The Lace-Smuggler’s Narrative: 1858

A SMUGGLER’S NARRATIVE.

“We shall be, my dear madam,” said I to a fellow passenger in the Dieppe boat, taking out my watch, but keeping my eye steadily upon her, “we shall be in less than ten minutes at the custom house.” A spasm—a flicker from the guilt within—glanced over her countenance.

“You look very good-natured, sir,” stammered she.

I bowed, and looked considerably more so, in order to invite her confidence.

“If I was to tell you a secret, which I find is too much to keep to myself, oh, would you keep it inviolable?”

“I know it, my dear madam—I know it already,” said I, smiling; it is lace, is it not?”

She uttered a little shriek, and, yes, she had got it there among the crinoline. She thought it had been sticking out, you see, unknown to her.

“Oh, sir,” cried she, “it is only ten pounds’ worth; please to forgive me, and I’ll never do it again. As it is I think I shall expire.”

“My dear madam,” replied I, sternly but kindly, “here is the pier, and the officer has fixed his eye upon us. I must do my duty.” I rushed up the ladder like a lamplighter; I pointed that woman out to a legitimate authority; I accompanied her upon her way, in custody, to the searching house. I did not see her searched, but I saw what was found upon her, and I saw her fined and dismissed with ignominy. Then, having generously given up my emoluments as informer to the subordinate officials, I hurried off in search of the betrayed woman to her hotel.

I gave her lace twice the value of that she had lost. I paid her fine, and then I explained. “You, madam, had ten pounds’ worth of smuggled goods about your person; I had nearly 50 times that amount. I turned informer, madam, let me convince you, for the sake of us both. You have too expressive a countenance, believe me, and the officer would have found you out at all events, even as I did myself. Are you satisfied, my dear madam? If you still feel aggrieved or injured by me in any manner, pray take more lace; here is lots of it.”

We parted the best of friends.

Liverpool [Merseyside, England] Mercury 28 September 1858: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  What a very thoughtful gentleman-smuggler!  Too many in this world think only of themselves. The narrator restores our faith in humanity!

The smuggling of lace and other luxury goods was not only a highly-lucrative profession, it was something of a sport for young ladies, as we have seen in a previous post where the unrepentant culprits told their father, “But every woman on the ship is smuggling, and it is such fun.’.

Some smugglers felt that ladies had a better chance of evading detection, such as the youth who impersonated a widow, complete with a sham infant built on a bottle of dutiable brandy and stuffed with laces.

And fashionable garments provided many useful hiding places. Crinoline, for example:

The Dutch custom-house officers at Rosendael, a few days, seized a quantity of lace to the value of 1200 florins, which a lady coming by the railway from Antwerp had concealed under her crinoline. The anxiety depicted on her countenance is said to have betrayed her.

Liverpool [Merseyside England] Mercury 30 March 1858: p. 7

or the bustle:

A novel method of smuggling has been devised. A woman was discovered in Florida, coming into the United States with a large tin bustle filled with fine Cuban rum.

Lawrence [KS] Daily Journal 21 December 1886: p. 3

This lady’s maid must have been quite a strapping young woman to carry this contraband:

The Customers-officers at Haumont (Nord) last week arrested a lady’s maid who was attempting to cross the frontier with no less than twenty-nine kilogs. [63.9 lbs!] of Belgian tobacco concealed in her crinoline.

The Exeter [Devon England] Flying Post 23 September 1863: p. 6

This lady, who cleverly took advantage of the normal cycles of life to bypass the customs officers, did not know when to stop:

A very common Method of Smuggling practised by the Fair Sex, is by assuming the Appearance of far advanced Pregnancy; although the Bantling proves generally to be Silks and Laces. A Lady well known in the Circles of Fashion, practised this Trick with great Success for many Years, until being big with Child five Times in one Year, the Custom-House Officers began to be staggered by such prolific Powers, and kindly lent a Hand to deliver her of her Burthen.

The Derby [England] Mercury 15 July 1784: p. 1

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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