Friday, 2 November 2012


It was a moonlit, blustery night, Tuesday 1st December 1835, and the smuggling fraternity of East Devon had planned an audacious run on the coast just to the Exmouth side of Budleigh Salterton.   Some fifty or sixty men, gathered on the beach towards midnight.   John Batchelor, the chief boatman of the Coast Guard at Budleigh,  had spotted a cutter manoeuvring suspiciously in the offing and had summoned his commander,  Lieutenant William Noble Clay RN.  Lieutenant Clay, with great courage, hastened alone to the beach beneath the westward cliffs where he found a boat ashore and the smugglers busy.  He twice fired his pistol over the heads of the men on the beach.  Some of them fled but others came towards the lieutenant saying, "Seize him!" and "Give it to him!"  They were armed with guns, pistols and bludgeons.  They tied up Clay, hand and foot, and took his cutlass and his pistol from him and some of them beat him and injured him.   He asked them not to beat him and asked one who seemed to be the leader of the smugglers to return his pistol.   The ringleader, who was probably William Rattenbury of Beer, son of the smuggler Jack Rattenbury, pointed to his own pistol.  "This is not your pistol, it is mine,"  he said,  "and damned well loaded  it is."    By now John Batchelor had arrived on the beach and a Budleigh baker called Perriam.  The smugglers surrounded Batchelor and took Perriam by the waistcoat and put a pistol to his head.  Batchelor, however, stood his ground and fired his pistol and then fired a blue light as a signal  and, at this, the smugglers saw the game was up and fled into the night.  John Batchelor untied Lieutenant Clay who, bloodied but unbowed, then had the satisfaction of seizing the smugglers' boat where were 52 kegs of brandy and, no doubt, other smuggled goods.   Batchelor next went to the station house and fired a rocket to alert the countryside and the affray was concluded.

This story is taken from Trewman's Exeter Flying Post , 30th March, 1836.

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