A lonely life on the mining frontier

Peter Carlyon was born in Liskeard, the son of John and Mary Carlyon of Breage. John and Mary had left Breage between 1846 and 1848, looking to escape the slump in the western tin mining parishes in the later 1840s. They arrived at the booming mining district of east Cornwall, finding accommodation in the crowded cottages of Higher Lux Street, home to scores of miners from the west, and work in the nearby lead mines of Menheniot.

Conditions improved slowly back at Breage and the family returned home around 1852. in 1861 the family income was being maximised. Peter’s two older brothers were working underground in a local mine while Peter and his eight-year old younger brother were on the surface dressing tin. Even his mother was unusually given an occupational description, as a dressmaker. By 1871 some siblings had departed, leaving Peter and two other adult offspring still at home, all three working at the mines.

In July 1872 Peter joined the ship Republic at Liverpool and headed for New York. He didn’t stay stateside for long, returning to Cornwall sometime during the next ten months. Was the trip made to scout out the prospects? Or did he return intending to pick up his intended bride to join him, as so many Cornishmen did?

Whatever the answer, Peter returned to the States in May 1873 alone. In the 1880 American census he’s probably the Peter Carlyon, a miner, who was boarding in the house of Richard Bastian at Houghton, Michigan. At some point afterwards Peter moved west, where he became a naturalized American citizen at Butte, Montana in 1892. He signed the certificate of naturalization with a cross, while the census informs us he could read but not write.

19th century Grass Valley

By 1896 Peter was in Grass Valley, California, where the voter register informs us he was five feet ten inches in height, of light complexion, blue eyes, dark hair and with a scar on his right cheek. In 1900 he was living in the boarding house of Christopher Temby (another Cornish surname). Curiously, the 1900 census also reports that he had not been employed for the previous twelve months.

He must have had a lucky strike at some point however, as by 1910, still single, he owned his own house at South Auburn Street, Grass Valley. He was then described as a gold miner, although still out of work. Peter Carlyon died in 1928. He had no-one in the States to whom to leave his property, so he left it all to his sister Mary. Mary was by now Mary Edyvean and 80 years old. She was still living in Breage at the same hamlet of Trew that Peter had left back in 1872.

(Thanks to Barbara Schenck for the details of Peter Carlyon’s life in America.)

Trew in 1910