Isles of Scilly


The Isles of Scilly comprise some 55 islands and over 90 rocks lying in the Atlantic Ocean some 28 miles south-west from Land's End on the Cornish mainland. The name 'Scilly' comes from SULLY meaning the Sun Isles which describe its climate with an excellent sunshine record. The temperature is remarkably constant throughout the year with only a 9° variation between the average of the hottest and coldest months.

There are five inhabited islands: St Mary's, (Cornish: An Nor), St Martin's, (Cornish: Breghyek), St Agnes', (Cornish: Pennpras), Tresco (Cornish: Treskaw), and Bryher, and about 50 others which would be classed as islands as well as hundreds of rocks. One of these, the island of Samson was inhabited by one family in 1669; this had increased to six dwelling houses and 30 inhabitants in 1794. By 1829 there were 36 residents on Samson. In 1855, the last 10 residents were ordered to evacuate the island; the remains of their houses can still be seen.

The islands are comprised of granite, which has broken down to form a stony, sandy or gritty soil, as well as bright sandy beaches. In places the granite forms block cliffs and tors, rounded boulders or tilted slabs. The rocks around the islands became a graveyard for numerous shipping over the years, although many lighhouses were built towards the end of the 19th century, including the Bishop Rock which is the most westerly in the UK.

The islands were inhabited during the Bronze age, and this is marked by a number of standing stones and burial chambers. During the Roman occupation, trade was conducted on the islands as roman coins have been recovered. In later centuries, early christian hermits were attracted to the islands, as were pirates. It appears to have passed unnoticed in the Domesday survey of 1087. A Benedictine priory was founded on Tresco in the 12th century and Henry I granted the islands to Tavistock Abbey. By the 14th century the islands formed part of the Duchy of Cornwall, and Edward III gave them to the Black Prince who was made Duke of Cornwall. In the 16th century Queen Elizabeth I granted the lease of the islands to Francis Godophin. Godolphin built the eight-pointed Star Castle over the harbour of St Mary's, and Prince Charles (later Charles II) stayed there for a period during the English Civil War.

The 18th century saw a great deal of poverty on the islands but, despite there remoteness, John Wesley visited them during the course of his preaching. Shipbuilding became an important occupation on the islands and this extended into the 19th century. From 1800 until 1831 George Osborne, the 6th Duke of Leeds was the Governor of the Isles of Scilly. In 1831 he surrendered the lease back to the Duchy of Cornwall. About this time, the islands began to export flowers with mixed success, although the trade continues to this day.

Originally Old Town on St Mary's was the chief centre of population for the Isles, but the centre shifted to Hugh Town in the middle of the 19th century.



  • The Cornwall Family History Society have published Monumental Inscriptions, which are available on-line, for:
    • St Mary's Parish Church - 32 entries
    • Bryher Island Church - 136 entries.
  • There is also a burial ground at the Anglican Church of St Mary at Old Town on St Mary's, which contains the graves of many old Scillonian families, of some service personnel from the second World War, and some 335 passengers whose lives were lost when the liner Schiller was wrecked on the western rocks in 1875. In 1995, Lord Wilson, a former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was buried here.
  • There is another burial ground in the churchyard on St Agnes, where the majority of names on the headstones are for the surname HICKS.


Census information for this parish (1841 - 1901) is held in the Cornwall Record Office. The Cornwall Family History Society offers a census search service for its members.
Specific census information for this parish is available as follows:


Church History

  • Anglican. All Anglican churches in the Scilly Isles form the single ecclesiastical parish of the Isles of Scilly; each church has its own burial ground. There were originally early christian chapels on St Helen's (St Elidius) and Teän.
    The churches are:
    • Bryher. The only church on Bryher is All Saints' (Anglican) church (OS Grid square SX880149). It claims to be the most westerly church in the (Anglican) Provinces of Canterbury and York. The earliest record of a permanent church on Bryher is the account of the dedication of a small building to 'God and All Saints' by the Chaplain of St Mary's in 1742. The building was renovated and enlarged in 1822, and a new chancel was added in 1897/98.
    • St Agnes. St Agnes (Anglican) church serves this island. (OS Grid square SX876084). It was built by the islanders using the proceeds of the sale of a wreck, and the bell in the church was taken from that wreck.
    • St Martin's. There were two churches on St Martin's: the Anglican church of St Martin (OS Grid square SX928155) and a Methodist one. The Anglican church was rebuilt in 1886 having been considerably damaged by lightning. The bell in the turret belonged to a vessel wrecked on the islands.
    • St Mary's. In the 12th century a large cruciform church was built at Old Town, but the present church dedicated to St Mary was built on the site during the early 19th century and is still in use today. However, in Hugh Town, another church was built in 1835 to 1838 to serve the population of the town which had replaced Old Town as the main centre. Here, the present church of St Mary the Virgin in Hugh Town is now the Anglican parish church of the Islands (OS Grid square SX907106). It was commenced in 1835 under the auspices of King William IV who granted £1500 towards its erection; it was consecrated on 7 September 1838. It replaced the earlier church on a different site built between 1662 and 1677.
    • Tresco. A Benedictine priory was founded on Tresco in the 12th century, and the ruins of this remain in the Abbey gardens. The church of St Nicholas (OS Grid square SX893155) was built on Tresco between 1877 and 1879, when Edith Dorrien-Smith laid the foundation stone on 12 September 1877. The church was opened for worship on 17 June 1879 and was consecrated on 16 July 1882.
  • Roman Catholic. The only Roman Catholic church in the Scillys, is located in Hugh Town; it is dedicated to Our Lady, Star of the Sea. It is served from The Immaculate Conception of Our Lady church in Penzance.
  • Non-Conformist. There is an Isles of Scilly Methodist Circuit. This has two Methodist Churches: one in Hugh Town, on St Marys, and another one on St Martins.

Church Records


Civil Registration

All the inhabited Isles of Scilly are in their own Registration District and have always been since 1st July 1837; however some links are maintained with the Penzance Registration District. The Superintendant Registrar of the Isles can be contacted by telephone. Tel.: (0)1720-422537. There was once a sub-district also in the Scillys but that has now been abolished.

The Superintendant Registrar can be contacted at: Town Hall, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly, TR21 0LW. Tel: 01720 422537.


Description & Travel

You can see pictures of Isles of Scilly which are provided by:





OPC Assistance.

  • The On-line Parish Clerk (OPC) scheme operates a service to help family historians; the OPC page for this parish is available on-line, from where the OPC can be contacted by email.
  • The OPC has produced a Genealogy site available.


You can see maps centred on OS grid reference SV882116 (Lat/Lon: 49.923115, -6.345806), Isles of Scilly which are provided by:


Names, Personal

The family trees of Some Scillonian families are available on the OPC's website.


Poor Houses, Poor Law

The Isles of Scilly parish was part of the Penzance Union for Poor Law administration and parish relief.



Some 2000 people were living in the Scilly Isles in 1995. Census population figures (by island) have been:

  • St Agnes. In 1878 the population of St Agnes was estimated to be nearly 150 arranged in 25 households; the heads of 17 of these were surnamed HICKS and this is still a common surname on the island.
    • Population in 1841 - 243 persons
    • Population in 1851 - no figures separately recorded
    • Population in 1861 - 200 persons
    • Population in 1871 - 179 persons
    • Population in 1881 - 148 persons
    • Population in 1891 - 130 persons
    • Population in 1901 - 134 persons
    • Population in 1911 - 102 persons
    • Population in 1921 - 101 persons
    • Population in 1931 - 78 persons
    • Population in 1951 - 78 persons
    • Population in 1961 - 85 persons
    • Population in 1971 - 63 persons
    • Population in 1981 - 80 persons
    • Population in 1991 - 90 persons
    • Population in 2001 - 73 persons
  • Bryher
    • Population in 1841 - 121 persons
    • Population in 1851 - no figures separately recorded
    • Population in 1861 - 115 persons
    • Population in 1871 - 104 persons
    • Population in 1881 - 103 persons
    • Population in 1891 - 91 persons
    • Population in 1901 - 97 persons
    • Population in 1911 - 113 persons
    • Population in 1921 - 101 persons
    • Population in 1931 - 64 persons
    • Population in 1951 - 117 persons
    • Population in 1961 - 66 persons
    • Population in 1971 - 57 persons
    • Population in 1981 - 66 persons
    • Population in 1991 - 80 persons
    • population in 2001 - 92 persons
  • St Martin
    • Population in 1841 - 214 persons
    • Population in 1851 - no figures separately recorded
    • Population in 1861 - 185 persons
    • Population in 1871 - 158 persons
    • Population in 1881 - 175 persons
    • Population in 1891 - 174 persons
    • Population in 1901 - 175 persons
    • Population in 1911 - 191 persons
    • Population in 1921 - 134 persons
    • Population in 1931 - 134 persons
    • Population in 1951 - 131 persons
    • Population in 1961 - 118 persons
    • Population in 1971 - 106 persons
    • Population in 1981 - 118 persons
    • Population in 1991 - 110 persons
    • Population in 2001 - 142 persons
  • St Mary
    • Population in 1841 - 1519 persons persons plus 26 in the Garrison
    • Population in 1851 - no figures separately recorded
    • Population in 1861 - 1424 persons
    • Population in 1871 - 1368 persons
    • Population in 1881 - 1290 persons
    • Population in 1891 - 1201 persons
    • Population in 1901 - 1355 persons
    • Population in 1911 - 1376 persons
    • Population in 1921 - 1196 persons
    • Population in 1931 - 1216 persons
    • Population in 1951 - 1625 persons
    • Population in 1961 - 1736 persons
    • Population in 1971 - 1958 persons
    • Population in 1981 - 2073 persons
    • Population in 1991 - 1600 persons
    • Population in 2001 - 1666 persons
  • Samson

    The island of Samson was inhabited by just one family in 1669 which had increased to six dwelling houses and 30 inhabitants by 1794. In 1829 there were 36 residents. The population in 1841 had reduced 29 persons. In 1855, the last 10 residents were ordered by the Lord Proprietor to evacuate the island. It has been uninhabited since.
  • Tresco
    • Population in 1841 - 430 persons
    • Population in 1851 - no figures separately recorded
    • Population in 1861 - 399 persons
    • Population in 1871 - 266 persons
    • Population in 1881 - no figures separately recorded
    • Population in 1891 - 315 persons
    • Population in 1901 - 331 persons
    • Population in 1911 - 315 persons
    • Population in 1921 - 217 persons
    • Population in 1931 - 248 persons
    • Population in 1951 - 243 persons
    • Population in 1961 - 283 persons
    • Population in 1971 - 246 persons
    • Population in 1981 - no figures separately recorded
    • Population in 1991 - 170 persons
    • Population in 2001 - 180 persons


There is a Isles of Scilly Family History Group available that is willing to help with Family History research. Initial contact, for anyone interested should be through the Isles of Scilly Museum's curator, Amanda Martin or Roger Banfield, Church Street, St. Mary's. Tel: 01720 422337. E-mail: roger[at]rwbanfield.freeserve.co[dot]uk.



The Isles of Scilly comprise 3963 acres of land comprising:

  • St Mary's - 1554 acres
  • Tresco - 735 acres
  • St Martin's and White Island - 586 acres
  • St Agnes and the Gugh - 366 acres
  • Bryher and Gweal - 327 acres
  • Samson - 95 acres
  • Annet - 53 acres
  • St Helen's - 49 acres
  • Teän - 40 acres
  • Great Ganilly - 33 acres
  • Other islands - 125 acres