Who were the smugglers?

The Smugglers at Robin Hood's Bay

To organise a smuggling run took time and money, and involved many different people.  The business was as complicated as any other form of trade – and more dangerous.  First goods had to be purchased abroad, in one of the places that specialised in supplying goods for the English smugglers.  Then they had to be transported across the Channel to an agreed landing place, where the boat was unloaded and the goods carried away to a safe hiding place.  This had to be done swiftly and silently, and in darkness.  Finally, the goods had to be moved secretly up to York and Pickering and sold to a dealer.
Smuggling, like any business, required capital (money).  Somewhere, quite a large sum of money had to be found to buy the goods, hire a boat, pay the porters, and so on.  Who provided all this money is rather a mystery, but we know that in many cases very ‘respectable’ gentlemen, including local landowners and magistrates, must have supplied it.  Such a man was called the backer or venturer and apart from lending the money and receiving most of the profits (if the run was a success), he kept well in the background.  Could Squire Farsyde been one of these?

The task of the freighter was the most vital in the whole operation.  A full-time, professional smuggler, he bought the goods somewhere abroad, like Holland, France or Spain, hired a boat (unless he owned one), and shipped the goods across the channel.  He had to be reliable, because he acted alone and if he decided to go off with the money, no one could stop him.

When the contraband reached land it became the responsibility of the lander.  He planned the operation together with the freighter, and was in charge of the contraband from the moment it came ashore.  He hired the men to unload the goods, borrowed horses and carts, found temporary hiding places and arranged for the goods to be carried up to London a few days later.  The lander was often a local farmer and a man who, by force of character, could command the respect and assistance of people in is neighbourhood.
For a big cargo, many men were needed to unload the boat and carry the goods away, while others stood guard to prevent any Revenue officer interrupting the proceedings. These men were mostly local farm workers and fishermen- part-time smugglers who were paid several shillings, plus a small share of contraband tea or tobacco, for their nights work.  In many parts of Britain, especially near the coast, most of the population was connected with smuggling in some way.  Farmers lent horses and carts, innkeepers stored contraband in their cellars, men acted as porters, women and children as lookouts.
The Revenue Men
The Collector of Customs was the head of the Customs service in his area.  He was responsible to the Board of Customs in London.  His own headquarters were in the Custom-house, where duties were paid on goods entering or leaving the country.  Captured contraband was also kept in the Custom-house, though there were cases of bold smugglers breaking into the place to get their confiscated goods back.
Incoming cargoes were supervised by Custom-house officers called tide-waiters and land-waiters.  The tide-waiters went out to meet a vessel ‘on the tide’, and made sure she berthed at the proper place.  Once berthed, she came under the land-waiters, who supervised loading and unloading of cargo.

Riding officers patrolled the countryside within ten miles of the coast looking for smugglers.  It was a lonely and sometimes dangerous job.  There was a famous case of a riding officer who fell to his death while trying to stop smugglers wives signalling a warning from the cliffs to their husbands at sea.  The verdict at the inquest was ‘accidental death’.  But did he slip or was he pushed?

In some parts of the country smugglers moved about openly in armed gangs, and riding officers could do nothing about it   They were forced to seek help from the army, and dragoons (mounted infantry) were sometimes sent to help the riding officer break up a run.  But during wartime troops could not be spared, and even if they were available they often arrived too late.  The soldiers themselves, although they received a small share of the contraband seized, were usually sympathetic to the smugglers and did not like ‘Revenue duty’.
The Tools of the Trade

‘Batmen’ stood guard when a run was taking place to fight off anyone who tried to interfere.  They gained their name from the long clubs, or ‘bats’ they carried.  Some smugglers used guns, although the shooting of the Revenue officer often roused the authorities to step up their efforts against smuggling.  For instance, the shooting of a naval quartermaster by smugglers near Dover led to the campaign against the Aldington Gang in the 1820’s

Riding officers, sometimes known as ‘dragoons’ carried pistols and cutlasses, but seldom used them unless backed up by soldiers’ muskets.
The traditional dress of the smuggler was a smock and sea-boots.  Originally, a ‘smock’ was a kind of petticoat worn be women, and the smugglers’ smock was something like that, except that it was worn over the clothes like a coat, not under them.  It was a loose garment put on over the head or buttoned down the front and reaching below the knees.  It was made of rough, cheap linen, and was the normal dress of farm labourers; that was why the smugglers adopted it.  As nearly every man in the district, smuggler or not, wore a smock, a smuggler could not be identified by what he was wearing.
Masks, sometimes made to look horrible and frightening, also prevented identification.  But many smugglers preferred simply to blacken their faces with soot.
Smugglers used lanterns with a restricted beam, especially when signalling from a ship to shore, so that the light was not easily spotted, except by those whom it was directed.  On shore, where a light was less obvious, fires were lit as a signal to the boats.  Fire was made with a tinder box: a spark was struck from a flint by steel (as in a cigarette lighter), which set alight the ‘tinder’, a substance made from part-burned cloth or a type of fungus that caught alight easily.

The smuggling business supported many people besides smugglers.  Those who kept inns or hired out boats often depended on the smugglers, and the whole economy of some little harbour villages rested on smuggling.  The largest business in the Channel Islands was making the casks to carry smuggled gin and brandy (the smugglers used smaller casks than legal traders because they were easier to handle).  On the island of Aldernay, every single family except the family of the governor was employed in the coopering (barrel-making) industry.