This article first appeared in Volume 4 of The Glynns in 1976.  It is presented here with additional photographs and hyperlinks.  

Sketch Leaving Campbeltown 1770

The Campbeltown Port Customs Records consist of outgoing letters from the Collector of Customs at the port to the Board of Customs at Edinburgh, together with further volumes of incoming directives and enquiries from the Board to the Collector. They cover a period of some 77 years, from 1739-1816. There were earlier Records, but as Campbeltown had no customs house till the middle of the eighteenth century these have probably been lost.

During the last eight years of his ministry at Campbeltown, Father Webb, whose death was regretfully reported in our last issue, made a massive series of transcriptions from the Records. These he dispatched in batches of from 10 to 50 pages to Andrew McKerral, author of “Kintyre in the Seventeenth Century”, who returned them with covering commentary. Thirty such sets of notes lie within the transcript pages, their dates ranging from November 1954 to June 1962. Father Webb was particularly conscious of the links between the coasts of Antrim and Kintyre, a fact which must have influenced his selection of extracts. Shortly before his death he lent his papers to the Glens of Antrim Historical Society in order that we might benefit by whatever we thought pertained particularly to the Glens. As a result a further selection was made (of which a copy is deposited with P.R.O.N.I) a synopsis of which, with explanations, we now attempt.

Throughout, Father Webb’s extracts from the Records are referred to as “the Extracts.” In places he summarised, in others he made verbatim quotations which are here given in inverted commas, followed by the date of the letter quoted. As most of these were from the Collector to the Board, this information is omitted, except when quotations are from elsewhere. As so often happens in historical documentation, many of the most interesting and important items are missing. Here, for example, there is very little about The ’98 or the American War of 1812, as the Collector-to-Board volumes for the years 1797/99 and 1812/13 are said by the transcriber to be “badly damaged by water.” On the other hand there are many references to the Cushendun-Dunaverty ferry, but as this subject was admirably treated by Jack McCann in Volume II of `The Glynns’ they are here omitted.

It is desired that this article might be regarded as a tribute to Father Webb who did all the spade- work for it. To the Glens of Antrim Historical Society he was a very good friend whose constant help and encouragement did so much to put the Society on its feet.

Emigration: The very first entry, dated 6th June 1739, is a reply from the Board to an earlier enquiry dated 25th May made by the Collector of Customs (whose staff- by 1752- consisted of a Comptroller, a Riding Officer, 2 Surveyors, a land-waiter, 5 tide waiters and 8 others, including the crew of the Customs Search Vessel). The enquiry concerned the “Thistle” of Saltcoats, master Robert Brown. The “Thistle”, having taken on provisions in Ireland, had subsequently called at Campbeltown to embark more passengers for Cape Fair. The Collector sought direction as to whether these supplies should be forfeited or not. As she had “landed no goods in Britain, We are of the opinion the provisions are not forfeited,” replied the Board. Good news for Mr. Brown no doubt, but he and his passengers can scarcely have relished the fortnight it took to arrive.

There are only three other entries concerning ships carrying emigrants from Ireland to America. On 8th September 1775 the “Jeanie” of Larne had sailed from Gigha with 245 passengers on board — 88 men, 78 women and 79 children. Earlier the “Lord Dunluce” also of Larne, had sailed from Gigha with 300 on board — 93 men, 94 women and 113 children. These ships had probably been driven to the lee of the island to seek shelter from fierce westerly gales which rendered sailing out into the Atlantic an impossibility, a state of affairs which frequently occurred.

Just such a ship was the “Hibernia” of Londonderry, which was wrecked in Lochindall Harbour, Islay, on 7th October 1808 on her voyage from Derry to Philadelphia with 80 passengers on board.

The Mull Light: In 1786 it was proposed to erect four lighthouses on the northern coast of Great Britain, at Kinnaird Head, Aberdeenshire, at Ronaldshaw in the Orkneys, at the Point of Scalp off Skye, and at “some convenient place on the Mull of Kintyre.” On 1st March of that year the Board requested the Collector at Campbeltown to report on the latter two,

“particularly what the expense of building and the annual expense of keeping up each lighthouse may be, with your opinion what one penny per Ton for each vessel passing any one of the said Lighthouses may amount to.” (Board to Collector 1.3.1786)

A week later, on 8th March, the Collector replied.

“Unspeakable advantages would ensue from the Light on the Moin of Kintyre, for ships coming from America and the West Indies come frequently in between the Coast of Ireland and the Isle of Islay, and the Mull of Islay is often mistaken for the Mull of Kintyre, by which frequent Shipwrecks happen on the North West Coast of Kintyre as well as sometimes on the Coast of Islay which would be prevented by the Light proposed. The Mull of Kintyre is so very high that a lighthouse built anywhere on the Summit of it would be covered with fogs and Clouds which would render it useless; but we are told that there is one particular place of a very proper height from the Level of the Sea on which it might be built with good advantage.” (8.3.1786)

The Collector could express no personal opinion in regard to this and other connected matters, but he suggested that one of the Cutters should be sent “with some person or persons of Skill to examine and report.” He thought that the tax of one penny per ton levied on vessels of the Firth of Clyde would raise about £100 a year, and if other vessels benefitting by the Light also paid, “The money arising from the whole would be pretty considerable.”

Finally he added: “We are told that the Light here can be more easily supported by Oil than with any other sort of fewel, especially as the access to it is so difficult.” (8.3.1786)



Those familiar with the site of the Mull Light will appreciate how very true this is. The new light first flashed on 1st Dec. 1788. (Prior to this a primitive light, housed in a shepherd’s cottage on the mull, shone as a guide to shipping in the vicinity. The reflector of this early lamp, but not the lamp itself, is exhibited in the Campbeltown Museum.)

Fishing — Irish long-liners: During the latter part of the eighteenth century the British government granted a bounty of £3 per ton to fishermen who exported their catch abroad, provided they were resident in Great Britain. The owners of the large fleet of fishing boats centred on Campbeltown recognised that the Irish fishermen were more expert long-liners than themselves. They were therefore anxious to employ the former and to learn their technique, but were afraid that in doing so they would lose, their bounty. However, in 1789, Messrs. John Campbell and Allan McNaughten, merchants of Campbeltown, applied to the Customs Board through their local Collector for permission to engage and fit out three Irish wherries “with Duty free Salt, Lines, Hooks, provisions and other materials for pursuing the Cod and Ling Fishery on the Coasts of this Kingdom.” In his covering letter with the application, the Collector explained that

“these Vessels are entirely calculated for following this branch of business, and that we have none at present in their Construction to Answer this purpose, which is the reason given for employing them in preference to our Own: and it may not be unworthy of Observation that their Skill and Management of Baiting their Hooks, Shooting and Hauling their Lines with the wherries at great distance from land, our people are entire strangers to. The Ling these Vessels take are of a larger Size and better Quality than those caught by small boats at no great distance from the land which is the most pursued by our fishers. (25.3.1789)

Permission was granted and duly signed by Robert Hepburn, David Reid and Adam Smith.

A note by Andrew McKerral, dated 4th January 1955, reads, “If I mistake not, Adam Smith, Commissioner of Revenue, was Adam Smith, the famous economist and author of ‘The Wealth of Nations.”

Replying to an enquiry from the Board as to whether this enterprise had been “a genuine British adventure qualifying for the Bounty,” the Collector confirmed that it was, adding that these Irish wherries “shoot and haul their lines without the aid of Boats which our Vessels cannot do.” (30.1.1790)

It was common practice for fish exporters to acquire a cocket, or document to prove customs clearance, showing the weight of cargo to be in excess of the actual tonnage carried. Thus the shipper would receive a bounty of greater value than that to which he was entitled. For example, in January 1771, the “Freemason”, had loaded at Campbeltown roughly 25 tons of fish for Dublin, but her cocket showed she carried over 30 tons Her departure was stopped, her cargo weighed and found to be short “whereby the Revenue would have been defrauded of the Bounty on 4 tons 19 cwt 1 qr 7 lbs.” As reward for their trouble, the Revenue Officers were forcibly carried off by the crew, who ill treated them and put them ashore at the back of Darvar Island. (11.1.1771)



Similar treatment was given to Customs men at Glenarm where the ‘Nancy’ of Ayr had loaded 18 pieces of ash timber for Southend without dispatches. Because of this the Glenarm Customs Officer placed three men on board to prevent her sailing, but the master and owners of the timber “forcibly carried these Boatmen to this country and ordered them ashore.” The Campbeltown Collector refused to grant entry and sought direction of the Board. The latter ruled that there was nothing to justify either detaining the vessel or refusing her entry. (10,9,1809 and Board to Collector 21,9,1809).

The Corn Laws: While Scottish fishermen were trying to get more money out of the government than was their due, Irish corn exporters were trying to avoid having to pay the heavy duties imposed by the Corn Laws. There are a number of references in the Extracts to ships from Ireland infringing these laws. The “Freemason”, just mentioned, had arrived at Campbeltown at the beginning of 1771 with a cargo of oats and meal from Drogheda. Because there was some question as to her being allowed to land her cargo before paying duty, a mob marched to the quay and unloaded her in defiance of all interference, necessitating the dispatch from Greenock of an officer and twenty men, who had to remain stationed in the town for over two months for the purpose of keeping the peace.

In 1776 (February 14th) the Board informed the Collector that vessels were loading two thirds of their cargo in Ireland and then sailing to load up the remaining one third in Wales, where they would “procure a cocket from some remote port in that country for the whole.” The practice, unless stopped, would “ruin the whole Tenantry in Scotland.” The Collector reported the landing at West Loch Tarbert of 240 barrels of Irish oats from Larne, adding drily, “The Bounty received in Ireland is Considerably more than the duties on Importation into Britain.” (22.5.1789)

The American War of Independence: The threat of war with the American Colonists set the press gangs working. As early as 1770 the Man-of-War “Hynd” visited Larne Lough where she intercepted the Campbeltown fishing fleet on its outward voyage. When it returned in January 1771, it was found that 70 seamen had been impressed and a further 107 had deserted the fleet to avoid being taken. (20.7.1773) There is no mention in the Extracts of Paul Jones in the “Ranger” sailing for the open sea through the North Channel with his prize the “Drake”, after his engagement off Carrickfergus in April, 1778. But there are two references to French privateers being captained by Irishmen during the war. On 14th October 1780, the “Fear Nought”, master Mr. Kane, made the southern entry to the Sound of Islay to take the Islay-West Loch Tarbert packet, and then proceeded northward for the Sound of Mull. (23.10.1780) In March 1781, the sloop “Hope” of Campbeltown was captured on a voyage to London by a French privateer commanded by Capt. Kelly.

Smuggling: By far the greatest number of entries in the Extracts concern smuggling of one kind or another. The mere mention of the word conjures up exciting pictures in the imagination of silks and sapphires or wines and whisky being run ashore at dead of night. But the Campbeltown customs officer rarely met with such as these. His seizures seem to have been more commonplace, such as salt and soap or hides and horses or wool and, if he were fortunate, whisky.

During the early part of the eighteenth century a great smuggling bonanza into and out of Great Britain was in full swing. The reason for this is concisely explained by Professor L. M. Cullen.

“The Isle of Man was independent of the English Customs administration in this period because of its anomalus (sic) constitutional position and levied its own customs duties. These were low and were designed to encourage an entrepot trade. Cargoes of dutiable commodities, imported into the island from France and Holland, were re-shipped for the shores of England, Scotland and Ireland. The extent of this trade was very large, and goods from this island were smuggled ashore even as far away as Galway . . .” (Anglo-Irish Trade, 1660-1800, page 147)

(In fact the purchase and shipping of such goods was generally regarded as a highly respectable, as well as a remunerative trade in which a number of reputable Belfast merchants were engaged. Among these was John Black (1681-1767), whose father had been sworn a burgess of the town in 1675. John established a business in Bordeaux from where he dispatched brandies and other goods for Britain and Ireland by way of the Isle of Man. His numerous children, most of whom were born in Bordeaux, included Joseph, the famous chemist, and Katherine, who later married Francis Turnly of Newtownards, land agent to the first Lord Londonderry. The Tumlys had a son, also Francis, who, on his return from a brief but brilliant career in the East India Company, purchased properties at Drumnasole and Cushendall, and had much to do with the opening up at the Glens of Antrim prior to the building of the new coast road).

But in 1765 the rights of the island were purchased from the Duke of Athol by the English parliament for the sum of £70,000, and the smuggling trade through the Isle of Man came to an abrupt end.

Thereafter, much of this trade switched to the shores of the Moyle, where the coastlines of North East Antrim and Kintyre seemed to have been specially designed by nature to assist the smuggler. Here Great Britain and Ireland lay closer to each other than at any other point. The distance from Torr- Head to the Mull was but eleven miles, only half the English Channel at its narrowest and much less than that separating the Isle of Man from its neighbours. Though a somewhat longer run between sheltered havens was necessary, nevertheless, if winds and tides were favourable, the crossing could be made in two to three hours in small open or half decked boats. These could pull up to load and land their secret cargoes in the many lonely creeks and coves with which these shores abound. Behind both coasts lay a wild and deserted hinterland which facilitated the undetected dispersal and disposal of these clandestine cargoes. Finally, geography obligingly provided the smuggler with a convenient off-shore island on either coast — Rathlin and Sanda — which he might use as a depot or entrepot, where cargoes from abroad could be secretly off-loaded from larger cessels and later collected by smaller ones for the final run ashore. Prof Cullen continues…

“Red Bay at the mouth of Cushendall Glen appears to have be-come the main centre of this illicit trade in which goods were imported from France, Holland or Guernsey and then re-shipped for Scotland or the north west coast of England in small vessels without a (customs) clearance. In 1784 the Committee on Illicit Practices used in Defrauding the Revenue commented on the activities of loggers and Wherries, and of large open rowboats (some of them of a new construction, 40 feet long and rowing with twelve or sixteen oars) which are almost constantly employed in bringing over tea, spirits, tabacco (sic), etc. from Red Bay and the north east part of Ireland.” (page 152)


In 1788 the Ayr collector wrote of smuggling at Red Bay “from whence the goods have been conveyed to this coast in small boats from 10 to 15 tons burden.” The following year the Campbeltown collector addressed the Board thus on the subject.

“Honourable Sirs, The accounts we daily receive from Several channels of Information, on some of whom we can safely rely, of the alarming height to which smuggling is carried on to and from the Island of Sanda, within twelve miles of this Harbour towards the Moil of Kintyre, we think it our duty to lay before your Honours. The Breckenridges of Red Bay in Ireland have, we are informed, taken this Island as a central situation for the conveyance of their smuggled goods from Ireland to the coast (of) Air. When the vessels employed in this traffic appear in the Channel there are boats of theirs in waiting towards the said Moil, as if fishing, but with the view to receiving their illicit importations.” (9. 3. 89).

So numerous and uncoordinated are the extract entries concerning this subject that they are treated here under the various commodities smuggled, such as salt, wool, cattle, etc.

(1) Salt: Because English salt, which carried a heavy excise duty, was so much more expensive than Irish salt, it was worthwhile smuggling the latter into Britain. British fishing fleets, however, could purchase duty-free English salt for the curing of their catch, and for those who knew the tricks of the trade, there was thus a double profit available. In October 1790, the Revenue Cutter “Prince William Henry” left Campbeltown “to intercept a fleet of 12 sail of Salt Boats looked for from Ireland by the first southerly or west wind.” She found them waiting in Larne Lough where her Coxswain, Malcolm Cameron, also discovered the technique used by the smugglers. Apparently they loaded their holds at Greenock, or some other Scottish port, with barrels of duty-free salt for the fishing fleet. Retaining a few of these, the remainder they secretly re-landed and emptied, their contents to be sold later at the current higher price. Then filling the empties with sand, and placing the few barrels of salt on top in case of inspection, they sailed for Lame, where the sand-filled barrels were again emptied and cheap Irish salt taken aboard. With this they sailed for the Northern fisheries Where they sold it at a hand-some profit and returned with their holds full of fish.

“Cameron and Hugh McCull, boatman, declare that previous to their leaving Lame on the 31 Ulto. they had one evening skulked behind a dock and in view of Thomson’s vessel already mentioned and clearly perceived her sailors hoisting barrels out of her hold, discharge the contents of them into the sea, and next day they saw salt shipping on board of her in barrels from a yard adjoining a salt pans distant about 15 yards from the vessel.” (8.11.1790) Numerous instances of Irish salt being discovered are mentioned together with many interesting details concerning the various seizures Once the salt was condemned by the justices, it was sold by public roup (auction) “for behoof of His Majesty and the seizure makers.” Other entries are tabulated thus:-

(Where Date = Date of Collector’s letter reporting the seizure)

Date Quantity Seized                  From Where Seized Sold for
17/6/1790   Glenarm Southend  
20/8/1790 18 bushels ‘Irish salt’ Campbeltown  
26/11/1791 4 bags ‘Irish salt’ Campbeltown £2-13-2
5/9/1807 317 bushels
61 Ibs
‘Irish salt’ Campbeltown £110-11-0
18/9/1807 78 bushels           42 lbs Glenarm Rhu Straffnage (near Campbeltown) £39-7-6
16/11/1808 144 bushels
‘Irish salt’ Campbeltown £65-8-9
2/15/1809 93 bushels Carlow Campbeltown  
11/7/1809 22bushels  86lbs ‘Irish salt’ Dunaverty £9-6-9
13/3/1810 84bushels 63 lbs ‘Irish salt’   £50-19-4
10/0/1814 32 bushels 4 lbs ‘Irish salt’ Campbeltown No bid


(2) Wool: It was forbidden to export wool to Ireland. On the other hand linen of proven Irish origin could enter Britain free of duty.

The Collector reported that wool, coming from Ayr to Campbeltown by sea and thence by land to Carskiey, Mull of Kintyre, was being collected there for secret exportation to Ireland. He explained that Carskiey offered facilities for smuggling, the river being “”navigable at the entry for small vessels. (28.7.1773 and 8.11.1773). This is a prime example of smugglers plying this shortest route between Ireland and Britain in small open boats able to enter shallow lonely creeks. The Collector was only too conscious that a great deal of smuggling went on which he and his officers were unable to prevent. Two Irishmen by the name of McVey and O’Kane attempted unsuccessfully to smuggle out 68 stone of wool from Moneroy (Southend, Mull of Kintyre). Reporting the seizure he wrote, “Upon the whole, the low trade or traffic carried on by these and others from Ireland in this place is such as we would wish to check were it in our power.” (21.10.1785).

In 1791 the Board warned the Collector to be on the alert for wool smuggling on a larger scale.

“The Highlands of Scotland now produce a large quantity of Wool and from the prevalency of breeding Sheep in that extensive District the growth is every year increasing ……            (Smugglers) procure two cargoes nearly alike and get a permit for one of them which, when put on board the Vessel, if not interupted (sic), sail for Ireland and dispose of it to persons connected with them there. They then return Clandestinely and take on board the other cargo which they re-land in England, Agreeable to the nature of the permit. When it is considered that the Western Coast of Scotland from its many creeks and inlets is peculiarly favourable to such a Traffic, and also that the buyers of Wool are notorious smugglers, there can be no doubt that large quantities find their way to a Foreign Market.” (Board to Collector 21.7.1791).

During the period covered by the Extracts a great many cattle were exported from County Antrim to Kintyre, and a great many horses were shipped in the reverse direction. (This is confirmed by the Rev. R. S. Dobbs is his Statistical Account of the Parishes of Ardclinis and Laid, see “Glynns” Vol, II, page 51.)

(3) Cattle & Horses: By the Cattle Acts of 1663 and 1666 the prices paid in Britain for Irish cattle, sheep, beef, butter and pork were at first reduced, and then their importation entirely prohibited. But in 1758 these restrictions were suspended, and in 1776 they were totally repealed. In spite of this abrogation, a law dating back to the time of Elizabeth required, even after the Union in 1800, “the presence of a proper Customs Officer” whenever goods or livestock were either loaded or landed in Scotland. This out-dated piece of legislation gave the Campbeltown tide-waiters, as well as all who traded through the port or its outlying creeks, a great deal of trouble. From the extracts dealing with this, interesting detail concerning conditions at that time is revealed.

For example, Charles McDonald, tidewaiter at Machrimore (Southend), complained that two brothers, McGeachy of Carskiey, were constantly engaged in shipping horses and cattle without proper dispatches, and he demanded permission to seize two Cushendun boats then lying at Machrimore, otherwise: “all that I reap by it is being ridiculed by both the Country people here and the Irishmen, the Country people here have an antipathy against all king’s men and will always join the Smugglers.” (17.8.1792)

The Board replied that, “because all kind of Cattle from Ireland are exempt from payment of duty”, neither vessels nor livestock were forfeited, though horses might be exported to Ireland only after payment of duty of 5/6 per head. (Board to Collector 28.8.1792)

On 16 August, 1797, Mr. Gibbons of Carnlough had landed fourteen black cattle without the presence of a customs officer. In fact, as fast as one cargo was landed these boats pushed off for another. When seizures were made, complained the Collector, the Justices of the Peace invariably ordered the cattle to be returned to the importer “in defiance of the most explicit Laws incurring Forfeiture.” All this was “very discouraging to the Officers at the creeks to exert themselves in detaining when so much countenance is given by the Justices to such Importers,” and it was his firm belief that they were financially involved in the traffic. (18.8.1797)

But when weather conditions were bad it was almost impossible for shippers to comply with the law, as for instance, when John McKillop, master of the “Mary Ann” of Cushendun, threw his cargo of fifteen oxen into the sea at Machrimore and sailed back to Ireland without making a landfall. Or when Allan McNachten, tide-waiter at Dunaverty, permitted the master of the “Diana” bound for Cushendun, to sail with a load of horses without his presence. The Board heard of this irregularity and fined McNachten £5. Evidence in McNachten’s favour given by James Maxwell, surveyor, stated that:

“the Creek at Dunaverty is in a particularly exposed situation and the entrance to the river is narrow and dangerous. In consequence of which it is only at particular tides and with the wind from certain airts that vessels can come in and out with safety.” (16.8.1813).  This is one of the few known references to the actual location at Dunaverty of the old ferry running across to Cushendun. Both terminals were very similar in character: each lay at the mouth of a small tidal river under the protection of an Old Red Sandstone bluff with rocks nearby providing alternative landing, should wind and tide render this unsafe, and each was guarded by a castle.  



In his own defence McNachten pointed out that the horses were shipped from the rocks at Dunaverty, where weather conditions sometimes caused masters to off-load their cargo rather than risk putting to sea. In reply to a request from the Board for information concerning the risks of danger in shipping at Dunaverty and Mary Pans, the Collector stated that masters, after receiving their documents and landwaiters leaving them, rather than expose their vessels to danger, would land their cargo until favourable conditions prevailed. Mr. Patrick Black, secretary to the Board, wrote to the Collector pointing out that in his Quarterly Report he stated that the “Black Joke” open boat of only 2 tons burden, had carried 16 British horses to Ireland. “It appears to me that were she 10 tons there would not be accommodation for 16 horses. The burden of the “Black Joke” carrying such cargoes will require to be explained.” (Board to Collector 21.8.1807). In his reply the Collector stated that the “Black Joke” had now been measured and found to be of not more than 7 tons. He added, “When we observe to you that the Horses commonly exported hence to Ireland are very small ponies, brought here from the islands of Mull and Tiree, sixteen Horses being shipped on board her will not appear so extraordinary.” (26.8.1807)

Summing up the situation generally the Collector wrote, “We cannot help mentioning that everything where Irish Men are concerned disorder and irregularity but too often happens, how-ever assiduous officers are to prevent such.” (21.6.1881)


(4) Whisky: Up till 1812 whisky was frequently smuggled from Ireland to Scotland, but after that date the “flow” was in the opposite direction, The Irish whisky seems to have come chiefly from Inishowen, as did the 146 gallons discovered at Portnahaven, Islay, landed from a vessel bound from Inishowen to Mull. (19.2.1810). Or when the “James” from Derry with a cargo of beef for Ayr, put into Campbeltown during a storm. After she had sailed again an officer found a couple of barrels of beef in a house near the harbour, each containing a 10 gallon cask hidden below the meat. The Excise Cutter was immediately sent in pursuit of the “James”. (2.1.1811)

Two years later however, the Collector informed the Board, “We have good reason to believe that a new conveyance is adopted of bringing whisky from hence by the extraordinary number of vessels that have shipped Potatoes here for Ireland. It is ascertained that whisky bought here at 9/- per gallon brings in Ireland from 18/- to 20/- per gallon.” (21.12.1812)

The reason for this is explained by the landwaiter in Islay in a letter concerning the seizure at Portnahaven of a cargo of barley, the property of Neil McCurdy and William Stewart of Ballintray in Ireland. He stated that the barley was illegally landed for manufacture into whisky.. “which practice of late is become notorious, so much so that the Tidewaiter and myself has been hardly a day at home since the 28th ultimo in pursuit of boats attempting to land barley from Ireland, which is now bought for little more than one half the current price here owing, as I am informed, to a total stop being put to the illegal distillation of whisky at Innishoin Ireland.” (24.5.1815)



On the strength of “a most particular information”, the Collector and Surveyor set out for Rathlin in the Customs Boat at 8 pm on 20th December, 1791. By noon the following day they sighted a vessel, which they took to be a Revenue Cruiser, at anchor off the island. This they hailed, and her immediate reply was to pipe all hands on deck. She was in fact a smuggler, “piercing nine Guns of a side appearing to be at least long Six pounders.” The Smuggler ordered the Customs Boat to anchor along side or they would sink her. At 2.30 p.m. the Smuggler made sail, ordering the Customs Boat to keep by her. They started for Ailsa, but at 4 p.m. in a hard gale, the Customs Boat was ordered to get to leeward and make for Campbeltown as best she could. The Smuggler was then “about four leagues to W. S. W. of Sanda and steering away towards the Galloway Coast. ” (22.12.1791)

Stung by this humiliation, the Collector, together with Capt. Hamilton of the Revenue Cutter “Prince William Henry”, determined to make a raid on Rathlin. They sailed on 11th January, 1792, and put landing parties ashore from both boats, totalling 22 men. Mr. Gage, the proprietor, rendered them every assistance. Their prize consisted of 93 matts of unmanufactured and 14 matts of manufactured tobacco leaf found in various locations, as well as 2 small casks of muscovado sugar found “in a loft at Alexr McDonald’s house at Ushet.” The haul seems to have satisfied the honour of the customs men. The Collector considered the raid “a very essential Service to the Revenue …. which effectively destroys the Importations into Scotland from that Island and very materially injures the Ladyburn Company.” (16. 1. 1792)

But in 1805 the Collector was asking for the re-appointment of a resident tidewaiter at Mary Pans on account of “the daily communication betwixt this place and the Island of Rachlan in Ireland, a considerable depot of smuggling goods.” (5.11.1805) The Board informed the Collector that “a large American Scooner has been landing Tobacco on the Rathlin Island, and it is prob-able that part of it may be intended to be smuggled over to the Scotch Coast.” (25.1.1816, Board to Collector) Two months later the Collector observed,

“The Island of Rathlin on the Coast of Ireland, also Fair Head and Red Bay on that Coast, which situations may be about two hours run, clearly points out this Harbour and the entrance to Belfast Loch to be the most suitable Stations” where Revenue Vessels should be based. (30.3.1816)


Finally, a personal reminiscence upon which to end this some-what disjointed synopsis of Father Webb’s Extracts. It is taken from Andrew McKerral’s commentary note, dated 30 December 1960, which refers to a certain person wanted for smuggling having been lately seen (July 1815) taking his passage in a steam boat from Greenock to Glasgow.  McKerral continued, “I remember when I was in Lord Kelvin’s class at Glasgow hearing him tell us that his father, (James Thomson, LL.D., Mathematics Master at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.) with a party of other students had landed from Northern Ireland at Greenock, and had set out to walk from there to Glasgow. On the way they were amazed to see what they took to be a factory chimney moving across a field. They rushed to the river bank and saw the first steamship on the Clyde, and probably in the world, Henry Bell’s “Comet” launched in 1812. There is a monument to Henry Bell on the river side, I think at Yoker.”



Many other boats are mentioned by name which may have been locally registered, but only those of certain origin are listed here.


Date Name Tons burden Of Master Notes
9- 9- 1775 “Jeanie”   Larne John McNeil Bound for N. America
9- 9- 1775 “Lord Dunluce”   Larne Robert Shutter  
22-1-1778 “Sarah” (sloop)   Belfast   Wrecked Islay
23-10-1782 “Mercury”   Derry   Wrecked Islay
29- 9-1786 “James”  (sloop)   Cushendun James O’Hara  
8- 8-1797 “Mary”   Cushendun   Mc Killop possibly same boat
29- 9- 1802 “Mary Ann” 23 Cushendun John Mc Killop  As above
8-10- 1802 “Rattlesnake” under 15  Cushendun Chas. McAllister Ferry
10- 9-
“Industry” 10 Larne    
12-10- 1804 “Hawk”   Cushendun      
2- 1- 1807 “Betty”   Ballycastle   Wrecked 25-12- 1806
2- 1- 1807 “Jess” (sloop)   Larne   Wrecked 25-12-1806 
20- 4- 1807 “Rose” 6 Cushendun  John McVey  
20- 4- 1807 “Loyalty”   Cushendun James McNeill  
15- 11- 1807       “Priscilla” 6 Ballycastle Robt. Drimen Wrecked Arran
4-12- 1807 “Jean” 7 Ballintray Wm. Haughtyan  
31-10- 1808 “Hibernia”   Derry Capt. James Wrecked Islay
22- 8- 1810 “Rose” 3 Rathlin John McQuillan  
2- 1- 1811 “James”   Derry    
21- 6- 1811 “Maria”   Ballycastle    
21- 6- 1811 “Flower”   Carrickfergus    

* Date when mentioned in the Extracts, Collector to Board.




                                                                       WRECK AT CUSHENDUN

“Belfast Morning News” — 7th January, 1867

During a severe snowstorm on the morning of 2nd inst. the sloop Thomas and Eliza, of Dumfries — Wilson, master — from Irvine, bound for Belfast, with a cargo of brick, tiles, etc. ran on shore, and has almost become a total wreck. The officer in charge of the coastguard gallantly launched his boat, which filled twice, and succeeded in rescuing the master and mate from their perilous position, half dead with cold.

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