Monday 15 April 2013

A Key to Smuggling Terminology

by Marie-Louise Jensen

Like every area of life, the illicit trade of smuggling has its own vocabulary. I think it's more colourful than most.
Firstly the smugglers had euphemisms for themselves. They were not smugglers, they were Free Traders. Or else Gentlemen of the Night. (As opposed to Gentlemen of the Road who were highwaymen). The term 'gentlemen' is naturally very loose here, as any cursory study of the brutality of the Hampshire smuggling gangs will show.
Then there were specialised roles within smuggling. Wool smugglers were traditionally known as owlers. There's some dispute about the origin of the word. Flaskers specialised in smuggling liquor. The smugglers in charge of the beach and the land-based network were Landers and Tubmen.
The terms for the customs and excise officers are even more varied, naturally. They were known as Preventers, Preventy men, Preventives, Philistines, Watersharks, Landsharks, Pickaroons, Gobloos, Gaugers, Shingle Pickers and even Bluebottles. Clearly, the King's Men were much loved...

The cargo of a smuggling ship was a crop, particularly when it was sunk at sea for later collection. Such contraband was then also known as laggan. Brandy which had been left sunk too long and had spoiled was stinkibus.
Smuggling vessels and smugglers were not searched, they were rummaged. And the smuggled goods also had nicknames; gin was Hollands or Genevars while brandy was Cousin Jacky.
Liquor was smuggled in kegs, which were barrels roped in pairs and carried one in front and one on your back, or ankers which were larger and would need to loaded onto carts.
The captain of the smuggling vessel who could navigate in the dark with incredible accuracy to pre-arranged drop-off points was a spotsman. And (my favourite) the blue flash from a pistol, loaded with powder but not shot, which guided the ships into shore was a flink. Though a spout lantern (which showed light only out to sea) was used once signalling ships from land was made illegal.
Right, now you know the lingo, you are ready to begin free trading.


Joan Lennon said...

These are really luscious - I think my favourites are "owlers" and "rummaging". Thanks for posting!

adele said...

I love the idea of STINKIBUS!! The whole post is lovely...ready to Free Trade any time now.

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

Thank you both! Joan, you'll be relieved to know the customs officers were forbidden to rummage women. One can see why, but it gave women (with their bulky petticoats) some wonderful opportunities. More in another post...

Penny Dolan said...

Dang me overfull petticoats. So that's why its hard to sit down today!

A wonderfully informative post. Thank you.