Cornwall  Smugglers


Coast Guard / Revenue / Salt Officers


The Sad Tale of William Toll

Dedicated to the memory of Betty Eggleton. 

By George Pritchard  

When carrying out the research for this web page I came across an article in the Journal of the royal Cornwall Institute entitled "A CORNISH MINER EMIGRATES TO AUSTRALIA". It was written in 1952 by a Charles S Edwards and was based on his fathers diary plus reminiscences told to him by his father.  

In the article he told how in the year 1852, the startling discovery of gold in the Antipodes had become a matter of worldwide interest and his father, John Roach Edwards, a miner’s son, of Trevarrack, Lelant began a voyage to Australia in the sailing ship Kalmia, a vessel of 600 tons burden.

To this youth of 21 there came the thrill and urge to seek his fortune in this comparatively little known land. Arrangements were made at Penzance to travel by coaster to the port of embarkation, Liverpool. The boat arrived at nighttime when hundreds of lights from the shore were a sight, which the Cornish emigrant thought uncommonly impressive. Next day an official of the Liverpool and Australian Navigation Co. informed him that he would berth on the Kalmia next to another Cornishman named William Toll, a reformed smuggler, from the neighbourhood of Porthleven. It was with some apprehension that John Roach Edwards encountered one who, for many years, had lived a devil-may-care existence along the Cornish coasts but ere long the two struck up a happy friendship.

William Toll was a much older man of some 50 years. He told William that he was married and that his wife Charlotte had stayed behind to run the The Dolphin pub in Germoe Churchtown. If he was successful at the diggings and liked Australia then she planned to join him with their three children Charlotte aged 18, Honor 16 and James aged 14. 

During the voyage, William and John would join some St. Ives men on the fo’stle in the evening where they sang old Cornish Mining songs. On Friday September 24th John recorded in his diary, "The moon shining very beautifully on the little company. I thought about the many evenings I had spent in this way when at home, but instead of a building to look at, there was the beautiful luminous water before us.

One day John asked William how he had got such a bad injury to his left hand which meant that his fingers were never opened. William told him it was the result of a contest with coastguards during his smuggling days. He told him that one night he and his confederates were surprised by a body of coastguards eager to arrest them whilst engaged in their nefarious business. William and the other smugglers managed to get the better of their attackers but, in endeavoring to parry a coastguard’s stick, William was out- witted, his challenger whisking out sword from stick, and cutting the leaders of Toll’s left hand. There was a risk in going to a doctor for treatment as, undoubtedly, officers of the law had been warned to watch near local surgeries for the advent of a patient with a badly cut hand, so Toll allowed his wound to heal as best it could. And that was when he decided to give up the smuggling game.

During the course of the voyage, the two men agreed that when they reached Australia they would become partners at the diggings. And they knew that the long voyage had all but been completed when on the  on the 20th of December a pilot came on board at10 a.m. and at noon the Kalmia dropped anchor in Port Philip harbour.

At 7 a.m. the next morning  they took ship to Melbourne arriving 4 hours later, 119 days after leaving Liverpool. John wrote "We intended to stay in Melbourne, but lodgings being so expensive, we were obliged to camp S.E. of the town where already 4,000 were camping. Soon we heard of gold discovery at Ovens, 200 miles north of Melbourne, to which place we decided to trek. Setting out on December 28th we arrived January 11th, 1853, after a most tedious journey. The weather being very hot and the water impure, dysentery made its appearance. I had it for 4 days but alas! William Toll succumbed to it.”

This tragic loss caused grief to the party, to John most of all, for he had got to like him during the journey out and found him a good companion. The diary adds that with some difficulty they secured a coffin and buried his body in the bush—3 miles from the little township of Wangratta. A small wooden cross was raised over his grave bearing a simple inscription to a departed comrade. The gold watch and chain, a wallet, an unusual kind of knife, which, if it could speak, would tell of many smuggling episodes, a silver snuff box and other personal belongings were entrusted to John's care  so that when he should return to Cornwall, he might seek out William's widow and place such mementoes in her hands.


When I closed the book I was left wondering what happened. And being a member of the Cornish L-list a notice board for those doing research into Cornish family history I posted the following e-mail:

 Hi. Listers,

Is their anyone on the list researching the name of Toll. If so please
 get in touch as I have a document which may be of interest.

 George P.
To which I received the following reply: 
Hello George

I am researching Tolls in the St Keverne/Breage/Germoe area. This west Cornwall family has a separate origin to other Tolls in east Cornwall. Let me know if your find relates to the west Cornwall Tolls.

Edward Martin

Dear Edward
I should think this is definitely one of yours. Let me know if it is.

Kind regards

 George P.

Dear George,


William Toll is my great-great-grandfather. As you will see from the details
below of his life, there can be no doubt as to the identification. Family
memory does indeed record that his fate in Australia was unknown for several
years until one day a man came to his widow's inn and told her that he had
died in the outback. Somehow I have never seen the article in the JRIC, even
though I am a member and have a run of the journal going back to the 1960s.

Many thanks for taking the trouble to post the message and to send me the

Edward Martin

Edward also sent me the birth marriage and death details of William and Charlotte his wife and also the details of a gravestone in Germoe Churchyard. The gravestone is almost unreadable now.
Toll Grave.jpg (42305 bytes)
William Toll, 
Aged 50
Died 1853 in Australia, 
Also Charlotte wife of the above.

A twist to the tale was when Corinne Thompson another member of the Cornish L-list who lives in Australia put  Edward Martin  in touch with Betty Eggleton. Betty was a descendent of John Roach Edwards who had the original diary. Unfortunately Betty died just before Christmas but Jack her husband has kindly sent Martin a Copy

March 14th 2003.  

Further information on the travels of William Toll came to light in the following letter from Margo Palmer.

"My mother has this poem and a letter to Charlotte Toll, as passed down to
her from her mother (William Toll's niece, Emily Eleen Hebbard Jago). If you
are interested in the contents of the letter I can transcribe it for you. My
mother has wondered for years what became of William Toll, and I was
thrilled to provide the information to her from your site!!!

Thank you for posting it.
Margo Palmer

Lower California & its Inhabitants

Of all the roughs of life
That ever I have passed,
Thereıs none that's neer as rough as that
Since entering in La Paz

The roads are rough and rugged,
The landscape, far from good,
And to travel by the stage,
Will almost, chill oneıs blood,

The trees are small and scrubbed,
and the grass, not very good.
The hills are rather rugged,
And the cattle, little food.

The houses are made of timber.
Each fixed on its end.
Some are six inches separate,
And others, half a span.

Though some are daubed with mortar,
Which keep out little rain,
The inside is not enticing
Because they are not clean.

The men, they smoke tobacco,
And the women do so too,
And most of them do gamble,
Thatıs so.  I know it's true,

But they are independent people
And do not care to work,
And if you think to drive them,
you'll labour off the mark.

Their clothes are very little
And those are very thin
And in the night they take their rest
On a bullocks skin.

They are very good to travel
For their frame is rather light,
But being superstitious
They are timid, when at night.

Their complexion is very sallow,
While some are very dark,
And to spend some time among them
One need be very smart,

I think most of them treacherous,
On them cannot depend.
I never trust any of them,
Neither women nor the men.

The Childrens dress is very rude,
Which make them look forlorn
And I often see them run about
as naked as when born.

Their laugh and cry seem natural,
But their talk is very strange
And if ever I could learn it,
It would take me all my days.

The thoughts of that I cannot bear,
No, not ever for one day,
And could I get ten times as much
Always I would not stay.

Old Englandıs shores and scenery
To me, surpass by far
The sights of Lower California
Or any place, I know.

Written by William Toll - around 1849
Somewhere in Baja California

I then received the following from Jocelyn Palmer, Margo's mother.

To :   Mr. & Mrs. George Pritchard
From:     Jocelyn (Jago) Palmer

I enclose a copy of William Tollıs letter to his wife, Charlotte.  The original letter is very fragile (being 150 years old ).  The Tolls were on my motherıs side of our family.  Her maiden name was Hebbard, her dad being James Arther Hebbard;  and her Motherıs maiden name was Pope.  Iım quite sure that Charlotte Toll was the one of the ancestors on the Pope side. It was my grandmother's understanding that this was the last letter "Dear Charlotte" received from Wm Toll.  Let's hope he got home to see her before he left for Australia!

The town of Cobrey still exists in northeastern Nevada...very mountainous country.  There is a town named Cornish nearby as well - I would imagine it was inhabited by many Cornish during the '49 gold rush days.  This is really very interesting.  I have an old whist table that was originally Charlotte's
and was left to my grandmother, Emily (Pope) Hebbard.

Cobrey    September 15th           1849

Deer wife and children I now answer your letter June 28th hoping this will find you and the children in good helth as it leaves mee.

At present thanck God for it Joseph is left for old england the 10th instant hee have the pour of an atterney and will with you recive the money and settel with him and leave mee know what I am in det and how I do stand.  I should lick to pay every one beefore com Home.  I have sent the money to you as I goat it.  I intend to send  L20 (Pounds) moor as beefore then.  I should like to keep a littel for to com home.  As to the land if you can tack it worth the money leave it Cpt Will and Mr. Harvy the value must be greatly redused since I left so if you can tack it worth the money tacke it and I will com home as son  as I can.

Cobrey   -2-

Dear wife and children I hope you are satisfied as to my going away if I had a stayed at home what should wee have a don by this time.  I know I left without your consent.  Give my kind lov to Mr. Treloar and tell him that Wm Toll would lick to liv in England and will Com home as soon as posabel if hee will let the land that I can liss my Deer Charlotte.  It is not all pleasure in this country my Worck is not hard but I have a great deal to Mind and every one is very kind to mee except the Spanyards wich I have a great deal to do with. Richard Nichols is very well at presant and so is Stephen Williams.  I have now seen them both.
My Deer Charlot I must concllude and hope you will give my lov to all enquiring friends.
    I remain forever your loving husband,
        William Toll

Dear George

The last contact turned out to be my cousin Margo Palmer and we have been corresponding ever since, catching up on family stories. My family and hers were last in regular contact in the the early 1950s (I found that we had a photo of Margo's parents' wedding in 1951) though we kept up a sporadic contact until about the time my father died, some fifteen years or so ago. So it was good to re-establish a link.

I enjoyed visiting your web site and reading the stories - well done for producing such an interesting site.  One small correction however - the last letter from William Toll was sent from the El Cobre mine in Cuba, not Cobrey in Nevada. This is confirmed by the franking mark on the letter, which reads 'Santiago de Cuba'. The California poem is a bit of a mystery as, as far as I know, William Toll never went there. However his grandson William Toll Pope was in Mexico for a time and then went to California - allegedly he had to be smuggled out of Mexico in a coffin to avoid assassination (which suggests that he had inherited something of his grandfather's character, though he was later a very respectable mine manager in South Africa).  I am awaiting a photocopy of the poem from Margo, so hopefully we will be able to sort this one out.

with best wishes


Another little piece of the jigsaw that makes up the life of William Toll appeared in the West Brition on April 27th 1838.  

Public House to Let
To be LET, with possession at Midsummer next, all that Inn or PUBLIC HOUSE, situate in 
GERMOE Church-town, known by the sign of THE CORNISH MOUNT, Together with 
Stabling, and about 2 Acres of rick land adjoining, now in the occupation of Mr. Wm. TOLL.  
Apply, (if by letter post-paid), to Mr. ELLIS, Spirit Merchant, who has, for SALE, prime 
South-ham Cider.  Helston, April 24, 1838

? is this William's Marriage record? if so then we have two separate Williams,

Germoe, William TOLL of  Germoe too Charlotte MATHEWS of  Sithney, 31-Jan. 1830

William and his family are shown as follows on the 1841 Census:

Trethewy, in Germoe.
William Toll,35,,Farmer,In county ,
Charlotte Toll,,35,,In county ,,
Charlotte Toll,,7,,In county ,,
Honner Toll,,5,,In county ,

William and his family are shown as follows on the 1851 Census:

Church Town, Germoe, Cornwall
William Toll,Head,M,47,,Licensed Victuallor,Germoe Cornwall
Charlotte Toll,Wife,M,,47,,Madron Cornwall
Charlotte Toll,Dau,U,,16,At Home,Germoe Cornwall
Honor Toll,Dau,,,14,Scholar,Germoe Cornwall




Researched and compiled by George Pritchard of Penhalvean, Cornwall, UK.

    Copyright George Pritchard of Penhalvean 

Last modified: Saturday July 06, 2013 .

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