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The Cornish in Latin America

Ruins of the Mina San Pedro, Pachuca May 2002. This is one of four extant Cornish engine houses in the Pachuca-Real del Monte mining area of Mexico and dates from 1884
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Cornish-Mexican Cultural Society plan re-enactment of the 'Great Trek' of the Transport Party

The Cornish-Mexican Cultural Society was established in 2006 with the objectives of fostering and promoting the historic cultural ties between Cornwall and Mexico, and, in particular, the State of Hidalgo and the municipalities of Pachuca and Real del Monte enabling the re-establishment of cultural links between the two great mining districts. Building upon an agreement signed between the towns of Camborne and Redruth in Cornwall and the municipalities of Pachuca and Mineral del Monte, Hidalgo State, Mexico, a visit is being planned for July 2008 that will follow the route of the Transport Party of 1825-26, arriving at Real del Monte on Miner's Day.

The Transport Party brought the machinery of the industrial revolution across the Atlantic to Latin America but the landing near Vera Cruz did not run smoothly.
The main party of four ships, the Melpomene, General Phipps, Sarah and Courier, which had sailed so gallantly out of Falmouth Bay laden with 1500 tons of equipment, soon met with disaster off the coast, a combination of ignorance of the seasonal weather patterns and unanticipated political factors. Arriving at the height of the rainy season in tempestuous seas whipped up by the Norte summer wind, the Melpomene was refused permission to berth by the Spanish who controlled Vera Cruz. Having to land on a nearby beach, the heavy engine parts promptly sank into the soft sand. Many of the lighters that transported the iron and pitwork from the ship capsized off shore in the rough sea, their cargoes never to be recovered. It took eight weeks to salvage what remained of the cargo from the beach before setting off to Real del Monte.

To make matters worse, the party of miners from the Melpomene was decimated by vůmito prieto (swamp fever) a terrifyingly swift illness characterised by black vomit in its final stages, which carried away one third of the party soon after disembarkation and a further four en route to the mines of Real del Monte. At least three Cornishmen were repatriated due to frailty, one dying on the way home. It was noted by a nineteenth century commentator that upon arrival in Mexico, of forty four Cornish migrants, twenty six died of fever almost immediately after setting ashore. They were buried on Mullan beach, Vera Cruz, eight of them in one grave.

Progress to the mines was further impeded by the lack of a proper road, the routes being mere mule tracks. The Cornish and their Mexican helpers had therefore to construct the road they were to traverse in appalling conditions caused by torrential rains and floods, through mud swept ravines, swampy terrain and lofty mountains. Thirty six hundred weight of iron was washed away, many mules were drowned and the cost to life was shocking. In all, it took the party a year to travel the 250 miles to Real del Monte, a feat of endurance that is remembered with pride in the history books of Mexican school children today.

The Cornish Mexican Cultural Society wish to walk symbolic parts of this route, with a memorial stone laying ceremony at the beach at Moncamba and the English Cemetery at Real del Monte to commemorate this important milestone in the shared mining heritage of both nations. The twin silver mining settlements of Pachuca and Real del Monte in the State of Hidalgo are being marketed 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 through town twining initiatives.

If you wish to find out more about the Great Trek, or about the Cornish Mexican Cultural Society, visit our website.

The Cornish in Latin America

The significance of Cornish migration to Latin America lay not in numbers: far fewer people migrated there than to the USA, South Australia, England and Wales or South Africa, but in the fact that the mines of Latin America were among the first to attract significant Cornish labour outside the British Isles and continued to recruit Cornish labour right into the 1930s. Many of the defining features of overseas Cornish migration during what has been dubbed the 'Great Migration' (c1815-1920) have their roots in Latin America. These include the system of home pay (remittances) that were to become so important to the Cornish economy in the late nineteenth century, the rise of transnational communities, and more importantly the emergence of the reputation of Cornish miners, also known as 'Cousin Jacks' , as the world's finest hard rock miners. Yet little research has focused on this important part of Cornish history. It is hoped that this website will begin to address this lack of scholarship. 

In the early nineteenth century Cornwall, the 'engine house' of the British industrial revolution, was world renowned for the sophistication its mining industry powered by high-pressure steam engines and its copper mines were booming. By contrast, the once great silver and gold mines across Latin America lay in dereliction, a combination of years of under capitalisation and engineering problems compounded by civil war, resulting in depopulation of mining centres and abandonment of mining properties. Click here for a comprehensive background to this period.

The 1820s marked the beginnings of significant British capital investment in Latin American mining and led to the migration of thousands of Cornishmen and their families. Click here to find out more about the 'New World order'.

The Cornish who migrated to Latin America were mainly engaged in metalliferous mining. This occupational specificity resulted in clusters of Cornish immigrants close to mines in many areas across Latin America. Click here to find out more about the first transnational communities.

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