'Sprightly' ship model

Revenue cutters

model of a large sailing ship

The 'Sprightly', built in 1778, was a typical rigged revenue cutter. Sadly she was captured and sank in the Mediterranean, during the Napoleonic Wars (1801).

The 18th and early 19th century were the heyday of smuggling. At sea the revenue cutter was the first line of defence against the smuggler. With their vast sail area and long bow spit, they were built for speed, strength and fire power.

Cutters were heavily armed, as they often encountered violent opposition from smugglers. Guns were placed along the sides of the deck. Swivel guns were found on the bow and stern. Muskets, bayonets, cutlasses, tuck sticks and small hatchets were issued to the crew.

Mathew Gunthorpe was a highly successful Cutter Commander in the early 19th century. He was Master of the excise cutter 'Viper'. In 1808 he captured 13 smugglers who were then "pressed" in to naval service. He won £500 as prize money (£4,825 in today's money). His success allowed him to later retire to a large estate in Yarmouth.

Model made by David Wray from the original 'Sprightly' plans (1970).

Loan number CELI 02/1994