On this Day 29th August 1828

Hundreds of Refugees Arrive in St Ives

August 29 – Arrived the Dutch ship Enterprize, from Ferol, with Portuguese refugees on board

This brief entry from the diary of John Tregerthen Short (JTS) is followed by five more entries over the next week or so:

August 31 – Some of the Portuguese officers left for Falmouth

September 1 – A great number of the Portuguese left for Falmouth, 372 in all, with some women

September 2 – The remainder of the refugees left for Falmouth

September 5 – Arrived the brig Jane of London, from Madeira, ten days passage from the island, having on board 50 refugees; among the number the governor of the island and his wife: Pedro’s party

September 7 – sailed the Dutch ship Enterprize….

The obvious question is what are these refugees seeking refuge from? The short answer is civil war. In 1826 the old king of Portugal, king João VI, had died leaving two sons. The eldest son, Pedro, was Emperor of Brazil, having declared the country independent of Portugal and his younger brother, Miguel, contested Pedro's right to the throne of Portugal on the grounds that Pedro was now king of a foreign power. The dispute was about more than personalities however, the two brothers represented different approaches to governing the country: Pedro was associated with a more liberal reformist approach while Miguel represented a more authoritarian and absolutist monarchy. The country split, with Porto becoming the centre for the liberals or, as JTS calls them, Pedro's party.

Castelo de San Filipe, Ferrol, the refugees would have sailed past this fortress as they left Ferrol. (WikiMedia Commons, photo by Ramon Piñeiro)

Castelo de San Filipe, Ferrol, the refugees would have sailed past this fortress as they left Ferrol.
(WikiMedia Commons, photo by Ramon Piñeiro)

Under pressure from the Miguelistas the liberals began to flee, many of them going the Ferrol in Spain and then, as JTS makes clear, taking ship for England. On 5th July 1828 the Royal Cornwall Gazette reported the Duke of Marlborough packet arriving in Falmouth acrrying refugees and British subjects from Portugal. On 5th September 1828 the Gazette reported the arrival of more refugees in Falmouth and the tone of the article makes it clear where English sympathies lay:

Five more vessels have arrived at Falmouth with Portuguese refugees from Ferrol in Spain, to which place they had retreated from Oporto, to escape the vengeance of the usurper……..the streets of Falmouth are thronged with foreigners of every description, who will be conveyed to Plymouth with all convenient speed.”

Lloyd's List of 2nd September 1828 says that Enterprize arrived in St Ives with 352 refugees on board. JTS seems to suggest a number in excess of 372 – they left in two groups, the first group consisting of 372 people. Whatever the precise number, they represent a huge influx of people for a place the size of St Ives. In 1828 the total population was probably about 6000, most of them living in overcrowded cottages without running water or sanitation. The need to move the refugees on must have been urgent.

One of the actions of the civil war was the capture of Madeira by the Miguelistas which occurred on 26th August 1828. The Royal Cornwall Gazette of 13th September reported the fall of Madeira and included in the report the information that the island's governor and some of the inhabitants took shelter on board a British corvette lying at anchor. This party is presumably the 50 refugees who arrived in St Ives aboard the brig Jane on the 5th September.

Why did these unfortunate people end up in St Ives? The Jane and the Enterprize must have been severely overcrowded. These vessels were not intended to carry anything like the number of passengers who were aboard. Even 20 years later when the S.S. Great Britain was launched, by far the biggest ship in the world, she was designed to carry only 320 passengers plus 120 crew. Overcrowding and the resulting insanitary conditions may well explain why these two vessels ended up in St Ives, in the sea conditions at the time it was probably the quickest passage they could make.

Refugees continued to arrive: Lloyd's List of 9th September 1828 reported the Franciso de Paula arriving in Falmouth on 5th September with 100 refugees from Ferrol. The 12th September Lloyd's List reported the Aurora arriving in Falmouth on 8th September from Ferrol with 300 and the Francisco on the same day with 120 refugees. The next day three more vessels arrived from Ferrol with 616 refugees between them. These five vessels are presumably the five referred to by the Royal Cornwall Gazette of 13th September. On the 9th the Lulita arrived at Scilly from Ferrol carrying 54 refugees.

After 9th September no further refugee ships are reported, presumably because the Miguelistas had taken control of the situation and incarcerated opponents or otherwise prevented them from leaving. What followed in Portugal was a period of brutality and oppression with the liberals bottled up in Porto. This lasted until 1833 when, with British help, the liberals were able to occupy Lisbon and Dom Pedro was made regent for his daughter, Maria da Gloria.


Diary of John Tregerthen Short

Lloyds list (see editions for September 1828) 

Royal Cornwall Gazette for 5th and 13th September

A concise account of the causes and action of the Portuguese Civil War of 1828-1834 can be found at Wikipedia

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