In the early days, the Island was a very good place for smuggling; with its many bays and inlets, contraband could easily be brought ashore undetected. Ryde was also a smuggler’s haven. Goods could be ‘unloaded’ from ships anchored in the Solent during the night and brought ashore in small fishing or rowing boats. Often the ship’s captain would have knowledge of the trade or indeed instigate it himself and pocket some of the profit instead of delivering his cargo to the intended recipients.
A famous 18th century smuggler was one David Boyce of Alverstoke, Hampshire. He described himself as a blacksmith but in fact he was a successful smuggler. It is believed he had built, or bought, Appley House, Ryde to facilitate his ‘business’.
His partner, John Hatch, lived on the opposite coast and a flourishing trade was carried on between the two properties, smuggling French and other foreign spirits and wines across the water. At that time, it would be possible to disembark within the grounds of the house at high tide. There are vaulted cellars under the house, ideal for storing wine.
Boyce had 20 boatmen and labourers on call. He trained them to be word perfect in giving false evidence to customs officials when called to testify in the London courts. Many times Boyce escaped justice, helped also by corrupt jurymen.
The misuse of justice in repeated cases brought against the pair, contributed to the Balloting Act of 1730. From then on, 12 jurymen were picked at random from names in a ballot box. With the help of this Act Boyce was eventually convicted. He died in poverty at Fleet Prison in 1740 having already mortgaged off his assets in case the law caught up with him.
In January 1778 the Hampshire Chronical stated – “Saturday last, a smuggling cutter belonging to Ryde was lost on the back of the Isle of Wight, five men, were drowned, and about 100 casks of spirituous liquors, supposed to be part of her cargo, were seized by the officers of the customs.” James Saunders of Ryde was one of the 5 crew of smugglers who lost their lives, his memorial can be found here.
Conviction of a few well-known Ryde smugglers
Bowers William of Ryde. 20/08/1825. 3¾ galls Brandy. Penalty £100 & sent to Winchester Gaol.
Cole James & Wife. Ashey Farm. 09/10/1823. Aiding Contraband. Fined £ 8 8s 9d.
Dyer John of Ryde. 20/12/1823. Offence not listed. Sent to “Queen Charlotte” Man of War.
Knapp Elizabeth of Ryde. 14/05/1825. Various items. Fined £2 8s. Treble value.
Moorman Nicholas of Ryde. 14/08/1823. 3½ Galls Brandy. Sent to Winton Gaol.
Perkis Robert of Ryde. 23/10/1832. Offence not listed. One month in Gaol.
Saunders Charles of Ryde. 11/02/1832. Offence not listed. Sent for 5 years in the navy.
Saunders Samuel of Ryde. 19/03/1832. Offence not listed. Sent for 5 years in the navy.
Williams George of Ryde. 03/09/1825. 3 Galls Brandy. Fined £100 mitigated to £25, bond given.
Woolbridge of Ryde. 26/07/1823. 1 Cask Brandy. Sent to Winchester Gaol.
Woolbridge John of Ryde. 22/01/1826. Spirits. Sent to Winchester Gaol.
Sources: Public Records Office, Kew, reference CUST/61/176. & The Hampshire Chronical
Image: George Brannon 1824
Article: Ann Barrett