Glimpses Of Our Ancestors In Sussex - online book

With Sketches Of Sussex Characters, Remarkable Incidents &c

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The Sussex Smugglers.                      85
fraud on the Government by allowing his barns to be filled with kegs of brandy, or his horses to be " borrowed "—a frequent practice in the olden times—or even by leaving his gates unlocked for their passage; all of which things were at one time usual. Nor would any respectable tradesman now buy lace or silk which had not come through the regular channels of commerce and paid the duty to which they are subjected. In fact, the smugglers, as a body of men acting to some extent in the interests of the public, by keeping open commercial dealings with other nations which would otherwise have ceased altogether, and who certainly were looked upon with a good deal of sympathy by the general community, belong to the past. Traditions of the spots where they concealed their goods (one of them, a hole near Falmer Pond),* or where they suffered for their crimes, still remain, but every year they become fainter. It is difficult, indeed, in the present day, when, thanks to Free Trade, commerce has free scope, to form an idea of the extent to which illicit dealings with the opposite coast were carried on, even by the respectable classes, and how it perverted men's notions of right and wrong. The smuggler was a popular man, except where, as in the Chater and Galley case, he committed atrocious crimes; he had the majority of his fellow-subjects with him, though the law was against him. He was carrying on a hazardous game—that was all. If he was successful people looked upon and talked of him as a fine fellow; he had "done" the Exciseman, nothing more. As for defrauding the revenue or gaining an unfair advantage over his fellow-subjects who paid duty on their goods, nobody thought of reproaching him with that, or of denouncing him as a public robber, and thus respectable tradesmen entered into smuggling transactions in those days, as respectable
* Very curious places were sometimes chosen by the smugglers to conceal their goods in. The Vicar of a country parish not far from Brighton wanted to visit his Church rather earlier than usual one Sunday morning and was met by all kinds of excuses and obstructions from the Sexton for not finding the key, until at last it came out that the sacred edifice was full of kegs of brandy! And they had to be cleared out before Service could be proceeded with. Of course the Revenue Officers did not think of looking for spirits of this kind in the Parish Church !
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