Polperro Postscripts

A blog for anyone with an interest in Polperro, publishing and people... with occasional musings on history and humanity.



Wrecks and Royals

Posted on September 13, 2017

The story of the ‘Wreck of the Ten Sail’, when ten ships from a convoy came to grief on a reef off Grand Cayman in 1794, is a familiar one to the inhabitants of this idyllic haven in the Caribbean. But the legend that has become attached to the incident, that the reason the Cayman islands enjoy tax free status today is because a royal prince aboard one of the ships was saved by the islanders and a grateful King George III granted the Islands the status they enjoy today, has long been dismissed by modern historians.

However, as author Sam Oakley reveals in her new book The Wreck Of The Ten Sail – a true story from Cayman’s past there was indeed a link with the British monarch. One of the passengers aboard HMS Convert, the frigate escort also wrecked along with nine merchant vessels, was Lady Amelia Cooke, daughter of the Duke of Atholl whose aristocratic Murray family ruled the Isle of Man in the 18th century. Thirty years old at the time, she was returning to England from Jamaica following the death of her husband there. Her cousin, Lady August a Murray, had secretly married Prince Augustus Frederick, the sixth son of George III, in Italy the previous year.

Lady Amelia was among several hundred survivors of the maritime disaster, attributed to a navigational error, who found themselves stranded on Grand Cayman at a time when the inhabitants were still coping with the aftermath of a ferocious hurricane that had virtually devastated the island. So dire was their plight that a group of prominent residents wrote a letter to Captain John Lawford, commander of the Convert, pleading with him to evacuate the survivors as quickly as possible.

Today, a monument stands on a lonely outcrop of the shore overlooking the reef where the ten vessels were wrecked. It was commemorated on the 200th anniversary of the event in 1995 when Queen Elizabeth II paid a visit to the spot, though it is not known whether she was aware at the time of the royal connection unearthed by our author.












Polperro Smugglers' Jug

Posted on August 2, 2017



‘Success to our Trade’ was the toast of the Polperro smugglers in the 18th century. The ‘Trade’ in question was the import of contraband goods from Guernsey; huge quantities of rum, gin, brandy, tea and tobacco were shipped across the Channel to Cornwall and sold on once landed ashore. It was a risky if lucrative business that brought great wealth to a number of Polperro families, among them the Quillers.

The existence of a ‘smuggling’ jug that had once belonged to William Quiller and inscribed with the famous ‘toast’ has long been known. Indeed, an early photograph of it can be seen in the Polperro Museum. But the jug itself was thought to have been lost… until now, when it surfaced in the care of a descendant of the family and in remarkably good condition considering its age.

The creamware jug is typical of many commemorative jugs produced during the 1790s and early 1800s, except that it uniquely celebrates the smuggling trade. On one side is a picture of a lugger and on the other a pony laden with a barrel of what is presumably liquor of some sort; both representative of the smuggling trade that flourished in Cornwall at the time.

The jug originally belonged to either William Quiller (1765-1816) or his son of the same name (1790-1823). Both commanded a number of smuggling and privateering vessels during the Napoleonic wars and both probably perished at sea as did many of the Quiller menfolk. William Quiller’s name crops up frequently in the accounts of the Polperro privateers that captured a number of valuable French prizes when Britain was at war with France.


Nelson's Right Arm

The Battle of Santa Cruz in 1797 when Nelson lost his right arm

Posted on March 8, 2017

Enjoying a few days away from the British winter weather last month in Tenerife I was surprised to come across the full story of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s only major defeat in battle which resulted in the loss of his right arm.

The Battle of Santa Cruz in July 1797 was initiated by news that two valuable Spanish treasure ships had taken refuge in the harbour there in the north of Tenerife, aware that the British fleet was blockading Cadiz following Nelson’s victory a few months earlier off Cape St Vincent. One them, the Principe Fernando, was seized by the British along with her cargo worth £30,000. But the other more valuable prize escaped capture, prompting Nelson to mount a seaborne assault on the heavily defended port of Santa Cruz.

His squadron of three 74-gun ships, three frigates, the cutter Fox and a mortar boat recently taken from the Spaniards, arrived off Tenerife on 21st July. The Spanish defenders were alerted to the possibility of an invasion however. An attempt to land a raiding party and gain a position above the town was repelled so, on the evening of the 24th Nelson decided to attack directly from the sea. The battle plan called for a combination of naval bombardments and an amphibious landing.

Several of the boats failed to land at the correct positions in the confusion, while those that did were swept by gunfire and grapeshot. Nelson's boat reached its intended landing point but as he stepped ashore he was hit in the right arm by a musketball, which fractured his upper arm in several places. He was rowed back to his flagship, Theseus to be attended to by the surgeon. Most of the right arm was amputated and within half an hour Nelson had returned to issuing orders to his captains.

A force of almost 1,000 men made up the assault force, but many were lost in the attempt. The cutter Fox was also sunk by a lucky shot from a 24-pounder and as the battle ashore continued through the night, it soon became clear that the beleaguered invaders had no option other than to surrender.

The Spanish commander in Santa Cruz, General Antonio Gutierrez, allowed the British to leave with their weapons. This led to a courteous exchange of letters between Nelson and Gutiérrez. A copy of Nelson's letter (right) offering a cheese as a token of his gratitude is actually on display at the Military Museum in Santa Cruz. It must have been one of the first occasions he was obliged to write with his left hand.