Friday, 7 October 2011

The Amazing Story oy Joseph Emidy

The story of Joseph Emidy was brought to my notice when I read a wonderful book by Philip Marsden called The Levelling Sea.Philip lives and writes in Cornwall and has a deep love for the area.  He is a prize winning travel writer, novelist  and world traveller.
We decided to go for a long local walk round Truro in the unexpected Indian Summer we have been enjoying here and to find the grave of the extraordinary personality.  Joseph Emidy, A young slave  with prodigious musical talent who is buried in Kenwyn Church Cemetery.There is not  much information available about his life but what there is paints a wonderful picture.
His early life was spent somewhere in Guinea which was  was a loose name for the interior of West Africa. He was taken from  there as a slave to Brazil but  then appears to have been taken to Lisbon in Portugal where we first see him. Sometime in his life he was introduced to music and  his master in Lisbon sent him to a teacher.  It was not long before he was playing second violin in the city's operatic orchestra.
Fate had something else in store for this young slave.
 In his book Philip Mardsen tells us that he was heard  at a concert by the captain of  a British ship holed up  in Portugal for repairs.Sir Edward Pellew was captain of the frigate Indefatigable at the time and he stole Joseph  carrying him off on the man of war.  He was a prisoner on the ship for about four years where he played the fiddle  for Pellew and his crew! He must have seen action during that time however when Pellew  was posted to another ship Emidy found himself free again on the coast of Cornwall at Falmouth. Falmouth was a thriving cosmopolitan port in those days and Joseph  was accepted ,he married a local girl the daughter of a tradesman and began  to make a name for himself with his amazing musical talents.
The family moved to Truro and his fame grew. Attempts were made to introduce him to the London Music world but were not altogether successful although his own work and his rendition of the greats of the time won him praise in high places. It was thought as a black man he would not have been totally accepted in the big city! It was said  that if he had been lucky enough to have  the same advantages he could have been a Beethoven or a Mendelssohn .As it was this amazing black musician  lived out his 60 years in Cornwall with his family. Joseph's compositions seem to have died with him which must be a great loss to music.
I personally hope he had a happy life playing music down here in the far West so far from his African homeland.

His grave is well kept and we added a bunch of rosemary from our garden.
It was a beautiful day and the walk to the churchyard was a circular one along the lanes.
Romantic remains of old farm machinery ,there was a wren darting about on the overgrown wagon.


  1. Lovely! especially the last photo.

  2. How nice to read about this story! He had a very interesting life and surely he was very happy playing his loved music. Thanks for posting about it Angela. Kisses and a lovely week!

  3. I really like this story
    other times, I find them very
    fascinating and beautifull photos
    the cemetery, must be nice
    walk around them.
    a hug
    Susy x

  4. Thanks girls! It was a lovely walk and the story of this talented man born when his work could not be fully recognized captured my imagination.

  5. Fascinating story. I'm glad he lived in such a lovely place! I love old graveyards and gravestones, too, and like to imagine what the lives of the people resting there might have been like.

  6. Such an amazing life with so many twists and turns! I hope he found joy in his music and in living out his life with his family in Cornwall. So lovely of you to visit his grave and leave a bunch of rosemary.
    Wishing you a wonderful weekend, Angela!

  7. It is hard to believe that people could survive emotionally when thier lives were so harsh.I expect his music was his solace when he was in slavery. I tis wonderful to think of him living in Truro all those years ago and finding friends and a local wife.I was really touvched by his story.

  8. Such an intersting story about a fascinating man. Your photos are wonderful : )

  9. So sad to have lost his music. There is so talent that goes unnoticed. Thanks for sharing this story. Looks like you had a nice walk.

  10. so much talen, I meant to say.. oops! :)

  11. oops again... "talent"... duh! :)

  12. Blimey! Maybe you should write the biography...?

  13. Hello Angela

    Thank you for visiting my blog and for your recent comments.

    You have a magical looking blog here and we share an admiration for many things. I wonder, have you found my poetry blog yet? It's rather neglected at the moment I'm afraid due to time constraints but I hope to post more poems in the coming months. You can find it as a link on the right hand side towards the top of my blog.

    I loved reading Joseph's story and I love Cornwall. Thank you for sharing!


  14. Hello Angela. I just had a lovely tour of your blog, and you write wonderfully! This story is quite fascinating, so thank you for sharing... :)

  15. Dear Angela, I have read this post many times and always run out of time to leave a comment.;) I have been a bad blogger as of lately, but should be back to visit more frequently.;) Thank you so much for your lovely visits and all your kind comments, I love when you stop by.;))
    Many greetings from a cold Denmark.;)