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Annan The History Town

Enlivening Annan's past to create a brighter future for the town...

Robert Burns Exciseman and the Armed Smugglers

Robert Burns was a regular visitor to Annan as it was on his tour of duty as an exciseman along the Solway shore. He regularly stayed with Provost Williamson whose residence was located just off Annan High Street where the Café Royal is presently situated. It was here in 1792 that he wrote the Deil’s Awa wi the Exciseman, one of his best known songs.

It was also in 1792 that Robert Burns was involved in a dangerously dramatic incident just along the coast from Annan at Sarkfoot. Smuggling was common and a schooner, the Brig Rosamund, was spotted with a large cargo of contraband. Burns led one of the three contingents of armed dragoons (44 men in total) . They searched for a boat to approach the Rosamond, but the uncooperative local population had rendered all the watercraft inoperable.

Walter Crawford , exciseman from Dumfries, takes up the story:
‘We drew up the Military in three divisions, determined to approach and attack, one part fore and aft, and the third on her broadside, the first party being commanded by Quarter Master Manly, the second by my self, and the third by Mr Burns.

‘Our orders to the Military were to reserve their fire till within eight yards of the vessel, then to pour a volley and board her with sword and pistol. The vessel kept on firing, tho without any damage to us, as from the situation of the ship, they could not bring their great guns to bear on us, we, in the mean time, wading breast high, and in justice to the party under my command I must say with great alacrity; by the time we were within one hundred yards of the vessel, the crew gave up the cause, got over the side towards England, which shore was for a long, long way dry sand. We marched up but found the vessel completely evacuated both of crew and every moveable on board, the smugglers as their last instance of vengeance having poured a six-pounder Carronade through her broadside.”
It was reputed that Robert Burns purchased the heavy guns on board for £4 and sent them to France to aid the Jacobins, but , although from a good source , there is no documentary proof that he bought the four carronades.