Robert Kingsmill and the Hawkhurst gang

Updated: Mar 26

Robert Kingsmill strikes an interesting man of his time, a man who started life in the ordinary way then in later life got seduced by the adventurous and lucrative ways of the smuggling lifestyles offered by the likes of Gulliver. The Hawkhurst gang was so called because of their origins in the pretty little village with the same name across the Kentish boarder. Their connection with Poole will become obvious later on, but for now let's explore a little the structure of this gang.

Like many of the smuggling gangs of the time, not all members come from disadvantaged uneducated families, for example Robert Kingsmill was a "Husbandman" ( A husbandman usually held his land by a copyhold or leasehold tenure and was regarded as an average farmer) . Another of the gang, named "Perin", was a master carpenter for many years in Chichester, but due to a work related accident lost the use of his right hand. Men like "Perin" who had considerable wealth, looked upon smuggling more as an investment in cutter running between thee French and English cost. The Kingsmill gang lorded over a reign of terror from far afield as Southampton to Dover.

In 1747 the gang's fortunes looked bleak with the capture of a cutter returning from France packed with booty and resulted n the murder of one government officers, "Galley" and "Chater , a shoemaker." Later there was a trail and the murderers got hanged by the neck. Delated but not beat, the gang planned an extraordinary and outrageous attack on Poole custom house.

On Sunday 4th October 1747, certain members of the Kingsmill gang meet near Singleton and there made plans to mount an attack on Poole custom house to regain possession of their ill found booty. The gang marched to the customs house armed with flintlocks and cutlasses, reaching there shortly before midnight. The gang meet with light resistance ; horses and wagons were loaded with the booty and then made its way to Fordingbridge to be further dispersed. The authorities were forced to take note and the offers of a huge reward was given for the capture of the gang members.

in 1748 ten months after the attack a special commission was established, and the gang members caught were convicted. "Perin" was carried to the place of execution in a mourning coach, while the other two went in a cart, with horse and foot guards. Kingsmill and co gang member Fairall meet their fate with no fear, and died at Tyburn on the 26th April 1749 and their bodies were hung in chains in the county of Kent.

Cuton house Poole being raided by Kingsmill and gang

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