John Harris was born in 1820 in Bolenowe, near Camborne, in Cornwall. His father was a miner at Dolcoath Tin Mine and John followed him down the mine at an early age. This was to be his occupation for twenty years. He had been writing poetry since he was a child and most of his work celebrated the scenery of the countryside and coast around him. Because he was unable to buy ink and paper, he used to write in blackberry juice on grocery wrapping paper.
When one of his powerful poems was eventually published in a magazine, it attracted some attention, and was soon followed by a collection, published in 1853. Soon after this, he was able to leave the mine to take up a position as a scripture reader in Falmouth.
Harris published several volumes of poetry during his lifetime, including “A Story of Carn Brea”. This was his special place which he described as the pagan mountain of his childhood. When he was dying in 1884, he asked to be buried at Treslothan Chapel at the foot of this hill. For many years, none of the poetry of John Harris was in print. However, there has been a recent resurgence of interest in his work following a biography by Paul Newman of St Austell.
The Fall of Slavery (1838)
Musing by a mossy fountain,
In the blossom month of May,
Saw I coming down a mountain
An old man whose locks were grey;
And the flowery valleys echoed,
As he sang his earnest lay.
'Prayer is heard, the chain is riven,
Shout it over land and sea;
Slavery from earth is driven,
And the manacled are free;
Brotherhood in all the nations;
What a glorious Jubilee!
'God has answered, fall before Him,
Laud His majesty and might;
On thy knees, O earth, adore Him:
Now the black is as the white;
Every bondsman free as light.
'Whip and scourge, and fetter broken,
Far away in darkness hurled;
This a grand and glorious token,
When millennium fills the world.
Hallelujah! O'er the nations
Freedom's snowy flag unfurled.
'God has answered! Glory, glory!
O'er the green earth let it speed;
Sun and stars take up the story,
Nevermore a slave shall bleed;
Shout deliverance for the freeman,
Send him succour in his need.
Glory be to God the Giver.
Slavery now shall brand no more;
From the fountain to the river
Freedom breathes on every shore.
Brotherhood the wide world o'er.'