Untold lives blog

16 October 2016

A Cornish smuggler

For those of you eagerly awaiting the next episode of Poldark, here is the story of a real Cornish smuggler.


  Smugglers sitting with their barrels

'Smugglers' from Clara L Matéaux, Round and about Old England (London,1876) BL flickr


In June 1801 the Revenue gun-ship Hecate had taken possession of a smuggling lugger laden with spirits which had been run ashore at Mullions in Mounts Bay on the coast of Cornwall.  A boat crew belonging to Hecate was on the lugger when a large party of men began firing muskets at them from the cliff.  Fearing for their lives, the sailors were forced to leave the lugger and take to their boat. The armed men continued to fire, in particular one William Richards alias Payow.  Richards, thought to be part-owner of the lugger or her cargo, absconded afterwards.

The Admiralty in Whitehall issued a notice on 27 October 1801 offering £100 to anyone apprehending or informing against Richard and his accomplices.  The reward was payable on the conviction of the offenders. If any of the smugglers informed against their fellows, they were to be given a royal pardon.  This offer was not extended to Richards, a notorious offender.

A description of Richards’ appearance was circulated to aid his capture. 

‘The said Richards, alias Payow, is about 52 years of age, five feet seven inches high, stout made, dark hair, straight and short; dark complexion, dark grey full eyes, with reddish eye lashes and eye brows: his beard also red, and remarkably thick and large, large mouth, and teeth discoloured; voice sharp and shrill.’

Nothing to rival the charms of Ross Poldark there then.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive Royal Cornwall Gazette 21 November 1801


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