1838; Shipwreck at Osmington, Smugglers and Coastguards.

Life at sea has always been hazardous, natures fickle whims, and mans unpredictability has always caused dramas and deaths.

For those whose livelihoods depended on the sea, and those who relied on the open water as their means of transport, they literally took their life in their hands every time they entered a boat.

Nowadays we have the luxury of the Royal National Lifeboat services, still entirely voluntary….but with the benefits of super fast technology and engineering, lives are saved.

However, before this voluntary service was started, there were still men prepared to risk their lives to save others, people they had never met, never knew.

It didn’t matter, if someone was in trouble, and without a thought for their own safety they would endeavour to save some poor soul from a watery grave.

History tends to portray people as black or white, whereas the the reality is somewhere in between, good people do bad things and bad people do good things.

Such is the following story from the papers of 1838 concerning a certain notorious local family from Osmington Mills (check out the links below to view the past history of their families exploits)

Way back through history Britain has had to defend her shores, from invaders, marauders, and of course, the ever present  smugglers.

In 1831 The Coastguard Service was set up, an amalgamation of various services that were used to protect our shores, at this stage it employed 6,700 men.


Stations were set up around the coastline, which included housing for the men serving. They were commanded by an Officer, ex-Navy.

What’s more these men were frequently moved from post to post, it did no good for them to become friendly with the locals, more often than not, these were also the very smugglers they were supposed to be watching out for.

Tradition was that no love was lost between revenue men and locals, one side trying to out thwart the other, but when needs must, they pulled together.

A coastguard station sat at the cliff edge of Osmington Mills, and in 1838 it was under the command of Lieut. Inskip.R.N. Working under him were Robert Lambard, Jason Grainger and William Hall among others.

On Saturday, the 28th April two fishermen from Kimmeridge, just along the coast, had sailed over to the fishing port of Weymouth to purchase some items, mostly gear for their trade. Later that evening, about 8 0’clock, they set off in the boat for home. The weather had picked up by then, fierce winds were approaching gale force,  whipping up the sea across the bay.

As the two fisherman made their way back towards Kimmeridge, they found themselves being pushed uncontrollably by the strong tide and high winds perilously close towards the pounding waves on Osmington’s rocky shoreline.

These men were in dire straits, unable to control their boat and heading for certain disaster.

One of the coastguards was stood on watch that stormy night, he spotted the struggling sailors and raised the alarm. A boat was quickly launched from shore and headed out through the surf towards the stricken vessel.


Four more local men  that evening also spotted the fishermen’s impending tragedy unfolding. Realising the coastguard men were losing their battle, and without a thought for their own lives, they climbed onto the rocky shore under the cliffs amidst the waves, then waded out into the raging water taking with them ropes and equipment towards the struggling men and, by now, sinking boat.

Between coastguards and locals they finally managed to drag one of the men to safety, but the other had become so enmeshed in the boat’s lines, nothing could be done for him. His body went down with the wreck.

Four local men who went to the fishermen and coastguards aid were 57-year-old Emanuel Charles, not only landlord of the local inn, now more aptly named Smugglers Inn, he was also head of smuggling operations along this stretch of the the coast.

Only a couple of years previous Emanuel had been charged with assault on a coastguard. (check out the links below to read the fascinating history of this family)

With him were Henry Charles, his 20-year-old son,  James Charles, another member of this notorious family, who had convictions for theft, and Rob Seward, a cousin who was well and truly woven into the family firm of illicit trade.

Two of the Seward family members being jailed the previous year for smuggling.

So despite their hated and distrust for each other, when a fellow sailor was in trouble, neither side thought twice about risking their lives to help one another.

It appears that even the jury who sat at the inquest were so impressed with the four local mens actions, that they donated their fees to them.


http://www.osmington.info/?page_id=434 (Osmington Mills history including the Charles family involvement with smuggling)

http://www.weymouth-dorset.co.uk/smuggling.html  (More history of the Charles family and their exploits on the excellent Weymouth-Dorset.co.uk site)

http://www.hansonclan.co.uk/coastguards_1.htm (brief history of the coastguard service)


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