Thomas Kingsmill and the Hawkhurst Gang

 

Although the headquarters of this notorious gang falls outside the boundaries of the area we're looking at, their associations with Hampshire and Dorset cannot go by without mention.

 

The infamous Kent-based "Hawkhurst Gang" began their reign of terror long before Thomas Kingsmill took over the leadership in 1747 from Arthur Gray. It has been said that the band of vicious cut-throats could raise the help of no less than 500 men within an hour's notice.

 

In 1744 the gang were caught red-handed at Shoreham by King's men during a landing and a vicious battle ensued in which the Riding Officers were defeated and many were severely injured. They were then led away by the smugglers and taken to their headquarters for "interrogation". The smugglers were enraged when they discovered that two of the King's Men were actually members of the gang in the distant past. Although they had no qualms about killing King's Men or informers, they decided to punish the men in a different manner, tying them to separate trees to be flogged before being shipped off to France and abandoned. This was a popular way to dispose of customs men as the King's uniform would mean almost certain death or imprisonment by the French, with whom Britain was at war. However, these two men escaped lightly given the barbaric fate that awated two of their victims (Galley and Chater) four years later.

 

The Goudhurst Militia

 

A later incident involving the gang was to prove less successful. Unlike many other smuggler's of the time, the Hawkhurst Gang were extremely unpopular owing to their rule by terror. Any farmer unwilling to lend his wagons, horses or barns to the Gang would be severely dealt with and many were ruined after having their farms burnt to the ground or their livestock killed. Eventually, the people of nearby Goudhurst decided that enough was enough and to formed an illegal militia under the leadership of an ex-sergeant, John Sturt. As the militia set up their anti-smuggling patrols, the smuggler's attacked causing them to retreat back to Goudhurst, minus one member who was abducted and tortured for information. Eventually the wretched man was sent back to Goudhurst with a declaration of total war. They threatened to kill each and every inhabitant of the village and burn every dwelling to the ground. The Gang even stated the date and time when this would happen.

 

All of the women and children were sent away from the village and the defences secured. When the time came, the Gang , true to their word, surrounded the village. However, a volley of firearms greeted them that was much larger than they expected and the Gang suffered a humiliating defeat to the people of Goudhurst as they retreated from the pursuing militia.

 

The Torture of Galley and Chater

 

The 7th October 1747 saw an infamous attack on Poole Customs House by the Hawkhurst Gang. On the 22nd September of the same year, Richard Perin, a carpenter forced to abandon his trade due to rheumatism, was carrying a cargo of contraband tea valued at £500 on-board the smuggling vessel "The Three Brothers". A Revenue cutter, "Swift", spotted the vessel and pursued in a chase that was to last over six hours. The Revenue Men eventually caught up, but Perin, John (or "Jack") Diamond, and five others escaped in a little boat. The sezed goods were handed over to William Milner, Collector of Customs at Poole , and then locked away in the King's Warehouse in the cellars of the Custom House (the Custom House that stands today in Poole is a replica of the original).

 

A council of war followed on the 4th October at Charlton Forest, Sussex (on the Duke of Richmond's Estate) where it was decided that the Customs House should be broken open and the goods recaptured. The following day they were joined by members of the Hawkhurst Gang at Horndean, eager to regain their dignity after their defeat at Goudhurst. By the 6th October, now numbering between 30 and 60, they were surveying the scene from Constitution Hill, and just before midnight two of their number were sent to reconnoitre the Customs House. They reported back that although a large, well armed vessel was at the quay, the tide was too low for it to be bought to play on them during an attack on the Customs House.

 

By means of a narrow back lane they reached the waterside and 30 of them made a direct attack, smashing down the doors of the Custom House with axes and crowbars. Only a watch man was to be found to whom they said that they had come to take only the goods belonging to them. They filled their wagons and left the town, reaching Fordingbridge by dawn. They stopped here at the George Inn and breakfasted while a large crowd of inhabitants of the fervent smuggling village assembled to cheer them for scoring a mark against the customs men. In the crowd, Jack Diamond saw a face he knew - that of Daniel Chater, a middle-aged cobbler. The smuggler threw a packet of tea to his old friend, a gesture that was to cost him and many others dearly.

 

A few weeks later Chater decided to turn King's evidence against Diamond who had since been arrested. Either he had read of a reward for information regarding the Customs House raid, or magistrates had heard of the packet of tea he was thrown and forced him to testify against his old friend. William Galley, an elderly tide waiter from Southampton was sent to escort Chater to the home of a Sussex magistrate named Major William Battine. Setting out from Fordingbridge on 14th February 1748 they stopped at the New Inn at Leigh near Havant, where George and Thomas Austin and a Mr. Jenks agreed to accompany them on the next stage of their journey.

 

When they reached Rowland's Castle in Sussex they stopped for a dram of rum at the White Hart. The landlady, Elizabeth Payne, was a mother of two smugglers, and was eager to know of the two strangers' business. From George Austin she learned that Galley and Chater were taking a letter to Major Battine, but he knew no more of them. A few drinks later, however, they eventually divulged their mission to a group of smuggler's they had unknowingly been drinking with. The smugglers waited for Galley and Chater to retire to their rooms and then plotted to abduct them and await the outcome of the Diamond case before deciding upon their fate. At 7pm Galley and Chater were woken by a horse whip, forced outside, and made to sit upon a single horse with their legs tied together under the horse's belly. As they travelled, the men were whipped by the smugglers and eventually the saddle girth snapped causing Galley and Chater to slip under the horse's belly. The smugglers, clearly enjoying their sadistic sport, proceeded to whip the men's heads as they drove the horse on.

 

They were eventually tied to separate horses, but the torture continued. When they arrived at Rake, the smugglers buried Galley in the sandy heath thinking he had died of a broken neck after being pushed roughly from his horse. However, when the body was later found, Galley's hands were covering his eyes, indicating he was still alive when he was buried. Chater was taken a further four miles to Trotton where he was imprisoned in Richard Mills' outhouse for 48 hours, chained by one leg to a post. He was subjected to intermittent violence where his teeth were knocked out and one eye almost destroyed. It was decided that Chater had to be permanently silenced, the plan being to hang him and then drop his body down a well in Ladyholt Park. Before being taken away, a smuggler named Tapner slashed his face 2 or 3 times with clasp knife, almost cutting out his eyes and penetrating the gristle of his nose. At Harris' Well they unsuccessfully tried to hang the unfortunate Chater on a windlass, but the rope was too short. He hanged there for 15 minutes before being cut down to plummet into the well below. He was then stoned to death. When his mutilated body was found one leg was completely severed and his eyes picked out.

 

The law caught up with them six months later using evidence from William Steel, a member of the Gang arrested on a different charge. Seven men were arrested for the murder of Galley and Chater, named Carter, Tapner, Cobby, Hammond, Jackson, Richard Mills, and Richard Mills junior. The first four were hung in chains, Jackson was due to be treated in the same way but died of shock, and the last two were hung.

 

After this 5 more were arrested for the Custom House raid, Kingsmill, Fairall, Perin, Glover and Lilliwhite. The first two being hung in chains, Perin hung, Glover pardoned and Lilliwhite cleared.