Stokes, Henry Sewell (DNB00)


STOKES, HENRY SEWELL (1808–1895), Cornish poet, was the eldest son of Henry Stokes (d. 1832), proctor and notary at Gibraltar, who married in 1807 at Gibraltar Anne Sewell (1787–1857). Born at Gibraltar on 16 June 1808, Henry Sewell came to England in 1815, and was sent in 1817 to St. Saviour's grammar school, Southwark, and at a later date to the school of a young baptist minister called William Giles at Chatham, where Charles Dickens was his companion. In 1825 he returned to his native place, studied mercantile law in his father's office, and acquired a knowledge of French, Spanish, and Italian. He was then articled to Mr. Bridgman, a solicitor at Tavistock, and was admitted attorney and solicitor in January and February 1832. For a short time he was a student of the Middle Temple.

Stokes dwelt for some weeks at St. Austell in Cornwall, getting up evidence on mining customs in the duchy, and in April 1832 settled at Truro, where he practised as solicitor for many years, and played an active part as a liberal in local politics. He started in that town in July 1833 the ‘Cornish Guardian and Western Chronicle’ newspaper (afterwards merged in the ‘West Briton’), and for three years was its editor, with Charles Buller [q. v.] and Sir William Molesworth [q. v.] as occasional leader writers. He also wrote leaders for the ‘Devon Independent,’ published at Devonport, but with a large circulation in Cornwall, and was an occasional contributor to the ‘West Briton.’ In 1856 he was elected mayor of Truro, and in 1859 was appointed its town clerk. On the nomination of Lord Vivian, lord lieutenant of the county, he became in February 1865 clerk of the peace for Cornwall, and continued in that position until his death. The duties of this post forced him to remove to Bodmin, where he spent the rest of his days. He died at Bodmin on 7 April 1895, and was buried in its cemetery on 13 April. He married at Tavistock, on 9 Aug. 1834, Louisa Rachel, daughter of the Rev. William Evans of Parkwood in that town. She died at Bodmin on 15 Feb. 1890, aged 80. They had issue one son, William Evans Stokes, and three daughters.

From the number of his poems on the county, Stokes was sometimes called ‘the laureate for Cornwall.’ Tennyson spent a week with him at Truro in 1848. His chief works, many of which attest his love of Cornwall, were:

  1. ‘The Lay of the Desert,’ 1830, designed and in part written on Dartmoor; the substance of it was revised and included in the sixth and seventh cantos of ‘Memories,’ 1872.
  2. ‘The Song of Albion: a Poem on the Reform Crisis,’ 1831.
  3. ‘Discourses on Opinion,’ 1831.
  4. ‘The Vale of Lanherne,’ 1836; new edit. with costly illustrations by Charles Haghe, from designs by James G. Philp, 1853.
  5. ‘Echoes of War,’ 1855.
  6. ‘Scattered Leaves,’ 1862.
  7. ‘Rhymes from Cornwall,’ 1871; reissued in 1884 as ‘Voyage of Arundel and other Rhymes from Cornwall.’
  8. ‘Memories’ [anon.], 1872; new edit. [anon.] 1879.
  9. ‘Poems of later years,’ 1873; reissued in 1881 as ‘The Chantry Owl and other Verses.’
  10. ‘Restormel: a Legend of Piers Gaveston,’ 1875; republished 1882. 11. ‘The Gate of Heaven: the Plaint of Morwenstow,’ 1876.

Stokes published numerous flysheets and small poems. He contributed to the ‘Mining Almanac’ of Henry English (1849, pp. 105–116) an article on the court of the vice-warden of the stannaries, and read before the meeting of the British Archæological Association at Bodmin on 17 Aug. 1876 a paper on books and manuscripts relating to the county, which was printed in its journal (xxxiii. 35–45). An oil portrait which was presented to him, with a cheque for 500l., at a public meeting held at Truro in December 1891, now hangs in the Truro council-chamber.

[Boase and Courtney's Bibliotheca Cornub. i. 204, 227, ii. 691–2, iii. 1340; Boase's Collectanea Cornub. pp. 808, 934, 1367; Times, 9 April 1895, p. 10; The Realm, 26 April 1895 (by T. H. S. Escott); West Briton, 20 Feb. 1890 p. 8, 11 April 1895 p. 4, 18 April p. 7; Foster's Men at the Bar.]

W. P. C.