Hawker’s ‘Painful Position:’ nine letters to John Wickett

The following letters from Hawker to the Stratton chemist John Wickett were discovered in the mid nineteen-sixties, shortly before Wickett’s shop, opposite the Tree Inn, was knocked down. The business had latterly operated as an ironmongery and general emporium owned by Mrs Alice Rattenbury, but much material from Wickett’s time remained. The letters were at the back of the shop in drawers and boxes of papers which were partially blocking the stairs, and were recognised and removed for safekeeping by Mrs Rattenbury’s niece. Their existence was revealed in an article by local historian Bill Young in the Western Morning News (28 September, 1999). Young and Bryan Dudley Stamp’s Stratton Past & Present (2002) contains a further brief account of the discovery and quotes from Letters 2 and 6, infra. Those quotations aside, the letters are published here for the first time.

Wickett set up business in Stratton in 1834. In the same year Hawker began his tenure at Morwenstow, ten miles to the north. They certainly knew each another by 1838, when Hawker wrote an ‘extremely overbearing’ letter (Brendon, Hawker of Morwenstow, p.183) insisting that Wickett should wait for payment of a debt incurred by Hawker’s brother Tom. Little did Wickett know that he would be chasing Hawker’s debts for the next thirty years. The fact that he did so without alienating so prickly a customer is much to his credit. The tone of these nine letters is no longer overbearing – far from it. Hawker was quite capable of resorting to a kind of haughty bluster towards his creditors, but Wickett had evidently earned his respect and even a degree of friendship.

The letters make, on the whole, sad reading, confirming much of what we already know of Hawker’s darker side – the perennial shortage of money, the inability to order his affairs, and the resulting melancholia and bouts of self-pity; but they add some interesting details to our knowledge of the man and, brief and businesslike though most of them are, contain characteristic touches that are typically – quintessentially – Hawker.


April vi 1848

Dear Sir

As I recognise your handwriting in a letter we received today today [sic] about Jane Harris I answer it to you.

At the time it arrived another Servant was in the House to offer for whom we are also indebted to you viz Anne Horrell from Poundstok1 who has lived with Mrs. Dayman.

Maria Maynard came with her and stated that you recommended her on Mrs. Daymans information. Mrs. Hawker therefore engaged to take her if the reference to Mr Dayman on some points was satisfactory.

Will you then have the kindness to mention this to Jane Harris and for this and for all your kindness I beg to offer you our sincere thanks.

Yrs faithfully

RS Hawker


Jany xxx 1851

My dear Sir

I cannot give you a clearer proof of my desire to comply with yr wishes that [sic] by getting up to write & arrange matters for you with a throat wherein the abscess is only just broken after having been lanced three times & a burning blister all round my neck. Now it is quite clear that you would not press me without ample reason because to you I have always confided my painful position. Of money itself I cannot command a 5£ note. Mr R2 took away what tithe he recd to fulfil my anomalous desire of paying my enemies & ungraciously postponing my friends. Still I have got out for no other reason than to make exertion for you and all that I can beg borrow or otherwise obtain shall be yours. Tell me the latest moment when you must hear from me. Please to send Maria with the inclosed note to Thorne and direct i e fill up the direction of the other to the proper Post Town of North Tamerton3. Both are for your business and others I shall write before I go in to bed again. No effort of mine shall be omitted[;] if I had anticipated such an exigency from you some of my Stratton foes shod have waited whatsoever their malice in order that I might satisfy the only friend I have among the tradesmen there. I am miserably low both in body and spirits. After recovering from an attack of English Cholera4 I went on Thursday last with Mr Rowe to look over Staddon an Estate in Hartland which belongs to Wellcombe5 Church & now to me. We walked over wet land 3 hours & came home in the carriage open. A shiver seized me in the night & one of my terrible sore throats came on. I put on mustard plaister & 5 leeches all I cod get in the Parish & reduced it a little. But Sunday came. I had no one whom I cod well ask to take my two Churches6 went to both came home wet & worse – sent for Dinham7 on Monday who found me in such a state of throat that he slashed me 3 times 2 cuts each time. Lost blood but no matter8, got worse till at last the abscess broke. And now

Yrs very faithfully

RS Hawker


Morwenstow Octr 17. 1857

Mr Hawker begs to inclose £9-11-6 which will cover Mr Wicketts acct. Mr Hawker never takes offence at being called on to pay any just and proper demand for value received. He is satisfied with Mr Wicketts accounts – and wod be glad of a receipt.


April 13. 1859

Dear Sir

I can only send you the inclosed Cheque at this time for which pray send me your receipt.


Yrs truly

RS Hawker


My dear Sir10

After every effort of thought & action within my power the only thing I can accomplish is to send you the enclosed acceptance for your filling up by drawing at Three Months at as late a date in this month as you can bear that I may meet it with my Tithe Audit when due. I would rather incur any injury than disappoint you.

Yours, my dear Sir


RS Hawker


[Direction:] By Arnold for Reply / Mr Wickett / Stratton / RSH11

Tuesday Eveng

Dear Sir

Will you please to send by Bearer 3 or 4 oranges for a Sick Bed. If you have none can you send Bearer where they are to be had for me


Yrs sincerely

RS Hawker


Octr 6 1862

Dr Sir

The Cornish Gazette arrived again yesterday – yet I begged you to stop it. Will you let me know that you have done so –

Yrs truly

RS Hawker


Dear Sir

Draw on me at Three Months for 5£ and send me the Draft for acceptance. Date it Decr [. . .  ]12 the day before your Fair

Yrs truly

RS Hawker

Decr 2



Mww. Aug. 9 1867

Dear Sir

Inclosed I send you my Cheque for £2-0-0 as I promised. Please acknowledge it to

Yrs truly

RS Hawker

Photos © Charles Cox 2012.

Letters published by the Hawker Society by kind permission of Ian Saltern


  1. Poundstock []
  2. William Rowe, Stratton solicitor and Hawker’s man of business. In 1849 Hawker referred to him as ‘our Friend and Solictor Mr. Rowe, in whom we and all who know him have deep and utter confidence’. He is named in full later in the present letter. []
  3. Hawker was curate of North Tamerton, 1831-34. []
  4. A generic term for various diarrhoeal complaints. []
  5. Modern spelling is ‘Welcombe’. []
  6. Morwenstow and Welcombe. Hawker assumed the curacy of St Nectan’s, Welcombe in 1850. []
  7. Dr John Dinham, medical practitioner and Hawker’s brother-in-law, married to his sister Caroline. []
  8. Infected matter, pus. []
  9. Word unclear: it could be ‘hasto’. Hawker uses it again in the subscription to Letter 6, infra. []
  10. This and the following letter are undated, so the ordering is largely arbitrary. []
  11. See note to Letter 5. []
  12. Hawker has left a gap for Wickett to insert the appropriate date. []