Q’s grandfather, Jonathan Couch, was a distinguished naturalist. He trained as a doctor in London and then established a medical practice in Polperro, where he became deeply involved in the intellectual life of Cornwall. His Fishes of the British Islands was a major achievement that won him an international reputation and he also contributed to several learned societies in Cornwall. It is possible to find many echoes of Jonathan’s life and interests in the works of Q.
Much of what we know about him comes from the work of his daughter, Bertha Couch, who in 1891 published her Life of Jonathan Couch.
Jonathan Couch married three times, on each occasion to a local woman.
On his return from medical training in London in 1810 he married Jane Prynn Rundle of Portallow in Talland. Jane died in childbirth within the year, leaving Jonathan with a daughter, Jane Rundle Couch, who in 1832 married local farmer Peter Hitchens.
Jonathan's second marriage was to Jane Quiller, daughter of the late Richard Quiller, smuggler and privateer, by whom he had six children. Three became doctors:
- Richard Q. Couch (1816–1863) of Penzance
- Thomas Q. Couch (1826–1884) of Bodmin, Q's father, who died heavily in debt
- John Q. Couch (1830–1900) of Penzance, who died a wealthy bachelor.
All three are mentioned by Bertha Couch in her Life. Jane Couch née Quiller died on September 6, 1857.
On October 23, 1858, Jonathan, aged 69, married Sarah Lander Roose, aged 22, daughter of mariner and coastguard, Robert Roose, at the United Methodist Free Church (Greenbank) in Liskeard. Sarah had been born at Swanage, The first child of Jonathan and Sarah Couch was Bertha, who was born on September 11, 1860.
On the Census of 1861, Jonathan was given as 72, Sarah as 24 and Bertha as 7m. A second daughter, Sarah, was born in 1862, with Lydia being born and dying in the following year. Clarinda was born in 1867. Jonathan and Sarah had three daughters living when Jonathan died on April 13, 1870. Bertha had known her father for nine years and seven months.
Bertha Couch's Childhood
There is every indication in the Life that the third marriage brought contentment to Jonathan and Sarah, resulting in a happy and secure home. Bertha probably understood little of the family animosities at the time, although she might have been sensitive to comments in the village.
There was a minor disruption in early 1863 when Jonathan had to travel to Penzance to nurse the dying Richard; with sister Lydia dying soon after being born towards the end of the year. Bertha was probably too young to be seriously affected. More seriously, in 1867, Jonathan almost died of bronchitis, with the whole house in a state of anxiety. However, until the death of Jonathan Bertha seems to have been a happy child.
Jonathan's third marriage was controversial in the family and in the village of Polperro. Thomas, Q's father, was the most sympathetic, although the attitude of his wife is unknown. Richard took a less sanguine view. This did not prevent Jonathan from travelling to Penzance to nurse him during the final illness in 1863. The most directly involved and the most antagonistic was John.
John Quiller Couch entered Guy's hospital in London in 1859 at the age of 29. This was the year after the marriage and a year before the birth of Bertha. He appears to have been working in London at the time of the marriage, but would have had to share the house in Polperro with Sarah during his vacations from Guy's, and would have known Bertha as an infant. When he qualified in 1862 he left Polperro for good, establishing himself as a doctor in Penzance a year before Richard's death. His attitude to Sarah and Bertha was not sympathetic. Bertha hardly mentions him in her Life of Jonathan.
It is possible that the Life was in part written as a defence of the third marriage. In Chapter VI Bertha takes the critics head-on with the page heading 'Romantic Marriage'. Firstly, she gives an account of the death of her mother's first love, Samuel Langmaid, in 1856, shortly before the death of Jane Couch. Sarah went into decline, with Jonathan as her medical adviser. He came to realise that her condition was what is now called psychosomatic. In this area of medicine he was well in advance of his time. The Life continues with the finest passage in the book.
'On going home that day he entered his study and threw himself into his chair, saying, "What can I do for the girl?" The whole evening he sat there thinking, thinking—vision after vision floating through his mind; but never once seeing the beautiful watercolours of fish lying all round his room, and which he was then preparing for his great work on British Fishes. Before leaving his chair he came to the conclusion that he could do nothing unless she would marry him, and at that though he felt very doubtful, whether a young and good-looking girl of twenty-two would accept an old man of sixty-nine; at the same time, no doubt, he remembered with pleasure that he looked fully fifteen years younger than his age, and, moreover, was a distinguished looking man. However, to decide was to act with the doctor, and that very night he wrote to a firm of jewellers in Plymouth, and requested them to send him a broach; then followed a description of the article required, which we can sum up in the words, "True Lover's Knot". Armed with this, he one afternoon called at Mr. Roose's, and made Sarah a formal proposal of marriage, putting the broach down, and telling her she was not to accept it unless her answer was "Yes". Her first expression was, "Why Mr. Couch, you are an old man!" but on being urged to give the matter consideration, did so, and on October 23rd, 1858, became his wife.' (pp. 48–49)
Alwyne Wheeler's transcription of Jonathan's private memoirs includes the section on the relationship, as it was written in a private code. It begins on November 2, 1857, acknowledges the controversy he was stirring up, and ends with the acceptance on September 14, 1858. The marriage took place in the following month.
Bertha Couch does not shy away from the controversy and the damage it did to his reputation.
'On the engagement becoming known the whole neighbourhood was struck, not dumb with surprise, but chattering with astonishment, the disparity in age being much commented on. And the town at large, which always made the doctor's concerns its own, seemed much aggrieved that he should think of marrying when there were plenty of people who were willing to keep house for him; but the last straw seemed to be the mystery, that a man like he was, looked up to as a sort of demigod amongst them, should choose a young and inexperienced girl for a wife. This was more than they could understand, but he was not the man to give a reason for his actions, and it always remained a mystery.' (p. 99)
Bertha and her Father
As Bertha grew up she must have become aware of her father's eminence, especially after the publication of The History of the Fishes of the British Islands from 1862 to 1865. However, she would have been too young to understand his ideas.
The most dramatic event was her father's illness of 1867, which she describes in the Life directly before an account of the death in April 1870. Bertha relates how on the morning of April 13, Sarah had sent for Mr Clogg of Looe, only for Jonathan to have expired before the doctor's arrival: 'leaving a young widow and three little girls to fight the battle of life alone' (Life, p. 131). The word 'alone' suggests that the controversy regarding the marriage was as intense in the village as in the family.
During the funeral at Mabel Burrow, the Methodist burying ground, Bertha would have seen many of her Couch relations for the first time. Amongst the mourners was a reddish haired boy called Arthur. She was nine and he was seven.
As with the sons of Jonathan of the previous marriage, Bertha would have been educated at home. With the death of Jonathan and the Forster Education Act of 1870, she would subsequently have entered the local board school. The unevenness of her education is evidenced in the Life.
After the Death of Jonathan
Johns informs us that the house in Polperro, the old Quiller residence, was left to Sarah and the three daughters. How long they remained there is unclear. In the Post Office Directory of 1873, Sarah Couch is not mentioned under 'Residential' or 'Commercial'. Someone who is mentioned is the Rev. E.G. Hocken. He is also mentioned in the introduction of the Life.
The Census of 1871 gives the family, minus Sarah, as visitors of Mark and Jane Daniel at St Ive, a village between Liskeard and Callington. Sarah is given as 35, Bertha as 10 and Clarinda as 3. Maybe they were just staying there on census day.
Although there is a Methodist chapel at St Ive, the Couches possibly attended the parish church, where the rector was the Venerable Archdeacon Hobhouse. The name is reasonably local. A Thomas Hobhouse is given at St Stephen-by-Launceston in 1584. The Archdeacon was later to subscribe to Bertha's Life. He was the father of Emily Hobhouse who helped expose the conditions in the British internment camps during the Boer War in South Africa. As an anti-Boer War activist, Q would have known or known of Emily Hobhouse.
For obscure reasons Jonathan appears to have left his third family financially embarrassed at his death. In 1870, Richard was dead, Thomas was accumulating the debts that would leave his family financially embarrassed when he died in 1884, and John was probably still covering the cost of establishing his practice in Penzance.
The government was petitioned for a state pension for the widow of Jonathan, but this was refused, although W.E. Gladstone, the Prime Minister, forwarded a sum of £50, a not inconsiderable amount at that time.
For Bertha the period following her father's death was traumatic. The bitterness is hidden from the reader behind a veneer of objectivity which falters at the end of chapter seven. Alas, young widows were common in Cornish fishing communities. Seeking a second marriage was often the consequence.
Sarah’s Second Marriage
Thomas Q. Couch was sufficiently interested in Sarah to record her marriage to James Lean of Tywardreath, in 1880, to insert the information in Jonathan's private papers. Lean was a Registrar of births and deaths and the couple lived at High Elms Register Office, Tywardreath. The Census of 1881 gives James Lean, born St Mawes, as 69, Sarah Lean as 45, and Clarinda, stepdaughter, scholar, as 13. The Census gives Bertha Couch as a 20 year-old governess living at Launceston. She was governess to Edith, the eight year old daughter of Jonathan and Catherine Eyre.
James Lean was born in 1812, and is described on various census records as innkeeper, gentleman, coal merchant and farmer of six acres, and Municipal Registrar. He was a widower, previously married to a Mary Coode.
James Lean died two years after marrying Sarah, in 1882. There is evidence that Sarah was left financially secure: in the census of 1891, Sarah and Clarinda are living in Willesden and Sarah Lean is described as 55, widow, living on own means with Clarinda Couch, daughter, 23.
A Personal Interest in the Story
My great-grandparents were residents of West Looe Hill. They would have known Jonathan by sight and reputation and possibly signed the petition. The story of the third marriage would have been known locally. My father's first marriage took place at Greenbank in 1945, the same place where Jonathan entered into his third.
Q’s Contact with the Family of his Grandfather's Third Marriage
Q appears to have visited his grandfather once at Polperro and attended the funeral in 1870.
In Chapter II of A Portrait of Q, A.L. Rowse describes a meeting between Q and one of the daughters of Sarah which Q recounted to him. Rowse provides a location, a season but no specific date and the daughter is not identified by name (p. 11).
The context of the meeting is the return of Q from Bodmin to Newton Abbot College, which he had entered in 1873 at the age of ten or eleven, on a snowy day in January. He must have boarded the train at Bodmin Road station, now Bodmin Parkway, with Liskeard as the next stop. Across from him was 'a girl of his own age or rather younger.' The train halted in a cutting. This was presumably at Moorswater to accommodate the departure from Liskeard of the down-train. The girl asked, upon what evidence is unclear, whether Q was a Couch. When he replied in the affirmative she declared herself to be his aunt.
The girl must have been Bertha or Sarah. Sarah was about his age, Bertha slightly older. Presumably the girl had entered the carriage at Par with Liskeard as the destination, maybe to stay with the Daniels of St Ive.
How she came to recognise Q when he did not recognise her is a mystery. At Jonathan's funeral Bertha and Sarah must have seen Q in company with Thomas, whom they would have known. Bertha is the most likely to have equated the boy in the carriage with the boy at the funeral. Yet Sarah was more of Q's age. Bertha was the more likely to be travelling alone, if that was the case.
It seems probable that Sarah Lean and her daughters attended the funeral of Thomas in 1884. Maybe Q had more knowledge of Jonathan's third marriage than Rowse was prepared to state in A Portrait.
Political Events in the Last Decade of Jonathan’s Life
Shortly after the birth of Bertha Couch in 1860, The American Civil War broke out. A Darius N. Couch fought for the Union, but whether he was a distant relation is unclear. The war finished in 1865 with the re-union of North and South. Italian unification was completed in 1861. In 1866, Prussia defeated Austria in a process of German unification which was completed in 1871, a year after Jonathan's death. Even in Russia 1861 saw the abolition of serfdom. This was followed by local government reform and trial by jury.
In Britain, 1867 saw the second Reform Bill which doubled the electorate. The same year saw William Gladstone become Liberal leader, and in 1868 Prime Minister of a reforming government. The Forster Education Act followed in 1870.
Q captures the atmosphere in his novel Shining Ferry. In 1871, a Board School is opened in a village (Bodinnick) over the river from Troy (Fowey). After the ceremony the School Inspector and Sir George Dinham reflect upon 'fifty years of noble reform', in particular the unification of Italy, the suppression of the slave trade and the factory acts. Yet they fear the rise of 'a creed to vindicate the human brute, and the next generation. . . will be predatory.' (Chapter XII)
They were referring to Marxism, popular Darwinism and aggressive nationalism. 1859 had seen the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species followed in 1871 by The Descent of Man. Between the two, in 1863, had come Thomas Huxley's Man's Place in Nature. The period also saw the 'First International', in 1864, and the publication of the first volume of Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto in 1867. In 1860, France could not resist annexing Nice and Savoy from Italy, and Prussia the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine from France in 1871.
With Jonathan's death Bertha would face a future of hope and trepidation.
Lieutenant General Darius N. Couch
When Jonathan Couch was apprenticed to Mr John Rice of East Looe in early 1804 the 'French bulletins' were read to people from the post office, while a Sherborne rider would bring the Sherborne Mercury for those who could read. Q mentions in The Mayor of Troy the Sherborne Mercury arriving in Troy with news of the fighting. By 1814 newspapers printed more locally, such as The Plymouth and Dock Telegraph,had begun to appear. Each edition would be handed around until it fell to pieces. If The Mayor of Troy does not actually reproduce articles it captures their style.
By 1860 Cornwall was well served with newspapers. As most Cornish families had some one in America, South Africa or Australasia, foreign news was well represented. One paper dealt solely with news from the Rand in South Africa. Reports from the American Civil War were remarkably detailed.
When reading his newspaper in Polperro Jonathan Couch could not have failed to notice the name of Darius N. Couch. In his private memoirs, edited by Wheeler, Jonathan records reading of a Lieutenant Couch who conducted a scientific expedition in 1856. He believed him to be from a branch of the family that had emigrated to America from Wales; and later to have been General Couch.
Couch was one of the few Union generals to distinguish himself in the defeat at Fredericksburg in December 1862. On April 9, 1863, he accompanied President Lincoln in the Great Review at Falmouth, being senior corp commander in the Army of the Potomac under General F.J. Hooker. On that day General Robert E. Lee commenced his Confederate advance into Maryland, with Hooker responding on April 30 by crossing the Rappahannock River. The job of Couch was to fall on Lee's right flank, but Lee took the initiative.
The forces met, as Jonathan Could would later have read, on May Day, 1863. Lee had the corp of Slocum and Couch pinned down at the Union centre while 'Stonewall' Jackson outflanked Hooker's right. Jackson rolled up Hooker's right but Slocum and Couch wheeled round to face him, preventing a rout. On Wednesday, May 6, Couch, who had taken over command from Hooker, effected an ordered retreat back across the Rappahannock.
Shortly afterwards Couch requested a transfer to another army as he had lost all confidence in Hooker. This was possibly a mistake because Lincoln had come to the same conclusion. So Meade rather than Couch took command of the Army of the Potomac. Otherwise, the battle of Gettysburg might have seen Couch in charge of Union forces.
What happened to Bertha Couch and her Family?
What happened to Bertha Couch can only be deduced from National Census material and what is known of her immediate family.
The Census for 1871, a year after the death of Jonathan, gives Sarah Couch, aged 35 and having been born in Swanage, as staying with the Daniel family of St Ive. Jane Daniel was the sister of Sarah Roose or Couch. With Sarah were Bertha, aged ten, and Clarinda, aged three. Mark Daniel was the village blacksmith. St Ive lies between Liskeard and Callington in south-east Cornwall. Sarah is a 'Visitor', with the family, presumably still living in Polperro. Also in the household were the Daniel children aged 5,4,2,1,and 3 months.
Bertha's aunt, Jane, married Mark Daniel on 17 October 1863, at Liskeard. Bertha's Daniel cousins were Margaret (Foott), John Henry, Thomas, Ann (Sambells) and Jane (Perkins). Married names in brackets. Jane Daniel died 15 December 1907 at St Ive.
The Census of 1881 gives Bertha Couch, aged 20, as governess to Edith Eyre, aged eight, the only child of Johnathan (Jonathan) and Catherine Eyre of High Street, Launceston. Jonathan was a chemist and distiller. Bertha is given as having been born in Polperro.
Bertha's mother Sarah was by this time the wife of James Lean and living at Tywardreath with Clarinda.
It is not certain what Bertha's sister Sarah was doing at this point. No census record has been discovered to date. In 1881, however, Sarah's future husband, Jonathan Couch, (possibly a distant relation) was in Devonport and their first child was born in 1885 in Stoke Damerel, (see below) where Roose relatives lived, so it is possible that Sarah was also there in 1881. (A William Roose, born c 1805 in Talland, died at Stoke Damerel in 1889).
At some period during the following ten years, after the death of James Lean, Sarah Lean, Clarinda and Bertha moved to West London. The 1891 census shows Sarah Lean and Clarinda as living at 195, High Road, Willesden, Middlesex. Sarah is described as a widow of private means.
The Census of 1891 gives Bertha Gouch (C having been read as G), aged 29, as having been born at Polperro in 1862, and as a 'Visitor' at the residence of Arthur and Florence Mors in Paddington, London. There are the names of six 'Household members' not carrying the surname Mors. The Mors were either wealthy enough to have six servants, or were the owners of a boarding house.
The Life was published in 1891, but the Mors are not subscribers. This suggests them to have been boarding house owners. There are a number of subscribers from the London area, including a Dr J. Gale of Hampstead, possibly a former friend of Jonathan, a Mrs Moro of London, W., (is Moro really Mors?), and the Gresham Club(!?!)
In 1887, Q moved from Oxford to London, lodging at Clareville Grove, Kensington, and subsequently renting it. Later, with his wife in Cornwall, he moved to St James's Street, with the family reunited at 54 Bedford Gardens, Kensington, in 1891. This is where his nervous breakdown commenced. In 1892, he relocated to Fowey. Q and Bertha and her mother and sister Clarinda, were in London at the same time.
It is quite probable that Bertha lived with her mother and sister at some periods, perhaps during holidays or between engagements. The family were not far apart as they all lived within a few miles of each other in West London. By 1897, Mrs Lean and Clarinda and possibly Bertha were living at 5 Camden Gardens, Hammersmith. Bertha and Mrs Lean were the witnesses at the marriage of Clarinda on 15 December 1897 to Henry James Sherwood, bachelor, 34, builder, of Anley Road, son of Edward Sherwood (dec.), carpenter. The marriage took place by banns at St Simon, Hammersmith.
In 1901, Bertha Couch was a nurse living or lodging at the residence of Captain George W. Burgess of the 13th Regiment in Devonport. Devonport was originally known as Plymouth Dock and hosted army and navy facilities. Apart from Captain and Mrs Burgess and their one child, the house contained seven female residents, either servants or, more probably, lodgers.
In this and a subsequent employment Bertha is described as a nurse. It is not clear from records what form this nursing took. At 20, Bertha was a governess, so it may be that she was employed as a children's nurse, or the move to London might have been to enable her to train as a sick nurse following in the family tradition. At Devonport she may even have been employed at one of the military hospitals. Without further evidence, it can only be a matter of conjecture.
In 1903, Q published the novel Harry Revel. A central character is Miss Amelia Plinlimmon, who is matron at the Genevan Foundling Hospital in Plymouth Dock, an orphanage adjacent to the army barracks and the naval installations. Her brother is Captain Arthur Plinlimmon of the 4th (King's Own) Regiment. Eventually, Amelia becomes the servant of Major James Brooks, a former friend of Arthur, whose blindness was the result of his last campaign. How much did Q know of Bertha Couch at Devonport and is Amelia Plinlimmon in some respects based on her?
By 1911 Bertha was back in London as a domestic nurse in the family of Barrister at the Bar Herbert Cohen, whose residence was 15 Gloucester Square, Paddington. She is about 50 and unmarried.
In 1901, Clarinda and Henry Sherwood were still living in Hammersmith at 31 Westwick Lane. Henry is described as a jobbing builder and decorator, employer. Clarinda as wife 33. Sarah Lean was living alone at 5 Camden Gardens, Hammersmith. However, by 1911, The Sherwoods had moved to Bashley, New Milton, Hants. Henry is described as 47, retired builder, and Clarinda as wife, 43, married 13 years, no children. Also living with them was Sarah Lean, 75, widow.
There is a paucity of information about Bertha herself for the years from 1911 to 1939, 1921 records are not yet available and the 1931 census was destroyed by fire anyway. Bertha returned to Cornwall at some point during this period, probably when she was of an age to retire from nursing.
On 5 April 1919 Henry James Sherwood died at Treresta, Dibden Purlieu, Hythe, Hants. Probate was granted on 5 May 1919 to Clarinda, wife. The estate was valued at £1,430 15s 7d.
In 1921, Clarinda remarried. Her second husband was The Rev. Frank Tatlow Fogerty and they married in Southampton. The Rev. Fogerty was born c. 1888 in Lymington, Hants, and was 21 years younger than Clarinda.
In 1923 Bertha's mother Sarah Lean died at Dibden Purlieu, Hants.
At some time after the death of Mrs Lean, Clarinda and the Rev. Fogerty moved to Goxhill, Lincolnshire. Clarinda died on 10 November 1944 at The Vicarage, Goxhill, Lincs. She left £2,988 and probate was granted to her husband. The Rev. Fogerty died on 10 May 1968 in Lincolnshire.
A monument in the burial ground of All Saints, Dibden Purlieu, Hampshire, mentions Henry James Sherwood, 1919; Sarah Lean, 1923; and Clarinda Fogerty, 1944. They are all probably interred there but the monument also mentions F.T. Fogerty, Clarinda's husband, with no date, so he is most likely interred elsewhere, probably at Goxhill, Lincolnshire.
Clarinda having moved to Lincolnshire and her mother being deceased no doubt influenced Bertha's decision to return to her roots in Cornwall, near her remaining family.
Bertha's sister, Sarah Roose Couch, around 1884, had married Jonathan Couch of St Austell, a Master Mariner (Certificate dated 11/12/1880). Jonathan Couch was possibly a Couch cousin, descended from Bertha and Sarah's great-great grandfather, Samuel Couch who died c1738. He had several sons who moved away from Talland, probably for reasons of employment. However, further evidence is needed for the link to be established. Jonathan's parents were Edward Couch and Hannah Tresise. Edward was born 2 October 1808 at St Austell and died in 1888. His parents were William Couch and Elizabeth Crabb. Hannah was born 7 October 1810 in Newlyn East, the daughter of James Tresise and Jennifer Martyn. The marriage of Edward and Hannah took place, by licence, on 18 January 1831 at St Dunstan's Stepney by London. Hannah is described as 'of this parish' and Edward 'of St Austell'. The witnesses were Joseph Couch and Sarah Brown. Jonathan was born at Charlestown in 1853. He had about ten older siblings and a younger sister, Kate (1855–1876).
Charlestown in the 18th century was a tiny fishing village, then called West Polmear. However, between 1791 and 1801 the port was constructed by Charles Rashleigh to export copper and, later, china clay. By the time of Jonathan Couch's birth in 1853, West Polmear had been re-named Charlestown, was a separate parish (1846) and had a population of about 3,000.
In 1881, Jonathan Couch was in Devon, master of the ship Fortunate. He was aged 27, single, with four crew.
Jonathan Couch and Sarah Roose Couch had three children: Winifred Kate Couch, born 1885, at Stoke Damerel, Devonport, Devon and baptised 25 October 1885 at St Austell; Leonard, born 1886 at St Austell and baptised on 25 September 1886; and Jonathan, born 12 February 1889 at St Austell and baptised there 25 May 1890.
In 1891, Sarah Roose Couch was living at Union Road, Mount Charles, St Austell with Winifred, 6, Leonard, 4, and Jonathan, 2. Also in the household was Fanny Ann Truscott, 18, a general servant.
On 12 February 1895, Jonathan Couch was initiated as a freemason, aged 41, at 'Austell Lodge, lodge of peace and harmony, profession mariner.'
In 1901, Sarah was living at Randall Road, Mount Charles, St Austell. She is described as 'Head, married, 39, b. Polperro' so Jonathan was probably at sea. Also living there were Winifred, 16, b. Devon; Leonard 16, b. St Austell; and Jonathan, 12, b. St. Austell.
Bertha was at this time in the household of Captain Burgess at Devonport. It is possible that Jonathan Couch's maritime connections at Devonport enabled her to find this employment.
In 1911, at Polcou, Ranelagh Road, St Austell, a house of seven rooms excluding scullery, bathroom and closet etc., were: 'Jonathan Couch, Head, 57, Master Mariner b. Charlestown; Sarah Roose Couch, 49, married 26 years, 3 children alive, none died; Winifred Kate, daughter, 26, single; and Jonathan, son, 22, single, solicitor's clerk.'
Jonathan Couch died at Polcou, Ranelagh Road, St Austell on 26 September 1924. Probate was granted to his widow, Sarah Roose Couch, on 6 January 1925. He left £432 1s.
Winifred Couch married a John George Jenkins. Leonard Couch became a schoolmaster and may have moved to Epping Forest, Essex, but this has yet to be verified. Jonathan Couch became a solicitor. He married Alice Harriet Lang (1886–1975) of Depwade, Norfolk. Jonathan is on the 1939 register as a solicitor, living in Newquay. He had two children: Jonathan born 1928, who is described as 'incapacitated' and another whose details are blanked out. Jonathan died in Buckinghamshire on 8 October 1977.
Sarah Roose Couch died at 12 Edgecumbe Avenue, Newquay on 15 November 1945. She left £3,359 6s 3d. Probate was granted to her sons, Jonathan, solicitor, and Leonard, schoolmaster.
Bertha Couch appears to have ended her days at a property called 'Lanjeth', Bolenna, Perranporth, Truro Rural District, very close to Newquay where her sister Sarah and her nephew Jonathan and family were living. She is single, her birth date is given as September 11, 1860 and her date of death as April 28, 1942. One hundred years before her father had attended scientific meetings in Truro. Lanjeth is the name of a hamlet in the St Austell clay country, near where the poet and novelist Jack Clemo was growing up. In the 1930s, the Bolenna area of Perranporth was developed with bungalows. No property named Lanjeth appears on council records today but the house may well have been one of these bungalows and subsequently re-named. Bertha left an estate valued at £793 15s 4d and probate was granted to Leonard Couch, schoolmaster and Jonathan Couch, solicitor, her nephews.
She died a spinster in 1942: 153 years after the birth of her father in 1789.
Did Q read Bertha Couch's Life?
There is evidence that he read it and used it in his writing. The novel first published in 1915, Nicky-Nan Reservist, is set in 'Polpier' or Polperro. The work is set in 1914, with the 'Old Doctor' having died many years before but still living in the memory of the older inhabitants. Nicky-Nan had heard of him:
'. . . seated on a bollard near the Quay-head with a drawing-board on his knee, busy—for he was a wonder with pencil and brush—transferring to paper the outline and markings of a specimen and its perishable exquisite colours; working rapidly while he listened to the account of its capture. . .' (Chapter II).
This account appears to owe something to two descriptions of Jonathan on pages 60 and 107 of the Life, recounted from memory by Bertha Couch.
'The quay head was a favourite spot with Mr. Couch, where he was often to be seen in busy talk with the fishermen . . . busily engaged with pencil and paint brush, in transferring to paper the correct dimensions or beautiful colours of some strange fish, listening the while to the quaintly expressed account of its capture . . . ' (p. 107).
A feature of Q's work is his attempt, where possible, to capture eye-witness accounts, of which this is almost certainly an example.
There is possibly another in the unfinished novel Castle Dor, where references to the rookery at Penquite and Mr Tregentle appear to owe something to the Life in a Rookery—the rookery at Trelawne and Mr Lewis Harding—in the Life (p. 49–52).
Research has not yet revealed whether Q knew Bertha personally. As Q's father was sympathetic to the third marriage and Bertha writes in laudatory terms of Q (p. 151), it is more than possible; although as Q is not mentioned in the list of subscribers, it must have happened subsequently.
In this section we will look at life in Polperro in the period covered by Bertha’s book, with particular reference to the years from 1860 to 1870.
Information from The Post Office Directory of 1873
Even three years after the death of Jonathan Couch Polperro was more accessible by sea than by land. It lay in the civic district of Liskeard, eleven miles away, where the nearest railway station was located. The Board School, built following the Forster Education Act of 1870, had a Thomas Braddon (the name is local) as its master, while W.H. Mason, L.F.C.P., was the surgeon and the medical officer for Liskeard Union District 4. Letters departed each weekday for Liskeard at 8.30 a.m. and arrived at 3.30. Presumably the letter carrier also supplied a newspaper.
A carrier travelled to Plymouth each Tuesday and Friday, returning on Wednesday and Saturday. In the 1850s Thomas Bate's horse-bus went to Plymouth on Wednesday, returning the following day. Jeremiah Libby's went on Tuesday and Friday, returning on Wednesday and Saturday. George Lord's went to Plymouth on Friday and returned on Saturday. The horse-bus had room for about six people inside and about the same number without, with two horses driving it. No doubt, the passengers had to alight before the steeper hills, with the younger using ropes attached to the sides to haul or to hold back.
The Life details a number of visits by Jonathan Couch to London. Whether he caught the horse-bus to Plymouth or whether he used the station at Liskeard, stabling his horse at an inn, is unknown. Nor is it clear what route the horse-bus took to Plymouth. Getting to Brittany by sea was far easier than getting to London by road.
Insights into Conditions in Polperro given by Q in his Novella Ia
When Jonathan Couch returned from medical training in 1810, the conditions facing him in Polperro must have been similar to those facing Dr Hammer of Laregan at Ardevora in Q's novella Ia. It is possible that Ardevora is Polperro as remembered by Dr Thomas Q. Couch from his earliest years, or at least related to him by Jonathan from an earlier period still. Thomas faced not dissimilar conditions in the lower part of Bodmin when Q was young.
In Chapter X of Ia, Dr Hammer responds to an outbreak of diptheria and typhus in Ardevora by lecturing the fisherfolk on the causes of disease. Jonathan Couch must have given similar lectures in Polperro and in surrounding villages. Bertha would have been versed in his thinking.
Dr Hammer identifies four main areas of concern that can easily be transferred to Polperro.
1. Civic and regulatory failures: Polperro was in the district of Liskeard, eleven miles away, and appears to have had no local regulatory body. It was not until about 1873 that it came under District 4 of the Liskeard Union, with a medical officer. Prior to 1870 the moral influence of Jonathan Couch had to suffice. Even in Bodmin Thomas found influencing the town council difficult in sanitary matters.
2. Poor housing, inadequate rented accommodation and overcrowding: During the life of Jonathan Couch many dwellings were roofed with thatch while sea sand was used in mortar. Anyone who has read Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee will understand the problem of dripping damp associated with weathered thatch. To this was added dampness inherent in salt. The unhealthy atmosphere of many overcrowded homes can be imagined, with serious lung conditions, arthritis and disease resulting. Even Jonathan Couch suffered from bronchitis in his later years.
Polperro followed the three lives practice whereby an agreement with the landowner was secured on three named lives, usually father, son and grandson. Such an agreement could last for over a hundred years or end suddenly in the foundering of a family boat.
3. Refuse on the quay, in the streets and in the home, resulting in breeding grounds for infection and polluted water: When young, Jonathan Couch probably witnessed sewage in the gutters and fish offal on the quays. Water had to be carried from a pump or pipe. Presumably this was one of Sarah's duties, with Bertha in tow. Jack Clemo describes the operation in the poem 'The Riven Niche (to St Bernadette)'.
'My raw life was so much like yours
Holding my pitcher in the wheezing pump
Or the valley spring-pipe, forty years back.'
The washing of clothes, bathing and even regular hand-washing was problematic. The heating of water, let alone homes, was even more so. Jack Clemo's mother, Eveline Clemo, told me in 1975 of how she and Jack would take an old pram onto the St Austell moors to gather material for the fire. Jonathan Couch could afford coal, but many families could not.
Dr Hammer traces the spread of typhus in Ardevora from Street-an-Pol to Harmony Rents and then on to Chypons, explaining the cause in each case. Thomas Q. Couch was able to do the same in Bodmin.
Jonathan Couch appears to have had a positive moral influence throughout the area, but there were limits. A hundred years after his death raw sewage was discharging into the harbour at Looe, as it probably was in Polperro. During his lifetime, the bucket-toilet, dischargeable over the harbour wall, was standard. Such toilets still existed in the 1960s. :Presumably Sarah carried the bucket each morning.
4. Indifferent landlords and spendthrift tenants: In Polperro the poor had little defence against indifferent or grasping landlords, overcrowding and poor maintenance. However, the problem lay not only with landlords. In fishing communities seasons of plenty were followed by seasons of dearth. If the pilchard shoals failed to appear, the harvest failed and potato blight struck, dearth could last for twelve months. Not all householders were provident.
In Jonathan Couch's early days, the heyday of smuggling and privateering, successful ventures could release considerable quantities of cash into the community with deleterious consequences in drinking, gambling and gaudy dressing.
There is every reason to believe that both Jane and Sarah Couch were good housekeepers.
5. Hunger: Dr Hammer does not address the problem of starvation directly in his talk to the fisherfolk but it is central to the problems the villagers faced. The staple food of such communities was fish, bread and potatoes. Meat was a rarity—less so in the home of Jonathan Couch. Many fishermen supplemented their diet from produce grown on little cliff gardens. The present writer saw these on the cliff between Polperro and Talland in the 1960s. Food was the central concern of the villagers, followed by physical and emotional security. If Sigmund Feud had lived in Polperro rather than in Vienna he would have seen things differently.
Ia looks at the effects upon the villagers of the failure of the fisheries, with hunger weakening the constitution and leaving it open to disease. Jonathan Couch lived through the potato blight of the 1840s and saw its effects. He made a number of studies of the blight on potatoes, particularly important as they concentrated on observation and avoided theory. Nothing shows more clearly the Couch method—observe and discover what works in practice and avoid theorizing.
Love and Death
A remarkable fact about Jonathan Couch was his longevity. Few people in Polperro lived to be his age. In 'The Looe Die-Hards' and other local stories, 'Uncle Israel Spettigew, a cheerful sexagenarian' is presented as 'you old adage'; yet he was younger than Jonathan Couch at the time of the third marriage.
The main cause of death amongst seamen, 'every third man-child' resulted in 'women screaming on the quay-end for their drowned husbands' (Ia Chapter X). Amongst women, as with Jonathan Couch's first wife, it was child-birth. Added to this were general illnesses and epidemic diseases. Widows, widowers and orphaned children proliferated.
Sarah Couch was far from alone in becoming a widow in 1870, with three children to support. Almost certainly there were even more tragic instances of widowhood in the village. The Life gives an account of two girls who had lost mother, father and brother (p. 89).
The purpose of marriage in Cornish fishing communities was utilitarian rather than romantic. The need for family to succour old age and work-related injury necessitated pregnancy as a condition of marriage, as in Jonathan Couch's first marriage. Where pregnancy failed to result couples rarely married.
Communities, especially in coastal areas, would have had a resident prostitute. Jack Clemo describes the type in his novel The Clay Kiln, set on the St Austell moors.
'(Olive) had been a village prostitute of the old-fashioned type, never bothering to wear smart clothes or jewellery, or even make-up. It was the sheer animal pull of her personality that had made her fascination so powerful to the village men.' (p. 204–5).
Following the death of Jonathan in 1870, Sarah Couch was left with three young daughters to raise, but without obvious means. Q's novels reveal how vulnerable children were in coastal communities. In the novel Hocken and Hunken, Fancy Tabb is a virtual slave of the ships-chandler John Rogers, while Palmerston Burt had been an inmate of Tregarrick (Bodmin) workhouse owing to his mother's penury following his father's death at sea. The Life gives an account, as already stated, of two girls who lived alone having lost father, mother and brother. (p. 89).
Throughout Jonathan's life the children of working-class parents had to work through sheer poverty. Such work sometimes continued even after it was made illegal, as with farmer Bosenna employing children to pick his apples in Hocken and Hunken. Unwanted infants were sometimes left on the cliff at night and collected dead in the morning. No doubt Jonathan Couch suspected such when called to inspect the death.
Although Sarah and her daughters found themselves in a deplorable position in 1870, there were others in a far worse state. The end for some was the feared workhouse.
Jonathan Couch: Science and Medicine
When Jonathan Couch returned to Polperro from London in 1810, he was turning his back on possible riches. Doctors and surgeons in the capital were highly respected and highly paid. And they were at the heart of the London scientific community. Polperro was poor, with few able to pay more than a pittance. It was when he was called to deliver a second child that he was paid for delivering the first. He survived by ministering to the more wealthy families such as the Trelawnys.
Much of his time in the Polperro area was spent travelling on horseback to fetid cottages and dripping hovels, observing scenes of hideous deformity and indescribable suffering, sometimes witnessing the death of the sole breadwinner and the hungry faces of suddenly orphaned children. His remarkable scientific work was done during interim periods. This made Jonathan Couch dismissive of scientific theory and concerned instead for observable fact and practical results. The privileged theoreticians of science who engaged themselves in acrimonious disputes were of little interest to him.
Bertha Couch says of her father what Jonathan had said of 'his old master, Mr. Rice, of Looe', presumably the doctor of this writer's forebears, that 'his work was often harassing, and from the poverty of the district the fees were necessarily small, or nothing at all, for he, in some cases, attended whole families all their lives without receiving, or indeed expecting a penny.' (pp. 101–2).
Jonathan Couch had his spiritual odyssey driven by anti-authoritarianism and the ideal of democratization founded on John Wesley's theology of personal salvation. He led those with Wesleyan leanings out of Talland parish church in 1814. He then led a body of independents out of Wesleyan Methodism, which he deemed to be falling into clericalization, to form the Wesleyan Methodist Association, later called the United Methodist Free Church.
By the time of Bertha's birth in 1860, there were in Polperro three Methodist denominations; the Wesleyan Methodists, the United Methodist Free Church schismatics, and the Bible Christians. Bertha and her sisters were reared in the UMFC. The Life provides an interesting insight.
'For many years a local preacher, his earnest discourses were listened to with much profit by his congregation. He did not, however, in later years go out of the town to preach, nor indeed enter the pulpit in his own chapel, but from his pew just under it was a common sight to see him with an arm round each of his little girls, who were kneeling or standing up on the seat, facing the people, and holding the Bible or hymn-book for him while he read, and then in the same position quietly watching the congregation while he preached.' (p.119).
One of these 'little girls' was Bertha herself.
On arriving in Penzance Richard, who would have been brought up in Wesleyanism, returned to Anglicanism. Thomas also returned to Anglicanism, although for much of his life was probably an agnostic. His family were brought up in the Anglican communion. John returned to Wesleyanism on arriving in Penzance. Bertha had Anglican connections and may have become an Anglican.
Bertha Couch's Life of Jonathan Couch, published in 1891, is the only biography of Jonathan Couch, if it can properly be called a biography, before Doctor by Nature by Jeremy Rowett Johns in 2010. Short accounts of Jonathan's life appeared in the History of Polperro, written by Jonathan Couch and edited for publication in 1871 by Thomas Q. Couch, and in the Dictionary of National Biography.
Bertha Couch's Life is a perplexing book. No-one reading it, unless independently informed, would guess Bertha to have been the oldest daughter of Jonathan Couch from his third marriage, or that the writer had lived in Polperro for ten to fifteen years.
Although Dr John Q. Couch of Penzance, Jonathan's youngest son from his second marriage, was still alive in 1891, he was obviously not consulted over the work. Nor were the children of Drs Richard and Thomas Q. Couch. Their names are absent from the list of subscribers.
1891 was only 21 years after the death of Jonathan Couch and many in Polperro would have remembered him. Yet only two individuals are named: the vicar of Talland who possessed the parish registers; and Edward G. Hocken who is described as a friend of Jonathan. According to J.R. Johns, Edward Geake Hocken was a retired Wesleyan minister, a friend and a near neighbour. (pp.131 & 140). Even here there is a mystery as no Wesleyan obituary of Hocken has as yet been discovered.
There are quotations from various local characters introduced by 'One old fisherman recently told me . . .' and '. . . she said to the friend who informed me . . .'. There are also rare passages of reminiscence, such as, 'I well remember his (Frank Buckland) hearty laugh when Mr. Couch took him into the long-room on the Lansallos side of the house. . . (where). . .two small children were busily engaged hanging out their dolls' clothes for a make-believe dry.' (p. 109). The two children were Sarah and Clarinda. The observer was Bertha, although she might just as well have been the servant or maid of Mr and Mrs Couch!
The Life presents the reader with a number of unanswered questions. It fails to say why or where it was written. Nor is there any indication of how long it took to research and write or what its sources were. The studied detachment is emphasised by the use of 'Mr. Couch' and 'Mrs. Couch' for the subject and his third wife. The last chapter, 'Polperro', suggests a village visited for the purpose of the biography rather than a place lived in by the writer. The problems are increased by a failure of Bertha to identify the market for the work, with an attempt to satisfy four incompatible interest groups: the general reader; the tourist; academics; and former correspondents and contacts of Jonathan.
Frontispiece and Preface
On opening the Life the reader is presented with a photograph of an aging Jonathan Couch, much as Bertha Couch would have remembered him, dressed in the clothes of a former time and sitting at a side-table on which rests a scientific instrument. In the left hand is possibly a pen and in the right sheets of paper. Jonathan Couch came from a time when clothes were made to last a lifetime, which they did. Q was a much more stylish dresser! In the bottom right corner 'HARE' is printed, possibly the name of the photographer, although Lewis Harding took many of Jonathan and the inhabitants of Polperro. Below the photograph is 'Yours truly, Jonathan Couch', his signature.
The picture is protected by a sheet of tissue, as is found in some of Q's early illustrated novels. Facing it is 'Life of Jonathan Couch, F.L.S., ETC., of Polperro, The Cornish Ichthyologist.' At the foot is the publisher and printer, 'LISKEARD: John Philp.'
The preface consists of three paragraphs, each a sentence in length. The first reveals the lack of focus which bedevils the work:
'Since Polperro has become so widely known, through the writings of Jonathan Couch on its history, and the manners and customs of its people, I have been persuaded that a short account of his life and labours would be acceptable to the many tourists who now visit that spot, as well as to those abroad with whom he corresponded, or to whom his name is well known.'
The second paragraph is rather defensive, as though expecting criticism:
'I therefore hope that they will lose sight of all faults and imperfections, in their interest and admiration of its subject.'
The final paragraph acknowledges the help of one individual, Edward G. Hocken. Why she had failed to contact individuals who had known Jonathan as a writer and a doctor is left unexplained.
The preface concludes with the date of completion, September 1891. Bertha would have been 32 years old, with her father's death 21 years before and her mother still living, having been married and widowed for a second time.
The publisher and printer was John Philp of Liskeard. Liskeard, St Ive, where the Daniel family lived and Launceston, where Bertha served as a governess, lie on the present A390. This was the road taken by Billy Pottery, after he had taken leave of Jack Marvel and Delia Killigrew, in Chapter XVIII of Q's The Splendid Spur. Bertha mentions the novel on page 151. Maybe it was the stimulus for the Life. Liskeard was also on the main line to London where Bertha appears to have been in 1891—as was Q.
The funding for the work came from subscriptions, with a list printed at the conclusion. The edition appears to have been a limited one with no second printing. As copies are not difficult to obtain second hand, a fair number must have been sold.
The preface is followed by the contents, which includes chapter numbers and a list of sub-headings, although these are only a rough guide to what the chapters contain. There are nine chapters, with a brief summary which is found in the contents, below the chapter number. Each page of each chapter has a heading, Life of Jonathan Couch on the left page and a subject heading on the right. However, the headings on the pages within the chapter bear little relation to the summaries given in the contents. For example, for Chapter II the summary on the contents page lists the following topics:
- Development of Natural History Tastes
- Hospital Life
- Settlement at Polperro
- First Literary Contributions
However, the headings given to the pages within the chapter itself are as follows:
- Sir Harry Trelawney
- Observations on Natural History
- The Quillers
- Old House
- First Literary Contributions
- Thomas Bewick
- Wesleyan Methodist Association
- Philip Cole
There is obviously the lack of a clear plan and an absence of editorial advice. There is no lack of information but it is presented unsystematically. The information on the Couch residence is particularly valuable; yet Bertha fails to say that it is the product of direct observation during her period of residence.
List of Subscribers
The book concludes with a list of 64 subscribers. The list is revealing. The first four are Queen Victoria, Princess Christian, the Duke of Fife and the Earl of Mount Edgcumb. When Jonathan Couch joined the East and West Looe Voluntary Artillery, the commission was signed and dated: Richard, Earl of Mount Edgecumbe, May 13, 1806. Jonathan would have been 15. There is no Trelawny, although Jonathan had been the medical adviser to Trelawne, and no Buller. Six listed are from overseas. 14 are from Polperro, a rather modest number, representing only ten families. There is not a single Couch except for Mrs Jonathan Couch of St Austell, Bertha's sister. Q did not or was not asked to subscribe, although in defence Brittain states: 'Q was overworking badly and in the autumn of 1891 he had a serious breakdown.' (p. 22). This breakdown coincided with the month of publication.
Some of the sources used for the Life are identifiable:
1. The History of Polperro (1871) by Jonathan Couch, edited by Thomas Q. Couch. Bertha Couch acknowledges use of material in her section on 'Local Superstitions' (p.87). She almost certainly consulted the list of Jonathan's publications.
2. An account of the life of Jonathan Couch and a shorter account of the life of Richard Q, Couch in the Dictionary of National Biography.
3. A virtually complete list of publications in Bibliotheca Cornubiensis of Boase and Courtney.
4. The Plymouth, Devonport, and Stonehouse Gazette of May, 1863 (p. 139).
5. The Transactions of the Royal Geographical Society of Cornwall and the Penzance Natural History and Antiquarian Society.
6. Talland parish registers
This leaves a substantial body of original material. Probable or possible sources include:
1. The memory of Sarah Couch of St Austell and any written records of Jonathan still in her possession.
2. Bertha's memory of her father.
3. Edward G. Hocken (see Preface and p. 129) and Dr Jonathan N. Hearder (see pp. 121–3 & Subscribers).
4. Various unnamed individuals.
The most valuable material is that not contained elsewhere, for instance that on the Quillers.
An Analysis of the Text
This section is included to help researchers locate specific information within the Life. It should also provide a useful summary.
Chapter I: Birthplace—Parentage—Early Life
Page 7. Location. The Couch family derive from Talland, a coastal parish of south-east Cornwall. It includes West Looe, Talland village and east Polperro.
Pages 8–10. Forebears. The first know reference to a Couch comes in a document of 1558. The direct line commenced with Samuel Couch who died in 1738. He left the farms of Terest and Portallow to Jonathan Couch, whose only son Richard, later a fish-merchant trading with Italy, was the father of Jonathan Couch, the subject of the biography. Jonathan Couch was born on March 15, 1789 in Polperro.
Pages 10–19. The early life of Jonathan Couch from his birth in 1789 unto his sighting of the Bellerophon, carrying Napoleon Buonaparte, as it sailed into Plymouth in 1815.
- The Rev. Sir Harry Trelawny of Trelawne
- The Rev. Moses Morgan of Bodmin Grammar School, which Jonathan attended much against his wishes
- John Rice of East Looe to whom Jonathan was articled
- Thomas Bond of East Looe, Captain of the East and West Looe Voluntary Artillery, of which Jonathan was a lieutenant. (See Q's novel The Mayor of Troy and the short story The Looe Die-Hards. See also a biographical sketch elsewhere on this website.)
Chapter II: Development of Natural History—Hospital Life—Settlement at Polperro—Marriage—First Literary Contributions
Page 24. Begins A Journal of Natural History.
Pages 24–5. 1808 to 1810, medical training at the combined medical school of Guy's and St Thomas in London.
- Rev. Sir Harry Trelawny
- Dr later Sir William Knighton
- Mr later Sir Astley Cooper, surgeon
Page 26. 1809, first publication in Monthly Literary Recreations.
1810, establishes a medical practice in Polperro.
Pages 27–8. Marries Jane Prynn Rundle of Portallow in Talland. She dies in childbirth, leaving a daughter.
Pages 28–30. First notes on 'Instinct' and animal intelligence.
Page 30. 1815, marries Jane Quiller, daughter of Richard Quiller, deceased, and granddaughter of John Quiller, deceased.
The Quillers of Polperro:
a. The last voyage of John Quiller aboard the Three Brothers, sailing from Roscoff.
b. The last voyage of John and Richard Quiller, brothers of Jane, sailing from Tenerife in 1812.
c. The 'sixth sense in nature' (see Castle Dor p.44) of the Quillers.
d. The Quiller house in Polperro into which Jonathan and Jane moved and in which Bertha was brought up.
e. The key of Richard's quadrant.
Pages 35–37. Publications in magazines and journals, 1816–38
Pages 37–43. Notes on the migration of swallows.
Pages 43. Contributions to the Transactions of the Linnaean Society.
Jonathan's importance to the History of Quadrupeds and British Birds by Thomas Bewick.
Pages 44–46. Helps to establish the Wesleyan Methodist Association, later the United Free Methodist Church, in opposition to Wesleyan Methodism.
Pages 46–47. Dr Adam Clarke D.D., and the Rev. Philip Cole
Chapter III: Election to Scientific Societies—Publication of the Cornish Fauna
Page 48. 1838, elected corresponding member of the Devon and Cornwall Natural History Society.
Elected, on the proposal of Davies Gilbert, P.R.S., a corresponding member of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall.
Pages 52–62. Scientific research and subsequent publications, 1838 to 1867.
Chapter IV: Publication of Illustrations of Instinct—Extracts from the Work—Friendship with Yarrell
Pages 63–73. Publication in 1847 of Illustrations of Instinct deduced from the Habits of British Animals.
Pages 73–74. Friendship with William Yarrell.
Pages 75–80. Notes and publications on various subjects.
Chapter V: Domestic Afflictions—Notes on Local Superstitions
Pages 81–82. 1857, the death of Jane Couch née Quiller.
The character of Jane Couch.
Pages 82–84. A Letter to Jane Couch from London where Jonathan was preparing for Richard's enrolment at Guy's Hospital, dated August 31, 1835.
Jonathan's associates in London, including William Yarrell, with whom he appears to have stayed, Brandsby Cooper, nephew of Sir Astley, Dr Hodgkin, Mr Daw and Mr Gray.
Pages 85–94. A selection of supernatural stories collected while on medical visits, most of which, but not all, he was able to explain. The unexplained appear in a paper Truth against all the World. (See also History of Polperro).
Chapter VI: Romantic Marriage—Home Life—Traits of Character
Pages 95–101. A defence of the third marriage of Jonathan, aged 69, to Sarah Roose, aged 22, on October 23, 1858.
Pages 101–104. Jonathan as a medical practitioner.
Pages 104–107. Local geology and the dispute regarding the classification of fossils.
Pages 107–110. Ichthyology
Pages 111–113. Observations on instinct and animal intelligence.
Chapter VII: Publication of a History of the British Fishes—Contributions to Magazines—Medals Received—Press Opinion—Illness—Death—Remarks on Immortality
Pages 114–116. Between 1862 and 1865 Jonathan published a History of the Fishes of the British Islands in four volumes and including 220 plates.
Page 116. 1866 Jonathan was elected corresponding member of the Zoological Society on the recommendation of Dr J.E. Gray, its president.
Pages 116–7. 1867 received an award from the Committee of the Exposition Internationale des Pesches at Archacon, near Bordeaux.
Pages 117–8. Papers contributed to the Intellectual Observer, one being 'Habits of the Diadem Spider' (see Castle Dor, p. 43).
Page 118. Dress
Page 119. Local Preacher. Lecturer.
Pages 120. Sir Jonathan Trelawny
Pages 120–125. Ecological concerns regarding fish stocks and habitat, Letter of Dr J. Hearder of Plymouth, 1870.
Pages 125. Character and interests.
Pages 129–132. Final illness, death on April 13, 1870, and burial at Mabel Burrow on April 18, 1870.
Pages 133–136. Methodology and philosophical reflections.
Pages 137–8. Couch's Reading Room., Polperro.
Chapter VIII: Mr Couch's Family
Pages 139–149. Dr Richard Q. Couch of Penzance, oldest son (1816–1863).
Page 149. Margaret Q. Couch, (1817–1858)
Page 149. Jonathan Couch (1820—still living in 1891).
Pages 149–150. Thomas Q. Couch of Bodmin, father of Q (1826–1884)
Arthur Q. Couch or Q.
Page151. The Couch doctors at Bodmin Assize.
Dr John Q. Couch, who strongly opposed the third marriage, is mentioned once (p. 150).
Chapter IX: Polperro after Jonathan Couch
Index of Names in Text
Bate, C. Spence, KCB
Bell, Prof. FLS
Bewick, Thomas, naturalist
Bond, Thomas, of Looe
Buckland, Frank, H.M. Inspector of Fisheries
Clarke, Dr Adam, D.D.
Cole, Mr, teacher at Llansallos and Pelynt
Cole, Rev. Philip,
Cooper, Sir Astley, surgeon
Franklin, Sir John of Erebus
9 & fn
Gilbert, Davies, M.P., P.R.S.
Gray, Dr J.E., President of the Natural History Section of the British Museum
Hearder, Dr Jonathan, of Plymouth
121 to 123
Jeffries, J. Gwyn, F.R.I.
Knighton, Dr, Later Sir William, London
95 to 97
Lawrence, medical practitioner, Liskeard
Milton, John, teacher of Pelynt
Morgan, Rev. Moses, teacher at Bodmin Grammar School,
14 to 16
Owen, Prof., later Sir Richard
105 to 107
Pengelly, Sir William
30 to 33, 35,82, 126 to 127
Rice, John, medical practitioner of East Looe
Roose family of Polperro
96 to 101
Trelawny family of Trelawne, Pelynt
14,21 to 25, 45,49 to 52, 76 to 78,120
Wesley, John & Charles, Methodism
10, 44 to 46, 49, 119
27, 73 to 75, 82 to 84
'The Quillers were sailors with scarcely an exception, and although said to be of French extraction, had been residents of Polperro for quite five generations.'
It appears that the Quillers were Huguenots who left France following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. They settled west of the Polperro river in Lansallos parish. Yet the sea was their true home. It is not surprising that they took up arms against France as privateers.
'All Mrs. Couch's male relatives were lost at sea.'
This is not quite correct. J.R. Johns has identified six male Quillers who lost their lives at sea and there was probably a seventh. This leaves two and possibly a third who did not, including a John Quiller, who was born in 1792, a year after Jonathan Couch, and who lived until 1863.
'Her grandfather was accidentally killed on board his ship during one of his voyages.'
Her grandfather was John Quiller. J.R. Johns gives him as baptised at Lansallos on the first of September, 1741. He married Jane Libby in 1763, with Richard as the first child. His second marriage was to Mary Perry in 1779. Johns gives him as drowned off the north coast of Cornwall, probably Penwith, in November 1804.
There can be little question that John Quiller was returning to Cornwall from the free port of Roscoff with contraband. Smugglers continued to use Roscoff in spite of the war. However, by 1891, when Bertha Couch wrote he Life, smuggling was no longer seen as acceptable and previous smuggling families drew a curtain of silence over former activities.
'Her father and uncle, John Quiller, were drowned with all their crew during a severe gale. Their ship, the Three Brothers, sailed from Polperro, and reached Roscoff in safety. When there, Mr. Quiller dreamed he was at sea, and that he came out through the bottom of the vessel. Feeling very low-spirited in consequence, he mentioned it to a Mrs. Magna, with whom he had been lodging, who advised him not to go to sea again in this ship. Mr. Quiller, saying he should be laughed at, sailed but was never more heard of. Mrs. Magna, on hearing that the vessel had been lost, wrote, telling of this circumstance to the friends at Polperro.'
Jane Couch's father was Richard Quiller. Johns gives his birth in 1763, his marriage to Mary Toms in 1784 and his death at sea in 1796. The above incident can be dated to 1796. Her uncle was John Quiller; who was born in 1771, was married to Mary Warne in 1795 and whose death Johns has been unable to date.
Johns informs us that the Three Brothers was a lugger owned by John Quiller and named after his three sons, Richard, William and John—all of whom lost their lives at sea. It was a smuggling craft which had been purchased from His Majesty's Customs and which the Custom's were hesitant to licence owing to John Quiller's reputation as a smuggler. This is not material Bertha Couch felt able to include in 1891, although she may not have been cognizant of the details.
The quotation reveals the close relationship between Roscoff and Polperro.
'Her two brothers, John and Richard Quiller, also lost their lives at sea. Sailing from Teneriffe, in an armed merchant ship, in the year 1812, they were never heard of again.'
Privateers frequently used armed merchant ships. Tenerife is in the Canary Islands and was owned by Spain. In 1812, Britain was at war with the U.S.A.
'For some years previously John Quiller had commanded an armed lugger, employed by the government in carrying dispatches during the war which arose out of the French Revolution. On one occasion being taken prisoner, after a severe fight, into Algiers, he, with his brother Richard, who had been serving under him, suffered great hardships before being set at liberty, returning to Polperro in a destitute condition.'
'Mr. Couch has recorded a remarkable coincidence in connection with their surrender, which I will give in his own words:
"John and Richard Quiller, brothers to my wife, were at sea, on board the Black Joke, a lugger hired in the service of the Government. Very early one morning, in the summer of 1810, Mrs. Quiller, their mother, was confident she saw her son John enter her bedroom as she lay in bed, and ask her something about getting up. She called to her two daughters and asked them when their brother came, and wondered much when they said they had not seen him, and that he was not at home. From the enquiries I made, it appears that Mrs. Quiller was resting with her face to the wall, against which the side of the bed was; so that had he really been in the room where she thought she saw him, from her position and that of the bed, it would not have been possible for her to catch a glimpse of him. It appears that on that very day, and as far as could be ascertained, at that very hour, they were taken by two French privateers and carried into Algiers. John, at that moment of surrender remarked, “How it would affect their mother!"’
Bertha Couch's Life contains a number of examples of this type of phenomena which must have come down to her from her father Presumably they came down to Q via Thomas. Bertha accompanies such phenomena with the caution:
'He [Jonathan] was not by any means a believer in the supernatural as talked of in village circles, neither gave credence to every tale he heard, but sifted such yarns until, as he said, he got to a "flesh and blood reason"; yet in this his own case, only recounted to one or two chosen friends, he accepted as comfort sent to his troubled mind the message brought by his young wife. [This was Jane, his first wife who died in 1810.] "I saw her standing by the bedside, looking more radiant than ever I had seen her in life, and in a voice as clear and distinct as possible, told me she was quite happy, happier than I could imagine." '
Bertha Couch relates other incidents of a similar kind which came to her from her father.
'There is a belief among seafaring people that during the process of drowning, or just as the spirit is leaving the body, it appears to those nearest and dearest—a belief which has led to many curious and extraordinary stories; but now and then there comes to our knowledge a circumstance illustrative of this which we are not able to reason out. One or two Mr. Couch himself noted down, and called "Truth against all the World", saying, "The following have been communicated to me as facts by very intelligent and respectable people. I entertain no doubts on the subject of the truth of these things; but why, and how these things are, I meddle not with." '
There follows an example from August 6th, 1818. J.M. Synge based his play Raiders to the Sea on a similar example taken from the west of Ireland. Q's biographer, Dr A.L. Rowse, gives a slightly different example in his autobiographical A Cornish Childhood. This is of a clock which had been presented to the family by a near relation who subsequently emigrated to South Africa as a miner. The clock had not worked for many years but suddenly and for no apparent reason started chiming wildly. It was later discovered that at the moment of the chiming the relative was being killed in a mining accident. Rowse possibly related the incident to Q when visiting The Haven at Fowey as a young man.
'Mrs. Quiller did not long survive her husband and sons . . . and on the marriage of Jane with Mr. Couch, he took up his abode in the old home of the Quillers . . . The rooms, several in number, are no two on the same level . . . In one of the bedrooms, the one overlooking the river, are two long cupboards, one on each side of the fire-place; in these, if the floor be taken up, will be found two recesses, deep, deep, down into the wall, which are generally supposed to have been used as hiding-places during the visits of the "press-gang" as they were termed, when able-bodied men were impressed into his Majesty's service whether they willed it or not; or have served as shelter for those who were being inquired for on account of their smuggling propensities. Nearly every house, in those days, had such hiding-places, where, too, a successful "run of goods" could be stored . . . The room underneath was known as the "parlour", and this became Mr. Couch's sanctum, where in reality he lived, thinking, writing,and occasionally receiving visits from persons of note.'
A description of the inside of the Quiller house can be found in various of Q's writings. In Memories and Opinions he says: 'Indoors by various levels past the living rooms and the doctor's study one climbed to a largish bedroom fitted with a wig-cupboard; in the floor were removable boards revealing a hole, in the past equally convenient (it was rumoured) for a fugitive from the press-gang or for storing a few kegs of smuggled brandy.' (page 4). Similar descriptions appear in Q's fictional writings. In the novel Nicky-Nan Reservist the house of the 'Old Doctor' is occupied by Nicholas Nanjivell and the Penhaligan family.
'The beams supporting the floor of the upper rooms on the Lansallos side of the house . . . consist of an oak tree, cut down, split into lengths, and laid across from wall to wall . . . On one of these beams hung a key, which everyone who knew that family looked on in awe . . . Mrs. Couch's father, Richard Quiller, before starting out on his last voyage, had hung the key of his quadrant on a nail there, with strong injunctions that no one should take it down until he returned to do so himself, which never happened.'
The story of the key of the quadrant hung from a beam appears in Q's first novel Dead Man's Rock, and in subsequent novels and short stories.
'One old letter, written by John Quiller, while commanding the Government lugger Black Joke, to his mother at Polperro, may be copied as an example of how he preserved everything.
Black Joke, Jan. 26, 1809
Dear Mother—I have settled all my accounts up to the 31st December.
I have received for my wages and prize-money one hundred and eighty pounds. I send by my sister fifty-six pounds in one pounds, and one hundred pounds in one bill, which I enclose in this. I have made a great profit fit out, and have got many little things, so I trust you wont think I have been in anywise extravagant. You may depend I sail as closely as possible. You will be so good as to write me when sister arrives home.
I called on Mr. Fillis, and he tells me he has not got the money; he tells me as soon as he gets it I shall have every farthing immediately. I shall call on him again if possible before I sail, and Aunt Dorothy will be able to get her money as soon as it is payable. My best respects to Aunt Dorothy and all friends, and my love and respects to you and my sister, and may the Lord protect you and comfort you in the sincere and earnest prayer of
Your ever Dutiful Son,
Dear Mother, I trust that this will meet with your approbation.
P.S.—Brother is well, and I think there is a great amendment in him and I trust at the end of the next cruise that he will so amend that it will make a man of him; as for behaviour, he behaves as well as I could wish for him, for a lad without spirit can be of no service. The Polperro men broke his spirits, and I'll do my endeavour that he shall break some of their heads. I am happy they are out of the ship. Mr. Smyth has promised to do something for brother, and as for the lieutenant I don't mind. '
The debt Q owed to his Quiller forebears is considerable. Firstly, there was his feel for the sea which appeared to be intuitive as much as learned. Nowhere does Q excel more than in his writings of the sea. Secondly, there is what he termed 'a sixth sense in nature'. Celtic peoples have this to a peculiar degree. The Couches possessed it but not to the extent of the Quillers. This gave him the advantage when dealing with writers of Celtic blood. In his published lecture on Thomas Traherne he says:
'Donne's forefathers were of Wales and spelt their name "Dwynne". The Herberts were lords over Pembroke, the Vaughans over Brecknockshire, Traherne a poor tradesman's son of Hereford. I distrust generalisations: but there would seem to be something here in "the Celtic spirit".' (Section II).
This has enabled him to deal with an aspect of Donne's life and character which appears to be beyond the competence of other and especially modern critics.
Q based his lecture on John Donne on The Life of John Donne by Izaak Walton. As Walton was born in 1593 and died in 1683 he had access to those who had known Donne personally. Q always liked to get as close to his subject as possible so as to ensure authenticity. There was an incident in the life of Donne that Walton explains in some detail but which modern commentators treat with embarrassment or ignore. Q saw the incident as important and one which mirrored incidents in the lives of the Quillers.
In section three of the printed lecture Q says:
'It was in Drury's employ, on an embassy to France, that Donne, in Paris, was visited by the apparition reported by Walton and always worthy to be mentioned because in this man it undoubtedly deepened the the mysticism so important to the rest of our story: the vision of his wife passing twice by him "with her hair hanging about her shoulders, and a dead child in her arms: . . . and am sure" said he, telling it to Drury? "that at her second appearing she stopped, and looked me in the face, and vanished." Sir Robert was so far shaken by Donne's earnestness that "he immediately sent a servant (home) to Drury House, with a charge to hasten back, and bring him word, whether Mrs Donne were alive: and, if alive, in what condition she was as to her health. The twelth day the messanger returned with this account—That he found and left Mrs Donne very sad, and sick in her bed; and that, after a long and dangerous labour, she had been delivered of a dead child. And, upon examination, the abortion proved to be the same day, and about the very hour, that Mr Donne affirmed he saw her pass by him in his chambour." '
(Q, Section III; Walton, pp. 19–20).
Q did not see the encounter with the apparition as marginal but as central to Donne's spiritual development. To avoid aspects of Donne's life and experience as inconvenient to contemporary commentators is to present a parody. Q also uses 'mysticism', a term anathema to many moderns. His series of lectures Some Seventeenth Century Poets, of which Donne is a part, explains the meaning and importance of mysticism and the mystical poets. In section one of Herbert and Vaughan he states that 'the Universe is not a Chaos but a Harmony'; it is not the product of chance, randomness and conflict. If it were, human knowledge would be a mirage. It is mysticism which grasps this 'Harmony' in direct experience, rather than just an idea, and unites it with the soul. All great poetry is at root mystical.
The section is also of interest in that it shows Q's distrust of the scientific method known as deduction or deductive inference, whereby a general law can be inferred from a series of individual observations: 'I distrust generalisations'. This is the reason why, as in lecture three, 'Traherne etc.', he always uses the term 'Darwinian hypothesis'. Q spans the arts and the science with remarkable dexterity. It is difficult to think of his parallel.
In 2020, my aunt died in Liskeard aged 109. She had been born in 1911, when Q was at the centre of Liberal politics in south-east Cornwall and was publishing This Royal Throne of Kings: a Children's Masque performed on the Coronation Day of King George V and the novel Brother Copas. She could remember men joining up for the army in 1914, possibly as a result of Q's recruitment activities.
Q died in 1944, the same year as Clarinda Sherwood, Jonathan Couch's last child (b.1867), and two years after the death of Bertha Couch. Bertha was about 81 or 82, having been born in 1860. She lived long enough to see Hitler, in 1941, re-enact the failed strategy of Napoleon, which her father had witnessed, of an abortive invasion of Britain and a disastrous invasion of Russia. In Chapter I of the Life, Bertha relates the early memories of her father which she heard in the 1860s and committed to paper in 1891.
Jonathan's memory took him back to Britain's war with Republican France: the great frost of 1795 which enabled the French to invade Holland; the Mutiny in the Fleet of 1797; and the Battle of the Nile in 1798. In M. Arzell, who taught him Latin at the behest of the Rev. Sir Harry Trelawny, he had direct contact with the French Revolution.
The Life takes us back further still by giving details from a previous generation. We learn of the visits to Polperro of John Wesley, apparently on September 1, 1762, and September 16, 1768; and the building of a Methodist chapel through the efforts of Zebedee Minards and Richard Couch, Jonathan's father. There is also a record of Dr Adam Clarke, D.D., preaching in a house at Llansallos Street. This must have been between August 28, 1784, and August 27, 1785, when Clarke was ministering in the St Austell Methodist circuit.
Information contained in Chapter` I and II of the Life reveals a wealth of knowledge about the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries which must have come to Bertha from her father during the first ten years of her life, even if at the time it was not fully understood. The information is accurate, as far as it goes, even if specific details are missing.
The most useful historical information from this early time relates to the Quiller family. Much of it can be found nowhere else, although some can be verified from other sources. This information not only provides material about a family important to Q, it also gives an insight into how people in Polperro thought and acted. Q inherited from the Couches certain specific faculties; from the Quillers he inherited very different ones. His writings owe a profound debt to both.
The Couch family provides us with valuable information on the transmission of oral history through the generations. Bertha Couch died in 1942 at the age of eighty-one or two, having been born in 1860. Her father died in 1870, having been born in 1789. Two generations cover 153 years. Jonathan's father, Richard Couch, had been born in 1739 and his mother Philippa Minards in 1744. Three generations cover 203 years. With Q, who died in 1944, 205 years cover four generations.
Richard Couch 1739–1823
Jonathan Couch 1789–1870
Thomas Couch 1826–1884 Bertha Couch 1860–1942
Arthur Quiller-Couch 1863–1944
Although there were four generations from Richard to Q, Thomas was a prominent folklorist and local historian. Material relating back to him can be clearly discerned in the novels and short stories of Q. We can see how and what material was transmitted and what was discarded.
Although such periods of time will seem remarkable to those unfamiliar with oral history in traditional societies, it is worth pointing out that when the Cornish language play Beunans Meriasek or the Life of St Meriasek was written for performance in 1504, it contained references dating back over a thousand five-hundred years to 'Cassivellaunus', the British chieftain who had opposed Caesar's second invasion of Britain in 54 BC.
If New Testament scholars were to take the Couches as a model, someone born at the time of Jesus of Nazareth could have had a child still living in AD 150 and a grandchild living in AD 200. Even if the longevity of the Couches is rare, and moderns tend to live longer than ancients, it is not singular. St Antony was born c251 and died in 356. St Athanasius wrote his Life shortly afterwards. Antony's disciple Macarius the Egyptian died c390. This spans one hundred and forty years. It is curious that New Testament scholars in particular and bible scholars in general show little interest and no understanding of oral transmission. It is not surprising that in his writings on the Bible Q never mentions what is termed Bible scholarship.
1860: Birth of Bertha Couch at Polperro, daughter of Dr Jonathan Couch and his third wife, Sarah Lander Roose
1862: Birth of Sarah Roose Couch, Bertha's sister
1867: Birth of Clarinda Couch, Bertha's sister
1870: Death of Dr Jonathan Couch
1871: Sarah Couch, Bertha, and her sisters visitors at the home of the Daniels in St Ive, Callington Bertha's aunt and uncle
1880: Sarah Couch married James Lean, registrar of births, deaths and marriages at Tywardreath, St Austell
1881: Bertha's mother, Mrs James Lean at High Elms Registry Office, Tywardreath, with James Lean and Clarinda Couch, scholar
Bertha Couch a governess in the Eyre household at Launceston
No census record found for Bertha's sister Sarah Roose Couch. At Devonport?
Sarah's future husband, Jonathan Couch, at Devonport
1882: Death of James Lean, Bertha's stepfather
C 1884: Marriage of Bertha's sister, Sarah Roose Couch to Jonathan Couch, Master Mariner of St Austell
1885: Birth of Bertha's niece, Winifred Kate Couch at Stoke Damerel, Devonport
1886: Birth of Bertha's nephew, Leonard Couch, at St Austell
1889: Birth of Bertha's nephew, Jonathan Couch, at St Austell
1891: Bertha a visitor in the Mors household, Paddington
Mrs Lean and Clarinda, single, at 195 High Road Willesden, Middlesex
Sarah Roose Couch at Union Road, Mount Charles St Austell, with her three children and a servant. Jonathan Couch most likely at sea
1895: Bertha's brother-in-law Jonathan Couch initiated as a freemason at St Austell
1897: Marriage of Clarinda Couch to Henry James Sherwood, builder, at St Simon, Hammersmith. Witnesses: Bertha Couch, sister and Sarah Lean, mother
Mrs Lean and Clarinda, and possibly Bertha, are by that time living at 5 Camden Gardens, Hammersmith
1901: Bertha (a nurse) in the household of Captain Burgess at Devonport
Mrs Sarah Lean is still at 5 Camden Gardens, Hammersmith
Clarinda and Henry Sherwood are at 31, Westwick Lane, Hammersmith
Sarah Roose Couch is at Randall Road, Mount Charles, St Austell with her children:
Winifred Kate, 16; Leonard, 16; and Jonathan, 12
1911: Bertha (a nurse) in the household of Herbert Cohen, Paddington, London
Clarinda and Henry Sherwood and Sarah Lean at Bashley, New Milton, Hants
Sarah Roose Couch at Polcou, Ranelagh Road, St Austell, with Jonathan Couch, head, Master Mariner; Winifred Kate, 26, single and Jonathan, 22, single, solicitor's clerk
1919: Death of Clarinda's husband Henry James Sherwood at Dibden Purlieu, Hants
1921: Marriage of Clarinda to the Rev. Frank Tatlow Fogerty, at Southampton
1923: Death of Bertha's mother, Mrs Sarah Lean at Diben Purlieu, Hants
1924: Death of Jonathan Couch, husband of Sarah Roose Couch at Polcou, Ranelagh Rd, St Austell.
1923–40: Bertha returned to Cornwall\
Clarinda and Frank Fogerty moved to Goxhill Lincs.
1939: Jonathan Couch, Bertha's nephew who married Alice Harriet Lang, is a solicitor living in Newquay and has two children: Jonathan and one other
1942: Death of Bertha Couch at Lanjeth, Bolenna, Perranporth
1944: Death of Clarinda Fogerty at The Vicarage, Goxhill, Lincs.
Clarinda interred with Henry James Sherwood and Sarah Lean, at All Saints, Dibden Purlieu, Hants
1945: Death of Sarah Roose Couch at Newquay