The original Grayhound was probably built in Cawsand, near Plymouth, Cornwall in 1776. She was a Revenue and Customs Lugger. These ships were designed by the British Revenue and Customs Office to patrol the British coast and capture smugglers. Grayhound was almost certainly commissioned by Mr John Knill, the Collector of Customs at the port of St Ives in West Cornwall. He owned and managed many such vessels.
Luggers were fast sailing-ships with ‘lug’ sails. Revenue and Customs luggers were famously fast! Grayhound carried eight cannon, and her crew members carried weapons. She still carries two working cannon! Today, similar patrols are carried out by high-speed boats called His Majesty’s Revenue Cutters:
Cornwall was full of smuggling in the late 18th century. In fact, Cawsand, where Grayhound was built, was known for trafficking goods from France and the Channel Islands. There is a suggestion that Grayhound may have done some smuggling herself!
After working as a Revenue lugger, Grayhound had a second life as a ‘privateer’. A privateer was a privately owned, armed vessel that could attack enemy ships on behalf of the British Government.
Huge numbers of British Navy warships had been sent to the American War of Independence (1775-83). Consequently the British Government was forced to grant licences to privateers to defend British waters.
As a privateer Grayhound would carry a Letter of Marque issued by the government. During her privateering days she had a crew of thirty men plus a further thirty men who would act as crew for any captured vessels.
The final fate of the first Grayhound is not known… but we have no doubt that she fought valiantly to the very end!
The smuggling traders in these parts are grown to such a head that they bid defiance to all law and government. They come very often in gangs of sixty to one hundred men to the shore in disguise armed with swords, pistols, blunderbusses, carbines and quarterstaffs; and not only carry off the goods they land in defiance of officers, but beat, knock down and abuse whoever they meet in their way; so that travelling by night near the coast, and the peace of the country, are become very precarious; and if an effectual law be not speedily passed, nothing but a military force can support the officers in the discharge of duties.Philip Taylor, Collector of Customs at Weymouth from 1716 until some time in the 1720s.