I know, I know, I’m always banging on about my love of old newspapers, but they really are fascinating. They fittingly flesh out Weymouth’s history.
Such was the case when I read an article in the Dorset County Chronicle of Thursday 5th June 1884. It’s headline revealed
‘A Record of Smuggling Days.’
Apparently some modernisation was taking place on Weymouth’s historic quayside, one of its old buildings was up for a bit of TLC, well actually, it sounds a bit more than that, they write of
‘Whilst the work of pulling down the Old George Inn was proceeding…’
That’s by the by, the fascinating part is what was revealed concealed within its massive stone walls.
‘a set of invoices and receipts of smuggled goods.’
Who’d have thought it eh? Smugglers in little old Weymouth, though to be fair the art of smuggling was part and parcel of seafarers lives and consequently those who make their living from it.
Time had not blurred the evidence, but luckily for the perpetrator enough time had passed for him to have no worries of being found guilty on this mortal coil.
‘Although the papers are more than 100 years old they are in an admirable state of preservation, the material showing not the least sign of decay, whilst the ink is as black as if the writing had just been made.’
Who was this hoarder of illicit goods? No less than the George Inn’s “mine host” of the time, Mr Matthew Voss.
The article carries on
‘The casks usually contained four gallons, and these ranged from 17s to 18s 6d each. In each invoice there is a charge made for stones and slings marking the spot.’
Assuming that it’s readers had no knowledge of such dastardly matters (though I suspect there were very few who were unaware of such things!)
‘and for the benefit of those who are not acquainted with the use of these we may state they were attached to the casks, and, in case the smugglers were not being able to land their cargo, it was thrown overboard until such times as it could be conveyed on shore, the stones and slings marking the spot where the contraband was concealed.’
(image © Kings Cutters & Smugglers by E Kemble Chatterton on Project Guttenberg)
The reporter then goes on to describe some of the documents contents.
‘1776 January 6th.-Mr Matthew Voss, brought of Peter Le Cocq. to five casks brandy, at 18s 6d per cask. £4 12s 6d; to three ditto rum and two ditto gin at 15s 6d per cask, £3 17s 6d; to three stones and slings, 6d.’
Peter Le Cocq was obviously a very busy man! I have no proof but I suspect it was a Peter Le Cocq born Jersey 1857, who when he died c1830 have a sizeable estate to bestow upon his family and relatives. (Apologies to any relatives who may have better knowledge.)
Mr Matthen Voss, brought of Peter Le Cocq, October 27th 1776. to four casks brandy at 17s., £3 8s 0d.to three ditto gin at 15s 6d., £2 6s 6d.; to three ditto rum at 20s., £3 0s 0d; to freight £1; five stones and slings, 10d to one cask and one gallon, £0 3s 10d- £9 19s 2d.’
These ‘tradesmen’ kept very good books, but obviously not for the eyes of the customs men who were based just long the quayside.
An incriminating note also appeared with these receipts, no wonder it had been bricked up within the inn’s stone walls.
‘Sir- According to the order you gave to Mr Richard Cooper have sent you by the bearer, sayd Cooper, the goods above mentioned-I am Sir, your very humble servant, Peter Le Cocq.’
A further note went on to name yet another fellow in this obviously well organised smuggling ring.
‘December 1776- Received of Mr Matthew Voss the sum of nine pounds nineteen shillings for Peter Le Coccq’s account by Thomas Martin’
Weymouth and Melcombe Regis (for they were still two very separate entities then only connected by the old town bridge) during this late 18th century period were bustling trading ports as extracts from the Minutes of the Town Council reveal.
(Descriptive catalogue of the Charters, Minute Books and Other Documents of the Borough of Weymouth & Melcombe Regis; AD 1252-1800.)
(image showing old town bridge © Channel Coast Observatory Dorset County Museum)
‘The great increase of shipping in this port of late years obliges goods to be sometimes hoisted “over several vessels” at the Custom House Quay. To give more room a Bridge further westward will replace the old one; which J Tucker Esquire Alderman and MP offers to cary out at his own cost, the new bridge to abut on the Wharf at the end of St Nicholas street. (1769)
(Image showing ‘new’ town bridge © Channel Coast Observatory; Dorset County Museum)
Privateers and pirates were a permanent hazard for local shipping, they scoured the surrounding seas, capturing valuable cargoes and vessels as they sailed to and fro.
For more information on smuggling in Dorset check out http://dvisor.ddns.net/dorsetsmugglers/index.php?slab=the-decline-in-smuggling