Little has been discovered about the pre-Christian history of the island although there is evidence of a Bronze Age burial on the adjacent mainland and it would be surprising if these people did not at least visit, if not settle, the island. The first known settlement on the island was 1085 when the Chapel was originally built.
Although popularly known as 'Looe Island', it has gone by many names in its long history. Among them it has been most commonly known as 'Lammana', 'The Isle of Lemayne', 'St. Michaels Island' and 'St Georges Island'.
The earliest recorded name used for the island is 'Lamene', which is mentioned in a document from Pope Lucius II in 1144 as a possession of Glastonbury and a subsequent document dated 1168 from his successor, Pope Alexander III again refers to the island, although this time by the name 'Lamane'. The name suggests the possibility of an early religious settlement, possibly Celtic, as the name appears to be derived from the Cornish word ' Lan', which means 'Monk'. Over time there have been many variations in the spelling but 'Lammana', which appear as early as 1200, is the most common.
The name of 'St. Michaels Island' is known to derive from a Cornish Celtic background while the contemporary title 'St Georges Island' refers to a Catholic legend that surrounds the island..
The Catholic background of Looe Island is well known and starts with the persistent legend that Joseph of Arimathea (the uncle of the Virgin Mary), took the infant Jesus with him to Cornwall on a voyage to trade tin, and left him on the island whilst conducting his business.
Whether or not you believe the legend, evidence survives that in 445 AD and probably very much earlier, tin was traded between Pheonecia and Cornwall. Furthermore, there is a 160 BC reference to tin being mined in Cornwall and taken to an island called 'Ictis'. which means "joined to the mainland at low tide".
After the initial religious involvement the island is recorded as being mostly uninhabited through the 1300s, and then completely uninhabited until the island's chapel was endowed as a chantry chapel in 1534 by a family called Courtenay.
It is assumed that the island passed on to the crown in 1538 following the dissolution of the monasteries. By the 1600's it is said that Elizabeth I needed to raise money and sold some of the land to Sir John Trelawny.The Trelawny family purchased the island fully in 1743.
In the mid 1700s Sir Harry Trelawny attempted to introduce some firs and other tree's to the island but they did not grow and so seeds were used for a plantation of firs; it wasnt until the mid 1800's that the island is recorded as being heavily wooded - resembling its current appearance, by which time the Finn family also inhabited the island.
The Finn family occupied the island since the latter half of the 18th century and were known for a mysterious link with the Mewstone; an uninhabited island off Wembury, near Plymouth. According to Rev. Stebbing Shaw, Finn was banished to Mewstone in 1774 for a term of seven years. The crime for which Finn was punished was as petty as being a nuisance to his neighbors, who may have made representations to the local magistrate to have him removed. In 1781 the 'Mewstone Man' moved to Looe Island with his wife, having served his sentence and gaining a taste for an isolated life. The Finn family are also linked with the Hooper family, having shared the island at some point, who were closely tied with tales of smuggling and treasure on Looe Island.
During the 19th and 20th century the island was rented too many different people and young families, it became well known as a haven and hideout for smugglers and pirates.
At the commencement of the 20th century the island was still in the hands of the Trelawne Estate of which the head at that time was Sir William Trelawny who inherited it when his father Sir John Trelawny died in 1885. In September 1912 it was let on a 21 year lease at £50 per year (expiring June 1933), to Henry St. John Dix Esq.
In 1964 the Evelyn and Roselyn Atkins, affectionately known as 'Attie' and 'Babs' moved to the island under unusual circumstances. The previous owner had been forced to leave through ill health, and to avoid the island being developed as a holiday camp he granted the sisters a private mortgage, knowing it would be safe in their hands.
While living on the island 'Attie' wrote two books, We Bought An Island and Tales from Our Cornish Island, both of which are avaliable in an omnibus edition that is currently available from the island shop in Jetty Cottage. The books tell the entertaining story of how the sisters came to fulfill the lifelong dream against all odds and light hearted accounts of the many adventures and problems faced by the sisters once established as residents.
Evelyn 'Attie' Atkins died in 1997 while Roselyn 'Babs' Atkins lived alone on the island until she died in 2004. Despite very substantial cash offers, 'Babs' ensured the continued conservation of the island by bequeathing it to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, a selfless act that her sister 'Attie' would have applauded.