Q's uncle Dr Richard Quiller Couch (Dr Jonathan Couch's eldest son) chose Penzance as the location for his new medical practice in spite, as his father noted in his Private Memoir, of having no acquaintance in the town. Daniel Defoe visited Penzance in 1724 for his Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain, as referenced by Wright in her biography of Maria Branwell. He reflects:
This town of Penzance is a place of good business, well built and populous, has a good trade, and a great many ships belonging to it, notwithstanding it is so remote. Here are also a great many good families of gentlemen . . . (Wright, 2019).
Wright also quotes 'Penzantiensis' who, in the 1749 edition of London Magazine, describes Penzance as one of the 'richest, most flourishing' maritime towns where wealth was spread between many families and influence was not confined just to 'a few overgrown mushrooms' lording it over the rest (Wright, 2019, p.3). By the late 1700s the population was about 3,000. In addition to the resident population of small gentry, wealthy merchants and businessmen, traders and shopkeepers, as a port Penzance also attracted a number of visitors, both British and international.
Dr William Borlase, 18th century Rector of Ludgvan, whose antiquarian and natural history research and publications brought Penzance to the notice of eminent men of science, bemoaned the lack of a library locally. In letters to Dr John Andrew (1710-72) - a physician, and native of St Erme – Borlase begged his friend to assist him, writing:
At this unhappy distance from libraries you know I can't but fall into great errors, as well as struggle with much want of books and friends' [and in a later letter] 'I loved Natural History always, but that no one at present loves it more, I am to thank you for; but I have neither leisure for travel and surveying, fortune for instruments and experiments, nor books for study, so as to make any great progress in it. . .' (Pool, 1986, pp.82,85).
In spite of these deficiencies, Borlase made a considerable contribution to the study of Natural History and Antiquities and was regarded as the founder of these disciplines in Penzance. By the time Richard Quiller Couch established his practice in Penzance in 1845, the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall (1814) and the Penzance Library (1818, now the Morrab Library) were well-established and, in 1839, The Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Penzance was founded, with Richard Quiller Couch as one of its secretaries and curators. In addition there were the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society at Falmouth (1833) and the library at Truro (1792), now the Courtney Library at the Royal Institution of Cornwall (founded 1818).
Establishing himself in Penzance, therefore, was a shrewd move on the part of Richard Quiller Couch. The town was large and wealthy enough, with its regular influx of visitors, to support his medical practice and offered opportunities for him to develop his scientific interests. In addition, his marriage to Lydia Penneck Pearce connected him to long-established and influential families in Penzance. His father-in-law, Richard Pearce, was a distinguished member of Penzance society: several times mayor, he was also the Hanoverian and Belgian Consul, and the French, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Prussian, Spanish, Portuguese and Netherlands Vice-Consul; he was a consular agent for the U.S.A. Brazil and Russia; he was also a Lloyd's agent and receiver of wrecks; and had been Deputy Provincial Grand Master of the Freemasons and Provincial Grand Treasurer. The Pearces are mentioned in a 1674 seating plan of the old St. Mary's Chapel, Penzance, which George Bown Millett included in his lecture of 13 March 1876, 'Penzance Past and Present', given at the Penzance Institute. The Pennecks, Lydia's maternal relatives, were related by marriage to the Borlases of Castle Horneck and Pendeen - who held the perpetual advowson of Madron, Morvah and Penzance - and through them the Tremenheeres of Tremenheere and Treneere, and the Pendarves who were Lords of the Manor of Camborne.
Richard established his practice in Chapel Street, one of the best addresses and social hub of the town, with the theatre and assembly rooms situated at the back of the Union Hotel. Amongst his neighbours were the Branwells, whose connection to the Brontë sisters was later to bring literary lustre to the town by association; the Carnes (related by marriage to both the Branwells and the Battens) of whom William Carne had established the bank of Batten, Carne and Carne; his son Joseph was at various times the treasurer of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall and President of the Penzance Library and the Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Penzance; and the Milletts, of whom Richard Millett senior was a Master Mariner and, like Richard Pearce, a Lloyd's Agent for Penzance, and whose son, also Richard, was a solicitor in partnership with Walter Borlase (as Millett and Borlase), and who at various times was Recorder of St Ives, Under-Sheriff of Cornwall, Harbour Master of Penzance and Deputy Coroner of Penzance.
This study, though, examines the contribution of women to this flourishing scientific and intellectual society in the town, in the context of the wider scientific and intellectual world and the achievements of women elsewhere; in particular, that of Elizabeth Carne – daughter of Joseph Carne – whom Melissa Hardie-Budden has dubbed a 'nineteenth century Hypatia' – and the Misses Louisa and Matilda Millett, daughters of Richard Millett senior, whose early work in the fields of botany and antiquarianism was significant.
In 1815, Joseph Batten, son of John Batten – one of the founders of the bank Batten, Carne and Carne (originally Oxnam, Batten & Carne) with Richard Oxnam, another merchant, and William Carne – published an 'appreciation of Penzance' in verse which recognised that Cornish women as well as men were educated:
Geology too, 'mong all ranks, the trade is
Beaux are turn'd Chemists and so are the Ladies
The new terms of science they learnedly quote,
Sing "Oxygen, Hydrogen, Gas, and Azote"
Evidence that women from the well-off, more leisured class in Penzance were interested in more than domestic cares and the fashionable 18th century pastimes of tea-drinking and cards, exists in the surviving documents of the Penzance Ladies' Book Club:
The Ladies' Book Club dated from as early as 1770. Its members elected a President, who was entrusted with making the selection of books; these were distributed by ballot, and then circulated among the members, no volume being retained more than four days, excluding Sundays. At the end of the year the books were sold amongst the subscribers, those not purchased being distributed by lot. The earliest acquisitions included the Bath Guide (3s); Barrett's Travels (4v 10s); Sévigné's Letters (10v £1 5s); Humphrey Clinker; The Vicar of Wakefield (2v 6s 1st ed., 1766); and Rasselas (5s, 1759) (Noall, 1968, p.5).
The 1790 club minute book provides a fascinating list of what the ladies were reading at that time. Novels, plays, poetry, travels, history, memoirs and letters were the most popular choices and their selection was assisted by the Monthly Review: An Account with Abstracts of and Extracts from, the New Books, Pamphlets etc., as They Come out (1749-1845). The other periodical which appeared on a regular basis in the minute books was the Lady's Magazine; or, Entertaining Companion of the Fair Sex, Appropriated Solely for their Use and Amusement. Published from 1770 (at 6d per copy) until 1830 when it became The Lady's Magazine or Mirror of the Belles Lettres, Fine Arts, Music, Drama, Fashions etc. The magazine included fiction, poetry, drama, fashion, music and society gossip, and also a popular column of medical advice (written by a male doctor, naturally).
Caroline Borlase's lively selection in 1790 included:
The Life and Adventures of Lanzarillo de Tormes: A picaresque novel attributed to Don Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, ambassador of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, to the court of Henry VIII
Henry and Isabella; or, a Traite through Life by the author of Caroline, or the Diversities of Fortune by Mrs Hughes, 1788
The Vicar of Lansdowne; or, Country Quarters by Maria Regina Dalton, 1789, author of the enormously popular gothic novel The Children of the Abbey
The Married Man; or, the Closet Cordial by John Larpent 1786: a dramatic comedy about a Lieutenant who married an old widow for wealth
The Poems of James Sterling (1701-1763), an Irish cleric and poet
The Village Curate, poem by James Hurdis, 1788
The Moral Tales of Madame de Beaumont by Jeanne Marie Leprince de Beaumont (1711-1778)
Holwell's Journal from India by J.Z. Holwell (1711-1798), a ship's surgeon of the British East India Company and a survivor of the Black Hole of Calcutta
Letters of the Marquis d'Argenson (1694-1757), politician and friend of Voltaire
A Narrative of the Military Operations of the Coromandel Coast: Against the Combined Forces of the French, Dutch and Hyder Ally Lawn, from the Year 1780 to the Peake in 1784 by Innes Munro, a Scottish officer in the 73rd Highland Regiment who fought in the Mysore Wars (1780-84)
Original Anecdotes of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia by Dieudonné Thiébault, Professor of French Grammar at the Royal Court of Prussia in 1765
A Journey Through Sweden, containing a detailed account of the population, agriculture, commerce and finances, written in French by a Dutch Officer and translated into English by William Radcliffe
Travels through the Interior Parts of North America, in the years 1766, 1767, and 1768 (1781) by Jonathan Carver (1710-1780)
The ladies of Castle Horneck were very much involved in the Book Club: presidents of the club who sent for books included the Caroline Borlase mentioned above, daughter of Walter Borlase and Margaret Pendarves of Castle Horneck, and Mrs Tremenheere, who was probably Caroline's elder sister Catherine, who married William Tremenheere. The final meeting of the Club took place at Castle Horneck on December 17th, 1912 (Noall, 1968,p.5) when Lydia Harris Borlase (known as Harrie) and Caroline Anne Borlase, who both remained unmarried, were the last of the Borlases at Castle Horneck. By this time the Penzance Free Library (the Public Library) had opened – in 1893 – sounding the death knell for the small private subscription libraries of Penzance, with the exception of the Penzance Library, now the Morrab Library, still in existence and which celebrated its bi-centenary in 2018.
There was also a Gentlemen's Book Club at the same time as the Ladies' Book Club, although no details remain, but this was presumably rendered obsolete when the Penzance Library was founded in 1818. At first the Penzance Library was for gentlemen only. Noall records that a meeting to discuss the admittance of ladies belonging to the families of subscribers to the library was held in September of that year, but the motion was defeated (Noall, 1968, p.7). However, the segregation of the sexes did not last long as the list of subscribers of 1825 includes the names of eight women and it is probable that other ladies used the library hidden by the subscriptions of their husbands or fathers; for example, the fathers of Elizabeth Carne and the Misses Millett were on this list of early subscribers. In fact this became a bone of contention: at the 1831 annual meeting it was stated that 'no member of a family has the right of attending in consequence of the subscription of his relative' (Noall, 1968, p.9). The first woman librarian was Miss Olave T. Millett, the niece of the Misses Millett, who was appointed in 1897, and since then the post has been held exclusively by women.
Green notes that a circulating library was run by James Hewett in the 1750s and another by John Pope Vibert, engraver, jeweller, clock and watchmaker who, with his son-in-law Francis Treleaven, ran a circulating library in the 1840s-60s, alongside their business as stationers, bookbinders, booksellers and lithographic printers:
...a catalogue of Vibert's library (printed by his son) is an interesting archive to be found in the Cornwall Record Office. It contains the names of almost 450 books covering history, travel, voyages, tales, novels, romances, reviews and periodicals "to which modern publications will be added". Orders could be executed for books, periodicals, new music etc. "from London twice a week" (Green in Palmer, 2005)
The annual subscription was 18s or a monthly charge of 2s and, if kept beyond a week, a fine of 1d a day was imposed or after four days for non-subscribers. Green lists some of the most popular authors as W. Harrison Ainsworth, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Rosina Lady Bulwer-Lytton, Disraeli, Captain Marryat, Maria Edgeworth, Sir Walter Scott, Fanny Trollope, Frances Burney, Theodore Hook, J. Fennimore Cooper, G.P.R. James and Mrs Radcliffe, and notes that, as books were originally published as serials in pamphlets, the skill of the bookbinder, also offered by Viberts, became important (Green in Palmer, 2005, pp. 60-61).
The Penzance New Library was established in about 1843 for the benefit of tradesmen and mechanics, who could not afford the subscription for the Penzance Library, but was short lived.
The Brontë sisters were associated with Penzance through their mother, Maria Branwell, and aunt Elizabeth Branwell, but another woman with Penzance roots, Ann Batten Cristall (1769-1848) also became a literary figure: her Poetical Sketches were published in 1795. She was granddaughter to John Batten and Anne Nichols, whose daughter Elizabeth married Alexander Cristall, a mariner, captain of the privateer ship British Queen, and later the Hunter, and who established a sail, mast and block-making enterprise at Hanover Stairs, Rotherhithe, where the family moved when Ann was a child.
She was christened Anne Batten Cristal in Madron on 7 December, 1769, although the spelling of her name later became standardized as above. She was born into a creative family: she was niece to the versifying Joseph Batten; her brother, Joshua Cristall, became a well-known water-colourist and a founder member of the Society of Painters in Water-Colour (1804) and its president in 1816; and her sister, Elizabeth, was an engraver. Their mother Elizabeth was a well-educated and cultured woman from Penzance who encouraged her children's artistic bent and supported them financially in opposition to her husband. Ann became a friend of Mary Wollstonecraft and in 1797 met Robert Southey who was an admirer of her work. In a letter to his friend the Bristol publisher Joseph Cottle, he wrote:
But Miss Cristall have you seen her poems? - a fine, artless, sensible girl. Now Cottle that word sensible must not be construed in its dictionary acceptation. Ask a Frenchman what it means and he will understand it tho' perhaps no circumlocations explain its French meaning. Her heart is active. She loves Poetry – she loves retirement – she loves the Country. Her verses are very incorrect and the Literary Circle say she has no genius but she has Genius, Joseph Cottle! Or there is no truth in physiognomy.
According to Paull, Ralph Griffiths (c.1720-1803), founder and editor of the Monthly Review was responsible for this reputation: 'For Griffiths, Cristall has one unpardonable flaw: irregularity.' However, Paull goes on to say:
A close reading of Cristall's versification reveals that she is a formal innovator . . . By interweaving a variety of poetic feet, and line lengths, she creates an acoustically animated verse that challenges and delights in equal measure (Paull, 2015, p.2).
Cristall herself was in part responsible for the criticism of her poetry because of the self-deprecating preface which she wrote for the published collection, describing herself as lacking in knowledge and her poems as 'juvenilia'. Paull writes: 'the deference Cristall shows to male poetic authority is typical of prefaces by women writers' (Paull, 2015, p.7). Male reviewers seized on this preface and consequently the view of her poetry as being inferior became self-perpetuating. Tobias Smollett writes: 'we give Miss Cristall credit for this declaration of unfamiliarity of exemplary poets' and that 'her candid confession disarms criticism' (Paull, 2015, p.4).
It is Paull's opinion that Cristall knew exactly what she was about, however: that the preface also shows that Cristall was completely aware of the 'rules' of her art but 'masks her own inventiveness in a veil of propriety'; and also that 'despite the unanimous critique of her versification as erratic, accompanied by a smattering of condescending advice, Cristall is regarded as a budding genius' (Paull, 2015, p.2).
In the abstract from her thesis, Paull writes:
The scholarship on Cristall has tended to be feminist as it seeks to repair her literary reputation. Comparisons between Cristall and Blake are common and seek to legitimize her work by arguing that her genius is similar to Blake's. While comparing her to Blake in this manner gives Cristall some credibility, it does so at the expense of recognizing her unique contribution to the lyric genre (https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu).
In the abstract to her esssay on Cristall, John comments on the nature and quality of her writing:
...as a 'lost poet of nature.' Cristall's Poetical Sketches (1795) remain her only published work, but they were well received by renowned contemporaries such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Samuel Rogers. Illustrating a development from Sentimentalism to Romanticism, Cristall's 'sketches' are pervaded by elaborate descriptions of landscapes and weathers, fauna and flora. The poems contemplate different understandings of nature and naturalness: besides the wildness of human passion and sentiment, these include the particularities of the non-human world, a world characterised by variety, and resistance to order. At the same time, organic forms of nature serve as a metaphorical springboard for Cristall's deliberate and experimental refusal of order in poetic form. Three years before Wordsworth's and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads were first published, Cristall's work anticipated the aesthetic innovations of Romanticism, while also touching upon questions of poetic ecology and ecofeminism (John, 2020).
It was the poet George Dyer who introduced Ann to Robert Southey. Dyer was a great admirer of her work and encouraged her to collaborate with Mary Hays (1759-1843, an early radical feminist writer of essays, novels and poetry) on a poetical novel. However, this did not materialize. Financial constraints may have played a part. Ann and Elizabeth her sister were dependent on their mother and brother for assistance and both were forced to earn their living in part as teachers. In addition Elizabeth, unusually for the time, trained as an engraver.
Joshua Cristall's drawing of George Dyer was engraved by his sister Elizabeth Cristall, as were many of his works, and the engraving is now in the National Portrait Gallery. It is in stipple and aquatint and was published by J. Cristall, Rotherhithe, in 1795.
Joshua was apprenticed to a china dealer in his youth and for some time earned a living as a china painter in the potteries before moving to London to study fine art. This was in the teeth of opposition from his father, and he suffered great hardship before he was able to establish himself as an artist, surviving for a period on potatoes and water, to the great detriment of his health (Bryan 1909, p.354). Bryan's Dictionary makes no mention of Elizabeth Cristall, however.
Although Poetical Sketches was Ann Batten Cristall's only published work, Gentleman's Magazine published three of her poems altogether; and its publication in April 1, 1795 included 'A Lady on the Rise of Morn'. Her verses also appeared in Lady's Magazine, read regularly by the Penzance Ladies' Book Club.
There was, therefore, a thriving readership of both sexes in Penzance from the 18th century and, since Penzance is a port, women may have had, via frequent visitors from other parts of the British Isles and abroad, more exposure to wider ideas and concerns than women of an equivalent small market town inland.
The 19th century saw women developing interests outside the domestic sphere independently of fathers, brothers and husbands and gradually gaining the confidence to put forward their own ideas in print. Elizabeth Carne published three books and several articles, but it is significant that she did not emerge from her shell until after the death of her father in 1858. Even then, she published much of her work anonymously or under a male pseudonym.
Hardie-Budden notes that Sir Humphrey Davy, in the third of his geology lectures delivered in 1805 at the Royal Institution in London, referenced the ancient Greek female scientist Hypatia:
The school of Alexandria produced several laborious geometricians; but the greatest ornament belonging to it and the most illustrious philosopher of the age was Hypatia, the daughter of Theon.
This celebrated lady is said to have been equally distinguished for her skill in mathematics, in general science, and in the knowledge of nature and the earth. And that she applied herself to experiment is evident from one of her inventions, the hydrometer, the instrument now in common use for ascertaining the relative weights of fluids.
Hypatia taught after her father's death in her native city. By the eloquence and soundness of her instructions she excited the highest zeal for moral and intellectual improvement amongst her disciples.
Hardie-Budden draws on this to make a comparison of Elizabeth Carne to Hypatia:
Like the celebrated lady of Eygptian science, Hypatia of Alexandria, Elizabeth Carne's scientific accomplishments were diverse, widely regarded and admired in her own time (1817-1873), but lost to ours. In the established intellectual network of her father's contemporaries, and seemingly in following his scientific bent, her personal spurs can be found, not only in the geological sciences, but perhaps more importantly in her social analyses, her philanthropic efforts, her spiritual convictions and political-ecological philosophy. Elizabeth's writings bring forward that "zeal for moral and intellectual improvement" that Humphry Davy highlights in his descriptions of Hypatia (Hardie-Budden, 2014).
Carne's book Country Towns and the Place they fill in Modern Civilization was published in 1868 and examineone of the subjects that most concerned her: the moral and physical health of society. She writes:
...if we had to choose a life which would produce the largest average of healthy, hardy, self-reliant Englishmen, I should choose that of a country town which contains from five to fifteen thousand inhabitants, and possesses varied interests (Carne, 1868, p.9).
The book discusses the differences in character of city and country people; the separation of social classes; health and poverty; social customs and education. A review in The Spectator of 7th March, 1868 reads:
But while primarily intended for residents in "country towns", this little book is not meant exclusively for them, and citizens as well as townspeople will find in it discussions and suggestions on subjects which touch them very closely. The relative advantages and disadvantages of a city or town life, physical, mental, and moral, are stated by the author with much clearness, freshness and vigour, and whether we agree with all that is advanced or not, we must in candour own that every chapter is interesting, thoughtful, and suggestive, while the moral tone is of a very elevated character (p.24).
Carne's ideal town would not be a 'merely episcopal' town, nor a manufacturing town, nor one that was mainly a garrison or port but bears a close resemblance to Penzance, her home town, in that:
...although it may have a mixture of clerical, manufacturing and shipping interests with advantage: it should have a higher class, who mix with county families, and small gentry who hang on the borders of trade; it should have a fair proportion of rich and poor, to unite divided classes; it should be a municipal borough, to teach national duties, and it should have charities and institutions to exercise men's hearts and heads (Carne, 1868, p.11).
Penzance had all that, as well as being surrounded by both countryside and beaches to give fresh air and exercise in a natural environment which Carne believed so necessary to mental and physical well-being, particularly that of children.
The mixture of rich and poor was vital in a society which relied on philanthropy not only to relieve distress caused by poverty, but also to finance basic social and intellectual amenities which were provided through private subscription and charitable donation amongst the better off, rather than as now through taxation. Half a Century of Penzance (1825-1875) by J.S. Courtney, mentions amongst other things the Old Poor House, almshouses built by Francis Buller of Shillingham in 1660; the lack of street lighting until 1830, apart from a few oil-lamps which were provided through subscription amongst householders; the Penzance Dispensary and Humane Society set up in 1809, which gave medical assistance to the poor and in which both Q's uncles Richard and John Quiller Couch were involved; and such social amenities as the Assembly Rooms, the Penzance Library, the Concert Room, and the Gentlemen's News Room.
It was, in fact, to another woman of Penzance, Louise Courtney, the youngest daughter of John Sampson Courtney, that we owe these delightful reminiscences of life in Penzance during the early 19th century. She was responsible for editing and rewriting her father's notes to produce the final published version of 1878. Her father was a banker like that of Elizabeth Carne, and her eldest brother, Leonard Henry Courtney, a radical politican, was a great supporter of the female suffrage movement and became, in 1906, 1st Baron Courtney of Penwith.
When she came into her fortune on the death of her father, Carne was able to indulge her desire to improve the lot of her fellow-men. She donated the purchase price for the land on which the Public Buildings, now known as St John's Hall, were built. These housed a lecture hall, guild-hall, police courts, Corporation offices, Penzance Library, Institute and News Rooms, the Geological Society and Natural History Society, and rooms of various other societies. Carne also gave the site on which St Paul's School, Penzance, was built and founded three other schools in Wesley Rock (Heamoor), Carfury and Bosullow.
On the death of her father Carne became a senior partner in Batten, Carne and Carne bank, together with two of Joseph Carne's grandsons, the sons of Elizabeth's sister Mary who, in 1836, had married Dr Archibald Campbell Colquhoun Ross of Lanarkshire. Archibald Ross Carne became a partner at the age of 18 (taking the name of Carne on the occasion) and lived with his aunts Elizabeth and Caroline Carne in Chapel Street, but sadly died of scarlet fever at the age of 20. On the death of Elizabeth Carne in 1873, the name Batten, Carne and Carne was still associated with financial stability with a reputation as a safe and secure place to invest. Elizabeth Carne inherited £22,000 from her father and this wealth had increased to £35,000 by the time of her death from typhoid. Dirring, looking at the history of banking in Cornwall, describes Elizabeth Carne's period as a senior partner:
The extent of her involvement in geological work, and long spells abroad (Crook 2004b), suggest that Miss Carne delegated much of her banking work, as her father may also have done. Thomas Hacker Bodilly (died 1873), a Penzance merchant and staunch Methodist like the Carnes, had become a partner in 1859 (Boase 1890, col. 1339); and may have taken on some of the executive responsibility alongside Downing the manager [Nicholas Berriman Downing, a former clerk]. The career progressions of Downing and Marrack [Philip Marrack of Newlyn, former manager who became a partner from 1844- 1855/6] pehaps show the reliance of the partners on their staff, with consequent increase in status and trust. The bank was expanding during the 1860s; its first branch had opened in St Just in 1864 (Boase 1890, col. 1339); and in early 1866, the bank moved into new premises in Market Street, Penzance (Dirring, 2015, p.188).
However, things changed when Charles Campbell Ross MP, Joseph Carne's other grandson, became the only senior male Carne and gradually used his influence to become a senior partner and then Chairman of Directors. In 1896 the bank failed.
The Penwith Local History Group website, under its section 'On this Day', for 17th January 1898 includes details of the sale of Carne (now Boskenwyn) Manor at Heamoor, built by Charles Campbell Ross, and all its contents. His personal debts amounted to £48,000 including £10,000 borrowed off his Aunt Caroline Carne, and the bank's debt was a staggering £180,000. Over 700 Penzance families were very hard hit by the failure of the bank. Campbell Ross never showed his face in the town again, and it must have been a severe embarrassment for the remaining Carnes, whose name had formerly carried so much prestige in the town.
One of the main advantages for Elizabeth Carne of the small country town over the city, was the possibility for the blurring of social distinctions and the mingling of social classes. She believed that the proximity of different classes in a small area fostered neighbourliness. The sense of fellowship was a central tenet of her beliefs. She wrote:
When people have lived together for thirty years in a space not half a mile across. . . a sense of kindly relationship grows up among the different classes, which makes it possible for the poor to regard the rich as their natural helpers. [In a town such as Penzance] Old-fashioned gentlemen's houses are to be found in all the streets, with shops close by, and the houses of the poor not far off (Carne, 1868, pps.149 &151).
Carne deplored the growing tendency towards a morbid fear of mingling with those of inferior station, lest their lack of gentility be a contaminating influence, particularly for children. Carne saw this as false and that 'gentle blood should be of robust constitution which need not fear contact with those less favoured' (Carne, 1868, p.124). She promoted the advantages of local schools over boarding schools, in which the moral and physical health of boys – the education of girls being seen as still a purely domestic affair at that period – would benefit from the continuation of a home life:
It will be said that in the small sphere of a country town it is difficult to secure an efficient master. Of course it is difficult, if all the gentlemen of a neighbourhood send away their boys to boarding-school, but if those gentlemen joined together in their determination to patronise a day-school, it must be a very small sphere indeed which would not supply a sufficient number to secure an efficient master (Carne, 1868. p.123).
In 1789 Thomas Branwell, father of Maria Branwell, sold a plot of land at the end of his garden to the Corporation to build a Penny School, which was affordable for the poor. His children attended when they were small and he did not apparently fear the contaminating influence of the lower classes, although when they were older his daughters were educated at home, and their brother, Benjamin Carne Branwell, went to Penzance Grammar School (Wright, 2019, p.9).
Richard Quiller Couch's family were Anglican rather than Wesleyan but his daughters, born in the 1860s, were very much involved with the Sunday schools at St Mary's Church in Chapel Street. Elizabeth Carne observes that:
Girls who teach and learn at a village class establish an acquaintance which sometimes lasts for life, though one may become a labourer's wife and the other wear diamonds...it is good that gentlemen and ladies should personally collect money for philanthropic objects and personally administer help to the poor; it is good that they should occasionally meet shopkeepers and shopkeepers' wives in consultation for relief and social improvement; it is good that young ladies should decorate churches, and teach in Sunday schools, side by side with others who are not socially their equals; it is good that young gentlemen should aid in night schools, or Workmen's Institutes, or Penny Schools, and join Rifle Corps and cricket clubs in which their own clerks and tradesmen take an equal share (Carne, E., 1868, pp. 155-157).
Carne also mentions the advantages for 'rising men to have opportunities of meeting and working with those above them in station' in public and civic life: 'the Hospital, Union-Board, the Council-chamber' (p. 162). It is a spirit of friendliness and neighbourliness with which she is concerned, rather than a levelling of social classes. Her liberal attitudes were not shared by all. In Half a Century of Penzance, Courtney mentions a resident, Mrs Gudgeon, wife of Captain Gudgeon RN, who lived at Alverton:
Mrs Gudgeon used to express herself strongly about educating servants. "Bother your education, bye and bye the servants behind your chairs will be correcting your grammar," this was related to me in 1876 by a lady, who observed, "and it is come to pass" (Carne, E.,p. 19-20).
Elizabeth Carne's attitudes were in harmony with her Wesleyan beliefs. Wesley was a strong believer in the ability to read the bible as an essential part of a Christian education for both males and female. When she was aged 15, Elizabeth Carne met John Stuart Mill for the first time. Hardie-Budden quotes from Mill's journal of his walking tour of Cornwall of 1832:
...passed the whole of this day in the neighbourhood of Penzance, and a greater part of it seeing St Michael's Mount, to which we went with Mr Carne, the geologist of Penzance, and his daughter; both of them remarkable people, and the latter in particular such a person as it is highly pleasing and a little surprising, to find in this remote district (Hardie-Budden, 2019).
In Country Towns and the Place they fill in Modern Civilization, Carne does not hesitate to challenge Mill's philosophy:
How could Mill, that closest of logicians, ever base a theory of state law and interference on an imaginary sharp line of demarcation between the harm a man might do to others and to himself – as if a man could do harm to himself which was not also done to others! For we all act according to what we are, and our words and deeds have a living force over other lives, stronger, a thousand times stronger, than the coarser influence, which we call power (Carne, E., 1868, p.169).
She goes on to say that 'restraint, not liberty, is the true law of human life'. She refers to the law of the strongest, in nature, that the restraint imposed by good manners and mental discipline divides man from beast and that it is through restraint that 'human discipline is established and human culture begins'(Carne, E., 1868, p.54). She cites the difficulty of teaching in 'ragged schools', children who have never known the discipline of a well-regulated nursery and in whom attention and concentration are lacking:
...we can do nothing, positively nothing for their improvement, until, consciously or unconsciously, they awake to the fact that there is in them a power which can and which must resist their own spontaneous impulses . . . to fix the wandering attention (Carne, E., 1868, p.53).
...it appears to me that Mill's fundamental error is this: that finding men in general so much enslaved by unworthy motives and mean restraints, he has come to the conclusion that these – these are the chief hindrance to a nobler course; and if these were struck off, and men were left free to rise to a higher level, therefore they would rise (Carne, E., 1868, p. 61).
However, of the lowest class, she said 'as a race [it] never progresses; . . .being born in vice and crime, lives the life to which it was born, and leaves it as a certain inheritance for the children it begets' (Carne, E., 1868, p.57). The only escape from 'low and mean restraints' is by rising to those that are high and true and the remedy is not to throw the rules aside but to accept them as representative of something higher than themselves:
I claim, on behalf of country towns and their immediate neighbourhood, greater naturalness for the promotion of healthy development, less of the conventional restraints which shackle development, and an equality, and in some respects a superiority, in the real restraints which guide and train development (Carne, E., 1868, pp.69-70).
In 1859, Elizabeth's great friend, Caroline Fox, wrote:
I am reading that terrible book of John Mill's on Liberty, so clear and calm and cold . . . He looks you through like a basilisk, relentless as Fate. We knew him well at one time, and owe him much; I fear his remorseless logic has lead him far since then (Monk, 1972, p.229).
Carne's thinking was underpinned by the deep religious convictions which Mill lacked and which coloured her whole philosophy and way of life and which she shared with Caroline Fox, who came from a wealthy Quaker family of shipping agents in Falmouth. Mill was surprised, knowing of the Carne family's great wealth, by the simplicity in which they lived. Elizabeth Carne despised ostentatiousness and social pretension and wrote that 'when a country town is in a healthy state, there is no social fault so derided and hated as that of pretension' (Carne, E., 1868, p.130).
The Foxes became friends of the Mill family, particularly John Stuart Mill's sisters, when the Mills were staying in Falmouth during the final illness and death from consumption of Henry Mill, J.S. Mill's younger brother, in 1840. The Foxes later visited the Mills in London where they were introduced to the Carlyles and shown Mill's library and herbarium. He was interested in a wide variety of subjects and Caroline Fox noted in her journal in March 1840 that 'he is a great botanist, so Anna Maria excited him about the luminous moss in the cave at Argall' (Monk, 1972, p.75).
Mill later sent Caroline A Calendar of Odours, 'being in imitation of the various calendars of Flora by Linnaeus and others' – beginning with Common Laurel in March and ending with lime in July from 'her grateful friend J.S. Mill' (Monk, 1972, p.84). He also sent her 'all the London and Westminster Reviews from their beginning, with notes in his own hand, and the names of the writers attached to the articles – a most valuable and interesting gift'(Monk. 1972, p.80). The Westminster Review had originally been founded by Jeremy Bentham but was sold to another proprietor and later bought by Sir William Molesworth who had founded the London Review, with which it was merged. J. S. Mill was editor.
Caroline Fox was the daughter of Robert Were Fox, a Natural Philosopher and Inventor. The Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society was the idea of Anna Maria Fox, Caroline's elder sister. Her cousin, Wilson Lloyd Fox wrote:
A new society was originated at the suggestion of Miss Fox of Penjerrick, who was anxious to encourage a number of clever workmen who were then employed in Perran Foundry and who were constantly bringing models and inventions to her father for his inspection.
Mr Fox encouraged his young daughters in the enterprise – Caroline was then 13 and Anna Maria 17 – and the aims of the society were formulated as being 'To promote the useful and fine arts, to encourage industry, and to elicit the ingenuity of a community distinguished for its mechanical skills'. Caroline proposed the name 'Polytechnic'. A provisional committee of 30 people was formed in 1833 of which, unusually, ten were women, including the Fox sisters. Elizabeth Carne later became a subscription member. Cash prizes and medals were awarded for the best entries to an annual exhibition with such diverse categories as 'Machines, Instruments, Models, Paintings and Drawings, Maps, Charts, Japanning, Inlaying, Stuffed Birds and Insects, Artificial Flowers and Fruit, Fancy Work'. Sir Charles Lemon was the first president and two years after its formation, William IV agreed to become Patron and the society became the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society. (Details from the website of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, Falmouth www.thepoly.org).
At the beginning of Country Towns and the Place they fill in Modern Civilization, Carne describes the ideal existence as being that of one of the junior members of a country family of large property – junior because therefore not burdened with responsibility – 'who live habitually at their own family hall, and spend three months of the winter season in London, and two months in autumn travelling, at home or abroad' (Carne, 1868, p.9). To a certain extent this applies to Carne's own life: although the Carnes did not own a country seat, the existence of her sketchbooks bear witness to their travels at home and abroad (and are now in the Polwhele family papers at Kresen Kernow, the Cornwall County Archive). It also applies to her friend Caroline Fox, whose family owned extensive estates at Glendurgan, Trebah, Penjerrick and Rosehill where her father and uncles Charles and Alfred established the now famous gardens.
Both Caroline Fox and her brother, Barclay, kept journals. Caroline Fox's diary gives details of various journeys undertaken with her father to London, Paris, the Lakes, Bristol as well as fascinating encounters with eminent men. Several of these journeys were to attend meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (founded in 1831 and now the British Science Association). The journal also gives an insight into the number of interesting visitors to Cornwall. Robert Fox and Joseph Carne moved in similar scientific circles and were both interested in geology. Caroline Fox's journal of October 4, 1839 records that they drove to the geological meeting at Penzance and picked up Sir Charles Lemon on the way at Helston (Monk, 1972, p.58). Breakfast visits seemed to have been popular. Another entry of August 18, 1841 reads: 'Breakfasted at the Joseph Carnes and met Conybeare' (Monk, 1972, p.112). William Daniel Conybeare was Rector of Sully, Glamorgan and a geologist with a particular interest in the fossils of mines. He became Dean (later Bishop) of Llandaff in 1845 and was a Fellow of the Royal Society. Mary Thomas, Elizabeth Carne's mother was Welsh and William Daniel Conybeare was an associate of geologist Henry De la Beche.
On April 7, 1836, Caroline noted that Sir Charles Lemon, John Enys and Henry De la Beche came to luncheon (Monk, 1972, p.30). Sir Charles Lemon was at one period president of all three of Cornwall's scientific societies: The Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, The Royal Institution and the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall. Henry De la Beche was an eminent geologist who proposed a geological map of England, starting with Cornwall, in 1831, leading to the first official Geological Survey, of which he was director, and he was a frequent visitor to the Foxes and the Carnes.
It was unsurprising in a region which relied on minerals and mining for its wealth, that there should be a keen interest in geology. The work of Dr William Borlase laid the foundation for such studies in Penzance. He was an avid collector of minerals and metallic fossils from the rich copper workings of Lord Godolphin in Ludgvan, which 'enabled me with the greatest ease to supply my friends at home and abroad' (Pool, 1986, pp. 25-26).
One of Borlase's mentors when he was studying was Dr John Andrew (1710-1772) who went to Leyden to study under Boerhaave. There he also studied chemistry under Gronovius and met Carl Linnaeus. When Andrew asked William Borlase to send samples of minerals, three consignments were despatched which delighted the recipients, leading to a correspondence between Borlase and Gronovius. When Andrew returned to Britain in 1738 he presented Borlase with a copy of Linnaeus's System of Botany and encouraged him to pursue his studies of Natural History with a view to publication. Borlase always responded generously to requests for samples, sadly depleting his own collection: he sent the poet Alexander Pope an enormous quantity for his grotto at Twickenham; in 1758 he gave into the care of William Huddesford, Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, all the most important items in his mineral and antiquarian collections, together with a catalogue and the original plates for drawings in his books; in 1768, following a request from the widow of his cousin John Harris, former Master of the Household of both George II and George III, Borlase sent a gift of:
19 specimens of mundick (pyrite), 19 of copper, 20 of tin, 4 of lead, 3 of iron, 12 of Cornish diamonds (quartz), 4 of soapy rock (steatite or soapstone), and 2 of asbestos (actinolite)' to Queen Charlotte, who was making a small collection of 'Natural Curiosities' in a cabinet (Pool, 1986, pp. 77, 79, 96, 231, 250-1).
The Royal Geological Society of Cornwall was founded in 1814, with the object of encouraging the popular study of geology and related subjects, with special reference to the geology and mining interests of Cornwall. It was the second oldest geological society in the world after the Geological Society of London, and the Prince Regent expressed a wish to become Patron. Its first President was Davies Giddy (Davies Gilbert), who remained in the post until his death in 1839. An engineer and mathematician, he was also President of the Royal Society, London, succeeding Sir Humphry Davy. Giddy was born at St Erth but the family lived in Chapel Street, Penzance from 1775 to 1780, and he went to Penzance Grammar School. The family returned to live in St Erth when his mother inherited the family home of Tredea. Davies Giddy became an MP and chairman of the Board of Agriculture. In 1808 he married Mary Ann Gilbert, of Lewes, Sussex, and changed his name to Gilbert following a stipulation in the will of her uncle, Charles Gilbert, who left her a fortune in 1814.
Although she was mainly associated with Eastbourne (where she had inherited Gilredy Manor) rather than Penzance, Mary Ann Gilbert was an extremely interesting woman in her own right. A philanthropist, she was interested in the plight of the rural poor, and conducted an experiment in agriculture which led to the adoption of the idea of allotments. She advanced the idea of renting out land otherwise deemed unsuitable for agriculture, at a fair rent, divided into small plots where the poor could raise vegetables and animals. She gave loans for equipment; taught the use of the spade rather than the plough; improved the land with the use of seaweed and liquid manures; and encourage the use of water butts. By 1844 she was assisting about four hundred poor families in this way and she also founded self-supporting agricultural schools staffed by teachers recruited from the workhouse. Mary Gilbert presented the statistical results of her experiments in agriculture to her husband's political and scientific 'county' contacts and even sent a consignment of allotment grown potatoes to Lord Liverpool. Her idea were 'cited and discussed in parliamentary reports and government commissions' (Peskett, 26.5.2020).
A cousin of Davies Gilbert, Thomas Bond, published Topographical and Historical Sketches of the Borough of East and West Looe, in the County of Cornwall; with an account of the natural and artificial curiosities and picturesque scenery of the neighbourhood, in 1823, for which Mary Ann Gilbert did the drawings of the views. The Gilberts owned their own printing press at Gilredy Manor, which was run by their daughter.
Carne's father, Joseph, was for many years treasurer of the R.G.S.C.. At the time of her birth in 1817, he was director of the Cornish Copper Company and the family lived at Rivière House, Phillack, Hayle. He had a laboratory in the cellars of the house devoted to the testing of smelting processes of copper and tin and the examination of the constituents of minerals and rocks. Davies Gilbert brought the young Humphry Davy to visit the laboratory. When Elizabeth was two years old the family moved to Chapel Street, Penzance where her father continued with his work on minerals and in 1818 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. His papers on the subject include:
- 'On Elvan Courses'
- 'The Granite of Western Cornwall'
- 'The Geology of the Scilly Isles'
- 'On the Relative Age of the Veins of Cornwall'
- 'On the Mineral Productions and the geology of the Parish of St Just'
- 'On the Pseudo-Morphous Minerals of Cornwall'
- 'On the Remains of a Submarine Forest in the North-eastern part of Mount's Bay'
- 'Notice of a Raised Beach lately discovered in Zennor'
Joseph Carne fostered his youngest daughter's interest in geology and left his collection of Cornish minerals in her care under the terms of his will. Elizabeth Carne used part of the fortune he left to build a museum on Lower Queen Street to house her father's mineral collection. Twenty years after her death, in the 1890s, when the Carne's bank went into liquidation, a group of sponsors and patrons united to purchase the Carne collection of minerals for Cambridge University, where it now forms part of the geological collection of the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences.
Elizabeth Carne herself has the distinction of being the first woman to be elected to the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall. Her papers, published in the Transactions of the Society are:
- 'Cliff Boulders and the Former Condition of the Land and Sea in the Land's End District'
- 'The Age of the Maritime Alps surrounding Mentone'
- 'On the Transition and Metamorphosis of Rocks in the Land's End District'
- 'Enquiry into the Nature of the Forces that have acted on the Formation of the Land's End Granite'
(Transactions, Vol. IX, Pt. 1, 1875)
The last paper is credited to 'the late Miss Elizabeth T. Carne' and was read (as a footnote indicates) to the Annual Meeting of October 30th, 1874, by the curator. The other paper was written about 1868, and from the following extract, and lack of footnote regarding the reading of the paper, it is to be inferred that Elizabeth Carne presented the paper herself:
As these facts can only be established by long details connected with the examination of numerous specimen, we need not detain the meeting by the several proofs, but proceed to notice the manner in which these transitions have been effected, and the forces which may have been instrumental in producing them (Transactions, Vol IX, Pt.1, p.5).
This in itself would have been unusual: the Geological Society of London in 1860 was just at the point of discussing the attendance of women at meetings. Women were invited to the meeting held on November 7, 1860 but only three or four ladies attended: Lady Lyell and the Misses Horner, all daughters of the President, Leonard Horner. Women were only admitted as guests, however; they were not admitted to the society as members until 1919, in spite of the significant contributions of several women to geology, including Etheldred Benett, Maria Graham, Catherine Raisin and Maud Healey.
Etheldred Benett (1775-1845) specialized in the fossils of Wiltshire, and had dealings with several eminent geologists including Gideon Mantell, contributing to his work on stratigraphy. Under the impression from her name that she was masculine, Benett was admitted a member of the Imperial Natural History Society of Moscow in 1836, and was awarded a Doctorate of Civil Law of the University of St Peterburg by Tsar Nicholas I.
Maria Graham (1785-1842) was the first female to have a paper published by the Geological Society: this was 'An Account of Some Effects of the late Earthquakes in Chile' in 1824, which was read before the Society but not by Maria Graham, and which included the observations that large areas of land had risen out of the sea – an observation included in Lyell's Principles of Geology (1830).
In 1893, Catherine Raisin (1855-1945) was the first female to win an award of the Society for her work: she was granted the Charles Lyell Award 'in recognition of her researches in petrology and other branches of Geological Science' but not being a member could not collect her award in person.
Nor could Maud Healey, who in 1904 was the first women actually to be present at the reading of her own paper Notes on the 'Upper Jurassic Ammonites with Special Reference to Specimens in the University Museum, Oxford II'.
Elizabeth Carne, although removed from the mainstream of geological research by location, reaped the benefits of the small country town in that the close relations and influence of her family with other influential families of the district, together with her own generosity in the matter of local affairs after the death of her father, enabled her acceptance into the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall much earlier than other females working in the field.
Three posts on the site www.geological-digressions.com deal with the timelines of the development of stratigraphic principles. In the second post, dealing with the 19th century to 1950, the contribution of Elizabeth Carne is mentioned with reference to her paper 'Cliff Boulders and the Former Condition of the Land and Sea in the Land's End District':
She identified features of the boulders that were like modern deposits along the Land's End shore, but elevated well above the present shoreline. She was well read, but I cannot ascertain whether she was conversant with the Hutton or Lyell texts. Regardless, her interpretation of the boulders as an ancient beach, formed at a different relative sea level, shows interpretive skills that extended beyond the standard diluvian dogma (www.geological-digressions.com).
The accompanying timeline of the 'Evolution of Stratigraphic Concepts' is interesting in that it shows Elizabeth Carne's inclusion and relative position in stratigraphical history:
- 1508: Leonardo da Vinci – layered strata – ancient seas, rising landmass
- 1669: Nicholaus Steno – Steno's axioms – organic origins of fossils
- 1669: Antoine Lavoisier – shoreline trajectories – sea level
- 1785 & 1795: James Hutton – Uniformity and Significance of Unconformities
- 1799 & 1847: Mary Anning – Paleontological collections and discovery
- 1815: William Smith – Lithostatigraphic Map
- 1830-33: Charles Lyell – Principles of Geology, Gradualism, Uniformitarianism
- 1817-1873: Elizabeth Carne – former sea levels
- 1893: Florence Bascom – pioneer in the use of microscopes in petrology.
After the death of her father in 1859, Elizabeth Carne undertook a recuperative voyage to France where she and her party based themselves at Pau. Her subsequent travel book Three Months' Rest at Pau in the Winter and Spring of 1859, written under the pseudonym of John Altrayd Wittitterly, contains several observations on the geology of the area from which it is clear that at that stage, although capable of accurate observations and credible hypotheses, she did not in fact regard herself as a geologist. The group followed an itinerary in Murray's Handbook which took them to Cauterets, where she noted:
I had fully thought that the rocks of Chaos were granite or gneiss, but am staggered by Murray's assertion that they are limestone, though I really don't think they are. Not only they had a granitic appearance but they are weathered and rounded as granite débris always is: slate and limestone shiver when they fall. . .Oh that some English geologist would visit the Pyrenees (Carne, E., 1860, p.202).
She echoes this wish elsewhere in the text. It is difficult for a non-geologist to estimate the depth of her knowledge, although it would be remarkable if she had not read Lyell's theory at that time, given her father's interest in the subject and that he was a man of means, well able to afford to collect current books. Also, Carne had met both Conybeare and De la Beche. De la Beche was well aware of the work of Roderick Murchison (an associate of Charles Lyell) whose theories De la Beche opposed in what was known as 'The Great Devonian Controversy'. However, in her observations of 1859, Carne does not mention Lyell by name and her remarks on sea levels, for example, seem to be the result of her own musings:
It is a singular anomaly in the glacier theory, that it supposes a far greater waste of rock at a time when there was far less rock exposed to waste. Débris, assumed to be ancient moraines (the coteaux for example), is often on a scale unexampled among existing glaciers, and this at a time when neighbouring mountain chains must have been masses of snow and ice.
My own conclusion is, that the conglomerate of the coteaux is a raised sea-bed; a sea-bed to which torrents and glaciers (they are welcome to give that assistance!) had previously brought down vast quantities of débris. In confirmation of this, agglutinated coarse sand and broken shells are found on the top of Mont Plaisir. I can have no doubt that these were once under the sea, but I do not see my way clear as to the mode in which they were raised (Carne, E., 1860, pp.152-153).
It is perhaps significant that Carne does not mention loess – sometimes formed by glaciers but also wind deposited accumulations – in connection with debris as Lyell included a section in his Principles of Geology.
It appears that it was after the death of her father that Carne had the leisure, and perhaps the confidence, to pursue her geological studies seriously and publish her own papers. Her knowledge came in useful on her travels, however:
We changed our carriage for horses at Gedre, and stopped to inspect the landlord's cabinet of minerals. Let no one be tempted by that corpulent villain to buy copper pyrites for gold, or argentiferous lead for silver. I shook my head over the former, and murmured faintly "Cuivre jaune;" upon which, seeing he had fallen into the hands of Philistines, he dropped the subject, and adroitly called my attention to something else (Carne, E., 1860, p.218).
Although it contains descriptions of the geology of the area around Pau, Three Months' Rest at Pau is not a geological treatise but a travelogue in the same vein as those of Elizabeth Carne's uncle, the Rev. John Carne, Joseph's brother. John Carne had travelled extensively to Constantinople, Greece, the Levant, Eygpt and Palestine, as well as in Europe. The New Monthly Magazine published his Tales from the East in 1826. This was followed by Tales from the West in 1828 – about his native county, Cornwall. In 1830 he published Recollections of Travels in the East, and in 1834 Letters from Switzerland and Italy.
When she used the psuedonym John Altrayd Wittitterly Carne demonstrated that she did have a sense of humour in spite of the earnest moralizing of much of her writing. That the name is based on the opinionated Dickensian character Mrs Wittitterly, from Nicholas Nickleby, is in no doubt, as Carne also mentions characters from both The Old Curiosity Shop and Oliver Twist in the text. Throughout, she takes care to maintain the fiction of a male persona, although she sometimes betrays her feminine sensibilities in such descriptions as the dirt in some of the lodgings in which they stayed: 'The inn at Bedous is not simply dirty, but beastly; and ladies have to dress standing on chairs to avoid the inhabitants of the plains' (Carne, E., 1860, p.247) although whether fleas, cockroaches or four-legged friends she does not specify. At the Hôtel de Mirabeau, Rue de la Paix, Paris 'our downstairs sitting room was subject to vile and abominable smells' and 'there were not many dusters in the house, except the inmates' hands' (Carne, E., 1860, p.261). During the horrible voyage home from Boulogne to Folkstone, (' "it is only for two hours," we said again') in the cabin below 'not only the sofa, but the floor was strewed with unhappy ladies, prepared for the worst' (Carne, E.,1860, p.262).
It is not clear who was in the party or whether they had any male escort. John Carne, writing twenty-five years earlier of a party of unaccompanied ladies, said:
Some years since, it might have been thought a little indecorous, and our forefathers, as well as mothers, would have recoiled with horror at the idea of young ladies travelling about Europe, alone and independent, without a protector, all helpless and companionless; but in these wandering and chivalrous days, it is a thing of frequent occurrence, and indeed attracts little notice or wonder.
...all enjoyed a perfect freedom from the bonds and caprices of that creature, man. . . they wandered over mountain and valley, snowy heights and dreary wild, as their fancy or taste directed them (Carne, J., 1834, pp.185-186).
Elizabeth Carne, at the age of 42-43 years, could not be considered a young lady. That she and probably her elder sister Caroline, were recovering from a period of stress and grief after the illness and death of their father, is hinted at in the text, but she may also have felt a certain release from constraint. She was no doubt close to her father in that she shared a lot of his interests and his confidence, but he had the reputation locally of being a rather opinionated person and a bit of what we should now call a 'micro-manager'. A handwritten satirical poem The Canorem Conclave, attributed to John Harvey, which scandalised Penzance when it was circulated in 1827/8, had for its subject the disputes which centred on the acquisition of an organ for the Penzance Wesleyan chapel and the part played by various Penzance worthies, thinly disguised in the text. Joseph Carne was identified in the key provided by George Clement Boase as 'Bishop Bankum's son' and it was written of him that:
...when the organ having been adopted, he assumed and was always held to be a "thorn in the flesh" to the unfortunate individuals who successively officiated at that Instrument, as he often took upon himself privately to dictate what tunes should and should not be played and publicly would frequently send the chapel-keeper to the organist to slacken or quicken the time of the tune, as he thought fit (Hoyle in Palmer, 2005, p.70).
Joseph Carne was President of the Penzance Library from 1834 until his death in 1858, and maintained the same firm grip on affairs there: Noall in his history of the library notes that Joseph Carne's biographer:
...says that he "almost entirely managed the affairs of the library for very many years. He marked and catalogued the books, he rearranged the bookcases, he compiled and saw through the press three or more catalogues, he read all the second-hand catalogues and purchased for small prices a considerable number of standard works, he economised the funds, and gave much of his valuable time to this labour of love" (Noall, 1968, pp. 13-14).
Joseph Carne may have been a fond parent, but he may have been inclined to interfere in domestic matters as well, hence the need for the Carne sisters to have a long period of rest and recuperation after his final illness and death. He had been in poor health for a number of years: in 1855 in his Presidential address to the Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Penzance he referred to his poor state of health and, in 1853, Mr J.J.A. Boase had taken the chair at the annual meeting on his behalf.
Travel books and topographical views had been extremely popular for years and, after the end of the Napoleonic wars, the British once more flocked to the continent and continued to do so throughout the 19th century. Journals kept by the young Caroline Anne Borlase of Castle Horneck, a great-great-granddaughter of Dr William Borlase of Ludgvan, record the travels undertaken by the family in Britain and on the continent. In Belgium, in 1875, they met by accident Mr and Mrs William Bolitho of Penzance and their two eldest daughters and spotted Lady Rashleigh. Caroline notes that some of the English Protestant tombs in the burial ground at Bruges 'look quite ancient, which shows that Bruges has long been a residence for English' (Fryer and Curnow in Palmer, 2005, pp.74-75).
In Pau, Elizabeth Carne encountered a thriving English community – Pau was one of the places where invalids went to escape a damp, cold English winter on the recommendation of their doctors: Elizabeth Carne describes it as having a soft climate 'a sort of warm Ventnor or Penzance' (Carne, E., 1860, p.14). She writes on the subject of securing lodgings:
Don't be troubled by your ignorance of localities and prices if you have a scrap of introduction to any of the English. They are uncommonly kind to all who are greater strangers than themselves. I never met with more ready, disinterested kindness than among the English at Pau (Carne, E., 1860, pp.17-18).
Whilst at Pau, Elizabeth Carne made the acquaintance of a permanent resident: an elderly homesick invalid from the West Country who was always keen to welcome visitors who could give her news of the region.
For the trip, Elizabeth Carne was armed with Erskine Murray's Summer in the Pyrenees, Volume II, published in 1837 by John Macrae of London, and also Murray's A Handbook for Travellers in France, an indispensable guidebook for English travellers, the sixth edition being published in 1858. In Three Months' Rest at Pau, the Carne party arrived in late December 1858 and spent until late February 1859 in Pau and its immediate environs, until the weather became clement enough for excursions further afield. At the end of February they spent four days visiting Eaux Bonnes via Eaux Chaudes, following Route 83 of Murray's Handbook. In late March the party spent eight days in the mountains, following Murray's itinerary number 85, going first to Lourdes via Argelez, where they based themselves, and Lestelle; they visited Cauterets, Le Grand Chaos and the cascade at Cerizet; Arrens and the church at Ponylaun. Elizabeth wrote:
Murray's account of this excursion perplexed us very much; I do not think it has been revised since the new road was made. . .There is now an excellent carriage road as far as Arrens (Carne, E., 1860, p. 209).
They went to Luz where they stayed overnight, making excursions to Gavarnie via Gedre, and then back to Argelez via St Savin, then to Bagnères and back to Pau. Elizabeth Carne entitles this chapter 'enjoyment' whereas the period spent during the winter at Pau was 'rest'.
The book contains handy hints based on her experiences for potential travellers to the region, as well as observations on and her impressions of the local populace, English visitors, customs and scenery. Carne appears to feel some guilt in enjoyment. Her last paragraph, written on her return to British soil contains a stern warning:
...if, without such just reason as may satisfy God and our own conscience, we put aside home ties and duties for pleasure . . .let us be sure of this, that we are running in the path of strong temptation, and may find to our cost, when we return home, that whatever we have won in southern lands, we have lost the sunshine of content (Carne, E., 1860, p.267).
Before the vast expansion of knowledge, professional research and increasing specialization of the 20th century, the scientific disciplines during the 18th and 19th centuries were largely the province of gentlemen amateurs with private incomes and the leisure to pursue their interests (often clergymen), except for the occasional professional man lucky enough to be funded by a wealthy patron. Dr William Borlase was a typical example of the 'parson naturalist' but he nevertheless, as did others in the same situation, made a significant contribution to the early development of the disciplines of geology, natural history and antiquarianism. During this period there also tended to be considerable overlap between these disciplines. The major part of Borlase's Natural History, for example, was devoted to geology and mineralogy.
Botany and natural history were among the subjects considered suitable to be included in the education of girls, as were drawing and watercolour painting, resulting in some of the beautiful and accomplished records surviving today. Advancing from the status of gifted amateurs dabbling in scientific subjects to serious scholars with published works, however, was extremely difficult for women whose education had been received at home and who therefore lacked the influential contacts established by male relatives at boarding schools and universities, and had, moreover, domestic concerns to occupy them. William Borlase, for example, whose two volumes Observations on the Antiquities, Historical and Monumental, of the County of Cornwall (1754) and The Natural History of Cornwall (1758) remain invaluable reference works today, setting a high standard for subsequent studies, had the advantage of an acquaintance with such men as Charles Lyttleton, Dean and later Bishop of Exeter, and Jeremiah Milles of Duloe, Cornwall, Precenter of Exeter, both of whom he met at the ordination of his son Billy in May 1748. Fellows of the Royal Society, they were enormously well-connected and Lyttleton in particular helped greatly with the impressive subscription lists which enabled Borlase to publish his works. Women such as Elizabeth Carne and Caroline Fox were fortunate in that the hospitality offered by their fathers, and in which they were necessarily involved, allowed them to meet interesting and influential men.
In preparing his Natural History of Cornwall, William Borlase had the invaluable assistance of his wife, Anne, which he fully acknowledged. Dr F.A. Turk in his introduction to the second edition of Borlase's Natural History, comments:
Little is recorded of Borlase's wife, Anne, but until her death in 1769, she appears to have been the ideal scholar's wife. Milles termed her "the happy mixture of the philosopher and matron" (Borlase, 1758, p. 20).
Another woman, Amelia Griffiths (1768-1858) a Devonian woman, wife of the Rector of St Issey in Cornwall, had the honour of being dubbed 'The Queen of Seaweed'. As a widow, and with the assistance of her servant, Mary Wyatt, she moved to Torquay and began a serious study of seaweeds, corresponding with William Henry Harvey (1811-1866, Irish botanist and phycologist who specialized in algae). Mary Wyatt, under the supervision of Amelia Griffiths and with the encouragement of Harvey, published two volumes of Algae Danmonienses in 1833 to sell at her shop in Torquay.
Anne Borlase was her husband's helpmeet and published nothing of her own but had an impressive knowledge of and collection of marine plants and was responsible for collecting and 'spreading' most of the specimens. John Ellis, a pioneer of marine zoology who published the Natural History of Corallines in 1755, described Anne Borlase as 'the most curious lady I know of her sex' (curious as in interesting). Ellis first met Borlase when on a visit to Cornwall in 1744, and they began a regular correspondence. On 25 May 1754, Borlase wrote to Ellis:
My wife takes great delight in collecting sea plants and I design to make a Hortus Siccus entirely of the marine kind. If you will assist me so far as to enquire and send me their Latin and English names, and the page in Ray or any other botanist where they may be found, to refer to, you will greatly oblige me, and I'll send you any one which you most prize (Pool, 1986, p.168).
Pool, in his biography of Willliam Borlase, notes that 'The marine Hortus siccus is preserved in the same volume as its terrestrial predecessor, and likewise contains many specimens collected and identified by Anne Borlase'. Most of the plants in Borlase's Natural History were identified using the standard works of reference of John Ray (1627-1705, botanist and clergyman) the Catalogus Plantarum Angliae (1677) and Historia Plantarum Species (1686-1704), but a letter in the Borlase collection in the Morrab Library archive, from John Ellis, deals with the difficulties of classification:
I am much obliged to Mrs Borlase for her many favours. She is the most curious Lady I know of her Sex. I have shew'd her curious fucus's to all my friends who say they never saw anything spread like them. I am of your mind that there are not sufficient characteristics to describe them and then to class them I find very difficult. I must give up this point to a pupil of Linnaeus's who is to be here May next. . . in the British Museum there is great confusion of younger and older Specimens, these are often put for different kinds, so unless one was at the sea side for a year together to pursue the growth of each genus it is impossible to be sure (Morrab Library Archive).
The increasing popularity of scientific subjects led to the founding of the Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Penzance on 20 November 1839, by the Mayor of Penzance, Richard Moyle, after a petition signed by 69 people had been drawn up at a meeting on the 4th November. The Society published its first Transactions on 12 September 1845 and publication continued until 1855, when the Society went into abeyance due to lack of members after the initial enthusiasm waned. It was revived in 1862 until 1865 when publication again ceased, although the popular annual excursions to places of interest continued until 1872, after which the Society again lay dormant until 1880 when there was a revival of interest. The names of subscribers in this last phase of the Society included those of 20 women including Miss Caroline Borlase, Miss Carne (Caroline, elder sister of Elizabeth), Miss Louise Courtney, and Miss Nowell-Peters (daughter of the Vicar of Madron and an aunt of Caroline Anne Borlase). Also amongst the subscribers was Q's cousin Richard Pearce Couch. There were no female subscribers listed in the earliest volume of the Transactions, but Mrs Bedford and Mrs T.S. Bolitho made generous donations of £1 each (the annual subscription was ten shillings) and several ladies donated cases of stuffed birds, fish and animals, shells and a few coins. Elizabeth Carne gave a heron, guillemot, whimbrel and jay. The papers in Volume I included a 'List of Marine Algae, found on the Falmouth shores previous to 1840' by a Miss Warren.
The Couch family made a substantial contribution to Volume II of the Transactions of the Natural History and Antiquarian Society from 1851-1855 (published in 1864), which contained twelve papers by Richard Quiller Couch, who was one of the secretaries and curators of the society; four papers by Dr Jonathan Couch, Q's grandfather; and a paper in four parts by Dr Thomas Quiller Couch, Q's father. Joseph Carne was still President at that time. Also in that volume is a paper by the Misses Louisa and Matilda Millett on the 'Wild Flowers and Ferns of the Isles of Scilly Observed in June and July''.
Louisa and Matilda Millett
Louisa (1801-1871) and Matilda (1805-1855) were born in Limehouse, London, the daughters of Richard Millett, a Cornishman born at Tywardreath, a Master Mariner and a Captain of Volunteers. Their mother, Sarah Towers, died in 1810 and their father remarried. His second wife was Ann Penberthy of Madron and the family lived at Lower Lariggan, Penzance, where he died in 1826. His son Richard, Master Extraordinary of the Court of Chancery, was an important figure in Penzance and held, as is mentioned in the introduction above, several influential positions. He had nine children with his wife Anne Harris, some of whom lived with their aunts Louisa and Matilda at 14 Chapel Street, at various periods. Richard, in spite of his successful career, had money problems and eventually brought disgrace on the family and a great shock to the community. He had borrowed £1,000 from the London and South Western Bank, on behalf of Millett and Borlase but the firm knew nothing of the transaction. On 4 July 1865, the day after the payment was due, he hanged himself in an empty house in Regent's Terrace, which belonged to him. The inquest recorded suicide whilst under the influence of temporary insanity (Millett, 2018, pp.55, 80, 82).
Louisa and Matilda visited Scilly in 1852. J.E. Lousely in Flora of the Isles of Scilly (1971), charts the early discoveries on Scilly of which there were very few mentions:
The dangers and discomforts of the sea crossings have been sufficient to discourage all but the most determined of the early visitors to Scilly. This explains the late discovery of the interesting flora (Lousely, 1971).
However, this was to change when, in 1852, the islands were visited by 'four good botanists': Joseph Woods (1776-1864), one of the most travelled botanists of his day and author of The Tourist's Flora; John Ralfs (1807-90) completed the series of visits which culminated in the manuscript floras now at Penzance [Morrab Library]; and Louisa and Matilda Millett.
By far the greatest contribution came from the Misses Millett who spent five weeks of June and July listing the flora and preparing models of the prehistoric monuments. . . [they] listed 144 flowering plants and 16 ferns, of which 121 phanerograms and 3 ferns are accepted as first records. The accuracy of their list deserves the highest praise and there are probably very few errors which the text-books then current would have enabled them to avoid. It is unfortunate that they included no localities though it is stated that most of the botanising was done on St Mary's (Lousely, 1971, p.81)
Lousely's work contains a list of plants, with their first records and rarity, and has very few corrections to make to the Milletts' list:
- Of Pedicularis palustris he says that although this was first recorded by the Milletts 'as they fail to mention P. sylvatica which is very common, they were probably in error'
- On Silene inflata (Silene vulgaris) - Bladder Campion - 'Ralf's Flora cites T. Millett as having found it on St Agnes . . .The Milletts are generally reliable, but they do not give the closely related S. maritima which is plentiful on St Agnes'
- Of Marrubium vulgare - White Horehound - Lousely comments: 'Was recorded by Millett, 1852, without locality. Ralfs searched for it without success . . . In spite of the exceptional accuracy of the Misses Millett, the species cannot be accepted without confirmation'
- Of Scilla autumnalis he writes: 'The Misses Millett included this as well as S. verna in their 1852 list . . . In the absence of confirmation it seems likely that a late flowering S. verna was mistaken for this species, which would hardly be out at the time the Milletts' visit ended'
- Finally, of Arum maculatum 'Lords and Ladies': 'Recorded by Millett in 1852, and by others, but all recent records have proved to be errors due to confusion with the next species [Arum italicum, Late Cuckoo Pint, native and common]. It is unlikely that A. maculatum has ever occurred in Scilly'
(Lousely, 1971, pp.227, 132, 235, 263, 264, 278)
Contrary to the later favourable opinion of Lousely of their search, Louisa and Matilda were slightly disappointed. In the introduction to their list of plants (dated 21st October 1853) published in the Transactions, they comment:
On visiting Scilly, we determined to observe the wild plants for the purpose of comparing them with those growing about Penzance; but we soon found that admiring the beautiful scenery, and examining the rocks, caverns, and antiquities, with which we were surrounded, occupied a large portion of the time we had allotted for a botanical search, and after staying five weeks at St Mary's, and making excursions of a day to the other Islands, we reluctantly left Scilly, under the impression that our list was an imperfect one and that many good plants were still to be found there (Transactions NHAS, p.77).
Going on to compare the plants with those in the area around Penzance, they say that:
Although the species vary very little from those about Penzance, the difference of situation is great, and contributed much to the interest of observing them. The beautiful Anagallis tenella (bog pimpernel) is confined here to patches in marshy ground, whilst at Scilly it delights to escape into the fields, and even to cover dry sandy hillocks, so as to form a carpet with its petals of delicate pink. Crithmum maritimum (samphire) may be gathered in places comparatively remote from the sea; indeed the plants of Scilly set all the directions in botanical books at defiance, and Withering and Loudon might have remained at home for any service they rendered us at Scilly (Transactions NHAS, p.77).
These reference books were probably those of William Withering (1741-1799, discoverer of digitalis as the active ingredient in foxgloves as a medicinal herb (already used in folk medicine) whose Botanical Arrangement of British Plants (3rd edition) was published in 1796; and J.C. Loudon's (1783-1843) massive Encyclopedia of Plants, written with the help of John Lindley, and published in 1828.
Louisa and Matilda took their two young nephews with them to Scilly. The elder, Richard Tracey Millett was already one of the youngest members of the Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Penzance, which was keen to involve a more youthful element. The Misses Millett reported that:
Collecting the lichens and ferns devolved on our elder nephew, who proved Scilly to be far richer in herbaceous lichens than the neighbourhood of Penzance. . . he has the pleasure of adding three species – Blechnum boreale (common hard-fern), which he found in a pit on Salakee down, near the Giant's Castle, Botrychium Lunaria (moon wort), and Ophioglossum vulgatum (adder's tongue); both the latter are believed to be new, not only to Scilly, but to the Land's-end district: he purposes, on a future occasion, to add them to a collection of dried ferns of the neighbourhood, and present them, with a few of the lichens of Scilly, to the museum (Transactions, NHAS, p.76).
The President's Address in the Transactions of 1851 acknowledges the contribution of Richard Tracy Millett to the stone lichens mainly gathered and presented by another young member, Master Pentreath, to whose collection 'Master Tracy Millett has had the good fortune to add one, discovered by himself, the Sticta crocata, quite new to Cornwall'. His aunt Miss Millett, in the same year, 'discovered, at Gulval, a plant which is supposed to be new to Cornwall, – the Lathyrus Aphaca, or yellow vetchling' (Transactions, NHAS, p.6).
The list of donations to the museum recorded for 1852 included 'A series of beautifully prepared Fungi, named by the Rev. Mr. Berkeley and Mr. Wood. Collected and presented by Master Tracy Millett '(Transactions, NHAS, p. 56). The Mr. Wood was the Joseph Wood mentioned by Lousely as one of the 'four good botanists' to visit Scilly in 1852 (Lousely, 1971,p.81). The Report of the Council of 22 October 1852 records that 'During the past year we have been visited by Mr. Wood, a distinguished Botanist. He discovered the Euphorbia pepilis in Scilly' (Transactions, NHAS, vol II, p.63).
In his paper published in the Transactions of 1852, Richard Tracy Millett comments:
All botanists agree in considering there is greater difficulty in determining the species of Fungi from description than any other branch of the Cryptogamia, and it was on this account that Mr. Ralfs proposed my making a collection of the Fungi of this district for the society's museum. I have this day the pleasure of presenting one hundred and fifty specimens, collected during the past year with the assistance, and under the immediate superintendence of Mr. Ralfs. The whole of the specimens are believed to be authentically named, they having been examined by the Rev. B[sic].J. Berkeley and Mr. Broome, gentlemen well known for their thorough knowledge of this greatly varied and very interesting branch of the Cryptogamia' (Transactions, NHAS, p.91).
John Ralfs was the other botanist of 1852 named by Lousely. He was President of the Natural History and Antiquarian Society from 1883, and his memorial of December 1890, written by his friend Ernest Marquand (published in Volume III of the Transactions and reproduced on the website West Penwith Resources www.westpenwith.org.uk ) records how he was passionately fond of children 'the shyest of whom made friends with him at first sight' and how he was unstinting of his help and encouragement to anyone who required it. He had been friends with the Rev. Berkeley since his days as a student at the Royal College of Surgeons, where he was in the same year as Berkeley's brother. Berkeley established the genus Ralfsia of lichenoid marine algae to perpetuate his friend's name. In his youth he had become acquainted at Torquay with Amelia Griffiths and it was she 'who induced him to write the first botanical paper he ever published, on the mode of growth of Alaria esculenta, a rare seaweed growing at St. Michael's Mount' (Transactions, NHAS, Vol III, 1890).
Richard Tracy Millett was praised by for this collection of Fungi by Joseph Carne, President of the Society, in his presidential address:
This collection we owe to the industry of a young gentleman who has already often served the society, and whose present contribution would do much credit to a much older votary of science (Transactions, NHAS, p. 57)
Whilst on Scilly with his aunts, Richard Tracy Millett made a collection of 20 land and fresh-water shells, but this, as he states in the Transactions: 'believing it to be the first of the kind made in Scilly, I presented it to the Lord Proprietor of the Islands'. The indefatigable youth also presented a collection of 19 species of ferns collected in the neighbourhood of Penzance to the museum in 1853. He had also donated examples of 'insect architecture' to the museum in the early days and his aunt had given 'insects, beetles, Lucarius cervis etc.'
In 1853 Penzance was visited by another of the breed of the 'parson-naturalist', which greatly proliferated during the 19th century, the Rev. T. Salwey, whose observations on the Penzance lichens also appeared in Volume II of the Transactions, and who acknowledged the assistance of one of the Millett sisters during his stay:
In a collection of lichens, gathered partly in the Scilly Islands and partly in this neighbourhood, by Miss Millett, and which she was kind enough to submit to my inspection, I observe the Baeomyres anomalus, Lecidea conions, Lecanora badia and cervia (as I believe them to be), Lecidea alba-atra C. saxicola, epipolia, and Sticta aurata (St. Mary's Island, Scilly). There is also both in her collection and in that of Mr. Ralf, an Urceolaria which I have not met with before: it may perhaps be the Urceol. scruposa v. verrucosa of Schaerer (NHAS,Transactions Vol II, p. 146).
Three Months' Rest at Pau contains, as well as descriptions of the geology of the Pyrenees, Elizabeth Carne's observations on the local flora and butterflies, comparing what she sees to what would be found flowering in England at the same period and noting varieties which differ from those of Britain. Carne left another legacy, however, in her sketchbook of conchology: a detailed record of the shells found in the area around Penzance and Scilly, now in the Morrab Library archive, Penzance.
Antiquities was the special interest of Matilda Millett. Her 1849 paper 'Remarks on early British residences, and on rthe reamins of an ancient village, near Chûn Castle' was published in Transactions Vol I (1851, p. 286-289). With the help of Louisa Millett, she was responsible for the Society's collection of models of various sites around Penzance and the Isles of Scilly. In 1852, Joseph Carne noted in his President's Address, that:
On the subject of Antiquities, - having already in our museum, through the kind and persevering efforts of the Misses Millett, models of all the cromlehs in Cornwall, and most of our other remaining monuments of antiquity, we had little expectation of any further additions, but these ladies have laid the Society under additional obligation to them. They have lately visited the Isles of Scilly, and we have now before us the result of their labours there, in models of the entrenchment called the Giant's Castle, – and the large kist-vaen known by the name of the Giant's grave, – the rock styled by Dr. Borlase a Tolmen, now called the Drum rock, – and some rocks which have been weather-beaten into the most grotesque and singular forms [The Clapper Rocks] (Transactions NHAS, p. 60).
In 1855, the President referred to the exciting discovery of an inscribed stone at St Hilary but also to the sad death, aged 50 of Matilda Millett:
...here I cannot but allude to the loss the society, as well as her family and friends, have sustained by the death of Miss Matilda Millett, to whom, with her sister, we owe the models of almost all the remains of antiquity in our neighbourhood (Transactions NHAS, 1855, p. 276).
These had included Trevethey Stone near Liskeard, Carwynen Cromlêh and Castle-an Dinas. At Bosullow Trehyllys, Madron, the site of a Romano-British courtyard village near Chûn Castle hillfort, the Milletts made a detailed plan of the site and arranged some excavations. Matilda records:
It being desirable to discover, if possible, the fire-places, or some relics of the beings who called this place their home, the consent of Mr. Hichens, the leaseholder of the part of Bossullow in which this village is situated, was obtained; and the labourer employed, having removed earth and stones to the depth of a foot below the surface from the centre of the hut marked 1 on the plan, laid open a layer of unctuous black mould, in which was a small quantity of charred wood, a great number of burnt stone, and as many fragments of pottery as filled a small basin: a portion of the latter, as well as some of the charcoal, my sister and self have much pleasure in presenting to the society.
Matilda commented on earlier reports by Gilbert and Britton, that 'these gentlemen have erred as to the position of the huts' and the walls were not as they had said 'rudely put together' but showed, in Miss Millett's opinion, some skill in 'hedging'. She also mentioned that about six years previously great quantities of pottery fragments had been found in an adjoining enclosure near to a field called the 'Barrow field'. The Milletts had consulted the Transactions of the British Archaeological Association at the 3rd Congress (1846) and W. D. Saull's Notitia Britanniae, or An Inquiry Concerning the Localities, Habits, Condition and Progressive Civilization of the Aborigines of Britain: To Which is Appended a Brief Retrospect of the Result of their Intercourse with the Romans (1845).
In 1851 the Council of the Society acknowledged the donation of monumental brass rubbings from Madron 'carefully arranged and mounted on rollers', gifted by Rev. Michael Nowell-Peters, vicar of Madron, but which were the work of one of his daughters, probably Catharine (aged 28 in 1851) or Mary (aged 25), and who was probably the Miss Nowell-Peters on the list of subscribers to the revived Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Penzance in 1880.
The Rev. M.N. Peters was a Vice-President of the society and married to Anne Borlase, daughter of William Borlase, the former Vicar of Madron, and Catherine Penneck, so a connection by marriage of Richard Quiller Couch. Anne Borlase was also the grand-daughter of Walter Borlase and Margaret Pendarves of Castle Horneck. Lydia Peters, the younger sister of Catharine and Mary Peters, married her cousin John Borlase in 1855 and was the mother of the last Borlases of Castle Horneck – Lydia Harris Borlase (died 1939) and Caroline Anne Borlase (died 1934).
Social conditions, philanthropy and religion: Elizabeth Carne and Maria Branwell (Mrs Brontë); England's Three Wants and The Realm of Truth.
A constant theme running through Elizabeth Carne's writing and a preoccupation of her whole life, was the moral and physical condition of society; in particular the problems caused by poverty, and inequality of both wealth and opportunity which the existing rigid class structure and the established Church failed to address.
Maria Branwell (Mrs Brontë)
Carne was not alone in her concern but was part of a growing movement of social conscience, led in part by the Non-Conformist groups. Earlier in the century Maria Branwell, although she had removed from Penzance to Yorkshire and married an Anglican (although evangelistic) clergyman, had been brought up in the same Wesleyan ethos as Elizabeth Carne, and which Hardie-Budden, writing of Carne, describes as offering 'an expansive tolerance of independent thinking and widespread opportunities to all classes of society' (Hardie-Budden, 2014). Maria Branwell was a distant cousin of Elizabeth Carne: her mother was Ann Carne who married Thomas Branwell.
Maria Brontë, as she became, according to Ellen Nussey, the great friend of Maria's daughter Charlotte, found time in her busy domestic life to care about wider issues. Nussey writes:
...this fragile delicate little woman found time in the midst of her young family and busy household to write poetry and small articles for a Cottage Magazine in which her husband was interested and also a contributor (Wright, 2019, p.115).
She wrote an article entitled 'The Advantages of Poverty in Religious Concerns', which was in fact rejected by the publisher but which her husband preserved and Wright includes the full text in the appendix to The Mother of the Brontës (p.173). Wright believes it to have been intended for publication in The Pastoral Visitor by William Morgan, launched in 1815 and comments:
The message of The Advantages of Poverty in Religious Concerns was "that being poor does not mean that God does not care. In fact, it keeps things simple not to have material comforts to distract from spiritual understanding. Despair over your appalling circumstances is simply giving in to the voice of the Devil" (Wright, 2019, p.114).
The article betrays a naïvety and ignorance of the real social conditions of the period which, although as a clergyman's wife she must have been accustomed to helping with the poor of the parish, reflects her own cushioned background. She writes of extreme want and squalor that:
...such a wretched extremity of poverty is seldom experienced in this land of general benevolence. When a case of this kind occurs, it is to be feared the sufferers bring it on themselves by their own excess and imprudent folly; but even when they reap the fruit of their doings, they are not permitted long to suffer. The penetrating eye of Christian charity soon discovers, and its hand is as soon stretched out for their relief. The poor but honest and industrious Christian, for whose benefit this humble attempt is made, is scarcely ever suffered to languish in extreme want (Wright, 2019).
This comment was made at a time when agricultural labourers in some cases existed on three shillings a week and had been deprived of the means of keeping their own animals and growing their own food by the 18th century enclosures and quite literally, in some cases, starved to death; and when little children worked 12 or more hours a day doing dangerous work in unhealthy conditions in factories.
Hugh Seymour Tremenheere, who also had deep Penzance connections, had no such illusions. He was born in 1804, the son of General Tremenheere of the Royal Marines and was nephew of Mr and Mrs Pendarves Tremenheere of Treneere, Madron. He was born and spent most of his working life away from Penzance, although his parents always hired a house there for the summer, and in 1868 he was elected President of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, so Elizabeth Carne would have known him and would undoubtedly have been aware of and perhaps influenced by his work on social reform.
After spending some years travelling in Britain with his uncle and aunt and, later, on the continent, and in reflecting on the conditions of the people, Tremenheere decided on the law rather than the church. His entry in the Dictionary of National Biography states that he 'served on various Royal Commissions, and was instrumental in bringing about fourteen acts of parliament, all having for their object the amelioration of the condition of the working classes' (DNB Vol 57, 2013, pp.187-88).
In 1839 he was made the first Inspector of Schools. Gillian Green in her paper on Tremenheere for Treasures of the Morrab writes that he visited many types of schools, parish, elementary, agricultural, naval and military and 'influenced Sir George Grey, the Home Secretary, and Lord Shaftesbury, and helped to provide schooling for child-labourers from ten to twelve years of age' (Green in Palmer, 2005, p.49). In 1843 he was made Assistant Poor Law Commissioner. Green writes that his annual report to Parliament was influenced by his deep Christian principles:
'He was scandalised when he visited St Pancras Workhouse and found the inmates with fevers and never allowed out for exercise or fresh air. He changed all this, wrote many pamphlets and books and tirelessly lobbied people of influence to help the less fortunate' (Green in Palmer, 2005,p.49).
In 1846 he became Inspector of Mines and looked into the working conditions of women and children. He also 'became appalled at the cruelty of some of the mill-owners to their workers and he believed the better off should mix with the poor, as Jesus had done' (Green in Palmer, 2005, p.50).
In 1841 he inherited the Treneere estate at Penzance from his uncle, but it was heavily mortgaged, so he decided to live a modest bachelor existence in rooms at the Reform Club until he had paid off the debts of the estate. This he did by 1856, when he married Lucy Bernal, Mrs Vicessimus Knox, a widow.
He had been interested in bringing the railway to Penzance and in 1839 published a paper 'Observations on the Proposed Breakwater in Mount's Bay and on its Connection with a Railway into Cornwall'. In 1871 he retired from public life and 'loved his property in Cornwall and made many agricultural experiments' (Green in Palmer, 2005, p.50). He had been a friend of Florence Nightingale from childhood and was sent out to the Crimea by Prince Albert, where he visited the troops. In 1888 he was made the first freeman of the Borough of Penzance.
Tremenheere's deep-rooted Christian ethic was also the key to Elizabeth Carne's own attitudes towards the poor and to social reform. In Country Towns she explores the opportunities for aiding the poor through the inevitably closer social contact of one class with another and the intimate knowledge which such interactions brought and which was lacking in the big cities where the new type of 'district visitor' had a place but which Carne thought inappropriate in a small town where good neighbourliness would be more effective and should prevail over official interference.
Carne's attitude towards class distinction is slightly ambivalent. In Three Months' Rest at Pau, for example, she talks of the 'horrible unexclusiveness' of the Préfect's balls, where:
...one or two of them are open to all classes; and, what is worse, the ladies must dance with those who ask them, or not at all, and there are no introductions. Yet English young ladies go to these balls, and English mothers and husbands allow them to go (Carne, 1860, p.94).
She cites the story of a young lady who found herself dancing with the traiteur who supplied the family with their dinners but took the opportunity of his civil enquiries to mention one or two changes they would like made. Carne remarks that 'for myself, I am not exclusive; I would rather my daughter danced with a decent water-carrier than a blackguard peer,' but she criticises the abandonment of their principles of the English for the sake of entertainment: 'butterflies keep in their own sphere of sunshine and flowers, and do not soil their wings in the mud'. In England such behaviour would be 'death to their gentility' (Carne, 1860, pp.94-96). On the whole, however, she believed that the mingling of classes was mutually beneficial.
Like Maria Branwell, Carne made a distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor; one of the advantages of the country town being that it was obvious to all where there was genuine want through no fault, and where the want was through lack of thrift, idleness, or drunkeness. Carne was very much against the indiscriminate giving of alms. Probably her shrewd, hard-headed and practical approach did not win her many friends. Hardie-Budden writes that Elizabeth Carne was very much aware of her personal shortcomings, writing to her friend Emily Bolitho that 'All my family have a certain coldness of disposition which is our misfortune; we cannot help it, but it causes in general a most unamiable and unpopular indifference to all the usual modes of showing affection' (Hardie-Budden, 2019). She did, however, possess a softer and more compassionate side. In Three Months' Rest at Pau, she relates how:
...while I was sketching at Louvie , a little morsel of a child, hardly able to totter along, came and begged of me. It had the grace to blush up to the eyes – poor little thing! but the mother stood by, encouraging it in its first essay, carefully training it in the path it should not go. I would not have given it a sou for the world; but human nature is weak, and I could not help giving it a piece of the cake I was eating (Carne, 1860, p. 166).
In some places, begging was strictly forbidden under the local bye-laws, but not everywhere. Sternly telling a beggar-woman that begging was illegal, Carne was met with a retort to the effect that 'not here, it isn't' (Carne, 1860, p.196). Carne writes 'it is a great grief of mind to see my countrymen, wherever they go, creating this degrading habit of begging by their thoughtless habit of giving' (Carne, 1860, p.166). She preferred to use her fortune in more practical ways such as the provision of schools where they were needed, and by giving advice.
Her whole philosophy of social reform was underpinned by her Christianity and moral stance. The pamphlet England's Three Wants, published anonymously in 1871, was, as Hardie-Budden comments:
Firmly rooted in textual references to Revelations xxii. 17 to Ezekiel xlvii, 2-5 and concentrated on the hidden poverty of rural communities, the lack of enthusiasm for spiritual learning. . .She postulates a nation with a lack of thirst for the "water of life" (God), the lack of education and curiosity, and finally the inepitude and unwillingness of the church to minister properly (Hardie-Budden, 2019).
The Realm of Truth was the result of a lifetime's reflection. Elizabeth Carne presented a copy to the Rev. Prebendary Hedgeland, who was to preach at her funeral later that same year. Her letter is preserved in the copy of her book given to the Morrab Library by Mr Hedgeland with his collection:
May I ask you to do me the honour of accepting a copy of my latest, and I think my last book. It has been simmering in my mind all my life, and I am thankful to have lived to see it take a definite form. It is too much to expect that any friend would agree with all of it, but the subject is so very wide, and many aspects of it so undeniable, that I do hope you may find much with which you unhesitatingly approve.
With kind regards to Mrs Hedgeland 's family.
Yours very truly,
Elizabeth T. Carne
The book is divided into two parts: the first being a discussion of the nature of truth and the second part the applications of truth to everyday life. The preface contains the key to the whole:
A FRIEND said to me after reading this manuscript that there were "some original thoughts in it", a remark that disheartened me: for if a friend could so miss the whole drift of the book, what was to be expected of the general reader. The nature of the subject should have banished the idea of originality; for when we offer Truth to others, we offer that which is not new, but very old. The whole aim of the book is to bring together truths, which separately have been long known and acknowledged, for the purpose of showing that all truth is one. . .Truth is that which is, that which exists by its own inherent nature; and that our reception of it should be less as something to see and know, than as something to be (Carne, 1873).
A contemporary review of the book pasted into the Rev. Mr Hedgeland's copy, probably by himself, states:
The Realm of Truth by Elizabeth T. Carne (King), is a very fair specimen of what may be called meditative argument. The authoress reasons a good deal about truth, and with considerable ability; her reasonings, however, are grounded on premises which, to a large extent, will only be accepted by persons who so far agree with her that the consequent reasoning will be in their case superfluous. The sentiments are good, and are sometimes put with a near approach to eloquence, but the thought of the book implies a very limited acquaintance with what other people think, and its religious is of more value that its philosophical element (Anon, undated).
Whatever the view of her reasoning, Elizabeth Carne lived her whole life according to the principle of what she perceived to be truth: a faith in God inseparable from self; and left tangible evidence of her generosity in the shape of public buildings, museums and schools.
In the late 18th and 19th centures, the people of Penzance, as seen by the various institutions which flourished in the town, had a lively interest in scientific and intellectual developments, which grew. In 1882, a mini 'Great Exhibition' was organized: the Penzance Scientific and Industrial Exhibition. This was timed for the week beginning 25th September to follow on from the Polytechnic Exhibition at Falmouth the preceding week, which was expected to attract a large number of visitors who, it was hoped, would stay on for the Penzance exhibition. It was held in St John's Hall and encompassed geological, minerological and natural history exhibits, with other exhibits from the mining industry, local trades and marine industry as well as arts and crafts, and various inventions. An added inducement was its illumination by electric light (Hogg in Palmer, 2005, p. 95).
As Elizabeth Carne discusses in Country Towns and the Place they Fill in Modern Civilization, the advantage of the small town was an intimacy amongst the different social classes resulting from living in a mixed community. There was also a more democratic outlook than in the big cities, partly fostered through the growth of non-conformist religions, which offered opportunities for women to participate in intellectual pursuits traditionally the preserve of men. For example, the Geological Society of London did not admit females as full members until well into the 20th century, whereas Elizabeth Carne was elected a full member of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall as early as 1868; partly, it, must be admitted, in recognition of her financial generosity. The Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Penzance published papers from women from its inception in 1839, as well as acknowledging their contributions towards museum exhibits. The Penzance Library admitted women as subscribers before 1825.
Although several women's names emerge amongst the subscribers to the Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Penzance: Louise Courtney wrote the final published version of A Half-Century of Penzance, from her father's manuscript; and the women of Penzance clearly had interests beyond the domestic sphere, judging from their reading matter, a few stand out as exceptional. The Brontë sisters were associated with Penzance through their mother Maria Branwell, herself a writer; as was Ann Batten Cristall, born in Penzance, although she lived in London, and also her sister Elizabeth, an engraver working in a man's world. Anne Borlase, a century earlier than Louisa & Matilda Millett and Elizabeth Carne, was recognised as a talented marine algologist by leading natural philosophers of the day with whom her husband, William Borlase, corresponded, and he himself acknowledged her contribution to his publications, which became the benchmark for later research. Louisa and Matilda Millett were acknowledged as making significant contributions to the Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Penzance, and were praised by J.E. Lousely, vice-president of the Botanical Society of the British Isles, writing in 1971, for their important early contribution to the discoveries of the flora of the Isles of Scilly.
Elizabeth Carne, however, was exceptional for both the breadth of her interest and knowledge in such diverse fields as geology, and the social and economic conditions and problems of the day. Moreover, she published three books and at least one pamphlet and was, according to her entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, a regular contributor of letters and articles to the London Quarterly Review; she was the first woman to be elected to the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, and published several papers in its Transactions, and her contribution to early work in stratigraphy has been noted by 21st century geologists.
In his Anniversary Address to the General Meeting of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, held on 10th November 1893, 20 years after Elizabeth Carne's death, Howard Fox, F.G.S., president and a nephew of Elizabeth Carne's great friend Caroline Fox, discussed the role of women in contemporary geology and paid tribute to Elizabeth Carne:
Within the last few years the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society has contained three important petrographical papers by Miss Raisin, who has received the award of a fund by the Council of that Society. The same journal contains a paper by Miss Gardiner on Metamorphism round the New Galloway granite, and another paper by Miss Ogilvie, who has just been made D.Sc for brilliant stratigraphical work in the Dolomites.
It was owing to the munificence of a lady, Miss Elizabeth Carne, that you became the owners of the freehold in which your museum is built; it was owing to the zeal and industry of herself and sister that your mineral specimens were so carefully and scientifically arranged and labelled on the first occupation of these rooms. Nor did her services to you end here. Following in the footsteps of her father, Mr. Joseph Carne, F.R.S., one of the principal benefactors of your Society, she became a valued contributor to your Transactions. A lady a few years ago found the only specimen of Paradoxides – a mid-Cambrian fossil – yet discovered in Cornwall. There is no reason why the honour of settling the age of our West Cornwall rocks should not fall to the lot of another lady (Transactions, RGSC, 1895, pp. 510-511).
In spite of this tribute, the only female name on the list of subscribers in Transactions Vol 11, was Miss Fox of Penjerrick: this was Anna Maria, the elder sister of Caroline Fox, who she outlived by 26 years.
By the end of the century, women were emerging from domestic seclusion and beginning to make their mark in what had previously been purely masculine spheres in their own right and not simply as ancillaries to the work of male relatives, although not without considerable opposition in some quarters. Miss Olave T. Millett, who lived with her aunts Louisa and Matilda as a child, became the first woman librarian of the Penzance Library, since when the post has only been held by women. Both J.S. Mill and Henry Thomas Buckle, whose writings Elizabeth Carne studied and at times criticised, and who had known Mill personally, were advocates of women's suffrage and education. In a discourse delivered to the Royal Institution, on Friday, 19th March, 1858, Buckle spoke on 'The Influence of Women on the Progress of Knowledge':
On every side, in all social phenomena . . . we find manifold proof that women are gradually making their way, and slowly but surely winning for themselves a position superior to any they have hitherto attained (Buckle, 1863, p.160).
He goes on to discuss the ability of women to reason deductively but puts his finger on their greatest drawback – education:
That women are more deductive than men because they think quicker than men, is a proposition which some persons will not relish, and yet it may be proved in a variety of ways. Indeed, nothing could prevent its being universally admitted except the fact, that the remarkable rapidity with which women think is obscured by that miserable, that contemptible, that preposterous system, called their education, in which valuable things are carefully kept from them, and trifling things carefully taught to them, until their fine and nimble minds are too often irretrievably injured (Buckle, 1863, pp.180-81).
Paull quotes Ann Cristall's friend Mary Wollstonecraft: ...insufficient education and domestic confinement makes "mere animals" of [women], when they marry they act as such children may be expected to act' (Paull, 2015, p.6).
On women writers, Paull writes that:
...women coped with strictures of propriety by developing public personas under which they could disseminate writing that had to retain an air of the private...Domesticity was their sanctioned concern; being a "public" woman caused unsavory connotations (notably of acting or prostitution) and even writing came precariously close to trespassing into the public male sphere.
They were aided by the 'diversification and expansion of the reading public' which led to women writers gaining in popularity (Paull, 2015, pp. 4-5).
It would be another century before women such as the Louisa & Matilda Millett and Elizabeth Carne finally were able to throw off the domestic shackles and prejudices which prevented them from realizing their full potential. Their contribution to scientific and intellectual life, therefore, is all the more remarkable.
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Morrab Library Archive, Penzance:
Borlase, Dr. William 1696-1772, R. Lugdvan V St Just BOR/2,3; BOR/6,9
Carne, Miss Elizabeth SCI/16
Penzance Ladies' Book Club 1779-1912 PEN/23