Colonel John Peard - a Cornish hero in Italy
He’s known as Garibaldi’s Englishman and a hero in Italy, where his statue stands in Rome.
Born in Fowey in 1811, John Whitehead Peard was an Oxford-educated lawyer with an appetite for military adventure. It would lead to him assisting revolutionary General Giuseppe Garibaldi in the bloody conflicts that led to the unification of Italy.
Living at Penquite in Golant, Peard was a captain in the Duke of Cornwall’s Volunteers when, like thousands of others, he answered the call from Garibaldi and his Italian supporters to help fight for the freedom of their country, much of which was controlled by the Austrians.
Given the rank of colonel, Peard commanded the English Legion, becoming a war hero and great friend of Garibaldi. He was rewarded with the Cross of Valour and a statue in the Italian capital, despite some reports he was a reckless commander of men.
It’s difficult to imagine now how famous Garibaldi was in Victorian England. Porcelain figurines of the General adorned middle-class households, toys and trinkets in his image sold in their thousands, and Huntley & Palmer invented a biscuit in his honour.
Garibaldi mania gripped the country in 1864 when he arrived to thank England for its support in the Italian War of Independence, with huge crowds flocking to see the General wherever he went. He particularly wanted to visit Golant to see his old friend John Peard.
The West Briton newspaper reported: “He travelled to Plymouth by train, where he was given a rapturous welcome. Everybody made a great fuss of him. There he stood in his red shirt and grey trousers … still protesting against hero-worship.’’
He caused a great stir in the Fowey area too, during his three day stay at Penquite, attracting thousands of people and disrupting train services. To get rid of him, the Duke of Sutherland dispatched his yacht to Fowey with orders to whisk him back to Italy.
But Garibaldi had a parting gift for his great friend. He commissioned an Italian architect and had Trenython Manor at Castle Dore built for Peard, who later became High Sheriff of Cornwall.
He is buried in Fowey. The inscription reads: ‘Colonel John Whitehead Peard. Garibaldi’s Englishman.