But the King’s cutters in the Revenue work were not always as active as they might be. In one of his novels (The Three Cutters) Captain Marryat gives the reader a very plain hint that there was a good deal of slackness prevalent in this section of the service. Referring to the midshipman of the Revenue cutter Active, the author speaks of him as a lazy fellow, too inert even to mend his jacket which was out at elbows, and adds, “He has been turned out of half the ships in the service for laziness; but he was born so, and therefore it is not his fault. A Revenue cutter suits him—she is half her time hove-to; and he has no objection to boat-service, as he sits down in the stern-sheets, which is not fatiguing. Creeping for tubs is his delight, as he gets over so little ground.”
But Marryat was, of course, intentionally sarcastic here. That this lazy element was not always, and in every ship, prevalent is clear from the facts at hand. It is also equally clear from the repeated admonitions and exhortations of the Board of Customs, by the holding-out of handsome rewards and the threatenings of dire penalties, that the Revenue-cutter commanders were at any rate periodically negligent of their duties. They were far too fond of coming to a nice snug anchorage for the night or seeking shelter in bad weather, and generally running into harbour with a frequence that was unnecessary. The result was that the cutter, having left her station unguarded, the smugglers were able to land their kegs with impunity.
But we need not delay our story longer, and may proceed now to consider the subject in greater detail.
THE EARLIEST SMUGGLERS
It is no part of our intention to trace the history of the levying of customs through different reigns and in different ages, but it is important to note briefly that the evading of these dues which we designate smuggling, is one of the oldest offences on record.
The most ancient dues paid to the English sovereigns would seem to have been those which were levied on the exportation and importation of merchandise across the sea; and it is essential to emphasise at the outset that though nowadays when we speak of smuggling we are accustomed to think only of those acts concerned with imports, yet the word applies equally to the unlawful manner of exporting commodities. Before it is possible for any crime to be committed there must needs be at hand the opportunity to carry out this intention; and throughout the history of our nation—at any rate from the thirteenth century—that portion of England, the counties of Kent and Sussex, which is adjacent to the Continent, has always been at once the most tempted and the most inclined towards this offence. Notwithstanding that there are many other localities which were rendered notorious by generations of smugglers, yet these two between them have been responsible for more incidents of this nature than all the rest put together.