cornwall pirates smugglers

cornwall pirates smugglers

Pirates of Cornwall and Southwest Smuggling

The word pirate has stirred history & myths and folklore over generations, if not hundreds of years

Pirates A definition


A person who robs / attacks ships at sea – rob and plunder a ship

Over the years these pirates have raped murdered and pillaged the high seas getting exactly want they want.

Today when we think of pirates, we automatically think of captain jack sparrow of pirates of the Caribbean, as a lovable rogue he bought some romance to the word pirate


Cornwall pirates

Fowey in Cornwall was a pirate town, by the 15th century Fowey was a major centre to name just a few

  • Mark Mixtow
  • Thomas Bodulgate
  • Sir Hugh Courtney
  • Families-Trevelyans/ Trundells
  • John piers of Padstow

John piers started his pirate career along the north Cornish coast before moving afield along the English Channel. he regularly plundered royal navy ships.

In his day he was known as a robin hood figure before being caught and hung.

The Killgrew family

The killgrew family were one of the most successful and probably the leading Cornish pirates of all time.

They controlled everything that came in and out of Falmouth harbour. There main residence was Arwenack house – which was used to store a range of stolen goods. The first generation of Sir john Kiligrew was the most active.

The head of the commission for Cornish piracy in 1577 was John killigrew. It was not only the killigrew men involved but also the wives and mothers involved in pirate actively.

Cornwall and Devon became the hunting ground for north African pirates

The isle of Lundy was frequently used as a pirate strong hold as it was an excellent place to see movements up and down the Bristol channel

Penryn town

The kiligrew family had a reputation for seizing ships and cargo Mary killigrew was married to sir john killigrew and was also the daughter of a pirate

She was notorious for killing Spaniards as she ascended the Maria ship as well as its cargo and crew. her associates were sentenced to death but lady killigrew was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth 1


Robert Culiford was another Cornish pirate


Fowey pirates

In the 15th century the activities of the Fowey pirates became quite notorious MARK Mixtow a licensed privateer, he plundered and attacked France, Flemish and Spanish ships

Their reputation attracted lots of newcomers to Fowey’s den of piracy

Local families were involved in shiploads of stolen goods and government officials became involved as well, as it was very lucrative under the eyes of customs and excise.



Sir JOHN Hawkins   – Devon


He became Britain’s first African slave trader – stealing west from Portuguese ships and selling them illegally over the Spanish mainland.

He spent time as naval treasurer and later chief administer for the navy and he received a knight hood for streamlining the navies finances ‘he started a growing movement of pirates to break the strong hold of Spain in the new world

History of Piracy

The word “piracy “comes from the ancient Greek word “PEIRAMIS meaning attempt then the latin word “PIRATA” ie the act of robbery in the high sea where law and order are absent.

It was rife in the 18 th century turning to today where super tankers and leisure ships are plundered for ransom and money.

John Nutt – Devon

John Nutt was born in Lymphstone near Exmouth

He organised a small crew during the summer of 1621 when he seized approx. 3 ships

He used unemployed sailors and old sailors from the royal navy, he raided shipping in the gulf of st Lawrence and Irish sea. he was due to be hanged but the Secretary of state, an old friend George Calvert let him off and even received £100 compensation for previous attempts to have him arrested


John Phillips – Devon

He was a former cod fisherman from lymphstone who turned to piracy in 1723. seizing approx. 30 vessels eventually coming to own demise to other pirates first losing a leg then eventually having his head chopped off and hung on the bowspit.

The bank of smuggling

Zephaniah Job of Polperro –

He arrived in Polperro with ideas of being a school master but ended up being a bookkeeper and advisor to smugglers and pirates.

His career spanned approx. 30 years for which he was paid handsomely. he died aged 73 in 1822 with most of his ledgers destroyed in a fire to destroy all evidence.


CARTERS of Prussia cove

This celebrated gang of brothers – john and harry ruled Prussia cove mounts bay from 1770

John took up the role The king of Prussia. Their home Prussia cove (originally port Leah) Was difficult to get to by land. It offered ample slip ways for landing illicit goods. equipped with 2 large boats and smaller boats for inshore work.

There reign lasted until 1825 when the coast guard station was built at Prussia cove,


Cruel Coppinger

He was shipwrecked on the Cornish shores and married a young lady. his gang was known as the cruel gang wreckers and pirates even beheading revenue officers

Wrecking revenue cutters into shallow waters.

Eventually cruel reign of terror came to an end disappearing on a ship never to be seen again

Carter family more info

Location of there operations

  • Bessie cove, piskies cove and pot Leah (known as Prussia cove )
  • Rumoured to all connected by underground tunnels

Goods such as wine, tea and tobacco which were obtained from Europe cheaper and avoiding duty tax also rum, brandy and gin

Smuggled goods were dropped off at coves and picked up again. when the coast was clear. Tunnels and passages were dug into the rocks

The risks of smuggling were high. AS a minimum transportation to Australia.

Robert lang a smuggler from Veryan was hung in St Mawes


brother and sister team Fynn and Joan used Looe Island as their base. Black Joan as she was known reportedly murdered a negro who’s ghost to this day haunts the island
the pair stored contraband in tubs with the smuggler paying a fee for each tub concealed.

Pirate Sayings