With his washboard six-pack and brooding eyes, Aidan Turner has made Ross Poldark one of the hottest heroes in costume drama history.
And millions of fans — a few of them men — will tune in tomorrow to BBC One for the return of the hit period piece.
Series four promises more close encounters, with even the new doctor stripping to rival the captain’s charms.
But Cornish culture buffs, and fans of the books on which the drama is based, will be focusing on the history.
Many will ask: “Who was the real Ross Poldark?”
Author Winston Graham, who died 15 years ago at 95, was inspired by real events and characters as he wrote his 12 romantic novels, starting in 1945.
He admitted Poldark’s facial scar and “physical characteristics” were based on a injured flying officer he met on a train during the Second World War — but he claimed there was never one real Ross.
Yet there is a historic Cornish character whose life bears striking similarities to the tricorn hat-wearing hero.
And rather worryingly for Aidan Turner fans, his selfless fate would be a dream storyline for TV scriptwriters looking for a shock finale.
His name was Thomas Hawkins, a wealthy 18th-century mine-owner who cared for workers’ welfare, just like Poldark.
He married for love before he and wife Anne lost two children in tragic circumstances — while Ross and Demelza saw their baby Julia, die from diphtheria.
He was also an MP — and viewers will remember that our hero has promised to go into politics to fight for justice.
Thomas’s descendant, Michael Galsworthy, who lives on the family’s 300-year-old estate near Truro, certainly sees the similarities.
And the author told him his characters were based on Cornish “gentry” akin to his ancestors. Michael said: “I met Winston during a lunch.
“We were discussing his novels and he explained that he used people like Thomas and Anne Hawkins when creating his characters.”
Thomas was born in 1724, son of a leading barrister and public official. He went to Pembroke College, Cambridge and, at 23, became MP for the Grampound constituency.
He inherited the Trewithen estate from his uncle Phillip, also a barrister.
Thomas owned lucrative tin mines which employed hundreds of people and took great interest in their welfare. He fell in love with Anne Heywood — a brunette not a redhead like Demelza — whose father agreed they could marry so long as his architect got the job of doing up their mansion.
The couple went on to have four sons and one daughter. But tragedy struck when their eldest son John, 13, drowned in the Thames while at Eton.
Thomas and Anne brought his body home preserved in a barrel of brandy.
Their anguish must have matched that portrayed by Turner and co-star Eleanor Tomlinson in harrowing scenes as Ross and Demelza’s daughter died from “putrid throat” in series one.
Tragedy struck the Hawkins family a second time when another son died of “a fever in consequence of eating an ice-cream after dancing”.
And Thomas’ sense of responsibility for the people who worked for him resulted in his own premature death in 1766 at the age of 42.
At that time, smallpox was a killer but treatment was being developed.
Thomas volunteered to have an early form of vaccination as an example to his tenants. Tragically, he contracted the disease and died. His second son Christopher, inherited the estate when just eight years old.
He went on to become High Sheriff of Cornwall, an MP and in 1791 was made a baronet by William Pitt the Younger.
Fascinatingly, Sir Christopher became a recurring character in the Poldark novels, depicted as corrupt and cynical but generous to his friends.
All Graham’s books were inspired by stories he uncovered in 18th-century newspapers, letters, diaries and autobiographies. He said: “In all classes of historical novels, one has to have a degree of historical truth as well as a truth to human nature.”
And he added about his Poldark books: “I do not know how near the truth of life in the 18th century these novels are.
All I know is that they are as near to the truth as I can make them.”
Ross links to Battle of Waterloo officer
Some fans believe another real-life hero may have influenced the character of Poldark.
Ross is a British Army officer and American Revolutionary war veteran who returns to his native Cornwall and becomes an MP.
Author Winston Graham’s notes reveal that he researched the life of Lieut Gen Sir Richard Hussey Vivian, a Cornishman, Battle of Waterloo veteran and politician.
Born in Truro in 1775, Vivian’s father owned a successful copper smelting and mining business.
But Vivian joined the Army as a lieutenant in the 54th Regiment of Foot.
He headed campaigns in Spain and at Waterloo led the 6th Cavalry Brigade in charges that helped decimate the French forces and led to Napoleon’s defeat.
Vivian was mentioned in dispatches and received several more honours.
He returned to Cornwall and became a Member of Parliament —and in 1841 was made Baron Vivian of Glynn and Truro.
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