Notes on the Coast Blockade

Notes from “The Coast Blockade; The Royal Navy’s War On Smuggling In Kent And Sussex 1817-31”

Author – Roy Philp Horsham, 1999, Compton Press

p19 – ‘A small number of men went into Greenwich Hospital as “In Pensioners” but far more became “Out Pensioners” and they were often still young enough to find employment elsewhere – even back in the Navy. In 1817 for example there were 32,000 Out Pensioners of whom nearly 15,000 were deemed capable of further service afloat. In many towns….the Greenwich pension was paid by local Collectors of Customs & Excise because they were often the only government finance officers available.’

p21 -`….in 1815 Sussex was spending more on the poor than any other county.’

p32 –  Coast Blockade began March/April 1817 Broadstairs to Dungeness based in Deal & HMS Ganymede anchored in The Downs

p37 1817-1825 – commanded & devised by Captain McCulloch

p38 September 1817 – extended south and north coasts to include East Swale to Cuckmere

p42 By July 1820 – Districts were: Left Division Whitstable, Reculver, Westgate Centre Division Broadstairs, Sandown, Deal, Sutherland, Dungeness Right Division Rye, Hastings, Eastbourne Divisional offices Whitstable, Deal & Hastings commanded by senior Lieutenant

p43 – Occupied ‘three batteries at Dungeness and 34 Martello Towers between Eastware and Eastbourne’. HMS Congo moored in channel at Cuckmere Haven, HMS Enchantress drawn up on shore at Rye Harbour

p44 10 December 1820 – semaphore stations now in operation Deal-Beachy Head ‘the two separate signal stations at East Hill (near St Margarets) and Kewhurst Hill (near Bexhill) were manned by petty officers from nearby Blockade Stations. At Kewhurst there were problems (and probably some mayhem in communications) when two petty officers in succession were charged with drunkenness.

p55 c1821?  – ‘Robert Burnham, Landsman [lowest rank] a deserter from Tower 55 hid in Hooe and systematically robbed provisions delivered to Tower 54.“From Eastbourne….came reports that regular landings were taking place beyond the line at Seaford, Rottingdean & Brighton by gangs who then carried the goods, often 200 to 300 tubs of spirits, in light carts through Sussex behind the Line to Bexhill, Eastbourne and Hastings. The smugglers Beecham and his men from Bexhill were said to be regulars in the trade.”

p70 –  `….co-operation [between Blockade & Riding Officers] was well and truly absent….[in1819] near Bexhill. Mr Bennett, Inspector of Riding Officers and two dragoons held off when they saw Midshipmen Fitzgerald and Dyball and a few sentinels being attacked and clubbed by a large body of smugglers. In the flurry of complaints and reports that followed Mr Bennett said the two Midshipmen were drunk and furthermore “riding officers in Hastings and Bexhill do consider themselves in danger whenever they fall in with a party of the Coast Blockade in making a seizure because they fire away in all directions”. Captain McCulloch then at Bexhill, noted coldly that not a short was fired in this action either by the Blockade or the riding officers and their dragoons. In the same report McCulloch also described “the prevailing practice on the coast of Sussex where gangs who come down to carry off cargo consist of 150 to 200 men who run with 2,3 and frequently 4 half ankers each. ….one such gang was frustrated near Pevensey Sluice on 5 March 1819 when Lieutenant Collins and five sentinels beat them off to seize a boat and its cargo, the local newspaper reported that John Aston, seaman, had been badly beaten in the attack.”‘

p93 – In 1824 there was still some ugly fights with the ubiquitous batmen. At Cuckmere Sentinel William Williamson saw men unloading tubs from a boat about 2am on 1 August. He managed to grab one man but was set upon by three others wielding bats and knives. During the fight Williamson was stabbed in the neck and head before three of his party arrived to fight off the attack and seize the boat “Ann of Ninfield” with its remaining 19 tubs…

`On 22 September a gang attempted a run near Tower 50 at Bexhill and Lieutenant William Brand with five sentinels ran to the spot as the tubs were being unloaded. The seven men aboard the smuggling boat quickly pushed her off but not before Sentinel William Welch had leapt on board. The fight on the beach resulted in another seven men and over 100 tubs being taken but as the craft disappeared into the darkness cries were heard and the next morning Welch’s body was washed ashore. At the inquest Isaac Dias, Assistant Surgeon in the Blockade Service, said he had examined the body and it appeared the man had been stunned and then drowned. The coroner said this warranted a verdict of murder but the jury disagreed and decided it was “found drowned”.’

p121The spring and summer of 1830 saw considerable unrest in the rural areas of Kent and Sussex‘. 1829 prices of corn high and bread high – hard winter ‘….Sussex was still the poorest county in Britain’.

p123 – 

Sussex Divisions –

East Camber-Langney

Centre Tower 71-East Shoreham 

West West Shoreham-Chichester Harbour

Divisional Lieutenants

Mr Barton – East, Hastings

Mr Chappell – Centre, Newhaven

Mr Dickson – West, Littlehampton

p130 18 December 1825 New Tower 50 Sentinel Michael Mallowney has a fight and apprehends John Wicks of Westham – held prisoner and treated by Assistant Surgeon, released 31 January 1826.

P133-4 12 May 1826 ‘Sentinel Daniel Huoy thought the white galley just off shore was a Blockade boat from a nearby station and hailed but there was no reply. As the boat got nearer he realised it was making a run and fired his only pistol as an alarm. Before he could re-load Huoy was set upon by the boat’s crew and floored after his cutlass had been knocked from his hands. He was rescued just in time by Mate J P Wheeler, Quartermaster William Hunter and two other Blockade men but they in turn were soon fighting for their lives on the beach surrounded by some 200 men many armed with bats and some using firearms. Wheeler knew another Blockade Party was coming and was determined to hold out. When it arrived the smugglers took fright and scattered with shouts of “Home! Home!”

But not before Hunter had been knocked senseless and badly injured. `The galley and its complete cargo of 200 tubs were taken as were two of the crew, both French. It was believed that four smugglers had been killed and six injured against two Blockade men wounded. In its next edition on May 18 the Brighton Gazette gave a report of the run and added “….in this instance Blockade behaved in a most humane manner, having received a full volley from the smugglers before the officers gave orders to fire. But we have just heard that five smugglers were killed in the affray.”‘ William Hunter was given special pension, Mate Wheeler received commendation promoted to Lieutenant – incident resulted in 500 short pistols ordered for Sx line so that Sentinel carried 2 pistols each.

p134-5 –  ‘Signal stations set up by Mr Goddard 1820 still operating – 31 Tower (Pett), Fairlight, Galley Hill, Kewhurst Hill, Tower 55 (Pevensey Sluice), Langney Point and Beachy Head….but only relayed messages.’ Extended line summer 1826 Seaford Hill to Southern Point at Chichester.

p139-141 – Battle of Sidley Green (see photocopy)

p145 – ‘By 1830 there were Blockade hospitals at Camber, Towers 32 (Pett Level), 41 (Bulverhythe), 51 (Cooden) and 72 (Eastbourne), Purto Bello, Pagham & Cockbush’ + those at 3 Divisional offices in Hastings, Newhaven and Littlehampton, towers 32 & 72 not manned stations – hospitals only.

p147 23 March 1830 – Sussex Weekly Advertiser ‘.…at Bexhill there was another affray where only 3 casks were taken after one smuggler was shot and has since died, and six taken prisoner….

p149 ‘A petition dated 8 June 1830, from the parish of Hove [possibly Hooe?] said that Henry [Stubberfield] “of that parish” had been accused of violently assaulting seamen of the Coast Blockade at the Sluice in the parish of Bexhill. He had been charged and imprisoned, leaving wife and five children destitute and on parochial relief. The parish also had the cost of defending Stubberfield at the trial and this would be more than £150, not including the costs of briefing witnesses in London. The petitioners believed him to be innocent and they asked the Treasury for “….some small allowance towards expenses, particularly as the parish is for the most part very poor and quite unable to pay the expenses because there was a general failure in the agricultural crops last year….”. The Admiralty passed the petition on to the Treasury where, needless to say, it received short shrift because they knew that many smugglers already claimed parish relief as a matter of routine. On 22 June 1830 Henry Stubberfield was tried and acquitted when a jury decided it was a case of mistaken identity.’ `Stephen [Stubberfield] was one of the ten sentenced in April 1828 for the Bexhill and Eastbourne battles and in August 1828 Captain Mingaye strongly opposed a petition to convert the sentence of five years naval service for Edward Stubberfield into a £100 fine.’

p150 17 September 1830 – `….an attack on the Line near Tower 53, west of Bexhill. A Quartermaster and three Sentinels were injured during the fight and were subsequently commended for their bravery by Capt Mingaye. However the Station Officer, Lieutenant Goodridge did not appear on the scene until the smugglers were beaten off. He had already been warned by Mingaye for slackness and now received a further reprimand. As a result the Admiralty decided to supersede Goodridge and replace him with Lieutenant Pennnington….’

`….by 1830 the Sussex Blockade Force had made some changes….six Martello Towers were paired off- 44/46, 48/49 and 59/62 to operate as three stations whilst four others: 35 &37 (Pett Level), 39 (St Leonards) and 42 (Bulverhythe Salts) were occupied as additional stations.’

p162 Blockade sea rescues.-  7th December 1826 ‘vessel “Princess Charlotte” wrecked near Tower 50. “Masters Mate Shellard and his men got their boats alongside with great difficulty, the vessel now being on fire and the flood tide making, but they were able to save all the crew”.

p167 1831 – Coast Blockade stood down as cost cutting by new government

p170 – Sussex change over to Coast Guard March-May from west eastwards. 39 Lieutenants out of 57 transferred to Cost Guard – either stayed in old station or moved to others nearby. Ratings taken to Portsmouth, paid off by Royal Navy and many enlisted in Coast Guard. County Police forces formed about the same time.

p171 – Coast Guard managed by Board of Customs, 1831 Kent & Sussex probably employed 500 men, by 1846 1,400.

p173 – Blockade gradually changed smuggling from fights on shores to concealments aboard vessels. Government keen to supress lawlessness in Kent and Sussex as well as smuggling.

p174 –  Gangs unable to dominate coasts as they had before. Blockade saw bloodiest 14 years of smuggling. Coastguard formed elsewhere in 1822 – Preventative Service, Mounted Guard and Revenue Cruisers

p177 ’21 February [1832] in a fight at Bexhill, two coastguard men were killed by gun shots; Boatman David Watts died instantly and William Meeches was mortally wounded. Meeches was stationed at Tower 42, close by where the Battle of Bexhill [Sidley] had started in 1828. The two lie buried in Bexhill churchyard.’

22 February [1832], Worthing, grab and dash tactic ‘some 200 local tubmen together with 50 batmen, said to be from Bexhill, gathered in the houses and dark areas close by the town beach. The boat ran in with some 300 tubs but was seen by a Coastguard man at East Worthing. His alarm flare quickly brought out a party led by Lieutenant Henderson but by then the gang had managed to unload over 250 tubs.’ Fight on outskirts of town.

p179 – Incidents of smuggling dropped dramatically 1840s – changes in duty tariffs introduced by Sir Robert Peel (Prime Minister from 1841)

p180 – Coastguard 1,450 in Kent & Sussex by 1849, Mounted Guard vertially disbanded. 1856 Coastguard under control of Admiralty. Some tobacco smuggling 1880s. 1922 Coastguard transferred to Board of Trade as life saving service.

p190 – Sussex Coast Blockade Stations (photocopy)

Scroll to Top