Camborne or California?

In the previous blog I suggested that many Camborne children in the Victorian Lives database that are yet to be traced had probably emigrated. It may seem contradictory therefore to propose in this blog that a higher proportion of Camborne’s children may have stayed in Camborne when compared with other mining parishes in Cornwall, especially the rural ones that saw huge depopulation after the 1860s.

That’s because Camborne, together with its neighbour of Illogan to the east, was the place where mining survived longest in adequate, although hardly blooming, health. A number of large mines, amalgamations of smaller ones, lingered on into the early 1900s, with Dolcoath Mine in the parish still employing over 1,000 workers in 1913 and only closing in the post-war slump of 1921. Meanwhile, Holman’s foundry in the town, established in 1839, had prospered after 1870 from selling rock drills to the world, in the process ensuring Camborne became Cornwall’s undisputed engineering centre.

All this meant that jobs were available. Camborne’s population had tripled from just under 5,000 in 1811 to just over 15,000 in the early 1870s. During that difficult decade it fell back to 13,600, but had recovered to almost 16,000 on the eve of the First World War. This is one of the reasons that almost half of our database still alive in 1891 could be found in the parish.

Of course, not everyone who stayed worked at Dolcoath or Holmans.  Sarah Ann Cock was the only child of Bennett, a miner and his wife Elizabeth. Sarah spent her first 40 years in the parallel streets of Edward Street and Pendarves Street in Tuckingmill. By 1871 she was working at a fuse factory, probably the nearby Bickford, Smith and Co’s works. Sarah did not marry and remained in the family home. After her father died in the 1880s she and her mother took in lodgers, a family from west Cornwall staying there at the 1891 census.

Pendarves Street before the First World War

In the rural parts of the parish the presence of smallholdings also provided an alternative to emigration (although often spurring emigration of sons in order to finance the family holding). John Dennis was the son of a miner at Troon and one of a large family of at least eight children. In 1861 at 11 years of age John was working as an agricultural labourer. Ten years later he was the more familiar miner, but his father was given a dual occupation of tin miner and farmer of five acres. It’s possible that back in 1861 John had been working on his father’s smallholding. After marrying Jane Paull, who was 11 years younger than him, in 1877, John moved a few hundred yards further south to work his own small farm of 13 acres at Chycarne Moor. There, he and Jane and their growing family of six children by 1891 embarked on the hard struggle to wrest a living from the unpromising and open moorland around them.

The Troon district in 1877/8, where John Dennis spent his first 40 years