1838; Shipwreck at Osmington, smugglers and coastguard men.

Life at sea has always been hazardous, natures fickle whims, and mans unpredictability has always caused dramas and deaths.

For those whose livelihoods depended on the sea, and those who relied on the open water as their means of transport, they literally took their life in their hands every time they entered a boat.

Nowadays we have the luxury of the Lifeboat services, still entirely voluntary….but with the benefits of super fast technology and engineering, lives are saved. However, before the voluntary service was started, there were still men prepared to risk their lives to save others, people who they had never met, never knew, it didn’t matter, someone was in trouble, and without a thought for their own safety they would endeavour to save some poor soul from the deep grave.

History tends to portray people as black or white, whereas the the reality is somewhere in between, good people do bad things and bad people do good things. Such is the following story from the papers of 1838 concerning a certain notorious local family from Osmington mills (check out the links below to view the past history of their families exploits)

Way back through history Britain has had to defend her shores, from invaders, marauders, and of course, the ever present  smugglers.

In 1831 The Coastguard Service was set up, an amalgamation of various services that were used to watch our shores, at this stage it employed 6,700 men.


Stations were set up around the coastline, which included housing for the men of the service, they would be commanded by an Officer, ex-Navy. what’s more these men would be frequently moved from posting to posting, it did no good for them to become friendly with the locals, the very people that they were supposed to be watching out for while indulging in their illicit past times of smuggling.

Tradition was that no love was lost between the revenue men and the locals, one side trying to out thwart the other, but when needs must , they pulled together.

A coastguard station sat at the cliff edge of Osmington Mills, and in 1838 it was under the command of Lieut. Inskip.R.N, working under him were Robert Lambard, Jason Grainger and William Hall among others.

On Saturday, the 28th april two fishermen from Kimmeridge, just along the coast had sailed over to the fishing port of Weymouth to purchase some items, mostly gear for their trade. Later that evening, about 8 0’clock, they set off in the boat for home. The weather had picked up by then, the wind was approaching gale force,  whipping the sea up across the bay.

As the two fisherman made their way back towards Kimmeridge, they found themselves being pushed uncontrollably by the strong tide and high winds perilously close towards the crashing waves on the rocky shore at Osmington Mills, they were in serious trouble, unable to control their boat and heading for disaster.

One of the coastguard men who was stood on watch that stormy evening spotted the struggling men and called for assistance. A boat was quickly launched from the shore and headed out through the surf towards the stricken vessel.


Four more local men  that evening also watched the dire plight of the fishermen unfolding. Realising the the coastguard men needed help, and without a thought for their own lives, they climbed onto the rocky shore under the cliffs amidst the swell of the waves, then waded out into the raging water taking with them ropes and equipment towards the damaged the struggling men and, by now, sinking boat.

Between the coastguards and the locals they finally managed to drag one of the men to safety, but the other had become so enmeshed in the lines on their boat nothing could be done for him, his body went down with the wreck.

Those 4 local men were 57 year old Emanuel Charles, landlord of the local Inn, now more aptly named Smugglers Inn , he was supposedly the leader of the smugglers along this stretch of the the coast. Only a couple of years previous he had been charged with assault on a coastguard. (check out the links below to read the long and fascinating history of this family)

Henry Charles, his 20 year old son, James Charles, another member of this notorious family, who had also come before the courts, this time for theft, and Rob Seward, a cousin who was well and truly woven into the family firm of illicit trade, two of the Seward family members jailed the year previous for smuggling..

So despite their hated and distrust for each other, when another human being was in trouble, neither side thought twice about risking their lives to help one another.

It appears that even the jury who sat at the inquest were so impressed with the 4 local mens actions, that they donated their fees to them.


Writing a book, blog, short stories or your own family history, then why not make them jump off the page, bring them to life with historical graphics.
I have a huge collection that cover illustrations from numerous Victorian articles about travel, prisons, children’s homes, poverty, philanthropy…
Check out my Etsy site for Victorian illustrations, many more, including local ones being added all the time from my own personal collection.


http://www.osmington.info/?page_id=434 (Osmington Mills history including the Charles family involvement with smuggling)

http://www.weymouth-dorset.co.uk/smuggling.html  (More history of the Charles family and their exploits on the excellent Weymouth-Dorset.co.uk site)

http://www.hansonclan.co.uk/coastguards_1.htm (brief history of the coastguard service)


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