In 1862 a Parliamentary enquiry into the condition of metal miners interviewed several miners in Cornwall. Their life histories provide a fascinating insight into their moves from mine to mine. They indicate that miners moved frequently.
One of the most extreme examples was an anonymous miner at St Cleer. Aged 36 in 1862, he had not worked for 16 weeks, complaining of ‘weakness in the body and pains in the chest’. This man had first gone underground at the age of 12 but recalled 17 separate spells of employment involving 13 different mines over the course of 24 years.
He had begun working at Wheal Providence in Lelant, operating an ‘air machine’ (bellows). After working on the surface for the next four or five years he went underground again on tutwork contracts at nearby St Ives Consols. A short spell was spent working in east Cornwall at the booming West Caradon mine before returning to mines in the Lelant and Breage districts. He then upped sticks and moved east for a second time, spending time at mines in St Ive, between Liskeard and Callington, and across the border at East Crowndale mine in Tavistock. A few weeks back in the west at St Ives Consols was followed by spells at mines in the Caradon district, including Gonamena, Caradon Consols and West Caradon before his peripatetic career was cut short by illness.
This example was exceptional in its mobility. Nonetheless, most of the other miners interviewed moved around regularly. It’s likely that such high levels of migration within Cornwall made the decision to move even further – to mines in North America, Australia and South Africa – an easier one.