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King's Cutters and Smugglers: 1700-1855

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King's Cutters and Smugglers: 1700-1855
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Author(s): E. Keble Chatterton
Date Published: 2008/01
Page Count: 328
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-407-2
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-408-9

The hunters and the hunted on the high seas

This book is-quite simply-the definitive work on a unique period of maritime history-from the beginning of the eighteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century when British seamen risked all to smuggle valuable goods from wool to tea and spirits from and to the Continent. These were ruthless men operating in large gangs, manning substantial, heavily armed vessels, who were not reticent when it came to attacking the Kings Cutters, storming Customs Houses, occupying towns, terrorising communities and committing murder and torture whenever they believed it furthered their ends. Against them were pitted the fast, lightly manned Kings Cutters-and their not always resolute captains and crews-backed by patrols of mounted dragoons and the Royal Navy. This book recounts the history of the smuggling trade, it describes many famous incidents and details the exploits of the principal characters on both sides of the law. The boats and ships are also described in complete detail, making this an invaluable work for those fascinated by the story of British seamen and their vessels.

At that time the St. Thomas’s sails were up, and now Mr. Stewart ordered the steersman to lower them. He made no answer, but, turning round to his crew exhorted them to pull quickly, saying, “Give way, my boys, give way.” Thereupon the smugglers cheered and pulled as hard as they could. Mr. Stewart again ordered the steersman to lower sail, adding that should he fail to do so he would fire at him. But this did not awe the St. Thomas. “Fire and be damned,” answered the steersman. “If you fire, I will fire. We are as well armed as you are.” Stewart held his hand and did not fire, but ordered his men to pull closer. Coming alongside, he addressed the steersman, saying it was absolutely essential that he should examine the St. Thomas and that he knew they were Englishmen, adding that he was unwilling that there should be any bloodshed by firing into the boat.
With this the Florida’s boat pulled up on the other’s quarter, and the bowmen hooked on with the boat-hook. The St. Thomas’s steersman knocked the boat-hook away and threatened to shoot the bowman if he did not let go. For a short time thereafter the boats separated and drifted apart. But a second time his Majesty’s boat pulled up alongside, and Mr. Stewart jumped forward into the bows and ordered one of his own men to stand by ready to accompany him on board. The steersman of the other, however, was determined, and resisted Stewart’s attempt, at the same time presenting a pistol and threatening to shoot the officer if he advanced one step further. <br>
On that the men of St. Thomas ceased rowing, drew in their oars, and rushed aft to where the steersman was standing in the stern. Matters began to look ugly, and being convinced that these men were bent on desperate resistance, Mr. Stewart was compelled to fire with his pistol at the steersman, who immediately fell. Stewart instantly leapt aboard, but was nearly jostled into the sea by two of the enemy. He ordered the whole of this crew to go forward, but they declined to obey, and followed this up by threatening that if they still refused he would have to use his sword and cut them down. The only member of his own crew who had already got aboard as well was his coxswain, and owing either to himself or the action of the coxswain in stepping from one boat to the other, the two craft had drifted apart, and for a time there was considerable risk that the men, who were obvious smugglers, would fall on these two. But the naval officer had already cut down two of their number with his sword, and after that the rest went forward and were obedient. The St. Thomas was rather a large craft of her kind. Additional to her sails, she rowed five on one side, six on the other, and also had a steersman, the additional oarsman being no doubt placed according to the tide so that his work might in some measure counteract the great leeway which is made by small vessels crossing the strong tidal stream of the English Channel.<br>
As all was now quiet on board, Mr. Stewart searched her and found she was laden with kegs, which, said the crew, were filled with tea and tobacco, these kegs being as usual already slung for putting ashore or sinking. Later on it was found that out of this crew no less than six were English, besides one man who had been born at Flushing of English parentage, though he called himself a Dutchman. The rest were all foreigners. No one can read such an incident as this without regretting that they should have ever led to slaughter. It is a serious thing to take any man’s life when there is no warfare, and it is still more dismal if that man is of the same nationality as the one who deals death. If the whole of the St. Thomas’s crew had been killed there could have been no blame on Mr. Stewart, for he was only carrying out his orders and acting in self-defence. The smugglers were fully aware they were in the wrong, and they were responsible for any consequences that might accrue. The officer had given them ample warning, and he had only used severe measures when absolutely compelled.<br>
But there is a more satisfactory side to this regrettable incident, which one is only too glad to be able to record. The man who had been so badly wounded desired to speak to Mr. Stewart, and when the latter had approached him he turned to him and said:<br>
“You’ve killed me; sir, I’m dying.”<br>
Mr. Stewart saw that this was perfectly true, and that the man was in no sense exaggerating.<br>
“Well, I’m sorry for it,” he said, “but it was your own fault.”
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