Who were the richest families of late Victorian Cornwall?

In 1885 a letter appeared in the West Briton listing what were claimed to be the 27 richest men in Cornwall with their reputed incomes. Here’s the richest nine. (For a rough modern equivalent of the income multiply the figures by 120).

NameHouseAnnual income
Thomas Charles Agar-RobartesLanhydrock£75,000
John Charles WilliamsCaerhayes£60,000
Evelyn BoscawenTregothnan£50,000
Duke of Cornwall£40,000
Gustavus BassetTehidy£32,000
William Henry EdgcumbeMount Edgcumbe£30,000
Thomas Simon BolithoTrengwainton£30,000
Edward BolithoTrewidden£30,000
Sir John St AubynSt Michael’s Mount£25,000

Interesting to note that three of these families could trace their position back to the medieval period, three had become wealthy in the 1500s and 1600s and the other three were products of Cornwall’s industrial period.

One wing of Lanhydrock House was destroyed by a fire in 1881. Rebuilding was completed in 1885.

The letter appeared at a time when criticism of the landed class was growing. The correspondent, writing under the pseudonym ‘A Cornishman’, asked if it was not ‘a fact that some [on his list] are almost totally unknown in the county – unknown even by sight – absentees in fact, drawing large incomes .. but giving scarcely anything in return?’ He continued: ‘do we see them , as was the custom formerly, taking an active part in the management of our Quarter Sessions our infirmaries, our hospitals, our savings banks, and other benevolent institutions? Alas! I fear the answer must be in the negative.’

4 thoughts on “Who were the richest families of late Victorian Cornwall?

    1. It’s from the West Briton, 22 Jan 1885. My source is an old photocopy but the WB hasn’t been digitised yet. but if you email me (see Contact page on this site) I can let you know who the other 18 were.

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  1. Was the criticism legitimate and/or did others take up the refrain. I have visited Lanhydrock and the Agar-Robartes family seemed to regularly visit. The Duke of Cornwall is though a notoriously absentee landlord I thought but perhaps I am wrong.

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    1. I think the criticism was aimed more at the lesser known men who appear lower down the list. There was a strong strand of anti-landlordism in the 1885 election, which was when Conybeare was elected in the Mining Division. To confuse matters however, Tommy Agar-Robartes of course later became a Gladstonian Liberal MP.

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