Notes on the Text


Proverbs relating to Mayors, five of which are included, would have come to Q from his father. See ‘The Mayor of Gantick’ from Q’s early collection of short stories Noughts and Crosses.

Troy is based on Fowey and Lestiddle on Lostwithiel. Fowey lost its Mayor and Corporation and its two Members of Parliament following the Reform Act of 1832. At the time it had an electorate of 331. Looe lost four Members of Parliament. Jonathan Couch was a strong supporter of the Reform Act. The river below Lostwithiel bridge came eventually under the authority of the Fowey Harbour Commission, of which Q was for a time chairman.

Lostwithiel was a Medieval Stannary town where tin was essayed and stamped. During the Civil War the King financed his military campaigns from Cornish tin, resulting in repeated attempts by the Parliamentary forces, which Q describes in the novel The Splendid Spur and the short story ‘Margery of Lawhibbet’, to occupy Cornwall and divert money into their own coffers.

Horace, Ars Poetica. Quintis Horatius Flaccus (62 to 8 B.C.), a satirist who combined realism with irony – not unlike Q.

Chapter I

The Peace of Amiens came to an end with the rescinding of the Treaty of Amiens on May 16, 1803. In 1456, a French force under Sieur de Pomier landed at Fowey, with Place, the home of the Treffry family, being defended, in the absence of her husband, by Elizabeth Treffry.

With the rescinding of the Treaty of Amiens Napoleon gathered an invasion at Boulogne. In Cornwall, voluntary companies were raised to resist it. At Looe and Fowey they consisted of coastal artillery. A full list can be found in the appendix of Thomas Bond’s Topographical and Historical Sketches of the Boroughs of East and West Looe, which was published in 1823. The companies existed from 1803 to 1809. Its members were exempt, at least in theory, from the attentions of the press-gang. In the novel, Solomon Hymen had the law on his side when he protested at impressment.

The Mayor of Troy states that the Looe Die-hards were commanded by Captain Thomas Bond, the later writer of the history of Looe. This is correct although throughout the rest of the novel he is referred to as Captain AEneas Pond. 

Q appears to have obtained most, but not all, his information from Bond’s History. In an appendix headed the ‘Royal Cornwall Volunteers’, the Looe Artillery is given as having 70 men and two uniforms, with Captain Thomas Bond as its commander. In the section headed ‘Volunteer Corps’ (1823, pp. 36­­–7), Bond writes that the company was commanded by a captain and two lieutenants, with the dress consisting of a ‘dark blue coat and pantaloons, with red facings, yellow wings and tassels, and a white waistcoat’. There appear to have been ‘fourteen new six-pounders’ from 1778, and ‘four eighteen-pounders’ from 1803, with the former guns returned to Plymouth (Mayor of Troy, Chapter VII), presumably sometime after 1803. 

Bond continues that ‘Not a single man of the company died during the six years, which is certainly remarkable’. This fact acts as a basis for the short story ‘The Looe Die-hards’. 

Much of what Bond says is transferred verbatim to the novel (Prologue). The novel states that the cliff battery at Looe was poorly sited. This is true but must have come to Q from another source. Q almost certainly drew from two other sources: firstly, from his father, Thomas Quiller Couch; secondly from Bertha Couch’s Life of Jonathan Couch (1891). She states that Jonathan Couch joined as ‘second lieutenant’, partly to escape the ‘general levy’. Memories and Opinions says that Jonathan Couch joined when he was apprenticed to Mr. John Rice of East Looe, which happened in February 1804.

You can read a separate study on Thomas Bond here.

Major Solomon Hymen, Mayor of Troy, is said by Keast (1950, p. 161) to be based on John Bennet, Mayor of Fowey from 1823 to 1827. Keast (ibid, pp. 99–100) quotes from the West Briton of 1824 that, following the docking of L’Union of Brest, Bennet’s house was searched by the Collector of Customs, with a quantity of contraband being discovered. 

Keast’s Story of Fowey also mentions the Sea Fencibles but not the Fowey Artillery, although Bond includes the Fowey Artillery in his list, giving 180 men and 2 uniforms, with Captain William Browne as the commander. Browne was never Mayor of Fowey and is not mentioned by Keast. The Sea Fencibles had 150 men and were commanded by Captain Sholdham Peard, with 4 Petty Officers below him (Keast, 1950, p. 91). It appears that the Fencibles were subsumed into the Artillery. 

Keast mentions Sea Fencibles at Looe, although Bond does not. Possibly the Fencibles were subsumed into the Artillery as at Fowey. Polperro appears to have maintained its Fencibles. Being a member of a voluntary company gave protection against the press-gang, a disagreeable feature of coastal life as the navy were always short of men. The press-gang features in The Mayor of Troy and the short story ‘I Saw Three Ships’. 

Needless to say, Cornish coastal communities were not the sleepy fishing villages of escapist literature but in the forefront of the war with the French.

The Ship Inn dated from Elizabethan times, with the oak panelling in the Long Room reputedly coming from Bodmin Priory. The Quillers frequently put their captures, such as L’Assumption and L’Aimable Barbe in 1811, up for auction at the inn.

Scipio Johnson appears to be based on Francis Barber, the black servant of Dr. Johnson. Johnson remembered Barber in his will as did Hymen with Scipio. Scipio came from the Gold Coast. It also appears that about this time the notorious Hamram Hooper of Looe Island kept a black servant.

Looe and Polperro received much of their written news, as far as it was believed, at the time of the Napoleonic War from the Sherborne Mercury.

Admirals’ (or Admiral’s Row) is named after Admiral Boscawen following the fall of Louisbourg to the British in 1758. In Q’s first novel Fort Amity Richard Montgomery carried the colours of the 17th Regiment of Foot at the battle.

Chapter II

Roscoff in Brittany was the chief smuggling port for Cornish smugglers on continental Europe. The Quillers regularly used it even when Britain was officially at war with France. Guernsey was another trading centre, acting as a halfway point between Cornwall and France.

The King of Prussia inn at Fowey is not named after Frederick the Great of Prussia but Captain John Carter, the King of Prussia Cove on Mounts Bay. The Quillers almost certainly had dealings with the Carters. Q mentions the Carters in The Mayor of Troy and in the short story ‘King o’ Prussia’ from The White Wolf. Captain Harry Carter left a short autobiography in manuscript which was published after his death. It was edited by John B. Cornish, a friend of Drs Richard and John Quiller Couch of Penzance and appeared under the title The Autobiography of a Cornish Smuggler in 1894. The Carters owned property in Roscoff in the 1780s and Harry Carter was imprisoned in Brittany from 1793 to 1795. Two years was much shorter than Hymen’s ten, but it was during the time of the ‘Terror’. This present writer’s great grandfather was a Carter from Germoe, the parish adjoining the cove.

Cloaks of military red were in fashion amongst women at the time. See:
The Life of Jonathan Couch by Bertha Couch (1891, p. 18);
The Introduction to the History of Polperro by Jonathan Couch;
The short story ‘I Saw Three Ships’ by Q.

The vicar of Fowey from 1784 to 1818 was James Bennetto. He was not a M.A. as was the vicar in the novel.

Chapter III

Aristotle, see Poetics. Tragedy is the downfall of a great man through a single but fatal flaw, in Hymen’s case an inability to laugh.

Hellestone or Helleston, an early form of Helston.

The Millennium, see the section 'The Motif of the Millenium' in the study on the novel.

Chapter IV

Talland Mill. Cornish millers frequently employed Breton mill hands because of a similarity of language. In 1453, the mill at Talland, run by the Murth or Morth family, was invested by a Breton force led by a former mill hand and the miller transported to Brittany, from where a ransom was demanded. On his return Morth the miller constructed a secret room which was later seen by Thomas Bond (1823, p. 154). Also see: Carew, R. Survey of Cornwall (1602, p. 131, sub-headed ‘Morth’).

The George of Looe. See Bond’s History of Looe (1823, p. 88).

Chapter V

Mr. Pennefather, the Collector of Customs, had previously been employed at Penzance on the famous occasion when John Carter broke into the Custom House to repossess his goods. John Carter’s operations lasted from 1770 to 1807, with the incident probably dating from before 1791. It is described in Section III of Cornish Seafarers, the first part of Cornwall and its People by A.K. Hamilton Jenkin, with an introduction by Q. Hamilton Jenkin obtained much of his information about the Carters from Harry Carter’s autobiography and from a study by J.B. Cornish published in the Cornish Magazine, which Q edited (1901). There can be little question that the Carters and the Quillers had business dealings. The Carters auctioned many of the craft they ‘privateered’ from the quay outside of the King of Prussia inn at Fowey.

According to John Keast in The Story of Fowey (1950, Appendix K), M. Cesar Dupin was based on the master of the French smuggling cutter L’Union.

Chapter VI

The heading to the chapter ‘Malbrouck s’en va’ is a shortened form of the heading to Chapter I of Fort Amity, ‘Malbrouck s’en va-t’en Guerre’ and is the first line of a song sung by Bateese in that novel.

Israel Spettigew or Uncle Issey is an octogenarian who also appears in the short stories ‘I Saw Three Ships’ and ‘The Looe Die-hards’.

The Devil’s Hedge is an ancient earthwork whose original purpose is unknown. It is now a discontinuous feature which was probably more continuous in 1804. The Devil’s Hedge or Giant’s Hedge is discussed in Bond’s History (1823). It runs from Lerryn to Looe but would scarcely have facilitated the walkway demanded of the novel. Q has adapted the feature, as with others, for the purposes of the narrative.

May Day celebrations appears once to have been general throughout Cornwall. See Robert Hunt’s Romances and Drolls of the West of England (1865, 1867 p.170), ‘Customs of Ancient Days, May-day’ and Jonathan Couch’s History of Polperro ( p.153).

Jonathan Couch was second (then first) lieutenant of the East and West Looe Voluntary Artillery from the time he was apprenticed to John Rice, a medical practitioner, of East Looe. See Bertha Couch’s Life (1891).

Chapter VII

Talland Cove and Talland Bay lie between Looe and Polperro. The traditional parish of Talland included West Looe and Polperro east of the Polperro river. It appears as Ruan Lanihale in other writings by Q.

In August 1779 a combined French and Spanish fleet anchored for three days in Plymouth Sound but failed to land an invasion force.

The 5th Dragoons came from Plymouth but were temporarily barracked at Bodmin – where Q was brought up.

A similar event occurs in the story ‘Holy Island’ from Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. by Sommerville and Ross of 1928. Q loved these stories.

Chapter VIII

Padstow Hobby Horse is a May celebration still in existence.

Chapter IX

Lerryn Creek lies about two miles up river from Fowey and at the conclusion of the Giant’s or Devil’s Hedge. The creek is wooded on either side. Q describes the creek with absolute accuracy.

Chapter X

Gunner Sobey leaves Talland under the impression of a French invasion. He crosses the Polperro river at Crumplehorn bridge, taking the Langreek road to Mabel Burrow (where Jonathan Couch lies buried), and passes the farms of Carneggan and Tredudwell to Lanteglos and then on to Polruan or ‘Little Ferry’. This was where Young Zeb Minards meets the press-gang in ‘I Saw Three Ships’.

Chapter XI

The Dragoons leave Talland and should have taken the present B3359 to Middle Taphouse and west to Bodmin on the A390. However, on reaching the B3359 they turned left at Ashen Cross Farm, ending up at the Punchbowl Inn at Lanreath. When they proceeded back towards the B3359 they were met by Smellie near Woodsaws, who diverted them left onto the Lerryn road.

Pentethy House is Ethy House at Lerryn.

Bodmin Gaol. This is where Madam Sarah Noy was hung in ‘The Haunted Dragoon’, another story involving the Dragoons from Plymouth.

Chapter XII

The Theatre Royal in Plymouth. See Memories and Opinions by Q (pp.17-18).

Chapter XIII

At the time of the Napoleonic War press-gangs had a legal right to take men from coastal communities and compel them to serve aboard boats of the Royal Navy.

Chapters XVI and XVIII

The Gallo-Batavian flotilla, commanded by Lord Keith, was watching the channel outside of Ambleteuse, Calais and Boulogne, behind which Napoleon was gathering an army of invasion in the summer of 1804. The Mayor of Troy dates the action to June 1804, when it actually took place in October 1804.

The event used by Q as the basis for the above is historically described in The Royal Navy, A History, vol. 5, p. 69 (Clowes et al, 1897, vol. 5, p. 69).

In October 1804, one hundred and fifty French invasion boats were moored in a double line outside of Boulogne pier, with Admiral Lord Keith, in the Monarch, five miles out in the channel. The Amity, Devonshire, Peggy and Providence were prepared as fireships and towed by armed launches towards the pier and then let loose. These four boats were accompanied by catamarans, each carrying a lead-lined chest full of powder and inflammables, and an ignition clock. The catamarans had been fitted in August and were used with the fireships on October 2 and 3, 1804. Little damage to French shipping resulted and no British lives were lost. The French government protested at the tactics and they were never used again.

You can find more information in the section 'Prisoners of War' in the study on the novel.

Chapter XXII

Regatta Day. The Jetty Regatta was traditionally held on Whit Monday while Fowey Regatta was held at the beginning of September. See Arthur Quiller Couch by F. Brittain (1947, pp. 110-11). The novel refers to Fowey Regatta.