This exhibition tells story of the secretive trade in smuggled goods that took place on the mudflats and shingle shores of the Annandale coast. The Isle of Man was largely independent during the 18th century. Its merchants imported luxury goods such as alcohol, tea and tobacco without paying high duty to the British government. Smugglers sailed small boats from the shores of Annandale to the island where they traded for goods. Returning to the mainland, their illegally landed contraband found a ready market north and south of the border, and often further afield.

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The Solway

Fortunes were made – and lost! From clergyman to tenant farmer, most of the community was involved, and the government’s customs officers and dragoons had little success in controlling an arrangement which avoided a universally unpopular tax.

1 a 1 a annan museum 7Local names such as Bell, Irving, Rome and Wyllie appear regularly in the letters between the customs officers at Dumfries and the Board of Customs in Edinburgh. Their cargoes were landed at places like Ruthwell, Torduff and Browhouses. The officers stationed along the coast were attacked by the smugglers when they tried to intervene.

In 1765, the government closed the storehouse on the Isle of Man. Subsequently the same goods were delivered to our area by heavily armed ships sailing from Europe. The risks for the smugglers were greater and there were several bankruptcies.

Based on the research of social historian Frances Wilkins, this exhibition tells the story of the people and places that played a part in the smuggling chain.

Councillor Tom McAughtrie said; “It is exciting to see years of detailed research by Frances Wilkins finally coming together in this exhibition prepared in partnership with Annan Museum. She has examined local sources as well as those held by archives in London and Edinburgh, and the results tell a fascinating story of Annandale’s smuggling past. Visitors will recognise many local places and family names, and will be surprised to discover that just about everyone had a role to play.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a range of drop in family friendly activities including smuggling smells, wherry boat posers, the chance to take a selfie with Scotland’s national poet and excise officer, Robert Burns, a smugglers’ gallery trail, devious quizzes and quaint colouring sheets.

During the summer holidays there are free drop in and create days with artist Hugh Bryden. On Thursday 9 July (11am – 1pm and 2 – 4pm) children can use card, crayons and imagination to make their own model wherry boat like the ones the smugglers would have used long ago. On Thursday 16 July (11am – 1pm and 2 – 4pm) there is an opportunity for kids to look at old maps of the Annan coast and make their own smugglers’ map showing where their precious goods will come ashore and where they will be hidden. Watch out for the excisemen!

On Friday 3 July at 6.30pm at Annan Museum Frances Wilkins will give a talk about the history of smuggling in Annandale. Discover how Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, helped capture the ‘Rosamund’ and its cargo, how Annan became the centre of the tobacco trade and how a network of ordinary folk from Redkirk in the east to Priestside in the west gave the Annandale shore a notorious reputation.

The talk will be followed by the launch of Frances’ new book, “Annandale’s Smuggling Story”. Light refreshments will be served. Admission is free but booking is required. Please phone Annan Museum on 01461 201384 to reserve a place.


Images from the exhibition panels are attached.

Inevitably much folklore is attached to the smuggling history of an area, but fortunately a wide range of contemporary documents has survived. These reveal the true story and include letters between the customs house officers at Dumfries and the Board of Customs in Edinburgh, journals of customs and excise officers stationed at Annan, minutes of the Exchequer Court in Edinburgh, which dealt with frauds against the revenue, debt cases heard at the Court of Session in Edinburgh and the Chancery Court on the Isle of Man and Manx import and export records.

Whisky, Wine and Wherry Boats is based on these documents. Each panel picks out the local names and places associated with the smuggling trade along our coastline, and offers an insight into the lives of those involved and the risks they took.