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Polperro Family History

The ROWETT family of Polperro

Visitors to Polperro pass the Rowett Insitute on their way down to the harbour, an enduring reminder of the once notorious Rowett family there who amassed great wealth from smuggling and privateering in the 18th century.

The Rowett family originally came from Brittany in the 14th century, settling first in St. Austell in the 16th century and later in Polperro. Richard Rowett, born there in 1746, amassed considerable wealth from privateering exploits during the wars with France.

      Richard Rowett (1746-1796) Richard Rowett (1746-1796)
His eldest son Richard, born in 1770, was in command of a Polperro boat called the Happy Return in 1795 when it was captured by a Revenue cutter in the Channel on suspicion of smuggling after a chase lasting 28 hours.

Two years later in 1797, Richard had 144 kegs of contraband spirit stored in his cellar in Polperro seized in a raid on the village led by officers from the Revenue cutter Hind.

When a second raid took place the following year, he and his cousin Benjamin Rowett were among four Polperro men arrested and charged with armed assault and obstruction, although there is no record of the case ever coming to trial.


Richard Rowett's son, William (1809-1875), captained ships to Australia and South America, later settling in Liverpool as a rope manufacturer. In 1858 he devised a system of protecting undersea telegraph cables and obtained concessions for laying the cable between France and the United States.

Subsequent generations made generous bequests, including the founding of the Rowett Institute of Research in Animal Nutrition at Aberdeen by John Quiller Rowett (1916-1925) who also financed Shackleton's last expedition to Antarctica and the building of the Rowett Institute in Polperro itself.

John Quiller Rowett's son recently presented a special silver key to the Polperro Rowett Institute to the Heritage Museum. The key had been given to his father at the official opening of the Institute in 1920.

Further details of the ROWETT family of Polperro can be obtained from Jeremy Rowett Johns:

E-mail: jeremy.johns@polperro.org

Further information on the family is also welcome

Jeremy Rowett Johns, Polperro Heritage Museum © 2000

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