Probus: from one side of the world to the other (and back)

Even in rural parishes Cornish participation in the emigration flows from Europe to the New World was a constant background presence. It had a stark day-to-day reality in mining parishes by the mid-1800s but also could scarcely be ignored in non-mining parishes such as Probus, to the east of Truro.

Take Louisa Stephens, daughter of a farmer at the old Tregian estate of Golden. Louisa had been born well to the east, at Boyton, nestling by the Tamar where her father Josiah ran a large farm in 1851, employing six labourers, four farm servants and three domestic servants. The operation at Golden was somewhat reduced but the 250 acres were still worked with the aid of four labourers, three boys and two domestic servants.

The Stephens obviously had friends and acquaintances scattered across the farming community of Cornwall. At the time of the 1871 census Louisa was visiting a farmer and landowner at Altarnun on the edge of Bodmin Moor. These trans-Cornish links may well explain how she met Frank Bourne and married him in east Cornwall in the Liskeard Registration District in 1874. Frank was originally from Totnes in Devon and by 1876 the couple were back in Modbury in south Devon running an inn.

Regular moves around Cornwall and Devon were only part of Louisa’s story. The 1881 census tells us that their eldest son Frank was born in 1875 in New Zealand, although the couple were back in Britain a year or two later when their next child was born. Their whereabouts after 1881 then become elusive and they cannot be found in the 1891 census. However, by 1901 they were back and staying with Louisa’s brother, a schoolmaster at Fowey Grammar School. With them was their ten-year old daughter Emily who had been born in … Vancouver. Frank senior was by then ‘living on his own means’, but in 1911, when Louisa died, he was described as a retired piano dealer – clearly a man of many trades.

Obviously not everyone bounced around the world like the Bournes. William Moses came from a farm labouring family in Probus village. After his marriage in 1868 he found work at a farm in Perranzabuloe before moving with his wife, stepson and other children to New Zealand, presumably in the 1870s. They then put down their roots and, unlike the Bournes, stayed on.

Probus was also the home of the Hawkins family who built their house at Trewithen in the 18th century. This drawing of it was made by William Borlase, probably inm the 1760s or 70s.

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