A Look at Smuggling During the Regency, by Alicia Quigley

My guest today is Alicia Quigley, a romance author, and reader, after my own heart, since she loves the work of both Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, as I do. Alicia’s upcoming release is The Contraband Countess, a Regency romance in which the hero must deal with smugglers who are making use of his estate to transport their contraband goods. Smuggling was rampant in England during the Regency, particularly along the southern coastline. Alicia has done a great deal of research on smuggling during the era and she is generously sharing it with us today. I am sure you will enjoy her new book all the more when you know the facts about the free traders with whom her hero must contend.

Please welcome my guest, Alicia Quigley . . .


Thank you for inviting me to be a guest blogger Kathryn. It’s exciting to be here. My post is a (hopefully) slightly different look at smuggling during the Regency period. I’ve been reading up on this a bit, as in June I’ll be releasing a new book "The Contraband Countess." This is the second book in The Arlingbys series, and it deals with Malcolm Arlingby, the Earl of Wroxton, the brother of Rowena Arlingby whose romance with the Earl of Brayleigh was the subject of the first book of the series, "A Collectors Item." In it, Rowena helped solve a murder case a dozen years old, which had resulted in the unjust exile of Malcolm to the Continent when he was falsely accused. In "The Contraband Countess" the Earl of Wroxton has returned to his estates for the first time in all those years to find that smugglers are using his property with impunity to move casks from the coast inland.

Smuggling was a major concern in southern England for hundreds of years, and remained a problem into the second half of the 19th century. During the Regency period it was a particular issue, because England was at war with France. Not only were the tax revenues obtained from the import of things like alcohol, lace and tobacco needed to pay for a costly war, spies communicated across the English Channel by sending letters and personnel with the smugglers, and "guinea boats" smuggled gold to France to pay Napoleon’s troops.

All along the coast "from the Lizard to Dover" smugglers’ boats lay off shore at the dark of the moon, signaling to small boats on the shore to come out and pick up the casks of wine and liquor as well as the other goods brought from France. Large rowboats, with muffled oars set out from the shingle, heading for the lanterns that the ships crews dropped down from the deck toward the water to signal them.

Goods were transferred to these smaller craft, and brought to shore, where they were moved inland by pony trains. If the local cliffs had convenient caves, these could be used to store the contraband temporarily. On some occasions, if the shore was particularly heavily patrolled, the casks were weighted and sunk partway to shore, and then lifted into their boats in daylight by fishermen who could hide them under their nets and catch until they reached shore.

The smugglers were known by a number of names, free traders, the Gentlemen, poor honest men, and others. The dedicated para-military force that the government deployed to chase them were variously known as excise men, revenue officers, preventives and riding officers. Tales of both the popularity and the violence of the Gentlemen are many. In Folkestone, where part of my story takes place, the customs agents were quite clear about whose side the people were on; "As most of the Inhabitants of Folkestone, Sandgate and Hythe are in the confidence of the smugglers, no information can be expected of them," one wrote.

One humorous story relates how smugglers entered a home in the Warren’s of Folkestone (a part of town in which many loads were concealed) the middle of the night, woke the homeowners and asked if they could hide some gold under their mattress. The homeowners agreed, and the coins were duly concealed. Sometime later in the night, excise men entered and searched the house. Failing to look under the mattress the owners were lying on, they left. The smugglers returned for their gold, and offered the homeowners some of it as a reward. This was haughtily refused by the (apparently) wealthy sympathizers. One wonders if they found the odd cask of brandy at the back door thereafter.

The violence of the smugglers is also well documented. They were known to burn the houses of common people who informed on them. More than one case is also known of mobs incited to beat or kill people thought to have caused mischief for the free traders. In some ways, the situation was reminiscent of the drug lords we are familiar with today, although given the lower population density of 19th century England, and the lower overall prosperity of the era, the financial stakes were smaller than today. In addition the level of firepower that can be acquired by smuggling gangs is far greater today than then, so although there was considerable violence on occasion, it paled in comparison to today’s central and North American gangs.

Smuggling was big part of English history and folklore, and the famous Victorian author and poet, Rudyard Kipling, wrote some poems that deal with smuggling. The best known is The Smuggler’s Song, which begins:

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 ask no questions isn’t told a lie.
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by.

Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark —
Brandy for the Parson, ‘Baccy for the Clerk.
Laces for a lady; letters for a spy,
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!

This poem and another one, "Poor Honest Men" are phenomenal examples of how poetry can distill complex topics, in this case the cause, the mechanics and history of smuggling into just a few lines. "The Smuggler’s Song" deals with the business of moving smuggled goods once on shore in England and the interactions of the Gentlemen and the general population.

If you see the stable-door setting open wide;
If you see a tired horse lying down inside;
If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore;
If the lining’s wet and warm — don’t you ask no more !

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 you ‘neath the chin,
Don’t you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one’s been!

"Poor Honest Men" describes the cargoes (Virginia tobacco, goods from France), the many hazards encountered by participants in the smuggling business (impressment by the British Navy trying to fill their ships lying off American shores during the War of 1812, pirates, the British and French naval blockades, the coast guard, etc.) and how where the cargoes were offloaded.

Your jar of Virginny
Will cost you a guinea,
Which you reckon too much by five shillings or ten;
But light your churchwarden
And judge it according,
When I’ve told you the troubles of poor honest men.

From the Capes of the Delaware,
As you are well aware,
We sail with tobacco for England-but then,
Our own British cruisers,
They watch us come through, sirs,
And they press half a score of us poor honest men!

Or if by quick sailing
(Thick weather prevailing)
We leave them behind (as we do now and then)
We are sure of a gun from
Each frigate we run from,
Which is often destruction to poor honest men!

The "British cruisers" are the naval ships in American waters during the War of 1812 needing to "press" new sailors into service due to the high rates of attrition of seamen from malnutrition, disease and injuries in battle. They would stop legitimate merchant men (or smugglers) at sea, and pick out the number of men they needed and force them into the Navy. Since the smugglers were in Virginia getting tobacco, the Navy patrolling the Chesapeake Bay in the DelMarVa region could prey on them.

The "churchwarden" mentioned has a bit of a double meaning. This is a type of distinctive pipe with a very long stem. It’s length kept the smoke out of the user’s eyes when reading, and also was useful for a churchwarden (night watchman) who needed a smoke to get through the night, but also had to keep watch. Kipling implies that the pipe is almost certainly filled with smuggled tobacco, and the smoker should think about what it takes to get his "expensive" tobacco to him, even though it’s still cheaper than the legal (taxed) imports.

Both poems also mention of the violence that went hand in hand with the free trade. "Watch the wall my darling when the Gentlemen go by," is part of a chorus in "The Smuggler’s Song," while "Poor Honest Men," ends with this outright allusion to murder.

Even then we have dangers,
From meddlesome strangers,
Who spy on our business and are not content
To take a smooth answer,
Except with a handspike…
And they say they are murdered by poor honest men!

If you are interested in reading the full text of these terrific poems you can find them here: http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_smuggler.htm (Smuggler’s Song)
http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/kipling/poor_honest_men.html (Poor Honest Men)

A college friend of mine also set these to music, and they make great folk songs as it turns out. You can find a YouTube video of "The Smuggler’s Song" here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzT8c9gD35Q, and one of "Poor Honest Men" here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrdM9BlEyTE .

There are a number of other folksingers who have also put Kipling to music that can be found on YouTube.

I’ve really enjoyed refreshing myself on the history of early 19th century smuggling while writing The Contraband Countess, and I hope that you find this post interesting. It will be available for preorder on May 18th and release on June 25.

I’m also pleased to be offering a chance to win a free copy of my new release to five readers who are kind enough to take this survey. Winners will be selected at random.

You can find my author page here, and my blog is www.aheyerlove.com.



Couple standing together near the seashore, with a sailing ship in the distance. They are facing each other, his shirt is off and they are just about to kiss.



The Contraband Courtship   Blurb

Malcolm Arlingby, Rowena’s headstrong brother from A Collector’s Item, settles into his new life as the Earl of Wroxton. Content to while away his time in the decadence he missed during his exile from England, Malcolm hasn’t been paying attention to the duties that come with the title. A letter from the mistress of a neighboring estate warns of smugglers using Malcolm’s lands for their dastardly deeds and he must finally put aside his entertainments to handle the business of being an Earl.

Helena, the one who sent the letter, is not the sour spinster Malcolm was expecting, however. She is a beautiful, vibrant and equally headstrong woman who is more than ready to take Malcolm to task for ignoring his duties. As the pair becomes embroiled in solving the problem of the smugglers, a strong attraction develops. The smugglers aren’t going without a fight, though.

Will a chance encounter with his new neighbor bring Malcolm all the things he never knew he wanted? Or, will the smugglers destroy it all? Find out in The Contraband Courtship.



The Contraband Courtship   Excerpt

One half hour later Malcolm and the earl entered the library at Brayleigh House, where a woman sat in an overstuffed leather chair, reading a book. She looked up when the two of them entered, and rose to her feet, her dress of figured muslin fluttering around her. Her wide violet eyes sparkled as she ran a few steps and threw herself into Brayleigh’s arms.

"Alaric, you found him," she said. "How kind of you to help me."

Brayleigh dropped a kiss on her cheek and slipped one arm around her waist. "It was not difficult, but I’m always happy when I can please you, my dear," he answered.

"Lord, you two are tiresome," protested Malcolm, throwing himself into an armchair. His stretched his long legs out in front of him and glared at them. "I think I liked it better when you were quarrelling all the time. At least that was entertaining."

Brayleigh shook his head and released his wife. "I’m sorry you no longer find us amusing, Wroxton," he said. "I, on the other hand, find this existence entirely pleasurable."

He looked at his wife with a satisfied smiled, and she flushed slightly and reached out and took his hand.

"No, don’t start pawing at each other again, I can’t abide it," said Malcolm. "What did you want to see me about, Rowena?"

With an amused glance at her husband, Rowena sank into the chair across from him, while Brayleigh leaned on the corner of the desk, his arms folded.

"Oh ho, it must be something very serious," said Malcolm. "I count on you, Brayleigh, to give me your support."

"Oh, I don’t meddle in Arlingby affairs," said the earl calmly. "You will have to contend with Rowena in this matter."

Malcolm groaned. "All right, what is it then?"

Rowena made an exasperated sound. "Malcolm, I know that you missed England and the pleasures of London dreadfully while you were on the Continent," she said briskly. "But you have been the Earl of Wroxton for eight months now, and you still have not visited the estate."

"I stay in close contact with the bailiff," said Malcolm peevishly. "And both Father and Felix took good care of Wroxton. There is no reason for me to interfere in its running. Indeed, I doubt I’d be thanked for poking my nose into it."

"But surely you wish to visit Wroxton and see how things go on," said Rowena. "And you did tell me you wished to rebuild the stables."

"What are you going on about? I have my horses here in London, where I can use them, and I’ve sent several to Wroxton as breeding stock. I don’t know why you’re suddenly so concerned about this," Malcolm asked. "I think I deserve to enjoy myself a bit after everything that happened."

"Of course you do, dear," Rowena assured him. "It is just that—well, that it has been some time, and I wonder if perhaps you need to—well, think of the future a bit more."

"Is this about Estella?" asked Malcolm suspiciously.

"Well, it is not only about Mrs. Lacey," said Rowena, looking a bit embarrassed. "But, certainly, I have my concerns about her. She is married, Malcolm, and unlikely to be free to wed you any time soon."

"Wed me?" Malcolm gave a hoot of laughter. "I should say not!"

"You see?" said Rowena. "I know that you wish to enjoy yourself, and I would never say you did not deserve to, but surely you are aware of the duty you owe your family."

"Rowena, I have years ahead of me to sire a pack of children, if that’s what I decide needs to be done," said Malcolm. "But for now, I have no interest in leg shackling myself to one woman. I’ve spent twelve years on the Continent living by my wits, and damn, I want to enjoy myself now. One of Estella’s principal charms—outside of the most obvious ones—is that she cannot importune me to marry her!"

"You are being very vexing," said Rowena. "It is not that I wish to deny you your pleasures, Malcolm—"

"I should say not! And, sister dear, should you even know about Estella?"

"Don’t be ridiculous," said Rowena crossly. "All the world knows about the two of you. I’m hardly an innocent. The gossips are only too happy to inform me that half the ladies in London have either succumbed to you since your return or to Alaric prior to our marriage."

"Only half? Well, you might have taken Brayleigh out of circulation, Rowena, but you can’t force me into such a staid existence." Malcolm gave his sister a shrewd glance. "There’s more here than you’re telling me. You might as well come out with it."

Rowena exchanged a glance with Alaric. "Well, if you must know, I have received a letter from Helena Keighley."

"Who?" asked Malcolm.

"Helena Keighley. The daughter of Sir Douglas." At Malcolm’s blank look, Rowena sighed. "Really, Malcolm, this is why you must go to Wroxton. Sir Douglas Keighley’s estate marches with Wroxton to the west. You must have met him, and Helena, dozens of times when you were a child."

"Oh yes, Keighley, I remember the name," said Malcolm. "Sir Douglas, you say? As I recall, Father said he was a bruising rider to hounds."

"Yes, Malcolm, I’m sure he was," said Rowena impatiently. "But this has nothing to do with fox hunting."

"A pity, I might almost be tempted to leave London for that," said Malcolm. "What does this Miss Keighley want?"

"I received a letter from Helena a few days ago," she said, producing a folded piece of paper and waving it at Malcolm. "She would have written to you, but had no idea where to find you, and we are acquainted. She is a year or two older than I am, but we did spend some time together as children, and of course I have met her at assemblies and house parties. Surely you remember her."

"I can’t be bothered to remember your childhood friends, Rowena," said Malcolm. "I had other things to attend to. What does this mysterious letter say?" asked Malcolm.

Rowena unfolded the letter and perused it quickly. "Here it is," she said. "It seems that French brandy is being smuggled in through Kent, and the lack of interest of the Earl of Wroxton in his estate has been taken as a sign that his lands are free to be used for this purpose. While Felix Arlingby was not a strong-minded gentleman, he cared enough to prevent such nonsense, but now landings occur almost nightly. I have no doubt that some of the servants have been bribed to allow this. The whole affair is unsettling; I have no desire to see Keighley lands overrun by ruffians because Wroxton is poorly managed. It is imperative that your brother cease his wastrel ways and take up the responsibilities that come with his birthright. He was ever an irresponsible young man, but surely the circumstances of the past years must have brought him some wisdom, no matter how slight. Please inform him that he is needed immediately at Wroxton."

"What a termagant!" said Malcolm. "She doesn’t even know me, and she’s calling me a wastrel!"

"You might not remember Helena, but I have no doubt she remembers you," said Rowena. "You were wont to tease her unmercifully when we were young."

“"Did I?" asked Malcolm. "Well, she no doubt deserved it; she sounds to be remarkably pert. And why isn’t Sir Douglas attending to this? It seems deuced odd to me that Miss Keighley should be meddling."

"Sir Douglas is elderly and—and not quite right in the head," said Rowena. "And her brother is only seventeen. Helena has been managing the estate quite successfully for some years."

"She’s unmarried, I suppose?" asked Malcolm. When Rowena nodded, he shook his head. "I can see her now; a prim and proper spinster, glaring at me from behind spectacles."

"That is not fair," protested Rowena. "Helena is really quite lovely."

"Then why is she unmarried?" retorted Malcolm.

Rowena looked nonplussed. "Really, Malcolm, Miss Keighley’s personal life is not what I wanted to talk to you about. Surely you can see that you must go to Wroxton and take care of this."

"I don’t see why the bailiff can’t handle it," said Malcolm. He groaned when Rowena glared at him. "Oh, very well, I will go to Wroxton. You are right; I should have gone months ago. I am the new earl, and it’s time I took charge."

At Rowena’s look of amazement, he laughed. "I’m not such a wastrel as you and Miss Keighley think, little sister," he said. "I know I should have visited long ago, but I didn’t want to force cousin Felix to leave hastily, and then, after he moved out—well, then other things happened, and I didn’t care to leave London. But it shouldn’t take long to tidy this up, and I can do the pretty in the county; talk to the gentry, visit the tenants, and be back in no time."

Rowena blinked. "Thank you, Malcolm."

He laughed. "You thought it would be much harder to convince me, didn’t you? But some time away from London won’t go amiss—Lady Hartsmoor seems determined that I shall marry that whey-faced daughter of hers, and if I make myself scarce, perhaps some other fool will catch her eye."

"I’m just pleased you are going, and, to be truthful, I wouldn’t want you marrying Lady Maria; she seems dreadfully dull. I will write to Helena and tell her that you will be visiting Wroxton soon." She paused. "You won’t take Mrs. Lacey with you, will you? I’m not sure the countryside is ready for her."

"I doubt she’d go," said Malcolm cheerfully. "She’s very fond of me, but fonder of her modiste, I’d say. And when I return she’ll be that much happier to see me."

He stood and dropped a kiss on Rowena’s cheek. "I will try to not disgrace the Arlingby name," he said teasingly. "But this Miss Keighley sounds terrifying. I only hope I can stand up to her!"

"Don’t be ridiculous," said Rowena fondly. "I’m sure you will take care of things quickly, and Helena will be a great help to you. She is very sensible and intelligent."

Malcolm grinned. "So, not my sort of woman at all," he laughed. "I’ll leave in a few days, and be back before you know it." He shook Alaric’s hand and, with a wink at Rowena, sauntered out of the room.

Rowena shook her head as the door closed behind him. Alaric walked over to her and took her in his arms.

"Why did you not tell him about Helena Keighley?" he asked.

Rowena wrinkled her nose. "He was gone when the scandal broke, and does not know of it. There is no reason to spread gossip, particularly when I have no idea what truly happened. Helena never speaks of it, and I know better than most about being compromised! I see no reason to cause her further distress."

"He is expecting a dried up spinster," said Alaric. "I’d say Miss Keighley will be a bit of a surprise."

Rowena laughed. "Indeed, she will. I suppose it is too much to hope that Malcolm will understand how extraordinary she is."

"Your brother? He can’t see past the end of his nose," said Alaric. At Rowena’s cross look, he chuckled. "And now, my dear, I am weary of the subject of the Earl of Wroxton. Perhaps we can find a more congenial way to amuse ourselves."

With that, he lowered his lips to Rowena’s, and she very soon put Malcolm out of her mind.




Author avatar of a Regency fashion plate, with a woman in a turban wearing a red gown and holding a white fan.

About the Author

Alicia Quigley is a lifelong lover of romance novels, who fell in love with Jane Austen in grade school, and Georgette Heyer in junior high. She made up games with playing cards using the face cards for Heyer characters, and sewed Regency gowns (walking dresses, riding habits and bonnets that even Lydia Bennett wouldn’t have touched) for her Barbie. In spite of her terrible science and engineering addiction, she remains a devotee of the romance, and enjoys turning her hand to their production as well as their consumption.

Find Alicia Quigley online at:

Website:   www.aheyerlove.com/

Twitter:   https://twitter.com/QuigleyAlicia

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3 thoughts on “A Look at Smuggling During the Regency, by Alicia Quigley

  1. Sounds exciting. You may not like me for the next bit… Rowena was a name that was an invention of Geoffrey of Monmouth from Reinwen or possibly Rhonwen, and was not used popularly until after the publishing of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe in 1820. I presume the father was an Old English scholar to revive one of the spellings of an obscure name of a probably mythical character? there must be some exciting incanabula in his library.

    • That’s fascinating, Sarah! Thanks for the information; I had no idea. As for not like you… pshaw! I’m a history junkie, any shared info is always welcome. Have a lovely day!

  2. Pingback: The Siege of Badajoz by Alicia Quigley | Kathryn Kane -- Romance

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