The other kind of free trade
October 9, 2008 8:07 AM   Subscribe

Smuggler's Britain tells "the fascinating story of smuggling in 18th and 19th century Britain, when high taxes led to an dramatic increase in illegal imports. As the 'free trade'" grew, smugglers openly landed contraband in full view of the customs authorities: columns of heavily-armed thugs protected the cargoes." Includes a gazetteer with Google maps links so you can scope out some lonely cove to land contraband of your own in the footsteps of your forefathers and introduces you to famous smugglers like Isaac Gulliver, who never killed a man in a long career. Though of course, it was an enterprise where things often would turn ugly.
posted by Abiezer (7 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

Interesting stuff! I'd just recently been reading Craig Nelson's biography of Thomas Paine, who began his political life arguing for fair wages and respect for tax-collectors (of whom he was one) who were regularly doing battle with smugglers. Nice to see it from the other side.
posted by LucretiusJones at 8:33 AM on October 9, 2008

Thanks. I'm currently reading Robert Louis Stevenson's historical thriller The Master of Ballantrae set in 1740s Scotland which involves a lot of "free traders" and I couldn't figure out what it was about, this explains it.
posted by stbalbach at 8:53 AM on October 9, 2008

I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;
I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news,
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

I'm very good at integral and differential calculus;
I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

I know our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's;
I answer hard acrostics, I've a pretty taste for paradox,
I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus,
In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous;
I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies,
I know the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes!
Then I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din afore,
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.

Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform,
And tell you ev'ry detail of Caractacus' uniform:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

In fact, when I know what is meant by "mamelon" and "ravelin",
When I can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin,
When such affairs as sorties and surprises I'm more wary at,
And when I know precisely what is meant by "commissariat",
When I have learnt what progress has been made in modern gunnery,
When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery—
In short, when I've a smattering of elemental strategy—
You'll say a better Major-General has never sat a-gee.

For my military knowledge, though I'm plucky and adventury,
Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;
But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.
posted by Vindaloo at 9:13 AM on October 9, 2008

It's a losing proposition, But one you can't refuse.
It's the politics of contraband, It's the smuggler's blues

posted by porn in the woods at 9:35 AM on October 9, 2008

Interesting essay, thanks. The large-scale collusion of entire villages was sort of amusing, except for the dire economic straits that pushed people into it. From a modern perspective it seems laughable that such heavy, bulky commodities as wool, tea and booze were profitable enough to smuggle - I wonder how many bales of wool back then would have equalled the profit today on 1 kg of cocaine? (Adjusted for inflation over the centuries, of course.)

That would be an interesting calculation, if anybody wants to take a stab at it. I think of wool, tea and booze as mundane and abundant commodities that can be bought legally for modest prices, but maybe years ago they were scarce and fiercely desirable. Maybe there was as much profit in tea back then as in narcotics today?

*sips tea, ponders history*
posted by Quietgal at 12:15 PM on October 9, 2008

Definitely a lesson on how far Governments can push a regulatory scheme before financial incentives make people find a workaround. Sadly this seems to be often forgotten.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:04 PM on October 9, 2008

These would include one of mrs Jones' Hampshire ancestors who was saved from a marine's bullet by a bible.

Or so the story goes....
posted by IndigoJones at 2:58 PM on October 9, 2008

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