The Cornish diaspora consists of Cornish people and their descendants who emigrated from Cornwall. The diaspora is found in countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Brazil.
Cornish emigration has been caused by a number of factors, but due mainly to economic reasons and the lack of jobs in the 18th and 19th centuries when many Cornish people or “Cousin Jacks”, as they were known, migrated to various parts of the world in search of a better life. A driving force for some emigrants was the opportunity for skilled miners to find work abroad, later in combination 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 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. 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 homeland. 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 Rugby union 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 Māori in 1926).
Today, in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil 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.
In Moonta, South 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 19th and early 20th centuries. 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. Many streets and houses have Cornish names. Many descendants of these Cornish families bearing their Cornish surnames still live in the Copper Triangle and the area is intensely proud of its Cornish heritage. Many of the original miners' cottages made from wattle and daub still stand and are still lived in by local residents. An example of the extent of the Cornish diaspora are the miners who worked at the Geraldine mine in Western Australia and had an influence on the nearby town of Northampton. Their produce was shipped out of Port Gregory, Western Australia in small vessels like the tramp steamer SS Xantho and then transhipped to the port of Geraldton where it was loaded onto wool ships bound for England as a form of 'paying ballast'.
Two of Australia's prime-ministers are known to have Cornish ancestry. Robert Menzies was partially Cornish, while Bob Hawke is entirely of Cornish descent. In addition, at least six Premiers of South Australia have been of Cornish origin.
Cornish miners played a major role in gold mining in imperial Brazil. Of particular note was Cornish miner Thomas Bawden (Scorrier, 1814-Mariana, Brazil, 1886), who had migrated to Brazil as a young man to make his fortune, and who on June 1, 1859 bought, for a very modest price, the gold ore exploring rights of "Mina da Passagem" (in Mariana, the first city and first capital of Minas Gerais Province), then believed to be practically exhausted, from the estate of then recently deceased mineralogy pioneer Baron von Eschwege (Wilhelm Ludwig Freiherr von Eschwege, a German engineer who had been charged by the King, D. João VI, to survey Brazilian mineral resources and establish ways of exploitation. See Eschwege's book: Pluto Brasiliensis). After more than four years managing the enterprise, Bawden, now a successful businessman, sold the whole of it, for a remarkably high price. He went on to form the single-purpose business the "Anglo-Brazilian Gold Mining Company", with the experienced Thomas Treloar (Sithney, 1814-London, 1880), who also came from Cornwall. The company received, in 1867, the official visit of Sir Richard Francis Burton, former Africa and Middle East explorer, then acting as consul to Brazil within the British diplomatic service. Consul Burton, a renowned linguist and intellectual as well, described (in the book Explorations of the Highlands of Brazil, 1869) how he had found there a large Cornish community, whose church services included hymns sung in the Cornish language, and had witnessed their eccentric rite of "Baptism for the dead", based on the apostle Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians 15:29. The "Anglo-Brazilian" project turned out to be a success and, using newly developed Cornish gold extraction engineering technologies, the "Mina da Passagem" eventually kept producing large amounts of gold for around ninety years more.
In Ontario, Oshawa and the surrounding Ontario County were the settling grounds of a large number of 19th century Cornish immigrants during the Cornish emigration which considerably reduced Cornwall's population, although these were largely agricultural workers, rather than miners. There were also major Cornish settlements in the Prairie provinces, and on Vancouver Island. Cornish ethnicity is recognised on the Canadian census, and in 2006 1,550 Canadians listed their ethnic origin as Cornish. The name of Cornwall, Ontario however does not indicate settlement by Cornish people since it was named after one of the Dukes of Cornwall (its flag and coat of arms are therefore based on elements from the Duchy of Cornwall).
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 union, 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. In 2008 thirty members of the Cornish Mexican Cultural Society travelled to Mexico to try and re-trace the path of their ancestors who set off from Cornwall to start a new life in Mexico.
During the 1870s and 1880s, New Zealand had an immigrant drive spearheaded by Sir Julius Vogel of the New Zealand Government. At that time Vogel recognised that the young colony needed labourers, farmers and domestic servants to "bring the country in". Vogel initiated the Vogel Immigration Scheme (1871–1888) in which any New Zealand resident could nominate any British resident to immigrate to New Zealand for free if they qualified under the criteria. The criteria was for fit, healthy, young people with primarily labouring, farming or domestic servant skills. The recruiters were told to focus on Cornish and Scots who were known for their hard work ethic and were therefore deemed particularly ideal for colonial life. As the timing coincided with the downturn of the Cornish tin market, a large number of Cornish took up the offer. Many Cornish went to Auckland, Wellington, or Lyttelton (Christchurch), New Zealand. Many Scots went to Dunedin, New Zealand. Peak immigration under the scheme occurred between 1872 and 1874. Records of those who emigrated under the scheme still exist and can be searched at most large New Zealand public libraries.
During the gold rush period on the Witwatersrand many Cornishmen went to the then South African Republic (also known as the Transvaal) in order to seek their fortune. In fact, the pioneering of the Rand gold reef was largely down to the hardrock mining expertise that Cornishmen brought with them from their native country, where tin and copper had been obtained from granite for many centuries. By the end of the 19th century the sheer numbers of Cornish miners on the Rand, sending up to £1 million a year back to Cornwall, even caused friction with the Kruger government which resented the wealth these "uitlanders" were sending home. The Kruger government's decision to tax these so-called uitlanders without any kind of legislative representation was one of the many reasons behind the outbreak of the Second Boer War. "Cousin Jack", as the Cornishman was known, also brought a strong rugby tradition, the Cornish pasty and a few other elements of Cornish culture to South Africa that can still be found today. Indeed, there is an area known as New Redruth in Johannesburg and one area of Soweto bears a Cornish language name, Baragwanath. Later Cornish migration to South Africa could be viewed as part of a more general trend of emigration from the British Isles and is thus harder to gauge. The prevalence of Cornish surnames, e.g. Tregowning, amongst people of all races, especially in the Cape of Good Hope, is further testimony to the Cornish contribution to South Africa.
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. Some inhabitants of Tangier Island, Virginia, a former Cornish fishing settlement, have a Cornish accent that traces back to the Cornish settlers who settled there in 1686.
There are estimated to be close to 2 million people of Cornish descent in the US.
Other parts of the United Kingdom
Cornish people have also moved to a number of (other) parts of England and the rest of the United Kingdom. Many Cornish people believe England begins at the River Tamar: the areas beyond being regarded as Upcountry, inhabited by "foreigners". East of the lower Tamar lies the naval city of Plymouth which has had an influx of Cornish people since time immemorial and, during the rise of Devonport Dockyard, was a main source of income for many of the Cornish. Historically the surname Cornish/Cornishe/Cornyshe was given to a Cornish person who had left Cornwall and this surname can be found throughout the British Isles. Today there are significant Cornish populations in Plymouth, Bristol and the capital, London, which is also home to London Cornish RFC. Within Great Britain, Cornish families were attracted from Cornwall to North East England—-particularly on Teesside—-to partake in coal mining as a means to earn wealth by using their mining skill. This has resulted in a concentration of Cornish names on and around Teesside that persists into the 21st century. Other areas settled by Cornish miners were Roose in Cumbria and parts of south Wales.
- Category:People of Cornish descent
- List of topics related to Cornwall
- Culture of Cornwall
- History of Cornwall
- Celtic nations
- Mining in Cornwall
- Camborne School of Mines
- "Cousin Jacks" is a nickname for the overseas Cornish, thought to derive from the practice of Cornishmen asking if job vacancies could be filled by their cousin named Jack in Cornwall. (1)Thernstrom, Stephan (1980), Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups (2nd ed.), Harvard University Press, pp. 243–44, ISBN 978-0-674-37512-3 (2) Jupp, James (2001), The Australian People: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people, and their origins (2nd ed.), Cambridge University Press, p. 229, ISBN 978-0-521-80789-0
- Kernewek Lowender
- McDonald, G. K. The Little Boat Harbour: history of Port Gregory. WA Museum, Fremantle.
- Canadian 2006 Census Data
- The Cornish Mexican Cultural Society
- BBC - The Cornish in Mexico
- Cornish Mexican Cultural Society 2008 visit
- A Mexican Wave from Cornwall - Cornish World magazine
- "Immigration from southern England to New Zealand". New Zealand Government. Retrieved 2009-09-15.
- Calyfornya Kernewek (California Cornish)
- Tangier Island
- Cornish in Michigan
- McKie, Robin (15 January 2007). "Britain's moving story". New Statesman. newstatesman.com. Retrieved 2009-08-28.
- BBC The Cornish Diaspora - I’m alright Jack
- The Cornish Transnational Communities Project
- Kernewek Lowender - The world's largest Cornish festival
- Cornish Miners and the Witwatersrand Gold Mines in S.Africa. 1890-1904
- Overseas Cornish Associations
- UK Cornish Associations
- The Cornish in Latin America
- Cornish American Heritage Society - Cornwall on the Web
- New Zealand emigration
- Cornwall: Emigration & Immigration; Genuki