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The Smugglers of Polperro

Since the 12th Century there has been a port at Polperro. It's location on the South Cornwall coast meant that its proximity to France and Spain was perfect for smugglers. The high cliffs around the entrance to the harbour with the town sitting in a bay provided a favourite landing place for the lace, tea and brandy being brought into England.

The Reign of Zephaniah Job

Zephaniah Job lived in Polperro in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. He worked to make the town the perfect location for Smugglers and provided them with a great amount of help. He was given the name the "Smugglers' Banker" as he provided help with moving the goods, moving money and even employing a lawyer if the smugglers were caught. Zephaniah Job made so much money from the smugglers that when Polperro Harbour was destroyed in 1817 by a storm, he personally paid for it to be rebuilt. Without Job it is almost certain the Polperro Smugglers would have been caught much more easily.

The Lottery in Polperro

The Lottery was a smuggling ship based from Polperro. In 1798 the Lottery was stopped by a Revenue Cruiser in open waters. The Revenue ship launched its rowing boats to board The Lottery. No-one is entirely certain what happened next as the Crew of The Lottery and of the Revenue Cruiser gave different accounts of the following events. On their way to the Lottery a shot was fired and one of the Customs men was killed. The shot went through his head, but the person who fired the shot is unknown. If he was rowing he would have been facing away from the ship, so the bullet must have been fired by one of his colleagues.

The Customs Officers were certain that the shot came from the crew of The Lottery so the men were hunted. They hid around Polperro and the surrounding area, but one of the crew gave himself up and pointed the finger at Tom Potter. Potter was captured and tried for the crime. The evidence from Roger Toms, the man who pointed the finger at Potter, stated that he did not see Tom Potter pull the trigger, but after the shot had been fired and Revenue boat turned away Potter gloated about him getting them to turn back. On this evidence, Tom Potter was convicted and hung for the crime.

The South West Coast Path

Although now a popular walkers trail, the original South West Coastal Path was used by Revenue men. They walked along the coast trying to spot smugglers, especially around the Polperro area. The Path stretches from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset, covering 630 miles. Along the path there were many lighthouses helping the people patrolling spot smugglers using the cover of darkness to land their goods.

More about the Polperro Smugglers

If you would like to find out more about the Smugglers of Polperro we have a large selection of information on our Polperro Books Page.

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