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In the late 19th century the inhabitants of Tarn, a Cornish seacoast village, are terrorized by a gang of thugs who lure ships onto the rocks to be wrecked and loot them. Chris, the son of local magistrate Squire Trevenyan, discovers that Black John, a notorious rogue, is the gang's leader, but the squire is convinced that the wrecking is being done by some village fishermen who make a living by smuggling, and he sentences them to be deported. Chris is in love with Louise, the daughter of merchant François Lejeune, a French exile. Chris kills one of the gang and is sent to London. Louise summons Chris to return home, but on the way he is kidnaped and held hostage by "The Captain," a highwayman and ally of the villagers. Chris wins his abductor's friendship, and together they vow to defeat Black John and his gang. Up to this point, Squire Trevenyan has been helpless against Black John because the thug knows something damaging about the squire's past, but he finally confesses to his daughter Jenny and sends for the military. The squire and Black John are killed in the ensuing battle, but the gang is rounded up, and the sentenced villagers are returned home. Chris marries Louise and becomes the new squire; and "The Captain" is given a headstart to escape.