[From King Orry to Queen Victoria, 1899]




THE first commencement of smuggling by Manxmen was in 1670 A.D., when a Company of adventurers from Liverpool landed in Douglas and made great profits. They afterwards induced the Manx people to embark in the contraband trade.

At that time His Majesty of Great Britain was master of the sea, but the Isle of Man claimed and retained the jurisdiction of so much of it round their coasts that a master of a vessel had only to keep his weather-eye open, and do no more than watch his opportunity of coming within the boundary-line or ‘piles,’ as it was termed, when he was secure from any King’s ship or officer.

Such advantages did the illicit trade present to merchants engaged in regular foreign trade, that many ships laden with produce, not only of the Continent of Europe, but of the East and West Indies, touched at the island and met with ready buyers of such portions of their cargoes as they were willing to dispose of.

In the course of a very short time this traffic so increased that whole cargoes were brought to the island, all of which were afterwards reshipped into small Manx vessels, and ‘run’ into English, Scotch and Irish ports and landing-places adapted to the purposes of smuggling.

A native of Dunkirk, named François Thurot, was a very successful smuggler, and his vessel ran immense quantities of goods of every description between the French, Manx, and British coasts.

Another foreign smuggler—one Yawkins, a Dutchman—commanded a noted fast lugger, the Black Prince, and earned a wonderful reputation for his daring and Successful ventures.

The Dirk Hatteraick of Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Guy Mannering’ was taken from Yawkins, a fact that Sir Walter acknowledged in a letter to Mr. Traine, the historian of the Isle of Man.

A poet, whose name is unknown and forgotten, has endeavoured to immortalize his deeds in verse:

‘The thunder boomed loud and the lightning was strong
As the Buckkar of Yawkins went scriving along
The mountain-like billows that break on the shore
Where Ruberry’s turrets stood frowning of yore
The King’s men were foiled when she left the Isle’s Bay
With a cask at the maintop in vaunting array
The sails of the cutters spread fast to the wind,
But the Buckkar of Yawkins soon left them behind.
Ah! what could the Buckkar of Yawkins assail
If there is at all any truth in the tale
That Satan, for guarding her, claimed as his due,
When landing her cargo, a tithe of the crew;
But this might be said just because she could sail
Where no other vessel could ride out the gale;
Because skipper Yawkins could take any bay,
Any creek in the Solway by night or by day.’

* * * * *

‘Oft at the Rous with Yawkins and with Doal* And Manxmen gabbling from the Manor hole, What noggins have I drank of smuggled rum, Just from the little Isle of Three Legs come !‘

* A smuggler.

Two revenue cutters once hove in sight as Yawkins was landing on the British coast a cargo he had brought from the Isle of Man. He instantly slipped his cable and bore boldly down towards them.

The Black Prince had every stitch of canvas crowded upon her that could be hoisted, and Yawkins steered right between them with such determination and daring, that the fear of being run down quite paralyzed the men of both His Majesty’s cutters. So close did he go, that he tossed his hat on the deck of one vessel and his wig on the other as he passed between them. It took the revenue men all they knew to get out of his way.

On another occasion, directly he dropped anchor in the roadstead of a port he had determined to discharge his cargo at, a tide-waiter went on board, mistaking the Black Prince for a fair and square timber-laden vessel that was expected there. Yawkins ushered him down into the cabin, where he took such care of him that he did not allow him either to go on deck or on shore.

He landed his cargo, took the Custom House officer with him to Amsterdam, and there set him at liberty with means in his pocket to find his way home again.

Many were the skirmishes and fights between the King’s men and the smugglers, and many were the secret places constructed for safely stowing things away—whole cargoes.

On the appearance of revenue men, particularly if they were accompanied by soldiers, it was the usual thing to ring the nearest church bell violently, and so alarm the neighbourhood, giving everybody fair warning to conceal their smuggled goods. The narrow, crooked, tortuous streets in the old town of Douglas were purposely designed so, with the view of aiding smugglers in getting out of the way of preventive men and concealing their goods.

In the reign of George I. an Act was passed in the English Parliament to prevent East India goods being landed in the Isle of Man (Statute 7 Geo. I., cap. 21, sec. y), except from a British port. The penalty was the forfeiture of ship and cargo.

This law was a dead letter, so another (12 Geo. I., cap. 28, sec. 21) was passed enacting that no goods not the manufacture of the Isle of Man could be imported from there into Great Britain.

Other laws were passed, all of them equally abortive and futile.

The contraband trade assumed large dimensions, and many of the best and most well-to-do families of the island owe their properties to the profits made by their forefathers in the illicit traffic.

A Royal Proclamation was issued in 1778 A.D., offering the King’s free pardon to every person who had been engaged in the contraband trade, who ‘within six weeks thereafter should enter into His Majesty’s service either as a sailor or a soldier.’

About 500 Manx smugglers are said to have surrendered themselves, and entered the army or navy in response.

After the completion of the last and final sale of the island from the Duke of Athol to England in 1825 A.D., which virtually put an end to the smuggling trade, the lamentations of those engaged and interested in it were loud and great.

Many were the songs that were written and sung deploring that event. One of the most popular contained the following lines:

‘The babes unborn will rue the day
That the Isle of Man was sold away;
For there’s ne’er an old wife that loves her dram
But who’ll lament for the sale of Man.’

A Manxman called Quilliam was another noted smuggler, who was famous for playing sad tricks with the revenue men.

On one occasion his vessel, loaded with spirits, bound for Ireland, was chased and overhauled by a revenue cutter, but paid no attention to the summons to bring to. When a blank shot was fired from the cutter, he sailed on without taking any notice. Then a shot was fired, which fell into the sea not far from the mark. On seeing it was a shot coming towards him, he gave orders to his crew to get below and hide themselves, but remained on deck, taking the helm himself, and brought his little vessel up in the wind.

The revenue cutter lowered a boat, which was soon alongside, and the officer in command in a tone of fierce anger shouted:

‘Why the didn’t you bring your boat up when first signalled ?‘

‘Oh deary, deary me! I don’t know what I’m about. When I started from Peel I had six men on board. Four of the poor fellows are lying dead below in the hold, and the others are in the fo’c’s’le sadly bad with cholera morbus, or something of that sort. Oh deary, what shall I do? I am not feeling very well myself.’

‘Good God!’ cried the officer. ‘Sheer off at once and get back to the cutter!’

Away they went, and on boarding their own vessel, put her about and sailed away as fast as possible from the plague-stricken Manx hooker.

As soon as he thought they had gone far enough, Quilliam called his men up from below, put his own vessel on the right tack, and made off straight for the Irish coast.


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HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2001