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Looe Island

Smugglers and Free Traders

In the 18th and 19th centuries smuggling was a major industry in Cornwall despite the efforts of the understaffed revenue authorities and harsh penalties for convicted offenders. The high duties imposed on a variety of luxury goods imported from Europe by successive British governments made smuggling very profitable for anyone prepared to face a little more risk than most people at the time encountered in their everyday struggle to earn a living.

The Channel Islands were exempt from taxes imposed by a British parliament, and so they became the main center for the supply of goods. Cornwall's proximity to the merchants of St Peter Port and Guernsey ensured that the trade in contraband goods was particularly active.

Looe Island was an ideal staging post for landing and concealing goods until it was safe to ferry them to the mainland. The contraband included small casks of spirits known as 'tubs', tea, silk stockings and other goods subject to a high duty.

Thomas Fletcher

No account if the smugglers of Looe Island would be complete without mentioning Thomas Fletcher, an Irishman who came to Looe as a coastguard in the 1830's. He married a local woman, raised a large family and absconded from the coastguard service to join the smugglers. Thomas Fletcher joined Amram Hooper's organization and used his knowledge of the coastguard to plan out his activities. He was given a walking funeral to his last resting place in Schlerder Abbey above Talland bay.

As Thomas had a large family, many descendants are still living in the area.

Thomas Fletchers connection to smuggling brought him to Amram Hooper and his organization. Amram was the chief smuggler in and around Looe at the time his family lived on Looe Island, between the 1790s and mid 1840s. They rented the property from the Trelawney family and were closely tied with the Finn family, who also inhabited the island during this time.

Tales of Amram and his grandson, Jochabed, appear in various stories about smuggling events in and near Looe, these were largely founded and recorded by Commander H.N.Shore at the turn of the 19th century.

Amram himself was a legendary man, whose family had been a 'superior people', most likely upper middle class, who were punished for some state offense. Amram was in a college of learning at the time and his whole career was wrecked.

Once relocated to Looe his new career as a smuggler was done in a spirit of revenge against the law of the land, more than for the profit it bought him. The local fishermen whom he employed to go out fishing with him said, when asked by his wife what they talked about, "his words were few, but pure silver every one of 'em".

Other sources describe Amram as "most remarkable and evidently educated far above his surroundings, [he] had great personality and charm, clever, resourceful, a born leader and his associates revered him.". He was noted to be a mostly silent man, no one knew where he came from and there were many tales and rumors surrounding his legend.