Cor­nish In­spi­ra­tion

Evergreen - - Summer 2018 -

With 12 books and two tele­vi­sion adap­tions to date, Ross Poldark must fig­ure among the most fa­mous fic­tional Cor­nish he­roes. It will be a sur­prise to many to learn that, 20 years be­fore Win­ston Gra­ham cre­ated him, an­other Cor­nish writer cre­ated an 18th­cen­tury hero, a dark curly haired ad­ven­turer who rode across the Cor­nish cliffs on horse­back, smug­gled contraband from across the Chan­nel, and em­bel­lished tales of his over­seas ad­ven­tures for the price of a flagon of ale in lo­cal hostel­ries. Ortho Pen­hale be­came the hero of a tril­ogy of nov­els writ­ten by Cros­bie Garstin, the son of a New­lyn artist, Nor­man Garstin.

Cros­bie did not ex­cel at school, but had an ad­ven­tur­ous spirit, and in 1910 aged 23, he set off for Canada where he tried his hand at gold min­ing be­fore be­com­ing a bronco buster and a lum­ber­jack! He later set­tled in South Africa where he man­aged a cat­tle ranch. The First World War in­ter­vened and he re­turned to Bri­tain and joined the army, where his writ­ing skills led to a se­ries of sketches de­scrib­ing life at the front, which were pub­lished af­ter the war as The Mud Larks and The Mud Larks Again.

He wrote a book about his ex­pe­ri­ences in South Africa and then be­gan re­search about life in West Corn­wall in the 18th cen­tury, lead­ing to the first of his Pen­hale nov­els, The Owls’ House, pub­lished in 1924. The novel tells how John Pen­hale, fa­cially dis­fig­ured in a shot­gun ac­ci­dent, mar­ries Theresa, a tem­pes­tu­ous gypsy girl. They have two sons, the ad­ven­tur­ous Ortho, and Eli, the stay at home farmer. Ortho’s ad­ven­tures take him all over the world, from North Africa to the West Indies, Spain and the west coast of Africa. Be­tween 1926 and 1927 Garstin wrote the sec­ond and third nov­els, High Noon and The West Wind. The plots are full of twists and turns, some it must be ad­mit­ted slightly im­plau­si­ble, but he was a great de­scrip­tive writer.

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