What a privilege to welcome Alicia Quigley! Today she shares her research into smuggling and the ships the smugglers used. I’ll let her tell you.
I enjoyed learning and writing about the smuggling trade in southern England while I was writing my current release The Contraband Courtship (excerpt below). I learned about some fascinating aspects of smuggling that were specific to the Napoleonic Wars years so when I finished, I decided to do a “prequel” that allowed me to incorporate them, which will be released in early 2016.
One of these was the guinea boats that were used to smuggle millions and millions of golden guineas across the Channel from England to France to help Napoleon support his wars. Today, we often think of smaller merchant ships and fishing boats, rigged with sails as the means of transport, for smuggled goods. The guinea boats were a very different matter. For a short period of time, specially designed boats were fabricated, primarily in the town of Deal, solely for the purpose of transporting gold coins across the channel.
These unique boats were not the romantic sailing ships of imagination, but flat, open galleys, about 40 feet long, but just 7 feet wide. They were as light as possible, typically had twelve oars on a side, and could be rowed to France in a little as five hours. Not only were the guinea boats faster than sailing ships, they were nimbler, and could easily take evasive actions, such as rowing into the wind, if pursued by one of the ships running the Channel blockade. One preventive officer described their efforts to catch the guinea boats as “sending a cow to catch a hare.”
Not surprisingly, the construction of guinea boats was banned in England, but the smugglers instead built them in France, rowed them to England and returned with their golden cargo. A guinea boat that cost £40 pound to make could delivery £30,000 in gold coins. In combination with the local sympathy for The Gentlemen and the collusion of bankers, this innovative, specialized boat design made it possible to move an amazing amount of gold offshore in a short period of time to the benefit of Napoleon’s Army.
Malcolm Arlingby, Rowena’s headstrong brother from A Collector’s Item, settles into his new life as the Earl of Wroxton. Content to while away his time in the decadence he missed during his exile from England, Malcolm hasn’t been paying attention to the duties that come with the title. A letter from the mistress of a neighboring estate warns of smugglers using Malcolm’s lands for their dastardly deeds and he must finally put aside his entertainments to handle the business of being an Earl.
Helena Keighley, the one who sent the letter, is not the sour spinster Malcolm was expecting, however. She is a beautiful, vibrant and equally headstrong woman who is more than ready to take Malcolm to task for ignoring his duties. As the pair becomes embroiled in solving the problem of the smugglers, a strong attraction develops. The smugglers aren’t going without a fight, though.
Will his new neighbor bring Malcolm all the things he never knew he wanted? Or, will the smugglers destroy it all?
Miss Helena Keighley pushed a lock of auburn hair out of her eyes and sighed, as she felt at the loose bun she had gathered her hair in before coming out to check the horses that morning. Reassured that it was not going to come down completely, she rubbed her hands over the canvas apron that covered her faded blue-grey linsey-woolsey dress, and the equally worn dark blue spencer she wore over it. She looked at the groom and the horse he was holding in the barn aisle.
“Is he lame, Macklin?” she asked.
“Yes, came out of his stall this morning limping, miss,” he replied.
“Poor boy,” Helena crooned to the horse as she reached down to lift his hoof. She felt it carefully, finding a sensitive spot. “You can feel the heat in it. ‘Tis almost certainly an abscess,” she said. “Soak it in Epsom salts, and put a drawing poultice on it. Perhaps we can bring it to the surface, so it will drain.”
“Aye miss, I thought the same. I expect we’ll have a bit of time with him for the next few weeks though. The wet weather in the spring always seems to bring it out in him.”
Helena smiled her agreement, and patted the horse’s neck in sympathy, then blew gently at his soft nose. The smile brought a glow to her face, and lit up her large brown eyes. Framed with thick black lashes despite her auburn hair, and surmounted by finely shaped brows, they typically surveyed the world with a bit of cynicism, but were softened now by her affection for the horse. She had a straight nose, high cheekbones and plush-lipped mouth above a very firm chin. With her fine complexion and delicate color, she presented a rather startling contrast to the decidedly shabby garments she wore. Helena raised her face from the horse, removed her apron and looked at the groom.
“Thank you, Macklin,” she said. “I suppose I will go back to the house now.”
The groom nodded and walked away, leading the limping horse slowly. Helena stood for moment, enjoying the pleasant scent of the hay in the stalls and savoring the time alone. While she was truly devoted to tending the estate that belonged to her father and would pass from him to her brother, at times it seemed as though she never had a moment for herself. If tomorrow were fine, perhaps she would shirk some of her duties and take a book down to the cliffs for a few hours.
Her reverie was interrupted by the sounds of boot heels ringing on the floor of the stables, and a cheerful whistle. She looked up to see a tall, slender gentleman sauntering towards her, dressed very elegantly in a riding coat of a green so dark it was reminiscent of a pine forest at night, buff colored breeches, and white topped riding boots, clearly made to measure and polished to a mirror shine. His pale hair was modishly cut à la Brutus, and his angelic blue eyes were wide set in a face that, while not classically handsome, held a great deal of charm. She drew in her breath slightly. Many years had passed, but she certainly recognized Malcolm Arlingby, despite the tiny lines that now creased the outer edges of his eyelids. It seemed her letter to Rowena had done its work.
She looked down at herself, momentarily dismayed by the shabbiness of the grey dress she was wearing, but then dismissed the thought. If Malcolm had not already heard of her scandalous past, someone was bound to enlighten him soon. It made very little difference what she might look like. She stepped forward into the sunlight that slanted across the stable.
Malcolm stopped, the whistle arrested on his lips. His eyes trailed over Helena’s slender figure and widened.
“I was expecting a groom, or perhaps a stable boy,” he said cheerfully. “But I think you’ll do, my girl.”
Helena’s eyes widened at his impertinent words, and she opened her mouth to give him a sharp set down, but Malcolm continued.
“Where’s your mistress? I have business with her, and was told she was to be found in the stables.”
Helena froze. Clearly, he not only did not recognize her, and had mistaken her for a servant.
I am a lifelong lover of romance novels, who fell in love with Jane Austen in grade school, and Georgette Heyer in junior high. I made up games with playing cards using the face cards for Heyer characters, and sewed regency gowns (walking dresses, riding habits and bonnets that even Lydia Bennett wouldn’t have touched) for my Barbie. In spite of a terrible science and engineering addiction, I remain a devotee of the romance, and enjoy turning hand to their production as well as their consumption.