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The Smugglers of Sennen

By Sandra Pritchard (nee Vingoe) 

There is no doubt that William Bottrell of St Levan had relatives who were engaged in both piracy and smuggling, and he relates a number  of stories about pirates and smugglers in his three volumes. Many people think that these relate to events in the 15th and 16th centuries as it is generally not known that in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the fast sailing Cornish luggers were very profitably employed, during peace time in smuggling. However, at the end of the 18th century the Government had put a lot of effort into bringing the trade to an end. Many of the Sennen smugglers had fled to the Channel Isles in order to escape prosecution amongst them some of  Bottrell's  relatives.  

 In 1803, the forces of the Crown were once again involved in fighting the Napoleonic War. This meant that the Smugglers of Cornwall  took on a new lease of life. One might even say that the Government was in some measure responsible for stimulating it. For in the early months of the war, owing to the need of men for the services and home defense, Royal Proclamation was made that any smuggler who had fled the country should, provided he was not charged with murder, be permitted to return without fear of arrest, on his entering into bond to refrain from smuggling practices for the future. Copies of this proclamation were posted in all Cornish villages, and it was not long before the news filtered through to those who were lying in exile overseas. Among the first to take advantage of the amnesty was a certain Christopher Pollard, of Madron. The latter had been charged some 9 years before with obstructing and assaulting the revenue officers, and had fled to Guernsey in order to escape the consequences of his crimes. He now returned to Cornwall and signed the requisite bond, Robert Parsons of Madron standing surety for the sum of £200. But for him, as for many another, the allurements of the old adventurous life were too strong, and little more than six months had elapsed before Pollard, as appears from a brief to counsel, dated 1805, was again concerned in a charge of smuggling. The prosecution states that on this occasion the accused had assaulted the officers of H.M. excise when occupied in their duty at Sennen, and had incited a crowd of three or four hundred persons to attack the excisemen with a view to carrying off the smuggled goods which they had captured and were defending on the beach. This landing was indeed a valuable one, consisting as it did of one thousand gallons of brandy, one thousand gallons of rum, one thousand gallons of Geneva, and five hundred pounds of tobacco. In addition to the general charge of inciting the mob, Pollard was accused of having offered £100 for the rescue of a hundred ankers of the spirits and ‘of using other violent and improper language’. The counsel for the defense admitted that Pollard was part-owner of these goods, but stated that what had actually happened was that on going to Sennen he had found the cargo in the possession of the revenue authorities, and that so far from inciting the mob to a rescue he had gone straight home, only calling in on the excise officer at Newlyn in order to advise him to go to Sennen at once ‘lest any unforeseen circumstances might ensue’. It further appears that in the evening of the same day on which the cargo had been landed, Pollard was in a public-house at Penzance trying to sell a yoke of oxen to a farmer of Nancothnan, named Pool. The latter afterwards accompanied Pollard to Sennen and agreed to provide him with horses wherewith to remove the cargo in return for the promise of a cask of brandy for his own use— ‘he having a number of workmen and tradesmen about him at the time’. On arriving at the beach, however, about eleven o’clock at night and finding a huge crowd firing muskets and throwing stones at the excisemen, ‘they decided that that was no place for them to stay for that they would be killed’. So both returned home.

 The noted Cornish historian A. K. Hamilton Jenkin in his book “Cornwall and its People” tells the story and says:

“The principle witness for the prosecution was a certain Anne George. This woman, it appears, was a person of notorious character. At the time of the trial she is described as being the wife of Joseph George who up to a short time before, had been the keeper of the Sennen inn – a place which had the reputation of being “the resort of all the idle blackguards in the county”. During the time in which he had kept the inn, Joseph George had acted as smuggling agent, for his landlord, a well to do farmer of the parish names Dionysius Williams. Presuming on the secret hold, which they possessed over their landlord, through the knowledge of his illicit transactions, the Georges had for some time refused to pay any rent for the inn, and at length the owner, very unwisely, had decided to eject them. Infuriated by this, the innkeeper’s wife had thereupon turned king’s evidence against Williams, and reaped her revenge in seeing the latter served with a long term of imprisonment.”

Hamilton Jenkin, tells us that he got this story from a Brief to Counsel which he was shown by Penzance solicitor Mr J. A. D. Bridger. He continued as follows:

The villany of the woman’s character, however, is best revealed by the account, given in the same brief, of a quarrel which she had some years previously with her brother-in-law, John George, over a few pounds of tobacco. In this case also she had turned king’s evidence, accused the victim of her malice of firing on a revenue officer, and so incriminated him that the poor wretch was actually convicted and hanged on 5th June 1802. In a district in which almost every inhabitant had probably had some hand in smuggling at one time or another, the presence of such a malicious and wholly unscrupulous informer caused widespread fear, and no doubt accounted for the difficulty which was experienced in obtaining witnesses for the defence. ‘The terror and dismay, indeed, which this woman had been the means of spreading throughout the county are not to be described,’ stated the counsel’s brief. ‘Independent of the present prosecution no less than five persons have been capitally indicted by her means, one of whom had already been executed, and so callous is her conscience, and deadly her revenge, that persons who may have given her slight cause for offence ars now trembling for fear of the consequences, expecting to be made the next victim of the detestable passion with which she is accused.”

In a district in which almost every inhabitant had probably had some hand in smuggling at one time or another, the presence of such a malicious and wholly un­scrupulous informer caused widespread fear, and no doubt accounted for the difficulty which was experienced in obtaining witnesses for the defence.  On this occasion the jury chose not to believe her evidence and Pollard was found not guilty and allowed to go free. 

The above is the story as told by Hamilton Jenkin but how much of it is provable some 200 years later.

The George brothers lived  in Sennen Cove.
The story goes that  the first two, Joseph and John George, the eldest members of the GEORGE family, were concerned  in a smuggling venture with the owner of the inn, one Dionysius Williams.[ who wasn't then] Joseph and his wife Ann GEORGE  ran the inn and refused to pay the rent to their landlord, as they had something on him. ie they had smuggled his goods
Her husband, Joseph George, had been his agent. Dionysius eventually threw them out for non-payment of rent and Ann George, in a fit of rage, turned King's Evidence and shopped Dionysius to the Revenue Men. circa 1804.
I presume both she and her husband had got immunity from prosecution when they accused Dionsyius and she "reaped her revenge in seing the latter served with a long term of imprisonment"  - A K Hamilton Jenkin in
'Cornwall and its People'.
In another legal brief in 1805, where she again turns King's Evidence, a Christopher Pollard  is accused of running a valuable, cargo into Sennen. Ann George is the principal witness for the prosecution. The brief describes her former 'evidence' against Dionysius Williams and the council attempts to discredit her, by recounting her notorious character and her past record.
As well as the above case the defence quotes another case, in which she quarreled with her brother in law, John GEORGE , over some tobacco deal and had shopped him to the authorities, accusing him of firing on a revenue officer.

She is suppossed to have so incriminated him that the "poor wretch  was actually convicted and hanged on 5 June 1802"
A K Hamilton Jenkin  in 'Cornwall and its People' goes on to say that  ' no less than 5 people have been capitally indicted by her means one of whom had already been executed"  [her brother- in law- John George ?]   Probably due to her evidence being so discredited, Pollard was aquited.

I have NOT  seen the 'briefs to solicitors' mentioned  myself  but I have seen the talk that was given by Mr Bridger to the Old Cornwall Soc. in the 1950's, where he describes the foregoing but, said Dionysius Williams was found not guilty. His talk was written up in one of the 'Old Cornwall' publications and in the local press at the time. I would have been very surprised if any jury had convicted him, let alone one composed entirely of his peers. His grandfather, also a Dionysiu Williams, was an eminent mathmatician and astrologer, and had married into the family that owned the Manor of Maen/Mayon [the Tremewans.] Dionysius Williams III, although base born, had inherited the Manor under his natural father Dionysius Williams II's will. He thus owned considerable property in Sennen, including the Cove. He was to die, with no direct male heirs, in early 1830.
The 'briefs' were at one time on loan to the Cornwall Record Office, but for the past year or so have been' removed by the owner' ?

Now, what I CAN  say is fact is :-

John and Joseph GEORGE were brothers. They were from the large family of Richard GEORGE and his wife Rebecca
NICHOLAS.
Rebecca's father was a Mathew NICHOLAS and from this date on there were boys named Mathew in the GEORGE family
As well as these brothers ,John. Joseph & Mathew [and a Richard, of which no further trace other than baptism can be found]  there were Peter, Henry and James. I have the tree in some detail but I will give you an outline.

John  GEORGE      b1775  married Grace PENROSE: 1802 Sennen[widow,b1762: her name at birth was Grace NICHOLAS]
Joseph GEORGE    b1777     "      Ann  NICHOLAS: 1798  St Buryan
Peter GEORGE      b1779     "      Sarah ROBERTS:  1803 Sennen
Henry GEORGE     b1781     "      Margaret NICHOLAS:1810 Sennen
James GEORGE     b1783     "      Jane PENROSE: 1806 Sennen
Mathew GEORGE  b1790     "      Sarah PENROSE:  1813 Sennen
Jane PENROSE:  b 1786 & Sarah PENROSE: b1790 were sisters
& daughters of Grace PENROSE: the widow [still with me?]
As you can see the NICHOLAS family name figures often.


According to the valuation on the 1840 Tithe Apportionment records for Sennen, 3 plots of land and the Inn were leased to Henry & Mathew GEORGE, from  the heirs of  Dion.Williams.[bur: 19 Mar 1830: age 58: Sennen ]
[see our web page at :-  http://members.tripod.com/sennentithes/index.htm  - click on  Sennen Cove to see maps and details etc.]

Dionysius WILLIAMS III [1772- 1830]  was the base son of Margaret NICHOLAS  [father Dion. WILLIAMS II]
His father had married  in 1773 ,not to Margaret, but to his first cousin Ann TREMEWAN and had 3 daughters.
When Dion.WILLIAMS II died in 1799, his illegitimate son inherited under his natural father's will.
When DionysiusWILLIAMS  III died in 1830, again there were no male heirs and the manor and lands were inherited by his daughter, Ann Tremewan WILLIAMS or more accurately, by her husband, James TREMBATH  of St Just [another long story]

After reseaching I  now am sure that the Henry and Mathew GEORGE mentioned above  were the two brothers  of John and Joseph GEORGE . Mathew goes on to be landlord of the INN at the COVE through all the Census; 1841 -1891
 On an old map of Norden's it is called "The Ship" inn This  maps was surveyed in the 1600's but not published until the end of the 1700,'s hence the anomaly in the names of landlords not being those current at the time of publication.
Sometime in late 1800's the inns name was changed to the "Old Success" after the seine net company  of the same name and . It was painted at this time by the artist Farquarar, who lived in his studio in one of the net lofts near the inn.

On the 1901 Mathew GEORGE  is listed  as a fisherman and the inn is not mentioned. Leases were usually on 3 lives and the landlords could not demand eviction from the property at short notice.
The  GEORGE family would not have paid rent in the manner of today. There were High rents & Rack Rents, due  per the original agreements but not payable with the frequency of today. The nominated 3 lives lease[or 99 years] could only be changed by the leaseholder. The family members who held the lease would have paid the rents due,  possibly annually, but not neccessarily Joseph and Ann who were running it at the time. However, if she was responsible for splitting on her brother in law, John GEORGE they may have been regarded as pariahs by the rest of the family , who threw them out.
This was why the GEORGES continued with the lease until at least 1891. It might have run out then, with Mathew GEORGE, being perhaps the last life, did not want to renew as he was unmarried and had no heirs. By the 1920's it was known as the Whitesand Bay Hotel, when the thatch was ripped off and a proper second story added rather than a few attic rooms on a talfat type floor. [Talfat is the Cornish word for a wooden loft, reached by a ladder much like
a hay loft].

There is also another family by the name of GEORGE in Sennen. and this has led to confusion as to which of the two Sennen inns was the home of Joseph and Ann George. 

My family of VINGOE owned and ran the FIRST & LAST INN in Churchtown. They also owned much else in Trevescan, Treviley and Escalls and the Land's End  piece itself . Some of this confusion comes from the fact that an Eleanor Vingoe married a John George in 1761 and a Sara  Vingoe in 1786 also married a  John George, however this is  another  group of  the GEORGE  family distantly related  to the 'Covers' of the same name.

A study of the Sennen parish registers shows that there is a tangle of George, Vingoe, and Nicholas names and they intermarried frequently to consolidate the land  interests. The names Vingoe and Nicholas were in Sennen  at the time of the 1642 Protestation return but I believe the George family came in from St Levan / St Buryan sometime after the Civil War.

As regards  John GEORGE, allegedly shopped by Ann GEORGE  for shooting a Revenue Man, I have not found this execution carried out at Bodmin, or elsewhere, on the date mentioned. I have a list of Bodmin Trials and there was a John George, age 30 , of Polperro, who was executed at Newgate in 1808 for smuggling. It is possible those writing the story got their facts muddled somewhat. If the John George above IS  the one who marries the widow Grace Penrose on 19 Oct of 1802 he cannot be the one allegedly hung in June of the same year.
Most smugglers had their sentence commuted to either transportation or service in HM Ships of War, especially at this time when we were at war with France. It has to be said that I can find no further trace of John George or his wife Grace so he may have beat a hasty retreat from Sennen or John may have been pressed into the Navy rather than Executed. Further research may come up with the answer.

WEB MASTER

george<at>penhalvean.freeserve.co.uk

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Sandra and George Pritchard are the authors of original work on this site.  They give permission to copy and use this information on the following conditions.
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