The Logan Rock of Treen

Dec 5, 2023 0 comments

On the edge of the cliffs overlooking the English Channel, on a headland one mile south of Treen, in Cornwall, England, is a famous rocking stone. Despite weighing 80 tons, the rock is so finely balanced at its base that it could be rocked backwards and forwards by a child applying only a gentle pressure. Known as Logan Rock—from the Cornish word ‘logging’ meaning rocking—it is one of several such balancing rocks found in the county.

The Logan Rock (top right) at the headland south of Treen, Cornwall. Photo credit: Jim Champion/Wikimedia Commons

Rocking stones were once thought to be the work of human hands, connected with Druidic rituals and religious ceremonies. Legend had it that a person’s guilt or innocence could be established by a rocking stone. It was believed that the stone would rock at the slightest touch of those pure at heart, but would withstand even a giant's power when exerted by the guilty. As William Mason wrote in his dramatic poem Caractacus,—”it moves obsequious to the gentlest touch of him whose breast is pure; but to a traitor, Tho' ev'n a giant's prowess nerv’d his arm, it stands as fixt as Snowdon.”

The stone was also described by Dr William Borlase in 1754 in his Antiquities of Cornwall.

In the parish of St Levan, there is a promontory called Castle Treryn. This cape consists of three distinct groups of rocks. On the western side of the middle group near the top, lies a very large stone, so evenly, poised that any hand may move it to and fro; but the extremities of its base are at such a distance from each other, and so well secured by their nearness to the stone which it stretches itself upon, that it is morally impossible that any lever, or indeed force, however applied in a mechanical way, can remove it from its present situation.

Although the rock is well known locally it was through the action of one man that it became far better known throughout Britain during the early 19th century. That man was Lieutenant Hugh Goldsmith, nephew of the poet Oliver Goldsmith.

A 19th century engraving of the Logan Rock.

In 1824, Goldsmith arrived at Cornwell on the six-gun cutter HMS Nimble, and having heard of the legend of the Logan Rock, decided to test out the theory that the rock was immovable. After having finished their work for the day, Goldsmith took nine men with him to the cliff and with three handspikes attempted to lever the stone off the cliff. This was unsuccessful and the nine men set to work rocking the stone with such vigor, so much so that Goldsmith became concerned it might topple onto them. An order for them to cease came too late and the stone toppled off its mount and fell some feet, fortunately not into the sea where it would have been lost forever, but into a narrow crevice.

Once news of Goldsmith’s folly reached the townsfolks, it raised a furor. Logan Rock was a popular tourist draw to the area and many families had made of living out of this tourist attraction. A local politician named Sir Richard Vyvyan vowed that he would ‘prosecute the delinquent with the utmost vigour’ and residents put pressure on the British Admiralty to strip Lieutenant Goldsmith of his Royal Navy commission unless he restored the boulder to its previous position at his own expense.

Taken aback by the sharp reaction he had provoked, a remorseful Goldsmith confided to his mother in a letter dated April 24th. He wrote: “I knew not that this rock was so idolized in this neighbourhood, and you may imagine my astonishment when I found all Penzance in an uproar. I was to bid transported at least; the newspapers have traduced me, and made me worse than a murderer, and the base falsehoods in them are more than wicked.”

Fortunately, Goldsmith found support from well-known engineer and politician Davies Gilbert, who persuaded the Admiralty to provide the equipment free of charge as well as donating £25 himself to the cause of setting the stone back in place. The cost of labour and other expenses was to be borne by Goldsmith, which ultimately amounted to a total £130, a sizeable sum in those days especially for a man of little wealth.

After months of preparation, work began on October 29, 1824, and by the afternoon of November 2, in front of thousands of spectators and with the help of more than sixty men, the Logan Rock was carefully hoisted back up the cliff and repositioned at its original place. However, it was reported that the stone no longer rocked as easily as it did before. The late Cornish historian Craig Weatherhill asserted that with a series of rhythmic heaves against the south-western corner the rock will begin to move, after which the motion can be kept going with the efforts of one hand.

Hoisting the Logan Rock up the cliff.

For some time after, the rock was kept chained and padlocked to prevent a reoccurrence but eventually these restrictions were removed, and the rock was set free. The anchor holes used to haul the huge rock back into place are still visible in the surrounding rocks.

Goldsmith paid back the debt with interest shortly before his death. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in 1809 but never further. He continued commanding small vessels until his death at sea in 1841.

The Logan Rock of Treen indicated by a red circle. Photo credit: Tom Corser/Wikimedia Commons

# Ertach Kernow – Logan Stone of Treen, Cornwall Heritage
# Curious Questions: Who dislodged Britain’s most famous balancing rock?, Country Life


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