HENRY BOASE OF penzance.
BOASE was the fourth son of Arthur Boase of Madron, by Jane, daughter of
Henry Lugg of St. Keverne. He was born at Madron on the third of June 1763, and
baptized at the parish Church on Midsummer day, being named after his maternal
grandfather. At the age of two, he had the measles and henceforth throughout his
life suffered from the effects of the disease. As to his family connections he
says himself in his autobiography “My paternal grandfather farmed his own
little property in the parish of Paul, my maternal grandfather was a Lugg of St.
Keverne, where his ancestors were freeholders of old times, and where his
family still remain. He purchased some lands both freehold and leasehold in
Madron, where he came to reside, and married a Miss Paul, by whom we are related
with Luke, Hosking, Wallis, Woodis, and other families. Miss Paul’s sister
married Hoskin of Landithy, and her daughters were married, one to Wallis,
another to Thomas Woodis of Alverton. These with the father of Mr. Edmund Paul,
surgeon, were first cousins of my mother. Mr. Luke and Dr. Luke are my cousins
in the second degree by their mother, a Trewavas; and Mr. Luke’s children are
doubly related to us, that is by their grandmother, a Trewavas, and by their
mother, a Woodis, who was the elder sister of Mrs. John Jones Pearce.” He was
of weak health, and studious habits, and early gained some knowledge of the
classical languages and of French, though the means of instruction within his
reach were very small. His father Arthur had been fairly educated, and was a
member of the Bowling green and Sporting clubs of the neighbourhood, and was
constantly churchwarden, an office of some note in those days, and which after
the squire and the vicar distinguished a chief man in the parish. He was a
reader and a politician, and then, what was far from common, had a share of a
weekly newspaper, (taken in by several in rotation) ,the Sherborne Mercury, the
only paper published at that time in the Western counties. This newspaper was
accompanied by a little Weekly
Miscellany, from which its readers gained small scraps of literary
information, and to which Henry Boase afterwards contributed.
Henry’s father would often hear the Cornish language being spoken in his early years as it had not yet died out. “In my father’s early years not a few of the previous generation spoke Cornish, of which he retained many phrases. I remember he used to teach us the Lord’s Prayer, sundry proverbs, the numerals &c., in that language.”
1779 he became a clerk in the office or his relative Mr. Stephen Luke at
Penzance, and gained better opportunities for self instruction than were
available at Gear in Gulval, to which his father had removed from Madron in
1774. “Soon after I came to reside at Penzance I had the good fortune to
obtain some favour in the sight of a very eccentric man of the name of Hewett,
who kept a small, and at that time, the only bookseller’s shop in the town.
Monthly Magazines were then getting into fashion, about half a dozen of which
came to his shop every month, and it was to me a great treat to be permitted to
peep between the un-cut leaves before they were sent home to their owners.
With intense anxiety I have often watched the arrival of the monthly waggon, and
the removal of my friend’s package to his shop, and then passed by the door or
made some excuse to go in and see whether it was opened, an operation which the
old gentleman, to my great mortification, would sometimes postpone for several
days. I reckon it one of the most fortunate circumstances of my life to have
fallen into the good graces of the old bookseller, for at that time Penzance
afforded very little help towards the acquisition of knowledge, no book clubs,
no public library, no reading rooms, no scientific institutions of any kind; and
except a little occasional stir by the novel introduction of Methodism, there
was nothing to disturb the long established smoking, drinking, and gaming-clubs,
of which there were some for all ranks, and for almost all ages. These were
distinguished by many ridiculous names, but all agreeing in drunkenness,
profanity, and card-playing; hard drinking, gaming and swearing, were then
considered gentlemanly accomplishments, and destroyed the health and fortune
of very many. To the wonderful change which took place soon after the breaking
out of the late war, I ascribe much of the increase of population which has
since taken place. From the pernicious influence of such society, I was in a
great measure preserved by a weak state of health, and a fortunate poverty,
which left me very little to spend, and much less than I was anxious to invest
in books. This is a sad picture of Penzance, such as it was before I knew it and
when I lived there from 1779 to 1784. When I visited it in 1792, I did not
observe much difference; but when I again saw it in 1806, I was astonished at
the change. Much of the moral change we have seen may be traced to the spread of
Methodism, which, while it operated powerfully on the labouring classes,
reflected a benign influence on the higher orders of society. Smuggling with its
concomitant vices of drunkenness and swearing was virtually encouraged by the
upper ranks, and was the bane of the miner and the fisherman. Against these
especially, Wesley and Whitfield levelled their powerful denunciations, and
although their followers were for a long time few and obscure, the evils they
condemned were too flagrant to admit of defence. So uncivilized were our miners
down to a period so recent as to be within my memory, that one of the terrors of
the nursery to quiet froward children was to tell them that the Tinners were
rising. When these men felt or fancied some public grievance, they collected in
great bodies, and laid the devoted towns and markets under such contributions
or restraints as the barbarous multitude thought proper to impose. Among these
men Wesley and Whitfield operated a change of incalculable importance not only
to the miners but to the community at large.”
1781, being then clerk to Mr. Luke, we went on business to Falmouth, and as he
was very fond of drawing, amused himself with taking sketches of the harbour,
and at length wandered within the lines of Pendennis castle, not knowing that it
was forbidden ground, it being a time of war, and of great terror about spies;
he was consequently arrested and dismissed with a reprimand for the trouble his
ignorance had occasioned.
1782 he went on horseback to Plymouth on business. Plymouth had hardly yet
recovered from the panic occasioned by the combined fleets of France and Spain,
which had menaced its destruction three years before, in the month of August
1779. “Of that alarm I have still a vivid recollection, caused probably by the
violence of the original impression, when the enemy with apparently an
overwhelming force was in sight. Early one beautiful morning the alarm was given
that the grand fleet of England, chased by the combined fleets of France and
Spain was off the Western Coast. Everybody ran to the hills, from which could be
seen at once the British fleet, under Sir Charles Hardy, 38 ships of the line
and a very few frigates, crowding sail to the eastward, and leisurely pursued by
the combined fleet, under Count D’Orvilliers, composed of about 70 ships of
the line, with a cloud of frigates and smaller vessels. The day was nearly calm,
with now and then a little breeze to the northward, so that for the long space
of a summer’s day the Mount’s Bay exhibited the uncommon scene, first, of
more than 100 ships of the line assembled, and secondly, of the British Channel
fleet flying before the enemy. With the close of the day we lost sight of the
fleet off the Lizard, and the second day after, the enemy paraded triumphantly
before Plymouth, whence he drew off on the third night, alarmed by a threatening
storm with heavy thunder from the south-east. I was told at Plymouth that a
single ship might have silenced all the batteries, so wretchedly unprepared.
were they to sustain any attack.
the restoration of peace it occurred to him that if he could learn to speak and
write French with facility it would be a recommendation, as that was an
attainment becoming more necessary in commercial affairs, and far from common
among clerks in those days. “So scanty however were my resources at this
period, that the expense, though trivial, was a formidable obstacle; but as I
could pass over by one of our Mount’s Bay boat. for nothing, and contemplated
only a short stay, it was at length determined that I should go.” In the
spring of 1785 therefore he landed at Roscoff in Brittany, with the express
object of improving his knowledge of modern French, and resided for sometime
with a French family at Morlaix, to which he had been introduced by Mr. James M’Culloch
(father of Dr. John M’Culloch, the geologist), a merchant
whose acquaintance he had made at Penzance during the war. “Here I was treated
very kindly, and passed about nine of the pleasantest months of my whole life.
Though Morlaix was a large town, living was then cheap there. My board and
lodging were thought liberally paid at the rate of 400 livres, or about £16
a-year. Hairdresser, fencing master, dancing master, and washerwoman, all
important personages, and indispensable, were paid 3 livres, or half-a-crown a
month each; and an excellent ecclesiastic L’ Abbé Le Roux, gave me
instructions in French, in return for my help to a young man, his nephew, whom
he wished to learn English. Before the close of the year I found a passage free
to Wales in a British vessel, to whose captain I had rendered service as an
interpreter at Morlaix, and from Swansea I got a passage home with a captain I
had formerly know, so that the whole of this expedition, which was eventually
the source of all my success in life, cost less than twenty pounds.”
In 1792 he re-visited Cornwall to see his aged mother, to whom he had for some time sent liberal help. He met his elder brother Arthur (then in a bank at Tiverton, of which he was afterwards a partner). by appointment at Exeter; and they rode on horseback to Penzance, arriving on the evening of the fifth day from his leaving London. It was a tedious journey at that time, in a heavy stage coach, called “The Fly,” above forty hours on the road to Exeter, while the only means of travelling further West was on horseback. Of his eighteen days’ holiday, ten were spent in toilsome travelling.
1804 he went to Scotland to examine into the affairs of the Dundee New Bank,
which was afterwards reconstructed under the proprietorship of Lord Kinnaird and
Messrs. Morland, Boase, Baxter and Roberts, and became the parent of the Glasgow
Bank: this ultimately led to two of his sons becoming connected with the Dundee
health was so seriously affected by the London winters, that at the close of
1809, he resolved to retire from business and spend the rest of his life in his
native air at Penzance. After a preliminary visit with his wife to make the
necessary arrangements, he finally took up his residence there. He resided first
in Chapel street, at the south angle of Chancery lane, and then in the most
westerly house on the South Parade; but having purchased about two acres and a
half of ground on the west, or Alverton, side of the town for £1000, he built a
house there which cost him £3,500 more. It was first called Park Herbier house,
after the name of the estate of which it formed a part, then Prospect place,
since altered to Alverne Hill, and has a pleasant garden in which the well-known
spring, called Alverton well, takes its rise. Not wishing entirely to give up
work, he became a partner in the bank of Batten, Oxnam, and Came, at Michaelmas
1810, and remained so until Lady Day 1823; soon after which he took over the
Penzance Union Bank from William Dennis, and with his two elder Sons and
Trevenen James started a new firm on May 1, 1823, which was joined by George
Grenfell and his son Pascoe Grenfell in 1824.
He had originally sympathised with the great French movement
of 1789; but, like most Englishmen, recoiled from the atrocities committed by
the revolutionists, and attached himself to the policy of Mr. Pitt. On the 17
Oct. 1804 he was appointed captain of a company in the corps of Knightsbridge
volunteer infantry, and spent much time, mostly very early in the morning, on
the duties of his company during a period of about three years. In the 18 years
during which his life was prolonged at Penzance, he returned with fresh zeal
to his literary pursuits, corresponded much with Sir Humphrey Davy, and Dr.
Edmund Davy, Davies Gilbert, &o., and in 1814 helped Dr. Paris and Mr.
Ashhurst Majendie to found the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, to the
Transactions of which society he contributed several papers. In 1817-18 he
furnished sir Thomas Bernard with valuable evidence as to the pernicious effect
of the salt laws. He also took an active share in establishing the Public
Library at Penzance in 1818, feeling deeply of what value such an institution
would have been to himself 40 years previously. He was elected a Fellow of the
Royal Society of Literature on its formation in 1821 He was much esteemed by his
fellow townsmen; was elected an assistant of the corporation 4 April 1814,
alderman 20 Sept. 1816, and mayor 4 Oct. 1816, and took a leading part in
Penzance for some years, where he organised a savings’ bank 22 Jan. 1818, over
the interests of which he kept a careful watch. During his mayoralty he kept a
Journal of the chief occurrencies in Penzance and of the cases which came before
him in his official capacity. This.Journal has been printed in the Collectanea
Cornubienaia pp. 1497-1568. He died at his residence at Alverton ~ April
1827, the long continued east wind of that inclement spring having fatally
intensified a chronic disease of the organs of respiration, and was buried in S.
Mary’s churchyard on the thirteenth of that month. His autobiography, of which
much use has been made in this sketch, supplies an excellent instance of the
pursuit of knowledge under great difficulties by a poor friendless boy, who won
his way in life literally by self help.
on the policy of repealing the Bank restriction bill. London 1802.
an unnecessary and expensive encumbrance on commerce. London 1802, Second ed.
letter to Lord King, in defence of the conduct of the directors of the Banks of
England and Ireland. London 1804.
disadvantage of the new plan of Finance. London 1807.
on the doctrine concerning the supposed depreciation of our currency. London
brief exposition of the agricultural question by A. Freeholder. London 1823.
letter to Sir B. R. Vyvyan on the nature and use of credit and currency by one
of his Constituents. Penzance 1826. cf. Bibl.
Lies-nub. 29, 1078.
also wrote a considerable number of fugitive verses and hymns. His best known
poetical pieces were, “An Ode for the 25th October, on the celebration of
George the Third’s Jubilee. By Britannicus 1809,” and “An Ode for the
celebration of George the Fourth’s coronation at Penzance 19 July 1821.”
Monument can be found In St. Mary’s Church-yard, Penzance.
this vault are deposited the remain of
died on the 8th of April 1827, aged 63 years,
a wife and twelve children to deplore their loss,
He was a dutiful Son, an affectionate Husband,
and a good
The Integrity and Liberality of his
Social and Public
him universally esteemed.
All the days of his life he walked in the fear of the Lord,
he that giveth all things rewarded him abundantly.
On his deathbed he was calm and resigned, having a confident
hope of Salvation through the Redeemer’s Atonement.
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