Wreckers Cove

The Enys Rights of Gunwalloe

In the winter of 1757, a vessel came to grief on the Cornish shoreline.

Its entry in the Shipwreck Index of the British Isles is brief; like so many others, a few terse lines sum up the drama of  windswept hours in the lives of its crew.

01/02/1757 (Unindentified)

Mounts Bay, Gunwalloe Cove 50.02 10N


 Brig (Sail) GB             Wine unspecified

Fruit Citrus

Stranded/Total Loss

 In the two days before the date given above, however, there had been a flurry of letters between certain interested parties. The “Stranding”, (there was care taken not to openly call it a Wreck…) had not gone unnoticed. A group of men hailing from Gunwalloe, Cury and Mullion had wasted no time in gathering up the cargo of Wine unspecified and Fruit Citrus and spiriting it away to various safe locations. They were not just opportunists who had been happening by. It appeared to be a well-rehearsed routine of time-honoured custom and they may well have been expected to do so on someone else’s behalf.

Someone else…being John Enys.

CRO EN 1301                       Notice to John Wills of Cury, Thomas Brown of Gunwalloe and William Tonkin of Mullion.

 “Wheras there hath lately been stranded (and wrecked – crossed out) at the cove called Gunwallow Cove on the Moyety of the Cove belonging to John Enys’ Mannor of Wynyanton in the parish of Gunwallow in the County of Cornwall a certain Ship or Brigg laden with wine, oyl & spirits & other goods. Wm [Bifor] Captain and Commander. The ship belonged to Wm Johnson and[…] John Johnson at Leath port in Scotland & from Scotland the Cargo bound. Of Said ship & cargo all or great part thereof owners were landed from the said Ship on the said John Enys’ Land as also the said ship is now Harbyring and that the said goods or part thereof and the said ship are now lodged in your custody.

Therefore to give you notice that on the Wharfe of the said John Enys that you do not remove or suffer to be removed from your possession the said Goods or ship or any part thereof before and until you shall have p’d or delivered or the owners of the said ship and cargo shall have paid unto the said John Enys in money or goods one fifteenth part of the (value of – crossed out) said goods & ship in your custody which I hereby claim for the land Dues of the said goods & ship stranded – and how of you are to take notice to save and secure the same for the said John Enys as his customary Right as you will answer the value thereof from the time of this notice given under my hand this 29th Day of January 1757

Sam Warren Agent for […] and John Enys.”

This was the draft master copy, as copies were issued to the individual men or their families.

“To John Wills of Cury Left a copy of this notice with these and such…his sister.”

“To Thomas Brown of Gunwallow, where I […] about these notice to Elizabeth, wife of Thos. Brown.”

“30th Jan 1757 Left a notice with Mr Josh. Whitford for Mr Tonkin & Mr Hempthorne to be delivered to them.”

 However, the situation became more interesting when the Customs men got wind of the goings-on and decided to pay a call. The cargo was impounded by several officers and we gain further details as to the nature of the contents.

“Goods at Wills’ is as follows

Seized by the officers of Customs under the Command of port of Penzance,

To wit John Odgers Wm Thomas


Marked & Baled} Two sacks of Figs

One sack of Lemons

another with some figgs & almonds rinded

Marked F.E } [27?]     Hogsheads of white Malago wine


after Wm Tonkins of Mullion

Found the severall Goods following seized by Kellow

1 Barrell of […]

[…] of Broad figgs

1 sack of Almonds


Goods in the Custody of Thomas Brown

Severall Hogsheads of wine

Severall chests of Lemons & Oranges

Locked up in the Cellar behind the Halls by Penzance Officers Wm Ward Jn Keeble

of others who hath the key of the said Cellar


At Mr Hempthorne of Mullion

1 Hogshead of wine in his cellar

Seized by Miles Thomas, Mr Odgers & Mr May – 3 […] of wine”


 A letter to the officers’ boss was hastily dispatched, a copy of which is included on the reverse of the draft notice. At this stage, Sam Warren, the agent for John Enys, is still insisting, respectfully, on the rights to part of the recovered cargo.

“To Charles Vyvyan Esq. Comptroller of the Port of Penzance.

Mr Enys hath been informed that a ship laden with wine, oyl & spirits hath lately been stranded at Gunwallow Cove on the moyety thereof that belongs to his part of the mannor of Wynyanton and that diverse goods & effects have been removed out of the said ship to severall places in Gunwallow & Mullion which have been since seized by the Customs House Officers under your direction whereupon on the behalf of Mr Enys and by his direction I have given notice to the said persons at Gunwallow & Mullion in whose custody the ship & Goods are secured that they are not to be removed till Mr Enys hath used one fifteenth the part thereof for his Land dues and have ordered a Locke to be put on Brown’s Cellar at […] wherein some wines & spirits are lodged and also on all the other casks of wine [… … …] put his mark of F.E. & putt Mr Enys’ Seal on the Severall sacks of figgs & almonds found at Wills’, Hempthorne & Tonkins to charge them with the 15th part as Mr Enys’ customary Right whereof by Mr Enys’ direction I give you this notice and here also I shall give Mr Enys an acc’t today of the Nature of this…

[many crossings out]

Mr Enys in afore… as I am now about with your men probably been further from Cury to Enys and shall inform him of his apportionate…. attending this…

Sam Warren

Helston 31st day of Jan 1757

To Mr Charles Vyvyan, Comptroller of the Port of Penzance”

There must have been some further misgivings about the situation, as John Enys himself feels compelled to explain to Charles Vyvyan.


On hearing that a ship laden with wine, oyl & sugar on my Right in Gunwallow, I ordered Mr Warren to pursue the proper methods to ascertain my Customary right to one fifteen the part of it in Ship & Cargo as I have for saving the goods, which he hath accordingly done on such part of the Goods as he could find at Gunwallow and Mullion, charging them therewith in manner mentioned in his letter to you. But on hearing the circumstances attending the misfortune of this ship I think it is not a legall wreck or a stranding so as that I can claim any property in the Goods or ship and I think all proper methods should be taken to bring the Breage men to Justice for so great a Barbarity and you & officers are at Liberty to take into your custody all the Goods and ship [which Mr Warren as taken out -crossed out] for the use of the proprietors will and ordered to be charged with the 15th part as above, hereby disclaiming any right thereto as a wreck or stranded ship.

I am y’r most humble serv’t

Mr Enys

Enys  2nd Feb 1757


To Charles Vyvyan Esq

Comptroller of the port of Penzance”


The use of the term “Breage Men” is telling. This was a generic term of derision for the rogues and scoundrels who supposedly aided a ship in stranding itself. It does not mean necessarily that the perpetrators came from Breage – it just had that kind of reputation. Current thinking concludes that this reputation was probably undeserved. Wrecks were not assisted by the swinging of the odd lamp, which any savvy captain would either ignore or not be able to see, but once they occurred naturally, every opportunity might be seized to help “rescue” the cargo. Especially with milord’s tacit approval.

Manorial Rights of Wrecks have been a long contested issue. Attempts to clarify these rights were made over the centuries, based on practices dating back into the mists of seafaring. After the Norman conquest, favoured supporters of the monarchy acquired such rights  of “wreccum maris” as part of their land gifts and tried to ensure they were written into charters and deeds. Along with

foreshore rights, treasure trove, free warren, riparian, piscaries rights and permission to hold fairs and markets,  it was a nice little earner on the side. Especially on such a storm-wracked coastline.

In the 13th century, the Coroner had  powers to investigate rights of wrecks in Cornwall, as did later the Sheriff or the Hundred Bailiff or a Special Commission appointed for the purpose. Later on, a special Exchequer official called the “Escheater” could be called in.   The Earls and Dukes of Cornwall were granted rights of wreck along the Cornish coastline and devolved these privileges to their supporters over the years.

A further exchange of correspondence on this question occurred in 1811, when one of the Enys’ tenants queried his position in handling goods from wrecks.

CRO EN 1301           Letter to Thomas Warren (son of Sam) Agent to Enys Family from J.                           Borlase (Attorney)

“Helston 6th December 1811

Dear Sir,

I was informed a few days since by Mr Jos. Hendy that he had received an authority from you to secure all wrecks which may come on there under Mr Enys’ lands in Gunwalloe on his behalf and for his sake. When you gave this order you could not have been aware that Mr Reynolds of the Manor of Winnanton extended over Mr Enys’ and new Estates lying to the South East and that numberless instances can be adduced of wrecks being taken up under all Rights and by  Agents of  […] […] and Winnanton Manor that goods sold Mr Warren Esq and the money paid to the Lord Vice-Admiral’s Courts have also from time immemorial been made within the Limits of the Manor & Mr Reynolds so clearly defined as not to admit of the smallest doubt that Mr Enys’ lands are comprehended within it. Mr Rogers is now the Proprietor of this Manor and Reynolds’ and I am sure it cannot be your wish to involve these Neighbours and Relatives in a dispute and Litigation by espousing a right which till now has never been pretended to belong to Mr Enys or any of his ancestors.

We are ready to afford Mr Enys or yourself the perfect and most irrefutable Proof to the Right in question by Road Tolls and Records for centuries back – I shall be very glad to receive or hear from you as soon as you have consulted Mr Enys – and am always

Yours (obligingly)

J. Borlase”

This was followed up by a missive from the said Mr Rogers “dreckly” to Mr Enys himself for good measure.

CRO EN 1301           Mr Rogers to Mr Enys

“Penrose Dec 17th 1811

My Dear Sir,

Mr Warren has given directions to Mr Hendy, your tenant of Gunwallow, to take all wrecks of sea that may be found on a part of my Manor and Liberty of Winnanton within the bounds of your estate. If you will have the goodness to look at your conveyance you will find that Gwills is an estate taken out of the Manor and sold to your Grandfather in 1747 without a High Rent or a Right of Royalty which was conveyed to me about ten years ago. The Liberty extends uninterrupted comprising all wrecks of sea for life, estrays etc etc from half the [mark?]

of land where it joins with my Royalty of Penrose, to a [rock?] in Mullion over the lands of yourself, Mr Gregor and others and all such wrecks of sea so have been invariably taken to a known agent of the Lord of the Liberty for 500 years past and we have records of Lords of Admiralty held for the same, the right having originated in an initial Grant from the Crown.

Any further information in my power to give shall be at your service and shall you have any doubts and think it worthwhile to prosecute your claim, which appears so groundless, I shall be ready to submit to the decision of one [other than …] but I should hope the inspection of your deed would be sufficiently satisfactory. Mr Warren told Mr Hendy that 6 was once paid to him by a tenant of yours for a Barrel of [Tan?] but such a transaction between landlord and tenant unless made known to the public agent of Law and all could in no way seek to deprive him of his rights. The salvors will always cheat if they can and your tenant must have thought himself well off to get his mark of you so cheap. Things of this kind often happen and in such an extent of crash are unavoidable: but they cannot affect the known and acknowledged rights of the Grantee of the Crown.

All been written in kind regards to yourself, the Colonel and Mrs (Stuart),if with you, with

My DR yrs very sincerely



Mr Hendy says Mr Warren has asked him to do this for years; but he always refused saying he knew it would be doing injustice to me – He has been brought up and is still resident on the spot.”

Joseph Hendy, the tenant, might have been hedging his own bets though and tried to appease all concerned.

CRO EN 1301  Letter to Thomas Warren from Joseph Hendy.

“Gwills Dec 24th 1811

Hon’d Sir/ Since I receiv’d your son’s letter I have had some conversation with Mr Borlase, Attorny, Helstone, who acts as I heard to Mr Rogers, him being acquainted of my intention to take care of Mr Enys’ Royalty in the Manor of Wininton. Asking me whether it was the case I told him yes/ on which Mr Borlase desired me to wait until he wrote Mr Warren concerning it as he thought it to be impossible that Mr Enys found gain of it.

There has not been any wreck on Mr Enys’ Right all this Autumn. If there had been any, I should have detained it until I Receiv’d orders from you to the contrary.

This morning Mr Rogers has called on me,  signefieth that he has Receiv’d a letter from Mr Enys, stating his intention not to claim the said Royalty.

[Joseph’s underlining – perhaps to emphasize his surprise at this]

So without loss of time/ I take the earliest opportunity to signifie to you concerning this business As I am at a loss what to do until I Receive further orders. If I am to take the Right of this Royalty I shall be obliged to you to send me an order to that Effect. If not, I shall expect it may be settled, but Sir I can assure you that all such Persons who follow the sea those were glad to hear that I was to receive in behalf of Mr Enys.

I was much gratified to receive such a kind and polite letter from your son and yours and Mrs Warren’s [Parents] and attention of your good Daughter who so kindly all has remembered me – which believe me kind Sir that words cannot express the Grateful remembrance which I obtain to yourself and Family.

So I Remain your faithful and most obed. Serv’t

Mr Joseph Hendy, Gunwalloe.”

Manorial rights of wreck were still hotly contested, with written records of all kinds being invoked as proof. This may be why the 1757 drafts were bound in with the 1811 correspondence, as record of the Enys claim to the custom by historical practice. On both occasions, however, when faced with Customs Comptrollers or hired attorneys, the Enys’ seemed to have blown cold on their enthusiasm to pursue these rights.

Of course, we shall never know what handshakes passed between gentleman friends, without ink ever reaching paper!

And “all such Persons who follow the sea” would nod sagely and melt back into the rocks…

Jill McGroarty



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