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Tide mill at Langstone
Smugglers sent signals from this tide mill at Langstone. Click picture to enlarge

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Guide-Book: South-East England


The far west of Sussex has a particularly black reputation in the history of smuggling, on account of a number of particularly brutal murders that took place here. (see Barbarous Usage below). However, these notorious incidents were in some respects the doing of strangers to the area, and by contrast, the local people kept a characteristically low profile in their smuggling activities.

They were aided in this by the nature of the coastline, which changes progressively west of Bognor, from straight flat beaches to a fretwork of sandy inlets and natural harbours. The proximity of the Isle of Wight, a smuggling entrepôt, was an added bonus.

Pagham Harbour

For Pagham (SZ8897, map 197) red map button leave the B2166 at Lagness along a minor road. To get to Sidlesham and Church Norton from Pagham is perhaps quicker on foot (there's a path round the harbour) than by car; follow the road almost to Chichester then take the B2145 Selsey road.

Pagham Harbour, the most easterly of the inlets in the Chichester area, is today choked with mud and weeds, but in the 18th century it was still a working port, with channels to the quayside both at Sidlesham and Pagham. The tide flowing into the harbour created sufficient current for rafts of tubs to float through the inlet unaided and usually unnoticed — a technique used to great advantage farther west. When vessels brought contraband into the harbour, it would have been a simple matter for accomplices on shore to pinpoint the preventive forces, so that goods could be landed on the distant side; crossing the 3/4-mile wide harbour in a boat was far quicker than negotiating the 5-mile circumference on horseback. Smugglers made good use of this topographical advantage in 1830, luring revenue officers to Sidlesham with a decoy light, then landing 700 tubs from a galley at Pagham.

The silted harbour is now a beautiful nature reserve, and the creeks unnavigable, but there is still a row of attractive old buildings close enough to the Pagham quayside to make a convenient temporary hiding for contraband. At Church Norton, on the west of the harbour, you can see the remains of a church that was once linked by a tunnel to the old rectory.

Selsey Bill

SZ89 3m S of Chichester (map 197) red map button

Two centuries ago Selsey Bill was very much more isolated than it is today, and the sand spit extended farther out into the Solent. Selsey was linked to the mainland by only a causeway, so the approach of the local riding officer would have conspicuous in the extreme. The Rectors of Selsey reputedly claimed a tithe on all kegs landed there, and stories also tell of a passageway leading from the Old Rectory to the Mound. The course of the tunnel was marked by a depression on the surface of the ground as late as 1911 [46]. In the 1720s one Selsey man ran a regular ferry service to France, travelling back and forth every five weeks, and other prominent Selsey figures made considerable fortunes just from part-time work in the free-trade. Landings weren't confined to Selsey itself: in a single run in 1743 2,000 lbs of tea were brought inland at West Wittering some six miles away.

Hayling Island and Thorney Island

Much of Thorney Island is now an army camp, and entry by car is at the discretion of the military — it's a 'restricted' area. Ask for permission at the gatehouse, or walk around the island on the public footpath. Contraband most often came ashore near the church SU770025 red map button (map 197).

To the west of Selsey Bill, The harbours of Langstone and Chichester, together with Emsworth Channel, form a huge natural basin with a wild and convoluted border. The single riding officer assigned to the area in the mid 18th century would have found it difficult to patrol just one of these harbours efficiently, let alone all three. Hayling and Thorney islands were widely used for landing goods rafted into the harbours on the fast-running tides, or rowed across the narrow strip of water that separated the coast from the Isle of Wight.

Hayling Island was approached along a causeway before Victorian times, and until the contraband could be inconspicuously moved along this link to the mainland, the kegs and bundles of tobacco were stored in vast depots dug in the sandy soil of the low island. A writer commented in 1826 that...

When this nefarious and demoralizing system was at its height... Many subterraneous caverns were known to exist along the south beach, for the reception of contraband goods. [47]

By 1826 most of the caverns had disappeared, with the exception of one...'not far from the new buildings'. On an old map, these can be seen one-third of the way along the south shore travelling west to east.

Engraving of Langstone harbour by Charles G Harper
Langstone harbour and tide mill

Langstone and Emsworth

Langstone is at the end of the causeway to Hayling Island SU719049. red map button The mill and the Red Lion are at the waterside, set back from the B2149. Parking restricted at summer weekends. From Langstone, Emsworth is just a walk away, and has many smuggling associations detailed on the town information board: the pharmacy, for example, was once linked by a tunnel to cellars of a house on the waterside. (map 197)

The villages of Langstone and Emsworth were both notorious haunts of smugglers. At Langstone, the mill on the coast path to Emsworth was used both for signalling (it was worked by both tide and wind, so the sails could be easily positioned to form a pre-arranged code) and for storage. The bar of the Red Lion on the waterfront saw many a smugglers' conference, and there are stories of a tunnel linking the pub to the mill [48]. Such a passage would have been so close to sea level that keeping it dry would have presented formidable problems — though perhaps the mill was used for pumping out when the tide filled the tunnel.


Locations connected to this story are listed below.

Sussex was the setting for two of the most horrific tales in all the history of smuggling — events that were to lead to a public outcry, and ultimately to the destruction of the big 18th century gangs.

This ugly chapter in the smuggling story centres around the activities of the Hawkhurst gang — or around certain members of it, since only a handful of smugglers were involved in the murders that so shocked public sensibilities. The stories are recounted here in detail because the events described played a key role in changing the public image of smugglers, and because the brutality of the murders gives the lie to the 'harmless smuggler' myth that has grown up in the last two centuries.

The first incident was centred on the village of Slindon. This was the home of Richard Hawkins, a farm labourer, whose body was found weighted with rocks in the pond at Parham Park, some 12 miles away in the spring of 1748.

Engraving of The Dog and Partridge at Slindon by Charles G Harper
The Dog and Partridge at Slindon

Hawkins made the simple mistake of getting on the wrong side of a group of smugglers. John 'Smoker' Mills, and Jeremiah 'Butler' Curtiss suspected Hawkins of stealing two bags of tea, and went looking for him on the farm in Walberton where he worked. Hawkins denied all knowledge of the tea, but evidently the two men didn't believe him. Hawkins was hoisted into the saddle behind Mills, and taken off to the Dog and Partridge Inn at Slindon. There it appears there was a smugglers' court, with Hawkins on trial, and Mills, Curtiss and two other smugglers as judge and jury.

A lethal beating

When Hawkins denied that he had anything to do with the missing tea, Curtiss shouted 'Damn you, you do know, and if you do not confess I shall whip you till you do, for damn you, I have whipped many a rogue, and washed my hands in his blood.' At this point the landlord of the inn appeared, and remarked 'Dick, you had better confess, it will be better for you'

Smugglers whipping Richard Hawkins to death
Hawkins is beaten to death

When Hawkins continued to protest his innocence, he was whipped and beaten, then forced to strip to the waist; and despite his begging for mercy, the smugglers continued to whip, punch and kick him so hard that they had to pause for breath. In the course of the torture, though, Hawkins let slip 'My father and my brother'. This admission stopped the beating, and two of the torturers rode off in search of further victims. The respite came too late for Hawkins, for he died soon after the men had left.

At this the two smugglers who had stayed at the inn locked the room and rushed after their colleagues, meeting them as they returned to the pub with the dead man's father-in-law and brother. Realising the danger they were in, the four smugglers released their prisoners, swearing them to secrecy; then they returned to the Dog and Partridge, picked up the corpse, and rode to Parham. They weighted the body with rocks, and dumped it in the lake.

Murder trial

The murder hunt started when the body was found, and one of the four — Mills — was cleverly captured by a fellow Hawkhurst gang member who negotiated a pardon in exchange for this service to the crown. One of the accused smugglers who had not actually taken part in the whipping gave evidence against Mills at the trial, and thus saved his own skin. Curtiss escaped to France before he could be brought to trial. This violent story was by no means an isolated incident. Indeed, had Hawkins lived, it's unlikely that any of the torturers would have been brought to justice. And for 'Smoker' Mills, it seems, torture and violence were a way of life, for Mills was part of a group that committed two even more grisly murders less than a fortnight later.

Recovering captured contraband

However, this second story actually started four months earlier, with a smuggling trip in September 1747. The voyage was organised by two groups acting in concert: the Hawkhurst Gang that we have already met; and a group from Dorset. The gangs sent a representative to Guernsey on a Rye boat, to buy about two tons of tea and 30 casks of spirits. These were duly loaded, and the vessel set off for the planned rendezvous near Lymington in Christchurch Bay.

However, things went badly wrong. The smuggling vessel was seized at sea by a revenue ship, and although the crew escaped, the contraband was taken to a government warehouse in Poole. The principal sponsors of the trip were naturally dismayed by this turn of events, and at a meeting in Charlton Forest they resolved to take back the tea in a raid on the Custom House. This they did on the night of the 6th of October.

The 30 smugglers had met at Rowland's Castle the previous night, then ridden from there to Poole, resting en route. When they arrived at the town, an advance party went forward to assess the risk of capture, and returned with the bad news that there was a naval guard in the harbour, with guns trained on the doors of the custom house. This caused some discussion and argument — the faint-hearted Dorset men wanted to abandon the enterprise, but the Hawkhurst contingent said they'd go it alone if their co-conspirators backed out. This threat, and the fact that the falling tide had put the custom house out of sight of the battleship, persuaded the party to go on. They left their horses with two of the gang, and broke open the strong-room with crowbars and axes.

This part of the raid went entirely according to plan. The smugglers took virtually all the tea, leaving behind the brandy, perhaps because they had insufficient transport. The heavily laden convoy then set out for Brook in the New Forest, where they planned to weigh the tea and share it out: each man was to get a little over a hundredweight.

Victory parade

At no point had the smugglers been opposed, and it seems likely that they were elated by their success. As they passed through Fordingbridge, a fine crowd turned out to watch the caravan passing, and it was there that one of the gang made a fatal error. Hawkhurst man John 'Dimer' Diamond spotted a familiar face in the crowd: shoemaker Daniel Chater. The two men had worked to get the harvest in together, and Diamond shook the other man's hand and threw him a small bag of tea.

The convoy then rode on to divide up the spoils, and Chater, perhaps basking in reflected glory, chatted innocently to his neighbours, saying he knew Diamond. This was to be his undoing, for when the authorities started investigating the theft, they soon began to view Chater as a key witness.

Diamond, meanwhile, had been arrested on suspicion of his involvement, and was in Chichester gaol. To prove the case against him, the collector of customs at Chichester had to get the cobbler to positively identify the smuggler.

So it was that on Valentine's day 1748 William Galley, an ageing minor customs official, set out with the shoemaker on what was to be a fateful journey. They left Southampton heading for the home of a JP near Chichester, carrying a letter with instructions that Chater should go to Chichester gaol to identify Diamond.

Lost and in danger

They soon lost their way, but were guided by a couple of local men as far as the White Hart Inn at Rowland's Castle. This was an unfortunate place for the two men to break their journey, for it was owned and run by a family who were in league with the smugglers. The landlady became suspicious of the intentions of the travellers, and sent for William Jackson and William Carter, who lived close by. Before these two smugglers arrived, though, Galley and Chater wanted to press on; an excuse about lost stable keys delayed them just long enough for the other smugglers to arrive.

At this point the danger that the men were in began to become apparent. The reinforcements arrived, innocent witnesses were sent away from the pub, and the smugglers began to drink heavily. Jackson took Chater aside, and asked him what was happening: Chater replied regretfully that he was obliged to give evidence against his friend Diamond. At this point, rightly suspecting that his witness was being intimidated, Galley emerged, only to be hit in the face by Jackson. The three men came indoors together, with Galley protesting 'I'm a King's officer, I'll not put up with such usage'. 'You a King's officer' Jackson spat back at the bloodied customs man 'I'll make a King's officer of you; and for a quatern of gin I'll serve you so again'. Jackson raised his fist, but a bystander sprang forward and grabbed his arm, crying 'Don't be such a fool, do you know what you are doing?'.

This calmed things down a bit, and the smugglers apologized. They persuaded the two men to drink with them, and soon Galley and Chater were drowsy with the drink, and went to sleep in an adjoining room. As they slept, the smugglers crept in and took the letter.

The contents plainly spelt out the intentions of the men, and the smugglers held a council of war. A great deal of drinking went on, and there were various proposals as what they should do with the prisoners. The most humane was to send them to France, but for the wives of two of the smugglers, no punishment was severe enough. They egged their husbands on, crying out 'Hang the dogs, for they came here to hang us'.

Torture begins

When this conference ended Jackson put on his spurs, and woke the sleeping men by getting on the bed, spurring their foreheads and whipping them, providing a foretaste of the torture that was to follow. Soon the men were taken outside, and put together on a horse, with their legs tied under the horse's belly. One man led the horse — the road was too rough for all to ride — and the rest of the gang followed.

They hadn't got more than a hundred yards when Jackson shouted 'Whip them, cut them, slash them, damn them!' and for the next mile five of the smugglers attacked Galley and Chater with whips so badly that the two men slid sideways, so they hung beneath the horse; at each step one or other was kicked in the head by the horse's hooves.

By now the captives were so weak that they couldn't sit in a saddle unaided, so they were separated, and each sat behind one of the smugglers: the other four took off their prisoner's jackets and rained blows on the pillion riders. The torment only stopped when the smuggler on the horse carrying Galley complained that many of the whiplashes were striking him, as well as their intended victim.

Galley begs for death

The company moved on as far as Harris's Well in Lady Holt Park, where they planned to kill both men and throw them down. Here Galley pleaded for a quick death, but this only provoked Jackson further, and he swore 'No, God damn your blood, if that's the case, we must have something more to say to you.'

Engraving of the Red Lion at Rake by Charles G Harper
The Red Lion at Rake

The party set off again, first with the helpless Galley on his belly across a saddle, then sitting in it, leaning forward on the horse's neck: this posture Jackson held him on for half a mile, most of the way the poor man cried out 'Barbarous usage! Barbarous usage! for God's sake shoot me through the head'; Jackson all the time squeezing his private parts...

Galley eventually fell from the horse, apparently lifeless, but probably only temporarily unconscious. His captors slung him across a horse, and the grisly caravan trudged on. They reached the Red Lion at Rake in the early hours of Monday morning, after stopping briefly at the house of another reputed smuggler who '...imagining they were upon some villainous expedition...' refused to help them.

Galley buried alive

At the inn Chater was still capable of standing, and he was taken out and chained up in a skilling — a place where turf was stored. The smugglers hid Galley's body temporarily in the brew-house attached to the pub, and later that night carried the 'corpse' about 3/4 of a mile to Harting Coombe. There they enlarged a fox-earth, bundled the old man into the hole, and tipped the soil back on top.

When the corpse was found some time later, it was apparent that Galley had recovered consciousness after being interred, for he was standing almost upright, and had raised his hand to cover his eyes and keep out the dirt.

For the smugglers, there was still the problem of Chater. He remained chained in the turf house for three days, too ill to eat. After a secret meeting on Wednesday night, it was resolved that Chater should be murdered and his body dumped in Harris's Well as originally planned. The gang went out to the turf house, and one of the group, Tapner, ordered the shoemaker '...down on your knees and go to prayers, for with this knife I will be your butcher.' As Chater knelt, Tapner slashed the man's face twice, completely cutting through his nose, and virtually blinding him.

Photograph of Harris's Well
Harris's Well as it is today. Click picture to enlarge

Chater’s murder

Eventually they set off for the well, with Tapner continuing to whip Chater, and threatening him with all manner of tortures if he spilt his own blood on the horse's saddle! The gruesome party eventually reached the well, and after an unsuccessful attempt to hang Chater with a rope that proved too short, they dumped his body into the well, and threw in rocks and timbers until there was silence.

Though they had disposed of the bodies, there were still two dumb witnesses — the men's horses. One had strayed, but the other was knocked on the head, flayed, and the hide cut into small pieces.

An anonymous letter

The two victims were soon missed, but the murderers had concealed the bodies carefully, and despite a strenuous investigation months passed with no progress. Eventually, though, an anonymous letter led to the discovery of Galley's body, and a second letter named William Steel as one of the murderers. (Some accounts [49] say that Galley's body was found by a man walking his dogs on the common.) On his arrest, Steel turned King's evidence, and named all the others involved. Another smuggler who had played a minor role in the affair surrendered himself, and also turned King's evidence. Soon virtually the whole gang had been rounded up.

At the Chichester Assizes all the seven men were sentenced to the gallows, but Jackson cheated the hangman, dying in gaol before sentence could be carried out. (Though he was ill, it's said that the shock of being measured up for gibbet chains hastened his end). The other six were taken up the Midhurst Road and executed on the Broyle, and the bodies of the five principal murderers were hung in chains — one on the Portsmouth Road near Rake, two on Selsey Bill, one on Rook's Hill near Chichester, and one at Horsemonden.You can read a contemporary account of the crime in the Newgate Calendar, a monthly bulletin of executions produced by the keeper of Newgate prison in London, by clicking here.

Illustrations from Sussex Smugglers

The engravings bound into this book about the killing of Galley and Chater gave readers a graphic and immediate impression of the smugglers' brutality. Click any image to see an enlarged picture (requires JavaScript, and disable pop-up blockers)

The title page of Smuggling and Smugglers in Sussex Ye Smugglers breaking open ye King's Custom House at Poole Mr Galley and Mr Chater put by ye Smugglers on one Horse near Rowland Castle
The title page of Smuggling and Smugglers in Sussex Ye Smugglers breaking open ye King's Custom House at Poole Mr Galley and Mr Chater put by ye Smugglers on one Horse near Rowland Castle
Galley & Chater falling off their horse at Woodash, draggs their heads on the ground William Galley, brought cross a Horse to a Sand Pit where a deep Hole is Dug to Bury him in The unfortunate William Galley put by the Smugglers into the Ground ... before he was quite Dead
Galley & Chater falling off their horse at Woodash, draggs their heads on the ground William Galley, brought cross a Horse to a Sand Pit where a deep Hole is Dug to Bury him in The unfortunate William Galley put by the Smugglers into the Ground ... before he was quite Dead
Chater, Chained in ye Turff House, Cobby kicking him & Tapner cutting him Cross ye Eyes & Nose Chater hanging at the Well in LadyHolt Park, the Bloody Villains standing by The Bloody Smugglers flinging down Stones after they had flung his Dead Body into the Well
Chater, Chained in ye Turff House, Cobby kicking him & Tapner cutting him Cross ye Eyes & Nose Chater hanging at the Well in LadyHolt Park, the Bloody Villains standing by The Bloody Smugglers flinging down Stones after they had flung his Dead Body into the Well

Crime scene tour

The passage of two centuries has changed the setting of this grisly story very little, and it's still possible to trace the last painful steps of the two unfortunate victims. The Red Lion Inn at Rake is still standing, almost opposite the Flying Bull. It’s been renamed Court Barn. Harting Coombe SU 8126 (map 197) red map button where Galley was buried is criss-crossed by footpaths, and foxes still make their earths in the sandy banks there.
Lady Holt Park is now a Forestry Commission estate. Take the A3 towards Portsmouth. About 5 miles past the main Petersfield exit, take a left turn just after passing under a bridge, signposted “Chalton & Clanfield”. Turn immediately right down a road signposted “Chalton 1 mile”. In Chalton, fork left just before the Pub, in the direction of Ditcham. After passing over the railway bridge, turn left at the T-junction and travel another 600 yards to Woodcroft Farm. Opposite the farm follow the gravel track called  Harris Lane and marked by a public right of way sign. After 50 metres the track forks, keep right through a gateway marked as an HCC Offroad Cycle Trail. Follow the path for about 400 metres with a hedge on your left and horse paddocks on your right before entering woodland. After a further 280 metres the track curves right before coming out of the trees to a recently cleared area. Follow the Sussex Border Path/ Bridleway sign as the path bears left along a grassy track. After about 400 metres at a junction of several tracks follow the bridleway signs and continue ahead along the gravel road with tall Norway Spruce trees on your left and a recently planted bank on your right. About 40 metres past the end of the Norway Spruce about 5 metres from the track on the left hand side is Harris's Well, surrounded by a wire safety fence. red map button (Many thanks to Forester Simon James for help in relocating the well, and for marking it with a sign.)
At Chichester the site of the execution on the Broyle was marked by an inscribed stone which can still be seen. Leave Chichester on the A286 Midhurst Road. The stone is some 200 yards past the Wellington Road junction, on the same side of the road, backing onto the barracks at SU859065 (map 188. The stone may soon be moved to make way for a housing estate). red map button
At Horsmonden the gibbet where the body of one of Chater's killers was displayed used to stand on the right of Gibbet Lane just as you turn the corner. Horsmonden is 4m SE of Paddock Wood, straddling the B262: when approaching from the north, Gibbet Lane is a turning on the rightabout 1/4 mile before the village green. TQ7040 (map 188) red map button
Parham Park is in West Sussex, 2m West of Storrington TQ0614 (map 197) red map button Click here for visitor details

[46] Allen, 1911

[47] Topographical and Historical account of Hayling Island 1826

[48] Morley, 1984

[49] Fleet, 1878