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Famous People of Polperro

This webpage gives short histories of all the most famous and celebrated people of Polperro. Keep visiting to get the full set!


Jonathan Couch
Lewis Harding
Robert Jeffery
Zephaniah Job
Sir Harry Trelawny

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Do you have suggestions as to whom we should feature? Send them to webmaster@polperro.org

Jonathan Couch

Jonathan Couch (1789-1870), surgeon apothecary of Polperro, was born in Polperro on 11th March 1789.

His contribution to scientific knowledge in the 19th century was enormous. Besides being the local doctor and apothecary, often riding miles to visit patients, he was a zoologist, ichthyologist, botanist, archaeologist and classical scholar.

Jonathan Couch, an early portrait dated about 1856 Couch's education at the Dame School in Polperro, and later at Lansallos and Bodmin Grammar School, paved the way for study at medical schools in London where he was profoundly influenced by some of the best men in their fields.

When he returned to Polperro in 1810, he applied his newly acquired surgical skills to the dissection and study of the fish that were so vital to the welfare of his village. He relied on knowledgeable local fishermen to help him in his research and he made hundreds of drawings of the fish he dissected, keeping a jet of water over each specimen so that he could paint their fresh brilliance before the colours faded.

A great deal of Couch's varied work was published during his lifetime, but his major work was "The History of the Fishes of the British Isles", published in four volumes between 1862 and 1865. The great work contained 256 water colours and drawings and is of considerable artistic merit as well as being a major contribution to scientific knowledge.

One of the exquisite illustrations from his work on fishes When, in 1837, there was an outbreak of smallpox in Polperro, Couch inoculated 285 local patients and vaccinated a further 150. At the time, there was much opposition to any form of vaccination against smallpox, but this episode demonstrates how Couch was at the forefront of medical opinion and practice.

He married three times, the third time at the age of 70 to a local girl who was just 22. After his death in 1870 his grandson, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, described him as "a patient man of science who spent his life observing the habits of fish, without attempting to teach the Almighty how to improve them."

Picture captions:
Top right: Jonathan Couch with scorpion fish, an early portrait dated about 1855
Bottom left: One of the exquisite illustrations from his work on fishes

Click here for details of Doctor By Nature: Jonathan Couch - Surgeon of Polperro.

© Jeremy Johns, Polperro Heritage Museum 2010

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Lewis Harding

Lewis Harding, a grandson of the Rev. Sir Harry Trelawny of Trelawne, lived between 1807 and 1893. After many years abroad, he returned to live at Trelawne in the 1850s and later in Polperro itself. It was during this period of his life that he became interested in photography and for several years until his death he took some of the first photographs of Polperro and its inhabitants, some of which have survived to this day. For examples of his photographs visit our Victorian photography page - click here.

See also Lewis Harding - Cornwall's Pioneer Photographer - click here.

© Jeremy Johns, Polperro Heritage Museum 2000

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Robert Jeffery

Robert Jeffery became famous because of what happened to him rather than what he achieved. It is such an unusual story that we've featured it on another page - Marooned - click here to go there.

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Zephaniah Job

Zephaniah Job's arrival in Polperro in the early 1770s changed the life of the village, for he was to become the greatest single benefactor in its history.

Job's burial recorded in the Lansallos Burial Register 1822 Over the years until his death in 1822, he not only managed the business side of Polperro's smuggling trade, but also helped many local people by managing their financial affairs, acting as advisor, accountant and banker.

He hired lawyers in Cornwall and London when Polperro smugglers were to appear in court, sending them money when they were in prison. He also acted as banker and steward for the gentry too, including the Rev. Sir Harry Trelawny's family and estate at Trelawne near Polperro.

Job took charge of the pilchard export trade between Polperro and Italy, until it was ended by Napoleon. He was a corn trader, seed and timber merchant, coal importer, leased a number of lime kilns in the area and brought linen from Ireland to sell in Looe.

Extract from one of Job's letters to the Guernsey merchants who supplied
smuggled goods He kept a copy of every letter he wrote, and some of his exquisitely written letter books and ledgers have survived to reveal the extent of his business activities. He kept accounts for several Polperro ships that were fitted out as privateers between 1777 and 1815 - privately owned vessels licenced by the Admiralty to attack and capture enemy ships. Some received large sums of prize money that brought great wealth to their owners and their families in Polperro.

Zephaniah Job issued his own Polperro banknotes, printed for him by his London agent, Alderman Christopher Smith, who also handled the transfer of money to the Guernsey merchants for contraband goods supplied to the Polperro smugglers.

Polperro 5 note issued by Job When, after 1800, the government began to take tougher action against smuggling and one of the first Preventive Water Guard boats was stationed at Polperro, Job turned his energies to other enterprises, including the repair of the harbour after it was destroyed by the storm in January 1817. He died at Crumplehorn at the age of 75, having never married and without making a will, but 1,442 in cash was found in his house, more than enough to honour all the Polperro banknotes in circulation.

Picture captions:
Top, left. Job's burial recorded in the Lansallos Burial Register 1822
Middle, right. Extract from one of Job's letters to the Guernsey merchants who supplied smuggled goods
Bottom, left. Polperro 5 note issued by Job

© Jeremy Johns, Polperro Heritage Museum 2000

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Rev. Sir Harry Trelawny

Sir Harry Trelawny, who inherited the baronetcy and family estate at Trelawne near Polperro in 1772 at the age of 16, was a descendant of Bishop Trelawny whose trial in the 17th century gave rise to the chorus: 'And shall Trelawny live? Or shall Trelawny die? Here's twenty thousand Cornishmen Shall know the reason why.'

He became one of the greatest landowners in the neighbourhood of Polperro, with hundreds of acres of land to the west of Looe as well as elsewhere in Cornwall.

Sir Harry was a controversial character whose obsessive religious devotion led him to neglect his family and estate at Trelawne, a fine Gothic mansion that still stands today. He became, in turn, a Methodist minister, an Anglican vicar and eventually a Catholic priest! His hospitality to a Catholic priest who had fled the French Revolution led to his daughters founding Sclerder Abbey nearby.

His affairs were managed for many years by Zephaniah Job, the Polperro 'smugglers' banker' from whom Sir Harry borrowed large sums of money. Sir Harry took a keen interest in new farming techniques which he tried, without much success, to get his tenants to adopt. They would refer to him as 'Mad Sir Harry' when he suggested they change their breed of cattle or type of plough.

There is ample evidence that the Rev. Sir Harry Trelawny, head of one of Cornwall's foremost families and a magistrate, willingly bought contraband goods from the Polperro smugglers. But he did contribute to the repair of Polperro harbour following the terrible storm there in 1817. Sir Harry travelled frequently to the Continent and after the death of his wife, Anne, in 1821 his ordination as a Catholic priest was consecrated by the Pope in Rome in 1830. He remained in Italy until his death in 1834, and the baronetcy was inherited by his son William Lewis Trelawny.

© Jeremy Johns, Polperro Heritage Museum 2000

To read more about these people and others in Polperro's remarkable history click here

Please also visit the Looe website's history page for an account of Sir Harry's extraordinary involvement in the establishment of the Congregational Chapel in West Looe - click here

More items? Send them to webmaster@polperro.org

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