In 1809 the Vicar of St Mary's Church, Old Town St Mary's, the Reverend William Tremayne, was requested to undertake one of the most unusual burials ever to have taken place on the Isles of Scilly. Appended to the Will of surgeon Abraham Leggatt, late member of the Council of Twelve, were detailed instructions as to the interment of his body in the Old Town churchyard. He was to be laid to rest in a stone coffin which was to be positioned by the south wall of the churchyard, not horizontal but placed in a vertical position so that the top section containing his head would allow him a view over Old Town Bay.
The top section of the stone sarcophagus / coffin, which acts as his headstone can be seen just above the wall to the right of the second entrance to the churchyard when taking the path towards Peninnis Head from Old Town Bay. It stands above the wall, about 2.5 metre from the path, the face & back stones appear to be slate-like and metal clips retain the two sides. [SV 91140, 10047]. The inscription on the rear panel is shown on the illustration below.
It would appear that his wishes were carried out to the letter (or memorandum). Unfortunately the detailed instructions for his burial do not survive with the Will. This Will is reproduced below. When you read the underlined section, I think we must conclude that wanting to be buried in this manner is correct.
There are local stories that state he was a bachelor who, being in love with a young woman living on the other side of Old Town Bay, was the reason for the graves position looking out over the Bay. I suppose he could have been in love with the woman but if you study his remarkable Will it is very clear that he was certainly not a bachelor! Who Elizabeth Cooper is, is another matter!
Leggatt a naval surgeon appears first in the records to have been a church warden at St Mary's Church in Cardiff in 1772. He is also recorded as a surgeon in Cardiff c. 1769 to 1777. He appears to have come to Scilly c. 1779 and was appointed to the new Council of Twelve on the 28th May, 1783 by Francis Lord Godolphin. Later he became Deputy Commissary of Musters. There are other references to his activities on Scilly and these are included in the reference list below. The article in the Political Magazine is particularly significant and this is reproduced in the note on St Agnes Lighthouse.
The Will of Abraham Leggatt, made 17 September, 1807,
with additional memorandum 16 May 1807, proved PCC 7 June, 1810.
"O Lord God Almighty, whose pleasure preserves life and whose will consigns to the grave as most agreeable to thy godly wisdom, and who knowest that for an acceptance with thee I wholly rely on the blood of thine only beloved son with complete salvation from his merits, mediation and intercession at thy throne, for a miserable sinner’s being on this 17th day of September in the year of one thousand eight hundred and seven feeble in body and weak in spirit but in the possession of perfect intellect and recollection, apply to thee for strength in the inward and outward man, and to be spared a little in order the better to be prepared to depart hence and become acceptable in that state thou hast allotted for me in another world. And I pray o Lord direct my mind aright in the present undertaking of conveying my desire, as it is the custom of the world, to prevent families from being involved in quarrels and litigations, that man should subscribe unto a written instrument, denominated a will, for the disposal of worldly concerns, be they ever so inconsiderable, I hereby declare this to be the only testamentary form ever made or intended to be made by me, and to the fulfilment of which, should an executor become necessary, I do appoint Mr James Cocker Dennis of Penzance in the county of Cornwall to take on him the whole and sole management of those worldly concerns I leave behind, and for which trouble he is to receive the sum of five pounds, administer or not, as the case may prove, for trouble must arise from the disposal of my shop concerns, instruments etc etc. Those relations, nearest at the time of my decease, I request will see my body privately buried on the third day, and every of the kind which relates thereunto, conducted at the time, and after, in the exact manner as directed by me in a paper to which I have subscribed my name and here attached. Mr James Cocker Dennis is also requested to pay perfect attention to another paper subscribed by me and witnessed by Elizabeth Cooper, denominated Gifts in my Lifetime, and herewith accompanying. As of course it will become necessary to receive and pay debts and credits, I request that mine be brought to an issue as soon as possible, and when the known balance shall be ascertained, after paying two guineas to William Sherris, twenty pounds to Lieutenant Thomas Lemon of the Royal Marines, whose wife is my niece, and whom I took to as my own child or mother being very dear to me, and twenty pounds to the creditors of my son Thomas Leggatt, such creditors, I mean, as have supplied himself and his family with necessary subsistence, then all which shall remain, after permitting Mrs Leggatt to take what can be deemed useful to her in the house during her natural life from property sold and debts and demands collected, I give to be equally divided betwixt my three daughters, Ann Douglas, Elizabeth Lemon and Fanny Dennis. Moreover it is lastly my desire that such as are really poor but apparently honest, indebted to me, should be forgiven, but on the other hand, such as have long acted towards me in a dishonest manner, with marked ingratitude, and still more incorrigible, should be proceeded against for the recovery of such debts with vigour. Finally to this my only will and desire I subscribe my name and affix my seal, this seventeenth day of September 1807 as aforewritten.
In the presence of Thomas Gahard, Robert Scaddan
Memorandum of things absolutely given in my lifetime: Mr Lemon to have the gig and all the harness, N.B. the screws are in a bag. Sam Lemon, all my small silver buttons and my small silver stick. Mrs Douglas to have the Russian coat returned to her, also Murphy’s horix [sic] and the lime kiln. Jos. Douglas to have my red coat and large silver buttons, old Jack and the colt. Thomas Leggatt, the house he lives in, the gun he uses, my hone and all the shaving utensils and the large straw chair, with such of my apparel the family chooses, and I have not otherwise given. William Sherris to have both my hats, two shirts, all my yarn stockings, 3 pair of the largest cotton ones, one silk, and 3 other large handkerchiefs and my boots, if he can wear them, with what other apparel Mrs Lemon may judge proper for him. Andrew Leggatt to have the little mare. Mrs Robotham at [End] Pool in Wales, a dozen of wine and a gallon of spirits, the wine not to be claret. Thomas Leggatt also to have the History of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, a folio volume, and also my writing desk.
Abraham Leggatt, St Mary’s Scilly 16th May 1807 Witness Elizabeth Cooper.
"Proved at London 7th June 1810 before the Judge by the oath of James Cocker Dennis, the sole executor, to whom administration was granted, having been first sworn by commission duly to administer."
The rear of the stone 'head' section. (Photograph R Burrows)
"He prayed daily that God was guiding his instruments for the purpose of alleviating pain and heeling the suffering of the afflicted by disease. Brethren, do it like him and may the Lord deliver us"
Story from tsm 214/29 & [ssmi-p32].
A Wreck with a colourful story typical of old Scilly
A Portuguese 100 ton vessel, the St Antonio de Lisboa, was lost with all hands at Scilly when carrying oil and wine from Oporto to London. After it was salved some of the residents insisted on one half in kind, before they would carry any part to the warehouse. The Customs Officers absolutely refused and the islanders took it by force. They were persuaded into their action by Abraham Leggatt, surgeon of the Garrison, who insisted that the officers of the Customs had no right to interfere as it was a 'dead wreck'. the Collector, upon receiving an information of divers quantities of wine, part of the cargo, being secreted, applied to the Commanding Officer for a warrant to search. Upon searching a suspected house on Tresco, the Collector found two hogheads of wine secreted therein, which the master of the house denied him from carrying to the warehouse. The islander apparently swore he would knock out the Collector's brains with an iron poker which he had in his hand before the wine should be removed to the King's warehouse.
Notes & References
1 - Correspondence and case notes concerning rights to coal. A dispute between Surgeon Abraham Leggatt and Rev John Troutbeck. Cornwall Records GO/693-701 c. 1789-1792. Godolphin to Godolphin.
2 - Poor relief and the single Parish c. 1788 to 1780. Explained by [iosgfm ps 51 to 53] Note appended by to Court Book by Abraham Leggatt 23rd April 1790.
3 - Letter concerning Leggatt's son buying his way out of his regiment c.1800. Papers of Lieutenant Colonel Richard Dupuis. Osborn Manuscript Files (15202), Yale University Library (Not checked)
4 - Post reformation clergy and church officials, Cardiff. British History Online.
5 - Letter to the Political Magazine 10th September, 1783 - Re alterations to the lamp in the St Agnes Lighthouse. Also makes mention of a series of Shipwrecks c. 1783.
6 - Surgeons in Cardiff, Anglefire.com
7 - Rev. William Tremayne B.A., 1760 to 1824. Vicar at St Mary's 1796 to 1815. Two daughters born on Scilly; Penelope Spernon, 1811 & Mary Elizabeth Spernon, 1813. William is also recorded as Chaplin of the 69th Regiment on the Isle of Scilly. Ref. Tremayne 16th generation.
8 - Cornwall Records (Not seen as relevant) J/1/2122 1792 to 1819.
9 - A Leggatt to George Brooks, 21 August, 1789, ADM 1/ 4154. Mariner's Mirror Vol. 42 to 43.
10 - Troutbeck, Page 229.
See also Letter, 14 Oct 1795, transcribed by R Larn [tsm 261/195] Mentions A A Leggatt or A G Leggett as Chief Collector of Customs. No reference to the letter given.