A Midshipman's Life on the Coast Blockade.

by Lieut. Charles Brand, R.N.
Perhaps a few brief notes on the Coast Blockade before diving into Lieut Brand's interesting article : The Coast Blockade covered the Coastline of Kent and Sussex, starting on the Coast of Kent, extending down the River Thames and part of the River Lea, along the coast to Chichester. Whilst the main job of the Coast Blockade seems to have been dealing with the problem of Smuggling, which in some area had got out of control, with gangs of hundreds of men from country regions making their way down to the coast, meeting smugglers, or if not actually always meeting them, at least picking up what they'd brought over from Holland and France, be it tea, coffee, tobacco, spirits, or expensive fabrics, ie anything that had been heavily taxed by the Government. Perhaps a part of the problem was that the smugglers customers were invariably the Magistrates, Landowners / Squires, Members of Parliament, senior officers in the Military and Navy &c., and thus some of them were perhaps a little less than thorough in the way they enforced the law ? Similarly, although for different reasons, with the large numbers involved the Smugglers invariably controlled the regions in which they operated with threats to those who might wish to speak out against smuggling, and thus an avenue of information and witnesses was closed off to the Preventive Officers by fear amongst the local population.

The Coast Blockade for the suppression of Smuggling, was first established by the late Capt. M'Culloch, but was not considered of much importance till the extension took place in 1818; which is the period I am about to speak of, as I was then one of that thoughtless and happy class of youngsters termed midshipmen, whose ambition and love for the service is continually kept alive by the flattery of their superior officers, constantly holding out to them the prospects of their being the future admirals and heroes of the navy. It is to describe the mode of life of this class of officers on the service of the coast blockade, which is somewhat different to that of the service afloat, that I now sit down to narrate part of my own career on my first appointment to it, which, as usual, will be extracted from my private journal.

In, August, 1818, his Majesty's ship Rochfort, was paid off in Portsmouth Harbour, and laid up in ordinary. I was then appointed to his Majesty's ship Queen Charlotte (the flag ship), and had scarcely been three months on board, when an order came from the Admiralty for all supernumerary midshipmen to be sent to Deal, in order to join his Majesty's ship Severn, where we were to be distributed along the coast for the suppression of smuggling.

Sixty of us were very soon crammed on board the Vigilant cutter, and sailed from Portsmouth Harbour for our destination, few of us relishing the service to which we were appointed.

The following morning we arrived in the Downs, and were all transported to the Severn, on board which ship we found about fifty others all destined for the same service ; here was a circumstance I may say unprecedented in 'his Majesty's navy upwards of a hundred midshipmen met together, and all belonging to the same ship. We soon formed a mess, but as Ave were not likely to remain long together, it may be supposed that we were not overstocked with mess materials, and if Babel had broken loose, a greater noise and uproar could not have existed than on board this ship, while the one hundred future admirals of the service were in her. We took our meals as well as we could, in different divisions, and it was truly ludicrous to see the various uses to which the few articles we possessed were applied ; never was the proverb that " necessity is the mother of invention," more fully verified than in this instance.

Where a steel knife could not be procured, a wooden one was made to answer the purpose ; if that could not be had, a piece of broken plate or iron hoop was used to lacerate the enormous masses of boiled beef that were put on the table ; the latter piece of furniture consisted of three large planks roughly put together on cross trees, and our chests served for seats ; on this elegant table, without a cloth, large quantities of potatoes were distributed in cabbage nets, for the purpose of keeping them together, for we had no dishes ; dabs of salt were also distributed in different directions, into which we rubbed our meat, but seldom escaped picking up sundry lumps of tallow-grease which occasionally fell from the candles that were stuck into black bottles or raw potatoes, which answered the purpose of candlesticks.

Soup-plates, broken bottles, cups, saucers, tin pots, c. formed our tumblers, and after the greasy soup was turned out of an old rusty tureen that had sundry holes stuffed up with rags, the grog was mixed in it : then the delights of confusion commenced. Some would dance and sing, others play the flute or violin, others vociferously maintain a long argument upon any thing, or nothing, while the more quiet ones would play cards, backgammon, drafts, &c. &c. In the midst of all this din of confusion, some sober-minded young gentleman would be penning a letter to his dear mamma or papa, giving an account of the pleasures of a seafaring life. His pleading eyes in vain looked up for a cessation of the noise, while deeply involved in a well-turned sentence to prelude a request for a little mere cash, in order to defray the expenses of his extravagant mess, as he would term it, but in other words, a few of his juvenile freaks on shore. What with the effects of drinking and smoking, this noise would dwindle away by degrees, as the various groups dropped off to sleep on the chests, lockers, and deck, which were soon covered with the sprawling carcases of the young heroes, xvrapped up in their naval cloaks ; their cares and troubles were soon drowned in oblivion.

We were not suffered to remain long in this happy state of enjoyment, for very soon fifty of us were ordered on board his Majesty's ship Enchantress, which vessel was destined to be laid up in Rye Harbour, as a receiving ship, in order to form a depot and head-quarters of a division of the coast. We sailed from the Downs, and arrived safely in Rye Harbour, but the ship grounded before we could get her into the dock that had been cut for her, and the tide ran out at the rate of four knots an hour.

All of a sudden the ship fell over on her beam ends, and immediately the water rushed below, half filling her, setting all our chests, trunks, beds, &c. floating in the hold. Here was confusion to save our clothes! every man was for himself; all hands went below to rescue their floating property, each pulling, hauling, and bawling with all his " might. That 's my cocked hat \" cries one ; " hand me that sword !" says another ; " oh ! there 's my portmanteau with all my new uniforms !" cries a third ; such splashing to extricate them and get them on shore ! Here a new scene occurred, for we had to carry them over half a mile of soft mud to get to a neighbouring public-house at the mouth of the harbour, and soon the future admirals were seen stripped and busy as bees, wading through it, loaded with their various cargoes of wearing apparel. We had no men to assist us, there being only eight in the ship, and they had enough to do looking after her, so that from necessity we were obliged to work for ourselves, and most manfully did we do it. In a few hours we were scattered over the mud like a horde of gipseys, dragging our chests and trunks along with tow-lines, frequently sinking up to our knees, and floundering about like porpoises to extricate ourselves. This was all very fine sport for the natives, of Rye, numbers of whom came down purposely to laugh at us ; but we were too much engaged to be laughed out of endeavouring to save our clothes, and soon there was seen a diversity of toggery scattered over the beach in all directions ; cocked-hats, boots, shoes, swords, belts, white lined, or rather now, mud lined coats, white breeches, shirts, beds, bedding, &c. &c. which were spread out for the purpose of drying, and gave the beach all the appearance of an encampment.

For two days we were obliged to live at this public-house, where we kept up a jovial mess and uninterrupted noise and confusion : the landlord, I verily believe, thought we were all mad ; 1 11 venture to say he never had such a mad-brained set in his house before, and although we paid him liberally for all our freaks, he appeared heartily glad to get rid of us. At the end of the two days, the ship was got into the dock, and soon put to rights again, when we began to receive our different destinations along the coast : five other gentlemen and myself were ordered to march to No. 32 Tower, near Winchelsea. These gentlemen's names I shall take the liberty of mentioning, as they are now lieutenants, and may chance to meet this description of our then happy pastime, which I trust may amuse them, and remind them what times were when unclouded by cares.

Their names were Messrs. M'Cleod, Hudder, Drake, Burns, and Johnstone. We marched about three miles to take possession of our dungeon, our luggage being sent round in a boat. These Martello towers may truly be compared to dungeons, having only two small windows, that barely admit the light through the narrow aperture in the massive walls, which are twelve feet thick, and shot and bomb proof ; the entrance is by a ladder, which when hauled up, and the massive door closed, nothing could assail us, as we were then impervious to every thing. Into one of these towers we went, and found it wet, damp, and mildewed, not having been tenanted for years. We soon set to work and cleaned it out ; being now our own masters, (having no servant,) we felt delighted at the novelty of such a life. Each took his turn to cook the dinner, clean the rooms, fetch the water, go to market, &c. &c. but carrying the water hurt our pride a little, for we had to go about a quarter of a mile for it, and were frequently met by persons whom we did not wish to see us ; however, we made ourselves extremely happy for about three weeks, when another separation took place, by Mr. D. being ordered to Eastbourne, and myself to No. 50 Tower, near Bexhill, then under the command of Mr. now Lieut. Fitzgerald. On arriving at this station, my duties commenced, and I very soon found out the nature of the service I was appointed to, and that it was no sinecure to be a midshipman on the coast blockade for the suppression of smuggling.

Our duty consisted in parading the beach half the night during the winter season, and generally the whole night during the darks, (as those nights were termed when the moon did not shine,) in the summer season ; visiting our sentinels, who consisted of some few old seamen and very few young ones ; but the majority of the coast blockade parties were raw young Irishmen, who deserted nearly as fast as we got them, not relishing seven or eight hours' parade, exposed to a cold and stormy winter's night on the sea shore, and probably being drenched to the skin the whole time.

On going our rounds, (particularly if any smuggling was going forward,) it was by no means an unusual occurrence to find that a sentinel had vanished, leaving behind his Government clothing, pistols, and cutlass, by way of memento ; for they never took these articles with them, well knowing that they might lead to detection a pretty convincing proof that they had been bribed by the smugglers previously to making their exit. Our duty was also to prowl about inland, to see if any thing was moving that would lead us to suppose that smugglers were off the coast : on these occasions we would frequently meet their scouts or sentries, and sometimes stumble over large parties of men concealed in the hedges and ditches before we were even aware of any persons being near us. When this was the case they would sometimes joke us and sometimes abuse us, but seldom proceed to acts of violence, unless we were actually engaged in seizing their goods. At these times many serious affrays took place between them and our parties, in which several lives were lost on both sides.

While lying in bed one cold December's night, just after being relieved from eight hours' fatigue, and dropping comfortably off to sleep, one of our look-out men came running into the tower, and reported that some smugglers had landed close to us. All hands immediately jumped out of their beds, and seizing their pistols and cutlasses, hurried to the spot, where we found a large party of them flying in all directions to escape us : various were the scuffles which ensued in endeavouring to secure some of the smugglers, but owing to the darkness of the night, and our arriving rather late upon the spot, they succeeded in escaping from us, leaving some of our party a few compliments with their cudgels as they passed ; we, however, captured fourteen tubs of spirits, also the boat which had landed them, but she had unfortunately struck upon the rocks, where she got so wedged in, that she was ultimately dashed to pieces by the violence of the surf. We should most undoubtedly have succeeded in capturing some of the smugglers, had it not been for a riding officer whom we found on the spot, and whom we had every reason to suppose had given the smugglers warning of our approach ; for it was afterwards proved that he had connived at the escape of one man that had been taken ; and as we found this officer drunk, and particularly insolent, his conduct was reported to the Board of Customs, the consequence of which was, that a court of enquiry was held upon him, and he was dismissed his Majesty's service. Such was a specimen of the officers we found upon the coast for the suppression of smuggling, men who were receiving the pay of his Majesty's Government, and at the same time Open to bribery and corruption from the smugglers : that this man was bribed can scarcely be doubted, and had not the Blockade (as we were termed) been on the spot, nothing would have been heard of the boat having landed. Shortly after this circumstance, Mr. Fitzgerald obtained leave of absence, when I was left in charge of the station, and in the month of January made a few small seizures. On Feb. the 24th, the lookout- man on the top of the tower reported "'Firing to the eastward ;" we immediately turned out of our beds and hastened to the spot ; the night was so dark that we could scarcely see a yard before us, but heard the smugglers running over the beach, very distinctly.

As we gave chase to them they dropped their tubs, so that many of us fell over them, and the smugglers escaped; but I found that my party, had captured the boat, and altogether forty-six tubs of spirits. Flashing, bonfires, and rockets were now seen along the coast, as signals to other smugglers that were off; so placing the seizure under a strong guard, I went up to inform my commanding officer (Lieut. Collins) what had transpired, and that I had every reason to believe more boats would attempt to land, as the smugglers began to collect very numerously on the beach and fields.

Finding this the case, he came out with me, and while proceeding towards the tower again, we perceived three men under a hedge striking sparks with a flint and steel ; knowing this to be a signal to some smugglers in the offing, we took them into custody in order to prevent their giving any alarm.

At first they appeared inclined to dispute the point as to whether or not they should go with us, but on presenting our loaded pistols to their ears, they very quietly marched up to the tower, where after depositing them in the coal-hole, and placing a sentinel over them, we retraced our steps to the spot from whence we had taken them. On getting into a field, just after jumping over a hedge, much to our astonishment we found ourselves in the midst of about two hundred smugglers, lying concealed under the hedges ; they were equally surprized with ourselves, and were on their legs in a moment, and endeavoured to close upon us. We drew back to parley with them ; at the same time pulled out our pistols, and informed them that we were King's oificers, with a large party of sailors close at hand ready to come to our assistance in a moment : on hearing this, they behaved very quietly, and asked us to shake hands and drink with them, which of course we refused, as their object was to draw us in amongst them in order to deprive us of our weapons, which would prevent the possibility of our giving any alarm, when they might run their goods with impunity, and most probably discharge us with broken heads. Finding we resisted their entreaties, they extended their hands in token of friendship, at the same time endeavouring to get round us ; on this we presented our pistols at them, vowing that we would fire if any man came near enough to touch us : seeing we were likely to put our threats into execution, none appeared anxious to approach nearer, so we backed out from the field, followed by a few yells, threats, and groans, accompanied with a few stones.

We proceeded towards the beach again, where we lay down under a bank, and had scarcely been five minutes in this situation, when the report of a pistol was heard close to us, then another, and another ; we instantly came out from our hiding-place, and ran towards the spot from whence the firing proceeded.

No sooner were we out, than over the bank came all the smugglers we had just left, and in a moment we were mingled amongst them as if belonging to the same party, all driving down to the beach as fast as possible : fortunately for us, in the midst of their hurry and confusion, we were not recognized (it must be observed that we were always disguised in smock-frocks, so that we were seldom known until an affray took place to distinguish us). Presently we saw a boat on the beach with one man in her, and the whole body of smugglers made towards her. Lieut. Collins having only one brace of pistols, and I having two, he asked me to lend him one of mine, and while in the act of lifting my frock to give it to him, the smugglers discovered us : the cry of " Officers ! Officers !" immediately ran through the crowd, and in an instant I received a blow across the neck, which sent me sprawling amongst the shingle.

On recovering my legs, I found myself separated from Lieut. Collins, and that I had lost my pistol. Having now recourse to my sword, I attempted to get into the boat, as the smugglers were carrying the tubs away very fast ; in this object I was defeated for some minutes, by a man who tenaciously kept me at bay with his stick ; several times I threatened to shoot him, but he only cried out " shoot and be d.....d."

Every way did I try to get a blow at him, but to no purpose, till at last, as I drove him close to the boat, I succeeded in laying him senseless, then jumped into the boat, but was no sooner there than I was knocked out of her, backwards, into the surf, by a violent blow with a boat's oar, which rendered my sword useless, as I could not reach the man who struck me : the smugglers repeated this assault, and when I regained the boat, they knocked me out a second time, and began throwing volleys of beach stones at us.

I had now nearly lost the sight of my right eye, received a severe cut on the lip, and likewise felt much exhausted. Finding that I could not get at them with my sword, I was obliged, unwillingly, to use my pistols, when, unfortunately, one man was shot ; then the smugglers retired, carrying the poor fellow up the beach with them : they afterwards made a stand, as if preparing to give us a second attack, but on assistance arriving from our blockade stations, who had heard our firing, they all dispersed. Our prize proved to be a very fine boat, containing two hundred and twenty-eight tubs of spirits, besides sundry bales of tea and tobacco ; the man who had first discovered the boat, belonged to the Hound Revenue-cutter ; he informed me that he found her lying on the beach, without any person in her.

It must be observed that when a smuggling boat lands, the crew have nothing further to do with her ; their agreement only applies from shore to shore ; when that is fulfilled, they immediately decamp, leaving the cargo to the care of the land parties. The reason of this is obvious, for should the men in the boat be caught, their punishment is greater than that of the smugglers on shore, the latter being subject only to the penalty of one hundred pounds, or in default of payment, committal to prison for three years, while the former are sentenced to serve his Majesty afloat, and banished the country for five years.

The crew no doubt had gone up to inform the body of smugglers that the boat had landed, and it appeared that the men whom we had previously taken into custody, were the scouts, making signals for her to come on shore ; therefore had not we, in the first instance, fortunately secured these men, we should have lost our prize. Lieut. Collins came up soon after the capture of the boat, and had been dreadfully beaten, for the handle of his sword was completely squeezed into his hand, by a violent blow from one of the smugglers ; he was otherwise much cut about the face, and bruised about the body. William Stace, the man who was in the boat, escaped with a few bruises, but we were all amply compensated on learning that our exertions had met with the approbation of the Lords of his Majesty's Treasury, who were pleased to reward us with the King's share of our seizure, a circumstance of very rare occurrence ; and the first instance that was ever known on the coast blockade. By this reward, one hundred pounds, independent of my other portion of the prize-money, came to my own share,

It may appear surprising, to those who are not acquainted with the nature of smuggling on the coast of England, how such an immense body of men could so quietly submit to have their goods taken by only one or two individuals. This surprise may in some degree be removed when we are aware, that the main body of the smugglers have nothing more than their night's labour at issue, that is, they are paid five shillings for every pair of tubs they chance to get off clear with ; but should the boat not work, as it is termed, that is, does not land, then they are paid only one shilling each man for being out during the night ; therefore they have very little inducement to face a loaded pistol and run the risk of being shot, by offering resistance, particularly when the chances are so much in their favour of getting off clear by showing no opposition. It must not be supposed, that the smugglers are fired at by the officers, when their goods can be seized without it ; this they are aware of, and will continue running away with as much as they possibly can, till the officers are close upon them ; but when resistance is offered, it is generally by the head men of the company, (the master men they are termed,) who have, generally speaking, some share in the cargo, which is not the case with the main body of the smugglers ; but even laying these reasons aside, it must be observed, that if any smuggler be taken with arms upon his person, his punishment is death !

Therefore the cases of smugglers being armed are very few, compared with those unarmed ; and bold must that man be who is unarmed, that would face a loaded pistol, with the law of his country against him, and offer resistance to an officer in the execution of his duty, merely for the sake of gaining only four shillings. That these men will sometimes be led on to commit acts of violence, by the example of others, who have more interest in the cause than themselves, is but too evident ; their feelings or passions are worked upon by these people to induce them to offer opposition by saying, " What ! shall a hundred men quietly submit to have our goods taken from us by only one or two officers ? No, let 's have at them, and send them to , &c." Such expressions as these inflame the minds of the smugglers, and in the heat of the moment, they are apt to mistake that for bravery, which, upon reflection they regret having listened to ; and all the smugglers whom I have spoken to on this subject have assured me, that they would never offer opposition to the officers, were it not for the master-men urging them on to it.

These large bodies of smugglers are well organized. They consist of master-men or principal leaders, captains, scouts, flashers, and sometimes fighting-men. When the smugglers intend to run a boat, the leader collects his captains, and desires them to assemble a body of men at an appointed time and place ; each captain collects his own number, but neither they, nor the men thus engaged, have any idea at the time where it is likely the boat may land, that always being kept strictly secret. At the time appointed, the leaders meet them, and send out the scouts to see that the coast is clear, while all the smugglers are moving down to the sea-side. Should any officers be seen about, the alarm is immediately given by the flashers, who carry a flash-pan and powder for that purpose ; this is a warning for the smugglers to keep clear of that spot : the flasher immediately decamps, for should lie be caught with his flash-pan about him, his penalty is much greater than that of any other smuggler.

Should a boat be flashed off from one place, a difficulty may be supposed to arise as to where she should land a second time, and also how the large body of smugglers are able to meet her. To provide against these casualties, the leaders have a number of spot notes, informing them where to land at such and such hours, so that when a difficulty arises at one place they proceed to another : counterparts of these notes are on board the vessel afloat, so that the captain is aware of the movemerits of the smugglers on shore, and where he is to land at such an hour; for instance, supposing the leader of the smugglers and captain of the vessel have six of these spot notes, which run thus : at 2 a.m., the boat is to land at a spot called A. ; at 3 a.m. she is to land at B. ; at 4 at c, and so on ; therefore when the vessel is flashed off from any of these spots, the captain knows where to proceed, and is followed along the coast by the whole body of smugglers.

Several small seizures followed this, in which various affrays took place with the smugglers. Shortly afterwards I was ordered to proceed to Eastbourne, to take charge of the Martello Tower, No. 73, called the Wish Tower, from being situated on the Wish land : at this station were two other Midshipmen, Messrs. Drake and Dobson ; the latter gentleman and myself were waiting for the completion of a new house, then building in the town, as one of our stations. Here also we made several seizures.

On one occasion, while going to the theatre in company with Mr. S., a brother officer, we were surprised to see a large body of smugglers going across a stubble field, towards the sea-shore : anticipating their purpose, we ran and got out all our party, and placed them so as to intercept the smugglers coming from the beach ; then making towards the spot where the boat had landed, we arrived just in time to be amongst them.

Much to their surprise (before they were even aware of officers being near them) we had seized three men and forty tubs of spirits, and would most certainly have secured the boat with all her cargo, had not the man whom we had placed on the spot fired his pistol too soon, by which over anxiety on his part, we lost her, for she immediately pushed off to sea, without discharging any more of her cargo. The wonderful escape of one of these smugglers, afterwards, deserves to be related. A day was fixed for them to appear at the Custom-house, before the Magistrate, for the purpose of having them convicted ; their cases being very clearly made out, as they received sentence, they were sent outside one by one, under the charge of two armed men belonging to the coast-blockade.

It must be premised that many rescues had taken place after smugglers had been convicted, which made it necessary to use every precaution against such an occurrence. One of these convicted smugglers, while standing between two armed sentinels, with his back towards a door, close to the Custom-house, disappeared all of a sudden, as if by magic ; the door having been opened from behind, and immediately shut again, thus precluding the sentinels from following him.

The alarm was immediately given, and the whole town was in an uproar, delighted at what had occurred : our men were obliged to run round a corner of the street to get to the other side of this door, when to their astonishment they saw the bold smuggler mounted on a very fine horse, galloping off at full speed. Lieut. S. instantly started in chase, but it was like following the wind, so he gave up the pursuit ; and we could not but smile at the dexterous manner in which the man effected his escape.

My friend E. J. Mascall, Esq. Collector of the Port of London, who happened to be on the spot at the time, declared that he would scarcely have believed the man's escape possible had it not come under his own observation.

Shortly after the circumstance just mentioned, while stationing my men along the beach, in company with my orderly, a shot was fired at us from some of the houses, and the ball came so close to us, as to knock the beach stones up in our faces ; although we immediately ran to the spot, nothing could we perceive that would give us an idea as to which house it was fired from. On representing this circumstance to Capt. M'C. he coolly remarked, that it was " Devilish lucky it did not hit us !" While on duty one night at Langley Point, accompanied as usual by my orderly, and disguised in a smock-frock, I had every prospect of making a fine seizure, under the following circumstances. A large body of smugglers, about two hundred in number, came down to the beach, when we got mixed amongst them, without their being aware of it. As they arrived, they laid themselves down very quietly under the battery, anxiously looking out for the signal for the boat to land ; at the same time congratulating themselves that the coast was clear of the " d d blockade," little dreaming who the persons were to whom this compliment was addressed. We entered familiarly into conversation with them, when they made many inquiries respecting where we came from ? whose company we belonged to ? &c. Finding our answers quite correct, one of them very kindly offered me his spirit-flask to drink from, and while I was in the act of putting it to my lips, by some unlucky chance or other, another man happened to touch my pistols : had this man been shot, he could not have staggered back more precipitately. So much was he alarmed at the discovery, that for a second or two he could scarcely speak ; when, lifting up his hands, he exclaimed aloud,"Oh, Lord ! they 're officers ! "The cry spread like magic ; the whole body of smugglers rose in an instant ; three successive flashes were made from the shore, which were immediately answered by a vessel in the offing, and the cry of "Off home !" ran through the party, when they all dispersed, leaving me in possession of the smuggler's flask, scarcely believing what I saw, that they would so quietly depart from us, after their object being defeated by such an imposition. Such, however, was the fact ; they moved over the shingle like a dense mass, without attempting to molest us ; merely grumbling a little loudly at their disappointment. Taking it now for granted that a smuggling boat was off, and that she would attempt to land somewhere, all hands were immediately turned out, and stationed along the beach in various directions. I took two men with me up to Beachy Head, and we stowed ourselves away in a place called "Darby's Cave" it is so named from a man who cut it out in the cliff, and who used to live in it, keeping lights constantly burning during the night, in order to prevent vessels from running on shore on such a dangerous part of the coast. This poor man fell a sacrifice to his own good feelings for the preservation of others, for one day he was found dead in his cave, and it was supposed that he had died from starvation, or what is more probable, had been taken ill, and as few persons ever visited the cave excepting from curiosity, he might have died for want of assistance ; certain it is, that when the cave was visited, Darby was found dead, and it was supposed that he had been a corpse for some considerable time. This cave is still in existence, and is now a resort for the smugglers to watch the movements of the blockade parties, and also for the blockade parties to watch the movements of the smugglers.

From this place we observed several flashes in the offing, and lay concealed till the day began to break ; we then retraced our steps towards Eastbourne. The morning was beautifully fine, with scarcely a breath of wind stirring, and the sea lay as calm and smooth as a looking-glass. When daylight had advanced sufficiently to see the horizon, we perceived a lugger in the offing, and a large boat with only two men on board, pulling with all their might towards her. I now regretted being so far from Eastbourne, feeling sure that they were smugglers, but knowing all our people were on the alert, I anxiously looked for the blockade boats being launched, in order to give chace to them, nor in this was I disappointed ; for shortly afterwards, one of our beautiful galleys rounded the point, which was also perceived by the smuggler, who seeing the danger of his men in the tub-boat, (for such we now made her out to be, and so deeply laden, as scarcely to move through the water,) immediately dispatched another boat to take them out, in which object they succeeded, and safely returned to their vessel. The sight now became extremely interesting, and hundreds of persons, although so early in the morning, flocked to the cliffs and seashore to view it. The galley pulled up alongside the tub-boat, and depositing one man in her to take possession, instantly started after the lugger. We could perceive the anxiety and exertions of the crew on board the lugger ; a light wind was springing up, every stitch of canvass was spread, and they were wetting their sails, so as not to lose a breath of the stirring breeze. Notwithstanding all their efforts, and sweeping with all their might, the galley gained upon her apace, when coming within musket-shot, she opened a fire upon the smuggler ; the crew giving up all hopes of saving their vessel, prepared to desert her, so hauling their boat alongside, they commenced throwing their clothes into her. The pitch of anxiety was now at its height, for notwithstanding the breeze increased, the galley gains upon the smuggler; the assembled multitude on the shore are cursing the Blockade, and imploring blessings on the poor dear smugglers ; while Jack, " vice versa," is d ing them up in heaps, and cheering the men in the galley to give way, crying out, " Now, for your lives ! pull away, my hearties ! D n 'em, we Ve got 'em this time!" But fickle Fortune changes. Just as the galley comes within pistol-shot, and the smugglers are in the very act of deserting their vessel, the breeze freshens, her sails swell to the wind, she starts through the water, and away she flies, leaving our boat far behind, without the slightest chance of catching her. Three cheers are given on board the smuggler, which are answered by the assembled multitude on shore, when they all disperse, not only cursing us, but laughing at our disappointment, and blessing the fine fellows who have so narrowly escaped. Our galley, now giving up the pursuit of the lugger, pulled towards the tub-boat again, and bringing her to the shore, she proved a valuable prize, containing four hundred arid forty-four tubs of spirits, besides sundry bales of tea and tobacco.

The new house being ready for the reception of Mr. D. and myself, we took possession of it, and had scarcely been a week in our quarters, when our rooms were broken into, and we were plundered of every moveable article. Our suspicions fell upon the chief petty officer of our party, who made himself rather too active in endeavouring to find out the thief. On mentioning the circumstance to the commanding officer, he was much astonished at our attempting to criminate a man of such excellent character, particularly as he was the first to come forward and request that all hands might be searched, which was to take place the following morning; however, when the time arrived, no quarter- master was to be found, for he had decamped during the night. We immediately sent some dragoons to lodge his description along the coast, and took horses ourselves in the evening in hopes of getting some intelligence, but could only learn that he had been seen among some gipsies passing over Beechy Head ; at day-light we had the pleasure of finding our trunks in a field with their bottoms knocked out, of course their contents were gone, so that we irrecoverably lost every thing; and had it not been for my Treasury reward just coming in time, I should have felt the loss most seriously, as a midshipman is seldom overburthened with cash, his pay being about thirty-six pounds a year, which cannot be supposed to support him very magnificently.

The next morning Mr. D. and myself were aroused from our beds by some smugglers, who came to inform us that some French fishing boats had landed a party during the night, and robbed our English fishermen of all their lobster pots, and also that they had been smuggling spirits on shore. We therefore launched our galleys, and gave chase to them for upwards of ten miles, when a strong breeze springing up, we were obliged to relinquish the pursuit. The same evening, while the party were preparing to go out on their duty, the report of a pistol was heard in the men's mess-room ; Mr. D. and I immediately ran round to see what had occurred, and although one minute could not possibly have elapsed, from the firing of the pistol till our arrival in the room, we perceived a man lying dead on the floor, weltering in his blood. There was only one person near him, and he was so much alarmed, that he could give no account how the accident happened ; several other men, also one woman, were standing by the fire-place, but their situation, owing to the men's hammocks being hung up in the room, precluded them from seeing how the disaster occurred ; all they could relate was, that they heard the report of the pistol, and immediately saw the man lying dead on the floor, for he never moved or groaned after he fell ; the ball, as it appeared afterwards, having passed through the jugular vein and struck right through his heart. From the confused state of the man that was found near the corpse, it was judged necessary to put him into confinement till the coroner's inquest was held, when a verdict of " accidental death" being returned, the man was of course released. The only way in which we could account for this melancholy accident was, that the deceased (John Peele) had put his pistol, cocked, into his hammock, and while in the act of taking it down, (having to put his hand considerably above his head in order to reach it,) the trigger must have caught something, which caused it to go off, and this accounts for the singular and fatal direction which the ball took. Immediately following this disaster, another still more melancholy occurred, inasmuch as it was attended with the loss of more lives. A smuggling boat had, during the night, been prevented from landing her cargo ; so lay-to off Beechy Head, in hopes of meeting a more favourable opportunity. A gale of wind came on from the SW. so that she was obliged to run into some port for shelter, when, in endeavouring to round the point of land for the purpose of getting into Cuckmere Haven, she struck upon the rocks and immediately filled. The seas made a clean breach over her, washing her cargo and some of the crew overboard. On observing her situation, our galleys were immediately launched, hoping to save the crew of the smuggling boat ; but it blew so strong, with such a heavy sea running, that we made little or no head-way, and were obliged to give up all idea of saving the lives of the people on the wreck as hopeless. However, an empty boat was lying at anchor off Berlin Gap, but how to get at her every body was at a loss to know, when at last Mr. now Lieut. Drake, at the risk of his own life, most gallantly swam off to her. By this noble action on his part, a crew was got into the boat, when they proceeded to the wreck, and succeeded in saving the lives of two of the crew ; the rest, three in number, were unfortunately washed out of her and drowned. They were all married men, and left behind them their widows and fifteen children. The cargo of the boat, afterwards washed up on the beach, was picked up by the coast blockade and customhouse officers.

During my stay at Eastbourne, I received an anonymous letter from the smugglers, intimating, if I did not look sharply out, that I should be murdered. As it is a curious specimen of penmanship, I here give a copy from the original, which is still in my possession, and is as follows :

"SIR, You had better not be so harde upon us, for if you do, we will knok out youre branes the furst time we ketch you alone in the dark, and we will kill youre dog."

This letter was evidently written in a disguised hand. The dog alluded to was a beautiful large Newfoundland one, and ought not to be forgotten ; he was well known to all the officers of the Coast Blockade, and possessed singular and peculiar habits. At times, he would take it into his head to go round and pay a visit to those officers whom he fancied, at their different stations, where he would remain as long as he felt himself comfortable, and return home again, probably after an absence of a week or so. He was a great enemy to the smugglers, and his sagacity was surprising in distinguishing them from any of our own men, be the night ever so dark, or the men ever such strangers. He was very docile and tractable by day, but at night was very fierce. I generally took him out as my guard and companion, duties which he performed most faithfully. On one occasion he was the means of a smuggler being captured, by seizing the man and holding him fast, till the party came up to his assistance, when he very quietly let him go. This faithful animal I was very nearly losing while on duty one night at Langley Point. Many smugglers had been roving about the beach, which fretted the dog much to get at them ; on these occasions I used to have a slip rope rove through a ring that was attached to his collar, so that I could let him go in an instant. As we lay concealed under the battery, a man came running very fast along the beach, the dog was up in a moment, and getting sight of the man before I did, he flew over the beach, dragging me on my face after him, so that I was compelled to let go the slip rope, in order to rise ; I immediately ran after the dog as fast as possible, but did not get up to him before he had sprung at the man, who instantly fired his pistol ; fortunately the dog escaped unhurt, and I easily prevented his making a second attack. This man proved to be a dragoon, who came to inform me that a party of smugglers had assembled under the town battery, but they immediately dispersed when we went up to them. From Eastbourne I was ordered to No. 55 Tower, in Pevensey Bay, where I was removed from all society, and led the life of a hermit for nearly three months, completely turning night into day; the day being the only time for rest, after remaining out whole nights on the watch, lying about the fields and beach looking out for the smugglers ; here I also had many skirmishes with them, and made several small seizures. From 55 Tower, I went to Winchelsea, being succeeded by Mr. M'Kenzie ; this gentleman was shortly afterwards most cruelly murdered by the smugglers ; they laid wait for him, and meeting him in a lane, they opened a cross fire upon him, when seven balls passed through his body. I regret much not being in possession of the particulars of his death, but was informed that, after being mortally wounded, he managed to crawl to a house, where he was refused admittance, and actually died on the steps of the door. Mr. Snow, another midshipman, and a very fine young man, met with a similar fate, and many were the cases of murder among our unfortunate men who happened to fall into the hands of the smugglers. During my stay at Winchelsea, or rather ff Greedy-gut Watchhouse," being the elegant appellation of my station, (so named from a creek running close up to the house on the western side of Rye Harbour,) I made but few seizures, and thought my usual fortune was going to fail me, till one night, being on the look-out at the end of this Greedy-gut Creek, I heard a pistol fired, and running to the spot, seized, in company with Mr. now Lieut. S. a fine large eight-oared galley, sixty tubs of spirits, and several bales of tobacco, but owing to the darkness of the night, the crew effected their escape.

On the 16th of June, 1820, I received an appointment to his Majesty's ship Shearwater, then lying at Chatham, fitting out for the Cape of Good Hope and St. Helena station, so taking my departure from the Coast Blockade, I joined that vessel, and sailed from England on the 28th of July following.

Such scenes as I have attempted to describe were of frequent occurrence on the first extension of the Coast Blockade. It is not to make public those affrays in which I was personally concerned while on the coast, but I feel assured there can be no better method of conveying an idea of the nature of such a service, than by communicating a series of facts as they actually occurred ; and as I happened to be amongst the first who went upon the coast, and was fortunate enough to be at those stations where most smuggling was carried on, I had more frequent opportunities of witnessing and being a party concerned in such scenes, than the generality of the other oificers ; this, I trust, will be a sufficient apology for my bringing them before the public.

Source: United Service Journal (later Magazine) 1829 Part 2.

Some of the officers appointed to the Coast Blockade from one time to another per O'Byrne's Naval Biographical Dictionary:

  • Lieut Ed B Addis, 1824-1830 apptd to the Coast Blockade, as Supernumerary-Lieutenant of the Ramillies and Hyperion, Capts. Wm. M'Culloch and Wm. Jas. Mingaye.
  • Lieut E Aitchison, 22 Sep 1821, apptd to the Coast Blockade, as Supernumerary-Lieutenant of the Severn 40, Capt. Wm. McCulloch.
  • Lieut G M Alldridge, 13 July, 1829-Nov 1830, on entering the Service as a Second-cl. Vol., on board the Hyperion 42, Capt. Wm. Jas. Mingaye, was employed on the Coast Blockade.
  • Lieut John J Allen, 28 Apr 1829 - 17 Mar 1831 apptd to the Coast Blockade, as Supernumerary-Lieutenant of the Ramillies 74, Capt. Hugh Pigot.
  • Lieut Hy Amsinck, circa 1824, Severn, Coast-Blockade ship, Capt. Wm. M'Culloch.
  • Lieut Ben Andrews, 7 Nov 1818 to 4 Feb 1819, served in the Coast Blockade as Supernumerary-Lieutenant of the Severn 40, Capt. Wm. M'Culloch.
  • Lieut Jos. Arguimbau, 31 March, 1818, promoted and employed in the Coast Blockade.
  • Cdr Hy E Atkinson, 23 Aug 1825-9 March, 1827, to the Coast Blockade, as Supernumerary-Lieutenant of the Hyperion 42, Capt. Wm. Jas. Mingaye.

^ back to top ^