John Streeter 1750 - 1824

 

John Streeter was, perhaps, Christchurch's most notorious smuggler, but he was not born to the town. He took up residence in Christchurch, a town ideally suited to his activities, after marrying Rose Button at the Priory in 1773. He owned his own lugger, the "Phoenix" and also a snuff factory at Stanpit, which was a group of about six cottages on the road to Mudeford, a mile away from Christchurch's main town centre.

 

The "Phoenix" was seized on the 17th July, 1779 by the "Rose" Revenue cutter for illegally importing brandy, rum and geneva under a cargo of grain. Streeter was infuriated and denied all knowledge of this, claiming that the illicit cargo was put on board by an unknown person. He claimed that it was a flagrant act of injustice and that the "Phoenix" would deteriorate by being left unattended for months. Eventually Streeter paid a substantial fine and the ship was returned to him, only to be seized again in 1783 for landing a quantity of brandy and tea.

 

In May of the following year, the Christchurch Riding Officers, Bursey, Reeks, Newsam and Noyce, seized a hogshead of tobacco from Streeter's cellar in Stanpit which was found to be consigned to a Robert Bittam. As no Robert Bittam was known, it was thought that the name had been changed from Robert Button, who was Streeter's brother in law. However, Streeter regained possession of the tobacco due to a legal technicality.

 

The Battle of Christchurch

 

In July of this same year, the violent Battle of Christchurch occurred, which involved Streeter's next lugger, the "Civil Usage" and another owned by a William Parrott. The "Swan" Revenue cutter saw 120,000 gallons of spirits and 25 tons of tea being landed by 300 men, 50 horses and 400 wagons. There "Swan" called for assistance from the "Orestes" sloop-of-war, which arrived the following day. The smuggler's ran the luggers ashore, removed the sails and materials, and then armed themselves.

 

Two tenders and several smaller boats were sent alongside the luggers and demanded the smugglers to surrender. They were, however, met by arms fire which wounded several King's Men and killed the master of one of the tenders, William Allen. Originally the fire was seen to come from behind the luggers, but in the ensuing battle they retreated to the Haven House Inn and an adjoining stable. The battle raged for three hours, until the luggers were eventually seized and taken to Cowes.

 

Following this bloodbath, the Board of Customs offered a £200 reward for information regarding the murder of William Allen, who was later buried with great ceremony. Claims were laid in the Court of the Exchequer against 27 named suspects, which included Streeter and Parrott. Eventually George Coombes was left to take the punishment for the death of Alan after two other men who were arrested, and he was executed in January 1786. His body was hung in chains near Christchurch Harbour, but was later cut down by his friends and buried.

 

After at the incident the Supervisor of the Christchurch Riding Officers, Joshua Stevens Jeans, was dismissed for incompetence, and Riding Officer John Bursey was dismissed for allegedly conniving with the smugglers. In 1786 Streeter was arrested for his part in the Allen murder, but escaped to find refuge in the Channel Islands until the incident was forgotten. During this period he returned to Christchurch occasionally to attend to business concerning his tobacco and snuff factory, as well as fathering three more children. He died at the age of 74 in 1824 and his body lies in Christchurch Priory.