The Camborne Riots of 1873: An Eyewitness Account by Francis Edwards

The Camborne Riots of 1873: An Eyewitness Account by Francis Edwards is looking for a publisher.

Below is the synopsis of my yet unpublished novel.

It’s the kind of story that, like Camborne itself, you’re unlikely to find in any tourist guide on Cornwall. It also happens to be, in my opinion, one of the greatest shows of mining defiance in Cornish history, and it’s all but forgotten.

Basically, in October 1873, Camborne’s miners rioted against a hated, authoritarian police force, and beat them out of town. They ransacked the Town Hall and Police Station, and exacted numerous assaults on the various constables. The militia were summoned to quell the insurrection, the Home Secretary was kept informed of events, and the entire Camborne police force was removed from duty. No rioter was ever convicted.

A reading of one of the chapters will follow soon. 

Do get in touch if you would like more information. Happy reading!

The Camborne Riots of 1873: An Eyewitness Account: Synopsis

This is Cornwall before tourism, and a Cornish town, Camborne, before its mines closed. It’s the story of my hometown, a town not regularly featured in any tourist guide, and with good reason (if you want proof, watch the first instalment of the BBC documentary Cornwall With Simon Reeve). It’s also a true story, arguably the greatest act of mining defiance in Cornish history: see my website for a complete historical analysis of the events, a site I’ve also been using to garner publicity for my novel.

The teenage narrator is Ned, actually my great-grandfather. The story he tells puts him at the epicentre of the tumult, its origins, the riot proper, and its aftermath. In the broad, coarse, Cornish dialect of a nineteenth-century miner he recalls every key flashpoint in October 1873, many of which are reported in the contemporary newspaper articles and, most importantly, several flashpoints which weren’t reported. Ned’s version shows how a plot existed between Camborne’s miners and populace to do away with a hated, authoritarian police force.

The policemen (Supt. Stephens, and PCs Osborne, Burton, Bartlett, Harris and Nicholls) are universally despised. Stephens and Burton are rumoured to have had a female suspect, Elizabeth Bennetts, stripped naked in her cell in order to shame a confession from her. Osborne fancies himself as a cricketer; though in an important match which Ned plays in, he calls Camborne’s star bowler, James Bawden, a cheat, and narrowly avoids a battering.

The same evening as the cricket match, Bawden, with his younger brother Joseph, become involved in an argument on the streets of Camborne with Osborne and PC Harris. The Bawdens beat seven shades of hell out of the constables and leave them bleeding in the gutter. Down but not out, Osborne, Harris and the rest of the Camborne force arrest the Bawdens at their home later that night, but only after another brutal street fight.

Manager of Dolcoath Mine Captain Josiah Thomas hears tell of their arrest and, as the brothers are valued employees of his (and Thomas himself loathes Stephens), vows to get them released without charge. Ned is summoned to his offices in the dead of night by a hideously deformed miner, Conway Tregembo, where he is told of his part in the plot: Ned is to bring pressure to bear on a local philanderer, Anthony Cock, to get him to testify to the Bawdens receiving harsh treatment in their cells at the hands of the police.

But that’s only one part of the plan. Through Ned and other contacts, Thomas engineers such bad feeling in Camborne regarding the police that, on the day of the Bawdens’ trial, thousands of townspeople take to the streets in a show of force against Stephens and his men. The local JP, Bickford-Smith, and the Chief Constable for Cornwall, Walter Gilbert, reinforce Camborne’s officers with fifty additional constables and, in a subtle sleight of hand, sentence and spirit the Bawdens away in a carriage before the populace realise what’s afoot.

The result is carnage. United in their hatred, the men, women and children of Camborne first vandalise the courtrooms, then fight a pitched battle against the fifty-plus police officers through the streets. Ned takes a full and gleeful part, recognised as a likely lad by the mob’s ringleaders: Tregembo, Joseph Vivian, Cornelius Burns, and Nathaniel Boskivell. All four, along with Ned and many others, including Elizabeth Bennetts in a chilling encounter with Burton, exact a terrible, bloody revenge on the forces of law and order that day.

Stephens and other officers quit the town; victorious, the mob ransack the police station, leaving it smashed and burning. Bickford-Smith pleads for peace, but to no avail. Vivian and Tregembo vow that any constable is fair game for assault, and issue orders to this effect. The people of Camborne reclaim the streets.

So intent is the mob on vengeance that anyone suspected of sympathy for the police is punished also. William Newming, a pub landlord of low reputation, sees his livelihood destroyed on Vivian’s whim, Vivian’s justification being a suspicion that Newming is concealing a policeman.

In the days that follow, Gilbert and Bickford-Smith mobilise the militia to restore order to the town, and swear in Special Constables in the hope of identifying suspected rioters. Ironically, many of the rioters, including Thomas and Vivian, become Special Constables. Gilbert and Bickford-Smith reluctantly realise that the accusations of police brutality against Bennetts and the Bawdens have to be investigated, and Stephens is dismissed from his post.

In a town under military occupation, suspects are finally arrested and charged: Burns, with James Kent, are brought before the magistrates. Vivian convinces Ned to help him arrest James Bryant underground at Dolcoath Mine; Bryant is a stooge, set up by Josiah Thomas to give the impression the Special Constables are cooperating with the authorities.

But the court hearing of the suspected rioters is a noisy farce. The townspeople called upon to testify refuse to identify anyone. The suspects’ lawyer, the slick John Daniell, is in on Thomas’s plan. Daniell destroys the prosecution’s case and the testimonies of the police officers, then proves Bryant was nowhere near the riot on the day in question. Later he produces a (bribed) key witness to prove the supposed innocence of Burns and Kent. All three are acquitted, to wild adulation from those observing, Ned included.

The town’s entire police force were either removed from the borough or dismissed.

No one was ever convicted of rioting, in Camborne, in October 1873.

  • Camborne, Redruth, Troon, Bodmin, Truro, Beacon, Penponds

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Francis Edwards

Francis Edwards wrote The Camborne Riots of 1873: An Eyewitness Account: a fictional view of one of the bloodiest events to happen in Camborne