In 1776 William Baldock of Petham starts to take a special interest in local shipping around the Kent coast and the movement of cargo in and out of London.
In January, he publicly announces the purchase of a hoy called ‘Success’ from Mr W. Adams and appoints Stephen Salisbury as foreman to the vessel. The boat had been previously captained by John Adams starting in October 1768 but appears to have acquired a bad reputation. Eight years later, William Baldock declares he has purchased it on the understanding that there is some public prejudice against this particular hoy.
A hoy, before the era of steam vessels, was a small vessel, up to about 60 tons; it carried goods and passengers to and from larger vessels; but hoys were also used for ‘coasting’ (travelling between set points along the coastline.) The English hoy usually had a single mast and fore-and-aft sail, sometimes with a boom and sometimes loose-footed. Hoys in Holland mainly had two masts, usually lug-rigged on both.
The first question is why William Baldock had taken a sudden interest in becoming a ‘hoyman of Canterbury’ as he is later described in another public announcement.
Evidence suggests that Mr Baldock was involved in the very lucrative trade of smuggling prisoners out of the country. To achieve this he hires the ‘Hoy Endeavour’ Inn from Thomas Foord of Chestfield. (It makes you wonder whether Mr Baldock had a wry sense of humour, hiring an inn with a name that preempts his future ambitions.)
He uses this as his base but the wily William Baldock, respected Justice of the Peace, owner of the St. Dunstan’s Brewery, and living in Canterbury, takes great care not to be directly associated with the inn; he installs Thomas Andrews as landlord.
Within one year of his initial purchase of the vessel ‘Success’ he purchases a second hoy. What trade had he discovered that made this such a worthwhile investment?
The timing and regularity of sailing that Baldock advertises also raises questions:
“Sailing every other Saturday night or Sunday morning from Whitstable to Wool-Key, London and returning every other Friday Night or Saturday morning for Whitstable.”
He was clearly attempting to attract the overnight ‘coasting’ visitor, someone who would hire a cabin and visit Whitstable or other coastal towns. These overnight travellers may well have had another agenda, stopping off along the way to buy goods from merchantmen destined for London. (The ‘free-trade’ in various goods from these merchant vessels in the Thames estuary was an established tradition. Captains and officers could make a good profit selling some of their allowance to passing boats.)
One thing is certain: the overnight sailing was hardly for scenic pleasures. The only passage that would appeal to the seaside visitor wanting a view of the coast as they travelled was the Saturday morning sailing to Whitstable. But again, sailing once a fortnight begs the question what were these hoys doing for the rest of the time?
The service Baldock openly offers is ‘to take goods destined for London and other parts of England depending on customers’ requests’.
In local advertising he declares that the hoy (later to become two hoys, perhaps even three) will deliver goods on the return journey destined for Canterbury, Whitstable, Bridge, Barham, Littlebourn, Elham, Petham, Chartham, and Hythe or any other part of the county. Here, the next question arises:
Why would the small inland towns and villages featured in his advertising take goods from the coast rather than use the nearby turnpike and main land routes to London? Was it cheaper? Or was Baldock setting up a convenient disguise for his large-scale contraband that needed a distribution centre in London? What we may be looking at are the final links in the network for the Seasalter Company of smugglers.
Wallace Harvey who spent several years investigating the Company and its members, concluded that regular trips between Old Haven and London provided a much more rapid means of transport for the contraband than the original and now more dangerous overland route via Blue House Farm, Lenham.
One of the big legitimate consignments may well have been transporting hops to Wool-Key. According to A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster (1720) this quay was a general landing place supporting ‘all manner of merchandizes’. Wool-Key was probably chaotic and not as well-regulated as other quays specializing in particular cargoes.
The ‘public prejudice’ Baldock mentions probably refers to the condition of the boat. He pays for extensive repairs to the ‘Success’ and thanks the public for their patience. Over the next 12 months we can trace a new reputation being established through the ‘Notices of Thanks’ advertised by William Baldock.
By August of 1776 he is appealing to an influential new clientele:
His advertising returns thanks to the Nobility, Gentry and Friends for their encouragement. He is evidently targeting an elite group offering two cabins refurbished to a very high standard and a vessel prepared in an elegant manner. A number of beds are offered and special attention has been given to obviating every inconvenience arising to his passengers (especially to the Ladies) in providing accommodation ‘as the nature of a sea voyage requires’.
The smoke-screen is completed with a direct appeal against smuggling:
‘as the Law respecting running Goods from one port to another are very severe, he hopes no passenger whatever will attempt to introduce or bring any contraband goods on board his vessel, as such an illegal proceeding will not only subject him to the loss of his ship, but the person (so offending) to make good such loss to him, and also to the other pains and penalties the Law inflicts.’
And so it is that William Baldock establishes a new business, sailing every other Saturday from Whitstable to Wool-Key, and then returning every other Friday from London to Whitstable.
The price of a journey was Two Shillings and Six pence each. The fare for smuggling a prisoner to France would, of course, be considerably more. And you may wonder about other passengers who arrived at night when the ‘Success’ was meant to be waiting on her next party of noble tourists. France was less than 5 hours away. Who would suspect a vessel carrying the insignia of Mr Baldock’s reputation and with such a pedigree of nobility now attached to it?