(The following notes suggest a different theory regarding the structure and operations of smuggling networks around North Kent, especially Seasalter and Whitstable. If correct then the character of the Seasalter Smuggling Company changes significantly. Instead of being an independent organisation, the Company may well have been operating under the aegis of solicitor William Knocker and John Minet Fector, an influential banker, merchant and gentleman of Dover.)
Eighteenth and 19th century smuggling activities at Seasalter and to a lesser extent, around Whitstable, are usually associated with Dr Isaac Rutton and William Baldock. However, a comment by Dover historian, Lorraine Sencicle, suggests another intriguing possibility:
“William Knocker (1761-1847) was a solicitor and founder of Bradleys … In 1792, William had a thriving practice and lived in a fine house on the Esplanade; socially solicitors were treated as educated tradesmen in the lower middle class of Dover’s society. This was just before the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars (1793 to 1815) and the smuggling industry in Dover was lucrative, highly organised and mostly run by these ‘educated tradesmen’.
Now William had strong connections with a certain Mr Jonas King who supposedly managed much of the smuggling activity around Seasalter for and on behalf of his sponsor and financier William Baldock. The centre for this activity was the Parsonage Farm at Seasalter consisting of a Messuage or Tenement, barn, stable, outbuildings and yard with an estimated 43 acres of land providing tythes of corn and hay.
On the 29th June 1804 an advertisement appears in the Kentish Gazette offering the Seasalter Parsonage for sale. Administrators to the sale were Mr Knocker, Attorney at Law, Dover and Mr Jonas King.
Two years prior to the sale, two sons of Dr Isaac Rutton, Isaac Jnr and Mathias had transferred the lease to William Baldock. Although both men (Rutton and Baldock) held the title deeds for the messuage others occupied it. Free traders like Jonas King held the parsonage under a lease agreement and counterpart arrangement. (This is an example of how both Dr Isaac Rutton and William Baldock distanced themselves from the free trade operating around Seasalter.)
The 1804 sale announcement presents a substantial property showing how the parsonage had grown over the years through small acquisitions.
The hidden value of the sale was not so much in the property but in the parcels of land attached to the sale:
Little Sea Field, the Seasalter marshlands (which could be treacherous and certainly difficult to navigate at night or in bad weather), the arable land named Little Joy, the woodland and copses and other tucked-away pieces on the estate were perfect holding sites for large consignments of cargo.
Finally, two other messuages with gardens and ‘appurtenances’ are included in the 1804 announcement occupied by William Parks and William Gambrill as sub-tenants to Jonas King. It is assumed that King still held the tenancy from William Baldock.
The involvement of Mr Knocker, Attorney at Law from Dover begs the question of why a Dover attorney was appointed over other lawyers who were already involved in the Seasalter Smuggling Company. Was he working on behalf of another anonymous client?
The other question, is whether Jonas King was working for himself, William Baldock or that anonymous party from Dover? According to the Dover historian:
The ‘Godfather‘ of the East Kent smuggling industry was banker John Minet Fector and the domains of each of the lesser smuggling fraternities around the East Kent coast, were neatly mapped out. It is believed that William’s (Knocker) smuggling area was around Seasalter, seven miles east of Faversham and at Heron, near Reculver, both on the north Kent coast.” (Edward Knocker – The Town Clerk who Reformed.)
This reverses the long-held view that Dr Isaac Rutton and William Baldock operated freely out of Seasalter. At the very least there had to be some arrangement between them and the Minets and Knockers if they were operating in the Seasalter area, too.
The most straightforward answer is that Jonas King and William Knocker shared certain interests that lead back to the Dover banker John Minet Fector. He was a powerful man who could practically guarantee that the Seasalter Company went about its business, unhindered. Couple this with the associations William Baldock had built up between local customs regulators and the smugglers signalling system established between Canterbury and Whitstable, and the Seasalter Company had an impenetrable network. (This might well account for the fact that so few reports of smuggling are recorded for the area.)
About the Minet family
The Minet family were powerful and influential especially around Dover. Isaac Minet (1660 – 1745) arrived in the country during 1686. He was a Huguenot, a religious refugee from Calais who along with his family, escaped persecution by rowing across the Channel. With the help of his son William and his nephew, Peter Fector (1723-1814), Isaac set up the Minet Bank in Strond Street.
Isaac became an important local merchant and shipping agent. From the outset the family also owned a linked commercial firm in London. By c.1743 the Dover business was undertaking banking business alongside merchanting and agency work. In 1740 Peter Fector, Isaac’s brother’s grandson, joined the Dover firm.
When Isaac Minet died in 1745 the business was continued by his son, William Minet. Peter Fector bought a share in the partnership in 1746 and in 1751 married into the Minet family. The Dover firm traded as William Minet & Co from 1752. William died in 1767 and by 1770 Peter Fector had assumed control of the Dover firm, developing the banking business and rapidly becoming one of Dover’s wealthiest citizens.
In 1814 Peter died and his son and partner, John Minet Fector, assumed control of the Dover business and separated it from the London firm of Minet & Fector that had previously acted as its London agent.
In 1833 John Fector (John Minet Fector’s son) came of age and assumed control. The bank was styled Fector & Co by 1841; it was also known as Dover Bank and later as Dover Old Bank. The bank issued its own notes. In 1842 John Fector sold Fector & Co to National Provincial Bank of England.
John Minet Fector had built his wealth on the family businesses of banking, merchanting and shipping. The cross channel shipping enterprise would undoubtedly have proved useful in any free trade activities. One tell-tale account portrays John as a caring employer who was running a lucrative free-trade:
“By the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815) John was not only well respected he had that extra quality of commanding loyalty from his workers. This loyalty was well-rewarded as was shown when the captain of the Prince of Wales, one of their cross-Channel packets, was found carrying a substantial amount of contraband. John stood bail for a ‘considerable sum’ and although the smuggled cargo was impounded, no charges were brought. Nonetheless, there was concern over John’s alleged smuggling activities particularly by Thomas Mantell. Following the French Revolution on 11 July 1789, John’s fleet of ships, sometimes with John at the helm, were known to be crossing the Channel far more often than warranted by the number of passengers or goods carried. During the year of his Mayoralty, in 1795, Thomas Mantell led a crusade against smuggling with his sights set on John.” (2)
Following the Napeleonic Wars, John decided to build a new country house and estate to be called Kearsney Abbey. He died in 1821 before Kearsney was completed, but it remained a family residence until 1844.
Keeping a secret
Wallace Harvey maintained that the Seasalter Company was a secretive organisation, able to work freely around the Seasalter area with access to London and Canterbury roads. The lack of newspaper accounts concerning any organisation moving large quantities of contraband is unusual and supports that conclusion. Newspaper reports or folklore usually leaves behind a breadcrumb trail of stories and encounters but the Seasalter Company maintained a remarkable code of silence and secrecy.
The connection with the Minet family at some stage of its history helps explain this ability to work undetected for so many years – from 1740 to 1854. It also contributes to the way in which the customs authorities knew so very little about the Organisation’s activities, although the use of Baldock family members and cousins operating as customs officials was a masterstroke of their planning.
Wallace Harvey describes the Seasalter Company as a fraternity. The idea of a like-minded brotherhood working to a common goal and protecting each other was a familiar way of life amongst the oystermen and dredgermen of the area. A ‘fraternity’ might have been the only way that the educated gentlemen of Dover and wealthy patrons such as Minet-Fector, Baldock and Rutton could establish their operations using local people. The ‘fraternity’ model is rarely mentioned in connection with cross-channel smuggling. The emphasis has been on ‘gangs’ with the power to force local communities into work and aiding them.
The fraternity with a powerful godfather and wealthy patrons who supported men like Jonas King would explain much about the style of smuggling that took place around Seasalter and Whitstable.
- RBS Heritage Hub.
- Dynasty of Dover part IV – Minet-Fector
- The Town Clerk who reformed
- The Seasalter Company – a Smuggling Fraternity. Wallace Harvey. 1983