Chapter Reading & Synopsis: The Camborne Riots of 1873

For those wanting to read and hear more…

Reading time: 5 minutes; listening time: 9 minutes

The Man Engine, Dolcoath Mine, by J.C. Burrow, 1890s. Source: Kresen Kernow, ref. AD460/1/1

Okay, first off, I’m going to give you the synopsis, or brief outline, of my novel. It’s what I’ve been hawking around various publishers these past few months! Enjoy!

The police force in Camborne are hated, a bunch of stave-wielding authoritarians managed by a cowardly, non-Cornish despot. They imprison and allegedly abuse innocent women, cheat at cricket, and believe themselves lord and master of all they survey. The people of Camborne, and the town’s miners in particular, have had a gutsful. 

One Saturday night, two policemen bite off more than they can chew with the Bawden brothers. Result? They get a hammering, the Bawdens get arrested later that night (after beating off five more officers), and their trial for assault is set for Tuesday. But not if their mine boss, Captain Josiah Thomas (manager of Cornwall’s largest mine), can rig the hearing. He enlists the help of a cocky young pitboy, a compromised philanderer, a hideously injured mine boss, hellfire Methodists and various thugs, and also gets most of Camborne’s population to take to the streets in a show of mass support for the brothers.

But, on Tuesday, it goes badly wrong. The brothers get sent down, and the miners, in the main, take a terrible revenge on those they hold responsible. The forces of law and order are routed in a bloody streetfight. Camborne is subjected to mob rule, and no policeman, or anyone suspected of sympathy towards the police, is safe from the fury of the crowd. Order is only restored when the militia enters the town, and the situation is serious enough for the Home Secretary to get involved. The superintendent is replaced, and the Camborne force is either dismissed or moved to different boroughs. Notwithstanding the fate of the Bawdens, the miners are triumphant. The only figure of authority to emerge with any credit is a local magistrate (and grandson of the safety-fuse inventor), William Bickford-Smith, and even he is powerless.

But then the manhunt for the riot’s ringleaders hots up. The powers that be swear in Special Constables (ironically, key rioters themselves), who are forced to identify suspects whilst, with the silent collaboration of Camborne’s populace, conceal their own involvement. Three men are brought to trial, but there are no convictions, no sentencing: one was a patsy, a simpleton set up by the Specials, and the other two provide witnesses who perjure themselves in order to get their compatriots off. It helps that the counsel for the defence is a smooth-talking crook. In a raucous, dramatic hearing, the authorities are made a fool of. Bickford-Smith is embarrassed. No one, until now, knows who the real rioters were, who commanded them, or what really happened. This, finally, is the true story…

The narrator, in broad Cornish dialect, is Ned, a fictionalised version of my great-grandfather, who was a teenager at the time. (I present myself as merely the posthumous editor of his tale, which was given to me by a relative – I elaborate on this in my introduction.) He claims to have been present at every significant point of the riot: its origins, main flashpoints, and aftermath. His version provides a coarse and ribald counterpoint to the newspaper coverage of the tumult; said coverage actually provided me with the main inspiration for the story. My novella also includes extensive explanatory notes and biographical details, a glossary of the more arcane Cornish phraseology, and appendices.

Sample, Chapter 23: James Bryant is arrested

In this chapter Ned narrates how he and Joseph Vivian go underground at Dolcoath Mine to arrest James Bryant, who’s been identified as a suspected rioter. It’s Ned’s first time underground and he’s understandably nervous. The Man Engine, or “Captain’s Rod” Ned describes is meant to resemble the one seen in the photograph above, which operated at Dolcoath for fifty years before being replaced in the late 1890s.

James Bryant was actually arrested by Special Constables whilst working underground on 230 fathom at Dolcoath (he was later acquitted for lack of evidence). The reasons behind his arrest were unclear in the contemporary newspaper reports – here I present him as a simple stooge set up by the actual rioters to pacify the authorities and hopefully call off the manhunt. Who arrested Bryant at the mine is also unclear (the ‘papers just say “Special Constables”); in my version I have Ned, and Joseph Vivian make the pinch. Vivian was genuinely made a Constable in the riot’s aftermath, though clearly with much reluctance. In my tale he was actually a key rioter too.

The recording contains some “robust” language. Don’t say you weren’t warned. Happy listening!

Sample, Chapter 23, The Camborne Riots of 1873: An Eyewitness Account

Like to hear more? Contact me to discuss!

Many thanks

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