The Cornish in Latin America

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Pachuca-Real del Monte
Mining in this part of the Republic of Mexico has a long and illustrious history, stretching back to Pre-colonial times. Situated at over 8,000 feet above sea level in the once densely wooded mountains of the state of Hidalgo, the city of Pachuca some 50 miles east of Mexico City, lies at the head of a ravine within a semi-circle of bare brown hills. Here the patio system or amalgamation of silver refining, developed by Bartolomé de Medina, was allegedly perfected in 1555 that was to revolutionise the New World’s mining industry. Real del Monte (also known as Mineral del Monte) lies over the mountains 4 miles to the north east of Pachuca, and is rather more wooded and green. It boasted many rich silver mines belonging to Don Pedro Romero de Torreros, enough wealth in fact to earn him the title, the Count of Regla.

The Count sold his holdings to the British backed Real del Monte Mining Company, formed in London in 1824 under the leadership of John Taylor, following the devastation suffered during Mexico's War of Independence from the Spanish. Taylor's company worked the mine until 1849 when it reverted to Mexican ownership, during which time the exportation of the industrial revolution occurred in the form of steam engines and mining technology that allowed silver mining in the region to be rehabilitated with the aid of skilled Cornish workmen. Many hundreds of miners, artisans and technicians migrated to Mexico throughout the nineteenth century, some remaining to found well-known Cornish-Mexican families. 

By the 1830s a large Cornish community had established itself in the town of Real del Monte, and is still reflected in its architecture: the largely Spanish colonial appearance is enlivened by the almost exclusive use of red corrugated-iron roofing and Cornish-style cottages with their double-pitched rooflines built by these miners. At Pachuca the Cornish numbered around 350 in the late 1870s and formed a visibly discrete community among the 25,000 Mexicans, the majority who were of Indian stock. Here the Cornish left an indelible mark on the cityscape, much of which was the work of one man - Francis Rule of Camborne: El Rey de la Plata (The Silver King). A mining entrepreneur and millionaire by today's standards, Rule financed the construction of a bank, a French renaissance style private residence, two hotels and the impressive El Reloj in Independence Square to celebrate 100 years of Mexican Independence. This impressive timepiece chimes to the tune of Big Ben. Click here to listen. Four extant and quintessentially Cornish engine houses - El Corteza, San Pedro, Dolores, and Acosta - are reminders of nineteenth century Cornish technical prowess: the former two can be seen near Pachuca and the latter at Real del Monte.

The Cornish community brought with them many cultural activities, particularly their allegiance to Methodism, always a contentious issue in a Catholic country. For many years there was no adequate provision for their faith, people meeting in one another's homes for prayer meetings as they had done in Cornwall before purpose built chapels appeared. It was Francis Rule who negotiated the purchase of some land from the Catholic Church upon which to build a Neo-Gothic style Methodist chapel and its adjacent schoolroom, dedicated in 1901. Architecturally unique in the whole of Mexico, the building graces the skyline of modern Pachuca and betrays a strong ‘British’ presence. The chapel with its choir became the focus of community activity, holding concerts and Ladies' Aid Bazaars, the organisation of which busied the women of the community. The success of the annual mine picnic, held on the 24 May each year to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday, depended on the women's fund raising activities.

With so many resident Cornish, burial became a problem. Being Protestants, the Cornish were not permitted to be buried alongside Catholics, so Charles O’Gorman, the British Consul, persuaded the Governor of the State of Hidalgo to make provision for consecrated ground for Protestant interments in the early 1850s. The O’Gorman Treaty gave the colony about 20 acres of land at the top of a hill named Cerro del Judio (Hill of the Jew) at Real del Monte, guaranteed by a federal Government decree deeding these 20 acres to England. Over 650 graves are contained in the immaculately maintained Panteón de los Ingléses, where each elaborately carved headstone with its poignant epitaph faces Great Britain, even those with decidedly Hispanic names of the second and third generation Cornish. An impressive set of wrought iron gates inscribed with the words 'Blessed are those who die in the Lord' impart a feeling of the strength of the Methodist conviction of justification through faith and the certainty of the life to come.

Realdelmontepanorama.jpg (36670 bytes)
Mina Dolores, Real del Monte. 
Note the corrugated iron pitched roofs 
built by Cornish miners and the quintessentially Cornish engine house

Terry Dudley Welcome.jpg (40636 bytes)
Descendant of a Cornish miner, 
Terry Dudley, and wife Laura, being 
welcomed at Real del Monte. 
Photo courtesy Terry Dudley

Independence Square Pachuca.jpg (24651 bytes)
Big Ben, Independence Square, 
Pachuca c1915. Note Rule's 
Gran Hotel Grenfell 
on the left

Before the Revolution of 1910 it was customary for the Cornish to leave chapel and stroll around Independence Square dressed in their Sunday best. Many of the men liked to retire to the bar of either the Hotel de los Baños or the Gran Hotel Grenfell, to drink together and to sing Cornish songs and hymns. The latter hotel was also the venue for meetings of the Hidalgo Freemasons Lodge 264. Cornish wrestling was never as high profile as it was further north in the USA, although there was one notable match held at Mexico City in 1892 in which 'Schiller' Williams beat a San Franciscan wrestler, much to the delight of the hundreds of Cornishmen present. The Cornish played both cricket and football at Pachuca, starting the first association football club - the Pachuca Athletic Club - comprised of Cornish miners from Santa Gertrudis, La Blanca and Real del Monte. In order to create competition, a league was set up including clubs from Veracruz and Mexico City. Mexican football was born officially on 19 July 1902 with the establishment of the Mexican League of association football that was made up exclusively of Englishmen. The first championship was played in 1902 and in the 1904-1905 tournament, El Pachuca won first place. The City of Pachuca still prides itself on being the home of Mexican fútbol.

In Cornwall the names of Real del Monte and Pachuca were very well known. Houses named Hidalgo and Acosta existed and the high streets of Camborne and Redruth were enriched by remittances that flowed back from these twin Mexican settlements, just as Pachuca benefited from money invested there by expatriate Cornish. Local newspapers in sending and receiving communities carried items of news from foreign papers. The distinctive smell of saffron often perfumed the post office at Pachuca, and the pasty, a food introduced by Cornish miners, became, and still is, a local delicacy albeit a hybridised one with the addition of chili peppers. Cornish miners returning from Mexico sporting sombreros and ponchos at first drew bemused looks from locals who gradually became used to seeing Mexican dress. Spanish was often heard in the bars and streets of Camborne and Redruth, just as the tunes of Wesley were hummed by Mexicans who liked to listen to the Cornish miners singing in the bars in Pachuca. 

In Mexico City
a Cornish Association was formed in about 1919 which attracted many Pachuca-Real del Monte Cornish. The principal celebration was the Annual Picnic to Xochimilco, noted for its floating gardens, sited about 12 miles from the capital. Probably over 200 took part in this annual excursion including the British Consul and other worthies, which was held on 23 June. This date was specially selected, being the birthday of the then Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall.

However, many people returned to Cornwall in the years following the American take over of El Sociedad Aviadora de Minas del Mineral del Monte y Pachuca in 1906 and the revolution that broke out before World War One. Some eleven years after the dedication of the Methodist Chapel, its congregation had dwindled so greatly that it was handed over to the Mexicans with the proviso that an upstairs room be maintained for the use of those Cornish who remained. Some families that had married into the Mexican population remained, including the Skewes', Ludlows, Penroses, Straffans and Rules.

Recent years have witnessed a revival in Cornish-Mexican links, due mainly to the efforts of individuals like the late Dr A. C.Todd, historian and author of the Search for Silver (1977), Mexican academics Victor Ballesteros and Victor Miguel Licona Duarte, and Terry Dudley and his wife Laura. Terry, a descendant of a Cornish miner who worked at the Real, has made many trips to Mexico over the last two decades, raising the profile of the Cornish mining heritage there. Pachuca-Real del Monte is now being marketed as Mexico's 'Little Cornwall' and there are plans to link Real del Monte and Pachuca with Camborne and Redruth, which will further emphasise the historic
transnational links that once bound two nations closely together.

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