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Poor Cambriol's Lord

Sir William Vaughan (1577-1641) Colonial Pioneer, Writer and Agricultural Reformer

by A.G. Prys-Jones, O.B.E., M.A.

SIR William Vaughan, brother of the first Earl of Carbery, was born at Golden Grove, the family seat-the early Tudor Mansion which stood in beautiful surroundings in the Vale of Tywi, south of Llangathen. This was demolished in 1827 and replaced by a Gothic-styled residence after the first Earl of Cawdor had inherited the Vaughan Estates.

The story of the wealthy and influential Vaughans, who dominated Carmarthenshire political life during the 17th century will be given in another article.

William Vaughan, the most eccentric, original, far-sighted and idealistic of them all, was a graduate of Jesus College, Oxford, where he studied classics and law. Later he travelled extensively abroad, visiting France, Italy and Austria. For a time he was a student at the University of Vienna, where he obtained the degree of Doctor of Laws. He was an able classical scholar and also took much interest in the study of agricultural methods and medicine. Like many well educated men of his time he wrote in Latin as well as English. One of his books, entitled "Golden Grove", was a sort of commentary on current moral, economic, political and literary matters. It contains numerous quotations from classical, mediaeval and contemporary writers, together with severe criticism of the evils of his times.

Amongst other things, he denounced stage plays as being foolish and wicked! Another book was called "The Golden Fleece". Much of this was written during his stay in Newfoundland. It advocated colonisation as a remedy for the backwardness of agriculture and the lack of commercial enterprise which he thought he saw everywhere. Interesting information about Newfoundland, is also given in this rambling volume. For both of these books he used the pen name "Orpheus Junior . . . Alias Will Vaughan". A further work was a Latin poem which he wrote to celebrate the marriage of Charles I. His writings are curious and wandering in style. They include allegories of a fantastic nature. But embedded among his mountains of words are many acute observations and much wise advice.

Squire of Tor-y-coed.

Vaughan married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of David ap Robert, Llangyndeyrn, and settled there at Tor-y-coed, a home which he quaintly spelled "Terra-Coed".

He was thoughtful and philosophic in temperament, and there is a strong strain of religious feeling in his writings. In 1608 his house was struck by lightning. He had a very narrow escape from death, but his wife was killed. On another occasion his life was preserved when he might easily have died by accident. These escapes affected him deeply. So much so, that he came to believe that his life had been saved by God for some special purpose. At times he appears to have suffered from a mild form of religious mania.

Agricultural Decay and Too Many Law Suits.

William Vaughan was greatly disturbed by the poverty and the lack of agricultural enterprise which prevailed in his county and country. In one of three volumes of "Golden Grove" he wrote: "Nowadays, yeomanry is decayed, hospitalitie gone to wracke and husbandrie almost quite fallen". For this sad state of the countryside he blames the greed and ruthlesness of landlords and land speculators. These people, he said, were not content with the revenues their predecessors received, nor satisfied that they were able to "live like swinish epicures at their ease". They did no good at all for their country. Instead they left no ground for tenants to till, enclosing "many thousands of acres within one hedge. The husbandmen are thrust out of their own, or else, by deceit, constrained to sell all they have".

He also deplored the increase in legal cases. When tenants went to law to defend their rights, as they did so often, they were made still poorer by crippling expenses and the waste of time involved in attending courts. Corrupt officials and tyrannical courts of law increased their misery. "Nowadays," he wrote, "we reare up two-legged asses which doe nothing but wrangle in law, the one with the other. By this meanes we consume our precious time not to be redeemed. By this ungracious brood we become so impoverished".

If law-suits were done away with, he said, men would be able to get on with their farming "diligently at home, fall to small enclosures, plant orchards, marle their lands and not scratch the earth with weak Heyfers or Steeres. They might then keepe strong oxen to plough withall, which now they are enforced to sell for their Lawiers' use".

He added that the food resources of rural Wales were so meagre in proportion to the population that thousands died annually of famine. He knew, he wrote, of a parish where hundred people had failed to survive during each of the past few years, mainly owing to lack of food, fire and proper clothing. He pointed out, too, that although Wales possessed much more sea-board than Devonshire, and a far greater extent of land, the inhabitants of that county were immensely superior to those of Wales in shipping and trading.

Colonisation the Remedy.

One can imagine the growth of Sir William Vaughan's conviction of his destiny. His life had been miraculously spared to become a Welsh Moses, leading some of his own people out of agricultural poverty, depression and bondage into a new land of milk, honey and freedom.

His remedy for the deplorable conditions which he described so vividly was colonisation. In his enthusiasm, he saw himself as the inspired founder of another Wales overseas.

Here he could put into practice his ideals of fair dealings and friendly co-operation between landlord and tenants, and find scope for his progressive ideas of agricultural planning, and methods. Under his guidance and direction he hoped to "leave this monument to posterity, that a Cambro-Briton hath founded a new Cambriol, where he made the deaf to hear and the woods to move."

A New Wales.

The promise of a "New England" already existed in John Smith's re-settlement of Virginia in 1607, and the real New England colonies were soon to be established by the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620. Vaughan's friend, Sir William Alexander, was planning to set up a "New Scotland" in Nova Scotia, now the most easterly mainland province of Canada. So why not a "New Wales"?

But where was this to be founded? Vaughan considered St. Helena, the Bermudas, Virginia and other places. Finally, he decided upon Newfoundland. At the time there seemed to be sound reasons for this choice. It was the "next land to Ireland" and with fair winds and good weather, could be reached in a fortnight. This reduced the cost of transporting emigrants to 10s. a head, as opposed to 5 for the Virginia passage. More important still, earlier pioneers in Newfoundland had brought back most favourable reports of the island's fertility and of its vast resources of timber and potential mineral wealth. Moreover, the native Indians were few and by no means hostile. There were also possibilities of developing a fur trade. Additionally, the great fishing grounds of the Grand Banks lay close at hand. It was a basic part of Vaughan's plan that agriculture, fishing, lumbering and the development of small industries should be integrated and worked at by the colonists according to seasonal changes.


In 1616 Sir William obtained a sub-grant of land from the "Company of Adventurers to Newfoundland". This was a commercial enterprise headed by Sir Francis Bacon, to whom James I had granted authority to colonise the island. Vaughan's territory lay on the south coast of the curiously shaped eastern part of Newfoundland. It included Cape Race. Naming this area Cambriol as a compliment to his native land, he felt certain that here was the new country "reserved by God for us Britons". John Guy of Bristol, himself a Newfoundland pioneer, had hailed the venture in verse:-

"New Cambriol's planter, sprung from Golden Grove,
Old Cambria's soil up to the skies doth raise,
For which let Fame crown him with sacred bays".

In 1617 Sir William sent a number of Welsh colonists of both sexes to Cambriol, at his own expense. He had intended to sail with them to settle permanently there. But ill-health prevented him from leaving Wales. During 1617 he met Sir Richard Whitbourne, a man of considerable experience in colonisation, and offered him the governorship of Cambriol. Whitbourne accepted, and in 1618 he departed to Newfoundland with another group of emigrants. Two ships undertook the voyage, one carrying the settlers, the other engaged on a fishing expedition, but also conveying stores and equipment needed by the colonists. Unfortunately the fishing vessel was waylaid by one of Raleigh's captains who had turned pirate. The loss of this ship and its cargo was a severe blow.

When Sir Richard and his newcomers arrived, they found that the original settlers had made very poor progress. Little had been achieved in any direction. The new Governor, in fact, decided that the earlier emigrants had been thoroughly lazy and shown much lack of pioneering initiative. So he sent all but six of them home again.

This loss of manpower compelled Vaughan to hand over the northern part of Cambriol to Lords Falkland and Baltimore, two other pioneers who agreed to look after it until things improved. In 1622 Vaughan himself sailed to the colony with more settlers and supplies. During the three or four years he stayed there it appears that he spent more time in writing "The Golden Fleece" and other works than in galvanising his colonists into hard work. He returned to England to arrange for the publication of these books, and went back again to Cambriol in 1628.

The Colony's Troubles.
In fairness to the colonists, it must be said that they had to face persistent enemies who wantonly destroyed much of their property, and so wrecked their chances of prosperity. These were pirates, corsairs and privateers who preyed on the islanders. Perhaps worst of all were the ruthless French and other fishermen of the Grand Banks, who hated the settlers because of their encroachment upon their waters. Canada was in the hands of the French. Crops and buildings were set on fire, trees mutilated, havens blocked and fish-drying sheds broken up.

In 1626 Sir William reported that the damage done in pillage and destruction amounted to 40,000 and that, in addition, his colonists had lost a hundred pieces of cannon.

A further blow was the Arctic winter of 1628, though the Cambriol people did not suffer as severely from cold and scurvy as Lord Baltimore's settlers further north. But Sir William was still undaunted. He returned to England in 1630 to settle his own financial affairs. He wrote, that for all he could see, he would have to rely upon his own resources to support Cambriol until the colony "be better strengthened". At the same time he made great efforts to persuade his brother-in-law, Sir Henry Salusbury of Denbigh, with "some gentlemen of North Wales" to join him in Newfoundland where, he said, they would be greeted with open arms. But though he made them grants of land there, not one Squire responded to his call.

A further instance of Sir William's far-sightedness is be found in the medical handbook which he published in 1630. This was entitled "Newlander's Cure". It contained information and advice designed for colonists on the preservation of health, with curious prescriptions for sea-sickness, scurvy and numerous other ailments. This book makes him a pioneer also in the adaptation of medical knowledge, such as it was then, to the special needs of emigrants.

The Welsh atmosphere of Cambriol is clearly indicated in its title, together with other place names like Vaughan's Cove, Golden Grove, Cardiff, Pembroke, Cardigan, Carmarthen and Brecon. These names appear on John Mason's map of Newfoundland published about 1622.

End of an Enterprise.
It is uncertain whether Sir William returned to the colony after 1630. In view of the persistent depredations of pirates and the fierce antagonism of the men of the French fishing fleets, it was becoming more and more difficult to establish Cambriol as a self-supporting concern. The founder's resources no doubt were becoming severely strained, and he appears to have had no financial backing from any of his fellow countrymen. Finally, the gallant pioneer, now approaching sixty years of age, had to abandon his cherished dream of a prosperous New Wales some time between 1630 and 1637.

In 1637 the Privy Council was officially informed that the efforts of pioneers like Sir William, Lord Baltimore and other "men, ingenious and of excellent parts," had failed. A new monopoly over the whole island was granted to another Newfoundland adventurer, Sir David Kirke, though trouble with the fishermen and the pirates continued throughout the 17th century.

It would be difficult to find a nobler tribute to Sir William Vaughan than that written by Dr. E. Roland Williams : "Whatever Vaughan's shortcomings-and they were many-at least the crime of the unlit lamp and the ungirt loin is not to be laid to his charge. He spared no pains or sacrifices in his attempt to realise his ambition, and his devotion to his ideal burns with a clear light through the mists and fumes of those eccentricities and absurdities which were also part of his character. . . Before Vaughan had been laid to rest in the little church in the valley of Llangyndeyrn in August, 1641, the silent, primaeval wilderness was already erasing, slowly, but relentlessly, all the signs of his strivings and sacrifices".

On the island itself, the Welsh place-names have long disappeared, and apart from the name "Newfoundland," which, some years ago, at any rate, denoted a farm or two in the lower Tywi Valley, there is no memorial left of this courageous pioneer. He was a man whom Carmarthenshire should be proud to honour.

Perhaps the strangeness of coincidence has seldom been more curiously illustrated than in the following events. In 1928 and 1929 two aerial pioneers flew across the Atlantic. The second was a woman, Amelia Earhart. Both started from Trepassey Bay in Vaughan's old Cambriol, and both came to Carmarthenshire waters and soil respectively within nine miles of Llangyndeyrn where the body of the pioneering knight, of Tor-y-coed had lain for nearly three centuries.

Moreover, in 1952, Golden Grove, with its fine home farm of some 250 acres, became the Golden Grove Farm Institute under the control of the Carmarthenshire Education Authority. Here students of both sexes from several South Wales counties, attend to study the science of agriculture.

Perhaps no one would have rejoiced more at this last turn in the wheel of time than Sir William Vaughan. That his ancestral surroundings should have become a scientific training ground for young farmers would greatly have commended itself to one who wrote so bitterly about the deplorable condition of agriculture, the tyranny of landlords and the sad decay of rural life in the Wales of his period.

[NOTE: For much of the information included in this article I am indebted to Dr. E. Roland Williams' account of Sir William Vaughan in his "Elizabethan Wales".]
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