Matilda Jacca, John Ellis Nicholls and the story of Mary Kelynack

Matilda was the sixth of seven children, and the youngest daughter, of fisherman Peter Jacka and his wife Catherine Noall nee Kelynack.  Born c1827, she grew up in the first half of the 19th century in the Cornish fishing village of Newlyn, 9 miles from Land’s End. Her brothers and sisters were Peter, Benjamin, Jane, Honor, William, Charles Kelynack and Richard.

Matilda married in July 1845 when she was 18 and working as a servant; her bridegroom was John Ellis Nicholls, a tailor, and they spoke their vows at Paul Parish Church.

Their first son, Richard, was born early the following year and William Curnow was baptised two years later in January 1847.  Andrew was born c1850.


The Fradgan, Newlyn, with drain in the middle of the street

In 1851 they were living in the Fradgan in the area of lower Newlyn known as Street-an-Nowan and the street on which Matilda had grown up and on which various family members were still living.

At that point in time Newlyn was in the parish of Paul parish, the main villages in which were Newlyn (both Street-An-Nowan and Newlyn Town), Mousehole and Paul itself. “The population [of the parish], in 1851, was 5,408; and the acreage is 3,433.”[1]

1851 was the year of Queen Victoria’s and Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition in Crystal Palace, London, and the name of local woman Mary Kelynack would have been on everyone’s lips in Paul parish:  “On Tuesday, September 24th, among the visitors of the Mansion House was Mary Callinack, eighty-four years of age, who had travelled on foot from Penzance, carrying a basket on her head, with the object of visiting the Exhibition and of paying her respects personally to the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress.” [2]

She was later presented to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

”Our portrait of the Cornish fish-wife has been sketched from life at her abode, Homer Place, Crawford Street, Mary-le-bone. She was born in the parish of Paul, by Penzance, on Christmas Day, 1766, so that she has nearly completed her eighty-fifth year. To visit the present Exhibition, she walked the entire distance from Penzance, nearly three hundred miles; she having ‘registered a vow’ before she left home, that she would not accept assistance in any shape, except as regarded her finances.
“She possesses her faculties unimpaired; is very cheerful, has a considerable amount of humour in her composition; and is withal a woman of strong common sense, and frequently makes remarks that are very shrewd, when her great age and defective education are taken into account. She is fully aware that she has made herself somewhat famous; and among other things which she contemplates, is her return to Cornwall, to end her days in ‘Paul parish,’ where she wishes to be interred by the side of old Dolly Pentreath, who was also a native of Paul, and died at the age of 102 years.”[3]

Back in Newlyn, sadly Matilda and John’s second son William died and was buried on 5 October 1852 up in Paul, aged approx. 5 years old.

They had their first daughter in late 1852 and baby Elizabeth was baptised on 2 January 1853.  While doing this they caught up with the baptism of Andrew – he was baptised the same day, aged 3 years old.  Their next child, a second William was baptised on 5 April 1855.  He was followed by Anne, who was baptised on 27 November 1859.

At the time of the 1861 census the family were living at 5 Fradgan.  Their next child, Matilda, was born c November 1861 and baptised on 24 May 1863.  Sadly young Matilda died later that year, in in November 1863.  Her mother Matilda must have been pregnant again at the time, for when she had her next child in early 1864 she named her new daughter Matilda after herself and her lost daughter.

Time passed, prime-ministers changed with frequency, but by 1871 they were still living in the Fradgan with John still a tailor.

It appears their son Richard married a woman called Mary c 1872 and they had 3 children together of whom two survived infancy: Richard in February 1873, a second Richard in July 1875 and Mary in November 1877.  There was a Mary Nicholls of Paul who died aged 31 in January 1881 who would match.  After that, details on Richard’s family and life (including probable second marriage to Elizabeth and children John, Elizabeth and Thomas together) remain confusing as there were a few Richard Nicholls born around 1875 & 1876.

In summer 1873 their eldest daughter, net-maker Elizabeth Mary, married.  Her groom was fisherman Francis Curnow Badcock and the first of their four known children, Catherine Kelynack Badcock, arrived in 1874, followed by Richard, Bessie and John.

Matilda and John’s youngest daughter Matilda hadn’t been baptised when she was a baby, I discovered it as she was baptised age 14 on 25 April 1878.  Horrifyingly there was a reason: it must have been a death-bed baptism for she died that same day and was buried 3 days later up at Paul, Matilda and John losing their second Matilda.


Advert from the Cornishman, 1895 via BNA collection on FMP

The family were living in Gwavas Quay by April 1878 and were still there in the 1881 census – with 3-year-old grand-daughter Bessie Badcock (Elizabeth’s daughter) having run down the hill from Orchard Place to see her grand-parents and be listed in two household census returns. They had a full household that day as in addition to John and Matilda, both now in their mid-50s, they had unmarried Andrew and widowed Richard (both fishermen) and Richard’s two children Richard and Mary living at home.

Matilda and John’s son William b 1855 wasn’t present in 1881, and neither was young Anne, who would have been 22 in 1881 and for both the trail has gone cold.

In late 1883 there was more loss for poor Matilda and John when their [probably] only remaining daughter Elizabeth Mary Badcock died aged only 31, leaving her husband and three surviving young children ranging from age 7 to 3.  Catherine had been followed by Richard, who was born early 1876 but died about a year later, Bessie c1878 and John Nicholls in March 1880.  Catherine went on to marry fish-hawker James Green, Bessie married a coach-body maker from Liverpool called Henry Warburton and moved away, and John married fisherman’s daughter Janie Pentreath.

Matilda and John were living in Gwavas Quay in April 1891.  Matilda died on 30 May 1898; John moved back to the Fradgan and lived on until [probably] spring 1907.

Words and photos © Lynne Black.
First published 1 April 2017 at

[1] Kelly’s Directory 1856 via Cornwall OPC:

[2] Illustrated London News, Illustrated London News, October 26th, 1851, via BNA

[3] Illustrated London News, Illustrated London News, October 26th, 1851, via BNA

3 thoughts on “Matilda Jacca, John Ellis Nicholls and the story of Mary Kelynack

  1. Pingback: Richard R Jaco, Catherine Richards, Job and the hapless Clifton Grove | starryblackness

  2. Pingback: Benjamin Jacca and Priscilla Tonkin – hurricanes and shipping disasters in 19C Newlyn | starryblackness

  3. Pingback: Peter Jaco – a Gentleman? – and Catherine Noall Kelynack (pt1) | starryblackness

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