A new Brendon book


a new brendon book

Rupert’s sister-in-law, Vyvyen Brendon, has a new book out: Children at Sea: Lives Shaped by the Waves, published by Pen & Sword. Below she tells of her long connection with Cornwall, Bude and the sea. She will sign copies (price £13) on Friday 4 September 2020 at 12 noon on the Terrace at the Falcon Hotel. So that she can be sure to bring sufficient copies please pre-order from the Falcon Hotel at reception@falconhotel.com  or phone 01288 352005.

Vyvyen’s links with Bude and Cornwall

 1 Scillonian Ancestry

My great-great-grandfather, Edwin Davis, was Keeper of St Agnes Lighthouse, which helped to protect sailors from the islands’ rocky shores. Of the Keeper’s seven sons two became keepers in their turn and five were apprenticed on Scillonian merchant ships by the time they were fourteen. They sailed the world and all five were to perish at sea, including my great-grandfather, Charles, who was captain of the clipper ship MacDuff and died on a voyage to South Australia, leaving a widow and baby son. Their stories, which I heard as a child from my grandfather, provided me with the original inspiration to write this book. Charles’s story was completed by Rupert and Chris who identified his grave on a scorching day in Williamstown cemetery, Melbourne, and took a photograph for me to include in the book.

St Agnes Lighthouse with Georgie, Gayle and Lucas Brendon, who pose with its current resident, Francis Hicks (left in picture), a descendant of Edwin Davis; the Keeper; Charles Davis’s grave with the shadow of Chris

2 Later Cornish connections

I have to admit that my birth and seaside childhood make me a Devonian, which perhaps prompted me to choose for my cover the famous image of the young Raleigh, which was painted in Budleigh Salterton. However, my marriage to the Poughill-born writer and biographer of Parson Hawker of Morwenstow, Piers Brendon, gave me a Cornish passport and I’ve been using it ever since. Over the years, with our two sons and later with their wives and our five grandchildren, we’ve built sandcastles on the beach, dodged waves on the breakwater, surfed at Summerleaze and visited successive incumbents of the Falcon and Brendon Arms: Sydney Frances Brendon, George and Veronica Brendon, Desmond and Karen Gregory, Jan Pethick, Sophia Brendon and, currently, Rupert and Chris, with whom we have toured Cornwall’s churches on the lookout for mermaid bench ends and shipwreck windows. I shall never forget the funerals of Jan and Des, at which the Lifeboat Choir sang the hymn ‘For those in peril on the sea’ to honour their fellow crew members. Inevitably I was reminded of my great-grandfather, as I am when we go to Morwenstow and imagine Hawker watching out from his hut for shipwrecked sailors (and mermaids!).

1970s family snap- shots in and around Bude

Glimpses of Cornwall: Piers on the mounting block at St Materiana’s Church, Tintagel; Vyvyen in Bude; Rupert and Chris, courtesy of Barbara Hepworth, at St Ives 

3 Joseph Emidy

But this book is not just about my Scillonian forebears. It centres on eight youngsters (identified below in bold type) who went to sea as sailors, slaves, transportees or migrants on voyages which changed their lives. As it happens, none of them hailed originally from Cornwall though they frequently found themselves on the shores or among the folk of this sea-washed county. Thus Joseph Emidy, after being captured in Africa, sold as a slave in Brazil and freed in Portugal, was press-ganged by the Falmouth sea-captain, Edward Pellew, to play his violin for the amusement of his largely Cornish crew. So it was no accident that, after seven years fighting the French in the Napoleonic Wars, Emidy ended up in Falmouth. He made his way to this busy port after being disembarked at Plymouth, probably in the hope of using Pellew’s connections to find work as a musician. Like me he became Cornish by marriage and he spent the rest of his life in the county, leading the Truro Philharmonic Orchestra and attracting the patronage of such fashionable gentry as Lord Falmouth and Sir Hussey Vivian.   

Water-colour of Joseph Emidy leading a group of Cornish musicians; façade of the old Assembly Rooms, Truro; portrait of Waterloo veteran and reformist MP, Sir Hussey Vivian, who attended Emidy’s concerts there. Both the paintings can be viewed in the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro

4 Cornish Seafaring connections

The first person to write about Emidy’s extraordinary musical career was one of his flute pupils, James Silk Buckingham, who was himself a former sailor, serving on the packet boat service between Falmouth and Lisbon from the age of ten. Falmouth was indeed one of the country’s foremost harbours in the age of sail, a port of call familiar to most of my selected seafarers. The East Indiamen on which William and Charles Barlow sailed from India probably put in here for repairs and supplies before their last leg towards Deptford. Midshipman Othnel Mawdesley embarked from Falmouth on an expedition against the Spanish in South America. Among the prominent maritime families of Cornwall was that of Marine Lieutenant Paul Nicolas from St Martin-by-Looe, who was sixteen when he fought at the Battle of Trafalgar. On a different man-of-war was his much humbler contemporary, Marine Private George King, whose foundling origins made progress to officer status out of the question. Both survived the battle, recorded by Nicolas in paint and by King in the remarkable autobiography which is quoted in my book. The last of my sailors, Sydney Dickens, set off from Plymouth Sound on his naval career in 1861, as a diminutive fourteen-year-old aboard a steam-powered, screw-propeller frigate less suited to Falmouth Harbour. The famous father who saw him off had only recently returned from a visit to Cornwall looking for literary inspiration in its dramatic land- and sea-scape.

Captain Edward Pellew painted by James Northcote, 1804; Paul Nicolas’s portrayal of the Battle of Trafalgar 

Falmouth Harbour (1812) by J.M.W. Turner, who liked to include local people in his topographical works. One of the best-known characters in Falmouth and Truro at this time was Joseph Emidy, which leads me to think that he is represented playing his violin in the foreground of this picture. No one else, as far as I know, has made this important identification.  So, remember, you read it here first!

  5 Transportees and Migrants

There were twenty or so Cornish convicts on the first transportation fleet to Botany Bay in 1787. None of those sentenced in the Launceston and Bodmin Assizes was under eighteen but many children appear in Old Bailey records of that time. From these I chose to tell the story of Mary Branham, a London lass sentenced at fourteen and eventually sent off on the First Fleet. There is a surprising connection between her and Mary Bryant, the Fowey convict who famously escaped from Sydney, was recaptured in the East Indies and sent back to England on HMS Gorgon. Also on board was Mary Branham’s four-year-old son, William, who was being taken to England by her former lover, a marine lieutenant. Left behind in her ‘great outdoor prison’ Mary may never even have known that William survived the journey.

In the later 19th century, as the county’s shipbuilding and mining declined, a quarter of a million emigrants left Cornish shores of their own accord. They included my great-aunt Thirza, who emigrated from the Scillies to Australia where her husband, Thomas Chudleigh, became Harbourmaster in Sydney. Lone child migrants can be traced only in records such as those of Barnardo’s, access to which is confined to direct descendants as a result of new confidentiality rules. I was able to find out about Ada Southwell, who was sent to Canada in a party of East End waifs in 1882, after being put in touch with her grandson, Chris Beldan, who lives in Toronto. He helped me to tell her fascinating story.

This stained glass window in Toronto’s Old City Hall celebrates the contribution that British migrants, many of them from Cornwall, made to the growth and prosperity of Canada. For most of her life Ada Southwell lived in Toronto. And for many years the city was also the home of Rupert and Chris, who regularly return.  

Vyvyen Brendon will sign copies (price £13) on Friday 4 September 2020 at 12 noon on the Terrace at the Falcon Hotel. So that she can be sure to bring sufficient copies please pre-order from the Falcon Hotel at reception@falconhotel.com  or phone 01288 352005.