Friday, 29 March 2013

Jack Rattenbury lives!

Above: Jack Rattenbury seen in East Budleigh's The Rolle Arms with, left, Fairlynch Museum Chairman Roger Sherriff

Several local people have reported that Jack Rattenbury was seen recently at the Rolle Arms in East Budleigh. Following investigations Fairlynch Museum Chairman Roger Sherriff has admitted that the infamous smuggler had been allowed a quiet last pint before transferring to his new home at the Museum to receive visitors in the Smugglers' Cellar.

For many years Rattenbury was the bane of Customs and Excise men. Although not a Budleigh man - he was actually born in Beer, East Devon, in 1778 - many of his illegal activities took place in this area. The above painting in the Smugglers’ Cellar at Fairlynch Museum records the moment on 29 January 1821 when he narrowly escaped being arrested a mile or so off Budleigh beach on his way back from France, having as he later admitted in his memoirs “a cargo of goods, consisting of one hundred kegs of spirits, and a bale of tea.”  

Along with another smuggling vessel which was bound for Exmouth harbour he and his fellow crew members, both British and French, were challenged by a Customs boat commanded by a Captain Stocker who demanded to inspect Rattenbury’s cargo.  “The captain attempted to come on board, but we told him to keep-off,” recalled Rattenbury. “They again attempted to board us, but we shoved her off with a boat-hook; upon which she dropped astern of our vessel, and began to fire at us. The first shot carried away our main halliards, and down came the sails.”  

Rattenbury describes how the Customs men continued to fire till their ammunition was quite exhausted, at which point Captain Stocker, who had recognised the notorious smuggler by his voice called out "Master Rattenbury, you had better let me come alongside quietly." Keeping his cool, Rattenbury allowed the Captain aboard and even offered him refreshments after a search which revealed nothing. The smugglers had loaded their illegal goods into a smaller boat which they had then shoved off with a boat-hook.


Above: A contemporary print of Jack Rattenbury, known as 'The Rob Roy of the West'
“Captain Stocker remained till three o'clock in the morning, and having no plea for detaining the vessel, he then left,” wrote Rattenbury. “But when he had got about twenty yards distance, he called out to me and said, ‘Mind, Mr. Rattenbury, I do not find you here in the morning with the vessel; if you are, I'll detain you.’

“A fine breeze springing up we cruised about in search of our boat, but we could not find her. The next morning at day-break, we saw Captain Stocker with two Salterton boats a long way off, and they had our boat in tow, containing the goods, with them. We then made the best of our way to Beer, and returned to France the same day, for fear of being apprehended; and remained there a fortnight, and then came home with a cargo. I then went on shore, and sent a crew off to the vessel to secure the goods.”

Rattenbury had many other hair-raising adventures during his smuggling career which lasted, so he says, for another 15 years. At that point, reflecting that he had made little money from his illegal trading trips, he accepted a pension from local landowner Lord Rolle of a shilling a week.  He died in 1844 and is buried in Seaton churchyard.  

Do visit the Smugglers’ Cellar at Fairlynch Museum, say hello to our life-size version version of Jack Rattenbury created by talented Budleigh artist and designer Neil Rogers and learn about the history of the age-old tradition of smuggling in East Devon. And if you feel like raising a glass in his memory he’d be pleased if it was a pint of Lyme Bay Winery’s award-winning Jack Ratt scrumpy cider named after this great East Devon character. 









No comments:

Post a Comment