On this Day 6th April 1829

Death of Sir Christopher Hawkins

Sir Christopher Hawkins died aged 70 on 6 April 1829. He was born in Probus in 1758, second son of Thomas Hawkins of Trewithen and grandson of Christopher Hawkins of Trewinnard, St.Erth. His father had died in 1766, predeceasing his own father by a year, and his older brother had died while still at Eton so Christopher inherited his grandfather's estates and wealth. It is said that his father, Thomas, had a lifelong fear of smallpox and died as a result of an inoculation against the disease.

Trewithen House, Probus, Cornwall. Copyright Tom Pennington and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Trewithen House, home of Sir Christopher Hawkins
Copyright Tom Pennington, licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence 

At the age of 25, in 1783, Christopher Hawkins became High Sheriff of Cornwall and shortly afterwards became a member of parliament, following in his father's footsteps. He was a notorious borough monger and stood out as such when corruption over small parliamentary boroughs was especially rife. At the height of his influence Hawkins controlled, either fully or partly, six Cornish rotten boroughs. He entertained the entire electorate of Grampound on election day in 1796 and so prevented them from voting! He was acquitted on the charge of bribery over the Penryn election of 1807 but his name was “erased from the House.” He did serve as an MP for Penryn from 1818 to 1820 and St.Ives from 1821 to 1828.

For his services to the Tory party ie ensuring the election of Tory candidates in his boroughs, he was created a baronet by William Pitt the younger in 1791.

Sir Christopher Hawkins fought a duel with Lord de Dunstanville (Francis Basset) in 1810 which was said to be over the boroughs but there must have been other deep seated reasons for their hostility towards each other. The duel features in Winston Graham's Poldark novel, The Stranger from the Sea, in which Bassett, a very small man of some style, takes exception to an audible remark by Hawkins about “Cornish Pyskies clad in green”. Whatever the cause, the duel took place and whether by design or incompetence neither man took so much as a scratch.

While clearly corrupt in some aspects of his life, Sir Francis Hawkins did a great deal for St. Ives, including establishing a free school in the town (where the master was the diarest John Tregerthen Short) and giving £100 to the Wesleyan chapel there. He is also reported to have been instrumental in the startup of St Ives Consols mine in 1818. The mine went on to be a major feature of the St Ives economy for most of the next 100 years. Sir Christopher Hawkins was clearly a man with an eye on the future. He encouraged Trevithick in his development of the steam plough which was tried out at Trewithen and also commissioned the building of the world's first steam threshing machine in 1812. He also developed Pentewan as a harbour for his china clay business, and, in the last year of his life, had a horse drawn tramway constructed to get product to his quays, shipping out tin and china clay and bringing in coal.

Sir Christopher Hawkins was a Fellow of the Royal Society and involved in what became the Royal Horticultural Society and also the Society of Antiquaries. He never married.




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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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Sally Corbet


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