Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Coppinger the Dane

Coppinger is a name well known in North Devon and Cornwall, as he has become a folk legend. His name is sometimes spelt "Copinger".

He was believed to be a Danish man, the skipper and only survivor of a ship wreck off the coast of Hartland around 1792-3.  He went on to marry a local girl Dinah Hamlyn and from her parent's home began a career of smuggling and piracy with his gang of thugs.

He was reputed to be a bully and would regularly threaten to beat his wife in order to get his wife's family to do his bidding. It is no wonder then that he became known as "Cruel Coppinger".

"Will you hear of Cruel Coppinger
He came from a foreign land;
He was brought to us by the salt water,
He was carried away by the wind!"

His gang were just as bad and are said to have beheaded a revenue officer in order to scare them away from their smuggling activity on the coast in their infamous ship called Black Prince. He is also said to have controlled large areas and paths by the coast. These became known as "Coppinger's Tracks" of which one led to the edge of a 300 foot cliff. Below was a cave "Coppinger's Cave" only reachable by a rope ladder.

It is said that eventually the Revenue Officers could no longer ignore the activities of Coppinger and his men, and knowing that he could no longer continue, he escaped them in a boat and was never seen again. His final fate is unknown. "He was carried away by the wind!"

It is uncertain how much of what was written about him is real or just folklore, and it is believed that some of the things said about him were the amalgamation of two men who were active in smuggling and piracy around that time.

Of course, folk legends often become the subject of folk songs, and this one below, written by Devon folk artist Seth Lakeman is all about Coppinger and sums up much of what is said about the man. I hope you like it.

Jenna Dawlish

Jenna Dawlish is the author of two Victorian novels partly set in Devon.

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