Penzance, Cornwall: Pirates

Pirates of Penzance Restored Poster: an 1880 theatrical poster for an American production of the Pirates of Penzance, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons on September 26, 2010.
Pirates of Penzance Restored Poster: an 1880 theatrical poster for an American production of the Pirates of Penzance, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons on September 26, 2010. | Source

Art Imitating Life

A creative work—a song, a book, a movie, or a play—is sometimes based upon a true event. An artist gets his inspiration from a historical event and creates his work based upon what happened in the near or distant past.

I was speaking with some friends recently, and we were talking about pirates. I don’t remember how the discussion started, but it inspired me to write this article, to combine two of my favorite interests—travel and the performing arts—into one Hub.

The travel in my article is the town of Penzance in the county of Cornwall in England. The performing arts aspect of this article is Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera, Pirates of Penzance.

Where is Penzance?

Penzance is located in Cornwall, the westernmost county in England. Known as the “Capital of the Cornish Riviera,” it’s the end of the line for British Rail (BritRail), and is only 10 miles from Land’s End, the westernmost tip of England.

Penzance faces due south and is surrounded (protected) by craggy cliffs on three sides. The town’s location causes it to have a temperate climate all year. Produce is ready to be picked and flowers bloom earlier in Penzance than in all other parts of Great Britain. Penzance is the only town in England where I have seen palm trees growing.

The isolation caused by its being surrounded on three sides by the sea—its rugged surroundings— would make for a peaceful, idyllic existence, wouldn’t you think?

You wouldn’t be more incorrect.

Westernmost Part of England

show route and directions
A markerPenzance, Cornwall, UK -
[get directions]

B markerMousehole, Cornwall, UK -
[get directions]

C markerLand's End, Cornwall, UK -
[get directions]

Pirates from the Sea!

Because of the town's isolated location, Penzance has always been open to attacks from the sea. During the 16th century, Spanish raiders destroyed most of the town. The oldest buildings you see today in Penzance date from the 18th century.

For people living in the United States and Australia, buildings dating from the 18th century would be considered very old. For people living in England, buildings dated from the 1700s would not be thought of that way.

This photograph of Penzance Harbor was taken on August 19, 2006 by Mark Twyning.
This photograph of Penzance Harbor was taken on August 19, 2006 by Mark Twyning. | Source

Have you ever visited the town of Penzance in Cornwall?

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Pirates from the Land!

Penzance is surrounded in three compass directions by sharp cliffs and a ragged coastline. The roughness of its surroundings doesn't end when the rocks reach the sea. The sharp rocks and raggedness of the coast extend below the sea.

It was very easy for an unsuspecting ship to be slammed about in the water and pushed up against the rocks, breaking apart. The pirates came not from the sea, but from the land. Townspeople in Penzance would have someone watching from up on the cliffs to see if a ship laden with cargo was approaching. The lookout would signal to those waiting down below that a ship was in sight. Soon enough, the ship would be pushed up against the jagged rocks and break apart. The townspeople would gather as much of the treasure as they could, and quickly hide it in caves in the surrounding hills.

Catherine Ferguson (Kate), Nellie Briercliffe (Edith), and Ella Milne (Isabel) in a 1920 production of Pirates of Penzance.
Catherine Ferguson (Kate), Nellie Briercliffe (Edith), and Ella Milne (Isabel) in a 1920 production of Pirates of Penzance. | Source

Life Imitating Art

W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911) and Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) were musical collaborators. Gilbert wrote the words and Sullivan wrote the music for 14 comic operas. One of the best known of these was Pirates of Penzance. The opera had its debut in New York City on December 31, 1879. Its London, England debut was on April 3, 1880.

Gilbert and Sullivan were both born in London, England. Both men were aware that pirates frequently invaded the town of Penzance and that the townspeople of Penzance often took advantage of ships being torn apart along the town's rocky coastline.

There were even rumors of smuggling by the townspeople. I've traveled to Penzance a few times and once asked some men in the town about the rumors. I had heard it whispered that smuggling still went on, and I wanted to see what reaction I would receive from the townspeople.

I didn't receive a "yes" or a "no." It was more like a knowing wink.

This is an American School of Milan production of Pirates of Penzance. The photograph was taken by Sreiach April 10, 2010.
This is an American School of Milan production of Pirates of Penzance. The photograph was taken by Sreiach April 10, 2010. | Source

Have you ever attended a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance?

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Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance

Pirates of Penzance (also know as The Slave of Duty) is about a young man who was apprenticed to a band of hapless pirates. The young man, Frederic, was to be released upon reaching the age of 21. As he was about to be released, it was learned that Frederic was born on February 29th, a date which occurs every four years. The pirates then calculated that Frederic would not be released from his apprenticeship until he was 63 years old.

Frederic made it his mission to break up the band of pirates, since they were never very successful at what they set out to do. The pirates were all orphans, and they vowed to never take as prisoner anyone who was an orphan. Word of this got out, and every person who was ever captured claimed they were an orphan. The pirates, upon learning they had captured an orphan, soon released their captive.

Have you ever attended a Penzance and Newlyn Rugby Football Club game?

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Today's Cornish Pirates

There are still pirates in the town of Penzance in Cornwall. The Cornish Pirates—the Penzance and Newlyn Rugby Football Club—a professional rugby union team founded in 1945, train and play their home games at Mennaye Field in Penzance.

Bedford Blues vs. Cornish Pirates

Bedford Blues in action against Cornish Pirates on February 6, 2008. (The Blues won.)
Bedford Blues in action against Cornish Pirates on February 6, 2008. (The Blues won.) | Source

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Comments 34 comments

brittanytodd profile image

brittanytodd 4 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

An excellent and informative hub, Daisy! Great work! You are such a skilled writer and this hub shows it. I love the photos you used. Voted up, interesting, etc.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

This was an interesting read. I now know about the Pirates. I may have to make a visit to the library to see if there are any videos on this play. Voted up and interesting.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Brittany,

Thanks for reading my Hub and for commenting. I appreciate your kind words very much.

The photos I have at home are non-digital ones. I felt they might lose something during the scanning processing, so I used images I found on Wikimedia Commons. I really love the restored vintage poster.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Dianna (teaches12345),

Thanks for reading and commenting in another of my Hubs. I appreciate your continued support.

If you can't find the video at the library, search some of the university Web sites. Several schools have done productions of Pirates, and you might find a link to a free download there.


Doc Sonic profile image

Doc Sonic 4 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Great hub, Daisy. My son was in a local production of Pirates a while back. I love the musical, but I knew nothing of the actual town. I had no idea there were palm trees anywhere in England! I love the poster, too.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Glen (Doc Sonic),

Thanks so much for reading another of my Hubs and commenting in it.

I've visited the town of Penzance a few times on my trips to England. What I usually do is take a sleeper train from London shortly before Midnight which arrives early the next morning. I spend all day in Penzance and the surrounding area, and take a late afternoon train back to London.

I've never read anything in any guide books or online sites about there being palm trees in Penzance. If I hadn't seen the trees with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it.


Docmo profile image

Docmo 4 years ago from UK

This is a really enlightening hub on the opera and the town. I was aware of the production but didn't know the plot details. The town of Penzance is somewhere I haven't been either although I've been to Devon and Brighton. Your research sines through in your excellent hub as does your readable style and apt illustrations. I would loved to have seen some videos too ;-) voted up/ across.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Mohan (Docmo),

Thanks, once again, for reading one of my Hubs and commenting in it. As always, I appreciate your continued support.

There weren't enough photographs available online to warrant the creation of a video. My photographs of Penzance, Mousehole, and Land's End are all non-digital. I would have had to scan all of the photos, and then sharpen the images in Photoshop before using them. I expect to begin work shortly on an extensive consulting contract, and time didn't permit me to scan the photos.


Yourglobalgirl profile image

Yourglobalgirl 4 years ago from UK

A very interesting hub. Some of the 16th century invading pirates stayed on in the Penzance area and even today there are locals with Spanish sounding surnames.


Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK

Great hub - although it's not one of my favourite Cornish towns (and I've never seen the opera), the views of St Michael's Mount are spectacular. Sadly, no pirates these days!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

Daisy, what a great hub - very clever how you linked the real with the fictional. I haven't seen Pirates of Penzance but I have seen The Mikado, another of their plays.

This could be the first of a series??????? I think it has legs!

Voted up.


jimmythejock profile image

jimmythejock 4 years ago from Scotland

Love the musical, and love the story behind it, thanks for sharing this great Hub.....jimmy


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

Pirates...sigh :) Well done! Interesting info and great photos!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Yourglobalgirl,

It's nice to meet you. I'm glad you enjoyed reading my Hub. I hadn't realized it about the Spanish surnames. Thanks for providing that interesting bit of information.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Judi Bee,

It's nice to hear from someone who lives in Cornwall. Thanks for commenting. I agree about the views of St Michael's Mount from Penzance.

I've walked to Mousehole from Penzance, and I've taken buses from Penzance to both Land's End and St Ives. It's a good base for exploring other parts of Cornwall.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Julie (Jools99),

Thanks for reading and commenting in another of my Hubs. I appreciate your continued support.

Are you thinking of a *art imitating life* series with your suggestion? Or a Gilbert and Sullivan series?


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Jimmy,

I'm glad you enjoyed rading my Hub. Thanks for commenting.

I think I hit upon something interesting with this article...going from life to art back to life.


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

Art Imitating Life - what events have inspired works of fiction (opera, theatre, movies, songs) -I think it would take some research but be an interesting subject.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Linda (Sunshine),

I'm glad you enjoyed reading my article. I was very fortunate to find those photographs on Wikimedia Commons, since I didn't have time to scan my own.

Which is your favorite, Sunshine..cowboys? or pirates?


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Julie,

Thanks for visiting again. I'll have to think about another *art imitating life* Hub. The idea is certainly something you can use with your music Hubs. I'll bet there are many songs that are based on events that actually took place.


poshcoffeeco profile image

poshcoffeeco 4 years ago from Cambridgeshire

OMG Daisy. One of my fave places in the UK. Have been on holiday to the South West lots of times. But how do you know how to combine one of my other passions in your article, that of Rugby. Not only that you managed to put in a pretty local team of Bedford Blues, although closer to Molometer in Cambridge than Peterborough. Inspired again!


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Very nice hub, Daisy. I never made it to Penzance but I used to ride with my cousin delivering rolled steel to Hayle. One time we disconnected the trailer of his articulated unit and drove into the narrow streets of St. Ives. That was an adventure, slipping on wet cobblestones up and down hills with a couple feet to spare on either side. Wonder we weren't arrested.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Steve (poshcoffeeco),

I'm so glad you enjoyed reading my Hub. Thanks for commenting, and thanks for your continued support.

Southwest England is so picturesque. I've really enjoyed my visits there.

I wanted to write about pirates of the distant past, the not-so-distant past, and the present. The present is the Cornish Pirates rugby union team. The only photograph I found that was "legal" for me to use in my article was the photo from Wikimedia Commons of the Bedford Blues and the Cornish Pirates.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

UnnamedHarald,

It's nice to "see" you again. I'm glad you enjoyed reading my aricle.

I'm also glad that you mentioned *Hayle*...I was trying to think of the named of that village while I was writing my article yesterday. While in Penzance one time, I took a bus to St Ives, and I walked up and down those cobblestoned hills.

I went into a craft shop which sold items created by local artisans. I purchased a pretty little pottery bud vase. The shop owner said that it was created by a potter from Hayle.


Vellur profile image

Vellur 4 years ago from Dubai

Great hub, combining your love for art and travel. Enjoyed reading, very interesting and informative. Never seen the play but will check out videos of it. Voted up.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Nithya (Vellur),

Thanks for reading my Hub and commenting in it.. I'm glad you enjoyed reading the article and learned something new from it.


bezy b bezy profile image

bezy b bezy 4 years ago

Daisy, what a great hub, this is a beautiful part of England and i hope to return to visit one day. You are a great writer which I hope to emulate one day.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

bezy b bezy,

It's nice to meet you. Welcome to HubPages. Thanks for your very kind words. I appreciate it.


Whidbeywriter profile image

Whidbeywriter 4 years ago from Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island, Washington

Nicely done, great info to know...thanks for sharing!


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Mary,

It's nice to "see" you again. Thanks for reading my Hub and commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed my article.


DeborahNeyens profile image

DeborahNeyens 2 years ago from Iowa

I visited Cornwall and Penzance once years ago. I particularly was charmed by the little village of Mousehole (which is pronounced more like Mow-zoll). And I was surprised to see palm trees and surf shops. Thanks for the interesting hub.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 2 years ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

Deb (DeborahNeyens),

Thanks for reading my article and posting your comment.

I visit Mousehole whenever I'm in Penzance. I enjoy the short walk along the seafront.

I was surprised by the palm trees the first time I was in Penzance. The climate is very different from most other towns in the UK.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 20 months ago from Queensland Australia

A very interesting hun Daisy. How unique, the pirates on dry land waiting for the ships to be wrecked on the rocks before racing down to loot and plunder. Voted up.


Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 20 months ago from Orange County (Southern California) Author

John (Jodah),

Thanks for reading my article and adding your comment. The Cornish coast is unique. The residents of Penzance were smart. The didn't have to bother going out to sea to be pirates.

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