Tuesday, September 27, 2011


by Grace Elliot (author of 'A Dead Man's Debt.')

‘Smuggling, though a real offence, is owing to the laws themselves, for the higher the duites, the greater the advantage and consequently the temptation.’
1768 Treatise on Crimes and Punishment, Beccaria.

I’m currently researching my WIP (work in progress) which involves smuggling along the south coast of England in the 18th century. Imagine my surprise when my husband, produced an old, beige-coloured book with linen covered boards from our very own bookshelves, on the very subject of smuggling!
This book, ‘The Smugglers of Christchurch, Bourne Heath and the New Forest’, by E Russell Oakley, published in 1924, turned out to be a wonderful glimpse into the history, not just of smuggling, but of the 1920’s.
In the book Mr Oakley writes about a talk on smuggling he gave on BBC radio, in January 1924. He recounts the true story of a fast sailing boat with a cargo of contraband tea which, in 1748, was chased by Revenue cutters. In danger of being overhauled and captured, the smugglers jumped overboard in shallow water just off Bourne Heath and swam ashore to escape. In his radio broadcast Mr Oakley bemoans:
“It is curious that contemporary records give us so much detail, yet the name of the boat and her home port are not stated.”
Preventatives men bursting in on smugglers.

And it’s this next bit that I love as a reflection of history-within-history. In his book, Mr Oakley recounts that a week after the program he received a letter which read:
“Last week I purchased a wireless set. [Don’t you just love it? Owning a radio was so unusual the writer mentioned it in his letter!] Last Saturday night I listened in for the first time and you were the first speaker I have heard on the air.”
The letter goes onto say:
“I am going to tell you something you don’t know. That boat belonged to a relative of our family and the loss of it broke his heart and he died soon afterwards. The name of the boat was ‘Charles’ and she was…an oyster dredger and fishing boat.”
How wonderful, that the new-technology of the ‘wireless set’ provided an answer to a question nearly two centuries old! 
Smugglers landing goods in a sheltered cove.

Another fascinating glimpse into the past is the mention of what were then hamlets and villages, - Shirley – a hamlet four miles away (now a sprawling suburb of Southampton, and anything less idyllic or hamlet-like it’s difficult to imagine.) And of course there is the Bourne Heath of the books title – which it transpires is the forerunner of the well-known seaside resort and popular retirement town of Bournemouth. In Victorian and Edwardian times the transformation from sleepy Bourne Heath, to bustling Bournemouth was underway, as E Russell Oakley writes in 1924:

“Many places in the coastal belt….have entirely disappeared, submerged under a titanic tide of bricks, cement, reinforced concrete and Trinidad asphalt.”
Aerial view of modern day Bournemouth.
About the author:
Grace Elliot leads a double life as a veterinarian by day, and author of historical romance by night. Her debut novel, 'A Dead Man's Debt' is available from Amazon
If you would like to know more about Grace Elliot and her work please visit:
http://graceelliot-author.blogspot.com – Grace’s blog is a blend of historical trivia, romance and cats!
Or Grace's website at: www.wix.com/graceelliot.grace-elliot 


  1. Welcome!
    It's very exciting to be part of this new blog and share my love of all things historical.
    Thank you for dropping by,
    Grace x

  2. Great article. It's funny how smugglers--which we would absolutely abhor today--seem so fascinatingly romantic in history. Oh well, I especially enjoyed the part where the two centuries old mystery was solved. So cool!
    Thanks for sharing,

  3. Great article, Grace! Your history-within-history viewpoint added so much. Well done!

    Lauren Gilbert

  4. It is sad to see the past disappear under the concrete and asphalt of today. Yet, there is much preserved in Britain- I'm sure those of you who can see it appreciate that.

    Thanks for the lovely article!

  5. Thank you for this post! It was very interesting!

  6. I read a bit more of the book today and learnt that the main roads in Bournemouth (that still exist today) actually follow the paths the smugglers took as they moved their goods from the shore inland. Apparently, when Bourne Heath became Bournemouth, no one could better the routes taken by the smugglers!
    Grace x

  7. Great article! I found smuggling fascinating when I did some research on it for a story I wrote set in Cornwall.

  8. Smugglers always seem so much more heroic than the Preventive men who tried to stop them. But based on that picture graphic included, theirs was a dangerous life too.
    Thanks for the posting- very interesting.


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