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The Cornish Pasty

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History & origins of the Cornish Pasty - IV

Recent times

We are lucky on The Cornish Pasty web site because of our childhood experiences and the tellings of people in our family who were involved in the pasty growing, like Father and Grandfather.

I heard a lot of stories from Father and Grandfather about the Scilly gigs in former times and I expect there are more still that we have not heard.

Vivian Prior, in his article, "Pilot Gigs", records that they often went to France under sail. They carried one sort of ballast over, in case the French needed some extra rocks and came back with another! This was a free trade practice and was duty-free. Long before the Common Market and the European Union! Scilly boys were very enterprising. This is where the Excise men came in, or didn't. Father and Grandfather used to sail the gig, Bonnet, in their day.

I also have heard they went further, besides trading with our Celtic cousins, the Bretons, there was also our other Celtic cousins, the Basque people in Spain.

Records say the Vikings discovered America in 1,000 AD - long before Columbus, the Italian who found it for the King of Spain, in 1492. In fact, Bjarni_Herjˇlfsson probably first saw Newfoundland in 985, although he didn't land because he was eager to return to Greenland. This was 507 years before Columbus. It was Leif Erikson who first settled Newfoundland in 1,000 AD. Prior to that, the Norse had settled Baffinland, Labrador and "Vinland" (now believed to be L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland).

Father had a long sea-faring tradition and he believed many years before that, a Scilly gig, lost in the fog bank that had extended unseasonably from the coast of Greenland, accidentally found Mexico.

The gigs traded with Mexico and returned via Jamaicy. It was they what brought the first rum to these shores that became a favourite with all sea-farers - even to the extent of becoming official issue in the British Navy! Again, this is where the Excise men came in (or didn't in Scilly!).

Now - the relevance of all this to our history of the pasty .......

On one of their trips, the boys in the gigs found a certain tree, with its fruit (the wild pasty). The discovery was kept secret for a long time but it slipped out - they had discovered a source of new pasty trees. To counter this, they then admitted to finding something they called the breadfruit tree!

The "cover-up" worked for nearly 1,000 years - even the story of the Mutiny on the Bounty in 1787 was wrapped up in terms of the breadfruit tree when it was really the pasty tree (anyway, whoever heard of a tree producing loaves of bread as its fruit - perhaps ready-sliced?! Now ..... that d'be silly).

The truth is that the pasty has a long history in Mexico - 'tis true, boy! Click HERE and search! The "Skewes" surname is not unknown there but, of course, even that is shrouded in deeper mystery .....

ALSO - from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornish_pasty

When it was realised that the early farmers had cleared too much of the original pasty forest to sustain the growing population, they knew they had to do something. If they didn't, they would run out of pastiess altogether. A lot of this is explained on this page: Origins of the Cornish Pasty - II. The trade in young pasty trees started up ('tis very hard to germinate the seed these days), and this is how they did it .......


Model of the Scilly gig - "Bonnet"

The Scilly gig - "Bonnet"
(as she used to be, 1920's)

The photo above is of the "Bonnet" as she was in the early 1920's. She was part-owned by my grandfather, Patrick Polryan (NB - not Polruan), one of six share-holders. Grandfather was on Tresco and the boat was used for fishing to feed the family and their neighbours. Father came from Tresco, too. I remember somebody saying once that he should bleddy get back there. I believe t'was Mother.

Father was very particular watching my making of the model in about 1972 because I only know her as the green racing gig you see today. She was painted white then so as you could see her out to sea. As you can see, she had a "dipping lug" and a small mizzen sail at the stern for use in heavy weather to keep her bow pointing into wind. This sail plan is a compromise between having a square sail (which only works with the wind behind you) and a fore-and-aft rig (which allows you to sail towards the wind by tacking etc). Unfortunately, he passed away in 1974 so we can't ask him any more about his experiences.  

Now - it made sense for the Cornish boys to use the old gigs in this form to go to Mexico. It needed few people to crew the boat and left more room for baby pasty trees. We Cornish bain't be so daft! 

Another bit of family history relating to the "Bonnet"

The "Bonnet" was well known in Scilly and was entered in the regattas they held in former times. Here is a silver cup that we still have in the family. It was awarded to Grandfather in 1908.

Tresco Regatta Cup won by the Bonnet in 1908 & 1910   Close-up of the Tresco Regatta cup


  Reverse side of the Tresco Regatta cup

The engraving says ......

Won by

The Gig "Bonnet"

Tresco Regatta

Aug 1908


I believe Father said they were sailing races but I can't be sure.

Father told me he used to take her out on his own when he was 14, and he certainly didn't pull her! He told me all about changing tack and swinging the yard about to do it. Life was different in those days.

Speaking of which, after the family moved to Hayle (to be near the good pasty shops), they took a keen interest in the Hayle Regattas. I remember Father's brother, Uncle Joseph, starting the races with a 12-bore shotgun (in the 1950's). You try shooting off a loaded 12-bore in a public place these days! Oh yes, life was different then.  

AND - if you have come this far, there is more family history relating to the "Bonnet" - HERE - you probably didn't expect this on The Cornish Pasty!


Celtic spiral animation