The Carter Brothers, possibly the most notorious of Cornish smugglers, were raised in the vicinity of Prussia’s Cove, in the second half of the eighteenth century. Legend has it that the cove acquired its colloquial name from the exploits of young John Carter – the second eldest brother. He allegedly became known as the King, when in the 1740s the King of Prussia became his boyhood hero, and he emulated him in his fashion, marching his brothers round the cove into mock battles.
In adulthood John may well have been the managing director of the firm but he kept a pretty low profile in so far as officialdom was concerned. Legends about him abound, but there are no contemporary written references to John as being the ‘King’ of Prussia’s Cove, and only one or two references in the official papers actually name him. However, two of his younger brothers – Henry (als. Harry) and Charles – were each so called on different occasions in official correspondence, though these attributions may just reflect the reporting officers’ lack of personal knowledge of the individuals concerned. Whatever John Carter’s status and name in the locality, the Carter brothers were a force to be reckoned with.
In the first article I am just concerned with the evidence for, and employment of, the legendary cliff-side battery of cannon guarding Prussia’s Cove. My good friend, Hilary Tunstall-Behrens, in Maritime South West No.26 , touched on one aspect of this battery in his account of the yarns relating to HM Sloop Fairy having been fired upon by this battery of cannon. His story, which has been adapted here, explores how the myth might have gained foundation.
Though it never actually fired on HM Sloop Fairy, Carters’ Battery certainly fired on boats belonging to HM Customs at least once and cannon from the battery were allegedly turned against ‘revenue officers’ and troops approaching the battery overland on several other occasions.