Smuggling and Shipwreck

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries high taxes led to an increase in illegal imports to Britain. The geographical positioning of Dorset on the South Coast of England meant that coastal towns such as Swanage and Poole became hubs for contraband; and so the battle between smugglers and customs men began.

A List of Smuggling and Shipwreck Documents
Reference number Date Description of documents


1677-1691 The case of John Willie, accused of various acts amounting to smuggling.
D-RWR/X/3 1746-48 Letter book of Henry Fox [Secretary at War 1746-1754], October 1746 - September 1748. General War Office business, troops required to suppress smuggling, August 1747 and April 1748; Jacobites, October, 1747, February 1747/8; transportation of prisoners to America, October 1747; establishment in Nova Scotia, May 1748; South Carolina, September 1748. 
D-WLC/Z/45 1774-1808 Act of parliament concerning prevention of smuggling in 1774.
DC-PL/C/C/14/3 1816 Conviction and warrant for the arrest of Martha Hurdle, For smuggling 1 silk shawl, 5 silk half handkerchiefs, 13 silk handkerchiefs, 24 pairs of leather gloves, 1 silk shawl, 2 lace silk half shawl and 21 yards of lace. Fined £20 including costs
PE-KIN/RE/1/2 30 March 1765 Burial of Robert Trotman, a smuggler shot on the shore.
DC-PL/C/C/14/5 1816 Information and letter. Defendants: John Galton and Timothy Ellis. For smuggling liquor into a boat at the quay. Informant: Joseph Carter, 'sitter of His Majesty's customs'. Sentence: Impressed into the navy and transferred to the 'Algerine' sloop.
D-PIT/E/33 1803-1807, 1825 Various documents, including letter from William Morton Pitt concerning right of wreck, 1807.
D-LEG/F/19/1 1775-78 Letter from George Garland in Rouen to his brother Joseph, 1775, concerning trade, his own intentions, advantages of smuggling; to his sister Mary and Mrs Robinson (Sarah) from Rouen, 1775, 1776, with remarks on town and inhabitants, dress etc and impressions of masked ball, 1776; to his sisters from Rotterdam, 1778.
D-SBS/E/39 1856-57 Letters from the customs houses at London and Weymouth about the right to unclaimed wreck, and evidence of this right, 1856-1857; case for the opinion of Montague Smith concerning unclaimed wreck at Langton Herring, 1856
DC-PL/C/C/14/8 1818 Defendants: 4 unnamed men, Informant: Thomas Mundy, deputed mariner of the Hawk Revenue Cutter, For smuggling 11 casts of spirits near Portland


When you think of pirates, you may think of privateers drinking rum in the far away tropics of the Caribbean! In reality there was a time when piracy was a real issue for many in Dorset, including the Navy and many shipping businesses operating out of Poole and other Dorsetshire ports. In the archives we can see documents demonstrating the lengths that the government went to to try and prevent piracy, as well as the punishments handed out to those buccaneers found guilty of the crime.


A List of Piracy Documents

Reference number Date Description of documents
DC-PL/B/8/1a/4 1585 The confession of three men (pirates) concerning a ship and cargo they had captured and the disposal of raisins and almonds (the cargo) at Melford, Lulworth, Studland and Brownsea. One Walter Partridge, the keeper at Brownsea received 40 pieces of raisins and 2 bags of Almonds, giving in return bread, beer and the sum of £4 10s.
D1/2693c 1580 Note of vessels taken by Hynton and Blunte, two pirates in 1580, retaken by named persons and brought into Poole.
D-LRM/T/24 ND Royal brief ordering the collection of money to pay for the release of William Hyett of Lyme, mariner and ten other sailors, held for ransom in Algiers 2 Jul 1622.
D-WLC/X/13 1604 Warrant from the Lord High Admiralto Howard to deliver up a Spanish ship and its cargo of wine, taken by WEYMOUTH pirates.
DC-PL/A/3/4 1578 Commission under the great seal of Queen Elizabeth concerning the apprehension of pirates.
DC-PL/B/8/2L 1585 Letter to the Mayor of Poole from William Cecil, Lord Burghley, concerning a French ship belonging to Nicholas Currie [Curry] which was brought to Studland Bay by pirates and burnt
DC-PL/B/8/2m 1585 Letter from Privy Council about an English pirate ship attacking a French boat and bringing it in about 4 miles out of Poole, where the pirate set fire to the ship. Some of the cargo of salt was saved by the quick thinking of the Mayor and other officers of the town.
DC-PL/C/F/4 N/A Multiple piracy cases handled in the Admiralty court.
D-LEG/F/6 and 7 1774-1779 Various documents relating to Isaac and Benjamin Lester, including the Diary of Isaac Lester at Poole, with several references to press and privateers.
D1/2693/E Undated. (?1636) Petition against Turkish Pirates sent by merchants and Ship owners of ports of Exeter, Plymouth, Barnstaple, Dartmouth, Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, Lyme Regis and other members of these ports.

These are by no means exhaustive lists of documents relating to smuggling, shipwreck and piracy, so if this has piqued your interest why not search our catalogue for more documents, or contact us to arrange a visit with your class to view the documents themselves (where possible).

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