Henry Cornwall c1811 – 1869

Musician, Theatre Proprietor, Riding Master

Western Times 1 January 1842Henry Cornwall was a waif found on the streets of Redruth by a ‘generous soul’ who took him in, taught him music, and gave him the surname of the county in which he was found.  In his early years he performed with Wombwell’s Menagerie, a successful circus that travelled the annual fair circuit in England.

Henry married Mary Ann Samwell in 1838.  The death of Mary Ann’s mother in 1840 spelled the end of Samwell’s Circus and Henry took over proprietary of the circus.

Over the next four years Cornwall’s Circus exhibited in southern counties and London.  In keeping with the trend of the times, Henry commissioned elaborate semi-permanent amphitheatres so the circus could stay for many months.

In 1844 the Cornwalls moved permanently to St Helier where Henry established a riding school called The Trained Mare, also known as Cornwall’s Riding School.  He hosted circuses at the venue and sometimes performed with the visiting equestrians.

In 1862 Henry refurbished the riding school to become Cornwall’s Royal Amphitheatre.  The theatre was an instant attraction with its ‘point of elegance, excellent scenery, and its efficient Company’ (The Era 7 September 1862).  Henry’s business success was dealt a personal blow with the death of Mary Ann later that year.

In 1865 Henry established the New Theatre Royal on the site of a theatre that had burnt down two years prior.  Henry spared no expense in the refurbishment and the local newspaper praised his attention to detail. Later that year he married Lucy Lindsey, a 21 year old from Devon.

The New Theatre Royal flourished but by late 1868 Henry’s health was declining so he sold the business to a London actor.  Today the site houses the Jersey Opera House.

In mid-1869 Henry died in St Helier after a stroke.  He did not have any children by either of his marriages.

(Advertisement from The Western Times 1 January 1842. Image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk.)

Contact Caroline Cavanagh at samwellcircus@tpg.com.au to purchase a copy of Once a Famous Circus which provides much more detail on the Saunders and Samwell travelling circus families.

Text © Caroline Cavanagh 2017.