The chief interest in the autobiography is probably that which it attracts as the most authentic account of the smuggling which was carried on in the neighbourhood in the latter portion of the 18th century.
Cornwall has long enjoyed a certain reputation for pre-eminence in this particular form of trade, and apparently not without some reason. A series of letters of the years 1750-1753 were published some years ago in the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall (vol. vi. pt. xxii. p. 374, The Lanisley Letters) to a Lieutenant-General Onslow, from George Borlase, his agent at Penzance, asking that soldiers might be stationed in the district, because `the coasts here swarm with smugglers,' and mentioning that a detachment ought to be stationed at Helston, as `just on that neighbourhood lye the smugglers and wreckers more than about us, tho' there are too many in all parts of this country.' In his Natural History of Cornwall, published in 1758, Dr. Borlase regrets (p. 312) that `the people of the sea coast are, it must be owned, too much addicted to carry off our bullion to France and to bring back nothing but brandy, tea, and other luxuries.' This is delicate, but there can be no doubt of his meaning; and he goes on to complain that `there is not the poorest family in any parish which has not its tea, its snuff, and tobacco, and (when they have money or credit) brandy,' all, may presume, duty free. The will of Philip Hawkins, M.P. for Grampound, who died on September 6, 17 38, is perhaps the most striking record, for he actually bequeathed £600 to the king to compensate for the amount to which his tenants had defrauded the Customs.
That the smuggling prevailed to such an extent is not to be wondered at, for the law must have had but a very slight hold on such a rough and scattered population, living so far away from any of the large centres of England. In such a narrow country too, where no one lives very far from the sea, the miners took to smuggling as readily as the fishermen. A trip to Roscoff or Guernsey formed a pleasant change after a spell on tribute underground or working stamps. A rough, reckless, and drunken lot were these tinners, and if riots and bloodshed were more scarce in West Cornwall than in some parts, it must have been due to the judicious absence of the Custom House officials, and not to any qualities in the smugglers. George Borlase says Lanisley Letters that in December 1950 a Dutch ship laden with claret was wrecked near Helston, and ` in twenty-four hours the tinners cleared all,' the authorities apparently not daring to interfere; and that just before a man who went to the assistance of the revenue officers had been killed near the same place.