Denying destiny: The Baptist from Breage

Our final foray into the lives of Breage Victorians introduces an example of social mobility. The vast majority of our forebears married partners from a similar social background. Children of labourers married labourers, the offspring of miners got hitched to miners, sons and daughters of farmers tended to end up with other farmers’ sons and daughters and so on. In a similar way, the majority pursued the same occupations as their parents.

Occasionally, there were exceptions. One way to escape your destiny was through migration; another was education, often in the nineteenth century linked to religion.

Sculpture of a horse whim at Kapunda, South Australia

William Thomas was born into the large family of miner William Thomas and his wife Betsy and grew up at Mount Whistle, Breage. At the age of 11 William was already employed as a whim driver at a local mine, encouraging the horse on its endless circular journey through life around the whim that drew ore and materials up and down the mine.

In 1871 William had progressed to underground work and was working as a tin miner along with his father and a younger brother. So far his life was unremarkable, following the usual pre-ordained tracks. He then moved east to the mining districts near the Tamar, as his marriage to Elizabeth Smale at Tavistock in 1872 and the birthplace of their first child at Calstock indicates.

Either then or soon after, William had got religion in a serious way. By 1877 the family had moved to Westbury in Wiltshire, implying a move out of mining. There, their daughter was given the Old Testament name Hephzibah. In 1881 William turned up at Putney, then on the outskirts of London, as a Baptist minister. He and his wife remained there for most of the 1880s before returning to Cornwall. In 1891 they were home, but at Albert Terrace in Penzance, William still pursuing his vocation as a Baptist minister.

Albert Terrace, Penzance

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