I have recently completed a commisioned non-fiction book about smugglers and smuggling (I think it will be called Smugglers the Fact and the Fiction) and will, (I hope) be published some time in 2018.
Meanwhile I'll occasionally be posting a few tit-bits here on Tuesday Talk to whet your appetite...
|the other twenty are ... elsewhere! LOL|
Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark –
Brandy for the Parson, 'Baccy for the Clerk.
Laces for a lady; letters for a spy,
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!
(From A Smuggler's Song Rudyard Kipling)
‘Gentlemen’? Were smugglers of the past (seventeenth - nineteenth century in this case) really gentlemen? It depends on your opinion, view, and which side of the fence you are sitting on.
Samuel Johnson, in his Dictionary of the English Language, published 1755, described a smuggler as: ‘A wretch who, in defiance of justice and the laws, imports or exports goods as either contraband or without payment of the customs.’ Obviously, he was not impressed by the Gentlemen Free Trade.
On the other hand, Adam Smith, an eighteenth century economist and supporter of Free Trade, said: ‘The smuggler is a person who, though no doubt blameable for violating the laws of his country, is frequently incapable of violating those of natural justice, and would have been in every respect an excellent citizen had not the laws of his country made that a crime which nature never meant to be so.’
That might be OK, but some smugglers, especially those of the large, organised gangs, were not innocent of violence, torture and murder.
|A skirmish with smugglers 1853. |
A painting by Vasily Hudiakov.
Smuggling. The word produces an image of a moonlit night, a tall ship at anchor in a wind-ruffled bay, and men wearing three-cornered hats making their swift, but silent, way along remote West Country lanes that zigzag between high banks and thick, foxglove and cow parsley-strewn hedgerows.
The men are leading pack ponies tied nose-to-tail, hooves muffled by sacking. On their backs casks of brandy or kegs of tobacco… But is that how smuggling really did happen?
In reality, smuggling was - is - the illegal importation of goods, be they mercantile, narcotic substances, migrating people, or secret information. The motivation being to avoid paying tax and to make a hefty profit, the latter being the ultimate goal. The smugglers of the past would argue different regarding the legality. They bought and paid for the goods which they smuggled into England; these were not stolen items. Contraband was transported, carried and delivered at the smugglers’ own expense, in their own time. Leaving aside that small matter of not paying import tax, there was nothing illegal about it. The items they smuggled were in high demand by the majority of people, many of whom could not afford the official cost of purchase. The smugglers’ maintained that to refuse to pay government duties on prohibited goods was justified because of a person’s right to buy or sell with the freedom of choice, unrestricted by law, and that ‘freedom of choice’ should not be a crime.
After all, the only victim suffering from the effects of smuggling (leaving out that unsavoury aspect of violence) was the government. Few of us would lose much sleep about that small fact!
Unfortunately, rogues and ruffians often corrupt the bending of the law to extremes of criminality to suit their own mind. What started with the relatively harmless smuggling of everyday items by a few villagers and quiet-minded fisher-folk, was swept aside by the gred of the organised gangs who had no qualms against fighting bloody battles, torturing and murdering those who opposed them.
So, alas, somewhat like the pirates, most smugglers were not the derring-do romantic rebels we see portrayed in fiction or on the TV and movie screen.
© Helen Hollick
|Don't want to wait for Smugglers?|
Try pirates instead!
available from Amazon