Most Dorset families can point to a smuggler in their past, but in all the tales of smuggling in Dorset, one man appears more often than any other, and has been give the approbation of The King of the Smugglers. Isaac Gulliver whose operations ranged from Poole in the east to Lyme Regis in the west.

Beach landingIn common with the other counties situated on the south coast of England, Dorset has a long tradition of smuggling, shipwrecking and even piracy. It is said that it was arguments between the twin boroughs of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis over smuggling that led Elizabeth I to combine them to form the basis of the modern town of Weymouth.

It was the nearby Dorset village of Fleet which inspired and provided the setting for J. Meade Falkner's novel, Moonfleet, a tale of old smuggling days made into a film in 1955 by Fritz Lang and starring Stewart Grainger.

Most Dorset families can point to a smuggler in there past, my own, (although as yet unproved), being no exception. Many of these stories have been documented by Rodney Legg in his fascinating book Dorset Smuggling, and there is an excellent collection of artifacts in the the Portland Museum. However in all the tales of smuggling in Dorset, one man appears more often than any other, and has been give the approbation of The King of the Smugglers and whose operations ranged from Poole in the east to Lyme Regis in the west.

Isaac Gulliver, the gentle smuggler who never killed a man, and with his gang, ran 15 Tuggers bringing from the Continent to Poole Bay gin, silk, lace and tea; all harmless commodities by today's smuggling standards. Gulliver's men even wore a uniform - the traditional smock of the Dorset farm hand.


Isaac Gulliver was born in Semington, near Trowbridge, in the neighbouring county of Wiltshire, to "Isaac Gulifor and Elizabeth his wife" a far from noble family, and there is even some doubt about his parentage, as in drawing up his will in 1765, Isaac Gulliver senior referred to "my son or reputed son Isaac Gulliver, otherwise Matravers".

By the waysideIsaac was almost certainly following the family trade by becoming a smuggler, there is evidence to suggest that his father was also a smuggler, as an Isaac Gulliver is recorded in that capacity as frequenting the New Inn, Downton, Hampshire [1758] when son Isaac was only twelve. That group operated into Bitman's Chine, now known as Canford Cliffs Chine, Poole. It was this deserted heath, with its endless sandy beaches that would provide innumerable opportunities for Isaac junior in his twenties and thirties.


On the 5th of October 1768 he married innkeeper's daughter Betty Beale at Sixpenny Handley parish church. His father-in-law's hostelry, the Blacksmith's Arms, Thorney Down, was on the main road from Blandford to Salisbury and horse-shoeing was William Beale's other trade. He is said to have disapproved of the liaison but quickly adapted to reality as Gulliver would take over tenancy of the inn. His first daughter, Elizabeth, was born there in 1770 and his second, Ann, in 1773.

Pack horsesThose who think that smuggling has, of necessity, to be carried on somewhere near the sea, might note that Sixpenny Handley is around 30 miles inland, which is a long way to travel, loaded and under cover of darkness. Gulliver, though he had a liking for spirits and lace, might well have had another string to his bow - an enterprise founded on the availability of deer on the Chase ... and a tomb adjoining the local church where 'hot' venison could be stored for the duration of the hue and cry.

In a Blandford paper of 1770 it is related how the Excise Superintendent came with a posse of Preventive-men to seize a sotre of tea, tobacco, and brandy which lay hidden in a cottage in one of our hamlets [Sixpenny Handley]. On their return to Blandford, they beat off an attack made by the Free traders and brought their spoil safely to the Excise man's house. That night Blandford was held up by a body of 150 armed horsemen who persuaded the Excise man's wife, at pistol-point, to give back the contraband, with which they rode away in triumph.

There is of course no evidence to connect Gulliver with this event. The cottage is still in existence, and until a range was put in, one could stand in the open chimney and look up at the little chamber where the contraband was hidden.


Gulliver's career prospered and he moved his headquarters from the Blacksmith's Arms to the White Hart in Longham, and finally to a purpose built lodge at West Howe, Kinson in 1780. At the lodge, with crenellations giving it the appearance of a fortress, he had one secret room which was entered from a door ten feet up the chimney. Tunnels beneath led in all directions - one is believed to have bored as far as Parkstone. In fact, the whole of Kinson, including the church and rectory, is supposed to be undermined by smugglers' tunnels.

A Dorset smugglerYou have to use your imagination to understand why Kinson was such an important smuggling base. Visualise Bournemouth, Branksome and Poole without any habitation. From the sandy beaches the smugglers used paths across this great expanse of heath land to bring their contraband to Kinson. All along the way, they sank wells as hiding places should they be surprised by customs men.

It was during this period that In one of his amusing escapades, he feigned death, lying white-faced in an open coffin to the embarrassment of excise men, and kept up the pretense of his death by having a funeral at Kinson with the coffin loaded with stones.


Isaac Gulliver would have remained just another Dorset smuggler, had it not been for his great speculating genius. He wisely invested the proceeds of his smuggling activities, particularly in property, much of which was used for further smuggling activities.

Sailing ShipIn a report from the Custom House, Poole, to His Majesty's Commissioners of Customs in London [1788] it is mentioned that: "Gulliver was considered one of the greatest and most notorious smugglers in the west of England and particularly in the spirits and tea trades but in the year 1782 he took the benefit of his Majesty's proclamation for pardoning such offences and as we are informed dropped that branch of smuggling and afterwards confined himself chiefly to the wine trade which he carried on to a considerable extent having vaults at various places along the coast and "in remote places" .

Most of these 'remote places' were on his own property, these land acquisitions including Howe Lodge, Kinson, Bournemouth, near his eastern beach-heads and Gulliver's Farm, West Moors, close to the principal cart-route inland. On the foothills of Cranborne Chase, as well as Thorney Down, he owned Thickthorn Farm, Long Crichel, and nearby North-East Farm.

As has been previously mentioned Gulliver's 'kingdom' stretched the entire length of the Dorset coast. When he opened up a Western connection, he used the beaches of Burton Bradstock to unload his contraband. He bought a North Eggardon Farm, Askerswell at the foot of Eggardon Hill and his Poole associate John Fryer named a boat, Eggardon Castle, for its hill-fort upon which Gulliver planted a clump of pines as a landmark for his ships, (where they can still be seen today), his farm being a useful center for the customers in Bath and Bristol.


Lilliput, on the edge of Poole harbour naturally reminds the visitor of of that other Gulliver and his travels, however there is no record of Dean Swift, the author, visiting these parts. In Gullliver's time, Lilliput was called The Saltings, after the trade that was carried on there, and the new name is thought to be an oblique reference to Isaac.

British Naval ShipIt might be thought that an elegant residential area would not have taken its name from an apparently disreputable character, but we do know that he owned Flag Farm in the district, and it must be taken into account that having made his fortune from smuggling, Gulliver became a respected citizen, gentleman, and banker. He retired to the brick-built Gulliver's House, West Borough, Wimborne and died there on Friday 13th September 1822, leaving an estate of 60,000, with properties in Hampshire, Wiltshire and Somerset as well as those in Dorset, which would be worth multi-millions on modern values. His gravestone is in the floor of Wimborne Minster.

His only son, Isaac Gulliver [1774-98] died unmarried, but the daughters married into the Fryer family whose interest and abundant monies ranged from the Newfoundland fisheries to banking.

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