The Lizard with its lighthouse.
Baring-Gould describes the curious feature along the wild, rocky coastline of west Cornwall; namely, the trenched and banked up paths from the coves along the coast. The shore is generally faced by precipitous cliffs where, here and there, streams have cut a gully to the general elevation of the sea, perhaps with a spit of sand at the base of the cliff. Caverns thereabouts lace the rocks in all directions. The smugglers formerly ran their goods into these coves when the weather permitted and when government agents were not on the look out. They stowed their goods in the numerous caves and sent notice to the local farmers and gentry of the presence of the good. These men then retrieved the contraband from the caches by mule under cover of storm or night.
The locals pretended that the donkeys were necessary in order to bring up beneficial sea sand and kelp for dressing the land, which they did indeed do. The trains of asses often came up laden with sand, but often with kegs of brandy as well.
It occurred to these gentle people that an inquisitive preventative government man might view the goings on with excess scrutiny. Accordingly, squires, yeomen, and farmers cut deep ways to the sea in the downs along the slopes of hills, and banked them up so that caravans of the beasts could come and go virtually unseen from the sea and greatly screened from landside.
The good folk protested they were just being kind to their animals protecting them from the driving rains and seaside gales. However, sheltering the beasts from the eyes of the coastguard was as important as sheltering them from the elements.
The smugglers often put stockings on the hooves of asses when carrying illegal goods on the roads in order to deaden the sound.
Baring-Gould relates another story of a tavern keeper, an evil faced man, his complexion flaming red and his hair very white, which he remembers as a boy. A story of this innkeeper was told; he had been a smuggler in his day, a wild one:
On one occasion, he and his men were rowing a cargo ashore they were pursued by a revenue boat. Tristam Davey, as I will call this man, knew this bit of coast perfectly. There was a reef of short slate rock that ran across the little bay, like a very keen saw with its teeth set outward, and there was one point at which the saw could be crossed safely. Tristam knew the point to a nicety, even in the gloaming, and he made for it, the revenue boat following.
He, however, did not make direct for it, but steered a little on one side and then suddenly swerved and shot through the break. The revenue boat came straight on, went right upon the jaws of the reef, was torn, and began to fill. Now the mate of this boat was one against whom Tristam entertained a deadly enmity, because he had been the means of capture in which his property had been concerned. So he turned the boat, and running back, he stood up, levelled a gun and shot the mate through the heart; then away went the smuggling boat to shore, leaving the rest of the revenue men to shift as best they could with their injured boat.
Baring-Gould relates a story about his friend, a parson who lived along the notorious north coast. This parson was walking alone a lane at night, near midnight, after he had been sitting with a dying person. He saw a man standing near a branch in the lane and he called out "Good night." He deliberated which route to take back to the rectory: one was shorter but it was stony and very wet, so he chose the longer way and turned for home that way. Thirty years later he was speaking to a parishoner who was ill when the man asked him suddenly, "Do you remember a night about thirty years ago when you came to the 'Y' after visiting with Nankervill, who was dying?"
"Yes, I do recall something of it."
"Do you remember that you said 'Good night' to me?"
"I remember someone being there; I did not know it was you."
"And you turned right instead of left?"
"I dare say."
"If you had taken the left hand road would never have seen next morning."
"There was a large cargo of 'run' goods being transported that night, and you would have met it."
""What of that?"
"What of that? You would have been chucked over the cliffs."
"But how could they suppose I would preach?"
"Sir! They'd ha' took good care you shouldn't a' had the chance!"
Baring-Gould relates another personal anecdote, this time concerning himself one night at a tavern:
I was sitting in a little seaport tavern in Cornwall one winter's evening, over a great fire, with a company of old 'salts,' gossiping, yarning, singing, when up got a tough old fellow with a face the color of mahagony, and dark, piercing eyes, and the nose of a hawk. Planting his feet wide apart, as though on deck in a rolling sea, he began to sing in stentorian tones a folk-song relative to a highway-man in the old times, when Mr. John Fielding, the blind magistrate at Westminster, put down highway robbery. The ballad told of the evil deeds of this mounted robber of the highways, and of how he was captured by 'Fielding's crew' and condemned to die. It concluded:--
When I am dead, born to my grave, A gallant funeral may I have;
Six highwaymen to carry me, With good broad swords and sweet liberty
Six blooming maidens shall bear my pall, Give them white gloves and pink ribbons all;
And when I'm dead they'll tell the truth, I was a wild and a wicked youth.
At the conclusion of each verse the whole assembly repeated the two final lines. It was a striking scene; their eyes flashed, their color mounted, they hammered with their fists on the table and with their heels on the floor. Some, in the wildness of their excitement, sprang up, thrust their hands through their white or grey hair, and flourished them, roaring like bulls.
When the song was done, and composure had settled over the faces of the excited men, one of them said apologetically to me, "You see, sir, we be all old smugglers, and have gone against the law in our best days."
Baring-Gould puts his own perspective on the wrongfulness of Cornish smuggling.
He explains that customs' duties were first imposed in England for protecting the coasts against pirates, who raided defenceless villages, kidnapped and carried off children and men to sell as slaves in Africa, or who waylaid merchant vessels and plundered them. But when all danger from pirates ceased, the duties were not only maintained, but made more onerous.
The Cornish folk believed, consequently, that the Crown had violated its side of the compact, and bold Cornishmen had no scruple of conscience in carrying on contraband trade. The officers of the Crown no longer captured, brought to justice, and hang notorious foreign pirates; but to capture, bring to justice, and hang native seamen and traders. The preventative services became a means of oppression and not of relief.
It was in this light that bold Cornishmen regarded the matter; and this was the way it was regarded not only by ignorant seamen only, but by magistrates, country gentlemens, and parsons alike. As an illustration, Baring-Gould relates a story from Reverend R. S. Hawker, a vicar on the north Cornish coast:
It was full six o'clock in the afternoon of an autumn day when a traveller arrived where the road ran along by a sandy beach just above high water mark.
The stranger, a native of some inland town, and entirely unacquainted with Cornwall and its ways, had reached the brink of the tide just as a landing was coming off. It was a scene not only to instruct a townsman, but to dazzle and surprise.
At sea, just beyond the billows, lay a vessel, well moored with anchors at stem and stern. Between the ship and the shore boats laden to the gunwale passed to and fro. Crowds assembled on the beach to help the cargo ashore.
On the one hand a boisterous group surrounding a keg with the head knocked in, into which they dipped whatever vessel came first to hand; one man had filled his shoe. On the other side they fought fought and wrestled, cursed and swore.
Horrified at what he saw, the stranger lost all self command and, oblivious of personal danger, he began to shout: "What a horrible sight! Have you no shame? Is there no magistrate at hand? Cannot any justice of the peace be found in this fearful country?"
"No, thanks be," answered a hoarse, gruff voice; "none within eight miles."
"Well, then," screamed the stranger, "is there no clergyman hereabouts? Does no minister of the parish live among you on this coast?"
"Aye, to be sure there is," said the same deep voice.
"Well, how far off does he live? Where is he?"
"That's he, sir, yonder with the lantern." And sure enough, there he stood on a rock and poured with pastoral diligence, 'the light of other days' on a busy congregation.
Baring-Gould says that it could almost be said that the government did its best to encourage smuggling by the harsh and vexatious restrictions it put on trade. Prohibited goods which might under no circumstances be imported to Britain included:
Gold and silver brocade , Coconut shells
Foreign embroidery . Gold and silver plate
Ribbons and laces , Chocolate and cocoa
Calicoes printed or dyed abroad , Gloves and mittens
Besides this list, a vast number of goods carried high burdens of duties, making it profitable and probable that men would attempt to run cargo without paying duty:
Salt , Tea , Tobbacco.