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Daniel Defoe

places mentioned

Appendix to letter 3

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I HAVE ended this account at the utmost extent of the island of Great Britain west, without visiting those excressences of the island, as I think I may call them, (viz.) the rocks of Scilly, of which, what is most famous, is their infamy, or reproach; Namely, how many good ships are, almost continually dash'd in pieces there, and how many brave lives lost, in spight of the mariners best skill, or the light-houses, and other sea-marks best notice.

These islands lye so in the middle between the two vast openings of the north and south narrow seas, or as the sailors call them, the Bristol Channel, and The Channel, (so call'd by way of eminence) that it cannot, or perhaps never will be avoided, but that several ships in the dark of the night, and in stress of weather may by being out in their reckonings, or other unavoidable accidents mistake, and if they do, they are sure, as the sailors call it, to run bump a shore upon Scilly, where they find no quarter among the breakers, but are beat to pieces, without any possibility of escape.

One can hardly mention the Bishop and his Clerks, as they are call'd, or the rocks of Scilly, without letting fall a tear to the memory of Sir Cloudesly Shovel, and all the gallant spirits that were with him at one blow, and without a moments warning dash'd into a state of immortality; the admiral with three men of war, and all their men (running upon these rocks, right afore the wind, and in a dark night) being lost there, and not a man sav'd. But all our annals and histories are full of this, so I need say no more.

They tell us of eleven sail of merchant ships homeward-bound, and richly laden from the southward, who had the like fate, in the same place, a great many years ago; and that some of them coming from Spain, and having a great quantity of bullion, or pieces of eight on board, the money frequently drives on shore still, and that in good quantities, especially after stormy weather.

This may be the reason why, as we observed during our short stay here, several mornings after, it had blown something hard in the night, the sands were cover'd with country people running too and fro' to see if the sea had cast up any thing of value. This the seamen call "going a shoring"; and it seems they do often find good purchase: Sometimes also dead bodies are cast up here, the consequence of shipwrecks among those fatal rocks and islands; as also broken pieces of ships, casks, chests, and almost every thing that will float, or roll on shore by the surges of the sea.

Nor is it seldom that the voracious country people scuffle and fight about the right to what they find, and that in a desperate manner, so that this part of Cornwall may truly be said to be inhabited by a fierce and ravenous people; for they are so greedy, and eager for the prey, that they are charg'd with strange, bloody, and cruel dealings, even sometimes with one another; but especially with poor distressed seamen when they come on shore by force of a tempest, and seek help for their lives, and where they find the rocks themselves not more merciless than the people who range about them for their prey.

Here also, as a farther testimony of the immense riches which have been lost at several times upon this coast, we found several engineers, and projectors; some with one sort of diving engine, and some with another; some claiming such a wreck, and some such and such others; where they alledg'd, they were assur'd there were great quantities of money; and strange unprecedented ways were us'd by them to come at it; Some, I say, with one kind of engine, and some another; and tho' we thought several of them very strange impracticable methods, yet, I was assur'd by the country people, that they had done wonders with them under water, and that some of them had taken up things of great weight, and in a great depth of water; others had split open the wrecks they had found, in a manner one would have thought not possible to be done, so far under water, and had taken out things from the very holds of the ships; but we could not learn, that they had come at any pieces of eight, which was the thing they seem'd most to aim at, and depend upon; at least they had not found any great quantity, as they said they expected.

However, we left them as busy as we found them, and far from being discouraged; and if half the golden mountains, or silver mountains either, which they promise themselves, should appear, they will be very well paid for their labour.

From the tops of the hills, on this extremity of the land, you may see out into that they call the Chops of the Channel, which, as it is the greatest inlet of commerce, and the most frequented by merchant-ships of any place in the world; so one seldom looks out to seaward, but something new presents; that is to say, of ships passing, or repassing, either on the great or lesser channel.

Upon a former accidental journey into this part of the country, during the war with France, it was with a mixture of pleasure and horror that we saw from the hills at the Lizard, which is the southermost point of this land, an obstinate fight between three French-men of war, and two English, with a privateer, and three merchant-ships in their company; the English had the misfortune, not only to be fewer ships of war in number, but of less force; so that while the two biggest French ships engaged the English, the third in the mean time took the two merchant-ships, and went off with them; as to the piccaroon, or privateer, she was able to do little in the matter, not daring to come so near the men of war, as to take a broadside, which her thin sides would not have been able to bear, but would have sent her to the bottom at once; so that the English men of war had no assistance from her, nor could she prevent the taking the two merchant-ships; yet we observ'd that the English captains manag'd their fight so well, and their seamen behav'd so briskly, that in about three hours both the Frenchmen stood off, and being sufficiently bang'd, let us see that they had no more stomach to fight; after which the English, having damage enough too no doubt, stood away to the eastward, as we supposed, to refit.

This point of the Lizard, which runs out to the southward, and the other promontory mention'd above, make the two angles, or horns, as they are call'd, from whence 'tis supposed this county receiv'd its first name of Cornwall, or as Mr. Cambden says, Cornubia in the Latin, and in the British Kernaw , as running out in two vastly extended horns; and indeed it seems, as if nature had form'd this situation for the direction of mariners, as foreknowing of what importance it should be, and how in future ages these seas should be thus throng'd with merchant ships, the protection of whose wealth, and the safety of the people navigating them, was so much her early care, that she stretched out the land so very many ways, and extended the points and promontories so far, and in so many different places into the sea, that the land might be more easily discovered at a due distance, which way soever the ships should come.

Nor is the Lizard Point less useful (tho' not so far west) than the other, which is more properly call'd the Land's End; but if we may credit our mariners, it is more frequently, first discover'd from the sea; for as our mariners knowing by the soundings when they are in the mouth of the Channel, do then most naturally stand to the southward, to avoid mistaking the Channel, and to shun the Severn Sea, or Bristol Channel, but still more to avoid running upon Scilly, and the rocks about it, as is observ'd before: I say, as they carefully keep to the southward, till they think they are fair with the Channel, and then stand to the northward again, or north east, to make the land; this is the reason why the Lizard is generally speaking, the first land they make, and not the Land's End.

Then having made the Lizard, they either (first) run in for Falmouth, which is the next port, if they are taken short with easterly winds, or are in want of provisions and refreshment, or have any thing out of order, so that they care not to keep the sea; or (2dly) stand away for the Ram Head, and Plymouth-Sound, or (3dly) keep an offing to run up the Channel.

So that the Lizard is the general guide, and of more use in these cases than the other point, and is therefore the land which the ships choose to make first, for then also they are sure that they are past Scilly, and all the dangers of that part of the island.

Nature has fortify'd this part of the island of Britain in a strange manner, and so as is worth a traveller's observation, as if she knew the force and violence of the mighty ocean, which beats upon it, and which indeed, if the land was not made firm in proportion, could not withstand, but would have been wash'd away long ago.

First, there are the islands of Scilly, and the rocks about them, these are plac'd like outworks to resist the first assaults of this enemy, and so break the force of it; as the piles, or starlings (as they are call'd) are plac'd before the solid stonework of London-Bridge, to fence off the force, either of the water, or ice, or any thing else that might be dangerous to the work.

Then there are a vast number of sunk rocks, (so the seamen call them,) besides such as are visible, and above water; which gradually lessen the quantity of water, that would otherwise lye with an infinite weight and force upon the land; 'tis observ'd, that these rocks lye under water for a great way off into the sea on every side the said two horns or points of land; so breaking the force of the water, and as above lessening the weight of it.

But besides this, the whole terra firma, or body of the land, which makes this part of the isle of Britain, seems to be one solid rock, as if it was formed by Nature to resist the otherwise irresistible power of the ocean; and indeed if one was to observe with what fury the sea comes on sometimes against the shore here, especially at the Lizard Point, where there are but few, if any outworks, (as I call them) to resist it; How high the waves come rowling forward, storming on the neck of one another; particularly when the wind blows off sea, one would wonder, that even the strongest rocks themselves should be able to resist, and repel them. But, as I said, the country seems to be as it were one great body of stone, and prepared so on purpose.

And yet, as if all this was not enough, Nature has provided another strong fence, and that is, that these vast rocks are, as it were, cemented together by the solid and weighty oar of TINN and copper, especially the last, which is plentifully found upon the very outmost edge of the land, and with which the stones may be said to be soder'd together, lest the force of the sea should separate and disjoynt them, and so break in upon these fortifications of the island, to destroy its chief security.

This is certain, that there is a more than ordinary quantity of tinn, copper, and lead also, placed by the Great Director of nature in these very remote angles and, as I have said above, the oar is found upon the very surface of the rocks a good way into the sea, and that it does not only lye, as it were, upon, or between the stones among the earth, which in that case might be washed from it by the sea, but that it is even blended or mix'd in with the stones themselves, that the stones must be split into pieces to come at it; by this mixture the rocks are made infinitely weighty and solid, and thereby still the more qualified to repel the force of the sea.

Upon this remote part of the island we saw great numbers of that famous kind of crows, which is known by the name of the Cornish cough, or chough, so the country people call them: They are the same kind, which are found in Switzerland among the Alps, and which Pliny pretended, were peculiar to those mountains, and calls the Pyrrhocorax; the body is black, the legs, feet, and bill of a deep yellow, almost to a red; I could not find that it was affected for any good quality it had, nor is the flesh good to eat, for it feeds much on fish and carrion; it is counted little better than a kite, for it is of ravenous quality, and is very mischievous; it will steal and carry away any thing it finds about the house, that is not too heavy, tho' not fit for its food; as knives, forks, spoons and linnen cloths, or whatever it can fly away with, sometimes they say it has stolen bits of firebrands, or lighted candles, and lodged them in the stacks of corn, and the thatch of barns and houses, and set them on fire; but this I only had by oral tradition.

I might take up many sheets in describing the valuable curiosities of this little Cherosonese, or neck land, call'd the Land's End, in which there lyes an immense treasure, and many things worth notice, I mean besides those to be found upon the surface: But I am too near the end of this letter. If I have opportunity, I shall take notice of some part of what I omit here, in my return by the northern shore of the county.


Daniel Defoe, A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies (London: JM Dent and Co, 1927)

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