Penzance in August 1883; think of it as a hotbed of evangelical zeal. The captain of the Salvation Army has just been carted off to Bodmin jail for encouraging his followers to obstruct the highway outside the First and Last Inn, and a little band of preachers -husband and wife team Joshua and Marianne Kaye, assisted by Laurie McLatchie and her niece - are in town as part of a national tour which has converted thousands of backsliders. The preachers have met with approving responses at Newlyn and down at the Bethel Chapel on the Quay. Marianne takes the lead in sermonising; Joshua is being billed as a "second Sankey", and has chaired a meeting of the Blue Ribbon Temperance Movement.
Now they are packing them in at St John's Hall. The Cornishman reports the event effusively: Mr Kaye offering up some "touching melodies" alongside his preaching; Mrs Kaye so "powerful in prayer" that tears flow freely, both her own and those of her listeners. She also sings "in a manner that was sweet and attractive".
But in the daily Evening Tidings, owned by the rival Cornish Telegraph, letters of dissent are appearing. One brands Joshua's singing a "feeble effort". Worse, there are doubts about whether he is, in fact, a teetotaller despite his enthusiastic singing of "Stand up! Stand up for Temperence". Marianne Kaye dismisses such letters as the "work of Satan". He "may not yet be a grand singer", she concedes, but is "only just coming out".
And then questions start to be asked; questions about money. The "universal impression" has been given that any cash collected in excess of expenses will be used to provide "a tea for the old and poor". The Kayes have said they "did not want a farthing for themselves". The audience is estimated to have given £23: what has happened to the rest of the cash? Laurie McLatchie is particularly unhappy, and writes in to say so. The Kayes, she claims, have an income amounting to hundreds of pounds a year, but have left her out of £8.10 shillings out of pocket - they have not even refunded her train fare.
Joshua Kaye maintains a dignified - or possibly shamefaced - silence, but Marianne takes up the cudgels in defence of her "dear husband" and writes a letter that both newspapers print, although the Cornish Telegraph adds a postscript judging it "altogether too general to be effective". In her letter Mrs Kaye makes clear to detractors that Joshua has been "respectably connected all his life" and is "an earnest and successful worker for the Lord". Mrs Kaye concludes her letter by adverting readers to a book on their "life and labours", available from Mr Rodda's bookshop; previously retailing at sixpence, it is now reduced to half price.
Cornishman and Cornish Telegraph 30/8/1883