I Saw Three Ships

This page contains the following resources:

Historical and Geographical Background

Dating the Plot

The Three Ships


Chapter Summaries


Historical and Geographical Background

The short story ‘I Saw Three Ships’ is an historical fiction centred on the parish of Talland, in south-east Cornwall, the home parish of the Couch family. The home parish of the Quillers was Lansallos to the west. The geographical area is bounded to the west by the Fowey River and to the east by the Looe River. Although there is mention of Liskeard, about nine miles to the north-east, and Plymouth, over 20 miles to the east, the only important location outside of the immediate area is an ancient encampment where Zeb Minards and the Stranger fight a duel. The distance given in the narrative suggests Hall Rings, but all the other details indicate Bury Hill, approached from a lane off the B3359, with Brown Willy and Roughtor as the summits in the distance. Q relocated Bury Hill closer to the coast to accommodate the narrative.

The headland extending south from Talland church, with the Hore (or Ore) Stone as its furthest point, has been remade into a peninsula, with the Stone transferred to the western headland of Talland Bay as Gaffer’s Rock. The Raney which wrecks the second ship at the entrance to Ruan Cove or Talland Bay is the Raney, a submerged ridge extending from Peak Rock at Polperro (Couch, 1871, p. 35). An Inner and Outer Raneys extend out from Looe Island. The coast road from Ruan Lanihale to the ‘Four Lords’ at Polruan is the Raphael Road repositioned closer to the coast along its whole length. The point at which Zeb Minards meets Matthew Spry is unidentifiable.

Historically, ‘I Saw Three Ships’ appears to present the reader with a society isolated in its situation and timeless in its ways. In reality, as paragraph one states, celebrations involving ‘geese dancing’, traditional carols and farmhouse feasting, along with divining from tea-leaves and other superstitious practices, had fallen into abeyance by the time Q was putting pen to paper. ‘The Haunted Dragoon’ shows us ‘crying-the-neck’ less as an end of harvest rite than as the cover for a landing of contraband from the Unity smuggling lugger. The folk traditions which Jonathan Couch included in his History of Polperro (1871), and from which Q drew some of his background material, were those of his youth and which he had seen die. In his introduction to Romances and Drolls of the West of England, Robert Hunt acknowledges that the material published in 1864 was collected 40 years earlier and had ceased to be available. Thomas Quiller-Couch, Q’s father, must have witnessed the dying embers. Industrialisation, increasing literacy and nonconformity had dealt a death blow to what was essentially an oral and unselfconscious culture. How far the culture went back and how it had survived the vicissitudes of history are not without significance in any understanding of Q and his literary vision.

Robert Hunt, a friend of Thomas, assumed that the roots of the material he was collecting lay in a former Celtic society, noticing the distinct similarity with material recorded from north-west Scotland. He regarded the whole area west of Exeter, the heartland of the post-Roman kingdom of ‘Danmonia’ or Dumnonia, as possessing a common cultural inheritance. Recent DNA testing has confirmed this surmise. The area was fortunate in that after the Norman conquest in 1066, the incoming aristocracy consisted of Normans and Bretons who dismissed Saxon influence and patronised a former Celticity. The Church supported the Cornish language Mystery and Miracle plays, while the aristocracy encouraged the bards and troubadours who in part drew from local Arthur and Tristan legends. The folly of ‘King Arthur’s castle’ at Tintagel is an example of how far they were prepared to go.

In The Kingdom of Dumnonia, Susan Pearce has mapped the ‘Location of Arthur and Tristan Stories’ (1978, p. 153), from pre-1050 to 1200, showing the importance of east Cornwall and west Devon, with a density along the Fowey-Camel routeway. Much of the land in the valley of the Fowey, including Restormel Castle and Tywardreath priory, was owned by the Norman family of Cardinham. The dependent chapel of St. Samson in Golant and Lantyan or ‘Lancien’ are found as locations in Beroul’s Tristran and Yseut of c.1150 (Pearce, 1978, pp. 84, 152-5). In his translation of the work, Guy Mermier identifies ‘Lancien’ as Lantyan on the Fowey (1987, p.235), thus verifying St. Samson. The last of the Cardinhams, Isolda or Ysolda de Cardinham, married Thomas de Tracey c.1256 and sold Tywardreath in 1269. 

Dr. James Whetter (1998) in Cornwall in the Thirteenth Century has identified a strong traditional culture of drama, music and tumbling in aristocratic houses, the families of Bodrugan and Arundell being specifically mentioned, into the fifteenth century. The Church patronised religious drama, with special entertainments at Christmas. The Reformation heralded a considerable change, with patronage decreasing or ceasing altogether and a secularisation of music and drama. Traditional culture moved down the social scale, a process clearly evident in the Talland area.

One of the most important late Medieval families in Cornwall were the Winslades or Wideslades, who originally came from Wideslade in north Devon, but who made their home at Tregarrick in the parish of Pelynt. Tregarrick farm, woods and mill can be seen on an O.S. map. In Q’s fiction Tregarrick is the name given to Bodmin. The Winslades lost their land through siding with Catholicism at the Reformation. Tregarrick was taken over by the Trevanions (Col. Trevanion was one of the Royalist heroes at the Battle of Braddock Down in Q's novel The Splendid Spur) and was later sold to the Bullers (possibly a model for the Puritan and Parliamentary Killigrews of Gleys) and the Trelawneys. Grace Winslade was given a home with the Bevils of Killigarth at Talland and lived into the time of Sir Bevil Grenville of Stow and Killigarth, one of the heroes of the novel. William ‘Sir Tristram’ Winslade, the dispossessed son, continued his existence as a harpist in gentlemen’s houses, performing the material from which he obtained his appellation. At one of these houses, possibly at Killigarth where the Bevils had a name for hospitality, he was heard by Richard Carew, who mentions the fact in his Survey of Cornwall of 1602. The Puritan Carew was neither a fan of Winslade nor the Cornish drama.

The steward of the ‘House of Gleys’ was Hannibal Tingecombe, while the steward of Killigarth following the Civil War was John Tingecombe. In 1649 the ‘freeholder’ of Mortha was John Couch. Roger Couch held a house and small lands at Polperro. The father or fathers of John and Roger would have known Grace Winslade and might possibly have heard ‘Sir Tristram’ at Killigarth. (See Derriman, 1994; Couch, 1891.) Following the Civil War and the triumph of Puritanism, the traditions which the Bevils and the Bevil Grenvilles patronised would probably have come to an end. In a reduced form they would have been retained in the local farmhouses, such as that of Sheba Farm in ‘I Saw Three Ships’. What Q presents at Sheba and in Ruan Lanihale church are the final flowerings, although much reduced, of a great Medieval Cornish culture, and one which had a definite influence on the culture of Europe, as Rowse (1941) states in Tudor Cornwall. This reveals an astonishing cultural link between that culture and Q through the Talland inheritance. Sadly, neither of Q’s biographers had any notion of this.

The historical importance of ‘I Saw Three Ships’, however, does not just lie in the historical context. The geographical context is accurate to the locality, with modifications to accommodate the plot. The scientific work of the Couches and William Pengelly provided Q with a detailed knowledge of the area, even if he used this sparingly. How far the history is accurate is another matter. Yet even here a body of fact can be teased out.

Jonathan Couch was born in 1789. At Christmas 1803 he was living in Polperro, having left Bodmin Grammar School on December 9, 1803. He was not articled to John Rice of East Looe until February 1804. As a Methodist Anglican he would have attended Talland parish church for the Christmas services. Yet the Shipwreck Index of the British Isles gives few wrecks at Talland and none for 1803-4. There were three wrecks on the same day, near Looe, on October 6 1786, and the Tregothick was wrecked at Talland on October 1 1786, with four men saved. Wrecks occurred on two successive days, November 27 and 28 1838, near Looe, with the Jane carrying nuts from Spain. Q’s father might have been an eyewitness. But none of these fits the narrative meaningfully.

Although Talland wrecks do not appear to be historical, two of the main characters are: Young and Old Zebedee Minards. Bertha Couch (1891, p. 10) that Zebedee Minards snr was a Methodist friend of Richard Couch, Jonathan’s father, if not a near relation, as Richard’s wife was a Minards. Zebedee Minards also appears in Thomas Couch’s 'A Sketch of the Life of Jonathan Couch' in Jonathan Couch's History of Polperro (1871). Thomas might well have known Zebedee jnr. Q must have been fully cognizant of the historicity of father and son.

James Derriman in Killigarth (1994, pp. 123-4) informs us that in 1802, Zebedee Minards, a fisherman, was granted land in the Warren at Polperro by the Kendalls of Killigarth. This appears to have become the residence of Zebedee jnr. Later Zebedee jnr is recorded along with fifteen other Polperro men, possibly from a privateer, as imprisoned at Sarre Libre in France.

At the time Q published the I Saw Three Ships collection, a Minards family must still have existed in the village. In the 1960s, this writer was taught science by a Peter Minards from Polperro. To have made identifiable individuals, whose descendants still lived locally, the main characters in a purely fictional story is curious.

The story cannot be simply fiction as at least one fact is obvious. In Chapter IV the Stranger claims to have discovered mineral at Parc Dew (black field) on the land of Farmer Tresidder. As Talland is well south of the mineralised zone, with the nearest mines being towards the headwaters of the West Looe River (see ‘The Disenchantment of ‘Lizabeth’), this presents Tresidder as a gullible fool. It comes as something of a surprise to discover from James Derriman that in 1853 and 1858 prospecting of a serious kind did happen on Killigarth land (1994, p. 131). This information qualifies our understanding of Tresidder. What Jonathan Couch and William Pengelly would have thought of prospecting for ore on sedimentary deposits, some of them fossil-carrying, can be imagined! However, it does reflect the feverish atmosphere in mine prospecting at the time. Robert Hunt must have been consulted on many occasions about sites for possible mines and mining developments, and would almost certainly have visited the Herodsfoot sett mentioned above.

What we see in the historical writings of Q, which calls upon the actual experiences of working people at the time, are the tensions existing in coastal communities during the years of the Napoleonic War. Historians tend to present a society dedicated to the overthrow of the French dictator, with the radicals and the Romantics silenced or compromised. Cornish coastal communities with their commercial interests in Brittany and the Mediterranean felt the full impact of war, just as the communities written about by Jane Austen did not. Jonathan Couch was reared in the atmosphere of Revolutionary violence from across the channel and was even taught Latin by M. Arzell, an emigré priest.

Q saw the ideas released by the French Revolution and adopted Romantic poets as the harbingers of later democratic freedoms and condemned the reactionary politicians, especially after the war had been won, who suppressed any vision of harmony and tolerance. Just as Q saw harmony in the universe, as explored by true science, so he saw the need for this to be incorporated into society and to be found in the human heart. Ultimate reality consisted in order and harmony, not in conflict and chaos.

Rowse dismissed the Romantics as ‘idealists’ whose ultimate ‘disillusionment’ was the result of them being ‘not historians’, who possessed a grasp of the laws of history, but ‘poets’ (1946, pp. 23-25). Their contemporary equivalent was Neville Chamberlain who suffered a similar ‘ignorance of history’ in following a policy of ‘appeasement’ (ibid, pp. 23-7). According to Rowse, ‘On the basis of the physical environment, geographical and economic, man acts’ (ibid, pp. 132). By combining the work of Marx, Engels and Darwin it is possible to ‘apply evolutionary principles to history…for it is only when the masses are moved into the foreground that regularity, uniformity and law can be conceived as applicable’ (ibid, p. 119 – quoted from J.B. Bury's Selected Essays (1930)). 

‘I Saw Three Ships’ and other stories in the collection show Q having a sufficient understanding of the geography and economics of the Talland area, in part because of the work of his forbears and William Pengelly. He also had an understanding of the ‘masses’, but through direct contact, not as simply a notion of economic theory. He was aware that human behaviour is the product of complex factors, some of which are irrational, and this distinguished his from Rowse’s whole theoretical approach. There are no ‘laws’ of human behaviour. Yet in his belief in order and harmony, not chaos and conflict, he was aware that conflict existed and harmony had to be achieved. The Romantics were not ‘idealists’ but realists who possessed a vision of the whole, a vision of the ultimate harmony of all things. To realise this vision conflicts have to be identified and resolved. These conflicts are clearly outlined in the collection.

Firstly, Q presents the reader with class conflict. On one side is Farmer Tresidder of Sheba, a wealthy landowner who dreams of mineral rights as a way to greater wealth. His interest in Ruby’s marriage to young Zeb is because the young man has come into a legacy. When the Stranger claims to have discovered mineral in Parc Dew (parc du or black field) he is happy to refuse Zeb and turn Jim Lewarne, the farm manager, out of the tied cottage. Old Zeb dislikes his son marrying the daughter of a landowner and makes his feelings known to Ruby. However, the class conflict does not end in class warfare but in the growing maturity of Zeb and Ruby, with their eventual marriage as the consequence. As a result, harmony is restored to the community.

Secondly, there is the conflict between Britain and France. Trading communities such as Polperro required peace and the security of the seas and looked upon hostilities instigated by central government with disfavour, something standard histories rarely mention. The fear of French invasion runs through ‘I Saw Three Ships’, as it did the early life of Jonathan Couch. When conflicts happened central government had to accept its share of the blame because coastal communities had direct trading relationships with the designated enemy.

The fear of a French invasion runs through the accounts of Jonathan Couch’s early life and haunts the background of ‘I Saw Three Ships’. It did not stop families such as the Quillers from trading with Brittany. Bertha Couch relates (1891, p. 31) that John Quiller, Q’s great-great grandfather, was drowned on the Three Brothers sailing from Roscoff, but fails to give the date. It was November 1804, very much within the period covered by ‘I Saw Three Ships’ and ‘The Haunted Dragoon’ but outside of the ‘Peace of Amiens’. He had lodged in Roscoff with a Mrs. Magna, who subsequently contacted Polperro. Even the enthusiasm shown by Jonathan Couch and others for the ‘East and West Looe Voluntary Artillery’ and the ‘Polperro Fencibles’ must be understood in the light of the fact that membership gave protection from the dreaded press gangs. During the Napoleonic War the Quillers were involved in smuggling, privateering, trading and piloting for the Royal Navy. This is not the sort of information provided by standard histories although such practices must have been common in coastal communities, especially in south-west Britain.

Thirdly, there was the relationship between the local coastal communities and London government. The government possessed overwhelming force but could only employ this force in specific places and at specific times. This force consisted of the army, the navy and to a lesser extent the preventive officials. Otherwise London relied upon the Justices of the Peace and influential landowners. However, Justices and wealthy landowners, such as the Revd Sir Harry Trelawney, were frequently in league with the smugglers. They were also at the mercy of armed privateering crews, or those crews they had not themselves hired for their own seafaring purposes. Ordinary people lived in fear of the dragoons or red coats, the preventive boat and the press gang, and of arbitrary arrest on the orders of the Justice. Q’s stories reveal a true situation, not an imaginary one. But where they could the local families, such as the Quillers, evaded, subverted or colluded with power and authority. However, the effect on young Jonathan Couch of the descent upon Polperro of the Dragoons from Plymouth in 1799 can only be imagined. There can be little doubt that Jonathan’s later radicalism, as shown by his support for the Reform Bill of 1832, and the political radicalism of the family, which Q inherited, goes back to what had happened in Polperro during the Napoleonic War. Neither in politics, nor in religion, nor in science was Jonathan prepared to accept the dictates of dogmatic authority, claiming instead that direct experience has to be the arbiter of everything.

Rowse constructed his philosophy of history from Engels’ incorporation of Darwin into the thought of Marx. In a review by Richard Evans in the Times Literary Supplement (June 23, 2017), which includes a discussion on historical method, Evans points out that ‘Engels’ incorporation of Darwinist ideas into Marxism’ resulted in a ‘linear and rigid’ concept of time and a belief in the ‘superiority of modernity to everything that came before’. (Others have seen this in the development of modern science). If this was the position of Rowse, as seems likely, it was not the position of Q, who repeatedly challenges the reader on the concepts of time and space, as in ‘A Blue Pantomime’, and on the superiority of the modern.

Evans continues his review in a defence of historians against the charge of ignoring the lives of common people. He claims that contemporary historians have read ‘state-generated sources against the grain’ and have investigated ‘records from the medieval Inquisition to the modern courtroom’, along with ‘diaries, letters, autobiographies’ and oral histories such as the ‘oral histories of workers in the Ruhr’. Whether this would have impressed the Couches, Robert Hunt or William Bottrell is another matter. What clearly divides the modern historian from former lives is the doctrine of rationalism. It is rationalism which gives the sense of superiority. The modern historian picks and chooses his phenomena on the basis of a theory.

Popper makes the point that ‘disappointed Marxists’ tended to react against ‘rationalism’ (1974, p. 34). This scepticism could not be solved by ‘induction’ or ‘logical positivism’ with its emphasis on ‘verification’ (pp. 8-9). Popper argues throughout Unended Quest that rationalism can only be secured on the basis of ‘falsifiability’ and this defines scientific from prescientific or dogmatic thinking. How ‘falsifiability’ can itself be falsified and thus avoid the label of dogmatism is not stated. Q was never a Marxist, a rationalist or a sceptic. In Castle Dor (1940) Q presents the Couch position as ‘empiricism’, ‘observed facts without any theorizing’. This is all the five senses can deliver. Yet he also describes a ‘sixth sense in nature’ (1940, p. 34). This is a natural faculty not a supernatural one; one doubts whether Q believed in the supernatural. This faculty came into the Couch family through the Quillers. Q was truly Quiller-Couch. A genius is not a rationalist who works from within a box of theory, but someone with the confidence to transcend dogma, as with fellow Cornishmen Humphry Davy and John Couch Adams.

The stories found in I Saw Three Ships are neither dogma driven nor patronising. Q is attempting to present the life of the time as it was lived. He uses this to challenge the easy assumptions of the reader regarding time, place and consciousness. He knew, particularly after the First World War, that he was writing increasingly against the age. Yet he could look for support from writers of the past. Alexander Dumas, in his Napoleonic novels, included material contemporary historians evade or treat with considerable embarrassment. They choose to ignore the mere novelist, yet Dumas was the son of one of Napoleon’s early generals and, as with Q in relation to Talland, possessed direct knowledge. What Q and Dumas give us is concrete not abstract.

Dating the Plot

The plot can be dated with reasonable certainty. The second paragraph of Chapter I informs the reader that the story begins on Christmas Day and a Sunday falling between 1800 and 1810. The only year where this happens is 1803. All the circumstantial evidence supports this date. It places the story within the broader context of ‘The Haunted Dragoon’, whose episodes relate to 1798-1801 and 1809.

On May 17, 1803, the peace resulting from the Treaty of Amiens came to an end. The French invaded Hanover and threatened to invade Britain, while the British blockaded European ports and sent an expedition to occupy the French colonial islands in the West Indies. Bertha Couch’s Life of Jonathan Couch informs us of the fear of invasion which gripped the Cornish coastal ports and the fashion for women to wear cloaks of military scarlet, supposedly to give the impression to any invading force of military preparedness (JC. I, 17-18).

These details are found in the story. When Rachel Minards is called to her door by Old Zeb and Uncle Issey she sarcastically demands to know if the French have landed (Chapter IV), while the women in Ruan Lanihale church sport cloaks of scarlet to frighten the French (Chapter I). Towards the close of the story, the ‘Stranger’ signs up on the Recruit, moored in Fowey but heading for Plymouth, to help protect a convoy on the way to the West Indies (Chapter IX).

Much of the information contained in Bertha Couch’s Life of Jonathan Couch (1891), although probably obtained directly from her father, is also found in Thomas Quiller Couch’s ‘A Sketch of the Life of Jonathan Couch’ from Jonathan’s History of Polperro (1871, pp. 6-7). Jonathan was in Polperro for Christmas 1803, as he had left Bodmin Grammar School on December 9 and did not proceed to East Looe to study with John Rice until February 1804. As Methodist Anglicans the Couches would almost certainly have attended Talland parish church for the Christmas service in December 1803. For Q to give the impression of Methodism as a separate denomination at this time is inaccurate (Chapters 1 and 2).

According to James Derriman in Killigarth (1994, pp. 123-4), a senior and junior Zebedee Minards existed in Polperro because from 1802 to 1813 they were tenants of the Net House in the Warren. In 1810 a Zebedee Minards is identified as a Methodist. The Couches were likewise Methodists who met in a fish loft, with the Methodist chapel not being constructed until the formal schism of 1814.


The Three Ships 

The title is taken from the carol ‘As I sat on a sunny bank’, where three ships ‘come sailing by / On Christmas day’. This is possibly an oblique reference to the local tradition, not dead even today, that Joseph of Arimathea brought the boy Jesus to the area on a tin trading trip. During the Medieval period religious foundations appeared on Looe Island and at Lamana, across the channel, what is now Hannafore, pilgrimage sites associated with Glastonbury. Originally these appear to have existed as Celtic foundations, although Lamana could be more recent, Glastonbury itself apparently being originally Irish.

The three ships being referred to are:

  1. The schooner built by Taggs and Co. of London as a privateer but being used to carry red wine and chestnuts from the Tagus in Portugal to the Thames. It is wrecked on the eastern cliffs of Ruan Bay or Talland Bay. The crew are rescued with rope by Jim Lewarne, Young Zeb Minards and Elias Sweetland.
  2. A full-rigged ship with fore-mast and royal mast wrecked on the Raney, a reef at the entrance of Ruan Cove. One man is rescued by Zeb Minards on a line from the beach late on Christmas night.
  3. A Royal Naval frigate, the Recruit, fitting in Fowey before sailing to Plymouth so as to protect a convoy making for the West Indies. It passes up the channel on the evening of Monday, January 2, 1804.

Three other craft are mentioned: a privateer owned by a privateering company under the management of Webber, Ships-chandler of Troy or Fowey; and two former wrecks, the Young Susannah and Agamemnon.



Romantic Triangle

  • Young Zebedee Minards of Ruan Lanihale
  • The Stranger of London Docks (who also calls himself Zeb Minards)
  • Ruby Tresidder of Sheba Farm in Ruan Lanihale


Parson Babbage of Ruan Lanihale church


Old Zeb Minards, crowder, 1st violin
Calvin Oke, 2nd violin
Elias Sweetland, serpent
Young Zeb Minards, flute
Uncle Issey, bass-viol


The Minards Family

  • Old Zebedee Minards
  • Mrs. Rachel Minards
  • Young Zeb Minards


The Tresidder Family of Sheba

(note – the stress falls on the second syllable -sid-)Farmer Tresídder

  • Ruby Tresídder
  • Mary Jane, companion to Ruby

The Lewárne Family

  • Jim Lewárne, manager of Sheba Farm
  • Mrs. Jim Lewárne
  • Toby Lewárne, older brother of Jim

The Spry Family

  • Matthew Spry, hollibubber at slate quarry, Methodist
  • Amelia Spry, dead

The 'Jolly Pilchards' Inn

Prudy Polwárne (she is not necessarily a widow as her husband could be at sea)



  • Gauger Hocken, non-religious
  • Susan Jago
  • Sarah Ann Nanjúlian
  • Modesty Prowse
  • Sim Uddy
  • Webber, ships-chandler of Troy


Chapter Summaries

Chapter I

Date: Saturday, December 24, 1803, Christmas Eve

Location: Ruan Lanihale village (Talland)

An introduction to the traditional Christmas Eve celebrations in Cornish parishes until the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Date: , December 25, 1803, Christmas Day

: Ruan Lanihale parish church

: a south-westerly gale, one blowing up from the channel.

A description of Ruan Lanihale (Talland) church. The members of the congregation slanting into the wind must be coming from West Looe.

(The Parson Babbage of 1803 was C. Kendall (1793-1806). The church consisted of two aisles. Parson Babbage occupied the chancel at the eastern end of the northern aisle, while the singers’ gallery stood at the western end. The church tower is semi-connected to the body of the church.)

The village musicianers who also act as the church band are introduced, playing a main or subsidiary part throughout the story.

The women, including Ruby Tresidder, wear scarlet cloaks to give the impression of being soldiers.

To the fury of Ruby Tresidder there is an interruption to the reading of the banns for herself and Young Zeb Minards when Gauger Hocken announces through the church door the imminence of a wreck in Ruan Cove. The congregation, including Zeb Minards, promptly exit the church, leaving Ruby disconsolate.

A schooner rounds Gaffer’s Rock, to the west of Ruan Cove, narrowly evading a shoal called the Raney, but crashing into the eastern cliffs, which run out below the church, with its forward part raised upon a ledge of rock.

Superstition: Rachel Minards, mother of Young Zeb, dreamed of running water on the night before her banns, a bad omen.

Chapter II

Date: Sunday, December 25, 1803, about 12 noon

Location: Eastern cliff of Ruan Cove.

Most of the crew of the schooner are roped to safety by Jim Lewarne, Young Zeb Minards and Elias Sweetland. The schooner, bound from the Tagus to the Thames, spills her cargo of red wine and chestnuts into the cove.

Date: Sunday, December 25, 1803, afternoon

Location: Sheba Farm, Ruan Lanihale
An angry Ruby Tresidder walks from the cove to Sheba Farm, where Mary Jane is preparing Christmas dinner. She passes Old Zeb Minards who accuses her of being indifferent to the tragedy.
A description of Sheba Farm.
Ruby Tresidder receives little sympathy from Mary Jane or her father.

Date: Sunday, December 25, 1803, 6 pm

With the onset of night Ruby becomes increasingly aware of the festivities resulting from the beached cargo and the presence of the church band.

Date: Sunday, December 25, 1803, 7 pm

Ruby Tresidder eventually follows Mary Jane to the beach where she observes Zeb chasing Modesty Prowse. Ruby Tresidder’s lantern, as she flees in anger from the scene, attracts another craft into Ruan Cove. As Zeb grasps Ruby, the craft founders on the Raney.

Chapter III

Date: December 25 to 26, 1803, night

Location: The Raney in Ruan Cove

The Sentinel strikes the Raney and breaks up.

Date: Monday morning, December 26, 1803, Boxing Day

Location: Ruan Cove

A solitary figure is seen alive on the Sentinel and Zeb Minards swims out to the Raney on a rope. The Stranger resists being saved but is overpowered by Zeb Minards and hauled ashore.

Superstition: It is unlucky to save a drowning man.

The Stranger has a premonition of the consequences for Zeb.

Date: Monday, December 26, 1803, late morning

Location: Sheba Farm

Ruby Tresidder rises late to find Zeb Minards and the Stranger in the kitchen. The Stranger introduces himself as Zeb Minards.


Chapter IV

Date: Tuesday, December 27, 1803, morning

Location: Porthlooe

A description of the village of Porthlooe or Polperro.
The property of Old Zeb Minards.

Old Zeb Minards and Uncle Issey are in conversation when Young Zeb Minards appears on a horse-drawn cart. He is making for Liskeard to collect a chest of drawers from Pennyways for his future home.

Old Zeb Minards expresses his opposition to his son’s marriage, claiming it to be the result of his coming into a legacy; with the imputation that Ruby is only interested in his money and Young Zeb in social status.

Rachel Minards appears, asking sarcastically whether the French have landed.

Superstition and Divination: Young Zeb Minards fears that circumstances point to the intervention of fate.

Mary Jane claims to have seen the Stranger in her tea leaves on Friday 23 December. She hits the cup twice on her fist without the figures removal but on the third he disappears so that she expects him on the third Sunday, which is when he arrives. As he pays no attention to her but to Ruby instead, she warns Zeb.

Date: Tuesday, December 27, 1803, morning

Location: Parc Dew or Black Field

Farmer Tresidder, Ruby Tresidder, Jim Lewarne and the Stranger stand in Parc Dew, with the Stranger claiming the rock below to be lead bearing. Zeb Minards enters the field on his way to Liskeard but in Ruby’s eyes the Stranger has the advantage, as he has in Farmer Tresidder’s, and Zeb rides disconsolate away.

Chapter V

Date: Midnight, Tuesday to Wednesday, December 27 to 28, 1803

Location: Parlour of Sheba Farm

A ‘courant’ is in progress with music by the church band, and with the leader or ‘crowder’, Old Zeb Minards, on first fiddle.

Farmer and Ruby Tresidder are coming increasingly under the influence of the Stranger, with Zeb becoming jealous.

Young Zeb dances a hornpipe but is outshone by the Stranger wearing Zeb’s shoes.

Farmer Tresidder announces the prospect of wealth in a lead mine on his land.

Superstition: Zeb refuses to wear the shoes he had lent to the Stranger but is contradicted by him.

Zeb Minards and Ruby Tresidder abandon the planned marriage.

Date: Wednesday, December 28, 1803, 7.30 am

Location: Parsonage

Zeb Minards visits Parson Babbage to forbid the banns.

Chapter VI

Date: Wednesday, December 28, 1803, morning

Location: Sheba Farm

Farmer Tresidder wishes for the Stranger to marry Ruby.

The history of the Stranger.

Before leaving for Plymouth to settle his affairs, the Stranger gains Ruby’s hand in marriage, but confesses that the Parc Dew business was a ruse to win her. He visits the parsonage to have the banns read, the wedding is scheduled for Monday at 11 am in Ruan Lanihale church.


Chapter VII

Date: New Year's Eve, Saturday night, December 31, 1803

Location: The ‘Jolly Pilchards’ inn, Porthlooe

Various local residents occupy the inn of a Saturday’s night when the Stranger, who has just returned from Plymouth, enters and announces his intention of marrying Ruby Tresidder. He produces a brace of pistols and shoots the flame out on six candles. The narrator states that a memory of this still survives.

Chapter VIII

Date: Sunday, January 1, 1804, morning

Location: Porthlooe to Polruan

The altercation in the ‘Jolly Pilchards’ is reported to Young Zeb at his cottage.
Jim Lewarne is ejected from Sheba Farm
Young Zeb Minards leaves Porthlooe to sign up on a privateer at Troy. On the coast road to Troy he meets with Matthew Spry, the ‘hollibubber’. Spry warns Zeb to watch out for a pressgang from the frigate, the Recruit. He discovers the pressgang at the ‘Four Lords’ inn and pays them to impress the Stranger at ten the next morning; thus preventing the marriage at 11.

A second meeting with Matthew Spry, at which Zeb confesses to having sold his soul to defeat the Stranger.

Chapter IX

Date: Monday, January 2, 1804, 9.30 am

Location: The cottage of the Stranger, formerly that of Jim Lewarne.

Zeb repents of his action, confesses to the Stranger and carries him through the pressgang in a cartload of seaweed. He wishes for a duel, almost certainly involving his death, at an ancient earthworks.

Zeb Minards pays the pressgang the second instalment and promises to see them in the ‘Four Lords’ at 4 pm, with the frigate sailing at 5 pm

Date: Monday, January 2, 1804, 10.00 am

Zeb Minards arrives at the camp and prepares to fight the duel. Zeb fires his pistol into the air. The Stranger forces Zeb to change clothes so that he can return and marry Ruby; while the Stranger signs up to the frigate bound for Plymouth and the West Indies.

Superstition: The Stranger suggests himself to be Zeb Minards’ ‘twin soul’.


Chapter X

Date: Monday, January 2, 1804

Location: Ruan Lanihale church

Parson Babbage, Farmer and Ruby Tresidder and the congregation, with the objects required for a ‘shall-lal’ under their seats, await the Stranger in Ruan Lanihale church.

Superstition: At Amelia Spry’s funeral the devil in the form of a black pig had followed the corpse to the church porch.

At 10.20 am Zeb Minards arrives at the church, gives a note from the Stranger to Farmer Tresidder and Ruby, and weds Ruby.

Location: Sheba Farm

Post-wedding festivities.

At 11 Zeb and Ruby depart for their cottage. They observe the Recruit passing up the channel to Plymouth carrying the Stranger.