Guavas the Tinner, Sabine Baring-Gould#

Hot on the heels of the controversy of early 1896, antiquarian, folk tale and folk song collector Sabine Baring-Gould published the first installment of his tale Guavas the Tinner in The Queen, dated Saturday, July 4th, 1896, p31. Further installments appeared in the following issues, and the book was then published as a standalone work, Guavas the Tinner, in Spring, 1897.

One of the first reviews provides a summary of the book:

Review, St. James’s Gazette

St James’s Gazette - Wednesday 17 March 1897, p5


Mr. Baring-Gould has again made good use of his passionate love of exploring old traditions and unearthing from historic spots the secrets of their past ; and in burrowing among the old tin-workings of Dartmoor, as he frequently burrows among the old folk-songs of the West, he has on this occasion found material for a somewhat wild and fantastic tale which he is pleased to place in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, though probably the tale would gain in probability by being put back least a century or so. Guavas the Tinner is a Cornish miner who, working among Dartmoor folk with better skill and luck than the natives, incurs the envy of all, and still more the hatred of Dickon Rawle, a mean fellow whose rival is for the affections of Isolt, the daughter of the Bailiff of the Stannaries. This lady is of the ravenhaired, wild, and wicked order ; and being herself in love with Guavas and fearing that his affections have strayed to a little moorland maiden called Lemonday (the names are all quaint enough), connives at her hero being nailed by the hand to a post for a breach pf the stannary laws in order that she may release him under oath of perpetual constancy to her. But human hearts are not chained in this way, and a series of cleverly wrought incidents bind Guavas to the purer love of the moorland maid. It will be guessed that excitement and incident are not wanting before the successful ending of the tale is reached when say that, besides the transfixion of Guavas on Dartmoor, there is fearfully realistic right between a man and a wolf, the burying alive of the hero in a disused mine, the shooting of the wicked Isolt with a silver bullet by the bungling Dickon Rawle, and the disappearance of this inefficient villain in a bog. The narrative is interspersed with those charming little touches of folk-lore which come so trippingly to the pen of the writer ; among others may be mentioned a very curious wake and pretty monkish legend about Joseph of Arimathea’s connection with the West of England tin trade. The invocation to Joseph used at the smelting of the tin, and quoted as prevalent in Devonshire in Elizabethan times, is, oddly enough, used to this day at a factory in London where tin is the metal employed. This piece of knowledge, accidentally acquired, we venture to present to Mr. Baring-Gould in return for a few hours’ pleasant reading. Guavas the Tinner. By S. Baring-Gould. With Illustrations Frank Dadd (Methuen and Co.)

Further reviews appeared in other periodicals over the following weeks.

Guavas the Tinner, Extracts#

The story begins with a description of a man, illuminated by moonlight, semi-crucified, being observed by a wolf, (p4):

But who was this man crucified to a post in mid moor, and wherefore did he thus suffer ?

The man was Eldad Guavas, a tinner, and he suffered by sentence of the Bargmaster of the Stannaries, because he had found gold and had appropriated it; whereas gold was due to the Crown.

His crime is explained at p5-6:

In the reign of Edward I., in 1288, a series of Stannary Laws were promulgated. Over the Duchy a bailiff, or Bargmaster, was appointed, and every miner was allowed two “meeres” of land in which to work. Each meere consisted of ninety-six square feet. But along with this portion went another meere, which belonged to the Crown, and of all the ore raised a thirteenth portion was due to the King. A miner who left his claim unworked for three weeks lost his right to it. One who was convicted of theft of ore from a neighbour’s claim was mulcted in money. If he was again convicted he underwent a heavier sentence, but for a third he was condemned to have his hand affixed to a post at his workings by a knife thrust through the palm, and he was to be left thus affixed to die of hunger, unless he chose to tear himself loose ; but this could be done only by cutting through the tendons of his hand, and rendering it for ever useless.

The King claimed one-thirteenth of all tin raised, and demanded the whole of the gold that was found along with the tin, and, as the crime of stealing from the Crown was three times as grave as stealing from an ordinary miner, such a crime could only be expiated by fastening the hand by means of a knife to the post, with the consequence of death or mutilation.