Wherrytown: Wherry Mine
A short distance off-shore from Wherrytown at the western end of the promenade, there is an outcrop of rock that is uncovered at low tide: this was the site of an early and interesting Tin mine which began working in 1778. This mine was always difficult to operate because of its unusual position below the shore-line and special arrangements were needed to make work possible.
The mine was started by a man called Thomas Curtes who realised that the Wherry rocks held valuable tin, but this site was dangerous. Work to sink the shaft was very slow and could only be carried out during good weather and the times of low tide. Protection from the sea and constant flooding was arranged by constructing a heavy stone collar around the top of the shaft and by building a tall 20 foot wooden tower above this. The wooden defence was made as water-tight as possible and had to keep out the sea during the high tide which covered the rocks to a depth of 19 feet. This wooden structure also had winding equipment set at the top in order to draw out the tin and drain water in the workings.
By 1790 the mine was 36 feet deep and before work began on each shift four men had to spend two hours in draining the mine. Once the tin was brought to the surface it was taken ashore in small flat-bottomed boats called ‘wherries’ or simply carried at lowest tides. During the summer of 1790 ten men worked the mine and sold tin worth £600. In 1792 the tin mined at Wherry was worth £3,000.
As the mine became richer, better working facilities were introduced A steam engine was erected on the shore and was connected to pumps and machinery out at the shaft by means of a long trestle bridge reaching out over the sand and tidal waters. A horse was used to draw the tin ore from below ground and to do this it walked up and down the length of the bridge winding the rope on simple machinery. The buckets containing the ore were called ‘kibbies’. The steam engine gave much better drainage and helped the mine to develop more efficiently.
In 1798 the mine was brought to a swift and unexpected end when the wooden tower over the shaft was destroyed by a ship which had broken its moorings at Newlyn and collided with the workings during a storm. The Wherry mine had been quite rich and had produced tin worth £70,000 over twenty years. Because it was known to be a valuable mine work began there again in 1836 using a steam engine and the trestle bridge to the shaft, but after four years the mine closed and all the equipment and machinery was sold.
Builders unearth 200-year-old smuggling network in Cornish pub
Where there's tax there's smuggling and this was as much a fact two centuries ago as it is today. However, whereas today's smugglers have a whole network of computerised material to assist them, the 19th-century smugglers were slightly more basic, as a network of tunnels discovered recently in Penzance attests. The labyrinthine structure - thought to have been used by smugglers 200 years ago - was found when builders who were renovating a waterfront warehouse in Penzance discovered a series of escape hatches leading under the floor.
Smugglers of Penzance:
One of the tunnels at the Abbey warehouse leading to the Admiral Benbow in Penzance which was used by smugglers to evade tax on the grog they were transporting
A pair of 2ft sq holes was found with access to two tunnels snaking under the roads - to a pub 300 yards away. The historic escape routes were found by workmen who are renovating the Abbey Warehouse in the harbour area. The narrow uphill tunnels are thought to lead to the nearby Admiral Benbow pub in Chapel Street, which was a location popular with smugglers such as the Benbow Brandy Men in the 19th Century. These men were known to have used tunnels to sneak brandy, gin and tobacco from the harbour under the noses of excise men. There is even a spy hole in the tunnel so the smugglers could be warned if tax men had come into the pub looking for them.
But the tunnels are no use to current pub-goers. The Admiral Benbow’s landlord Alan Marsh added: "Smugglers today wouldn't get far in the tunnel. It has been bricked up for years and I'm told parts may have collapsed when work was done on the street." Mr. Marsh said it was a lovely piece of Cornish legend: "People do love the old stories of the smugglers and we get a lot of interest from visitors”.
Though Cornish history abounds with romantic tales of smugglers, local historian Ann Stone said that it was an activity borne out of financial necessity for many. "In the 18th century, a lot of men who got involved in smuggling were farm labourers or working in the fishing industry. Times were very hard and most of them did it to alleviate the poverty of day-to-day life and to supplement their income," she said. "Over the years, smuggling has become so romanticised but people do not realise how hard the times were and that many people did it just to make ends meet."
The Rosebud Pz87
In 1937, the Rosebud made her historic journey through less troubled waters, but left Newlyn because of “troubled waters”. After the First World War, fishing fleets were becoming smaller. Fishermen had to find alternative work. Their homes were being bought by people outside of the county, prices rose beyond the pockets of the local folk.
The character of the town was being changed and then threatened by “slum clearance”. To prevent their community and homes being destroyed, it was decided to sail for Westminster, with a prayer and a petition, in the Rosebud. It had been the decision of Penzance Borough Council to demolish homes and to re-house the fishermen and their families, high on a hill at Gwavas Council Estate, well away from the harbour.
In 1935 the Borough of Penzance, which had the parish of Newlyn under its jurisdiction, sent the Officer of Health into Newlyn to assess the state of housing there. This followed the policy of the Government that slums unfit for human habitation should be cleared and the residents moved to new purpose built council estates. It was decided that a list should be drawn up of properties to be demolished and a new estate to be called Gwavas was to be built at the top of the very steep hill above Newlyn. This decision was contentious and soon split opinion in Newlyn. Many people were upset that the houses where generations of families were born and raised would vanish, and that the heart of the village would be torn out. They also protested about the site and design of the new estate; it would be isolated and hard to reach for the elderly and infirmed. However, others were happy to be moved to modern homes complete with running water, sewers and electricity. When the colony of Newlyn School artists who had been settled in Newlyn since the 1880s became involved, backing the villagers who wanted to preserve their village, a local issue soon became a national one.
In 1937 it was decided that a petition was to be delivered to the Minister of Health calling on him to make a special exception for the houses of Newlyn. For better publicity, it was planned that a Newlyn fishing boat, manned with the fishermen whose homes were threatened, would sail to London and dock at Westminster Pier. On Monday 19th October 1937 the Rosebud left Newlyn and began its journey around southern England and down the Thames, arriving to great attention from the press on Wednesday 21st October. The petition was duly delivered and the Rosebud and its crew stayed in London until the following week before sailing back to Newlyn and resuming their working lives.
The Government decided to reprieve some properties and the voyage was deemed a huge success, although when the jubilation faded it was discovered that not a great deal had been achieved. Houses were still purchased and demolished, although under more scrutiny than before due to the press interest, and the residents continued to be moved into the Gwavas estate. The one event that really saved the core of the village was the Second World War which began in 1939. The houses that had been emptied of people and were awaiting demolition were pressed into use as emergency accommodation for displaced French and Belgian fishermen and their families, escaping the German advance. These houses were modernised and thus survived up until this day.
The Rosebud itself changed owners, and names, over the years and ended up rotting on Lelant Saltings before being broken up and removed by people keen to have a little bit of history in their homes
In Newlyn there is a plaque on the wall of the Royal Mission to Seamen commemorating an epic voyage by a Cornish lugger, the Mystery in 1854/55. This is believed to be the first recorded voyage of a sailing yacht, converted from a fishing boat.
It was built in Newlyn for mackerel driving and her overall length was 36 feet, with 32 feet of keel, 11 feet beam, drawing 6 feet of water and tonnage 16. At the time of the voyage Cornwall was witnessing the virtual collapse of the lucrative tin mining industry and fishing, then as now, was a hazardous industry. Many Cornish had already emigrated to other parts of the world particularly, as in the case of Australia, where there were good mining conditions. It was said that anywhere in the world where you found a hole in the ground there would be a Cornishman in it! There were already Newlyn families living in Australia and at least two of the men planning the voyage in 1854 had relatives there.
Most of the men involved were related. It is said that the decision to make the journey was first made one evening in the Star Inn, Newlyn. The men had been discussing the possibility of emigrating and it was suggested by Job Kelynack that they might sell the Mystery (PE 233) to pay their passage. Then one of the men, Captain Richard Nicholls of Hayle, who was married to Job’s sister, Victoria, is reputed to have said ‘No, we’ll sail her, I’ll be the navigator.’ At that time Richard Nicholls was on leave from his post as Captain of a 700-tonner in the Welsh trade.
Enthusiasm roused, the men continued to formulate their plans at Vine Cottage in Newlyn Coombe, where the Downings, Kelynack relatives, lived. The crew who eventually left on Saturday, November 18th 1854 were Captain Richard Nicholls, navigator; Job Kelynack; brothers William and Richard Badcock, Kelynack cousins; Charles Boase and Philip Curnow Mathews, and a Penzance man Lewis Lewis. In addition to Captain Nicholls both of the Badcocks were married to sisters of Job Kelynack, Harriet and Nanny.
A log was kept of the voyage and a true copy of this is in the Royal Institution of Cornwall Museum Library in Truro. So far as I know this is the only firsthand account of the voyage other than a letter published in the Cornish Telegraph newspaper in October 1874. Written by Philip Curnow Mathews this is reproduced below. Philip Mathews remained in Australia and became a surveyor in Melbourne, he married Miss English Harvey from Mousehole, Penzance. The letter is headed 46, St. Davids Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne and dated August 3rd, 1874.
Sir, Referring to a paragraph that appeared in your issue of the 3rd of June, relative to the voyage of the fishing boat Mystery from Penzance, Cornwall to Melbourne, Australia, I would wish (if you can find space in your valuable columns) to make a few remarks in connection with the voyage.
Before doing so allow me to correct one or two errors you made. We never betook ourselves to fishing, as you stated; but sold the boat almost immediately after our arrival at Melbourne and followed other avocations. The Mystery was 16 tons (builders measurement) not six tons, as appeared in your columns. She was 33 feet length of keel and 11 feet 6 inches breadth of beam.
We left Mount’s Bay on the morning of the 18th of November, 1854, with a crew of seven men – Richard Nicholls, Job Kelynack, Richard Badcock, William Badcock, Lewis Lewis, Charles Boase, and myself. Our cargo consisted principally of provisions and water. On March 14th, 1855, we cast anchor in Hobson’s Bay, Melbourne, thus accomplishing the voyage in 115 days, including seven days stoppage at the Cape of Good Hope, where we put in for a supply of water. We were eight days from England to Madeira, and on the 35th day out we made the Island of Trinidad. On the morning of the 17th of January 1855 we arrived to the Cape of Good Hope, being 50 days out. On January 24th at 6 p.m. we got underway from Cape Town and proceeded on our voyage with H.M. mails on board.
Nothing interfered with our progress until February 18th, in lat. 40.5 south, long. 82.25 east, where we encountered a very heavy gale, which necessitated our riding to a raft for nine or ten hours. Riding to a raft is a system adopted for safety. Ships heave-to under such circumstances. On February 23rd another heavy gale visited us in lat. 39.57 south, long. 98 east. We again rode to a raft for four or five hours. On the 5th March we met with another very heavy gale in lat. 40 south, long. 129.19 east, which compelled us to ride to a raft for 12 or 14 hours. The weather was pretty favourable after that date until we got to our destination.
Of the seven men who came to Australia five returned to their native home. I have seen the death of Mr. Charles Boase, one of the crew, in your obituary of the date referred to, making three deaths out of five. Lewis Lewis died in Castlemaine Hospital, Victoria, some ten years ago. I am the only one of the crew now remaining in this part of the world. I would also inform you that the Mystery is the smallest craft on record that ever made such a long voyage. By inserting the above you will greatly oblige one of the Mystery’s crew. – I have the honour to be, sir, your most obedient servant, P. C. Mathews.
The following extract appeared in the Shipping Gazette and Sydney General Trade List, of 26th March 1855:
On Thursday last there arrived in Simon’s Bay, the Mystery, a small fishing smack of 16 tons, from England, bound to Melbourne. The little gallant adventurer has made an excellent passage of 60 days. On her arrival in Simons Bay, she was considered to be a Table Bay cutter, and on that account was not boarded by the Harbour Master. He did not know the real character of the diminutive craft, until he observed the captain and his crew quietly beaching their bark and hauling her with ease on the shore.
Philip Curnow Mathews died on the 13th November 1896 and is buried in Melbourne General Cemetery, College Crescent, North Carlton, Victoria. He had no children. Lewis Lewis worked as a shepherd and died, aged 50 years, on 7th March 1866, he was buried in an unmarked grave at Campbell’s Creek, Victoria.
Of the five who returned to England Job Kelynack returned to fishing in Newlyn and died in Cardiff in 1903. William and Richard Badcock also returned to fishing in Newlyn, after first working as warder boatmen in the prison hulks in Melbourne harbour. Richard died in 1874 and William in 1906, aged 85 years. Richard Nicholls returned to work in shipping but in 1868 was knocked down by a horsedrawn cab in London and killed. Charles Boase returned to Newlyn where he died in 1874. Descendants of these men, or their immediate families, still live in Newlyn today. The Mystery was sold in Melbourne for £150 and was eventually wrecked in Keppel Bay off Rockhampton, Queensland, 26th March 1869, where she was being used as a Pilot cutter, her crew saved.