Sunday, March 12, 2017

Black Scorpion - Pirates & Smugglers of the Devon coast.

Another batch of Pirates and Smugglers complete from the chaps at Black Scorpion for use within their Cutlass! rules.
Cast in resin I was a little concerned at first, but they take paint well and contained very little flash, it will be interesting to see how they stand up to wear and tear on the table top as they are a touch on the light side.

I figured these fine fellows would be ideal for smuggling games in the coming months.

With the annual Devon holiday booked this year, there is an added interest this time around rather than the usual holiday hangout of Tea Shops and Seaside amusements. A chance to slip away to walk the Smuggler beaches from the 1700's that should make the kids happy. :-)

Reading up on the period there is a vivid picture of the Smuggling activity in area in the letters of  Philip Taylor, who was Collector of Customs at Weymouth from 1716.

During the winter of 1717-18 he wrote: "the running of great quantities of goods having of late very much increased" - the government tried to push through a bill for the prevention of smuggling. It fell down in the House of Lords and, as a result, reported Philip Taylor the following April, "the smuggling trade is prodigiously increased and they and all persons concerned with them are become more insolent than ever and dares any power to oppose them, which will very soon have a very bad influence on trade. Besides, as these smugglers are generally the dissatisfied part of the country, their riding in troops of thirty or forty armed men on the least appearance of an opportunity will be dangerous to the peace of the country as well as troublesome to the Government." The smugglers even had the audacity to claim - and they used the failure of the smuggling bill as their evidence, that they were now "tolerated in smuggling by the King, Lords and Commons."

The bill, - which, among other things, forbade the importation of cargoes in vessels of under fifty tons - finally became law twelve months later, but by then Taylor was writing in colourful style:
"The smuggling traders in these parts are grown to such a head that they bid defiance to all law and government. They come very often in gangs of sixty to one hundred men to the shore in disguise armed with swords, pistols, blunderbusses, carbines and quarterstaffs; and not only carry off the goods they land in defiance of officers, but beat, knock down and abuse whoever they meet in their way; so that travelling by night near the coast, and the peace of the country, are become very precarious; and if an effectual law be not speedily passed, nothing but a military force can support the officers in the discharge of duties."

Philip Taylor was not exaggerating when he reported that "the tumultuous and riotous proceedings of the smugglers is not anything abated but daily growing upon us". He went on: "Most of the smuggling trade in this country is now carried on by people in such great numbers, armed and disguised, that the officers, if they meet them, can't possibly oppose them therein, nor do otherwise than search for the goods in suspected places, which by means of the country's favouring the smugglers, very often proves ineffectual and expensive to the officers." But if they did get caught and sentenced, they could be hung!

A smuggler at the execution dock from an old woodcut

Brandy and wine made up the bulk of the contraband cargoes landed in Dorset between 1716 and the mid-1730s, but many other commodities appear in the lists from time to time, including rum, coffee, tea, salt, pepper, cocoa beans, vinegar, cloth, silk handkerchiefs, tobacco, playing cards, foreign
paper and logwood sounds like an order to the guy's at Anisty is in order.

At Abbotsbury a young Customs officer, Joseph Hardy, was repeatedly ordered by Philip Taylor to retrieve the goods, but when he did so, he was obstructed by a gang of locals and immediately lost them again. Taylor commented sarcastically: "They [Hardy and Whitteridge] being both the most original fools I ever met with or heard of, in the scuffle of taking the goods away I can't find any blow was struck on either side and (it appears) that the heroical officers were directly frighted out of their goods."
Taylor recognised, though, that just about every person in Abbotsbury was an employee of the smugglers and concluded that the only way to settle the matter was to call in the army, who had been ordered to help the fight against smuggling when requested.

Accordingly he sent a message to Lieutenant Carr, commanding officer of Lord Irwin's Regiment of Horse quartered at Dorchester, and on November 16, Quartermaster William Thomson left the county town with Joseph Hardy and eighteen troops. On arriving at Abbotsbury, they found "a great mob of people gathering themselves about them" and Hardy summoned the parish constable and tithingman and asked them to help keep the peace. At the sight of the troops, Bradford the bailiff changed his attitude rather suddenly, handed over the keys and allowed Hardy to recapture the goods in the face of a vociferous but otherwise peaceful crowd.

Now there must be a scenario or two in that account.


  1. Great background info Stu. I used to have some old Black Scorpion metal minis for use with Legends of the High Seas, and they were wonderful sculpts. Sadly the rules never caught on at the old club and said minis were soon sold one:(

  2. Stuart,
    Your really getting into the Smugglers theme- well done on the figure painting. Cheers. KEV.

  3. Beautiful minis and great post!

  4. These rough and ready fellows look like they would give the Customs and Revenue men a hard time. I am guessing they are fans of BREXIT as well!
    Well done. I have always wanted to visit Devon, preferably on the day of the year when it doesn't rain.

  5. Those figures looks very nice with a very interesting sculpture. I love the guy with the huge axe, somebody it is not wise to mess with ;)