Poldark Companion--Cornwall & Georgian History Guide

Demelza at the Dance in Honor Of George III's Recovery in 1789


Adit--a tunnel opening in the side of a hill to drain water or allow access into a mine.

Banyan--a casual robe worn at home by men. There were two variations: a v-necked unfitted version somewhat like a kimono, and a fitted version which resembled a man's full-length coat with loose skirts. The banyan was typically worn by gentlemen relaxing at home and was worn over a shirt, waistcoat, and breeches.

Basset, Francis (1757-1835)--Baronet, made the Grand Tour as a young man. He inherited Tehidy estates containing valuable mines, which had come into the Basset family through the marriage of Thomas Basset to the daughter of Dunstanville of Tehidy in 1181. Tehidy House, Illogan, was built to the design of Thomas Edwards of Greenwich for the Basset family in 1734. Basset wrote on politics and was active in politics. Prime Minister Pitt created him Lord de Dunstanville in 1796 in recognition of his check of the food riots of 1785. See portrait.

Boscawen, George--George Evelyn Boscawen, 3rd Viscount Falmouth (1758-1808). Controlled the borough of Truro, lost control of the voters to Sir Francis Basset; then regained Truro through an agreement with Basset. (See Basset.) See portrait.

Brandy--smuggled from France, where a four gallon tub purchased for £ 1, would sell in England for £ 4.

By-election--a special election held to fill a parliamentary seat that has become vacant between general elections.

Cockfighting-- in which two specially trained roosters fought one another, often to the death, was the most widespread sport of the Georgian era. Surprisingly, the bloody sport was as likely to be staged in a gentleman's drawingroom as a cockpit. The spectators bet on the outcome.

Copper--a metal whose ore was mined in Cornwall. In combination with zinc, it becomes the important industrial alloy brass. In combination with tin and zinc, copper becomes bronze used in cannon making.

Cornwall--is a county that lies on England's south west peninsula, which is bordered on the east by the River Tamar. See map of some locations mentioned in the Poldark Saga.

Croust--a Cornish word for lunch that came to denote a very large dense pastry filled with with a mixture of meat and vegetables, often with a separate compartment at one end that contained fruit for dessert. The pasty was folded in half at one side, at the other side, the open edges were folded back onto themselves and crimped to create a thick ridge which the miners held on to as they ate. The crust handle would be dirtied by the miner's hands, so it was thrown away as an offering to appease knockers, spirits who worked mischief in the mines.

Elections--between the political rivalries and drinks doled out in exchange for votes, tended to be boisterous affairs. The militia frequently had to be called out to restore order. Politics were particularly corrupt at this time, pocket boroughs were common and there was not yet a secret ballot. Hogarth satirized an election in a series of four works that obviously inspired Winston Graham's account of an election in Jeremy Poldark. The scene of "Chairing the Member" comes directly from Hogarth.

Falmouth--was an important port city for Cornwall. It was from the 17th century the terminal for the Post Office Packet boats which took mail to America. The main industries in Falmouth were fishing and smuggling.

Viscount Falmouth--George Evelyn Boscawen, 3rd Viscount Falmouth (1758-1808). (See Boscawen.)

Fashion--In the late 1780s, women wore wide skirts, stomachers, and jackets called caracos. Shoes were lower heeled than previously and more comfortable. Men's wide skirted coats gave way to the tailcoat. Breeches and waistcoats were brightly colored. Waistcoats were striped. Boots began to replace shoes. Wigs and powdered hair were slipping out of fashion with the younger generation.

Free Traders--the name smugglers called themselves. (See smugglers.)

Gavot or gavotte-- a type of circle dance characterized by lively, skipping steps that began as a peasant dance of the Gavots in upper Dauphiné, France. It became popular at the court of Louis XIV and was used by Lully in his ballets. The dance spread to England from France.

George III's illness--On 26 February 1789 George III's physicians issued a bulletin announcing the King's return to good health. This had been the King's first serious bout of porphyria and the illness would return with a vengeance, but in 1789 the news of the King's recovery prompted widespread public thanksgiving, a host of celebratory fêtes and balls, and a brisk trade in commemorative items. Demelza attended one such ball in Truro in Cornwall.

Julia's death--probably resulted from rheumatic fever as a result of untreated strep throat. Martha Ballard's Diary recounts a similar epidemic.

Mantua--was an overgrown or robe typically worn over an underdress or stomacher and petticoat.

Medical Strides--or improvements

  • Diabetes--diagnosed by Dr. Enys in Caroline's uncle was first described and its symptoms characterized by Thomas Willis MD (1621-1675) in the 17th century.
  • Immunization--British physician Edward Jenner (1749-1823) observed that milkmaids who had contracted cow pox, which was a milder disease than smallpox, never contracted small pox. In 1796, he immunized a child by giving him cow pox on purpose and when later exposed to smallpox the boy proved resistant.

Medical Treatments--or tortures

  • Bleeding--was a staple remedy for doctors in Georgian times. There was almost no understanding of the true cause and nature of disease. Bleeding was thought to purge the body of vile humors that caused the illness. One account of the treatment of an injury in a carriage accident, preserved in contemporary letters, leaves one wondering how the young man survived. His mother writes to her friend that after being injured when his phaeton overturned and loosing considerable amounts of blood, the doctor bled him repeatedly over the next 3 months and forbade all beef. The poor misguided mother seemed to have had absolute faith in the doctor. The young man must have had a strong constitution. He survived the 'medical' treatments.
  • Blistering--was when a physician deliberately gave the patient a second degree burn and then lanced and drained the resulting blister. It was believed that the liquid in the blister contained the toxins that were causing the sickness and that the pain of blistering caused the patient's mind to focus on the new pain slowing the progress of the disease. These practices were thought to fight diseases, but, as we now know, these medical practices amounted to the needless torture of an already sick person.
  • The Brunonian system--devised by Edinburgh physician John Brown rested on the supposition that disease was caused by weakness or inadequate stimulation of the organism and that stimulation should be increased through treatment with irritants.
  • Fumigation -- The practice of having the patient breath the smoke or gases from a heated substance in the belief it would cure a disease. Substances used included: opium, deadly nightshade, iodine, sugar of lead, belladonna, digitalis, hellebore, aconite, dog-bane, tobacco, arsenic, antimony, niter, lobelia, and cinebar. Opium of course did offer the patient some relief from pain until it wore off. Of course it did nothing to fight the disease. It was considered a great cure all.
  • Ointments--containing mercury were used on patients with venereal diseases. Sulfur was used from ancient times to treat skin problems.
  • Plastering --Plasters were a paste-like mixtures, made from a variety of ingredients including such substances as cow manure, which were thought to draw the toxins causing a disease from the body. To make maters worse these filthy mixtures were often applied to the raw spots left from blistering.
  • Poulticing --Poultices were made from a mixture of bread and milk, to which other ingredients were sometimes added including: potatoes, onions, herbs, and linseed oil. Poultices were applied to cuts, wounds, bites, and boils.
  • Puking -- was a medical practice in which the physician dosed a patient with emetics resulting in vomiting. Puking was thought to relieve tension on arteries and to expel poisons from the body.
  • Purging--was a treatment that involved the patient ingesting a powerful laxative to induce the emptying of the patient's bowels or intestines. Purging was thought to cleanse the body of toxins. Unfortunately the most widely used purgative was calomel, a highly poisonous form of mercuric chloride.
  • Sweating--was a treatment where in patients were wrapped in a hot wet sheet and numerous blankets and thus made to sweat out the poisons that caused their disease. This treatment was more harmless than most, but could have fatal results if used on a person with high blood pressure or a weak heart.

Midwife--In most cases, the help of an experienced Georgian midwife would have been far preferable to the treatments given by doctors. Demelza was lucky to have had Mrs. Zacky deliver her baby without further interference from Dr. Choake. In Martha Ballard's Diary, she tells of a doctor giving a woman in labor laudanum, which not only stopped the pain but also the progress of the labor. The strong drug would also probably have entered the baby's body. In another actual case, doctors botched the already difficult pregnancy and delivery of Princess Charlotte. She was probably suffering from porphyria inherited from her closely related parents, but the treatment given her by her doctors at least contributed to the loss of her child and her own death.

Mining in Cornwall--is a result of rich mineral deposits laid down as a subterranean batholith of granite cooled and cracked 270 million years ago. The cracks in the congealing granite allowed metals, which remained molten at the temperatures that granite began to congeal, to flow through the cracks. Coal deposits are not found in Cornwall, so it had to be imported, by ship, to operate the steam engines that pumped water from the mines. This pumping was necessary once shafts penetrated below the water table.

Petticoat--is a woman's underskirt that is often full and trimmed with ruffles or lace. It may be decoratively quilted to make it fuller.

Pilchard--Cornwall's fishing industry was mainly based on the enormous catches of the pilchard, a type of sardine. The fish migrate from Spain to Cornwall, their northernmost destination, between June and March. 'Huers' once stood on the cliffs waiting to spot the vast glittering shoals of the tiny fish. At the 'huers' cry, fishermen rushed to their boats and surrounded and netted the fish. The catches kept thousands busy preparing the fish for market salted in barrels.

Poldark Mine--Wheal Roots a small tin mine located adjacent to the hamlet of Trenear, NE of Wendron has become a tourist site that offers an experience of a mine similar to those in the Poldark Saga. The mine was in operation between 1720 and 1780.

Prince of Wales--George III's heir was involved in several scandals. He was said to have secretly married a Catholic (marriage of a royal to a Catholic was illegal) widow Maria Fitzherbert in 1785. By 1795, the Prince was £250,000 in debt.

Redruth--capitol of an area of Cornwall known for its copper production. There were about a hundred copper and tin mines in the area during the peak production period in the 1850s.

Scilly, Isles of--The Isles of Scilly form an cluster of five inhabited islands (St Mary's, Tresco, St Martin's, St Agnes, and Bryher) and around 140 other small rocky islets situated 28 miles (45 km) off Land's End, Cornwall.

Sir John's sick mare--probably was suffering from Equine Herpes Virus (EHV) or Rhinopheumonitis, which is a viral disease that causes upper respiratory infection resulting in a cough, fever, nasal discharge, swollen eyelids, and may also lead to abortions.

Smuggling--is synonymous with Cornwall's history. "Free Traders" in Cornwall, where pay was low, found illegally exporting wool and avoiding the high taxes on tea and French Brandy too tempting.

Stippy Stappy Lane--is a steep lane bordered by stepped cottages in the fictional village of St. Anne's based on a lane of the same name in St. Agnes, Cornwall.

The Stock--was a type of neckwear that was an alternative to the cravat. Stocks did not have to be tied; they fastened in back by means of a hook, buckle, or knotted ties. A stock consisted of a fabric covered form made of horsehair, whale-bone, pig-bristle, pasteboard, or wood. The stock was particularly associated with military dress. Military men generally wore a simple black leather stock with no slits. Officer's dress stocks might be covered in black velvet or silk.

Stomacher--is the triangle shaped section worn on the front of a bodice that goes from the neckline to the stomach of a gown. It was often stiffened buckram and might be decorated with ribbons or jewelry.

tail-shot --(local term and mistaken diagnosis) for posterior paralysis in cows caused by pressure or damage to the crural nerve during a difficult calving. One symptom of paralysis, the flaccidity of the tail, which appears disjointed, gave rise to the name. 'Tail-shot' was treated by cutting deeply into the tail and packing the wound with an irritant that would encourage the animal to rise. This, of course, had no effect whatsoever on the paralysis, but as the nerve began to recover the cow would gradually begin to regain control of her hindquarters. The first small movements were considered a 'sure' sign that the so called 'remedy' was beginning to work.

Truro--,located close to the confluence of the Truro and Fal rivers, became a prosperous city and center of society in the 18th and 19th centuries when tin prices increased and many wealthy mine owners built townhouses in the city.

Tin--a metal whose ore was mined in Cornwall. In combination with copper and lead, it becomes the alloy pewter, which was used in the creation of eating and drinking utensils. In combination with copper and zinc, tin becomes the bronze used in cannon making. Thus tin prices rose during the war with France.

Tributer--a miner paid on the basis of the value of the ore he mined from his pitch.

Tut Worker--a miner paid on a result basis such as per fathom advanced or per ton dug.

Wheal--a Cornish word for 'work' or 'mine.'

Winston Graham's Poldark Saga Book List
OrderTitleYear Pub.other
1Ross Poldark 1783-17871951 original title: The Renegade
2Demelza 1788-1790 1953 original title: Elizabeth's Story
3Jeremy Poldark 1790-1791 1954 original title: Venture Once More
4Warleggan 1792-1793 1955 original title: The Last Gamble
5The Black Moon 1794-1795 1973  
6The Four Swans 1795-1797 1976  
7The Angry Tide 1789-1799 1977  
8The Stranger from the Sea 1810-1811 1981  
9The Miller's Dance 1812-1813 1982  
10The Loving Cup 1813-1815 1984  
11The Twisted Sword 1815 1991  
12Bella Poldark 1818-1820 2002 subtitled The Final Poldark Novel
Poldark Literary Society map page showing many locations mentioned in the books
Glossary of mining terms.
Web page with list of locations used in shooting the original Poldark tv series.

Line drawing, Lady with Tiara, logo
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