Robert May killed in 1850, Veryan, Cornwall.

I received a fascinating comment on a previous post of mine, from way back in 2014. Where I wrote about our visit to Veryan, Cornwall and the Trist family when we were touring in our Motorhome. Here’s my original Blog: The Trist Family, Veryan

Simon has written “My 4x gr grandfather was Robert May who was murdered in Veryan in January 1850. It was a famous case. Rev Trist buried him


Burial Record on Cornwall OPC online

Day Month 09-Jan
Year 1850
Parish Or Reg District Veryan
Forename Robert
Surname MAY
Age 73
Residence High Lanes
Notes Coroners Inquest | Manslaughter
Transcriber Notes Murdered crossed out and manslaughter entered | S J Trist
Transcriber David Trounce/Carol Hughes

Robert May was married to Jane Oliver on 1 Oct 1809 at Veryan.

So have been having a look at the newspapers of the time and these are the most informative reports. This first one below is a page from The British Newspaper Archive via Find My Past, dated 11 Jan 1850.


This second account below is a copy of the transcription found on NEWSPAPER ARTICLES RELATING TO RUAN LANIHORNE by Carol Hughes:

29th March 1850 Royal Cornwall Gazette


No Bills. – The Grand Jury ignored the bill against James Trevarton, charged with the manslaughter of Robert May at Veryan.  This prisoner, however, was put on his trial on the coroner’s inquisition.

CHARGES OF MANSLAUGHTER. – James Trevarton, 23, was charged on the Coroner’s inquisition with feloniously killing and slaying Robert May, of Veryan. Mr. Stock for the prosecution, and Mr. Slade for the prisoner.
Mr. Stock said a bill of indictment had been preferred, which had been ignored by the grand jury, but on the part of the prosecution he had thought it his duty to bring the case before the court on the Coroner’s inquisition, in order that the guilt or innocence of the prisoner might be established.
It appeared from the evidence that the deceased, Robert May, was an old man, upwards of seventy years of age.
On last New Year’s day he was going towards his home, and was met in a field called Cranes meadow, by a man called John Randle. Crane’s meadow is situate between Veryan church-town and Ruan. John Rundle spoke to May, who was then apparently in perfect health, this being between five and six in the evening.
May was seen a short time after in the same field, and not far from the same place, by a witness named James Hockin, who found him in a state which he first attributed to drunkenness, but which was afterwards found to be insensibility arising from a dreadful injury he had received.
He was assisted to his home, and on the 3rd of January was attended by Edward Prynn, surgeon, at Veryan. Mr. Prynn found that May had received a very severe concussion on the left temple; there was a fracture of the temporal and parietal bones; and when called to him, his pulse was almost imperceptible. There was great dilation of the pupil of the eye, which was almost insensible to the light; and Mr. Prynn came to the conclusion that there was congestion and concussion, and internal hemorrhage of the brain.
He repeatedly attempted to speak, but the medical attendant could not understand what he said. On the following Monday evening, or Tuesday morning, he died.
Mr. Prynn made a post mortem examination, and found that deceased’s skull was fractured two-thirds across its base; the injuries were sufficient to produce death; he should think they were caused by a very severe blow from a blunt instrument of considerable weight; if caused by a fall it must have been from a very high place on a stone or hard substance. There were also slight bruises on deceased’s left side and arm.
The evidence as sought to be applied to the prisoner (James Trevarton) was to the following effect:
– On New-year’s day a party of men were drinking at Tank’s beer-house in Ruan; they were James Rundell, a carpenter, his brother, John Rundell, another carpenter named Snell, and the prisoner James Trevarton.
They left the house about six in the evening, as was stated by James Rundell, though it appeared that the time was not clearly ascertained. The parties were somewhat intoxicated, excepting that James Rundell stated himself to have been sober. In going from the public-house towards Veryan, their road lay through fields, of which Crane’s meadow was one, James Rundell and the prisoner were carrying a quarter of pork, and John Rundell was carrying two guns, Snell having previously parted from them. Near Crane’s meadow, John Rundell fell behind the rest of the party, and the prisoner went back to see if he was coming. When he went back to John Rundell, he offered to carry one of the guns, which Rundell gave over to him, and then went on with the pork, and rested with it at the bottom of Crane’s meadow till his brother overtook him.
The prisoner did not come for four or five minutes after, and when he came the gun he had been carrying was broken. There was no quarrelling or blows heard.
When the old man was on his sick bed, he told his relations and others, that a man who came down the hill struck him dreadfully, and kicked him; but he never said that Trevarton was the man, nor did it appear that there was any ill feeling between the parties. One witness said he heard the old man mention the word “gun,” on one occasion; but the counsel for the defence submitted that it was an incoherent expression wrongly interpreted by the witness, who had previously heard that Trevarton was accused of the offence. Besides the above a number of minute circumstances were deposed to.
The chief reliance by the counsel for the prisoner was on a statement of John Rundell, from which it appeared that Trevarton told him when they were in a field before that came to Crane’s meadow, that he had broken the gun; consequently it must have been before he could have met with the deceased.
It appeared also that Trevarton on hearing that he was accused, appeared anxious to have the matter cleared up, and went to the old man’s bed room with the other parties, and the deceased made no accusation against him.
The prisoner also received a good character from two of the witnesses.- The learned Judge, in summing up, said the crime by whosoever committed, was of a very aggravated nature; if manslaughter, it was so aggravated as almost to amount to murder.
The transaction was of a dark and mysterious nature, and cogent evidence must be required to fix the guilt on the prisoner.
There was nothing to fix the exact time when the blow was given; and it was possible that the prisoner might have passed old May, and the blow have been struck by another person who came by afterwards.
After some consultation the jury gave a verdict of NOT GUILTY.
The court rose shortly before eight.”

More information also to be found on Cornwall OPC online Transcript of Cornwall Assizes.

I have found no follow up to this case, so I assume that no-one was ever charged with the actual killing of Robert May? Simon may get back to me if he has more up to date information.

Till next time then……


  1. I understand that my ancestor Robert May and the others involved were in the New Inn Veryan and not Tank,s beer House. The tithe meetings were always held there. Mr Prynne the surgeon only became involved after Roberts death. Robert had been treated by the local doctor who had visited 3 times. The man who came upon Robert after he was attacked was not Edward Hocking. This was just a good samaritan passing by who carried him home. Mr Hocking visited Robert 2 days after the attack. It was then that Robert told him that he had been hit over the head with a gun. Sadly, this conversation could not be corroborated by an independent witness, otherwise the case against Trevarton would have been much stronger. A ramrod from a gun was found at the scene of the alleged assault. Most people named in the case all buried in Veryan churchyard, including Trevarton who died in Truro workhouse in his mid 80,s. A long life for a man who many believe did not deserve it. As they’re all buried together, let’s allow them to sort it out between themselves.


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