The Cornish in Latin America

Entrance portal to the Aroa Mine Venezuela. Photograph courtesy  P. Phillips

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Cornish Maps                                          Graphs                                                  Latin American Maps

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There has been very little quantitative analysis of Cornish migration, primarily due to the painstaking task of gathering sufficient data to create comprehensive records, as, unlike the Scottish, Welsh or Irish, the Cornish are not a clearly recognisable ethnic group, being classed as either English or British in official documentation. Breaking new ground, a unique database of 2,500 records of Cornish migration to Latin America (1811-1930) was assembled to analyse overseas migration flows from Cornwall. This was intended to supplement the considerable qualitative data that exists on Cornish migration in general, much of which has been a narrative of how the Cornish settled, shaped their communities and constructed their identity. This has taken precedence over the analysis of the migration process. Using nominal record linkage, this database was therefore set up to capture the complexity of demographic flows, including initial migration, return migration, repeat migration and immigration of people of Cornish descent to Cornwall, using Latin America as a case study. The data revealed fascinating results, some of which are depicted below cartographically and graphically.

Cornish Maps

Cornwall, a peninsula at the far south west of the British Isles, could at no time in the nineteenth century boast a population more than half a million. Yet it was one of Europe's main emigration regions, estimated to have lost 118,500 people through overseas emigration in the last quarter of the nineteenth century: a figure equivalent to 40 per cent of its young adult males and over 25 per cent of its young adult females. According to demographer Dudley Baines, assuming that the rate of return to Cornwall was the same as to England and Wales as a whole, gross emigration would have been about 20 per cent of the male Cornish born population in each ten year period from 1861-1900, and about 10 per cent of the female. Although this was not as high as from the famous emigration regions of Italy, which exceeded 30 per cent per decade, mass emigration from Italy lasted only for a couple of decades. Apart from the Irish and Scots Highlanders, Cornishmen and women were the most likely to leave British shores. This map of Cornwall shows some of the main towns and mining settlements.

By the early nineteenth century Cornwall was world renowned as a major metalliferous mining area which significantly altered the landscape. The main Cornish mining areas are depicted on this map.

Migration to Latin America from Cornwall was characterised by occupational specificity: over 60 per cent of migrants were industrial workers, three quarters of whom were employed in the mining industry in some capacity. It seems logical therefore to seek their communities of origin in the mining districts. The number of migrants with a known parish of departure was 1,235 that resulted in 95 per cent confidence intervals for point estimates that lie mainly within the range plus or minus 2 per cent. The data was then plotted on a map of Cornwall by sub-registration district, as the results for some parishes were too few to render them statistically visible. What immediately becomes apparent is that migration to Latin America was extremely heterogeneous with some mining areas having pronounced demographic flows and others, little or none at all. This points to the presence of discrete migration chains and opens up intriguing avenues for further research (more evidence of this is presented in the graphs below). 
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Latin American Maps

Mining in Latin America has a long and illustrious history. Many of the mining regions in which the Cornish settled were already hundreds of years old and highly industrialised and the towns and cities serving them boasted beautiful colonial architecture built with the riches gained from centuries of hard rock mining. Guanajuato in Mexico, Potosí Bolivia, and Ouro Preto Brazil, are now World Heritage Sites. The main mining settlements, modern political  borders, and capital cities are depicted on this map of 
Latin America
from which you can access maps of several mining areas.

Cornish migration to Latin America was dominated by those employed directly or indirectly by the mining industry, and their dependents (see graph below). The parish of departure and country of destination of Cornish migrants can be ascertained for just over half of the 2,500 records assembled on the database, and these have been plotted on a map to reveal what regions of Latin America attracted Cornish labour and indicated by proportional circles. Seven destination categories were devised for this study, indicated by a thicker line. Some countries have been grouped together: the Pacific Littoral and the Andes includes Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador, by necessity amalgamated to avoid confusion over border changes following the War of the Pacific (1879-1883) that saw parts of Peru and Bolivia, including the cities of Iquique and Tocopilla, ceded to Chile. Mexico, Brazil, and Cuba do not include neighbouring countries. The most popular migration region is Mexico, followed by the Pacific Littoral, Brazil and Cuba. The spatial distribution of migrants within each of these regions of Latin America was, in some cases, quite geographically specific, with the Pachuca-Real del Monte mining district of the state of Hidalgo accounting for much migration to Mexico; migration to Cuba was centred on the copper mining area of Cobre in the south east of the island, while about 95 per cent of Cornish migrants to Brazil went to the mining state of Minas Gerais.

One of the most successful British mining companies was the Copiapó Mining Company. Set up in London, it began operations in 1836 in Chile's Norte Chico, continuing until 1911. This map shows the mines and estates of the company in 1836-7 that includes the legendary mines of Carrizal, Las Animas, Chañarcillo, and Cerro Blanco.

A rise in the world demand for nitrates caused a long-term dispute with Bolivia and Chile to erupt in 1879, when both nations increased the focus of their interest in the nitrate deposits of the Atacama. The War of the Pacific (1879-1883) fought between Chile, Bolivia and Peru, resulted in the latter two countries losing their most important nitrate fields to Chile. When the Chileans annexed the nitrate fields of Tarapacá that had been monopolised by the Peruvians, they returned the nitrate mines to the private sector. Individuals who could show 75 per cent of the certificates issued for each nitrate mine as well as a deposit in cash for the remaining 25 per cent were granted the title to that particular nitrate work. In 1882, the Chilean Government permitted the sale of any company whose ownership remained unclaimed. After this Tarapacá boomed as
Anglo-Chilean investors took their capital out of copper mining and invested it the nitrate industry. This map of the Province of Tarapacá dates from the 1880s and shows the main nitrate mines and their factories.
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The data that was used to compile the graphs below was taken from an Access database containing 2,500 records. It has long been suspected that there were significant differences in the timing and direction of migration flows from Cornwall to various countries overseas. The graphs below confirm this observation and highlight that while the overall migration flow to Latin America from Cornwall was closely governed by occupational specificity, the similarity ends there, for there were startling differences in the timing and direction of the flows from parishes only a few miles apart. This confirms the importance of analysing very variegated migration streams at a very local level to explain mass mobility and mass immobility.

Migration to Latin America was dominated by people who were either directly or indirectly, associated with the mining industry. By comparison, agricultural migrants played little part in migration flows from Cornwall. This graph gives a breakdown of the occupational categories for migrants to Latin America.

Plotting the overall decennial migration flow from all Cornish parishes shows that migration there began very early in the nineteenth century, peaking before 1840, underlining the fact that this was the first significant overseas labour migration from Cornwall.

Migration to the top four Latin American destinations from the top three Cornish sub-registration districts shows that people in parishes only a few miles apart went to very different destinations in Latin America, pointing to the existence of discrete migration chains or social networks.

Decennial migration to Latin America from the sub-registration districts of Camborne, Redruth and Gwennap highlights the difference in the timing of migration flows from a small area of Cornwall.

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