The history of the banking family of Daniell of Truro is stranger than fiction. In the second half of the eighteenth century they competed for distinction with the family of Lemon, whose parliamentary interests were extensive. By 1800 the Daniells were merchant bankers, smelters, mine adventurers and seekers after parliamentary influence. In 1805, Ralph Allen Daniell of Truro was elected as M.P. for West Looe alongside James Buller. Elections in 1805, 1806 and 1812 cost R.A. Daniell £5,000 each. Unfortunately, business failed thereafter and the seat went to others.
In the seventeenth century Richard Daniell of Truro, a banker, bought the lordship of the Manor of Alverton in Penzance. This was held for three generations, but with endless legal problems, the proceedings of which can be found in the Bodleian Library, MSS C.789, at Oxford. As with Ralph Daniell, Richard Daniell of Alverton found himself in reduced circumstances and sold the lordship in 1663. An account can be found in Peter Pool’s The History of the Town and Borough of Penzance (1974).
Members of the Daniell family appear to have remained in the Penwith area. In 1870, William Bottrell of Penzance published Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall (1870), one section of which was devoted to ‘The White Witch, or Charmer of Zennor’. When Q wrote the novel Ia, Aunt Alse of the Witches Crown is almost certainly, in part, based on this section. The witch’s name is given as Margaret D., the member of an old and decayed but proud family from Morvah which a century before had been connected to the best families in the area, with Margaret retaining some of her ancient finery. This family had owned ‘Alverton’ in Penzance. They had a touch of ‘insanity’ but had ‘produced many learned astrologers’, although this had not secured their ‘ancient possessions’. She was a friend of ‘Uncle Mathy’ from Ludgvan, who had dealings with Roscoff, of a smuggling nature. Matthew would have known the Carters and possibly the Quillers.
According to Bottrell’s informant, ‘Uncle’ or ‘Captain Mathy’ or Matthew, Margaret Daniel, when still a teenager, married ‘Billy V.’, the member of an ancient Sennen family, almost certainly William Vingoe. Billy Vingoe had learned his seamanship under ‘Pellew’ aboard the Nymph. This is Edward Pellew, who commanded the Nymphe in 1793, ensuring that most of its crew hailed from Penzance, where he had been educated. On June 18, 1793, the 36 gun Nymphe captured the 40 gun La Cleopatra, no doubt with William Vingoe on board, learning his trade, but insufficient for when he tried it for himself on the Spanish Main.
Pellew later became a Vice-Admiral and the 1st Viscount Exmouth. Billy Vingoe left or absconded from the navy and, like Amos Trenoweth in Dead Man’s Rock, took to privateering and then piracy. This resulted in the Daniel family rejecting Margaret. The Daniel family of Rosemergy in Morvah were Methodist, itself far from socially acceptable. John Wesley records in his journal the last meeting he had with Alice Daniel of Rosemergy on Saturday, September 3, 1768, thirteen days before he visited his Polperro converts, which must have included the Couches. Margaret Daniel must have been born about the time of Alice Daniel’s death and in the same parish.
Billy Vingoe sailed down to the ‘Spanish settlements of America’ shortly after his marriage to Margaret, where he suffered the inevitable fate. His failure to return and the rumours of his death resulted in Margaret, half demented with grief, wandering the cliffs of Zennor in the hope of seeing his boat approaching St. Ives. A vision of the dead man and the receipt of the ring he gave to her convinced Margaret of his demise. Such visions were common in Polperro, as Bertha Couch’s Life of Jonathan Couch (1891) relates. Margaret Daniel ended her life at Escols, near the Lands End, studying astrology with ‘Dr. Maddern and Usticke of Botallack’, presumably a descendent of Squire Stephen Usticke of Botallack, whose house still stands, as does Alice Daniel’s at Rosemergy. In his journal entry of July 21, 1746, Charles Wesley called Stephen Usticke of Botallack an emissary of ‘Satan’ for his persecution of the Methodists, prophesying his death, which occurred in the December of the same year. Sir Humphry Davy possessed Usticke blood. (See J. Pearce, The Wesleys in Cornwall, 1964, entries and footnotes). All the evidence points to the historicity of Margaret Daniel and William Vingoe.
Squire Usticke’s attack upon the Wesleys possibly had more to it than meets the eye. Usticke was a relation of and an associate of the Borlase family, who were close associates of Sir Robert Walpole. During the early 1740s they came under pressure from the possibility of a landing by the Young Pretender on one side, and the Wesleys were Tories and therefore suspect, and from the family of Pitt, centred at Boconoc, on the other side. In the election of 1734, 37 of the 44 Cornish M.P.s were for Walpole. Sir Robert Rich, M.P. for St. Ives and a political associate of the Borlase family, received a court appointment on the strength of it. The election of 1740 was a Walpole verses Pitt affair, with 1741 seeing the Cornish constituencies swinging behind Pitt. By 1747 a new configuration had appeared and William Pitt snr. was a major figure in Parliament.
St. Ives was the only constituency in the far west. In the second half of the eighteenth century it became notorious for corruption and petitions to Parliament. The election of 1775 was declared void. Q explores this in his short story 'The Mazed Election (1768). A Passage from the Oral History of Ardevora' (or St. Ives) in the collection Two Sides of the Face: Midwinter Tales (1903). There was a bitter election at St. Ives in 1768 which was won by Thomas Durrant with 108 votes and Adam Drummond with 107. Following this, forty persons with rateable properties were left off the register and large sums of money changed hands. Q provides us with a fictional but all too authentic account of the borough. During this time John Wesley was visiting St. Ives each year, noting in 1769 the largest congregation he had seen in Cornwall. In 1775 he writes that only the ‘rich’ resist the message, but notes in the following year that wrecks are still ‘plundered’. One place Wesley appears to have skirted was Looe, so that Thomas Bond possibly had no contact with him. However, John Pearce informs us in a footnote to Wesley’s 27th journey in August 1781 (1964, p.163) that he was in correspondence with Sir Harry Trelawney of Trelawne. Wesley’s last journey to Cornwall was in 1789, the year the Bastille was stormed. If William Vingoe and Margaret Daniel heard him, it made little impression on them. Nor do the wealthy Truro families of Lemon and Daniel appear to have been much interested.
The POW journal of John Tregerthen Short of St. Ives continues after his repatriation in 1814, providing details of life in the coastal town, the location for Q’s novel Ia. He details revivals and anti-slave trade meetings at the chapels, the arrest of smugglers, the export of fish to the Mediterranean, facilitated by peace, and the parliamentary elections for the borough. For much of the time the borough constituency of St. Ives, as Lawrence and Courtney explain, was a battle ground between the Whig interest of the Wellesleys and their placemen and certain wealthy Tory families, with the result that of the two M.P.s one was usually a Whig and the other a Tory. Rarely was a candidate local and corruption was rife. However, in the agitation of 1830, both members were Whigs, Wellesley and Morrison, with Halse, the sitting Tory, defeated. The election of 1831 saw Halse return, so that from 1826 to 1838 he sat for the borough except for one year. The western constituencies retained a Tory or Conservative element far stronger than can be identified to the east. Wesleyanism was stronger in the west than in the east and fostered a more conservative frame of mind. Short appears to have been a Wesleyan, but one of a different mould to Jonathan Couch or Thomas Pope Rosevear.
It is standard amongst political historians to see political radicalism as an urban feature, with the backward rural areas having to be dragged into modernity. Yet in Cornwall and Devon radicalism was the product of the most rural areas, between Truro and Exeter, and then in the countryside more than in the towns, Liskeard being an exception. Jonathan Couch came from Polperro and Thomas Pope Rosevear from Boscastle; with the founding of the radical Bible Christian denomination at Lake Farm in Shebbear, far away from any urban influence.
John Tregerthen Short does not mention Margaret Daniel in his journal, although he would almost certainly have known her and possibly William Vingoe. Margaret Daniel is not the witch or ‘pellar’, as such people referred to in Cornwall, of popular imagination or academic reference. Official documents on so called ‘Witch trials’ show a very different picture, possibly because they are really about other things. Margaret Daniel was intelligent, educated, an astrologer and capable of mixing in the society of the local squire and doctor as well as with the smugglers. She fits perfectly into the society of the time. Yet to the academic historian the works of Bottrell would be dismissed as myth. The Whig, Marxist, rationalist, secular humanist etc historian would look instead to official or semi-official documents, as can be found in Lawrence and Courtney. When William Bottrell published his Hearthside Stories in 1869/70, he included a list of subscribers. These included the scientist Robert Hunt F.R.S., Leonard Courtney, M.P. for Liskeard, the Hon. Mrs. Gilbert of Trelissicke, whose son provided A.L. Browne with certain diary entries from Davies Giddy/Gilbert relating to the funeral of Thomas Bond, along with John Vingoe and W.H. Vingoe. Some of these would have known Margaret Daniel personally. Robert Hunt was a friend of Q’s father and Leonard Courtney was a friend of Q.