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The History of Kent

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The Aldington Gang

The Aldington Gang were a band of smugglers who used the Walnut Tree, an Inn at Aldington, as their headquarters, and carried out their business throughout Romney Marsh and the Kent coastline. The gang would often use the Inn for a drop off point of contraband from the Marshes. They would shine a light through a small window high up in the Inn that could be seen at Aldington Knoll, as a signal when the coast was clear. The gang were nicknamed the Blues, because either that was the colour of their clothing or they signalled with blue flares.

It is believed the gang started around 1817, and was guilty of smuggling instances at
Deal and St Margaret’s Bay, although there is no record of them until November 1820. Their numbers were strengthened by men returning from the Napoleonic wars who could not find any other work.

A total of 250 men took part in an incident at Sandgate, with the smuggling of tobacco, salt and spirits, which had been loaded into a galley and rowed from Boulogne, and dragged onto the beach.

The gang split into three groups one to transport and unload the contraband, the other two, known as Batmen, who protected the first. The Batmen were so named due to the clubs or bats carried, and would fight off anyone trying to intervene. Often guns were used, although the authorities increased their efforts if a Revenue officer were shot.

On this occasion, the proceedings were discovered by a small group of blockade men. Although they were too few in number and could only watch.

A battle took place at Brookland in 1821, between the gang and Revenue officers. The gang, some 250 strong, was spotted on its way to an area between Camber and
Dungeness by the Camber Watch House. Having completed the unloading the gang was chased by the Customs and Excise men across Romney Marsh. Upon reaching Brookland, the gang turned on the Revenue Officers. In the perusing battle, five were killed and over twenty wounded.

The gang’s leader, Cephas Quested, being intoxicated, gave a pistol to a man close by and told him to ‘blow an Officer’s brains out’. In the heat of battle, he had turned to a member of the blockade and was promptly arrested. Following sentencing, Quested was hung at Newgate on 4 July 1821.

George Ransley was born at
Ruckinge in 1792 and worked as a ploughman and later a Carter. It is said he discovered spirits that had been buried by smugglers. He sold the find and used the money to buy the Bourne Tap, a house where he would sell spirits.

Following the battle at Brookland, Ransley became leader of the gang. He ensured loyalty by employing a doctor to tend a gang member if he became ill and paid an allowance to his family. This also enabled an injured man to elude capture by Excise men.

Over the following five years, the gang grew from strength to strength with landings taking place along the Kent coastline from Deal to Rye. However, their luck ran out on
Dover beach in July 1826. They were caught by Richard Morgan, a Midshipman and his colleague. Morgan was killed with his associate being wounded.

Morgan had been liked in Dover, and several people came forward following the death. In October 1826, two Bow Street Runners and a force of blockade men surrounded the Bourne tap, resulting in the arrest of Ransley and nineteen gang members. At
Maidstone in January 1827, they were found guilty, although their lawyer argued that as the events had happened in the dark the death sentences should be commuted to deportation.

Ransley worked on a farm in Tasmania and benefited from his understanding of farming. In 1828, his wife and ten children, although only nine completed the journey, followed him. In 1833, Ransley was assigned to his wife Elizabeth. Five years later, in 1838, he was pardoned. The family farmed 500 acres in Hobart, until his death in 1856. Ransley and his wife were buried together on the farm.

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