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Wreck of the Anson Frigate, on the Loe Pool Bar of Sand, in Mount's Bay, Cornwall, December 28th 1807.

Case Study: Gravestone in Gunwalloe of Joseph or John Dale, 1808

Jo Esra, our research mentor, uses the methodology of gravestone mapping to guide her research into our ten maritime churches. Here are the first strands of thought for a new micro-case study on a particular gravestone that captured Jo’s interest. Could you help us piece together the rest of the story?

Looking at closely: the gravestone in Gunwalloe of Joseph or John Dale, died 8th April 1808, aged 21, in a maritime (lifesaving) accident.

The inscription on the gravestone states:

‘Sacred to the memory of Joseph Dale who was drowned in the act of saving another person’s life. 8th April 1808 in the 22nd year of his age. When softest pity mov’d his breast / another life to save / Himself alas! a victim fell / to the relentless wave / But tho the mortal part be dead / His spirit lives above / where he may bathe from danger free / in seas of heavenly love’

See the maritime register recording of the grave >

The Parish Register provides more information about Dale’s heroic deed, stating:

John, DALE, 07-May, 1808, 22, Drowned attempting to rescue people from the Bambrough, , Body, 15-Feb, 1809, Found on sea-shore

See the Parish Register record & further references to those drowned and buried in the graveyard here >

We must always ask the relevant questions from our archival sources. So here are some that spring to mind when looking at these type of records:

The next steps of research led to the uncovering of preliminary family history of Joseph/John Dale via online parish registers.

John’s parents were William and Ann Dale. The Banns were read for their marriage at Gunwalloe on the 26 December 1776, and they are both listed as being otp (of the parish). William is listed as a husbandman. Ann (nee: Evans) marked the register, rather than signed it. Their witnesses included Robert Caddy and John Pearce.

William and Ann appear to have had several children:

1777 – William

1779 – Mary

1781 – Elizabeth

1783 – Mary (it was not unusual to name another child the same name, if the first child of that name had died, for example)

1786 – Sarah

1788 – John/Joseph

1790 – Grace

1792 – Jane

1795 – Christian

1798 – William

1800 – Pricilla

John’s father, William may be buried at Gunwalloe, dated 15 June 1823, aged 75 (listed as living at Beripper); and Ann on the 29 May 1833, at Gunwalloe, aged 78 (also listed as residing at Bereppa). Bareppa was a hamlet in the neighbouring parish of Mawnan.

Further contextual research to consider

1808 is the year that there was a change in the law (The Burial of Drowned Person’s Act, 1808, also known as Gryll’s Act, after Thomas Gryll who drafted the law) to ensure that victims of shipwrecks were no longer buried in mass graves in unconsecrated ground near the site of the shipwreck.

Memorial for the HMS Anson

Henry Trengrouse of Helston had encouraged this, having witnessed the dead from the wreck of the frigate, the Anson buried in mass graves at Loe Bar, near Porthleven. The Anson was wrecked on 24 December 1807, with over a 100 people lost. This incident also motivated Trengrouse to look to develop life-saving apparatus, the ‘Rocket’. An example of this is displayed at Helston Folk Museum, and Trengrouse is buried at St Michael’s Church, Helston. The harbour at Porthleven was also built after the loss of the Anson.

Information on the Anson wreck and pictures can be accessed here >

Interested in piecing together elements of Dale’s jigsaw puzzle? Contact us and remember to post your research on social media, tagging us in!

Go to our contact us page >

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