On February 11, 1821, at 3 am, a detachment of Blockade men encountered a party of at least 250 smugglers at Camber, near Rye. About sixty of the smugglers were armed. The Blockade men were, as usual, far outnumbered, and the battle which ensued was violent. Unlike the events of 8 November 1820, this time the battle continued inland across the marsh to Brookland. The smugglers retreated in military style, forming up and firing in ranks as they went.
An officer, quoted by Commander Shore, described the operation as follows:
[The smugglers marched] down the beach with 25 armed men on each flank, and an unarmed working party to carry off the goods, stationed in the centre. Intimidated by this formidable array the Blockade sentinel fired the alarm, and though the smugglers succeeded in landing their cargo, they were pursued into the marshes and attacked by Messrs McKenzie, Digby and Newton, midshipmen, assisted by some straggling Blockaders. The contest was very bloody; the working party of smugglers, who carried the tubs, being guarded as described on each wing by parties of armed men, who regularly halted, faced, fired, retreated and reloaded, according to the word of command given by their leaders. Still, the pursuers and the Mids charging repeatedly sword in hand.
Eight Blockade men were wounded and one, Midshipman James McKenzie, was killed. Four smugglers were found dead on the high road and sixteen were carried away wounded. Most of the gang escaped but two, Richard Wraight and Cephas Quested, were captured.
One of the Blockade men, apparently with prior knowledge of the gang’s plans, was disguised in a smock of the same sort worn by the smugglers. During the battle he took up a position amongst the ranks of smugglers. Quested handed the young officer a musket and told him to ‘blow out the brains’ of any soldier or sailor coming within range. The midshipman turned the gun on Quested and arrested him.
Quested and Wraight were tried at the Old Bailey on 17 April 1821. A letter from the Crown Solicitors to the First Lord of the Admiralty, again cited by Shore, provides further detail:
The Blockade party pursued the smugglers in the dark, over a country intersected with ditches, for upwards of five miles into a spot within about a mile of the village of Brookland, where a conflict occurred in which Mr. McKenzie was lolled. This occurred about five in the morning, before which period both the prisoners had been secured, on which account the Law Officers thought it would not be desirable to charge either of them with the murder of this officer. The prisoner Quested was apprehended with a loaded gun in his hand, so that his guilt was unquestionable, and the prisoner Wraight had been secured about a quarter before four by George Mockford and John Nicholls, two seamen who had lost their party and who found Wraight in a field through which the smugglers had recently passed, and in which some of the officers and seamen had been fired at and wounded; but no arms or tubs were found on him. His pockets, however, appeared to have been lined with gunpowder, and some partridge shot was found in them. These, the learned Judge observed were strong circumstances of suspicion, coupled with the fact of being at an unreasonable hour upwards of twelve miles from his home. The prisoner called witnesses who accounted for these circumstances by deposing that he had been sent in the evening from Aldington, near Hythe to the neighbourhood of Rye, on some farming business, and that he had lost his way in the night, and that he was in the habit of carrying powder and shot about with him to kill rooks, and the defence appearing to the Judge and Jury as satisfactory, the latter, without hesitation, acquitted him.
The transcript of Quested and Wraight’s trial is available from the Old Bailey website. A far more detailed account of the Battle of Brookland is available from Commander Shore’s The Smugglers (see below).
Quested was sentenced to death. He was executed at the Old Bailey on 4 July 1821.
Commander Hon. Henry Noel. Shore, R.N (Lord Teignmouth), The True History of the Aldington Smugglers, from the Kentish Express and Ashford News 1902-1903, Transcribed and edited by Stuart Hall, October 1999.
Henry Noel. Shore, R.N (Lord Teignmouth) and Charles G Harper, The smugglers; picturesque chapters in the history of contraband, London, C. Palmer , pp79-87. This is available online.
The photograph above is of the interior of St Augustines at Brookland