history of polperro
the harbour
cornish lads

Heritage Museum

Located in The Warren overlooking the harbour, the Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing houses a remarkable collection of exhibits and 19th century photographs as well as many items of memorabilia dating from the 18th century when both smuggling and fishing thrived in Polperro. It vividly brings to life the story of this Cornish fishing village's extraordinary history and many of the people who featured in it.


Fishing - © Paul Lightfoot
Polperro Heritage Museum - Fishing

Polperro has depended on fishing for generations. In the 19th century, when pilchards were landed in large quantities, the fish were processed and packed in three factories near the harbour. The Heritage Museum now occupies one formerly owned by the Teglio family from Italy. The fishing industry employed many men at sea and many more, with women and children, ashore in salting, pressing, cleaning and washing the fish. The pilchards were salted and cured before the oil was pressed from them using large screw presses and they were packed in barrels. Large gaff-rigged boats known as Polperro gaffers were used for fishing. A model of the Lady Beatrice, one of the fastest gaffers owned by James Curtis can be seen in the Museum. Seine or drift nets were used to catch the pilchards. At one time there were some 40 drifters working out of Polperro harbour.


Smuggling Display- © Paul Lightfoot
Polperro Heritage Museum - Smuggling Display

Contraband goods were smuggled across from Guernsey on a huge scale during the latter half of the 18th century, the Polperro boats often risking seizure by Revenue vessels patrolling the Channel.

Of the many Polperro vessels involved in smuggling at the end of the 18th century, the Lottery was the most infamous. The story of the Lottery's involvement in the murder of a Customs officer in 1798 which led to the trial and execution of one of her crew in 1801 is graphically told (left).

Another Lottery crewman, Robert Mark, was later killed at sea by a shot from a Revenue vessel. His inscription can be seen in nearby Talland church where he lies buried, and his cutlass (inscribed and dated 1789) is also on display in the Museum.


Photographs- © Paul Lightfoot
Polperro Heritage Museum - Photographs

When smuggling died out in the 19th century, Polperro attracted many distinguished artists and photographers, some of whose work is exhibited at the Museum.

Lewis Harding (1806-1893) nephew of Sir Harry Trelawny of Trelawne near Polperro was encouraged to take up photography by Dr. Jonathan Couch, the local Polperro doctor and eminent naturalist. Many of Lewis Harding's photographs on view were taken in the early 1860s, including that of Dr Couch supervising the landing of a thrasher shark in the harbour.

Copies of some of Couch's original drawings of fish landed at Polperro, used to illustrate his Fishes of the British Isles (1862-5) are also on display.

Polperro Knitfrocks

The name given to the guernsey sweaters knitted in one of the traditional patterns used by Polperro families. The name 'Guernsey' reflects the close links with the Channel Island. Distinctive patterns used by Polperro fishermen's wives can be seen in several of Lewis Harding's early portraits.

Robert Jeffery

The story of Robert Jeffery, the Polperro youth press-ganged into the Navy aboard HMS Recruit in 1807, and how he was subsequently cast ashore on a deserted island in the West Indies as punishment for stealing the captain's beer is told in the museum. Jeffery was eventually rescued by an American vessel but news of his fate had meanwhile reached London where it became the subject of debate in Parliament. The captain of the Recruit was subsequently dismissed from the Navy and when Jeffery finally arrived back in England in 1810 he was given a hero's welcome both in London and in Polperro where he married and settled.