Dolly Pentreath, the last monoglot Cornish Language speaker.

Dolly Pentreath lived in the parish of Paul, near Mousehole. Her fame as the (disputed) last native Cornish speaker is due a tour of Cornwall that an English antiquarian called Daines Barrington made in 1768. His quest was to find a speaker of Cornish, and he about his find in a letter to the Society of Antiquaries in London.

He chanced upon Dolly Pentreath, aged about 82 at the time, in Mousehole. She spoke, he said, 'in a language which sounded very like Welsh'. He found two old ladies in the houses opposite Dolly Pentreath, who told him that they could understand Cornish, but not speak it as Dolly could. Daines Barrington therefore wrote of Dolly as the last speaker of Cornish. It is probable that he only reached this conclusion because he personally did not happen to chance upon any others.

He chanced upon Dolly Pentreath, aged about 82 at the time, in Mousehole. She spoke, he said, 'in a language which sounded very like Welsh'. He found two old ladies in the houses opposite Dolly Pentreath, who told him that they could understand Cornish, but not speak it as Dolly could. Daines Barrington therefore wrote of Dolly as the last speaker of Cornish. It is probable that he only reached this conclusion because he personally did not happen to chance upon any others.

Mousehole did have a number of other speakers of Cornish. A William Bodener wrote to Daines Barrington in 1776 telling Barrington that he also could speak Cornish, describing as a poor fisherman. He showed his knowledge of Cornish by writing nine sentences in Cornish. And further he claimed that he knew four or five other people in Mousehole who knew how to speak Cornish. Daines Barrington sent this letter to the Society of Antiquaries and it was published in 1779.

William Bodener was 65 in 1776 and died 1789 (Dolly Pentreath having died in 1777). In turn Bodener is not necessarily the last native Cornish speaker, as Daines Barrington obtained details of some of the others that Bodener had mentioned to him. One of these, John Nancarrow 'of Market Jew' (marhas johan), was about 40 years of age in 1777. He could apparently converse in Cornish, and given his age, could well have lived into the nineteenth century.

There is a Memorial to Dolly Pentreath in the wall of the church yard at Paul Church. A monument in her honour was established in the churchyard wall in 1860 by Louis Lucien Bonaparte, a nephew of Napoleon. The monument was allegedly placed over the wrong grave in 1860 and was moved to its current location in 1882.

"Here Lieth Interred Dorothy Pentreath who Died in 1777
Said to have been the last person who conversed in the ancient Cornish.
The regular language of this county from the earliest records till it expired in the eighteenth century in this Parish of Saint Paul.
This stone is erected by the Prince Louise Bonaparte in Union with the Revd John Garret Vicar of St Paul. June 1860

Honour thy Father and thy Mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the lord thy god giveth thee Exod XX12

Gwra perthi de taz na mam de dythiow bethenz hyr war an tyr neb arleth de dew ryes dees
Exod XX12"

Cornish Language The Cornish Language information