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"Smugglers on the Isle of Wight" Top 5 Page for this destination Isle of Wight Local Custom Tip by budapest8

Isle of Wight Local Customs: 34 reviews and 39 photos

  East Cowes old postcard
by budapest8

Cowes is at the northernmost tip of the island
The south of the island had the advantage of being ill-policed, but the landing places there were really suitable only for small craft. Bigger ships had to travel round to the north side to unload. Here smuggling sometimes took a different form: East Indiamen would anchor in the Yarmouth Roads and openly do business with small boats that rowed out. By the 1780s, the smugglers had become quite brazen, and were ready to unload cargoes within sight of the preventive forces: they even formed convoys of small vessels guarded by a well-armed cutters and luggers (2-300 tons). Frequently two or three hundred men met the boats to unload the goods.

Such open flaunting of the law could not be tolerated forever, and the preventive effort was stepped up. Cowes was the centre for the operation, and in September 1777 William Arnold took up the post of collector of customs there. He was extremely diligent and devoted to the cause of stamping out smuggling, but his pleas for more help in the war against the smugglers fell on deaf ears in London. Undaunted by this, Arnold resolved to rent, fit out and crew a boat at his own expense. He chose the Swan, but this was soon wrecked in a ferocious storm. It was replaced by more ships — this time supplied by the Admiralty — which had a impressive effect on smuggling in the area. A succession of battles at sea proved successful for the preventives, and before long the large and well-armed smuggling craft had moved to less well protected areas, or to ports where the customs officials were easier to bribe.

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  • Written Feb 9, 2007
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