Henry Boase (1763–1827) was a self-taught and self-made man who became a successful banker, author and philanthropist. A partner in the old banking firm of Batten, Carne and Boase, he did much to improve the town of Penzance. He was a joint founder of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall (1814) and the Penzance Library (later known as the Morrab Library) in 1818 and was keen to put Penzance on the map as a health resort and as a centre of culture - a reputation it retained for many years.
Boase was elected an Alderman of Penzance on 20the September 1816 and the same day was nominated for the position of Mayor, to which he was elected on the 4th October 1816. He served only one term but his diary of his year in office provides valuable information about his duties as Mayor and about life in Penzance at the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
Boase took his Mayoral duties very seriously and carefully recorded each day’s events. The diary shows the great variety of duties he had to perform including his weekly stately procession to church followed by a Sunday dinner where he was joined by the parson -the Perpetual Curate of St. Mary’s Chapel;the whipping of beggars out of the town ; the assignment of apprentices; applications for charity; determining appeals on rates charges; the setting and collection of harbour and market dues; establishing highway rates; the settling of “traffic offences” such as “irregular cart driving” and leaving a horse in the street, along with many meetings to consider all manner of matters including the expedience of applying to Parliament for paving and lighting for the town. As a JP, he adjudicated on matters such as maintenance and paternity claims, the granting of beer licences, the settlement of quarrels, the issuing of search warrants as well as hearing cases of theft, rape and assault, smuggling and excise tax evasion. On the12th of December 1816, for example, a reward of £50 was offered for the discovery of thieves who took 32 ankers of brandy and Geneva or Jenever [a juniper gin from the Netherlands] from the Excise Store at Penzance.
Boase commented on “the prevalence of offences very disgraceful and vexatious. I allude to the breaking of windows and lamps, the plundering of gardens, the injuring of fences and plantations, and disorderly behaviour in the streets, particularly on Sunday evenings. I would fain hope that these evil practices are more the effect of juvenile folly than of deliberate malice.” Hewarned that offenders would be severely punished but demonstrated a softer side giving money to paupers from his own purse and often recommending that aggrieved parties sort things out between themselves. On market days, matters were settled ‘piepoudre’ at the Court of Dusty Foot, which gave prompt justice to the buyers and sellers on the spot.
Diary entries refer to work on the extension of the quay. H. Noy, a mason, was engaged for paving-stone laying, and hauliers were paid for carting stones from Bosullow, nearly six miles from Penzance, so recycling the material used to build the granite fortress at Chun Castle, near Bosullow, in the Iron Age for protection against raiders.
The diary also details the great storm and extraordinary high tide of 20th January 1817 which “did great damage to the quay, shipping, boats, houses, and sea fences…..perhaps £500 at least.” There were many applications for relief from indignant sufferers and two fishing-boats were lost and fourteen men drowned. Boase opened a relief fund which soon amounted to £430.
Meanwhile in February Boase was preoccupied with replacing currency, recording on 2nd February that “The old silver coinage had got so thin and worn that new coins were issued by the mint and were exchanged for old in all Cornish towns from 13th Feb. to 27th Feb. Four chests of new coins arrived and were lodged in Penzance bank and watched over by the Sergeants-at Mace every night.”Eight days later he wrote, “The exchange of old silver occupied every day and every hour, that it was with difficulty I found leisure for urgent business of the town.”
Boase died at Alverne Hill, Penzance on 8 April 1827 leaving upwards of £65,000 to his widow and 12 children. He is buried in St. Mary’s Church-yard, Penzance.
In this vault are deposited the remains of
Henry Boase, Esq.,
of this Town
Who died on the 8th of April 1827, aged 63 years,
Leaving a wife and twelve children to deplore their loss,
He was a dutiful Son, an affectionate Husband,
and a good Father.
The Integrity and Liberality of his Social and Public
Character rendered him universally esteemed.
All the days of his life he walked in the fear of the Lord,
And he that giveth all things rewarded him abundantly.
On his deathbed he was calm and resigned, having a confident
hope of Salvation through the Redeemer’s Atonement.