I was reading an interesting old book this week, a journey by boat around the Cornish coast, including a visit to Newquay, summer 1813. The author’s style was different to others I’ve read, he was very downbeat about a lot of places, having already given Crantock a miss describing it as “like other places inhabited by only the poor, is mean and dirty…. little meets the eye but a cheerless desert of sand”. Intrigued I read on, to see what he had to say of Newquay in 1813 and then realised, it’s the 200th anniversary of this acclaimed journey, book and aquatint engravings!
The two sailors were the author and an English landscape painter, William Daniell, who was 44 at the time of the trip. His plan was to journey around the whole coast and record views of places of interest. Even though he started his journey at Land’s End, with the journey being about drawing everything of note, he mostly created images of places on the south coast of Cornwall, so, unfortunately, none of Newquay. On the north coast, all he captured was Portreath and Boscastle, for a list of the illustrations, go to: Voyage Round Great Britain Illustrataions
The author of the Newquay part of the trip was Richard Ayton, who was 27 at the time of the journey. The book is a collectors item nowadays as the whole journey took 12 years, starting in a boat and ending by road as the seas were proving too difficult. The aquatint engravings produced by Daniell are considered the best he ever did and the originals are held by the Tate Gallery Publications Department. The book ended up being published in 8 volumes, they arrived at Newquay on day 3 of their trip, which is Volume 1 of A Voyage Round the Coast of Great Britain.
The British Library called their book “one of the most ambitious and lavishly realised topographical undertakings of the early 19th century.”
It’s interesting to note the date – 200 years ago exactly. They started their journey in August 1813.
To put this into some context, the first minerals railway wouldn’t exist for another 27 years; rail passengers wouldn’t arrive by railway for another 63 years; it would be another 85 years before the Headland and Atlantic Hotels would be built; the Fort (now a pub) wouldn’t be built for another 20 years. Newquay wouldn’t exist as a parish for another 70 years and even the current harbour wouldn’t be started for another 20 years or so. These two men in their boat landed at the old/original harbour. Newquay’s now oldest gig, the ‘Newquay’ was brand new, having been built the year before in 1812.
These two sailors arrived after dark, by boat, having taken half an hour to reach Newquay from Crantock. Richard Ayton and William Daniell described Newquay thus:
“… our arrival at the harbour of Newquay, with one shock, alarmed all tongues, and old Silence was, in consequence, entirely bawled out of the boat. We, of course, did not proceed to explore Newquay without the assistance of the sun. The town, which consists of thirty huts, perhaps, exclusive of the hotel-hut, is almost a mile from the harbour, a circumstance which we could not prevail upon any of the natives to conceive absurd, though they all readily agreed, that the town was built by the first settlers in strict subservience to the convenience of the harbour. The matter was not of much importance to us, and we did not long pursue the amusement of reasoning with blocks, merely for the sake of argument. The men of Newquay are fishermen, whose hopes and fears in life are all of pilchards; the women are principally employed in frying the fish which their husbands catch, and if enough are caught, and they are fried enough, there remain no motives for altercation between them.
“….Its name and circumstances are now rendered a little less contradictory by a rude pier, though this has not added much to its commercial appearance, for it has still the benefit of nothing but fishing boats. To the westward of the harbour the coast runs out into a bold and lofty promontory, called Towan Head, which shelters the bay of Newquay from the western sea, and at once points out the practicability of improving it into a safe and spacious haven. The want of means was simply the want of money. “
These two adventurous seafarers ate in Newquay as they remarked
“On objecting at Newquay to a violent disproportion between our bill and our fare, we were assured, that we could not have supped for one penny less at the best hotel in Plymouth. What could be replied to so unbiased an explanation?”
So, even 200 years ago travellers wanted to feel they got value for money.
Cost 1.5x A Merchant Ship Sailor’s Annual Pay
When the book was first printed, in eight volumes from 1814-1825, with 308 hand-coloured aquatints it sold for £60 (‘one and a half times what a fisherman or sailor aboard a merchant ship could expect to earn in a year at the time’). It’s since been reprinted in great detail and to a high quality by the Folio Society at a fraction of that!
[wordbay] VOYAGE ROUND THE COAST OF GREAT BRITAIN daniell [/wordbay]