Cornwall is surrounded on water by three sides, fractured from Devon by the length of the Tamar. No where in Cornwall is further than 17 miles from the sea. Those who weren’t mining were making their living fishing, and throughout history Cornwall’s waters have been important to its status as a global trading port, enabling the export of its world-class ores despite the relative difficulty of accessing much of the county by land. Cornwall has been, and continues to be, shaped by its seas, and this paper explores the importance of the seascape to Cornish culture, identity, and history. In the nineteenth century in particular Cornwall was infamous for its number of shipwrecks, and the seas that gave so generously were alternately imagined as places of death, fear and violence. This tension between Cornwall’s reliance on and fear of its waters led to an abundance of strange tales of maritime disaster, deep sea monsters, and haunted coasts. We will explore the folklore – and folkhorror – of Cornish seas, from biting mermaids to phantom ships gliding across the moors.
Joan Passey Bio
Joan Passey is a lecturer in English at the University of Bristol. She completed her PhD on Victorian Gothic Cornwall in 2020 at the University of Exeter and her monograph, Cornish Gothic, is upcoming with University of Wales Press. She has released an anthology, Cornish Horrors: Tales of the Land’s End with the British Library’s Tales of the Weird series and has spoken on BBC Radio 3 about haunted shores and nineteenth-century Cornwall. She has additionally published on Ann Radcliffe, Wilkie Collins, and Shirley Jackson, and is co-founder of the Haunted Shores Network. Please feel free to contact her on [email protected], @JoanPassey or joanpassey.com