The events of 30 July 1826 were eventually to lead to the demise of the Aldington Gang of smugglers. The construction that follows is based on a number of sources, particularly reports of the gang’s trial in the local paper, the Kentish Chronicle.
According to the evidence of Edward Horn, an accomplice and later an informer for the prosecution, George Ransley had sent for Horne to meet him at a public house at Lydden (within five miles of Dover) on the night in question.
Between nine and ten that evening, Horn and others (but not those in the dock) met at Lydden and then made their way to The Palm Trees, about two miles from Dover. There they met with all of the prisoners, apart from Giles. Another fifty or sixty were also assembled, and between a dozen and sixteen had firearms. At their trial, Horne recalled that Samuel Bailey, Thomas Dennard, Thomas Gilham, Robert Bailey and Richard Wire all carried muskets. Horne was armed with a fowling piece. At that stage Ransley had not arrived.
Between midnight and one o’clock the party proceeded towards the bathing machines. A boat was on shore.
According to the evidence of seaman and prosecution witness, Michael Pickett, shortly after taking up duty on the Dover coast on the night of 29 July he heard people aboard a French galley hailing to others on shore. They seemed to be calling something like ‘Jack ashore’. After calling out for a third time they were answered from behind the nearby bathing machines. Pickett ran towards the galley, which was approaching the shore, and stood by the bows of the boat until he saw those who had answered the galley’s hail, a working party of about fifty, surround the galley. In addition to the working party, a group of six or seven armed men drew up in a line on the beach at high watermark while the working party ran in a line to the galley.
While Horn said that he heard no hailing from the galley, Ransley apparently made a signal for the party to go down to the boat, shouting ‘Hello, come on!’
Some of the men in the galley handed out two tubs which were placed upon the shoulders of one of the working party. At this point Pickett yelled, threatening to blow their brains out. Pickett snapped his pistol but it flashed in the pan. Quartermaster Morgan hailed Pickett and asked what the boat was but before Pickett had time to answer Morgan had fired his own pistol, raising the alarm. It was at this point that the armed party opened fire on Morgan who was running towards Pickett from about fourteen yards away. A volley of shots was fired and Pickett was priming his pistol when one of the armed men approached him with a musket, threatening ‘What are you up to? I’ll do you’, at which point he struck Pickett with the butt end of the musket. Pickett held up his hands as his pistol was knocked from him. Nevertheless he managed to draw his cutlass and cut the armed man across his shoulder, and turning around, to strike a second man, probably across his neck.
Meanwhile the smugglers continued to carry the tubs away from the galley. As soon as a man got a tub upon his shoulder he ran with it to the town and other men came down to fetch more. Thirty eight tubs, some containing gin, others brandy, were seized and lodged in the Customhouse. According to Horn, the party carried off 70 tubs but could not work the whole cargo because of the interruption by the blockade men. Thirty three tubs were recovered by the authorities. Horne said that the party had not been engaged for more than five minutes before they were obliged to leave shore.
Pickett continued to battle against the armed men, striking perhaps two or three more and preventing the men from taking all of the tubs away. Pickett then ran to Morgan and, discovering that he was close to death, took up the two recently discharged pistols from his side and ran after the party. He did not catch up with them, but met up with quartermaster Prendergast and Lieutenant Hall, informing them of the night’s events.
Meanwhile, the smugglers took the tubs to the Palm Trees where they were counted. Ransley was with the party counting tubs. Once counted, the tubs were loaded into carts and carried away. Horne did not know where they were hidden, except that they were within nearly two miles of Ransley’s house. A week later Horne received 23 shillings for his night’s work.
Pickett reported that the first man to come out of the boat wore a sort of shooting jacket, made from fustian, such as that worn by prisoner George Ransley. The man who had struck him with the musket wore a similar jacket. The rest of the armed party appeared to wear blue or black coats with dark trousers. One of those that he struck wore a red cap and others work light green jackets, like that worn by prisoner Samuel Bailey. Pickett could not swear to the man who struck him, but said that he was like Charles Giles.