Brookland, 11 February 1821

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 [1923], pp79-87.  This is available online.


The photograph above is of the interior of St Augustines at Brookland


9 thoughts on “Brookland, 11 February 1821

  1. Lynne, I don’t know if you are aware but when I was a volunteer steward at Ashford Museum in Kent, we had an exhibit, a wooden snuffbox in the form of a shoe which was made by Cephas Quested in his cell prior to his being hanged in 1821. I became interested because the Tapley family of Harrietsham, were close kin of my ancestors and were related by marriage to the Questeds. Some of the Tapleys moved from Harrietsham to Folkestone where many of them became mariners, some of whom, among them Robert Tapley, were smugglers on Romney Marsh.
    Best regards, C. Topley

    • Hi C Topyley, thank you for your message. I think I have seen a picture of the snuff box somewhere but I didn’t know it was at Ashford Museum – another thing to add to my list of reasons for another visit back to the UK! I haven’t come across the Tapley connection yet but shall look out for it. Thanks again, Lynne

    • Hello C Topley. I was interested to see that you mention about the Tapleys from Harrietsham. I have been, up until now just online, looking for evidence of Tapleys in Harrietsham. I have Richard Tapley marrying AnnTaylor there in 1733. I have also seen mention of Robert Tapley connected with smuggling. Do you have any BMD’s for him as there are a couple Robert Tapleys at that time and also regarding the smuggling where did you access that evidence. Was he ever implicated or even caught and got away with it? The whole Tapley family is fascinating but then I am biased. I didn’t know about the Quested link so another history trail for me to follow.
      Regards S Green

      • Hi again,Suzanne. Most of the Harrietsham & Hollingbourne Tapleys moved to Folkestone in the late 18th century. I have a very large amount of data on them all, most of which I got from hours of viewing microfilmed parish registers at Maidstone, Rochester & Canterbury archives. The Harrietsham Tapleys are actually a branch of my family, having inherited their holdings from my direct ancestor John Topleye who died in Hothfield in 1514. I have copies of many wills including John’s which I have mostly transcribed or summarised in modern English. Annoyingly, the vast majority of my genealogical writings, compiled over the past 25 years, are now on all the family research websites, some at a cost, thanks to a contact called Nelson with whom I exchanged data some 15 years ago. Only a couple of American contacts and 1 Aussie have ever credited me as the original source so I’m a bit cautious about passing on what I’ve compiled as I’m afraid of being sued by the websites which have sprung up over the years.
        I believed then and still believe that people’s own genealogical data should be freely available to them but money rules.
        I could email you my Harrietsham data if you want. Incidentally, I’ve noticed a lot of transcription errors due to a lack of knowledge of Kent, for example, or just plain lack of knowledge of old handwriting/spelling. For example, many Harrietsham records state the person’s place of BMD as Ham but this is the common abbreviation in parish registers for Harrietsham, also written Harrisham. Let me know if you want the data & I’ll send it to you.
        Best regards, Colin Topley

  2. Thank you for replying Colin. I am glad you mentioned Hollingbourne as I suspected that there was a link with the Harrietsham Tapleys. I have Richard Tapley (who married Anne Taylor in 1733 in Harrietsham ) with a question mark against his birth/baptism in 1712 in Hollingbourne. I would be very grateful for anything that you feel you can share with me by email. I to am always willing to share what information I have found though I do not have anything as extensive or as time consuming as the research you have done. So anything you send would be really appreciated.
    I get a little frustrated when I trawl the web to see things stated as fact with nothing to back it up. Hence my enquiry about Robert Tapley and smuggling.
    I can feel a visit the the archives coming on. Its been a while since I’ve had the time to visit and so my heavy reliance on the web. I did recently visit the LMA to view and copy the Insurance documents for Francis Tapley ship owner and his son also Francis a Fishmonger both early 1800’s. I didn’t have much time there so only got half of what I wanted.
    The Tapleys are my husbands line who descend from James Tapley 1772-1843 who was born in Folkestone but married and settled in Deal. Not far from the real Ham!
    Thank you again
    Regards Suzanne

    • James, are you on Facebook? If you are, please send me a Friend request and I’ll PM you my email address. I have loads I’m confident you will be very interested in.
      All the best & Merry Christmas to you and yours,
      Colin Topley

      • Hi Colin and Suzanne Green. I just found this webpage. In the past I have been in contact with Suzanne Green re the Tapley family and we visited Folkestone in Kent in 2012. My GGG grandfather was Thomas Tapley who emigrated to Adelaide, South Australia with his wife Mary (Morford) and their family in 1839. The fascinating thing is that he and his family had been in Vlissingen and Rotterdam for 17 years before emigrating to Australia, and my GG grandfather and 2 siblings were born in Holland, though they seem to have still had land or some kind of holdings in Folkestone. I have always wondered if smuggling was involved in the move to Holland although Thomas was apparently a baker. Once they came to Australia the family were fairly quiet and my GG grandfather and family worked in the north of S Australia in a place which is still difficult to access. I know NOTHING about them and despite searches in newspapers have found nothing. Would son John Tapley, born in Rotterdam, have spoken Dutch? Would they have lived in an English colony in Vlissingen? Was Thomas involved in smuggling, since several of his brothers were sea captains? Certainly, in South Australia, Thomas seems to have had a little bit of a reputation for smuggling though I can find nothing written down. The reason I suspect that he may have had a shady past is that when he died his obituary did not appear in the newspapers although he was an old colonist , had built a well known hotel and had a road, Tapleys Hill Road, named after him. I would be delighted if you could give me any information about the family that might clarify some of these issues. I am on Facebook and have my own website including a special page related to my paternal grandmother who is the Tapley link. Many thanks for any help you can give. I am happy to share any or all information that I have with you. Most of it is secondhand as I did not do the original research, but I try to clarify and add to the information as I can.

    • Suzanne, please send me a friend request on Facebook and I’ll pm you my email address. I cannot for the life of me recall if I responded to this posting of yours. My sincere apologies if I have been remiss in that respect. Merry Christmas to you and yours, all the best, Colin Topley

  3. Hello,

    I believe John Topleye is my 13th Great Grandfather (presumably credit Colin Topley?) through a string of John Tapleys in the 1700s. I was born and grew up in Kent.

    If possible, I would be interested in seeing a copy of John Topleye’s will/ transcript. Also, what can you tell me about John’s ancestors?

    I am generally interested in any information you have on the family/ old family stories which might shed some light on its past.

    I came across this website as I have heard a few family stories about smuggling (although that is par for the course along the South East coast!).

    James Tapley


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