From Historical Hastings

From 1733 the Customs onshore anti-smuggling forces of Kent were run by leading establishment figure John Collier (1685-1760). In 1756 he passed on his anti-smuggling role – called Surveyor General of the Customs for Kent – and prominent position in the town to his son-in-law Edward Milward Snr (1723-1811). Local legend has it that Collier and Milward (who was mayor of Hastings 26 times) received large incomes from their liaison with the chief smugglers over several decades, as did other Customs officers around the coast. The senior officers were well-known for having little effect, because their positions were often filled by political jobbery; corruption, inefficiency and laxity were widespread [1]

Smuggling continued until well into the 19th century as evidenced by Brett in his Manuscript Histories, a couple of notable incidents from therein being repeated below:

3rd of January (1828), a party of smugglers rushed onto the beach at about two miles west of the embryo St. Leonards and landed a cargo of smuggled goods, which they conveyed in carts, on horses and on men's backs to Bexhill. There they were overtaken by blockadesmen who had been reinforced to about forty in number, when the smuggler's batsmen drew themselves up in regular lines of battle and a desperate fight ensued. In the first volley fired by the blockadesmen, a smuggler named Smith and one of their comrades were killed, and others were wounded, but the defenders fought with such determination as to repulse their assailants, after Quarter-Master Collins had been killed and many others severely bruised. Next morning the dead body of Smith was found with his bat still graped by his hands, the weapon being almost hacked to pieces by the cutlasses and bayonets of the blockadesmen. Some of the men, whose names were known were afterwards captured. These were Spencer Whiteman, Thos. Miller, Hy. Miller, John Spray, Edward Shoesmith, Wm. Bennett, John Foord and Stephen Stubberfield. They were indicted at the Horsham spring assizes and removed to the Old Bailey for trial, where, on the 10th of April, they all pleaded guilty. They were sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to transportation[2]

In the month of October (1829), between 7 and 8 of the morning, a number of men had assembled just above the North Lodge, and in reply to Mr. Robert Deudney, who accosted them, said "You see that boat on the water; that's loaded with tubs, and we mean to have them." Mr. Deudney then went back to his house and called Mr. Beecham, who happened to be staying there, to accompany him to witness the exploit. On getting down to the space in front of the Hotel, where the Baths, but not the parade wall had been built, the boat came ashore, and the "batsmen" assembled on the beach, confronted by a solitary preventive-man. This guardian of the coast was made to understand that it would go hard with him if he fired his pistol. This he did, nevertheless, but as no one was wounded, the party rushed upon him and might have inflicted on him some bodily harm but for the interposition of Mr. Deudney, whose friend, Mr. Beecham, had gone away from sheer fright. The result was that the preventative mans pistol and cutlass were wrenched from him and thrown into the sea, whilst with surprising dexterity, the large cargo of spirits was got clean away to Westfield and other places without the loss of a single keg.[3]

Possibly the lowering of import duties on many of the commonly smuggled items in 1830 possibly assisted with the reduction in large-scale smuggling after this date[4], together with the almost-complete population of the seafront by affluent families soon after this date.

Known Smugglers Referenced in this Wiki

References & Notes