Cornwall, be still my beating heart! I was lucky enough to visit this special part of the world in April 2019. Cornwall is the original home of our Colville and Jenkin ancestors so any of you that descend from Mary Jane Woodward or William Colville and Ellen Perry Phillips will have the Kernow DNA!
I wrote the following in my travel journey earlier this year during our visit.
“This place feels immediately feels like home and defies words….but I will try…it’s white washed cottages and tiny blue crooked doors and bluebells and snowdrops and herringbone stone walls and cats showing you the way to family graves and 15th century churches and pasties (second only to Nan’s) and smugglers coves and fishing villages and fishy smells, and tilting and rolling boats at the command of massive tides. It’s cider and cheese and pickled onions and seagulls. It’s lobster pots and narrow paths and green fields and towns that have been alive a thousand years or more! It is with incredibly heavy hearts that we leave this place. It is almost like a separate country to England because it is so unique and seems to have a proud culture all of its own. What an amazing and special place but of course I am biased with the Kernow blood running strong in my veins! Port Isaac, Polperro and Fowey stand out as one might expect but we have tiny favorites too…St Kew, St Mabyn, Stratton and Polgooth were pretty special because of the deep and ancient family connections here”
Recent History of Cornwall
Before industrialisation, residents of Cornwall and Devon were largely small-scale farmers, fishers, or dock workers. They also had a long history of mining, which served them well when global demand for copper and tin increased in the 19th century. Emigrants found that their mining skills were welcomed the world over, and their strong family ties earned them the nickname ‘Cousin Jacks’ and ‘Cousin Jennys’. Their Celtic roots persisted in traditional Cornish food and music, which became points of pride both at home and abroad. In 18th-century Cornwall and Devon, most people lived in rural areas or port towns. Rural families often relied on farming or wool manufacturing to make a living, although fishing, brewing, and leather production were also common. The ports of Plymouth, Exeter, and Truro also provided jobs and goods to the people of South West England. Residents of the mining town of Redruth produced tin and copper, which was then shipped out of Plymouth’s large port and earned Cornish miners a high reputation for their skills. Cornish was dying away as a daily language, though West Country dialects still set people in the region apart.
The Industrial Revolution
As the Industrial Revolution changed the social and economic landscape of Britain, South West England was slow to modernise. Agriculture and small-scale manufacturing jobs became obsolete, and modern industry and new technologies took over in other regions. This pushed some families to leave Devon in search of factory jobs in London, which was industrialising at a much faster rate. The tin and copper mining industry was growing quickly, and many people who did not leave the region found jobs in the mining towns of Redruth, Liskeard, and St. Ives, which quickly became overcrowded and unsanitary.
Cornwall: Mining Capital
Demand for Cornish tin and copper was growing worldwide, and mining quickly became the county’s largest industry. Working in the mines was often a family affair: men climbed down into the pits and emerged with large pieces of ore, which women and children would break into smaller pieces. Nearly all mine workers, regardless of age or gender, worked 10-hour days, six days a week. When a boy was 12 or 13 years old, he was considered old enough to climb down into the mines himself, where temperatures reached 60°C and one careless step could result in a 30-metre fall.
Faced with a faltering economy at home, many Cornish miners and farmers took advantage of new steamships to try their luck abroad. They often chose someplace where a close friend or family member already lived, such as Cornish communities in eastern Canada, upstate New York, or the mining towns that surrounded Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Others boarded ships that sailed from Plymouth directly to Australia, where copper and gold had been discovered in South Australia and Victoria. The international network of Cornish families was so strong that Cornish emigrants were presumed to be relatives of other Cornish residents and were nicknamed ‘Cousin Jacks’ and ‘Cousin Jennys’.
Between 1861 and 1900, three-quarters of Cornish men between the ages of 15 and 24 left Cornwall, as did more than half of women aged 15-24. Taking advantage of the popular belief that the Cornish were naturally superior hard-rock miners compared to other immigrant populations, they easily found work in mines in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Those who weren’t miners found work as merchants, farmers, or tradesmen. Because they were English speaking and Protestant, they were largely shielded from the discrimination that other communities faced when arriving in their adopted countries.
Source: Ancestry.com – DNA Origins