Crouch Letter to Parliament re Smuggling

From Historical Hastings

Following the shooting of two Customs Officers in 1832, of which C. S. Crouch, then Mayor of Hastings ,had, in his capacity as a surgeon, to conduct an inquiry, Mr. Crouch and his fellow councillors felt so strongly about the threat of smuggling activities around the town that he wrote a letter to the Secretary of State for the Home Department[1];

Hastings. February 25th 1832

My Lord

As Mayor of the Town and Port of Hastings, and with the concurrence of my Brother Magistrates, I find it my Duty to represent to your Lordship some circumstances which have lately occurred within the Jurisdiction of this Town and Port and its immediate Neighbourhood. I allude to the prevailing practice of Smugglers coming down to the Coast, armed with Guns, and other offensive Weapons for the express purpose of resisting the Officers of the Revenue.

On the 6th of February Instant, at the Coast, near the Town of Rye the Smugglers assembled armed with 6 Guns, and in running their Tubs severely wounded and beat several of the Coast Guard. Thse Men when foiled in their previous attempts to run their Goods on other Nights returned home through the Country in a body, firing vollies of musquetry in a menacing manner as they passed many of the Gentlemens Houses on the Road.

In the course of this Week it has been my painful duty as Coroner, to hold Inquests on the bodies of two of the Coast Guard who were shot about 3 Miles to the Westward of this Town. From the evidence there adduced, it appeared, that about four o'clock in the morning of the 21st Instant it being very moonlight, a Boat was observed coming ashore. William Gampton one of the Coast Guard then on duty hailed the Boat and receiving no answer fired the usual alarm. David Walls one of the deceased then came to his assistance and fired his Pistol in the Air for the same purpose, when several shots were fired from the Smugglers by which he was killed on the Spot. The other Man was also wounded. The Crew of seven Men then came out of the Smuggling Boat, dressed in white frocks with large Bats about 6 or 7 fet long, some of which were afterwards picked up, and are of a different description to those hitherto generally used being triangular slabs of oak on elm, out of some Carpenters Yard with two very sharp edges, and the Handle shaved round. On the approach of two more of the Coast Guard one was instantly shot by the Smugglers with a Ball and died on the following Day. Another is shot through his arm with a Ball and is now in a dangerous state.

There were about 20 of the Smugglers armed with Guns with percussion Locks which produce no flash or light.

This latter affray is an instance of the most wilful and deliberate Murder on the part of the Smugglers; and a Report is very current here at present that it is the intention of the Smugglers to shoot at the Coast Guard Men from the Cliffs, on adjacent heights when employed in detached parties on the night watch on the Sea Shore whenever an opportunity is afforded them of committing such atrocious acts.

I cannot omit to express my opinion that if a sufficient force be not immediately sent to this part of the Coast by the Governent for the determined purpose of suppressing such daring outrages that it will be impossible for the Revenue Officers or the Civil Authorities to prevent the further spread of these lawless Combinations daily increasing in number and strength and all the dreadful consequences which must of necessity follow in this part of the Kingdom.

It is our decided opinion that similar scenes of bloodshed and murder will frequently occur and that the lives of many meritorious Officers and brave Men will be lost to their Country through the cowardly attacks of such nightly assassins if the most efficient means are not promptly taken by Government to strengthen the force now in their employment.

For any further Information which may be required, I refer your Lordship to the Honorable the Commissioner of Customs who doubtless have been furnished with official reports from their Officers employed here in their Service.

I have the honor to be
My Lord
You Lordships most humble and obedient Servant

C. S. Crouch

Mayor of Hastings

References & Notes