Napoleon and the English Smugglers


Napoleon Bonaparte

In exile on Elba he wrote:

"They did great mischief to your Government. During the war all the information I received from England came from the Smugglers.They are people who have courage and ability to do anything for money. At a camp prepared for them at one time there were upwards of 500 of them in Dunkirk. I had every information I wanted from them. They brought over newspapers and dispatches from the spies that we had in London. They took over spies from France, landed and kept them in their houses for some days, dispersed them over the country and brought them back when wanted. They assisted the French prisoners to escape from England. The relations of French prisoners in your country were accustomed to go to Dunkirk and to make a bargain with them to bring over a certain prisoner. All they wanted was the name, age and a private token by means of which the prisoners might repose confidence in them. Generally in a short time afterwards they effected it, as, for men like them, they had a great deal of honour in their dealings"

They offered several times to bring over Louis and the rest of the Bourbons for a sum of money, but they wanted to stipulate that if they met with an accident or interruption to their design, they might be allowed to murder them. This I would not consent to".

In spite of Napoleons comments to their honesty there were a number of cases in which they fell very short of these ideals. There were reported instances of smugglers taking a fee to effect the escape of a French prisoner-of-war and then , when they had reached the coast, handing him over to the authorities and claiming a reward. One smuggler, entrusted with a cargo of English guineas to take to France, reported that he had been chased by a Revenue cruiser and had been forced to jettison the bags of guineas into the sea. The owner was suspicious and employed divers to go down to the area where the guineas had been jettisoned. They found the bags on the sea-bed but when they were brought up and opened they contained only pebbles. As it was an illegal operation in the first place the owner was powerless to take any further action except to warn others against the smuggler. This apparently did not worry him unduly for he had suddenly come into money with which he bought property and became a respectable land-owner and lord of the manor. Of his sons, one became a magistrate and another a parson.

Ref: "Coastguard" by William Webb


0 Comments · 12497 Reads · Print  -> Posted by Tony on July 05 2007

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