Falmouth’s deep natural harbour, the growth of the Atlantic trade and the presence of the Post Office’s packet ships had led to boom times in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Ships called in from all over the world, their crew and passengers disembarking in the town. As a result, it’s sometimes claimed that Falmouth was a socially and ethnically diverse place, particularly in relation to the rest of Cornwall.
It certainly had a growing population. Where had these people come from? The birthplaces of its adult residents in 1861 reflected some cosmopolitan origins. Most parts of the world were represented. There were men from North America and the Caribbean, India, Africa and many European countries. The majority were no doubt just passing through, seamen who happened to be in the Carrick Roads on census day in 1861.
But this should not be exaggerated. Fewer than four per cent of the men in Falmouth had been born overseas. In fact, almost four out of five hailed from Cornwall and half of those in turn (or 43 per cent of the total) had been born in Falmouth itself. The migration hinterland of the town was surprisingly limited. Most men came from nearby parishes and there was relatively little movement to Falmouth from Cornwall east of Truro or west of Helston.
For women it was a somewhat different picture. Nineteenth-century Falmouth was a predominantly female town – women outnumbered men six to four. Its attraction for the women of Cornwall is more obviously apparent on the map although even then there was limited movement to the town from east of Truro.
Fully 86 per cent of the adult women in Falmouth had been born in Cornwall while Falmouth itself provided 41 per cent of its female population. Conversely, the proportion of women from places outside Cornwall was much lower than for men. The further away the place, the greater the proportion of men.