Marriage horizons on Scilly

In Cornwall in the Victorian period people tended to find their marriage partners within a six to ten mile radius, a distance largely unchanged since medieval times. But when most of that six to ten miles is water and the choice heavily skewed towards fish and seals, what did people do? What were the marriage horizons of residents on the Isles of Scilly?

The pie chart below shows that almost two thirds of marriage partners on Scilly came from the same island. Another fifth of marriages involved spouses from a neighbouring island. This means that over 80 per cent of marriages on Scilly were endogamous to Scilly. On the mainland in rural farming parishes that proportion was around a third. Around 60 per cent of the marriages to spouses from Cornwall were from west Penwith. The rest came from a scattering of places as far away as Norfolk, Yorkshire or Gibraltar.

Let’s briefly look at the life courses of two database participants, one who married a Scillonian and another who didn’t, although both ended up in the same place. Tregarthen is a common Scillonian surname and Elizabeth Watts Tregarthen was born on St Mary’s in 1850. Her mother died in the year she was born, most likely in childbirth. As a result Elizabeth was brought up by her grandmother.

Hugh Town on St Mary’s, 1907

In the 1871 census she was described as a domestic servant living in the house of her aunt Mary, who had married John Hocking, a master mariner. John and Mary had relocated in the 1860s from St Mary’s to Penzance, taking Elizabeth with them. Indeed, Mary and Elizabeth were found in the same house in every census from 1851 to 1891 despite both getting married in that time.

In 1875 Elizabeth married John Eathorne who was born in Penzance. John was a cooper but was absent in 1881 when Elizabeth was still found in her relatives’ house, but no longer a servant. Her elusive husband was still nowhere to be seen ten years later when Elizabeth and the widowed Mary Hocking had moved to Penlee Villas in the town and were living on their own means. Elizabeth did not return to Scilly and died in 1897.

The abbey on Tresco in 1907

John Jenkins farmed a smallholding of five acres on the off island of Tresco in the mid-1800s. His son, also named John, became a merchant seaman. His whereabouts in 1871 are unknown but he received his second mate’s certificate in 1869, followed by his master mariner’s ticket in 1873 so he was no doubt at sea somewhere. In 1878 he married Mary Ann Pender, also from Tresco. Did she persuade him, or was he fed up with life on board coasting vessels? Because he gave up the seafaring life, taking on the management of a ‘coffee shop’ at the Tresco Inn. By 1891 this had expanded to a pub where John and Mary also sold groceries. The small population of Tresco, hovering just over 300 in the later nineteenth century, could not have made this too lucrative.

John Jenkins’ masters certificate

For whatever reason, by 1901 John had given the business up and gone back to sea, sailing on the SS Treneglos off the Durham coast, presumably engaged in the east coast coal trade. In the meantime, his wife had moved to Penzance, where the family spent the Edwardian years, John still pursuing his maritime vocation.

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