Tag Archives: East India Company

Tea Smuggling

Tea was a very popular drink in England during the 18th century. However, it was expensive. The East India Company held a monopoly on the import of tea, and kept prices high; governments, for their part, saw it as a useful source of revenue and slapped taxes and import duties on it, especially when a war needed funding. These high costs were an incentive to illegal importation, and the result was an epidemic of tea smuggling. By its nature, it is difficult to determine the level of illicit imports, but estimates run as high as half the tea drunk in England at times. Newspaper reports on tea smuggling abound. Here are a couple of relatively peaceful ones from the Ipswich Journal of the 1730s.

The Practice of running Tea is grown to such a height that there is no stoping it, and the fair Trader suffers extremely by it; however the Smuglers have been met with at Seven Oaks in Kent, where last Week 2400 pounds weight, and 100 of row Coffee run from Ostend was seized by Mr. Brown the Supervisor, and Mr. Lidgater Officer there, who ’tis believed will have 100 l. each for their Share by their Seizure.

On Thursday in the Afternoon, as a Cart, seemingly loaded with Hay, was coming over London-Bridge, a Bag fell out at the Tail, which some of the Shop keepers perceiving, call’d after the Driver to come back and take it uup; but instead of stopping to look for the Bag, he ran away and left his Cart, to the great Astonishment of the People, who began thereupon to enquire into the Contents of the said Bag, and found it full of Tea, and the Cart loaded with the same Commodity, only cover’d with Hay for a Blind; so that it was immediately seiz’d and brought to the Excise Office. There were 13 Bags, containing about 6 C. wt.

Interactions between smugglers and excise officers were not always so benign, as you can read about here.

Theodore Eccleston

Theodore Eccleston subscribed for two set of Kirby’s Twelve Prints and Historical Account, and continued to support Kirby with a subscription to the first edition of Method of Perspective. The Ecclestons were from London, but Theodore’s father John had married into the Harwood family (also Quakers) who had property in Crowfield, Suffolk, north of Ipswich, and Theodore is identified as living at Crowfield Hall, although he retained property in Mortlake that had been in the family on his father’s side.

Theodore Eccleston’s grandfather, also called Theodore had been a prominent Quaker divine in the seventeenth century. His father, John, was a substantial merchant and became a director of the East India Company. Richard How was a partner in their business. When she was fifteen in 1725, Theodore’s sister Isabella eloped with the coachman, John Everard, who married her falsely claiming that she was over 22. The couple ran away to the Netherlands, secretly aided by Richard How, while her father searched for the couple. Everard was declared an outlaw, and Isabella’s inheritance forfeited, but the property she inherited was held for her younger brother, Theodore, who was only 10 when she ran away. The couple stayed abroad for several hard years before slipping back into England and being set up in the North, away from her father.

Theodore himself was a noted campanologist, and was an early member of the bell-ringing society, the Ancient Society of College Youths. He gave a full peal of ten bells to the church at Stonham Aspall nearby, although the tower had previously only accommodated five bells and had to be remodeled. In 1746, he intended two bells for the church at Mortlake, but the tower there could not hold them and they ended up in Fulham, where they brought the tower up to full peal of ten bells.

Theodore’s passion for bell-ringing suggests he was no longer actively a Quaker, although he maintained ties with local Quakers. He had a horse “stolen or strayed” while visiting a friend in 1740, and a saw stolen from a saw-pit at his house in 1747, for which he offered a guinea reward. He had one son, who died young. He was clearly reconciled with his sister, whatever his father’s objections had been, and in his will of 1753 he provided £100 for each of her then-living six children (she had several miscarriages and may have lost other children – she had named the first Theodore) and a further £100 (each) to any children of her then-current pregnancy. Theodore’s executor, who also received the bulk of his estate, was Samuel Alexander, a Quaker, who in his turn passed on his fortune to a nephew who was one of the Alexanders who were bankers in Ipswich. Among other he also gave bequests to John Anstis, and the Rev. Henry Anstis, to whom he rather charmingly also left “all my Angling rods”. Clearly an avid fisherman, he also left three peter boats to a Capt. John Cooksly.