Smuggling has always borne an air of romance. Secret signals from ship to shore, luggers swinging to anchor on a sea silvered by a full moon, flotillas of small boats ferrying kegs of contraband brandy to the beach where they are passed hand to hand for loading onto pannier ponies before the long trek across the moors to be welcomed by inn landlords with willing hands, and always outwitting the Excise men and laughing in their faces…
Reality was more harshly defined. One or two of the free traders were businessmen astute at trading, organising labour and distribution, but the majority were merely desperate characters, ill-educated, barely able to write their own names, determined at all costs to brook no interference with their illicit business. If bribes were ignored or refused, then they were ready to break heads in order to complete their ‘runs’.
The rewards were high. Excise duties were so crippling that each gallon of liquor bore Customs & Excise tax equivalent to a labourer’s weekly wage. Considering an average vessel could carry some 8,000 gallons, £2,000 saved by non-declaration of her cargo equals an average man’s wages for 153 years, a fortune by any means. Of course, expenses were heavy, but imagination cites the Whitby men involved in the trade wholeheartedly agreeing with the famous Doctor Johnson’s opinion of Excise Tax as ‘hateful’.
The most commonly smuggled liquors were geneva
A cottage on Saltpanwell Steps near where William Scoresby snr paid for a standing water pump to be installed for the use of all.