Smuggling on the Coast

Below is an account of what became known as The Battle of Sidley Green, which took place on Friday, 3rd January, 1828; a member of the smuggling party which was involved was Edward Shoesmith, who was the son of John and Hannah Shoesmith,his mother Hannah, being the daughter of Andrew and Sarah Freeman.

He, with several of the others, was sentenced to death, but this was later commuted to transportation for life.

The account is taken from a copy of the “Times” of 1st April, 1828:–

Smuggling on the Coast

There have been committed to Horsham Gaol, within the last few weeks, no less than 13 men, charged with being concerned in the affray between the Coast Blockade and a formidable gang of smugglers, in which a quarter-master of the service, of the name of Collins, and an old smuggler, of the name of Timothy Smithurst, were killed, in a lane leading from the village of Bexhill to Sidley-green, six miles to the westward of Hastings,

The affray, it may be remembered, took place during the night of the 9th of January, when, about one o’clock a large lugger was seen hovering off the shore at Galley-hill, near Bexhill, and in a short time a great number of men came down upon the beach, a portion of them armed with bats, as they are called (ash poles, about six feet long, cut from the woods for the purpose), and the remainder provided with slings, to carry away the goods over the beach to a number of carts in waiting to convey them into the country. Almost at the same time, small boats landed from the lugger, each laden with tubs of spirits, bales of tobacco, &c. The blockade man stationed on the spot fired his pistol, as a signal for assistance, and several from the neighbouring stations came up, and some firing took place; but the smugglers were in such numbers, and showed such a determined spirit of resistance, that the blockade men deemed it prudent to retire. In fact, any other course, at the moment, would have led to a useless sacrifice of life, as the smugglers were so numerous, and so regularly arranged, that to succeed in dispersing them with a few men was impossible.

On their first coming down upon the beach, a numerous body of those who are called batsmen (the armed party) were drawn up in two separate ranks, so as to form an avenue from high water mark to the water’s edge, where the boats landed; and between these ranks the men appointed to carry away the goods (commonly called tub-hunters) ran down with their slings. The rapidity with which these men can unload boats upon such occasions is well known; in a very few minutes every tub and bale of tobacco, and other goods were upon the backs of the tub-hunters, and placed in the carts waiting in the road.

The smugglers proceeded direct through Bexhill, on the road to Sidley-green, but meanwhile the officer in command of the blockade at the Galley-hill Tower station got a number of his men together, and going at a quick rate by another and shorter route, came up with the smuggling party at a meeting of the roads at Sidley, called Well-field. Here a desperate conflict took place, the batsmen, as before, ranging themselves in trained order, so as to cover the tub-men, who had the care of the well-laden carts.

The blockade party fired upon the smugglers, a close took place, and then the latter began to use their bats. Several of the blockade men were severely bruised by the skilfully directed blows of the batsmen, and the quarter-master (Collins) had his brains literally beaten out. In the first volley fired by the blockade men, the old man, Smithurst, was killed, a bullet entering under the chin and lodging in the chest. The smugglers were dispersed, but not until the whole of the goods had been got away, except 4 or 5 tubs of spirits. The old man Smithurst was found in the morning lying dead in the road, with his bat still grasped in his hands, the weapon being almost hacked in pieces by the cutlasses and bayonets of the blockade men, some of whom carry muskets with bayonets fixed.

A coroner’s inquest, which was held upon the body of Collins, returned a verdict of “Wilful Murder against some person or persons unknown” and in a day or two after, a girl, who had been some time known as of loose character, gave information to the district commander of the coast blockade, Lieutenant Green, which led to the apprehension of a young man named Charles Hills, alias Luckhurst, a resident at Bexhill, and other persons. They were confined in one of the Martello Towers for some days, and then taken before F. F. North, Esq., one of the magistrates of the hundred of Hastings, on several successive days.

At length Hills made a voluntary offer to become an approver, and his evidence was accepted; the consequence of which was, that six men were at once sent off to Horsham for trial for the murder, and a great number of warrants (we believe upwards of 60) were issued against other individuals. Lieutenant Green and his men were out scouring the country, night after night, for weeks, in search of the accused persons, and many houses were broken into by main force, in some of which were found the objects of their search, in others they were unsuccessful.

The villages round Hastings, for a circuit of 20 miles, were continually in a state of terror and alarm which it is impossible to describe. These were principally Bexhill, Sidley, Hooe, Westfield, Pett, and Peasmarsh. At Peasmarsh they apprehended two brothers, named Whiteman, who were stated by Hills to be two of the leaders of the affair, the men, as they were apprehended by the officers, and identified before Mr. North, by Hills, were committed to Horsham. Another man, named Butler, a native of Pett, on being taken into custody, became an evidence for the Crown, and pointed out the residence of persons said to be implicated, who lived in his own neighbourhood, and who were not so well known by Hills. The distress occasioned round a considerable extent of country by this unfortunate occurrence is almost beyond conception.

A great number of men, besides those actually in custody, have absconded, leaving no other resource to their families but the workhouse; and in one parish alone, Bexhill, no less than 26 families have been thrown upon the parochial funds, which were before very heavily burdened. Consequences of a still more melancholy nature have been produced in some of the families, resulting from this unhappy event[?]. In one instance a young woman, who had lain in but a few hours, experienced so dreadful a shock at seeing her husband, one of the accused, dragged from the house, that she died in a state of madness the following day. In another case a wife similarly situated was delirious for several days, and very nervously escaped from the jaws of death. It is said in the neighbourhood, that the girl who gave the said[?] information to the blockade officer had been cohabiting with Hills, and that it was at his desire she did so, as he was anxious to have the earliest opportunity of saving himself from the possible consequences of any other person concerned turning round upon his companions,

This is certain, that Hills had long been confidentially employed by the smugglers on this part of the coast, and had been for the last three or four years regarded with suspicion by them; but they were afraid to discard him, as they considered themselves too much in his power. He was what’s called “foreman of the company” upon this last occasion, and was empowered to pay the men employed. This man was convicted some years ago of stealing King’s stores, at the taking down of some barracks in the neighbourhood of Hastings, and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment.—End of this account from the “Times” of 1st April, 1828. KG.F.

Edward Shoesmith Smuggler 1803-1889

One of the eight smugglers captured during the famous Battle of Sidley Green in 1828. They were: Spencer Whiteman, Thomas Miller, Henry Miller, John Spray, Edward Shoesmith, William Bennett, John Ford and Stephen Stubberfield. Edward Shoesmith died at the age of 86 in New South Wales, Australia, where he had been transported for smuggling.

The prison records of New South Wales in 1829 describes Edward Shoesmith thus:—

Name: Shoesmith, Edward. Age: 26.
Education: Read and Write. Religion: Protestant.
Single or Married: Married. Family: Five.
Native Place: Sussex. Trade or Calling: Ploughs and reaps and Indoor Servant.
Offence: Smuggling. Where Tried: London. When Tried: 10th April, 1828. Sentence: Life.
Height: 5ft. Sins. Complexion: Sallow, much freckled.
Colour of Hair Light brown. Eyes: Light hazel.
How disposed of: Jas. Davidson, Lower Wilberforce.
Small scar over right eye. Woman on right arm.
Edward Shoesmith (Prisoner’s No. 29/2686) was granted a Ticket of Leave on 18th March, 1838 conditional upon his remaining in the district of Patricks Plains (Ref.: A.O. 4/4118).
A Conditional Pardon for Edward Shoesmith was granted on 13th August, 1845 (Ref.: A.O. 4/4448).

The above information was gathered from part of a display in the Bexhill Museum which dealt with details of old Bexhill. We are most grateful for this source.–K. G. and G. N. Freeman.

The following account is a copy of a news item which appeared in “The Sussex Advertiser” or “Lewes and Brighthelmstone Journal” of April 14th, 1828

The Old Bailey Sessions commence on Thursday morning, before the Right Hon. the Lord Mayor, Mr. Sergeant-Arabin, the Sheriffs, Sir John Perrin, &c. &c. The Judges named in the commission are the Right Hon. Lord Tenterden, Mr. Baron Garrow, and Mr. Justice Park. (Then comes a case of no interest to our research).

SMUGGLING.–Wm. Plumbe, Spencer Whiteman, Stephen Stubberfield, Edward Shoesmith, Thomas Miller, Henry Miller, John Spray and William Bennett, severally stood indicted for having at Eastbourne, in the county of Sussex, in January last, unlawfully and feloniously assembled in order to aid and assist in the illegal landing, running, and carrying away of certain quantities of Foreign Brandy and Geneva, which had not then paid certain duties of customs to our Sovereign Lord the King; to which indictment the prisoners severally pleaded Guilty. Stephen Stubberfield, Spencer Whiteman, Thos. Miller, Henry Miller, John Spray, Edward Shoesmith, William Bennett, James Ford, Thomas Maynard and William Plumbe, severally stood indicted for having, on the 3rd of January last, at Bexhill, in the county of Sussex, been guilty of a similar offence, and in which indictment the prisoners severally pleaded guilty. Lord Tenterden informed the prisoners that their case would be submitted to the Crown, and he had no doubt that their lives would be spared, and he hoped that they would not again follow any unlawful pursuits.—END.

From “The Sussex Advertiser Or Lewes and Brighthelmstone Journal”—. Monday, April 21st, 1828:–

Thursday, April 17th This morning the Recorder passed sentence on the several prisoners who had been tried these sessions. Thirty-three received the awful sentence of Death, among whom were William Bennett, James Ford, Henry Miller, Thomas Miller, Edward Shoesmith, John Spray, Stephen Stubberfield, Spencer Whiteman, Thomas Maynard, and William Plumb, for being assembled with arms to aid and assist in illegally running unacustomed spirits.–Eight were sentenced to transportation for life–seven for fourteen years–and ninety-two for seven years. A great number were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment; and 62 prisoners were discharged by proclamation.–END.

NOTE.—The prisoner Plumb’s name was spelt Plumbe in the first account..


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