The Cornish Diaspora

The Cornish Diaspora

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The Cornish Diaspora of the 18th and 19th century was made up of a significant proportion of the Cornish population moving to other parts of Great Britain and countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, and South Africa. This exodus was caused by a number of factors, but mainly economic reasons when these "Cousin Jacks" , as they were known, migrated to various parts of the world in search of work and a better life.

A driving force for some emigrants was the opportunity for skilled miners to find work in the New World, combined with the decline of the tin and copper mining industries in Cornwall. It is estimated that 250,000 Cornish migrated abroad between 1861 and 1901 and these emigrants included farmers, merchants and tradesmen, but miners made up most of the numbers. There is a well known saying in Cornwall that 'a mine is a hole anywhere in the world with at least one Cornishman at the bottom of it!'

The Cornish economy 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 £1 million a year was being sent back from the Transvaal in South Africa alone.

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, pasties and saffron cakes became well-known to natives of Australia and the United States alike, and the air resounded with the sound of brass bands and Cornish carols, wherever the miners went.

The passion for Cornish rugby was exported overseas by the Cornish miners and this helped develop the game in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, all of whom have played in Cornwall (New Zealand 1905, 1924, Australia 1908, South Africa 1906, 1912 and the Maori in 1926).

Many Cornish customs still thrive today. In the Grass Valley, California, the tradition of singing Cornish carols lives on and one local historian of the area says the songs have become 'the identity of the town'. Some of the members of today's Cornish Carol Choir are in fact descendants of the original Cornish gold miners. Statues and monuments in many towns pay tribute to the influence of the Cornish on their development.

In Moonta, Australia, the Kernewek Lowender (Cornish for 'Cornish happiness') is the largest Cornish festival in the world and attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year. In its heyday Moonta was South Australia's second largest town after Adelaide and was predominately settled by Cornish miners and their families. Today it is known as 'Australia's Little Cornwall'. Along with the other principal towns of Kadina and Wallaroo in the northern Yorke Peninsula this mining area became known as the Copper Triangle and was a significant source of prosperity for South Australia in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Today Moonta is most famous for its traditional Cornish pasties and its Cornish style miner's cottages and mine engine houses such as Richman's and Hughes engines houses built in the 1860s.

In the State of Hidalgo in central Mexico a local speciality originates from the Cornish pasty, called pastes which was introduced by miners and workers from Cornwall who were contracted in the silver mining towns of Mineral del Monte and Pachuca. The majority of migrants to this region came from what we now term the Cornish "central mining district" of Camborne and Redruth. Mineral del Monte's steep streets, stairways and small squares are lined with low buildings and many houses with high sloping roofs and chimneys which indicate a Cornish influence. It was the Cornish who first introduced football to Pachuca and indeed Mexico, as well as other popular sports such as Rugby, Tennis, Cricket, Polo, and Chess, while Mexican remittances helped to build the Wesleyan Chapel in Redruth the 1820s. The twin silver mining settlements of Pachuca and Real del Monte are being marketed in 2007 as 'Mexico's Little Cornwall' by the Mexican Embassy in London and represent the first attempt by the Spanish speaking part of the Cornish diaspora to establish formal links with Cornwall. The Mexican Embassy in London is also trying to establish a town twinning arrangement with Cornwall.

Today, in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other countries, some of the descendants of these original migrants celebrate their Cornish ancestry and remain proud of their Cornish family names. This is evidenced by the existence of both Cornish societies and Cornish festivals in these countries, as well as a growing overseas interest in the Cornish language. Many of those with Cornish ancestry are now reviving their heritage and a plethora of Cornish family history and genealogy groups exist.

Article based on Wikipedia - Cornish Emigration

Cornish Overseas Societies