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.
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.
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.