Joseph Antonio Emidy

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Joseph Antonio Emidy (1775 – 23 April 1835) was a Guinea-born musician who was enslaved in early life, before becoming a notable and celebrated violinist and composer in Cornwall.


Born in Guinea, Emidy was sold into slavery as a child to Portuguese traders who took him to Brazil and later to Portugal. In Portugal, he became a virtuoso violinist in the Lisbon Opera. He was press-ganged by British Admiral Sir Edward Pellew during the Napoleonic wars and spent the next four years as a ship's fiddler.[1]


Early 19th-century sketch of the Truro Philharmonic Orchestra with Joseph Antonio Emidy

In 1799, he was abandoned in Falmouth, Cornwall, United Kingdom. In Falmouth, Emidy earned his living as a violinist and a teacher. Emidy became the leader of the Truro Philharmonic Orchestra, and went on to become one of the most celebrated and influential musical figures in early 19th-century Cornwall. He composed many works, including concertos and a symphony, but no known copies survive.[2]

Personal life[edit]

In 1802, he married Jane Hutchins, a local tradesman’s daughter,[3] and they had eight children. They moved to Truro around 1815.


Gravestone of Joseph Antonio Emidy in Kenwyn Churchyard

He died in Truro, Cornwall, and his grave is in Kenwyn churchyard.

Transcript of his gravestone reads:

HERE LIE DEPOSITED The mortal remains of Mr Jos:h Antonia Emidy Who departed this life, On the 23:rd of April 1835 AGED 60 YEARS

And sacred to whose memory This tribute of affection is erected By his surviving family.

He was native of PORTUGAL Which country he quit about forty years since and pursuing the Musical Profession, resided in Cornwall until the close of his earthly career.

Devoted to thy soul-inspiring strains, Sweet Music! Thee he hail'd his chief delight And with fond zeal that shunn'd nor toil nor pain His talent sear'd, and genius mark'd its flight In harmony he liv'd, in peace with all Took his departure from this world of woe, And here his rest, till the last Trumpet's call, Shall 'wake mankind to joys that endless flow.


On 24 March 2007, during a service at Kenwyn Church to mark the 200th anniversary of the parliamentary abolition of the slave trade throughout the British Empire, the life of Emidy was featured and some typical pieces of music from his time were played in tribute.

Emidy is the subject of a play by Dr Alan M. Kent, The Tin Violin.[4]

In 2015 a carved wooden boss was erected in Truro Cathedral in his memory.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Boyle, Laura (2013). "Admiral Edward Pellew: The true history of this most novel Captain - Jane Austen Centre". Retrieved 29 May 2013. Admiral Edward Pellew 
  2. ^ Cornwall, musicians, history (British Association for Local History).
  3. ^ Costello, R (2013). "Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships - R. Costello - Google Books". Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  4. ^ Kent, Alan (2013). "The Tin Violin 2012 | Bish Bash Bosh Productions". Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  5. ^ "Joseph Emidy: From slave fiddler to classical violinist - BBC News". BBC Online. Retrieved 23 June 2015. 


External links[edit]