Smuggling in Regency England

Naomi here. We’ve talked quite a bit this month about taxes and money, both current and Regency related. But one thing we haven’t looked at was how the people of Regency England felt about those taxes, and even more importantly, how the people thwarted those taxes.

Isn’t it rather interesting to know that people have been evading taxes for hundreds of years? The concept is hardly new, though the methods and means have changed through the centuries.

So, now you’re asking, how did the English population avoid all those hefty taxes? Well, not all of them could be avoided (here’s a little list of some of the more odd Regency taxes). But duties or import taxes could be easily avoided through:

Smuggling.

That’s right. Smuggling, that dastardly century-old business. England being an island and therefore surrounded by water, imported and exported all its taxable goods via shipping. There are lots of places along the English coast where sailing vessels could harbor and unload their goods away from the watchful eye of the revenue agents.

What was smuggled?

Anything that was taxed–which was pretty close to every purchasable good imaginable. Tea and brandy were two of the biggest items, but that list would also include salt, leather, soap, chocolate, fabric, and cigars.

Furthermore, during the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars, French imports were banned from England. And France made things craved by the British upper class, like silk from Lyons and lace from cities such as Alencon and Arras and Dieppe and Le Puy.

And of course brandy.

If there’s one constant in smuggling throughout the annals of history, it’s this: smugglers always deal with spirits.

Where were the goods smuggled?

Though the whole of the English coast was subject to smuggling, smuggling occurred in greatest concentration along the English Channel. A quick little jaunt to France and back allowed for smuggling en masse in this region. The County of Kent, which lies nearest France and at it’s easternmost point is separated only by a few miles of water, was a smuggling hotbed. In the 1780s, the English government burned all the sailing vessels in the town of Deal, located just north of Dover, claiming there wasn’t a single sea-worthy vessel in the harbor that didn’t engage in smuggling.

Once on land, tea and brandy and cigars and the like easily made their way to the markets in London, and the overland smuggling was so elaborate that the English people had no way of knowing whether the tea they purchased had been smuggled in. In fact, some estimate that 75% of the tea in England was smuggled in during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

How did the smugglers operate?

Answering this question gets fun and creative and more than a little interesting. The British government did try to prevent smuggling, but keep in mind, the crown needed sailing vessels (most commonly cutters) and sea-worthy men to do this. And while fighting wars with America and France, the crown didn’t exactly have the personnel and vessels to shut down smuggling operations. In fact, it’s often said that the sailors on the kings cutters were people unfit for naval service. There are all kinds of stories of sailors sleeping on duty, and being hired despite old age and missing limbs and a host of other ailments that would make fighting off quick, able-bodied smugglers rather impossible.

The crown did have a preventative service in place, with enough revenue agents that smugglers couldn’t bring a large vessel directly into a harbor and unload illegal goods in broad daylight. Smuggling vessels were often painted black with black sails, making them invisible in the night. Often times smuggling cutters and sloops would drop barrels of brandy into the channel just off the shore, and then “fishermen” would take their smaller crafts out to retrieve the brandy and send it off to London. Sometimes these smuggling cutters would have a rendezvous time and place set up, and the smaller vessels would come and unload the cutter, then return to port under the guise of fishing.

In some towns along the coast, such as Hastings and Dover and the smaller towns in between, the smugglers almost acted like a modern day gang. The smugglers looked out for one another and engaged in illegal activities with each other. Even if the law abiding citizens of the town knew of the smugglers, they’d never turn the smugglers in for fear that their houses would be burned and their families killed.

And yes, sadly, such things did happen.

In other instances, there are stories of smugglers acting out of line and hurting a good, upstanding citizen, after which, the inhabitants of the local village got mad at the injustice and called down the law.

All in all, the topic of smuggling is much too involved to delve into with a single blog post. If you’re interested in further reading on this topic, you could try King’s Cutters and Smugglers: 1700-1855 by E. Keble Chatterton. (The ebook is free.) Or Smuggling in the British Isles by Richard Platt. Platt has a great smuggling website with a lot of information as well.

And you might be interested to know, I’m going to have a rather nefarious French smuggler and his gang play a major role in the sequel to Sanctuary for a Lady. Oh the fun we writers get to have as we explore the dastardly deeds of ages past!

Money Changers: Working out Regency Money

Money was undergoing a change during the Regency. It began during the early part of the Napoleonic wars, in 1797 to be exact, when the guinea was discontinued officially. Guineas were still in circulation, though, and people spoke in terms of items costing X number of guineas.

So what was a guinea? 21 shillings.

Clear as mud?

Let’s break this down to the simplest terms possible.

1807 Farthing
1807 Farthing

Farthing (as in “I don’t give a farthing for that.) ¼ pence

Hapenny or half penny: ½ penny or pence

Penny: a penny or pence shown as amount in numbers with a d.

Tuppence: two pennies

Thrupence: three pennies

Sixpence: six pennies or half a shilling

1816 Shilling

Shilling: 12 pennies r pence and shown as amount in numbers with an S

Half Crown: 30 pence or 2S 6D

1819 Crown Piece
1819 Crown Piece

Crown: 60d or 5s

Pound: 20s

Pony: Slang term for 25 pounds

Monkey: Slang term for 500 pounds.

Sovereign: In 1816, Great Britain went on the gold standard and issued the sovereign, which was a pound in a gold coin.

South facade of Bank of England, London
South Facade of Bank of England, London, 19th Century

Although bank notes were issued for convenience, they were not legal tender as we think of paper money nowadays. That didn’t occur until a little over a decade after the Regency ended. Bank notes were promissory notes saying that the bearer could exchange it for the face value of the note in gold coins. This was one way in which money passed from bank to bank.

To explain the banking system and how it worked before even telegrams could be exchanged to verify accounts is a complicated subject that will have to wait for another post.

Pride and Money ~ A Dangerous Combination

Regency Pride

Beau Brummel has long been considered an important figure in Regency history. His friendship with the Prince Regent and his charm and wit brought him influence and prestige. He became the ultimate arbiter of fashion, with many historians crediting him with the transition from knee breeches to trousers.

Unfortunately, Brummel is also famous for fleeing to France to escape debtor’s prison. It was a temporary fix as he ended up in debtor’s prison in France a few years after fleeing there. By the time he died, all his gloss and glamour has disappeared, leaving him a slovenly pauper.

The saddest part of this story is that shortly after resigning his commission, he inherited £30,000. This was a veritable fortune in the early 19th century and he should have been able to live comfortably for the rest of his life. His pride was his downfall.

The “friends” he made through his connection with Prinny were all much wealthier than he was and he spent extravagantly and borrowed abundantly to maintain a similar lifestyle. He built himself the proverbial house of cards and it all came fluttering down.

Biblical Consequences

The combination of pride and money proved deadly for Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Pride made them desirous of the recognition a large donation to the church would bring, but their desire for money made them deceitful. They held back a portion of the money from the sale of their land and then claimed to the church that they were donating everything. It cost them their life.

Modern Day Freedom

God has called my family and I in a different direction than He took my brother and my parents. The struggle to learn that I could do without some of the things they bought was a long and hard one for me. We ended up with a large amount of debt. It took us several years and some outside help to dig our way out of it.

Whether you have fistfuls of cash...
... or palms full of pennies, God can use what you have better than you can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I didn’t want to admit that we couldn’t’ afford to go on vacation with my extended family or that I couldn’t pay for my part of a group gift. Pride made me look to other solutions and got me into trouble. My focus was more on worldly things than Godliness.

“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”  Luke 16:13

So often we want to be like other people. We want the designer clothes or the fancy cars or the big houses. When  we can’t truly afford it, the temptation to turn to credit cards and loans becomes greater. Pride can drive us into serious money issues if we aren’t careful.  If we find the strength to swallow our pride and say “I can’t afford that” we just might find a little more of that abundant life God wants to provide us.

Finding joy in the little things. My husband and kids enjoying a trip to the lake.

For me that included a lot less stress, a truer understanding of what really brought me joy in life, and a closer relationship with my family because honest lines of communication were being opened. I think all of that is worth way more than my petty pride.

Women and Money in the Regency

Women today have many options open to them when it comes to making a living. Just looking around my own circle of friends I see women with careers in law enforcement, in education, in psychology, in child care, and so much more. But in the Regency, the options women had for obtaining money were much more limited.

Marriage and Family

Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales

Upper-class women would usually have their expenses covered by their husbands (if they were married) or their fathers (if they still lived at home). They might even be given “pin money” to spend – money to cover clothes or other small sundry expenses. Any money a married woman had, however, belonged to her husband. There were cases where wealthy women had some of their property set aside for their exclusive use – these legal arrangements had to be made before marriage under Equity and cost a lot to arrange – but those were rare exceptions. Accepting an offer of marriage was usually a woman’s most important financial decision because she was deciding who would support her for the rest of her life.

Widows could inherit some of their husbands’ property and when their husbands died the women’s own property from before marriage would revert to them. Also, women were allowed to inherit money and property, and if they were single it would belong to them alone.

Work

There were few respectable jobs open to upper-class women, but there were some. The most ordinary were taking care of children by becoming a teacher or a governess, or becoming a paid companion to an older woman, often a relative. Though these were respectable occupations, being forced to work was still a diminution of one’s social status.

Dorothy Jordan

A woman was more likely to be viewed at least a little askance if she became an author. Though it did not put her beyond the pale, those who did sometimes published under an alias to avoid public comment or censure. Worse yet was becoming an actress, especially as it was not at all unusual for actresses to also become either mistresses or prostitutes. One famous actress, Mrs. Jordan, became mistress to the Duke of Clarence, who later became King of England.

Women could also sometimes run or work in shops, and lower-class women often went into service, working as maids or cooks or other domestics for upper-class homes. Less respectably still, many women fed themselves through prostitution, and this was so common in Regency London that the language of the time is rife with slang terms for all the different kinds of prostitutes who made their living in the city.

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell