On this Day 3rd April 1808

Samuel Pidwell

Samuel Pidwell, son of Thomas and Elizabeth, was baptised in Paul on 3 April 1808. He's not the most famous son of Penwith when compared to Davies Gilbert or Humphry Davy but he had significant local influence and his activities were many and varied.

Samuel's parents married on 3 September 1804, both previously unmarried and both of Penzance. Elizabeth's maiden name was Elizabeth Davis Edwards while Thomas is described as Gent. They were clearly part of the professional middle class in Penzance and their marriage was witnessed by John Bingham Borlase, the surgeon and apothecary who tutored the young Humphry Davy. Thomas is described as a mercer or haberdasher in the birth records of his later children and the status of the family is indicated by the fact that the eldest son, Thomas, went on to become a surgeon, probably serving his training with Bingham Borlase, while Samuel was sent to school at Blundell's in Tiverton before going on to Worcester College, Oxford.

On 6 June 1837 Samuel married Ann Batten, daughter of John Batten the mining entrepreneur known as the “King of St Just”. The witnesses were John Batten (bride's brother, her father having died in 1834), Caroline Carne (daughter of Joseph Carne) and Elizabeth Pidwell (sister of the groom).

The Pidwell, Batten and Carne families were closely connected. In 1803 John Batten the third had married Mary Ann Pidwell and their fourth child, Henry, married Anna Maria Carne, niece of Joseph Carne in 1844. The marriage of Samuel Pidwell and Ann Batten was in fact a marriage between cousins. The Carnes and Battens were also connected by their partnership in Penzance's first bank, which had opened in 1797.

It looks as if the happy couple may have taken a honeymoon in the Alps. The next time we encounter Samuel he is conquering Mont Blanc with Martin Atkins, only the 17th successful ascent. Atkins later wrote an account of his time in the Alps and it looks as if he met Samuel by chance.

The 1841 census sees Samuel and Ann living in Morrab Fields with their children Samuel aged one and Mary aged three. Also living with them are Mary Batten aged 20 (probably Ann's sister) and four female servants. Their house is in fact Morrab House, now the Morrab Library, which had just been completed. Samuel is described as being of independent means though elsewhere he is often described as a brewer and proprietor of Tolcarne Brewery. His brewing partnership with John Badcock Pentreath and John Richards was dissolved in 1849.

By 1851 Samuel describes himself as “Proprietor of lands” and by now the family would have been well settled into their new house with its garden stretching down to the sea. The family now included four more children: John Lawrence Pidwell aged nine, Sarah Batten Pidwell aged eight, Dorothea K. Pidwell aged three and Ellen Pidwell aged one. The servants were now a cook, a nursery maid and a house maid.

In 1840 Samuel became joint secretary of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall, sharing the post with W.J. Henwood. He was also a vice president of the Society and along with John Batten, Joseph Carne, R.Q. Couch, J.J.A. Boase, Samuel Higgs and J.N.R. Millett, formed the welcoming committee for Prince Albert when he visited the Society in 1846.

With his interests in the RGSC and his close ties with the Batten family it comes as no surprise to find that Samuel Pidwell invested in mining and his investments seem to follow the advice of John Batten. Samuel held shares in Levant and Ding Dong, where John Batten was purser and a leading shareholder. A list of his shares put up for sale following his death also reveals holdings in: Great Wheal Fortune, Boswedden, Boscaswell Cliff Mine, Wheal Margery (St Ives), West Darlington (Ludgvan), Calvadnack and Trelusbeck (Redruth). This list also shows him to have been an investor in the “Happy Return” and “Atlantic” seines in Newlyn while he also held shares in the West Cornwall Railway.

Samuel Pidwell was one of the men who ran Penzance in the 1840s: he was twice mayor, as was his brother-in-law John Batten; he was a leading light of the RGSC; he was a precentor of the Independent Chapel; a steward of Penzance regatta; and associated with the largest local industrial activities such as the railway and Levant. He was also active on the local lecture circuit and spoke on electricity to both the St Just and Penzance Institutes in 1851 and 1852.

But by 1854 Samuel Pidwell was dead at the age of 46. His legacy? Probably Morrab House and the surrounding gardens which were originally laid out by him in the 1840s. Samuel was survived by his wife, Ann, who lived on to die in Kensington, London in 1899.



Family history from the Cornwall Online Parish Clerk/ and the Cornwall Online Census Project

Mont Blanc: The 17th Ascent H.M. Atkins, The Journal of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District Vol XII No 32 1938

Morning Advertiser 5/8/1853 has a long review of The Story of Mont Blanc by Albert Smith which lists Samuel Pidwell and Martin Atkins as climbers of Mont Blanc in 1837

Other details mostly from a search of the British Newspaper Archive for the name “Samuel Pidwell”

A list of the mayors of Penzance can be found in P.A.S. Pool, The History of the Town and Borough of Penzance, Corporation of Penzance, 1974.


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