The Terror of Hawkhurst Gang
Location: The Custom House, Poole
The Hawkhurst Gang named after their home village of Hawkhurst, Kent, were one of the most famous and ruthless gang of smugglers in the south of England.
It was in September 1748, the notorious gang were waiting on the Hampshire shore for the arrival of a cutter by the name of "The Three brothers" with her large cargo of brandy, tea and rum from Guernsey. Unfortunately for the smugglers, the vessel was intercepted off the Dorset coast by a customs cutter called the "Swift". After a chase, lasting for seven hours the captain and her crew surrendered and the vessel with its illegal contents was escorted to the port of Poole.
The goods which amounted to a two ton consignment of tea, thirty-nine casks of brandy and rum and some coffee were seized and stored in the Custom House at Poole.
When the Hawkhurst gang heard about what happened to the cutter, they assembled a raiding party and attacked the Customs House to rescue their contraband. The Custom Service were so annoyed by the assault on the Custom House that they offered a large reward to anyone who could identify the perpetrators.
Several months later one member of the gang Jack Diamond was identified by a friend of his, a cobbler by the name of Daniel Chater. Diamond was subsequently arrested and jailed at Chichester for suspicion for being involved in the raid at the Poole Custom House.
Due to the reputation, that Chater had made for himself, by betraying a member of the Hawkhurst Gang to the authorities. Chater was escorted by a Customs Officer, named William Galley to the magistrate to testify the case against Diamond,
However, Chater and Galley interrupted their journey by stopping at a roadside inn called the White Hart in Rowland's Castle, Hampshire. The landlady of the inn realizing who her two guests were, after overhearing their discussions, quickly informed the gang.
Awaiting the smugglers arrival, the landlady waylaid her guests by providing the couple with plenty of alcohol, until they were quite drunk. Eventually, they were put to bed, but by the next morning, they were suddenly awoken by being violently flogged out of their beds with whips.
Chater and Galley were brutally dragged out of the inn and tied to a horse then horsewhipped until both were nearly dead. At one point, the saddle-girth broke and slipped underneath the horses belly, their bonds still holding them together, with their heads dragging along the ground.
Believing that they had killed the Customs Officer Galley, The gang decided to dig out a shallow grave and bury him, but dead he was not and the Customs Officer was buried alive, while still unconscious.
The poor tormented Chater was later chained up in a out house of a farm for two days while the gang argued what they should do with him one of the gang members suggested that they would all kill him, by tying a string to the trigger of a gun, with all of them pulling. However to make an example to other informers a more brutal method was decided upon, Chater face was brutally mutilated with a clasp knife. But his ordeal was far from over, Chater was dragged to the mouth of old well. Where the gang attempted to hang him from a windlass around his neck, but the rope was to short.
The agonising fate was yet to come when the gang decided to cut the rope, sending Chater plummeting down the thirty-foot well shaft. The gang finally killed Daniel Chater by hurling large stones down on him until they were satisfied he was truly dead.
When news of the two murders began to circulate, the local population who looked on the Hawkhurst Gang as benefactors turned against the smugglers. One by one the members of the gang were soon caught, over a period of six months including their gang leader Thomas Kingsmill.
The smugglers were soon prosecuted and executed and their corpses were gibbet in irons and chains in their own villages as reminder of the brutality of their dreadful crimes.
Footnote: For more information about Smuggling in the 18th and 19th Century Britain visit Richard Platt's Smugglers' Britain-An Ordnance Survey Guide.