After accumulating this evidence, the Committee issued their first report on March 24, 1745, and expressed themselves of the opinion that the high duties charged on tea and other commodities had certainly been one cause of smuggling. But they also added that the exposing for sale of those boats and vessels which had been seized from the smugglers was certainly another potent reason, for these craft were frequently bought back by the men; they therefore recommended that all captured craft should be burned. Furthermore, the Commission condemned the custom of allowing penalties to be compounded so easily. As an instance of this last-mentioned custom we might call attention to three smugglers belonging to the county of Hampshire. There is a reference to them in the Southampton Letters under date of April 28, 1730, from which it appears that Matthew Barton, John Gibort, and William Moadon of Fordingbridge were under prosecution for running goods ashore. They subsequently offered to compound for the said offence on the following terms: Barton to pay the sum of L35, Gibort to pay L25, and Moadon L15. But before allowing the matter to be settled straight away the Collector and Comptroller at Southampton were ordered to look carefully into the affair and to inquire what these men were generally esteemed to be worth.
THE SMUGGLERS’ METHODS
It was not till June of 1746 that the Committee issued their second report, and the evidence therein contained is even more interesting to us than any which had hitherto been given. After the Solicitor to the Commissioners had shown how biassed juries frequently were towards prisoners brought up on charges connected with smuggling, how they declined to bring in a verdict against them even in spite of the clearest of evidence, another official (the Surveyor of the Searchers in the Port of London) stated that when he had received information that there had been a run of goods in a certain locality and had even received information as to the road along which they would be brought, he had been compelled to travel by night and carefully to avoid all the beaten paths. Indeed, if people whom they might meet on the road noticed a Custom House officer and any soldiers together, their design would immediately be suspected and warning would promptly be sent to the smugglers, who would hide their goods. He added, also, that he remembered on one occasion that a couple of vessels landed in the Isle of Thanet as much tea as could be loaded on the backs of two hundred horses.
But it was when the ex-smugglers came to give their evidence that the real secrets of the trade were unfolded. Robert Hanning, who for years had been one of the most distinguished members of the industry, informed the Commission that formerly he was the principal dealer with the smugglers when he resided at Dunkirk. Some idea of the colossal business which he had carried on may be gathered from his admission that he had sold teas, brandies, and wines to be run into England to the extent of L40,000 per annum. And let us not forget to bear in mind that of course this probably represented the value of the goods when they were put on board. What they actually realised after they were smuggled into the English market must have been something considerable.