Artists & Writers

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Crosbie Garstin (1887-1930)

The writer and illustrator, Crosbie Garstin (1887-1930), led an extraordinarily adventurous life and, as a writer, produced a very varied and highly acclaimed body of work, having the eye of an artist, the soul of a poet, the ear of a mimic, the wit of an Irishman and the irreverence of a renegade.


Crosbie Garstin was the eldest of the three talented children of Irishman and Newlyn School artist, Norman Garstin.  Whilst his father described him as “practically immune to education”, for he  failed every exam that he ever took, his headmaster at Bedford County School (1902-6) commented that Crosbie was the only genius that he had had at the school and that, “he was above the plane of school life and of too rare a mind for any school curriculum.”


After various failed attempts to find him a career and a spell at the Forbes Art School, where he went drinking with Alfred Munnings and fell in love with Fryn Tennyson Jesse, he set sail for Canada in February 1910 and, over the course of the next two years, he worked as a horse-wrangler and broncho-buster in Saskatchewan, as a cowpuncher and the lead buster for the 2-Bar outfit in Montana, as a harvester in the Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan, as a lumberjack by the Columbia and North Thompson Rivers in British Columbia, and as a navvy in mining camps on the Pacific Coast near Vancouver, whilst also taking a stake in a gold mine in Stewart in northern British Columbia.  Then, with the help of William Bolitho, he became in May 1912 a bush ranger in Bechuanaland, South Africa, and then a cattle ranch manager. 


As his spell in the semi-desert of Bechuanaland coincided with a severe drought, Crosbie was delighted when War meant that his 'exile' was over, and he returned to enlist in the colonial cavalry regiment, King Edward’s Horse, in November 1914.  He had several spells at the Front in France and also served in Ireland at the time of the Easter Rising in 1916 and in Italy.  His exceptional ability with horses led him to being the Riding Master on a number of occasions.


He was first published as a poet, but made a significant name for himself in literary circles with his comic war pieces for Punch.  He subsequently produced a number of novels and short stories drawing on his pre-War experiences but is best known for his swashbuckling novels of eighteenth century Cornwall, known as the Penhale trilogy.  His final novel, China Seas, was also made into a Hollywood blockbuster, starring Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and Wallace Beery. 


He was drowned at Salcombe on Easter Sunday 1930, aged just 42 – albeit some contend that he did a disappearing act as his body was never found.






Lamorna Birch (1869-1955)

The leading figure of the second flowering of the Newlyn School, Samuel John Birch was so smitten with the Lamorna valley and cove that he took its name as his own, becoming known as Lamorna Birch. Samuel John Birch was born in Egremont, Cheshire. Apart from a brief period of study at the Atelier Colarossi, Paris in 1895, he was largely self-taught as an artist. Birch first visited West Cornwall in the late 1880s and settled in the Lamorna Valley in 1892. He adopted the epithet ‘Lamorna’ in 1895 to distinguish himself from fellow artist Lionel Birch (an idea suggested by Stanhope Forbes). He is regarded as the father figure of the later group of ‘Newlyn’ artists, which included Laura and Harold Knight, Alfred Munnings, Frank Gascoigne Heath and Stanley Gardiner, known as the Lamorna group.

Oil on canvas by Lamorna Birch- In Our Old World Valley
Oil on canvas by Lamorna Birch- In Our Old World Valley




Dylan Thomas

In the 1930′s Dylan Thomas brought his mistress, Caitlin, to spend time in Oriental Cottage, Lamorna. Oriental Cottage was situated near Birch’s studio, by a trout stream running down to the sea, where daffodils and rushes grew right up to the salt-water line. Set deep in the valley stream-side, the lovers spent their holidays in the hideaway before finallygetting married in Penzance. Here beneath the beams of the shipwrecked “Oriental” it’s believed Dylan composed some of his great works. Dylan Thomas also described Lamorna as "a beautiful little place full of good fisherman and indifferent visitors", in a letter to his parents.At other times Dylan Thomas dismissed Lamorna as a place where one could buy a surrealist ‘for a couple of whiting’, but for many years a bush outside Oriental Cottage was known as ‘Dylan’s’ because of the regularity with which he fell into it when drunk.




Oil on board by Lamorna Birch of Oriental Cottage
Oil on board by Lamorna Birch of Oriental Cottage


The artists associated with the Lamorna Valley, Newlyn and St Ives are included in the West Cornwall Art Archive (WCAA). The Cornwall Art Index (CAI) is a project sponsored by linked organisations and is a comprehensive listing of past and present artists. The CAI complements and expands the initial listing of artists who were included in Dictionary & Source Book: Artists in Newlyn and West Cornwall 1880-1940 (2009, Art Dictionaries Ltd).