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Dr Jonathan Couch
Polperro's most distinguished inhabitant

Surgeon apothecary, classical scholar, Methodist preacher, antiquarian, author and man of letters, Jonathan Couch ranks as Polperro's most distinguished inhabitant. Born in humble circumstances, he rose to become one of the leading natural scientists of the 19th century.

The story of this remarkable Cornishman, Doctor By Nature: Jonathan Couch - Surgeon of Polperro has just been published by the Polperro Press: click here for details

Jonathan was born in the Warren, Polperro, on 15 March 1789. He was educated locally and at Bodmin Grammar School until 1803 when he became a pupil of Mr John Rice, "an eminent medical practitioner of East Looe." Five years later he entered the united medical schools of Guy's and St. Thomas's in London. On completion of his medical studies, Jonathan Couch returned to Polperro in 1810 where he settled for the remainder of his life, combining his skill and practice as a physician with a lifelong passion for natural history. He wrote about the migration of birds and the habits of bats; about fossils and flowering plants, sharks and shooting stars, crabs and carpenter bees, porpoises and potato disease. A compassionate family man, his three marriages yielded 11 children and more than a fair share of grief.

His most celebrated publication is the four volume set, Fishes of the British Islands, the first of which was published in 1862. It still ranks today as one of the seminal works on British fish and contains over 250 coloured plates from original drawings by the author.Many of the specimens illustrated were brought to Jonathan Couch by the fishermen of Polperro and he would keep them immersed in water in order to presderve their colours while he drew them. Copies of some of his original drawings of fish landed at Polperro, used to illustrate his Fishes of the British Islands, are on display at the Polperro Heritage Museum.

Throughout his life, Jonathan Couch maintained a prodigious output of published work in a wide variety of scientific and medical journals and other publications on subjects as diverse as religion, natural history and medicine, including A Cornish Fauna and Illustrations of Instinct. His unpublished work includes his Journal of Natural History of which ten of its 12 volumes were lost for over a century. Couch's study of Cornish birds, begun in 1829, was recently published in a specially-edited and updated version by the Polperro Heritage Press: Jonathan Couch's Cornish Birds (click here for details).

His other most notable publication is his History of Polperro published in 1871 shortly after his death with an introduction by his son Thomas Quiller Couch. A special facsimile edition is now available (click here for details).

Further information about Jonathan Couch can be found inside the Polperro Heritage Museum

edited by Jeremy Rowett Johns, Polperro Heritage Museum © 2003

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