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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Cornwall

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Immigration and Emigration
I’m alright Jack

Miners at the Kolar Gold Fields
Cornish miners working in Rowe's Shaft, Kolar Gold Fields, India, in the 1890s.
© Richard Williams, Poldark Mine, Cornwall
“Cousin Jacks” travelled extensively from Cornwall - from the mountains of Latin America to the Transvaal, and from California to Canada. Large communities gathered in some areas: the “Copper Triangle” on Australia’s Yorke Peninsula became known as “Little Cornwall”; and in the 1890s it was estimated that in Grass Valley, California, over 60% of the population was Cornish.

Life was not always easy when the settlers first arrived at their destination. In Australia’s “Copper Triangle”, some Cornishmen were unable to find affordable accommodation and had to burrow into the sides of river banks and live there. Further movement was sometimes a necessity as well. When the minerals ran out in a particular place, miners had to move on to find work or struggle to make a living from farming.

Wrestling, pasties and Cornish carols

Boiler house
The boiler house at Mountain Mine, Berehaven, Ireland
© Diane Hodnett
Wherever these “Jacks” ended up they had a great impact. Their cutting-edge skills and technology accelerated the development of deep mining in the areas they settled in. Local economies therefore benefited greatly from the Cornish presence. A statue erected at Bendigo, Australia, in honour of the Cornish miners, bears an inscription thanking those miners “who created the economy from which grew a beautiful city”, and who laid the foundations for Victoria to become an industrial State.

The Cornish economy also profited from the miners’ work abroad. Some men sent back “home pay”, which helped to keep their families out of the workhouse. At the end of the 19th Century, about £1m a year was sent back from the Transvaal in South Africa alone. Other miners eventually returned home and used the money they had earned to buy land, invest in the mines, or set up small businesses. This helped to rejuvenate and diversify the local economy. Money was also invested in local hospitals, schools, and other improvement schemes.

Engine house, Spain
Another Cornish engine house in Linares, Spain - you can't get away from them!
© Richard Williams, Poldark Mine, Cornwall
The miners left a visible mark on the landscape wherever they went. Cornish engines and engine houses dominated horizons from Spain to Central America. Some of these constructions are still standing today. Cornish-style cottages can also be found across the world, and even house and street names bear witness to this Cornish invasion.

As well as their mining skills, the Cornish emigrants carried their culture and way of life with them when they travelled. They formed tight-knit communities, and did not lose contact with either the people or the customs of their home land. Wrestling competitions took place in the new settlements, Cornish Methodist chapels were constructed even in deepest Mexico, pasties and saffron cakes became well-known to natives of Australia and America alike, and the air resounded with the sound of brass bands and Cornish carols, wherever the miners went.

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