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John Knill 









H E L S T O X : 




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 


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, 


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 
"Midsummer quarter." 

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. 


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. 


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 


"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 


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. 


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 

Loe Pool. 

\ 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. 


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- 
ning conductor. 


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 


" 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 


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, 


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 
present date. 

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 


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 



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 


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 
originated here. 

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- 
sented itself. 

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. 


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?." 


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 



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. 


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 



" 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 


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 
"deliver them." 

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 
little friends. 

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 


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. 


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. 


July, 1871. 


Los Angeles 
This book is DUE on the last date stamped below. 

Form L9-25ot-7,'63 (D8618s8)444 

^^.R^m OF CM...— 


;ZZIZZ Syracuse, N. Y. 
■ Siockion, Calif. 





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