In this panoramic view of two Cornish families spanning two centuries all sorts of characters make an appearance. Not only are we educated in the ambience of English Merchants in Portugal but people as diverse as Southey, William M.Thackery, John Lemon and Canning, to mention but a few, all make an appearance. It begins by relating the making of a fortune by William Stephens, grandson of the Vicar of Menheniott and an enterprising genius. Her is the story of a merchant who becomes a manufacturer of glass.
William was educated at Exeter Free Grammar School, having left the area near Saltash, where he grew up. He went on to serve on the Lisbon packets upon arrival in Portugal became involved with the intrigues of Carvahlo, the Marquis of Pombal. He was next to witness the destruction of Lisbon by the great earthquake in 1755. As Jenifer Roberts interestingly points out, high waves from the latter were still above 8 foot when they made boats in St Ives rise more than eight feet. Then William opened a glass factory in Marinha Grande and securing exemption from taxes, charmed princes and queens so as to build a fabulous fortune.
The profits from the Stephens fortune passed also into the hands of their Lyne relations also living in both Portugal and Cornwall. The author outlines the family history, which involves wars and rebellions and diverting interludes. Eventually some of the fortune ends up in the hands of a feisty French ballerina and into the hands of various lawyers settling claims upon it. This is a splendid tale, well written and for those who find truth stranger than fiction, a great historical and biographical account.