The Cornish in Latin America

Advertisement for ships from Swansea to 'Chili', West Briton 6 April 1860. Chile sent a lot of its copper ore to be smelted at Swansea in the nineteenth century. The Baths were a copper smelting dynasty of Cornish descent

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Below are a selection of letters and diaries concerning the migration to, and settlement of, the Cornish in Latin America. Where possible these have been transcribed as they were written and thus contain original spelling errors and some retain their Cornish dialect and nineteenth century expression. Users are politely requested to acknowledge this website as their source. 

Letter of Captain Thomas Garby Jnr
. to J.T. Tregelles of St Agnes, from Guanajuato Mexico 1825. 
This part, of what was originally a much longer letter, was printed in the Royal Cornwall Gazette in January 1825 and describes the town and countryside of Guanajuato and the cost of basic commodities. Garby writes of the detrimental effects of civil war on the mines of the region, has some disparaging things to say about the Mexican people, and notes that his party were politely requested to pass themselves off as Catholics to as not to rouse the displeasure of the priesthood and so avoid any impediment to future mining operations.

Fragment of the Ballad of William Simmons of Redruth Highway, a miner recruited by the Famatina Mining Company to work silver mines in Argentina in 1826. Simmons' ship, the Marquis of Anglesea, was wrecked in the River Plate after a tempestuous Transatlantic crossing that witnessed the drowning of a Cornishman who was accidentally washed overboard. The company failed to secure the mines it wanted to work and Simmons made his way back to Cornwall to record his bitter experience in this ballad, a fragment of which was published in
the Quarterly Mining Review, London 1827.

Extracts from the diary of Thomas Merrett of Gwennap, who migrated to the Gongo Soco Mines Brazil, 1830 
William Merrett of Gwennap was recruited in 1830 by the Williamses of Scorrier under a five-year contract to the Imperial Brazilian Mining Company at 102 per year. His diary describes in detail his transatlantic passage per the Duke of York from Falmouth to Rio de Janeiro, his impressions of the Brazilian port and his subsequent journey through the tropical highlands of the state of Minas Gerais to the mines of Gongo Soco via Passegem and Mariana. It is thought that Merrett died at the mines of Gongo Soco and his dairy was sent home among his possessions. It is likely that he was a grandson of Thomasine Trevithick (sister of Richard Trevithick) who married Andrew Johns. Mary, one of their five daughters, married a Merrett and the diarist Thomas appears to have been their son.

Letter of Captain Edward Roberts of Fresnillo Mexico to Nicholas Harvey of Hayle 1839.
Roberts was a Mine Captain born in Wendron in 1800 and had worked in Breage prior to his migration to the Fresnillo Mines in Mexico. He is writing to Nicholas Harvey of Harvey's Foundry, Hayle in Cornwall, not just to place an order for sundry mining equipment, but to enlist his help in recruiting men he wanted to bring out to Fresnillo to replace those Cornish miners he was not happy with. This letter captures the Cousin Jack network, the rate of wages and also the problems
of drunkenness and insubordination among the Cornish workforce. It is evident from the letter that Edwards had not received much schooling.

Contract of William Nicholls of Ilogan dated December 1842.
Nicholls signed this contract as a miner for three years with the Royal Santiago Mining Company based at Cobre Cuba, at wages of 120 per year to commence on his arrival at the mines. The contract details his obligations to the company, including a clause not to upset the civil and religious institutions and customs of Cuba. Nicholls was required to maintain his own quarters, not to indulge in liqour and arrangements were made for a part of his wages to be remitted to Cornwall in regular quarterly disbursements. The company would provide his passage out, and if he fell ill through no fault of his own, would arrange for him to return to England at their expense. If he failed to carry out the terms of his agreement in any way, he would forfeit the sum of 100 as a penalty, almost a whole year's wages.

Letter from Tuckingmill miner resident at Tres Puntas Chile, to his family in Tuckingmill 1852.
In this letter that was printed in the Cornish Telegraph, 'J.G.' comments on the superiority of 'Tuckingmill safety' and of the barrenness of the Copiapo mining district of Chile, prone to sudden earthquakes. He grumbles about the dissipate behaviour of Catholics and lack of entertainment, mentions his wages, and that he was glad to receive letters and a newspaper from home, underlining the transnational nature of life. He wanted to know whether his parents had received a sovereign sent by his employers upon his departure from Liverpool and requested them to send him some clothes should they hear of anyone leaving Cornwall for the same area of Chile. The grammar and spelling in this letter betrays an ad hoc schooling.

Letter of W.R. Bateson recounting his experiences on his journey to the Concordia Mine near Salta, Argentina, 20 October 1899.
Bateson was a graduate of the Camborne School of Mines and this letter was published in two installments in the Camborne School of Mines Magazine. Bateson gives a detailed account of his transatlantic voyage via Cape Verde to Rio de Janeiro, Monte Video and then Buenos Aires. He describes the terrain and vegetation en route from Buenos Aires to Salta via Rosario de Santa Fe and Tucuman by train, and then the final arduous journey by mule through pampas, forests and snow covered mountains with an Indian guide to reach the isolated Concordia Mine high in the Andes mountains in the north of Argentina.

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