Location: Glamorgan, Wales, United Kingdom
Arthur wrote a number of short stories from research he gained from archives with Custom and Excise. A number of them he broadcasted on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) during the period above.
All stories on this page are copyright of K900 Publishing.
All stories on this page are published with kind permission from K900 Publishing/ Copyright reserved.'''
Story No. 1 Concerning Smuggling'
BBC Broadcast Date: 4 January 1929
I want to take you back to an almost forgotten world - the England of the 18th and 19th centuries, for this was the great smuggling period. It was an England very different from today. There were few large towns. The population mostly lived on the countryside in small self contained communities. There were no railways, telegraphs or wireless and the roads were frequently only tracks of mud and quagmire.
At sea there were few light houses, no light ships, no Life Saving Apparatus and few if any Lifeboats. Vessels were wholly propelled by wind and sail and were of small size. The engineer had not arrived and with the absence of docks, vessels lay against small quays or were put on the mud of rivers and creeks to discharge their cargoes. But it was a period of great sailors who knew every mood of the sea and all the craft of sailing small vessels. With regard to the law, the King's Writ still ran but at a decreasing speed the further it was from London.
Probably in our hearts we are all smugglers. The halo of romance is always around the smugglers. The adventurous voyage, the escape from the Revenue Cruiser, the hovering around the coast until the signal light is shown, the rapid transfer of the casks from the vessel to the boats and then to the shore - always with the possibility of the Preventive Men appearing! Do not we feel a sense of relief when the last cask has been put in a secure place, the tired men and horses go home, and the Preventive Men arrive too late!
Do you remember Rudyard Kipling's smuggling song in Puck of Pook's Hill? I can only give you a verse or two. The smuggler is warning his daughter not to give away any information:
If you wake at midnight and hear a horse's feet
Don't go drawing back the blind or looking in the street,
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie,
So watch the wall my darling as the gentlemen go by.
Five and twenty horses trotting through the dark
Brandy for the parson, baccy for the clerk,
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
And watch the wall my darling while the gentlemen go by.
Running round the wood lump if you chance to find
Little barrels roped and tarred full of brandy – wine
Don't you shout to come and look nor take them for your play
Put the brush wood back again - they'll be gone next day.
If you meet King George's men dressed in blue and red
You be careful what you say and mindful what is said,
If they call you Pretty Maid and chuck beneath the chin,
Don't you tell where no one is - nor yet where no one's been.
Five and twenty horses trotting through the dark
Brandy for the parson, baccy for the clerk,
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie,
So watch the wall my darling when the gentlemen go by.
But the hard facts compel me to say that this is misplaced emotion. Commencing in individual ventures the Free Trade as it was called, because it paid no taxes, developed so rapidly that it became a conspiracy against the State. There is hardly a beach on our deeply fissured coast over which the casks have not been rolled and the Tea and Tobacco carried. Cellars were dug or places of concealment for contraband were found all over the country; Companies were formed to carry on the trade; vessels were employed wholly in the smuggling trade whilst at Foreign Ports immense quantities of contraband were gathered for shipment.
Take the item of tea as an illustration. Tea was unknown in England until about 1660 when it is said to have been introduced by Lord Allington. The East India Company held the monopoly but so rare was the commodity that when in 1664 it was desired to present some to the King it is stated that only 2lbs 2ozs was obtainable and that at the price of 40 shillings a lb. Incidentally I may state as a curiosity of tariff that when an Excise duty was first imposed upon tea, coffee and chocolate it was laid against the infusion produced and not against the articles themselves. Thus the infusion of tea and coffee paid 4d per gallon and the infusion of chocolate 8d per gallon. This was altered later and tea drinking became general but the extent to which it was smuggled was discovered in 1784 by a Commission appointed by Pitt when it was estimated that of 13 million lbs consumed in the country no less than 7 million lbs had entered by means of the smugglers. Add the tremendous similar losses to the Revenue by smuggled tobacco, wine and spirits and it will be seen as I have said that it was a conspiracy against the State.
Another thing must be noted - that as the smuggling trade developed towards the end of the 18th and the commencement of the 19th centuries it assumed the character of an armed rebellion. Vessels were so heavily armed with guns that on occasion they would fight the Revenue Cruisers and the men who landed the goods were armed and instructed to fight any Crown force if necessary. The latter were called forced runs and when they were introduced the more moderate minded men amongst the smugglers withdrew. But their places were taken by the desperate and bloodthirsty men of an ignorant age and the murder of Crown Officers and also of Informers were frequent. It is little wonder that Dr. Johnson described a smuggler as a wretch who in defiance of the laws imports and exports goods without payment of duty, and that John Wesley, the great spiritual leader of the 18th century declined to admit or retain in his Societies any persons who traded in "uncustomed goods".
The goods which were smuggled into England were obtained from many foreign ports but the South and West of England were largely supplied from depots maintained in the Channel Islands. These islands whilst being British had their distinct Revenue laws. Vessels took out clearance for fictitious places and as soon as they were at sea made for their rendezvous on the British coast. For easy handling the wine and spirits were contained in small casks called ankers each containing about 7 gallons. To every two ankers a rope sling was attached and when the rendezvous was reached the ankers were lowered into boats and rowed ashore and there thrown across the backs of the horses waiting in readiness. The cavalcade then proceeded to the place where concealed cellars had been provided. In a few hours the horses would be in their stables, the brandy safely housed and the Preventive Men none the wiser. The next night, or when required, the ankers would again be placed on horses backs and, as the turnpikes were open at night, the smugglers would transfer the goods to another place or concealment further inland. By this means contraband was obtainable at fairly fixed prices throughout large areas remote from the coast. That the local trade was considerable, the sale price of contraband cheap, and the profit to the smuggler large may be gathered from a Swansea report dated 1776: "We suppose that the quantity of spirits landed within the limits of this Port within one year may be about 6000 gallons which we are informed is sold at the rate of 5s to 6s per gallon. The profit that the smuggler makes as far as we can learn may be from 4s to 5s per gallon". In 1801 there is reference to the plentiful supply of spirits obtainable in the neighbourhood of Llanelly "which have for a long time not exceeded 10s per gallon." The result of this, according to the report was the general use of spirits amongst the lower ranks of the people.
There is little evidence available that Welsh smugglers used fire-arms or even had the instinct of actual murder aroused except in a few cases when their tempers were quickened by frustrated runs. The men who received the goods or assisted the runs were at other times peaceful citizens, who as farmers, farm hands or other workers pursued common place lives and probably treated the isolated Preventive Men dotted along the coast in a neighbourly fashion. But there was a conspiracy of silence seldom if ever broken. All the countryside knew what the Revenue Officer wanted to know but never told him. The date the next cutter was due, the place of landing, the men who would assist, the cellars where the contraband would be concealed, - all these things were talked of between themselves, but never to the Officer who lived in their midst. To turn informer was to be ostracised and in the South of England more than one informer was murdered.
Of the tricks of smugglers I have not time to tell you. False information would be circulated that a run was intended on one part of the coast and when the Revenue men assembled at that point the smuggling vessel would land her goods at another place. Casks of spirits were sunk off the coast to be landed later. Lord Teignmouth in his book "The Smugglers" mentions that at Dungeness an Officer on the lookout observed a feather stationary on the water. He stripped, swam out to it and found the feather was inserted in a small cork to which a piece of twine was made fast and on hauling this in he soon got hold of a rope and eventually drew 32 tubs of spirits to shore.
I have another report before me dated April 1816:"It has been represented that a practice now prevails with the smugglers of towing casks under water with ropes and sinkers fastened to the bottoms of their vessels so that when these vessels are boarded at sea by the Revenue Cruisers nothing is found.
Another trick occasionally used was to run up the Yellow flag. This flag was the signal of Plague being on board and as Plague was the most dreaded disease sometimes the Revenue Cruiser sheered off and the smuggler took his casks to land in safety.
Story No. 3 Smuggling at Lundy and Barry'
BBC Broadcast Date: 18 January 1929
I am going to speak to you tonight on smuggling ventures at Barry and in the Bristol Channel, but what is true of these waters is also true of almost every part of our coasts. There are few creeks into which the smuggling cutters have not run, and few beaches over which the casks have not been rolled. One of my earliest memories is that of sitting on my mother's knees whilst she told me of a lonely creek on the Southampton Water where, as a child, she quaked with fear in bed, pulling the clothes over her head to prevent her hearing the rough language of the men outside and the rolling of the casks.
If you have been afloat at night on the Bristol Channel you will have seen the flashes of the numerous light houses and light ships, or the lights of the buoys which mark the channels of dangerous rocks. None of these existed in the smuggling days, except perhaps the Flat Holm light which was first erected in 1740. Long before this Pirates used to visit the Channel, and in the Cardiff Records it is stated that one, named David Roberts, who was Comptroller of Customs, was in collusion with them and shared their profits.
I am speaking of the latter part of the 17th and the commencement of the 18th century when smuggling was at its height. It was a well established and lucrative trade which defied all efforts made to suppress it. Largely it was conducted in armed vessels by men who had little fear of the King's forces and who on occasion fought Revenue Cruisers, soldiers of Preventive Men.
To speak of Lundy first; this island lying at the entrance of the Bristol Channel appears to have been a smuggler's paradise. Its isolation prevented any oversight by the Revenue authorities and it became a depot for smuggled goods from which they could be conveniently transferred in small vessels to the neighbouring coasts of Devon, Somerset and South Wales. In October 1783 occurs the report "it has become a practice of the smugglers to land cargoes on the Island of Lundy from whence the same is conveyed along the coasts in small vessels".
Within six weeks the truth of this report was to receive ample corroboration and Lundy, without premeditation, was to be raided by an armed force. It occurred in this way: Attached to the Naval forces was an armed vessel called the "Lady Mackworth". She was voyaging from Plymouth to Swansea "with the trade of the neighbourhood" which means that she was conveying merchantmen as was done during the recent war.
At 7 am of the 14th November 1783 "when close in with the Isle of Lundy" a small cutter was observed. Capt. Dickenson watched her and became suspicious that she was either a privateer or a smuggler. He therefore determined to give chase but manoeuvre his vessel as he would he found that the cutter was too ably handled for him to overhaul her. He finally had to give up the chase and he then resolved to overhaul the island instead. Boats were sent ashore with "strict orders to search the island! That day spent on Lundy by the Naval men was not unprofitable. There is no record if they found any of the inhabitants, but they found much else which interested them. Casks of spirits which had never paid duty to the King were stowed away in caves and other places, and, to their surprise, they also discovered that the smugglers had erected a number of small huts and filled them with contraband.
Whether they discovered all the nooks and crannies of the island in which goods were deposited may be doubted but the seizure of 128 casks containing 896 gallons of spirits and quantity of Bohea Tea was proof of the use to which the island had been put.
The practice alluded to of using small vessels to convey goods from Lundy to the neighbouring coasts is borne out be a seizure at Breaksea Point in 1782. The nearest Officer was stationed at Aberthaw, and, one day when patrolling the coast, he observed a small vessel of 18 tons bumping on the rocks. He also observed a horse, some men, and casks. The men at once disappeared leaving the horse and the casks, the latter containing Brandy. The vessel, of course, was seized, and became forfeit to the Crown, so as to prevent her from being used again for illegal purposes. It will be remembered that the vessels were very small, and frequently they were broken up by being sawn in pieces. There is evidence that this was not always fully carried out, and, sometimes, only a plank or two were removed, with the result that she got back into the smuggling trade again. Perhaps it was knowledge of this that prompted a man some months later to offer to buy this vessel. His proposal lacked nothing in directness or simplicity for he suggested to the Cardiff officials that before being "officially" destroyed and sold to him, one plank should be taken out of her. The Revenue officials indignantly refused this suggestion and the record proceeds in appearance the man who offered to buy her was a thorough going sea faring man - but from Lundy!, and, we believe, that never yet lived a man on the Island of Lundy that was not concerned in smuggling!
The seized horse was put out to keep at the cost of 3s a week. Time passed without any order being received from London. perhaps it was the unwonted leisure, or it may have been the too luxuriant food, or possibly too he was a smuggler at heart who missed the little casks he used to carry and objected to the proximity of Revenue Officers whatever the reason was, after six months had passed and no order as to his future had been received, he decided his own destiny and died.
Amongst the smugglers who used Lundy Island was a man called Thomas Knight. My first note of him is dated 1770 when he and three other smuggling vessels were refitting in the secluded harbours near Portrush in North island. His vessel then was a large cutter mounting 8 carriage guns beside swivels and small arms. Thirteen years later I find him in the upper waters of the Bristol Channel, but now in charge of a brig armed with 24 guns and manned by 35 or 40 men. Except the few Preventive men dotted along the coast, the Bristol Channel had little protection from smugglers, and Knight, taking advantage of its defenceless condition, determined to leave Lundy and establish himself on Barry Island. Those of you who know Barry today with its extensive docks, beautifully laid out Esplanade, and its crowd of visitors, must imagine a bare island with but few houses in the neighbourhood. But it had great advantages from a smuggler's point of view. It possessed good holding ground, excellent depth of water, shelving beaches, and sands in which, if required, contraband could be buried. Strategically too, it was ideal, as the approach of any disturbers from any point on sea or land could be observed. Knight with his armed force ignored the civil authorities. He acquired or borrowed a house, his brig emptied her cargoes of spirits and tobacco upon the sands even in daylight, and then sailed away to bring more. In a short time he had gained such an ascendance in the neighbourhood that "the people being in such dread of Knight we find difficulty in getting them to work for us". Meanwhile the smuggled goods found ready purchasers throughout the country and Cardiff, Newport and other places contained willing receivers. Horses carrying the small casks were found on the country roads; small vessels were loaded at Barry and sent up the Channel, and the country was "infested with smugglers".
Now at Barry there was only one Revenue officer, Thomas Hopkins. How was he to deal with an armed brig manned with an overwhelming force? The story is interesting as showing the resource of the Officer. Soon after Knight arrived, and when the brig was at sea, Hopkins determined to visit him. It must have been with considerable trepidation as to the reception that awaited him. But he found Knight to be the most courteous smuggler who ever handled contraband. Probably Knight knew to mishandle an officer on the mainland would bring other forces on him. On being challenged he admitted he had contraband, and Hopkins had soon seized numerous hampers and also 12 tall hogsheads of wine. But here a difficulty arose. He needed horses and carts to remove them. Knight assured him that he would look after the goods whilst Hopkins went for the carts. And so he did, for when Hopkins returned all the wine had vanished and only the smiling smuggler remained! In the duel of wits that followed the smile was not destined to remain on the face of the smuggler. The Officers commenced a system of pin-pricking. When the armed brig was at Barry the smuggled goods were brought ashore with impunity, no Revenue Officers being visible, but, as soon as the brig disappeared they arrived. The result was that at Barry, and in many other places, the goods fell into the hands of the Preventive men, and Knight had to bear the loss.
I cannot give you all the details of these raids. One time the Officers seized 384 gallons of wine, at another 12 hogsheads of tobacco and yet another 130 gallons of rum. So the little game of the Officers went on to great loss for Knight. This policy of pin-pricking him so affected Knight that after being established in Barry for two years he decided that the attention of the Revenue men was too costly and embarrassing, and he decided to quit the Island. Naturally the Revenue men were somewhat jubilant and wrote of the time "when they drove Knight from Barry Island". But evidently Knight was not a reformed character for the note is appended "he is now, we are informed, at Lundy, we suppose on the same bad business".
It must not be supposed that with the disappearance of Knight smuggling ended at Barry. I have not time to tell you of his successor Doggett who swaggered at Barry for a little time, or of the seizure of tobacco in a lonely out-house at Goldcliffe, or of the smuggling vessel that was brought to anchor in Penarth Roads accompanied by a Revenue cruiser, or of the hogshead of tobacco found in the yard of a Cardiff merchant. All the way through the country, for long years, people were interested in getting goods without paying duty for them. Barry remained a centre for landing the goods, and when Knight was forgotten ankers of spirits were hidden in the sands.
One surprise seizure may be mentioned. In 1805 two Officers travelled to Marcross to serve summons upon the wife of Thos John for smuggling. When three quarters of a mile from Marcross they met John walking beside a horse upon which his wife was seated. Whether she rode astride is not mentioned but evidently her garments were covering more than a woman's dress is entitled to do. Those were not days of attenuated attire, and when the Officers, being suspicious, requested her to dismount they found hat her robes had covered a bag in which three small kegs of brandy were hidden! Even with such evidence of smuggling the Revenue Officers showed compassion for they reported "they are indigent circumstances having a family of eight children.
Story No. 4 Glamorgan Smugglers The Customs Officer Without Hands'
Of all the curious persons who, in the days of patronage, were nominated for positions in the Government service, none was more singular than Thomas Prance. To enter the Customs Department where boats had to be used, vessels boarded and searched, and lithe bodied smugglers encountered, the full quantity of limbs might haven been held to be essential. Yet Thomas Prance, who became Sitter in the boat at Whitford, Gower, in 1807, was a maimed man who had steel hooks where his hands should have been.
The examination into his physical fitness for the position to which high influence had nominated him, disclosed wonderful methods of adaptations. Could he write? At once Prance unscrewed the hook on his right stump disclosing a small cavity into which he fitted a pen with his teeth, dipped it into a bottle of ink hung from his neck, and proceeded to do clerical work! Could he climb a vessel's side? Prance first examined his hooks, then attached them to projections until he could compass the bulwark rail and then with a mighty heave he was on board! How did he eat and drink? At once the strong teeth unscrewed both hooks and inserting a knife into a prepared cavity in the right stump and a fork into the left he was ready for a meal! A man of such resource was not to be denied entrance into the Revenue service, especially as it was believed that Charles James Fox was his patron, and this Welshman without hands was duly entered as an efficient Officer of the Customs Department.
Behind all this is a story of consummate courage on the high seas and of a prolonged fight with a French privateer of overwhelming strength which should not be forgotten. Partly it has been recovered from a descendant of Prance who obtained particulars from America and partly from a letter in a file of newspapers over fifty years old.
And here is the story of the Customs Officer without hands:
In May, 1793, a number of British ships lay in the harbour of Norfolk, Virginia, ready for sea. Amongst these vessels was the 'Joseph' of Appledore, Thomas Prance master, laden with wheat consigned to Barcelona in Spain. The departure of this fleet was delayed because of England and France being at war, a cordon of French privateers ringed the port on the high seas. On 21st May they determined to sail in company trusting to beat off the enemy with their joint armament. Evidently the 'Joseph' was a slow sailor for the following day found her so well astern of the convoy that the French privateer 'Sans Culotte' Captain Ferree, saw the opportunity of cutting her off. And then followed one of those epic encounters that are the pride of our race, and the glory of our mercantile marine.
All the advantages lay with the 'Sans Culotte'. She was the larger vessel, carried a crew of forty men and mounted ten guns. The little 'Joseph' carried only two guns and her total crew comprised nine men. Of these however three declared that they were foreigners and refusing to fight went into the hold leaving only six men to oppose the privateer. But although his enemy carried five times the number of guns and nearly seven times the number of crew, Prance did not hesitate to engage in the unequal conflict.
During the first day the vessels lay at pistol shot, the two guns replying to the ten but no serious damage was effected. They parted at night to resume fighting at daybreak of the second day. Evidently Prance directed his fire so as to damage the rigging of his opponent for he so seriously damaged the foremast of the privateer that she had to draw off to repair her damage. To escape by sailing away was impossible even if Prance had ever contemplated it. Nor was any assistance available. The convoy had sailed away regardless of her missing comrade and the 'Joseph' and the 'Sans Culotte' were lonely spots in a waste of water.
On the third day events followed each other in quick succession. The mate of the 'Joseph' was wounded and Prance had both to work the vessel and also serve a gun. Further misfortune followed for a shot tore away the flesh from Prance's left thigh causing great pain and weakness from loss of blood. And then the crowning disaster occurred. There was a heavy sea running and a man who was attending the vent of one of the guns rolled off, the air rekindling the dying powder. At this moment Prance was ramming home a cartridge with both hands when it ignited and both of Prance's hands were blown away from the wrists. Further resistance was impossible and the 'Joseph' was boarded from and surrendered to the French privateer.
It was not until three days later, during which time Prance was without serious medical attention, that the 'Sans Culotte' with her prize entered Norfolk harbour. Here Prance was admitted to hospital and his stumps were amputated. Political matters, however, had changed, and America now being at war with France, the 'Sans Culotte' in turn was seized as prize. So greatly had Prance's courage awakened the admiration of the American authorities that they offered him the captured 'Sans Culotte'. To Prance lying helpless without hands the prospect of further sea service seemed hopeless and he therefore declined the gift.
Then followed the long waiting time. Communication by post was a precarious venture and Prance having lost his hands could not write. His relations in Wales waited for the news that never came. Gradually information of a great sea fight filtered through to be followed by the erroneous statement that Prance was dead. When all ground for hope had departed his family went into mourning and, it is said that they assembled and listened to a funeral sermon. But Prance was not so easily disposed of and later on he walked in brandishing his steel hooks.
Prance's heroism awakened attention on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United States the leading citizens of Philadelphia, headed by the British Ambassador, presented him with a testimonial and a substantial gift of money. In England he became a person of notoriety. By the statesmen Charles James Fox he was introduced to the Prince Regent, afterwards King George IV. The Prince eulogised his courage, presented him with a thousand guineas, and, it is also stated, gave him a signet ring. Of what use a signet ring could be to man without fingers is unknown!
Such is the history of the man without hands who became a Customs Officer. Was he successful in defending the Revenue? Let one incident decide. The men at Rhosilli were gathered in a field stowing in the corn stacks the result of the previous night's smuggling venture when horsemen came galloping towards them. No ordinary horsemen these, such as they knew well how to deal with by means of whips and bludgeons, for at their head raced a man without hands brandishing steel hooks that glistened in the sun. So uncanny was the apparition that the overawed smugglers fled in fear, leaving Prance to recover from the corn stacks 75 ankers of spirits and 1269 pounds of tobacco.
Later Prance was appointed master of the Revenue cruiser 'Endeavour' with headquarters at the Mumbles. He became a local celebrity, his accomplishments including that of being 'a capital tennis player'. That his health and activity were fully restored became evident from his ability to 'jump a five barred gate'. His son, Mr Peter Plight Prance recorded in the 'Cambrian' in 1879 the curious incident that his father and two friends (Capt David Tennant, RN, and a Mr. Roberts of Hatherly) walked arm in arm down Wind Street, Swansea, with only one hand between the three of them!
This remarkable Revenue Officer died at an advanced age and was buried at the Chapel-of-Ease at Penclawdd.
Story No. 5 Treasure Ships in The Bristol Channel'
Broadcast or Published Date: 4 August 1932
Today, September 8th, is the forgotten anniversary of the arrival of the treasure ships in 1745.Strong tides swept a strange fleet up the Bristol Channel to King Road. The keepers of the newly erected light house on the Flat Holm looked with amazement upon two well armed Privateers, each towing a battered and partly dismantled vessel, whilst three men of war hovered around to protect them. Evidently something important had happened, which, doubtless, was connected with the war being waged against France and Spain.
But, in Bristol river the truth leaked out. The Privateers were the 'Prince Frederick' and the 'Duke' of London, under the command of Commodore James Talbot, and the battered vessels had formerly flown the flag of the King of France. Gradually the story took shape. Commander Talbot cruising in the West Atlantic had intercepted three French naval vessels one of which had fled. After a few hours fighting the other two ships struck their flags, and, on boarding them, Talbot discovered not only Frenchman but high Spanish dignitaries and ecclesiastics. Why these strange passengers under the French flag? Could it be that the French squadron despatched to aid Spain in the Caribbean Sea had displaced the usual fleet of Spanish galleons and were conveying the exploited treasure of the New World to the Old? And then followed extraordinary stories of golden chalices having been thrown into the sea to escape capture and of the linings of the vessels having been packed with jewels and valuables, whilst their holds were filled with treasure!
Bristol went mad with excitement. Only yesterday but one thought occupied the minds of her citizens, would Bonnie Prince Charlie, last heard of in the vicinity of Derby, push on to London and seize the Crown? Were they to hold loyalty to the Hanoverian King or exchange it for another Stuart Sovereign in the person of the fascinating Prince Charles? But all such speculations disappeared at the sight of the treasure ships. Never had similar spoil entered a British port. Even Wood Rogers, who, over thirty years before, had unladen the plunder taken from Spanish cities and ships in the Pacific, was forgotten. Bristol quays were to groan under greater treasure than that landed by Rogers.
And the towing of those treasure ships from near the American coast was it not an unparalleled act of seamanship for sailing vessels? For two months the Privateers had guarded their capture and at the same time convoyed the golden derelicts across the turbulent Atlantic to the safety of the Irish coast. Never was there such a daring act of towage on the high seas and never one that promised greater reward.
Nor were the Privateers disposed to put any man's honesty to the test. Having brought the ships home they guarded their own cargoes. Day after day the treasure chests were hoisted from the holds watched by the envious eyes of the crowd of onlookers. When the last one was brought to the quay it was ascertained that there were no fewer than 1093 treasure chests containing 2.644.922 ozs of silver bullion besides gold, silver plate and other valuables. No wonder that Privateering was popular when a single venture yielded a profit of between one and two million pounds!
All that remained to do was to transport the plunder to London. The men of the Privateers shrewdly judged that the greatest safeguard against highway men, footpads and other marauders was publicity. No secret preparations theirs, and when, in 45 wagons, the treasure took the road to London it was decorated with flags whilst well armed Jack Tars ringed it round on horseback. And, to inform all and sundry in the towns and villages through which they passed, of one of the most profitable ventures that privateers had ever under- taken, the procession was preceded by a band!
Story No. 6 Welsh Pirates The Adventures of Howell Davies'
BBC Broadcast Date: 30 September 1930
It need hardly be said that a man named Howell Davies was a Welshman. That he was a pirate only places him amongst a considerable number of his fellow countrymen who sailed under the Black Flag. Listen to some of the names: James Skyrm, Achen Jones, Bartholomew Roberts, David Williams, besides Lewis, Bowen, Evans and many others. You may have noticed that I have not included the name of Sir Harry Morgan but that is because, strictly speaking, Morgan was a Buccaneer and not a pirate or in other words he was an unofficial raider of the Spanish Main. The great stories connected with him need to be taken alone.
Tonight I am speaking of a period, 200 years ago, when piracy was a recognised pursuit. The seas were not policed, and the sailing vessels of those days followed regular trade routes extending from the West Indies across the Atlantic to the African coast (where, in the Gulf of Guinea there was a large and legitimate trade in slaves) and thence round the Cape of Good Hope to Madagascar, India and the East. I fear we must dismiss the idea of our childhood that captured crews were made to 'walk the plank' for generally they were persuaded to join the pirates by the hope of acquiring speedy fortune. The consequence was that many former pirates drifted back into honest ships only to foment further piracies. To turn pirate was not an infrequent event. Sometimes they declared themselves against vessels of particular nations and sometimes against 'all nations' even including their own.
Howell Davies, of whom I am speaking tonight was born at Milford in Pembrokeshire. Of his parents and circumstances we know nothing. Like so many other Welshman he turned to the sea for a living. But the sea in those days was a very hard school. True it produced the finest seamen in the world but it also produced brutalized characters to whom piracy with its cruelties was welcome as a short cut to acquire wealth.
Howell Davies cannot be ranked with men like Harry Morgan, who had the genius of leadership, or with Bartholomew Roberts, of whom I hope to speak next week. Roberts was a dandy and a puritan possessed of cunning and strategy, whilst Davies was a brutalised man capable of purposeless cruelty and without standards of honour to control his actions.
There can be no doubt that Davies had served with pirates before we first come across him in 1718. He had then shipped as mate on board the 'Cadogan' a vessel doomed to have a tragic voyage. The 'Cadogan' belonged to Bristol but she lay at Plymouth. She had on board a cargo for the West Indies, but she was proceeding first to the Gulf of Guinea to fill up with slaves. The master, named Skinner, had difficulty in getting a crew and had to ship a number of men of bad character who had previously been in pirate ships. The worst of these men was the boatswain, a brutal man who defied the master and caused great discontent amongst the crew. On the passage out Skinner had great trouble, and, when off Sierra Leone, he met a British Man of War, he thought it an excellent opportunity to get rid of the disturbers. Accordingly the boatswain and others were transferred to the Men of War. This was bad enough in itself but Skinner made it worse by refusing to pay them their wages. The result was that the men left vowing vengeance against Skinner. But he took little notice of that as he never expected to meet them again.
There are however strange happenings at sea and one of them was to occur to the unfortunate Skinner. Some time later a vessel flying the Black Flag bore down upon the 'Cadogan'. This pirate commanded by Ned England was well armed, and, as the 'Cadogan' was defenceless she was obliged to surrender. Skinner and his mate, Howell Davies, were ordered on board the pirate and as their boat drew alongside there was a tragic meeting, for, leaning over the bulwarks of the pirate, was the boatswain who had been sent on board the Man of War without his wages. When the boatswain saw who it was he said: 'Ah, is that you Captain Skinner? You are the only man in the world I wished to see. I owe you a debt and I will pay you back in your own coin.'
I cannot describe the revolting and brutal scene that followed. The defenceless Skinner was fastened to the windlass. First he was pelted by the pirates with broken bottles, then he was cruelly whipped, and, finally, when they were tired of torturing him he was shot through the head. During these ghastly proceedings Howell Davis stood by laughing and never endeavoured to protect Skinner.
From this event it may be judged that Davies was not unknown to pirate England and the subsequent proceedings confirmed it. England, not knowing how to dispose of the 'Cadogan' and her cargo, sent Davies on board her again directing him to sail to the Brazils and there dispose of it all. Davies kept his own counsel for a few days and then informed the crew of his intention. But here a surprise awaited him. Perhaps it was the murder of Skinner that roused their indignation, but, at any rate the crew flatly refused to turn pirate, and, knowing that the cargo was consigned to Barbados insisted that the 'Cadogan' should sail there.
Davies was not long in the West Indies before he turned pirate again. He shipped as mate on board a sloop called the 'Buck' which was sailing with another vessel called the 'Mumvil' with valuable cargoes in honest trade. On board these vessels, however, were many ex-pirates and Davies was not long before he had stirred up a mutiny, seized the 'Buck' and with 35 men gathered from both vessels, had hoisted the Black Flag against 'all nations'.
There is not time to follow this man's career in detail but let me tell you a few incidents. Here is one which certainly shows resource and daring.
He was sailing in the 'Buck' with only 35 men, and when off the West Indies he met a French sloop armed with 12 guns, which was speedily captured. But he received the disquieting news that the sloop had sighted, the previous day, a large Frenchman with 24 guns and a crew of 60 men. To make matters worse the large Frenchman appeared on the horizon, and Davies had to make a swift decision whether he should abandon the sloop he had captured, or, whilst guarding her, fight the large vessel. And this with a total crew of 35 men! The risks were so great that Davies' crew were for flight but the declared that he could trick and capture the large vessel.
Having put some men on the captured sloop he gave them orders to follow him and directed them what to do when they picked him up again. He then sailed swiftly to the large Frenchman flying the Black Flag and called upon him to surrender. Of course the large vessel simply laughed at the impudence of the little sloop and threatened to blow her out of the water. But Davies replied that he was not alone and that, when his consort came up he would give no quarters. Presently the captured French sloop came in sight but flying the Black Flag and her decks swarmed with men, for the captured crew having been dressed in white shirts were compelled to appear as if they were belonging to the pirate crew. On seeing this the master of the big Frenchman hauled down his flag without firing a shot and Davies, by his daring ruse, had succeeded, with 35 men, in capturing two vessels carrying between them 36 guns and about 90 men.
But it was on the West Coast of Africa that Davies performed his most impudent ventures. It must be understood that at this time there was great trade in the Gulf of Guinea, not only in slaves, but, in general merchandise. Besides Britain, France, Holland, Spain and Portugal had acquired territory and erected forts. In addition to this in sailing vessel days shelter had to be found where a vessel's bottom could be cleaned or fresh water obtained. The result was that at Cape Verde and other harbours a number of innocent traders were frequently to be found. This gave Davies his opportunity. He would sail into harbour flying English colours and posing as an innocent trader, a wolf amongst the sheep. Making his selection of the best quarry he would pounce upon it and carry it off. Of course it was wholesale robbery from defenceless people. At one place he would take a valuable cargo, at another he found a more suitable ship than his own so he exchanged to it, and at another port he not merely captured three vessels but also recruited another Welshman, named Bartholomew Roberts, who was destined to become one of the greatest pirates of his age.
For sheer effrontery the following incident takes first place. Davies was cruising in the locality of the Gambia where the British held territory, a fort, a Governor and a number of soldiers. Davies believed that there was a quantity of gold in the fort but to steal it seemed impossible. He then devised the following plan. Sailing boldly in under British colours he announced that he had only just escaped from pirates by superior sailing. The Governor received him warmly and offered to exchange slaves for a cargo of iron that Davies stated he had on board. When they had arranged this imaginary business the Governor asked Davies to remain to dinner. Davies readily accepted the invitation but said that he must first go on board to see to his moorings and also to get some choice wine for them to consume at dinner. Meanwhile his scheming brain was busy, and he observed that the Governor was unsuspecting and that the soldiers, being undisciplined, instead of carrying their arms, left them piled together in a corner of the fort.
When Davies returned with some of his companions to dinner his plan was ready. He and the Governor were sitting pleasantly conversing over a glass of wine when Davies suddenly whipped out a pistol, covered the Governor with it and announced that if he moved or shouted he should kill him. The rest was easy. He fired a shot through the window as a signal to his men who at once placed themselves between the soldiers and their pile of arms. In a few minutes it was all over, the British flag was hauled down and the chagrined Governor had surrendered over £2000 in bar gold and also quantities of valuable merchandise.
There is not time to tell you how Davies captured the Dutch Governor of Accra and took from him £15,000 in gold or of his final escapade when he tried to trick the Portuguese Governor of Prince's Island in the same way that he did the British Governor of Gambia. But for a negro man on board his vessel, who, overhearing the plot swam ashore and told the Governor, he would have succeeded. Davies and a number of men dressed fantastically and calling themselves 'Lords' went ashore to dine with the Governor, but the latter had arranged for them to be led along a narrow passage where they were kept waiting for a door to be opened. Instead of the door being opened the Dutch soldiers opened fire and of all those men only one got back to warn the vessel. So perished Pirate Howell Davies.
Story No. 7 Olden Days in Wales Curious Coast Records'
BBC Broadcast Date: 29 March 1931
Some time ago I told you of that very curious record contained in a letter written to London in 1782 when Mr. Edmund Traherne, Collector of Customs at Cardiff, solemnly informed his chiefs that 'no coals are exported from this port or ever shall be as it would be too expensive to bring it down here from the internal part of the country'. Of course he was wrong, but on the other hand he was right for no one in his day could foresee the advent of the engineer who would overcome the apparently insuperable obstacles of bringing coal to the sea.
Now when we speak of the industrial revolution in South Wales we are apt to think only of the growth of great cities, the present congested populations in what were peaceful agricultural valleys, the erection of works or the sinking of pits, but we may not realize how vast has been the disturbance in relation to the coast and sea trade. True the sea and headlands remain unchanged but the whole incidence of shipping trade has been altered.
There is one curious fact concerning all our coasts that deserves notice: many places that once ranked as the largest ports are, today, almost unknown. I remember meeting a man in the streets of Shoreham in Sussex, who, recognising me as a stranger, drew himself up and proudly informed me that 'at the time of the Armada Shoreham sent more ships to sea than any other port in England'. Perhaps he was right, but he was dwelling upon a glorious past forgetful that Shoreham today no longer ranks as one of the chief ports. In the same way pedestrians and others exploring the beautiful Vale of Glamorgan must have seen milestones bearing the proud inscription 'Port of Aberthaw'. This is a reminder of 150 years ago when the shallow creek of Aberthaw had a considerable shipping trade and a Customs Officer in charge of it. To cite other examples Chester and Carlisle ranked as large ports whilst Liverpool was quite unknown.
The explanation of this is simple. The engineer who was to build docks had not arrived, only sailing vessels were afloat and their masters took them as far up the rivers as possible laying them on the soft mud of river banks or against the rude quays that had been erected. Thus London, Newcastle, Bristol, Truro, Cardiff, Newport and a host of other ports lay tucked away as far from the open sea as they could conveniently get.
And behind this was another and very potent reason. When near the open sea they were in a defenceless position if they were attacked by pirates who were the scavengers of the sea, whilst the farther they could creep into inland waters the greater was their safety. Some day I may have an opportunity of speaking of the pirates who molested the peaceful shipping and populations of this channel.
Now the result of all this was that instead of trade being gathered into given centres or docks as it is today, these little sailing vessels crept into almost inaccessible places or carried on an extensive trade as they lay on open beaches.
Let me give you one or two curious facts illustrating these olden days in Wales. The port of Aberthaw and its trade I have already mentioned but who would be prepared for the statement that in the open bays of Oxwich and Pennard, where a vessel is seldom if ever seen today, a very considerable trade existed? And yet, on Rhossilli beach, 120 years ago, 64 vessels discharged and 76 loaded cargoes, whilst at Oxwich and Pennard 22 cargoes were discharged and over 1200 loaded. The latter is accounted for by the great trade in limestone.
Swansea, which had by far the largest sea trade in the Channel and was exporting coal to the Plantations in America in 1755, was a jumble of small quays on the riverside. Its primitive accommodation for shipping can be judged by the fact, that, in 1792, the newly formed Harbour Trust desired to purchase the hull of the schooner 'Mary and Betsy' in order that she might be filled with stones and sunk to form a breakwater!
Newport too, was equally primitive. About 1740 it is recorded that 'most of the coasting vessels discharge and load at Caerleon', whilst in 1764 it was reported that in the river near Newport 'there are three old quays or wharves belonging to Colonel Morgan and one of them hath been erected time out of mind'. Of foreign trade there was none and there follows the quaint statement 'that if one ship's loading should arrive from the Straights or Portugal it can't well be conceived that it could be disposed of in the country for many years'.
Here is another sidelight upon the primitive conditions that obtained at Newport. About 1740 there is the curious record that Thomas Williams Deputy Customer, was without any allowance or any provision for rent. How he lived is a mystery except that, probably, he exacted fees from shipmasters for every official act. -But salary or not he kept his official records very correctly only that, in the absence of official books, 'a few sheets of paper were stitched together by him in marble covers, all which he provided at his own expense'. On receiving that report the Commissioners of Customs overflowed with generosity for they not merely ordered that Williams should be supplied with proper official books but they allowed him 30 shilling per annum as rent of a room to be used as a Custom House and also granted him £10 yearly salary for his many duties. Probably Williams was elated at his good fortune and almost believed that there was some truth in the usual closing sentence of the Commissioner letter 'We are your Loving Friends'.
Nor was Cardiff far in advance of Newport. In 1797 its Custom House consisted of two rooms, one 13 and the other 10 feet square, provided in the Collector's residence for a rental of £6 per annum. Its furniture can be judged by a report made 1767 'the writing desk ...which has stood there time out of mind is now become so infirm and so entirely worm eaten that for some time it has not been used, the officers being in fear lest it should fall on their legs'. The town with its 1200 inhabitants clustered round the Castle, whilst from the Town Moat (now occupied by the Canal in Mill Lane) the mud flats stretched away to the sea. Through these the river Taff wandered, bending at will just as the River Ely does today.
But it was a different Taff to the one with which we are acquainted. In that period of unpolluted rivers fish abounded and it is on record that as far back as the 16th century the fishery rights were of considerable value. Many of us have seen the coracles which fishermen still use at Carmathen, Cardigan and other places in West Wales. The origin of these primitive boats is lost in the centuries. A coracle consisted of a skin or other substance drawn tightly over a frame of wood and it was so small and light that when a man had finished fishing he could carry his craft home on his back. It is curious reading in Mr. H.M.Thompson's recent and valuable addition to the history of Cardiff that salmon fishing was constant on the Taff: that in 1825 a salmon fisher named James Lucas was drowned by the upsetting of his coracle and that as late as 1854 the coracle was still in use at Cardiff and another fisherman, also named Lucas, drew salmon from the river near the site of the present Royal Hotel.
Those were days when the little coal required for the homes of Cardiff was brought to them by ship from Swansea, Neath or Pembrokeshire. With the value of money it must have been a prohibited article for many households as it cost two guineas for a chaldron of 18cwt. How little was used may be judged from the fact that during the quarter ending October 1769, when they were laying in stocks for the winter, only 100 chaldrons were imported.
Cardiff's sea trade in the 18th century was entirely coasting and chiefly to Bristol with agricultural produce. Little vessels pushed their noses up the Rumney river or up the Ely as far as Leckwith bridge and discharged as they lay on the soft banks. Penarth loaded stone from its beach by means of which the old bridge over the Rumney and the sea walls at Newport were built. But the one entrance to the town was by the Taff, winding, undredged and so shallow that vessels had to discharge their cargoes near the entrance at a spot called 'The Spit' from whence they were barged to the town.
In the town there was one principal quay, called the Legal Quay, at which vessels discharged or loaded cargoes. This was situated on the site of the present Angel Hotel at the end of the present Quay Street. Fortunately a description of this Legal Quay survives and it proves strange reading if we should have imagined that it was a formidable structure. Here is the curious record: 'At the lawful quay here, which is very small, and much choked with mud, the tide does not flow above seven or eight feet even at the height of some spring tides, and for some days together during the neap tides, does not come to the quay at all'. Compare that description of an almost derelict quay with the magnificent dock system of today and we have a vivid contrast between 'Olden days in Wales' and the present period.
Speaking of the Legal Quay reminds me of the curiously named 'Go-Late Lane' which runs beside the present Echo office. The origin of this name, which is known to many, is far from common knowledge and may therefore be repeated. I have previously stated that the chief trade was with Bristol to which the market boats carried butter and other agricultural produce. Now Bristol was the principal city of the west and a journey to it to gaze at its shops was an event long looked forward to and long spoken of afterwards. But even in those days intending passengers by the market boat could not always be punctual and frequently when they arrived at the Legal Quay they saw the vessel sailing away. This however, did not greatly perturb them. The course of the river was then different from that of today. Coming in by the present Angel Hotel it then made a curve across what is now Cardiff Arms Park and returned to the site of the present Echo office. All that the unpunctual passengers had to do was to run up the street and down the next turning boarding the boat as she came round the bend of the river. Hence the name 'Go-Late Lane'.
But the day was fast approaching when South Wales was to be awakened from the slumber of centuries and was to enter upon a period of commercial activity the end of which no-one can foresee. Swansea had always had a considerable foreign trade but the ports further up channel never dreamed of receiving a cargo from a foreign port. Bristol dominated the channel to which she had given her name and received and distributed foreign produce. The idea of a cargo coming from a foreign port to Cardiff was not merely unthought of but was distinctly unwelcome. It would involve a new range of responsibility and disturb the equanimity of centuries. But in 1790 the rumour ran that a cargo of corn and also a cargo of timber, both foreign,were about to arrive. Rumour developed into certainty and consternation reigned. Both cargoes were liable to duty and there were no local means of dealing with them. Urgent and then almost frantic letters were sent to London that corn bushels and measuring callipers might be sent. Whether the corn laden vessel ever arrived cannot be traced but on 20 April, 1791, the sailing vessel 'Rodney' arrived with a cargo of timber from the Baltic. Probably the arrival of the 'Rodney' inaugurated a new era of trade in the Welsh ports of the Bristol Channel.
To people accustomed only to small coasting craft this vessel was looked upon as of enormous size. Possibly she carried from three to four hundred tons of timber. But whatever he size she was far too large to come up the shallow river to the quay and she discharged her cargo at the entrance of the Taff from whence it was barged to the Legal Quay. That there were no local means of dealing efficiently with such an importation is clear from a report which states 'it was impossible to make any considerable dispatch, as we have but few and small craft to bring up the river a ship's barge'.
After this stirring event Cardiff proposed to go to sleep again but the next year came the suggestion that another timber vessel was coming. This time Collector Treharne thought that he would endeavour to forestall such a disturbance so he wrote to London stating that it would be far better if she went to Newport instead! On 10th September he reported 'At Newport there is no Legal Quay but it is by far the most convenient place there being at all times a good flow of water there'. Receiving no reply on 1st October, 1792, he states plainly 'We humbly observe that deals and timber might be landed at Newport with greater ease and expedition than at Cardiff as if the same was brought to Cardiff it would be impracticable to bring a burthensome vessel to the Legal Quay owing to the shallowness of the water'. Probably with this estimate of the superiority of Newport over Cardiff neither the residents at Newport in the Olden Days or at present would be disposed to disagree.
Story No. 8 The Privateers' Picture'
Western Mail Newspaper Published Date: 20 July 1932
Down the High Street of Bridgwater, where trudged Monmouth's men to their defeat at Sedgemoor and to the subsequent brutalities of Judge Jeffries, cars wind today hastening to the open spaces of the west country. Few of their occupants can be aware of the picture contained in St. Mary's Church or they would delay to see one of the most glorious art treasures that England possesses. For, above the altar and blocking the east window, is a large painting, measuring thirteen feet by eight feet, representing 'The Descent from the Cross'.
Of its exquisite beauty, its rare artistry, and the genius of its painter, others must judge. But, how comes it that it hangs as the altar piece in the church of a small town in the west of England?
Just as the sacred scene it depicts was surrounded by the turbulent passions of men so this picture has been the centre of conflict. Over it guns have boomed and men have fought and died. It has been seized by rough hands, unrolled to irreverent gaze, and valued as mere plunder for the gold it would realize.
For this picture carries us back to the middle of the eighteenth century when national jealousies found their expression in constant wars. To supplement their naval forces and to interfere as largely as possible with the sea trade of others, the various Governments gave commissions to private merchant vessels authorising them to proceed to raid the marine trade of other nations for their own enrichment. Greatly was a commission as a Privateer valued. It involved heavy fighting but the possible plunder meant rapid richness.
Which of the two stories connected with this picture is accurate cannot be determined. One account represents that it was on board a Spanish Privateer which was fought and conquered by a Frenchman, who, in his turn, had to haul down his flag to a British Privateer. Others have it that it was captured directly by a British Privateer from a Frenchman or Spaniard. What it was doing on either, where it was bound to, or what cathedral it might have been designed to adorn, are unknown. Its history as well its painter are mysteries. Some say it is from the brush of Murillo, others that it belongs to the Italian school. Whatever its origin connoisseurs have recognised its merit and sums as large as £10.000 are believed to have been offered for it.
After its turbulent career on the high seas it was landed at Plymouth. There it was condemned to be sold as 'prize', and amidst the thousand and one articles of plunder, was exposed for public sale. From this ignominy it was rescued by Lord Anne Poulett in exchange for £100, and by him was presented to the Borough of Bridgewater which he represented in Parliament. A curious thing that a prominent man should bear a woman's name, but the Pouletts were highly placed, and, as Queen Anne stood as god mother at his christening he became Lord Anne Poulett.
It is believed that for a time the picture was hung in the Market House, but, by 1788 it had been removed to its present position in the church. There the Privateers' Picture has resumed its destiny by awakening the reverence of those who linger at 'The Descent from the Cross'.
Story No. 9 Welsh Pirates The Incredible Story of David Williams'
BBC Broadcast Date: 14 October 1930
And this is an almost incredible story. Most of the adventurers we admire have one great event to their credit. David Williams had a dozen any of which would have brought him notoriety. Not that he sought adventure but that he simply tumbled into it. He was no sooner out of one than he found himself in another. If there is such a thing as planetary influence affecting our birth then some strange wandering stars must have united to cast their influence over this babe born on a North Wales farm in the early years of the 18th century.
Here are some of the turns of fortune or misfortune that overtook him. First he was a hind on a farm and afterwards an honest sailor. Subsequently his experiences include ship wreck, being left behind a desert island, becoming a potentate with reverence paid to him and slaves to wait upon him, and then became a slave himself. He was the adored leader of armies and in turn was hunted by men of war, and, to all this must be added that almost by accident he became a pirate.
The beloved story of Robinson Crusoe is a tame affair compared with that of David Williams. If we read the story of his life in fiction we should call it 'a good yarn', especially when we came to the point when Williams was known to be fighting for one tribe, the rival army melted away without striking a blow. But when the 'yarn' went on to say that war was waged with the sole object of gaining possession of this white man we should deride it. And yet all these and other strange events were included in the career of David Williams.
It is said that as a youth he was a good ploughman and shepherd but he was quite uneducated, possessed 'a quick and choleric temper' and 'took offence easily'. Perhaps it was this that caused him to drop farming and tramp to Chester, then one of the largest shipping ports, and join a vessel bound to London.
Having got so far he determined to see more of the world and joined an East Indiaman called the 'Mary' bound to Bengal and Madras. It was on the return journey that his adventures began. When the 'Mary' was nearing Madagascar the master made for the island in order to get fresh water. Navigation was not then an advanced science, and the master found himself on the bare eastern side of the island instead of on the populous western side. The master lowered a boat but when it got near the land the sea was running so heavily that it could not approach it further. William and another man volunteered to swim ashore and search for water but when they wanted to return the increasing sea prevented them. They saw the boat return to the vessel and then to their horror, they saw the 'Mary' square her yards and sail away leaving them marooned.
Naked and foodless they existed upon such fruit and herbs as they could find, and Williams' companion died from grief and exposure. It was some time before Williams' wanderings brought him into contact with a native tribe. He found that they had a superstitious reverence for white men. This arose from the fact that a former Prince had been aided by some white men to establish his kingdom, and, when he died, he told his son that if he ill treated white men he would return to earth and give the kingdom to a younger brother.
Williams had reason to be thankful for this superstition as he found himself translated to a position of respect and comparative luxury. But the Prince of the tribe soon made it clear that he would be required to accompany him in his frequent wars. Almost the first battle, however, proved disastrous, for, being greatly outnumbered, Williams and many others were taken prisoners. Naturally Williams feared the fate that awaited him but his new master, glad to possess the white man fighter, renewed his comfort, gave him an old musket and enlisted him to fight for him.
From this time Williams became the leader of armies. Sometimes he was successful, at others he was defeated and was transferred to, and was welcomed by another Prince. Meanwhile his prestige as a fighter increased and his name was being whispered through the tribes with reverence. This lasted for some years and then disaster overtook him. His army was routed and Williams escaped by climbing a tree from which he made terms with his enemy. He thus passed to the service of the King of Maratan, one of the most powerful rulers in Madagascar. For a time good fortune attended him. He became a most successful fighter and his return from the frequent wars were a series of triumphs. He brought with him droves of cattle and lines of captured slaves. So greatly was he feared that at last his enemies refused to fight when they knew Williams was opposing them!
And then followed a truly remarkable incident, nothing less than a declaration of war with the sole object of gaining possession of this wonderful Welsh fighter. Evidently he was being viewed as a mascot who brought good luck. The fame of this Welshman travelled beyond the territory of the King of Maratan until 200 miles away, an even greater King, called Dempaino, heard of his exploits and determined to annex him. Maratan replied to the declaration of war that he knew no greater King than himself, but he revised his opinion when an overwhelming army arrived with orders to sack the country if the white man was not delivered up.
Dempaino welcomed Williams with great honour. The former Welsh farm hand found himself living in almost royal state. He was allotted a house, was provided with the most excellent food, had a retinue of slaves to do his bidding, and always appeared in the most handsome robes. The years that followed were years of opulence in princely surroundings and then misfortune reasserted itself.
It will be remembered that Williams was said to possess 'a quick and choleric temper and was quick to take offence'. Evidently it did not improve, and, perhaps, in his exalted position he may have grown worse. Dempaino resented the quarrelsome temper and the exhibitions of ingratitude and matters were growing worse then a pirate galley came to anchor in an adjacent bay. Now this pirate galley, named the 'Bedford' was commanded by a Welshman, named Achen Jones. There can be no doubt that these two Welshman meeting in that far off corner of the world reverted to the us of the language of their youth and this may have influenced Williams to resign his position as fighter for a coloured tribe and turn pirate.
Perhaps Williams would have been better advised had he retained his opulent position for from that time he was dogged by disaster. The 'Bedford' was placed ashore to have her hull cleaned, but, as sufficient care was not taken, she broke her back. The country was no longer friendly to them and they had to live as best they could. But another pirate called Nathaniel North put into the bay and they shipped with him on board the 'Pelican' in which they sailed for the Red Sea. Here they joined other vessels sailing under the Black Flag and laid in wait for one of the large ships from India that carried pilgrims and merchandise to Mecca. This was the one successful venture of Williams, as a pirate, for they captured a large vessel, almost without a blow, and found that she had a large quantity of gold and merchandise on board.
After this he served as a member of pirate crews on board several vessels but there is only time to tell you of one or two incidents. Here is one.
On the mainland of Madagascar lived a Dutchman from New York named Ort van Tyle. Between him and the pirates there had been constant bad blood and fighting. The pirates now designed to capture and kill Ort van Tyle. But the Dutchman was taking no risks and he was not merely ready to receive them but he was able to drive them off leaving several men, amongst whom was Williams, as prisoners. Upon these men Ort van Tyle determined to wreak vengeance. Williams, who was formerly almost a prince, became a slave. He had to endure all the drudgery and indignity of slavery. For six months he performed the hardest and most menial duties upon the plantation and was only allowed sufficient food to keep him alive. He then managed to escape, and, after many wanderings and privations, found himself upon the small plantation of a Dutchman named John Pro. If Williams thought his adventures were ended he was mistaken. Not long afterwards a British man of war put into this remote bay of Madagascar searching for pirates. Unfortunately John Pro had also been a pirate and it was not long before he and Williams were lying in irons on board the 'Severn'.
Now in days when pirates received a short trial but a long rope, Williams knew that they must either escape or be hung. How they managed to free themselves from their irons will never be known, but somehow or other they slipped overboard into a small canoe and made their way to the island called Mayotte. Here Williams found a local war was in existence so he promptly returned to his role as fighter and having won the war was suitably rewarded by the King.
Only once did Williams become a master pirate and then without hoisting his flag. The pirates had captured a Scotch vessel and it was handed over to Williams. Perhaps he was proud to get a ship of his own, at any rate he determined to fit her out as quickly as possible. It is not to his credit to have to record that, forgetting all that he had endured when he was a slave, he cruelly worked and oppressed the Scotch prisoners. But all his bubbles burst when a great hurricane turned the vessel into a total wreck.
Williams' eventful life was nearing completion. Obtaining a sloop he arrived at Methelage in Madagascar, and of course got into contact with the local king. The king was used to the rough ways of pirates but he had never met a man like Williams. Williams, who had apparently settled down for a long stay, had grown even more morose and bad tempered. He quarrelled with everyone and the king therefore ordered him out of his kingdom adding that he was never to return again.
With ill grace Williams and his 5 men set sail to go round the north of the island into another king's territory. But his bad luck still followed him and current and weather brought him back again to the dominions of the king he had left. He landed with three men, Dawson, Eaton and Mayens, only to find that their lives were forfeit. His three companions were immediately killed but a worse fate was reserved for Williams. For a whole day he was tortured with hot ashes being thrown over head and face whilst others flogged him with sticks before he was finally despatched with lances.
So in that far off corner of the world ended the incredible story of the Welsh farm hand, David Williams.
Story No 10 Olden Days in Wales The Great Raid at Highway'
BBC Broadcast Date: 7 February 1931
It was Thursday 12th April 1804 and the Great and Little Highway Farms in Gower posed as centres of agricultural industry. You can still see these farms on the Pennard Road which at this point is about a mile distant from Pwlldhu Bay which was the favourite resort of the smuggling cutters. Little Highway has been rebuilt, but Great Highway remains much the same as when William Arthur held possession except that it has increased out buildings.
But if at this date these farms appeared to be innocent agricultural centres all the inhabitants of Gower, including the three Preventive Men stationed on that coast, were aware that this cloaked another and far more remunerative trade, for William Arthur was notorious as a smuggler. Had not the cutters, laden with contraband arrived regularly at Pwlldhu for forty or fifty years? Had not the farmers' horses met them on the beach and, proceeding by Smugglers Lane, grouped themselves before the gates of Great and Little Highway farms waiting for the little casks to be taken off their backs? Some times this occurred in the darkness of night, sometimes, as they grew bolder, it was in open day, but whenever it was the tired horses returned to their farms minus the little casks. Somewhere on those farms great care had been taken to dig out cellars to receive the constantly arriving contraband, and wits had been at work to so conceal them that if ever a raid should be made, they would be difficult to find.
Last time I told you how Great Highway Farm was visited by fourteen Revenue Officers, or blackened faces at the window, of bludgeons, whips and stakes ready for use, of Revenue Officers thrown into the mire of the farm yard, and of the retreat of the dispirited Preventive Men. But that was in 1786 and in the intervening nineteen years William Arthur had continued smuggling on such a scale that he was now credited with being a wealthy man. He had become a partner in a coal and culm business on the Swansea Canal and also owned an estate near Hartland in Devon. His agent, John Lawrence, was installed at Highway, and looked after the smuggling whenever Arthur crossed the Channel. At Little Highway lived John Griffiths who assisted Arthur in the illicit trade and, it was said, had prospered so well that he had purchased his farm, estimated to be worth £1000.
But whilst smuggling remained unchecked the Preventive Men kept their eyes upon Arthur's activities and nursed the memory of the rebuff they received when they attempted to raid his house in 1786. Often they must have dreamed of a day of revenge, when, with sufficient force, they would be able to lay Arthur by the heels and discover the secret cellars of Great and Little Highway.
Before I tell you how their dreams were realised and narrate the story of the Great Raid, it is necessary to understand how an armed force became available. This was actually due to the threatened invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte. 'Bony' was a little man with a great shadow and his shadow fell upon all our coasts. Where he might land no one knew. Any night, at any point, there might come rough awakening. The terror of 'Bony' was not confined to children, it was shared by their elder. In many parts all arrangements for evacuation were made and understood; the wagons were ready to ride in, the places in the wagons allocated, and the destination decided.
Now, to resist such invasion volunteer forces were organised along the coasts, and such a force came into being in Gower.
There is a brief glimpse of a corps of Sea Artillery formed in 1799 by a certain Stephen Jones. Of its history there is little information except that Customs Waterguard Officers were allowed to enrol in it. Four of these officers enrolled but they did not add lustre to the force. It may have been that their only inducement was a welcome addition to their small salaries, but at any rate it is recorded of two of them 'on Friday last I turned out of my corps William Jones for unwarrantable language and drunkenness and also turned out Robert Bullen for non-attendance'.
The maritime defence of this county was entrusted to the Glamorgan Sea Fencibles, a force chiefly composed of men related directly or indirectly to the sea. But the range of their duties covered not merely fighting the French, in which undoubtedly they would have given a good account of themselves, but, being under Naval discipline, they were required to repress smuggling. This cannot have been welcomed by them if the statement of an old report is true that 'many of these men are pilots or fishermen as much attached to smuggling as the other people of the country'.
Lieut. Samuel Sawyer, the Naval Officer in charge in Gower, had no light task in overcoming the traditional sympathy of his men for smuggling cutters and their cargoes but in his efforts had one great advantage in that he lodged with Francis Beavan, the customs Officer stationed at Oxwich. Beavan had several stalwart sons, and these, becoming active members of the Sea Fencibles, brought a stiffening in favour of the Revenue. Without doubt William Arthur and the smugglers at Rhossilli would never have been checked but for Lieut. Sawyer and his small armed force.
The incidents in the story of the Great Raid are full of interest. It is necessary to remind ourselves that the smuggling centre at Highway had been in existence for forty of fifty years: that for 19 years no effort had been made to suppress it, and that William Arthur, John Lawrence and John Griffiths slept easily unvexed by dreams of interference. Tomorrow would be the same as today, only by a strange chance tomorrow was different.
And on the Revenue side there was no prearranged plan to bring Arthur to book, no expectation that in a single night the secrets of the Highway farms would be disclosed and an end put to the smuggling of years.
It all came with dramatic swiftness and arose from a simple incident. On Thursday 12th April, 1804, Lieut. Sawyer went for a stroll in the early evening during which he saw a cutter put into Oxwich Bay. As he watched her he saw that they launched a boat and two men dropped into her and pulled towards the shore. At once he became suspicious. Was she an innocent trader and if not why did they come ashore just under the nose of the Customs Officer? So Sawyer retraced his steps and consulted with Beavan, the Customs man. Their plan was soon made: they would just saunter along in private clothes in the direction which would take them past the men who were landing. They also resolved upon another precaution, they would play their part as civilians and pretend that the landing of these men was no business of theirs. As the strangers approached they saw only two countrymen deep in conversation, but as they passed, one of them asked which was the way to Highway. Beavan answered casually as if it did not concern him and at once passed on. If there is any moral to be drawn from this it is that if you go smuggling don't ask questions of innocent looking strangers, for it was the putting of that question on the public road that sealed the fate of Highway.
Sawyer and Beavan were too cautious to take any immediate action. They watched the men return to the cutter and the cutter sail away in the direction of Pwlldhu. Nor did they give their information to anyone else for Gower might prove a whispering gallery. Instead they waited until late in the evening and then called in Francis, one of Beavan's sons, and took him into their secret. He consented to ride round by Park Mille, returning by Highway and report whether the farms were busy concealing contraband. Of course there was some risk in this for if the smugglers horses were outside the gates of the farms he would have to pass through the two groups, and if recognised as the Customs man's son he might receive rough usage. But Francis went on his lonely ride and by 2 am of Friday 13th April, 1804, he returned, reporting that, in the darkness he had not been recognised amongst the other horsemen on the Pennard Road and that the casks were being conveyed into the farms. At once Sawyer mustered part of the Oxwich Division of the Sea Fencibles and took the road to Highway.
During their tramp in the darkness they decided to divide their force so as to raid both houses simultaneously. Sawyer and his party were to search Little Highway, which they would reach first, and Beavan and his party were to endeavour to surprise Great Highway, 200 yards further along the road. When they arrived near Little Highway they found that the smugglers had not completed their night's work. Around the gate and in the farmyard were the dark shapes of horses, there were the figures of men carrying lanterns, whilst a broad stream of light came from the open doorway.
Evidently they were busy and unsuspecting, but when Sawyer and his men laid hands upon two of the horses, each with little casks of spirits slung across its back, there was surprise and confusion. At once the word was passed that Revenue men had arrived and before Swayer could cross the farmyard the house door was closed and barred. But in his journey across the farmyard Swayer had made the discovery of a pile of casks waiting to be removed to the secret cellars. Sawyer thundered at the house door but could get no reply. He knew what was happening somewhere inside the house there was a secret cellar and the smugglers were gaining time in order to remove all trace of it. Nor were the inmates to be hurried however many Preventive Men were clamouring at the door.
When, at last, the bars were drawn there was the usual expression of surprise and the usual protest of innocence. Smugglers! Secret cellars! Whoever heard of such things! They might search if they liked. And so Sawyer spread his men through every room. From kitchen to attic, from attic to kitchen they searched and probed and knocked. Nothing escaped them but nothing in the shape of a cask was visible. That they were there was certain but where? Sawyer and his men gathered in the kitchen, disappointed, outmanoeuvred, whilst Griffiths and the others still protested innocence.
Now it must be explained that the floor of Little Highway, as of most farmhouses in those days, was composed of a mixture of clay and common earth. The Revenue men had foregathered in this kitchen to reconsider matters which were not going well for them, when one of their number, Richard Jones, happened to catch sight of an inequality in the floor near the cheese press. He sprang towards it, pushed the earth aside and there was the trap door leading to the secret cellar! In a few minutes the officers found themselves surrounded by little casks and became busy handing them out to increase the growing pile in the farmyard.
Nor was that all. The Preventive Men had now tasted blood and they proceeded to search and probe the outhouses with renewed energy. And there under the barn floor they found another trap door and another concealed cellar full of little casks!
In the meantime Beavan and his men had returned from Great Highway. They reported that all their arduous search had been fruitless and they concluded that there was nothing there. The success at Little Highway, however, raised new hope and they trudged back to Great Highway to renew their search. For a long time they were unrewarded and then, with the growing light, one of the men, peering into a pigstye, saw three little casks of spirits. Here was certain evidence that somewhere in Great Highway there was a secret hiding place. House, pigstyes and outbuildings were ransacked, and then, under the floor of the barn the spit went home, the trap door was uncovered and a cellar full of little casks was disclosed.
The work of the Revenue officers that night broke up the greatest smuggling confederacy on the Glamorgan coast. When the Preventive Men counted their spoils they found that they had taken 87 casks from Great Highway and 333 from Little Highway. These contained 1497 gallons of Brandy, 330 gallons of Rum, 30 gallons of Wine and no less than 1007 gallons of Gin!
Of how these goods were secured and the strange scenes connected there with I must leave until next time. Tonight we will leave the pile of casks in the farmyard of Little Highway under the guard of the Sea Fencibles, noting that, as the morning dawned, there was a growing crowd of onlookers whose looks and acts resented the intrusion upon their time honoured practice of smuggling.
Story No. 12 Gower, The Gem of Glamorgan'
BBC Broadcast Date: 23 August 1930
As you are aware an Officer of the Coast Guard on the Gower coast was to have spoken to you tonight and as, unfortunately, he is prevented from being here I am taking his place. You will notice that I said I was taking not occupying his place, for the Coast Guard are a distinctive class of men and no mere landsman can be an equivalent substitute. But, in my long official service on the coasts I was frequently in contact with the Coast Guard and there are some things which should be said about that great protective service that I am sure that the Officer who should have spoken to you tonight would not have said.
I remember once meeting a Naval man who had exhibited the rarest courage in one of the Polar expeditions. As we sat by the fire and talked he glowed with admiration as he spoke of his leader; he had rare incidents to relate of the courage of his comrades; but of himself he was silent. It is a Naval tradition to speak well of the other fellow but to represent one's own duty as commonplace. And this tradition is maintained by the Coast Guard. They may indicate what their duties are but it must be left to someone else to mention their constant vigilance, the long hours of exposure in the fiercest weather, and, when a vessel is either in danger or actually cast ashore, the coolness, courage, and seamanship that is exhibited in working the Rocket Apparatus or in personal effort to save endangered lives.
Most of us know the Gower and other coasts only in the summer time. Even then we may feel a little nervous when we walk the narrow paths that run round the boldest headlands. We may see whitened stones at intervals and wonder what they are for. But these stones are the guiding marks of officers of the Coast Guard who, in the starkest weather, when most of us circle the fire and hear the windows rattle, are patrolling our coasts. Should you see during your holidays a Coast Guard officer looking aimlessly over a smooth sea do not imagine that he has a soft job. His real work commences when danger is imminent. Our coasts are protected by light houses and light ships, by beacons and buoys and life boats but one of its greatest protections is the constant vigilance of the silent Coast Guard man.
But it was of the Gower that I was going to speak. Fortunately this glorious coast, washed on three sides by the waves of the Bristol Channel, remains with all its primitive beauty. It has no promenades, no piers and concert parties, no merry go rounds or figures of eight. With the exception of a few paths, widened and protected at dangerous points, it remains, as it always was, one of the finest productions of Nature. -And what a production it is! There are few, if any, stretches of our coastline of equal variety and beauty. -Inland you have the high hills, the open moorland with its bracken and gorse, the woods with ancient churches hidden in their depths and the land always undulating as if it had copied the uneven surface of its neighbour, the sea.
But the coastline - where will you find its equal? At either end stand as sentinels the detached precipitous rocks of the Mumbles and Worms Head where the rare sea birds breed in safety, whilst between is a coast so varied that it provides bold cliffs with their dizzy heights, and an endless succession of bays with golden sands, any one of which, were it in London, would become a famed sea side resort.Fortunately Gower has never been 'discovered'. There are no boarding caravan series, no imported amusements, no crowded railway stations: the person who has been happy enough to secure a portion of its limited accommodation must bring with him the heart that responds to the glory of nature.
Few of the many persons who visit Gower today know anything of its traditions and history. These, I fear, are being submerged by the inflow of thought from a larger world. Recently I stood beside a farmhouse near Pitton and got into conversation with an old man who evidently worked on the land. For it must be said that the inhabitants of Gower are a kindly, courteous race, always willing to give information to strangers. Somehow I have frequently felt after such conversations that I was an intruder into a sacred domain and had come into contact with one whose race, for long centuries, had been identified with the land on which he stood.
As I said, I was speaking to the old man near Pitton and I asked him whether there were any memories of the great smuggling days. He replied 'They do say, sir, that there was a vast amount of smuggling in these parts but that was before my father's time and I don't know nothing about it'. And yet I could have told him that on a winter's night 125 years ago that peaceful farmhouse we were looking at was the scene of a desperate act on the part of smugglers. It happened in this way - earlier in the night a Preventive Man had intercepted a string of horses, accompanied by smugglers, on the road between Pitton and Rhosilli. Across the back of each horse were slung the little casks called ankers, each containing about seven gallons of spirits. Being surprised the smugglers surrendered their goods without a blow and three horses and twelve casks of spirits were left with the Preventive Officer (George Beynon). At first he was puzzled what to do with them but eventually he took them to the farm house, placed the horses in the stable, and put the casks in charge of the farm hand named Evan Evans. Evidently the smugglers watched all this. The loss of the casks of spirits didn't trouble them. Was there not a large cutter full of casks of spirits anchored in Rhosilli Bay? But the loss of the horses was a serious matter. Every farmer in the neighbourhood had brought his horses to Rhosilli sands and to have horses captured by Preventive Man was not to be thought of.
About 3am the quiet of the farm was disturbed. Evan Evans heard the feet of numerous horses and men. The stable doors were forced and the missing horses recovered. But the smugglers had no intention of leaving without settling accounts with Evan Evans for having had anything to do with Revenue Officers. So the poor fellow was dragged out and, whilst the others looked on, two of their number called Corbett and Penhale, set upon Evans with bludgeons and after beating him cruelly they left him with the threat that if he interfered with their business again they would return and finish him off.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that the inhabitants of Gower in those days were a cruel and debased lot of people. That they shared the ignorance of an uneducated age is certain and it is also certain that, like the rest of England, they were victims of the habit of spirit drinking, which, as the historian Lecky states 'spread with the rapidity and violence of an epidemic'. But they were not brutal as were the smuggling gangs of the south of England. They carried no fire arms and were content if hard pressed to use bludgeons, whips or stones. The three Revenue Men in Gower lived unmolested always providing that they made no enquiries as to when the smuggling cutters were due and wisely refrained from putting in an appearance when they did. And what else could these three men do in the midst of a community every one of whom favoured smugglers? The result was that the isolated peninsula of Gower became an established smuggling centre. There is not a cove where the cutter has not sheltered; not a beach across which the little casks have not been rolled, and not a pathway along which the horses, with contraband on their backs, have not been led.
But the great centre of the Gower smuggling was Pwlldhu and the adjacent Brandy Cove so beloved by visitors. Here the cutters dropped anchor and landed contraband without being molested for nearly forty years. The procedure was simple. Before landing, every two ankes were connected by rope slings and when the beach was reached the slings were flung across the backs of the waiting horses and the goods taken to concealed cellars purposely dug to contain them.
Those who have walked up the beautiful Bishopton Valley will remember that when, after leaving the wood, you turn to the right for Bishopton, there is another path to the left. That is still known as the smugglers path and it enters Pennard Road opposite Great Highway Farm. Here, and at Little Highway Farm a little further up the road were the concealed cellars. Some day I hope to tell the full story of these farms, of William Arthur, John Lawrence and John Griffiths, of smugglers with blackened faces and of the great raid when some thousands of gallons of spirits were found.
It must not be thought that all these cargoes of spirits and wine were landed at Pwldu and other places for the consumption of the inhabitants of Gower. Gower being a remote and unguarded coast proved a convenient place to outwit the Revenue Officers in. But smuggling was a vast and well organised trade with ramifications throughout the country. Swansea and other places far inland were supplied from Gower. When night fell and the turnpikes were left open, the horses, again, had the slings of casks over their backs and the illicit goods were removed to another receiving house up the country.
But the Gower possesses something even more entrancing than smuggling history - it has a treasure ship. And as some of my listeners may be visitors who would like to find it I will tell a story that I told a long time ago. Many of you know the great sweep of sands at Rhosilli extending from Worms Head to Whitford Point. Somewhere under the golden carpet of that delightful bay there is the real gold and silver of a treasure ship. She was a Spanish vessel, and being driven out of her course by a gale in the early part of the 17th century she came ashore at Rhosilli and became firmly embedded in the sand.
In those days men were as keen to acquire unearned wealth as they are today, and a certain Mr. Mansel of Hentlys determined to take advantage of what he may have regarded as an act of Providence. Now all wreckage that came ashore in those days belonged by right to the Lord of the Manor and, it is said, that there was a sharp dispute between him and Mr. Mansel. However that may be, Mr. Mansel made the most of his opportunities and by frequently visiting the wreck, is said to have removed 'an immense quantity' of dollars. But the wind and sea between them soon put an end to Mr. Mansel's activities. The vessel sank deeper in the sands, the waves battered the wreck and soon the treasure ship had disappeared and the golden carpet was relaid.
Nearly two centuries passed away and the existence of the treasure ship was becoming legendary when, in 1807, some men crossing the bay were startled by finding a quantity of metal which, on examination, proved to be dollars and half dollars dated 1625 and weighing 12 pounds. Probably some strange movements of the sea and sand had, momentarily, disclosed part of the imprisoned wealth.
Again the locality of the treasure ship was lost and it was not until 1833 that on the occasion of a low water spring tide, some men stumbled across Spanish dollars littered on the beach. This time there should be no mistake: they would make themselves rich! Feverishly they worked gathering treasure and, as the tide commenced to flow, they buoyed the spot, determining to recommence work next day. But there never was a next day. When the daylight broke they looked in vain for the buoy. The sea had removed it and the sands and sea at Rhosilli sill hold the secret of the Spanish treasure ship.
Now let me give you a word of warning. If you determine to visit Rhosilli and by finding the Spanish treasure ship, make yourself rich with the wealth that belongs to others, then consider the awful fate that overtook Mr Mansel of Hentlys. For it is said that if you visit Rhosilli beach at night when it is low water spring tide and for this is important - the moon is at the full, you may see a black coach, drawn by six white horses careering over the sands, and if you look ever so closely, you may see inside, the ghost of Mr Mansel of Hentlys still searching for the lost doubloons.
Story No. 13 Welsh Pirates The Puritan Pirate Bartholomew Roberts'
BBC Broadcast Date: 7 October 1930
Last week in telling you the story of another Welsh Pirate, Howel Davies, I mentioned that one of his favourite tricks was to enter a harbour where honest merchant ships were sheltering, and, flying British colours, proceed to raid any vessel he chose. It was during one of these raids at Anamaboe, West Africa, that he came across Bartholomew Roberts and induced him to become a pirate. This was in 1720 when Roberts was mate of the ship 'Princess'. The 'Princess’ was lying in harbour waiting for a cargo of slaves, a perfectly legitimate trade, when Davies sailed in and captured her.
Generally when pirates captured a vessel they endeavoured to persuade the crew to turn pirates. To sail under the Black Flag, whilst it carried with it certain risks also offered escape from the perpetual work on merchant ships. This continuous drudgery is described in the following jingle of the period:
'Six days shalt thou work as hard as thou art able, 'The seventh holystone the deck and chip the main table'.
But Roberts consented to join the Sea Rogues with great reluctance. Hitherto he had engaged in honest trade and to turn pirate was against his principles. For, as we shall see, he held strong if not almost puritanical views. At length his fellow Welshman, Howel Davies, persuaded him. Then followed a singular thing. Six weeks later Howel Davies was killed, as I told you last week, when attempting to trick the Portuguese Governor of Prince's Island. The pirates then held their parliament at the foot of the mast and elected Roberts as their leader. Considering that Roberts was an untried man and his tastes so different from those of his shipmates, the choice was remarkable. Perhaps his knowledge of navigation had something to do with it. When Roberts was offered the position he is said to have replied 'that since he had dipped his hands in muddy water and must be a pirate it was better being a commander than a common man'.
But before we go further let me tell you something of this strange Welshman who in principle was a puritan, in practice a pirate, and who was one of the most remarkable mixtures who has ever sailed under the Black Flag.
The only thing we know of his youth is that he was born at, or near, Haverfordwest. Evidently he carried into his life as a pirate many of the convictions that he held as an honest seaman. Take, for instance, the Pirate's Articles that he drew up and enforced upon his men. They have a strong religious if not a sabbatarian flavour. Here are some samples:- The musicians to have rest on the Sabbath day, but the other six days and nights none, except by special favour. No person to game at cards or dice for money. Lights and candles to be put out by 8 pm and if, after that hour, any of the crew desire to remain drinking they are to do it on the open deck.
To these things we must add that he was no party to deliberate torture, that he did not share in the coarser vices of his fellows, that he frowned upon card playing, and stranger still, when men sat round a cask drinking rum from pannikins he retired to his cabin to indulge in weak tea.
Of course the regulations he made may have been evaded, but it is evidence of Robert's strange character that he could, to any degree, enforce them upon a pirate crew.
In person he is said to have been tall and dark and was very much of a dandy in dress. He delighted in wearing bright coloured scarves, large plumed hats and costly weapons. Withal he had a grim sense of humour fro it was he who first called the Black Flag the Jolly Roger. Nor was he content with the usual cross bones and skull, for her invented many variations, one of which was a skeleton holding a flaming sword in one hand and an enormous glass of punch in the other. And yet this strange mixture of a man became one of the most notorious and successful pirates that the history of the period records. From the Banks of Newfoundland to the West Indies, from there down the Brazilian coast, across the Atlantic, throughout the Gulf of Guinea, and down the Africa coast, at every point the name of Roberts was feared. It is said that during the 2 or 3 years he was a pirate he captured no less than 400 vessels.
His first act after being elected captain was to bombard the Portoguese settlement in retaliation for the death of Howel Davies. He also captured two vessels, one of them the British ship 'Experiment', whose crew joined him as pirates. In these actions his bravery was approved by his fellows who spoke of him as 'an affable and good natured man'.
Weeks passed, during which he crossed the Atlantic without finding a quarry. His men, who judged everything by results, were becoming discontented, and his position insecure, when by one daring act, he redeemed everything.
It occurred in this way. He was cruizing along the Brazilian coast when, in the open sea, outside San Salvador, he found 42 Portuguese vessels lying at anchor ready to sail to Europe. Robert's mind was soon made up, and, without showing his colours, he sailed in amongst them posing as an honest merchant vessel. He found that the 42 vessels were waiting for two armed convoys which were at anchor in the Bay. Here was risk enough for one ship to challenge 42, many of them armed, in addition to the two convoys. But Roberts despised the Portuguese and determined to outwit them.
Singling out one vessel he ranged alongside and requested her master to come on board his ship as he had 'something of importance to tell him'. All unsuspecting the master came on board only to find, when he got to the cabin, that he was a prisoner. Roberts then told him that he and his vessel should go free provided that he indicated which vessel in the fleet had the richest cargo on board. Having gained this information he moved alongside a large ship which mounted 40 guns and had a crew of 150 men. He also requested the master of this vessel to come on board as he had 'something of importance to tell him'. But this master refused to come and made it clear that he suspected Roberts to be a pirate. Roberts therefore acted promptly for he threw his grappling irons on board her followed by his men and in a few minutes had made her a prisoner. Of course the remaining 41 vessels realized that a pirate was in their midst, but, instead of turning upon him they took to flight. Roberts then examined his prize, finding that he had captured a rich cargo of sugar, skins and of tobacco besides 40,000 moidores in Gold. But this was not all, for he found a quantity of valuable jewels including a magnificent cross set with diamonds which was being sent to the King of Portugal. Of the armed convoys it need only be said that they emerged from the harbour, but one of them dropped behind and the other, after coming near to Roberts, decided to join her comrade.
By this bold action Roberts established his reputation as a resourceful leader and from that time on he became the scourge of the seas. Roberts was no rule of thumb pirate waiting for vessels to cross his track. He adopted what appears to have been a definite system. He would appear in a certain area, work all the havoc possible, and then, before men of war could get on his track, he had disappeared, to be heard of again in a totally different locality. In other words he became a raider.
In the West Indies vessel after vessel was captured and when that locality became too hot he shifted to the American coast, and also appeared off Newfoundland. The havoc and terror he created were such that trade was almost brought to a standstill. He even captured the largest vessels of English nationality and, when time fell idle on his hands at sea, he actually sent his men on shore to plunder the scattered townships.
Suddenly he disappeared and, after a successful period of raiding in the south, in June 1721 he dropped anchor in Sierra Leone River, West Africa. Here he found a small colony of former pirates and from them he learned that two British Men of War, the 'Swallow' and the 'Weymouth' had recently visited that place determined to find Roberts. This would been very serious news to any person with a less resourceful brain than Roberts. He evolved a really cunning scheme. He would delay a little time whilst he cleaned his vessel and allowed his men a carouse ashore, and then would follow the men of war. He judged that after they had visited the numerous ports without finding him that the merchant ships would put to sea thinking that the way was clear. The result was that Roberts played havoc all down the coast. Not merely did he intercept vessels but he bombarded settlements and factories.
All might have gone well had it not been that fever broke out upon the men of war and after they had lost 100 men they turned and steered north. Everywhere they had evidence of the activities of Roberts, and the 'Swallow' was detached to find him. Now the relative positions were reversed and the 'Swallow pushed south searching for the pirate.
But the end was near. As Captain Ogle on the 'Swallow' approached Cape Lopez, where vessels took in water, he saw three vessels flying Roberts' flag. These were the 'Royal Fortune', the 'Ranger' and a transport lying under the shelter of the land, inside a sand bank. As the 'Swallow' approached Capt. Ogle observed that the 'Ranger' was detached to intercept him, and, as he was not flying Naval colours, he knew that he was mistaken for a merchant vessel. He, therefore, determined to act as a merchantman, and turning round ran for the open sea. The 'Ranger' followed and when she had been drawn so far from land that the sound of guns could not be hard the 'Swallow' turned, and opening heavy fire surprised and captured the 'Ranger'. It was in this action that another Welshman named Skyrme exhibited great bravery by continuing to fight after one of his legs had been torn away by a cannon shot.
The 'Swallow' then returned to Cape Lopez where she attacked the 'Royal Fortune' which had Roberts on board. Roberts was dressed, as usual, in his plumed hat and gay attire, but a grape shot killed him outright.
In addition to the vessels captured, the 'Swallow' took 145 pirates as prisoners. These were conveyed to Cape Coast Castle where 32 were condemned to be hung and the remainder were sentenced to various penalties.
So ended the brief but wonderful career of that strange mixture of puritan, dandy and pirate, - Bartholomew Roberts.
Story No. 14 Olden Days in Wales The Chief Smuggler of Gower: William Arthur'
BBC Broadcast Date: 10 January 1931
We are going back tonight to the great smuggling days which existed during the latter part of the 18th century and the commencement of the 19th. The romance of this. Lingers in every crook and cranny of our coasts. And with good reason, for North, South, East and West (and especially in the South) the illegal goods were landed on almost every beach.
This was not a casual act of sport, in which the Preventive Man was outwitted, but a vast conspiracy against the state which had its ramifications throughout the country. It can only be compared today with the stories we hear from America of rum runners hovering on the coasts, daring methods of landing, and secret agencies of distribution to far distant places.
You remember Kipling's haunting lines in which he represents a smuggler warning his daughter not to let King George's men know what she saw or heard :-
Five and twenty horses trotting through the dark
'Brandy for the Parson, baccy for the Clerk,'
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy,
So watch the wall my darling when the gentlemen go by.
Kipling was right. The Parson, the Clerk, the Lady, the Spy, in fact every section of society was favourable to the plentiful and cheap supplies provided by the smuggler.
But it is of Gower, that gem of Glamorgan set in the ring of the sea, that I want to speak tonight. Here snuggling was not an exceptional incident but a habitual trade. The isolation of the peninsula was its protection. There could be no sudden arrival of inquisitive Revenue Men from Swansea or elsewhere, for news of their movements would proceed them. And as for the three Preventive Men stationed in their midst, well, they were so powerless that they could be ignored. So the years passed and the new generation viewed smuggling as a prescriptive right. They had always done it, they always would do it and the cutters came and went landing their goods even in the open daylight.
Not that it must be imagined that the Gower smugglers were of the same brutal fibre as the smugglers of the South Coast of England. There such armed bandits as the Hawkhurst gang did not hesitate to commit murder, whilst injury by firearms was a common occurrence. Whilst legend has it that there is a lane near Pennard where a Preventive Man was shot, I have found no evidence in the old records that the Gower smugglers were armed. True, when exasperated, they used stones, whips and bludgeons, but there is a great distinction to be drawn between these and firearms. And when, in later years, they used these comparatively harmless weapons it was only because they held themselves to be immune from interference.
It would be difficult to find any beach in Gower where the smuggling cutter has not been welcomed, and, perhaps, there is no road along which files of horses have not padded with suspicious little casks slung across their backs; but the greatest smuggler of all appears to have been a certain William Arthur and the really great centre of the smuggling trade was the Great Highway Farm.
Alongside the road running from Kittle Hill to Pennard there are two farmhouses - the Great and Little Highways. Probably few of the motorists and other passers by are aware that these innocent farms were once the great receiving houses for contraband in Gower, and that before their gates men have halted their files of horses, laden with ankers of spirits. Separated by a distance of about 200 yards Little Highway has been replaced by a modern house but Great Highway remains the same with the exception of extended outbuildings. In the orchard at the rear of Great Highway are the remains of a religious foundation, whilst opposite to it is a bye road still known as Smuggler's Lane. Nor is it far by that lane to the secluded Bay of Pwlldhu. What more convenient landing place for smugglers could be found? The rocks on the western side make a natural breakwater, the depth of water allowed the cutter to come far into shore, whilst the shelving beach enabled horses to be brought to the water's edge. It is significant that the adjoining small Bay is still called Brandy Cove.
in the register of the Parish of Pennard there is the record of the burial of William Hawken Arthur in 1784. The Rector in his history of the parish appends the note 'this man had a great reputation as a smuggler'. Evidently smuggling was a family weakness for another William Arthur of Highways was flourishing as a smuggler 20 years later.
Before the great raid upon Highway, of which I shall speak next time, the three Customs Officers naturally minimised the extent of a traffic with which they were powerless to cope. I find such entries as this dated 1796 'if the Revenue cruizers cannot prevent these practises than the five officers stationed on the coast within the limits of this port (Swansea) and comprising an extent of about fifty miles are wholly unequal to it'. Even the safeguard of robust and active officers was not always provided for, in a report dated 1737 is the statement that "Mathew Price stationed at Oxwich is eighty years of age and of no further service!"
That these officers knew all that was happening cannot be doubted. William Arthur did not interfere with them, he only ignored them. They in turn were obliged to pay him a similar courtesy, and, consequently when reporting to their superior officers they indulged in flights of fancy. For instance they fell back upon past events reporting that they had heard vague rumours of goods that had been landed and 'taken to safety by the country people' before they were able to interfere, or they grew bolder and stated, as an officer did in 1791 'we have no reason to suspect that any vessels are regularly employed in smuggling'.
After the great raid, however, much more precise information is forthcoming. Here is a report stating that William Arthur and his adherents have carried on business 'on a very extensive scale' and further 'that at least twenty cargoes of spirituous liquors have been run annually at Pwlldhu and its vicinity by Arthur'.
That the smuggling activities at Highway were well known far beyond Gower is established by an anonymous letter dated 1798 which I will quote as it gives a good idea of the extent of smuggling ventures in South Wales:- 'The counties of Glamorgan, Carmarthen, Pembroke and Cardigan swarm with smugglers of spirituous liquors, they supply both public and private houses in any quantity they require, by which means the fair trade in these parts is nearly at a stand, and unless some stop can be put to these fraudulent trades the Licenced Dealers may as well shut up their doors. There is a house at Highway near Swansea, Glamorganshire that receives large quantities at a time and often and supplies various customers with impunity. There are large cargoes landed at New Quay in Cardiganshire and at different places in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire likewise'.
The first serious attempt to interfere with the activities of William Arthur did not occur until 1786. Mr Shewn was then Collector of Customs at Swansea. Whether he was related to the Daniel Shewen who died in 1792, and whose memorial is on the wall of Mumbles church is unknown. It was Sunday night the 16 January and Mr Shewen was sitting by his cosy fire when a knock at the door preluded the arrival of two Excise officers. Probably these arrivals were unwelcome, not merely because they recalled Mr Shewen's thoughts to Revenue matters, but because Excise officers meant that there was trouble in the offering. Were not the Customs and Excise rival departments? Were not disputes between them frequent? Did not their overlapping duties give rise to constant friction? And when the two Excise officers told a circumstantial story of a cargo of spirits having been landed that day at Pwlldhu and carried to the house of William Arthur, and requested Mr Shewen to muster his officers and join with the Excise in visiting Great Highway what was he to do? He knew that this polite request was little less than a demand which he could not ignore, and, although he may have had a reserved opinion as to any success following a visit to the smugglers house, he was compelled to exchange his fireside for country roads.
Four o'clock in the morning of Monday 17 January 1786 saw fourteen Revenue officers, including the Collector of Customs and the Supervisor of Excise, setting out on their eight mile tramp to Highway Farm. The darkness of the winter's night, the condition of the country roads, and, perhaps, forebodings of the reception awaiting them may have delayed their progress, for they did not arrive outside Highway until 7am. By this time any eagerness they may have possessed appears to have evaporated. Darkness covered Great Highway, not a light was visible, not a sound was to be heard.
Then arose the great question who should go forward and knock at the door. The Supervisor thought that the Collector should do this as he was the senior officer, but the Collector remembered that the Supervisor had originated the visit and did not desire to deprive him of the honour! Finally they decided that they would walk side by side and that the Supervisor should first knock at the door, the dozen officers following close behind.
The Supervisor knocked repeatedly but gained no response. Then, growing bolder the Collector of Customs gave a tattoo on the door. At length an apparently sleepy voice wanted to know their business. When they had explained who they were and what they had come for the sleepiness vanished, and Arthur replied from within 'that he would not suffer his house to be entered' and added 'that if it were proved that he had any prohibited goods in his house he would forfeit one hundred pounds. A very safe suggestion as if he kept the officers outside his house they could not obtain proof of what was within.
The parley at the door soon ended. Probably Arthur had been waiting for the growing light to disclose the strength of the visiting force. When he had ascertained this he decided upon bolder tactics. The sleeping house sprang into life. Disguise was no longer necessary. There was the movement of many men within the house; loud voices hurled threats half the revenue officers; and as the record runs 'bludgeons and other offensive weapons were struck against tables and other furniture to the accompaniment of cheers, signifying that they were ready for an attack', and as the light increased the Revenue officers saw faces, blackened for disguise, appear at the window.
Suddenly the door was opened and the smugglers swarmed out. The Prevented men who were unarmed found themselves in a tight corner. Says the record 'there were at least forty persons, each of them having a bludgeon, some of which were loaded with lead, and also large whips and stakes in their hands'.
To pass into the house was impossible, but the fourteen men were warming to their work and two of them rushed to the steps leading up to the granary determined to search the outbuildings. Whether this building contains smuggled goods will never be known for Arthur and his men intercepted them and threw both of them from the top of the steps into the mud of the farmyard. 'After which' the report states, 'they thought it prudent to retire, as it would have been in vain to attempt to oppose such a body of desperate Fellows as it is supposed the number in and out of the house amounted to near one hundred'.
It was a dispirited band of Revenue officers, at least two of them bearing the perfume of the farmyard mud, that took the road for Swansea. Perhaps, as they dragged themselves home, the number of men opposed to them was increased by imagination, for it is difficult to understand how one hundred men could have been concealed in Great Highway. At least it was necessary to represent to London that they had encountered overwhelming force. It is therefore not surprising to read 'we therefore think that if all the officers in the port had been together it would have answered no purpose as they would have been overpowered by numbers. We therefore are humbly of the opinion that nothing can be done without military aid, and request that such a number of them may be sent down as shall appear to your Honours to be necessary in order to put a stop to the smuggling carried on by the said Arthur.'
Wise advice, doubtless, but no military was sent. The first attempt to uproot William Arthur had failed, but his day of reckoning was only postponed.
Story No. 15 Olden Days in Wales Riotous Scenes After The Great Raid at Highway'
BBC Broadcast Date: 8 March 1931
I am only afraid that, as I endeavour to tell you tonight something of the scenes that were witnessed in the days following the Great Raid upon the concealed cellars at Great and Little Highway Farms, that some of my listeners may think that I am speaking derogatively of the sober, peaceable and industrious inhabitants of Gower today. Please, then, remember that what I am telling you comes from records 1 1/4 centuries old, when communities were isolated, popular education was unknown, and when the moral balance of the nation was far inferior to that of today.
To estimate correctly the usages of 1 1/4 centuries ago we must be careful not to judge by the standards of today. The passion for spirit drinking then existed amongst all classes, to a degree that we cannot understand today. Lecky in his History of England states that in the 18th century 'gin drinking began to spread with the rapidity and violence of an epidemic', whilst Fielding, in his pamphlet 'On the late increase of Robbers' asserts that 'Gin was the principal sustenance of more then 100,000 persons in the metropolis alone'. The strength of this habit was revealed when legal limitation was proposed by the introduction of the Gin Act which produced the popular cry 'No Gin - No King'.
It must not be imagined that Glamorgan was worse than other parts of the country. Probably it was better than the larger centres of population, but the old records exhibit a standard of indulgence and excess which belongs to a period of past history.
It was during the night of Thursday 12th April, 1804, that Lieut. Sawyer of the Sea Fencibles, accompanied by Beavan, the Customs Officer, and his stalwart sons, pounced upon the farms of Great and Little Highway on the Pennard Road. They found a busy scene: groups of horses lent by neighbouring farmers, and men working by the light of lanterns carrying casks of spirits, which had been brought along Smugglers Lane, from the cutter that was anchored at Pwwldhu. So often, and for so many years, had the files of horses with little ankers of spirits flung across their backs padded along this lane to these farms, that the smugglers never dreamt of being interrupted by the Revenue men. Not that they had relaxed precautions. The specially constructed cellars under the kitchen and barn of Little Highway and the similar cellar under the barn of Great Highway, were so carefully concealed that they had been difficult to find. But once found their contents had been gathered together and placed in the open space of the farmyard of Little Highway. There, as the daylight strengthened, a pile of some 420 casks could be seen, surrounded by the Preventive Men and the disappointed smugglers. And in these casks were no less than 3000 gallons of spirits! And if a small farm in Gower contained such a quantity of contraband what must have been the extent of smuggling around all our coasts.
Of course John Lawrence (William Arthur's agent) who lived at Great Highway and John Griffiths, the owner of Little Highway, were greatly concerned at the unexpected turn events had taken. It meant, not merely the loss of their goods and putting a stop to their trade, but the probability of being prosecuted and fined, for, however sincerely magistrates might sympathise with smugglers they could not acquit them when caught red handed.
The news of the Great Raid upon these well known smuggling centres spread with marvellous rapidity throughout Gower. All that morning, and during the following three days, every road led to Little Highway.
Of course every body in Gower knew of William Arthur's long established smuggling business and of the continuous landing from the cutters at Pwlldhu, for without their aid Arthur would have been powerless. The farmers willingly lent their horses, the men gave their labour, which was well rewarded, and, as the result of so much contraband being available, the population acquired the habit of spirit drinking. And yet, it is a great tribute to the loyalty of the people of Gower that, although the facts were widespread and a considerable reward awaited the persons who gave the secret away to the Revenue men, there is only one instance of a Gower man turning informer. That story cannot be told tonight.
After his night's work in raiding the farms Lieut. Sawyer had no light task on hand. The great pile of casks was lying in a heap in the farmyard of Little Highway. To leave them unprotected would invite plunder, but to remove them to the only place of safety in the King's Warehouse at Swansea presented grave difficulty. Lonely roads had to be traversed through a country infested with smugglers, at any point there might be rescue parties; whilst, most difficult of all was the question where were the wagons to be obtained to carry the goods? Application to local farmers proved unsuccessful. Either their wagons were fully engaged or other excuses were offered. It became evident that the required help would not be volunteered and therefore Sawyer threatened force and by this means he obtained possession of the wagons of a Mr. French and others.
By this time a large crowd of onlookers had assembled in the farmyard where 14 members of the Sea Fencibles stood guard over the pile of casks. It soon became evident that this crowd was not animated by feelings of great hostility to the guard who, being members of the same community may not have relished their job. But their covetous eyes rested upon the pile of casks protected by the Guard and their love of spirits, engendered by the constant practice of smuggling, was awakened. Here were untold quantities of spirits almost within touch. Drink was what they craved and drink they would have.
Mastered by this impulse the crowd commenced to close in upon the Guard which was too small to completely encircle the pile. During the disturbance and shouting first one cask and then another were drawn through the gaps in the Guard, and being passed to the crowd, the drinking of raw spirits commenced. The Sea Fencibles were helpless to recover them, even if they desired to do so, or the whole pile would have been open to plunder.
It was not long before the fiery spirit did its work. There was no longer a comparatively quiet crowd but a mob of over two hundred persons clamouring for more drink, threatening violence, and every moment becoming more turbulent. Under these circumstances Lieut. Sawyer determined upon two courses, first, to strengthen his Guard to fifty men and second, to release two more casks of spirits for consumption by the crowd.
Added to this Lieut. Sawyer had another trouble: he found that the Sea Fencibles were as prone to imbibe spirits as the other inhabitants of Gower. To endeavour to check them was hopeless, and, to quote from a report subsequently made by Beavan, the Customs Officers, in order to purchase their loyalty he had 'to allow these men to make use of what spirits they wished to drink whilst on guard lest they should desert him or use violent means to obtain it'.
For four days the wagons were being loaded and dispatched to Swansea and during that period such scenes as I have endeavoured to describe were to be witnessed at Little Highway Farm. The men who loaded the wagons were in sympathy with the craving of the crowd, and, now and again would purposely drop a cask for their consumption. These would be seized immediately by the onlookers and the drunken carousel would continue.
Nor was it only men who indulged to excess, for the women in the crowd were equally as eager to obtain it. There is a terrible little picture in one of the reports of women, who, having secured a seven gallon cask of raw spirits immediately took it to a neighbouring field where they indulged in a drunken debauch.
I only give these details because they illustrate the social habits of a past period. Of course all this is foreign to the habits and customs of today. Perhaps I may restate that Gower was no exceptional territory in which questionable tendencies reigned. Those who speak of 'The Good Old Times' cannot have studied the 18th century. Smuggling tended to lead to demoralization as cheap spirits were so easily obtainable. From the concealed cellars near the coast where the goods were placed when landed from the cutter, they were subsequently conveyed far inland. When the turnpikes were left open at night the horses once more took to the road and by this means the country was honeycombed with smuggling. The legends we hear of houses, far from the coast, having been smugglers resorts are frequently based upon fact. William Arthur, for instance, was not supplying local requirements but, as the old records show, his customers were far a field. The result of all this was that cheap spirits were easily obtainable. In South Wales a gallon of brandy only cost ten shillings whilst on the south east coast that quantity could be purchased for the price of half a bottle today.
Lieut. Sawyer's troubles were not ended when he saw a wagon of casks leave the farmyard of Little Highway for the King's warehouse at Swansea. True he sent them in charge of a guard of Sea Fencibles but these men were not to be trusted where drink was concerned. Before starting on their journey they took care to provide themselves with long quills and, at frequent halts, the bungs of the casks were extracted, the quills inserted and the raw spirits were consumed. In this procedure it appears that they were aided by persons they met on the road. The result was that many partly filled casks were delivered at the Swansea Custom House.
But the culminating scene of riot and excess occurred in the streets of Swansea on Saturday 14th April, 1804. Certain wagons, which had been loaded with casks at Little Highway that morning were drawn up outside the Custom House. On the road both carters and Guard had sucked the spirits extensively through quills until, perhaps, the only strictly sober members of the party were the horses. It happened to be market day and the narrow streets were crowded with people from the country. As the wagons passed along interest was aroused which deepened to antagonism. Here was interference with the smuggling trade with which they sympathised: here, too, were wagons full of the spirits which they, like the rest of the nation, had learned to imbibe. The temptation was too great, and after all what could a few officers from the Custom House and a partly intoxicated Guard do to prevent them helping themselves? As the increasing crowd surrounded the wagons its members commenced to incite each other to action and it was not long before the bolder men pushed aside the Guard and laid hands upon the casks. And then followed a wild scene in the open daylight in the streets of Swansea, as the mob, clamouring for drink, consumed the raw spirit.
In what excesses this riotous conduct might have ended can only be conjectured, but for the unexpected interference of a military force. A certain Col. Lascell happened to be stationed permanently in the town in charge of a corps of Volunteers. A message was sent to him by the distressed Revenue men and very soon the mob became aware of the steady tramp of a military guard coming down the street and at once it scattered in all directions.
The record of the goods seized as the result of the Great Raid are very interesting. The King's Warehouse Keeper at Swansea received nearly 1500 gallons of Brandy, over 1000 gallons of Gin, 330 gallons of Rum and 15 gallons each of both Port and Sherry Wine. If we remember that all this was found in one night we may commence to understand the vast quantities that had been landed at Pwlldhu in forty or fifty years and distributed from the Great and Little Highway Farms.
There is a subsequent record which sheds light upon this matter. John Griffiths of Little Highway protested his complete innocence. According to his story he ignorantly housed William Arthur's goods for which he was paid one penny a cask. But, adds the report 'Griffiths made £100 per annum out of this business'.
Now, if we assume these figures to be correct, £100 per annum resulting from a rental of one penny per cask would represent 24.000 casks and these would contain, approximately, 145,000 gallons of smuggled spirits. Even if the facts were magnified it is evident that the illegal business at Great and Little Highway Farms was on a large scale. And these remote Gower Farms were only one of the hundreds of receiving houses around our coasts.
Story No. 16 William Phipps G: The Man Who Found the Treasure Ship'
BBC Broadcast Date: Unknown
William Phipps marvellous adventures will find a sympathetic response amongst many sections of listeners. If we have a weakness for Red Indians who go upon the war path to collect real scalps Phipps can relate real experiences: if we relish a good mutiny at sea with the inevitable round robin Phipps can explain how to deal with it: if we delight in the self educated lad who climbs and climbs until he is knighted by the King, then the backwoods boy who became the first Royal Governor of Massachusetts is our man: or if we want the adventurer who seeks for the lost treasure ship and finding it hauls in gold and silver and pieces of eight until he is weary, then we must turn to William Phipps. Not that I can tell you of all these things tonight, but if you want to know more about him you must read Paine's book on Hidden Treasure or consult the surviving pages of that forgotten divine, Cotton Mather.
But to my story. In the early part of the 17th century a gunsmith lived in Bristol named James Phipps. Bristol was more closely related to America in those days than any other port. Had not Cabot sailed from there on the voyage which was to add a continent to the British Crown? Did not vessels drop down the Avon bound for that wonderful new world and, returning, bring strange produce and still stranger stories of the unknown country in the west? The glamour of the unknown fell upon the Bristol gunsmith and it was not long before James Phipps and his wife were heading west for the Plantations. There he received a grant of land abutting on the sea and, after building his log cabin, he proceeded to turn the virgin forest into farm land. And always, as he did so, he kept his eye upon the surrounding woods and his gun ready lest his home should be destroyed by the war like Indians. That he made no fortune is certain but, perhaps, he did something greater in being one of the pioneers who laid the foundation of a new empire.
Evidently, in those days, the size of families was not restricted for James Phipps became the father of 26 children of whom 22 were sons. William, one of the youngest, was added to the workers as soon as he could lift and carry until, when he was twenty years old, he realized that he was quite uneducated and would make little of life if he remained there. He therefore left the settlement to the care of his numerous family and, like his father before him, went away to better his fortune.
The second phase of his career finds him learning ships carpentry and also to read and write. Gradually it dawned upon him that he had acquired sufficient technical knowledge to build one of the small sailing vessels then used on the coast. Having built her he returned to the settlement for a cargo of lumber and, perhaps to exhibit with pride the ship he had constructed. But he found things in a turmoil. The Indians were on the war path and his family were in danger of being scalped. Promptly, therefore, Phipps took every body on board his new vessel and carried them to safety.
And from this time the sea claimed him. Not that Phipps had any ambition to become a mere master of a small vessel trading from port to port, nor did he desire to join then numerous pirates who frequented the coast and also swarmed in the West Indies, battening upon the trade of Spain. Phipps was a man of principle, free with his language and fists, but grounded in an honesty which caused him to avoid the Sea Rogues.
None the less the West Indies attracted him. Along the coast, wherever sailor men foregathered there was talk which fired the imagination, of the wealth of the cities on the Spanish Main; of the fleets of Spanish ships homeward bound full to the hatches with treasure and jewels and of the pirates and buccaneers who by intercepting them, became rich in a day. The West Indies were full of reckless men who cared nothing for life so long as they could acquire treasure.
But Phipps, whilst eagerly desirous of handling Spanish doubloons was looking in another direction. Had not many of these Spanish treasure ships, which had escaped the attention of the buccaneers and pirates, come to grief upon the numerous shoals of the Caribbean Sea? Had not L'Ollonais discovered such a wreck upon the Cuban coast and recovered £60,000 of treasure? Untold wealth must lie under the water (as it does to this day) if only he could gain exact information. And such a fortune could be easily and honestly realized. 1682 saw Phipps in West Indian waters and, being a rough, honest man, he was not long before he made friends. From these he learned of a vessel, said to contain vast treasure, lying submerged on one of the reefs. All enquiries confirmed his information, but his mind was too practical to allow him to commence his search without adequate resources. That would have meant giving away his secret to the surrounding pirates. He therefore sailed for England determined to lay his secret before the King and obtain the aid of a King's ship and men.
1682 saw this New England colonist, with his strange story of a treasure ship, hanging round the fringe of Court circles in Whitehall. But access to the Royal Presence was more difficult than locating a submerged treasure ship. Weeks grew into months but Phipps held on believing that the recovery of treasure on a West Indian reef could only be made possible in Whitehall. Finally perseverance had its reward. King Charles listened to his story and being in constant want of money saw an opportunity of replenishing his privy purse.
September 1683 Phipps set sail from London in King's ship, the Rose, bound first to Boston to see his wife and then to the West Indian reef. But there ill fortune awaited him. True he found a Spanish wreck, although it may not have been the one he was seeking, but some one had been there before him. Instead of the dazzling wealth he expected all he gained were a few paltry pieces. To add to his difficulties his motley crew, being disappointed, turned mutinous. One day they rushed aft armed with cutlasses demanding that, in the usage of those sea days, he should hoist the 'Jolly Roger' and turn pirate. But Phipps, who had previously dealt with Red Indians and longshore men was not easily mastered. His fists shot out flooring the leaders and the mutinous crew fled forward.
But it was not long before Phipps had to deal with mutiny again and this time more seriously. The 'Rose' had been placed ashore on an island to scrape her hull. To lighten her all the provisions had been landed and also the guns. The mutinous members of the crew assembled on shore and signed a round robin declaring that they would seize the vessel that night, put the master and the eight men loyal to him on shore to perish from hunger, and then sail away pirating. It was necessary, however, that the carpenter should join them. He was enticed from the ship, threatened and forced to assent. Later in the day the carpenter feigned sickness and returning to the vessel with another man accompanying him to spy upon his actions, he rushed into the master's cabin asking for a dram of spirits to cure his colic. In a hurried word he told Phipps how matters stood and was instructed by him to return to the mutineers and join in their plans. And then Phipps proceeded to turn the tables on them.
Late in the afternoon the mutineers approached the vessel ready to maroon Phipps and the few loyal men. But, thanks to the information conveyed by the carpenter a surprise awaited them. Phipps had reshipped the guns and placed them so that they covered the mutineers. Also he was busy reshipping all the provisions and declared his intention of sailing away and leaving the mutineers to the death they had intended for him. The firmness of Phipps was too much for them and, after vain entreaties, during which they saw the provisions disappearing into the vessel's hold, they fell on their knees begging to be taken back. And, after Phipps had kept them in that position long enough, he disarmed them and allowed them to come on board again.
This voyage was a failure so far as treasure was concerned but it was far from a failure in another respect. With his genius for friendship Phipps became intimate with some of the old Spaniards and from them obtained reliable data as to the exact spot where a Spanish treasure ship lay. He had shipped a new crew in Jamaica but as this was as unreliable as the one that mutinied he determined to run for England and refit.
But Charles II was dead and James II immediately took possession of the 'Rose' and left Phipps to kick his heels in Whitehall. After all was not Phipps a little discredited for instead of the treasure he had so confidently spoken of he had brought back an empty chip? Phipps, however, was certain of his information and continued to hang on to the Court circle in Whitehall. At last he found favour with the Duke of Albemarle and through him gained access to the King. Phipps persuaded the King that for a comparatively small outlay he could gain large profits and at last a Royal Patent was issued constituting Phipps a treasure seeker who was to receive 1/16th of whatever booty he found provided that the King was paid 1/10th.
1686 saw Phipps steering again for the West Indies but this time in a small trader called the 'James and Mary'.In this the King made a great mistake for, if he had had sufficient confidence in Phipps and could have foreseen that the little holds of the 'James and Mary' would be insufficient to contain all the gold and silver which were to be recovered, how eagerly he would have provided a larger vessel.
But Phipps was to be still tantalised by Fortune before she whispered her secret to him. He arrived at the reef, he constructed a dugout boat, he engaged Indians as divers, but never a vestige of the treasure ship could he find. The reef was worked systematically from end to end, the Indians dived and dived again but still no treasure. Despair commenced to settle down upon Phipps and all the crew, it was to be another case of failure, and then, at the last moment, the treasure was found.
The circumstances surrounding its finding are indeed dramatic. The sloop was lying at anchor off the reef; the boat which had so often searched the reef was about to return to the vessel to report that, again, the quest was hopeless, when a man looking over the side of the boat into the cool depths of the deep clear water saw a marine plant of extraordinary beauty even for those seas. He requested an Indian to dive and secure it but when the Indian came to the surface he excitedly shouted that 'he had seen the guns!' The coveted marine plant was growing on the more coveted treasure ship!
Securing a lump of silver worth about £300 they returned to the vessel with their extraordinary news. Now, perhaps as dramatic as the finding itself, was their method of breaking the good news to Phipps. When they went to the cabin to report they slipped the lump of silver under the table where, presently, Phipps was bound to see it. Nor did they tell Phips of their good luck. He was nursing his despair, but declaring his intention of hanging on a little longer, when his eyes fell upon the lump of silver. In consternation he shouted "What is this? Whence comes this?' and when he realized the truth he added "Thanks be to God, we are made!'
Who can describe the days that followed? Dame Fortune had reserved all her smiles for William Phips.They had not merely lighted upon the treasure ship but upon the bullion room itself. Henceforward all they had to do was to haul the bullion to the surface. Every dive made by the Indians increased the incredible wealth. The small deck of the "James and Mary' was littered with treasure. Piles of ingots grew into cwts and cwts into tons. Nor was that all for there were quantities of gold and pearls and jewels.
At last the little vessel could carry no more. Regretfully he left the remaining treasure and steered for England. Across the Atlantic came the 'James and Mary' carrying beneath her hatches a cargo as valuable as those of Drake or Anson. When he cast anchor in the Thames in 1687 he accounted for no less than £300.000 of Spanish treasure.
Honours as well as wealth came to Phips. He was knighted by King James who offered him a post as Commissioner of the Royal Navy. But Phips heart was hungry for his wife and home in Boston. He therefore refused the offer and instead was created High Sheriff of Massachusetts. Nor was this the last honour he was to receive for in the reign of William and Mary the former backwoods boy became the first Royal Governor of Massachusetts.
A man of vigorous action, suited to his day, he made enemies opposed to his high handed methods. When visiting London in connection with one of the many disputes he died there in 1694 and was buried in the church of St. Mary Woolnoth which faces the Mansion House. But you will search in vain for his tomb as it disappeared in one of the restorations. Even his memory might have been forgotten if it were not that American tourists made constant enquiries for the resting place of the backwoods boy who found the treasure ship and became the first Royal Governor of Massachusetts.
Story No. 17 A Rough Night At Rhossilli'
BBC Broadcast Date: 1 February 1929
Gower Peninsula was, for a long period, the undisputed landing place of smugglers. Of the great landings at Brandy Cove and Pwlldhu I cannot speak tonight, for I want to tell you of a smuggling affray at Rhossilli. This incident has been pieced together from various old reports.
Some of you will know the magnificent stretch of sands near Worms Head on the western extremity of Gower. The solitary Revenue Officer was George Beynon, who was stationed at Oxwich. He was unarmed, and the salary upon which he had to keep a family was £20 per annum.
To ride the narrow lanes of Gower on a winter's night, in a country infested with smugglers, was a lonely and dangerous occupation. Midnight of 16th February 1805 found him riding along the road near Pitton heading towards Rhossilli. He suddenly became aware of the sound of horses coming towards him, and, consequently drew aside, and stopped his horse. Presently six horses, accompanied by smugglers, came round the bend of the road, and across each horse were slung ankers of spirits. For an unarmed man to challenge such a cavalcade required considerable courage, but Beynon was a man of mettle, and he, somehow, possessed himself of twelve casks and three of the horses. The smugglers fled and Beynon was left in the lane with four horses, including his own, and 12 casks of spirits. Hew was near, however, a farmer of Pitton named Morgan Beynon, who may have been a relative, and he deposited the ankers in the latter's house, giving the three seized horses into the care of Evan Evans the husbandman.
He recognised that the goods he had seized were part of a run being made from a cutter on Rhossilli Sands, and, although, he was aware that news of his action would have preceded him, he turned his horse's head towards the sands. By about 1am of 17th February he arrived and found, as he expected, a smuggling cutter lying off shore and boats busily plying from her full of little casks of spirits. On the sands were farmers of the neighbourhood, men from Llangenneth, and a crowd of men and women busily engaged in transferring the casks from the boats to the backs of the waiting horses. Only lantern lights were available, and for a time he was unobserved. Seeing a pile of casks near him he determined to seize them in the King's name. That action drew attention of the crowd to him. Why should he come to interfere with their business? Evil looks and threats were thrown at him, and then two men, seeing that he was alone, came towards him swinging bludgeons and threatening to knock him off his horse, if he attempted to touch any more of the casks. As he was alone and the smugglers were fired with drink, Beynon was obliged to desist, but, to his credit it must be stated, that somehow or other he managed to secure the 14 casks of spirits he had seized, and by 5 am they had also been placed with the others at the farm at Pitton.
Here however another surprise awaited him. Evan Evans the husbandman told him that at 3am some of the smugglers had visited the farm, and two of them (one of the man Corbett who had threatened Beynon on the sands, and another called Penhale of Druids Lodge) had cruelly beaten him for having anything to do with Beynon, and told him that if he had anything more to do with Revenue Officers or interfered with their business, they would come and finish him off. They then took the three horses from the stables and departed.
But this smuggling raid was in no sense ended. Beynon could do no more single handed to defend the Revenue, and went to seek the assistance of the Sea Fencibles. Here a slight digression is necessary. In about the year 1799 a system of volunteer defence of the coasts was introduced. The men were under Naval discipline and were intended to protect the coasts from the dreaded invasion of Napoleon Bonaparte. Bony was a little man, but he cast a great shadow. In the Gower a corps of these volunteers was created called the 'Glamorgan Sea Fencibles' and the Naval Officer commanding them, Lieut. Sawyer, lodged in Beynon's house. Sawyer on hearing Beynon's report determined to assist him, and, in the morning we find them with 8 Sea Fencibles on the sands, but all unarmed.
The smuggling cutter was still at anchor, but the smugglers on shore had all gone home awaiting the next night to renew the landing. Lieut. Sawyer determined to search the sands and, in the burrows, he found no less than 47 ankers of spirits waiting to be removed. And then a totally unexpected incident occurred. How were the goods to be secured? They had no horses to take them away, they could not leave them on the sands. But there was a cave, on the sandy floor of which, they could be placed temporarily. They therefore placed them in the cave. There was one thing, however, that they had omitted to observe, and that was that the tide was rapidly rising, and when they wanted to leave the cave they were cut off! Here was a predicament! 10 men and 47 casks prisoners in the cave until the tide fell! But the men on the smuggling cutter had been watching them, and when it was seen that they were cut off, the cutter put out a boat, arming the men with handpikes and other weapons. Then followed the battle for the 47 casks, for the smugglers were determined to hook them off the sands, get them afloat, and then haul them into their boat. The struggle, says the record, was a long one. The Sea Fencibles fought waist deep in water to prevent the smugglers hooking the casks. Again and again the casks floated, but before they could be hauled into the boat the Sea Fencibles had plunged in and recovered them. Only one cask was actually hauled into the boat, and desperate fighting followed, with the result that the Sea Fencibles recovered it. At last the smugglers gave up the fight and returned to the cutter; but it was not until about noon that ten soaked Revenue men emerged from the cave, but with their 47 casks secured.
Later in the day information arrived that ankers were being guarded in the sand burrows by Llangenneth men. The latter (Roderick, Beynon and Tucker) had told some passers by that they were directed to take charge of the goods 'for the gentlemen' and after giving them drinks had ordered them to go away. It was evident that the smugglers on land intended to return at night to secure the casks, and to continue the landing from the cutter which lay in the bay. Beynon and Sawyer therefore made their preparations and at 10 pm in company with 8 Sea Fencibles and a Mr. George Gordon, they again visited the sands.
But this time they came well armed and it was well that they did so. They found a large assembly of men and women 'running' casks from the boat to the waiting horses, who were in no mood to be interfered with by Revenue Men. Drink had inflamed them; many were intoxicated. The men smugglers had come armed with whips and bludgeons, whilst the women gathered stones to be used as missiles. Threats and curses were thrown at the Preventive Men, and a fusillade of stones followed. Lieut. Sawyer, George Beynon and Mr. Gordon were wounded. Sawyer at once jumped from his horse, which he gave to the charge of Beynon, and ordered his men to 'present their pikes' and charge the crowd. This was more than the smugglers expected, and finding that the Revenue Men were armed and meant business, they scattered in the darkness. There was a scene of great confusion - a mad rush for the horses. The casks were thrown off and left to litter the sands, and the victorious Preventive Men secured 47 more casks of smuggled spirits.
But Beynon's troubles were not quite ended. He had seized 119 casks containing about 800 gallons of spirits but to remove them to the safety of the Custom House at Swansea presented difficulty. To take them by road, through a country sympathetic to smugglers was to invite trouble. He therefore agreed with Thomas Bell, the master of the small sloop Hope of Bideford, to take them round by water for 2/6 a cask. The sloop had only the old man Bell and a boy under 16 on board, as all able bodied seamen were taken by the Press Gang. Beynon was suspicious of everybody and was taking no chances, even if he was only dealing with an old man and a boy. He counted the casks on to the vessel, sailed on her keeping watch on the voyage, and yet, when he came to count his casks as they were put on shore at Swansea, instead of 119 he could only find 115! What had become of the missing 4 casks? The innocent looking old man knew nothing about them, a diligent search failed to find them, and it was not until Beynon, tired and thirsty, went to the water cask to have a drink, that he found that instead of water he was drinking Spirits! The old man was also a smuggler and had found some opportunity of filling his water cask with 25 gallons Geneva!
Now all that I have told you tonight occurred within the limits of 24 hours of a winter's day 124 years ago. It says much for the courage of Preventive Men like Beynon that although the whole countryside was hostile to them they resolutely performed their duty and faced dangers. I should have liked to tell you of other Revenue Men, such for instance as Prance, also stationed in the Gower, who had two hooks instead of hands. The awe inspiring figure of a man rushing towards them, brandishing two steel hooks may have accounted for his dispersing another gang of smugglers at Rhossilli. Nor have I time to tell you of the fight at the turnpike gate, or of the cutters that regularly discharged contraband at Pwlldu which were placed in cellars prepared under the farms at Highway.
These and other stories of the great smuggling days I found carefully reported in the old letter books. One singular thing about these letters may be stated - that whatever letters came from the Commissioners in London they were all signed 'Your Loving Friends'. Rarely it was a commendation; often it was a fine imposed or the threat of dismissal or even dismissal itself; and therefore the Revenue Officers may have doubted the quality of the affection stated. But as I conclude this talk I will also subscribe myself, and do not doubt me when I say, I am Your Loving Friend!
Story No. 18 Evading The King's Writ'
BBC Broadcast Date: 9 January 1932
If any of my listeners belong to, or hail from Gower, and bear the names of Beynon, or Stote or Penhale or Tucker or Roderick, then, possibly, they may hear something of their forefathers.
Gower remains, as it always was, the Gem of Glamorgan set in the circle of the sea. Its beauty is unsmirched by questionable seaside improvements or the advent of piers, concert parties or black minstrels. Its rocky coastline, broken into innumerable bays with great sweeps of golden sand, and the variety and grandeur of its inland scenery, today welcome awe, and rejuvenate thousands of persons who desire to be alone with nature.
But, if Gower remains unchanged, its people are strangely different to those of 1 1/4 centuries ago. Then they were an isolated community and any stranger who entered the gate of the Peninsula was looked upon as a foreigner and a suspect. They shared the lack of education with the larger world to which they belonged; they indulged in the habit of excessive spirit drinking which was common throughout the land; and, because of their ignorance and isolation, they held the King's officers and the King's Writ in contempt, becoming a law unto themselves.
All this was especially true in relation to their share in the great smuggling ventures which abounded on all coasts. They had smuggled by the ship load so long that they thought they had a prescriptive right to smuggle goods when and where they would, by night or in broad daylight. Illegal procedure had extended over so long a term of years that it ceased to be illegal to them. They had dug the cellars in which the little casks were stowed; they had made the arrangements with customers resident far up country; the master smuggler chartered the cutters in the Channel Islands or France and passed the word when and where helpers would be wanted to unload; and every cutter that arrived meant not only free drinks but ready money for their homes. Why should they be interfered with? And what did the King's Officers - Beynon at Oxwich, Webb at Llanmadock, Prance the Preventive Man without hands at Whitford, and a few others, want to come nosing round their affairs and interfering with their business? Let them keep themselves to themselves and then they would pass the time of day with them, but let them pry into their secrets or come on the beach when they were busy landing goods, well, then they should know what stones and horse whips and bludgeons were like!
There was a winter's night in 1786, of which I have previously spoken, when Great Highway Farm, the chief smuggling centre of Gower was surrounded by Preventive Men who knew that William Arthur, his followers and the contraband they had just landed at Pwlldhu Bay, were within. But William Arthur and his men cared nothing for a posse of King's men nor for the law they represented. All they knew was that the King's Writ was not to run in Gower. Refusals to open the door, masked faces at the windows and bludgeons rattled against tables, preceded a sally with whips and sticks into the farm yard, where Preventive Men were rolled in the muck. That was how the King's men and the King's Writ were received in Gower.
Now let me remind you of a great smuggling affray that occurred on Rhosilli beach of which I spoke three years ago, for what follows is the sequel of that event.
George Beynon, Customs Officer at Oxwich, found himself at midnight of 16th February, 1805, patrolling the lonely lane running from Pitton to Rhosilli. He heard horses approaching him and, drawing his own aside, a band of smugglers rounded the bend of the lane accompanied by six horses, each having little casks of spirits across its back. He challenged and stopped them (a considerable act for a solitary man) and seized three horses and twelve casks of spirits. To secure these he took the horses and casks to a nearby farm owned by a certain Morgan Beynon, and handed them over to the care of Evan Evans, the Husbandman.
Wit the full story we are not concerned tonight. He proceeded to Rhosilli beach where the smuggling cutter was hauled in close to shore, and where, by the light of lanterns, her boat was landing little casks which were slung across the backs of waiting horses. A crowd of men and women had assembled, including neighbouring farmers and their hinds and also men from Llangenneth. The sight of the Revenue Officer rendered them hostile, the ringleader being a man named Corbett. Beynon and his horse were surrounded by men swinging bludgeons and the end was that Beynon retraced his steps to the farm at Pitton followed by the threats of the mob. But there he found Evan Evans, the husbandman, a very sad and very sore man. Smugglers Corbett and Penhale, the latter from Druid's Lodge, had preceded him and after beating Evans cruelly with bludgeons and threatening to kill him, had taken the seized horses and departed.
Of the incidents of the following day, including that of the battle in the cave, there is not time to speak, but the next night Beynon was again upon Rhosilli beach, but this time accompanied by Lieut. Sawyer, eight men of the Sea Fencibles, and a certain Mr. Gordon. Who the latter was is unknown, but it is a matter of interest that the last person said to have been hung on the gibbet at Stalling Down near Bridgend, was a Mr. Gordon of Gower. Even a Gower man of 150 years ago would nave thought that an excessive punishment for aiding Preventive Men.
The Sea Fencibles just mentioned were Volunteers under Naval discipline enrolled to protect the coasts against the expected and dreaded landing of Napoleon Buenoparte. Being under Naval discipline they were available to aid Crown Officers on other duties. Beynon, therefore secured their assistance when he visited the beach on the second night.
There the scene of the previous night was being re enacted. But the infuriated crowd had no greater respect for a Naval Officer then they had for a Customs man. Women assisted men to gather and throw stones by which two of the Crown Officers were injured; whips were lashed and bludgeons swung, and it was not until the small Crown force presented pikes, or as we should say fixed bayonets, and prepared to charge, that the crowd fled leaving the beach scattered with casks of spirits. In all which Corbett, Penhale, Roderick and others, distinguished themselves as leaders of the riotous mob.
Within three weeks another smuggling cutter arrived! The defeat they had sustained on the 18 February had only increased the resentment felt by the smugglers at the interference of the King's men. When on the 11th March they were engaged in unloading another cargo at Rhosilli they were determined that this time they would carry out the landing despite the Revenue men.
The news of the arrival of the cutter did not come to the ears of George Beynon at Oxwich but, instead, travelled to the north of the peninsula, where, at 5 pm it was heard by two Customs men at Llanmaddock. These two men, William Webb and Thomas Seward were in the former's house when the information arrived. Of course they had heard all about the affray of the previous month, but, perhaps, they thought that the smugglers were cowed by their defeat and would not again resist Preventive Men. They neglected the precaution of sending word to Beynon or getting in touch with the Sea Fencibles, and 8 pm found them astride their horses pushing towards Rhosilli Bay.
One can admire their courage but not their caution. Seward was 65 years old and incapable of putting up a strenuous fight, and both of them were unarmed.
This time they found the cutter and the usual crowd of men and women unloading her, but, the smugglers gave battle at once. Not merely did the stones commence to fly but rough men and violent women surrounded the two horsemen. Amongst others, two men, Isaac Griffiths, son of John Griffiths, a Rhosilli farmer, and William Richard, a man in his employ, were ringleaders. Swinging their bludgeons with both hands blow after blow fell upon the defenceless Revenue Officers and their two horses. With a great effort Webb forced his horse through the mob and headed for Llanmaddock where he arrived, as the old record puts it, 'covered with many bruises', but Seward was captured and remained the prisoner of the smugglers.
That night must have been a terrible experience for Seward. The infuriated mob knew no pity for him even though he was suffering severely from his wounds. He believed his life was in danger. Nor was his dread lessened when, under the charge of Richards and others, he was marshalled from the beach and taken to the house of a notorious smuggler named Isaac Stote, a farmer of Middleton. Here he was pushed into a small room and, the key being turned upon him, he was left to his wounds and anxieties.
Hour after hour passed, during which he wondered what fate would await him when the door opened. Were the smugglers going to ship him away in the cutter? Were they preparing some cruel death such as smugglers in the south of England had perpetrated. The unknown held terrors for him, and, at length he heard footsteps, the turning of the key in the lock, and William Rogers, the brother-in-law of Isaac Stote, appeared. But fate was kindly disposed to Seward after all, for he was to be removed to security on another farm, doubtless because they desired to stow contraband on the farm of Isaac Stote. And, when the morning light broke Seward was released, and a very frightened and very sore Preventive Man painfully made his way back to Llanmaddock.
Now, however ineffective the law might be, riotous scenes like these and assaults upon the King's officers could not be allowed with impunity. The result was that the Customs at Swansea received a King's Writ to arrest Isaac Griffiths and William Richards. Rees Hopkins, 'an active and resolute constable' and John Smith and Robert Nelson, two discreet and able Customs Officers, were selected to proceed to Rhosilli to arrest the two smugglers. Great was the counsel given to them. They were to observe the strictest secrecy: they were not to mention the matter to any one before they departed: they were to speak to no man on the way: all they had to do was to call at Llanmaddock for Officers Webb and Seward, proceed to Rhosilli, arrest Griffiths and Richard and bring them back in custody.
So, on the morning of 20 May, 1805, the little cavalcade departed assuring themselves of success. Duly they arrived at Llanmaddock, but, there they rested for a time. Did they enjoy a good dinner, whilst they talked of the coming arrests, or was it liquid refreshments? At any rate, the advent of three strange men who stopped at the house of the Revenue Officers, was enough to give the clue to the hostile population. Presently, when they had resumed their journey accompanied by Webb and Seward, they met an innocent looking countryman. "Yes”, he was on the side of the King! These smugglers were a disgrace to Gower! But they wouldn't find them along that road. Go down this one, then they would come across a constable who would help them!' So they took the enticing road only to find themselves in the midst of a gang of smugglers, who, in addition to the usual stones and bludgeons, endeavoured to cut the stirrups, girths and cruppers of their saddles. Mary and Isaac Stote, William and John Rogers with many others were there, and the defeated cavalcade of Revenue Officers turned and fled with the taunt sounding in their ears that 'if they wanted to take any man in that country they must bring a regiment with them'. Evidently the King's Writ did not run in Gower.
But the day of reckoning was to come. On September 19, 1805, another cavalcade left Swansea for Gower carrying a Writ for the arrest of Stote, Corbett, Richards, Penhale and others. This company was composed of one Constable, and two Revenue Officers and was to be joined in Gower by Preventive Men George Beynon of Oxwich, and William Webb of Llanmaddock. But their chief asset was a company of four men borrowed from the Rendevous of the Press Gang of Swansea. Now, throughout the country, men attached to Press Gangs were of the roughest type. They had few scruples, and were quite accustomed to quelling resistance with hard blows.
No need now for secrecy and furtive movements! At all speed they made for Rhosilli and, disdaining the threats of the countryside, they laid hands upon Corbett and Stote. Penhale and Richards, they ascertained had left the country, but Griffiths, being at home, his house was surrounded and he was called upon to surrender. But Griffiths, although he was in a tight corner, had no thought of foregoing his freedom. In one of the rooms of his house a comedy was being transacted between him and a woman servant. The result was that Webb, when busy patrolling at the back of the house, noticed a woman leave. That's all right, it's only a woman servant! So passed Smuggler Griffiths to freedom!
Of the rest, George Tucker and Roderick were captured and lodged with Corbett and Stote in Cardiff goal. Mary Stote, on being served with a subpoena to attend the trial returned it with the shilling to Customs Officer Beynon accompanied by a suitably impudent message.
At the subsequent trial Roderick and Tucker were fined £906 and as this was an impossible sum, it meant perpetual imprisonment. Two years later there is a heart breaking letter from George Tucker stating that he is still in Cardiff goal and, which was no doubt true, he was 'suffering from a certain lowness of spirits'.
Unused Stories With no Number or Date Attached
Thomas Knight The Barry Smuggler'
Date: 29 October 1932
During the great smuggling days at the end of the 18th century the little cutters landed their cargoes upon almost every beach of the English Channel treating the Preventive Men with contempt. Many of them however, extended their trade by rounding the Land's End where eager customers awaited them on both coasts of the Bristol Channel. Little interruption was to be anticipated where miles of coast were left unguarded or under the oversight of a solitary patrol.
Lundy Island, the grim sentinel of the channel, offered the smuggler unique advantages. Few inhabitants, no Revenue officers but endless places to conceal contraband, Lundy became a smugglers paradise. The probability of a raid by Revenue cruizers was too remote to be considered although the story of one such visit must some day be told. The Island being eminently suited as a depot for smuggled goods Thomas Knight and others landed their goods unchecked and subsequently trans shipped them in small craft to all points of the Bristol Channel. But Thomas Knight found that Lundy was too distant from his growing number of customers and, with true commercial instinct, looked for a smuggling depot more centrally situated. His choice fell upon Barry Island. Here were all the desired advantages excellent depth of water, good holding ground, shelving sandy beaches, a mere handful of inhabitants and nearness to the larger centres of population whose favour of 'free trade' was a foregone conclusion.
Thomas Knight was a grim man who had devoted many years to smuggling. As the trade developed and its danger increased he employed larger vessels and armed them so that he could give a good account of any interfering Revenue cruizer. Also his record comprised an incident that some day must be told, of fighting and sinking a Revenue cruizer and destroying the King's Barge whose officers were murdered. This was the fearsome adventurer who, in October 1783, brought his brig, armed with 24 guns and manned by over 40 men, to anchor at Barry.
Now Knight was aware that no resistance could be offered. Of what avail was Thomas Hopkins, the solitary Preventive Man, who was charged with the protection of Sully and Barry? There were no soldiers in the area to support him and if all the Revenue men of Glamorgan were massed against him his craft and desparate men could defeat them. So for over two years Knight reigned at Barry as autocratically as he had done at Lundy.His armed craft came and went at will. In open daylight cargoes of spirits and tobacco were landed, stored and distributed throughout the neighbourhood. The country, it was reported, was terrorised by him, but it may have been a willing terrorism since it brought not merely good wages for assisting the smugglers, but also cheap spirits and tobacco.
But although Thomas Hopkins was the solitary representative of the Revenue service he was not deficient in either courage or wits. Allowing Knight sufficient time to settle down in his new surroundings he determined to pay him a visit. One admires the courage that took Hopkins unarmed to the smugglers' lair, but it proved that there was no cause for apprehension. Knight had evidently realised that as he had acquired a definite position on the main land mishandling of Revenue officers must eventually induce legal and military interference. He therefore received his visitor without open resentment and, on being questioned, admitted the possession of contraband in the form of twelve hogsheads of wine besides hampers of spirits and other goods. Even when Hopkins formally seized them in the King's name there was no demur. But it was one thing to formally seize them and quite another to remove them to the safety of the King's Warehouse in Cardiff. How could that be done without another Preventive man to guard them? But smuggler Knight unexpectedly came to the rescue of the perplexed Hopkins. Outwardly submitting to the law Knight suggested that as the goods had been officially seized he could be depended on to look after them whilst Hopkins obtained the necessary vehicles! The smuggler proved too wily for the credulous Revenue man for when Hopkins returned with the carts all trace of the contraband had disappeared and only Knight, protesting innocence, remained.
But Hopkins learned much by his first interview with Knight. He knew now the value of having witnesses as well as horses and carts. Single handed he could do nothing against so astute a man as Knight. He therefore arranged with various Customs as well as Excise officers to accompany him on his intermittent visits. For they were intermittent. When the armed brig with her violent crew was at anchor Hopkins and his men were not in evidence. The unloading of spirits and tobacco were unchallenged but when the vessel had gone to sea the Revenue men made untimely calls. Meanwhile from the smugglers' depot at Barry contraband was freely distributed throughout the area. Hogshead of tobacco were found in the furze bushes in a garden in Cardiff; men and women on horseback carried little casks of spirits along lonely country roads, whilst small sailing craft transported goods from Barry to Newport, Chepstow and other places.
Once Hopkins and his men nearly intercepted one of these small traders. She was busy landing wine at Barry when the Preventive men were sighted in the distance. To remove the casks was impossible; to have them found on board meant, amongst other penalties, that the vessel containing them would become forfeit to the Crown. In such desperate plight only one venture remained i.e. to stave in all the casks before the hurrying Revenue men arrived. It was a race against time and the smugglers won! When the panting Revenue men arrived every cask was empty. They saw wine and bilge water being pumped into the sea but as there were only empty casks as evidence the little vessel could not be claimed by the Crown. Once again Knight had scored.
But reigning supreme in Barry for two years Knight reconsidered his position. He had force that he dared not use against the annoying Preventive men. He was subject to a policy of 'pin-pricking' and also suffered loss of goods intercepted before they reached his customers. At Barry he was under observation, in Lundy there were no Revenue officers to note his actions. And all the while he could never be certain that some day a larger and well armed force might violate his lair. So the lure of Lundy came to him and we read a somewhat boastful report of Knight having been driven away from Barry Island. 'He is now, we suppose, at Lundy on the same bad business'.
Glamorgan Smugglers The Affair at Rhossilli' The Landing at Rhosilli
It was midnight of Saturday the 16th of February, 1805, when George Beynon, Customs Officer at Oxwich, guided his horse along the lonely road extending from Pitton to Rhosilli. Unarmed in a country infested with smugglers his dangerous vigils were ill rewarded with £20 per annum. Not that the inhabitants of Gower were openly hostile to Revenue Offices. They ignored them in a conspiracy of silence. The hour when the smuggling cutter was due, the place where men and horses were to assemble to assist the landing, even the well concealed cellars in which the goods were secured, were well known - except by Customs men. To them silence, lest sport and profits should be frustrated.
Now Beynon, as he rode through this solitary country, heard horses approaching him from the direction of Rhosilli. These could not be farmers 'upon their lawful occasions' who were leading horses at dead of night. He drew his horse into the shadow and silently waited. Around the bend of the road came six led horses and across the backs of each were slung a couple of ankers of spirits. Evidently a smuggling cutter was effecting a landing at Rhosilli. To draw his horse across the road and challenge the six smugglers required courage, but the surprise was so complete that Beynon, without a blow having been struck, found himself possessed of three horses and twelve casks of spirits.
As he heard the feet of men and horses receding in the darkness Beynon was perplexed. He was stranded in a lonely country lane with twelve casks of spirits and four horses, including his own. But he knew that the occupant of a nearby farm was friendly and, therefore rousing Evan Evans, the husbandman, he left horses and contraband in his charge.
Sunday 17th February, 1805, at one am found Beynon on Rhosilli sands. There, as he had expected, he saw the loom of the sails of a cutter anchored close inshore with lanterns fastened to her rigging. Boats laden with little casks were hastily pulled to the sands to return empty. On the shore was a crowd of men and women, who, in darkness broken by the gleams of moving lanterns, were busy landing casks, already slung in pairs, and throwing them across the backs of waiting horses. No one heeded the solitary horseman or imagined that a Revenue man would dare to intrude.
Presently Beynon came across a neglected pile of fourteen casks, and, habit forestalling prudence, he proceeded to seize them. At once it was discovered that a hated Preventive man was in their midst, and the crowd turned upon him with threats and curses. Had this occurred during the smuggling 'runs' on the south coast of England Beynon's life would have been beyond purchase. The Welsh mob, however, contented itself with brandishing bludgeons, whilst two of its leaders named Allen and Corbett, threatened Beynon that they would 'knock him off his horse if he touched any more casks'. Beynon retired, but, when the crowd had resumed its work, he posed as a smuggler, and, in the darkness and confusion, slung casks across his horse until, eventually he brought them all to the shelter of the friendly farm. Here, however, a surprise awaited him. Smugglers might be indifferent to the loss of a few casks but to lose horses was a far more serious matter. Evan Evans, the husbandman, reported that at three am he had been roused by two smugglers, who after 'beating him with bludgeons' and threatening him that if they found him aiding the Revenue men again they would return 'and finish him off' took the horses from the stable and departed.
Here a slight digression is essential. This was the period when Napoleon Bonaparte was massing men and vessels at Boulogne for the invasion of England. 'Bony' may have been a small man but he cast a great shadow and that shadow fell on all our coasts. In many places all arrangements were completed for evacuation. Should 'Bony' come in the night there was the place of rendezvous, the allotted seat in the wagon, and the destination to which to travel. In addition Volunteer Defence Corps were instituted and amongst these was the Glamorgan Sea Fencibles.
The Gower detachment of the Sea Fencibles commanded by Lieut. Sawyer being under Naval discipline was available for other duties than repelling the French. Lieut. Sawyer lodged in the house of Beynon and the two conferred upon the presence of the smuggling cutter openly anchored in Rhosilli Bay. The result was that in the forenoon of Sunday 17th February, 1805, Sawyer, Beynon and eight men of the Sea Fencibles proceeded, unarmed, to search the sands. The crowd had gone home to rest until the darkness allowed them to reassemble. Searching the sand burrows the Revenue men found and seized 47 casks of spirits which were awaiting removal. But, as they were without horses, they looked for a place of temporary security. Someone suggested a small shallow cave under the cliff and the casks were duly arranged on the sand against the rock wall. One important fact, however, had been overlooked, the tide was rising and before long the ten men and the casks they were guarding were cut off!
Meanwhile the smugglers on board the anchored craft had been watching the movements of the Preventive men and when they saw their dilemma in the cave they resolved upon action. Handpikes and other weapons were handed out and men dropped into a boat which was rowed to the shore. And then followed the Battle of the Cave, the object of which was to secure possession of the casks. Two of the boat's crew kept her bow as close as possible to the rock face whilst the remainder of her men endeavoured to hook the casks with handpikes and oars and get them afloat. The Revenue men up to their waists in water fought the smugglers. Casks bobbed on the water, hard blows were given and received, but only once did a cask pass over the boat's gunwale. That increased the resentment of the Sea Fencibles who swarmed to the boat and amidst fierce fighting recovered the cask. As the record states 'the battle was a long one' but eventually the smugglers retired. When the tide ebbed ten soaked Revenue men emerged from the cave but victorious in the possession of the casks.
The final tourney with the smugglers occurred at then o'clock the same night. The scene of the previous evening was being repeated upon the sands. A large mob of men and women, many already intoxicated, had assembled and were busy landing casks when Sawyer, Beynon, eight Sea Fencibles and a certain Mr. Gordon, appeared. They had come armed but the crowd being unaware of this turned furiously upon them. Threats and curses were followed by volleys of stones thrown by women. Men rushed forward brandishing whips and bludgeons. Three of the Revenue men had already been injured by stones when Lieut. Sawyer, considering the position to be dangerous gave the order 'Present Pikes - Charge'. Then followed a scene of the utmost confusion. Before the pikes of the Sea Fencibles the mob scattered in every direction. Casks were hastily flung from horses’ backs, the sand were littered with contraband, the boat and the cutter were forgotten, there was one eager rush homewards out of reach of the dreaded pikes. Not that they learnt any lesson, for three weeks later they landed goods from another smuggling cutter!
But although Beynon had secured 119 casks of spirits in his two days adventures his troubles were not yet over. How was he to remove them to the safety of the king’s warehouse at Swansea through a country loyal to smugglers? Even if he could secure the necessary horses and carts the risk of interception were too great. Finally he determined to send them round by water and bargained with the master of the sloop ‘Hope’ of Bideford to convey them to Swansea at the rate of half a crown a cask. The sloop was so small that she was manned by an old man and one boy. But however small the sloop and however seemingly innocent her crew appeared to be, Beynon was taking no risks. He carefully counted the casks as they were placed on board and , following the last one, he went to Swansea with them, He noted nothing suspicious on the voyage and yet when the casks were tallied out at Swansea he could only find 115, Where were the missing four casks? Anxiously he recounted them and again searched the vessel. But the mysterious disappearance was solved later when weary and despairing he went to the old master’s water cask, for instead of water he found that he was drinking gin!
Glamorgan Smugglers The Captured Preventive Man'
The smugglers at Rhosilli were incorrigible. As previously narrated on 18th February 1805, Lieut. Samuel Sawyer, Preventive Officer George Beynon and an armed guard made short work of the smugglers assembled on Rhosilli beach. Before the advancing pikes of the file of Sea Fencibles the mob of men and women hesitated, broke and fled. The beach was littered with neglected casks, the roads were crowded with smugglers seeking the shelter of their homes and the cutter, lifting anchor, proceeded to a more hospitable haven.
But the Gower smugglers had learnt not lesson. Like Pharaoh of old 'they hardened their hearts'. Why should Revenue men interfere with a business they had conducted, unmolested, for so many years? What was wrong with 'free trade' which not merely circulated much needed money in return for hard work but also brought goods to people eager to purchase them? And at the back of all was the argument used by Cornish smugglers to the Revd. R.S.Hawken, Vicar of Morwenstowe, 'why should the King tax good liquor? If they must have taxes why can't they tax something else'?
To abandon smuggling and intercept the arrival of the next cutter never suggested itself but a grim determination was aroused that they would overwhelm any Revenue Officers who endeavoured to interfere with them a second time. Thus when three weeks later, on March 11th, 1805, another smuggling cutter arrived the mob reassembled in full numbers. Bludgeons and whips were in readiness, piles of stones were heaped for offensive action, and the Rhosilli men and women were prepared to give any Revenue men a warm reception.
Now the news of the arrival of this cutter did not travel, as might have been expected, to Lieut. Swayer and Customs Officer Beynon who resided near Oxwich, or this story might have had a different ending. Traversing the peninsula it first came to Customs Officer William Webb who resided at LLanmadock. At 5 pm Webb was in his house discussing a cup of tea with Thomas Seward, another Revenue man, when the information reached them.
Of course they had heard of the previous great affray when the smugglers were scattered. Perhaps they assumed that as Revenue Officers had vindicated their authority the Rhosilli smugglers would be in such a chastened mood that the mere sight of Preventive men would awe them; perhaps too, they were envious of the reward that Sawyer and Beynon would receive for their capture, or it may have been that they were desirous of emulating their exploit; whatever their motive they neglected all precautions. No word was sent to Sawyer, Beynon or others, suggesting a combined movement and at 8 pm two solitary and unarmed horsemen set out to disperse the crowd of desperate men and women assembled upon Rhosilli beach.
One can admire their courage but not their caution. Webb was a robust man capable of giving a good account of himself but Seward was 65 years old and incapable of putting up a strenuous fight.
What happened when these two men arrived on the beach was an affair of minutes. They saw the familiar sight of the cutter drawn close in shore with lanterns fastened to her stays; the groups of horses and the crowd of men and women. But no sooner were Webb and Seward sighted then the mob uttering yells of execration, left their tasks and swooped down upon the defenceless horsemen. Rough men and violent women surrounded and hemmed them in. Stones were abandoned for bludgeons and blows fell furiously upon men and beasts. No retaliation was possible.
Webb being the most robust and therefore the most dangerous Officer was the chief mark of the smugglers. Dragged from his horse he was belaboured with bludgeons wielded with both hands by two men named Griffiths and Richards who meanwhile damned him for being in a place where he had no business. Having captured Webb, the old man Seward was allowed to escape and he crawled back to Llanmadock covered with many bruises and with the information that over 200 ankers of spirits had been landed.
That night was the most terrifying experience of Webb's life. Exhausted suffering severely from his wounds, he knew that, although Gower smugglers drew the line at murder, yet, in their present temper, a thoughtless blow with one of their leaden bludgeons might finish him off. What were they going to do with him? He watched the smugglers confer together and anxiously awaited the result. His fate was soon determined and, without a word, Richards and other men marshalled him from the beach. Nor was his dread lessened when they halted at the house of a notorious smuggler named Stote, who lived in Middleton. Here he was summarily pushed into a small room, he heard the key turn in the lock and his captors left him alone to his wounds and misery.
Hour after hour passed in unbroken silence. For rescue there could be none for had he not neglected to inform Sawyer and his Sea Fencibles of his intended raid? What was going to happen to him when the door opened? Perhaps some terrible fate awaited him when the contraband had been landed? Was it not possible that if they did not commit murder, they might do, as was done elsewhere, put him on board the smuggling cutter, land him abroad and leave him to shift for himself?
The unknown held terrors for him, nor were they dissipated when the key turned in the lock and a man named Rogers appeared. He, however brought no comfort, only a peremptory order that Webb was to be removed to a neighbouring farm. Probably this had become necessary in order that the room Webb occupied might be used for the stowing of contraband.
To the neighbouring farm Webb was taken and again was left to his meditations and fears. But, when daylight again appeared he once more faced his captors. Now, however they were in better humour. They had landed their goods; the little casks were in safety; Webb had been so thoroughly cowed that he was not likely to interfere again. They could afford to be generous to the fool hardy Officer for had they not the laugh of the Preventive Men? And so William Webb, a very frightened and very sore Revenue Officer, found his way back to Llanmadock. But, as he who laughs last, laughs longest, the sequel to this story has yet to be told.
Glamorgan Smugglers An Exciting Night in Gower'
Alongside the road in Gower leading from Kittle Hill to Pennard Golf Links stands an ordinary farm house known as Great Highway. At the rear there are the remains of a religious foundation, whilst, almost facing it a narrow road that winds down to the sea, bears the significant name of Smugglers Lane. Nor is the title undeserved. Sometimes at night, lighted by swinging lanterns, and sometimes in broad daylight, this lane witnessed the procession of horses, with ankers of spirits across their backs, making for the smuggling centre that existed at Great Highway.
Pwlldhu and the significantly name Brandy Cove, have probably been visited by more smuggling cutters than any similar locality in South Wales. It is said that for a period of nearly forty years the cutters arrived regularly and landed their goods without let or hindrance. For what could three Revenue Officers, stationed miles apart, do to prevent an established trade? The whole countryside aided and abetted and profited by these illegal landings. The farmers lent their horses, the labourers landed the contraband, in fact everybody was in the secret, except the Preventive Men!
Not that the spirits landed were for consumption in Gower. Smuggling was a business gradually consolidated with many ramifications. Here is an extract from an anonymous letter dated 1798: 'The counties of Glamorgan, Carmarthen, Pembroke and Cardigan swarm with smugglers; they supply public and private houses in any quantity; there is a house at 'Highway' that receives large quantities at a time, and often, and supplies various customers with impunity'.
The Rector of Pennard in his history of the parish, records of William Hawken Arthur, who was buried in 1784, that 'this man had a great reputation as a smuggler'. Evidently this was a family weakness for, during the following twenty one years another William Arthur developed the smuggling trade at Great Highway.
It was in 1786 that the first serious attempt to interfere with William Arthur was made. On a Sunday night in January there was a knock on the door of the house of Mr. Shewen, the Collector of Customs at Swansea, and he was recalled to official duties by the entrance of the Supervisor of Excise. Probably no visitor could have been more unwelcome. It was merely that the Customs and the Excise were then separate Revenue departments but, because of overlapping duties, there was frequent friction. He could only conjecture that the visit of the Supervisor on a Sunday night implied that there was something exceptionally disturbing. Nor was he wrong for the Supervisor having stated that he had received information that William Arthur had landed a cargo of contraband at Pwlldhu that afternoon followed this with the request that Mr. Shewen should collect as many Customs Officers as possible and proceed with him and other Excise men to Great Highway. The fire was enticing, the prospect of bearding Arthur and his followers was unpleasant, but such a request was little short of a demand which he could not reject.
The chilly hour of four o'clock on the Monday morning found Mr. Shewen, the Supervisor, and fourteen men drawn, from the two Revenue services, starting out for Highway. Perhaps it was the raw weather for a January morning, or it may have been the state of the country roads, or possibly their ardour to get at grips with the smugglers may have abated, but it took three hours to tramp eight miles. It was not until seven o'clock that the band of men arrived outside Great Highway which, lying back from the road, was enveloped in darkness. Here a difficulty arose. Who should proceed first up the path and knock at the house door? The Supervisor asserted that the honour belonged to Mr. Shewen as he was the senior Revenue official, but Mr Shewen was willing to waive seniority in favour of the Supervisor as he had brought information of the illegal landing! Finally they compromised and it was agreed that they should walk up the path side by side and that the Supervisor should first knock at the door. As, however, that knock produced no reply, both officials commenced hammering at the door. Presently a sleepy voice enquired what their business might be, but when the explanation was given, a voice, far from sleepy, refused admission and said that 'if it were proved that any prohibited goods were in the house he would forfeit £100! Though how proof could be obtained when the Revenue Officers were being kept the wrong side of the door was not explained.
Then matters commenced to move quickly. Perhaps the growing light had shown the smugglers how few were the men they were pitted against. Suddenly the hitherto silent house sprang into life. Faces covered with black material (in itself an illegal act) appeared at the windows, threats and curses were hurled at the Revenue men, and, to exhibit their force, bludgeons were beaten against tables and furniture. And then the door was swung open and the unarmed band of fourteen found themselves confronted 'with at least forty men' armed with whips, stakes, and bludgeons loaded with lead.
But the blood of some of the Revenue men had been roused. If they were too few to force their way into the house they would at least search the outbuildings. A rush was made to the barn but before they could negotiate the steps to the barn door the smugglers were upon them. A short and ineffective struggle was made but the overpowered Revenue men were cleared from the barn and found themselves rolling in the filth of the farmyard.
Any further attempt was futile and it was a dejected band of Revenue men, many in evil smelling garments, that slowly retraced their steps to Swansea. And as they recounted their adventure imagination played its part until they surmised at length that their opponents numbered at least one hundred!
The first attempt to raid Highway had failed but although years were to elapse, the day of reckoning was only postponed.
Glamorgan Smugglers The Raid at Great and Little Highway'
In the eighteenth century the King's Writ ran slowly in Gower. Smuggling was not so much an open defiance of the law as the continuation of an old established custom. The trade meant a welcome addition to small earning. So the farmers at the appointed time were upon the beach with their horses to meet the cutter, all sorts and condition of men assembled to render assistance, and files of horses and men passed along the roads to the places where cellars had been carefully concealed. A merry trade this which the three isolated Revenue officers who guarded the extended coasts were helpless to prevent.
Great Highway Farm had the reputation of being the receiving house of the vast quantities of contraband landed at Pwlldhu and Brandy Cove and brought to security along Smugglers' Lane. William Arthur, father and son, had maintained the tradition for thirty or forty years. Once, in 1786, an optimistic band of fourteen Revenue officers had surrounded Great Highway Farm on the Pennard Road and called upon William Arthur to surrender. But Arthur had other views and after masked faces had appeared at windows and bludgeons and whips had been in evidence, his unwelcome visitors departed, some of them smelling foully from having been rolled in the mess of the farmyard.
Nineteen years were to elapse before a second serious attempt was made to challenge the illegal trade. During those years Arthur is said to have prospered exceedingly. He had purchased an estate near Hartland in Devon, possibly, he established another smuggling centre. In his absence his business at Great Highway was carried on by his agent John Lawrence, and it had so increased that Little Highway Farm, two hundred yards nearer Pennard, where John Griffiths resided, had become an associated receiving house.
When the Spring of 1804 arrived nothing had occurred to arouse any hope in the hearts of the Preventive men that they would ever get on even terms with Arthur, and to Arthur and his assistants there was no indication that their long established trade would ever be disturbed. And then, in one night a dramatic incident occurred and the whole smuggling business at Great and Little Highway Farms was a thing of the past.
It must be explained that other and greater events had arrived during the intervening nineteen years. The French Revolution had embroiled nations; the sinister figure of Napoleon Buenoparte was arranging at Boulogne for the invasion of England; and, around our coasts volunteer corps were formed to resist such invasion. The Corps formed in Gower was part of the Glamorgan Sea Fencibles under the command of Lieut Samuel Sawyer RN.
One April afternoon in 1804, Lieut Sawyer was taking a walk in Oxwich Bay when he observed a cutter at anchor letting down a boat. To his experienced eyes she looked like a smuggler and he therefore returned to confer with Customs Officer Beavan who lived near by. The plan they formed was to walk leisurely in civilian clothes as ordinary country men and watch any persons landing from the boat. Presently they saw two men approaching them. No challenge was given but, as they passed one of the strangers enquired 'which was the road to Highway?'. The reply having been casually given that it was round the next point of land. Sawyer and Beavan passed on. And, if a moral is to be attached to this story it is that if you go smuggling refrain from asking questions of innocent looking country men!
The officers were now aware that a landing was to be effected that night. To keep their own counsel was imperative for Gower was a whispering gallery. It was not until 10 pm that they took into their confidence Francis Beavan, son of the Customs Officer and a member of the Sea Fencibles. To him they suggested the commission of riding round by Park Mill and returning past the two suspected farms. This involved danger for if the smugglers were at work and he was recognised when passing Great Highway he might be trapped before he could get beyond Little Highway.
It was not until two am that Frances Beavan returned. He reported that smugglers were depositing casks of spirits at both farms; that groups of horsemen with lanterns were before each; and, that in the darkness and confusion he had slipped through without being recognised. Immediately Sawyer called out a number of Sea Fencibles, and with Beavan, took the road. It was arranged that as they would come to Little Highway first Sawyer and a party should halt there whilst Beavan and his party pushed on to Great Highway.
At Little Highway Sawyer found the landing still in progress. Casks littered the farmyard, forms of horses loomed in the shadows cast from lanterns, whilst a stream of light came from the open doorway. But when Sawyer reached that door it was slammed in his face and no answer was given to his demand for admittance. He knew what was happening. Somewhere in that house were places of concealment and all traces of contraband were being removed. At length the door was opened, the usual expressions of innocence were uttered and Sawyer and his men commenced their search. From kitchen to attic and then from attic to kitchen they searched and probed but all unsuccessfully. And yet the fellow casks of those lying in the yard must be there somewhere. Nonplussed they assembled in the kitchen which, in common with farm houses of that day had an earthen floor. The place of concealment must be near them, but where? And at this moment Fencible Jones noticed an inequality in the earthen floor near the cheese press. The probe went home, the earth was pushed aside and the trap door to the hidden cellar was revealed! Nor was that all. The search was extended to the outhouses and again a cellar full of contraband was discovered.
Meanwhile Beavan had met with no success at Great Highway. But hearing of the discoveries at Little Highway he renewed his efforts and, at length, first in the pigstye and then in a concealed cellar under the barn from which Arthur had driven away the Preventive men nineteen years before, he found the piles of little casks.
When the morning light came it fell upon a large pile of casks in the farmyard of Little Highway under the guard of armed Sea Fencibles. The concealed cellars had contained nearly three thousand gallons of spirits. That so large a quantity should have been held in store indicates the extent for the smuggling business transacted at Great and Little Highway. And this was but one of perhaps hundreds of similar receiving houses around our coasts.