1792 – A raid on the cove

Once again all then went quiet, and it was seven or eight months later before another incident brought Carter’s battery to the fore. The Lord Hood, having been seized and carried into St. Ives, back in 1789, was duly condemned. However, as a valuable prize she was not cut up and dismantled, but was offered for sale. –


By order of the Honourable Commissioners of his Majesty’s Customs,

On Tuesday the 16th day of February instant, by two o’Clock in the Afternoon, A Public Survey will be held at the House of James Matthews, innkeeper, on St. Michael’s Mount, for the Selling whole,


Burden 124 24-94th Tons, by admeasurement, together with all her Materials; and the day following (being Wednesday) by two o’Clock in the Afternoon, will be exposed to Public Sale, at St. Ives, aforesaid, the Hulls of a Sloop burden 15 Tons and a Boat 10 Tons, whole, together also, with their several Materials, and likewise the broken up Hulls of two other Boats.

For further particulars respecting the said Brigantine Lord Hood, application may be made to the Collector and Comptroller of the Customs at St. Ives, or to Richard John, Commander of his Majesty’s Revenue Cruiser, Dolphin, at St. Michael’s Mount, aforesaid, who will shew the same to any person or persons inclined to purchase.

The Times, (Fr) 12th February, 1790

No purchaser appears to have come forward. Can the ‘brotherhood’ have put out the word? The Lord Hood was again offered for sale on April 20th, with still no takers, and yet again with other lots in the following August. But it appears that no one else would touch her with a barge-pole, and that John Dunkin eventually came to a compromise with the Customs Board, as on April 10th 1792, she was re-registered at St. Ives, in his name! By an administrative oversight the original Penzance registration was not then cancelled, and no ultimate fate of the vessel was ever recorded in the St. Ives register.

Whichever register she was trading under, in June 1792 she was once again running a cargo at Prussia’s Cove – though nothing of her part in this appeared in the Penzance Custom House letter-books until six months’ later, when one of the Dolphin’s late seamen (in the December), petitioned the Board of Customs for a significant share in the seizure reward.

Contemporary reports are typically conflicting about the actual sequence of events at Prussia’s Cove in the preceding June, but in retrospect it would appear that this raid on the cove was a joint Customs, and Excise affair. At first the reason behind the raid seemed to be related to the false accounting of fishery salt – but much later other factors come to light. Coincidentally seizures of spirits were made, but no initial account of the sequence of events survives from the Customs side – if any were made. However, a picture gradually emerges from the records.

On June 16th 1792, Edward Giddy, JP., of Tredrea, in the adjacent parish of St. Erth, , appraised Henry Dundas, Secretary of State for the Home Department, of a recent outrage on the neighbouring coast. –

Sir, On Tuesday last, John Julyan, an officer of the Customs at Penzance, applied to me for a Warrant in order to search some places in & about the Cellars belonging to Charles Carter in the parish of S.t Hilary, at Portloe & Port Trenalls Known by the name of Prussia’s Cove within the Port of Penzance, commonly Known by the Name of the Farmer’s Cellars, & other Cellars & Lofts within the said Cove, in which he Suspected that Brandy & other Spirituous Liquors were fraudulently concealed. He produced at the Same Time One John Tomson who made the following Declaration –

That he belongs to a Revenue Cutter Commanded by Captn Richard John, & that on Sunday afternoon last he discovered a Brig coming up the Channel which he Suspected to be laden with Smuggled Goods, that the Said Brig proceeded to a Place call’d Prussia Cove, that a Boat was dispatch’d from the Cutter to observe what was doing by the Brig in the said Cove, & to prevent any smuggled goods being landed, that he was in the Boat, that he Saw a large Raft move off from the Brig laden with large Casks, & that he also Saw Casks on the Shore, that on the Boat approaching the Brig some shot were fired at it from a Battery on the Shore, & that some fell so near the Boat as to throw Water into it, that finding they could not prevent the landing of the Brig’s Cargo nor remain Safely in the Cove, they rowed off the Boat & proceeded to Marazion – He added the Battery also fired on the Cutter on its attempting to enter the Cove.” –

Soon after the Murder committed at Scilly by James Dunkin I took the Liberty of writing to the Commissioners of the Customs, concerning Prussia Cove, & the pernicious Consequences of Suffering the Battery to remain there. At a very Short Notice 500 Tinners may be collected there to oppose any Seizure; the Guns have, before the present Instance, been turn’d against the officers of the Customs. Frequent Representations, I hear, have been made of this enormous Nusance –

As it is Suffer’d to remain the Smugglers now say Government has nothing to do with it; & that Carter has certainly as much Right to have a Battery for Defence, as Gentlemen for Ornament. [*]

If it should be thought proper to make an Enquiry into this Matter, I apprehend the Collector & other officers of Penzance will give an exact Account of the Quantity of Liquor seiz’d, of the places in which it was lodg’d, of the Name & Proprietors of the Brig, wch is taken, of the Behaviour of the people of the Cove during the Time a party of Soldiers was on the Spot, & after it was under a Necessity of quitting it, through Fatigue & for want of Accommodations; & the Captain of the Cutter will of Course give an Account of the Firing from the Battery –

I beg leave to refer to the Letter which I wrote to the Commissioners of the Customs. You will I flatter myself, Sir, be So good as to believe that a Sincere Regard to the Interest & Honor of Government is my only Motive for troubling you with this Narrative.

I have the Honor to be Sir, your most obedient and most humble Servant.
Edw: Giddy (Clerk) One of his Majsety’s Justices of the peace for Cornwall
The Right Honourable Henry Dundas Esq.r
Tredrea 16 June 1792

National Archives HO 42:20

 The information was clearly received by Dundas, as it was filed with his papers, but this advice does not appear to have been acted upon by government. Several years later the same magistrate was censured for not having brought matters to the attention of the proper authorities!

On the same day as Giddy wrote to Dundas, the Penzance Custom House officers submitted a routine ‘Account of Seizures’ made between June 7th and the 16th. No details of the seizures were then recorded, only a covering note for its submission being copied into the current out letter-book. However, two days later the officers also advised the Board’s solicitor of these seizures – again without any details as to the quantities concerned, but specifying the officers concerned in each seizure. –

W.m Cooper Esq.r, 18th June 1792

Sir, Please to send me p.r return of Post two Writs of Appraisement for the goods undermentioned.

I am &c. S.

1st –    Charles Lander,                a parcel of Geneva
          Michael Donnithorne        a parcel Geneva & a Boat & Materials
          W.m Leggoe                      a parcel of Geneva
          W,m Cary                          a parcel of Geneva
          Simon Slade                     a parcel Rum & Turpentine
          John Julyan                      a parcel of Brandy 

2nd –   W.m Richards                    a parcel of Brandy & Geneva

National Archives CUST 68/15, (unnumbered) 18 June 1792

A month later the Board replied –

Custom House London, 17 July 1792

Gentlemen, In Answer to the Account of Seizures transmitted in your Letter of the 16th Ult.o N.o 49. We direct you to prosecute in the Exchequer the Goods therein mentioned, corresponding with our Solicitor and the Register of Seizures. And we direct you to report whether there is any and what proof to support a prosecution against Charles Carter for the penalty of the said Goods. ~

Trewin, WE Agar, J Bates, A Munro

National Archives CUST 68/46, No 33/1792

At long last one of the Carter brothers is named. Charles Carter was the youngest brother [then about 35 years of age]. He was quite active in the illicit trade, and had had several run-ins previously with the Board of Excise, and the Salt Board, over fishery-salt. Those events did not much concern the Board of Customs, but this time they had their hands on something else besides salt – but what exactly? Even allowing for the 10 to 12 days for mail to make the round between London and Penzance, there seems to have been little urgency in the exchange of information. The inferior officers reporting were William Richards (Landing-Surveyor), and John Julyan (Tide-Surveyor), who were then deputed to investigate further into Charles and report back to the Collector at Penzance.

Penzance 7 Aug.t 1792

Gentlemen, We beg leave to acquaint you for their Honors Information, that we have agreeable to your orders made every enquiry respecting the property of the Cellar, [in] which we Seized one hundred & forty Six Casks foreign Spirituous Liquors the 12th June last. We beg leave to say, that we can get no other proof than that the said cellar, for several year last past has been in the possession of Charles Carter of the Parish of Breage as appears by the Salt Officers Books at this port.1 He the said Carter having a Quantity of fishing Salt lodged in the said Cellar at the time the Seizure was made and the Officer for the Salt duties having on the 30th July last Settled the said Carters Salt Account for the year ending the 5th April 1792 in the said cellar & other places where the said Carter keeps his Fishery Salt, and he having sworn to his Stock of Salt agreeable thereto. At which time he transferred the whole of his Stock of fishing Salt, to John Dunkin of the town of Penzance. 

We are Gentlemen, Yours &c
W Richards, John Julyan

National Archives CUST 68/16

This initial statement of 146 casks of spirits having been taken marked a significant seizure – well over a thousand gallons of spirituous liquor, assuming a minimum content of seven gallons per anker. The officers’ statement was duly forwarded two days later on August 9th, with no further observations from the Collector and Comptroller, beyond the usual covering note.

Coincidental with this exchange of information, Helston based attorney Christopher Wallis, was acting for Dunkin and Carter as defendants in a Suit in Chancery brought by John Blewett, as John St. Aubyn’s agent for the Mount tithes – but as yet Wallis did not appear concerned with the more recent events in Prussia’s Cove.

The Penzance officers never seem to have volunteered more than the barest details in their initial reports of events. Now, in answer to the Board of Customs’ inevitable request for more information about the circumstances leading to the seizure, and ownership of the property where the goods were seized, the inferior officers Richards and Julyan submitted a further report –

Penzance 12th September 1792

Gentlemen, In obedience to your orders we beg leave to State for the Honble Boards further consideration how and in what manner we got into the Cellar & Vault at Prussia’s Cove where we Seized 146 ankers Spirituous Liquors the 12th June last. 

We having obtained a Warrant to search the said Cellar Known by the name of the Farmers Cellar then in possession of Charles Carter as stated in our former letter, we having in the morning of the 12th called at Charles Carters house in order to demand the Key of this and other Cellars at the said Cove for which our warrant authorized us to search but could find no person at home George Blewett a Nephew of the said Carter attended and denied us from entering the Cellar or any part thereof at our peril however we proceeded to Search & fired a pistol through the Key hole of the door by that means broke open the Cellar above mentioned & on searching & taking up a platform of board laid over part of the Cellar in digging down about two feet we discovered the Vault wherein the goods where Contained who had the Key in their Possession at the time the Seizure was made we cannot by any means prove.

We are Gent. &c
W.m Richards, Jn.o Julyan, Coll.r& Con.r Penzance

National Archives CUST 68/16

So far it all seems to have been a quite straight forward and relatively peaceful seizure. But not for long. While the Board of Customs pondered their next move, tensions were mounting amongst the smuggling fraternity in Mount’s Bay, who felt that a demonstration of who held the true power was now required. On November 11th, the Penzance officers received information that there would be a run through the town that night. Gathering as many officers as they could from all departments – about 14 in number – they prepared to intercept them. About eleven o’clock that night they –

… fell in with about a dozen Horses laden with Ankers of Spiriteous Liquors, protected by a large party of arm’d Smugglers quite unknown to us, after a Contest of about a quarter of an hour several of the Officers were most dreadfully wounded And rendered incapable of supprefsing these most daring Desperadoes, who went off in Triumph.

National Archives CUST 68/16, No 95/1792

This was a genuine encounter, though it did not get picked up by the West of England newspapers. The report of the affray was accompanied by a report from local surgeon John Bingham Borlase, stating that three of the officers (all Tidewaiters & Boatmen), had received wounds or other injuries, one of then being in a dangerous condition. Michael Donnithorn (about 35) had a wound in his head about an inch and a half in length which had penetrated his skull, his lip had been divided in several parts and four of his teeth knocked out. Thomas Rowe (about 37) had a severe wound across the pan of his knee [knee-cap], and severe bruising. While Charles Lander (about 41) had severe bruises on one of his hands.

In a face to face contest the Customs officers at Penzance were no match for the smugglers – whoever this lot actually were! Yet again the officers at Penzance are reticent about their identity.

Shortly after this run through the town of Penzance, attention was refocused on the events in Prussia’s Cove back in June. These took on a new perspective when in the December, John Thompson [or Tomson], a ‘late’ mariner from on board the Revenue Cutter Dolphin, petitioned the Board of Customs for a share in the seizure reward.

That your petitioner did at the great Hazzard of his Life on the twelfth of June last whent down To Carters Terclores known by the Name of Prufsia Cove where he made a discovery of some Spirits which had been landed with an Intention to defraud the King of his Dutys, which by giving a due Information to Justice Giddy Esq:r2 a warrant was granted on my information. As it could not been done by any other means then by my discovery, which being made A party of Soldiers was sent for, who whent down with the Officers of the Port to the aforesaid Cove, where we found Eight Six pounders Loaded and Pointed to the Different roads to hinder our approach. But on seeing the Soldiers they made off. Then we proceeded to the Cellars were we suspected the Goods was Concealed, where we found George Blewett who demanded to know what we wanted, when the warrant being produced and the keys demanded he denied having of them and dared us to proceed any further. On that I took up a large piece of wood and attempted to break open the Door, but that being so well secured I could not force it open. With that I broke in a window which led us to a discovery of the undermentioned Goods, which was Seized and lodged in his Majesty’s Warehouse. Since which discovery was made by me, they knowing me by living in the neighbourhood, they have made it their Bufsinefs to watch for me to seek my Life on which Account I have been Oblig’d to fly for safety with my family of a Wife and five Small Children Which are quite destitute In a strange place and hope your Honors will take it into Consideration, We being in your Honors Service for these Eight years, whose Character will bear the Strictest enquiry into, on referance to Cap:tn Jane or any of the Officers I have served under, or John Keale Esq:r of London, who has known me for many [years] and had my Character from Capt:n Johns own Mouth. Your Petitioner hopes your Honors will take his Case into Consideration, And as in duty bound will ever pray –

John Thompson

National Archives CUST 68/16

Thompson claimed for himself a key role in events, that led to an even greater quantity of contraband spirits being seized, in that he. –

  • Had discovered the spirits –
  • Had appraised Justice Giddy of it which resulted in a search warrant being issued – [and the mention of Giddy rings true]
  • Had been the means of obtaining the assistance of military support –
  • And that he had been amongst the land party that were confronted by Carters’ battery of cannon.

For the first time, in so far as the Penzance Custom House officers were concerned, we hear that Carter’s battery was involved. For some reason, Thompson did not claim to have been the man who had laid the information before the Penzance Officers – that item of information follows in the Penzance Officers’ subsequent report on Thompson’s petition. Following normal office procedure, a copy of Thompson’s petition was forwarded to Penzance for comment, and to the foot of it one of the Secretaries to the Board had endorsed –

NB the Licquor when Guaged contained the following Quantity of:
Rum 40 Gallons, Brandy 739 d:o, Geneva 2778, Wine
To the Collector & Compt:r Penz:ce for their observations & report
By order of the Commifs.rs H Hutson
12th Decr

National Archives CUST 68/47

No quantity of wine was recorded in this notation, but elsewhere it was stated to have been two pipes (nominally 210 gallons). Hitherto, the Penzance officers had only reported the 146 ankers of spirits as having been seized, Thompson now claimed a much larger seizure, which is borne out by the above footnote. The amount of spirits finally gauged was in excess of 3,500 gallons – much more than originally stated by Richards and Julyan – but it would appear that other parties were involved.

Thompson’s claim was immediately challenged by Capt. John, on the grounds that he was not actually present when the seizure was made, and that at best he was entitled to the same as the rest of the Dolphin’s crew! Which may also have been zilch – as they were also not actually present at the time of seizure. In his spirited rejoinder, made to the Penzance officers, Capt. John paints a slightly different picture of events, but unfortunately his previous report referred to, made through the St. Ives office, does not appear to have survived.

Gentl:n, In reply to your enquiry respecting John Tomson I have to acquaint you for the Honble Board’s Information that he was a Mariner belonging to the Dolphin untill the 13th July last when for disobeying orders and refractory behavior he was dismifsed (his pretention to any particular Emolument from the Seizure at Prufsia (Alias Carters Cove) on the 12th June, more than as a Mariner belonging to the Dolphin, are improper & highly prejudicial to the Dolphin’s Crew –

The Honble Board will find by my letter dated 6 July, thro’ the Custom House S:t Ives that John Tomson was then belonging to the Dolphin he was sent by me to you Gentlemen on the 11th June to inform you that the Dolphin had been fired on from a Battery at the said Cove and there by prevented from seizing the Lord Hood, a noted Smuggling Brigg, then in the Act of running her Cargo. And to request you would send the Officers of the Port to my Afsistance. You will therefore be pleased to inform the Honble Board of the Mefsage he delivered.

I at the same time dispatched another Mefsenger to the Collector at Falmouth requesting he would send me such reinforcement as could be rose there, in Consequence thereof the [Fox] Excise Cutter Kinsman & Speedwell Custom House Cutter Hopkins both laying at Anchor in that Harbour, were ordered out, and a party of Soldiers dispatched by land, but the Smugglers being appraised of their Coming to my afsistance, sent a number of men on board the Lord Hood, in addition to the Crew, Sat [sic] her Sails, Cut her hawser that was fastened to the Shore near the Battery & pafsed by the Dolphin in Defiance of every effort to prevent her. Nor was she overtaken till five hours pursuit & a run of sixteen Leagues. In the mean time the officers and Soldiers had joined near the Cove,

When John Tomson whom I had left behind for the purpose of pointing out the Cellars, where he and the whole of the Dolphin’s Crew had seen the Goods lodged, made an Affidavit to the fact on which a search was made, Aided by the Fox Excise Cutter and the Seizure effected. John Tomson acting under my orders did no more than his duty. And I am fully convinced had any other of the Dolphin’s Mariners been sent instead of Tomson on this Service it would have been executed with equal exertion.

Therefore I humbly presume it will appear to the Honble Board that Tomson is only entitled to share as a Mariner, And that the Dolphin, notwithstanding she was not directly on the spot at the time the Goods were taken into pofsefsion in consequence of the Chace. I trust the Honble Board of Customs and Excise will deem her the principal Actor in the whole Businefs and order the Contribution Accordingly.

I am Gentlemen – Your Most Ob:t Hum:le Serv:t
Rich: John Sen:r
Collector & Compt:r Customs Penzance, 28th Dec:r 1792

National Archives CUST 68/16

Here we have the cusp of the Custom House reward system, whereby no matter what part individuals may have played in bringing about a seizure, only those actually present at the time a seizure was made were entitled to a share! Despite Richard John’s statement, I believe that Thompson was undoubtedly present, but that John and the Dolphin were at sea chasing the Lord Hood. The senior Penzance officers now stuck their oar in:

We beg leave to report to your Honble Board that the within Petitioner came to the Collector on the morning of the 11th June last, and informed him (with Capt.n John’s Compliments) that the Brigantine Lord Hood was then in Prufsias Cove discharging her Cargo. That the Dolphin could not get in to secure her, having been fired at repeatedly from their battery, and requesting the afsistance of the Officers from this place by land. Which was immediately complied with but without effect ‘till the Arrival of the Military.3 We cannot say any thing as to the Character of the Petitioner, having never seen or heard of him before. We have made every enquiry of Captain John about him and enclosed beg leave to transmit his answer. The Quantity of Liquor brought to His Majesty’s Warehouse in this port is as under, the remainder carried by Capt. Kinsman to the Excise Warehouse, the whole of which is humbly Submitted: Brandy 90, Geneva 903 galls

S. Collector, N. Dcont.r
Custom H.o Penzance, 31st Dec.r 1792

National Archives CUST 68/16

The ‘military’ giving assistance are not here identified, this piece of information was not revealed until a couple of years later. In so far as the Penzance Custom House letter-books were concerned the matter was now closed … but not so.

Read on …

  1. The mention of Breage parish suggest that this cellar must have been north of the rivulet which separates St Hilary and Breage, which discharges into Coules Cove
  2. Author of the letter to Henry Dundas of June 16th 1792
  3. Billeted at Helston