‘Them that ask no questions isn’t told a lie,
Watch the wall, my darling, while the gentlemen go by’
(Kipling: “The Smuggler’s Song”)
When tea was smuggled, the women in their costal cottages often cut and dried ordinary leaves to mix in with the actual tea to increase profits. I imagine that must sometimes have tasted nasty and could even have been toxic.
This became a risky procedure. The danger wasn’t from the revenue men, but from local youths who thought the greatest joke ever was to pierce the bladder with a knife or other sharp implement and watch the booze flood out over the carrier’s shoes, stockings and onto the ground. Such a waste! Marie-Louise Jensen
In 1799 George Lipcomb described an encounter with several such women.
A report from a Hampshire Chronicle of March 25th 1799 stated that:
“On Wednesday afternoon Inspector Major, of the Thames Police, and Dyer, constable of the same divison, were on duty at the Dublin-wharf, Lower Smithfield, and saw the prisoner disembark from the Batavier, a Rotterdam steamer. There was something very peculiar in her gait, which induced the officers to watch her.
“Dyer put himself in her way. Something hard struck against his right knee as she passed him. The inspector and constable followed the prisoner as far as Burr-street, the back of the St. Katharine’s Dock, where the inspector spoke to her and intimated that she had goods about her liable to duty. She indignantly denied the assertion.
“She was then taken into custody. On the way to the Thames Police-station at Wapping, she offered Inspector Major a present to let her go, which he refused.
“On her arrival at the station she delivered to the officers a few sticks of Cavendish tobacco, and said she had no more. She was delivered into the care of Mrs. Charlotte Nixon, a female searcher, to whom she declared that she was in the family way, and had no smuggled goods about her.
“Mrs. Nixon, however, insisted on examining her dress, and discovered 5 lbs of cigars, 9 lbs. of Cavendish tobacco, some tea, and a bottle of Hollands gin, concealed beneath her clothes and about capacious crinoline. The evidence having been interpreted to the prisoner, she pleaded ” Guilty.”
(Aldershot Military Gazette. Sat 23 Nov 1861)
The register for Dorchester Gaol 1782-1853
Despite the fact that women were not allowed to be searched, a number of them were arrested on smuggling related offences. The register for Dorchester Gaol 1782-1853 lists the names and occupations of no fewer than 64 women convicted of various smuggling related offences, including Charlotte Drake and Ann Maidment, who both assaulted and obstructed excise officers, Mary Applin who committed an excise offence, Martha Lumb who was sentenced to three months hard labour and Catherine Winter, a Weymouth seamstress, who served an 18-day sentence in 1844 for smuggling at the age of 70!
But regardless of the sex of the offender, for the populace as a whole, smuggling was generally considered an honourable trade.
The History Girls Women and the Smuggling Trade
Smugglers and Wreckers by Ellen Castelow
Smuggling in and around Burton Bradstock
West Bay Dorset Smuggling