Quethiock – the importance of the family context

We have seen in these blogs that many people left Cornwall in the nineteenth century. By now, all but the most casual reader will be aware that those from mining families were more likely to leave. But not everyone did. So why did some emigrate and others didn’t? Let’s look at an example from Quethiock, a parish on the edge of the lead mining district of south east Cornwall.

William John Lemin was the son of Solomon, a farm labourer, and Frances and was born in St Neot on Bodmin Moor. Soon after his birth, the family moved to Quethiock where his father obtained work in a lead mine. Unfortunately, Solomon Lemin died in 1860, forcing his eldest son William John and his brother Solomon – one year younger – into work at the mine, if indeed they were not already working there.

John (as he was usually known) was still in Quethiock in 1871, boarding with a local family and working as a lead miner. Soon after that, he married Maria Cook from the same parish. The marriage only survived two years however as Maria died at Quethiock in 1876. By that time lead mining in the district was in steep decline. John’s brother Solomon had already moved before 1874 with his wife to the lead mining district of Caernarfonshire in North Wales. John must have followed him by 1878 when he married Ellen Honey at Abersoch in Caernarfonshire, Ellen being originally from Marhamchurch in north Cornwall. Another younger brother had died in Caernarfonshire a year earlier and John’s mother Frances also died there later. It looks as if the whole family had made the move to north Wales during the 1870s, although not all at the same time.

But that wasn’t the end of the tale. At the 1881 census John’s wife Ellen was back at her mother’s home in Marhamchurch, together with her son born in Caernarfonshire. Was John still in north Wales, or had he already emigrated? For by 1888 both John and Ellen were recorded living at Geelong in Victoria, Australia. Solomon also moved to Australia at some point.

Quethiock is home to one of the tallest wheel-head crosses in Cornwall. This was re-erected in 1881, its shaft having been broken in two and used as gate posts, while the head was buried.

The decision to migrate and the destination was often clearly a family decision or was influenced by other family members, rather than an individual one. Another example from the same parish of Quethiock is provided by Jane Congdon, from a farm labouring background. She married Richard Bone, another farm labourer, in 1869. Within five years the couple and their young children had moved to Wayne County, Pennsylvania. Jane’s mother and father were also there by 1880, either travelling with them or soon afterwards.

3 thoughts on “Quethiock – the importance of the family context

  1. A tiny error I think on dates in para 2.

    Do you think the high death rate had anything to do with the work in the lead mines, because obviously lead would have been taken home on clothes and skin, etc.

    Also, just on your remark about migration being a collective decision, a colleague of mine researched migration decisions in rural Kenya and found that the whole family was involved in selecting who should go, and helping to subsidize the initial trip (obviously this must have been a major issue if people decided to Australia or the States in our Cornish case).

    As ever, wonderful to read. And every time I think, we are advancing slowly but surely to W.


  2. My 5 x Gt Grandfather was born in Quethiock as was his father etc. It appeared the family moved to Tavistock following the work and then eventually they migrated to London. There are Retallicks buried in the churchyard going back a ways.


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