Cornwall - Famous Cornish People

This page gives you information about

King Arthur Michael Joseph Thomas Flamank Sir Rich. Grenville Sir Bevil Grenville
Sir John Arundell Admiral Boscawen Samuel Wallis Capt Wm Bligh General Gilbert
John Carter John Arnold Sir Humphry Davy William Bickford Goldsworthy Gurney
Richard Trevithick Richard Lander John Adams Henry Trengrouse John Opie
Henry Bone Bishop Trelawny
King Arthur
Although various parts of Britain lay claim to Arthur, the strongest case seems to be that he came from Cornwall. While the English tribes were conquering more and more of Britain, the Celts were driven further westwards. There was a great Celtic leader called Arthur, who united the various tribes as they fought the invaders. According to Cornish legend he was mortally wounded at Slaughter Bridge, just outside Camelford, at a spot called Arthur's grave. There is a place called King Arthur's hall on Bodmin Moor, and there is a large hill fort at Kellybury, near Wadebridge that was Arthur's Cornish home. Truth and legend become intermingled, some say Camelot took its name from the River Camel, some legends say he was buried in the Isles of Scilly.
 
The present day legend of Arthur seems to come from the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth, who had heard about Arthur, and invented the stories of the Round Table. He also placed Arthur in Tintagel more out of romanticism than fact. The tales of Arthur and the Round Table are set some 600 years after he had really lived.
 
Nevertheless Arthur represents the Celtic spirit of Cornwall, and reminds people of their Celtic past. One story says that Arthur will return one day to restore Cornwall to Celtic independence, and tat he still lives in the disguise of a Cornish chough
 
Michael Joseph (An Gof) and Thomas Flamank
These were the two leaders of the 1497 rebellion against Henry VII against the taxes he imposed to finance his Scottish war. There was great poverty among the Cornish tin workers, and much local resentment against having to pay towards a war that they felt had little to do with them. At St Keverne, near the Lizard, Michael Joseph, the local blacksmith roused the village into open rebellion. And in Bodmin, Thomas Flamank, a lawyer, also urged the populace to arms to protest.
 
They led an ill-clad, ill-armed army to march to London. Supporters were collected along the way, and in Somerset Lord Audley took command of the army. By the time it reached Blackheath near London, there were several thousand men armed with staves, pitchforks and homemade weapons. On June 17th 1497 they were surrounded by the King's army of ten thousand men. The battle was brief, 200 Cornishmen died. Lord Audley and Flamank were captured on the battlefield, Joseph caught as he fled towards Greenwich. They were taken to the Tower of London, Flamank and Joseph being executed at Tyburn 10 days later, with Lord Audley being beheaded at Tower Hill a day later.
 
Joseph became known as An Gof, Cornish for The Smith. The rebellion is indicative of the state of Cornwall at that time, and Perkin Warbeck's landing in Cornwall in Sept 1497 shows further how Cornwall was perceived as being ripe for rebellion.
 
Sir Richard Grenville
The son of Roger Grenville, captain of the Mary Rose when it sank in the Solent in 1545. He was only three at the time.The Grenvilles lived in a great house at Stowe, near Kilkhampton in North Cornwall.
 
He himself had became a naval captain, commanding the Revenge. Steeped in naval tradition, he was a cousin of Sir Walter Raleigh and a friend of Sir Francis Drake.
 
In 1585, while commanding a fleet of five ships carrying colonists to Virginia, he captured a much larger Spanish ship. In 1591, as second in command to Lord Thomas Howard, he took a small fleet to the Azores to lie in wit for a Spanish treasure fleet homeward bound from South America. However the Spanish heard about the English fleet, and sent a large fleet to protect their treasure ships. Lord Howard decided that they did not have enough ships to fight the Spaniards, and ordered the English fleet to up anchors and put to sea. Richard Grenville refused to leave his ninety sick men ashore, and vowed to stay and fight the enemy. On August 31st 1591 the revenge with about a hundred men fought a battle against some fifty Spanish ships and five thousand men. Battle was broken off as darkness fell, and the next day the Spaniards were amazed to see the Revenge still floating. Its mast and sails were gone, its holds were flooded, and only twenty men were left to fight, including the mortally wounded Grenville. Grenville called on his chief gunner to sink the Revenge to stop it falling into enemy hands, but the remaining crew begged him to surrender. Grenville agreed provided the Spanish would grant them full honours of war, and return them to England immediately. The Spanish commander agreed and the battle ended. Grenville died of his wounds on the Spanish ship. Shortly afterwards an enormous storm sank the Revenge and 14 Spanish ships.
 
Sir Bevil Grenville
Born 1596 near Withiel, west of Bodmin, and a grandson of Sir Richard Grenville.At the start of the Civil war in 1642 he raised an army in Cornwall to fight for the King. When the Parliamentarians crossed the Tamar his army fought a number of battles and threw them out of Cornwall.He won battles at Braddock Down near Lostwithiel, and at Stratton Hill near Bude. he then led his men on a victorious march through Devon into Somerset. In 1643 the Royalists won a battle at Lansdown Hill outside Bath, but Bevil Grenville was mortally wounded. His Cornish soldiers refused to fight under any other leader and returned home, carrying the body of Sir Bevil. It was buried in a tomb in Kilkhampton Church.
 
Sir John Arundell
Born at Trerice (now a national Trust property), he led a comparatively quiet life, until he was appointed commander of Pendennis Castle at Falmouth at the age of seventy. In 1643, Pendennis probably seemed like a long way from the actin of the Civil War. Although the parliamentary army had been thrown out of Cornwall by Sir Bevil Grenville in 1643, by 1646 they were strong enough to try again. By march 1646 town after town had fallen to the Roundhead army. general Fairfax captured S Mawes Castle, then called on Arundell to surrender Pendennis, Arundell replied "I will here bury myself before I deliver up this castle to such as fight against His Majesty"
 
The siege lasted until 17th August. For five months the garrison had held out, but they had run out of ammunition and food. Sir John surrendered to Colonel Richard Townsend, and the defendeers were allowed to leave wilt full military honours and flags flying. Of the sieges during the Civil War, only Raglan Castle held out longer 9by two days more). Parliament was so glad of the fall of Pendennis that they made September 22 a day of general thanksgiving.
 
Admiral Edward Boscawen
Born at Tregothnan near Falmouth, he joined the navy at the age of twelve, and was a captain at 26. He was MP for Truro several times, and during the 1745 rebellion raised an army of six thousand Cornishmen to fight for the King against the Young Pretender.
 
In 1747 he was commander in chief of all military forces in India and the Far East. His last sea victory saved the country from invasion. in 1759, while his ships were undergoing repair in Gibraltar,he got news of a French invasion fleet gathering in ports along the Channel coast. He put to sea and defeated the French, so their invasion plans were cancelled.
 
He died in 1761 and was buried at St Michael Penkevil, near Truro
 
Samuel Wallis
Born in 1728 at Lanteglos-by-Camelford, he is not well known, but was an historically important seaman. He served under Admiral Boscawen as his flag lieutenant, and was given command of H.M.S. Dolphin in 1766 to explore the Pacific.
 
It was believed that another continent existed to the south of South America, and Wallis spent twenty months sailing round the world looking for signs of it. He found the islands of Tahiti and Easter island, and his reports led to Captain Cook's later voyages.
 
Captain William Bligh
Born in 1754 at St Tudy between Bodmin and Camelford. The family moved to Plymouth and he joined thew Royal Navy as a midshipman. In 1772 he went with Captain Cook on his second voyage round the world and proved himself to be a good navigator and mapmaker.
In 1787 he was chosen to command The Bounty on a voyage to the Pacific to bring breadfruit to the Caribbean, where they were wanted to provide cheap food for the plantation workers.. The Bounty expedition was a disaster, the ship was a converted merchant vessel and was too small. There was a large crew including scientists, and they needed storage space for the cargo of breadfruit that they had to carry. Some of the sailors were known trouble makers, and Bligh did not get on with some of the officers and petty officers. By the time they reached the Pacific attempts to maintain discipline had led to mutiny, and Bligh and those crew loyal to him were cast adrift in a a longboat. In spite of the fact that he had little food and only basic navigational instruments, Bligh sailed the longboat over 3500 miles of open sea to Timor. At the time it was the longest known voyage in an open boat. News of the mutiny was sent to London. Bligh was not blamed for the mutiny, and in 1794 was given the Society of Arts medal for the 42 day longboat voyage. in 1801 he was made a fellow of the Royal Society for services to navigation and botany. He fought in a number of sea battles including The Battle of Copenhagen, where he was personally thanked by Nelson for bravery.
 
In 1805 he was appointed governor of the colony of New South Wales. In 1808 there was a small revolt against taxes imposed by England, and Bligh was deposed and imprisoned for two years until military reinforcements arrived from England to restore order. Again Bligh was not blamed, and was promoted to Admiral. He is buried in Lambeth in London.
 
General Sir Walter Raleigh Gilbert
Born in Bodmin in 1785, a descendant of the Elizabethan seaman Sir Humphry Gilbert. At 15 he became a cadet in the Bengal Infantry. He rose to major-general and through his conquests in Northern India became a national hero. The army even issued a medal with his picture on it - only Wellington as an army officer has had the same honour.
 
The citizens of Bodmin decided to erect a memorial to him on the hill overlooking the town. A tall, slim granite obelisk was put up. 144 feet high with the story of his Sikh and Afgan campaigns written on the four sides of the base. The Indian Empire has now gone, and those that fought there like Gilbert largely forgotten.
 
John Carter
Born 1770 at Breage near Helston, matured to become one of the biggest rogues on the coast, the self styled King of Prussia. Carter was a mixture of hard working fisherman, honest merchant and out and out rogue. He operated out of Bessies Cove, a rocky inlet near Perranuthnoe in Mount's Bay/ It was an area notorious for lawless gangs of wreckers and smugglers. But it was a time when few local people thought smuggling to be a crime. John and his brother Henry were well known along the French coast, but during the French Wars they were arrested and imprisoned in St Malo for a year on one occasion. He mounted guns on the cliffs guarding the approach to Bessies Cove and fired on revenue boats that came too close. On another occasion he raided Penzance Customs House and removed some barrels of wine that they had seized from his boat.
 
In 1807 he disappeared from the area and was never heard of again! He left a journal relating his life and times. The nickname King of Prussia came from his fascination with Fredrick the Great, King of Prussia. Bessie's Cove is now called Prussia Cove
 
John Arnold
John Arnold, a Bodmin man, perfected the ships chronometer. For a ship to navigate accurately it had to know both latitude and longitude. Latitude was calculated by using the sun and a sextant, but longitude had to be worked from an accurate knowledge of the time. Ships timepieces had been inaccurate because of changes in temperature and motion effecting their working. He lived and worked in a narrow street off Fore Street in Bodmin, and eventually moved to London. He is still remembered with a plaque over the entrance to thew narrow passage where he once lived - Arnolds Passage.
 
Sir Humphry Davy
Inventor of the eponymous miners safety lamp. He is commemorated with a statue in Market Jew Street in Penzance. Born 17 December 1778, the son of a woodcarver in Penzance. His interest in scientific things was fostered by his acquaintenship with Robert Duncan, a Penzance saddler who made electrical and mechanical models. He went to school first in Penzance, then to Truro Grammar School when he was 15. At 16 he became apprenticed to Dr John Borlase, a Penzance surgeon. Here his work involved mixing potions in the laboratory. Then a chance meeting with a Bristol scientist, Dr Beddoes, led to his being offered a job as assistant in the newly opened Pneumatic Institution in Bristol.
Within four years he had established himself as a scientist through his experiments with gasses. Though he did nearly kill himself by sniffing a newly discovered gas, and had to return to Penzance to recuperate. He wrote books, gave lectures and became president of the Royal Society for seven years. He was knighted in1812, and it was in 1812 that he was asked to devise a safety lamp after an explosion had killed 89 miners in a coal mine in Feeling Colliery near Sunderland.
 
His solution to the problem was elegant, simple and practical. Wire gauze covered the flame, air passes through the gauze to feed the flame with oxygen, but the explosive gasses were held back. Although he patented his invention, he let anybody use it.
Apart from his interest in gasses, he was also the founder of the Zoological Society, with its zoo in Regents park.
 
He died in Switzerland aged 51 in May 1829
 
William Bickford
He invented the safety fuse for igniting gunpowder. Cornish mines did not suffer from explosive gasses, but there were many miners killed by misuse of gunpowder. Early fuses were often tubes of reeds filled with powder and were extremely unreliable. Either they exploded too early not giving miners time to get away, or took too long to ignite and killed miners who assumed the fuse had gone out. William Bickford was a leather merchant in Illogan. One day watching a rope maker spinning his threads, he realized that a strand of yarn, impregnated with gunpowder could be included in the rope to make a reliable, predictable fuse. In 1831 he took out a patent on his "safety rods" and manufactured them in a factory at Tuckingmill near Camborne. It took some time to get miners to use these safer fuses, as the older, unpredictable ones were cheaper. Eventually common sense prevailed and the mining industry moved over to the safety fuses.
 
Sir Goldsworthy Gurney
 
Born in 1793 at treator, Padstow, he became a surgeon in Wadebridge. But by 1823 he had given up medicine to experiment with steam engines. He made a steam driven boat and a coach. In 1829 on of his coaches traveled from London to Bath and back at 15 miles per hour. However it was early days for steam engines, and there were powerful forces ranged against him - from sellers of horses to toll road owners. Gurney was forced out of business.
He carried on with experiments with steam engines, and perfected a means of channeling air to the firebox in a way that allowed the fire to function even when the engine was moving at speed. he also invented a better form of lighting for lighthouses., and it was he that realised that by giving each lighthouse a different flashing system, then sailors could know which lighthouse they were looking at.
Between 1854 and 1863 he was in charge of heating and lighting the Houses of parliament. And he was knighted for this in 1863. he built Bude Castle to prove that a house could be built on sand with the use of a concrete raft.
he died penniless in 1875, and was buried at Launcells Church near Bude. There is no memorial to him in Cornwall.
 
Richard Trevithick
Born in 1771 at Tregajorran between Redruth and Camborne, the son of the manager of Dolcoath Mine. As an apprentice he had a genius for pumps and machines, and he developed into one of the engineering giants of the day. Perhaps the real father of the railways. Stephenson's Rocket ran from 1821 between Stockton & Darlington. Trevithick ran a steam engine through the streets of Camborne on Christmas Eve 1801. Camborne Hill was the steepest hill in the district, and horses had difficulty pulling loads up it, so the fact that the new steam engine could reach the top showed the potential of steam.
 
Three years later he successfully ran another engine on rails at Merthyr Tydfil in Wales. He then went to Peru to maintain pumping engines in the mines, and stayed for eleven years. When he wanted to come home he had no money for the fare, and had to borrow it from Stevenson. Back in England with no money he was forced to work in London as an ordinary engineer, and died penniless, only a collection of money by his friends saved him from a paupers grave.
 
There is a statue to him in Camborne, outside the public library, holding a model of his locomotive. The is also a memorial window to him in Westminster Abbey
 
Richard & John Lander
Two brothers born in the Fighting Cocks Inn in Truro in 1804 and 1807 who grew up to become explorers.They were sent in 1830 to explore the lower reaches of the River Niger, and later mounted two more expeditions to the Niger. They found the source, route and mouths of the then unmapped river. A nine hundred mile trek inland took them through hostile natives, tropical diseases and intense heat. John Lander was killed by a bullet during a fight with natives. A statue of Richard Lander stands on a tall column at the top of Lemon Street in Truro.
 
John Couch Adams
A great scientist born in Laneast parish on Bodmin Moor in 1819. from an early age he showed a bent for mathematics and astronomy in particular. He went to Cambridge University. Solely by the application of mathamatics, he proved that there must be another planet circling the sun. A french astronomer came to the same conclusion, and they published their conclusions at the same time. The planet was called Neptune.
 
He became Professor of Astronom in Cambridge in 1858. He turned down a knighthood and also the post of Astronomer Royal
 
Henry Trengrouse
The inventor of the rocket line apparatus that fired a rope to stricken ships on the rocks, and enabled the crew to be taken off. A Helston cabinet maker, he stood helplessly on the beach at Loe bar near porthleven on 19 December 1807 when the frigate Anson was driven onto the coast. Nearly a hundred men drowned because they could not bridge the short distance from the wreck to the shore because of the boiling surf. Trengrouse spent the rest of his life and saving in inventing an apparatus that would save men under such circumstances. Inspired by a firework display he tried for many years to perfecct a rocket that would fire a light line to a boat, so that the sailors could haul in a heavier rope that would bear the weight of men.
 
It took ten years to interest the government in it, and eventually they paid him the grand sum of 20 for the invention. he also invented a type of life hjacket, and built a model of an unsinkable lifeboat. He died penniless in 1854
 
John Opie
Born about 1770, the son of the village carpenter in Mithhian near St Agnes. From an early age he showed a great talent in drawing. An artist was not considered as employment for a poor boy, and he became an apprentice in his fathers business. Dr Walcot from truro befriended him and encourages his talents, and gave Opie an education in mathematics and science as well as drawing and painting. Dr Walcot took him to London and introduced him to Sir Joshua Reynolds, President of the Royal Acadamy. By 1782 his work was on display in the Royal Academy, and for the next twenty years he wasthe most fashionable portrait painter in London, painting some 700 portraits. However he died young, in 1807 after a short illness. He was buried in St Pauls cathedral.
 
Henry Bone
Born Truro in 1755. He was apprenticed to William Cookworthy at the Plymouth China Works where china was made from the china clay that Cookworthy had discovered at St Austell. Bone developed into a skilled painter of pictures on porcelain buttons and broaches. In 1778 he painted in watercolours on ivory and enamel in London, and by 1800 was the official enamel painter to the Prince of Wales, followed by the appointment as enamellist to the king from 1801 until his death in 1854.
 
His eldest son became enamelist to Queen Adelade and Queen Victoria
 
Jonathen Trelawny
The hero of the Cornwall's National Anthem - Song of the Western Men. Born at PelyntThe Duke of Monmouth's failed rebelion against james II in 1688, led to seven bishops being imprisoned in the Tower of London. The were put on trial for their lives as they refused to sign a document bringing back Roman Catholicism as the state religion. They said they were loyal to the king, but their consciences would not let them sign. The seven bishops were tried, acquitted and freed. Trelawny became Bishop of Exeter on the accession of William of Orange to the throne, and died in 1721 as Bishop of Winchester.  When he died in 1721 his body was brought back to Pelynt for burial.
 
The song was written a century later, and was not contemporaneous.It was composed by Parson Hawker, Vicar of Morwenstowe.
 
A good sword and a trusty hand,
A merry heart and true.
King James's men shall understand
What Cornish men can do.

And have they fixed the where and when?
And shall Trelawny die?
Then twenty-thousand Cornishmen
Will know the reason why!

And shall Trelawny live?
Or shall Trelawny die?
Here's twenty-thousand Cornishmen
Will know the reason why!

Out spake the captain brave and bold,
A merry wight was he:
"Though London tower were Michael's hold,
We'll set Trelawny free!"

"We'll cross the Tamar, land to land.
The Severn is no stay.
Then 'One and All' and hand in hand
And who shall bid us nay?"

And shall Trelawny live?
Or shall Trelawny die?
Here's twenty-thousand Cornishmen
Will know the reason why!

"And when we come to London wall,
A pleasant sight to view,
'Come forth! Come forth! Ye cowards all!
Here are better men than you!'"

Trelawny he's in keep in hold.
Trelawny he may die.
But twenty-thousand Cornish Bold
Will know the reason why!

And shall Trelawny live?
Or shall Trelawny die?
Here's twenty-thousand Cornishmen
Will know the reason why!

R.S. Hawkers (from Dixon's Ancient Poems, Ballads, etc. 1846

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