A cousin of actor Henry Irving, Penberthy, described as 'a man of volcanic temperament with the physique of a giant', was born in the Halsetown area in 1840 and migrated to Real del Monte Mexico in 1856, a country convulsed by political instability. Employed as Agent of the Real del Monte Mining Company he spent 16 years there and witnessed many problematic times during the administrations of Mira Mon, Juarez and Maximilian.
In addition to surviving after being crushed by his horse following a fall from a highway, he witnessed armed raids on the company's property, riots in the streets of Real del Monte and was captured and robbed by bandits of several thousand dollars in wages he was carrying to be paid to employees of the Real del Monte Company. Placed on a pile of bricks to be shot, his intended executioners quarreled among themselves allowing him to escape. A man who never lost his nerve in a crisis, Penberthy was shot at several times, a bullet on one occasion passing right through his hat. He once rode through the streets of Real del Monte knowing that he was a marked man, waiting for the order to fire that never came. He was one of those responsible for the collection of a ransom demanded by bandits for the release of fellow Cornishman William Rabling in 1863.
Returning to Cornwall to marry his wife Elizabeth in 1872, he then migrated with her to Bolivia where he took up the position of Captain of the Huanchaca silver mines. Here he offended the local miners by introducing stricter working rules and regulations to stop time wasting and a plot was hatched for his assassination. He survived the ensuing armed mutiny by confronting the native miners and requesting them 'to do what was on their minds'. They recapitulated and Penberthy succeeded in instituting strict discipline that turned Huanchaca into a thriving concern, remaining there for 7 years.
He then resided for 3 years in the Argentine Republic where he was employed by the government to inspect mines before he became a partner in a silver mining company in the Tamitina Hills which was not successful due to corruption. Penberthy returned to Bolivia where he was employed in the isolated San Antonio de Liepez Mines 16,000 feet in the Andes. He was brought unconscious to the surface of one of the mines in January 1889 after being overcome by foul air that killed 19 natives and three English miners, two of whom were Cornishmen from Carharrack named Goldsworthy and Grey. These mines were flooded after a huge influx of water and Penberthy returned to Redruth.
In 1891 he once more returned to Huanchaca and after a brief spell in Redruth in the late 1890s he proceeded as Captain to the gold mines of Frontino and Bolivia in Colombia where he was often in the saddle all day long clad in sombrero and leggings, sporting an arsenal of weapons. In 1899 he was sent to Siam as general manager of a London gold mining company before returning to Bolivia.
Outspoken and forthright, Penberthy once reported laconically to a group of shareholders that the mine in which they had an interest was not 'worth a damn' and on another occasion noted that the predecessors of a mining enterprise he then controlled ought to have had 'seven years' penal servitude'. He was an expert on Bolivian tin mining and gave many public addresses on the subject. A Unionist described as 'Cornish through and through' he was not immune to personal tragedy losing two sons, Victor and Jack, within two months of each other in Bolivia in 1913.
In 1912, although aged 72, he was back in Cornwall managing the Providence Mines near St Ives. When they closed he found himself unemployed. "I am taking chances again" he noted to a friend in 1914, "but this grand old world is full of chance and change. It may be that I shall rest under the snows of the Andes or rub along a few years and perhaps return to the comforts of home. Some good folks...hold up their hands at the thought of a man leaving home at my age. They belong to the overcoat and muffler corps. I was cast in another mould..." His words were prophetic; he died at sea shortly afterwards aged 74 en route to Bolivia. There is a badly damaged family memorial at St Day Road Cemetery, Redruth.