the g7 summit
With the 2021 G7 Summit arriving at Carbis Bay from 11th to 13th June, we explore the history between Cornwall and the nations it will be welcoming. From Indian wolves in Bodmin to the terror of bandit hordes, here are three Cornish connections with our friends in India – a guest of this year’s G7.
Patience of a
Saints will often make their pilgrimages to distant lands, but few will travel as far south as India. After travelling from North Cornwall to the more likely destination of the Holy Land, Saint Petroc – the man who would give Padstow its name, formerly referred to as ‘Pedroc-stowe’ – would continue on his journey to India.
Whilst standing on the Indian coast in stifling humidity, it is said that Petroc would reminisce about the Cornish rain and the cool relief it would bring to his present plight. Whilst he longed for it, a silver bowl would float close to the shore; understanding it as a calling, Petroc would clamber into the bowl and allow it to bob along the ocean currents to an island in the Indian Ocean.
Petroc would remain on the island, eating the lone fish that he had found in a pond; he would return to the pond everyday, discovering that the fish was there once more. After seven years, the silver bowl would sidle up to the shore again.
Patience of a
Coasting back to the Indian beach, Petroc found a wolf waiting for him; it had guarded his staff and sheepskins for the whole time that he had been gone. The wolf would accompany Petroc on his return to Cornwall, becoming the most unlikely companion at his priory in Bodmin.
Hailing from Stratton near Bude, William Henry Sleeman would become the major general tasked with ridding the Indian roads of thuggees; these were highwaymen that would rob and even murder any unfortunate travellers who crossed their path, gangs that would popularise the word ‘thug’ in English and give Harrison Ford a hard time in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Armed with daggers and using the Indian thornapple for poison, the thuggees were believed to perform their acts in the name of Kali, the goddess of destruction. William Henry Sleeman was the first to encourage captured thuggees to rat upon their associates in return for a better sentence, using this information and advanced intelligence to uncover the thuggee network.
Under the Cornishman’s leadership, the Indian roads would become safe once more from the tyranny of the Kali highwaymen. As if the thuggees weren’t enough to keep him busy, Sleeman has a claim to making the earliest discovery of Asian dinosaur fossils and was known to show an empathetic interest in the culture and language of the Indian people. He would later write extensively about Indian children raised by wolves; his work on the latter would inspire the character of Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.
“In a tree that you can’t climb, there are always a thousand fruits.”
If Thomas Lobb was to hear that Indian Proverb, he would not be deterred; no jungle, mountain or cumbersome tree would ever stop the determined botanist from studying the thousand fruits, identifying them, describing them, collecting them.
Whilst his brother, William, would explore the Americas, Thomas Lobb would spend much of his career in the wilds of Asia and would be described as “the most exasperating of collectors, who never seemed to stay long in one place but hopped with a flea-like agility from one end of the map to the other in his quest for plants.” The brothers from Devoran would be two of the first plant collectors to perform a global hunt.
Thomas Lobb would plunge into leech-infested forests without as much as a second thought, bringing the rarest of beauties back to Britain such as the blue orchid of the Khasi Hills in Northern India, with its white petals basked like starfish to reveal a deep blue droplet in the middle.
Thomas Lobb’s intrepid adventures would one day catch up with him, suffering a leg injury on an expedition in the Philippines that resulted in an amputation. Returning to the familiar nature of Cornwall, the Lobb brothers would end their career having brought over 600 plant species back to Britain with many now brightening both our gardens and the Lobb memorial in Devoran. A species of orchid was named after Thomas; the phalaenopsis lobbii clambers around the northern reaches of India, the flower of a Cornishman most comfortable in the Himalayan heights.