The Aldington Gang - The Gang's Activities

The Gang's Activities

The gang was probably founded in or around 1817, as gang-based smuggling returned, but the first mention of the Aldington Gang was in November 1820, after the men had returned home from the Napoleonic Wars and found little to do to make any money. It is believed that they were active well before this date and were responsible for incidents in Deal, St. Margaret's Bay, north of Dover. The gang carried out a landing near Sandgate with 250 men taking part, unloading a galley laden with spirits, tobacco and salt that had been rowed across the Channel from Boulogne and pulled up onto the shingle beach. Three groups of smugglers had gathered: one to unload and transport the cargo and two groups of "Batmen", to protect the first. They were spotted by a few local blockade men, as the main blockade force had been lured away by the smugglers. "Batmen" stood guard when a run was taking place to fight off anyone who tried to interfere; they gained their name from the long clubs, or ‘bats’ they carried. Some smugglers used guns, although the shooting of the Revenue officer often roused the authorities to step up their efforts against smuggling.

In February 1821 the Battle of Brookland took place between the Customs and Excise men and the Aldington Gang. The smugglers had sent 250 men down to the coast between Camber and Dungeness but the party was seen by the Watch House at Camber and a fight took place over Walland Marsh. Although the Gang successfully completed the unloading of the goods, they were harried right across the Marshes until they reached Brookland, where the Gang turned on the blockade force. Five men were killed in the fighting and there were more than twenty wounded. Their leader at that time was Cephas Quested who, in the confusion of the Battle, turned to a man close by him, handed him a musket and instructed him to "blow an Officer's brains out." Unfortunately for Quested, in the confusion of the fight and being somewhat intoxicated, the man that he had turned to was a Midshipman of the blockade force, who immediately turned the gun on Quested and arrested him. After being sentenced, Quested was taken to Newgate and hanged for his activities on 4 July 1821.

In 1792 George Ransley was born at Ruckinge, and started work as a ploughman then a carter. The story goes that he found a stash of spirits hidden by the smugglers and with the proceeds of the sale bought his house The Bourne Tap, from where he frequently sold spirits that he had landed. Another location regularly frequented by the Gang at this time was an Augustine Priory, which was actually used as a farm house, at Bilsington which they would use as a store house.

Ransley took over the gang of smugglers after the Battle of Brookland, and employed a doctor, with an allowance paid to a man's family if he was ill, a policy that avoided the capture of injured men by the revenue forces and helped to ensure loyalty. The gang became stronger and landed goods all along the coast from Rye to Deal . In July 1826 they were caught on the beach at Dover and a Midshipman, Richard Morgan, was killed. In October 1826 Ransley was arrested at Aldington by the Bow Street Runners on suspicion of murder, but as it took place in the dark, the death sentence was converted to deportation along with his brother-in-law Samuel Bailey as was fellow gang members Thomas Gillham and James Hogben.

Ransley was sent to work on a farm in Tasmania where his knowledge of farming was a great benefit to him. Two years later his wife Elizabeth followed with their ten children - only nine survived the journey. He was assigned to his wife in 1833. He was finally granted a pardon in 1838 and farmed500 acres (2.0 km2) at River Plenty, Hobart. He died in 1856 and is buried in River Plenty, New Norfolk, along with his wife.

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