HENRY BOASE OF penzance.

1763 - 1827 

HENRY 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.”

In 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.”

In 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.

In 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.

On 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.”

  On his return from France, after a brief attempt at setting up in business at Newlyn. he in Nov. 1787 went to London, where his knowledge of French proved all­ important to him. He became junior corresponding clerk in the bank of Ransom, Moorland, and Hammers­ley, in Pall Mall—one of the leading west end firms— and it fell to his lot to conduct much of the correspond­ence of the emigrants who fled to England during the revolution. To several of these he was able to do much friendly service, and on their return to France, after the peace of Amiens, the Bishop of Troyes and others wrote him very grateful letters.

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.

  In 1792 also he became chief clerk, his services having been highly appreciated; and on the first of January 1799 he was admitted as partner in the firm, the business of which had much increased owing to that of Lockhart and Co. being now transferred to it. On Sun­day the-26th of October 1794 he married at St. Andrew’s, Holborn, Anne, the only child of Matthew Craige, of Walsall, by Anne, daughter of John Mason. He had known his future wife for several years. Her father died when she was very young, and she had lived first with her mother’s father, and then with her mother who had married secondly Mr. Thing, one of the senior clerks in Ransom’s bank. She m. (3) Mr. Gilson. The young couple lived first in Air Street, Piccadilly, then from 1795 to 1799, at No. 1 Knightsbridge. In 1799 they re­moved to No. 6 Knightbridge, in 1805 to a house a few doors off which stood back from the road, and finally to 127, Sloane street, Chelsea, which had then an open prospect over what were called “the Chelsea Five Fields,” (now Belgrave Square, &c.), and here they remained from 1807 to 1810.

  In the terrible winter of 1799—1800, the communi­cation with Hamburgh was stopped for three months, and the wreck of the “Lutine” frigate on the coast of Holland, (cf. The Graphic 7 Aug. 1886, p. 142) which was carrying over a great number of merchants and traders, and above hall-a-million sterling, brought on a crisis in the business of Northern Germany. The firm of Carpzov of Bremen was one of those which failed, and Mr. Boase went over as soon as the ice broke up, and succeeded in saving part of the amount due to the bank: it was then a common practice on the continent to give up a bankrupt’s effects to the home creditors and cheat the foreign ones.

In 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 Bank.

His 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.

  During his residence in London he was well ac­quainted with Granville Sharp. Robert Owen, and other men eminent for their philanthropic exertions; was a leading member of the London Missionary Society; and took a considerable part in the foundation of the Bible Society, in conjunction with the rev. Thomas Charles of Bala, with whom he had become intimately acquainted whilst engaged in distributing, as Mrs. Palmer’s banker, her donation of £1000 to the poor beneficed clergymen of Wales. His name appears in the earliest records of the Bible Society and is to be seen on a marble tablet in the entrance hall of that institution in Queen Victoria St., city of London. He was also much interested in the formation of schools on the new system of Joseph Lancaster. His correspon­dence, part of which is preserved in the British Museum (Additional MSS. 29281) gives some interesting details on these matters

 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.

  He left upwards of £65,000 to his widow and 12 children, the executors of the will being his two eldest sons Henry Samuel and John Josias Arthur Boase. Six of the children were under age at the time of his death, and the duties of the executors lasted till June 1838, when they were presented with silver tea services by their nine brothers and sisters for their trouble in carrying out the provisions of the will.

  Henry Boase was the author of a number of works on financial matters, among them being:

1. Remarks on the policy of repealing the Bank restriction bill. London 1802.

2. Guineas an unnecessary and expensive encumbrance on commerce. London 1802, Second ed. 1803.

3. A letter to Lord King, in defence of the conduct of the directors of the Banks of England and     Ireland.     London 1804.

4. The disadvantage of the new plan of Finance. London 1807.

5. Remarks on the doctrine concerning the supposed depreciation of our currency. London 1811.

 6. A brief exposition of the agricultural question by A. Freeholder. London 1823.

 7. A 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.

He 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.”


His Monument can be found In St. Mary’s Church-yard, Penzance.


In this vault are deposited the remain of

Henry Boase, Esq.,

of this Town

Who died on the 8th of April 1827, aged 63 years,

Leaving a wife and twelve children to deplore their loss,

     He was a dutiful Son, an affectionate Husband, 

and a good  Father.

          The Integrity and Liberality of his Social and Public

Character rendered him universally esteemed.

    All the days of his life he walked in the fear of the Lord,

 And 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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Last modified: Sunday October 22, 2006 .