From London to Land's End by Daniel Defoe

[Continued from Devon. See the first page for publication details.]


From Plymouth we pass the Tamar over a ferry to Saltash--a little, poor, shattered town, the first we set foot on in the county of Cornwall. The Tamar here is very wide, and the ferry-boats bad; so that I thought myself well escaped when I got safe on shore in Cornwall.

Saltash seems to be the ruins of a larger place; and we saw many houses, as it were, falling down, and I doubt not but the mice and rats have abandoned many more, as they say they will when they are likely to fall. Yet this town is governed by a mayor and aldermen, has many privileges, sends members to Parliament, takes toll of all vessels that pass the river, and have the sole oyster-fishing in the whole river, which is considerable. Mr. Carew, author of the Survey of Cornwall, tells us a strange story of a dog in this town, of whom it was observed that if they gave him any large bone or piece of meat, he immediately went out of doors with it, and after having disappeared for some time would return again; upon which, after some time, they watched him, when, to their great surprise, they found that the poor charitable creature carried what he so got to an old decrepit mastiff, which lay in a nest that he had made among the brakes a little way out of the town, and was blind, so that he could not help himself; and there this creature fed him. He adds also that on Sundays or holidays, when he found they made good cheer in the house where he lived, he would go out and bring this old blind dog to the door, and feed him there till he had enough, and then go with him back to his habitation in the country again, and see him safe in. If this story is true, it is very remarkable indeed; and I thought it worth telling, because the author was a person who, they say, might be credited.

This town has a kind of jurisdiction upon the River Tamar down to the mouth of the port, so that they claim anchorage of all small ships that enter the river; their coroner sits upon all dead bodies that are found drowned in the river and the like, but they make not much profit of them. There is a good market here, and that is the best thing to be said of the town; it is also very much increased since the number of the inhabitants are increased at the new town, as I mentioned as near the dock at the mouth of Hamoaze, for those people choose rather to go to Saltash to market by water than to walk to Plymouth by land for their provisions. Because, first, as they go in the town boat, the same boat brings home what they buy, so that it is much less trouble; second, because provisions are bought much cheaper at Saltash than at Plymouth. This, I say, is like to be a very great advantage to the town of Saltash, and may in time put a new face of wealth upon the place.

They talk of some merchants beginning to trade here, and they have some ships that use the Newfoundland fishery; but I could not hear of anything considerable they do in it. There is no other considerable town up the Tamar till we come to Launceston, the county town, which I shall take in my return; so I turned west, keeping the south shore of the county to the Land's End.

From Saltash I went to Liskeard, about seven miles. This is a considerable town, well built; has people of fashion in it, and a very great market; it also sends two members to Parliament, and is one of the five towns called Stannary Towns--that is to say, where the blocks of tin are brought to the coinage; of which, by itself, this coinage of tin is an article very much to the advantage of the towns where it is settled, though the money paid goes another way.

This town of Liskeard was once eminent, had a good castle, and a large house, where the ancient Dukes of Cornwall kept their court in those days; also it enjoyed several privileges, especially by the favour of the Black Prince, who as Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall resided here. And in return they say this town and the country round it raised a great body of stout young fellows, who entered into his service and followed his fortunes in his wars in France, as also in Spain. But these buildings are so decayed that there are now scarce any of the ruins of the castle or of the prince's court remaining.

The only public edifices they have now to show are the guild or town hall, on which there is a turret with a fine clock; a very good free school, well provided; a very fine conduit in the market- place; an ancient large church; and, which is something rare for the county of Cornwall, a large, new-built meeting-house for the Dissenters, which I name because they assured me there was but three more, and those very inconsiderable, in all the county of Cornwall; whereas in Devonshire, which is the next county, there are reckoned about seventy, some of which are exceeding large and fine.

This town is also remarkable for a very great trade in all manufactures of leather, such as boots, shoes, gloves, purses, breaches, etc.; and some spinning of late years is set up here, encouraged by the woollen manufacturers of Devonshire.

Between these two towns of Saltash and Liskeard is St. Germans, now a village, decayed, and without any market, but the largest parish in the whole county--in the bounds of which is contained, as they report, seventeen villages, and the town of Saltash among them; for Saltash has no parish church, it seems, of itself, but as a chapel- of-ease to St. Germans. In the neighbourhood of these towns are many pleasant seats of the Cornish gentry, who are indeed very numerous, though their estates may not be so large as is usual in England; yet neither are they despicable in that part; and in particular this may be said of them--that as they generally live cheap, and are more at home than in other counties, so they live more like gentlemen, and keep more within bounds of their estates than the English generally do, take them all together.

Add to this that they are the most sociable, generous, and to one another the kindest, neighbours that are to be found; and as they generally live, as we may say, together (for they are almost always at one another's houses), so they generally intermarry among themselves, the gentlemen seldom going out of the county for a wife, or the ladies for a husband; from whence they say that proverb upon them was raised, viz., That all the Cornish gentlemen are cousins.

On the hills north of Liskeard, and in the way between Liskeard and Launceston, there are many tin-mines. And, as they told us, some of the richest veins of that metal are found there that are in the whole county--the metal, when cast at the blowing houses into blocks, being, as above, carried to Liskeard to be coined.

From Liskeard, in our course west, we are necessarily carried to the sea-coast, because of the River Fowey or Fowath, which empties itself into the sea at a very large mouth. And hereby this river rising in the middle of the breadth of the county and running south, and the River Camel rising not far from it and running north, with a like large channel, the land from Bodmin to the western part of the county is almost made an island and in a manner cut off from the eastern part--the peninsula, or neck of land between, being not above twelve miles over.

On this south side we came to Foy or Fowey, an ancient town, and formerly very large--nay, not large only, but powerful and potent; for the Foyens, as they were then called, were able to fit out large fleets, not only for merchants' ships, but even of men-of- war; and with these not only fought with, but several times vanquished and routed, the squadron of the Cinque Ports men, who in those days were thought very powerful.

Mr. Camden observes that the town of Foy quarters some part of the arms of every one of those Cinque Ports with their own, intimating that they had at several times trampled over them all. Certain it is they did often beat them, and took their ships, and brought them as good prizes into their haven of Foy; and carried it so high that they fitted out their fleets against the French, and took several of their men-of-war when they were at war with England, and enriched their town by the spoil of their enemies.

Edward IV. favoured them much; and because the French threatened them to come up their river with a powerful navy to burn their town, he caused two forts to be built at the public charge for security of the town and river, which forts--at least, some show of them--remain there still. But the same King Edward was some time after so disgusted at the townsmen for officiously falling upon the French, after a truce was made and proclaimed, that he effectually disarmed them, took away their whole fleet, ships, tackle, apparel, and furniture; and since that time we do not read of any of their naval exploits, nor that they ever recovered or attempted to recover their strength at sea. However, Foy at this time is a very fair town; it lies extended on the east side of the river for above a mile, the buildings fair. And there are a great many flourishing merchants in it, who have a great share in the fishing trade, especially for pilchards, of which they take a great quantity hereabouts. In this town is also a coinage for the tin, of which a great quantity is dug up in the country north and west of the town.

The River Fowey, which is very broad and deep here, was formerly navigable by ships of good burthen as high as Lostwithiel--an ancient and once a flourishing but now a decayed town; and as to trade and navigation, quite destitute; which is occasioned by the river being filled up with sands, which, some say, the tides drive up in stormy weather from the sea; others say it is by sands washed from the lead-mines in the hills; the last of which, by the way, I take to be a mistake, the sand from the hills being not of quantity sufficient to fill up the channel of a navigable river, and, if it had, might easily have been stopped by the townspeople from falling into the river. But that the sea has choked up the river with sand is not only probable, but true; and there are other rivers which suffer in the like manner in this same country.

This town of Lostwithiel retains, however, several advantages which support its figure--as, first, that it is one of the Coinage Towns, as I call them; or Stannary Towns, as others call them; (2) the common gaol for the whole Stannary is here, as are also the County Courts for the whole county of Cornwall.

There is a mock cavalcade kept up at this town, which is very remarkable. The particulars, as they are related by Mr. Carew in his Survey of Cornwall, take as follows:-

Upon Little Easter Sunday the freeholders of this town and manor, by themselves or their deputies, did there assemble; amongst whom one (as it fell to his lot by turn), bravely apparelled, gallantly mounted, with a crown on his head, a sceptre in his hand, and a sword borne before him, and dutifully attended by all the rest (also on horseback), rode through the principal street to the church. The curate in his best beseen solemnly received him at the churchyard stile, and conducted him to hear divine service. After which he repaired, with the same pomp, to a house provided for that purpose, made a feast to his attendants, kept the table's-end himself, and was served with kneeling assay and all other rights due to the estate of a prince; with which dinner the ceremony ended, and every man returned home again. The pedigree of this usage is derived from so many descents of ages that the cause and author outreach the remembrance. Howbeit, these circumstances afford a conjecture that it should betoken royalties appertaining to the honour of Cornwall. Behind Foy and nearer to the coast, at the mouth of a small river which some call Lowe, though without any authority, there stand two towns opposite to one another bearing the name of the River Looe-- that is to say, distinguished by the addition of East Looe and West Looe. These are both good trading towns, and especially fishing towns; and, which is very particular, are (like Weymouth and Melcombe, in Dorsetshire) separated only by the creek or river, and yet each of them sends members to Parliament. These towns are joined together by a very beautiful and stately stone bridge having fifteen arches.

East Looe was the ancienter corporation of the two, and for some ages ago the greater and more considerable town; but now they tell us West Looe is the richest, and has the most ships belonging to it. Were they put together, they would make a very handsome seaport town. They have a great fishing trade here, as well for supply of the country as for merchandise, and the towns are not despisable. But as to sending four members to the British Parliament (which is as many as the City of London chooses), that, I confess, seems a little scandalous; but to whom, is none of my business to inquire.

Passing from hence, and ferrying over Foy River or the River Foweth (call it as you please), we come into a large country without many towns in it of note, but very well furnished with gentlemen's seats, and a little higher up with tin-works.

The sea making several deep bays here, they who travel by land are obliged to go higher into the country to pass above the water, especially at Trewardreth Bay, which lies very broad, above ten miles within the country, which passing at Trewardreth (a town of no great note, though the bay takes its name from it), the next inlet of the sea is the famous firth or inlet called Falmouth Haven. It is certainly, next to Milford Haven in South Wales, the fairest and best road for shipping that is in the whole isle of Britain, whether be considered the depth of water for above twenty miles within land; the safety of riding, sheltered from all kind of winds or storms; the good anchorage; and the many creeks, all navigable, where ships may run in and be safe; so that the like is nowhere to be found.

There are six or seven very considerable places upon this haven and the rivers from it--viz., Grampound, Tregony, Truro, Penryn, Falmouth, St. Maws, and Pendennis. The three first of these send members to Parliament. The town of Falmouth, as big as all the three, and richer than ten of them, sends none; which imports no more than this--that Falmouth itself is not of so great antiquity as to its rising as those other towns are; and yet the whole haven takes its name from Falmouth, too, unless, as some think, the town took its name from the haven, which, however, they give no authority to suggest.

St. Maws and Pendennis are two fortifications placed at the points or entrance of this haven, opposite to one another, though not with a communication or view; they are very strong--the first principally by sea, having a good platform of guns pointing athwart the Channel, and planted on a level with the water. But Pendennis Castle is strong by land as well as by water, is regularly fortified, has good out-works, and generally a strong garrison. St. Maws, otherwise called St. Mary's, has a town annexed to the castle, and is a borough sending members to the Parliament. Pendennis is a mere fortress, though there are some habitations in it, too, and some at a small distance near the seaside, but not of any great consideration.

The town of Falmouth is by much the richest and best trading town in this county, though not so ancient as its neighbour town of Truro; and indeed is in some things obliged to acknowledge the seigniority--namely, that in the corporation of Truro the person whom they choose to be their Mayor of Truro is also Mayor of Falmouth of course. How the jurisdiction is managed is an account too long for this place. The Truro-men also receive several duties collected in Falmouth, particularly wharfage for the merchandises landed or shipped off; but let these advantages be what they will, the town of Falmouth has gotten the trade--at least, the best part of it--from the other, which is chiefly owing to the situation. For that Falmouth lying upon the sea, but within the entrance, ships of the greatest burthen come up to the very quays, and the whole Royal Navy might ride safely in the road; whereas the town of Truro lying far within, and at the mouth of two fresh rivers, is not navigable for vessels of above 150 tons or thereabouts.

Some have suggested that the original of Falmouth was the having so large a quay, and so good a depth of water at it. The merchants of Truro formerly used it for the place of lading and unlading their ships, as the merchants of Exeter did at Topsham; and this is the more probable in that, as above, the wharfage of those landing- places is still the property of the corporation of Truro.

But let this be as it will, the trade is now in a manner wholly gone to Falmouth, the trade at Truro being now chiefly (if not only) for the shipping off of block tin and copper ore, the latter being lately found in large quantities in some of the mountains between Truro and St. Michael's, and which is much improved since the several mills are erected at Bristol and other parts for the manufactures of battery ware, as it is called (brass), or which is made out of English copper, most of it duct in these parts--the ore itself ago being found very rich and good.

Falmouth is well built, has abundance of shipping belonging to it, is full of rich merchants, and has a flourishing and increasing trade. I say "increasing," because by the late setting up the English packets between this port and Lisbon, there is a new commerce between Portugal and this town carried on to a very great value.

It is true, part of this trade was founded in a clandestine commerce carried on by the said packets at Lisbon, where, being the king's ships, and claiming the privilege of not being searched or visited by the Custom House officers, they found means to carry off great quantities of British manufactures, which they sold on board to the Portuguese merchants, and they conveyed them on shore, as it is supposed, without paying custom.

But the Government there getting intelligence of it, and complaint being made in England also, where it was found to be very prejudicial to the fair merchant, that trade has been effectually stopped. But the Falmouth merchants, having by this means gotten a taste of the Portuguese trade, have maintained it ever since in ships of their own. These packets bring over such vast quantities of gold in specie, either in moidores (which is the Portugal coin) or in bars of gold, that I am very credibly informed the carrier from Falmouth brought by land from thence to London at one time, in the month of January, 1722, or near it, eighty thousand moidores in gold, which came from Lisbon in the packet-boats for account of the merchants at London, and that it was attended with a guard of twelve horsemen well armed, for which the said carrier had half per cent. for his hazard.

This is a specimen of the Portugal trade, and how considerable it is in itself, as well as how advantageous to England; but as that is not to the present case, I proceed. The Custom House for all the towns in this port, and the head collector, is established at this town, where the duties (including the other ports) is very considerable. Here is also a very great fishing for pilchards; and the merchants for Falmouth have the chief stroke in that gainful trade.

North west view of Truro 1806 (British Library)Truro is, however, a very considerable town, too. It stands up the water north and by east from Falmouth, in the utmost extended branch of the Avon, in the middle between the conflux of two rivers, which, though not of any long course, have a very good appearance for a port, and make it large wharf between them in the front of the town. And the water here makes a good port for small ships, though it be at the influx, but not for ships of burthen. This is the particular town where the Lord-Warden of the Stannaries always holds his famous Parliament of miners, and for stamping of tin. The town is well built, but shows that it has been much fuller, both of houses and inhabitants, than it is now; nor will it probably ever rise while the town of Falmouth stands where it does, and while the trade is settled in it as it is. There are at least three churches in it, but no Dissenters' meeting-house that I could hear of.

Tregony is upon the same water north-east from Falmouth--distance about fifteen miles from it--but is a town of very little trade; nor, indeed, have any of the towns, so far within the shore, notwithstanding the benefit of the water, any considerable trade but what is carried on under the merchants of Falmouth or Truro. The chief thing that is to be said of this town is that it sends members to Parliament, as does also Grampound, a market-town; and Burro', about four miles farther up the water. This place, indeed, has a claim to antiquity, and is an appendix to the Duchy of Cornwall, of which it holds at a fee farm rent and pays to the Prince of Wales as duke 10 pounds 11s. 1d. per annum. It has no parish church, but only a chapel-of-ease to an adjacent parish.

Penryn is up the same branch of the Avon as Falmouth, but stands four miles higher towards the west; yet ships come to it of as great a size as can come to Truro itself. It is a very pleasant, agreeable town, and for that reason has many merchants in it, who would perhaps otherwise live at Falmouth. The chief commerce of these towns, as to their sea-affairs, is the pilchards and Newfoundland fishing, which is very profitable to them all. It had formerly a conventual church, with a chantry and a religious house (a cell to Kirton); but they are all demolished, and scarce the ruins of them distinguishable enough to know one part from another.

Quitting Falmouth Haven from Penryn West, we came to Helston, about seven miles, and stands upon the little River Cober, which, however, admits the sea so into its bosom as to make a tolerable good harbour for ships a little below the town. It is the fifth town allowed for the coining tin, and several of the ships called tin-ships are laden here.

This town is large and populous, and has four spacious streets, a handsome church, and a good trade. This town also sends members to Parliament. Beyond this is a market-town, though of no resort for trade, called Market Jew. It lies, indeed, on the seaside, but has no harbour or safe road for shipping.

At Helford is a small but good harbour between Falmouth and this port, where many times the tin-ships go in to load for London; also here are a good number of fishing vessels for the pilchard trade, and abundance of skilful fishermen. It was from this town that in the great storm which happened November 27, 1703, a ship laden with tin was blown out to sea and driven to the Isle of Wight in seven hours, having on board only one man and two boys. The story is as follows:-

The beginning of the storm there lay a ship laden with tin in Helford Haven, about two leagues and a half west of Falmouth. The tin was taken on board at a place called Guague Wharf, five or six miles up the river, and the vessel was come down to Helford in order to pursue her voyage to London.

About eight o'clock in the evening the commander, whose name was Anthony Jenkins, went on board with his mate to see that everything was safe, and to give orders, but went both on shore again, leaving only a man and two boys on board, not apprehending any danger, they being in safe harbour. However, he ordered them that if it should blow hard they should carry out the small bower anchor, and so to moor the ship by two anchors, and then giving what other orders he thought to be needful, he went ashore, as above.

About nine o'clock, the wind beginning to blow harder, they carried out the anchor, according to the master's order; but the wind increasing about ten, the ship began to drive, so they carried out their best bower, which, having a good new cable, brought the ship up. The storm still increasing, they let go the kedge anchor; so that they then rode by four anchors ahead, which were all they had.

But between eleven and twelve o'clock the wind came about west and by south, and blew in so violent and terrible a manner that, though they rode under the lee of a high shore, yet the ship was driven from all her anchors, and about midnight drove quite out of the harbour (the opening of the harbour lying due east and west) into the open sea, the men having neither anchor or cable or boat to help themselves.

In this dreadful condition (they driving, I say, out of the harbour) their first and chief care was to go clear of the rocks which lie on either side the harbour's mouth, and which they performed pretty well. Then, seeing no remedy, they consulted what to do next. They could carry no sail at first--no, not a knot; nor do anything but run away afore it. The only thing they had to think on was to keep her out at sea as far as they could, for fear of a point of land called the Dead Man's Head, which lies to the eastward of Falmouth Haven; and then, if they could escape the land, thought to run in for Plymouth next morning, so, if possible, to save their lives.

In this frighted condition they drove away at a prodigious rate, having sometimes the bonnet of their foresail a little out, but the yard lowered almost to the deck--sometimes the ship almost under water, and sometimes above, keeping still in the offing, for fear of the land, till they might see daylight. But when the day broke they found they were to think no more of Plymouth, for they were far enough beyond it; and the first land they made was Peverel Point, being the southernmost land of the Isle of Purbeck, in Dorsetshire, and a little to the westward of the Isle of Wight; so that now they were in a terrible consternation, and driving still at a prodigious rate. By seven o'clock they found themselves broadside of the Isle of Wight.

Here they consulted again what to do to save their lives. One of the boys was for running her into the Downs; but the man objected that, having no anchor or cable nor boat to go on shore with, and the storm blowing off shore in the Downs, they should be inevitably blown off and lost upon the unfortunate Goodwin--which, it seems, the man had been on once before and narrowly escaped.

Now came the last consultation for their lives. The other of the boys said he had been in a certain creek in the Isle of Wight, where, between the rocks, he knew there was room to run the ship in, and at least to save their lives, and that he saw the place just that moment; so he desired the man to let him have the helm, and he would do his best and venture it. The man gave him the helm, and he stood directly in among the rocks, the people standing on the shore thinking they were mad, and that they would in a few minutes be dashed in a thousand pieces.

But when they came nearer, and the people found they steered as if they knew the place, they made signals to them to direct them as well as they could, and the young bold fellow run her into a small cove, where she stuck fast, as it were, between the rocks on both sides, there being but just room enough for the breadth of the ship. The ship indeed, giving two or three knocks, staved and sunk, but the man and the two youths jumped ashore and were safe; and the lading, being tin, was afterwards secured.

N.B.--The merchants very well rewarded the three sailors, especially the lad that ran her into that place.

Penzance is the farthest town of any note west, being 254 miles from London, and within about ten miles of the promontory called the Land's End; so that this promontory is from London 264 miles, or thereabouts. This town of Penzance is a place of good business, well built and populous, has a good trade, and a great many ships belonging to it, notwithstanding it is so remote. Here are also a great many good families of gentlemen, though in this utmost angle of the nation; and, which is yet more strange, the veins of lead, tin, and copper ore are said to be seen even to the utmost extent of land at low-water mark, and in the very sea--so rich, so valuable, a treasure is contained in these parts of Great Britain, though they are supposed to be so poor, because so very remote from London, which is the centre of our wealth.

Between this town and St. Burien, a town midway between it and the Land's End, stands a circle of great stones, not unlike those at Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, with one bigger than the rest in the middle. They stand about twelve feet asunder, but have no inscription; neither does tradition offer to leave any part of their history upon record, as whether it was a trophy or a monument of burial, or an altar for worship, or what else; so that all that can be learned of them is that here they are. The parish where they stand is called Boscawone, from whence the ancient and honourable family of Boscawen derive their names.

St Michael's Mount 1786 (British Library) Near Penzance, but open to the sea, is that gulf they call Mount's Bay; named so from a high hill standing in the water, which they call St. Michael's Mount: the seamen call it only the Cornish Mount. It has been fortified, though the situation of it makes it so difficult of access that, like the Bass in Scotland, there needs no fortification; like the Bass, too, it was once made a prison for prisoners of State, but now it is wholly neglected. There is a very good road here for shipping, which makes the town of Penzance be a place of good resort.

A little up in the county towards the north-west is Godolchan, which though a hill, rather than a town, gives name to the noble and ancient family of Godolphin; and nearer on the northern coast is Royalton, which since the late Sydney Godolphin, Esq., a younger brother of the family, was created Earl of Godolphin, gave title of Lord to his eldest son, who was called Lord Royalton during the life of his father. This place also is infinitely rich in tin- mines.

I am now at my journey's end. As to the islands of Scilly, which lie beyond the Land's End, I shall say something of them presently. I must now return sur mes pas, as the French call it; though not literally so, for I shall not come back the same way I went. But as I have coasted the south shore to the Land's End, I shall come back by the north coast, and my observations in my return will furnish very well materials for another letter.

[Appendix in the original omitted here.]