Sunday, 14 December 2014

Smugglers along the south west coast of England

There are many notorious tales of the smugglers and wreckers  in this part 
of the country and which has inspired many novels such as the
 famous ‘Jamaica Inn ‘and ‘Moonfleet.’

One man who during the 18thc  acquired a lasting notoriety was that of ‘Cruel Coppinger,’
 the Dane, who plied his dreadful trade along the north coast of Cornwall.
Local tradition relates that it was during a terrible storm a foreign rigged vessel was 
seen drifting just off the coast. The ship soon sank in the pounding waves and driving 
rain; just one man made it to shore. Wrapped in a cloak that he is said to have torn 
from the shoulders of an old woman who was on the shore, the stranger leaped up 
behind a farmer’s daughter who had ridden down to see the wreck. She took him to
 her fathers house where he was fed, clothed and made welcome. He was fine looking
 man and soon won the young girl’s heart and at her father’s death which happened
 not long after, he married her. But the marriage was not a happy one and only one 
child was born to them, a deaf and dumb boy who inherited his fathers vicious streak. 
It was even rumoured that the child murdered one of his own playmates.
After the marriage Coppinger made himself Captain of an organized band of smugglers
 and by his black deeds soon earned the title by which he is remembered. His ship was 
called the Black Prince and had been specially built for him in Denmark and it was
 rumoured to be crewed by men who had offended him on land. They were dragged 
on board and threatened with violence  if they did not sign on .

After many years plying his wicked trade along the coast near St Just he fell ill. 
Several parsons and members of the local church were called to his bedside, they came
 readily enough as the wicked man was by then very rich. Although it was the middle
 of a bright sunny day his chamber became very dark, and one Parson claimed to see
 the Devil in the corner of the room. By their continuous readings throughout that day
 they drove it to take many forms but for all their efforts they could not make the Devil 
leave the chamber of the dying man. At last it took the form of a fly and buzzed around 
Coppinger, by then they saw that it was in vain for them to try any longer. All the time
 the bible readings were in progress, the men inside the room could quite clearly hear 
the sound of waves breaking against the side of the house even though it stood some
 distance from the shore. While this was going on two men who were on the cliff over 
looking the sea  heard a loud voice coming from the waves, it called out ‘The hour is 
come but the man is not come.’ Looking in the direction of the voice they saw far out
 to sea a black ship with a sail set coming in fast, against the wind and tide. No one 
was visible on deck. She came closer and closer to the cliffs until only her mast could 
be seen below them. Then as they watched in horrified amazement black clouds
 billowed up from around her and then headed for the dying man’s house. Terrified, the
 men ran back to the town square as they reached the house it shook and looked as if it 
was about to collapse, and it was at this moment that old Coppinger died.
The Parsons and all the watchers rushed from his chamber and watched the black
 clouds roll back towards the waiting black ship, which at once sailed away amidst
 a violent lightening storm and then disappeared.
The sky overhead immediately cleared  and nothing untoward happened until it was
 time to place the old wrecker’s remains into the coffin. Then as the coffin was carried 
towards the churchyard the sky again became overcast and a storm sprang up with
 such violence that the bearers could hardly keep their feet. They managed  to reach 
the church yard stile when such violent bolts of lightening flashed around them that 
they dropped the coffin and rushed into the church.
When the storm eventually abated they ventured out to retrieve the coffin but nothing
 was left of it; only the handles and a few nails remained. All else had been set on fire 
and consumed by the lightning.