Surrounded as it was by the expanse of the Clyde estuary Cumbrae was perhaps the most logical place to station a revenue cutter early in the 18th century. Although the island did not boast a particularly safe anchorage, something which was later rectified, the island was central to the activity of smuggling. The island was however a sentinel guarded the passage into the Western heart of the Scottish mainland.
The island’s centrality eventually lead to the stationing of the Royal George revenue cutter on the island in the latter part of the 18th century where it remain until 1820 when it sailed away never to be replace.
There is no real evidence suggesting that Cumbrae was the heart of smuggling activities across the Clyde, although, given the times, those with a fishing boat may well have indulged. Rather, as far as Samual Ford was concerned, the sudden influx of a large revenue crew worked in his favour in a rather unexpected way.
The influx of a large crew needed to sail the Royal George resulted in turn a demand for house. The solution, which appears to have only happened only on Cumbrae, was a distribution of land to those connected with the Royal George.
When the government initiated what was called the ‘preventative service’, it effectively sold the rights to investors, most of whom were farmers simply because farmers had the finance needed for such a large investment. The deal proved beneficial to the investors and the number of preventative cutters, later called revenue cutters, increased as did the famers, and the governments, coffers.
But the benefits did not end there. The crew of the revenue fleet, called mariners rather than seaman, could expect to double their wages through the distribution of the proceeds from seized contraband and impounded vessels. The result was, for the island of Cumbrae, a distribution of those proceeds across the island.
The question i have addressed in my latest posts has been the issue of initial problem, namely smuggling which you can find here.