and Compiled by Frank Bewley
- About 1650 Solway shipping began to develop for the
transportation of passengers and freight. By 1790 there were
some 500 trading vessels averaging 150 tons, with crews of
between 5 and 20 men plying the firth, as this picture of
Maryport harbour illustrates.
- By the 18th century duty on whiskey was 10s 2d per
gallon in England and only 6s 2d in Scotland
- Salt carried 15/- per bushel in Scotland and only
6/- in England, an active and profitable smuggling trade developed
all round the Solway Coast. In 1795 an estimated million gallons
of gin alone was smuggled.
- In those days much of the revenue for Government
and King had to be raised through customs duty on imports
and excise duty on home produce such as whisky, beer, salt
and candles - money was not used much and income tax unknown.
- The Isle of Man became a smuggler's warehouse and
during the 18th century the annual trade to the Island was
in the region of £350,000 whilst customs seizures amounted
- Smuggled goods were transported by mule and horse
- north to Scotland's central belt and also to Yetholm in
the borders, where a distribution along the east coast, was
organised a gypsy family called Faw.
- Between Southerness and Fleet there are some 30 secluded
bays and coves, ideal for landing and transferring cargo to
pack horses. There are also many caves, where goods were stored
temporarily. Many houses had hiding holes in concealed cellars,
behind the fire grate where a good fire could deter the excise
men, under pigsties and even under fake gravestones. Smuggling
was looked upon as fair game by the majority of Solway residents
throughout all strata of the society, indeed many relied upon
it for a living.
- Boat building supplemented the local economy and
there large yards at Annan, Glencaple, Kelton and Kippford,
building vessels of 20-tons or more. At Kirkcudbright an Excise
Cutter of 60 tons was built.
- In February 1778 it is recorded that a patrolling
customs boat was attacked in the mouth of the Urr Estuary
by 3 smuggling boats. The crew sustained injuries and had
to be taken to Mr. Ferguson a surgeon, his services cost 3
- In April 1779 two 200-ton cutters from Dunkirk unloaded
contraband at Balcary (OS Map ref NX 822 497). Revenue Officers
from Kirkcudbright and a Whitehaven Revenue cutter intervened.
Twenty sailors armed with muskets and bayonets drove off the
smugglers and found more than 200 horses were waiting to transport
the goods. They recovered 18 bags of tea and 20 ankers of
- Round Balcary Point ordinance survey maps show Adams
Chair on the cliffs (OS Map ref NX 822 487). This took its
name from a smuggler Adam who sat with a lantern to signal
the way clear for landing and to guide the smuggler's boats
- Smugglers, Clark, Crain and Quirk built a large ostentatious
dwelling, Balcary Bay House. It has walls 5 feet thick and
large cellars for storage of smuggled goods. It is now Balcary
- The story behind the grave of Joseph Nelson which
lies adjacent to the shore path between Rockcliffe to Castle
Point (OS Map ref NX 852 528) is told in the History of Galloway
dated 1841: -
the mouth of the Urr the headland of Castle Hill stands
out boldly, bearing on its summit vestiges of an old Norse
fortress. Here, in January 1791 a smuggling vessel from
the Isle of Man went ashore and all hands were lost. Only
one body, that of Joseph Nelson of Whitehaven, was cast
up the following July. It was buried where it was found
and where later his widow caused a stone to be erected
- The lighthouse and cottage appear to have been built
about 1850. The Hestan light was initially powered by acetylene
gas produced by water dripping onto carbide powder. It was
later changed to butane cylinders, it is now solar powered.
- Prior to 1927 a family called Tweedy occupied Hestan
Island Cottage. They were followed by the McWilliams. A Mr.
Houston lived on the Island alone for some 10 years.
- In 1957 a couple called Scott took the tenancy and
supplemented their income by manufacturing church organs with
materials and the finished products rowed back and forth to
the Island, from Balcary.
of the Urr
- Colvend Manse was equipped with a large cellar with
concealed entry, which gives some indication of the attitude
of the locals and indeed the clergy, to smuggling.
- In February 1760 Whitehaven Revenue Officer Dan Fearon
seized 5 Manx boats, 3 at Southerness Point and 2 at Urr Waterfoot;
they had managed to land some goods. He returned one of the
boats empty, to the smugglers; and made for Whitehaven with
the other four boats and five cargoes. The Collector at Dumfries
complained about this behaviour to the Board in Edinburgh.
- Port O'Warren (OS Map ref NX 879 537) a popular smugglers
cove and until 1970, could only be reached by steep steps
down the side of the cliff. Here that the revenue cutter Ernest
Augustus, which was in service in 1774, under the command
of Sir John Reid, challenged two Isle of Man smugglers.
A young groom and his future brother in law were
landing a small cargo of contraband salt; the soon to be married
groom, was anxious to earn some extra money. On being challenged,
they ran, a shot rang was fired and the groom was killed.
His accomplice escaped and made it back to the Isle of Man.
The groom was buried in Colvend churchyard.
However, deceased's relatives obtained special permission
to recover the body and sailed over. They exhumed the body
and set sail for the Isle of Man but all were lost in a storm.
There was great public indignation and Captain Sir John Reid
was tried for murder in Edinburgh but was acquitted.
West of the Urr
- In April 1760 Robert Huddart mate on the Revenue
Cutter Ranger seized 13 bags (710 lbs) of tea and 25 casks
of spirits (225 gallons) on the coast near Colvend. It is
'He took the goods aboard his ship, it being
impossible to safely transport them to any Customs House
in Scotland by reason of the number of inhabitants who were
assembled on different parts of the shore, to assist in
running the said goods and the wind being favourable for
Whitehaven, he brought them hither'
Arbigland House lies between Southerness and Carsethorn
(OS Map ref NX 994 574). In 1711, Robert Stewart an Excise
Officer watched an Isle of Man boat lying off Arbigland from
11am to 11pm, when it came into Wherry Creek, about half a
mile from Arbigland House. About 4am, two servants, with horse
and cart, made their way down to the beach where they loaded
120 gallons of Brandy for Adam Craik, Squire of Arbigland
House. The customs man dare not intervene. It is of interest
that John Paul Jones' (founder of the American Navy) father
was a gardener at Arbigland House.
- Further west we have the great caves of Barlocco
(OS Map ref NX 796 472), the largest on the Galloway coast.
The Black Cave entrance is 60 feet high; it is 256 feet deep
and 150 feet broad at the extreme end. The White cave is 252
- The Ordnance Survey Map of Kirkcudbright Bay shows
Manxman's Lake (OS Map ref NX 822 497). Additionally Dirk
Hatteraick's cave, located on the shore at Ravenshall 4 miles
east of Creetown (OS Map ref NX 518526), it is entered by
a small discreet entrance and inside has tier upon tier of
pigeon hole recesses, said to be capable of holding Dutch