Black Humphrey was a notorious Newquay smuggler, said to live at Black Humphrey Rock, Whipsiderry Beach, which was named after him. Black Humphrey lived to a good age and died in about 1804-1807.
At Whipsiderry Beach, Porth, you’ll find Black Humphrey Rock, the rock is much reduced from what it used to be as it was first mined for its ore and then, once mining stopped, the sea’s ravaged it. Black Humphrey was said to live in the old mine-workings, although it’s hard to believe that now since so much of the rock and island have been eroded.
At the time that Black Humphrey frequented the area, the whole of Whipsiderry and Porth Beaches were riddled with large caves and tunnels, a lot of which have only disappeared in the last 150 years.
One book, written in 1884, says of Black Humphrey:
It is said that there formerly lived in these workings an old wrecker, called Black Humphrey, after whom the rock is named, and concerning whom an ancient couplet is still preserved, which runs thus:-
When the wind is from the west
Pray for me among the rest;
When the wind is from the east
I’ll to church as soon as Priest;
During the westerly gales the sea dashes in upon the coast with terrific violence, and during and after these storms the beach becomes strewn with wreck. At such times old Humphrey was busily engaged upon the shore; whilst during the easterly winds which blew of the land, his time being not so valuable, he would seem to have been a due attendant at church.
Black Humphrey, Newquay Smuggler, Books
There are a few old books which contain stories of Black Humphrey and his life, but these aren’t easy to find.
The Old Cornwall Society have a book in their possession with his story, entitled “A Famous Cornish Wrecker, Black Humphrey”. This small booklet had a short print run and is not easy to track down these days.
Another book based on Black Humphrey, printed in 1911, is called Black Humphrey: a story of the old Cornish coaching and kidnapping days, but is not often in stock. This volume is 295 pages and tends to cost £40. This is a collector’s piece.
Other Names for Black Humphrey’s Rock
A number of names are used, or have been used, in the past, with a variety of spellings.
“Flory Island (Flory being clearly a corruption of Phillory), sometimes known as Black Humphrey’s Isle; Black Humphrey was one of the pirate-smugglers whose tales are common around this coast.” is how The Cornwall Coast, Arthur Salmon, ~1907 described it.
Image © Derek Harper