Important Dates

1643 Excise Bill first introduced.
1671 Board of Customs set up.
1698 Corps of Riding Officers instituted, with 299 being employed.
1719 "Hovering" within six miles of the coast deemed to be illegal.
1721 Those caught smuggling within 20 miles of the coast, in gangs of over 5 members, carrying weapons, wearing masks, or forcibly resisting arrest or seizure of goods risked a sentence of 7 years transportation to the American colonies. This inspired gangs to increase violence to avoid capture. 250 customs men were wounded and 6 killed in 10 years.
1733 Walpole’s Excise Bill was opposed because merchants disliked the idea of Revenue Men being able to search shops and warehouses at will.

Act of indemnity for smugglers. A free pardon was offered for all past smuggling offences if the felon was prepared to pass on information. This proved to be ineffective because the smugglers feared retribution from their comrades.

The death sentence could now be passed for the use of firearms against an officer, with transportation, flogging, hard labour, or naval service for unarmed resistance. This also proved to be ineffective owing to a warrant being required before an arrest could be made. Many smugglers simply dumped goods and ran away because the punishment for smuggling, if no resistance was given, was merely a fine of 3 times the value of the goods.


Duke of Richmond’s Act.

1) The death penalty was the sole punishment for gangs assembling to run contraband.
2) Any wanted smuggler was judged guilty if he failed to surrender within 40 days of his name appearing in the London Gazette.
3) The death penalty could be passed for harbouring a smuggler.
4) Fines could be levied on communities if a violent offence was committed and no conviction was made within 6 months.
5) A new system of pardons was instituted for informers.

This act also had little beneficial effect.

1775 The American War of Independence drained vast numbers of soldiers and seamen from England, making it easier for free traders to go about their business. Many smugglers were freed from gaol after agreeing to become enlisted, but some got themselves discharged and went back to their trade.
1778 Pardons were offered to smugglers who agreed to enter the navy or found two substitutes to serve for them.
1815 The Royal Navy was linked to Revenue forces.
1816 The Royal Navy begin a blockade of the Channel, seizing 875 ships in a year.
1831 Formation of the Coastguard Service.