The Cornish Mining Index

Few will deny the contribution made by Cornwall to the industrial development of Britain and the rest of the world during the 18th and 19th centuries. Cornwall was at the forefront in the application of the new technology of steam power. Cornish mines had the problem of raising water and ore from the ever increasing depths, while the genius of such men as Savery, Newcomen and Watt provided the solution to replace much of the hard labour done by adults, children and animals. But, like many of the great conflicts of history, we are made aware of the Generals, the battlefields and weapons, but know little of the foot soldiers who gave all in the service of country (and employer), and so it is, with regard to those anonymous thousands labouring in the winning and refining of the ore. In 1838, for example approximately 30,000 men, women and children were directly employed in the mining industry in Cornwall, with many thousands in support industries. Yet despite their vast numbers the majority were doomed to anonymity.

At first sight it appears that other than census returns very few records exist that may help us to put some flesh and blood on these nameless thousands. However, through conventional research and the badgering of fellow researchers it has transpired that a surprising amount of archives survive, in both public and private collections. By attempting to collate all references to Cornish miners and their families that I come across, it is possible to develop a clearer picture of their lives from the cradle to the grave, and it is with this objective that a computer database named THE CORNISH MINING INDEX has been instigated. For example, a search for a RICHARD PRIN(N) of Menheniot provides us with quite a revealing image of his life (sources in brackets). RICHARD PRIN(N) son of RICHARD and MARTHA, born circa 1822, married ELIZABETH BARRETT born circa 1825 at Stoke Damerell on 5 April 1846 (Strays Index). On the night of 30th March 1851 Richard, his wife and one year old son HENRY are residing at Menheniot, and Richard's occupation is given as Lead miner (1851 Census). However this was not to be for long, for on 13th November 1857 Richard's hands are shattered in an explosion at Wheal Mary Ann, which ultimately drew to a close his mining career ("The Cornish Times" 22-11-1857). But Richard must have been quite some character, despite having lost both arms, in 1864 he is working as a wagon driver. Unfortunately fate was unkind yet again, for on 7th June 1864 whilst delivering coal with his son Henry in Liskeard he is fatally injured when a chimney of a house being demolished fell on him ("The Cornish Times" 11-6-1864), and was finally laid to rest at Menheniot on 17th June 1864.

Newspapers provide us with births, marriages and death announcements, with the accounts of the local and county courts giving us a glimpse of our forebears as they fall foul of the law, and the severity by which they were dealt with for what we would now consider to be petty offences. And of course to satisfy the Victorian appetite for tragedy and drama, they recall for their readers (mainly the literate middle classes) the daily tragedies of the labouring classes. Since its inception in September 1993 the index has grown to over 14,000 entries, and is expected to grow at a similar rate in future years, with the principle sources to date being; Census returns, 1797 Tinners List, Strays Index, Newspapers and Publications, Cost Books, 1535 Tinners Muster Roll and Private submissions.

Now an appeal, there must be many members with details and stories of their mining ancestors suitable for submission, and as all printouts detail the data source, there exist the possibility of linking with other lines. So if you have a story to tell on behalf of your ancestors please contact me.

Ian Richards, Higher Stanbeer, Henwood, Liskeard, Cornwall, PL14 5BH, UK,