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Thomas Ellis Vingoe III

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My Grandfather, Thomas Ellis Vingoe III  (Tom) was born in Newlyn, Cornwall on the 1st of November 1873,. He was the first son of  fisherman Thomas Ellis Vingoe II and his wife Harriet (nee Weeks) and the community into which he was born was morning the loss of many lives due to an outbreak of diphtheria. The local vicar, the Rev. J.P.Vibert, a tireless worker on behalf of the fishing community, had also been a victim and his death had been a severe blow to the  Newlyn fishermen.

Thomas had  older sisters; Harriet aged 7, Helena aged 5 , Elizabeth aged 3, and Annie age 2. Harriet & Helena were already attending the new Wesleyan Day School run by Mr. John Champion. It was located at the top of Champion's slip [named after the head master] which ran down to the sea at high tide. Today this slip is hidden behind what was once the Cornish Canners building. Up until 1908 there was no road across the strand and this plot was a ship building yard. Ben Batten, a local school master and historian, wrote a book entitled  "Newlyn Heritage" which was published in 1980. In this is a chapter headed, "Newlyn Wesleyan Day School", which gives an idea of what life might be like for young boy growing up at that time in Newlyn. (Click here). 

In this postcard of Trewarveneth Street on the left hand side at the bottom was a narrow lane leading into North Corner, where many of the family lived initially. The street is still there today very much the same.  Harriet, Tom's mother, was named Weeks before she married and her family lived in the cottage a little further up this street known as Vine Cottage. Her father was a mason and came originally from Stithians. Thomas and Harriet moved into Prospect Place after their marriage They had four daughters before  son Thomas was born and then  two further boys followed, by 1881, Robert and Richard Henry.

The Census Return for that year shows the family details as follows:.


    VINGOE   Thos. Ellis    Head   M   M    38   Fisherman   Newlyn      
    VINGOE   Harriet          Wife   M    F    37       -              Newlyn      
    VINGOE   Harriet          Dau    -     F    15   Home Work  Newlyn      
    VINGOE   Helena          Dau    -     F    13   Scholar     Newlyn       
    VINGOE   Elizabeth       Dau    -    F    11   Scholar     Newlyn      
    VINGOE   Annie            Dau    -     F     9    Scholar     Newlyn      
    VINGOE   Thos. E.         Son    -    M     7   Scholar      Newlyn      
    VINGOE   Robert           Son    -    M     5   Scholar      Newlyn      
    VINGOE   Richard Henry  Son  -   M     1       -            Newlyn

In 1885, at the age of twelve, Thomas  left school and went to work full time with his father: he began learning his trade as a fisherman. Seine fishing had ceased in  Newlyn by 1883 so his father was probably engaged in one of two occupations. Pilchard driving, of which 24 boats were quoted as being engaged in, or  mackerel driving in which 116 boats  took part. A drive was a group of boats & men who worked together, with a large net similar to a seine, to catch mackerel or pilchards. Outside of the Cornish pilchard and mackerel seasons they probably went further afield to catch their fish. Fishermen from Newlyn frequently went to Scotland and Ireland. 

"Collectanea Cornubiensia" by George Clement Boase contains the following:-

"Richard Sinclair Brookes M.D. in his book "Recollections of the Irish Church" ... published in 1877, contains under the date of 1840:- 

'Notices of John Kelynack, Henry Vingoe, Thomas James, (....who afterwards drowned), Nicholas Wright, Hitchens, Boyne and of Simmons (who died of consumption). These men were in Ireland fishing and Brooke held a service on board their boat at Kingston Harbour.' " The Henry Vingoe mentioned in this report was probably the great uncle of Thomas.

There would, however, be times when Thomas and his father would be engaged in inshore fishing. He  would have to learn the long held family secrets of where to find the best fish. In 1936 P. Cowls of Porthleven gave an insight into these when he wrote an article on Longshoreman's Marks for the Old Cornwall Magazine. 

Newlyn was a busy fishing port but lacked good facilities. In the year that Thomas  left school  a new harbour began to take shape when a grand ceremony to lay the foundation stone for a new pier took place on St Peter's Day. I wonder if there are any Vingoe faces in the photograph? It could be that the boy clinging to the woodwork on the right is Thomas. According to Ben Batten, many of the older fishermen were opposed to the extension of the old harbour, predicting [accurately as it happened] that it would bring in bigger boats from the east coast which would damage the fish stocks.  

On the 1891 census the family were still living at Prospect Place, with an additional 3 girls and a boy:

Thomas Ellis         Head      Married      48        Paul Parish      Fisherman
Harriet                   Wife      Married      47        Paul Parish
Annie                      Dau       Single        19        Paul Parish      Domestic Servant
Thomas Ellis III       Son      Single        17        Paul Parish      Fisherman
Robert                     Son       Single        15        Paul Parish     Fisherman
Richard Henry         Son      Single        11        Paul Parish      Scholar
Emmeline               Dau      Single          9        Paul Parish      Scholar
Margaret               Dau       Single         7         Paul Parish
Lillian                    Dau       Single         6         Paul Parish
Hugh                      Son       Single         3         Paul Parish


In 1901  Penzance had a new  lifeboat; a Lowestoft type W, which was powered by 12 oars with the addition of a sail. She had been named the "Elizabeth and Blanche" after the ladies  who had donated the 753 it had cost to build her.  She was 38' long and 9' 6'' in breadth and  had been built in 1899 by Chambers & Colby of Lowestoft. I believe Thomas was often  along side his Uncle Alfred  Vingoe, who was pilot in Penzance and  the coxswain of the Penzance lifeboat. Alfred was only 3 years older than Thomas,  due to his father marrying twice, and having a second family. On the Penzance boat Thomas honed the skills that would stand him in good stead when he became coxswain of the same boat  when it was transferred to the station in Newlyn harbour in 1910. 

The 1901 Census shows Thomas living with his parents at  Prospect Place, Newlyn. Sisters Harriet and Elizabeth never married and Emmeline married and had a son but was widowed in 1917. She remained a widow until her death living with sister Harriet in the old family home. Sons Richard Henry and Hugh emigrated c1909 to Akron, Ohio USA.

Thos. Ellis Vingoe          Head         M        58        Fisherman (on own account)
Harriet                            Wife         M        57
Harriet                            Dau         U         35
Elizabeth                         Dau         U         31
Thos. Ellis III                  Son          U         27       Fisherman
Robert                             Son          U         25        Fisherman 
Richard Henry                Son          U         21        Stonemason
Emmeline                       Dau         U         19        Tailoress
Lillian                             Dau         U         16        Dressmaker
Hugh                               Son         U         13

On the 14th of July 1901 Thomas Ellis Vingoe married Phyllis Samson at Paul Church. and took her to live in a new house which he had built by his uncle, John Weeks.  This had been built at the top of St Peters Hill and they called it Penwith House. The house still stands with magnificent views across Mounts Bay. In 2001, however, the foundations were nearly washed away due to a collapse of an adit (underground passage for removing water from a mine) and the water company had to underpin the house and gardens. Hopefully, following this work, the house will stand for another hundred years.

Just after they were married, Thomas told Phyllis that he was determined to be the last fisherman in his line of the family. He watched as hundreds from his village  moved abroad in search of a new life but he believed that Newlyn was the best place to bring up a family. If it were 'done right', then they could all make a living outside of the fishing. He shared the view that his father had, that the bigger more powerful boats would lead to overfishing the grounds the ultimate end of the industry. This dream of my grandfather  was to be fulfilled, in as much as none of his sons became fishermen. However, only  my father brought up his family in Newlyn  and he was the last of the Newlyn Vingoe line to do so.

The  first child of Thomas & Phyllis was a son born in 1902. They named him Thomas Ellis, so he became the fourth in  line to carry the name. He was joined two years later by Richard Henry and in 1906 along came their  daughter Phyllis.

1908 was a major year for my granddad, in that the Royal National Lifeboat Institute took the decision to move the lifeboat from Penzance to Newlyn. He  was asked to take on the job of coxswain in place of Alfred. Within two months the boat and its crew were called on to rescue 20 men from the "Clan MacPherson of Glasgow and on the same day 28th December 1908 they were called out again to render assistance to the crew of the Schooner Titania of Salcombe.

Their next child born in 1909 was my father Robert (Bob) and, like his  brother before him, he was named after one of his paternal  uncles.

In the next three years Thomas and his crew would save 52 lives. The most notable rescue took place when the Norwegian Barque Saluto was wrecked in Mount's Bay. The Cornishman newspaper told the story at the time.

What the Newspaper did not report was the row that erupted over this rescue, a row that would lead to the men of Newlyn cutting their links to the lifeboat when it moved to Mousehole.   Included in the crew that day were two  brothers T.E.Vingoe  &  Robert Vingoe; a cousin 2nd  Cox's. Arthur Vingoe. Also Bob Samson, who was T.E.Vingoe brother in law and Joe P Harvey and Billy Harvey who were his cousins. Others in the boat included Billy Roberts, B. M. Rouffignac, Nicholas Richards and Dick Mathews. I have not traced all the family connections within the wider sense but I remember my granddad telling me he could trust every last "man-jack" as they were all "family one way and another "

Indeed, the trust in each other was as valuable as that in their skipper. Most Penwith men do not follow blindly, they had to think and react as a team in certain situations. To a great extent this was influenced by their environment but was also contributed to by their hereditary traits. Altruism is not given to everyone, neither is courage, but the skill and power to take on the sea at her most terrifying and unforgiving must be "bred in the bone." 

This helps to explain the 'father to son' tradition and 'brother to brother' rivalry for a  place on the boat on a 'shout' and a wish to 'wear the jacket". Latterly, more than one member of the same family in the same boat  was not allowed on a rescue, but in the early days it was often necessary. Many of the men folk could be away with the main fishing fleet, as had been the case with the "Saluto" rescue. Then whatever maritime experienced hands were available were welcome, albeit that this might have been their first time on a lifeboat rescue. In those days the crews were from a very small close-knit community, whose blood had mixed over centuries, and who also held strong bonds of friendship and dependence on one another. Any loss of life  would  have been a tragedy for the village as a whole.

Thomas Ellis Obituary

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