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Stories of Fowey Local´s
Before experiencing some cottages in Fowey, Cornwall, and visiting this charming town, why not
discover some famous local stories of people who are from there. These people are famous
internationally having done extraordinary things during their time alive.
Mary Bryant - The Fowey Woman Who Twice Escaped The Hangman's Noose
She’s a folk hero in Australia and the subject of over a dozen books. Plays and a television drama
series have been written about her - and she was born and raised in Fowey.
The remarkable and lucky life of Mary Bryant reads like a novel, but it’s not a work of fiction.
She was the only female convict to escape from Botany Bay, spent 69 days at sea before she was
recaptured and sent back to England to face almost certain death.
But she was saved by the noted 18th century lawyer and biographer James Boswell and later
returned to Cornwall and married a local farmer.
She was born Mary Broad in Lostwithiel Street in 1765, the daughter of a fisherman. In her
early 20s she fell in with bad company and was sentenced to death for stealing a wealthy Plymouth
woman’s silk bonnet and a few guineas. Mary was sentenced to hang at Exeter assizes, but that was
commuted to seven years transportation on the first convict fleet at Botany Bay.
Mary, who gave birth to her first child on board the convict ship Charlotte, met North
Cornwall smuggler William Bryant, and married him at Port Jackson, New South Wales.
In 1792, three years after reaching Australia, William and Mary, now with her second child,
joined seven other convicts to steal the Governor’s open cutter and make their audacious escape.
After surviving near starvation, severe storms and unpredictable natives, they reached Timor in the
Dutch East Indies, an astonishing journey of 5,000 kilometres.
However freedom was short-lived and tragedy was not far away. The escapees were
arrested and sent back to England. Mary’s husband and two children died of fever on the ship. Mary
must have realised she was again facing a death sentence, which she was unlikely to avoid a second
But she was indeed a lucky Fowey maid. The London newspapers of the day made her into a
cause celebre, likening her remarkable open boat journey to that of Captain Bligh (born in St Tudy,
near Wadebridge) when he was cast adrift by the mutinous crew of The Bounty a few years earlier.
Mary’s case was taken up by the lawyer James Boswell, and she received a pardon, Boswell
providing her with an annual allowance on her return to Cornwall. The only thing she had to offer
Boswell for his kindness was a packet of “Botany Bay tea leaves,’’ she had kept during all those
months at sea.
The tea was found with Boswell’s papers in 1930. The papers are now housed at Yale
University. In 1956, two of the leaves were presented by Yale to the Mitchell Library in New South
Wales. They were identified as wild sarsaparilla, found mainly on the east coast of Australia.
Hugh Peter - From Fowey to Harvard and a Grisly End
He was instrumental in founding one of the world’s leading universities, was Oliver
Cromwell’s favourite chaplain, and paid for it with his life. Hugh Peter was born in Fowey in 1598, to
Martha Treffry of Place and a Dutch merchant, whose family had fled to the Cornish port to escape
religious persecution in Holland.
The young Hugh would have attended St Fimbarrus church in Fowey before his education at
Cambridge. He became a devout Puritan around 1620 and was later a curate at Rayleigh in Essex. His
radical anti-Catholic beliefs led to his imprisonment for six months - an omen of things to come.
In 1635, the firebrand preacher sailed to New England where he became a minister at Salem,
and one of the first governors of Harvard College.
Peter returned to England in 1641 as an agent of the Massachusetts government, and
actively supported Parliament against King Charles I. As a chaplain in the New Model Army, his
sermons inspired soldiers and drew many others to the cause, winning favour with Cromwell.
During the English Civil War, he acted as the Army’s spokesman at Westminster, which
brought him many enemies within the Royalist ranks. He was too ill to attend the execution of the
King, but his absence led to the persistent, though unfounded, rumour that it was Peter who was the
masked executioner who had beheaded Charles I.
Cromwell later gave Peter the honorary rank of colonel and he was appointed governor of
Milford Haven, responsible for transporting men and supplies during Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland.
He was made chaplain to the Council of State, and preached the sermon at Cromwell’s funeral in
With the restoration of the monarchy, Peter was universally reviled, and his name became
the butt of jokes for the rest of the 17th century. Because of Peter’s close association with Cromwell,
Charles II ordered his arrest on the charge of treason, and he was hanged, drawn and quartered at
Charing Cross on October 16, 1660. Whilst awaiting his fate, he wrote ‘A Dying Father’s Last Legacy
to an Only Child’ for his daughter, who had visited him every day in prison.