Smuggling was rife in the west of Scotland during the late 17th and 18th centuries and was often carried on alongside legitimate trade. Before the Union in 1707 much of the smuggling was between the Clyde and the English colonies in North America. Although penalties were severe, many merchants were willing to take the risk. Thereafter much of the smuggling was the re-landing of goods from the Isle of Man where duties were lower than on the mainland. This was a well-organised trade that was dominated by Jacobites, Sir George Moore on the Isle of Man and Colin Dunlop of the Ship Bank in Glasgow. There were also contacts with Jacobite communities in Scandinavia and Ireland.
Since duty was paid on a great variety of goods, almost anything could be smuggled, particularly soap, salt, oatmeal, tea and of course wines and spirits. The goods themselves were landed along the Ayrshire and Renfrewshire coasts and brought overland to Glasgow. The largest smuggling enterprise was based at Loans near Troon.
After rates of duty on the Isle of Man were equalised in 1765, smuggling did not cease, but moved further afield, across to Ireland, to the Channel Islands and to northern France. By this time some of Glasgow's most distinguished "Tobacco Lords" such as Alexander Speirs, were heavily implicated. Although merchants who dealt in contraband always expected to take a loss, the very high rate of success of the revenue in intercepting consignments in the early 1770s bought this phase of the trade to an end.
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