Church of England Diocese of Truro Crowan

Art in Crowan Church

25 Feb 2021, 1 a.m.

Missing galleries and museums as they're closed during the pandemic? In Crowan Church there is a sculpture in white marble made by a leading artist in the early 19st century.

The life-size mourning woman by an urn in the Lady Chapel is by William Behnes, appointed ‘Sculptor in Ordinary' to Queen Victoria in 1827. He produced many busts of children, reliefs and also notable church monuments and statues, including ones of Dr William Babington in St Paul's Cathedral and two statues of Major-General Sir Henry Havelock – one is in Trafalgar Square, London.

The monument in Crowan is in memory of Sir John St Aubyn, 5th Baronet of Clowance who died in 1839 at the age of 81 in Putney. He is buried in the family vault in Crowan graveyard.

The legendary architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner (who never minces his words) describes the monument in Crowan as ‘dull’ .  Maybe it doesn't <span style="font-size: 1rem;">rank with Beynes' best work. </span><span style="font-size: 1rem;">But it's extraordinary to have such a sculpture  in a rural Cornish church and the story of the man remembered here is far from dull. This Sir John was a wealthy dilettante who had 15 illegitimate children.</span><div>

<span style="font-size: 1rem;">His family seat was Clowance, but he spent much time at houses elsewhere in the country and travelling on continental Europe. At least one of his sons crossed paths with the poet Lord Byron in Geneva as most probably he did too: Byron refers to Sir John in his letters. This was highly fashionable society at the time. Byron was the Mick Jagger of his day.</span>


The 5th Baronet used his wealth to amass significant collections of prints, drawings and minerals. He was a patron and friend of the Cornish artist John Opie who painted three portraits of him. (He was a pall bearer at Opie's funeral in 1807.) His portrait was also painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

The vast sale of his collection of prints and etchings after his death at Phillips Auction Rooms in 1840 lasted 17 days.

Sir John also had an important collection of minerals, some found by him but most bought from dealers or as whole collections.

Unfortunately, on his death the estate was deeply indebted. Properties and minerals had to be sold.

The entailed estates (and the seat of Clowance) passed to Rev. John Molesworth (vicar of Crowan at the time). Rev. Molesworth then took the name ‘St Aubyn’ by Royal licence as his mother had been a St Aubyn. He died, unmarried, in 1844 and his brother Hender inherited. The estate passed on Hender's death in 1867 to his second son St Aubyn Molesworth St Aubyn who was effectively the last of the family to live at Clowance. After his death in 1913, the St Aubyns left Crowan, selling up their estates locally in the early 1920s.

Only the statues and memorials at church remain to bear witness to the family's once huge wealth and influence.