A History of the Revenue Fleet
THE SAILING CUTTERS
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE REVENUE FLEET UNDER SAIL
1. An Introduction
The revenue fleet of the English Customs can trace its history to the reign of King Charles II though there are to be found references to Custom House boats at Bristol in 1429. By the year of 1662 at least three smacks of which only two, Industry and Fame are named, were deployed on anti-smuggling duties. The status of these vessels is not at all clear for while some writer's state they were Custom House smacks, others suggest they were either naval vessels or hired into service. To further confuse matters there is evidence that Industry had two commanders, one appointed by the Commissioners of the Customs and the other by the Navy. Legend tells us that at one point the naval commander was rather harshly beaten by some Customs officers and prevented from boarding his ship! It is however to Industry that the first seizure of contraband at sea is attributed when in 1661 she seized some 'quick silver and drugs' out of the vessel King David.
Interestingly the US Coast Guard began life as a revenue protection fleet in the1790s and the Swedish Coast Guard can likewise trace its origins to revenue duties at sea during the late 17th century. From its beginnings in the 17th century and throughout the 18th century the English revenue fleet consisted of a mix of sailing craft types including Wherries, Brigs, Smacks, Yachts, Luggers, Sloops and possibly Cutters. Though details of the early fleet are scant it can be assumed most carried the mast and rig configurations usually associated with each particular vessel type although some accounts suggest local or regional variations did occur. The vessels were all referred to as Sloops, the Commissioners of the Customs refusing to allow any vessel to be described as a Cutter, a type name that had become synonymous with smuggling or free trading, at least during the first half of the 18th century. For reasons not altogether clear, at some point beyond 1750 the vessels used by the Customs began to be known as Cutters. The Commissioners of the Excise however preferred to describe their vessels as "yachts" and "brigs".
The term Yacht was used in connection with revenue vessels and some accounts make reference to "Cruiser Yachts" and even "Cutter Yachts". The Excise referred to their fleet of vessels as Yachts until around 1823. One unattributed source defines a Yacht as "a ship used by the authorities for chasing smugglers and the like" and refers to an observation reputedly by Smollet of "a custom house yacht in pursuit of a smuggler." That same source then suggests the use of the term to revenue vessels was quite correct as they were the King's vessels, a reference perhaps to the fact that Charles II was responsible for the introduction of Yachts into English waters. David Lyon in The Sailing Navy List suggests that the word from the Dutch originally referred to scouting craft and following 1660 was "a class of vessel used as despatch vessels, for carrying important people, and for racing." It is perhaps worth noting that in 1826 the fastest sailing vessel on the Solent, raced against some of the finest yachts of the time, was the Revenue Cutter Vigilant, always referred to as a Cutter and never a Yacht.
Comments on the size and composition of the revenue fleet under sail up until the 1850s are included in Table II.
It is perhaps worth pointing out that in researching the history of the Customs and the Excise at sea - they were separate government departments until 1909 - the reader will come across references to 'revenue cruisers' or 'cruizers'. This may be a direct naval influence, but importantly may be a reference to a revenue protection operational strategy whereby larger revenue vessels cruised offshore seeking out the enemy and chasing them inshore where presumably small revenue vessels and land based resources lay in wait. The names given to vessels do not always give a true indication as to its particular use, but in this case the definition offered by Falconer in his Dictionary of 1780 is probably quite appropriate:-
"Cruiser - when ships employed for this purpose (ie., a voyage or expedition in quest of vessels or fleets of the enemy ), which are accordingly called cruisers, have arrived at their destined station, they traverse the sea, under an easy sail, and within limited space, conjectured to be in the track of their adversaries."
2. The Cutter
"Cutter - a small vessel commonly navigated in the channel of England; it is furnished with one mast, and rigged as a sloop. Many of these vessels are used on illicit trade and others employed by the government to seize them; the latter of which are either under the direction of the Admiralty or Custom House. Cutter is also a small boat used by ships of war." (Taken from Falconer's Dictionary of 1780 )
The use of the term Cutter by 19th and 20th century writers has introduced an element of confusion into any study of the revenue fleet under sail for many of the vessels brought into service on revenue protection duties during the 18th century were possibly not cutter rigged and accordingly were quite incorrectly described as Cutters. Details are scant, but available evidence can reasonably define two vessels in service in 1726 and 1728, Weymouth and Prince of Wales, as Smacks. Similarly from rigging details of the Revenue cutter Bee in service 1778, quoted in Hervey Benham's The Smugglers' Century, she was certainly a gaff rigged single masted cutter. Of the vessels in service over the intervening and later years, vessels such as Essex, Betsey, Success, Repulse, Vigilant, to name but a few, though described by writers as Revenue Cutters, represented a variety of vessel types including Cutters.
It could be suggested the true Revenue Cutter did not enter service until the final quarter of the 18th century and it can be wondered just why it took the authorities so long to decide 'to use a smuggler to catch a smuggler'. For many years a number of revenue vessel commanders had unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the Commissioners of the Customs that they should purchase smuggling type cutters to beat the smugglers at their own game. Indeed the 1745 Parliamentary Committee formed "to enquire into the causes of the most infamous practice of smuggling and consider the most effective methods to prevent the said practice" was told by more than one witness that the ships of the smugglers "were the best sailing fore-and-afters that were built in those days, and could easily outsail both the King's ships and the Custom House sloops." Eventually the Commissioners were persuaded and a number of shipyards known to be proficient in building cutters were invited to construct vessels for revenue service. The reasons for this change in heart were in part related to the decision of the Commissioners in 1788, no doubt on the insistence of the Treasury, to discontinue the use of hired or contract vessels for revenue service. The Commissioners were now obliged to acknowledge the opinions of hose engaged in the war against the smugglers rather than rely on the opinions of ship owners who were often only interested in contracting their ships and crews to the Customs for mere financial gain.
The history of the revenue fleet carries with it a large measure of myth and legend and some writers have suggested the Revenue Cutter was a specific
design developed for the war at sea against the smugglers. Similarly it has
been suggested the use of hull clinker construction and the use of a
particularly long bowsprit can be attributed to the Revenue Cutters. There is
certainly an association that is discussed elsewhere, but the evidence
indicates the first true Revenue Cutters were created by shipbuilders well
versed in building cutters for the smugglers and the 'gentlemen sailors'. The
concept of a standard Revenue Cutter design does not make an appearance until
around 1838 when the Admiralty became involved. No, by all accounts the
shipbuilders were given a relatively free hand in the design process and
instructed to build cutters capable of outsailing and out manoeuvring those
used by the smugglers. We should therefore not be surprised to learn that
because the best Cutter builders were engaged in building for the smugglers
and the 'gentlemen sailors', the end result was that Revenue Cutters were
building on the stocks alongside cutters likely to be deployed on illegal
The logic of the process suggests that as the revenue authorities were having
Cutters built by shipbuilders who had honed their skills on building Cutters
to outsail the authorities, the final products must have been well matched.
Not so, for while the years from around 1780 to 1850 are described as the
'years of glory' for the revenue fleet there is no real evidence to suggest
the Revenue Cutters were an equal match to the smuggling Cutters. Certainly
the revenue fleet did have a number of significant successes at sea and
without doubt the commanders and crews of the Revenue Cutters were highly
competent seamen, but it was not an equal fight. Putting to one side the fact
that many smugglers began using larger vessels bristling with cannon and crews
spoiling for a good fight with the revenue men, see Table I, the revenue and
smuggling Cutters were probably similar if not identical in hull form. The
Revenue Cutters were however literally overloaded by the demands of
The professional smugglers built their Cutters for a specific purpose - to
make high speed runs across the Channel in all but the worst of weathers; to be able to outsail and out manoeuvre the ships used by the authorities to resist the smugglers. The Cutters were proven as sea boats, were fast, and could be built quickly and relatively cheaply. And to ensure superiority at sea under sail was maintained they were built with reduced hull scantlings. In contrast the Customs and the Excise were required to build Cutters that would cope with the rigours of service, the knocks and bumps of normal mercantile passage, and would give a long service life for minimal maintenance cost.
Arnold-Forster in At War With The Smugglers offers the following comment on clinker construction and the Revenue Cutters:-
"These typical English cutters were always clinker built ...... being considered more suitable for rough and tumble work than the smooth-sided carvel fashion more commonly used by foreign boatbuilders. Those for the Customs service, being required to keep the sea for long periods in all weathers, had to be more stoutly built than the smugglers' vessels that could pick time and weather for their short runs. Yet in spite of this, the Revenue craft required if possible more speed than the likely built smugglers.
Hence were evolved heavy, beamy craft of low freeboard and great depth of keel, with enormous sail area for their size. The low deck level was made up for by high bulwarks pierced for guns, and a raised fore deck with bold shear up to great bluff bows."
In other words because the smugglers were prepared to take huge risks to maximise their financial rewards and the revenue authorities could not, the Cutters though probably almost identical in appearance were far from being equally matched. There really was no contest.
It is most regrettable that no hard evidence is yet available to carry out any form of comparison between the smuggling and Revenue Cutters in service during the closing years of the 18th century. Were the hulls so fine of form to 'cut through the water' as some writers have suggested, or were they still of traditional 'bluff and tubby' form? Were the smuggling Cutters any different from the Cutters hired into naval service in the years following 1761? Were they carrying the great mass of sail that the many marine artists and illustrators of the early 19th century have shown? We don't know unfortunately, but the legacy of the smuggling Cutters was to be seen in the design of the magnificent Cutter Yachts that graced the waters of the Solent during the first half of the 19th century.
3. The Beginning of the End
Captain Marryat in The Three Cutters offered the following view of a Revenue
Cutter in the early years of the 19th century:-
"She is a cutter, and you may know she belongs to the Preventive Service by
the number of gigs and galleys she has hoisted up all around her. She looks
like a vessel that was about to sail with a cargo of boats, two on deck, one
astern, one on other side of her. You observe that she is painted black and
much more lumbered up ...... Let us go on board, and her bulwarks are
painted red, it is not a very becoming colour but it lasts a long while, and
the dockyard is not very generous on the score of paint - or lieutenants of
the navy troubled with much spare cash. She has plenty of men and fine men
they are; all dressed in red flannel shirts and blue trousers; some of them
have not taken off their canvass or tarpaulin petticoats which are very
useful to them as they are in boats night and day, and in all weathers. But
we will at once go down to the cabin, where we will find the lieutenant that
commands her, a master's mate and a midshipman. They each have their tumbler
in front of them and are drinking gin toddy, hot with sugar - capital gin
too - Above proof; it is from that small anker standing under the table. It
is one they forgot to return to the Custom House when they made their last
If in an effort to maintain the myth of the superiority of the Revenue Cutters
much is made by writers of an event on the Solent during the year of 1826 when
the Revenue Cutter Vigilant entered into a race against the fastest yachts of
the day, Pearl and Arrow and possibly Harriet. The Vigilant won that race by a
handsome margin, but it was a performance never to be repeated. Credit must go
to the designer and builder of Vigilant, Joseph White, son of Thomas White of
Cowes, but greater credit must go to the men who crewed Vigilant on that day.
The quality of the men who manned the Revenue Cutters had for many years
impressed Their Lordships of the Admiralty. They had afterall served with
distinction under the direction of the Admiralty in a number of famous naval
campaigns. In 1816 following the recommendations of a Treasury Committee the
Admiralty took control of the revenue fleet and the Commissioners of the
Customs retained but two vessels. It had by all accounts been the view of the
Admiralty that the vessels deployed on revenue protection duties were too
small, undermanned and lacking in fire power to deal effectively with the
smugglers. An interesting view for two reasons. Firstly, when larger naval
vessels had been deployed for the same duties they had achieved little.
Secondly, around 1816 the Admiralty began constructing a class of Cutters
based on 'improved revenue vessel designs'. But the Admiralty were in command
and began disposing of many revenue vessels that had served well and replaced
them with larger surplus naval vessels.
Then in 1821 in the wake of yet another Treasury Committee Report there was
something of a reversal of the 1816 report in that smaller revenue vessels
still in service reverted to the control of the Commissioners of the Customs
while the larger remained with the Admiralty. The real significance of this
Report is that it introduced the concept of the Coast Guard that was
eventually brought into service by way of the Coast Guard Act of 1856. It was
that same Act that was to see the end of the sailing revenue fleet.
4. One Conclusion
The above is a very brief account of the revenue fleet that patrolled English,
Scottish and Irish waters during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. For the
crews of those vessels it could never have been an easy life with longs hours
at sea in all weathers, waiting and watching, in vessels that were wet
underway and continually damp below decks. The enemy was cunning and
resourceful, in vessels that more often than not carried more cannon and with
larger crews spoiling for a fight with the authorities. And yet there was
never any shortage of volunteers for service with the revenue fleet. The odds
were perhaps stacked against them and yet the revenue men using seamanship
skills and equal cunning did achieve some significant successes at sea.
The work of the Revenue Cutters in defending these shores is part of Britain's
maritime heritage. The Sailing Cutters are part of that heritage and the
fascinating tale of the evolution of sailing vessels in Britain's waters.
© K J Olsen
TABLE I. A COMPARISON OF A SELECTION OF REVENUE, NAVAL, AND SMUGGLING VESSELS
DURING THE LAST HALF OF THE 18TH CENTURY
A. Revenue Vessels
Name Year Tonnage Crew Guns Notes
Hussar 1755 64 13 14 Contract Wherry
Betsey 1767 45 16 - Excise Cutter
Vigilant 1777 82 10 4 Yacht
Bee 1778 28 8 6 Cutter
Hunter 1778 133 21 12 Cutter
Eagle 1779 155 21 12
Antelope 1779 45 17 10
Royal George 255 60 20 Excise Brig
Nimble 1788 38 12 6
Viper 1790 45 17 4 Excise Cutter
Argus 1790 135 21 14
Mermaid 1790 112 21 8
Rose 1797 114 18 12
B. Naval Cutters
Name Year Tonnage Crew Guns Notes
Sherbourne 1763 86 30 14 Admir. Design
Laurel 1763 53 24 8 Purchased
Swift 1763 54 24 12 Purchased
Lapwing 1777 82 30 14 Builders Design
Sprightly 1777 150 50 22
Rattlesnake 1777 180 45 22 Builders Design
C. Smuggling Vessels ( according to Stan Jarvis in 'Smuggling in East Anglia'
Name Year Tonnage Crew Guns Notes
NK NK 134 45 12
NK NK 114 28 10
NK NK 75 24 6
NK NK 112 28 10
Kent 1777 200 45 36
Swift 1782 100 50 16
Ranger 1783 250 100 22
Wasp 1783 270 110 22
John & Susan 1785 280 90+ 20
L'Etoile 1807 60 73 20(?) Lugger
TABLE II. COMPOSITION OF THE REVENUE FLEET 1685-1850
(Details extracted from Graham Smith's book "the King's Cutters".)
By 1685 - 10 smacks, 17 - 20 tons, in English Customs service, based at
Gravesend, Margate, Queen borough, Deal, Harwich, Yarmouth, Cowes, Poole,
Plymouth and Bristol.
By 1698 - 21 vessels in English Customs service covering the coast of
England and Wales - 14 vessels based at Weymouth, Dartmouth, Fowey,
Penzance, Padstow, Ilfracombe, Cardiff, Aberdovey, Holyhead, Whitehaven,
Newcastle, Grimsby, Yarmouth and Wivenhoe - 7 vessels covering the coastline
between Leigh and Poole.
By 1717 - 20 vessels in English Customs service.
By 1726 - 7 sloops, termed "cruisers", in Scottish Revenue service.
By 1744 - 24 vessels described as yachts, wherries, sloops and cutters in
English Customs service stationed at Dover, Rye, Newhaven, Shoreham,
Chichester, Portsmouth, Southampton, Exeter, Dartmouth, Bideford, Bristol,
Swansea, Beaumaris, Liverpool, Newcastle, Hull, Boston, King's Lynn, Yarmouth,
Colchester, Harwich and London - total complement of 365 men - vessel size
varied between a 21 ton wherry MALPAS to 86 ton sloop STRICKLAND.
By 1746 - 6 vessels in English Customs service - 3 stationed at Portsmouth,
Southampton and Exeter; 1 at Liverpool; 1 at Hull; 1 at Colchester - (13 by
1745 transferred to naval service).
By 1760 - 22 vessels in English Customs service - total tonnage 1185 tons (
average tonnage 54 tons )
By 1763 - 2 Scottish Excise vessels in service - each around 60 tons.
By 1767 - 5 vessels (4 sloops and 1 wherry) operating around the coast of
Scotland on both customs and excise duties - the sloops were around 75 tons
carrying 8 guns - crew by 11 men and 1 boy.
By 1773 - 29 vessels in English Customs service - largest EAGLE at 102 tons
carrying 12 carriage guns.
By 1774 - 3 vessels in Scottish Excise service - largest PRINCE OF WALES at
136 tons, carrying 12 guns, a crew of 35, and described as a brig.
By 1776 - 6 vessels, described as "cruisers" in Irish Revenue service - a
variety of smaller craft also in service.
By 1783 - 42 vessels in English Customs service - total complement over 1000
men - average tonnage around 120 tons.
By 1783 - 6 vessels in English Excise service based at Falmouth, Plymouth,
Isle of Wight, Padstow, Newcastle and Hull.
By 1784 - 2 vessels in Scottish Excise service - ROYAL CHARLOTTE at 200 tons,
16 guns, and 55 crew; ROYAL GEORGE at 255 tons, 20 guns, and 60 crew.
By 1784 - 7 cutters in English Excise service.
By 1784 - 48 vessels in English Customs service - 24 vessels on Customs
establishment and 24 on contract - total tonnage of establishment or Crown
vessels was 2624 with 516 men - total tonnage of contract vessels was 2919
tons with 514 men.
By 1810 - 42 cutters and 68 boats in English Customs service - 23 cutters and
42 boats from London to Land's End; 10 cutters and 13 boats from Berwick to
London; 9 cutters and 13 boats from Berwick to London.
By 1817 - 72 vessels in revenue service - in 1816, 2 cutters, VIGILANT and FLY
to Customs, remainder of fleet, 57 vessels, to Admiralty control - 33 naval
vessels seconded into revenue protection service - 20 revenue cutters disposed
of by Admiralty over period 1816 to 1817.
By 1816 - 4 vessels in English Excise service.
By 1824 - 1 vessel in English Customs service; 1 vessel in English Excise
service; 33 revenue vessels of three classes operated by the Coast Guard in
England and Wales; 4 Customs and 2 Excise vessels in Scotland; 11 vessels in
Irish Revenue service.
By 1834 - 48 revenue cutters and 18 tenders (vessels less than 20 tons) in
By 1839 - 69 revenue cutters built over period 1822 to 1839.
By 1844 - 76 revenue cutters in Coast Guard service.
By 1856 - 1 cutter in the service of the Commissioners of Customs.
(c) K J Olsen
2. Joseph Weld, Esq,.
Joseph Weld, was born in 1777, the third son and fifth child of Thomas and Mary Weld of Lulworth Castle, Dorset. He was the first of their fifteen children to be born at Lulworth. The Weld family were undoubtedly a family of great wealth, but perhaps were better known as an eminent Catholic family. Thomas Weld, the father of Joseph, on the death of his wife in 1815 was to fully embrace the priesthood and indeed many of the family were to find their life's vocation in that faith. Joseph was not to follow the example of his father and his elder brother and in 1828 was to succeed his Cardinal brother to become Squire of Lulworth.
Joseph's early years were under the guidance of a learned Jesuit, Father Charles Plowden, at Lulworth. Thomas had strong views on the education of his eldest children and in 1791 the family migrated to Liege where the Jesuits were in residence. The French revolution cut short the family stay at Liege and in 1794 Joseph entered a newly appointed college at Stonyhurst studying philosophies, a school it is said was founded on a gift to the Jesuits by the Weld family. His prowess in formal studies is not known, though it is said he was certainly not of an academic inclination, but it is recorded that as a boy he was a particularly competent at all sports, "one of the best players at the Games and the best runner and jumper of his time." c He later became a fine swordsman and a first class horseman and would demonstrate these combined skills by cutting the top off a potato placed on a cushion with his sword while riding at full gallop.
While at Stonyhurst Joseph demonstrated both an interest in ship design and a practical aptitude with his hands. He began building ship models, his first being the model of a frigate. This interest progressed and it is thought that the first yacht he owned, of 18 tons burthen, he built with his own hands at Lulworth before he reached the age of manhood albeit with the assistance of a wheelwright from the village .
In 1802 Joseph married Charlotte, the daughter of Lord Stourton, and by way of a marriage settlement Thomas Weld settled the 2,000 acre Pylewell estate near Lymington in favour of Joseph. The main residence of the estate, Pylewell House, was not however to be the marriage home for Joseph and Charlotte and appears to have become the summer residence for the whole of the Weld family. Instead they lived in a smaller property on the estate known as The Lodge which with its frontage on the Lymington river enabled Joseph to fully indulge his interest in yachts and yachting which he stated in later years had "been from my early years my study as well as my amusement." d Joseph appears to have had a great love of Pylewell, so much so that when in 1827 his brother Thomas proposed making over the whole of the Lulworth estate to him, which would have meant Joseph taking up residence at Lulworth Castle, he at first refused. Yachting was not his whole life though for the records indicate he took an active interest in the business of the Pylewell estate and of all those employed on the estate. In the summer of 1828 Bishop Thomas Weld, the elder brother of Joseph, officially passed the Lulworth estate including Pylewell to Joseph.
Pylewell plays an important part in the history of Joseph Weld for it is at Pylewell Hard, on the eastern shore of the Lymington River, that Joseph began building cutters in earnest. It was incidentally a site which had been used for shipbuilding since 1688, if not earlier.The first cutter he built at Pylewell Hard was reputedly the Charlotte of 60 tons in 1811 though it must be said there is some confusion as to the exact date Charlotte was built. Other cutters of note reputedly built at Pylewell include the Arrow of 85 ton, and two vessels, Julia of 40 ton and King Cole of 12 ton, both built for Joseph's younger brother, James. Incidentally, the first recorded round the Island race was won by Julia as a yawl. While it is reasonably certain Joseph commenced building Arrow at Pylewell, there is evidence that it was at that time he met the boatbuilder Thomas Inman and contracted the completion of Arrow to Inman's newly acquired shipbuilding site.
Little is known of the early exploits of Joseph Weld as a competitive yachtsman, the earliest reference found been of 1800 when he entered into a race with a Mr Sturt, the member of Parliament for Bridport. Although the race was reported in the Sporting Magazine of September 1800, the report unfortunately confines its comments to the incident in which Mr Sturt fell overboard and was subsequently rescued by the crew of a naval vessel in the area.
Between 1800 and 1811 when Joseph's cutter Charlotte appears on the scene little useful comment has been found other than to the fact that he was actively seeking and engaging in competitive sailing with anyone who would accept the challenge, including the growing number of gentlemen of a similar disposition who were indulging in their 'acquatic amusement' from Lymington, and the pilot cutters operating out of Cowes. That there was competitive sailing in the Solent and along the South Coast during the first decade of the 19th century cannot be doubted and the press of the day along with various sporting publications contained reports of various races or contests, the latter publications often refering to the yachts involved as "gentlemens cutters". Further evidence comes from a study of the cutter builders of the day such as Sainty, Ransom, White and possibly Gely of Cowes who were actively involved in building cutters for gentlemen, the revenue service, and the free traders or smugglers. Competive sailing was fortunately not confined to the gentlemen for the records refer to events often organised by professional watermen and local regatta events which as well as sailing races for a variety of craft extended to include all manner of water based events.
While his yachting exploits as a member of the Royal Yacht Club may be adequately recorded for posterity it is the events that fostered in Joseph Weld a great interest in yachting and a deep comprehension of the mechanics or science of naval architecture I wish to explore. His was not a family with known maritime interests although his father reputedly had a vessel refered to as a yacht built in 1784 e, an exercise which from recorded notes was something of a design disaster. It is possible this was not the first built for Thomas. I have provided a full account of this shipbuilding episode in Appendix A for I believe it offers a very useful, and amusing, insight into shipbuilding methods of the late 18th century. Then in 1800 a new yacht called Castle or Lulworth Castle was built at West Lulworth which was later taken over by Joseph. Some accounts attribute the design and building of Castle to Joseph and though this cannot be confirmed no doubt he was involved. The yacht of 1784 was completed under the superintence of a Mr Williams, a gentleman who had been actively involved in the smuggling business as a shipbuilder and seaman. By all accounts he played a more significant role in the building of Castle. Then a few years later another vessel to be called Pylewell was built by Joseph presumably again with the assistence of Mr Williams. Nothing is known of Pylewell other than the fact that it is highly probable she was a working cutter used to carry salt and lime to Southampton and stone from Lulworth.f
In later years Joseph turned his thoughts to larger vessels, specifically the 12 gun brig, as an extension of the successful designs incorporated in the Arrow and Alarm. Indeed in a note promoting a model of his brig design he states that it is based on the lines of Alarm.h His design approach had become more scientific by this time and it is said he had a lake built at Lulworth to test models of his designs. The Admiralty declined his offers although it must be said the competition to design the new generation of naval vessels had become intense if not a little political. Unfortunately no evidence of his brig design remains though members of the family can remember a number of ship models they played with as chidren and which were destroyed during the war. Joseph may not have persuaded the Admiralty as to the merits of his brig design, but it was accepted as an exhibit for the 1851 Great Exhibition.
The years during which Joseph's yachts proved so successful were also those when the naval architecture of smaller sailing craft became driven more by scientific findings. The cutters of the previous century were created literally by hand and eye with modification by men who were experienced often in both the art of shipbuilding and seamanship. But we need to make an important distinction for the evidence suggests that by the 1780s the builders of the smuggling cutters had made significant design advances that enabled them to outsail and outmanoeuvre the vessels engaged by the authorities to combat the smuggling menace. The cutter was certainly fast under sail, but in mercantile and naval service as a fast, maid of all work, had retained the traditonal bluff and tubby and liberally timbered hull form that was literally pushed through the water by a vast acreage of canvas carried aloft. This was the so-called traditional 'cod's head and mackerel's tail' hull form which ensured the point of greatest hull breadth was forward of amidships. This was an essential characteristic of the cutter for it meant when either close to the wind or with the wind over the stern the hull had sufficient buoyancy forward to preventing the bow plunging or porpoising. Though evidence is scant the smuggling cutter had by this time been somewhat refined. While the forward sections above the waterline retained fullness there had been some fining of the underwater hull form both forward and aft.
As a point of interest for those readers not familiar with the presentation of a two dimensional set of cutter hull lines, when viewing the same it is not always easy to find in these lines the shape of the 'cod's head and mackerel's tail'. I recently took on the task of building the hull of a late 18th century cutter in model form and found with some pleasure that by holding the model in my hands and viewing it from a variety of angles the traditional fish shape could be seen. Indeed this exercise made me appreciate just a little more just why for so many years the hull model was the favoured planning device from which the shipbuilders were able to build their ships.
The smugglers also had the opportunity to exploit some innovation in shipbuilding. Their cutters were built for a specific purpose, to carry high value but comparitively low volume cargoes at speed across the English Channel in all weathers. The standard cutter was fast anyway, but the smugglers found they could maintain a speed advantage by reducing the weight of the hull. Speed was important to both satisfy market demands and avoid capture by the authorities. The result was a clench planked hull to minimal scantling sizes, but still of adequate strength.i The bonus for the smugglers was that cutter building time and cost were reduced and if unfortunately their vessel was seized by the authorities the capital loss was small. It is said that the building cost of a smuggling cutter was recovered after two or three smuggling runs! The revenue cutters in comparison, though often built by the builders of smuggling cutters, were constructed to usual commercial standards of scantling size suitable to face the rigours of many years in service, for then as now the Treasury demanded value for money.
It is my conclusion that Joseph Weld further developed basic features of the small and fast smuggling cutter into the cutter yacht, a process driven more by instinct, knowledge and experience than by the principles of naval architecture. Indeed as will be commented on shortly his instinct lead him to incorporate a number of hull design features which were to be later validated by scientific methods though in some respects quite contrary to the theories propounded by naval architects. Was he then by any measure a scientific designer or simply following the age old practice of furthering tried and tested designs through experience, a practice incidentally followed by the most successful cutter builders of the late 18th and early 19th centuries? Did it really matter for afterall his cutters were remarkably successful in competive matches? In any event by the early 1830s he had attracted a large number of supporters who promoted him as the most scientific builder of the day. Others however thought differently as the extract below from a publication of 1833 indicates.
"In a publication printed in Lymington, Mr Joseph Weld is held up as 'the most scientific builder of the day'; this is rather more than we can admit, for when we take into consideration the performances of the foregoing vessels [ these were Louisa, Harriet and Therese ] built by Mr Joseph White of East Cowes, and who lately sent to sea the 'Water Witch' who has not only beat every square rigged vessel that ever came across her, (large and small) but Cutters, Schooners and Luggers of no small dimensions: we think it is but justice due to Mr Joseph White to say, that he certainly has a great, (if not greater) claim to the apellation of 'the most scientific builder of the day, as Mr Joseph Weld; and indeed we cannot admit the name of Mr Ratsey, one of the builders here, who has turned out several fine vessels, and among them the Albatross 74 tons, Mr Levelson Gormer [?] who won the Cup presented by His Majesty to the Royal Yacht Squadron this year, against Mr Weld's Alarm, 193 ton, when blowing very hard. In the same way Mr Weld won the Challenge Cup in 1829." j
Joseph died at the age of eighty-two years on October 20th, 1863. It is unfortunately not possible to confirm local legend that he died at sea onboard his cutter yacht, Lulworth, but I suspect it is a conclusion to his life that he would have been content with.
6. Thomas Inman, Shipbuilder, of Lymington
The story of Joseph Weld cannot be concluded without reference to Thomas Inman of Lymington, the ship builder associated with the building of Joseph's successful yachts.
Thomas Inman was a boat builder of some repute operating in Hastings until 1819 when with his wife, three daughters, three sons, and possessions, he sailed in his own boat from Hastings to Lymington. His reasons for moving from Hastings are not recorded, but it was not a relocation without some risk for at that time boat building and ship building were both industries in relative decline. However recent correspondence with a member of the Weld family w suggests that Thomas Inman was probably persuaded or even brought to Lymington by Joseph who was seeking to establish his own shipyard at Lymington. This cannot of course be confirmed but it is a suggestion of considerable merit. As to the early years of Thomas Inman in Lymington the records suggest that he took an interest in farming and the timber business though he also appears to have taken a lease on a ship building site on the western side of the Lymington river. In early 1821 Joseph Weld who had begun building his cutter yacht, Arrow, at Pylewell Hard situated on the eastern side of the Lymington river moved the construction to the shipyard site leased by Inman.
The nature of the business relationship established between Joseph Weld and Thomas Inman appears never to have been examined in any great detail. Joseph was by all accounts both designer and builder and continued to be actively involved in the construction of all his vessels, even with the Lulworth built in 1857 when he was in his eightieth year, and therefore it seem highly probable that the relationship was rather more than yacht owner and ship builder. By all accounts Joseph was actively involved in the activities of the Inman shipyard, indeed until his death in 1863, which not only suggests there existed a business partnership, but adds some credence to the suggestion that Joseph was instrumental in bringing Thomas Inman to Lymington. Perhaps Joseph saw a business opportunity for by 1821 despite difficulties in the shipbuilding industry yachting was increasing in popularity. Lymington was by this time the yachting base for a number of prominent people, enthusiasts or not, and no doubt Joseph Weld's influence would ensure Thomas Inman had a steady stream of orders for new builds and repairs. Whatever the motives the adoption of the Inman yard enabled Joseph to pursue his undoubted talent for the design of racing yachts. But the yard was not to become a toy for a man of wealth to indulge his fancies in. It was to become a very successful business, building in excess of fifteen vessels for revenue service between the years of 1822 and 1838. Details of vessels built at Inman's yard are provided in Appendix D.
Thomas Inman retired from the business in 1845 and passed it on to two of his sons, George and James. The business continued with varying degrees of success until the early 1880s when on the death of George's widow the whole of the Inman estates were disposed of to settle debts. Rather surprising for the Inman yard during the sixties and the seventies secured a number of very lucrative contracts and certainly continued to launch high quality and successful yachts.
There is no doubt that the Inman shipyard was very successful if success is to be judged by the sailing performance of the vessels produced by the yard. The success of the Arrow, Alarm and Lulworth must have attracted clients who wished to emulate or even improve on the performance of these remarkable yachts. The combination of the design genius of Joseph Weld and the innovative building of Thomas Inman was perhaps a unique one, but both men had a very significant impact on the development of the yacht during the first half of the 19th century and thus the history of yachting.