In times gone by Cornish fisherman landed two catches. One day they would harvest the fish in the sea – shining mackerel, pilchards to pack, strong congers. The next night they would land a different catch – shining silk, tea to pack, strong brandy. Silas Finn, or Finny as he was called by all, regularly landed his smuggled goods at Portwrinkle in a small cove below the village, shielded from the open expanse of Whitsand bay. The excise men were seldom local and never knew the area well. Small coves, out of sight, were often not known by them at all. From the village at high tide all that could be seen was the sea. Besides, Portwrinkle had a legitimate pilchard business thriving with a number of fish cellars. Finny organised smuggling along the coast from Looe and Lammana, Crafthole and Cawsand, and all the way to the Mew Stone in Wembury Bay in Devon. Finny was a very popular local man and would do anything for anyone as they would for him. Smuggling was thought an honourable profession and, with a reputation and sense of honour second to none, he enjoyed the thrill and intricacy of his secretive trade. So as not to be recognised by excise men whilst conducting business and organising fellow smugglers, he disguised himself by wearing a woman’s bonnet. Finny walked about in his bonnet, his face well hidden by its wide brim, arm in arm with a black lady called Joan Finn. Some thought his companion to be his wife, others a business acquaintance. Whatever their relation, Joan herself was an honourable character and successful smuggler based at Lammana and Looe.

It was therefore most unexpected when, one night, Finny was caught in the act by the excise men. He had a lot of smuggled goods with him and was facing a gruelling punishment, most probably hanging. In a decision totally out of character, Finny struck a deal with the authorities. Rather than take his own punishment, he agreed to lure in other local smugglers. A lit lantern waved from the cliff at Portwrinkle as the smugglers' boat came by. Knowing this to be a sign from Finny of a clear beach the lantern waved the smugglers in to shore. The cargo of brandy, lace, tea and tobacco was landed and the smugglers were captured by the waiting authorities. Among them were Finny’s close friend Amram Hooper and his sister Jochabed. When the smugglers were all caught Finny fled, saving only himself.

It is said the ghost of Silas Finn haunts the cliffs of Portwrinkle and Crafthole, restless in his regret at the betrayal of his honour and his friends. In Looe Guildhall hangs a painting called ‘Arrest of the Smuggler’ - Amram Hooper and Jochabed are in the foreground and in the background of the painting is a dark watching figure who could well be Joan. The cove beneath Portwrinkle is still known today as Finnygook Beach and the Inn at Crafthole is named the Finnygook Inn. You can still see the pilchard cellars in Portwrinkle, still buy smugglers tea in Looe, still see the ghost of Silas Finn on the cliffs on a dark night.

 retold by Anna Chorlton, from the family stories of Robert Keys

  • Downderry / Seaton