Jonathan Couch

illustration of fish
Illustration from Jonathan Couch's book The Fishes of the British Islands

Jonathan Couch was Q’s grandfather. He was born in 1789. After working with two local medical practitioners he trained as a doctor at Guy’s Hospital in London, then returned to his native Cornwall to establish a medical practice in Polperro.

Here he gained an international reputation as a naturalist, in particular as an ichthyologist, and his four volume work Fishes of the British Islands was a major achievement. He also published a great number of valuable reports for learned societies in Cornwall and won several awards for his work. He was also very interested in local history and customs and wrote a History of Polperro that was published after his death by his son, Q’s father.

Jonathan was a Methodist and in the 1830s he helped lead a schism in the Wesleyan Methodist Church to form what became known as the United Methodist Free Church.

He married three times, the last time at the age of 69 to a woman of 22. He died at the age of 81, leaving his young family in some financial difficulties.

Some of the key events of Jonathan Couch’s life are listed below. You can also read a full study about his medical training here.

If you are interested in learning more about the life of Q's grandfather, some useful sources for research are listed at the end of this study.


1789, 15 March: Jonathan Couch born to Richard (aged 50) and Philippa Couch nee Minards (aged 45).

12 April: Jonathan baptised in Talland parish church.

179?: Jonathan educated at a Dame School in Polperro.

1796/7: Jonathan, aged 8, enrolls at the boarding school (70 boarders) of Mr. Cole in Lansallos. The school subsequently moves to Pelynt and falls under the auspices of Mr. John Milton.   

The Revd Sir Harry Trelawney of Trelawne, Pelynt, (Anglican, later Roman Catholic) has M. Arzell, an émigré priest staying at Trelawne, instruct Jonathan in Latin.

179?: Jonathan transfers to Bodmin Grammar School run by the Revd Moses Morgan.

1803, 9 December: Jonathan leaves Bodmin Grammar School.

1804, 2 March: Jonathan articled to Dr. John Rice of East Looe.

1805: Commences A Journal of Natural History. Series of ms volumes.

1806, 5 May: Enrolls in the East and West Looe Voluntary Artillery (70 men) as a second lieutenant under Captain Tomas Bond of Eat Looe. The commission signed by Richard, Earl of Mount Edgcumbe.

John Rice dies and Jonathan is transferred to the practice of Mr. Lawrence of  Liskeard.

1807: Jonathan’s first publication – verses in the Monthly Literary Recreations, ii, 184.

1808: Jonathan is accepted at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, studying under Dr. (later Sir William) Knighton and Mr. (later Sir Astley) Cooper, surgeon. Through the recommendation of Sir Harry Trelawney, Jonathan is lodged in the home of Dr. Knighton.

1809: Promoted to 1st Lieutenant in the East and West Looe Voluntary Artillery.

1810: Jonathan returns permanently to Polperro and establishes a practice in the village. Jonathan marries Jane Prynn Rundle of Porthallow, Talland.

October: Jane Couch nee Rundle dies in child birth, the child also dying.

14 October: Jane Couch buried in Talland churchyard.

1814: Jonathan Couch leads the local Methodists out of Talland parish church, i.e. out of Anglicanism, in protest at the anti-Methodist sentiments from the pulpit. This was almost certainly a consequent of The Great Revival which commenced in Redruth in February, 1814, and whose influence appears to have spread as far east as Polperro. Many Anglicans denounced the revival, N. Kemdall, vicar of Talland, being only one. 

(See: Le Grice, C. Val., The Proofs of the Spirit or Considerations on Revivalism. A Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Chapel (Anglican), Penzance, Sunday, April 24, 1814. Treffry, R. Rev. A Letter to the Rev. C. Val. Le Grice occasioned by his sermon, Proof  of the Spirit etc. Le Grice (1773-1858), perpetual curate in Penzance, 1806 to 1831.)

1815: Jonathan Couch marries Jane Quiller and moves into the Quiller residence in Polperro. It still stands by the bridge.

First of 2 contributions to the Methodist Magazine.

1816, 14 March: Birth of Richard Quiller Couch.

First of 2 contributions to the Annals of Medical Surgery.

1817, 5 June: Birth of Margaret Quiller Couch.

1818, 13 December: Birth of John Couch.

1819: Samuel Drew of St. Austell, a friend of Jonathan’s, is appointed editor of the Imperial Magazine by Mr. Fisher of Liverpool. Jonathan contributed to J. Drew’s Life of Samuel Drew, London, 1834.

First of 22 contributions to Imperial Magazine, edited by S. Drew.

1820, 28 August: Birth of Jonathan Couch (son), who suffered from epilepsy and whose health remained poor.

1821, 25 November: Jonathan Couch baptised in Polperro Wesleyan Chapel.

1823: First and only contribution to Annual Philosophy.

1824, 26 April: Admitted as a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London.

1825: First of 6 contributions to Linnean Society publications.

1826, 28 May: Birth of Thomas Quiller Couch, father of Q (Nonconformist Register gives 26-05-26).

28 September: Thomas Quiller Couch baptised in the Polperro Wesleyan Chapel.

1826, 11 December: Death of John Couch, aged 7.

1827: First and only contribution to Mechanics Magazine.

1830, 12 November: Birth of John Quiller Couch.

1831: First of 11 contributions to J.C. Loudon’s Magazine of Natural History.

1831, 2 June: John Quiller Couch baptised at Polperro Wesleyan Chapel.

1832: Jonathan Couch supports the Great Reform Bill.

1835: First of 27 contributions to the Reports of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnical Society.

1835-6: Co-leader of a schism in the Wesleyan Methodist Church to form the Wesleyan Methodist Association, later the United Methodist Free Church. He helps establish its chapel in Polperro.

1837: First of 2 contributions to Jardine’s Magazine of Zoological Botany.

1838-44: Jonathan and Richard Quiller Couch co-publish Cornish Fauna.

1838: First of 17 contributions to the Reports of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, who published the first part of Cornish Fauna.

1839, 5 August: Elected corresponding member of the Devon and Cornwall Natural History Society.

1839, October: Elected corresponding member of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall.

1841: First of 7 contributions to the Reports of the British Association.

First of 4 contributions to Annual Natural History.

Published second part of Cornish Fauna.

1843: First of 10 contributions to Newman’s Zoologist.

1844: Third part of Cornish Fauna, published by RQC.

1845: First of 17 contributions to the Transactions of Penzance Natural History and Antiquarian Society. Elected Hon. Member.

1846: First of 3 contributions to the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall.

1847: Publication of Illustrations of Instinct, deduced from the Habits of British Animals.

Commences a translation of Pliny’s Natural History for the Wernerian Club of London. Only two vol. published.

1848, 20 June: Visited by the poet Tennyson (see Memories and Opinions, p.6).

1854: First of 2 contributions under the pseudonym Video to Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries.

1857, Sunday, 6 September: Death of Jane Couch, wife.

1858, 26 January: Death at Polperro of Margaret Couch, aged 40, daughter.

23 October: Marries Sarah Roose, daughter of Robert and Elizabeth Roose (Robert, mariner & Methodist) at Greenbank United Methodist Church, Liskeard. Sarah Roose aged 22. Jonathan Couch aged 69.

1861: Jonathan (son), aged 40 (suffering from epilepsy and described in census records as an ‘imbecile’) living in an institution at Liskeard run byJane Hitchens.

1862-5: Publication of History of the Fishes of the British Islands in four vol.

1863: First of 12 contributions to Student Intellectual Observer.

1863, April-May: In Penzance nursing Richard Q. Couch.

8 May: Death in Penzance of Richard Q. Couch, MRCS.

1865: First and only contribution to Clack.

1866: Elected corresponding member of the Zoological Society, London.

1866: First and only contribution to Fishing Gossip.

1867, 29 April: Gold medal and diploma for communications on Ichthyology from the Committee of the Exposition Internationale des Peches at Arachon, near Bordeaux.    

Decline in health begins.

1868: First of 4 contributions to The Naturalist’s Notebook.

1870, 13 April: Dies aged 81

18 April: Buried at Mabel Burrow, Lansallos, in the Methodist burying ground.

(See: RIC, vol. III, 1867-70, pp.225-6; Western Morning News, 18-04-1870.)