Friday, 6 April 2012

6th April 1812: Disturbances in Cornwall

On Monday 6th April 1812, one of the first areas in England to experience disturbances owing to the high price of staple foods was Cornwall. There is little easily-available information on what took place, save for a newspaper report and a letter from Truro Magistrates to the Home Office, which offer some interesting contrasting accounts.

An edited extract from the Royal Cornwall Gazette, 11th April 1812:
The multitude of poor miners and their families who live from hand to mouth, is great—their demands urgent—and the impulse of hunger is a dreadful impulse. We observed last week some symptoms of commotion among those poor people. The first and most pernicious effect of which was, to alarm the farmers and dealers in grain, potatoes, &c. and to check the open sale and free circulation of provisions through the country; and, the action and reaction of the two evils heightening each other, till Saturday and Sunday last, the workmen at several of the mines then resolved to stop working till they were supplied;—this (for the reasons we have stated) could not be done at the moment. They assembled in groups of considerable numbers, in the quarter between Redruth and Truro, and then dispersed over the country with empty sacks, to purchase corn among the farmers. On Monday about noon, they began to enter Truro, not in crowds or riotously, but scatteringly. Very few of them looked like fathers of families. Indeed, the far greater part of them were boys, youths, and no small number of bal girls (as the girls are called, who work about the mines) and seemed rather to have come in from the effect of curiosity, and idleness; having been thrown idle by the stopping of the works, at the instigation of some of those amongst them, who are not distinguished for the best conduct on other occasions. However, we must do them the justice to say, that we could not have conceived so many of them would quit their work under such circumstances, and shew less of irritation, or do so little mischief. We are not singular, we apprehend, in this opinion. The precautionary measures taken, and the apprehensions they gave rise to, formed the most serious part of the business. The leading men in most of the populous parishes, had already, as we have said, exerted themselves to meet the evil, and on the 3d inst. a meeting had been held in Redruth, where the Rev. Hugh Rogers presided, where the following resolutions were adopted;

The parishes of St. Agnes, Gwennap, Illogan, Stithians, Camborne, Redruth, Kenwyn, Kea, Perran-zabuloe, and Perran-arworthal, with any other Parish that shall think it right, are respected to join in a plan to relieving the distresses of the Poor, and with that view to assemble in their Vestries, and make choice of two Persons from each Parish, to form a Committee for the purposes hereafter stated.

That the first Meeting held at Gray’s Hotel, in Redruth, on Tuesday the 14th instant, at eleven o'clock in the morning precisely

That the subject for their consideration shall be whether any, and what, we may be recommended for lessening the consumption of Corn, either by greater economy in the use of it, or by introducing substitute, or by a general saving in private families, or by any other plan that may be advisable.

That this Meeting do strongly recommend the planting of early Potatoes throughout the neighbourhood.

That this Meeting do also strongly recommend the raising Subscriptions in the several Parishes, for the general relief of the poor.

That this Meeting do also press on those Parishes who have not yet purchased any Barley, the propriety of purchasing without delay.

The next duty of Magistracy was to protect property and preserve the public peace, and that, rather by awing the turbulent, than contending with them. With this view, our worthy High Sheriff signed an order for the march of a part of the Monmouth and Brecon regiment, under Sir Samuel Floyder, from Falmouth to Redruth; and a circular letter was sent by John James, esq. the mayor of Truro, inviting the several military officers now in Truro (Col. Warren of the North Cornwall Local, Capt. Caulfield of the 32d, Capt Corfield of the Roseland Local, and Lieut. Hicks) to assist in with their men in case it should become necessary. Upon an alarm, that the tinners were committing violence at Farmer Vincent’s, about 2 miles on the Redruth Road, Colonel Warren assembled about 70 of his men with an alacrity that did him in infinite honour, and marched them, accompanied by the Sheriff, the Rev. Mr. Polwnele and the Rev. Mr. Pooley, to the spot, where they found Mr. Vincent generously disposing of his corn at a reduced price—The people then quietly dispersed to their homes. The detail of what they said at one place, and what they did at another, is not worth repeating.—All was quiet to-day Redruth market; where, however, about 100 of the Welsh regiment still continue; the remainder having returned to Falmouth, with the arms of the Stannery Artillery regiment, to be lodged in Pendennis Castle.—A letter received this evening from a respectable friend in Illogan, says, that all the Miners are returned to their duty.—We have heard of a requisition having been forwarded to the Sheriff for a County Meeting, to consult upon measures for their relief; but suspect it is a mistake. All that can be done, is done or doing already. Two large cargoes of American flour now in Falmouth, are expected to be landed there, and several other cargoes are also expected from America, besides Barley from other parts.—The Miners may depend upon it, that the Magistrates are doing all in their power, to relieve them on the one hand; and on the other, to punish the ringleaders in any further disorders, and preserve peace and security at any rate.
On Thursday 9th April 1812,  Truro Magistrates wrote to Home Office to give their account of what had taken place in Cornwall:

The magistrates assembled at their Sessions at Truro on the 7th now thought it their duty to inform you of the present state of the County of Cornwall and have commissioned me as their Chairman to address you on the Subject.

I am extremely sorry to be obliged to state, in the first instance, that our Crops of the last season, both of Corn and Potatoes are deficient; and it is certain that the labouring Poor, particularly in the populous mining districts have suffered considerably; their complaints are not only of the high price, but also the actual want occasionally of Corn for their money—

The first mark of a disposition to collect in numbers was shewn by the [Sheaming] Tinners in the district near Bodmin, who went to the port of Padstow for the purpose of examining what quantity of Corn was lodged there — They did I apprehend make some search, but there was no act of violence or outrage committed out there were civil and peaceble—

The Tinners in the parishes West of Truro, who are strictly speaking the miners, & [only] far the most numerous remained quiet till the 6th inst when they assembled it large bodies from different quarters particularly in the parish of Kenwyn, parties also came into the town of Truro … The proceedings in this case bore a different Complexion: They carried with them a written paper, which they tendered to the farmers for signature, the purport of which was an engagement on the part of the Farmers to sell their Corn at a price greatly inferior to that of the market, and a sort of attempt was made to fix a maximum price of provisions ….. In Truro they searched one or two Breweries, and small parties begged at the doors of houses.

There were movements of a similar kind at Redruth on the 6th and 7th, the principal object being a search of Brewery situated there … Redruth is situated in the midst of the mines … On the 8th similar movements took place in a district called Roseland which lies to the Southward of Truro and is separated from the mining parishes by the River Fal, a branch of which reaches Truro—

The measures taken by the Sheriff and Magistrates have been as follows: on the 7th the Sheriff at the request of the magistrates apply to the Commanding officer at Penndennis for a Military force, to prevent an attack of the Brewery at Redruth; the Proprietor of which had stated his apprehensions to them — The Officer at Pendennis detached a strong force from the Garrison, (the Monmouth and Brecon Mla) who arrived at Redruth late on the 7th ….. On the 8th no Riot or disturbance took place at Redruth; but on the same day the Sheriff called out a part of the 3d Cornwall Loc. Mila under the command of Col. Warren, who marched into the Parish of Kenwyn for the protection of a farmer there, no disturbance took place at his house; but a neighbouring miller obliged to make application for assistance having been threatened with violence;

The Magistrates on their part have published on the 7th & 8th inst a Paper of which I enclose a copy—

([If the magistrates may be permitted to state any suggestions with a view to future security, they would recommend that a Troop of Cavalry should be stationed at the horse Barracks at Truro,) and 2dly that a Gun-boat should be stationed in the Fal adjoining to the Ferries which lead from the Mining parishes into the district of Roseland: I know that this measure was attended with very salutary effects on a former occasion—]) we are of opinion that the United efforts of the Sheriff and magistrates will be sufficient in other respects for the maintaining the public peace, as they will Certainly act promptly in Conformity with the Concluding sentence in the enclosed printed paper.

I have the honor to be
Yr most obedient and humble

R Gregor

Near Tregony
Ap. 9. 1812

Rt. Hon the Sec of State - - &c &c &c
It must be noted that the Commanding officer of the Second, Cornwall Mila (myself) supplied Col. Warren with arms accoutrements &c. and ammunition from his depot; and that the Adjutant of the Stannary Artillery removed his ammunition from the depot at Redruth, to the Garrison at Pendennis—the Bayonets also were removed to another Depot. The Monmouth and Brecon militia are the only Troops, as I apprehend, now in Cornwall

The letter from Truro Magistrates can be found at HO 42/122.

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