The Cornish Diaspora and the Resilient Women of St Just and Pendeen
Cousin Jacks are the Cornishmen who went abroad to work when times were hard in Cornwall or when lucrative contracts were on offer to Cornish miners whose skill and expertise was in demand around the world. Yet it was the resilience and strength of the Cornish women left behind which made it possible for their menfolk to go away to work and ensured that their children were taken care of and helped hold the local community together in their absence.
In 2018 historian Lesley Trotter published her book, ‘The Married Widows of Cornwall’ which inspired this exhibition. It used the stories of individual women to illustrate the many different experiences of the women of Cornwall when their husbands were abroad.
It has been estimated by Lesley from Census data that between 1851 and 1901 there were some 660 households in St Just and Pendeen where the husband was absent when the Census was taken. This is an underestimate of the real number as it excludes those men who may have been absent for periods between each Census as well as couples who were not legally married.
These women often had to manage their homes and families alone for many years and indeed some never saw their husbands again after they left home in search of work. They regularly faced financial hardship when husbands were unable or unwilling to send money home and they usually received little support from the Poor Law guardians who administered the only meagre form of social security that existed at that time.
The stories of some of these women’s lives are tragic as they were forced to cope with the death of their children or found themselves in the workhouse because of their poverty. Yet at the same time, the fact is that most women succeeded in supporting their families and maintaining a home for them despite all the challenges they faced. And some women took the opportunity presented by the absence of their husbands to set up new businesses and find innovative new ways to earn a living.
Some of the women went with their husbands and made new lives for themselves and their families, often in remote locations many thousands of miles away from where they were born.
Whatever their individual stories, one is left with a sense of awe and admiration for these women and what they achieved.
This exhibition presents the stories of eleven women from St Just and Pendeen which have been researched and selected by Lesley to show the breadth of experiences of the resilient women of the local community between the mid- 19th century and just after World War One.
It is the intention of Pendeen Community Heritage and Geevor Tin Mine to develop this project in the future in three ways.
Firstly, by collecting further stories of local women whose husbands went abroad to work particularly in the latter half of the 19th century.
Secondly, by bringing the story up to date by focusing on what happened when Geevor finally closed through the stories of the men who went abroad to earn a living after the closure, and their families.
Thirdly, by showing that the story of economic migration in Cornwall has not just been about Cornish people travelling abroad. We will seek to tell the stories of those people from other countries who made a new life for themselves in St Just and Pendeen, including those who worked at Geevor.
Contributions of stories and photographs are always welcome. If you would like to share a story or a photograph please email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to The Chair, Board of Trustees, Geevor Tin Mine, Pendeen, Penzance, Cornwall. TR19.7EW.
Although due to current Covid-19 restrictions this exhibition is virtual it is intended to also develop it as a physical exhibition on site once Geevor is able to reopen.
Thank you for visiting our exhibition, we hope you enjoyed it. This exhibition will continue to grow and develop so please come and visit it again soon.
The Board of Trustees of Geevor/Pendeen Community Heritage are grateful to Dr Lesley Trotter for all her hard work in helping us create this exhibition. We would also like to thank all of those people who have contributed stories or photographs or both.
Please note that throughout the text the spelling of the names of places, organisations and people is taken directly from the historical sources and may, as a result, be inconsistent or appear incorrect to us today.
Annie Berryman (née Penrose)
The independent school teacher
In 1890 Annie Penrose from St Just married widower William Berryman. Marriage for Annie brought big changes – approaching 30 years old she had a career and she would have to give up her teaching post at Goldsithney School, where she had been headmistress since 1886. She would also move to Crowan to join William on his tenant farm at Pauls Green, where she would become stepmother to William’s six children by his first wife: John (aged 10), William (8), McLean (7), Grenfell (6), Joseph (5) and Christina (4). The youngest of William’s children, Elizabeth (born 1887), was being brought up by another family in the area. The family grew further when Annie gave birth to Lambert the next year, followed by Penrose in 1892, Frank in 1894 and Ellen (known as Lena) in 1896. Family stories suggest that Annie also suffered a miscarriage in 1895, meaning that, like many wives of the period, she was pregnant or had recently given birth for most of her married life.
As a young man William had been a coach driver and although he is listed as a farmer in the 1891 census, he is more frequently described as a ‘bus proprietor’. He was recognised as a very fine horse driver and was reputed to be able to drive the horse bus up Market Jew Street at a gallop.
By 1896, around the time of Lena’s birth, family relationships at the farm had become very difficult and the marriage had deteriorated to the point where Annie felt she had to leave. William sold his horse omnibus business to his younger brother and left the farm to work in South Africa. Annie returned to St Just with her four children, while William’s older children, by then in their teens and early twenties, remained at the farm in Pauls Green.
Annie was fortunate in that she was a certificated school teacher and could support herself and her children. Teaching ran in the family – Annie had trained at Southlands Wesleyan Training College in Battersea, her older sister Mary qualified at Hanley, while younger sister Ellen taught at St Just Board School. Annie also had somewhere to live and family support after her marriage broke up. Her sister Ellen had had two houses built in Nancherrow Terrace; Annie lived at Audley House while sister Mary occupied neighbouring Trendrennan. However, managing work and child care can’t have been easy, and that might explain why the youngest Lena lived next door with, and was more or less adopted by, her widowed aunt, Mary.
William died of typhus in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1903. Annie continued her career as a teacher in St Just. All three of Annie’s sons survived the First World War, and Annie and her sister, Mary, served in the St Just Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) and were founder members of the St Just Women’s Institute. Lambert followed the family tradition of going into teaching becoming a headmaster, while Penrose also became a teacher before being ordained as a clergyman in the Church of England. Frank was apprenticed to a Penzance draper, married St Just girl Minnie Williams and later moved to London where he as a senior sales representative with the firm of Morleys. Lena, married Alfred Eddy and their twins were born in St Just. They too later moved up country.
After retiring as a schoolmistress, Annie remained at Nancherrow Terrace with her sister as her next-door neighbour, but frequently went to stay with her sons. It was at the home of Penrose, by then rector of Shottisham in Suffolk, that Annie died on 8 March 1950, aged 89.
(Additional information and photographs provided by great granddaughter, Penny Champion.)
Main headine image :Family of Annie Berryman, photo courtesy of Penny Champion.
Eliza Phillips Ellis (née Oliver)
The US Civil War connection
On 26 August 1843 Eliza Phillips Oliver and Christopher Candy Ellis travelled from their homes in St Just and married at the Registry Office in Penzance. Christopher was 21 and a miner, while Eliza was just 19 and, unable to write her name, made her mark in the register. Eliza’s middle name ‘Philips’ is mistakenly recorded as her maiden name on the marriage certificate as it gives her father as Thomas Oliver, and her maiden name was given as Oliver when the births of the couple’s children were registered. Their eldest Harriet was born in 1844, followed by Eliza in 1846, Christopher in 1847, and Thomas Oliver Ellis in 1850. By the 1851 census the family were living at Boscean Croft in St Just where Christopher was employed as a tin miner. Another daughter, Mary Jane, was born in 1853.
In late July the following year Christopher sailed on the James Nesmith from Liverpool arriving in New York on 26 August 1854. Travelling with him in steerage was another miner, Thomas Oliver, probably Eliza’s younger brother. Eliza remained in St Just with the children. While Christopher was at sea tragedy struck the family back in St Just when 10-year-old Harriet died, and was buried on 15 August.
The 1861 census shows Eliza and the remaining children living in Church Town in Breage, where the older ones worked as assistant tin dressers. In the same month as the census was being taken in Cornwall, Civil War broke out in America. Christopher enlisted in the Union Army on 3 December 1861, serving in company H of the 1st Regiment Maryland Cavalry before being discharged as unfit for duty a year later. He re-enlisted in June 1863 and served as a corporal until 26 January 1864 in the 2nd Regiment Maryland Cavalry, and then in the 1st Potamac Home Brigade of the Maryland Cavalry, where he spent most of the time sick in hospital before being invalided out in May 1865.
By 1871 Eliza had moved to Camborne where she earned a living as a dressmaker. Her household also included her son Christopher (aged 23) a miner, daughter Mary (aged 18) a milliner, and 8-year-old grandson Mark Edwards.
Christopher Candy Ellis senior is believed to have lived in New York after war and died 16 February 1872 at Balconia Falls, Rock Bridge County Virginia. In 1880 Eliza filed a pension application as the widow of a civil war veteran and began receiving a US Government pension in recognition of her late husband’s service. The US censuses show that Eliza’s sons, Christopher and Thomas both emigrated to America (in 1872 and 1880 respectively) eventually settling with their American wives in Pratt City, Jefferson, Alabama. At some point Eliza joined them in Pratt City, where she died 19 May 1892. The family are all buried there.
Mary Grenfell (née Wall)
Hard times from St Just to Colorado
Like many of these wives’ experiences, Mary Grenfell’s story has only survived by being passed down through the family. In 1976 Mary’s granddaughter, Lillian Harry, told some of it in a television interview, and Mary’s great granddaughter, the late Carlene Harry, published several accounts of Mary’s life.
Mary Wall was born in 1841, the eldest girl of the 14 children of William and Mary Wall (née Bolitho). The family lived at Carnyorth in a small miner’s cottage owned by the family. Mary was very proud of the fact that she could read and write, and by 1861 she was contributing to the family’s income by working as a tin ore dresser.
In 1862 Mary married William Grenfell, a miner from Trewellard, where the couple settled and started a family, later living in Carnyorth. Their first two children died young: Mary Elizabeth (1865-1869) was followed by a boy William (1869-1871) who lived for less than a year. The couple used the same names for their next two children, Mary Elizabeth (born 1871) and William (1873). Another girl, Martha Eveline, was born in 1875.
In 1878 William went to Colorado to mine for gold. Initially he sent money home, but after four months the remittances stopped. Life must have been very hard for Mary, especially as her eldest surviving daughter Mary Elizabeth died aged 7 in April of 1879. To make ends meet, Mary worked as a live-in maid and cook in Penzance, only seeing her children, who stayed with other family members in Carnyorth, on her Sunday afternoons off. Family stories recall that Mary would leave Penzance after lunch, walk to her mother’s home to have tea and see the children, before setting off again to be back in Penzance by ten o’clock in the evening – a round trip of some 15 miles.
In 1879 Mary decided to go to Colorado to join William. Her own brother was already there and may have financed her journey. Mary and her remaining children, William (aged 5) and Martha Eveline (3), arrived in New York on board the Britannic on 3 November 1879. Mary’s journey and tribulations were far from over. She was delayed in New York where she lost her trunk of best clothes. When she eventually arrived in Denver, Mary was told that her husband William had died of a fever the week before. Knowing Mary was on the way, they had tried to delay the burial but eventually had to perform it the day before she arrived. Within three weeks 4-year-old Martha Eveline died of measles and was buried with her father in Bald Mountain Cemetery, Nevadaville.
The miners in Colorado who had come from the St Just area built Mary and her young son a shack to live in. With only four and a half sovereigns left in her purse she had to make a living so, from four in the morning until midnight she washed and baked for 24 Cornish miners. After a time, she opened a well-patronised boarding house for miners from St Just. One of those boarders was her cousin Andrew Stevens, whom she married in 1880. They had one daughter, Lillie Evelyn, born in 1882. Mary returned to St Just with children William and Lillie in May, sailing on the Germanic from New York to Liverpool. Her husband Andrew had developed phthisis and also returned to St Just, where he died in 1898.
Mary was given two of the family’s cottages in Carnyorth that were in need of repair, and she transformed these into a single dwelling called Wesley House (later Frimley House) and lived there with the by now married Lillie and her family, until her death in 1926, aged 84.
Ann James (née Reed)
Managing the farm alone
In 1861 Ann James occupied Botallack House with her two sons Stephen (aged 8) and John (aged 3), helped by housemaid Thomasin Tonkin. Ann had been born in Constantine but had moved to Botallack after her marriage to Joseph Reed James on 11 June 1850. Another son, Joseph Reed junior, had been born in 1851 but had died aged 8 in January 1860. Ann’s husband, yeoman Joseph Reed James, was one of the trustees of Botallack Wesleyan Chapel. Joseph went abroad probably sometime in the late 1850s. In his absence, Ann had more than the house and children to manage without her husband – she was also responsible for a farm of 50 acres.
We don’t know the details of Joseph’s travel abroad. Ann’s brother, Joseph Reed, had emigrated to Australia around 1852 and had developed a successful architectural practice in the Melbourne area, so it is possible that her husband travelled to the southern hemisphere for family reasons. However, it was in Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand that he died 12 July 1865 aged 42, described simply as “a labourer from Cornwall”. News of Joseph’s death was reported in the Cornish press some 18 months later, but Ann must have known sooner as she was granted probate administration of his estate in February 1867.
After Joseph’s death, Ann continued to make a success of the farm and by 1871 she was farming 120 acres and employing 3 labourers. However, tragically Ann was to lose both her remaining sons in quick succession. The eldest, Stephen, had followed his father as a trustee of the local Methodist chapel, but went abroad to take up a post as a clerk for the Colonial Bank of Australia. He had just been promoted to a post in Sandhurst (later to revert to the more familiar name of Bendigo) when he died suddenly aged just 20 on 27 May 1873. The following year his 17-year-old brother, John Howard, died of typhoid fever while studying at Shrewsbury Public School.
Ann gave up farming in 1875 with all the farm stock and equipment being sold at auction on 28 September of that year. Ann’s whereabouts at the time of the 1881 census are unknown, however, by 1891 she had settled in Chapel Street next to the Police House. Ann died in 1907 at Chapel Street, aged 86.
(Additional information and photograph provided by Reed family historian, Peter Richards.)
Amy Jane McAlister (née Trezise)
Divorce in America
Amy Jane Trezise was 23 when she married Irish-born Henry McAlister in St Just parish church on 10 September 1859. Henry was born in Limerick, the son of hatter Michael McAlister, who had moved his family to St Just sometime in the 1840s. Henry, like Amy’s father James Trezise, was a miner and the couple started married life in Carnyorth, where their son John was born the following year.
On Saturday 13 October 1860 a village cricket match took place between the men from Carnyorth and Trewellard. Defeat of Carnyorth at the hands of their local rivals led to trouble in the inn that night. Feeling that matters had not been settled, the following afternoon men from Carnyorth, including Henry, made their way to Trewellard where they challenged a group of men outside the chapel. Things soon escalated into a general free-for-all with 30-40 men and boys exchanging bites and blows with anything that came to hand, including the crippled schoolmaster’s crutches! Henry, along with three other miners from Carnyorth, found himself before the magistrate charged with serious riot and affray. Fortunately for the men, their lawyer managed to get the charge reduced to ordinary assault, and Henry got away lightly with only being bound over for £10 for 12 months rather than being fined or imprisoned.
However, eight of the men involved in the fight were sacked by their employers, and it seems likely that Henry was one of these. This may explain why by the time of the 1861 census Henry had accepted work as a copper miner in Cuba leaving Amy to manage on her own with the baby in St Just. In 1863 Henry made his way to America. By 1871 Amy, by then 34, was getting by as a charwoman, while 10-year-old John brought in some income by working as a tin dresser. It seems that Amy joined her husband in America in 1871 leaving John behind. However, she didn’t stay and by 1881 had been reunited with son John back in St Just, where she earned a living as a nurse.
In 1886 John also went to America and it seems likely that Amy went too as by 1900 they were living together in Grant Co, New Mexico, where John was working as a quartz miner. Henry was also working as quartz miner in Grant Co, but was living at another address – Amy had sued him for a divorce in the district court in 1895.
Margaret Jane Roberts (née Ellis)
Good and bad from South Africa
Margaret Jane Ellis was born in 1840, the eldest child of Michael Davy and Jane Ellis (née Nankervis). At 19 Margaret married St Just miner, William Roberts, at Pendeen on 27 August 1859. They lived at Boscaswell, where their first child William was born in 1860. Daughters Bessy and Jane followed in 1862 and 1864. By 1871 William had left to work in the gold mines of Kimberley, South Africa leaving Margaret with the children living in Doctors Row, St Just. He was away for the next 9 or 10 years, sending money home to support the family.
William’s time in South Africa made a big difference financially to the family. He returned sometime in 1873 with enough money to buy the pub in Morvah and a good-sized farm of 32 acres. The farmhouse was the one next to the church and opposite the schoolhouse. The couple had further children including a 3-year-old who died in 1877. By April 1881 the family had grown with Margaret (born 1874), Michael (born 1876) and Thomas (born 1878). A son John was born around 1883.
However, William didn’t stay in St Just. The couple’s eldest son, William, who was around 21, wanted to work, as his father had before him, in South Africa, prompting William senior to go too. Tragedy struck in 1884 when William junior died from blackwater fever on 10 January. It isn’t known why William didn’t return to Cornwall after the death of his son. Later that year, the Margaret received more shocking news. On 21 September an explosion rocked Dutoitspan Mine in the Kimberly diamond fields where William worked. He was last seen smoking a pipe in an area where several packages of dynamite were being stored and it was thought that sparks from his pipe ignited the explosives. William was killed instantly.
In the 1891 census Margaret is recorded as a farmer supporting her remaining five children. One of the daughters, Jane Ellis Roberts, helped to run the farm, a mix of arable and livestock, after her father’s death, as well as working as a schoolteacher in the school opposite. After Jane married in August 1891 Margaret sold the farm and moved to Pendeen to live near her. In 1895 Margaret lost another of her sons, Thomas, who died aged just 17 years.
Sometime after 1901 Margaret’s youngest son, John, also went to South Africa to mine. Margaret must have had very mixed feelings about that – mining in South Africa had brought the family greater financial security – but at the cost of her husband and eldest son. John, however, safety returned to marry and raise a family in Cornwall.
Margaret Jane Roberts died on 2 September 1920, aged 80, and is remembered in family stories as a very strong woman and a survivor.
(Additional information and photograph provided by Margaret’s descendant, Charlotte Hearle.)
Mary Veal (née Nicholas)
Marriage to a hotel entrepreneur
Mary was born in St Just, the youngest of the seven children of Micheal and Alice Nicholas. Coming from a mining family it is no surprise that when she was 24 Mary should marry local miner, Samuel Veal. The couple wed at the parish church on 1 August 1861 and soon started a family with son Thomas arriving in November 1862, followed by Mary Elizabeth in May 1865. The next addition to the family was tinged with sadness. John Thomas Nicholls Veal was born in February 1869 but records suggest that he had a twin brother, Samuel, who didn’t survive.
Mary had had little education and was unable to sign her name on the marriage certificate. Samuel, however, was literate and was looking for new opportunities. In 1865 he travelled to America for the first time, returning by 1871 to live with Mary and the children in her father’s home in Botallack. By this time Samuel had ideas of branching out from mining and in spring 1874 he obtained the licence for the Queen’s Arms in Botallack Road, St Just. Mary and Samuel’s family continued to grow with Thomas, Mary and John being joined in 1874 by William Nicholas and in 1875 by Alice Maud, who sadly died at only 18 months old.
Meanwhile, Samuel was expanding his empire. The family vacated their house in Trewellard Lane in 1879 and in April 1881 Samuel acquired the licence for the Turk’s Head in Chapel St, Penzance. The 1881 census shows him was living there, along with the couple’s son John. Meanwhile, Mary took care of the Queens Arms and the remaining children, 18-year-old son Thomas, who worked as a carrier, and two younger children: Mary (aged 15) and William (aged 7). Mary was expecting the couple’s youngest son Samuel Trevillian who was born that July.
The following year, 1882, the family’s plans changed and Samuel gave up the licences of both pubs. At some point, possibly when they had both first travelled to America in 1865, Samuel had got to know Joseph Stevens from Liskeard. By 1889 the two Cornishmen had gone into partnership as proprietors of The Star Hotel at 443 Hudson Street, New York, advertised as “The Cornishman’s Home in New York”. The Star was one of several hotels conveniently located for arriving Cornish emigrants and promoted in the newspapers back in Cornwall. With favourable reviews combined with prominent advertising in the Cornish press, the hotel was a great success. This enabled Mary to live in some financial comfort in St Just, occupying a private house in Church Street in 1891, with youngest son Samuel and the wife and children of her eldest son, Thomas. That summer Mary and young Samuel sailed from Liverpool to New York on the Teutonic to visit Samuel in New York.
By the end of 1893 Samuel and his partner had bought out the competition and relocated The Star Hotel to take over the premises of the Miner’s Arms at 67 Clarkson Street, even closer to the steamship piers, and their adverts for The Star Hotel appeared regularly alongside those for emigration agents and passages in the Cornish newspapers. Samuel’s success in New York enabled him to send a donation to the Botallack Wesleyan Sunday School back in St Just.
In 1900 Samuel was living in Manhattan, New York with Joseph Stevens and his wife. However, Samuel’s health was failing and in May 1901 the couple’s eldest son Thomas headed to New York. It had been hoped that Samuel would come back to St Just to recover but he died on 10 May 1901, aged 61. By this time Mary was back in St Just where she was running fruit shop at 1 Market Square. Her daughter Mary, now widowed, and granddaughter Mary (aged 10) were living with her, along with her youngest son Samuel, known then by his second name, Trevillyan. In 1911 Mary was living at Dartmouth Villa, 1 Church Street, St Just with daughter Mary and son Trevillyan and his wife.
After Samuel’s death The Star Hotel was taken over by the Blake family, who went on to open a branch of the establishment on West 23rd Street that became famous as Sid Blake’s, Cornish Arms Hotel.
Johanna Walls (née Trembath)
Who’s the father?
On 20 May 1866 19-year-old Johanna Trembath from Church Town, St Just married James Walls, a miner from Botallack, in the parish church. A son James was born later that year and baptised in the Bible Christian Chapel in St Just on 3 January 1867. Two daughters followed: Elizabeth Ellen born the following winter and baptised as Ellen on 2 January 1868, and Joanna baptised on 10 Oct 1869. At that time the family attended the Bible Christian Chapel at Cripples Hill.
In 1869 James went to work in America with other St Just miners and was in Colorado in 1879. Johanna remained in St Just managing on her own with the three small children, living in Betheny Place in 1871 and Fore Street in 1881. By that time she had heard nothing from James for six or seven years and was supporting the family on what she could earn by working as a charwoman.
On 7 July 1882 Johanna gave birth to a boy, baptised John Williams Wall in the parish church on 8 November that year. As James had been abroad for so long, James, the baby was clearly illegitimate and was recorded in the register as Johanna’s son, but with no father’s name given.
To have an illegitimate child meant that Johanna would no longer qualify for any outdoor relief that she may have been getting from the poor law officers, so desperate to find a way of supporting her family she went to court to seek an affiliation order to be made for the baby’s father, John Williams, to pay maintenance. In such cases, it was up to the married woman to prove ‘non-access’ to the court – that her husband was out of the country when the baby was conceived and so could not possibly have been the father. Unfortunately, the only evidence that Johanna could offer to show non-access was that her daughter, who was two when her father left 13 years earlier, had never seen him, and the case was dismissed.
Nevertheless, Johanna managed to keep the family out of the workhouse, and in 1891 was living in Bethany Place with 9-year-old Johnny and daughter Elizabeth, now married and with two small children of her own. Elizabeth’s husband, Richard Merrifield was absent in 1891 but had returned by 1901 and the two households: Richard, Elizabeth and their sons; and Johanna and John, shared 10 Fore Street. Ten years later in 1911, it was just Johanna (aged 64) and Elizabeth (aged 42), both widowed, sharing the house. On the census form Johanna wrote that she had been married 45 years – all but the first three had been spent without her husband.
Johanna died peacefully on 7 July 1816, aged 69, after a short illness, by which time any scandal seems to have been long forgotten and she was described as a highly respected member of the Free Methodist Church, whose funeral was attended by a large number of family and friends.
Esther Waters (née Williams)
A fall from grace into crime
Esther or Hester Bolitho Waters (née Williams) was born in Manaccan in 1833, the daughter of a farm labourer, and in her teens had gone into service as a housemaid working in Falmouth. In February 1853 she was living in Penzance where she met and married Richard Waters from St Just.
By 1861 Esther was living with Richard, a tin dresser, in St Just. The young couple had two boys aged seven and one: Richard born 1854 and William Hodge in 1860, and they were doing well enough to employ a servant girl. Another son, Daniel John, was born in 1864.
In 1866 Richard left for America on the Isaac Webb arriving in New York on 17 May 1866. In his absence Esther gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Laura Jane, in 1869. Laura was one of 12 illegitimate children born in the Union Workhouse all baptised on 18 November 1870. The 1871 census shows 36-year-old Esther and her three youngest children: William, Daniel and toddler Laura, as inmates of Penzance Union workhouse.
By January 1872 Esther was described as having been in the workhouse for “some years”, and had been given charge of the laundry. This, however, led to trouble when the union officers started to notice a shortfall in the stocks of workhouse clothing and bed linen. A local woman, Mary Ann Fry, was observed on a number of occasions, always around noon, apparently gathering ferns near the workhouse wall and then kicking the wall or giving a cough. At this signal, a bundle was thrown over the wall which Mary Ann picked up and took to her house. When the police investigated they found many items of union clothing and linen, and that Mary Ann had been pawning lots of items in Penzance with their identifying marks cut out. There was little doubt that Esther was the one throwing the bundles over the wall, and she appeared before the Assizes, alongside Mary Ann, on 19 March 1872 charged with the theft of Union property. Esther pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nine months hard labour.
What became of Esther after serving her sentence isn’t known. However, her illegitimate daughter, Laura, grew up in the workhouse, remaining there until she was 15 when the Poor Law guardians helped her to join one of her older half-brothers, probably William
Waters, in Australia.
Ann White (née Trembath)
A new life in Australia
In January 1859 The Royal Cornwall Gazette announced the marriage in Pendeen of Mr James White of Rose Valley to Ann, the daughter of Mr John Trembath of Bojewyan. Like many in the area, James was a tin miner, and the young couple settled among James’ extended family in Rose Valley. By the spring of 1861 Annie and James already had a 3-year-old son, James, and their household also included James’ widowed mother and two nephews. Over the next few years the household grew further with the addition of Elizabeth (born 1862), Anne (born 1864) and William (born 1865).
The late 1860s were very hard times in Cornwall with Cornish mines struggling to compete on the international market. James like many miners looked for opportunities elsewhere, and by 1871 Annie was managing the family on her own in St Just. It is not clear where James went at first but by 1877, he had settled in New South Wales and was making arrangements for his family to join him Australia. To secure their immigration into the colony James had to pay a deposit for each family member and references were supplied by another member of the White family in St Just. In 1877 Annie and the children embarked on the Perecles at Plymouth and arrived in New South Wales on 5 December 1877.
The family later moved to Victoria, where James died in 1887. Ann died in Bendigo on 18 June 1904 and is buried in Bendigo Public Cemetery. In January 2001 Ann and James’ descendants dedicated a memorial to the couple at the cemetery.
Annie Williams (née Rowe)
A life in Cornwall, America and Africa
Annie Rowe from Sancreed married Martin Williams of St Just at the Wesleyan Chapel in Penzance on 24 August 1889. After the wedding Annie and Martin went to Colorado in America where they started a family. Daughter Janie M. was born 1892, followed by Martin C. McK. in 1893 and John in 1896. In May 1897 the family returned to Britain, sailing on the Lucania from New York to Liverpool.
By the time of the 1901 census 35-year-old Annie was living in St Just at Tregeseal with the couple’s three children: Janie (then aged 8), Martin (aged 7) and John (aged 4). The census noted that she had a “husband in Africa”. Martin’s brother William had gone to Africa around 1891 so he may have emigrated around the same time. While in Africa Annie’s husband was caught up in the Anglo-Boer War (1889-1902) and served in the Railway Pioneer Regiment (No: 30830327).
In January 1902 Annie’s son Martin was commended for having a 90% attendance record at St Just Sunday School despite the “serious epidemics” that had visited the parish the previous February and December.
Her other son John died on 17 December 1904, aged just 10 years old. Within months the decision had been made that Annie would sell up and join her husband in Africa. All the family’s household furniture and effects that they didn’t want to take with them were sold via an auction held at their home, 12 Foundry Row, Tregeseal on the afternoon of 6 June 1905. On 6 July 1905 The Cornishman announced that Annie, Janie and Martin junior were among a party from St Just who had just left for Johannesburg on the Athenic having booked their tickets through the shipping line’s local agent, St Just auctioneer Mr J.E. Hallo.
In the closing months of 1912 the family returned from South Africa on the Garth Castle. It seems likely that mining had taken its toll on Annie’s husband, and he died at the family home, 10 Regent St in St Just on 16 October 1913 after several month’s illness. This may have left Annie with some financial problems as the following month she was advertising two furnished rooms to let at the house.
On 16 May 1920 the Mauretania arrived in New York. Onboard was Annie’s 26-year-old miner son Martin Williams junior, who too had left his wife behind at 6 Fore Street in St Just.
Here is a recently recorded story kindly provided by Karen Pirie about her Great Great Grandmother, Maggie Matthews, who followed her miner husband to South Africa. This recording was originally created as part of the Tin Coast Partnership website.
This exhibition is part of the Tin Coast Events Programme. Commissioned by the Tin Coast Partnership and Cornwall 365. The Tin Coast Partnership is comprised of businesses and community groups who are interested in working together to plan for visitors to the local area so that our economy thrives, in balance with our the local community, preserves and reveres our local heritage and culture, and protects our local landscape and natural environment so it can thrive in years to come. Cornwall 365 is a creative consultancy which promotes Cornwall as a year-round, sustainable cultural destination
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