In another recent question (Is there Index to Cornish Mining Captains that might include Richard Boyens (1750-1838)?) I referred to my 5th great grandfather Richard Boyens (sometimes spelled Boyns) who I believe to have been a Mining Captain at St Just in Penwith, Cornwall.

This link refers to him dying in the house of my 4th great grandfather:

“DEATHS … On Saturday, the 24th [Feb 1838], at the house of his son-in-law, Mr. Joseph Billin, mercer and draper, Helston, Capt. Richard Boyens, formerly of St. Just in Penwith, aged 88 years, for 40 of which he held the situation of toller to the Duke of Leeds. Throughout a long life, he bore a character pre-eminently distinguished for uprightness and integrity.”

I am curious as to what work a "toller" would do? In particular, would it have been a job requiring someone to be full-time (i.e. after retiring as a Mining Captain) or would it have been something that could be done in tandem with what I imagine would be a full-time job as a Mining Captain?


3 Answers 3


On death in 1838 Richard is shown as a Mine Agent. Richard 1750 was born in St Just but in the 1770/1780's he was living in Gulval and having issue. I'm not sure at what age he moved to Helston. The connection to Helston appears to be linked with the marriage of his daughter Elizabeth. She married 1797 and he died 1838. I wonder if collecting tolls for roads for someone literate was something he did in later life. It says he worked as a toller for over 40 years which is around the time Elizabeth got married.

I've contacted the Cornish Studies Library on this query and they gave the following response which ties in with my knowledge of what an Mine Agent might do ..... According to Robert Symon’s ‘Gazetteer of Cornwall’ (1884), which contains a glossary of mining terms – a toller was “A person who examines, occasionally, the [mine] workings on behalf of the lord.”

Further information re the use of the word - toller received from RIC Truro. As a Mine Agent this clearly was Richards role.

According to a glossary in the back of a mining volume Mineralogia Cornubiensis by William Pryce published in 1778 the word toller appears as ‘Tollur (see Bounder) – A man that inspects or superintends Tin Bounds because Bounds are described and limited by holes cut in the grassy earth which must be repeated once every year, which they call Renewing.’ A second very brief explanation appears in a more modern book A Glossary of Mining Terms edited by W G Orchard, 1991 – ‘Toller – a person who occasionally examines the [mine] workings on behalf of the lord [landowner].’


I emailed the creator of the Turnpike Roads in England website (Alan Rosevear) and he provided what I think to be a very plausible answer because Captain Richard Boyens is already known to have been involved in mining:

I think this is an instance where "toller" refers to a collector of tolls other than turnpike tolls - I would guess they are mining tolls - The Duke of Leeds was the major landowner in the area, where mining was the principal source of wealth - the line passed to the Godolphins (local base Godolphin House). So my best guess is that your man was effectively a steward of the Godolphin Estate charged with collecting fees for mining licences, levies on output, charges for carriage of ore, etc, etc.

Being a keeper on a tollgate in West Cornwall would not have been a high status job - the turnpike trust owned the gate and leased out the operation to local capitalists (who then employed a gate keeper to actually take the tolls - and may have been called the toller), but my guess would be the Godolphins were on a higher level of financial operation than this.

The above conjecture seems to be supported by the Wiktionary definition of a tolling agreement:

An agreement by a toller with an owner of raw materials to process the raw material for a specified fee ("toll") into a product with the raw material and the product remaining the property of the provider of the raw material.

My next step in trying to understand more about the life of this ancestor will be to look into what records of Godolphin mining operations from the period might still exist to provide me with more information.


From the Oxford English Dictionary:


One who takes toll, a toll-collector (now rare); †a tax-gatherer, ‘publican’ (obs.).; toller of the sack, a miller.

Alternative: One who tolls a bell (figures! AB)

There are other forms but those seem the only two appropriate.


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