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The smuggler’s banker in Polperro

Polperro has long been considered one of the main smuggling centres in Cornwall. During 18th century, the height of this illegal industry, this secluded cove was home to a number of men who became infamous Cornish characters because of their clandestine activities. But the one name on everyone’s lips during that century and for generations afterwards was Zephaniah Job. Job was not some wind battered old sea-captain running a sloop laden with rum from France, however, he was the money man, the Smuggler’s Banker.

Zephaniah had actually been born at St Agnes on the north coast in 1750 but had moved to Polperro to become a schoolmaster in about 1770. He quickly found himself embroiled in the business of ‘freetrading’ which it is said preoccupied pretty much the whole of this isolated fishing community at that time.

The smuggler’s banker

At first the fishermen smugglers brought their children to him to learn how to keep financial records and how to manage conversions of money, such as £s into francs, essential skills when engaging with under the table trade with the continent. Abandoning his teaching role Job started to take on paid work as their book keeper, financial advisor and general correspondent, as many of them were unable to read or write, and he did all this for a cut of their profits of course.

With the money rolling in Job soon became a respected and wealthy merchant in his own right, carrying on a perfectly legitimate business exporting lime and timber alongside some more unlawful activities. Job was said to be “a man of singular sagacity and energy”, hard-working, clever and organised. He had leases for numerous properties in and around Polperro, living for many years at Killigarth Manor Mill (now the Crumplehorn Inn) and even had contracts with the navy. At that time being an upstanding member of the community did not exclude you from participating in smuggling even the local vicar, Rev Richard Dodge, was said to have been involved.

Zephaniah bank

Zephaniah opened his own bank in Polperro, loaning money to smugglers so that they could grow their trade and even printing his own bank notes. Should any of the smugglers from the village find themselves in trouble with the law he would provide them with lawyers and financial help while they were in prison. When Tom Potter was arrested in 1798 for shooting a revenue man it was Job that tried to prevent him from being taken to London for his trial and paid for his defence.

Job conducted his business in the fishing village for around 30 years and it is said that around £100,000 a year passed through his bank. Smuggling was a lucrative affair and Polperro became relatively wealthy because of it.

When Zephaniah died in January 1822 most of his paperwork, ledgers and account books were burnt to destroy any incriminating evidence of his life as the Smuggler’s Banker. Today his grave can been seen not far from the door of Lansallos Church.

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