The storms had blown for weeks and the fishermen of Mousehole had been unable to set to sea. The villagers' supplies of dried fish and beans had been exhausted and the families were facing starvation. In spite of the prayers led by the local priest the storms still blew unabated and many boats had been sunk at their moorings. There wasn't the protection there that there is today.
In a few days it would be Christmas, a time of feasting and good cheer. In Mousehole that year all the talk was of the weather and how the womenfolk would not allow their men to face the winds and flying spray. Going hungry was one thing but being a widow with fatherless children was quite another.
Tom Bawcock was a well known local fisherman. A quiet, caring man his wife had died some years before and since then he had continued to live in their little cottage on his own. There was no one to stop Tom as he slipped the mooring from his little craft and sailed out into the tumultuous sea. Villagers who had seen his departure were helpless to stop him. They called out but their words were flung away by the storm. Once or twice his little boat with its partly reefed sail was seen on the crest of a gigantic wave. Then it was gone.
That night there was no sign of Tom. Dusk had come early that late December evening, the scudding clouds hid the moon and stars produced a night sky which could only have been painted by the Devil himself. The people of Mousehole huddled silently together in their houses during the cold night remembering the kindness of Tom Bawcock who had lived amongst them for so many years. Always with a friendly word for everybody he met he loved all of the village children and was always willing to help whenever he could.
It was the day before Christmas Eve but nobody dared to mention the festive season. Holding their stomachs against the pangs of hunger they were doing their best to keep warm when a shout was heard outside.
"Tom's back!" came the cry as a man rushed round the narrow streets calling out the news.
Everyone who could wrapped themselves up and rushed to the quayside. First of all there was nothing to be seen and the villagers feared the worst, that it was a cruel hoax caused by the strange sounds of the storm. Then another cry went up.
"There 'e is!"
Staring into the wet, grey blanket which hung just a few yards from the quay the village folk caught a glimpse of that small sail, now in tatters, before it disappeared again into a deep trough. The watching women dropped to their knees, clutching their shawls around their heads and crossed themselves in prayer. The men, knowing the power of the sea, stood still, tight lipped and silent until the boiling mass of water had thrown the little boat up again to perch high on the crest of a wave. This time it was nearer to the quay and the outline of Tom could be seen fighting to keep on course in the terrible conditions. Then he was gone again and the people held their breath but this time he reappeared sooner, much nearer to the quay. The fishermen scrambled down to their boats as Tom was likely to crash in amongst them. Next time he appeared it was possible for one of the fishermen to catch the line that Tom threw. In a few moments the boat was secured and bobbing up and down with the others.
Tom could hardly stand as he was helped ashore. The small crowd broke into cheers and cries of relief as they realised that he had come home from the sea during the worst storm in living memory.
"Hey!" a shout came from one of the men who had climbed into his boat, "Tom's got fish!" In all the excitement about his safe return there hadn't been a thought about the reason why he had gone to sea in the first place. Whilst fighting all that the storm could throw at him Tom had been casting his lines from his pitching boat for all that his life was worth. His boat was full of fish, the first that had been seen in Mousehole for a very long time. When the catch was landed it was found that Tom had caught no less than seven types of fish.
That night there was the finest feast that anyone in Mousehole could ever remember. Tom Bawcock was their saviour and everyone had a Merry Christmas.
To this day the scene is re-enacted in Mousehole each "Tom Bawcock's Eve", the day before Christmas Eve. A local fisherman sails into the harbour and lands his catch from a small boat. The children carry symbolic lighted lanterns in the shape of fishes in a musical procession around the same tiny village streets where that storm had raged. Nowadays the children hand out fish shaped biscuits to the old folk and joyfully sing to celebrate that frightening but wonderful Christmas of long ago.
Famous Cornish People Cornwall's History