Mr Thomas Ekins

This page will document one of the many Isles of Scilly notables; Thomas Ekins.  Most of the research on this gentleman will lead you to the Day-Mark at St Martin's Head, but as we delve further, we are starting to discover much more.

Thomas Ekins came to Scilly sometime after 1660 as the first Steward appointed by Sir Frances Godolphin of Godolphin; one reference suggests he was from Dartmouth.  Ekins is the correct spelling but Elkins, Ekines (North) & Eakins have appeared in other odd references.  One of the first references so far is from the Calendar of Treasury Books (CTB) Volume 10, Part 1, 1660.:
 "to employ John [sic] Ekins as Agent for Prizes in the Island of Scilly loco. John Bolitho who is removed thence".  Some time around 1687 he would have continued as Steward to Sidney Golophin, 1st Earl of Godolphin

This text is taken from 'An historical survey of the County of Cornwall, ETC., in two volumes compiled by a printer called William Penaluna, Vol. II, 1838.'  This comes from his section describing St Martin's:

“This island, in former years, appears to have been wholly cultivated, as the remains of hedges, or the site on which they stood may be seen crossing the ridge from sea to sea.  But at present some small portions only admit cultivation, the greater part being overwhelmed with sand, which has buried the soil, and laid an embargo on its vegetative powers.  Those parts, however, which are cultivated afford good pasture, and yield fair crops of corn and potatoes.  About one hundred and seventy years ago [c.1668?] this island was wholly uninhabited: but a grant of it being made by the lord proprietor to Mr Thomas Ekins, the first steward of the Godolphin family who resided upon these islands, this gentleman held out inducements for persons to settle there and cultivate the land, by way of encouragement fixed his own residence among them.  The inhabitants keep many sheep, and on the common are vast numbers of rabbits
On a rocky promontory called St Martin’s Head, at the east end of the island, is a conspicuous Day-mark, built by the above-mentioned Mr Ekins. It is a circular tower, about forty feet [11 metres] high, hollow within, and plastered on the outside with lime, so that its whiteness renders it an excellent mark for seamen, being visible a distance of many leagues.  On the inside is a stone staircase, winding to the summit, from which there is an extensive prospect, and in clear weather the western parts of Cornwall as well as all the Scilly Islands may be easily distinguished.”

The reference to him having "fixed his own residence among them. " is interesting because he is the original tenant of the building which is now the Bishop and Wolf, Public House located in Silver Street, Hugh Town, St Marys.  The listed building details are recorded as follows:

"House, now public house. Built c1700 for Thomas Ekins, first land agent of the Godolphin Estate, resident on the Islands from 1683. [Probably wrong date] Coursed granite rubble, with front of dressed and coursed granite; gabled scantled slate roof; granite endstacks. Originally of central-staircase plan, remodelled in the twentieth century, 2 storeys with attics; 5-window first-floor range. Ground floor has full-length bay window with pilasters dividing glazing-bar windows and doorway to right, by Geoffrey Drewitt 1952. First floor has keyed lintels over horned 6/6-pane sashes. Two hipped roof dormers with slate-hung cheeks and similar sashes.
Interior: ground-floor remodelled mid C20. One of the earliest surviving houses on the islands and of historical interest as the house of the first land agent." 

Robert Heath mentions that the "Steward's former House"  was damaged during the "Inundation of the Sea, September 26, 1744." "filling the Rooms, and carrying away the furniture with it"

The Rev. Woodley describes what he refers to as the 'Steward's House' in 1822 " The Steward's House, near the end of the principle street, is a substantial and well built edifice; having good and extensive fruit and flower gardens behind, in which are some fine mulberry trees, and vines producing grapes of a large size and excellent flavour."

Like the Daymark which he managed for Trinity House, he also built (probably managed) the Church of St Martin at St Martin's Island c.1683.

The following, are further references from the Calendar of Treasury Books all concerning his position as the local 'Prize Agent'.

Volume 10: 1693-1696
Sept. 27
“Treasury reference to the Prizes Commissioners of the petition of Thomas Ekins to the Queen, shewing that he hired a ship by his Majesty’s command to seize a rich French Guinea ship lying between the Isles of Scilly, which he did, and had her condemned in the Admiralty, but she was discharged by the Lords of the Delegates and that it hath cost him above 800l. in prosecuting her; therefore praying to be paid his charges or have the command of a fourth rate ship” Reference Book VII, p8.

Volume 11: 1696-1697
July 28, 1696.
“Treasury reference to the [Principal] Commissioners of Prizes of the petition of Thomas Ekins to the Lords Justices, praying that the cargo of the ship Armes of Riga condemned as a perquisite of the Admiralty may to bestowed on him and the rest of the officers and company of the Ruby [as] prize” in consideration that they seized the same in the port of Plymouth” Reference Book VII, p 163.

Volume 11: 1705-1706: Vol.20
May 21, 1705
“Warrant by the same to the Prizes Commissioners to appoint James Brant as Agent for Prizes at Scilly Islands loco Thomas Ekins gent lately deceased. Ibid XIX, p73. 
[Gives us the likely year of his death but note reference following the loss of HMS Association further on]

During his time as Steward he now appears to have been the  monarch's 'Prize Agent', the lessee of St Martin's, and if we consider the following reference; merchant.  The next series of references, from research on the wrecks of the  Shaftsbury 1678 & Pheonix 1680,  also a wreck salvor.

At some stage Thomas Ekins had struck at least one Trade Token.  Of this, there is very good description, but as yet, no pictures of the 'obverse' and 'reverse' of the token:   It is described as follows: "Scilly ½d: OBV 'THOMAS EKiNES in Ye Iland': Three men and a Globe: REV 'OF SILLY, HIS HALF-PENY. T. E.' and a merchant's mark.  The reference describes the Globe as "The Worlds End" [1]


References notes from the Wreck of the Shaftsbury 1678. [Todd Stevens]

"The two correspondences below were sent from the Hudson's Bay Company to a Mr Ekins at Scilly who was then clearly attempting salvage over the wreck of the Shaftesbury.  The last reference is part of a report on the situation with Mr Ekins by the Hudson's Bay Company Committee. [Refs 2-6]

Scilly. Mr Ekins. Sir. Yours of the 22nd October (1678).
We have received & note you have recovered ( whatever? ) guns you could, belonging to the wrack't Shaftesbury. We desire you please next to advise their number and their weight, which last you may finde on their breeches, and also your account of their charges, whereof we shall take due care and order you which way you shall send those guns you have in your custody.

Scilly. Mr Thomas Ekins.
Some months since you wrote to Aldr. Bence. a letter which signified your care or the interest of the Hudson's Bay Company in taking up foure guns of the Shaftesbury which was wrecked off Scilly, where unto we (who are members of the committee for management of the affairs of the company) returned you an answer & desired you to give us an account of them.

Mr Ekins of the Scilly Islands having rescued foure great guns from the wreck of the Company's vessel, The Shaftesbury, having spent £4;2:00 together with much personal trouble in the Company's behalf, is rewarded 5's for his paine. 


References notes from the Wreck of the Phoenix, January 11, 1680. [Cathryn Pearce] [Refs 7-8]

The impetus behind the building of the St Agnes Lighthouse came from the wreck of the East India Company's (EIC) ship Phoenix, in 1680.  Its captain, Captain Wildley, recommended the services of Thomas Ekins to facilitate its erection.  He had been instrumental in helping the survivors of the Phoenix, and was rewarded by the EIC for " his care and paines in assisting ye salvage of ye Company's goods out of the Phoenix" [7]

The lighthouse was approved, built and staffed very quickly.  It was lit on October 30, 1680.  On November 14, 1680 there was unfortunately another wreck, that of a Virginian trader called the Golden Lyon, Captain Rich, which struck the rocks near Annet.  The second mate of this ship, Ralph Bromwell, complained to Trinity House about the intensity of the light and wreck goods being discovered at the lighthouse.  This is covered comprehensively in the article by Cathryn Pearce [8]. Trinity House held an enquiry, and Thomas Ekins was contacted on several occasions as to his opinion as to whether the light-house keeper, a Mr Samuel Hockin, had (1) failed to keep a proper light and (2), had stolen goods from the wreck.  Thomas Ekins, together with the Deputy Governor of Scilly, a Mr John Crudge, both agreed, after enquiry, that Hockin had behaved in an acceptable, if a not commendable manner. 


Life span of Thomas Ekins:

His birth date in currently unknown.  The Calendar of Treasury Books, ref above, indicates that he died c. 1705.  The following, comes from "The Wrecks of Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Scilly 1707, from Original and Contemporary Documents Hitherto Unpublished, read at a Meeting of the Society of Antiquaries, London, Feb. 1, 1883 by James Herbert Cooke, F.S.A."[11]  This seems to indicate that there was still a 'Mr Ekins' in the Isles of Scilly in 1707, i.e. his son Thomas. Two sons are noted by [9] Thomas & John.

"& but one soul sav'd from off the rock, called _ _ 10 who was Quarter Mr of ye Rumney, a North country-man near Hull, a butcher by trade, a lusty fat man but much batter'd with ye rocks. (Most of ye Captains, Lieutenants, Doctors &c. of ye squadron came on shoar and ask'd him many questions in relation to ye wreck, but not one man took pity on him, either to dress or order to be dress'd his bruises &c., wherefore had perished had not Mr Ekins, a Gentn of ye Island, charitably taken him in; and a doctor of a merchant ship than in ye road under convoy of Southampton &c. search'd his wounds and applied proper remedies.)  [The survivor was Graham Lawrence of the Romney]

The ref 10 - George Lawrence; he was entered on the books of the Salisbury the day after the wreck.  [Note: The name of the rock is not given, and the Mr Ekins must refer to one of the sons.]


In the Calendar of Treasury Books 26 October 1710, Volume 24 there is another reference to a Mr Ekins: "Same to Mr Bendyshe to send my Lords an account of the transactions of Mr Ekins with the Commissioner for settling 'Poor Palatines', in relation to carrying and settling any of them in the Isles of Scilly or other places and what money he received on that account."  Initially this entry was confusing until we found the following information re the 'Poor Palatines' :

The German Palatines were natives of the Palatinate region of Germany, although a few had come to Germany from Switzerland, the Alsace, and probably other parts of Europe. Towards the end of the 17th century and into the 18th, the wealthy region was repeatedly invaded by French troops, which resulted in continuous military requisitions, widespread devastation and famine.  The "Poor Palatines" were some 13,000 Germans who came to England between May and November 1709.  Their arrival in England, and the inability of the British Government to integrate them, caused a highly politicized debate over the merits of immigration.  The English tried to settle them in England, Ireland, and the Colonies.  Captain Ekins, in Scilly!!

"Captain Thomas Ekines of the English Navy came forward with a proposal that 600 of the Palatines, about 150 families, should be settled in the Scilly Islands, a small group of islands off the southwest coast of England.  Sunderland thought well of the project, and on September 21st and October 2, 1709, two transports were sent down the Thames with 450 Palatines on board, well provisioned and supplied.  The inhabitants of the Island of Scilly, learning of the venture, protested that they could not earn a living themselves on that 'meager haven', and so these people were never sent to their destination, but after remaining on shipboard three entire months, were again set on shore on December 30th of the same year. They eventually found their way back to Blackheath. The cost of this miserable failure was some 1,500 pounds." [10]

Whilst the spelling is different, in this last note, it is referring to Captain Thomas Ekines the son.


Further comments:

The description of the Day-mark, in early historical reports, indicate it was originally open inside with stairs leading to some form of viewing facility.  Opening this blockage, with some form of lockable door, may be a significant asset to St Martin's tourism!!

The current error in the date may have occurred when the entrance was blocked off.  William Borlase, 1756, George Woodley, 1822, and Isaac William North, 1850, all record the day-mark stone, over the door, reading T. H. 1683.  However in the Scillonian Magazine, [12] there is a very informative article by Tom Greeves who has consulted the Trinity House Court Minutes books which clearly show the correct date is c.1687.    If the date stone is a recent replacement, then perhaps this should be replaced.

Tom Greeves also transcribes a further note from the Trinity House archive;

"Order'd That a Present of a piece of Plate to the value of £10 be made to Mr Ekin's Wife in consideracion [sic] of his trouble in assisting our Lightkeeper at Scilly in all matters relating to the service of the Corporacion, particularly in the late repairs of that Lighthouse (St Agnes), and raising the Tower on St Martin's &c, and that a piece of Plate be made of such a Fashion as Mr Ekins or his wife shall desire it, but with the Corporacions Armes Engrav'd thereupon"

 In Old Town Church there is a memorial stone to one of Thomas Ekins's sons who died in 1675.
"HERE lieth the Body of John the Son of Thomas and Mary Ekins, of the Island of Scilly, who was born on the 16th of February, 1670, and died the 4th November, 1675, Non mortuus sed dormit" (He is not dead but sleeps).  According to [9] there was another John born later, see above.  He followed his father by being made Deputy Agent of Prizes c. 1693

Ekins the Entrepreneur & The Will of Thomas Ekines have been written up by Molly Mortimer [13].  However in the former article, although there is useful research, there is confusion with the son Thomas.

A little disjointed but I think this is almost correct, research continues; contributions/corrections to this historical note, gratefully received.


[1] - Trade Tokens, Issued in the Seventeenth Century - George C. Williamson 1889.
2 - Minutes of the Hudson Bay Company, 1679 - 1684 Pt 2. Edwin Ernest Rich 1946.
3 - Copy-book of Letters Outward.  The Hudson Bay Company. Begin 29th May 1680. Edwin Ernest Rich. 1948.
4 - Hudson Bay Record Society, 1948.
5 - Pacific Northwest Quarterly: Vols. 40-41, 1949.
6 - The Publications of the Chaplain Society: Hudson Bay Company, Volume 8, 1945.
7- British Library, India Office Records (BL,IOR). B/36/f.10.11, June 1680.
[8] - Neglectful or Worse' - A Lurid Tale of a Lighthouse Keeper and Wrecking in the Isles of Scilly by Cathryn Pearce.  Troze-The Online Journal of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall. 2008, Volume 1, Number 1.  See reference: Trinity House.
Correspondence, Select Entries, Vol. 2, Veagleman to Ekins, 28 December 1680, p.158.
[9] - The Edmund Herbert Papers 1709-10 by Elizabeth Stanbrook, The Scillonian, No. 271, Summer 2010, pages 185-187.
[10] - Knittle, Early Eighteenth Century Palatine Emigration.  PRO., S.P. 44/108. Ps 151;162;168;188.
[11] - [ ]
[12] - Scillonian Magazine, Winter 2007/8, No. 266, pages 164 -167.  Tom Greeves.
[13] - Ekines, Thomas; The Entrepreneur in [tsm 231/147-148] &  His Will in [tsm 232, ps 153-156]


Not yet seen or recorded:
14 - The Manuscripts of the House of Lords 1678 - 1688.  Great Britain, Royal Commission of Historic Manuscripts.  Felix J. H. Skene & Edward Fairfax Taylor 1887.  Significance unknown.
15 - Calendar of Treasury Books.  Edited by William Arthur Shaw. 1660 - 1667. Vol. 9 Part 2 & A later reference Vol. 24, Oct. 26th, 1710.
16 - Mariner's Mirror journal, 1912, vol. 2, no. 3, pp 196-200 under an article entitled 'Hockin's Case -'False Lights' by a W. Senior.
17 - The Mediaeval Chapels by J. H. Adams.  Journal of the Royal institute of Cornwall, n.s. 3, pages 45 - 65.
18 - Trinity House Court Minutes, Guildhall Library, London, MS 30,004, Vol. 7 1685-92, pages 98, 130-131 & p 188 (Taken from 12)


BACK TO A to Z - Ekins

BACK TO A to Z - Palatine