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Polperro Family History

The OLIVER family of Polperro

The suppression of the smuggling trade in Cornwall during the 19th century resulted in many men there joining the very service their fathers and grandfathers had sought to outwit in earlier years. Some enlisted in the Royal Navy, serving aboard Revenue cutters patrolling the coast in search of smugglers, while others joined the newly-created Preventive Water Guard.

No family's history illustrates this extraordinary transformation better than the Olivers of Polperro. Richard Oliver, born in 1772, was the owner and master of a smuggling vessel called the Lottery in December 1798 when a Custom House officer was murdered trying to board her off Cawsand near Plymouth. So incensed were the authorities by this outrage that the hunt for the Lottery and crew continued for months.

Richard Oliver remained at large long after the Lottery was eventually seized and taken into service as a Revenue cutter. A notice published by the Customs Commissioners in 1799 described him as having "a dark complexion, long face, light brown curled short hair, about 6 ft. high, rather thin, but very boney and walks very upright".

Several Lottery crewmen were captured and stood trial at the Old Bailey. One of them, Tom Potter, was convicted of the murder and executed after another member of the crew testified against him.

     Richard Oliver (photographed c1870)Richard Oliver (photographed c1870)
Two of Richard's sons joined the Coastguard service formed in 1822 from the Preventive Water Guard and Riding Officers that had previously been employed against the very trade their father and other Polperro smugglers had carried on so defiantly during the Napoleonic wars.

Thomas Oliver, born in 1800, became a commissioned boatman coastguard in service at Hastings, while his younger brother John was a Chief Boatman Coastguard on the Isle of Wight after serving on the Revenue cruiser Lion in 1831. John Oliver had married a local Polperro girl, Susannah Peake, and the couple's three sons also enlisted in the Revenue service aboard cruisers patrolling the Channel coast.

Several descendents of the Oliver family still live in Polperro today.

Further details of the Oliver family of Polperro can be obtained from Jeremy Rowett Johns:

E-mail: jeremy.johns@polperro.org

Further information on the family would also be welcomed.

Jeremy Rowett Johns, Polperro Heritage Museum © 2000

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