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Gongo Soco
This community in the mining state of Minas Gerais lay to the north east of the cities of Ouro Preto and Marianna, and some 250 miles north of Rio de Janeiro. The Gongo Soco gold mine belonged to the Baron of Catas Altas, and was purchased in 1825 by the British financed Imperial Brazilian Mining Company. The company recruited most of its skilled labour needs in Cornwall, the remainder of the workforce being made up of free Brazilians and Negro slaves. In 1843 there were estimated to have been around 100 Europeans, 100 free Brazilians and some 600 Negro slaves (both male and female) working the mine. As at Morro Velho, the majority of the European labour force was Cornish, many of whom had their wives and children with them, a thing that was strongly encouraged by the company and in particular by Cornishman William Jory Henwood, Mine Captain, who opposed slave labour and wanted Cornish workers to bring their teenage sons with them. Whilst at Gongo Soco, Henwood opened a school for the Negro children and saw to the emancipation of the most deserving adults. The area was considered fairly healthy, with average temperatures ranging from 45-85 degrees Fahrenheit.

A thriving community grew up some half a mile from the mine and was situated in an area that was quite picturesque by all accounts. The surrounding countryside was a pleasant mixture of hill and dale and the mountains on the northern and western side of the valley, through which the Gongo Soco River ran, were wooded, at the foot of which lay the village with its single storey whitewashed buildings and small villas clustered around an attractive Church, half hidden by banana trees.

The Casa Grande (Count House) was described as a fine building famous for its hospitality, particularly the Saturday evening parties given by the Company Commissioner and his wife. As at Morro Velho, the Cornish and Negro workforce resided in separate parts of the village, so as not to interfere with each other. A market was held every Saturday that was well supplied with poultry, eggs, vegetables, and fruit where the miners could buy their provisions. Many Cornish miners created small gardens in front of their houses where they made lawns and planted a variety of seeds from Cornwall to grow their own vegetables and flowers. In addition there was a company store that sold a variety of goods as the miners had to attend to their own cooking. Some hired a local woman as a cook to do this for them.  

Gongo Soco panorama.jpg (30616 bytes)
View looking down the 
Gongo Soco valley from 
the cemetery. The ruins of the 
Casa Grande can be 
seen (centre). The mine
 works ran along the valley, 
especially the hills on the left
Photo courtesy M. Eakin

Casa grande Gongo Soco.jpg (43520 bytes)
The ruins of the Casa Grande 
(Mine Count House) where the 
mine's business was transacted
Photo courtesy M. Eakin

Gongo Soco Cemetery hill.jpg (35146 bytes)
The cemetery on the top of this hill 
above the mine contains many 
Cornish memorials
Photo courtesy M. Eakin

An excellent library was maintained at the mine, and two places of worship: a Catholic Church for the Negroes and Brazilians and an Anglican chapel for the Protestants that had a resident clergyman for at least some of the time. However, as many of the Cornish miners were Wesleyan Methodists, they held open-air prayer meetings some distance from the camp and had class meetings in their houses. A separate cemetery was created for Protestant interments and this survives with many of the epitaphs on the headstones still visible. Entertainment in the form of concerts with raffles and dances were held at the Casa Grande and many of the Cornish liked to picnic at the Lagoa da Antas (Lake of Tapirs) some four miles from Gongo Soco.

As labourers were recruited on contracts ranging from 3-5 years, there was a constant turn over of men who conveyed news back and forth across the Atlantic and carried letters and parcels for family and friends, while regular quarterly remittances flowed into Cornish banks. Gongo Soco was, for a few decades, an extremely well-known place in the mining communities around Gwennap and Redruth. But the Imperial Brazilian Mining Company was wound up in 1856 and the community thereafter dispersed, with many of the Cornish miners returning to Cornwall or finding work with the St John del Rey mining Company and other Brazilian mining ventures. In 1867 it was described as abandoned and poor.

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