Cornwall’s great global Diaspora
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The worldwide Cornish Diaspora numbers many millions of people. For those unaware this consists of Cornish people and descendants who emigrated from Cornwall during the 19th century and later, especially following the contraction of the mining industry. These hundreds of thousands of emigrations continuing throughout the 20th century for Cornish people looking for a better life in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, USA and many other places including England, Scotland and Wales. Even during the 21st century many young Cornish people still leave Cornwall forced out by low wages and unaffordable housing.
At a certain time of their lives many people decide that they want to know more about their family and its history, often due to television programmes such as “Who do you think you are”. There has been huge increases in availability of internet facilities and providers. But interest has been going on far longer than that and certainly very popular during the 19th century. More recently DNA testing has been added to the tool kit of family historians and genealogists.
During early lockdown I eventually did the DNA test bought in 2018. Results came back together with a list of people who had DNA matches with mine. I confess to having a great degree of scepticism about this but sat down to compare the names to my family tree I’d been working on for over 10 years. During that time, I’d traced 1st through to 6th cousins worldwide with a number coming to visit Cornwall, but only recognised two names. Who were all the rest?
Picking an unknown relative with the closest DNA match from the list provided, my research led me back to Stephen Dyer from Camborne, a tin miner born in the late 18th century. His son William moved to Truro where he had several children, before moving to Blackburn to work in the coal mining industry during the mid-19th century, where he died. Of Williams surviving children only one, Frederick stayed in Cornwall all the others moving to the English Midlands. Frederick Dyer, Williams youngest son had ten children who survived to adulthood. He became a brush maker having a factory in Truro at Walton House, quite a skilled trade at the time. Two sons initially followed him into the trade. Ultimately six of his children would emigrate to the USA and Canada, all of whom would have children and grandchildren.
Others on that list along with researched records confirmed the correctness of the DNA listing. With existing hundreds of cousins within my own family tree living throughout the world the addition of these new cousins add too not just my family story, but also to the story of the worldwide Cornish Diaspora.
Murdoch House in Redruth, a home of William Murdoch an influential inventor, was the first building in the world to be lit by gas lighting and was the hub of engineering breakthroughs. Based here is the Cornish Global Migration Programme where volunteers have created a database, constantly being updated, containing biographical details of hundreds of thousands of Cornish migrants and families. This can provide links with Cornish ancestors worldwide. There is also an archive of literature, documents and artefacts which help to explain the social and economic history of the Cornish Diaspora.
There continues to be great interaction between Cornish people throughout the world with groups operating from many countries. Regular newsletters are sent to Cornwall by Cornish societies such as the Cornish Society of New South Wales in Australia. Twinning between Real del Monte in Mexico and Redruth is an example of interaction between Cornish towns and far flung towns in places worldwide enabling Cornish descendants and Cornwall maintain friendships. In 2018 a pasty making event with Vanessa Moyle, President of Redruth Old Cornwall Society and guests to Redruth from Real del Monte was shown on BBC television.
Juan Renato Olivares, Mexico’s regional Hidalgo tourism minister, when visiting Cornwall in 2013 said "The Mexicans are immensely proud of their extraordinary links with Cornwall as so many of the descendants of the original miners live in Mexico. people with wonderful names such as Enrique Pengelly and Raoul Pascoe."
Cornish festivals have been held all over the world such as the “Kernewek Lowender Copper Coast Cornish Festival” held in South Australia. Kernewek Lowender meaning Cornish happiness has been held every two years since 1973. This festival is promoted as the largest Cornish festival outside of Cornwall with thousands of people attending and helping maintain Cornish cultural heritage in Australia. This is supported by towns in the region which benefit the local economy by many millions of dollars every two years with an influx of over 20,000 people taking part and enjoying this world class Cornish festival.
Inspired by Dr Kate Neale, who had collected Cornish carols from California, Australia and elsewhere worldwide, Truro Cathedral held a service celebrating Cornish Diaspora carols on 20th December 2018. These were carols that emigrating Cornish people took with them as they departed in search of work. Singers and choirs came from all over Cornwall and new work and readings were contributed by Cornish Bard, now Mayor of Truro, Bert Biscoe and organisational input from Truro Old Cornwall Society and other Cornish groups.
So wonderful that Cornwall’s history and traditions are remembered and celebrated throughout the world and that people living worldwide come to Cornwall to seek out and enjoy our historic, cultural and environmental heritage.