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Smuggling

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Smuggling is the transportation of goods across territorial boundaries to avoid customs taxes and duties.

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To quote William Blackstone, the eighteenth-century English legal theorist, smuggling is ‘the offence of importing goods without paying the duties imposed thereon by the laws of customs and excise’.

Smuggling was an activity that enjoyed widespread support in many eighteenth century European coastal settlements on both sides of the Atlantic. This was because the evasion of duty meant goods were sold for greater profit at lower prices.

In many communities smuggling was an important part of the local economy, and officers employed by European governments to enforce the payment of custom and excise were rarely made welcome. In many instances revenue officers were pragmatic. In collusion with local merchants and traders they under-estimated the volume of goods imported in order to ensure the payment of higher levels of duties than would occur should strict enforcement of the law render smuggling a more profitable alternative.

Smuggling often involved men transporting goods from ships to harbors and coves at night or in weather when their knowledge of local waters minimized the risks of detection.

Interestingly, as N.A.M. Rodgers notes, in eighteenth-century England, men convicted of smuggling were the only criminals accepted into the navy. Some imprisoned for smuggling were discharged from goal to board ship, and there were numerous instances of smugglers being pressed into service after being caught red-handed at sea. Naval authorities took the view that they were generally skilled seaman and unlikely to re-offend when well away from their local community and fellow smugglers.

 

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Prepared by: Turnbull, P.
Created: 28 October 2001
Modified: 1 December 2001

Published by South Seas, 1 February 2004
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: Paul.Turnbull@jcu.edu.au
Prepared by: Paul Turnbull
Updated: 28 June 2004
To cite this page use: http://nla.gov.au/nla.cs-ss-biogs-P000101

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