Gwavas, William (DNB00)

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GWAVAS, WILLIAM (1676–1741), writer in Cornish, eldest son of William Gwavas, by Eliza, daughter of Sir Thomas Arundell of Tolverne, near Truro, was born at Huntingfield Hall, Suffolk, 6 Dec. 1676, and baptised in Huntingfield Church on 1 Jan. following. He was articled to James Holt, an attorney in Lyon's Inn, and then entered the Middle Temple, where he purchased a ground chamber, No. 4 Brick Court. On 29 April 1717 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Christopher Harris of St. Ives, Cornwall, with whom he received a portion of 1,500l. Some years before his marriage he had taken up his residence in Cornwall, living in a house in Chapel Street, Penzance. His father had left the Cornish property much involved, but he paid off the incumbrances, and redeemed the mortgage on the rectory of Paul. With this rectory he had inherited a chancery suit, commenced 14 June 1680, as to the right of the rector to take tithe of fish landed at Newlyn and Mousehole. The case came before the House of Lords 26 Feb. 1729-30, and went against the fishermen. Nevertheless at the entrance to Newlyn there was for many years a notice affixed to a house which said 'One and All, No tithe of fish' (Josiah Brown, Cases in the High Court of Parliament, 1802, ii. 446-50). About 1710 Edward Lhuyd came into Cornwall, where he conferred with Gwavas, Thomas Tonkin, and John Keigwin as to the formation of a Cornu-British vocabulary. At this time these three persons were the chief authorities in the county on the old Cornish language; they kept up a correspondence on the subject, and collected mottoes, proverbs, and idioms. In the dedication to Tonkin's 'Parochial History of Cornwall,' 1733, the only part of the work that was printed, the author says: 'William Gwavas, Esq., perhaps the only gentleman now living who hath a perfect knowledge of the Cornish tongue, has been so kind as to lend me his helping hand to look over and amend my Cornish vocabulary, and to furnish me with several pieces in the said language, which are inserted in my said "Archæologia," with his name prefixed to them.' The existing remains of Gwavas's Cornish writings are now to be seen at the British Museum, Addit. MS. 28554. His commonplace book, dated 1710, was lot No. 650 at the sale of Mr. W. C. Borlase's library, 22 Feb. 1887, and was purchased by Mr. Bernard Quaritch.

Gwavas was buried on 9 Jan. 1741 in Paul Church, where a marble monument was erected to his memory. He left two daughters: Anne, who married the Rev. Thomas Carlyon, and died in 1797, and Elizabeth, who married William Veale, and died in 1791. A likeness in oil of Gwavas is in the possession of George Bown Millett, esq., of Penzance.

[C.S. Gilbert's Cornwall, i. 157; Polwhele's Cornwall, v. 22-3, 25; Journal of Royal Institution of Cornwall, November 1879, pp. 176-81, by W. C. Berlase ; Boase and Courtney's Bibliotheca Cornubiensis, pp. 200-1, 1213.]

G. C. B.