The Collectors: William Borlase (1696-1772)

William Borlase, the antiquary and naturalist, was born in 1695 in Pendean House in the parish of St. Just, Cornwall. The parish register records his baptism on 2 March 1695. The Borlase family had long been established in the parish and were probably descended from a Norman family. He attended a school in Penzance until 1709, and for a short while a school in Plymouth. He then graduated with an M.A. from Exeter College, Oxford in 1719 and was ordained a priest in 1720.


His father purchased for him the right of presentation to the rectory at Ludgvan, later it was presented as his living, and there he remained until the end of his life. He married Anne Smith and had six sons, two dying in infancy and only two surviving him, the Revd John Borlase and the Revd George Borlase. His wife predeceased him and William Borlase died in 1772, aged 77, and was buried in the chancel of Ludgvan church.

In common with many of his contemporaries, Borlase had an interest in classical antiquity that might have claimed his primary attention, but lack of financial means prevented him visiting the Mediterranean and led instead to his concentrating on the antiquities of his native Cornwall; the Druids and the nature of the religions of the Ancient Britons proved particularly attractive to him. He also took an interest in the natural resources of the county, especially its minerals, fossils and plants; he was a keen gardener.


lead flagon
Lead flagon (NC 179)

In 1748 he became acquainted with Charles Lyttelton and Jeremiah Milles, fellows of the Society of Antiquaries of London and they encouraged him in his work on Cornish natural history and antiquities. About the same time he became acquainted with Emanuel Mendes da Costa, a naturalist and mineralogist, who visited him in 1749 to study geology. In 1750 Costa successfully proposed him for fellowship of the Royal Society. He published several books, among them Antiquities, Historical and Monumental, of the County of Cornwall in 1758. Just after this he gave his fossils, minerals and antiquities to the Ashmolean Museum. In recognition of this gift and his achievements the University honoured him with the degree of Doctor of Laws.

Borlase collected all these objects in Cornwall




copper alloy palstave
Copper alloy palstave (1836p122, 3)

copper alloy blade
Copper alloy blade (1836p122, 40)

copper alloy palstave
Copper alloy palstave (1836p122, 14)

copper alloy sword
Copper alloy sword (NC 425)

copper alloy axe
Copper alloy axe (NC 346)

Borlase's publications include

  • Antiquities, Historical and Monumental, of the County of Cornwall, 1758

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