HISTORY OF POLPERRO


Polperro Harbour.

HISTORY OF POLPERRO by Jonathan Couch. Since it was first published in 1871, the History of Polperro by Dr. Jonathan Couch, physician, naturalist and Polperro's foremost inhabitant, has remained a popular and much sought after publication. Now, more than 120 years later, this specially produced casebound facsimile edition of the original will delight historians and collectors of rare and out-of-print books of Cornwall. Unabridged, Couch's original text includes fascinating chapters on the parishes of Talland and Lansallos, smuggling and privateering, Polperro people, their work, customs and beliefs in the 18th and 19th centuries. There is also an introduction by Jonathan Couch's son Thomas, with an account of his father's life and work.

Polperro is a 13th century fishing village, originally belonging to the ancient Raphael manor mentioned in the Domesday Book.

Fishing has been the principal occupation of its inhabitants for centuries, and pilchards were often caught in abundance to be sold far and wide. In the 18th century Britain was at war with its neighbours, duty on many goods was increased considerably, encouraging the Polperro fishermen to smuggle goods such as tea, gin, brandy and tobacco across from the Channel Islands. Reputably the Methodist preacher John Wesley remarked after visiting Polperro in 1762: "An accursed thing among them: wellnigh one and all bought or sold uncustomed goods."
To be successful, smugglers had to be well organised. Ships had to be loaded and unloaded, often in winter or at night without lights, and to land a cargo in Talland Bay in atrocious weather would have been no straightforward task.

Zephaniah Job arrived in Polperro to manage the smuggling trade. He changed the life of the village, he became the greatest single benefactor in its long history. Over the years Job acted as advisor, accountant and banker to many of the inhabitants as well as the local gentry. He even hired lawyers when the Polperro smugglers appeared in court.

Polperro’s privateering boats,licensed by the Admiralty to

attack and capture enemy ships, also brought great wealth to many Polperro families during the latter half of the 18th century. The privateers often shared official business with smuggling, returning with cargoes of contraband to sell ashore. A Polperro boat called the Lottery was involved in an incident in 1798 in which a Customs Officer was killed. One of the crew,Tom Potter, was later tried for murder at the Old Bailey and executed. As a result,the smuggling trade that had once thrived in Polperro began to lessen as Revenue officials determined to put a stop to it. Zephaniah Job's bank continued in Polperro until his death in 1822, and he was able to rebuild the harbour after it was destroyed by a violent storm in 1817.

In later years, Polperro became one of the most well-liked resorts in Britain for artists and visitors alike. Some of the earliest photographs ever taken feature its inhabitants and their occupations, many of which can be seen at the Polperro Heritage Museum in the Warren.

Photos from Dave Upton Collection


An old engraving of Polperro. I imagine the artist used poetic licence when painting local scenes.


Photos of Devon & Cornwall.