English bandits caught smuggling
gin from the citadelle to England!
No Arrests Made — Thieves Pardoned.
Dunkirk, France. April 10th, 1785
The English feigned surprise today when it was reported that a ship full of English smugglers were apprehended outside the Citadelle in Dunkirk. It was found that their ship contained many casks of genever from the Citadelle distillery that were destined for England. In normal circumstances, these marauding thieves would have all been arrested and thrown into the stockade. But we have come to learn that these were no ordinary thieves. These were thieves with permission to smuggle!
This paragraph could have been the beginning of a news story back in 1785 in the small fort city of Dunkirk, when smuggling was almost a completely legitimate and legal activity. At the time, it seemed that the English preferred the taste of French genever over that of the genever from the Netherlands and Sweden. It was documented that great quantities of genever from the Citadelle distillery had regularly been transported by smugglers aboard ships from 1785 through about 1810. At the time, it was estimated that the amount of genever smuggled from France to England was valued at approximately 300,000 écu – the écu being the currency of that time. To put this into perspective, that is about $9,000,000 today!
We have unearthed documents detailing exactly how smugglers would have been allowed to operate ‘legally’ in this arena. It was no secret that France and England were not friendly to one another in the 18th century and it might even be said that the French would do anything they could to impact the English economy. If that meant allowing their French genever to be ‘smuggled’ into England to cripple their own English gin market then c’est la vie! And allons-y!
The rules were rather simple to follow. ‘Smuggling’ ships were allowed into Dunkirk’s harbor and allowed to dock for the purpose of collecting gin to transport to England if:
- The ‘smugglers’ carried no guns or personal weapons
- Only ships with 15 men or less are allowed in the port
- Only the ship’s captain and first mate could come around and could only stay at one pre-approved hotel, under approval of the Dunkirk chief
- The ship’s captain and first mate could never go out alone, they could only travel together
- They had to carry a letter from their government guaranteeing financial compensation to the tune of 20,000 écu per ship (or $600,000 today) to Dunkirk if any of the smugglers caused problems
This ‘gentlemen’s smugglers’ agreement continued for more than 30 years, from about 1785 until about 1810, under the happy eye and full permission of the French King. In this time, Citadelle distillery owner Carpeau and Stival became wealthy men who produced a superior genever that was in great demand in their homeland AND in England. It would not be inaccurate to say that Citadelle’s success in England was due to the smugglers of the 18th century. And today’s Citadelle Gin, made by Alexandre Gabriel at Maison Ferrand also owes success to England – it is our third largest export market after Spain and the U.S. Perhaps it’s not too crazy an idea to raise a toast of Citadelle to smugglers and thieves.