Gerrans: a restless farmer and a mystery

Gerrans, a coastal parish on the Roseland, has a particular place in Cornish history. It shares its name with one of the three historical figures who are definitely attested to be Cornish kings. Gerent was King of Cornwall around 700, when he resisted the peremptory demands from the English kingdom of Wessex to abandon the Celtic way of calculating the date of Easter. A few years later he was waging war on King Ine of Wessex.

Things are now more peaceful at Gerrans, where native Cornish kings are in short supply. Farmers, agricultural labourers and mariners would have been the more usual residents of Victorian times.

Rosteague, built in the 16th century but extended around 1700 and in 1820

Richard Trerise was the son of a farmer, John Trerise, and his wife Charlotte. When Richard was growing up in the 1850s and 60s his father was farm bailiff running the substantial farm at Rosteague, south of Portscatho. In the 1860s John Trerise took on a farm on the other side of Cornwall at Trugo, between St Columb and Newquay. It was no coincidence that St Columb was the birthplace of his second wife Alice. There, Richard learnt his farming skills from his father.

Richard married Jane Magor in 1879 in Cornwall but two years later was found a few hundred miles to the east, near Hatfield in Hertfordshire, where he ran a small farm of 70 acres. There was only one other person in his household – Susanna Magor, a married woman described as an annuitant and a visitor. Susanna came from the neighbouring county of Bedfordshire but had married into Richard’s wife’s family. Richard was also still described as married although there is no sign of Jane in the census of 1881.

In the 1880s Richard was on the road again, zigzagging across country to north Warwickshire, where he was living and farming in 1891. But he was not alone. Susanna Magor was still living in the same household, both her and Richard now described as widowed. Moreover, this time she was the head of the household and described as a farmer and an employer. Meanwhile, Richard was a self-employed farmer. Two of Susanna’s brothers were also living with them, surviving by their ’own means’. The household also included three nieces and a nephew of Susanna’s, three of whom had been born in Canada. Susanna was still alive and well in 1901 and living in Coventry. But what had happened to Richard? Was the 70 year old Richard who died at Falmouth in 1920 this Richard? Or had he gone to Canada?

Countryside near Hartshill, Warwickshire where Susanna and Richard were farming in 1891