Continued from Tuesdays With Norwood: Bootleg Tea – Part 2

Without regard for secrecy, smugglers boldly stole their cargoes back from government customs houses more than once. Long cavalcades of horses loaded with tea were led quite openly through Kent; it is said six tons a week were run from France through Sussex. “The best that can be said of this period,” observes J.M. Scott, “is that it was the beginning of yacht racing-revenue cutters chasing smugglers who almost invariably won the cup of tea.” There were, of course, occasional casualties on both sides. One of the famous “Wiltshire Moonrakers,” who used the old church in Kingstone as their hiding place, is buried in its churchyard under this epitaph:

To the memory of Robert Trotman, late of Rowd, in the county of Wilts, who was barbarously murdered on the shore near Poole, the 24th of March, 1765:

A little tea; one leaf I did not steal.
For guiltless bloodshed I to God appeal.
Put tea in one scale, human blood in t’other,
And think what ’tis to slay a harmless brother.

Stripped of their glamour, most smuggling gangs must have been rather like the one Daphne du Maurier depicted in her novel Jamaica Inn: bloodthirsty and wholly out for themselves. Still, in a time when inland communications were unimaginably bad, when most roads in England were tracks, dangerous at night and unusable part of the year, when most of the populace was illiterate, living and dying within ten or twenty miles of their birthplaces, smugglers undertook a nationwide sales campaign of an expensive novelty-and succeeded. They were only put out of business entirely after Waterloo, when the country finally had spare troops enough to enforce the laws. But the large-scale smuggling of tea had ended in 1784, when the government finally repealed the tea tax at the behest of Richard Twining, chairman of the dealers of tea. For most Britishers, it was the first intelligent act of government in living memory, coming as it did three years after their American colonists had ended another dispute over tea by compelling the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown.

Read next: Tuesdays With Norwood: Colonial America – Part 1