Thomas Flindell II (1767-1824)

In collating the life of Thomas Flindell II, I found it helpful to review his progress in blocks of time and for this reason I have carried this forward as a means of presentation.  As Rev Richard Polwhele reflected, little is known of Thomas’ private life, but there is no doubt he had a major impact on early printing, journalism and newspapers in the West Country.

The Private Man


What we know of Thomas II, outside his printing and newspaper activities is that he was born at Helford in the Parish of Manaccan in 1767, the fifth child of Thomas I and Alice Flindal.  He married Mary Brunton in Doncaster, Yorkshire on 2nd June 1794 and he died in Exeter, Devon a “spent man” on July 11th, 1824.

Thomas started and ended his working life with printers’ ink on his hands.  Cornish historical papers comment that he probably learnt the printing trade in Cornwall at the press of Philip Elliot.  Elliot was a close friend of his parents and, with Alice, the overseer and joint executor of the will of Thomas I.  It is likely that the death of Elliot in 1787 was the reason Thomas II travelled to and worked in printing in Bath, Edinburgh and London before arriving in Doncaster in 1790.

Throughout his life Thomas was a committed churchman and Christian as witnessed in his printing work.  He counted as his friends prominent members of the clergy including the Rev Richard Polwhele, friend and rector of Manaccan (see the section on the Flindell Bible below).

1790 -1798

In 1790 Thomas II accepted a position as editor of the Doncaster Gazette in the West Riding of Yorkshire where he remained until his return to Cornwall in 1798. It was during this period that he met and married Mary Brunton of Halesower Yorkshire.  Mary was the niece of William Shenstone, poet & landscape gardener also of Halesower and it was she who was to continue the name “Shenstone” through the given names of her children.  A cameo of William Shenstone is at the end of this section on Thomas II.  Their first four children were not baptised until Thomas moved his family to Helston.

The Family

Thomas and Mary had 14 children the youngest of whom died in her infancy.  The first three were probably born in Doncaster.  Their children were:

  • Mary, born about 1795.  She married George Simpson on June 14th, 1816.  Simpson owned and founded the Salisbury Gazette in 1816.  Other sources suggest he was Proprietor and Publisher of “Devizes & Wilts Gazette”.  A letter from a George Simpson from Devizes mentioned a son of George and Mary who was a mining engineer who spent five years in Western Australia, two of them in charge of the plant at the Gwalia Consolidated Gold Mine at Wiluna (dates uncertain, but this was during the period of Herbert Hoover’s management).
  • Thomas III, born about 1796 and married Elizabeth Croft of Plymouth on July 29th, 1821 in Exeter.
  • John Brunton, born about 1797, probably in Doncaster.    He married Anne Margaret Hemer at Christ Church, Southward, London on March 30th 1834.   John died at Marylebone, London in 1834. Their daughter Mary married her cousin Thomas son of Sarah and Thomas Bate(s).
  • Phillip, born either in Doncaster or Helston about 1798.
  • Elizabeth born October 6th, 1799 in Truro.  She did not marry.  Elizabeth was a hospital matron and died in Wandsworth, Middlesex, England in 1869.
  • Alice born February 28th, 1801 and married Charles Edward Quarme on October 7th, 1823.  They had nine children none of whom, it seems, married.
  • Matilda, born at Falmouth on July 8th, 1802 and married Mr. Alexander.
  • Ann, born January 30th, 1804, married Henry King Conquer, a “naval man”.[1]
  • Sarah, born 1805 married Thomas Bate(s).  Their son, Thomas Flindell Bate(s), married his cousin Mary, daughter of John Brunton Flindell.
  • Jane, born January 19th, 1807 did not marry.  Tradition has it she worked with her father in printing and with her mother carried on the business after his death.   Thomas, in his will directed the paper be sold, so it is more likely that she assisted her mother running the paper during Thomas’ incarceration for libel.  At the age of 74 Jane was living in London.  (See the section Origins of the Name.)
  • Francis Basset Shenstone, born February 9th, 1810 in Truro.  He was named after his mother’s uncle William Shenstone, poet and landscape designer and Francis Bassett a benefactor and supporter of Thomas II and a descendant of the Bassett family who fought the rebellion for an independent Cornwall.
  • Francis Gregor William(s) born in Truro, Cornwall on September 13th, 1811 and died in Exeter, Devon on June 24th, 1814.  He was probably named after Francis Gregor MP of Trewarthennick, a supporter and benefactor of Thomas II.  Thomas published his works in 1816.
  • Frances (known as Fanny).   Her birth and death details are unknown, however, she was baptised at All Hallows Church, Goldsmith Street, Exeter on 27th July 1815.  Letters from Matilda stated Fanny married a Mr. Falkner.
  • Louisa, born on  September 19th, 1816 and baptised on January 5th, 1819.  A letter from Matilda stated Louisa died in infancy.  However, another letter from a grand-nephew refers to Aunt Louisa and states “he forgets the name of the man she married, but he lived at West Ham London and was a boot maker.  He came home one night drunk, struck her in the breast, and caused cancer which killed her.”

The Public Man

1798-1800:  Stannary Press, Helston

Thomas was by trade a printer, but by nature a newspaperman who pursued matters of public and spiritual interest.  In 1798, on his return to Cornwall from Doncaster with his new bride, he started his Stannary Press.   A “stannary” is a place or region where tin is mined.  During this time Thomas printed a number of literary works including:

  • some of the works of Pope,bible
  • a eulogy by Samuel Drew,
  • a hymn book,
  • The Unsexed Females,
  • Grecian Prospects,
  • the controversial (for its time) “Methodism Tried And Acquitted At The Bar Of Common Sense”, and
  • he began printing the only known edition of the Bible printed in English in Cornwall which became known as The Flindell Bible.

Printed matter was expensive at this time and beyond the hands of many a commoner so Thomas decided to publish a Bible in fortnightly parts both to spare the expense of a heavy initial outlay by him and at the same time make the Bible more affordable to the average person.  The Rev Richard Polwhele, friend and rector of Manaccan, edited the “Flindell Bible” and Rev Dr John Whitaker wrote the introduction.

1800-1803:  Rectory Room, Falmouth

In 1800 Thomas, with 30 parts of the Bible published (i.e. to the end of Isaiah), moved from Helston to Falmouth and set up his press in the library room of Polwhele’s rectory.  This was forced on him as he was short of capital, due mainly to the general economic depression at the time and subsequently with a rise in duty on paper.  It is uncertain how far printing of the Bible progressed, but the two existing copies (Truro Cathedral and Council Offices) do not include the New Testament. (Timperley’s Typographical Dictionary suggests he published to the middle of the Evangelists).

In the meantime, undaunted by his troubles, Thomas founded the Cornwall Gazette and Falmouth Packet with the first edition being published on March 7th, 1801.  At the time he announced to his public that in addition to the usual reporting resources he had established regular correspondence with the West Indies, Lisbon and America, and that by using the packets (fast sailing ships) stationed in Falmouth he should frequently publish news from these distant regions before the London newspapers.  It seems Thomas may have responded to outside pressures to start this paper.  Clearly he lacked the necessary capital for the venture and after 20 months his partners, having problems in their own businesses, could no longer support him and he was sentenced to prison at Bodmin for the debt incurred.

1803-1812: Lemon Street Truro

Thomas was held in high esteem and was backed by wealthy and well-placed patrons.  His debts were cleared by means of a subscription purse and in 1803 he moved to Lemon Street, Truro and launched The Royal Cornwall Gazette.  The first edition was published on 2 July 1803 and soon became the first successful newspaper in Cornwall.  This was not surprising as his subscribers included among their number the Prince of Wales as Duke of Cornwall who contributed 50 guineas.  The other subscribers were from all shades of the political spectrum.


Enjoying as it did royal patronage the Gazette was well placed to obtain first hand news of outstanding events.  Scoops included the progress of the war with Napoleon.  The Gazette was the first newspaper to publish news of Nelson’s great victory and death at Trafalgar.  HM Schooner Pickle (Lieutenant Le Pontiase, RN) brought the news to Falmouth and Thomas was quick to print a special edition of his paper.  Also during this time, Thomas printed three of the seven volumes of Polwhele’s History of Cornwall.

Thomas was described as “a man of sprightly and versatile mind, but an unscrupulous supporter of the Tory magnates” and despite his original intention that paper should be independent; it slowly fell into the hands of the Tory party, which in 1810 resulted in the establishment of the Whig biased West Briton. Two years of politically biased warfare followed between the two publishers through their papers.

Extract – The History of Cornwall[2]

The History of Cornwall, from the earliest records and traditions, to the present time – Volumes 1 and 2[3] reports on the battle of the newspapers and factions as follows:

There are presently two weekly newspapers regularly printed in Truro, “The Royal Cornwall Gazette” on Saturday, and “The West Briton” on Friday.  The Royal Cornwall Gazette was the first projected by Mr. Thomas Flindell, a native of this county, of whose typographical talents several excellent specimens have been given to the inhabitants of Cornwall; and with whose diversified literary abilities for conducting in the various purchasers which it obtained within the range of its circulation were fully satisfied.   This paper first started into existence in Falmouth, under the name of “The Royal Cornwall Gazette and Falmouth Packet,” in the year 1801, but after some time, it was resumed in Truro (to which place Mr. Flindell removed, in the month of July, 1803) under its present appellation.

Conducted on neutral ground, the paper was patronized and supported by men of different political creeds, from all of whom it received advertisements and various other contributions, by means of which it became the general organ of the county.  The ground of neutral independence being however abandoned by its editor of the political questions that were in agitation, the excluded party grew dissatisfied, withdrew their patronage and support, and called into existence a rival paper, under the name of “The West Briton”.  The editorship of this newspaper was consigned to the talents of Mr. Edward Budd, who had for some time prior to this event resided in Truro, and whose political sentiments coincided with those of the party under whose auspices “The West Briton” claimed its birth.  The annunciation of this new paper operated upon the abettors and the editors of the old as a public declaration of war.  And it was generally understood that only one paper could survive the conflict, by establishing itself on the ruins of the vanquished rival, what Carthage was to Rome, and the hostile editors were viewed as contending not merely for victory, and the domination a political principle, but existence.

To this fierce contention each party brought along

“Innumerable force of Spirits armed,”

The Royal Cornwall Gazette was sanctioned by power, and supported by the abilities of Mr. Flindell, who found in Mr. Budd, the editor of The West Briton, both the courage and abilities of a Hannibal to oppose.  The conflict was long and obstinately fought; and finally terminated in the removal of Mr. Flindell to Exeter, where he established a new paper, entitled “The Western Luminary”.


While in Truro, Thomas printed three of the seven volumes of Polwhele’s History of Cornwall” referenced above, however, Thomas could not carry the financial consequences of the newspaper battle and at the end of 1812 sold his share of The Royal Cornwall Gazette to a Plymouth printer.  He then moved to Exeter and established The Western Luminary”.

Thomas remained open to other opportunities to further his business.  From October to December 1815 he ran an advertising campaign seeking subscriptions to publish the works of Francis Gregor of Trewarthennick.  By the end of that year sufficient subscriptions had been received and the volume was published in 1816.   He also advertised his intent to start a new periodical, The Devonshire Adventurer.  This was first published in Tavistock on August 26th, 1814, but the name of Thomas Flindell did not appear on the title page.  Credit for the conduct of this periodical was accorded to Rev George John Freeman LLB.  His target was the intellectual and elite subscribers to his Western Luminary who also subscribed to relatively expensive publications.  Certainly such a venture required agents in London and the larger cities and although there is little evidence of its success, it would seem from his Last Will and Testament that it may have been.


Thomas was not a shy, reserved man, nor did he ever profess to be anything but outspoken.  Some Flindells today may see this trait handed down in their genes.  His capacity to push the boundaries was to bring him into conflict with the authorities.   On July 11th, 1820 his editorial attacked Her Majesty Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brandenburg-Ansbach, Queen Consort to King George II of the House of Hanover.  Part of the libellous statement referred to in the charge was:

“Shall a woman who is as notoriously devoted to Bacchus as to Venus, shall be such as would, if found on our pavement, be committed to Bridewell and whipped, be held up in the light of suffering innocence, and enthroned in our hearts, on the protestation of our boasted principles.”

Thomas was not alone in his assertions, just intemperate in the manner of his publication of issues considered by him to be of public interest.  On July 5th The Times published the Report of the secret Committee of the House of Lords into Queen Caroline, which concluded amongst other things that “of all the numerous crimes with which Her Majesty had been repeatedly charged, it will be a general gratification to find that only one of a specific nature remains – that of Adultery, and luckily with one person only”.

Thomas printed in full the “Trial, defence and sentence of Thomas Flindell of Exeter to a Libel on the Queen”, in 1821 which he sold for sixpence[4].  What is notable is that his defence counsel, Mr. Coleridge manages but one page of defence, while the prosecution takes up eight pages.  At his sentencing hearing on  May 28th, 1821 Thomas offered 15 pages of mitigation, which included the report tabled by Lord Harrowby in the House of Lords referred to above.  Among other things he said:

“I am the Editor and Printer of a weekly journal published at Exeter, called the Western Luminary.  It is my duty to publish and discuss public measures; and to discuss them, My Lords, with freedom.  To mark precisely the line where freedom ends, and where that which the law does not license, is impossible.”

Thomas goes on to point out that he was not alone in public utterance against the Queen and that he appeared to be singled out for political gain.  He tugged at the heart strings of the court in stating he had a wife, eight daughters and a son all entirely dependent on him and noting that as he was a poor man that any fine beyond merely a nominal one, would reduce him to beggary and further pleaded that he be imprisoned in Exeter so that he may assist in the conduct of his business.

Thomas was sentenced to eight months imprisonment in HM Gaol Exeter, and at the expiration of this term to give security of good behaviour of for three years – he of 500 shillings and two other sureties of 250 shillings each.

Again Thomas was not without supporters and a committee was established to manage a subscription to relieve the pressure caused by losses and expenses of the trial.  This was done without his knowledge out of a “sense of his long and valuable services in the cause of the Church and State.”

A considerable sum was raised, £418/19/6 which today would represent over A$300,000

This second term of imprisonment was said to have broken his health.  During this period he wrote a book of over 200 pages entitled “Prison Recreations”, having among other things, a moral and religious theme.

Thomas died on 11th July 1824, age 57 at which time, in accordance with his directions in his will, the Western Luminary was sold and passed to the Dewdney Family, although it was still being run by Mary as late as 1826 when she printed “A letter to the members for the county of Devon on the monopoly of the landed interest”, by Holdsworth, A. H. (Arthur Howe), c1780 to 1860.  Howe was a trustee of Thomas’ estate.

Last Will and Testament

The last Will and testament of Thomas Flindell, the first and last pages of which appears to be missing, was written in fair hand in the style of the time, which to say the least, can look like a foreign language.  The key points of his will are:

  • He appoints his friend Charles Grant and John (surname indecipherable), and his cousin Hugh Fraser his executors in “this colony” (presumably Devon); and his cousins Harrison Gordon Cobb and Phillip Campbell Cobb his executors in England.
  • The schedule of the amount of cash owing to him lists three agents:
    • London “H. Cobb” – £7860/15/6.
    • Liverpool “Gladstone Grant” – £8885/11/9, and
    • Liverpool “Sandbath Times & Coy”  – £14809/17/8

The total of £31556/4/11 would be about A$ 22,500,000 today.  As we the descendents have not benefited from this in any significant way, it is assumed that death duties and other debts and expenses ate heartily of these funds.

He bequeathed to his sister Sarah Smyth, widow of Cornwall and his brother Phillip, shipwright of Flushing Cornwall, each the sum of £5.

He bequeathed all his copyright in the Western Luminary newspaper, tools of trade and materials; all the numbers, copies and manuscripts and copies partly printed of any book or work of which he had been engaged in writing and compiling; all his household goods, furniture, chattels, effects and property; his interest in the house he occupied; and all his book debts, monies and sureties owing to him in Trust to Arthur Howe Holdsworth of Dartmouth Devonshire, Benjamin William Bolinson of Exeter Surgeon and William Henry Langworthy of Exeter Attorney.  He instructed the Trustees to clear all his debts, including debts incurred by them in the discharge of the trust, and directed the Trustees to apply these funds to the ongoing maintenance, advancement, support, placing out educating and bringing up his wife and children.

The will was proved at London on April 20th 1825.  Interestingly Supreme Court records found a Will in the Dutch language by John Foster (deceased) of Fort William Bengal (near Calcutta).  This will was not available and the extent of any claim is not clear.

From Joe Barnes of Falmouth College of Arts.

Joe Barnes, a 3rd year journalism student (2006), sent this Coleridge-style poem he thinks was written by Thomas II and published in the Cornwall Gazette and Falmouth Packet No. 1 Saturday March 7, 1801, column 10.


Song 1 From the Mab-uther of Merlin

On rocky Zomar’s secret height,

Where erst involv’d with magic gleams

And all involved in glistening white,

The druids caught the prescient beams:

Warm with the influent breath of fate,

The minstrel-bard of Britain sate:

Wild o’er his head the steeds of midnight rove:

The shade of Belin hovers near;

His arm reveals a starry spear,

And guards the issues of the sacred grove.

Around the heath and ferny green,

Thro’ shadowy vest of moonlight pale,

The forms of ancient bards are seen,

And visions glide along the vale.

On the dim rock the poet glows:

A vapour from the Monaec clime

Involves his breast – and o’er his brows

The lambent lightning’s roll sublime.

His ardent eyes of conscious fire

Transpierce the gloom of future days:

He strikes the land prophetic lyre,

The druids swell the mystic lays,

And wild resounding echo fills

The caves of Zomah, and the Cambrian hills.

And sow the seeds of trouble here –

Let deeds of drudgery be done

By Odin and his ruthless son.

But plant the stem of UTHER, near,

‘Twill flourish in a happier year –

When slaves the triple cross deface

The Oak shall fill its ancient place.” –

Thus, while they sing in shades belov’d

Bright omens gild the dusky ground.

Touched by some God, the rocks are mov’d,

And tremble to the solemn sound.


[The copy in Truro library is annotated  …ON added in sepia copperplate, which must have been written when, the paper was new? and makes ‘a loon’.]


Uther – King Arthur Uther Pendragon – The Once and Future King

William Shenstone (1714-1763)william-shenstone-1714-1763

William Shenstone was born at The Leasowes, Halesowen to Thomas and Anne (daughter of William Penn of Harborough Hall) on November 18th, 1714.  His early and formative years were marked by the death of those close to him – his father in June 1724, his grandfather in August 1726 and his brother soon after.   Presumably his mother had passed on by 1728 as by then he was in the care of his grandmother who also ran the estate.   His early schooling was local before attending Pembroke College Oxford where he matriculated in 1732.  About the time he went to Oxford his grandmother died and his care, and that of The leasowes-2Leasowes estate was entrusted to the Reverend Dolman.  He clearly enjoyed his time at Oxford for he spent ten years there, but did not take a degree.  During this period he made firm friends with Richard Graves.  He also published, for private circulation, various poems said to have been written for his own enjoyment, among which was “The Schoolmistress” which caused quite a stir.  The poem was said to be inspired by Sarah Lloyd, a teacher of Shenstone’s village school where his early education was conducted.

Shenstone’s guardian (Rev Dolman) died in 1745 and as responsibility for The Leasowes passed to him, he retired there to undertake what was to become his chief life’s work of landscaping the estate.  Shenstone died, unmarried in February 1763 and was buried in the churchyard at Halesowen beside his brother

As noted elsewhere, his niece Mary Brunton named her son Francis Bassett Shenstone after him and this has carried on through the generations.   There are many websites on William Shenstone and The Leasowes.  I found useful for the man and useful for the estate.  The above graphics appear there.


[1] The exchange of letters between UK and Australia continued for several generations.  Information regarding Matilda, Sarah, Ann, Fanny and Jane are based on letters held by Florence Vagg (nee Flindell) from Matilda, presumably to her brother Francis Bassett Shenstone.


[2] Published 3 months before the death of Thomas II.  Extract – volume 2, pages 648 and 649.

[3] Compiled by Fortesque Hitchins Esq. Edited by Mr Samuel Drew of St Austrell, Printed and published by William Penalum at Helston April 1824

[4] At the time a craftsman in the building trade earned about 21 shillings or about A$4.75