Uncovering a legend: Isaac Gulliver

Uncovering a legend: Isaac Gulliver

28 February 2018

Who knew that local history could be fun? Well, I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t. That is until I decided to tackle a nugget of Dorset history for a radio documentary I recently produced, as part of my Public History MA. The task was to create a half-hour history programme from scratch on, well, absolutely anything. (Intimidating is an understatement!)

Perhaps I was homesick because, even with a whole world of options, I honed in on my home town of Wimborne Minister, Dorset and one of its most infamous residents: Isaac Gulliver, Smuggler King! I’d recently learnt about this character and was immediately hooked. Born in 1745, he started out as a common smuggler, but built himself up to rule over an epic smuggling empire and eventually became an extremely wealthy businessman!

In one document officials describe him as “one of the greatest and most notorious smugglers in the west of England”. Considering how rife smuggling was in the 18th and 19th centuries that’s a pretty big claim!

I tend to avoid more straight-laced histories about British white men, (they’ve had enough coverage as it is!), but who doesn’t love a bit of smuggling history? Plus, throughout my research I discovered new dimensions to (and great legends about) Gulliver that makes him a really mysterious character. It’s frustrating, really!

The documentary includes stories of assassination plots, faked deaths, mysterious disappearances, smuggling churches, violent warfare and secret rooms. But what I also love about smuggling history is the fact that so much of what we understand today has actually been influenced by the books we read as kids and the TV shows we watch (Poldark anyone?).

Anyway, grab a cup of tea (or brandy if you’re feeling smuggler-y), settle in and take a listen. Please do let me know what you think – either in the comments or the contacts page.

Oh, and be kind!

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