Sennen and seven sorts of cousins

Just a few miles to the west of Sancreed, we arrive at our next parish, Sennen, the most westerly in Cornwall. This is Cornwall’s pedn an wollaz, the land’s end, although unfortunately far from the end of this series of blogs. As the nineteenth century proceeded, Sennen, or at least its fishing cove, became increasingly remote in the eyes of outsiders. Paradoxically, this was a result of the buoyant and expanding local fishery.

Aerial photo of Sennen Cove in the 1950s

As the number of fishermen at Sennen Cove rose after mid-century, migration into the village came to be rare, as at other Cornish fishing ports. By 1891 most of the cove’s population were cousins, albeit several times removed, while a high proportion shared just one surname, in this case George. It therefore comes as little surprise to find that only one of the seven Sennen children of 1861 in our database is found to have ventured east (to become a commercial traveller in Somerset). Not many were prepared to emulate the feat of the seven Newlyn men who, inspired by news of a gold rush, sailed their 16-ton fishing lugger all the way to Melbourne in Australia in 1854/55, taking 116 days to make the trip.

Our Sennen cohort was less adventurous and their life stories fairly predictable. For instance, Mary George was the daughter of a fisherman in the cove. She married John James in 1868. John lived just outside the village and was a farm labourer. But he didn’t survive the 1870s and by 1881 Mary was back in the cove with her two children living in the house of her grandparents. In 1889 she got married again, to John Guy of the parish, John being a … fisherman.

The 17th-century Old Success Inn at Sennen Cove around 1900

Moving eastwards may have been regarded as somewhat odd behaviour in Sennen, but there was always the possibility of moving west. John Trenery was the son of Thomas (a fisherman) and Alice in the Cove. In 1861 he was one of the 12 inhabitants of a cramped cottage containing three generations of Thomases. John inevitably went on to join his brothers on a fishing boat and, like many of his peers, he married young. But his first wife Harriet died young and John re-married, this time to Sarah Pender. Sarah was from the island of St Agnes in Scilly, even more remote. The pair moved there, although John remained a fisherman.

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