The Dissenters’ Burying Ground
English Dissenters were Christians who refused to join the established Church of England, seeking instead religious freedom to worship in their own way, Also known as Nonconformists, the term included such Protestant denominations as Congregationalists (also known as Independents), Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and Quakers. Until the early 1800’s, when the Dissenters acquired a plot of land in Ponsharden for use as a cemetery, members of the various nonconformist groups living in Falmouth and Penryn had been laid to rest in local parish graveyards, often in unconsecrated ground.
Having, within the terms of their lease, satisfactorily enclosed the newly acquired plot of land with a good stone wall [also] to encompass the Jews’ Burial Ground, the first of Penryn’s congregation to be buried here took place in 1808: Abia, daughter of John and Dolly Nicholls of Gwennap. This interment was followed by that of the first of Falmouth’s residents, Mrs Christianna Daubuz. Between 1808 and 1880 an average of seven interments per year took place. This was followed by a fairly sharp decline until the 1930s, by which time the graveyard was all but disused. The rapid decline may be partly accounted for by the establishment of a new municipal cemetery at Swanpool, by the shrinking in size of the nonconformist congregations and by the fact that having received an estimated 587 burials during its lifetime, the cemetery had probably reached capacity. The last person to have been buried here was Sophia Gardiner Newcombe (1863 – 1930).
The Falmouth Jewish Cemetery
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries small, but viable Jewish communities existed in Cornwall, principally in Falmouth, Truro and Penzance. During the two decades from about 1820 to 1840, which may well represent the high-water mark of the Jewish presence in Falmouth, there are unlikely to have been more than a dozen families – fifty to sixty individuals including children – living here. However from the mid-nineteenth century these communities began to dwindle. By 1880, as the Jewish population of Falmouth continued to fall, the synagogue that they had established in 1808 on Smithwick Hill overlooking the harbour was closed, although the building still stands.
Falmouth’s historic Jewish Cemetery was established in the early- to mid-eighteenth century, around the same time as the adjoining Dissenters’ Burying Ground, on land granted to both communities by Francis Basset, Baron de Dunstanville.
The first Jews to settle in Cornwall came from the Rhineland area of Germany and from the Netherlands attracted by the commercial opportunities of the thriving packet port. The Falmouth Jewish community was established in the 1740s, encouraged by one Alexander Moses (1715 – 1791) known as Zender Falmouth. He is buried here.
The oldest surviving Jewish headstone in this cemetery, and possibly in all of Cornwall, came to light recently. Uniquely, it is made of granite and is thought to belong to one Esther Elias who died in the late 1780s. The inscription is all but indecipherable. There are almost certainly older burials dating back to the 1750s but in unmarked graves. The last person to have been buried here was Nathan Vos (1833 – 1913).