The previous blog raises the question of how many of the children of Cornwall’s mining districts in 1861 lived in households with no male head, their fathers either away working or dead at a young age. Of the 107 Gwennap children in the database who were living with parents or other relatives, over a third, or 38, were in households with no male parent present. Of those, 17 were in households headed by women described as wives, their husbands being alive but somewhere else. Another 21 were headed by widows, four of these being grandmothers.
Most of the lone wives would have been receiving some sort of payment or remittances from their husbands, although this may sometimes have been irregular. None were explicitly described as paupers. Only in one case was it made clear that the woman was receiving ‘income from a relative abroad’. This was Mary Phillips, whose husband John was a copper miner at St Agnes in 1851 but by 1861, when Mary and her nine children were living at Treskerby in Gwennap, John was working abroad. He was back by 1881, when he and Mary were living in Calstock in east Cornwall, John being a mine captain by then if not before.
One of the nine children was named after her mother – Mary Jane Phillips – and present in our Victorian Lives database. Mary married William Jones in 1871, the couple setting up home at Redruth Highway. William was a tin miner and in 1881 was still with Mary at Redruth. But by 1891 he had gone overseas in search of work, leaving Mary and their four children at home. No child was born to them between 1880 and 1894 so it’s likely that William had not, like many of his contemporaries, made trips back home.
Nonetheless, in 1894 a child was born to William and Mary Jones, but in Calumet, Michigan. William Jones’ death was registered in the same place in 1912 and Mary Jane’s decease also recorded there in 1922. Mary and the children must have travelled across the Atlantic in the early 1890s to join William in Michigan.
While Gwennap and its immediate neighbourhood saw its economic base crumble in these decades its sons and daughters did not just watch passively. They were quick to react, buzzing from the old world to the new and back again like a swarm of disturbed and busy bees, in the main successfully managing long-term relationships over distances of thousands of miles.