Cruel Coppinger, rapist, wrecker and robber…
December 15, 2016
Daniel Coppinger was an eighteenth-century smuggler, boys and girls. Not a very nice man. Cruel Coppinger, the locals called him, a Dane whose ship was wrecked on the north Cornish coast during a bad storm. The coast was lined with wreckers who had gone out to lure any ships in distress onto the rocks. All they got was Coppinger, which was perhaps even worse than they deserved.
A giant of a man, they saw him by lightning-flashes at the wheel of his ship, cursing his crew, until the vessel struck and sank, when he hurled himself into the sea. When he came out of the maelstrom, he snatched a cloak from an old woman, jumped up on a horse behind a young girl called Dinah Hamlyn and galloped to her home.
Coppinger made it his home as well. Farmer Hamlyn took a liking to him, and his daughter fell in love with him. They married, the farmer suddenly died, and Coppinger spent his wife’s inheritance on wild living and whores. The money gone he started a smuggling gang. His headquarters was at Steeple Brink, a precipitous cliff with a cave at its foot that could be reached by sea. He had a short way of dealing with revenue men, cutting their throats or disembowelling them before dumping them in the sea. He was a superb navigator, and one time led a revenue cutter into a death-trap channel that he knew and they did not; it struck the rocks and sank with all hands.
Cruel Coppinger terrorised the district. He was heard to boast ‘I rapes real good when I’ve a mind’; a boast he carried out with sickening frequency. He threatened to kill anyone outside his gang who used the cave or public paths leading to Steeple Brink. When the local parson demanded tithe-money, the huge Dane flayed him with a double-throng whip. He threatened the same treatment to his wife when her mother refused to tell him where she kept her money; Mrs Hamlyn gave in when she saw her Dinah tied naked to a bed-post and Coppinger with his sea-cat out. The people used to sing:
Will you hear of the cruel Coppinger?
He came from a foreign kind;
He was brought to us by salt water,
He’ll be carried away by the wind.
And so he was, on the stormiest night since his arrival. The wreckers were out as usual, and the last they saw of him, in a lightning-flash, was as they’d first seen him, holding the wheel and cursing his crew…