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

Murder, Debt, Riot: Richard Holloway, Redruth Solicitor

Reading time: 50 minutes

The old timber railway viaduct, Redruth, pre-1887. Holloway lived at Viaduct Cottage in the 1870s. From the Cornwall Railway Society, Paddy Bradley Collection

Mr Holloway, the solicitor, in the prosecution of the prisoners Bawden, had to make his escape from the mob at the conclusion of the case, and had to run over a garden and climb a wall. ~ The Cornish Telegraph, October 15, 1873, p2

He must have been terrified. He’d been a lawyer in Cornwall since 1864 and had never seen anything like this. He’d known a lot of unsavoury incidents on the circuit of the Cornwall County Assizes and Petty Sessions. Murder, stabbings, indecent exposures, assaults, even the brutal torture of a horse. He’d been privy to human nature at its most corrupt and bestial.

And now this. Five thousand Camborne miners, baying for blood because two of their own had been sent down. He’d been the lawyer prosecuting. He wasn’t about to negotiate safe conduct for himself from the town, or engage his sharp legal mind with the representatives of the mob, and give them his reasons why James and Joseph Bawden deserved six months on the treadwheel. Now was not the time for discourse. Now was the time to cut and run.

But Holloway wasn’t to know all this on the afternoon of October 7, 1873. All he knew was that he didn’t want to hang around Camborne any longer than was necessary.

But he’d be back. Holloway had known adversity before. This is the story of his professional life in Cornwall, as comprehensive as I can make it. It provides a fascinating window into the murkier elements of Cornish history, the complex relationships of nineteenth-century Cornwall’s lawyers, the business practices of adventurers in the county’s primary industry, mining, and the challenges faced by professional solicitors in forging a career.

It’s also a tale of family tragedy.

Legal man

Holloway was certainly kept busy. If mention in the Cornish newspapers is any true reflection of the amount of cases he was actually involved in, then he must have had a formidable workload. For example, he appeared either for the defendant or the plaintiff in fifty-eight reported cases in 1869. In 1870, he’s reported as one of the acting solicitors in forty-eight cases, and a further thirty-seven more in 1871. Occasionally, Holloway even appears in separate cases at the same session. For example, The Cornubian and Redruth Times of December 6, 1867 (p2) details the Redruth County Court session which had taken place on Wednesday the 4th. Holloway is representing the plaintiff in a case of debt concerning the sale of a horse. Next, he’s acting on behalf of a “poor old woman” who’s owed 30s in rent. After that, he’s involved in a miners’ dispute over their wages. We begin to get the impression of an industrious, London-educated professional, apparently much in demand with Cornwall’s litigants.

Holloway’s cases: “…of a character unfit for publication…”

The Old Courthouse, Penryn Street, Redruth. Holloway spent a lot of his career here.
Another view of the Courthouse, with the modern viaduct in view

It’s beyond the scope of this post to itemise every case with which Holloway was involved during his career in Cornwall. I’m going to provide the reader with a summary of his more interesting ones, in order to convey some sense of Victorian Cornwall’s society and its underworld. Holloway dealt with agricultural cases, maritime cases, industrial/mining cases, bankruptcy cases, juvenile delinquents and those whose relations to society were rather more marginal. They’re all here.

The Cornish Telegraph of October 31, 1866 (p3), recounts a “Strange Case of Alleged Confinement”. Holloway was defending a married Scorrier shopkeeper accused by his maidservant of getting her “in the family way”. When she attempted to challenge the shopkeeper on this delicate matter, he was alleged to have kept her “locked up for three weeks, giving her some empty flour bags to lie on”. The maid escaped, only to be held captive again for a further nine weeks, and on release was in a “most filthy state”. (She gave birth to a baby girl shortly after her confinement.) Holloway was unable to convince the court that the child was not the shopkeeper’s, and he was ordered to pay 2s 6d per week to the maid for the baby’s upkeep. As to the alleged confinement, it appears to have been dismissed as “trumped up”, although the shopkeeper was sternly cautioned by the Bench.

The Royal Cornwall Gazette of April 18, 1867 (p5) tells of an “Important Salvage Case” in Falmouth. Holloway was defending the owners of the Cardiff brig Isabella, who were sued for £200 under the Merchant Shipping Act. The Isabella was alleged to have been in distress off St Mawes Point in a gale and had been towed into Falmouth by the Lionness. The owners of this tug were seeking recompense for their services – the brig would have sunk without their assistance. Holloway must have displayed considerable verbal dexterity in his arguments for the defence, proving that the Lionness’ assistance was “not a question of salvage at all, but one of towage”. The £200 sought by the owners of the Lionness was knocked down to £7 10s.

The Railway Tavern, Illogan Highway. From the pub’s Facebook page.

On March 20, 1868 (p3), the Cornubian and Redruth Times reported on a “Beerhouse Offence” at the Railway Tavern, Redruth. Holloway was defending the landlord, accused of having his house open at an illegal hour. A policeman had witnessed a local prostitute enter the pub with an empty jug. On leaving the pub, not only was her jug full, but she was in the company of a man. When the constable asked the man who the girl was, he replied “Supposing she is a servant”. (This prompted some laughter from the court.) Although the local girl claimed there was only milk in the jug, it was discovered by the officer to contain beer. The landlord’s wife was asked in court as to what she had served the girl; her response to this question was apparently so obscene the ‘paper left it blank: “______”. Holloway got the case dismissed.

At the Camborne Petty Sessions detailed in the Cornubian and Redruth Times of February 2, 1869 (p3), Holloway successfully defended a 12 year-old boy accused of stealing cabbages from a farmer in Gwinear. The farmer had chased the boy to his house and accused him of the theft, which the lad “strongly denied”. Holloway proved the alleged thief’s alibi to be sound.

The Royal Cornwall Gazette of March 11, 1869 (p7), described an “Extreme Case of Cruelty”. Two farmers, from Paul, when informed of an exhausted horse found lying on their land, decided to chain the animal to the axle of a cart. It was then “dragged 250 yards in that horrid manner, tearing the flesh and skin from its body as it went”. The horse was then thrown into a pit, where it died, “lying in that deplorable state for two nights and a day”. Holloway successfully found the farmers guilty, and donated a portion of their fine to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The Gazette of June 3, 1869 (p5) told of how a man had tried to break up a streetfight between two miners, at East End, Redruth. The peacemaker got stabbed in the neck for his troubles, “under the angle of the jaw on the left side”. Though Holloway appeared for the man who had allegedly carried out the knifing, bail was refused and he was committed for trial at the next assizes.

The New Inn, Park Bottom, Redruth. Scene of a murder in 1870. From the St Austell Brewery website

“Murder at Redruth”, reported the West Briton of May 5, 1870 (p7). It occurred on Saturday night, April 30. John Martin, a miner from St Blazey, who had recently returned from America (the ‘paper noted he wore “a moustache and beard trimmed in the American fashion”), was accused of stabbing John Uren, “a quiet, orderly man”, who was a cripple and nearly blind. Martin had been making unsavoury remarks to two women running a fish stall outside The New Inn, Park Bottom. One of the women was Uren’s wife, who ran to get him him in order to see off Martin. There was then a scuffle outside the pub between Martin, Uren, and another man, Prisk, who’d come to assist Uren. Martin stabbed Uren in the “lower part of the bowels” with a knife with a 7″ blade, practically severing his main artery. It took Uren the best part of an hour to bleed to death, leaving his wife and five children unprovided for. Martin, charged with murder and facing the noose, pleaded not guilty and hired Holloway.

The outcome of the trial at the Cornwall Summer Assizes was then reported in the Cornubian and Redruth Times on August 6, 1870 (p5). The jury decided that Martin had indeed stabbed Uren, in an act of self-defence (how the jury concluded Martin needed to defend himself from a partially-sighted cripple, only they will know), but only with intent to injure, not kill. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to penal servitude for life.

In August 1871 a 15 year-old boy ran naked for 200 yards in front of Four Lanes church, just as the congregation were leaving after evening service. He’d been put up to it by some older lads and the whole thing sounds like a dare that went too far. Holloway, defending the boy charged with indecent exposure, certainly felt that way and convinced the Bench at Helston Petty Sessions to give him 48 hours in gaol and then send him home, where, one imagines, he had a lot of explaining to do. (From the Cornubian and Redruth Times, August 25, 1871, p2.)

And so Holloway’s career continued. He was unsuccessful in defending four men caught trespassing and ferreting for rabbits at Gwithian in 1872 (Cornubian and Redruth Times, September 13 1872, p5). In October of that year he appeared for the defendant in a case of assault which had happened at Lelant. The case was dismissed, but the plaintiff, obviously disgruntled at the outcome, handed Holloway a note stating that, if his client was not bound over to keep the peace, plaintiff would “keep a six-shooter about him”. This wreckless bravado resulted in the plaintiff himself being bound over, and having to pay costs. (Cornubian and Redruth Times, October 25, p5.)

Camborne Town Hall, where the Petty Sessions were held. Built in the 1860s. From the Camborne Town website

The Camborne Petty Sessions of January 1873 can be summarised thus: two cases of drunk and riotous, a case of animal cruelty, two cases of assault, one case of vandalism, and someone let his bullocks stray onto the highway. Holloway was on duty for the assaults. (West Britain, January 30, 1873, p5.)

In 1878 Thomas Dabb of Mount Hawke let one of his bulls into a field which belonged to his brother. Mary Dabb, his sister-in-law, pointed out to Thomas that the field was not his. Thomas Dabb then subjected Mary to a brutal assault with a whip. Holloway, defending, stated that as “a question of right being involved in the case”, it couldn’t be tried at the West Powder Petty Sessions. Case was postponed. (The Cornishman, December 5, 1876, p6.)

In 1879 five youths were charged with “criminally assaulting” an orphaned girl of “weak intellect” from Camborne. The evidence given “was of a character unfit for publication”. Holloway appeared for the defendants, who were dismissed with a mere reprimand – the evidence, whatever it was, had failed to establish the charge. (Cornish Telegraph, September 9, 1879, p5.)

It’s clear, then, that Holloway was a prolific, and formidable, lawyer. Here and there we also get some intimation of what kind of person he was.

Holloway’s personality

The Royal Cornwall Gazette of October 14, 1864 reports on the recent meeting of the Redruth Institute (p5). The evening was given over to its members giving readings and monologues for the entertainment of those present. Amongst those presenting a recital was Mr R. Holloway, solicitor, who

read with considerable effect, some humourous sketches from the “Pickwick Papers”, which was a very pleasing change indeed.

What does this tell us about Holloway? That he was obviously at ease addressing the public – in his line of work that was fundamental for success. He must also have been very self-assured: this is one of the earliest mentions of him appearing in public, in a new town, a new county, whose populace he’s going to serve in a professional manner. He also seems well-read, and cultured: apparently the choice of reading Dickens was a somewhat unorthodox one, but was well-received. That he was also present at the Institute’s meeting, and was its vice-president for many years (from 1865, as mentioned in the Gazette of September 29 of that year (p8)), shows his interest in public affairs and the affairs of the town he now calls home. Holloway was setting himself up as a figure in the public eye.

By 1874, Holloway’s reputation as a solicitor of note was well-established. A local publican, seeking the return of his license to sell intoxicating liquids, sought to employ him in this respect. He knew Holloway as a “painstaking” gentleman. Judging by the amount of times he appeared for the defence over the years (see above), and the amount of times his clients had their sentences/fines reduced or the case was dismissed on a technicality, one must conclude that he was, indeed, a most painstaking and tenacious individual on a case. (From the West Briton, October 22, 1874, p10.) But there was absolutely one crime that Holloway never defended. And that was cruelty to animals.

I’ve already outlined the shocking case of cruelty towards a horse in March 1869. What I haven’t mentioned is that, as well as arranging for a portion of the fines to be donated to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Holloway actually appeared on that organisation’s behalf. And this was no one-off. In 1875, Holloway represented the Society again, this time in a case of alleged cruelty towards sheep. A herd of the animals had been so crammed into a railway truck that seven suffocated and died on the short journey from Camborne to Redruth. (From the Cornish Telegraph, May 12, 1875, p2.) He also appeared on behalf of the Royal Humane Society, as noted in the Telegraph of June 2, 1875 (p2). Founded in 1824, the SPCA was in its relative infancy when Holloway was practicing; his compassion shown toward members of the animal kingdom makes him seem somewhat modern.

It’s with heavy irony, then, that the suspected cause of Holloway’s death in 1881 was from a kick to the arm from a horse, possibly on his own farm; this was recorded in the Cornubian and Redruth Times of May 6, 1881, p5. He was “in the prime of life”, and “always affable and obliging”. Before the opening of Redruth County Court on May 17, 1881, the Judge, Montagu Bere, QC, was moved to speak of his former colleague as having

…the advantage of a native intelligence which always prevented him from going wrong, and he had a knowledge of the people among whom he lived, of their manners, their customs, and their habits which rendered him of most valuable assistance to the court. (Cornish Telegraph, May 19, 1881, p8.)

None of these eulogies mention the financial troubles that dogged Holloway’s early career.

Money Matters

Holloway attended The Exeter Court of Bankruptcy of 5 December, 1867, on a side of the dock he was perhaps not accustomed to. He owed £1,454 to creditors, £30 on bills, and £935 on his partnership account with Paull and Linton. He had assets of £12. Most of these debts Holloway had accumulated in the past three years, during his time in Cornwall and in partnership with Paull and Linton. He also owed money from as far back as 1857. The Judge commented that

what a pretty state of things this is, you know; only £12 assets and over £2,000 liabilities. I cannot pass a gentleman in this way, with an immense debt…

Holloway’s case was adjourned for further investigation. Before stepping down, he sought to mitigate himself somewhat. When entering into partnership with Paull and Linton in July 1864 it was agreed that he would run the Redruth branch of the firm. He was to have a third of the profits from the branch and £150/year besides. Holloway stated that he “never had a farthing…nor any profits.” Any money he received was sent to Paull and Linton in Plymouth, as they were “continually writing for money to support that establishment.” Linton had already been declared bankrupt, and the firm had been liquidated – Holloway made a final payment of £300 as a goodwill gesture. All his creditors “had sympathized with him, and it was well known in the county why he was in court.” Holloway had to wait until the 20th of that month to see if his career, and his status as a gentleman, was over. If he knew his Dickens – and he did – his fears of destitution must have been profoundly felt. (From the Royal Cornwall Gazette, December 12, 1867, p3.)

It seems that, indeed, Holloway’s creditors sympathised with his plight. Although the case had been adjourned in order to give the creditors an opportunity to oppose the bankruptcy, none stepped forward. On December 20th, Holloway was “granted an order of discharge”: he was free from his debts. (As reported in the Cornubian and Redruth Times, December 27, 1867, p3.)

To help us understand more about the social context of Victorian bankruptcy as it pertains to Holloway’s situation, I’m going to summarise the arguments put forth in the following article: “Bankrupt Accountants and Lawyers: Transition in the Rise of Professionalism in Victorian Scotland”, by Thomas Lee, from Accounting, Auditing, and Accountability Journal, 24:7, 2011, 879-903. It may not consider England, or indeed Cornwall, but Lee’s more general conclusions are helpful and applicable.

Victorian society viewed bankruptcy as the penalty for inefficient business practice; to be poor was to be unclean, both physically and spiritually. And bankruptcy happened to lawyers with surprisingly regularity, especially to those in more provincial areas.

Holloway, however, appears to have recovered relatively rapidly from his regrettable appearance at Exeter Court in 1867. As noted earlier, the 1871 census finds him living the life of a respectable professional, with a servant and governess in his employ. Maybe running his own practice suited him; maybe he just worked tirelessly to keep the income at a steady stream. Significantly, Holloway’s “peak years” of being mentioned in cases by the newspapers occur around this time: 52 cases in 1869, 48 in 1870, 37 in 1871. After that, his name occurs less frequently in relation to court hearings: 20 in 1876, 13 in 1877, 12 in 1878. Perhaps, with a new practice, a young family and a damaged reputation in the late 1860s, the increased workload was the only way to keep the wolves from the door. By the late 1870s, he could cut back on his cases and still afford to purchase a farm.

(Ironically, he represented in numerous bankruptcy cases over the years. For example, there’s one reported in the Cornubian and Redruth Times of February 2, 1868, p3.)

Rather more petty financial squabbles occupied Holloway over the years. In 1871 he was in court again, sued for £10 by a mine broker from St Day. Holloway had allegedly agreed with this man to buy shares in Wheal Uny Mine, then reneged on the deal. The broker was suing for loss of earnings. When the broker had asked why Holloway wouldn’t pay, he replied that “he had been to collect a lot of money in the neighbourhood of Helston, and had not gathered a shilling.” After a lengthy cross-examination of the broker, it became apparent that this man had offered to buy ten shares from another agent, for £9 5s a share, with the sole intention of selling them on to Holloway at £10 5s a share. This other agent hadn’t sold the shares to the St Day man, and the St Day man was suing Holloway £10 because he “would have gained [£10] by selling them.” The case was thrown out and the St Day man ordered to pay costs. (From the Royal Cornwall Gazette, October 14, 1871, p7.)

This is as indicative of the customs and practices of mine brokers and agents in the era as it is of Holloway’s difficulties in collecting fees – and the fact that he was prepared to gamble on mining stocks. We can imagine him, or one of his clerks, tethering his horse in a remote mining district and visiting several homesteads in the hope of a redress for his services, only to be told by a weary tributer that this month’s sett was very poor and he stood to make a loss himself, or to be fobbed off with a few pence and assurances that the whole amount would be there next month. The frequency with which this must have happened was as frustrating for Holloway as it is unknowable for us.

Holloway was also summoned to court in 1880, as reported in the Cornishman of February 2 of that year (p5). He was called on to pay a debt of £2 to Thomas Penaluna, of Wendron. Holloway chose to defend himself, and his irritation at having been summonsed is apparent; he “considered it a most iniquitous thing”. It certainly was. Back in 1873 Holloway had paid two men £1 each to stand as bond for the administration of Penaluna’s deceased cousin’s estate. Why Holloway was being called on to pay the £2 now, when he had paid it back in 1873, was utterly beyond him. The Bench, obviously, found in Holloway’s favour.

This, of course, was one of Holloway’s final appearances at court, a man now so self-assured he could opt to speak for himself in the dock, and with the clout to voice his displeasure at having to be there at all. One of his sons, John Edward Holloway (b.1855), followed his father into the family practice.

Tragically, his career lacked the success of the elder Holloway.

John Edward Holloway and John Rule Daniell

Mr J. R. Daniell, solicitor, of Camborne, has purchased, and will continue Mr. Holloway’s practice at Redruth…as well as the fact that Mr. John E. Holloway, the deceased gentleman’s son, will remain with Mr. Daniell as articled managing clerk. (Cornish Telegraph, May 12, 1881, p5.)

Polstrong 3
Polstrong House, Roseworthy, Camborne From the House and Heritage website

That Holloway and Daniell were acquainted, however, doesn’t necessarily make them friends. It may have been Holloway’s dying wish that Daniell purchase his practice and give guidance to his son, John, as Daniell himself claimed later. Or, alternatively, Daniell may have seen an opportunity to expand his own business, and kept John Holloway on out of respect for his dead colleague and legal opponent. Not having children of his own might possibly have been a factor in Daniell making this decision (as mentioned in Daniell’s obituary, the Cornishman, September 9, 1911, p5).

Whatever the reasons, and whatever tuition and experience Daniell provided for John Holloway, he perhaps lacked the intellect, tenacity and survival instincts of his father. The frequency with which he appears in cases reported by the Cornish newspapers fails to challenge that of Richard Holloway. From 1881 to 1897 he is mentioned on only 47 occasions. In November 1897 his request for a retrial in a case was refused, his reasoning for the request being verbally mocked by the judge, and provoking laughter from those present (from the Cornishman, November 25, p2). By 1898, as reported in the Cornubian and Redruth Times of October 7 (p5), he had sold his practice to a Mr Harris.

Lemon Street, Truro, 2021

In October 1899 John Holloway was living in Lemon Street, Truro. For some weeks past he had been complaining of head pains, but on the morning of Friday 6th he awoke and bathed as normal, then returned to his room.

He then put a revolver to his head, and shot himself. His suicide note, along with the Coroner’s inquest, was recorded in the Royal Cornwall Gazette, October 12, 1899, p3:

I attribute my unsuccessful professional career in the beginning and end to John Rule Daniell, solicitor, Camborne, who, when I was his articled clerk and he an experienced man, had all my ready cash, £3,000, and crippled me for years. He knows the transaction and promise made me. Now he refuses to answer a letter just to relieve me in a pinch. May God Almighty forgive me and bless my wife and family. We have been a happy one. – J E. HOLLOWAY.

I can’t stand this no longer. I feel my head daily getting worse. – J.E.H.

The jury at the inquest returned a verdict of “Suicide whilst in a state of temporary insanity.”

But before doing so, the Coroner spoke to John Rule Daniell.

Daniell stated that Richard Holloway had asked him “when very ill to do what he could for his son in case anything happened.” Daniell then went on to convincingly refute the claim made by John Holloway in his note that he had held Holloway’s “ready cash” as a young man. Daniell was at pains to point out that Holloway had lost £600 on a land transaction around fifteen years previously and that he still felt Daniell in some way responsible – he wasn’t, as Daniell was at pains to point out. As to the letter Daniell never replied to, Daniell presented it the Coroner and explained that he had never replied to it because, shortly after it was delivered, Holloway visited him, asking for money. Holloway was “in a pinch” as he had wound up his practice in Redruth, had plans to start a new one in Truro, and had lost money in shares at Carn Brea Mine. Daniell claimed he told Holloway that he wouldn’t mind the loan normally, but “he had plenty of demands, and it was not practicable for him to make the advance.”

Daniell was exonerated. The Coroner “would not believe the loss of £600 so many years ago would cause him to take his life”, and wondered why Holloway hadn’t approached his family for assistance rather than Daniell.

The story has one more tragic turn, another “Sad Event”.

Interesting to note, another son of Holloway was one of the very first players for Redruth RFC. Thanks to Nick Serpell for informing me of this.

With special thanks to Richard Holloway’s great-great-great grandson, Tim Kent.

Do you have a Cornish ancestor you’d like to find out more about? Please get in touch!

The Man Who Photographed the Miners: J. C. Burrow in Cornwall and Wales

Part Two

(If you missed Part One, you can find it HERE)

Reading time: 25 minutes

The original cover of Burrow’s most famous publication, 1893

Distinctly remarkable…

1893 was an important year for John Charles Burrow. The photographs he took underground at the Dolcoath, Cook’s Kitchen, East Pool and Blue Hills Mines, were published in his ‘Mongst Mines and Miners. This work not only gained him recognition and celebrity in Cornwall, but also respect, and fascination, in the world of professional photography, and from the general public.

His photos, such as the one below, also brought awareness of the working conditions underground to many people living outside of the mining districts. I might add, they still do.

66 Fathom, Blue Hills, St Agnes. Three miners are hammering a new prop into position to support a lode of four to five feet. Image courtesy Kresen Kernow, AD460/1/35. This image originally appeared in ‘Mongst Mines and Miners

Examples of Burrow’s work were displayed in London that year at the 38th Exhibition of The Photographic Society of Great Britain, where he won a bronze medal for his efforts1.

Positive reactions to Burrow’s skill, and his results, were immediate. The Morning Post described his exhibits as “very interesting”2. Other reports were equally appreciative, and more detailed. The miner, as George Orwell wrote in 1937, is

…second in importance only to the man who ploughs the soil…a sort of grimy caryatid upon whose shoulders nearly everything that is not grimy is supported.

From The Road to Wigan Pier, in Orwell’s England, ed. Peter Davison, Penguin, 2001, p68

Therefore, anyone who can successfully, and faithfully, record the labours of an industry that makes civilisation possible, is also important. This was realised by the London Evening Standard:

…the underground pictures of Mr Burrow have supreme merit. The greatest difficulties to portray such scenes…snatched from the darkness of subterranean passages fathoms deep…by the skilful manipulation of limelight and magnesium lamp.

October 11, 1893, p2

The Times likewise noted that

…photographically considered and for their general interest they are distinctly remarkable.

This was actually quoted in the Cornish Post and Mining News of September 29, 1893 (p8), beside Burrow’s photo of the stull at 412 Fathom, Dolcoath Mine, Camborne:

Cornish Post and Mining News, September 29, 1893, p8. This image also originally appeared in ‘Mongst Mines and Miners

As we saw last week3, though Burrow took this shot in 1892, interest in it increased in the most tragic circumstances. In September 1893, the stull at 412 Fathom collapsed, killing seven miners working to repair it. Postcards of Burrow’s photo did a brisk and morbid trade in the Camborne area, and the image was also used by H.M. Inspector of Mines for the South West, Joseph Martin, during the inquest into the accident.

It was Burrow’s recognition in London, and the Dolcoath Disaster, that probably brought his abilities to the attention of the government.

There was trouble in North Wales.

O Arglwydd Dduw Rhagluniaeth: The Llechwedd Strike of 1893

North Wales Chronicle, May 27, 1893, p2

The Llechwedd Slate Quarry near Blaenau Ffestiniog was the scene of a bitter and protracted strike from May to September of 18934. It began when a quarryman, Griffith Jones, was threatened with the loss of a day’s pay unless he returned to his work station. Jones, who had already worked seven and a half hours that day, refused, and went home. When he returned to Llechwedd the next day, Jones was told he had been suspended for his defiance. In a mass show of solidarity, the entire Llechwedd workforce, totalling 500 or so, downed tools, and vowed that

…we will not return to work without a distinct understanding that we shall all be allowed to return without a single one being left out, and that the present dispute be satisfactorily settled.

Qtd in the North Wales Chronicle, May 27, 1893, p5
Pay day, Llechwedd, 1890s5. Quarrymen hand-drilled underground in the pitch black with chains round their legs to prevent falls, often spending their entire working lives in the same slate chamber
Today, the Llechwedd Slate Caverns are a tourist attraction in Snowdonia

The quarry owner, John Earnest Greaves (1847-1945), let it be known that those on strike could consider themselves severed from his employ, and he furthermore reserved the right to employ only men he wanted to employ6.

John Earnest Greaves in 1897. From his Wikipedia entry

Thus were the battle-lines drawn, and were to remain as immovable as the Western Front for the next five months. Committees were formed, spokesmen nominated, and delegates presented grievances. In the first flush of optimism, the Quarrymen predicted a “short battle”7, and even had an unofficial anthem, the hymn ‘O Arglwydd Dduw Rhagluniaeth’ (‘O Lord God of Providence’).

The Llechwedd Quarrymen had the official, and financial, support of all quarry-workers in the Ffestiniog, Penryndeudrath, and Bethesda areas. Local firebreathing ministers took up their cudgels too, describing the “present fight” as

…one between gentlemanliness and oppression, justice and tyranny, capital and labour.

North Wales Chronicle, August 19, 1893, p7

The strike was also recognised by The North Wales Quarrymen’s Union, who gave the Llechwedd workers’ plight a nationalist agenda. The Greaves family was from England8, and while the Union was

…willing to respect aliens who might come amongst them, but if their object was to tyrannise over them and act towards them unjustly and unfairly, then it behoved them to lift up their voices against those aliens.

North Wales Chronicle, August 19, 1893, p7

(It may be worthwhile to point out to my readers outside of Wales that the Ffestiniog area was, and still is, proudly Welsh, and proudly Welsh-speaking. In 1893, all the Quarrymens’ meetings were conducted in Welsh, and their correspondence to the Llechwedd officials had to be translated into English before it could be read9.)

The Quarrymen also had the support of the up-and-coming young Liberal MP for Caernarvon Borough, David Lloyd George10.

Sadly, it was not enough.

Slate cutter, Llechwedd, 1893. Image courtesy Kresen Kernow, ref. AD460/24

Over 1,100 men, women and children formerly reliant on wages from the quarry were now without regular income. The strike, and by extension their plight, was dismissed in the Press as

…one of the most ridiculous in the annals of labour disputes…

North Wales Chronicle, May 20, 1893, p8

Greaves, by contrast, was portrayed as a

…most generous and considerate employer…

North Wales Chronicle, May 20, 1893, p8

(Indeed, the Chronicle‘s reporter was threatened with a “muzzle” by the strikers for airing such opinions11.)

Furthermore, The North Wales Quarrymen’s Union was condemned as a “beggarly organisation”, spouting “sheer nonsense”12. It was responsible for the “long weeks of suffering of the families of Llechwedd”13.

Perhaps understandably, with these conflicting voices, the community of Llechwedd became divided, and irrational.

North Wales Chronicle, June 17, 1893, p8

The Hospital in Newmarket Square, Blaenau, was senselessly vandalised by drunken quarrymen for no other reason than it having been founded by Greaves13.

Llys Dorfil, The Square, Bleanau. Formerly the Hospital. With thanks to Llio Wyn and Gareth Jones, Bleanau Ffestiniog UNESCO World Heritage page, Facebook

One man who crossed the picket line and went back to work was “severely condemned”14. What ‘severely condemned’ might be a euphemism for is illustrated by a serious assault on another ‘scab’. He was dragged from his workplace, beaten, and almost thrown over a precipice, where he would have

…met with instant death…

North Wales Chronicle, July 8, 1893, p8

Other men tried to return to work on false pretences. In short, hunger was beginning to win out over principles and, as the North Wales Chronicle of September 9th smugly noted, finally, the strike was “terminated in favour of the masters” (p8). It was later noted that prominent strikers had been refused readmission to the quarry, with many leaving the area15. With yet more gloating, the Press opined that

This result was inevitable from the very start.

North Wales Chronicle, September 9, 1893, p5

Maybe, maybe not. But was there not perhaps something in the quarrymen’s grievances? Was their discontent justified? Could something be done to introduce improvements

…into the quarrying, in addition to adding greatly to the pleasure the workman himself would derive in following his occupation.

North Wales Chronicle, December 1, 1894, p6

Certainly, H. M. Government thought so.

The Commission

The old railway station, Camborne, c1895. The new buildings are under construction on the left. Burrow probably began his journey here in 1893. Image courtesy Kresen Kernow, ref. corn05120

The then Home Secretary, Herbert Asquith, commissioned an investigation into the Merionethshire Slate Mines (of which Llechwedd was one) in November 189316.

Herbert Henry Asquith, 1852-1928. From his Wikipedia page

The Chairman of Asquith’s Commission was Clement Le Neve Foster (1841-1904), the Inspector of Mines for North Wales. Both he and Asquith were probably already familiar with Burrow’s work. As we saw last week, Asquith had been kept abreast of the events of the Dolcoath Disaster – and possibly Burrow’s photographic association with its inquest – by Cornwall’s mining inspector, Joseph Martin. Foster himself had several mining links with Cornwall; what’s more, his father had been a founding member of The Photographic Society of Great Britain, which had awarded Burrow for his ‘Mongst Mines and Miners in 189317.

Whatever the reason, or whoever recommended him, someone must have thought it desirous to have the quarries’ working environments photographed, and Burrow was drafted onto the Commission for this purpose sometime in late 1893. It’s unknown whom he travelled to North Wales with, or whether he transported his cameras, plates, tripods, lenses, limelight burners, oxygen and hydrogen canisters, and magnesium flash equipment by himself. It’s possible he had the tools of his trade sent on ahead, but I can’t imagine Burrow letting his precious, and expensive, gadgets stray too far from his side. Even without this paraphernalia, the journey by rail would have been testing, with many changes from Cornwall culminating in a seemingly endless run of stops along the Cambrian line (Aberdovey, Llanbedr, Llandanwg, Harlech, Tygwyn, to name but a few), before the final change at Minfordd for the Ffestiniog branch line.

Victorian photographers were regularly lampooned for the amount of implements they required. From: To Photograph Darkness, by Chris Howes, Alan Sutton, 1989, xix

If Burrow did travel solo, it raises an interesting point: who did he get to position and operate his limelight burners? Would he have had to use an interpreter? How were his wishes conveyed to the quarrymen?

The Government’s subsequent Blue Book was published in 1895, under the lengthy title of Report of the Departmental Committee Upon Merionethshire Slate Mines; With Appendices. In the interests of brevity, this publication will hereafter be referred to as The Report.

Mercifully, The Report is not as dry a read as its title might suggest. On the contrary, it provides a fascinating snapshot of 1890s life in the quarries of North Wales in general, and Llechwedd in particular. And life was hard. There were no toilets for the workers, above or below ground; men used old workings as latrines18. Typhus was a threat, men slept two to a bed in filthy barracks, often in the clothes they worked in, and many cottages were damp, having been erected on undrained peat19.

Ruined miners’ cottages, Llanberis, Snowdonia20

Even travelling to and from work on the Ffestiniog Railway was hazardous to health. Men waited on damp sidings in cold, sweaty clothes, there being no bathing, changing or drying provisions at the quarry, before being crammed onto draughty carriages21. This of course exacerbated the many respiratory diseases associated with the inhalation of dust underground. Diet was poor, and the men existed almost exclusively on stewed tea. (Much was made, incidentally, of the miners’ diets, with public lectures on cooking and nutrition subsequently being given in the Ffestiniog district 22.)

I could go on, but this post is not primarily concerned with the working conditions of Victorian slate miners, as seen through the eyes of a 21st century Cornishman. Suffice that The Committee made forty-three recommendations for improvements. Perhaps The Report‘s key finding was that

…the occupation of the Merionethshire man is more risky than that of the average miner of the United Kingdom.

The Report, xvii

Following this, accidents, and deaths, are

…inseparable from the present method of working…

The Report, xv

They certainly were. From 1875-1893, 65 of the 163 deaths in the Merionethshire mines were caused by falls of ground23. In the slate chambers, which men gradually hollowed out over periods of years, the rock roofs could extend over a hundred feet above them, making dangerous runs of debris likely.

Luckily for the reader, Burrow was on hand to capture this perilous working environment:

Image courtesy Kresen Kernow, ref. AD460/23

Above is plate one, figure one of The Report. As Burrow was later to point out, this is the first use of a photograph in a Government Blue Book24. The caption read:

Steps in a worked-out chamber of Llechwedd Mine, for the ascent and descent of the workmen...

As we saw last week25, Burrow probably had his subjects (who, judging by their suits, are members of the Commission) pose in the darkness, with their candles and lantern extinguished. Such light could cause a ‘halo’ on a plate and ruin a take. Burrow would later etch a false ‘light’ onto the plate. What is immediately apparent however is the sheer height of the chamber, and the unsupported nature of the walls.

Here’s another of Burrow’s underground images at Llechwedd. Plate 2, fig 3:

Image courtesy Kresen Kernow, ref. AD460/22. A version is also displayed at the entrance to Llechwedd Slate Caverns today

The caption read:

Upper part of a working-place at Llechwedd…The man on the right-hand side, supported by a chain round his thigh, is using a crow-bar to prize off a block of slate…the man on the left is standing upon a little stage made of two boards, resting upon two iron pegs, and is boring a hole with a jumper…The manager is standing on the tram road…[which]…is fifty feet vertically above the foot of the working face. If the workmen depicted were to slip, they would tumble and roll over a rough and rugged face of rock of nearly that height.

If the written description of extracting slate in the main body of The Report (xii-xiii) doesn’t satisfactorily convey the dangers of slate-mining, Burrow’s photo delivers it, if you will, in black and white.

The Commission visited many quarries, including the nearby Oakeley concern. Burrow went too. Here’s plate three, figure five:

I am grateful to Mr Erik Scott, a quarryman of over twenty years in the Ffestiniog district, for providing me with this image.

The caption read:

Ladder, 86 feet long, erected in one of the chambers of the Oakeley mine in order to examine the roof, which is known to be insecure. The ladder is held in position and stiffened by the guy ropes.

Then there is this image by Burrow, which didn’t make the final cut of The Report:

Image courtesy Kresen Kernow, AD460/21

It’s a postcard, and is described as ‘hauling slate’: it must come from Burrow’s time in Wales.

My contact at Blaenau Ffestiniog Library, Carmen Martin, informed me they actually have postcards of Burrow’s underground images from the quarries. Obviously, Burrow’s plates had a dual purpose: the official, Government-sponsored one, and to make him some money. Equally obviously, Burrow must have taken more, unpublished images. Like this one:

I am grateful to Mr Erik Scott, a quarryman of over twenty years in the Ffestiniog district, for providing me with this image.

Slate-getters appear to be hand-boring in an underground cavern – from precisely which quarry, it’s uncertain. What other precious images might Burrow have taken? Sadly, many were lost after his death, under the most banal circumstances: the plates were actually used to build a greenhouse26. We can only cherish what we have, and hope for new discoveries.

…we do not yet know its fullest possibilities…

The book Victorian Slate Mining (Landmark Publishing, 2003), by Ivor Wynne Jones, who was a journalist and director of the Llechwedd Slate Caverns attraction, of course covers Burrow’s time in Wales. I am grateful that several people recommended it to me in the course of my research, and for anyone wanting a fuller picture of the industry at this time, go there27.

As with Burrow’s work in Cornwall, his work in the quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog brought the realities of life underground to a wider public, not just through the publication of the The Report, but also through public lectures on the subject. Lectures which were, of course, illustrated by slides of Burrow’s photographs28. Needless to say, his images are still doing their job to this day. There may have been other men producing underground photography at this time, but none went as deep down, and therefore took as many risks, as Burrow. None contended with the challenges of heat and moisture that he did, and none, it must be said, produced such stunning results29. It was recognised at the time, and continues to be so.

Burrow once remarked that “we do not yet know” photography’s “fullest possibilities”30. Through a comprehensive biography of Burrow’s life, we may finally comprehend the fullest extent of his brilliant career. In Cornwall, his images in ‘Mongst Mines and Miners perhaps overshadows his work in Wales: I was certainly ignorant of his time there, and even the Archivist at Kresen Kernow told me he was unfamiliar with this aspect of Burrow’s profession31.

And there is much of interest. Did Burrow try his hand at painting, before photography32? What about his years as a rifleman for the DCLI33? Or, most tantalisingly, what about the story behind the images he took in a Bristol colliery in the 1890s34?

Surely the greatest photographer of Cornwall’s greatest industry is deserving of a full appreciation of his life and times.


That many quarrymen were blackballed in the aftermath of the Llechwedd Strike of 1893 is still well known in Blaenau Ffestiniog. After publishing this post, I was contacted by a resident, Gareth Jones. His grandfather and brother, both prominent strikers, were accused, yet acquitted (to much public rejoicing) of assaulting others “who remained at work after the strike had occurred”35. They were represented by none other than David Lloyd George. Neither worked in Llechwedd again, one man suffering permanent exile to the Durham coalfields. I’ll remember this story as much as I remember Burrow’s.

Many thanks for reading


  1. As covered in the Morning Post, September 23, 1893, p5, Lloyd’s Weekly, September 24, 1893, p8, and the London Evening Standard, October 10, 1893, p2. The Photographic Society of Great Britain became The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain in 1894 and is now, of course, The Royal Photographic Society. See: https://rps.org/about/history/
  2. September 26, 1893, p5. The Post, however, focused its praise more fulsomely on the “most artistic productions” of Italian pastoral youth by Count Wilhelm von Gloeden, who certainly had an interesting life, and career. See: https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1101782/head-of-sicilian-boy-photograph-von-gloeden-wilhelm/
  3. See last week’s post on Burrow here.
  4. Those wanting a more detailed account of the strike are directed here: The Llechwedd Strike of 1893, by Ivor Wynne Jones, Llechwedd Slate Caverns, 1993. My summary is based on the reports contained in the following editions of the North Wales Chronicle: May 20, p8; May 27, p5; June 10, p5; June 17, p8; Juy 1, p8; July 8, p8; July 22, p7; July 29, p10; August 19, p5, 7; September 9, p5; October 21, p5.
  5. Image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tallmanbaby/48847787056/in/photostream/
  6. The Greaves family has owned Llechwedd Quarry since the 1830s. See: https://llechwedd.co.uk/tales-from-the-mountains/heritage. For more on John Earnest Greaves, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ernest_Greaves
  7. North Wales Chronicle, May 27, 1893, p5
  8. The patriarch of the Greaves slate dynasty, John Whitehead Greaves (1807-1880), had been born in St Albans. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Whitehead_Greaves
  9. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blaenau_Ffestiniog#Welsh_language, and the North Wales Chronicle, May 27, 1893, p5.
  10. North Wales Chronicle, August 19, 1893, p7
  11. North Wales Chronicle, May 27, 1893, p5
  12. North Wales Chronicle, August 19, 1893, p7
  13. North Wales Chronicle, September 9, 1893, p5
  14. North Wales Chronicle, June 17, 1893, p8
  15. Liverpool Daily Post, May 7, 1894, p7
  16. Report of the Departmental Committee Upon Merionethshire Slate Mines (hereafter The Report), Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1895, vii.
  17. For more on Foster, see here: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Dictionary_of_National_Biography,_1912_supplement/Foster,_Clement_Le_Neve. For Peter Le Neve Foster’s involvement with The Photographic Society of Great Britain, see here: https://rps.org/about/history/
  18. The Report, xxix.
  19. The Report, xxi.
  20. From: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/538954280387175557/
  21. The Report, xxii, xxix.
  22. The Report, xxi. For the lectures, see the South Wales Echo, April 9, 1894, p2.
  23. The Report, xiv-xv.
  24. Cornish Post and Mining News, February 20, 1896, p8.
  25. See last week’s post on Burrow here.
  26. Chris Howes, To Photograph Darkness: the History of Underground and Flash Photography, Alan Sutton, 1989, p181.
  27. For an interesting review of this book, see: https://treasuremaps.weebly.com/reviews/victorian-slate-mining-by-ivor-wynne-jones. Jones’s obituary is here: https://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/obituary—ivor-wynne-jones-2874794
  28. See the North Wales Chronicle, December 1, 1894, p6.
  29. Howes, To Photograph Darkness, p162-82.
  30. Cornish Post and Mining News, February 20, 1896, p8.
  31. Email correspondence, August 2, 2022.
  32. See: https://cornwallartists.org/cornwall-artists/john-charles-burrow
  33. See Burrow’s obituary in The Cornishman, November 5, 1914, p5.
  34. For example, Kresen Kernow, ref. AD460/25.
  35. North Wales Chronicle, October 21, 1893, p5.

The Man Who Photographed the Miners: J. C. Burrow in Cornwall and Wales

Part One

Reading time: 20 minutes

Image courtesy Kresen Kernow, ref. AD460/22

‘Mongst Photos and Photographers…

A few weeks ago, I took my son on a camping trip to North Wales. We weren’t especially fortunate with the weather, and anticipating this I had arranged what I’d hoped to be an interesting indoor activity: an underground tour at Llechwedd Slate Caverns, near Blaenau Ffestiniog.

Underground at Llechwedd. One of my better efforts.

At its peak, in the 1880s, the Llechwedd Quarry employed over 500 men, women and children, and annually transported over 23,000 tonnes of finished slate worldwide1. I emphasise finished slate, because, according to my tour guide, around 90% of what was brought to the surface by the quarrymen was classed as waste and consigned to the massive heaps we can still see in the area today. In other words, 90% of the miners’ efforts were for nothing.

Some of the many slag heaps around Llechwedd

Before descending 500ft, or 83 fathoms, the tour guide gave our party the obligatory health and safety briefing. Whilst talking, he made reference to an old photograph, displayed amongst a selection of slate-cutting paraphernalia (see above). A group of quarrymen (or pare in Cornwall), are hand-drilling whilst precariously balanced on a sheer face of slate. The chains around their thighs are a token gesture to safety: it’s a 50ft drop below. Standing officiously above them is the shift supervisor or foreman. This was taken in the 1890s.

As the image was so clear, clearer than the one above, I was surprised when our guide informed us that this photo had actually been taken underground. The miners were working in pitch blackness, and the foreman wore black so the workers could never know when he was watching them.

The image had been captured by means of flash photography. Now I was really interested.

To my mind, in the 1890s, there was only one man in the United Kingdom using flash photography underground, and you’d have to scour half of Europe to find another one2.

This, of course, was John Charles Burrow (1852-1914). And he was a Cornishman. But didn’t he only ever photograph Cornish miners?

Our guide at Llechwedd didn’t know who had taken the photo. Being familiar with his work, however, I was convinced that only Burrow could have done it.

On returning home, I contacted Kresen Kernow, and discovered that they had images by Burrow taken in slate mines – but the location, or provenance, of these pictures wasn’t stated. On speaking with the Archivist, David Thomas, he told me there wasn’t “much knowledge” of Burrow’s work in Wales, but, as the man travelled a lot, a visit there would not be untypical3.

If Burrow had been to Llechwedd, why did he go there? Who sent him? When did he go there? How did he get there? Who went with him? What were his methods?

To begin to answer these questions, we need to trace the story of Burrow’s work in Cornwall: work which, in the words of David Thomas, made him

…one of the world pioneers of underground photography…

Email correspondence, 2nd August 2022

Cornish Post and Mining News, April 4, 1891, p1. Burrow advertised his services prolifically

Before he was twenty, Burrow had already found his life’s calling. Before he was thirty, in 1881, he was living in Camborne and set up as a “Photographic Artist”; his most well-known residence, and place of business, was “Camara”, on Trelowarren St4.

In short, Burrow had over twenty year’s experience in the medium before producing his most famous work in the 1890s. And he was not working, as it were, in the dark. Burrow was in regular contact with other photographers, and was actively engaged in the main issue vexing the professionals of the time: how do you photograph in the dark5?

It might be stating the blindingly obvious, but we know that Burrow was actively engaged with the current theories, debates, and conundrums because, simply, he succeeded in photographing in the dark.

He succeeded brilliantly.

To achieve this, allied to undoubted skill, tenacity, patience, and courage, Burrow used the very cutting-edge of photographic equipment for the time. It is less well-known that he had also been underground from a young age, and had personally vowed to capture mining life on its lower levels:

…my surprise at the difficulties and dangers of the miners’ work…led me to determine that whenever it became practicable I would show to the world what it meant to extract metals from the hard rocks so far below the surface.

J. C. Burrow, interviewed in the Cornish Post and Mining News, February 2, 1896, p8

The opportunity came in late 1892. He was commissioned (or challenged) by the Camborne School of Mines to take underground scenes at the Dolcoath, Cook’s Kitchen, East Pool and Blue Hills workings6. (Dolcoath was first, and remains the focus of this post.)

To his above resolve, Burrow carefully selected the tools of his trade. His lens of choice was new on the market, manufactured by Carl Zeiss in 18897. His camera, a Kinnear light bellows on a sliding tripod, would have been the latest, 1890s, model8. For the flashlight, he used magnesium powder. This bright burning metal, only discovered in the 1850s, was seemingly invented for photography. A powdered – and at times volatile – variant, flashpowder, had only been patented in 18879. His plates were of the new (late 1870s) ‘dry’ variety; previous to this innovation photographers had to prepare slides on the spot, and the exposure time for them could be excruciating for any sitter10.

Millbank, Lands End, 1898. Note the array of equipment. Back, l to r: William Thomas, co-author of ‘Mongst Mines and Miners, Herbert Hughes, underground photographer of Staffordshire collieries, and J. C. Burrow. The gentlemen in front remain unidentified. Image courtesy Kresen Kernow, ref. corn03899

To this formidable armoury, Burrow contrived what may have been a personal touch. He decided to take several limelight burners to Dolcoath with him, in order to more comprehensively illuminate his tableaux. Limelights, popular at the time in theatres, required an operator and canisters of oxygen and hydrogen to burn a light-emitting block of quicklime11. Burrow may have heard of the application of limelight to photography via the professionals’ grapevine12. Or, possibly, he was personally well-versed in the properties of limelight: in November 1892 he used limelight displays for an evening’s entertainment of the Barncoose Board Schoolroom13.

Deep down…

Such was the novelty and interest surrounding Burrow’s commission to photograph underground at Dolcoath, his adventure was serialised over three weeks in The Cornishman14. The reporter is probably William Thomas, a lecturer at Camborne School of Mines. These articles carry something of the flavour of the Victorian reportage of a newly-discovered land, society, and people; clearly the vast majority of The Cornishman‘s readers had little in-depth knowledge of Cornwall’s primary industry.

Both parties – Burrow’s, and the Dolcoath workforce – show equal amounts of fascination for each other. The sight of Burrow’s equipment, camera, flashlight, tripod, limelight and pressurised cylinders of oxygen and hydrogen excites no little curiosity15. Likewise, the mining natives’ rhythms of speech and dialect are dutifully recorded: one miner had just

clunked some tay to keep un from chacken weth thust after chowen es crowst

Qtd. in The Cornishman, January 5, 1893, p7

Before proceeding, Burrow’s party, comprising a guide, Thomas, and two or three School of Mines students (there to learn their trade, and carry equipment), have to ‘go native’ and don miners’ outfits and hard hats. There was to be no posing in Sunday best here16. This was a necessity: like many a trip to a strange land, danger might lurk around any corner…

Dolcoath Mine, looking over the Tuckingmill Valley, 1893. Image courtesy Kresen Kernow, ref. corn00352. Below is the same view today

When Burrow and his companions visited, Dolcoath was the deepest, and richest, tin mine in the world. With around 1,300 employees and an engine-shaft over 455 fathoms (or half a mile) deep, this was a subterranean land of mystery and riches. For example, at 412 fathom the tin-lode was valued at £600/fathom17. That’s over £53,000 today.

The risk in Burrow’s venture is evident before they have even descended: there was a delay due to blasting, and the area of the mine they are to visit, at 300 fathoms, has to be made safe. Even then, the method of descent is anything but secure. Burrow, his equipment, and party travelled down in a skip or gig, an “oblong iron box on wheels” with an open front, that normally carried up to four men18. Their journey sounds like the scariest rollercoaster ride in history:

Imagine yourself swung over a cliff half a mile high, and being lowered in an iron cage, to the bottom by a rope.

The Cornishman, January 12, 1893, p6

This being done in pitch blackness, down an open rock shaft, with full knowledge that skip ropes have failed, and men had recently plummeted to their deaths19. As Thomas observed, with fine understatement,

One could be excused feeling timorous…

The Cornishman, January 12, 1893, p6

This journey must have left a similar impression on Burrow, for he decided to photograph the skip, containing Joe Semmens, Dolcoath’s timberman, and a young companion. Here it is:

Joe Semmens and companion, the skip, 300 fathom, Dolcoath, late 1892. Image courtesy Kresen Kernow, ref. AD460/1/13

With yet more understatement, Thomas noted that Burrow merely “secured” this photo20. But we must remember that this image, to my knowledge the first ever taken underground at Dolcoath, may have been one of several attempts by Burrow to ‘secure’ it21. He had to, by candlelight, set up his camera, have his assistants position and operate the limelight burners, and pose the sitters for a blinding, smoking, magnesium flash exposure of two to four seconds, all the while contending with heat, water, and vapour threatening to spoil his efforts22. And this was a relatively straightforward shot. I always wonder how he photographed Dolcoath’s Man Engine:

Man Engine, Dolcoath, 1890s. Image courtesy Kresen Kernow, ref. AD460/11

For this, Burrow used yet more limelights, and a triple flashlight; he also had to get the miners to extinguish their candles before taking the shot, and stand, eyes open in the blackness, waiting for the flare. Candlelight caused an eerie glow, or halo, on the plate negatives, and could ruin a take. Burrow, with his eye for authenticity, later scratched a ‘candle’ on to his negatives23:

Detail of the above, with Burrow’s false ‘candlelight’ on his subjects’ hard hats

How he positioned himself, his assistants, and his camera, to get the shot, is unknown. One can only imagine the difficulties, and marvel at the result.

Burrow also had the nature of his sitters to contend with. Besides never whistling, one of a miner’s many underground superstitions concerns light. It is considered unlucky to leave a light burning when you leave an area of the mine, with fire and explosions being a constant fear. Also, too much light in a level will discourage work by illuminating hazards normally concealed in darkness24. This gives us some impression of the twilight world Burrow revealed: the men who reside there actually fear light, and prefer the shadows.

Burrow’s subjects were “astonished” to hear that the light generated by his burners was the equivalent to 400 of their candles, but their guide remarked that “it would not do” to have such “strong” light underground25.

And so the expedition continued on its precipitous route, dropping equipment into pools, banging heads, avoiding yet more blasting, and marvelling at the miners’ labour26. Another trip down in a skip, followed by passing the equipment to each other down a rickety ladder (all by candlelight), and the party came to 412 Fathom, the deepest, hottest, and richest area of the mine. Here Burrow photographed the impressive oak stulls, supporting a mass of attle, or waste rock, above the level. No photograph had ever been taken at this depth before, anywhere:

412 Fathom, Dolcoath, late 1892. Image courtesy Kresen Kernow, ref. AD460/8

It was noted that this image would appear in Burrow’s forthcoming book, ‘Mongst Mines and Miners27. Tragically, it would also be reproduced for very different reasons.

Abide With Me: the Disaster of 1893

Royal Cornwall Gazette, September 21, 1893, p5

One Wednesday, September 20, 1893, a pare of eight men descended to 412 Fathom, Dolcoath. They had been instructed to repair and strengthen the stull, a new piece of lumber having been sent down ahead for the purpose28. The stull was judged to be stable enough, but only “suspiciously” so29. It had been thought best to carry out the repairs prior to their need being serious and the stull itself truly dangerous. Indeed, one miner had been on that level only a day before, and remarked it as being so safe that

I should not be afraid to sleep there 12 hours.

Qtd. in The Cornishman, September 28, 1893, p6

He was lucky. At around 1pm, for reasons never conclusively ascertained, the stull gave way. 110 cubic fathoms of waste rock crashed onto the eight men. That’s a displacement of 678 tons. The force of the blast was so great it knocked over and badly injured other miners working in the vicinity. An empty tram was knocked off its wheels, coming to rest on top of an unfortunate tinner.

Two hours later, the alarm was raised at grass, and rescue parties began work immediately. There was 14 fathoms, or 28 yards, of unstable debris blocking the level from both ends. The men doing the digging knew their efforts would be all but futile. One miner remarked that

I would not give a pipe of ‘bacca for any of them.

Qtd. in The Cornishman, September 28, 1893, p6

And the operation was truly grim. By Friday night, the smell of decay underground was so bad that disinfectant was sent for. As the rubble was worked through, severed limbs were discovered. A day after the accident, one trapped man, William Osborne, was heard, but could not be reached in time. The hymn he was singing, ‘Abide With Me’, turned to groans, and then silence. It was later sung at his funeral.

Relatives of the eight haunted the shaft; in one instance it took four miners to subdue an hysterical mother. Prayers were regularly offered in the many Methodist Chapels of the district. At night, it was said that dogs made “hideous noises” in the streets of Camborne30.

Seven men were killed: William Osborne, John Pollard, Charles White, John Jennings, Frederick Harvey, James Adams, and Richard James. Most left families, and all were God-fearing men. It took until Thursday October 12 to recover all the bodies.

One survived, with little more than a few scratches. Richard Davis (or Davies), 20, was rescued after forty hours underground, and staggered into his house in Troon, like a ghoul, early on the Friday morning. Here he is:

From the Cornish Post and Mining News, October 6, 1893, p7

This was the worst disaster in the history of Dolcoath Mine, and directly led to

…the formation of a County fund to provide adequate assistance for the bereaved in the cases of fatal accidents in Cornish mines.

Cornish Post and Mining News, October 6, 1893, p7

The official inquest returned a verdict of accidental death. Burrow’s photo of 412 Fathom, taken nearly a year previously, was used at the hearing by H.M. Inspector of Mines, Joseph Martin. (Martin had been keeping the then Home Secretary, Herbert Asquith, abreast of events.) It was compared to sketches made of the accident, and exonerated Dolcoath’s Captain, Josiah Thomas, of any charges of negligence toward his men. All the inquest proved was how

…elaborate are the precautions which are taken at Dolcoath to ensure the safety of the miners…

Cornish Telegraph, October 12, 1893, p4
Burrow’s stamp, on the reverse of a postcard of one of his photos, Kresen Kernow. Many of Burrow’s images only now survive as postcards, and he must have made a brisk trade from them

Burrow’s photo also proved morbidly popular with the public too, and copies, as postcards, were “eagerly snapped up” as memento mori from his Trelowarren Street shop31. In fact, such was the demand for Burrow’s image, the Cornish Post and Mining News published it twice32, with the following caption:

October 6, 1893, p7

What Burrow made of all this is unknown. It’s very possible he was already making preparations for his next commission.

In North Wales.

Part two can be viewed HERE.

Many thanks!


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Llechwedd_quarry
  2. In fact, as Burrow is at pains to point out in his ‘Mongst Mines and Miners (1893, p11), two other men, Herbert W. Hughes and Arthur Sopwith, were producing underground mining photography at this time, in the Staffordshire collieries. W. E. Debenham had taken subterranean images of Botallack Mine in the 1860s. See Chris Howes, To Photograph Darkness: The History of Underground and Flash Photography, Alan Sutton, 1989, pp162-82.
  3. Email correspondence, 2nd August 2022.
  4. 1871, 1881, and 1911 census, Ancestry. Burrow currently lacks a biographer. There are brief summaries of his life and work to be found here: the Minerals Engineering blog, Kresen Kernow, and Cornwall Artists. This post in no way attempts a full appreciation of his life.
  5. Howes, To Photograph Darkness, pp170-82.
  6. J. C. Burrow and William Thomas, ‘Mongst Mines and Miners; or, Underground Scenes by Flash-light, London, 1893, v. Burrow lists the tools of his trade on pages 7-11. Burrow’s commission is mentioned in The Cornishman: December 29, 1892, p6.
  7. Helmut Gernsheim, A Concise History of Photography, third ed., Dover, 1986, p19.
  8. See: http://www.antiquewoodcameras.com/ottewill.html
  9. Howes, To Photograph Darkness, pp18-47, 100-5.
  10. As Burrow makes clear in his interview with the Cornish Post and Mining News, February 2, 1896, p8. For more on this process, see Howes, To Photograph Darkness, p79-82.
  11. See: https://min-eng.blogspot.com/2015/05/an-appreciation-of-jc-burrow-pioneering.html
  12. Howes, To Photograph Darkness, p83-5.
  13. Cornish Post and Mining News, November 11, 1892, p5. Burrow’s dexterity with limelight was evidently much in demand; in 1899 he provided the effects “beautifully” for an opera in Redruth (Cornubian and Redruth Times, January 20, 1899, p5).
  14. December 29, 1892, p6, January 5, 1893, p7, and January 12, 1893, p6.
  15. Cornishman, December 29, 1892, p6.
  16. Cornishman, December 29, 1892, p6.
  17. Cornishman, December 29, 1892, p6.
  18. Cornishman, January 12, 1893, p6.
  19. Cornishman, January 12, 1893, p6.
  20. Cornishman, January 12, 1893, p6.
  21. Burrow admitted in 1896 that around nine out of every ten images taken underground were useless failures. Cornish Post and Mining News, February 2, 1896, p8.
  22. See Howes, To Photograph Darkness, p176-7.
  23. ‘Mongst Mines and Miners, p10-11. Of course, as Thomas makes clear in The Cornishman, as hair-raising as travelling on a gig or man engine can be, such devices greatly eased the miners’ labours. They were far more inviting a proposition than the endless scaling of ladders, and left the men less susceptible to serious, and deadly, chest infections, when encountering cold moist air on coming to grass. January 5, 1893, p6. On candle ‘halo’, see Howes, To Photograph Darkness, p175.
  24. Cornishman, January 12, 1893, p6.
  25. Cornishman, January 12, 1893, p6.
  26. Cornishman, January 12, 1893, p6.
  27. Cornishman, January 12, 1893, p6.
  28. The main narrative of this section is taken from the following articles: Royal Cornwall Gazette, September 21, 1893, p5, and October 19, p2; The Cornishman, September 28, 1893, p6, and October 5, p3; Cornish Post and Mining News, 29 September, 1893, p8, and October 6, p7; Cornwall and Devon Post, September 30, 1893, p8; and the Cornish Telegraph, October 12, 1893, p4-5.
  29. Royal Cornwall Gazette, September 21, 1893, p5.
  30. The Cornishman, September 28, 1893, p6.
  31. The Cornishman, September 28, 1893, p6.
  32. Cornish Post and Mining News, 29 September, 1893, p8, and October 6, p7.

Effigy Burning in 1800s Cornwall

Reading time: 20 minutes

(Derry, August 1913. Nationalists preparing to burn the effigy of Sir Edward Carson. With thanks to Chris McKnight, Old Photos of Derry People, Facebook)

This week I am delighted to say I am posting a guest blog for Cornish Story Online, which, in conjunction with The Institute of Cornish Studies at Exeter University, seeks to “explore the culture and heritage of Cornwall from the distant past down to the present day”.

My contribution examines why, how, and with what consequences Cornish people took the law into their own hands and subjected their towns and communities to mob justice in the 1800s.

Was there ever an effigy burnt to the satisfaction of a large and angry crowd in your hometown?

Read my article to find out more HERE!

Many thanks for reading

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?

Click the link below for 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…

Click the link below for 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…

Click below for 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, can be read HERE.

Thanks for reading and following


  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.)