessels called for supplies, shelter and repair, contraband could be bartered with local produce or labour. Attempts were made to stop the practice by some of the Lord Proprietors, but without much success. In the late eighteenth century the locals had to be on their guard because more and more mainland preventative boats were using Scilly as a temporary base.  See the Times Newspaper reports below.  This state of affairs came to an end with the establishment of permanent preventive boats on the islands in the early part of the nineteenth century. These boats were very effective, and the almost immediate result was ruination for the inhabitants.  In 1818 the inhabitants petitioned the Prince Regent, and their plight caught the attention of the Magistrates of the Western Division of the Hundred of Penwith. They sent, what would now be called, a fact-finding mission to the islands to find out whether the pleas of the islanders had any foundation. The conclusion drawn was that the islands economy had indeed been damaged, and that some substitute would need to be found.

Times:  Wednesday, September 7, 1785, Issue 218 – Smuggling
Extract of a letter from Scilly, September, 1 - “This morning arrived the KING GEORGE cutter from a cruise, and has brought in with her a large Smuggling lugger of near 300 tons burthen laden with tea, brandy &c and mounting 12 guns.  The King George took her after an engagement of and hour, in which six men were killed on the lugger, and nine wounded, the cutter had four men killed and eight wounded, two of whom died this morning.  The lugger is a stout vessel, and belongs to Dunkirk.  The crew, nine of who are in irons, consist of Scotch and Irish, and she was under American colours when taken.”

Times; Wednesday, October 12, 1785, Issue 249 - Smuggling
Extract of a letter from Scilly, Oct 4 - “Arrived the Jupiter cutter from a cruise, and has brought in with her a smuggling cutter laden with 620 bags of tea, 490 casks of spirit and other things.”

Times: Saturday, September 22, 1787, Issue 856 - Smuggling
Extract of a letter from Scilly, September 15. - “Yesterday afternoon arrived the Swallow cutter from a cruise, and has brought the hull of a large Danish ship, without any persons on board, which she picked up at sea.  The Dane is laden with bale goods, but it is expected she will go to pieces as she has four feet of water in her hold.  Two Dutch ships of war passed by this place yesterday morning, with the wind at N. E.

Times: Monday January 9, 1791, Issue 1886 – Smuggling
"His Majesty’s Revenue Cutter the Alexander has taken and carried into Scilly the FORMIDABLE Smuggling Cutter, laden with tobacco, tea, and about 1000 gallons of spirits, after a chase of seven hours, and firing five times to bring her to"

Times: Thursday, June 2, 1791, Issue 2039 – Smuggling
“This afternoon arrived, the JOLLY sloop belong to Scilly; and the MARY sloop of St Ives, laden with 200 ankers [sic] of spirit each captured near Scilly by the ANDROMEDA frigate, captain Salisbury a few days since.” 

Times: Tuesday, December 27, 1791, Issue 2217 - Smuggling
“The EXPERIMENT, Lieutenant Wakefield, is arrived at Scilly, and has taken in with her a large smuggling lugger, deeply laden with tea, tobacco and spirits, which she took within a league of Scilly, after a chase of six hours and a half, during which she was obliged to fire on them four times before they struck, by which, one of their crew was killed, and three wounded; the smuggler mounted eight six pounders, but did not offer fire.  The Captain and crew are chiefly Scotchmen, and behaved very submissively when taken. The cutter is an American built vessel; about 120 tons burthen, and belongs to Ostend.”

Times:  Wednesday, January 11, 1792, Issue 2200 – Smuggling
“The PHOENIX Revenue Cutter, Lieutenant Berkley, arrived at Scilly the 3rd instant from a cruize [sic], and has taken in with her a smuggling cutter, laden with tobacco and spirits, which she had been in chase of for eight hours; had fired six or seven times on her to bring her too; she is pierced for twenty guns. But had none on board.  She was built at Boston, and was one of Paul Jones’s squadron during the American war.”

Times:  Friday May 25, 1792, Issue 2316 – Smuggling
"The LEOPARD, Revenue Cutter is arrived at Scilly, under a jury mast, and has taken in with her the DIAMOND, smuggling cutter, belonging to Dunkirk, laden with tea, tobacco, and upwards of one thousand gallons of spirits."

Times: Wednesday, August 29, 1792, Issue 2398 – Smuggling
"The EXPEDITION, revenue cutter has taken and carried into Scilly, the DOROTHY, smuggling cutter, laden with tea, tobacco, and 900 gallons of spirits."

Times: Tuesday October 2, 1792, Issue 2427 – Smuggling
"The EXPEDITION, Revenue Cutter, Lieut. Godfrey, arrived at Scilly the 26th instant and took in with her the DIANA, a smuggling Cutter, belonging to Dunkirk, laden with tea, tobacco and six hundred casks of spirits.  The EXPEDITION fired on her four times to bring her to; the crew crowded all the sail they could, and attempted twice to run the vessel on shore; but they were prevented, the wind blowing very hard.  Two of the crew behaved themselves in so mutinous a manner that they were obliged to be put in irons."

Times: Saturday, March 9, 1793, Issue 2554 – Smuggling
"The SWALLOW, sloop of war has taken and carried into Scilly two French privateers, one carrying 10 guns and 60 men, the other 8 guns and 52 men."

Times:  Friday, November 19, 1819, Issue 10780 – Courts: King v Tregarthur
“On the motion of Mr. Sergeant Pell, S. Tregarthur was brought up for Judgement, he having been found guilty of obstructing some revenue-officers in discharge of their duty, in exercising a warrant of assistance in one of the Scilly islands.  The Court, after a short consultation together, sentenced the prisoner to two months’ imprisonment in the gaol at Bodmin.”

Times:  Monday, November 27, 1826, Issue 13127 – New Customs Laws
“NEW LAW – A short time since, orders were received at the Customs-house at Scilly, for the measuring and registering of every boat belonging to the islands; with a view, no doubt to “the better prevention of smuggling” and many old shells, which were not worth 5s (being solely employed a few weeks in the year to carry ore-weed) were subjected to the scrutiny of the surveyor!  Still more recently, new licences have been required for all sea-going boats, and orders have been issued regulating the distances at which they may proceed from the islands, and, while some are permitted to go as far as eight leagues off, others are restricted to half that distance!  The penalty for being found beyond those limits is the seizure of the boat” – Plymouth Journal

Note: One of the first Preventative Vessels mentioned in the archives was the TAMER c. 1784.  It was a vessel of 151 tons, contracted to the Customs Service with a crew of 25 and stationed at Scilly.  In 1797 there is also listed:
HINDE, 160 tons,12 guns, & 41 crew.  Master Gabriel Bray - Area: Portland to St Ives & Scilly
DOLPHIN, 139 tons, 14 guns & 32 crew.  Master Richard Jones Jnr. - Area: St Ives to Padstow, round Scilly to Lands End and Helford.

Eventually revenue more cutters are stationed in Scilly.  A list of some of these, courtesy of A. J. Jenkins.  [Ref. 5]

MEARLE 1808 140 10 33 William Blake
CORMORANT 1808 123 12 32 Robert Neale
ALARM 1808 120 14 34 Lt Ellis
RETENTION 1808 90 10 30 Capt. Lester
DRAKE 1808 130 12 35 Lt. Matthews
QUAIL 1808 89 8 21 Lt. Pearce
PROVIDENCE 1808 84 8 21 Lt. Worrell
LAPWING 1808 123 10 34 Lt. Rockfast
HIND 1808 150 14 34 Lt. Webb
FOX 1808 80 8 21 Lt. Johns
HARPY 1808 137 14 31 Lt. Herbert
FANCY 1821 139 14 31 Lt. Sanders
ANTELOPE 1821 112 18 31 Lt. Goldsmith
DOLPHIN 1821 149 14 34 Capt. Castor
WHITWORTH 1821 144 14 34 Lt. Woodriffe
SPRIGHTLY 1821 66 4 18 Lt. Thompson
BADGER 1825 80 8 21 Capt. Allen
NIMBLE 1825 66 4 18 Lt. Goldsmith
DEFENCE 1827 89 8 30 Lt. Hind
KING GEORGE 1827 140 8 37 Capt. Miller
EXPERIMENT 1827 40 4 8 Capt. Down
LION 1828 82 8 21 Lt. Arnold
MERMAID 1828 60 2 6 Mr Hog
BRAMBLE 1828 100 8 21 Lt. Arwell
ADDER 1828 100 8 21 Capt. Bowden
DOVE 1828 125 8 32 Lt. Dorby
VIPER 1828 60 2 6 Lt. Hughes
SWALLOW 1828 125 8 32 Lt. Bete
ACTIVE 1828 140 2 32 W .H. Miller
SYLVIA 1828       Lt. Brown
HORNET 1828 144 8 37 Lt. More
SKY LARK 1828 140 14 34  
VIGALANT 1862        
VIGALANT 1974        


1 - The Scilly Islands, and the famine occasioned by the legal prevention of smuggling with France : addressed to the Rev. Timothy East, of Ebenezer Chapel, Steel Street, Birmingham by George Charles Smith; Timothy East. Publisher: London : Printed and published by W. K. Wakefield.  1828.

2 - Smuggling Days, Smuggling Ways by Henry Shore.  1891.

3 - The Romance of Smuggling by Rev. Athol Forbes.  1909.

4 - King's Cutters and Smugglers 1700-1855 by Edward Keeble Chatterton c. 1912.

5 - Gigs and Cutters of the Isles of Scilly by A. J. Jenkins (page 16 to 25).  1975

6 - Around & about the smugglers' ways by David Mudd.  ISBN: 9780948158704. Publisher: Bodmin : Bossiney.  1991.

7 - The Rise and Fall of the Pilotage Trade in the Isles of Scilly, 1800-1900 by Sara Stirling.  See also "What Factors Influenced the Design of Revenue Cutters between 1770 & 1850, a dissertation abstract of MA in Maritime History by William Stirling. (Abstracts at