This month’s Crockett reading challenge is all about smugglers. Smuggling provided a rich seam for Crockett, and not just in his 18th century novels., He explores smuggling as a concept and reality as early as Covenanting times and as late as his contemporary 19th century fiction. He distinguishes between ‘The Gentle Trade’ and ‘The Black Trade’. The former is something indulged in by almost all ranks of society in Galloway (far beyond the 18th century) while the latter is a darker, more sinister thing entirely.

Looking at smuggling allows Crockett (and us as readers) to observe and comment on changes in society over time. We tend to think that today we have the monopoly on issues such as Free trade but Crockett’s exploration of economic systems as they impact upon ordinary people offers much insight into the lives of people in Galloway in days gone by. As always, his fiction is informed by fact. But equally, he never lets the facts get in the way of a good story.
[picture – Cally Phillips at Crockett memorial posts, Auchencairn]

Auchencairn is the setting for ‘The Smugglers’ and the setting is recognisable if you visit there today. Crockett knew the area well as one of his uncles lived there, and indeed he inherited the house (Castle Daffin) on his uncle’s death. If you want to have your own Solway smuggling adventure, a good place to start is the Community Garden. From there you can see both Castle Daffin and the Manse. You can then walk along the coast to the Dulse Cave and Red Haven Howe if you are so minded. But Crockett somewhat truncates the landscape, so be prepared for a decent walk.
[picture Crockett at Castle Daffin]

‘The Smugglers’ was published in 1911 and set at the turn of the 19th century. In it, Crockett shows us the dark side of smuggling. The novel has a central love story between young naïve Paul Wester and the gypsy girl Zipporah Katti, who comes from the Palafox smuggling dynasty but there is much more to the novel than a simple romantic tale. At the same time as he explores young love, with tongue often quite firmly in cheek at the antics of Paul and Zipporah, Crockett also takes a more reflective view of love from later in life. Secrets abound and Barbara is sent a letter from the past which stirs her heart: ‘if you still feel towards me as you did, and are willing to meet me, be at the land entrance to the Dulse cave on the night of Saturday…She saw the sky bluer, the grass of a more enchanting emerald. She had not looked at such foolish things for forty years. Instead she had watched, loved and listened for the dear homely things- the growth of the gooseberries in the Manse garden, the keckle of laying hens in the barn, the soft shuffle of her master’s slippers…’
We are reminded that love is not only for the young, nor is it all hearts and flowers. The love stories serve as a parallel to the bigger theme. Crockett shows how modernity is threatening the ‘old’ ways of society and how what was previously seen as ‘The Gentle Trade’ – a means of standing up against perceived unfair taxes, has now degenerated into people trafficking.
As ever, the natural descriptions are powerful and beautiful.
‘To the seaward side of the Howe of the Red Haven ,hidden from everything landward, among the highest Boreland cliffs, you may find, if you are lucky, a strange place sometimes called the Gauger’s Hole. For several hours a day it is safe enough at every ‘high’ ebb, being only the long rift of a cavern still covered in here and there. It culminates in a ‘pot’ or cauldron, where, at the height of the flood-tides, Solway surge boils like lava in an uneasy volcano, now lashing with spray the steep sides, grinding the rocks into pebbles, the pebbles into sand and ever and anon spouting high into the air, like an Icelandic geyser, columnar mushrooms of churned water and creamy Solway sand. All who know the ‘riddlings of creation’ called Colvend know where to look for this place.

The coastline and caves give a brilliant backdrop to the action. From the initial stealing of the minister’s horse Glenkens, to the denouement in Morocco, Crockett illustrates the descent of smuggling into economic exploitation.
[picture Balcary view by R.B Photography ]

Crockett does an excellent job of re-contextualising smuggling for his contemporary time, allowing us an insight into late 19th century life. Although at times paying humorous homage to his earlier smuggling novels, this novel offers a darker picture. Gipsies are no longer heroes and ‘The Gentle Trade’ has been replaced by horse thieves, gun runners and human-traffickers. The Palafoxes in ‘The Smugglers’ are a world away from The Faas in ‘The Raiders Trilogy.’ We also travel to France and Morocco where there are scenes reminiscent of the popular contemporary style of Kipling. It’s a style that is out of fashion and at times appears politically incorrect, but it offers a good insight into life as it was a century ago.

If you are bitten by the smuggling bug and want to go further back in time, ‘The Dew of their Youth’ is a lesser known novel which focuses on the romance between Duncan MacAlpine and Irma Maitland. Duncan is even lower down the social scale than Patrick or Maxwell Heron. He is the son of a schoolmaster not a bonnet laird. And Irma Maitland is far higher up the social scale than May Maxwell or Joyce Faa. Here, smuggling is illustrated by the collision between the White Free Trade and the Black Free Trade. While perhaps more ‘domestic’ than ‘The Raiders’, there is excitement enough. The defence of the house and the battle in the ice-house (where smuggling goods are stored) is every bit as exciting as Stevenson’s fight in the Bridge House in ‘Kidnapped.’

[picture: view Abbey Burnfoot – ‘Moss Troopers’]

Another smuggling novel is ‘The Moss Troopers’ which is set in Napoleonic times and was published in America as ‘Patsy’ in 1912. Partly set round the now non-existant Abbey Burnfoot, it features an exploration of social class and particularly the role of the Hanoverian princes. The smuggling in ‘The Moss Troopers’ is much more to do with economics and independence than with the swashbuckling gypsy adventure of The Raiders Trilogy. Once again Free Trade rears its ugly head. Galloway is seen as a free land, a wild place which refuses to bend to the will of the Hanoverians who are ‘smugglers’ of a type themselves. The monarchy is shown to be responsible for pressganging men and kidnapping of women. The novel’s hero, Stair Garland stand against this invasion demanding the right to be involved in their own destiny. Crockett notes that almost everyone in Galloway was complicit in smuggling to avoid what were considered immoral taxes on things such as alcohol, tea and some textiles. He also shows repeatedly that while ‘The Gentle Trade’ is just a way of fighting back against economics, the ‘Black Trade’ was a much deadlier affair.
This is just a taste of Crockett’s smuggling stories – there are others among his collections and some interesting parallels drawn between smuggling and poaching in other of his works. But if you are interested in Solway Smugglers over history, ‘The Dew of their Youth,’ ‘The Moss Troopers’ and ‘The Smugglers’ all have plenty to offer. And they are all cracking good yarns as well!
You can pick up all of the above mentioned Smuggling stories as volumes in The Galloway Collection direct from unco books.
And don’t forget, if you want to know more about Crockett and his work, it’s free to join The Galloway Raiders online literary society. And as a special extra, during March you can download a free PDF version of the story ‘Smugglers of the Clone.’ Just go to the Galloway Raiders homepage and click the link.

Written Cally Phillips exclusively for DGWGO
Links: Crockett’s books at unco http://www.unco.scot/store/c26/S.R.Crockett.html
The Galloway Raiders http://www.gallowayraiders.co.uk

Main Photo ‘Solway View’ by R.B Photography