On this Day 17th January 1898

Sale of the Century: Carne under the Hammer

Sale notice for Carne House - Cornish Telegraph 13 January 1898 (courtesy Morrab Library)Carne, the home of Mr Charles Ross. How many of us lesser folk could ever have imagined that one fine day we would be able to stroll along the drive, admire the fine prospect of the Bay, and even wander its interior, free as you like? Today, though, our hour has come. Peeping inside cupboards; eyeing the quality of cloth and fitments; nothing is forbidden to us now. We – who might a few weeks ago have touched our hats and averted our eyes as the great man’s carriage passed along the road – are at liberty to look around the place at our leisure. For the effects from the dining room, the drawing room, the library are all up for auction today, the first day of sale - not to mention the main bedroom with its fine views, and the dressing room where a few weeks ago Mr Ross would straighten his collar, tie his cravat, have his hair and whiskers attended to.

As everyone knows, Batten, Carne and Carne came to a smash back in ‘96. Unbeknown to all, they’d been lending out willy-nilly, never a care for the shareholders. Charles Ross himself – the great benefactor of Newlyn, MP for St Ives, and a fine example of probity in the higher echelons of society I don’t think – set himself up as liquidator and went around giving assurances that all would be well. But now, with the shareholders meeting tomorrow to hear the worst, he has thrown up all his responsibilities and left town. Rumour has it there’s £48,000 to be found.

Where’s the money going to come from? “Not from us”, say the shareholders, waiting this morning for George Jenkin to open the bidding. One or two look hopeful, as if their calculations indicate that sufficient might be raised over the next few days to pay off the shortfall. Others are more realistic. One chap quipped that he imagined the servants’ bedroom furnishings were to remain unsold as Mr Ross would soon require them for his own use, but the joke fell rather flat.

This morning, despite Mr Jenkins’ efforts, there were rather more of us looking than buying. For one thing, a loss of this magnitude in a town the size of Penzance – the shadow of debt looming over 730 households, now facing a call on their own resources – that is enough to turn a man away from thoughts of investing in fine books and Highland landscapes. And for another – who is to say that the glass and silverware, the tables and chairs, do not harbour some taint? Tell me, gentlemen, which of us could respond with proper feeling to a lady singing a patriotic ballad, knowing that the accompanist was using a piano that had soothed Mr Ross through his troubles? And which of us would rest peacefully in a bed where Mr Ross had snored and – if I may make so bold – sported?



Cornish Telegraph and Cornishman 6th and 13th January 1898, page 1 (advertisement); Cornish Telegraph Thursday January 20th 1898 page 5

See also On This Day November 15th and December 21st, which give detail of the beginning of the bank’s collapse more than a year before the sale.

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Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

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