The inspiration for this collection of essays was the 3000 prints in the Dawson Collection in the Morrab Library. The collection spans the period of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, a period which saw many changes in Cornwall. Significant developments were the founding of the Royal Cornwall Geological Society in 1814; the first publication of the Royal Cornwall Gazette in 1800; the opening of the first bank in Penzance in 1797; and the founding of the Penzance Library (now the Morrab Library) in 1818. The period is sometimes referred to as the institutionalisation of Cornwall.
Cornwall's connections with the rest of the country improved with the opening of turnpikes (though West Penwith was somewhat neglected in this regard), and Penzance was becoming a fashionable place recommended by doctors to their patients. The first essay covers this resurgent Penzance, looking at the residents and providing plans of the town. The port of Penzance, significant in time of war with the French, is also considered and the story that news of Nelson's death at Trafalgar first came ashore at Penzance is reviewed.
While war and industry brought changes in many places, others were unaffected. In St Just the local vestry continued to administer the Poor Law and deal with the consequences of poor harvests, just as it had always done, as demonstrated by the Vestry Minutes. The spiritual life of the parish, however, was in tumult, with Methodist revivals in 1799 and 1814 engendering an enthusiasm which saw new and larger chapels appear. This was partly in reaction to the maladministration and abuses common in the 18th century Anglican church which served the gentry eg the Borlase family, with fat livings while failing to address the needs of anyone else. All this is examined in the essay on Faith.
Crime and Punishment, The Ladies Book Club, the young Humphry Davy, fishing, the impact of war and the military presence, the life of Walter Tremenheere and the leisure pursuits of Penzance and neighbourhood are all subjected to scrutiny in this entertaining and informative volume.