Smugglers | Beneath the Surface

Beneath the Surface

Discover the real people and history behind Dorset’s tales of smuggling in this new exhibition from Shire Hall Museum.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Dorset was home to some of Britain’s most notorious smugglers. Across the coastline, hundreds of people were secretly moving goods in and out of the country for profit. But who were these people known as smugglers? And why did they begin smuggling?

‘Smugglers: Beneath the Surface’ takes a closer look at four of Dorset’s most renowned smugglers. The nature of smuggling means those involved have left us little written evidence of their undercover exploits. What we do have are the handed-down stories.

This exhibition explores the fame and success of Isaac Gulliver, the ruthless and violent behaviour of the Hawkhurst gang, the tragedy of young John Webber, and how smuggling became a “family business” for the Northovers.

Each story gives a glimpse of the people behind the word ‘smuggler’ and explores how they ended up becoming involved in one of the most lucrative professions of their time.

‘Smugglers: Beneath the Surface’ is at Shire Hall Museum from 27th July until 16th September 2023. Entry to the exhibition is included with a Museum ticket. For more information, visit

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