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Perranzabuloe Shipwreck

By Ellie Jones, Exeter Cathedral Archivist

The feast of St Piran, patron saint of Cornwall, is on 5 March. Perranzabuloe is a small hamlet in north Cornwall whose name derives from the Latin Perranus in Sabulo meaning “St Piran in the Sands.” Records in the Exeter Cathedral Archives document more than 900 years of connections between the Cathedral and Perranzabuloe. 

For many years the Dean & Chapter leased several tenements in and around Perranzabuloe and in 1763 one of their tenants, Mr Higman, wrote to them asking for assistance in relation to events following a recent shipwreck. His letter, dated 5 November, gives an account of the drama that unfolded. 

A French vessel, La Marianne, had run aground off Perranzabuloe in September 1763. Most of the crew were saved, but the cargo of soap, oil, cotton, and about 3,000 Spanish dollars, was “carried off by the Country”, except for a small amount saved by one of the Customs Officers. As a result of this, the Dean & Chapter could not claim anything as a wreck as would otherwise have been their right. Furthermore, weeks later, some butts and casks of brandy had appeared amongst other wreckage, and these had been taken by local people. The neighbouring landowner, Mr Hoblyn, demanded half of the booty “as Lord of the Royalty”, but the people “knowing that twas not his but belonging to the Chapter refus’d it, whereupon a Battle ensued.” The Customs Officer, having been alerted, seized the goods. Mr Hoblyn claimed “the Royalty of Gear if the Chapter will let him rest quiet under it.” He proposed to pay the duty and salvage on the brandy and a sum to the Chapter in settlement. Meanwhile, Mr Hoblyn had seized and destroyed ferreting nets being used by one of the tenants on Mr Higman’s own land. 

A lengthy legal battle followed between the Crown, government and the ship’s captain, Jean Francois Martinot. The captain petitioned the Crown seeking compensation for the behaviour of the local people, claiming that they had stopped the crew from salvaging their cargo and had even stripped them of their clothes. He was eventually awarded £400 in damages but was unsuccessful in attempts to prosecute anyone for the plunder.