PRICE SIX-P EN CE.
H E L S T O X :
PBIXTED BY K. CrXXACK, ^tT A E KE T-P T. A CE.
NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL OF GRAY'S INN.
On a hill near St. Ives, on the north coast of Cornwall, stands
a granite obelisk, which serves as a landmark to vessels at sea,
and is familiarly known in that neighbourhood as KnilVs
Mausoleum, because it was erected by a gentleman of that
name many years ago.
He was rather a remarkable man, and as no notice of him is
to be found in any Cornish history, except that of Mr. Davies
Gilbert, under the title of St. Ives, it has been thought that
a fuller account, derived from authentic sources, might be
interesting, at least to those who claim connection with him.
John Knill, who erected this obelisk, was born at Calling-
ton, in East Cornwall, on the 1st of January, 173f , and died
at his chambers, in Gray's Inn Square, London, on the 29th
of March, 1811, at the age of 77.
The family of Knill had been resident at Callington, and
were landowners in the neighbourhood some years before his
birth ; and although it does not appear certain that they were
descended from the old knight's family of that name at KniU in
Herefordshire, some colour is given to the supposition from
the reference which John Knill makes to that family in his
papers. Amongst them is a certified copy of the pedigree of
1 2351 87
^ NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL.
Knill of Knill, a rough but imperfect pedigree of himself,
and an account of his visit to the parish of Knill, in Hereford,
during his tour in 1792.
Knill of Knill had failed in the male line about the year
1600, at which date a co-heiress, Barbara, had married John
AValsham, whose grandchild, also an heiress, married a Garbett,
whose family were in possession of the Knill estate in Hereford
at the date of John Knill's visit in 1792.
The pedigree of the Hereford family was copied on parch-
ment from that in the Herald's College for John Knill, in
1775, as certified on its face, and it traces them through eight
generations from Sir John Knill, who must, therefore, have
lived not later than the year 1400, reckoning at the usual rate
of three generations to a century. No connection, however,
of this pedigree with that of the Cornish family is attempted to
be made in Knill's papers, nor does he positively state his belief
of such a connection in his journal ; but he appears, for some
reason, to have declined Mr. Garbett's hospitalities, making
this entry with respect to his offer of them. "Neither Mr.
" Garbett nor his daughters knew icho I teas, and I declined
" the invitation of the ladies, because, had I accepted them, I
" should have been obliged to have told who I was." If this
phrase is to be read as evidence of relationship, his reserve in
declining to reveal himself may have arisen from a disinclin-
ation to force himself on the representatives of an elder branch
which had failed in the male line, and who might have looked
on him as a possible aspirant to the family honours.
There was no necessity, however, for him to claim this
relationship, because his own family connections were sufl&ci-
ently respectable without it, for John Knill's mother was one
of the seven daughters of Mr. Pike of Plympton, Devon, who
married an Edgcumbe of Edgcumbe.
She was a woman of extraordinary powers of mind, and is
said to have managed the borough of Callington for the patron
for many years after the death of Mr. Jope, her second husband,
NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL.
and was twice examined, as a witness before a committee of
the House of Commons, on contested elections. She was a
very handsome woman, and retained her beauty to a great age.
It is said of her, that the last time she was before " the House"
" a malapert young fellow," to use her own phrase, was ex-
amining her, as a witness, with less respect than she thought
was due to her age and sex, when, instead of answering his
question, she said, " Young man, have you a mother ? " and
on his replying, " No ! " she said, " If you had, you would
"have known better how to behave to an old gentlewoman."
After this, " Mr. Malapert " asked no more questions.
No record of John Knill's early years has been preserved,
and nothing is known with certainty of his education or pur-
suits until he reached the age of 30, except that he was
trained for the profession of the law, which, according to his
relative, Mr. Robert Hichens, who knew him well at sixty,
he did not follow as a profession ; whilst Mr. Davies Gilbert, in
his History of Cornwall, states that " he served his clerkship
" as an attorney in Penzance, and from thence removed to the
"office of a London attorney, where, having distinguished
" himself by application and intelligence, he was recommended
" to the Earl of Buckinghamshire, who, at that time, held the
" political interest of St. Ives, to be his local agent." In the year
1762, he accepted the office of Collector of Customs at St. Ives
in Cornwall, and held it during 20 j^ears, at the end of which
he writes to Mr. William Praed, March 30, 1782, " I purpose
" to be in London in May, in order to resign my office of
" Collector, which I shall finally quit at the end of next
He performed the duties of this office with zeal and assiduity,
and the value of his services as Collector is shown by the fact
of his being selected by the Board of Customs in 1773, for the
special duty of inspecting all the ports of the island of Jamaica,
and reporting upon them to the Home government. His own
journal of that date shows that he left the DoAvns in H.M.S.
D NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL.
Portland, on the IStli of March, 1773, and resting a few days
at Madeira, on the voyage, he reached Jamaica on the 5th of
( May ; and, after spending more than 12 months in his tour of
'' inspection, he reached England again on the 25th of May,
> 1774, in the mail packet Thynnc, landing at Ilelford, because
f she was unable to beat into Falmouth that day.
Provided with letters from Lord Dartmouth, who was then
at the head of the Board of Trade, and other influential per-
sons, he was most hospitably received in all parts of the island,
especially by the governor. Sir Basil Keith, the custos rotu-
lorum. General French, and his own old friend, the attorney
general ; and, in a letter to his mother, he thus sums up the
result of his ofiicial tour.
" I have the greatest satisfaction in having been able to get
" through the very important business which was intrusted to
" my management, with a degree of pleasure to myself and to
" all those with whom I have transacted business, excepting
" one man whom I was under an absolute necessity of suspend-
" ing from his office. I have further the very great pleasure
" of being conscious that I have been able to render essential
" services in the way of my duty, whilst I have no doubt but
" that they will be approved by my honourable masters. For
" these reasons, I feel myself extremely happy in having come
"upon this expedition, which I will confess I could have
" wished, with all my heart, to have avoided, but I thought
" myself bound in honour not to decline a piece of duty because
" it was difficult and dangerous. Adieu. I pray God to bless
" you all, and am. Madam, your obedient son, John Knill.
"Kingston, Jamaica, March 15, 1774."
From a another letter to his mother, who, after widowhood,
had married Mr. Jope, and was living at Callington, it appears
that Knill's intention was to visit North America on his return
to England, with his friend and companion Mr. Edwards, but
this intention was abandoned in consequence of Mr. Edwards
changing his mind about the voysige.
NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL. 7
This gentleman was tlie well known Mr. Bryan Edwards,
who subsequently, in 1793, published a History of Jamaica
and the AYest Indies, and several other accurate works on those
colonies, and to whom Knill appears to have communicated in
1779 a notice of the religious belief of the Coromantee negroes,
which is to be foimd incorporated in his history. This was
procured by Knill, from his friend Mr. Alexander Campbell,
of Montego Bay, Jamaica, whom Knill mentions as having
mastered the native language of that wild and hardy race from
the African Gold Coast, whose energy and endurance made
their labour so valuable in the British plantations, before the
abolition of the slave trade.
Whilst in Jamaica, he took opportunities, in the intervals
of duty, to visit some of the principal sugar plantations and
factories, discussed the condition of the island with the Gov-
ernor, and received a deputation of coffee planters to consult
upon a plan to prevent smuggling of coffee into the island,
which Knill had proposed to them, and assisted them in me-
morializing Lord Dartmouth on the subject.
During his j^ear in the island he seems to have been only
once hindered by illness, when, in November, he caught a
fever, from which, through the affectionate attention of his
friends, of which he speaks most warmly, and by the aid of
skilled medical advice, he soon recovered. Before lea\ang, he
did not omit to return some of the hospitality which he had
experienced, and on reaching London he appears to have been
able to pay over to his bankers, Messrs. Gosling, the sum of
£1500, as the nett result of his Jamaica tour, besides receiving
the warm thanks of the Board of Customs.
The exact extent- of his powers under this Jamaica Com-
mission does not appear in his own papers, but Mr. D. Gilbert
speaks of it as one which was "highly honourable to his
" abilities and to his character, with an authority to inspect all
" the custom houses and their establishments, and, if sufficient
" cause should appear, with power to suspend any one, however
8 NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL.
"high, from his office." The official position in which it
placed him in the island, is indicated in his journal, where, in
speaking of a public entertainment given to the Governor,
Sir Basil Keith, he mentions, that a seat was assigned to him
next but one to that of the Governor, " because he was con-
" sidered as a member of the council, tho' he had declined to
"take his seat at the board."
He mentions in another place, in the Jamaica Journal, that
the King had mentioned him to Sir Basil Keith, in strong
terms of approbation.
Returning to St. Ives in 1774, he resumed his duties as
collector of customs there, residing in a house of his own in
the Fore street.
On the 1st of November, 1767, he was elected mayor of
that borough, and in 1781 he commanded a corps of volunteers
there, continuing to reside there, in his office of collector,
until the summer of 1782, when, as has been already stated,
he resigned it and removed to London. He continued, how-
ever, in the service of the customs for two or three years as
inspector of some of the western ports, making occasional
tours of inspection from London, as appears from the journals
and pocket books.
In 1777, whilst still collector at St. Ives, Knill became
private secretary to the Earl of Buckinghamshire, upon his
being made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and accompanied the
Earl from London to Dublin, where he had rooms in the
castle ; but, as Mr. Davies Gilbert, who knew him well,
suggests in his County History (vol. ii. p. 268, under St. Ives),
" not liking the castle, nor, perhaps, the responsibility of this
"situation, he returned to St. Ives " at the end of six months'
service in that capacity. Lord Buckinghamshire, however,
honoured him with his friendship until his death, in 1793,
when he made Knill one of the trustees of all his estates. Knill's
private papers and pocket books contain abundant proofs of
the intimacy of this friendship, and the zeal with which he
NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL. 9
executed the duties of his trust; and his large experience, ready-
wit, and unswerving integrity, secured to him, after the Earl's
death, the regard of the Countess and her four daughters.*
Mr. Da vies Grilbert relates (vol. ii. 267), that after Knill's
return to St. Ives from Jamaica, he "engaged in a very
" anomalous undertaking, at that time sanctioned and encour-
" aged by the government, which consisted in equipj)ing small
"vessels to act as privateers against smugglers;" that "he
"was hurried, by the force of circumstances, contrary to his
" inclinations and habits, and to his deep and frequent regret,
"into doing what others did, and participating in the un-
" hallowed gains " which arose from the system of plundering
vessels laden with private property upon the outbreak of the
Dutch war with America. Mr. Gilbert proceeds to say, that
Knill " showed every kindness in his power to some of the
" objects of compassion who were made prisoners, and that
" he restored several articles of their more valued property at
" his own individual loss."
No trace can be found in Mr. Knill's papers of any such (
transactions ; but in 1779 this fondness for adventure, which (
they indicate, exhibited itself in another form, in a search (
which he then commenced and continued for two years, for a f
valuable deposit of treasure supposed to have been left near the (
Lizard Point, (not at Gunwalloe, as stated by Davies Gilbert, (
ii. 128,) by a notorious pirate called Avery.
The story of this treasure is curious. Avery, a native of
Devon, is stated in one of Knill's papers, to have been the \
captain of a band of pirates, who, in the year 1699, infested ^
* This appears from letters to Knill, both from the Countess and from each
of her four daughters, as well as from other sources.
The Earl died without male issue ; his three elder daughters had married
before his death in 1793, and the youngest married in the following year.
Harriet became Marchioness of Lotliian.
Caroline became Lady SufEeld.
Sophia became Countess of Mount Edgcumbe.
Emily Anne became Marchioness of Londonderry.
10 NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL.
the Island of Madagascar, and established themselves there in
such force as to resist successfully the attack made upon them
at that date by Commodore Warren, and a squadron of five
vessels of war, which were sent from England in order to dis-
possess the pirates. Warren failed to make any impression on
them, either by threats, bribes, or entreaties, and is said to have
returned home without effecting the object of his mission.
Avery amassed a vast amount of treasure, and on one occa-
sion was reported to have concealed in a cave, east of the
Lizard point, certain chests of treasure, containing jewels,
gold ornaments, diamonds, ingots, bars and coins of gold, of
untold value ; but of which, a rough catalogue, supposed to
have been from the hand of Captain Avery, was in the poss-
ession of one Cornelius Ffurssen, who, in the year 1702,
f obtained a grant from George, Prince of Denmark, to search
} for the treasure at any point between Helford haven and the
\ The search was, however, not carried out by Ffurssen, but
I the license or grant was duly assigned by him to others in
t succession for many years, until in 1779, two Cornishmen,
- resident at St. Michael's Mount, possessed themselves of the
' original grant, and induced Mr. Knill to embark with them in
/ a vigorous search. Ver}^ precise articles of agreement were
I drawn up by Knill, as was his habit in all matters of business,
I the coast carefully examined, and a fresh license applied for by
/ petition to Lord North, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer.
J Several expeditions to the Lizard were made, and meetings
i of the CO- adventurers were held, imtil in October, 1781, a
\ descendant of the pirate Avery, was found, and was induced to
/ attend a meeting at St. Ives, at which he related that his
father had told him that Captain Avery, after wandering about
in great poverty and distress, had died at Barnstaple, and was
buried as a pauper, and that it could not therefore be supposed
that any such treasure existed, for that if it had, Avery would
certainly have disclosed it and rescued himself from penury.
NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL. 11
This statement appears to have satisfied Knill and the rest
that their bubble had burst, and after due consideration, it was
resolved, on the 31st of January, 1782, to abandon the search.
Avery will scarcely be considered to have deserved a better
fate ; but it may be doubted whether his fate need be taken as
decisive against the existence of such treasure, for Avery could
not have made good a claim against the crown, without giving
evidence of his property in it, which would have risked his life.
When Knill left St. Ives for London, in 1782, he resided
as a bachelor, in Arundel street, in the Strand, which was, at
that date, a respectable "West End" street. He had made
arrangements for being called to the Bar before coming to
London to reside.
On the 18th of September, 1778, he was admitted a member
of Graj^'s Inn ; in November, 1781, he purchased a set of
chambers in Gray's Inn Square, known at that time as Coney
Court, but did not take up his residence there until after 1784 ;
in 1787 he was called to the bar, and at a later date, in 1804,
he was called to the Bench of the Inn, filling the ofiice of
treasurer in 1806, and signalizing his tenure of that ofiice by
presenting a silver cofiee pot, duly inscribed in Latin, to the
It was in the year in which he ceased to act -as Collector at
St. Ives, 1782, that Knill erected the mausoleum on a neigh-
bouring hill ; and, as this act has often been ridiculed as a
piece of foUy, it is interesting to examine the motives which
led to this freak of humour, for such it will continue to be
considered as long as the monument lasts, unless a reasonable
explanation can be found.
His own papers throw much light upon this subject ; but it
is necessary, first, to describe briefly what the mausoleum is.
In figure it is a triangidar pyramid of granite, 50 feet high,
containing within its base a cavity sufficient for a single inter-
ment, and rising in courses of hewn stone, diminishing to a
point, which is capped with metal and provided with a light-
12 NOTICE or JOHN KN1T,L.
An arch constructed in the base gave admission to the
cavity, but has always been, from its erection, walled up. A
low guard wall of granite was added in 1829, to prevent injury
to the foundations by removal of the surrounding stones.
Worvas hill, on which it stands, is some hundreds of feet
above the sea, and this makes the pyramid a prominent object
to vessels off the coast, which use it as a landmark. On one
face of the pyramid the word " Resurgam " is carved high up
in bold relief, upon the granite blocks of which it is built ; on
a second face, " I know that my Redeemer liveth ; " and
on the third, the arms and motto of the Knill family, viz.:
gules, a lion rampant, surrounded by eleven crossed crosslets
fitchy, or; motto, "Ml desperandum."
Knill procured the design in 1779, from Mr. John Wood,
architect, of Batheaston, who furnished him with the most
minutely detailed drawings, which enabled him without diffi-
culty to complete it by the hands of John Dennis, "a joiner of
" Penzance." The total cost of the monument, including the
purchase of the land from Henry, Lord Arundell, for five
guineas, was £226 Is. 6d.. An acknowledgment of six-pence
is paid annually to Mr. Stephens of Tregenna (formerly to
Mr. Davies Gilbert), for a right of way to the mausoleum.
The fullest statement made by Knill himself with reference
to his motive in erecting it occurs in his will of 1809, a very
elaborate document, contained in five skins of parchment, which,
in order to save trouble to his executors, he made in duplicate.
He begins by referring to the motive of vanity, which he
thinks mankind would probably charge against him, for
building a "mausoleum," and then proceeds, "During a resi-
"dence of upwards of 20 years at St Ives, where I was
" Collector of the Customs, and served all offices within the
" borough, from constable to mayor, it was my unremitting
"endeavour to render all possible service to the town in
" general, and to every individual inhabitant, and I was so
" fortunate as to succeed in almost every endeavour I used for
NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL. 13
" that purpose, particularly in respect to the building of their
" wall or pier, and in some other beneficial undertakings ; and
" it was my wish to have further served the place by effecting
" other public works, which I proposed, and which will, I dare
" say, in time be carried into execution. It is natural to love
" those whom you have had opportunities of serving, and I
" confess I have real affection for St. Ives and its inhabitants,
" in whose memory I have an ardent desire to continue a little
" longer than the usual time those do of whom there is no
" ostensible memorial. To that end, my vanity prompted me
" to erect a mausoleum, and to institute certain periodical
" returns of a ceremony which wiU be found in a deed bearing
" date 29th May, 1797, which hath been duly enrolled in his
" Majestj^'s High Court of Chancery, and now remains in a
" strong oaken box, placed in the Custom House at St. Ives,
" and an attested copy of which deed I shall leave for my
"executors hereinafter named."
It is singular, that neither in the will, nor in the deed to
which it refers, is any allusion made to the original idea from
which this fancy sprung, but it appears clearly enough to
admit of no doubt as to that origin, in a letter written by
KniU to Mr. W. Praed, jun., March 30, 1782, in which he
states that his reason for first thinking of erecting a mausoleum,
was that he abhorred the practice of burial within the body of
the church, which was then prevalent at St. Ives, and that the
churchyard was already too small for the people.
It is clear, therefore, that his original intention was to erect
a mausoleum in which, at the date of its erection, he desired
to be buried ; and the original design by Mr. Wood, which is
still extant, shows the central chamber which was designed for
the tomb. It is equally clear, also, that long before his death
he had, in consequence of difiiculties which stood in the way of
consecration, abandoned that intention, and subsequently, by
his will, gave directions for his burial at St. Andrew's, Holborn.
It was in 1797, fifteen years after its erection, that KniU, by
14 NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL.
the deed already mentioned in the clause cited from his will,
charged his estate of Glivian, in the parish of Mawgan in
Pydar, with the rent-charge of £10 in order to secure the
repair of the mausoleum, with very precise directions as to the
disposal of the surplus, from time to time, in charitable objects
in St. Ives. His letter of April, 1797, to Mr. J. Stephens, then
mayor, in which he desires him to accept the trust, speaks
only of the charitable objects, and makes no allusion to the
The deed was drawn by Mr. Kitson, a barrister of Gray's
Inn, and is curious for the minute precision of its injunctions,
which are so complete that it is difficult to imagine any possi-
bility of doubt arising, under any conceivable circumstances,
in the execution of the trusts. As these trusts have often been
quoted in print, but always incorrectly, even in the report of
the first performance of the quinquennial ceremony, which
appeared in the Morning Chronicle of August 14th, 1801, it
may be as well to state that the trusts of the deed of 1797 are
briefly, as follows. A rent-charge of £10 annually to be paid to
the mayor, collector, and lecturer (as the officiating minister was
then called) of St. Ives, to be thus expended : £5 yearly for
repairs if needed, the other £5 to accumidate and to be used as
follows, at the end of every five years, viz.: £10 for a dinner for
the trustees and six guests ; £5 equallj^ amongst ten maidens, of
ten years old at most, children of seamen, fishermen, or tinners,
who dance once round the mausoleum ; £1 for the musician ;
£2 to two widows chosen from the same classes as the children,
to accompany them ; £1 for white ribbons, &c,; £1 for clerk,
and a new account book when needed ; the remaining £5 to
the married parents, of the like classes, who have brought up
the largest family to the age of ten, without aid from the poor
rate or from property.
If less than £5 be required yearly for repairs, the surjalus
to accumulate till it reaches a fixed sum, a moiety of which to
be left for repairs, the rest to be divided, in stated proportions,
NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL. 15
amongst deserving women and boys of the classes above named
who have distinguished themselves in their diflPerent pursuits,
or amongst the Friendly Societies of St. Ives, &c. A schedule
contains forms of accoxmt, vouchers, and other entries to be
made in books to be provided from time to time.
The first performance of the public ceremony took place in
Knill's lifetime, on St. James's day, July 25th, 1801, i. e., in
the fourth year from the execution of the deed ; and con-
tinues to be repeated, according to the trusts of the deed, at the
With such cumbrous care is this useful landmark, on a
rugged coast, preserved for the fishermen of St. Ives ; and
thus it vrSl continue until the feeling of the age may induce
*^^he Charit}^ Commissioners to intervene, in case they should
Leem it desirable to undertake the trusts of so small a sum.
It has been already stated, that after Knill's resignation of
the office of Collector, at St. Ives, in 1782, he resided in
London until his death, in 1811. For a short time he lived
in Arundel street, but soon removed to his own chambers, at
8, Coney Court, now Gray's Inn Square. He mixed much in
good society, where his ready wit and the genial humour of
his well-stored mind made him a welcome guest. He culti-
vated the friendship of men of letters and wits of the day,
whom he often entertained at Gray's Inn.
For many years he was in the habit of recording dailj^ some
of his occupations and engagements, with the minute care
which characterizes every docimient which has survived him.
Seven complete pocket books and journals of these entries
remain, and contain abundant evidence of his industrj^, his
patriotism, his habit of inquiring closelj^ into everything that
concerned the history, arts, and manufacturers of his country.
He was a member of the Society of Arts and of the Cornish
Club, which, in 1800, held its meetings at the " Shakespeare ; "
and in that year he qualified as a magistrate for jNIiddlesex,-
and often sat at the Sessions House, and at the Police Court in
16 NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL.
Hatton Garden. In 1784 he attended the first festival com-
memorative of the birth of Handel, when a most successful
performance was witnessed in Westminster Abbey, and £6000,
realized by the Committee, was presented to the society of
musicians. The tickets were a guinea each. The next*
commemoration was in 1834, at the close of the third
half-century from Handel's birth in 1684.
Knill loved art as well as music, and when, at the close of
the last century. Alderman Boydell issued his sumptuous
edition of the text of Shakspeare's plays, Knill was one of the
subscribers to that great illustrated work, and also to the
larger set of engravings from the paintings which formed the
Shakspeare gallery. There never was a period when art needed
more encouragement in England than at that warlike and
revolutionary date, and Boydell's liberal and judicious eflforts
to elevate the character both of historical painting and of the
sister art of the engraver deserve the highest praise.
His success, in attracting to them the patronage of the
crowned heads of Europe as well as that of the wealthier classes
at home gave, undoubtedly, a fresh stimulus to those civi-
lizing arts, from which the country has not yet ceased to
Amongst the Knill papers are also journals of tours, which
he seems to have taken on horseback, in the years 1784, '89,
'90, '91, '92, and 1800. He was 50 years old when he made
the first of these, which appears to have been partly a tour of
official inspection of custom houses, and partly for pleasure,
lasting from August to December. He usually rode the whole
distance on horseback, accompanied by a trusty man-servant,
and was absent from London from two to four months, visiting
different parts of England ; at one time commencing with a
visit to the Earl of Buckinghamshire in Norfolk, and riding
across to Worcestershire, skirting the borders of Wales, turning
south through Bristol and Bath to his beloved St. Ives, and
after resting there, working his way back to London through
NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL.
the sotithern counties. Once, in 1789, he left London for
Greenwich and Cauterbnry, and visited almost every port and
harbour between Ramsgate and Plymouth, taking notes of all
that concerned their commerce and the security of their har-
bours, throwing himself in the way of those who could best
inform him upon all points of historical interest ; and calling,
as he passed, at the houses of any influential persons with
whom he had mixed in London society. The greatest amount
of mileage covered on horseback during these tours, is in the
year 1790, when he rode 630 miles through the midland
counties to Liverpool, and thence across south Yorkshire and
Lincoln to Norfolk, where he visited Lord Buckinghamshire
for a few days, before returning to London.
His notes abound in curious details of his expenses and
mode of living, which it would be tedious to give ; but it may
be interesting to state, that he paid seven shillings a day for
the hire of his two saddle-horses, and that the total cost of his
tours averaged from £1 8s. to £1 12s. daily, including every
expense of himself and his servant.
It is quite refreshing to see the lively interest with which
he notes everything which comes under his observation. At
Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and Liverpool, he visits the
local manufactories and docks ; has interviews with Boulton,
Wedgwood, Wilkinson, and other celebrities of the day, who
have stamped their names deeply upon the records of our
national progress in arts, science, and manufacture. At
Stratford, he revels in the memories of Shakspeare ; he visits
every historical ruin within reach of his line of march, enters
fully into the enjoyments of works of art in the mansions of
the wealthy, and sets down with the minuteness of Mr. Murray
himself, the vices and the merits of the homely inns at which
he rests. On one occasion, in 1790, he seems much shocked
at the state of dilapidation into which the mausoleum and
monuments of an historical family had been allowed to fall
from mere neglect ; and he moralizes so feelingly upon the
18 NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL.
necessity for making some provision for the preservation of
such relics, that it is very probable that his own plan for
securing the repair of his mausoleum at St. Ives, may have
When, in these riding tours, he reaches Cornwall, we find
him a welcome guest at many of the best houses in his native
county, of which, as well as of ^Middlesex, he was a magistrate.
He visits Mount Edgcumbe, Whiteford, Trebursey, ( then
Mr. Eliot's, ) E,estormel, ( then called Trinity, ) Tregothnan,
Trevethoe, Tehidy, Chiverton, ( at that time the residence of
Yice- Warden Thomas, ) Trevayler, Poltair, Trewithen, besides
visits paid to his relations at St. Clere, Callington, and
Tavistock. At the latter place, he notes, August 29, 1789,
"breakfasted with my cousin, Dolly Edgcumbe, who is as
lovely as she was 38 years since." This was Mrs. Dorothy
Edgcumbe of Chilliton, mentioned in his will.
Occasionally, amusing anecdotes are set down, for Knill
had a keen appreciation of humour, in whatever shape it pre-
Here is a droll epitaph from a churchyard in Norfolk, on
a poor man's tomb.
" Life is a city, full of crooked streets,
" Death is the market-place where all do meet :
" Were life a merchandise that men could buy,
" The rich alone would live, the poor must die."
Collectors of sun-dial mottoes may prefer the following, as
certainly more classical. They are copied from the four dials
of the handsome market cross, at King's Lynn in the same
" Moneo dum moveo.
" Dum spectas fugio
" Sapientis est numerare,
" Sic praeterit aetas."
Modern improvements have occasioned the removal of this
ornament of the town.
NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL. 19
During another of these tours in 1795, he visited three
endowed scliools at Exeter, Phnnpton, and Plymouth, for the
purpose of drawing up a report upon them, by desire of the
four daughters of the Earl of Buckinghamshire, for their
guidance in the administration of the charity funds which
had been left at their disposal by their father.
The report is amongst his papers, and shows that he ex-
amined thoroughly into the matter ; visiting the school- rooms
and dormitories, learning how the boys were fed and clothed
as well as taught, noting defects in the premises, inquiring
into the management of the trust property, and in one case,
submitting a fresh scheme for approval of the ladies.
In his native county he took an active part in public affairs ;
helj)ing to raise a Cornish regiment in 1779, when war had
been declared against England by Spain as well as France,
and serving as a volunteer at St. Ives, in 1781, as he did
afterwards in London ; and when the abominable habit of
plundering wrecks had become notoriously prevalent, and had
given a bad name to his native comity, Eaaill is found in
1792, drawing up an elaborate scheme for its suppression by
arming the civil power with fresh authority for dealing with
wreckers and protecting the coast. This scheme, originating
as it seems entirely with him, was first submitted to Henry
Dundas, then Home Secretary of State, through Lord Eliot, in
April, 1792, was printed* in June, for cii'culation b}' post and
otherwise, and submitted to the consideration of a county
meeting, held at Bodmin, during the Summer Assizes in that
year, under the presidency of Mr. Davies Giddy, afterwards
Davies Gilbert, then High Sheriff.
At that meeting, a committee was foi-med for the purpose of
framing a biU embodying Mr. Knill's suggestions, with the
view of passing it into a law. The committee consisted of the
* Pocket Book of 1792 has this entry: "Jan. 25, Paid for 500 plans for
" amending the laws respecting ships wrecked, &c., £2 7s. Oc?."
20 NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL.
county and borougli members, together witli the acting magis-
trates in the county, with Lord Falmouth as chairman ; and
the thanks of the meeting were conveyed by the Sheriff "to
" Mr. Knill, for his zealous exertions to prevent the plundering
" of wrecks on the coasts of the kingdom, and for the plan
" communicated by him for effecting that desirable purpose, &c."
The original di'aft of this scheme, in Xnill's handwriting,
is extant, together with copies of the printed statement and
reports of committee meetings, and correspondence with Lord
Falmouth, Lord Eliot, Mr. Gregor, M.P., Sir Francis Basset,
and others, who took a leading part in the matter. It appears
that Knill's scheme was adopted with very few alterations ;
and that upon Lord Adam Gordon desiring that it should be
extended to Scotland, that question was referred by Mr. Dandas
to the Lord Advocate ; but for reasons which do not appear,
possibly the outbreak in that year of the terrible revolution in
France, the bill was not carried through Parliament, and the
question was allowed to sleep once more, until 1818, when the
late Mr. Tremayne made a fresh attempt to alter the law by a
modification of KniU's plan, which he placed in the hands
of Lord Sidmouth, then Home Secretary, in the hope that
the Government would introduce it. This expectation, how-
ever, was disappointed, and the law remained for many years
Happily, in our day, although the annual number of wrecks
has frightfully increased, a better feeling prevails on the shores
of our maritime counties, and whilst every encouragement is
given to the preservation of life, depredations of wrecked
vessels are more vigilantly prevented.
Previouslj^ to the date of his wreck scheme, Knill had shown
the readiness as well as the skill with which he could throw
himself into the preparation of a plan, by framing, on the
very day on which Lord George Gordon's riots reached their
alarming crisis, a detailed plan for quelling the riots and
placing London in a position of safety, in a long letter
NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL.
addressed anonjTnously to Sir Grey Cooper, Secretary of the
Treasury. This was on the 7th June, 1780, when Knill's
indignation was yery naturally roused by the reckless conduct
of the mob in burning Lord Mansfield's house. It would be
tedious to quote this letter. Enough to say of it, that it was
composed in the spirit of a true patriot, without the least token
of a vindictive feeling against the rioters, but with a cautious
regard for the safety of peaceable citizens.
It is to be regretted that no trace can be foimd in any of
Knill's papers of any professional engagements at the bar, but
it is believed that during Mr. Pitt's administration, he was
employed in preparing Parliamentary bills for the government,
and it was asserted by his near relation, the late Mr. Robert
Hichens, that he drew the Income Tax Act for Pitt. Once
only, is any reference made to that statesman's name in his
pocket book, viz. : " Dined at DoUey's with Mr. Smith, Secre-
" tary to Mr. Pitt," ( Jany. 12, 1792 ; ) but in this year, and in
1800, the next year of which there is a pocket book, he makes
frequent entries of calls upon Mr. Long,* " at the Treasury."
Some of these calls are specified to have been on business on
behalf of other persons, e.g., for Col. Des Barres who was
Governor of Prince Edward's Isle, and apparently on intimate
terms with Knill, and others ; but some may possibly have
been on business for the government.
Entries also occur in 1792, of several attendances at the
House of Commons " on Plymouth Dock Committee," which
was eventually "deferred till next year," but he may have
attended as a witness and not as counsel.
Thus, in 1800, he enters "attended the hearing of Lady
"Buckingham's cause in Chancery," which he attended as a
Trustee, under the Earl's will.
Some entries in the pocket books, scattered through the
different years were for some time a hidden mystery, until it
was found that they were entries of a more private nature,
* This was Charles Long, afterwards Lord Farnborongh.
22 NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL.
such as he might desire to conceal from his servant, and
written in a cursive Greek character, but English language •
such as "made my will, &c."
Some of the letters which have been preserved contain
expressions of the warmest gratitude for valuable acts of
kindness done to friends, of which no trace appears in his own
memoranda. One friend testified his sense of Knill's dis-
interested friendship by inscribing a gold snufi" box, which he
did not live to present, but which Knill received, as he himself
has recorded in Latin on the box, from the widow of the donor.
The inscrij)tion is curious and creditable to both donor and
"The gift of John Moore Knighton, of Greenofen, in the
"county of Devon, Esquire, and Marj^ his wife, to John Knill
" of Gray's Inn, in the county of Middlesex, Esquire, in grate -
"ful acknowledgment for his successfid exertions (without
" charge) in the years 1800, '1, '2, '3, and '4, whereby a benefi-
" cial lease of certain lead mines at Grinton, in the county of
" York, from the Crown to Mr. Knighton, was obtained. And
" also, for that through Mr. Knill's friendly mediation, a law
" suit which must have proved tedious, expensive, and per-
" plexing, between Josias Readshaw Morley, Esquire, (who
" claimed the lease,) and Mr Knighton, was prevented."
Underneath these words, Mr. Knill has engraved in Latin.
" Recepfum a Maria Knighion, Vidud, 21 Janrii, 1806."
Mr. Knill died a bachelor in 1811. His last will is dated two
years previously ; it is of unusual length, and after making
his half-brother. Rev. John Jope of St. Clere, his sole executor,
the remainder of the five skins of parchment upon which it
was engrossed, is occupied by an immense variety of bequests
to friends and relations, some of them of substantial character,
but the majority being mementoes only.
One of these is curious as showing a trait of the donor's
character, viz. : " To James Edge, of 8, King's Bench "Walk>
" Temple, Attorney, my silver stewpan, cover, and stand, silver
NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL.
" smoking candlestick, with Chinese and Turkish tobacco
" pipes, which I request him to accept as marks of my esteem
" and acknowledgment for the trouble he has kindly and
" generously been at in transacting the business of several
" poor people whom I recommended to him, in whose behalf
" he acted with as much diligence and zeal, gratuitously, as if
"he had been paid ample fees."
Amongst the other bequests are no less than fifty- six gold
rmgs, of five guineas each, distributed in neai'ly equal ntimbers
to friends and relations. Those intended for the ladies are
mounted with a small plait of hair surrounded by twelve
pearls, whilst those for gentlemen had a similar de\dce sur-
rounded by twelve small diamonds. A handsome annuity was
also settled on the faithful servant who kept his chambers.
Thus has John Knill's path through life been traced so far
as authentic materials permit, and they afford means for
judging very fairly of his character also.
Endowed with abilities and energy of more than an average
order, with a ready wit and genial humour, he seems to have
availed himself of a liberal education to gain a position of
credit and honour in the different duties which he performed,
both in a public and a private capacity. As he was employed
during twenty years iu a fiscal department of the state he was
familiar with accounts, and this, combined with his legal
knowledge gave value to his services as a trustee for others.
His cultivated taste and vigorous intellect secured him the
society and friendship of many Kterary and public men of his
day, whilst his polished manners, genial humour, and general
kindness and consideration for those who came to him for
advice or help, made him a welcome guest wherever he was
Amongst many whom he had opportunities of serving after
he came to London in 1782, was a Dr. Brooke, of Bath, who
was sent to Italy in 1785, by the Duke of Leeds, ttien Foreign
Secretary, on a mission connected with British Trade with
24 NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL.
that country, and wlio was accompanied to Downing street by
Knill, to receive his final instructions. This gentleman, who
seems, after the death of the Duke, to have been very shabbily
treated by the government after several years of service for
them, thus speaks of Knill in a printed statement of his claims.
" Mr. Knill, a gentleman of honour, independent fortune,
"and of well known integrity to government, most kindly
" engaged to receive my despatches from Italy and ofi&cially
This was during Mr. Pitt's administration, and is another
proof of the access which Knill had to more than one depart-
ment of his government.
Knill' s kindness of heart was further shown in his fondness
for children, whom, though a bachelor, he delighted to please.
He was fond of taking presents into the country for them, and
woidd amuse them by his playful way of opening the package
of toys with great ceremony, and only allowing access to the
contents by a series of peeps and hidings, imtil at last the full
beauty of the present was displayed to the eager eyes of his
This amiable trait peeps out also through passages in the
school reports which he drew up in 1795, where he seems
much interested in the welfare and happiness of the children ;
and in his pocket book of 1800 he notes the pleasure he had
dei'ived from attending the festival of charity children at St.
Paul's Cathedral, adding, " the best meeting of children and
" company that ever was, on this occasion."
During the few years of which there are pocket books, he
seems to have been most punctual in his observance of Sunday,
generally attending Divine service twice in the day, once at
the chapel of Grray's Inn, and once elsewhere, as he did also
on thanksgiving days and the great festivals of the church.
Sometimes a brief entry occurs of the sermon, and in more
than one instance an entry is made here again in Greek
NOTICE OF JOHN KNILL. 25
characters. Passages from Scripture are frequently quoted
as appropriate to particular days and events of liis own life,
and sometimes moral sentences from Latin classical authors
are interspersed with them. The references are often obscure
from want of the clue to their application, but never from
inaccuracy in quoting them.
A kitcat portrait by Opie, painted in 1779, represents
Knill very pleasingly. A bright smiling hazel eye, well
arched eye-brow, and full but not lofty forehead, a resolute
lip, dark unpowdered hair, and close-shaven chin and cheek,
in a plain suit of blue with frilled shirt and ruffles, sitting
in an easy attitude at table, give you the thorough gentleman^
as he was when Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant. He was
then in the prime of life, at the age of 43, and this is his only
He was a man of unswerving integrity, nice sense of honour,
and generous patriotism ; devotedly fond of his native county,
affectionate and liberal in his domestic relations, and exhibiting
zeal and assiduity in the performance of public duties and of
private trusts. His tastes were elegant and refined, whilst
his manners possessed the finished courtesy of the times in
which he lived ; and whilst he always was deferential to those
who were above him in station, he had too much pride to bear
rebuke or disdain, and expected to be treated as a gentleman
by those with whom he mixed. It has been charged against
him that he was eccentric, and it cannot be denied that his
fancy of a mausoleum and its ceremonies supports the charge,
though the intention of burial there was soon abandoned ; the
vein of humour which he possessed, may also, have sometimes
betrayed him into drolleries inconsistent with the gravity of
mature age. But it is fair to say, in his excuse, that he was
by no means singular in that failing at the time in which he
lived ; and he never allowed his fondness for fun ( which was
aways harmless), to interfere with business or duty.
26 NOTICE OF JOHN KXILL.
And if the present age is less tolerant of what it calls
eccentricities of the past, may not faults of character be
found amongst us now, which are, at least, as inexcusable ?
" De mortuis nil nisi bonum." Let us forget the foibles of
his character, if indeed they deserve the name, and rather
dwell in memory on the sterling worth and energy which so
far outshone them.
J. J. R.
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