Cornwall Writer

Reading time: 10 minutes

A few months back I wangled a platform on the Cornwall Writers website, a “community of writers living in or inspired by Cornwall”. At the time I was looking for ways of promoting myself and, as this site is mainly for up-and-coming authors and writers I thought it would be a good thing for yours truly to be present there too. Check out the homepage, and you can see me, nestled in beside Winston Graham and Rosamund Pilcher, desperately hoping some of their fame and talent will rub off on me.

Of course, neither Graham nor Pilcher sought permission or had to fling themselves through several metaphorical hoops to warrant inclusion on the site. Indeed we’ll never know what they think of their inclusion; the site’s owner has arbitrarily entered their details in the hope of lending the whole affair some status and authenticity. That’s what I think anyway.

I include here some of my more important and relevant responses to the site’s “Author Interview“. The rather more twee questions I haven’t bothered with here and, at the time, only answered them under duress. For any of you looking for my motivations as a writer, especially of fiction, read on.

One deceptively simple lesson I learnt from the Cornwall Writers website is this: build your own website. Then it’s yours, and yours alone.

HHhH, by Laurent Binet. Recommended.

What are your favourite books?

My favourite novel at the moment is “HHhH” by Laurent Binet, about the assassination of the Nazi SS Chief Heydrich by Czech agents of the SOE in 1942. It’s a fascinating and ultimately harrowing tale, but it’s the questions Binet raises about the process of actually writing historical fiction that I find thought-provoking. Binet’s argument is that, to attempt to fictionally reconstruct an historical event (eg. to invent characters, dialogue, thoughts etc) is a pointless exercise that waters down the impact that particular event might have had. Throughout his book he constantly criticises other novels about Heydrich’s death to make his point. As a writer of historical fiction myself, Binet’s criticism of his own genre made me analyse what I was constructing with my own story about the Camborne Riots: should I invent characters? How can I empathise with people who lived nearly 150 years ago? Why not just write the actual facts, as Binet did with Heydrich? Binet, though, has an advantage over me. In writing about the assassination of Heydrich, all the principle characters in his story are well known and documented. In writing about the Camborne Riots, no names or identities of the most important protagonists – the rioters themselves – have come to light. So what else could I do but make some up? Just because none were ever caught, does that mean they shouldn’t be written about in some small way? Writing a story about the Camborne Riots of 1873 without the rioters would be like writing the story of Heydrich’s death without…without, well, Heydrich himself!

Another recent top read of mine is “Gallows Pole” by Benjamin Myers. This is another historical novel, telling the tale of the Cragg Vale Coiners, a ruthless band of 18th century counterfeiters from the Yorkshire Dales. Like my novel, Myers only had the bare newspaper articles and a few stray documents on which to hang his tale, and although some of the language is overwrought with gravitas, he’s managed to create an entirely plausible world in which the story takes place. Myers, of course, lives in Cragg Vale and is intimate with the area and its surrounds. Coming from Camborne and knowing something of the character and culture of the town put me at an advantage when coming to write a story so unique to the area. I could visualise the events so clearly when reading the articles on the riots because, quite simply, I’d grown up on the same streets as which they’d taken place.

Gallows Pole, by Benjamin Myers. Recommended.

What’s your favourite genre?

My favourite genre is obviously historical fiction, but that’s not to say I have issues with the form. A publisher rejected my manuscript on the grounds that my novel lacked a big historical character – in other words, it lacked a selling point. So, police brutality, mob vengeance, street violence and wanton vandalism aren’t good selling points?! I considered writing WG Grace into the cricket match that opens my story, or having Prime Minister Gladstone take the train to Camborne to view the devastation for himself, but then realised that this was an utterly fatuous exercise. A good story should stand alone, and not be propped up by cheap effects. Granted, it seems any novel featuring Hitler (or one of Henry VIII’s wives, say) will be successful, but so should stories that feature the forgotten, the maligned, and the exploited – like the Cragg Vale Coiners. Or the Camborne rioters. Especially a story about how the forgotten, maligned and exploited people get one over on their oppressors – like my novel! Just because an historical novel features a luminary from the past – “Champion”, by Stephen Deutsch, includes the German boxer Max Schmeling, for example – doesn’t necessarily make it a great read.

Staying in with Stephen Deutsch | Linda's Book Bag
Champion, by Stephen Deutsch. Not recommended.

Why do you write?

Generally, I’ve always enjoyed writing, I’ve often been told I’m rather good at it. My job isn’t especially stimulating intellectually and I find writing a decent way of keeping myself fresh. More specifically, I wrote this story about the Camborne Riots of 1873 because I’ve come to believe that representations of Cornwall in the media as a tourist hot-spot marginalise areas of the county that lack traditional tourist attractions. Camborne, with few jobs, no coastline, and no sandy beach, is one of these places. If I couldn’t promote Camborne as a tourist attraction, why not promote the town for what it was once famous for, its mines? I suppose you might argue that my novel promotes Camborne as an anti-tourist attraction, but I believe Cornwall’s mining heritage is as important and as relevant as the tourism industry that props the county’s economy up today.

What inspired your story?

When growing up in Camborne, the last few mines were closing, my dad got made redundant from Compair Holmans (the manufacturer of mining equipment), and my grandad retired from working underground too. Camborne in the 1980s, it seemed to me, was closing down. I was drunk in Camborne’s Red Jackets pub (more than once) back in the 1990s and recall seeing a faux-Victorian newspaper print briefly commemorating the story of the riots tacked to one of the walls. Years later, I found a short online article about the tumult which got my interest going, and I got hold of all the contemporary newspaper articles on the subject. It was fascinating. Brawlers, boozers, corrupt policemen, imprisoned women, Methodist preachers, miners, brutal punch-ups…Camborne, at its boomtown peak, suddenly reappeared. This was Camborne, before it had closed down. It was as if, back in 1873, someone had drafted a story for me to write in the future. Why not, I said to myself, write a story about Camborne as it was, a rich, prosperous, almost lawless town, before the mines closed and tourism came along? The newspapers largely told the story from the perspective of the authorities: the rioters’ activities were generally condemned. Why not write the story from the point of view of the rioters, their lives, their concerns, their motivations? In the end I did two things. I wrote a novel, supposedly the “true” account of the riots, narrated by one of the rioters who also happened to be my great-grandfather. I also launched a website (https://camborneriot1873.com/), which is the historical side to my novel and features most of my research into the subject and analysis of the primary sources. The novel takes the suggestion of complicity, between the townspeople and rioters against the police, that was hinted at in the newspapers, and reveals that, in fact, a plot existed in the town to rid Camborne of the policemen once and for all. For a few short days, the rioters were victorious. And the entire town was involved in hiding the perpetrators’ identities.

What do you find inspiring about Cornwall?

Its history. And here I’m not talking about the various Celtic crosses, Iron Age settlements, dolmens etc, but the other relics of Cornwall’s past: the ruined engine houses, the wastelands where housing estates can’t be built on account of being too undermined, the commemorative buildings of mine dignitaries that are now blocks of flats. So you could say that the Cornish landscape inspires me: the landscape of a dead industry. Another relic that interests me is the Cornish language, and how various words have passed into common usage, even if those who use them fail to recognise them as “Cornish”. All these inspirations find their way into my novel. Cornish culture, or aspects of it, inspire me as well. The importance of sport, especially cricket and rugby, and the local rivalries they give lend to, finds its way into my story: the opening chapter features a cricket match. Cornish insularity and the Cornish people’s traditional mistrust of outsiders is also present in my writing. It’s not insignificant that Camborne’s police chief in 1873 was from the Isle of Wight – you might say that was a mark against him from the start!

Tregenna House, Camborne. Once home to Josiah Thomas, Manager of Dolcoath, the deepest and biggest mine in Britain. Now an old people’s home. Courtesy of Kresen Kernow, ref. corn05093

How do you think Cornwall has shaped your writing?

“The Camborne Riots of 1873” is a grim tale. I’ve been told as much. Yes, it’s earthy, yes, it’s funny, but there’s no getting away from the fact that this is a coarse, grimy, violent slice of life from Victorian England’s underbelly. Did I mean it to be like this? Should I have written a Cornish novel with rugged heroes, windswept heaths and swooning maidens? No, I couldn’t. The Cornwall, the Camborne, that I grew up in, back in the 1980s, could be a grim, grimy place. I suppose it boils down to the old saw: write about what you know. I knew foul language, heavy drinkers, and streetfights, so it followed that this was what I would write about. Camborne’s riots were the perfect inspiration for me to write a novel – it’s the Cornwall I know.

What do you think influenced this story?

In terms of the phonetic dialect which I use throughout, Irvine Welsh and Roddy Doyle. I’ve been told that my use of dialect can challenge the reader (much like Welsh and Doyle) but, after a chapter or so, your reading mind adjusts. The series of Flashman novels proved heavily influential too: a fictional character is inserted into real-life events, and provides the reader with his own, often caustic, observations on these events. But, whereas Flashman was (apart from a shameless cad) a supposedly educated, well-to-do Victorian celebrity, my narrator is an illiterate teenager. George MacDonald Fraser’s level of historical research for his Flashman books have always impressed me and I sought to emulate his eye for authenticity in my own work.


If you would like to discover more about my novel, see my recent post, or contact me!

Many thanks

Works in Progress, May 2022

Derry, 1913. Nationalists preparing to burn an effigy of Sir Edward Carson. Courtesy of Chris McKnight, Facebook

Dear All…

I realise it’s been some time since my last post on Paul Rabey the Younger, and no new articles as yet! I can only apologise; the demands of a full-time job and a family means I always research and write my work whenever I have a spare moment. But never fear, new and interesting items for you to read will be appearing soon…

A Cornish Wife Sale

In fact, you can now read one of my articles in its entirety in the 2022 Journal of the Cornwall Association of Local Historians. Copies are available from Kresen Kernow and the Courtney Library, Truro Museum, or can be ordered from crown.house@polperropress.co.uk. The grim and harrowing tale of the events and lives surrounding a wife sale that happened at Redruth Market in 1819 are given a sensitive case-study!

It’s my first appearance in print, and I’m rather proud of myself!

Effigy Burning

A new article has also been submitted to Cornish Story Online. This examines the phenomenon of effigy burning in 1800s Cornwall. People who enjoyed extra-marital sex, or were abusive toward their spouses, or happened to be unpopular authority figures and employers, could all expect to have their effigy paraded through the streets of their town by an angry mob playing cacophonous music. The effigy would then normally be fired over a barrel of tar.

Effigy burning was a frequent feature of Cornish life in the 1800s, and firings occurred from Treen, in the far west, all the way up to Callington and Launceston. The authorities were often powerless to stop these demonstrations. My article examines the motivations behind effigy burnings, and addresses the reasons why burnings increased in frequency as the century wore on. I also provide plenty of juicy examples!

When this post goes live, I will share it with you all!

Rugby Special

Members of Camborne RFC, 1978

My current, and rather demanding, project is a departure from my normal areas. Camborne RFC‘s 1977-78 Centenary Season was a particularly successful and memorable one: the “Chiefs”, or 1st XV, won the double of the Cornwall Merit Table and the Cornwall Knockout Cup. They played over fifty matches, and took on the might of such teams as Saracens, Cardiff, Gloucester, and Pontypridd. The season paved the way for a golden period of rugby success, and the team remains highly rated to this day.

I am tracking down the former players, clubmen, barmen, fans, ballboys and opposition to tell, in their own words, the story of the 1977-78 season.

This is still in the research stage and is, trust me, my most ambitious project to date! But I have a feeling it’s going to be a very popular and satisfying one.

So, I hope this is plenty for you all to look forward to!

Thanks, as always, for reading and enjoying. Watch this space…


Paul Rabey and The Foreign Girls’ Protection Society: They Died With Their Shoes On, Part Five

Reading time: 20-25 minutes

Harriet Refuses to Listen to the Procuress, G. Stiff, 18461

A Commission on the Sale of Flesh and Blood2

In June 1868, a solitary teenage girl sailing from Antwerp to London was found onboard with a letter directing her to Number 22, Somerset Street, Portman Square, London. The address in question was that of a well-known, ‘quality’ brothel, filled with a large number of young “foreign ladies”. This particular joyhouse was run by a Madame Durant, who enjoyed a profitable arrangement with procurers of young prostitutes across the Channel. Madame Durant took great offence when the hapless Belgian teenager was intercepted by the authorities, and conveyed to Mansion House, which at the time was the seat of the Mayor of London, before being sent back to Antwerp. Madame Durant went to Mansion House in person, threatening legal proceedings, and demanded the release of the girl, whom she took to be her property. Durant’s concerns were, of course, purely fiscal. The non-delivery of her Belgian girl meant she “would sustain a very serious loss”.

Mansion House, London. EC4

Shamefully, this expose into the Victorian traffic in human flesh did not result in multiple arrests, the foreign girls being released from their enslavement, or the closing of the brothel. Ironically, proceedings against the Somerset Street vice-ring was refused on the grounds of cost: £100 was a price the Marylebone Borough could ill-afford to initiate the action. Instead, a letter was written to 22 Somerset Street, requesting that they “abate the nuisance”. I’m sure the missive was very successful.

The import and export of girls for the purposes of prostitution is one of the more unsavoury aspects of Victorian society, and was unfortunately more rife than was once thought. For example, Mary Kelly, believed to be the final victim of Jack the Ripper, is thought to have spent some part of the 1880s in France, as a prostitute, held against her will3.

The ambivalence of the authorities to this practice was sometimes reflected in the media, which expressed outrage that such dens of iniquity might “ruin a fashionable street”4, implying, of course, that running brothels and kidnapping girls for the purposes of vice was acceptable in less well-to-do districts. However, many of the public also felt that “unprotected” girls faced “social degradation” from traffickers utterly lacking in “virtue and morality”5.

Some members of the public actively campaigned to heighten social awareness of, and stamp out the practice of, the activities outlined above.

The Foreign Girls’ Protection Society

Temperance Movement poster, 1800s6

The Victorian age was the great era of philanthropic societies, each with their own particular agenda. By 1869 there were over 200 such organisations in London alone, it being a middle-class trend to be seen to be helping the less-fortunate. There were countless temperance societies, a Labourers’ Friend Society, and the brilliantly named Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association7. Every group sought to improve an aspect of society its members believed to be in some way inadequate, unhealthy, or immoral.

The Foreign Girls’ Protection Society was just such a body. Claiming to have been in existence for over a decade, it was charitably run out of a house in Brompton as a haven for any unfortunate continental young lady rescued from a life of sexual exploitation. The events centred around Somerset Street’s house of ill-fame prompted the Society’s secretary, Henry Bedwell, to publish the following plea:

London Evening Standard, June 29, 1868, p1

Bedwell served a committee comprising the following gentlemen: Major Thomas Ross, of Kilravock House, Norwood; William Hicks, Solicitor, of 18a Orchard Street, Portman Square; Henry Weston, of the same address; J. L. O’Doherty, an ecclesiastical agent living on the notorious Somerset Street; John Woolams, of Cavendish Square; a Mr Mills, of New Broad Street; John Davies and Henry Wills, a mining secretary, both of New Broad Street; and Mr Barber, of Baker Street, Portman Square. The girls themselves were cared for by a “Superioress”, Eliza Evans8.

If this series of posts has taught us one thing, it might be this: never take a Victorian gentleman’s good intentions at face-value. The Foreign Girls’ Protection Society was a fraudulent sham.

There is no reference to it before June 1868; the claims to its being in existence for ten years is totally spurious. The society’s name and supposed worthy intent was used to extort various goods and services from several London businesses and tradespeople. Bedwell, ostensibly the secretary, had in fact “carried on a system of swindling”9 for over two years previously. Now, under the guise of an active member of an honourable society, he procured for himself a horse and brougham, and a set of brushes for the girls – there were never any girls, and Bedwell simply pawned the brushes. He also tried to procure goods from the Blind Institution of Oxford Street, again to be pawned for ready cash10.

Thankfully, Bedwell was caught before he could milk his con any further. In court, it was proven that both Hicks and Weston had never lived at the Orchard Street address. Eliza Evans, the erstwhile ‘Superioress’, was in fact merely Bedwell’s servant. Nearly all the gentlemen on the Society’s ‘committee’ “emphatically” denied having any connection whatsoever with Bedwell, or to his Society, in “any way”11.

Indeed, Messrs Woolams, Mills, and Davies all came forward at Bedwell’s trial to denounce him and his use of their good names. Major Ross put a notice in The Times to the same effect12. Henry Weston might have done the same, but he was already dead at the time of Bedwell’s trial, and Bedwell took this opportunity to implicate Weston in his scam13.

Bedwell was sentenced to five years14.

The Fall Guy?

Although the mining secretary Henry Wills stated that he knew Henry Weston15, it was never made clear at Bedwell’s trial that the other gentlemen knew each other, as much as they all claimed to have never known Henry Bedwell. Was Bedwell acting on his own, and merely drew up a list of respectable names to lend his scheme some front? Or were all the members of The Foreign Girls’ Protection Society on the take, and callously let Bedwell take the fall, which was easy enough, given his reputation as a rogue? The authorities believed the former version of events, but, perhaps, given the close proximity of their addresses, these men were in some way connected.

In fact, there is a link between some of the reluctant members of The Foreign Girls’ Protection Society: Major Thomas Ross, William Hicks, Henry Weston and John Davies. They all knew each other before the advent of The Foreign Girls’ Protection Society, at least by April 1868.

We can prove this because they all knew, or were aware of the activities of, another man.

And that man, was Paul Rabey, the Younger.

The Kilravock House Con

Kilravock House, Ross Road, SE25. Nowadays divided into flats, it’s thought to be the inspiration for Pondicherry Lodge in Arthur Conan-Doyle’s The Sign of Four16

Major Thomas Ross, of Kilravock House, Norwood, had, states his biographer, been

…in business since he was a young man, and had dealt successfully in the ownership and management of property.

Eric Kings, Major Thomas Ross of Kilravock House: His Life and Times, 2006, p57

Now in his seventies, and it being known in London’s polite society that he was keen to invest in mining stock, Ross allowed himself to be taken in by Rabey, who was by now residing at Tavistock Square, Bloomsbury17.

Tavistock Square. Later the address of Virginia Woolf18

Ross, believing the Cornishman “to be a gentleman”19, befriended Mr and Mrs Rabey20, often having them call at his home. On one of these visits, Rabey told Ross that he was the owner, or very shortly to become the owner, of the Wheal Emily Silver Mine, near Callington21. All he needed to secure the lease was a loan of £100, which Ross, somewhat obligingly, handed over. Rabey also convinced Ross to buy a number of shares in Wheal Emily; the mine was, Rabey said,

…such a good thing.

Royal Cornwall Gazette, May 13, 1868, p6

On the morning of April 1st, 1868, Rabey visited Ross, tapped the breast-pocket of his coat and told Ross that

…my mind is easy now, as I have got the lease here all right.

Royal Cornwall Gazette, May 14, 1868, p6

Rabey, banking on Ross and a female friend who was present, Ann Lloyd, to implicitly trust a gentleman, then brazenly offered to show them his lease for Wheal Emily. They declined. His word was enough.

Rabey, of course, never owned Wheal Emily, and there was no lease in his pocket. But this didn’t stop him from selling Ross 150 shares in the mine for £337, and then a further 2,000 shares at £1 each. Rabey also prised £75 worth of shares out of Ann Lloyd22. Today, that’s a total of over £290,000.

Ross might have been old, but he still had teeth, and made inquiries about Wheal Emily in the City. It must have caused him some consternation to discover that the mine was owned by a Mr Langford, who had in fact granted no lease to Rabey, or anybody else.

Ross’s digging told him that, originally, John Davies had filed a suit in Chancery to obtain the lease of Wheal Emily from Langford. Henry Weston had filed the suit for Davies, and received 40 shares at £1 each in the mine as payment. Weston had then sold these shares on, but had to take them back and return the money once it was discovered that, whoever had originally given him the shares had no authority to do so. Weston complied, and was left out of pocket23.

Ross, Davies, Weston: three members of The Foreign Girls’ Protection Society.

Was Rabey’s bill, or suit, for Wheal Emily, the same one Davies had filed via Weston? Had Rabey somehow got Davies to file the suit on his behalf? Was Rabey not only playing Ross, but Davies and Weston also? The fact that Weston was paid for his efforts with worthless shares rather suggests it.

Maybe, maybe not. But Thomas Ross still had enough business sense to realise he was being ripped off.

Trouble Brewing

Shortly after Rabey’s visit to Ross and Ann Lloyd, the following notice could be read in the ‘papers:

London Evening Standard, April 8, 1868, p1

The Thomas Evans mentioned here was Rabey’s brother-in-law, who authorised the sale of the shares on Rabey’s behalf – needless to say, he lacked the authority to do so24. In the same way that, as in Bristol, J. K. Thomas was Rabey’s front man, so Evans was here25.

However, the solicitor whose name appended this notice was William Hicks, of Orchard Street, Portman Square. The same William Hicks implicated, along with Ross, Davies, and Weston, in The Foreign Girls’ Protection Society scandal. The same William Hicks whose clerk was, in fact, Henry Weston26. The same William Hicks who, when the story about The Foreign Girls’ Protection Society broke, was not present at Orchard Street, Portman Square. Nor, for that matter, was Weston27. The notice regarding Rabey, however, proves that Orchard Street was Hicks’ normal place of business.

Perhaps, in this instance, Rabey was attempting to punch above his weight. In the same way that the association with The Foreign Girls’ Protection Society was not to stick to Ross, Hicks, Weston or Davies, these men also washed their hands of Paul Rabey the Younger. It seemed that way to the media:

Taunton Courier, May 13, 1868, p7

They Died With Their Shoes On

As Paul Rabey and, a few weeks later, Henry Bedwell discovered, it didn’t pay to cross Messrs. Ross, Hicks, Weston and Davies.

Events happened fast. There was to be no delaying of the trial by claiming illness, counter-charges, or last-minute back-handers to the plaintiffs28. On May 6, 1868, at the Surrey Sessions, Paul Rabey the Younger was sentenced to five years for defrauding Thomas Ross. His previous conviction at York in 1861 counted against him, as did his “questionable” dealings in Bristol29.

He was held at the Woking Male Invalid Convict Prison, and appears there on the 1871 census.

Wokingham Prison30

A previous inmate had been William Strahan, another white-collar criminal who had embezzled his clients’ funds in the 1850s31. Even behind bars, Rabey shamelessly hounded Ross’s estate, with he and his wife issuing suits to recover the money he claimed he was still owed for the spurious Wheal Emily shares32.

Rabey had also vowed revenge.

On his conviction, he is supposed to have bitterly cried out,

They will die in their shoes!

qtd in Cornubian and Redruth Times, October 16, 1868, p4

It was an unfortunate characteristic of Rabey that, when he vowed to take a man down, he pursued his quarry with a certain ruthlessness. Witness the experiences of William Harvey and William Brunt33.

This facet of Rabey’s personality was recognised by a malicious letter-writer to a Cornish newspaper:

It is a remarkable fact that the chief instigator of the proceedings against Mr Rabey was three months afterwards found dead in Plymouth under awful circumstances, and another person concerned died suddenly at his dinner table a few days ago.

“One who was present at the trial”, Cornubian and Redruth Times, October 16, 1868, p2

Henry Weston, at the time of The Foreign Girls’ Protection Society scandal, was

…found dead in a water-closet at Plymouth.

London Morning Herald, August 10, 1868, p234

Major Thomas Ross was also dead by September 186835. His biographer doesn’t state whether he died whilst eating dinner. Indeed, whilst a whole chapter is dedicated to Ross’s involvement with Rabey, the matter of The Foreign Girls’ Protection Society is accorded a brief paragraph36. We can now see that Ross had rather more involvement with other ‘members’ of the Society than he was perhaps given credit for.

It’s also unknown whether either Ross or Weston died with their shoes on, and whether Rabey’s alleged outburst as he was sent down turned out to be a horrible coincidence, or something much darker.

Others believed Rabey to have been “ruined” by The Foreign Girls’ Protection Society. In the same way that Henry Bedwell had been forsaken by the other members of the Society, so it was argued that “poor” Rabey had been made a “pack horse” to “hide their dishonest acts”37. Which, when you consider his career, is rather ironic.

No one listened to these claims that Rabey had been the “victim of foul play”38. He was the victim of his own greed. No proof of foul play has ever been uncovered in the deaths of Weston and Ross, and the reputations of Ross, Weston, Hicks and Davies survived 1868 unblemished.

Paul Rabey the Younger was to die in Woking Prison in June, 1872. He was 5439. Again, it’s also unknown if he actually died with his shoes on.

Many thanks for reading


Paul Rabey and the Bristol Con: They Died With Their Shoes On, Part Four

Reading time: 20-25 minutes

‘G for Gentleman’, engraving by William Nicholson (1872-1949), 1898


Perry’s Bankrupt Gazette, June 30, 1866, p6

Paul Rabey the Younger was now bankrupt. Again. Under the bankruptcy regulations, Rabey couldn’t manage a company, start a company without court consent (which was unlikely), or indeed manage a company under a different, or assumed, name.

But none of this stopped Rabey. The way he probably saw it, he needed the following to be able to operate:

  • Expendable, or start-up, income;
  • Something to sell for a profit;
  • Someone to sell it for him, a front man;
  • Someone with the same name, and, preferably, equally dubious morals;
  • People gullible enough to buy what he had to sell;
  • A new area in which to operate, hopefully beyond the reach of William Harvey1.

Ready cash, and another Paul Rabey?

Redruth Town Council Offices, Penryn Sreet. Formerly Barclays Bank and, in Rabey’s day, Messrs. Williams & Co. Bank2

Rabey the Younger found the answers to the above rather close to home. As we observed in our previous post, Rabey’s father, Paul Rabey the Elder, was retired after a notable, and highly profitable, career in mining. He held an account at Messrs. Williams & Co. Bank in Redruth, and in early 1865 gave his son, Paul Rabey the Younger, permission to draw on this account3. In return, the ever-wily son gave his father what was later described as a “counter-undertaking”4, meaning in this instance that

…the business in the mines was the father’s only and not the son’s.

Bristol Mercury, March 31 1866, p3

Rabey the Younger now had working money. He could also conduct business once more and justifiably claim it was all the work of Paul Rabey – the Elder.

A location, and a front man?

Queen’s Hotel, Queen’s Road, Clifton, Bristol5

By the spring of 1865 Rabey had chosen a new location for his activities. Why he selected Bristol is unknown, but presumably he needed a large, wealthy city in which to conduct business. Bristol in the 1860s was certainly large and wealthy, thanks to its relatively new rail links to London and a port capable of building the biggest steamships in the world. With its massively expanding population and increased opportunities, money must have been flowing in and out of the city6.

It was also a city Rabey had no previous connections with. As we saw in my first post, he operated in many areas over the years7. And I also mean ‘previous’ in a criminal sense: for example, back in 1861 Rabey was sentenced to twelve months in prison, at York. His crime? Fraud8.

Whatever the reasons, Bristol it was to be. Rabey arrived in the city in May 1865, his father’s gelt enabling him to employ a liveried servant, travel about the town in a coach and pair, and, after a brief stay at the Queen’s Hotel, reside in the fashionable areas of Clifton, such as Brighton Park and Rodney Cottages. Paul Rabey the Younger looked the part. Now he needed someone to do his business for him9.

Georgian townhouses, Melrose Place, Bristol

And that someone was John Kempson Thomas (1819-1877), a stockbroker of Melrose Place, Clifton9. A businessman with over ten years’ experience, he was also perhaps not unfamiliar with irregular trading practices10. It’s unclear whether he knew Rabey was a bankrupt who couldn’t legally conduct business, or whether he was indeed ‘in’ on the whole scheme. Thomas was later to state in court that he only became “aware of the fact that Paul Rabey’s father was living” after he began acting on behalf of Rabey the Younger12. If that’s true, he can’t have therefore known the son’s money was in fact his father’s. Thomas also stated to the authorities that he only conducted business at the “order” of Rabey the Younger13. It was all him, Your Honour…Maybe Thomas was a true front man, who asked no uncomfortable questions of his clients, or he was in denial of all knowledge of any sharp practice between himself and Rabey.

Perhaps tellingly, Thomas was later accused himself of selling worthless mining shares to a Bristol businessman. These shares had come into his possession by way of…Paul Rabey, the Younger. Thomas talked his way out of trouble, and was acquitted14.

Something to sell?

Liskey Hill. Now, South Wheal Leisure is around here somewhere..?

If you can find any surviving relics of South Wheal Leisure Mine, on Penwartha Coombe, Perranzabuloe, you’re doing very well. The site of the original Wheal Leisure Mine is now a carpark near Perranporth RFC, but South Wheal Leisure has vanished without trace.

Wheal Leisure Carpark, Perranporth15
Wheal Leisure, c1910. Courtesy of Clive Benney, Memories of Perranporth, Facebook

By 1865, South Wheal Leisure was heavily in debt; indeed, it was

…doing nothing, and not a single ounce of ore had been raised for a considerable period…

Western Daily Press, April 6, 1866, p3

This worthless mine, however, is what Paul Rabey the Younger was to attempt to sell shares in, on the Bristol stockmarket. His cousin, John Rabey, lived in the count-house and cottages above the mine, and moreover owned the land: he could warn any unwelcome visitors off his property. And, if shareholders were to visit, the Rabeys hit on the following ruse:

…certain men were set to work with barrows, and a few hundreds of coal were burnt to set the engine at work; but when the shareholders’ backs were turned, the engine was stopped and the men discharged.

Western Daily Press, April 6, 1866, p3

As one ex-employee put it, the mine “would go quiet till some person came again”16. If, on the odd occasion, a gentleman with an interest in South Wheal Leisure happened to visit and found the mine idle, they were told that, on the day in question, there was a general holiday in the mining districts17. Of course, this was a brazen lie.

If South Wheal Leisure’s status as a profitable, functioning mine is obviously questionable, the other concern which Rabey peddled in Bristol, Bolingey Hill Consols, simply did not exist.

Liskey Hill/Bolingey Road junction

There are no ruins, relics, photographs, nor a location on mindat.org. It was described as little more than a

…piece of land with a hole in it, and a windlass and bucket…worse than valueless.

Hereford Journal, March 31 1866, p7

Valueless or not, these mirages are what Rabey was selling. Soon, advertisements like the one below appeared in Bristol broadsheets:

Bristol Times and Mirror, February 22, 1866, p1

What Rabey the Younger was selling, of course, was the timeless lure of a get-rich-quick scheme. Invest, and ultimately reap the profits. The only person to genuinely get rich quickly, though, was Rabey himself. And to do this, small, anonymous advertisements weren’t nearly enough. Rabey also needed personal charm and considerable powers of persuasion – and he must have had these qualities in spades.

This charisma was put to work on potential investors in his mines. And these men required but two criteria for Rabey: that they be wealthy, and that they know little or nothing about mining.

The Victims

St Augustine’s Parade, Bristol, 1890s18

William H. Brunt, a music-seller on St Augustine’s, regularly received visits from Rabey. Brunt was no stranger to investing in Cornish mines, previously buying shares in Wheals Laxton and Martha. Unfortunately, he wasn’t especially successful in these earlier speculations, yet he allowed himself to be taken in by Rabey, who ordered an harmonium from him, claiming it was for a chapel in Cornwall. (Rabey was never afraid to splash his cash if it would provide dividends.)

When Rabey called on Brunt he was of course conveyed by carriage, and these visits often involved Rabey boasting of his wealth, displaying his healthy billfold, prosing on about his latest expensive trinket, and assuring Brunt all the while that he “was no man of straw”. Rabey told Brunt that he

…should be worth £20,000 or £30,000 at the end of the year.

Western Daily Press, April 6, 1866, p3

£20,000 in 1865 is over £2 million today. Rabey also showed Brunt samples of ore allegedly taken from South Wheal Leisure and waxed lyrical on the value and promise of his mine (Rabey was obviously banking on a Bristol music-dealer having scant knowledge of ‘profitable’ ore). Brunt was hooked, and bought 125 shares in South Wheal Leisure for £532 – that’s £71K today. He then scooped up 500 shares in Bolingey Hill Consols for £200. (These were all shares owned by Rabey’s father.) Rabey the Younger was doing a roaring trade19.

Rabey must have made a similar impression on the following Bristolians: James Bigwood, a merchant20, Mr William Atchley, a solicitor, a Mr Pring, William Chilcott, a bullion merchant, and Mr Hyde21.

All were taken in by Rabey’s patter, and to further assure these businessmen he was no ‘man of straw’, some or all of them even visited South Wheal Leisure, and came away smugly satisfied with their investment22.

Rabey later admitted to making over £14K (that’s £500,000 today) from the Wheal Leisure and Bolingey shares. He skillfully rigged the market by buying shares back from his investors and then selling them on again, ever-increasing their price – and his profits. In the meantime, his mines stood idle, not earning a penny23.

Rabey was obviously now swimming in money, boasting his phony shares would soon be worth £10 each24. However, as a bankrupt, he couldn’t be seen to be conducting business, managing a firm, or making money.

So how did he do it?

The Play

Bristol Harbour Hotel and Spa, Corn Street. In Rabey’s day, this was the Bristol Joint Stock Bank25

Rabey wasn’t just conning the Bristolians, he was attempting to pull the wool over the eyes of the authorities, and his creditors too. Through the good offices of John Kempson Thomas, stockbroker, he had opened four separate bank accounts for his dealings, all under the the simple name ‘Paul Rabey’26. Thomas then authorised the sales of the shares (which were held in Paul Rabey the Elder‘s Redruth account, but which Rabey the Younger was authorised to draw on), and the profits from these shares were entered into the accounts under such fantastical names as “Mexican Shares”, or “Turkish Consolides”27. For example, £1,786 (£238K today) was paid into the Bristol Joint Stock Bank by

…Paul Rabey, without saying “senior” or “junior”…

Bristol Mercury, March 31, 1866, p3

Similarly, with the cost-book for the fictional Bolingey Hill Consols, Rabey the Younger also merely signed it ‘Paul Rabey’. It must have caused him no little consternation, therefore, when the Bristolians convinced him to append “Junior” to his moniker. There were two Paul Rabeys, after all – Brunt for one had met the elder Paul Rabey in Cornwall. Later, in court, it was discovered that “For Paul Rabey, Senior” had been surreptitiously added to the cost-book also28.

Whose were the shares to sell? Rabey the Younger’s, or Rabey the Elder’s? In whose real name were the accounts? Who was conducting the business? Whose shares in South Wheal Leisure were being sold in Bristol? Who really was the purser of Bolingey Hill Consols? Come to mention it, where the hell was Bolingey Hill Consols?

Who really benefitted from this smokescreen? Paul Rabey the Younger, of course. A wealthy, yet infirm, gentleman. Would I deceive anyone, he said, being

…a cripple, with one foot in the grave, and not knowing how soon I might meet my God..?

Western Daily Press, April 6, 1866, p3

His play was beautiful. But it was short-lived.

William Harvey again

William Harvey was one man certainly not taken in by Rabey – truly, once bitten, twice shy. After the way Rabey had treated him in the past, he must have wanted revenge. And he got it29.

By the summer of 1865, over £1,800 resided in the Redruth bank account of Rabey the Elder: profits from the sale of valueless shares. As noted above, £1,700 (£250,000 today) of this filthy lucre was transferred to the account at the Bristol Joint Stock Bank, named for Paul Rabey, without specifying Elder or Younger30.

Harvey was the court-appointed assignee in Rabey’s bankruptcy and, under the terms of that bankruptcy, Rabey was unprotected for six months. This meant that, if Harvey could prove, between January 1865 to the end of July of that year that Rabey had money, it should be distributed amongst Rabey’s creditors, of whom Harvey was one also.

Harvey, convinced the £1,700 in the Bristol account was Rabey the Younger’s, pounced, and ordered the account to be frozen, pending an arrangement to have the money shared out accordingly. This must have been a happy moment for Harvey, but he should have remembered that Rabey was not parted from cash easily31.

Harvey knew Rabey to be an absolute fox in business, and a vindictive one at that. But even he must have been utterly gobsmacked by the Rabey family’s next ruse.

Paul Rabey the Elder accused Harvey of wrongly freezing the Bristol account, claiming the £1,700 was his. Not his son’s, but his. An interpleader case was undertaken, and suddenly, Harvey was standing in the dock at Taunton Assizes, to explain his actions to the learned gentlemen.

The Interpleader

Shire Hall, Taunton, home of the Somerset Assizes in the 1860s32

Simply, an interpleader action is a civil procedure whereby a holder of property (in this instance, Rabey the Elder), initiates a suit between two or more claimants to the same property. Here, the two claimants were his own son, and William Harvey.

If all this sounds bizarre today, then rest assured, it was out of the normal run of affairs at the time also. “Suspicious”, observed the Royal Cornwall Gazette33, whilst the London Morning Herald thought the whole matter “Extraordinary”34.

It was made even more bizarre in court by the antics of Rabey the Elder. He was rumoured to have a “very defective memory”35, and certainly played as much to the gallery. The old man denied he had ever heard of the accounts in question, or, indeed, had ever heard of Bolingey Hill Consols (which is undoubtedly surprising, seeing as his name was on that mine’s cost-book). Could such a senile old man really have made such an action against Harvey?

Rabey the Younger also gave evidence – he had to be carried into the courtroom – but was almost as vague as his Father. He needed to be. Rabey was in trouble. His time in York gaol for fraud was dredged up, as were his two recent bankruptcies, the false imprisonment of the accused in the case, William Harvey, not to mention his time in Bristol as a “gentleman without a shilling”36, selling dodgy mining shares and possibly forging a signature in the Bolingey cost-book.

It was the opinion of Harvey’s counsel that held sway with the jury:

…the whole matter was a “juggle” between the father and son, and that the money in dispute belonged to the creditors, and ought to be divided amongst them.

Royal Cornwall Gazette, March 29, 1866, p8

The Judge added that Rabey the Younger’s shares

…were such that no man in his senses would touch them with a pair of tongs. Whose was the action?…should [Rabey the Elder] die tomorrow into whose pocket would the £1,700 sought to be recovered go? Why, into the pocket of the son.

Royal Cornwall Gazette, March 29, 1866, p8

Harvey, finally, had won, and he took steps to distribute the £1,700 to Rabey’s creditors37. Presumably, he also claimed the £125 Rabey owed him. Though victorious, Harvey must have lived the rest of his life regretting ever meeting Paul Rabey the Younger.

Similar emotions had been stirring in Bristol.

I have done with Bristol…

Several of the Bristolians duped by Rabey had also been called as witnesses in the interpleader hearing, but they must have heard rumours beforehand that South Wheal Leisure and Bolingey Hill were perhaps not the soundest of investments. It’s not inconceivable that William Harvey tipped them; in any case it’s never revealed how the Bristol men discovered that they had blown their money.

Whatever the reasons, by July 1865 these whispers reached the ears of the music-merchant, William Brunt. Previous to this, relations between him and Rabey had been pleasant: Rabey was making money off Brunt, and Brunt believed he was making money thanks to Rabey. Now, though, he was having reservations, and one day addressed Rabey thus:

Mr Rabey, there’s some talk about these shares; they are not so valuable as they are represented. You seem to have a great opinion of these shares, will you take them off my hands?

qtd in the Western Daily Press, April 6, 1866, p3

Rabey, who had up until then had been “all civility and politeness”, turned nasty:

…the shares are not worth sixpence a piece. If you open your mouth to say a word against the mine I will ruin you: I will have the skin off your back. I have done with Bristol, and am going back to Cornwall.

qtd in the Western Daily Press April 6, 1866, p3

Understandably perplexed, Brunt travelled to Cornwall and visited Rabey the Elder, hoping the elderly, respectable parent would intercede with his venal son. But, of course, no such thing happened, and Brunt returned to Bristol even more out of pocket, and to worse news.

Under the cost-book system in Cornish mining, shareholders in the mines were liable to answer a ‘call’ to make up any monetary deficits in the output of the said mine38. These calls were proportionate to the number of shares they owned. Although Rabey was ostensibly a purser, he held no shares in the mines he fronted (they were all in Rabey the Elder’s account in Redruth and, lest we forget, he also bankrupt). To exact vengeance on Brunt, Rabey did the following:

He got a number of tradesmen who had supplied the goods for the working of the mine, to bring actions for the recovery of the value of these goods against the unfortunate shareholders…Mr Brunt might be sued for thousands.

Western Daily Press, April 6, 1866, p3
Gentleman arrested for debt, 184339

Rabey was out to ruin Brunt, by getting others to do the dirty work for him. Brunt, however, refused to cave in, publicly repudiated the shares, and took Rabey to court in April 1866. He accused Rabey of

…intending to deceive the plaintiff [Brunt, and] fraudulently representing that…the mine was free from debt, and that there was a balance in hand for carrying on the working of the mine.

Western Daily Press, April 6, 1866, p3

This was a major undertaking for Brunt; in blowing the gaffe on Rabey, he must have known his own status as a gentleman and sound man of business would take a knock also.

And so it was to prove. Under examination, Brunt was ridiculed. His previous failings in mining transactions were laid bare for the amusement of the public gallery, as was his further gullibility regarding the Rabeys. He must have blushed to his roots and cringed to his entrails at the hilarity generated by his stating he was “quite taken up” with old Mr and Mrs Rabey when he visited Cornwall40.

Taken in, more like.

But Brunt toughed it out, and Rabey the Younger’s Bristol con was brought to light, as it had also been several days previously in the same court regarding the Rabey the Elder’s interpleader hearing. Again, Rabey the Younger’s previous charges and his handling of Harvey were discussed, along with his nefarious dealings in Bristol. This must have been as uncomfortable for Rabey as it was at times excruciating for Brunt. If he was convicted of fraud again, he could expect a weightier sentence. What to do?

What Rabey the Younger always did. He struck a deal.

The Backhander

While court was in session, an “arrangement was effected”. Rabey made a gallant show of faith in the validity of both his mines and his shares, and purchased the shares back off Brunt, for £225. Brunt instantly dropped all charges. Rabey the Younger was free41. And very wealthy.

Altogether, Rabey lost £1,925 in Bristol. But he still had shares to peddle, and, if we are to take him at his word (admittedly a chancy undertaking), he made £4K from the Bristolians42, giving him a gross profit of £2,075. That’s over £277,000 today.

His reputation in Bristol was, by now, utterly poisonous. The name “Rabey” had become within that city’s polite society a byword for all that was criminal and corrupt in the world of business43.

But none of this bothered him. He’d come away from Bristol considerably wealthier than when he’d arrived, and there was always another city, and another wealthy fool, to take advantage of.

Would his luck hold in London?

Next Sunday, April 17, sees the final instalment of They Died With Their Shoes On:

Paul Rabey and The Foreign Girls’ Protection Society

Many thanks for reading!


The Two Paul Rabeys: They Died With Their Shoes On, Part Three

Reading time: 10 minutes

Father teaching his son, 1830s woodcut
Rabys Row, Scorrier. Alas, the street sign has disappeared1


As we saw in the previous post, William Harvey had successfully sued Paul Rabey the Younger for false imprisonment in April 1864. Rabey had been ordered to pay Harvey £125 in damages. That’s around £13K today. Of course, Rabey had absolutely no intention of paying Harvey. But he had every intention of making quick money, and by questionable means, if that’s what it took.

To avoid paying Harvey, Rabey opted for the morally dubious (but not entirely out of character) expedient of declaring himself bankrupt, claiming that he had no assets. His bankruptcy claim was filed in early October 1864.

Of course, it was one thing for Rabey to claim he had no assets. However, as a mine purser and shareholder, indeed, as a gentleman, it most certainly had to be proven that he was truly, and utterly, broke.

(Even Rabey holding shares in his mines is open to question. As William Harvey wryly observed, “Sometimes he is, and sometimes he is not. It depends whether he is sued by any creditor for a debt due from the mine”. In short, if Rabey’s mine was profitable, he was a shareholder; if it was doing badly, he wasn’t2.)

Proving his insolvency would be tricky, as Rabey no doubt realised. After all, his previous period of bankruptcy had only ended in March, 18633.

Therefore, for the purposes of a successful bankruptcy, forestalling Harvey indefinitely, and generating income, Rabey needed assistance.

And the person he turned to was his father: Paul Rabey, the Elder.

Paul Rabey the Elder

Radnor Manor House, near Scorrier. Home of the Rabeys in the 1860s4

Born in 1789, Rabey Senior was by now an elderly man; indeed, he was to die in June 18675. In his day, though, he had been a mine agent6 and a Mine Captain, being in charge of operations at South Wheal Leisure (in a more successful period of its existence), as well as previously being Captain of Wheal Seton, Camborne, and Wheal Damsel, Carharrack7. Besides this, he also owned, and leased, an amount of land8, leading one commentator to note that old man Rabey had, indeed,

…amassed a considerable sum of money and property…

Bristol Mercury, March 31, 1866, p3

during the course of his long career. For example, his effects on his death in 1867 were valued at around £450 – that’s £53K today9. In short, he was nobody’s fool, regardless of the performance he once gave in court of an old man with a “very defective memory”10. This performance (in defence of his son and namesake), with its almost comical display of senility (at one point Rabey claimed that he didn’t know “any more than what’s up in the moon”11), raised several knowing laughs from the public gallery. But Rabey the Elder rather gave the game away when he finally let slip the advice he had given to his son:

He was to buy cheap…and to sell dear…

Bristol Mercury, March 31, 1866, p3

If ever you want the capitalist spirit of the age captured in one pat epithet, look no further12. Rabey the Elder’s son had, of course, taken this lesson to heart.

Was the Father as big a rogue as his son, or was he, in his dotage, manipulated by his immoral offspring?

Read on…

Sleight of hand

Exeter Post Office, Queen Street. Home to the Bankruptcy Courts in the 1860s13

Rabey the Younger’s action for bankruptcy was filed in October 186414. Including the £125 owing to William Harvey, Rabey claimed to have other debts totalling £945 (£127K today), and “not a farthing” to pay them15.

He certainly didn’t. Before filing for bankruptcy, in June 1864, Rabey transferred all his assets, 3,900 shares in South Wheal Leisure mine (out of a total of 5,671 shares), to Rabey the Elder16. Rabey the Younger was now the penniless purser of a mine in debt (South Wheal Leisure was in the process of “winding up”, ie being closed down17), and he had no shares with which to trade – the shares were worthless anyway. He was now free to declare himself bankrupt.

Rabey the Elder, suddenly the proud owner of meritless shares in a failing mine, stated at the Exeter Bankruptcy Court in November, 1864 that he “could not remember” when he became a shareholder in South Wheal Leisure. This selective amnesia didn’t stop him from selling on the shares – shares of utterly no value – for a profit, naturally, and an “arrangement” existed between father and son that any shares unsold could be transferred back to Rabey the Younger, at a convenient date18.

It’s perhaps obvious, then, that the two Paul Rabeys were in cahoots with each other. It’s a trick pulled again, later in our story. Rabey the Younger dragged the case out for as long as he could (he avoided at least one hearing by claiming illness19), and he may have begun to think himself clear of his financial obligations to William Harvey. At the hearing in Exeter, his other debts were viewed with the highest suspicion, inasmuch that they were probably “fictitious”, and that the whole process had been instigated by Rabey the Younger in order to “render” Harvey’s judgement against him “useless”20.

Strong Opposition

“Being nervous and cross examined by Mr Garrow”, by Thomas Rowlandson, 1806. Copyright British Museum

William Harvey would not go away. He was actually the Official Assignee in Rabey the Younger’s bankruptcy case, meaning he was the court-appointed individual responsible for dealing with Rabey’s assets, distributing these assets to pay off his debts, and checking on his activities. He also had a vested interest in fighting the bankruptcy tooth and nail to get the money he was owed. And he was very nearly successful, for Rabey the Younger’s discharge from his debts was almost refused altogether.

It was the belief of the court that Rabey had previously used his father’s money

…in the ostensible purchase of shares…if the speculations turn out well, he reaps the benefit…he will transfer them to the father as security…if the worst comes to the worst he can make himself bankrupt again…and…enter into possession of his father’s property…

Royal Cornwall Gazette, February 3, 1865, p7

The court believed Rabey the Elder was being manipulated by his “clever and unscrupulous” son21. With hindsight, they were almost definitely wrong, and it’s also rather surprising Rabey the Younger wasn’t charged with bankruptcy fraud.

He was, though, finally declared bankrupt on January 26, 1865, for a period of two years – the normal duration was twelve months. He was also ajudged to be unprotected from the bankruptcy for six months, meaning his creditors could move against him to reclaim their debts during this time, if it could be proven he was in any way solvent22.

For the next two years, Rabey couldn’t direct a company, start a company without court consent, or indeed manage a company under a different name. He couldn’t legally conduct business. But, to Paul Rabey the Younger, these were mere challenges for him to overcome.

Harvey, no doubt seething, would have to wait yet again for his money. But as assignee he could officially monitor Rabey the Younger’s movements very closely. Someone needed to.

By the late spring of 1865, Rabey was operating again, this time in Bristol…

Next Saturday, April 9, sees Part Four of They Died With Their Shoes On:

Paul Rabey and the Bristol Con

Many thanks for reading!


  1. A branch of the Rabey family was living at Rabys Row, Scorrier, in 1890. (See: Cornubian and Redruth Times, June 13 1890, p5.) I have yet to discover when this street was so named, and if it was definitively named in connection with the Rabeys. However, it seems reasonable to think so, considering the proximity to Radnor and the obvious status of Paul Rabey the Elder. For the woodcut image, see: http://resourcesforhistoryteachers.pbworks.com/w/page/125659502/Conducting
  2. From the Royal Cornwall Gazette (hereafter RCG), August 26, 1864, p7.
  3. RCG, February 2, 1865, p7. He was also declared bankrupt in 1856: North Wales Chronicle, September 13, 1856, p2.
  4. As mentioned in the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, August 9, 1866, p3.
  5. England & Wales Civil Registration Death Index 1837-1915, vol.5c, p166, Ancestry
  6. Census, 1851 and 1861.
  7. Western Daily Mercury, August 23, 1862, p7.
  8. RCG, July 18, 1845, p1.
  9. 1875 England & Wales, National Probate Calendar Index of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1995 for Paul Rabey, Ancestry.
  10. Bristol Mercury, March 31, 1866, p3.
  11. Bristol Mercury, March 31, 1866, p3.
  12. Indeed, Eric Hobsbawm’s 1975 book on the era is entitled The Age of Capital 1848-1875.
  13. See: http://britishpostofficearchitects.weebly.com/1850—8384-queen-street.html
  14. RCG, February 3, 1865, p7.
  15. RCG, February 3, 1865, p7.
  16. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 2 December 1864, p9.
  17. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 2 December 1864, p9.
  18. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 2 December 1864, p9.
  19. RCG, February 3, 1865, p7.
  20. RCG, February 3, 1865, p7.
  21. RCG, February 3, 1865, p7.
  22. RCG, February 3, 1865, p7.

Paul Rabey and the False Imprisonment: They Died With Their Shoes On, Part Two

Reading time: ten minutes

Punishment cell, Newgate. By Thomas Miller, 18521

Promising to stay poor

South Wheal Leisure Mine, of which Paul Rabey the Younger was purser, was struggling throughout 1864. As one former worker stated, “It was very poor, and promising to stay poor”2. No ore had been raised at all for a year, the mine was in debt, and all the miners were either laid off, or had simply quit because they hadn’t been paid. The tinners, for their part, appear to have just quietly accepted their lot and gone in search of more promising setts, but the mine’s agent, William Harvey, from Cardrew Downs, was owed money. A lot of money – £36. That’s around £4,800 today.

Chapel Hill, Bolingey, looking towards Wheal Leisure and Perranporth

Blood from a stone

Determined to get his money, in early 1864 Harvey sued an adventurer in the mine, one Teague – but this went against Rabey’s advice. Why would a purser not want his agent to be paid? When that purser is Paul Rabey, there were several reasons. Firstly, Rabey hated to be parted from money, even money that wasn’t his. Secondly, he seems to have had a morbid fear of appearing in court: he didn’t want to appear as a witness against Teague, as there was a real danger of his South Wheal Leisure account books coming under legal scrutiny. (Indeed, Rabey claimed to be too ill to appear in court three times throughout 1864-5.) In the event, Teague quietly paid Harvey off out of court; Harvey also successfully sued another adventurer for £18 in April 1864.

However, when Harvey met Rabey in his carriage on Blackwater Hill on April 16, 1864, he asked him for the remaining £6 (£800 today) that he was owed. Rabey refused point blank, and rode off3 .

Blackwater Hill today4

Rabey would have viewed Harvey as a threat, rather than a needy colleague. Firstly, he was legitimately in debt to Harvey, and for all his displays of wealth Rabey resented opening his wallet unless he could gain advantage from it. Secondly, it would have been obvious to Rabey that Harvey was litigiously-minded and determined enough to sue people for what they owed him. After all, Rabey would have doubtless done the same had the tables been turned. Who knew what dirty linen of Rabey’s might be washed in court? Rabey preferred to appear in the public eye on his own terms, if at all.

What happened next is what we may consider to be a classic Rabey manoeuvre, the move of a “clever and unscrupulous” man5: to strike first, and hard.


That same evening, April 16, Rabey paid Harvey a visit, with a local policeman. The officer of the law, at Rabey’s instigation, searched Harvey’s premises, and found (as Rabey told him he was sure to find), a box of scales and weights for Wheal Leisure, which in fact Harvey had bought and paid for with his own money two years previously. For convenience, he kept them at his home, as Rabey well knew. Rabey claimed to the policeman they were his, and the bemused Harvey, after some ineffectual protests, was arrested and led from his home to the (now long vanished) lockup at Scorrier.

Harvey’s wife, we can imagine, was understandably distraught; his children, upset. Perhaps curious neighbours peered through windows or stood by, adding to Harvey’s shame. His mood would not have been improved by Rabey maliciously adding the following commentary from the comfort of his carriage:

…bring out the black guard rogue…

Royal Cornwall Gazette, August 26, 1864, p7

Harvey was conveyed from Scorrier to Truro, and led handcuffed through the streets (on a busy Saturday evening) to the lockup there on Pydar Street6.

He was held in prison until Monday morning, when he faced the magistrate to hear the charges brought against him7.

Without any probable cause…8

Hall for Cornwall, Boscawen Street, Truro. In the 1800s the magistrates’ courts were housed here9

That Monday, Harvey stood in the dock to discover that Rabey had further twisted the knife. Harvey was now not only accused of theft, but also fraudulent book-keeping: a charge of £2 19s had allegedly been entered into the accounts by Harvey for a non-existent employee of South Wheal Leisure. Harvey stated that, yes, he had indeed made this entry; it was in fact for his son, who had done some work for Rabey, but Rabey had convinced Harvey to enter the payment under a false name because

…it would not look well in his account…[that amount] for a boy of his age…

Royal Cornwall Gazette, August 26, 1864, p7

Rabey was now using his own sleight-of-hand to ensnare Harvey, as Harvey now claimed. The £2 19s had in fact gone to Rabey, as was later proven in court, and Harvey also soundly demonstrated that the scales were not Rabey’s.

Understandably, the case was thrown out.

Harvey was free to lick his wounds, but he was still owed £6 from Rabey, and would no doubt be fostering a great deal of personal resentment. On May 6, 1864, he charged Rabey with false imprisonment, and sued for damages10.

Three months later…

I note the date that Harvey filed his charges against Rabey, for it was over three months before the case was finally heard, at the Stannary Court in Truro, on August 19. Rabey had already achieved one postponement by claiming illness; he tried the same trick in August, yet the hearing went ahead, in his absence. Such was Rabey’s contempt for the actions against him, no solicitor represented his interests in court either.

Harvey won the case, and Rabey was ordered, in absentia, to pay £100 in damages which, with costs, came to £125. The jury were of the opinion that Harvey was

…an honest man, and has been badly used.

Royal Cornwall Gazette, August 26, 1864, p7

Rabey was shown to have plotted the accusations against Harvey, and Harvey’s subsequent incarceration, with malice aforethought. Witnesses testified to overhearing Rabey say that Harvey

…is a d____d rogue, and I will have him up again, if I rot in hell for it…It is better for anyone to begin with the devil, than to meddle with me.

Royal Cornwall Gazette, August 26, 1864, p7

If Rabey had sought to blacken Harvey’s name, then his own reputation fared little better during proceedings. His conduct, it was noted, should

…not be tolerated in this kingdom.

Royal Cornwall Gazette, August 26, 1864, p7

He was motivated purely by “the most malignant feelings”, the charges against Harvey were “trumped up”, and the whole affair was succinctly summarised as a “gross outrage”11.

Whither Paul Rabey?

A gentleman swindler, 186812

As noted earlier, Rabey wasn’t even present at his own trial, allegedly being ill in London. Presumably, he couldn’t have cared less about the outcome. The important thing was, his account books, over which there was much “suspicion” (Rabey had apparently told Harvey they’d both be in gaol if the ledgers were ever openly scrutinised), were safely out of the public eye13.

He also had no intention of paying William Harvey.

If nothing else, Rabey’s actions against Harvey, and his subsequent repeated ducking of his own trial, brought him time to plot his next schemes. He also may have hoped that Harvey had been warned off any thoughts of crossing him in future, but here he was mistaken, as we shall see. This unsavoury tale also demonstrates that Paul Rabey was a genuinely unpleasant individual, who sought to destroy anybody who opposed, or tried to uncover, him. It’s a characteristic that reappears in our story.

Early commentators on white-collar crime believed it was undertaken without animosity on the part of the offender, or of physical injury and/or alarm to the party being defrauded14.

Paul Rabey the Younger did not fit this common perception…

Next Sunday, April 3, sees part three of They Died With Their Shoes On:

The Two Paul Rabeys

Many thanks for reading!


  1. See: http://www.victorianlondon.org/prisons/newgate.htm
  2. Western Daily Press, April 6, 1866, p3.
  3. Royal Cornwall Gazette (hereafter RCG), August 26, 1864, p7.
  4. See: http://cornishstory.com/2020/06/11/blackwater/
  5. RCG, February 3, 1865, p7.
  6. Like the Scorrier lockup, this has long gone. See: https://www.prisonhistory.org/prison/truro-town-prison/?fbclid=IwAR0BkB08wdpdDqL5siP5nBp_3awLPFAeB7Vl8kNGFb8d5cQHTe5W01C1RDM
  7. From RCG, August 26, 1864, p7.
  8. From RCG, August 26, 1864, p7.
  9. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hall_for_Cornwall
  10. From RCG, August 26, 1864, p7.
  11. RCG, August 26, 1864, p7.
  12. See: https://www.npr.org/sections/npr-history-dept/2015/02/12/385310877/how-scams-worked-in-the-1800s?t=1647549718867
  13. RCG, August 26, 1864, p7.
  14. See Sarah Wilson, “Fraud and White-collar Crime: 1850 to the Present”, in Histories of Crime: Britain 1600-2000, ed. Anne-Marie Kilday and David Nash, Macmillan, 2010, p147.

They Died With Their Shoes On: The Career of Paul Rabey the Younger, Part One

Reading time: 15 minutes

The London Stock Exchange, by Lockhart Bogle, 1891

The Hook1

The men of substance from Bristol were on to a good thing. There was William H. Brunt, a music-seller from St Augustine’s Parade. There was Mr Hyde, a banker, and William Chilcott, a bullion merchant. There was James Bigwood, a merchant on Great George Street2. There was Mr Atchley, a solicitor, and a Mr Pring. They were businessmen, with experience of the stock market, and they had travelled to Cornwall to view, and inspect, their latest investment: South Wheal Leisure Mine (not to be confused with the considerably larger Wheal Leisure concern), at Penwartha Coombe, Perranzabuloe, near Bolingey.

The hill from Bolingey towards Penwartha Coombe, where South Wheal Leisure was located

What they saw, in June 1865, did not disappoint. Miners were hard at work, the main shaft had a fully-functioning engine housed above it, and the impression that the whole concern was a family-run business must have further assured them. The purser’s cousin owned the account-house and the land around it; Brunt for one met the purser’s elderly father, and was quite charmed. The purser had also shown Brunt, and maybe the other investors, samples of ore from Wheal Leisure before their journey to Cornwall. He had also made it known the mine was very profitable, not in debt, and that a ‘call’ on shareholders to make up any financial shortcomings incurred during operations, was highly unlikely3.

The investors had seen what they wanted to see, and doubtless strolled away from the slopes of Penwartha Coombe anticipating some easy money to be had from the backs of these Cornish tinners. Brunt, for example, had purchased 125 shares in South Wheal Leisure, paying the purser £532 for them. Furthermore, the purser had intimated that he was starting a new mining venture, to be called Bolingey Hill Consols, which Brunt, amongst others, should be anxious to invest in. Brunt quickly snapped up 500 Bolingey Hill shares, for £200.

A bonds and share certificate for the Old Trewether Company of Endellion, 18544

And why not? The purser, a disabled Cornishman in his mid-forties, resided at a notable Clifton residence in Bristol, employed a liveried servant, tooled about the town in a coach and pair, and presented the very image of a successful Victorian businessman. He splashed his cash on diamond rings, harmoniums, and impressive quantities of port and sherry. He told all who would listen in Bristol that his income would soon be around £20-30,000, thanks to his shrewd mining ventures, and that buying shares in his mines was, in modern parlance, a no-brainer.

The problem for the Bristolians was this: the purser in question was Paul Rabey, the Younger.

The Player

Though virtually unheard-of nowadays, Paul Rabey (or Raby) the Younger is deserving of the accolade of Cornwall’s most notorious con-man. Born in Gwennap, in 18185, and raised at Radnor, near Scorrier, in his day he was recognised as

…one of the cleverest men in the county of Cornwall in mining transactions, which was saying a great deal.

Royal Cornwall Gazette, March 29, 1866, p8

Rabey was blessed with an incredibly “acute” mind, and one prosecuting lawyer had to grudgingly admit that he was as able

…to conduct business for his own benefit as any man that he had heard of in the whole course of his life.

Western Daily Press, April 6, 1866, p3

Shame, then, that he was as crooked in his business ministrations as the night is dark.

Wherever he went – and Rabey was as peripatetic as he was a rogue – he left ruined dreams, decimated bank accounts, and simmering resentment. In 1856 he was to appear in York as an insolvent debtor; his previous addresses up to this point were listed as Sheffield, two residences in Birkenhead, another two in Anglesea, three in Manchester, Kingston-Upon-Hull, Bath, another two in London, Liverpool, New Brighton (Merseyside), Chelsea, and Westminster. Oh – and Portreath6.

Such was the regularity of his appearances in various law courts throughout the 1860s, that reports of these hearings in the ‘papers carry their own sense of weary resignation. For example, the heading

appears at least twice7. Or this, from the London Morning Herald8:

It got so that his activities needed no introduction to the regular reader9:

Such was Rabey’s notoriety, he was actually cited in public lectures that sought to caution the unwary public on the dangers of bubble-schemes, market rigging, and various dubious business practices10. People taken in by his get-rich-quick enterprises were embarrassed to admit to being so foolish, even when under oath in court11.

All of which begs the following questions: how did he operate, and how did he get away with it? Some historical context is needed.

Victorian White-collar Crime

William Strahan. The web-page of the Institutional History Society describes him as ‘The Bent Banker’12

The Industrial Revolution and expansion of Empire changed British society for ever. It also gave rise to a new variety of financial crime, known at the time as ‘high art’ crime. The railway boom of the 1840s saw a number of attempts to exploit the trend for investment, and many fraudulent ‘bubble’ companies were set up solely to dupe unwary financial speculators. That people were easily gulled by these outwardly respectable crooks-in-suits was largely due to the prevailing culture of the era, namely a belief that all members of Victorian society’s respectable upper- and middle-classes were just that: respectable and, above all, honest.

One of the central tenets of the newly-formed police force was to protect the middle- and business-class from what was seen as society’s criminal elements, ie the lower, working-classes. Crime therefore came to be viewed as the preserve of poor people, committed on the better-off: it would be unthinkable for a gentleman, or gentlewoman, to break the law.

But break the law, they did, with financial fraud becoming the crime of choice for ‘respectable’ criminals. London bankers Strahan, Bates and Paul misappropriated their clients’ money in 1855; likewise the directors of the Royal British (1858) and City of Glasgow (1878-9) Banks stood in the dock to answer for their embezzlements. One of the ‘brains’ behind the Great Train Robbery of 1855 kept a fashionable address in Shepherd’s Bush; another member of the gang was a corrupt barrister13.

On the whole, though, people trusted ‘respectable’ citizens because they appeared to be just that – respectable14.

No one appeared more respectable than Paul Rabey the Younger, and this appearance could not have been further from the truth.

Indeed, his career could have been written by Charles Dickens. Think of the younger Ebenezer Scrooge, and, like Scrooge, in the end, Rabey’s past caught up with him. But there was to be no redemption.

It’s beyond the scope of these posts to itemise every shady deal and every shameless con-operation Rabey carried out15. Instead, I’m going to focus my attention on the years 1864-1872, the later period of his colourful career. This ought to serve to illustrate the (often questionable) business practices of the high Victorian era, and serve to remind the reader that mining wasn’t just a risky business for the men below the ground16.

As with my previous work on the Cornish Food Riots of 184717, I’ve divided my work on Paul Rabey the Younger, entitled They Died With Their Shoes On18, into separate posts, of which this is the first:

  • Part two, Paul Rabey and the False Imprisonment, will be posted on Sunday March 27.
  • Part three, The Two Paul Rabeys, will be posted on Sunday April 3.
  • Part four, Paul Rabey and the Bristol Con, will go live on Saturday April 9.
  • Part five, Paul Rabey and the The Foreign Girls’ Protection Society, will be available to read on Sunday April 17.

Thanks for reading and following, and I hope you’ll all tune in on the 27th for the next instalment!


  1. The narrative for this section is taken from the Royal Cornwall Gazette (hereafter RCG), 29 March 1866, p8, and the Western Daily Press, April 6 1866, p3.
  2. 1861 census.
  3. For a brief explanation of the Cost Book system in Cornish mining, see John Rowe, Cornwall in the Age of the Industrial Revolution, 2nd enlarged edition, Cornish Hillside Publications 1993, p23-5.
  4. See https://spink.com/lot/18021000293
  5. England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975, film #1595598, ref ID p139, Ancestry
  6. North Wales Chronicle, September 13, 1856, p2. Debtors’ known residences were listed publicly in the hope any creditors in those areas would be made aware, and could act accordingly.
  7. RCG, November 9, 1865, p8, and March 29, 1866, p8.
  8. March 28, 1866, p8.
  9. RCG, August 9, 1866, p5.
  10. Such a lecture was advertised in the Western Daily Press, September 10 1868, p1. The lecturer, Mr H. I. Brown, was one of Rabey’s victims; see the Bristol Times and Mirror, 12 & 13 August 1868, p3.
  11. See the Western Daily Press, May 18, 1866, p2.
  12. See: https://institutionalhistory.com/homepage/prisons/major-prisons/woking-prison/woking-invalid-convict-prison-inmate-list/william-strahan/
  13. Michael Crichton fictionalised the story of The Great Train Robbery; it was also made into a memorable 1978 film starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland.
  14. See Sarah Wilson, “Fraud and White-collar Crime: 1850 to the Present”, in Histories of Crime: Britain 1600-2000, ed. Anne-Marie Kilday and David Nash, Macmillan, 2010, p146-51.
  15. Kresen Kernow hold records of his earlier exploits, references as follows: STA/693c/1441, 1443, 1446, 1460.
  16. See “A Risky Business: Death, Injury and Religion in Cornish Mining 1780-1870” by John Rule in his book Cornish Cases (Clio, 2006), for more on the hardships of Cornwall’s mining population.
  17. See: https://the-cornish-historian.com/2022/01/09/the-cornish-food-riots-of-1847-background-and-context/
  18. Rabey once wished his enemies would “die in their shoes!”. The reason for this will be explained in my final post. (See: The Cornubian and Redruth Times, October 16, 1868, p4.)

Trouble in Clay Country: The Food Riots of 1847, Part Five

Reading time: 20 minutes

Striking Miners, Clay Country, 19131

The evil disposed2

Charlestown United and Bucklers Mines, St Austell, have long vanished from the face of the earth. There’s now a kitchen furniture dealership and various other businesses on Bucklers Lane, Boscoppa, near the old location of the mines. Back in 1847, though, these workings were a ferment of unrest. On the morning of June 11, the Captain of Bucklers, Hancock, became aware that some of his men had “risen”3, and by that he didn’t mean coming to grass at the end of their shift. Approaching an open shaft, he came upon around 30-40 men, led by Charles Faull, 25, of Treleavens Cross, and Richard Kestall (or Kestell, or Kestle), 28, of Crantock4.

Both Faull and Kestall were said to be earning good wages at a prosperous mine, but, as they had heard the price of bread had yet again risen in St Austell,

…it was no use for them to work any more…

The Royal Cornwall Gazette, 6 August 1847, p1

They, and their mining colleagues, were going to town to put matters right. They were also going to get reinforcements from among the men of the poorer-off clay works. These were two things Hancock found difficult to understand. What business would you have with them, he asked, for they are

…poor men [who] are differently situated from what you are, with the wages you are getting.

The Royal Cornwall Gazette, 6 August 1847, p1

But the miners were not to be talked down, and became increasingly impassioned, with Kestall telling Hancock that

…we’ll go in and rob the shops and shove the b_____s in the common sewer…

The Royal Cornwall Gazette, 6 August 1847, p4
St Austell, 1835. Courtesy of Barry West, St Austell History Group

A short while later, Kestall and Faull, their band now numbering over two hundred, arrived at the Blue Barrow Clay Works. They used persuasion and a bit of force to commandeer 24 of the 30 men on shift that day at Blue Barrow. This ever-burgeoning force was the “evil disposed” and their “poor dupes” who “intended interference” at St Austell market5.

Parley? What parley?

There was to be little in the way of negotiating prices, or bartering with the authorities. Whereas, in previous disturbances, looting was a last resort, those who had heard what the miners were about that day in St Austell plainly came to town expecting “meditated plunder”6. Local women, to the “disgrace of their sex”7, walked the streets laden with baskets and containers of any stripe, in gleeful anticipation of some pillaging. They certainly encouraged their male counterparts to action, and were as conspicuous throughout the events as the miners.

2pm. 3,000 people are in the town centre, with an estimated hard core of 300 rioters. The tradespeople, as we have seen previously, did what tradespeople are wont to at any sign of people marching for food: they shut up shop, with the flour merchants and butchers to the fore.

Nonetheless, with the situation deteriorating, various minor incidents broke out. At Hannah Rowe’s bakery, going towards the old West Turnpike from Fore Street8, a swarthy band of individuals armed with a pick-hilt entered, demanding loaves and throwing bread to the crowd outside. Undeterred, Rowe slung the ringleader out on his ear, he threatening to “scat her brains out”9. John Badge, a flour merchant on Fore Street proper, had a menacing visit from William Bunt, 46, a blacksmith at Bucklers Mine10. When Badge flatly refused Bunt’s demand that he sell his flour cheaply, he was told that “you’ll be the next we come to”11.

Bunt left, with the threat hanging in the air. Badge rapidly put his shutters up, and doubtless had a worrying few hours.

All of which begs the question: where were the authorities?

Enter Nicholas Kendall

British (English) School; Nicholas Kendall (b.1800); Royal Institution of Cornwall; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/nicholas-kendall-b-1800-14110

In fact, the authorities knew the miners were rising not long after Kestall and Faull marched out of Bucklers Mine. The High Sheriff of Cornwall, Nicholas Kendall (1800-1878), of Lanlivery, received word and was in St Austell before lunchtime. Kendall was also Conservative MP for East Cornwall, a County Magistrate, and also a Captain of the Royal Rangers Militia12. He was also, it must be said, a man of no little physical courage and resolve. Even when you strip away the somewhat fawning eulogies he received in the wake of the events, there’s little doubt his industry and purpose ensured there was to be no repeats of what had happened in Pool and Redruth. The magistrate in Redruth, Magor, had had days to prepare for a mob of several thousands to march into the town, and matters there still degenerated into a full-on riot. Kendall, by contrast, had hours.

It was all he needed. By 1-2pm, with fellow magistrates Sir Joseph Sawle and Thomas Hext, Kendall had rustled up 55 soldiers of the 5th Fusiliers from Bodmin, mobilised the Coastguard, and deputised 30 Special Constables. Although the Redcoats had been observed marching toward St Austell, once present in the town they did not, for the time being, “show themselves”13. Kendall possibly wanted some element of surprise.

St Austell Town Hall and Market House, Market Square, erected in 184414

Setting up base in the new Town Hall, Kendall was soon informed of a disturbance by his Under Sheriff, Thomas Coode, of Pondhu House. Coode’s residence provided a suitable vantage point from which to observe the throng below, and what they saw was not promising. A crowd of four hundred, many brandishing sticks of “an enormous size”15, were crying out that they were headed for “Warne’s Mills”16, and dashed off in that direction. Kendall and Coode, realising, too late, that the soldiers were too distant to be deployed effectively, sprinted out of Pondhu House in hot pursuit.

Warne’s Mills

Carthew Mill, north of St Austell, which dates from 1837. Warne’s Mills has vanished. Photograph by Martin Bodman

In the crowd of miners and clay-workers was Joseph Hore, 35, a man with a “peculiar eye”17, a feature which counted against him later, and Matthew Roberts, 21, from St Breward18. They, and their fellow-looters, rifled a few shops en route to the mill and, once arrived, took to the doors of that building with boots, pick-hilts, and whatever came to hand.

It’s important to note that, at this point, there had been no delegates nominated, to address the town’s authorities and/or merchants as to the crowd’s demands. All pretence toward diplomacy had, for the time being, been suspended. It was down to Kendall to restore it.

Mounting a wall, whilst the horde below him hacked, sweated and swore at the entrance to Warne’s Mills, he addressed them, later stating that:

…under ordinary circumstances nothing would induce me to hold a parley…but as I knew there was great distress in the country I would gladly hear all they had to say…

Royal Cornwall Gazette, 6 August 1847, p4

He advised they send a deputation and, after some grumbling, Kendall was told he could expect their demands in an hour’s time, back at the Town Hall. (The doors of Warne’s Mills were obviously pretty impregnable, and the men were getting nowhere with them; if they’d forced entry, there would have been no deputation.) In the interim, Kendall warned them not to “keep up a row during that time”19, or else, of course, all bets were off.

The Town Hall

No sooner had Kendall and Coode returned to the Town Hall, hoping to have bought some time, when they were alerted to news of yet more looting close by. Again, Kendall chose to go with minimal back up: this time, he had one Special Constable with him, a civilian sworn in hours earlier, to go and pacify who knows what mayhem.

It was a mistake that could have cost him. As he spoke to the looters in rather schoolmasterly tones, ordering them to disperse “in the Queen’s name”20, the miners turned and, in his words, several “squared up” to him, raising their sticks to put one through his jaw21.

Maybe Kendall flinched; I doubt it. In the nick of time, a force of several Constables arrived, and a scuffle ensued. Two rioters were rapidly disarmed, clobbered, and dragged off to the nearby clink, which in those days was situated in the Town Hall. Matthew Roberts then made a dash for Kendall, drawing back his own cudgel for a hardy swipe but, to his amazement, Kendall himself squared up to the man, grabbed him by the throat, sneered “how dare you”22 into Roberts’ face, and threw him off to one side, for another Constable to deal with. Coolly wiping his hands, Kendall returned indoors to meet the delegation.

Stalled negotiations

Kendall was clearly a force to be reckoned with, and after the set-to outside the Town Hall, his blood must have been up. The delegates got short shrift, being told that lowering the price of corn was “perfectly impossible”, under the current circumstances. Corn was so scarce, he lectured, that

…we ought to be obliged to the persons who would bring us corn in this neighbourhood at any price…

Royal Cornwall Gazette, 6 August 1847, p4

Which is all well and good, if you can afford it.

He then went on to echo the earlier opinions of the Captain of Bucklers Mine, that the most riotous that day were actually more affluent than the more peaceably-minded. Kendall believed their motivations to march for food and riot were therefore wholly spurious, and driven more by a desire for general anarchy than any genuine need. He did, however, promise to call a meeting with Sir Joseph Sawle with a view to setting up a subscription fund for the town and outlying areas. This was agreed on, but when the spokesmen demanded the immediate release of those taken prisoner, they provoked Kendall’s ire:

…you mistake your position; I am the commander, and not to be commanded…

Royal Cornwall Gazette, 6 August 1847, p4

Faces in the crowd

Market Square, St Austell, 1800s23

But the crowds outside hadn’t heard Kendall’s stern words as regards the prisoners. When he went forth yet again to address them on the outcome of the negotiations, the hundreds in Market Square yet again demanded their release. Kendall must have surveyed his barrackers with mounting frustration.

There was that man Hore again, with his distinctive eye. And there was Philip Matthews, 27, a labourer from the Penhale Clay Works, with his mate, 22 year-old John Payne (or Paine), from Tresayes. Kendall spoke to William Bunt, who had earlier threatened John Badge, telling him to get off home before things got serious. Bunt’s reply stayed with him:

It as well to be shot as starved.

Royal Cornwall Gazette, 6 August 1847, p4

Near to where Kendall was standing was John Cock, 28, from Western Hill24. Shouting over Kendall, he warned anyone who would listen that

…if you meddle with us, it will be death to every one of you; we will have life for life, and blood for blood.

Royal Cornwall Gazette, 6 August 1847, p4

This line upstaged Kendall, and Cock was cheered to the rafters.

Obviously, the miners were spoiling for a fight, and there was much more big talk from big men circling the Town Hall that afternoon. One man who was advised to discard his weapon replied in the negative, for “by and bye it may be useful”25. Another recorded statement was that “we are prepared to die, we may as well go now as at another time”26. William Hancock, a 24 year-old from Broadlane, Roche27, told Under Sheriff Coode that force would be met with force.

Really, it all boiled down to who had the biggest fists.

And that was Nicholas Kendall.

Bayonet point

A Barnett London Brunswick Rifle, with bayonet. The British Army’s rifle in the 1840s

“I have done”, Kendall later remarked, “that which I would have given hundreds of pounds not to have done – I have read the Riot Act”28. Remorseful or not, he read it in front of the Town Hall, and within minutes, the militia had the crowd surrounded. Coode announced that the soldiers had already loaded and primed their muskets, and had further received orders to fire into the crowd, rather than over their heads.

If this was bluff, nobody, for all the fine speeches earlier, was prepared to call it.

With bayonets fixed, and doubtless a few fingers on triggers, the streets of St Austell were cleared, people rushing ahead of the Redcoats’ deadly march. Kendall was still active even here, identifying key malcontents for further investigation.

One of these was William Tellam, 27, from Carnsmerry, whom we’ve met before29. In Wadebridge on May 12th, Tellam had been identified as one of a group that had brutally assaulted Edward Stephens, a local magistrate, during a food riot. He must have been one of many hundreds, if not thousands, to be have present at more than one disturbance in 1847 – he was just one of those unfortunate enough to have been caught.

The aftermath

At the Bodmin Summer Assizes of 28 July, the rioters were damned, for choosing to disturb the peace “to a most outrageous degree”, and exploiting the famine “which did not bear upon you as it did upon others”30. Kendall, by contrast, was feted as a hero, by the authorities and citizens of St Austell alike. He’d saved the day, uniting “kindness and forbearance with a proper manly firmness”31. He also kept his word, chairing a meeting at the Town Hall on the Monday to organise a relief. Invited to attend were St Austell’s principal residents, magistrates, and the neighbourhood’s mine owners and adventurers.

No miners or clayworkers were invited. In other words, those most in need of aid were denied a voice. Martin Luther King once said, “riot is the language of the unheard”32. Riot, they did. But still nobody listened.

Instead, several rioters were imprisoned.

England and Wales Criminal Registers, 1791-1892, County Assizes, 28 July 1847. From Ancestry. The names of those acquitted are Richard Webb, Elias Newcombe, William Osborne, Richard Julyan, John Bennetts, and Jacob Hancock. William Tellam’s sentence is on the next page

For “riot and assault” (see image above), Charles Faull and Richard Kestall both received two years hard labour. Matthew Roberts and John Cock, 18 months hard labour. William Hancock, 12 months hard labour. John Payne and Philip Matthews, 6 months hard labour. William Tellam was sentenced to nine months for his involvement in the St Austell riot, and a further 18 months for the assault on Stephens at Wadebridge – with hard labour.

The outbreak at St Austell was the final food riot of 1847. The now numerous – if belated – relief funds throughout Cornwall, combined with a bountiful harvest and “flourishing” crops33, meant that the scenes of violence and desperation seen in many major Cornish towns, finally ceased.

Of course, these were not the final food riots to have ever taken place in Cornwall. That accolade perhaps belongs to the events in Redruth, in 1920. But I’ll tell you all about that some other time…

Afterword: The Making of the Cornish Working Class?34

Whilst researching the Cornish Food Riots of 1847, two questions occurred to me. The first was, could these events, as a whole, be taken as a general Cornish insurrection or uprising, to rival those of 1497, or 1549?

The answer, obviously, was no. No army of rebels marched on London, with discontented noblemen at their head. Nobody was shot. No Cornish people, to my knowledge, even crossed the Tamar in search of redress for their hardships. The people who marched and rioted, put simply, weren’t marching and rioting against the Government per se; they marched for food, and rioted, or tried to riot, against those who denied them.

What we are seeing in the events of 1847, perhaps, is class conflict. At St Austell, the authorities couldn’t understand why better-off workers were rioting, when, after all, they could almost certainly afford grain. It was almost as if they were acting on behalf of the poorer clayworkers, who the authorities believed were the “deluded ignorant”35, and were duped into acts of lawlessness. Alternatively, you may argue that this represents solidarity, and organisation: the twin problems of food shortages and high prices were the problems of all of Cornwall’s working class, not just its most destitute members. Working people from St Just joined people from Breage and Helston. Men marched with women; children carried bags of flour for looters in Redruth. To be prepared to riot, and face the military, on yours and others’ behalf, or, in the words of William Bunt, it is as well to be shot as starved, maybe represents a liminal class consciousness.

You might say the authorities realised this too. In excluding members of this nascent working class from their discussions of relief funds, you might level E.P. Thompson’s famous accusation at them, that they were guilty of “the enormous condescension of posterity”36. Relief from hunger was solely the business of the people who could provide that relief, and not that of the people most in need of said relief. Instead, they were the evil disposed and deluded ignorant in St Austell, or misguided fellow-creatures in Redruth. Therefore these people needed to be treated with at a distance, and with some caution. More research is needed in these areas.


My second thought was, was there a genuine ‘famine’ in Cornwall, akin to the Great Hunger in Ireland, with thousands starving to death? Determined to find an answer, I decided to look at parish burial rates, choosing, somewhat fittingly, Breage and Helston, from the years 1845-1850.

Parish Burial Rates, 1845-1850. Figures taken from Cornwall Parish Records37

I was expecting to see a significant spike in burials for the years 1847-8, but was surprised to discover no real increase. Indeed, the figures for Breage drop in 1847-8 from a peak of 100 burials in 1846; Helston’s rates are relatively constant. Admittedly, this is a very small sample, and the numbers don’t tell us how people died. But why, if there was such apparent shortages of food in Cornwall in the late 1840s, don’t the figures markedly increase?

The answer is this: people left.

The Hungry Forties see the first instances of the Great Cornish Migration of the nineteenth century. For example, between 1841-51, the parish of Breage and Germoe lost 27% of its population38. The nonconformist and radical West Briton newspaper positively advocated emigration from the late 1830s as a “radical ‘improving’ cause”39. Even the West Briton‘s Tory counterpart, The Royal Cornwall Gazette, was advertising reduced steamship fares in 184940. All this burgeoning culture of emigration, combined with the food shortages and the cholera outbreak of 184941, made people leave Cornwall and not want to come back. One man, Samuel Robins from Penryn, broke a promise he made to his sister to return home from Australia in 1847. The account his sister had given of all things Cornish was so “wretched”, he decided to stay put42. Richard Kestall, the St Austell rioter, also left, starting a new life in Glamorgan43.

Judging by the number of people who, after reading this series of posts, have contacted me to remark that their ancestors left Cornwall in the late 1840s, many hundreds must have done the same.

All in all, the year 1847 was a desperate one for Cornwall.

Many thanks for reading


  1. From Cornwall Live. See Lee Trewhela’s article on the strike of 1913 here.
  2. From The Royal Cornwall Gazette (hereafter RCG), 18 June 1847, p2. The main sources for this post are RCG, 18 June 1847, p2, and August 6, 1847, p1&4.
  3. RCG, 6 August 1847, p1.
  4. 1851 census.
  5. RCG, 18 June 1847, p2.
  6. RCG, 18 June 1847, p2.
  7. RCG, 18 June 1847, p2.
  8. 1851 census.
  9. RCG, 6 August 1847, p4.
  10. 1851 census.
  11. RCG, 6 August 1847, p4.
  12. According to his entry on Wikipedia here.
  13. RCG, 6 August 1847, p4.
  14. Image from Tripadvisor, here.
  15. RCG, 6 August 1847, p4.
  16. RCG, 6 August 1847, p4.
  17. RCG, 6 August 1847, p4.
  18. 1851 census.
  19. RCG, 6 August 1847, p4.
  20. RCG, 6 August 1847, p4.
  21. RCG, 6 August 1847, p4.
  22. RCG, 6 August 1847, p4.
  23. From the St Austell Town website: https://www.staustelltown.co.uk/st-austell-town-facts/
  24. 1851 census.
  25. RCG, 6 August 1847, p4.
  26. RCG, 6 August 1847, p4.
  27. 1851 census.
  28. RCG, 18 June 1847, p2.
  29. See part two of The Cornish Food Riots of 1847 here.
  30. RCG, 6 August 1847, p4.
  31. RCG, 6 August 1847, p4.
  32. King said this in two speeches, at Stanford University in April 1967, and Grosse Pointe University in March 1968. With thanks to @Str8OutaKernow.
  33. As noted in the RCG, 23 July 1847, p2.
  34. From E.P. Thompson’s seminal 1963 work, The Making of the English Working Class (Penguin, 1991).
  35. RCG, 18 June 1847, p2.
  36. The Making of the English Working Class (Penguin, 1991), p12.
  37. See https://www.cornwall-opc-database.org/
  38. Philip Payton, The Cornish Overseas, Cornwall Editions, 2005, p132.
  39. Philip Payton, “Before the Mines: Early Cornish Emigration to South Australia” in Garry Tregidga (ed.), In Search of Cornwall, Cornish Studies, Third Series, Volume 4, University of Exeter, 2021, p18.
  40. RCG, 19 January 1849, p1. From a tweet by Charlotte MacKenzie, January 18, 2022.
  41. See Bernard Deacon’s post on the outbreak here.
  42. Philip Payton, “Before the Mines: Early Cornish Emigration to South Australia” in Garry Tregidga (ed.), In Search of Cornwall, Cornish Studies, Third Series, Volume 4, University of Exeter, 2021, p21-2.
  43. 1851 census.

The Fugitive: James Jewell: A Prologue to Part Five of the Food Riots of 1847

Reading time: 5 minutes

Bodmin Gaol in the 1850s1

Unlike his less-fortunate compatriots, George Stapleton and William Francis2, James Jewell chose not to wait around at his home in Crowan, so the authorities could issue him with a summons3. As the military surrounded the rioters in Higher Fore Street, Redruth, on June 4, he slipped town. Unlike the many hundreds, possibly thousands, complicit in the looting of Warmington’s Stores that were able to melt anonymously away, Jewell must have realised his foremost role in the events made him a marked man.

We don’t know what route he took, whom he talked who, or who gave him shelter. Quite possibly, he slept rough. Maybe he begged shelter in the mining districts he came across, or at remote farmsteads. Perhaps, as a baptised Methodist4, he sought succour among a kind of underground railroad of fellow Bible-Christians. What we do know, is that he was most definitely a wanted man, and that a warrant was out for his capture.

By June 11, two constables had traced their man to St Austell, but enquiries there realised nothing. The elusive Jewell had escaped again, but not for long. Saturday June 12 saw him captured, in Liskeard, and returned to Bodmin Gaol to await trial. He was sentenced alongside Stapleton, Francis, and the others who had been arrested in the wake of the tumult in Redruth. He received nine months hard labour5, but not before acquiring a certain notoriety.

It was believed at the time that Jewell was one of

…the leading men…with others from the west [who were] amidst the disorderlies…

Royal Cornwall Gazette, 18 June 1847, p2

The ‘disorder’ under discussion here was not events at Pool or Redruth, or even Helston or Penzance. Jewell, possibly with others from the ‘west’, was believed to have been fomenting unrest in the east of Cornwall too: namely, the riot that took place in St Austell, on Friday, June 11.

Alas, whether or not Jewell (or others) stirred up the miners on his sojourn through Clay Country is unknowable. It’s more likely he kept his head down, and his mouth shut. In fact, it turned out there were plenty of people in the area desperate enough, and hungry enough, to defy the authorities…

The final part of The Food Riots of 1847 will be posted on Sunday February 6:

Trouble in Clay Country

Thanks for reading


  1. From the Bodmin Jail website: https://www.bodminjail.org/discover/about-bodmin-jail/historical-timeline/
  2. See my previous post, Hellfire Corner, here. Jewell told a flour merchant that he’d be “d____d” if he left the town empty handed. Royal Cornwall Gazette, 9 July 1847, p1.
  3. According to the 1841 census, Jewell was born in around 1829, in Crowan.
  4. See: England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1936 for James Jewell, Piece 0559, Helston (Methodist), 1804-1837, Ancestry.co.uk
  5. Kresen Kernow, Quarter Sessions Rolls 1847, QS/1/14/284.

Hellfire Corner: Redruth: The Cornish Food Riots, Part Four

Reading time: 20 minutes

Peaceful demonstration of 600 miners, men, women and children, against the stopping of Wheal Agar Engine, April 1889. Photo by James Chenhalls1

A crowd estimated to be somewhere in the size of 5,000 men, women, and children marched up Illogan Highway, through Blowinghouse, and on to Fore Street, Redruth. Here, with some complacency, the grocers’ stalls had been set up for market day, and one can only imagine the consternation felt amongst the traders as the restless mob came amongst them, demanding fair prices. No deal could be met, and somehow the grocers were passed over unscathed.

The London Hotel, Fore Street. With thanks to Ralph Elcox

Magor, with a couple of panicky magistrates, had no option but to retreat, and dashed to the London Hotel on Fore Street. Here, breathless and besieged, Magor finally read the Riot Act from an upstairs window, and made various, largely-unheeded pleas to the hordes below on the consequences of their actions. Some vestiges of caution on the miners’ part must have remained, though, and it was agreed that the demands of the crowd be voiced to the hemmed-in Magor by two delegates.

The Parley

These negotiations may, by now, have become largely ritualistic, with neither side entirely believing the sincerity of the others’ words, but both having to observe the tradition for form’s sake. The miners could therefore justify their recourse to riot if the discussions went sour (they lied to us, brothers, what are we to do now?), and the authorities could later say they listened to the crowd’s demands in a civilised manner, and could also later claim bad faith on the part of the miners if disturbances broke out (we said, these things take time…their demands were unreasonable…), and force was required.

…the men could not have animal food…

Royal Cornwall Gazette, June 11 1847, p2

as they would offer 4p/lb for it. Was the situation now so desperate people were contemplating the consumption of fodder? Or was it merely Williams, a trader in livestock, showing concern for his animals? This is unclear. What is apparent is that even this offer for sustenance, for either man or beast, was refused, and Magor patronisingly took the moral high-ground, arguing that Williams, as a bull-trader, should slaughter his own stock and sell it to his comrades at 4p/lb! Furthermore, Magor continued,

…don’t you think the same observation would hold good with regard to flour?

Royal Cornwall Gazette, June 11 1847, p2

The way Magor saw it, to slash the price of one foodstuff set the precedent for the cost of other goods to be drastically reduced also. Or perhaps he just didn’t like a couple of plebs telling him what he ought to do. Magor probably held true to the opinion of Mr John King Lethbridge of Launceston, Chairman of the Magistrate at the Midsummer Sessions held in July of that year. Dearth, he opined, was

the Act of God, who, for reasons to themselves inscrutable, had thus afflicted them…the duty of man was, submission to the Divine Will…

Royal Cornwall Gazette, July 2 1847, p2

Try telling that to a man who was possibly considering eating animal feed.


The Stack, Pednandrea Mine, Redruth6

Clearly, both sides were intractable, and many pacing impatiently outside The London Hotel must have realised this even before the unsatisfactory conclusion of the discussions. Of the thousands in the street, fifty or so slipped away to Pednandrea, where a flour-merchant was said to keep stores. On forcing entry, though, all they found was a consignment of fertilizer – guano.

Warmington’s Stores

The Wesleyan Chapel, Higher Fore St, Redruth. Warmington’s Stores were nearby

…all the flour-merchants were rogues of the first order…

Royal Cornwall Gazette, July 9 1847, p1

What happened next ensured he didn’t.

Suddenly a large body of around fifty men and women pulled a ladder free from a nearby wall and proceeded to employ it as a battering ram, charging on and on to cheers and shouts of encouragement. Eventually the big double-doors of Warmington’s warehouse were reduced to kindling. Women swarmed through the gaping entrance – the only person running in the opposite direction was Warmington himself. Stapleton elected to take on sentry duty, arming himself with a hefty piece of two-by-four for the purpose, whilst inside women took on the business of liberating the stores, emerging plastered in flour, their aprons and bags bulging.

Redruth’s Special Constables, with Magor at their head, weren’t about to stand idly by. They sprinted across town to the scene of the looting and made straight for the entrance to Warmington’s. There, braced by the door, was Stapleton who, although he gave as good as he got, was overpowered and relieved of his weapon, receiving several lusty blows for his trouble. (Stapleton, in court, denied he was ever there.) The Constables then surged through and endeavoured to clear the warehouse of its invaders. Mary Tippett, a lady in her fifties, was rapidly turfed out, but slipped in yet again and filled her basket. One Constable, John Lanyon, cracked her one over her hands with his tipstaff as she was leaving; Tippett screamed murder and immediately received some able assistance. Lanyon was dragged off her and coshed out by a blow to the head, then kicked and stoned as he lay prone.

In fact, stones and various missiles were now being hurled at the constables and magistrates with regular abandon. The authority figures might have claimed they were re-taking possession of Warmington’s; their tormentors, on the other hand, might justifiably claim they were retreating inside under a shower of rocks and broken glass. One of those under siege was John Rogers, a local auctioneer who had been deputised for the day. He and his fellow-constables ran upstairs, assisting a groggy Magor who himself had been struck by a stone. They were relieved to locate a rear window and, one by one, all leapt 15 feet to freedom and the ground below. Or so they hoped. Rogers, on hitting the earth, was dragged to his feet by none other than George Stapleton, who then knocked him down with his fists, to yet more cheering. (Stapleton was later to deny this too.)

A grinding-stone, such as that employed by William Francis

Maria Floyd, 29, plastered in flour and her apron bulging, needed the intercession of her husband to warn off an approaching Constable, Joseph Harris:

Let her go; she has worked hard enough for it…

Royal Cornwall Gazette, July 9 1847, p1

Harris, viewing the carnage about him, sensibly complied.

Magor, having had a most undignified exit from the scene of the looting, must have taken recovery of his senses. The Riot Act had been read over an hour ago. Enough was enough.

…a raking cross-fire…

Higher Fore Street, 1898. Courtesy of Francis Frith

By 6pm, the military were present in Higher Fore Street. Stapleton and Francis were rapidly identified and told to go home and await a summons, but many, with their improvised cargoes of flour, melted away. One of those who slipped through the thin red line was James Jewell.

The militia didn’t just round up the principal figures of the disturbance. Under Simmonds’ orders, and, with the Pensioners, the Redcoats quickly surrounded the thousands of civilians still present in Higher Fore Street. They then took up elevated positions, from all angles, to thus enable a

…raking cross-fire…

Royal Cornwall Gazette, June 11 1847, p2.


The above attitudes of the authorities are echoed in one of the very few articles on the Riots, written by Ashley Rowe in 1942. In his view,

The miners were in the wrong…the inhabitants generally did their duty as good citizens; and…the magistrates nobly upheld the great traditions of those charged with the maintenance of the King’s Peace.

Report of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, Vol 10, 1942, p67

The Aftermath

George Stapleton was arrested on June 10th. By the next day, a Friday, over a hundred of his fellow miners from Tincroft and Carn Brea had assembled in Tuckingmill, demanding his release or they would sink the shafts. This bravado was short-lived, and futile. The army was only a couple of miles up the road.

Shire Hall, Mount Folly Square, Bodmin. The Midsummer Sessions were held here in 1847. From Wikipedia

…every one siding, abetting, or assisting in the commission of the offence, was as guilty as the person who actually took out and carried off the stores.

Royal Cornwall Gazette, 9 July 1847, p1

The punishments meted out were, therefore, a warning

…to the peaceably disposed, to abstain from being even present at riotous assemblages of people.

Royal Cornwall Gazette, 9 July 1847, p4

Someone was going to be made an example of.

Criminal Registration Records, Cornwall, 1847. All those convicted for their involvement in the Pool and Redruth riots are listed20

George Stapleton and William Francis, both prominent in the tumult, were both given seven years transportation. They never saw Cornwall again.

Francis arrived in Moreton Bay, near Brisbane, in June 1849. He worked in the bush until 1858, but seems to have been paralysed in some way after this date and spent time in hospital. He died in 1869, aged 46, and is buried in an unmarked grave in the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum Cemetary, Redland City, Queensland.

William Francis’ burial record21
Newgate Calendar image of the Justitia prison hulk. Conditions aboard these vessels were horrifying
George Stapleton’s grave, Toowong Cemetary

But what of James Jewell? Though he was convicted at the same trial as Stapleton and Francis, he was not initially captured…

With special thanks to Vicky Watt, Nostalgic Redruth, Tracey Evans, Australian Genealogy, and Ian Stapleton, a Cornish relative of George Stapleton.

Next Sunday, February 6th: the final part of The Cornish Food Riots of 1847:

Trouble in Clay Country: St Austell

Thanks for reading


Commotion Time: Pool, June 4, 1847: The Cornish Food Riots, Part Three

The Riot Act. Under the laws of the time, anyone arrested an hour after its reading could face transportation for life. Image from Wikiwand

If the whispers were true, Magor and Davey must have realised their town was facing difficulties. After all, a crowd of 5,000 was estimated to have been in Penzance: we can be sure this was a total that would have increased with the telling. Redruth had no police force: the Cornwall County Constabulary would not be formed for another ten years. The maintaining of law and order was normally entrusted to four Parish Officers: George Hicks, Robert Ford, William Nicholls, and John Lander, none of whom were full-time (for example, Lander worked as a grocer). Hastily, Special Constables, all prominent townspeople (and not miners or the rank-and-file), were sworn in. There was a draper, a butcher, and an auctioneer; we do not know the total number of deputised men, the ‘papers only name a half-dozen. Whatever the size of their ranks, they were obviously going to be badly outnumbered, and Magor and Davey were taking no chances. A messenger was sent to Penzance, where the military were still present. Sixty troops of the 5th Fusiliers were mobilised, and marched from Penzance to Hayle, where a chartered train conveyed them the last few miles to Redruth, and they were stationed at West End. (In command, as at Helston and Penzance, was Captain Simmonds.) Forty Pensioners were also pressed into service, their base being what was then the Vestry Room on Falmouth Rd. These hundred or so armed men were in position by the morning of the 4th. Even the coastguard was on standby.

West End, Redruth
The old Vestry Room, Falmouth Rd, Redruth. In 1893 it became the town’s first fire station

Shops were boarded up. Women hustled their brats inside. Market-traders, especially the butchers, discretely removed their goods (and themselves) from harm’s way. Somewhere, two thousand people from the West were coming. They’d been kicked out of Helston, and received a little relief in Penzance. An army marches on its stomach – or on desperation.

The junction of Trevenson Rd, Church Rd, Agar Rd and Station Rd, Pool

…you raise your flour, and we don’t tell you when to raise it, and why won’t you fall it?

Royal Cornwall Gazette, July 9, 1847, p4

Then all hell broke loose.

Pool, early 1900s. Courtesy of Carn Brea Parish Council12

The militia were rapidly mobilised from Redruth, Pensioners and Special Constables complimenting the detachment of regular soldiers. Magor also rode in on horseback. The troops stood to attention outside Blamey’s now rather sorry-looking place of business, whilst Magor, with a duty befitting his station, read the Riot Act. Under the Punishment of Offences Act of 1837, the crowd now had an hour to peacefully disperse. Anyone remaining at the scene after the expiration of that time, if arrested, could be transported for life.

Dispersing peacefully is one thing; dispersing peacefully after a raid on a corn-factor’s store whilst carrying the fruits of your labour is another matter altogether. Prudence Thomas, still lugging her apron of flour but also now brandishing a large wooden paddle, threatened to ram it into the teeth of one Special Constable if he didn’t back off. Even as Magor had finished reading the Riot Act and was officiously folding the manuscript back into his pocket, Ann Roberts, 45, narrowly sidestepped his mount in her bid to get away with her own basket of flour. Scores of other people must have been making similar sharp exits.

For example, a Parish Constable called William Nicholls was coming out of Pool towards Illogan Highway, when he apprehended Thomas Medlin (or Medlen) and William Dodson, both men carrying what must have been a suspicious quantity of flour. Nicholls manhandled the men and secured them in the Account House at Wheal Agar, but not for long.

East Pool and Agar Mine

Over a hundred men, one of whom was William Osborne, quickly materialised, and demanded of Nicholls that he release their comrades, or,

…d__n your eyes, we will tear the account-house down…

Royal Cornwall Gazette, July 9, 1847, p4

Nicholls said he would do no such thing, and was then subjected to a brutal assault. He was punched, stoned, and finally battered with a shovel, this last item eventually being flung through the windows of the Account House to release Medlin and Dodson. Nicholls staggered off, the cries and insults of Osborne and his cohorts ringing in his ears. Medlin and Dodson were never recaptured – and neither was their flour.

They were lucky. One by one, those prominent in the Pool raid were rounded up. Anonymous faces from out of town escaped with relative ease; it was the locals whom the Constables could readily identify that were in most danger of arrest. They were held at Bodmin Jail awaiting trial, which wasn’t until early July.

Crime and Punishment

A Bodmin Gaol cell. Image courtesy Jackie Freeman13

William Osborne, Stephen Bennetts, Prudence Thomas, Ann Roberts and Mary Ann Craze were all tried at the same Midsummer Sessions as those who had fallen foul of the law at Redruth. As we shall see, the manner of their indictment was the same as that inflicted upon their Redruth comrades. Put bluntly, the authorities wanted to show those in the dock that

…the laws of England are stronger than brute force.

Royal Cornwall Gazette, July 9, 1847, p4

At Bodmin Gaol in the 1840s, hard labour often meant several hours every day on the treadmill, or convict breaker. It could accommodate 26 prisoners at a time and its only purpose was to physically and mentally break its victims, which it often did. The sheer pointlessness of their extreme exertions drove many to nervous breakdowns.

Several prisoners hold onto a bar and walk on a long treadmill at the Brixton House of Correction. Image by © CORBIS16

But the commotion time of June 4, 1847, was not over yet.

Next Sunday, January 30, will be part four of the Cornish Food Riots of 1847:

Hellfire Corner: Redruth, June 4, 1847

Thanks for reading