Enys and Tonkin: When Values Collide

From two ancient Cornish families our protagonists emerge into the context of a changing country; Samuel Enys of Penryn, landowner, merchant and businessman, and Thomas Tonkin landowner, historian and protector of mining rights and traditions.

Thomas born in 1678 was educated privately at Exeter and entered Oxford in 1693 as a gentleman commoner with Dr John Waugh as his tutor. He spent some time at Lincoln’s Inn, but for an unexplained reason was called home during that year. He continued his education under Mr Francis Thompson, a celebrated mathematician. Samuel born three years later in 1681 received a rudimentary education at home, and possibly at Truro Grammar School, followed in slightly later years as noted in a letter from his Uncle Valentine, ‘I think he resolves to perfect his studies at Oxford’.

We can speculate, but Thomas a gentle studious soul had troubled teenage years. His mother Frances, of the Vincent family of Treleavan died of smallpox in 1690 and his father Hugh married again the following year. Hugh married Ann Upcott, a widow, daughter of Adam Bennet a maltster from Truro. Once again we speculate over the spendthrift nature of Ann, and Trevaunance Barton is lavishly changed. William Hals from the neighbouring parish, a vague and gossipy historian commented upon the marriage, ‘proved suitable to that most unfortunate day was occasion principally of the ruine of his family’. Hugh had attempted to rebuild the Quay at Trevaunance in 1684, and no doubt this and other mining ventures may have added to the family’s financial concerns. Documented in an impressively scripted Mortgage (CRO EN195/2) is the first loan taken with James Kempe, a Penryn merchant and businessman for £1000 by Hugh and his brother Micheal acting as steward of the estate. It was suggested in Thomas’ ‘Commonplace Book’ – diary, 1739 that ‘his (Micheal’s) judgment does not always seem to have been the best.’ In 1694 Hugh and Micheal borrowed a further £500 from James Kempe, and in the same year granted the tithing rights of Perranzabuloe to Kempe as a means of collateral.

The liaisons of the Tonkin’s with Kempe were further cemented by the marriage of Thomas to Elizabeth, eldest daughter of James Kempe by his second of four wives, in 1699. Whether it was love or a marriage of convenience remains uncertain but a sum of around £10,000 came into the settlement. Two young people caught up in the deals of the business world came together for better or for worse, had eight children and lived until 1739 and 1742 respectively. Links between the Tonkin’s and the Kempe’s were further added with the marriage of Elizabeth’s sister Mary to Thomas Worth a business associate of not only James Kempe but the Enys family.

Thomas and Elizabeth began married life at Lambriggan with Thomas in the role of a smallholder farmer who began writing his ‘history’ in 1700. We can imagine this life of wedded bliss in the drought ridden summer of 1699, and the years of their first children Frances in 1700, Hugh 1701 and Joanna 1703, before the onset of the financial worries that would engulf Thomas as he had to accept more responsibility for his father’s actions. In May 1702 the vast sum of £6065.8s.1d was borrowed from James Kempe (CRO EN 195/2) and in the next two years land by lease were granted to Kempe with Thomas and cousin Henry Vincent mentioned in the agreements. On September 29th 1704 a further £1000 was borrowed from James Kempe and the debts kept mounting up.

At this time Samuel Enys was leading a batchelor’s life and building his own reputation as a man of schemes and money. It is possible that young Samuel was apprenticed in trade in London where he met the wealthy Willeys family whose daughter Dorothy he married in 1707. By then Samuel had become very wealthy in his own right being principal heir of his grandfather Henry Gregor who had died in 1705. (CRO EN 935: 936). In 1706 Samuel had the financial resources not only to lay out considerable money in property but also to purchase by auction the Manor of Kenwyn and Truro for which he paid £2146. (Palmer). The following year he took over his father’s affairs and began the building of the new Mansion House. He acted as his (uncle) Valentine’s executive and later executor, and clerk to Valentine’s brother Richard, a rather wayward and debt ridden government employee overseeing the coinage of tin in Cornwall. In the business world Samuel was on the up!

The year before his father’s death in 1711 Thomas took part in the Convocation of Tinners, and as a member of the Stannary Parliament took an interest in the affairs of the mining world. As one of the 24 Stannators he incurred the displeasure of Hugh Boscawen who at the time was the government agent attempting to control the price of tin, in a tax favourable to the Government. This was the same year that Thomas supported his cousin Henry Vincent in the Truro election. It was a clash between Boscawen and his followers, including Samuel Enys as the Whigs on one side and Vincent and Tonkin, Tories on the other. Thomas had written about Boscawen’s defeat as a County Member of Parliament, ‘Tregothnan mourns Thy hero’s fatal doom. By honest Tories justly overcome.’ Boscawen had the last laugh as he was elected along with Henry Vincent as the two Members to represent Truro in Parliament.

In 1709 Samuel was appointed Sheriff of Cornwall, and with his business contacts was one of the richest men in the county. The following year he had the capital to buy the mortgage from James Kempe for the Tonkin’s debts, with more money lent in 1711 (CRO EN 196:1 and 6. 195 :2, 9 and 14). Whilst Enys’ action may seem ruthless they would appear to be above board but as soon as an interest payment is not made by Thomas, Samuel presents his bill of foreclosure in 1713 (CRO EN 196:1 and 195:14). If we need more evidence of Samuel Enys’ unscrupulous business approach we need to look no further than his involvement in the Newham and Calenick smelting works whereby he hired workers from Moult and Lydall’s smelting works that had been using a patented reverbatory furnace to build his own in secret at Newham. Associated with this was a close friend Richard Plint whom Enys had lent some money, and in 1717 mortgages for even more sums of money, with an accusation from Samuel Enys that he had been defrauded by Plint. (See HL Douch JRIC Vol.6 1969).

Although Thomas had been tutored by a mathematician in his younger days he had no head for figures or business. He was supposed to have been responsible for his father’s business affairs from 1706 but it was more probable as James Whetter commented, ‘Thomas was bambouzelled by the great part by unaccountable trustees’; though HL Douch who wrote an account of Tonkin’s life suggested Thomas had the finances and resources to pay the interest on the mortgage. He said an agreement had been made with John Coster for a smelting house on the Quay for a lease of £500 per annum. Also Tonkin had a lease of half of the toll on tin which would release £300. These two factors were exempt from the general mortgage.

Thomas’ interest in politics saw him as candidate for the borough of Helston bye election in April 1714, where his opponent was none other than Samuel Enys who was well beaten. Thomas classed as a Tory, had no real parliamentary record in his short time as Member of Parliament, where he and his colleague Alexander Pendarves were described by Courtney as, ‘Cornish squires of high Tory repute’. Under the reign of George 1 and the Whig ascendancy he deplored the demise of Cornish parliaments (the Stannary). Soon after the election Enys set about presenting another bill of foreclosure, and complained bitterly that Thomas had demanded parliamentary privilege. He claimed that Tonkin was without property qualification; Trevaunance having passed out of his possession, though there was no evidence of a signed document. (CRO EN 197:3).

There was growing acrimony and law suits reached The Court of Chancery in 1718. Thomas’ Commonplace Book and his History of Cornwall reveal his feelings against Enys. He wrote, ‘he began his law suits which lasted on and off until the year 1719, there being two years which from time we had a sort of truce, by virtue of a rule of the court in Chancery, which suits having been carried on by him with the greatest cruelty and oppression both to myself and tenants. I was forced to be in a wandering condition sometimes in London, sometimes in the country: till such time as by his usuall violence, lyes and deceit he got possession of the whole estate on 28th December 1719 having obtained at first of all a pretended sale (but to which I had not in any way asserted) before a Master in Chancery, in the midst of a treaty for an accomodation which was so far advanced that the Deeds were actually engrossed for the execution of them.’ The reader would do well to look at this protracted case by referring particularly to CRO EN 196 : 1 ,6 ,9, 10 ,and 29. Another reference in his Commonplace book he noted in 1718, ‘Enys like a dog in the manger not being able to procure a new lease of it which he strenuously endeavoured forced me to suffer my cousen Vincents to take it over my head- so that I am forced to trust them courtesy of it.’ There appear suggestions that there was a cagy side to Thomas’ character, reference in CRO EN 196:29 show that when a writ was delivered at a time Thomas was in London he was not at his abode. Also he was not to be brow beaten by Samuel, and he did have money to pay. However a letter (CRO EN: 1521) 5th November 1716 Valentine to Samuel, ‘This morning Thomas Worth junior was with me and proposed that his brother Tonkin (Thomas’ sister had married Thomas Worth), would pay down one thousand pounds between this and Christmas.’

In the end greater legal resources, and unscrupulous attitude to business meant that Tonkin could not compete with Enys.

The story does not end there, and the legal battles Samuel Enys had to fight to gain leases on various mining ventures were not easy. Nicholas Donnithorne, one of Thomas’ lessees was a shrewd ‘operator’, and a man with some financial resources would not give up some of the leases and evidence is played out during the course of the 1720’s. (See CRO EN 196: 16, 22, 24 and 44).

By this time Thomas, ‘homeless’ as Trevaunance Barton had gone to Enys, is taken in by a cousin Nicholas Vincent at Trelevan near Mevagissey. Nicholas himself soon succumbed to financial ruin and dies in 1726. Thomas and Elizabeth moved to Polgorran in the parish of Gorran, a small house held in his wife’s name. In 1734 Thomas’ long- time political enemy, Hugh Boscawen agreed to help him regain his losses but Boscawen’s death later that put pay to it. Elizabeth died in 1739, and Thomas was looked after by his daughter Elizabeth who had come to live nearby upon the death of her husband, Reverend James Doucett, in 1735. Thomas died in 1741 and was buried on 4th January at Gorran. HL Douch has written that Tonkin had feelings against the ‘new man’ whom he considered to have risen on the misfortunes of others. He was a loyal Tory who saw the death of Queen Anne, the loss of much that he considered good and solid in society.

There are two intriguing postscripts to the story. Tucked away at the bottom of the page of The London Gazette, 10th September 1743 an advertisement appeared, ‘The creditors of James Tonkin, formerly a Prisoner in the King’s Bench Prison but discharged by an Act of Parliament…are desired to meet Assignees of the estate and effects of James Tonkin…’ James, eldest, and surviving heir of Thomas still had the debts to pay! And finally on 1st September 1744 Samuel Enys died at Lambriggan, the house where Thomas and Elizabeth had begun their married life.

Ian & Shirley Clarke

References and further reading.

Thomas Tonkin, A History of Cornwall, and Commonplace Book, (1739), MSS Courtney Library.

BD Henning (ed), A History of Parliament, The House of Commons (Secker and Warburg, London 1983).

HL Douch, Thomas Tonkin: An Appreciation of a Neglected Historian, JRIC Vol.4, (1962).

HL Douch, Cornish Goldsmiths, JRIC Vol 6, (1969).

J Whetter, Thomas Tonkin, Historian, The Cornish Banner, February 1994, No.75.

WP Courtney, The Parliamentary History of Cornwall to 1832, (London, 1889).

J Palmer, The People of Penryn in the 17th Century, (Truro 1986).

J Palmer, Truro in the 18th Century, (Truro, 1990).

J Palmer,The Cannaries and the Atlantic: The Letter Book of Valentine Enys 1704-19, (Exeter, 1997) CRO The Enys Archive.



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