Piracy and Smuggling around Penzance


Mast head at Tresco Abbey Gardens, Scillies

Mast head at Tresco Abbey Gardens, Scillies

In the 1700s, Mount’s Bay was a veritable hot-bed of the contraband trade. High duties had been imposed on luxury goods such as wine, spirits and tobacco to pay for the many wars that Britain was involved in. However owners of small fast boats could evade these duties if goods could be landed away from the eyes of customs officials.  Maybe the most infamous of Penzance’s pirates from the late 18th Century is John Carter also known as the King of Prussia. He operated out of Bessie’s Cove a few miles east of Penzance for his smuggling activities and renamed it Prussia Cove, even erecting a fort with a battery of guns for the purpose of defending his goods. On one occasion the revenue men chanced upon a bounty of cargo left unattended on the beach which they seized and removed to the Customs House in Chapel Street. When the King of Prussia discovered his loss he took his well-armed men to Penzance by boat during the

Admiral Benbow Pub, Penzance

Admiral Benbow Pub, Penzance with a ‘lookout’ on the roof watching for pirates!

night where they broke open the Customs House stealing back only his ‘rightful’ goods and returning to Prussia Cove. “John Carter has been here”, reported a customs officer. ””We know it because he has taken nothing away that was not his own”.”
It was not long before the revenue men had their revenge, when a battle at Prussia Cove ended John Carter’s smuggling days. The ultimate fate of the King of Prussia is unknown although it is very probable that he lived out the rest of his days peacefully, enjoying the handsome profits of his many successful ventures.