|First Page||Previous Page||Next Page|
The present market-house also occupies the site of the house in which that highly gifted philosopher Sir Humphry Davey, Bart., commenced his chemical studies.
Sir Humphry was born here Dec. 17, 1778, and after having received the earlier part of his education under Dr. Cardew at Truro, he was adopted by Mr. John Tonkin, a respectable medical practitioner of the town, with the intention of educating him for the same profession, and making him his successor. At school young Davy evinced a decided want of taste for classical learning, but he became noted for a retentive memory and a passion for poetry which never forsook him. Another of his chief characteristics developed itself in early childhood; it is said that his first attempts as an amateur fisherman mere made with the rod and line in the gutters of the streets. Soon after becoming a medical pupil he entered upon a course of philosophic study of the most extended nature. “Speculations on religion and politics; on metaphysics and morals; are placed in his note book in juxta-position with stanzas of poetry and fragments of romance.” A system of mathematical study, sceptical philosophy, metaphysics, and transcendentalism, successively engaged his attention. His early proofs of genius attracted the attention of Davies Gilbert, P.R.S., who fortunately directed his course to Clifton, where Dr. Beddoes was then engaged in applying pneumatic chemistry in aid of the Bristol waters for the cure or alleviation of incipient consumption. Davey was at this time about 20 years of age, and he entered upon a course of experiments on the respiration of different gases, in the progress of which he more than once nearly lost his life. Through these experiments he discovered the exhilarating effect of nitrous oxide when breathed.
The account which he published of his chemical researches brought him into repute, and led to his appointment, at the early age of 22, to the lectureship of the Royal Institution of London. He delivered his first lecture in 1801, and his eloquence and varied experiments attracted crowded audiences. In 1803, he delivered a course of lectures on agriculture; these were published in 1818 under the title of Elements of Agricultural Chemistry. In 1806 his Bakerian lecture On some Chemical Agencies of Electricity, established his fame as a chemist. This essay was universally regarded as one of the most valuable contributions ever made to chemical science, and obtained the prize of 3000 livres, offered by the French National Institute.
In October, 1807, he first succeeded in decomposing potash; when he first saw the globules of the new metal potassium, his delight is said to have been so great that it required some time for him to compose himself to continue the experiment.
In 1812 Sir Humphry was knighted and in the same year he married Jane, daughter and heiress of Charles Kerr, Esq., and relict of Shuckburgh-Ashby Apreece, Esq, elder son of Sir Thomas Apreece, Bart., a lady of a considerable fortune; at this time he resigned the chemical chair of the Royal Institution.
In 1815 he presented his first communication to the Royal Society respecting the safety-lamp; and at a meeting held January 11, 1816, the lamp was exhibited. Sir Humphry’s claim as an original discoverer was challenged by various persons, amongst whom were the late Dr. Reid Clanny of Newcastle, and George Stephenson the great engineer. There is unquestionable evidence that during the time Sir Humphry was employed on the experiments which led to his invention, Stephenson’s lamp, familiarly called the Geordy, was actually in use at the Killingworth mines[.]
The Davy safety lamp has however been characterised as one of the most valuable presents ever made by science to humanity.
The only reward Sir Humphry received for this valuable invention was a tardy baronetcy conferred on him October 20, 1818, three years after. On the death of Sir Joseph Banks, Sir Humphry was elected president of the Royal Society. His attention was soon after drawn to to the important object of preserving the copper sheathing of vessels from corrosion by sea water. This he effected by altering the electric condition of the copper by means of bands of zinc; but the bottoms of the vessels became so foul from the adhesion of sea-weed, &c., that the plan was abandoned.
Sir Humphry’s health began to decline in 1825; in 1826 he suffered from a paralytic attack, which affected his right side. He made two journeys to the continent on account of his health, but died at Geneva May 29, 1829, aged 51; and was buried there, the Genevese government honouring him with a public funeral.
In addition to the works already named, and a great many contributions to the Philosophical Transactions, Sir Humphry published Elements of Chemical Philosophy, and Consolations in Travel, or the Last Days of a Philosopher. He also wrote a poem entitled Mount’s Bay.
Arms,—Sable, on a chevron engrailed argent between in chief two annulets and in base a burning wreath, five ermine spots.
Crest,—Out of a ducal coronet or an elephant’s head sable, armed argent.
Motto,—Igne constricto vita secura.
The ancestors of Sir Humphry Davy resided for many generations on the estate of Varfell in Ludgvan, of which they were the copyhold proprietors. Many members of the family are commemorated in the church and churchyard of that parish, with a slight notice of Sir Humphry. The original MS. of his Essay on Heat and Light, comprising 64 closely written quarto pages, and subscribed “June, 1798. Humpy. Davy;” and the counter part of his indenture of apprenticeship to Dr. J. B. Borlase, dated February 10, 1795, are still preserved. On his last visit to his native town at Christmas 1821 the town’s people entertained him at a public dinner. Sir Humphry bequeathed £100 to the grammar school on condition that the boys were annually allowed a holiday on his birthday.
Richard-Quiller Couch, Esq., was the eldest son of Jonathan Couch, Esq., F.L.S, etc., the eminent naturalist; he was born at Polperro, in Lansallos, March 14, 1816. After receiving a sound education, he commenced the study of medicine under his father, and afterwards at Guy’s Hospital, where he obtained, besides the reputation of being a persevering student, several honours, and a silver medal from the hands of Sir Astley Cooper, for his proficiency in ophthalmic surgery. In early life he was drawn to the study of marine zoology by an inclination inherited from, and encouraged by the example of his father, who had long been accustomed to devote his leisure to the examination of the structure and habits of the creatures with which the ocean, on the borders of which his place of residence was situated, abundantly supplied him. The interim between the completion of his medical studies and his settlement at Penzance was passed at Polperro, where he made a series of observations on the development of the frog from the ovum; on the metamorphoses of the Decapod Crustaceans, for which he received the highest commendation for accuracy and research; and on the formation of what may be justly termed, nests, by several species of fishes. These last named observations were afterwards communicated to the Natural History and Antiquarian Society of Penzance; but they met with a fate that is scarcely uncommon as regards such subjects as are given to the world in provincial publications.—They were translated into French by one who did not think it necessary to acknowledge the source from which he had drawn his stores; and these again were transferred back to the English by some writer who appears to have been entirely ignorant of the name of the original observer.
Mr. Couch also added a third part of the Cornish Fauna, which catalogued and described the Zoophites and Calcareous Corallines of the Cornish coast, adding thereby much to the general student’s knowledge of these creatures, as well as introducing to the British list several new and interesting species. The first and second parts of this work are by his father, and treat of the Vertbratæ, Radiatæ, and the Testaceous Molluscs of the county, and the whole is not merely a dry catalogue of names, but gives an insight into the habits, as well as the structure of the animals described, the result of close and continuous observations.
In 1843 Mr. Couch commenced his medical practice in Penzance, with scarcely an acquaintance in the town,—a strange contrast to the state of things twenty years after, when, dying in the midst of years and usefulness, he was generally lamented, no less for the credit which his reputation as a naturalist conferred upon the county and town, than for the activity, sagacity, and uprightness with which he discharged his duties as a citizen. He pursued his favorite studies to the end as assiduously as the claims of a large practice mould admit. He also paid great attention to the diseases and mortality of the Cornish miners, and embodied his observations and deductions in articles which were published by the Polytechnic Society, and have been translated into French.
In 1853 Mr. Couch married Lydia-Penneck, daughter of Richard Pearce, Esq., grand-daughter and representative of the late Dr. Penneck of this town, and great-grand-daughter of the intrepid Lieut.-General John Jones, of Penrose in Sennen, and governor of Hull.
Mr. Couch contributed papers to the Penzance Natural History and Antiquarian Reports on the following subjects:—On the Morphology of the different Organs of Zoophytes; On the Reproduction of amputated parts in the lower Animals; Remarks on a new Zoophyte belonging to the genus Crisia; Observations on the Botany and Zoology of Cornwall; On the Migrations of the Pilchard; On the Mackerel; On the Luminosity of the Sea etc., etc.
In the Reports of the Royal Institution of Cornwall are among others, Observations on the migration of the Herring; and Remarks on the Anatomy of Sponges.
Mr. Couch ably and successfully explored the geology of the county, and the Transactions of the Geological Society of Cornwall contain papers of his on Silurian Remains in Cornwall; The Fossil Geology of Cornwall; Notice of the occurrence of the Horns and Bones of several species of Deer in the Tin Works of Cornwall; The Foliation and Cleavage of the Cornish Slates; etc., etc.
The reports of the Polytechnic Society of Cornwall contain papers by him on The Diseases and Mortality prevailing among Miners.
Mr. couch died, after a short illness, May 8, 1863, at the early age of 47; leaving issue one son and three daughters.
The arms of Couch are,—Or, two palets gules, a canton sable. Crest,—A demi bear rampant.
The family of Batten were for some time the leading merchants of Penzance. Of this family was the Rev. Joseph-Hallett Batten, D.D., who became principal of the East India College; and the late Rev. Henry Batten, who built at his own cost the unique church of S. Paul, Clarence-street.
Mr. Henry Boase left the county at an early age, and became an active Partner in a London bank, He afterwards returned to Penzance, and conferred considerable benefit on the town by the judicious employment of his wealth. He contributed to the transactions of the Geological Society an interesting paper, entitled Observations on the submersion of part of Mount’s Bay. His eldest son, Dr. Henry S. Boase, became secretary to the Geological Society, to the transactions of which he contributed a paper On the Sand Banks of the Northern shores of Mount‘s Bay. He also published Primary Geology, in one volume octavo. The geological portions of these volumes [i.e. Lake's History] are based on the writings of Dr. Boase.
Mr. William Carne came to this town circa 1780, and by energetic industry acquired a large fortune. His son the late Joseph Carne, Esq., contributed several valuable papers to the transactions of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, one especially, On the relative ages of the Veins of Cornwall, which was read before the society in 1818. His nephew, the Rev, John-James Carne, M.A., vicar of Merther, who died May 20, 1868, was an indefatigable antiquary; he published in the Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, in 1865, An Attempt to Identify the Domesday Manors in Cornwall, a speculative paper of considerable interest.
“An event occurred at Penzance,” writes Davies Gilbert, “in the year 1760, of a nature so curious as to be well worthy of remembrance. This country was then deeply engaged in what has since been termed the Seven Years’ War; and notwithstanding the splendid successes of 1759, the nation still felt alarm from the always threatened invasion of France, and from the fear of predatory excursions, when in the night following the 29th of September the town was roused by the firing of guns, and soon after by the intelligence of a large ship of a strange appearance having run on shore on the beach towards Newlyn. Great numbers of persons crowded to the spot, where they were still more astonished and shocked by the sight of men still stranger than their vessel, each armed with a scymeter and with pistols. It was now obvious that they were Moslems; and a vague fear of Turkish ferocity, of massacre and plunder, seized the unarmed inhabitants, just awakened from their sleep in the middle of the night. A vo1unteer company obeyed, however, with alacrity the beat to arms, and 172 men were conducted or driven into a spacious building which then stood on the Western Green and for some reason or other was called the Folly. Eight men were found to be drowned. Before morning it was ascertained from themselves by some who understood the lingua Franca that the ship was an Algerine corsair, carrying 24 guns, from nine to six-pounders, and that the captain had steered his vessel into the Mount’s Bay, and run it against the shore under a full conviction that he was safe in the Atlantic Ocean, at about the latitude of Cadiz thus committing an error of 13° in latitude. The instant it was known that the sailors were Algerines a fear seized the town and neighbourhood scarcely less formidab1e than the other of massacre and plunder,—namely, of the plague. The volunteers however, kept watch and ward to prevent all intercourse. Intelligence was conveyed to the government, and orders are said to have been issued for troops to march from Plymouth for surrounding the whole district, but most fortunately the local authorities ascertained that no cause whatever existed for such a precaution, and the orders were countermanded."
“When it was found safe to visit the strangers, curiosity attracted the whole neighbourhood. Their Asiatic dress, long beards, and mustachios, with turbans; the absence of all covering from the feet and legs, the dark complexion and harsh features of a piratical band, made them objects of terror and of surprise.”
“They were on the whole treated kindly; their vessel had totally disappeared, and consequently after some delay a ship of war took all the men on board and conveyed them to Algiers.”
John Airton Paris, M.D. was the resident physician of Penzance for many years; Principally through his exertions the Roya1 Geological Society, on which the town justly prided itself, was established in 1814. Dr. Paris published A guide to the Mount’s Bay and the Land’s End; comprehending the Topography, Botany, Agriculture, Fisheries, Antiquities, Mining, Mineralogy, and Geology of Western Cornwall; of this very useful book a second edition appeared in 1828. The Dr. left Penzance to seek a more extended practice in London.
It may here be noticed that Edward Pellew afterwards Lord Exmouth received his education in Penzance; he was more remarkable for absenting himself from school and spending his time amongst the boats and with the sailors at the quay, than for any scholastic attainments.
A singular ancient custom is still kept up in the town, and never with more hilarious zeal and determination than in the present year, 1869. On the eve of S. John the Baptist, the patron saint of the borough, the youths of the town parade the streets with burning torches, which they swing around their heads with a peculiar motion. The torches are made of a piece of an old sail, doubled, and nailed on to the end of a stick, and then dipped into tar; consequently they are of considerable weight, and require great exertion and some skill to keep them from damaging the persons of the bearers. As the darkness increases the torch bearers become more numerous and more noisy; fire works of every description are flung about the crowded streets, tar barrels are lighted, bonfires of every dimension blaze in the middle of the streets, and in some places rows of candles placidly burn on the curb before the doors of the less excited inhabitants.
The second part of the Saturnalia commences as soon as the fires begin to burn low. Young persons of both sexes run through the streets, calling out “An eye! an eye! an eye!” when, suddenly stopping, a hand in hand line is formed, to which the the two last form an eye by lifting their clasped hands, and through this archway or eye the others continue to run until the sport ceases through mere lassitude.
The next day, being Midsummer day, is generally devoted to water parties, universal idling, and the Quay fair.
The following atmospherical phenomenon has been many times noticed at Penzance; but has never yet been satisfactorily explained. A murmuring or roaring noise proceeding from the sea shore is sometimes heard at the distance of several miles inland; whereas at other times although the atmosphere may appear to be equally favourable for transmitting sound; no sound whatever from the shore can be heard at the twentieth part of the distance, and yet to a person on the shore from whence the sounds proceed, the noise of the sea may be quite as loud on the one occasion as on the other.
When this “calling of the sea,” as it is termed, is heard inland, the next wind that springs up is generally from the direction of the “calling.” An ancient characteristic proverb exists:—
When Pons-an-dane calls to Lariggan river,
There will be fine weather;
But when Lariggan calls to Pons-an-dane,
There will be rain.
More about Penzance
|First Page||Previous Page||Next Page|