Reflections on Hocken and Hunken


Q was never a great exponent of the Greek idea of the unity of time and place in works of literature. His first novel, Dead Man’s Rock, begins and ends near Coverack on the Lizard peninsula, but covers a period of nearly 30 years and includes places as distant as Ceylon and London. Sir John Constantine also begins and ends on the Lizard, but much of the action takes place on Corsica in the western Mediterranean. Poison Island commences at Falmouth in 1813 and ends three years later on an island in the Gulf of Mexico. Hocken and Hunken is different. There is unity of place as all the action takes place within the parish boundary of Troy. The time span is about 15 months.

Q wrote Hocken and Hunken at The Haven in Fowey which he had purchased in 1892. It was built in 1877, standing between the main street and the waters of the harbour. The gardens gave him a view encompassing the plot’s location. The climax of the novel is Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebration of June 1896, which in Fowey Q helped to organise. The plot is centred around the harbour and the regulation of shipping, something Q was very much involved with in the port.

Style and Structure

All Q’s novels appear to have been meticulously planned before he sat down to write the first chapter. Hocken and Hunken is no exception. As an artist who sketches a picture in pencil before adding the colour, Q had a clear idea of what each chapter would consist of. He dated each, with the plot moving progressively from April 1896 to June 21, 1897.

Such an approach prevents rambling and over-extending, but it also inhibits an organic growth from within and characters gaining a life of their own. However, Q was not concerned in his writings with exploring inner states of consciousness but with character revealed in action. There is no Hamlet in the novel. The characters in Hocken and Hunken are sure of themselves in a society whose structures are secure.

In this Q was reflecting the period. The change came, and it was sudden and shattering, with the war in 1914. Today, Hocken and Hunken can be seen as the product of a very different world, with different beliefs and values. The characters move to another rhythm. There is no television; there are no cars; Mr Rogers is seen as innovating for keeping a ‘type-writing machine’ (p.13); and no-one is anxious about weapons of mass destruction or ecological catastrophe. Yet there are continuities: people are born and die, with Philp attending all the funerals in the parish (p.12); clay is still exported and products imported; and the surrounding area supports agriculture.

To appreciate Hocken and Hunken it is necessary to see the novel for what it is, the product of a particular age. Q’s intention was to write a story that entertained, carrying the reader at a regular pace from beginning to end. He was not interested in exploring psychological states, pathological tendencies, or the nature of fate, nor was he imposing upon the reader a theory such as Marxism or Freudianism. Class conflict is noticeably absent, there is no Christian heroine, depression and sordidness are absent. Good and evil are present—Q is not creating a romanticised idyll as in Troy Town—but they are of human proportions as experienced in everyday life by the majority of people in the majority of places.

The novel can be seen as an extension of his grandfather’s science. It is anti-speculative and is concerned with observed fact and not theory.

Q is often noted for the quality of his style. His Cambridge lectures had a clarity and a lucidity which must have made them a pleasure to listen to irrespective of the content. They are also a pleasure to read. The lucidity of his novels is both a pleasure and a problem.

A feature of his writing is that every word matters. It is easy to be carried along from chapter to chapter only to discover that one has lost the plot. For instance, the first two chapters are not so much about Troy harbour and Mr Toy’s barber shop, as the foundation stone for the rest of the novel. There is little that happens in the following 26 chapters unrelated to them. Then in Chapter III the reader meets John Rogers and Fancy Tabb, with Mrs Bosenna making an entrance in the first paragraph of Chapter IV. These chapters need to be read with considerable attention if the rest of the novel is to make full sense.

Hocken and Hunken has the advantage over a number of Q’s other novels in that the characters appearing at the start make the cast for the rest of the work. The conclusion of the novel resolves the dramatic potential of each. This is very different from, for instance, Shining Ferry where John Rosewarne takes centre stage in the first few chapters only to disappear with his death and to be replaced by his previously unknown son, a much less interesting person. This point emphasises the importance of the early chapters of Hocken and Hunken.

The novel creates dramatic tensions between various characters:

  • the captains in relation to Mrs Bosenna
  • Mrs Bosenna in relation to the two captains and Farmer Middlecoat
  • John Rogers and Mr Philp
  • John Rogers and the Tabbs
  • Fancy Tabb and Palmerston Burt

These tensions are fully or partly resolved by the end of the novel. Mrs Bosenna marries Farmer Middlecoat and the captains are reconciled. John Rogers is rendered innocuous by a second stroke. The relationship between Fancy and Palmerston matures.

This contrasts with novels such as The Splendid Spur where the long-term nature of the relationship between Jack Marvel and Delia Killigrew is left uncertain as Marvel rejoins the Royalist army as it marches into Devon and Killigrew sails back to Brittany. In the novella Ia, Ia Rosemundy emigrates leaving Paul Heathcote and Joel Spargo. The novel The Ship of Stars ends with the strange statement by Honoria about Taffy Raymond: ‘He is lost to me, but I possess him.’ Hocken and Hunken is a complete work in a way the others are not.

In 1929, the Duchy Edition of Hocken and Hunken appeared, 17 years after the publication of the first edition. 1929 was very different from 1912 and Q was a very different man. The Duchy Edition, as has been stated elsewhere contains prefaces which should be treated with caution. They can be revealing and misleading in relation to the original intention.

In 1912, Q was a successful novelist with a secure income, a family man with a daughter at home and a son at Oxford, and a respected member of the Cornwall Education Committee and various bodies in Fowey. He was also a member of the political party in power whose radical agenda had been released, or appeared to have been so, by the Parliament Bill of 1911. A National Insurance Bill, which looked forward to the Welfare State, quickly followed. Peace and progress seemed inevitable.

In 1929, Q had gone through the 1914-18 war, had witnessed his son dying of ‘flu in 1919, and had seen the Liberal Party commit suicide. He was no longer a writer of creative fiction but a very successful Professor of English Literature commenting on the works of others.

A.J.P. Taylor in English History, 1914-1945 designates the period from 1927 to 1929 as a ‘Golden Age’, an illusion soon to be dispelled. ‘The younger generation had escaped the war and supposed there would never be another.’ (p. 260). In the general election of 1929, Labour became the largest single party with hopes of taking up the radical baton which the Liberal Party had carried with spasmodic success before the war. Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative leader, in contrast to A. J. Balfour, accepted the right of a non-Conservative party to govern, and politics showed a ‘tendency towards conciliation and agreement’ (p. 278) as against antagonism and confrontation.

Between the wars Q came to know Baldwin well, especially after Baldwin was elected Chancellor of the University and supported Q’s reforms of the English Tripos. Q’s biographer, Rowse, never forgave Q for this! The prefaces to the Duchy Edition of 1929 show a tendency for the hard edges and pointed attacks of the pre-war novels to be side-stepped and rationalized, showing a ‘tendency towards conciliation and agreement’ against antagonism and confrontation. Q had changed, but so had the market. The concerns of 1896-7, outlined in Hocken and Hunken, seemed distant and irrelevant. In the preface to the Duchy Edition Q wrote:

‘Captains Hocken and Hunken, to be sure, have little to complain of, since their story has run into several editions . . . Still it comes near to annoying me when people praise Troy Town; which to the author . . . seems unworthy to rank with the little comedy set out in the following pages: . . .’

In 1929, Q was happy to present Hocken and Hunken  as a ‘little comedy’, possibly he had little choice. However, ‘little comedy’ seems more appropriate to Troy Town. Hocken and Hunken would not have been seen as a ‘little comedy’ to merchant seamen of overloaded boats in 1896-7. Nor to their families and the Palmerston Burts in Tregarrick workhouse. Nor again would the influence of businessmen like John Rogers on school boards to those interested in the development of education. As Q was personally involved in shipping and educational matters, he would have known this perfectly well.

Hocken and Hunken is one of Q’s most successful products. It is beautifully written, is full of dramatic tension of a realistic kind and ends with the tensions resolved. Although there may be a few weaker scenes, these are few indeed. Q is right to see it as superior to Troy Town.

The Natural World in the Novel

Dr Thomas Couch of Bodmin, Q’s father, had been trained in botany by his father, Dr Jonathan Couch, F.L.S., of Polperro. Thomas was taught how to observe and tabulate, a skill as valuable to a doctor as to a botanist. Jonathan taught the importance of placing observed fact before theory and of avoiding making the fact fit the theory. Jonathan saw the rationality of the universe as an observable fact. The idea of a chance universe he dismissed as pure theory.

Before going to Guy’s hospital in London for medical training in 1849, Thomas produced The Botany of Polperro and its Neighbourhood and The Botanical Register for Polperro, both of which can now be found in the journals of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society for 1848. The Botanical Register for Polperro contains a list of 273 separate botanical items. (See the study ‘The Scientific Thinking of Dr Thomas Quiller Couch’.)

On leaving London in 1852 to establish a medical practice in Bodmin, Thomas continued with his botanical studies, as far as time allowed. In Memories and Opinions, Q reflects how as a surgeon to the Royal Cornwall Rangers Militia, he would take advantage of rifle-practice on Cardinham Moors to wander off ‘to search with his pocket microscope for bog plants, or to explore some moorland pool for fresh-water shells’ (p. 15). Yearly from 1864 to 1875 the journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall published his 'On the Observation and Record of Natural Periodic Phenomena; with a Calendar Kept at Bodmin’.

Q was brought up to see the natural world as external phenomena, ordered and regular, which can be objectively observed; not as an extension of the emotions, sentiments or mystical intuitions of the observer. Q did not dismiss emotion and intuition, espousing a cold scientific rationalism or scientism. He refused to confuse separate faculties— the intellectual, the emotional and the mystical.

Q was a very specific type of writer which should not be confused with other types of writer. Maybe he is not a writer capable of being appreciated by all. Commentators should not criticise Q because he fails to pander to their confusions and contradictions. To assess Q we have to take him, at least initially, on his own terms. Part of this is realising the importance of a family tradition: in science.

The influence of Thomas Q. Couch is clearly discernible in Hocken and Hunken. The reader learns that on the cliff below Rilla Farm, polypodium vulgare, white flowering arabis, yellow flowering alyssum and purple flowering aubretia grow in profusion. Q was knowledgeable of the scientific and popular names, the type of flower and the appropriate location. Such plants do not favour the garden of Harbour Terrace or the kitchen garden of Rilla Farm. In the stream below the cliffs the trees are alder. The reader only has to contrast this accuracy and precision against the diffuseness and glosses of most writers of fiction.

It would be instructive to compare Q with Thomas Hardy. Hardy’s understanding of the natural world was instinctive, rooted in a timeless consciousness— now largely lost. If Hardy saw a fox entering a covert, he would intuitively know where it would exit. Q would not, although he mixed with country people who would. Hardy’s grasp of nature is darker than Q’s, looking back to a pre-Christian era. Q retained his Anglicanism as Hardy abandoned his. Yet Q was aware of spiritual darkness, equating it with the irrational and the corybantic. This comes out in the ‘Baal-fire Night’ in Chapter XVII of The Ship of Stars and in Chapter II of Dead Man’s Rock. A belief in scientific order, tabulated observation and reasoned explanation underlay his thinking— not chance, fate or unguided intuition. Where the irrational was encountered it should be acknowledged and left alone. This is the position of his grandfather, Jonathan Couch.

In Hocken and Hunken, evil is the calculated avarice of John Rogers at the chandlery. The natural world is essentially benign. Storm and shipwreck are aberrations, not the standard condition. Men bring themselves to woe through carelessness or avarice, not because of the power of fate or malignant chance, or because the universe is a roulette wheel.

Q’s understanding of a rational and benign cosmos came down to him from his grandfather.  What Jonathan and Thomas illustrated in their scientific studies, Q illustrates in his novels, although the novels provide a broader context for development. It is essential in seeing the science and the literature as the product of one creative vision not two. The current idea of science being the central concern and literature a form of divertissement is seen as shallow and flawed.


Botanical References

Page 83: Harbour Terrace, Troy

  • nicotianas: tobacco plant, poisonous
  • lemon verbenas: verbenaceae

Page 47: Rilla Cliff and Valley

  • Polypodium vulgare: fern
  • arabis: cress, white crucifer
  • alyssum: Alison, yellow crucifer
  • aubretia: rock plant having purple or pink flowers in spring

Page 50: Rilla Farm Gardens

  • daffodils
  • euonymous fence: Spindle-tree, Celastraceae
  • lemon verbena: Verbenaceae
  • mignonette: Mignonette family, Resedaceae
  • Sweet William: Pink Family, Dianthus barbatus
  • Brompton stocks: Cabbage family, probably Hoary Stock, Matthiola incana
  • blue delphiniums: Delphinium genus
  • white Madonna lilies: Liliaceae

Pages 200, 227 & 299: Rilla Farm, Rose Garden

  • hybrid perpetuals, teas and hybrid teas are suited to soil and climate
  • Provence cabbage rose
  • Crimson Damask
  • Commandant Beaurepaire, striped rose
  • moss-roses, pink and white
  • China rose, blooming into January
  • Marechal Niel
  • Banksian, scented: south facing wall
  • Rosa Devoniensis, climber
  • Rose hedge – Wichurianes, Penzance sweet briar
  • Banksian, honey-coloured and scentless & white & violet, scented
  • Provence
  • China, climber
  • Moschata alba, shell pink
  • Damask, crimson and striped
  • Paul Neyron, large flowers
  • moss-roses    
  • Gloire de Dijon, climber
  • Gloire, pink
  • Reine Maria Henriette, poor quality
  • Devoniensis, climber
  • La France, silver rose
  • Ulrich Brunner, cherry rose

Social Background

On May 25, 1916, an Act imposing immediate and compulsory military service received Royal Assent. The Labour Party, with its four million organised workers and Liberals in working-class seats, opposed the legislation. Academic historians who claim the war in 1914 to have been universally popular, displaying fervent crowds in London, give a far from accurate picture. Many working people were indifferent or opposed.

The Act confirmed a fact which Q must have become aware of from his recruitment activities in September 1914: large numbers of men of military age had to be turned away as unfit for military service. In Q’s novel Nicky-Nan Reservist of 1915, set in Polpier or Polperro, Royal Naval Reserve Man Nicholas Nanjivell received his ‘NOTICE TO MEN OF ROYAL NAVAL RESERVE TO JOIN THE ROYAL NAVY’ from the Registrar of Naval Reserve at Troy, dated to August 2, 1914. However, he obtains a certificate of exemption from Dr Mant of St Martins because of a growth on the leg. (East Looe was traditionally in the parish of St Martins.) Nanjivell was probably one of many Mant certified.

For many years, surveys, including one into the health of miners in Penwith by Dr Richard Q. Couch, Q’s uncle, had drawn attention to endemic problems in working-class communities. Low wages, inadequate food, insanitary housing conditions and dangerous working practices had resulted in poor general health. Q’s father, Dr Thomas Q. Couch of Bodmin, spent years fighting Bodmin council over open sewers in the lower part of the town.

Yet advances had been made, however inadequate. In 1897, Joseph Chamberlain guided through Parliament the Workmen’s Compensation Act, ensuring that industry compensated workers for industrial injuries, although exempted were seamen, domestic servants and agricultural labourers. Seamen and domestics employed by the likes of John Rogers and the labourers on Rilla Farm remained exposed.

In 1884 and 1894, local government acts introduced locally elected bodies to oversee public health and sanitation. Troy (or Fowey) would have been divided into health districts under a vaccinator, who reported on incidents of disease. A report by Dr John Q. Couch of Penzance, who died in 1900, is discussed in a study elsewhere on this website. Polperro was one district. Epidemics such as those described by Q in the novella Ia were becoming rarer and nothing similar is mentioned in Hocken and Hunken. Yet polio, for instance, continued into the 1960s, one case being known to this writer.

A royal commission on London government, with Leonard Courtney as chairman, issued its Report in 1895. Q knew Courtney of Penzance well and dedicated to him the novel of 1899, The Ship of Stars. In the dedication Q wrote: ‘a novel ought to be true to more than fact: and if this one come near its aim, no one will need to be told why I dedicate it to you.’

In 1902, the Balfour Education Act brought education committees under council control with the stipulation that their membership be in part co-opted from outside the council, hence Q’s involvement. At the time Hocken and Hunken was set, advances were being made in the areas of health, sanitation and education, and with the Adulteration Acts also in food.

Progress, however, was slow and spasmodic, particularly in the opinion of political radicals like Q, and this especially affected mining and industrial areas. Unlike Camborne, Redruth and the clay  moors of St Austell, Fowey or Troy did not suffer from the worst problems, yet a close reading of Q’s text reveals problems enough.

Most obviously were the exclusions from the Workmen’s Compensation Act. The mother of Palmerston Burt would still have had to send him to the workhouse following the drowning of her husband even after 1897. Workhouse adolescents were cheap labour with few rights for the likes of John Rogers. Palermerston was fortunate in coming under the two captains and not Rogers.

Palmerston arrived in Troy dressed in workhouse garb which necessitated hasty redressing by Fancy Tabb. Mrs Bowldler is not initially impressed by Palmerston, knowing him to be a workhouse boy. She declares: ‘if he don’t spit blood ‘tis a mercy!’ (P.76). She assumes T.B. or consumption as it was then called, to be endemic in workhouses. When Tobias questions his health, he pokes out his tongue, something he had had to do at the workhouse. Q’s father probably at times had to inspect the residents of Bodmin workhouse and inspect the tongue for early signs of disease. Even to the smallest detail Q is authentic.

John Rogers obtained individuals from the workhouse when required: ‘They’re cheap. . . If they don’t show promise after a fortni’t’s trial, she (Fancy) sends’em back’ (p.20). Rogers did not obtain Fancy from that source, although his employment probably saved her from such a fate. Elijah Tabb and John Rogers had been involved in a speculation that went wrong. Elijah was virtually forced to sell himself and his daughter to Rogers thereafter, he as a ‘shopdrudge’ at the chandlery and she as a servant. Speaking to Mrs Bowldler Fancy remarked: ‘beggary. . .Mr Rogers din’ leave him there. . .We’ve enough to eat.’ (p. 149). Fancy was in effect employed for 24 hours a day with two hours off in the afternoon for her health, ‘as a concession’.

In 1896–7, hunger and the fear of hunger still existed. Having enough to eat and to fuel work was still the primary concern of working people. It drove attractive young women to marry richer, older men. It led others to emigrate. Photographs still exist of Redruth station crowded with emigrants. It probably led many to enlist in 1914, or try to enlist.

Elijah Tabb had come down in the world, but so had Mrs Bowldler. She was a middle-aged woman who had known better days and lived in their memory. Working for the captains was a lifeline. As she appears to have had no children from her marriage, old age threatened destitution. Not until 1908 did old age pensions at 5s a week for those over 70 with an income of under 10 shillings come into being. Prior to 1908, many lower working-class couples in Cornwall regarded pregnancy as a pre-condition to marriage, as it provided the only insurance against destitution. Even Jonathan Couch’s first wife, Jane Prynn Rundle, in 1810, was pregnant before the marriage took place. 


Hocken and Hunken provides the reader with an historically accurate picture of shipping during the 1890s. This was a time of transition from wind and sail to coal and eventually oil. Both Hocken and Hunken owned sailing vessels which appear to have engaged mostly in coastal trading. They first met at Rotterdam seventeen years before the opening of the novel, therefore about 1879. When they try to sell their boats in 1896, they find buyers hard to come by.

The Royal Navy had already made the transition from wood and sail to coal and steam. When the novel was being written Britain was investing in a fleet of Dreadnoughts, fast, heavily gunned and hugely expensive. At the Naval Review off Spithead in 1911, ‘165 warships were on view, including eight dreadnoughts and 24 battleships, the most formidable fleet ever mustered anywhere in the history of the world’. (Owen, p. 210).

One of those on board was probably the grandfather of the present writer, Herbert Hurrell, who came from the village of Antony where Q in part set Harry Revel and Poison Island. Also present was the Kaiser, who foolishly turned a friend into a foe, with disastrous consequences for Germany, by wishing to emulate the British fleet although his country was essentially a land power. Since the days of the Dutch Wars, which acted as the background for The Blue Pavilions, Britain had demanded naval supremacy in the English Channel and the North Sea as security against invasion.

It is unlikely that John Rogers, virtually on the point of death at the time of the Jubilee, Peter Benny, white-haired and ageing, and the two captains would still have been alive at the time of the Naval Review; but that cannot be said of Mr and Mrs Middlecoat of Rilla Farm or Fancy and Palmerston Burt, maybe of the Troy chandlery. The longest surviving son of Jonathan Couch’s second marriage, Dr John Q. Couch of Penzance, was alive in 1896-7, but died in 1900. However, the three daughters of the third marriage were still alive in 1911.

When Q looked down on Fowey harbour while writing Hocken and Hunken, he would have seen many boats under sail. The difference from 1896-7, when he was still a newcomer to the town, was that few if any were ocean-going traders. During his early residence he would have viewed the death of sail for the purposes of trade. The age of his Quiller forebears had come to a close. Their trading, legitimate and illegitimate, was by the 1890s but a memory lingering in the minds of the oldest inhabitants.

Q’s stories are full of sail and the sea. Steam and the sea are virtually absent from his pages. He was fortunate in catching the very end of the old world, one stretching back to the arrival of the Greek and Phoenician traders from before the time of Christ. If Jesus had visited ports such as Tyre and Sidon he might have spoken to those familiar with the estuary Q looked down upon from The Haven.

Although sail might have departed with the final mooring of the Hannah Hoo and the I’ll Away, Fowey remained a busy port throughout Q’s lifetime because from it china clay was exported around the world. When Caius Hocken and Tobias Hunken stood on Higher Parc with Mrs Bosenna, in Chapter XII, they would have seen to the north-west expanses of glittering white. This was the clayscape of Hensbarrow, later celebrated in the poems and novels of Jack Clemo of Goonamarris.

Instead, they looked east, down to the jetties, where kaolin was being unloaded from the industrial rail-line and transferred to waiting ships; whose cargoes of timber and coal had already been transferred to land. Q gives this as a scene from 1896, yet 1886 or 1876 might have been more appropriate.

 ‘The slope at their feet hid the jetties – or all save the tops of the loading-cranes: but out in mid-stream lay the sailing vessels and steamships moored at the great buoys, in two separate tiers, awaiting their cargoes. Of the sailing vessels there were Russian, with no yards to their masts, British coasters of varying rig, Norwegians, and one solitary Dutch galliot. But the majority flew the Danish flag— your Dane is fond of flying his flag, and small blame to him!— and these exhibited round bluff bows and square-cut counters with white or varnished top-strakers and stern-davits of timber.

To the right and seaward, the eye travelled past yet another tier, where a stumpy Swedish tramp lay cheek-by-jowl with two stately Italian barques – now Italian-owned but originally built in Glasgow for traffic around the Horn – and so followed the curve of the harbour out to the channel, where sea and sky met in a yellow flood of potable gold.’ (p. 125–6).

(45 years later Q possibly stood on Home Parc to see the sky aflood with fire and light from the bombing of Plymouth).

The scene above is idyllic and from an idyllic time in British history. Even so, Q knew from his work as Chairman of the Commissioners of Fowey Harbour, chairman of the Sub-Commissioners of Pilotage for the Fowey District and president of the Fowey Mercantile Association that it had a darker side as well. Q is a unique novelist in his intimate knowledge of shipping and the work of harbours. The shoaling of the harbour bottom through discharges of ballast from the likes of the Pure Gem may seem a fact of fleeting importance to most readers. To those who use harbours it is as serious as rubbish on a motorway to a car driver. And Q knew where the ultimate blame lay— with the harbour master for not enforcing the Harbour Commissioners’ bye-laws.

Q was also aware of how boats were owned and sailed, the dangers of speculation and the endemic problem of corruption for the sake of profit. Elijah Tabb had been reduced to near destitution through speculating with John Rogers. John Rogers, once a very successful shipowner, had been reduced to one vessel, the Saltypool, which ran overloaded and uninsured. Again, the failure of the harbour master to prevent overloading, a fact obvious from the Plimsoll markings on the hull, was a serious matter, costing lives and boats. Rogers had been used to Quaymaster Bussa closing his eyes to the problem and the Harbour Board following his lead. When Tobias Hunken endeavours to lobby the Harbour Board to get the Commissioners to act, John Rogers confronts him. (Chapter XXII).

In Shining Ferry, Q gives us a picture of a reputable ship owner in John Rosewarne and his clerk Peter Benny. When Rosewarne looked down onto the harbour from his home at Hall, shortly before he died, most of the ships belonged to him. Rogers was of the next generation, fulfilling Rosewarne’s prophecy to Peter Benny:

‘I’d like to lend you a book of Darwin’s. . . You may help a man for the use you can make of him, but in the end every man’s your natural enemy.’

Rosewarne sees The Origin of Species as the ‘biggest book of this century, and a new gospel for the next to think out.’ Benny is shocked: ‘A terrible gospel, sir!’ (p. 7)

By the 1890s, Peter Benny had lived long enough to see Rosewarne’s words come true in the shape of John Rogers.

Q’s novel Hocken and Hunken gives the contemporary reader an insight into shipping before the Shipping Act of 1906. It is historically valuable in addition to being fictionally entertaining. It contains a living reality which the history book is unable to provide.


Rilla Farm, the home of Samuel Robert Bosenna and his Holsworthy wife, gives an accurate picture of farming in the 1890s. Rilla Farm can be identified as Hillhay, with a valley bottom below carrying a stream and the now disused rail-line from Par to Fowey. It is the line that Tobias Hunken travels in Chapter VII ‘ ‘Bias Arrives’. Bartons Orchard and the plantation, supposedly between the farms of Bosenna and Middlecoat, is Station Wood. Higher Parc, from where the docks and jetties can be observed, is the hill-top between Hillhay and the River Fowey. Rilla Farm took its name from Rilla Mill, the farm of the miller, although the rail-line had destroyed the mill and the mill-pool. Between the railway and the farm ran a cliff, with a bridge spanning cliff, stream and line to Passage Lane.

Robert Bosenna had been a progressive farmer, whose widow continued the work. It was a once common mixed farm of arable and pasture. There were two well-kept cowsheds, one for Jerseys, cows producing high quality milk, and the other for Devons. There are North Devons, large oxen-like animals used for draft and beef, and South Devons whose beef is of a higher quality than their millk. It is unsurprising that Mrs Bosenna, who had been a Holsworthy dairy maid, had a considerable dairy trade. Farmer Bosenna appears to have married for more than looks.

Robert was also a breeder of pigs with a sufficient reputation to act as judge for pigs at the Royal Cornwall Show. This show is held in early June and was once located at varying places around Cornwall, but now has a permanent site near Indian Queens. Bosenna also had an orchard, in part for the making of cider, a drink farm hands demanded. The cider would have been kept in a large barrel in one of the barns, as this present writer remembers.

Farmer Middlecoat appears to have been a breeder with a large herd of steers. Uniting the farms made economic sense. He also seems to have owned land on both sides of the River Fowey. At the auction his purchases were on the eastern side.

The Theme of Marriage

The occasion of a young woman of humble background marrying a wealthy elderly man is worked through in a surprising number of Q’s stories. Q’s interest in the theme possibly stemmed from his grandfather’s controversial third marriage.

On October 23, 1858, Dr Jonathan Couch of Polperro, aged 69, married Sarah Lander Roose, aged 22, at Greenbank Methodist Chapel in Liskeard. (Almost 90 years later my father was to marry his first wife in the same chapel). The marriage divided the family and the village. By Sarah Jonathan had four daughters, three of whom survived. The oldest, Bertha Couch, wrote a Life of Jonathan Couch in 1891.

Although Q’s father was most sympathetic, Q met his grandfather on only one occasion. He attended the funeral in April 1870. How much subsequent contact he had with the widow and three children is presently unknown.

After her widowhood, Sarah married James Lean, who was 24 years her senior. Bertha never married. Her sister Clarinda married Henry James Sherwood of London. He was 34 and she was 30. Bertha and her mother were the witnesses. The register confused Sarah’s two marriages, giving Clarinda as the daughter of James Couch, surgeon. In 1921, Clarinda married for a second time. This was to the Rev Frank Fogerty, who was 21 years her junior.

Rarely in Q’s writings does an older woman marry a younger man. Nor is there a significant example of disparity of age where disparity of wealth is absent. When a dairymaid from Holsworthy marries Farmer Bosenna from Rilla, the standard theme of a poor, younger woman marrying a wealthy, older man is maintained. The subsequent marriage of Mrs Bosenna to young Farmer Middlecoat is virtually unique.

Also virtually unique is the failed marriage where the two partners are living separately. Mrs Bowldler’s husband appears to be living in London while she is in Troy, with no meaningful contact between them. The relationship of teenagers Fancy Tabb and Palmerston Burt, which points in the direct of later marriage, is also unique.

A number of characters in the novel are not married. John Rogers, who is a cripple, is one. Most significantly are the Nanjulians whose family mansion resides above the town. The last generation consists of five sons and three daughters, none of whom married and of which John Peter and Susan are the sole survivors.

The incidence of a younger woman marrying an older man and then falling in love with a man of her own age is occasionally found in Q’s stories, most notably and tragically in the short story The Haunted Dragoon from the collection of 1893 I Saw Three Ships and Other Winter’s Tales. The story is set in the Talland-Polperro area of south-east Cornwall. Farmer Noy of Constantine, aged 65, marries a young village girl who subsequently falls in love with Sergeant Basket of the Twelfth Dragoons. She poisons Noy and is convicted and hanged in Bodmin jail.

In Q’s last and unfinished novel Castle Dor, Linnet Constantine, a blacksmith’s daughter, marries the ageing landlord of the Rose and Anchor at Troy, Mark Lewarne. In a re-enactment of the Tristan and Iseult legend, Linnet falls in love with the Breton deckhand Amyot Trestane. Linnet is Iseult, Mark is King Mark of Cornwall and Trestane is Tristan of Brittany.

A variation on the theme comes in the novel Harry Revel. The local landlord, an Earl, apparently seduced a beautiful young cottage girl and then had her married off to his ageing gamekeeper. The resulting child of the seduction, Lydia Belcher, is left a thousand pounds a year by the Earl on his death. In Shining Ferry, beautiful Rachel Rosewarne, a fisherman’s daughter, is left the estate of Hall by the ‘wicked nobleman’ who owned nearby Damelioc. On his death she and her son Charles produce the deeds to the property and take possession.

One further variation is found in Lady Good-For-Nothing, where Captain Oliver Vyell, Collector of Customs for the port of Boston, Massachusetts, takes Ruth Josselin from a beach hut, has her educated to be a lady and marries her. However, unlike Mrs Bosenna and Lydia Belcher, there is a void within Ruth which fine clothing and accoutrements can hide but not fill. 



Copies of Q's novels are most readily available in the Duchy Edition of 1928-9.



Hocken and Hunken.

Quiller-Couch, A.
Hocken and Hunken
Edinburgh and London.

Nicky Nan Reservist.

Quiller-Couch, A.
Nicky Nan Reservist.
London and Edinburgh:
William Blackwood & Sons.