The Smugglers Museum houses one of the finest collections of smuggling artefacts in the country. Featuring 'The History of Jamaica Inn', an educational and historical film show, the Museum brings alive many of the myths and legends associated with Jamaica Inn and Cornwall, including tales of wreckers and smugglers over the past 300 years.
Smuggling evolved when customs dues were first introduced in the thirteenth century, but there was little effective enforcement. In the 18th century, when taxes rose to fund foreign wars, some goods could be purchased much more cheaply on the continent and smuggling became rife. Tea had become a very popular drink and at one point the tax levied made tea six times more expensive in England than in Europe! Goods such as silks, tea, tobacco and brandy were more frequently smuggled into Cornwall than anywhere else in England.
Cornish smugglers were not a violent breed, but very cunning. Smuggling became accepted and many took part in the proceedings - even some revenue men were quite amenable to the odd bribe! Smuggling around the Cornish coast was comparatively simple as there were few men to enforce the law and even when caught, a smuggler might be dealt with leniently if the presiding magistrate was a willing recipient of smuggled goods.
A famous eighteenth century economist defined a smuggler as: "A person who ..... would have been in every respect an excellent citizen, had not the laws of his country made that a crime which nature never meant to be so".
Polperro on the south coast and Boscastle, Trebarwith and Tintagel on the north coast were the most used landing coves for bringing ashore contraband. Talland and Lanreath were regularly used by Polperro smugglers to hide their cargo. Jamaica Inn, in its isolation, provided the ideal premises for storing this contraband on its way up country.