Scilly Islands Cornwall Family History Guide

Scilly Islands is an Ancient Parish in the county of Cornwall.

Other places in the parish include: St Mary, St Martin, St Agnes Island, St Agnes, Sampson Island, Sampson, Samson, Hugh Town, Bryler, Bryher Island, Bryher, Trescoe Island, Trescoe, Tresco, St Mary’s, St Mary Island, St Martin Island, and St Martin’s.

Alternative names:

Parish church:

Parish registers begin:

  • Parish registers: 1726
  • Bishop’s Transcripts: None

Nonconformists include: Baptist, Bible Christian Methodist, and Wesleyan Methodist.

Adjacent Parishes


Parish History

The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales 1870

SCILLY ISLANDS, a group of islands belonging to the county of Cornwall, and lying about 30 miles W of Lands-End. Five of them St. Mary, St. Martin, Trescoe, Bryher, and St. Agnes are inhabited; ten more Sampson, St. Helen, Annette, Team, Great Ganniley, Arthur, Ganniornic, Northwithial, Gweal, and Little Ganniley have areas of from 80 to 5 acres; and about 35 more are rocks or skerries considerable enough to be called islets. The total area is about 3,560 acres. The name Scilly is a corruption either of the Cornish word Silya, signifying “conger, ” or of the ancient British word Sulleh, signifying “rocks consecrated to the sun.” The islands were known to the Greeks as Cassiterides, signifying “tin islands; ” they were made by the Romans a place of occasional banishment; they became annexed, in the early part of the 10th century, to the English crown; they were given by Athelstan to some monks who settled on Trescoe, and were transferred by Henry I. to Tavistock abbey; they passed, before the time of Elizabeth, in some unrecorded manner, to a number of different proprietors; they were bought up for the Crown in the time of Elizabeth, and annexed to the duchy of Cornwall; they were held, under the duchy, from at least the time of James I. till 1830, by the family of Godolphin; they became a retreat of Prince Charles in 1645-6, after the defeat of the royal cause in the west; they were fortified in 1649, by Sir John Grenville, in the cause of Charles II., but were taken in 1651 by Blake and Ayscue; they are now held in lease from the duchy of Cornwall by Augustus Smith, Esq.; and they were visited, in 1865, by the Prince and Princess of Wales. Each of the principal islands, and their capital Hugh-Town on St. Mary, are separately noticed. Hugh-Town has a post-office, of the name of Scilly, under Penzance; and it communicates twice a-week by steamer with Penzance. The pop. of the entire group in 1851 was 2,627; in 1861, 2,431. Houses, 499. The inhabitants are chiefly fishermen, sailors, and pilots; but many cultivate crops of an early potato, which is shipped in large quantities to Bristol and London. The islands rank as a head port; and they have an excellent harbour at Hugh-Town, and a lighthouse with revolving light 138 feet high on St. Agnes. The vessels belonging to the port, at the beginning of 1864, were 15 small sailing-vessels, of aggregately 446 tons; 34 large sailing-vessels, of aggregately 6,143 tons; and 1 steam-vessel, of 67 tons. The vessels which entered in 1863 were 1 British sailing-vessel, of 363 tons, from British colonies; 3 British sailing-vessels, of aggregately 761 tons, from foreign countries; 78 sailing-vessels, of aggregately 3,587 tons, coast-wise; and 116 steam-vessels, of aggregately 7, 656 tons, coast-wise. The amount of customs in 1862 was £97. The islands form one parish, the ecclesiastical statistics of which are noted in the article Mary ( St.); and they also form a poor-law district. Poor-rates in 1863, £123. Marriages in 1863, 20; births, 57, of which 2 were illegitimate; deaths, 47, of which 14 were at ages under 5 years, and 4 at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60, 168; births, 635; deaths, 466. The places of worship, in 1851, were 5 of the Church of England, with 1,274 sittings; 3 of Wesleyans, with 734 s.; and 4 of Bible Christians, with 518 s. The schools were 4 public day schools, with 285 scholars; 6 private day schools, with 470 s.; and 6 Sunday schools, with 514 s.

Source: The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales [Wilson, John M]. A. Fullarton & Co. N. d. c. [1870-72].

The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales 1870

MARY (ST.), an island and a parish in the Scilly Islands, Cornwall. The island is the chief one of the Scilly islands; measures about 2½ miles in length, about 1½ mile in breadth, and about 1,600 acres in area; and contains the village of Hugh Town, which is noticed in its own alphabetical place, and has a post office, of the name of Scilly, under Penzance. Pop. in 1851, 1,668; in 1861, 1,532. Houses, 282. The surface rises, in some parts, into considerable elevations; and is, in general, rocky and barren; but includes fertile vales and hollows. The rocks are granitic, and contain a large aggregate of valuable minerals. Buzza Hill commands a very fine view, and has a barrow. Peninnis Head is a splendid group of rocks, and adjoins a large rock basin, called the Kettle and Pans. Monk’s Cowl is a granitic mass 100 feet high, over a natural amphitheatre. The Pulpit Rock exhibits disintegrated granite in horizontal joints, and has “a sounding board” 47 feet long and 12 feet broad. The Tower is an abrupt rock on a high base, rises 140 feet above sea-level, and was used as a station in the trigonometrically survey. Blue Carn, at the S extrenmity of the island, is a broken and intricate tabular mass of rocks, indented with basins. Giant’s Castle is a carn, and was anciently used as a cliff fortalice. A logan stone, computed to be 45 tons in weight, and several barrows, are near Blue Carn. Porth Hellick bay was the place in which Sir Cloudesley Shovel’s body came ashore after the wreck of three men of war in 1707, and the scene of a very remarkable escape from shipwreck in 1840. Sallakee Hill, to the S of this bay, has two ancient crosses, now placed in a stone fence. Inisidgen Point, at the NE extremity of the island, shows interesting rock features, and is crowned by a stone-covered barrow. The telegraph is near Inisidgen Point; rises to a height of 204 feet above sea-level; and commands a panoramic view. The beach of Permellin bay consists chiefly of very fine quartzose sand, once in much request for sprinkling on manuscripts; and a hill above that bay has remains of a fortification, called Harry’s Walls, begun in the time of Henry VIII., but never completed. Other features are noticed in the article HUGH-TOWN. The parish comprises all the Scilly Islands, and will be noticed in the article SCILLY. The living is a p. curacy, united with the chapelries of St. Martin, St. Agnes, and Trescoe and Bryher, in the diocese of Exeter. Value, not reported. Patron, Aug. Smith, Esq. There are chapels for Baptists and Wesleyans, an endowed school, and a pilots’ fund charity. A telegraph-cable to Lands-End was laid in Sep. 1869.

Source: The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales [Wilson, John M]. A. Fullarton & Co. N. d. c. [1870-72].

A Topographical Dictionary of England 1848

SCILLY ISLANDS. These islands, which are 17 in number, besides 22 smaller islets and numerous naked rocks, form a cluster lying off the south-west coast, and annexed to the Western division of the county of Cornwall, about 17 leagues due west from the Lizard Point, and 10 nearly west-by-south from the Land's End. By the Greeks they were called Hesperides and Cassiterides; by the Romans, Sellinæ and Siluræ Insulæ. Their present name, anciently written Sully or Sulley, appears to be British, and they are said to take it from a small island, containing only one acre, which is called Scilly. Except what relates to their trading intercourse with the Phœnicians and the Romans, and the circumstance of their having been occasionally appropriated by the latter as a place of banishment for state criminals, the first mention we find of them in history is in the tenth century, when they were subdued by King Athelstan. From this period there is no record of any remarkable historical event, until the reign of Charles I., when the islands became of considerable importance as a military post, and formed one of the last rallying points for the royalists. In 1645, they afforded a temporary asylum to Prince Charles and his friends, Lords Hopton and Capel; and in 1649, Sir John Grenville being governor of the Scilly Islands, fortified and held them for Charles II. The parliament finding their trading vessels much annoyed by Sir John's frigates, fitted out an expedition for the reduction of the islands, under the command of Admiral Blake and Sir George Ascue; and they were delivered up to the parliament in the beginning of June of the same year.

The total surface of the islands is about 4700 acres, and the number of inhabitants 2582. The extent of St. Mary's Island, the largest, including the garrison, which is joined to it by an isthmus, is 1640 acres, and the population amounts to 1545. Its principal village, called Hugh or Heugh Town, was much damaged by inundation during the great storm in 1744; the pier was finished in 1750, at the expense of Lord Godolphin, and vessels of 150 tons' burthen may ride here in safety. Near this place are the ruins of an old fortress, with a mount and the remains of several block-houses and batteries, supposed to have been constructed in the civil war. Two furlongs eastward is a bay called Pomellin or Porthmellin, where a fine white sand, composed of crystals and talc, much esteemed as a writing sand and for other purposes, is procured in abundance. About a mile from Hugh-town is Church-town, consisting of a few houses and the church. In the chancel of the church are interred Sir John Narborough, Bart., son of the celebrated Admiral Narborough; Henry Trelawney, son of a bishop of Winchester; and Captain Edmund Loades, of the Association man-of-war; all of whom shared the fate of Rear-Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovel, who was lost on the Gilston rock, October 22nd, 1707. A quarter of a mile further, bordering on the sea, is Old-town, formerly the most important place of the island. On a promontory called the Giant's Castle, are traces of a fortress, thought to be of remote origin. On the west side of the island are St. Mary's garrison, with the barracks and several batteries, and Star Castle, the latter built by Sir Francis Godolphin, in 1593.

The island next in magnitude is Trescoe, anciently called Iniscaw, and St. Nicholas, which contains 430 inhabitants, and comprises 880 acres. In it are some remains of the conventual church of St. Nicholas, the ruins of Old-castle, and Oliver's Battery. Old-castle, which appears to have been built in or about the reign of Henry VIII., is spoken of by Leland as "a little pile, or fortress;" but seems to have been afterwards enlarged, as its ruins show it to have been a considerable building. Oliver's Castle, as it is called, from its having been built by the parliamentarians, was repaired in 1740; but is described by Borlase, in 1756, as being then already much decayed. St. Martins Island, though next in size to St. Mary's and Trescoe, containing 214 inhabitants, and comprising 720 acres, was uninhabited until the reign of Charles II.: in 1683 Mr. Ekins built a tower on it as a landmark, 20 feet high, surmounted with a spire of the same height. On St. Agnes' Island, which has 243 inhabitants, is a lighthouse. Bryer, or Brehar, contains 121 persons, and consists of 330 acres; Sampson has a population of 29.

The principal employment and trade of the islanders consist in fishing and in making kelp: the quantity of kelp anually made varies from 100 to 200 tons. The number of vessels of above 50 tons' burthen, registered at the port, is 37, and the aggregate tonnage 3751; about 100 boats are used for fishing, piloting, &c. Tin is found in several of the islands, and in some lead and copper; but no mines are now worked. Barley, peas, and oats, with a small portion of wheat, are produced: a few acres are sown with the pillas, or naked oat; and potatoes are cultivated in great quantities in St. Mary's. Cattle are fed on most of the isles, and though not very numerous, are sometimes sold to masters of vessels. Samphire, for pickling, is collected in abundance in the isle of Trescoe. The tamarisk and lavatera arborea grow plentifully in that of St. Mary.

The property and temporal jurisdiction of the islands were anciently attached to the earldom, as they now are to the duchy, of Cornwall, excepting those of St. Nicholas (now Trescoe), St. Sampson, St. Elid, St. Teon, and Nullo, and some lands in other islands, which were given, in or before the reign of Edward the Confessor, to certain monks or hermits in St. Nicholas, and were subsequently granted by Henry I. to the abbot of Tavistock. The present lessee of the whole is the Duke of Leeds, representative of the Godolphin family, to whom they appear to have been first leased in the 13th of Elizabeth. The lord proprietor appoints a court, or council of twelve, consisting of some of the principal inhabitants, which generally sits monthly, for the trial of plaints, suits, &c, between the islanders, excepting such causes as affect life and limb, and such as are cognizable by the court of admiralty. The islands are under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Bishop of Exeter, and form part of the archdeaconry of Cornwall. In early times the abbot of Tavistock held the tithes of the whole, and certain lands, by the title of finding two monks to reside here, and to provide for the spiritual wants of the inhabitants; but since the Reformation the tithes have been vested in the lord proprietor, who is patron of the donative, and pays the minister an optional salary. Until of late years the minister of St. Mary's was the only clergyman, officiating constantly at St. Mary's, at Trescoe on the Sunday after Easter, and at St. Martin's on Trinity-Sunday. There are chapels at Trescoe, St. Martin's, St. Agnes', Bryer, and St. Sampson's, for the most part built by the Godolphin family. The Wesleyans have four places of worship. On St. Helen's Island, now uninhabited, are the ruins of houses, and of an ancient chapel.

Source: A Topographical Dictionary of England by Samuel Lewis 1848


Vision of Britain historical maps


  • County: Cornwall
  • Civil Registration District: Scilly Islands
  • Probate Court: Court of the Bishop (Consistory) of the Archdeaconry of Cornwall
  • Diocese: Exeter
  • Rural Deanery: Penwith
  • Poor Law Union: Isles of Scilly
  • Hundred: Scilly Islands
  • Province: Canterbury