In writing of Richard Varcoe and Mary Ann Gill, I think it is important to acknowledge the township whose community no doubt fostered the kind of people they were. Varcoe as a name I’m assured is most definitely Cornish (Deacon, 2017) and nowhere more so than in the centre of Cornwall in places like St. Dennis and St. Stephen in Brannel (map above references bottom of doc.) Places such as Roche, St. Eval and nearby St. Austell also feature heavily in the literature supporting the Varcoe connection to Cornwall. As I’ve not yet had the pleasure to visit Cornwall, I have found some information from those who can speak with authority on Cornwall and St. Dennis. L.B Hugh is a St. Dennis local connected with promoting the St. Dennis community. He wrote in 2012 what I feel was a fascinating piece of investigative work that affords a unique view into the characters of the mining families who made St. Dennis what it is. Click Here
In a similar vein and from the same St. Dennis.org.uk was this piece detailing the people and businesses of St. Dennis, I’m going to safely assume from well before 1900 though the exact date of this work or its author remains unknown. Click Here
The area that is now known as St. Dennis was originally recorded in the Domesday book in 1086 (Hals and Tonkin, 1838) and was made up of small family settlements engaged in agriculture. Little hamlets with names still familiar to the area today included Domellick, Carnegga, Hendra, Whitepit, Hensbarrow and Trelavour. Eventually, these would form over time into the township of St. Dennis (St.Dennis.org.uk, 2019).
While the mining of different minerals had been a feature of the centre of Cornwall for some generations, it was not until the eighteenth century when the rich deposits of white kaolin clay or what was called china-clay sparked the china-clay mining industry. The china-clay mining industry lasted approximately two hundred years in St. Dennis before a rapid decline in the latter quarter of the twentieth century (Gillard, 2004). Over time famed potters such as Staffordshire, Minton and Josiah Wedgewood would source their clay from St. Dennis (Gillard, 2004)). At the time that our Richard Varcoe and Mary Ann Gill were raising their families in St. Dennis the area had a predominant “Varcoe” family presence (1841 census).
St. Dennis due to its mining endeavors appears to have been, certainly for a time a rather bustling village. Situated approximately six miles north-west of the regional town of St. Austell. Additional to the china-clay there were resources that appear to have been mined since its early history, such as tin, slate and clay-stone that were mined at St. Dennis. The china clay mining industry (at the time of Richard and Mary Ann) employed a smaller number of local men, many of which the 1841 census reveals were Varcoes. This would significantly increase in the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century when more and more pits and operators flooded the area (Hugh, 2012). The china-clay industry would decline sharply in the latter half of the twentieth century before being abandoned entirely (Hugh, 2012.)
Our Richard Varcoe was initially engaged in agricultural work before moving into auctioneering (1841 and 1851 census.) Members of the family were employed (like many of their neighbours) in the local china-clay industry. Given the proximity of where they lived, it is entirely likely that the Varcoe families in the region would be engaged in the china-clay industry in some form or another. The spelling of Varcoe does vary a little in the region but not noticeably so. There is the odd Vercoe and Varcow but in the main Varcoe does seem to hold its own. One of the features of these old Cornish people that I’ve really come to appreciate is the practice of using the mother’s maiden name as a middle name for their children. I’m not sure why this is so prevalent in Cornwall but am eternally grateful nonetheless. My first Varcoe ancestor (to come to Australia) came through my maternal line and was Sarah Ann Varcoe. She was the daughter of Richard Varcoe and Mary Ann Gill of St. Dennis, Cornwall.
Richard Varcoe and Mary Ann Gill
Richard Varcoe was born around 1806 (if I follow the Census) in St. Dennis, Cornwall, England to Edward Slade Varcoe and Ann Issabel also of the parish. At this time, I know that Richard had five siblings. Elizabeth b1803, Sarah b1807, Jacob b1808, Ann b1810 and William b1813. Mary Ann Gill was baptised on the 7th November 1807 at St. Eval, Cornwall, England. Her parents were William and Sarah Gill. On subsequent census entries, Mary Ann is usually remarked as being a few years younger than Richard. I’ve been able to locate her baptism (England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975) so I can only assume that one of them wasn’t quite sure of their year of birth?
Richard and Mary Ann would marry on the 8th June 1830 at St. Dennis in Cornwall and would remain living in this area for the remainder of their lives. They would raise eight known children together. Of these eight children, only two would remain in England. The rest would leave forever for far away Nebraska in America and for Queensland, South Australia and Victoria in Australia.
Remaining in St. Dennis would be their son Richard who died in St. Austell, Cornwall in 1906. He had married Jane Dyer. Their children were Mary Margaretta Varcoe 1866-1930, Edith Emily Varcoe 1869-1903, Effie Maud Helena Varcoe 1871-1953, Richard John Varcoe 1873 – 1954 and William D Varcoe 1876-1887 (died aged 11). The only other child of Richard and Mary Ann to remain in England was James Varcoe an unmarried son who was an invalid from birth he died in 1901 with no descendants. I can only assume that something had gone awry during his birth or that he was born with a disability that forever impaired his capacity to move or work or have a family of his own.
The 1841 English census described Richard and Mary Ann’s family as follows. Address: Hallew Road, St Dennis. Richard Varcoe, aged 35, Farmer, born in the county. His wife, Mary Varcoe, aged 30 and born in the county. Their children, Richard Varcoe (8), William Varcoe (6), Jemima Varcoe (4), Absalom Varcoe (2), James Varcoe, 2 months. Living with them also was Francis Brenton (20) and Jane Thomas (14), both being servants. All were recorded as having been born ‘in the county’.
The 1851census ten years later showed that the family was recorded as living at Nanpean. St. Dennis was sat right in the middle of what was ‘clay-works country’. The nearest clay-pit to where they were living in Nanpean was the Hendra Pit. Richard had moved up in the world now an Auctioneer aged 44. Mary was recorded as Mary Ann Varcoe, aged 42 and being from St. Eval, Cornwall. Which was different to what had been recorded ten years earlier, the record keeping appears to have become more detailed. Their son, Richard Varcoe aged 18 was recorded as being born at St Dennis in Cornwall and was employed as a china clay labourer. William Edwards Varcoe (and all subsequent children born at St. Stephens) aged 16, china clay labourer. Jemima Varcoe aged 13, scholar, Absalom Varcoe aged 11, scholar, James Varcoe aged 9, scholar, Sarah Ann Varcoe aged 7, scholar, Mary Ann Varcoe 6, scholar and Thursa Varcoe aged 3.
The 1861 census recorded the family living at Hallew Road. Richard was aged 54 and employed in china clay works and a ‘home-broker’ so probably this means auctioneering. Mary Ann was recorded as “Marry Anny” and aged 53. Children residing at home were Richard Gill Varcoe aged 27 and employed as a tin miner. Absalom Gill Varcoe aged 21, a china-clay labourer. James Gill Varcoe, aged 19, a scholar and Mary Ann Gill aged 15, a scholar.
Of the family members who were not living at home in 1861, William (Edwards Varcoe) had left England aged 26 for Australia. He arrived in Australia in 1856 and lived out his life there eventually settling and raising his family in South Australia with his wife Emily Buckingham.
Jemima Varcoe would go out of home as a servant. In 1864 she married a local fellow, John Cock. John’s occupation was a farmer. John and Jemima had three children before he left for the United States in 1870 to get a home ready for them. While he was away Jemima looked after her father, disabled brother and children. The family would join John and they would settle and live the rest of their lives in Nebraska.
Sarah Ann Varcoe had also gone out of the home as a servant at a young age. At 17 Sarah was a house-servant for John and Priscilla Oliver, Innkeepers in St. Colomb. Whether it was here that she heard about the programs for immigration to Australia? By the following year of 1863, aged 18, Sarah arrived in Melbourne to begin her new life. She soon married John Moss. As my direct ancestor, her story is included on this site.
Thursa in 1861 was 13 and employed as a child’s-maid. She was visiting (I think with relations), John and Mary Ann Best. John was an innkeeper and blacksmith. By the time she was 21 in 1869, Thirza/Thursa had also made her way to Australia. Thursa would marry William Moss and they would end up moving to and remaining in Queensland around Cairns.
The 1871 census shows a segment of the family living at nearby Trelavour. At this time Jemima had become the head of the house and was now Jemima Cocks. There was no mention of a husband residing at the home. (We now know that John was on his way to or in the U.S getting ready to bring his family to Nebraska.) Jemima was recorded as a labourer’s wife and was aged 33, born at St. Stephen’s Cornwall. Also residing with her was her father now a retired Auctioneer. Richard was recently (that year) a widow (as Mary Ann had died) now aged 65. Also living with them was Jemima’s unmarried brother James Varcoe, aged 30 remarked as crippled since birth. Jemima’s children at the home were Richard Cock, aged 4, scholar born at Colan, Cornwall. John D. Cock aged 2, born at St. Columb, and daughter, Betha M. Cock aged 7 months, also born at St. Columb.
From what I have been able to find from death indexes it is reasonable that our Richard Varcoe died in July 1878 and is buried in St. Dennis, Cornwall. This would make the most sense as he lived his entire life there.
The 1881 census had James Varcoe (now 40) living at 67 Hendra Prazey Road in St. Dennis. He lived as a boarder with Samuel ( 72 years of age and occupied as a bricklayer) and Priscilla Kent aged 55. Also residing with them was Samuel’s widowed brother John Kent (64). John Kent a boy of 12 and likely a relation also is listed there as a boarder. He worked as a farm-labourer. And then, of course, our James Varcoe. Unmarried and again remarked as a cripple from birth.
I became curious as to whether we had any of our branch still representing the Varcoe name in Cornwall and specifically St. Dennis at this point? Richard Varcoe and Jane Dyers son Richard John Varcoe b 1873 was born in Roche in Cornwall. He would marry Annie Gatley (1878-1922). He died in St. Austell in 1954. Richard and Annie had four known children. Richard John Varcoe Jnr b 1903 born in Ladock, Cornwall. Edith b 1907, Muriel Annie b 1912 and Adelaide b 1915. Richard John Varcoe Jnr married Ellen E. Varcoe. He died in Lewisham, London in 1969. In 1969 Richard John Jnr was living alone at 37 Manor Avenue Lewisham in London. This is a two-story building that I suspect were apartments in 1969? The building had other three other occupants of differing surnames (Winkless, Wrake & Barber) so I don’t know that they were relations to our Richard? I don’t know whether Richard John Jnr had any sons? I’m sure that the many daughters of the Varcoes of our branch (1866 through to 1969) may well and truly still be settled in Cornwall and England. What I’m not certain of is if the Varcoe name from this branch is still in Cornwall? Either way, it is represented across the seas.
This page connects to the Moss Family.
Deacon, Bernard. (2017-2019). The Surnames of Cornwall. Retrieved from: https://bernarddeacon.com/the-surnames-of-cornwall-a-forthcoming-book/
Gillard, Bridget. (2004). Cornwall Industrial Settlements Initiative, St. Dennis, Hensbarrow Area. Bridget Gillard Historic Environment Service and The Cahill Partnership. Retrieved from: https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/media/28968855/st-dennis.pdf
Hals and Tonkin. (1838). The Parochial History of Cornwall. (4). Retrieved from: http://www.archive.org/stream/parochialhistor01halsgoog#page/n348/mode/2up/search/ST+Dennis
Hugh, L., B. (2012). Name of mystery pit revealed. The village of St. Dennis, Cornwall, UK. Retrieved from: http://www.stdennis.org.uk/pdf/name_of_mystery_pit_revealed_final.pdf.
St. Dennis.org.uk (2019). The village of St. Dennis, Cornwall, UK. Retrieved from: http://www.stdennis.org.uk/location_history.html