Deal's fishing fleet set ablaze


painting of a ship being launched in a rough sea

Launching smuggling lugger at Deal harbour, Kent. © Deal Maritime and Local History Museum.

In order to make a stand against the smuggling community, William Pitt (the new Prime Minister) ordered the destruction of Deal's fishing fleet in January 1785.

Most of the local residents in Deal (near Dover) were expert boat builders and seamen. These skills were ideal for smuggling.

The winter weather of 1785 was very severe. This meant most of Deal's fishing fleet were pulled ashore on to the Downs (a steep shingle beach). This gave Pitt an excellent opportunity to hit the smugglers hard. With the help of the Dragoon guards the local residents were outnumbered and held at bayonet point. Their boats were set ablaze and destroyed.

However success was short lived. Within a few years the smugglers were back in business. This was just one of a series of clashes between the revenue men and local smugglers.