On this Day 25th October 1893

Penzance Lawyer on the Wrong Side of the Law - part one

Even if there be any, even the slightest, foundation for such charges, it was at once and very generally thought that it was a harsh proceeding to swoop down on men at a minute's notice, and take them 50 miles from home and the friends who are needed at such times”.

Morrab Place, home of John Rodolphus Lanyon (photo: Linda Camidge)It is an uncommon sight for police officers to round the corner into Morrab Place, Penzance. It is an even more uncommon sight – nay, perhaps an unprecedented one – when they return down the hill with a respectable gentleman. A gentleman who, whatever degree of discretion the officers may attempt, is clearly in custody.

Down at Marine Terrace, the police may be a more common sight. You will doubtless recall the murder a few years ago, for example. But the officers will generally be required to attend the properties at the back of the terrace. The prime establishments facing the Promenade – the respectable lodging houses – are not accustomed to such visitors.

And so it has shocked and saddened their neighbours – and is already known throughout the town - that this evening, Mr John Rodolphus Lanyon, the lawyer, has been escorted from Morrab Place, and Mr Richard Stevens, the insurance agent, from Marine Terrace. Taken summarily to the station, and off to Bodmin on the 6.15 train.

You wish to know how such a thing could have come to pass? We must return to July, and start with Miss Mary Wellington. You will remember her well enough. You will remember her liking for bright colours, and clothes in – shall we say – a style somewhat at odds with her maturity. But you may also be aware that, despite appearances, she was blessed with “shrewdness and firmness in money matters…. Her taste as to the harmony of a bonnet ribbon with one for the neck and the trimming of a gown might be questioned; her knowledge of securities and interest on invested capital was unquestionable”.

Number 2 Marine Terrace, now The Lugger but once home to Mr Richard Stevens (photo: Linda Camidge)The lady was the second cousin of Mr Wellington at the smelting works. At first she graced the town with visits, and then came to live amongst us. For many years she lodged at Marine Terrace with Mr Stevens. And in her will, she left him £300. Was she in her right mind when she did so, although “weak and prostrate in body”? Assuredly, as the surgeon Mr John Couch has confirmed. And Mrs Stevens, who would have known better than anyone the habits of her tenant, has put it very clearly. “Mad! She was no more mad than I am”.

But the will was overturned. This despite the medical evidence that the lady had been of sound enough mind to decide for herself who should – and who should not - benefit from the wealth she left behind. Despite the absence of “one tittle of evidence of unprofessional conduct” on the part of the lawyer whose misfortune it was to draw up the will, Mr John Lanyon”. And the matter did not end there. The Public Prosecutor was encouraged to take an interest. Since July, the wheels of justice have been turning: today Messrs Lanyon and Richards are, so to speak, caught in the mighty quern.

These men are not the usual sort to be hauled up before the courts. Mr Stevens was born here, and has lived here all his life. And Mr Lanyon has been serving his profession for 15 years. He “may not be a brilliant lawyer pleader; he has not a big office or an array of clerks”; but he has never been known to commit “an unprofessional or mean act”. Quite simply, nobody in the town can believe that he is culpable. Not of any crime, let alone a crime so heinous as defrauding the relatives of an old lady. The public may not know the law, but here in Penzance we do know the character of our man, and “entirely discredit the notion that Mr. Lanyon is guilty of forgery or perjury, or that he is a party to those crimes”.

And so tonight we reflect on the rights due to Britishers in this brutal, modern world. We reflect on peremptory injustice, meted out by so-called upholders of the law, seizing respected men and bundling them away as though they were common criminals. And we think of Mr Lanyon’s poor widowed mother, out at Acton Castle, waiting for news.


Cornishman 26th October 1893 page 3 springs to the defence of Mr Lanyon in particular, and conveys the scene in such heightened colour that it has needed little adjustment to provide the narrative here.

Cornish Telegraph 26th October 1893 page 5 is briefer and more factual.

Are you, like Mrs Lanyon, anxious to find out what happens next? Read On This Day 26th October to find out…

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

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

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