The Cornish were (another) significant ethnic group in Greater Bendigo. They brought with them expert mining knowledge and practices and a deep commitment to Methodism.
Cornish migration in the nineteenth century changed mining practices on an international scale and it is the significance of this global impact that led to the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape, in the United Kingdom, being granted World Heritage status in 2006.
The first Cornish arrivals on the Victorian goldfields travelled overland from the copper mines of South Australia, to where they had originally migrated in the late 1830s and 1840s.
Between 1846 and 1850, 6,700 assisted Cornish immigrants came to Australia. With the collapse of the Cornish copper mining industry in 1866, a further mass migration of miners took place.
In 1881 in Sandhurst perhaps one in four households were occupied by Cornish people. Over half the households in Long Gully were Cornish and other communties were found in Ironbark, Golden Square, Sutton, California Gully and at Huntly.
Remnants of Cornish settlement can be seen at Harvey Town, a heritage precinct in Eaglehawk. Harvey Town was named for the Harvey family members who were the Crown grantees of these allotments from the 1870s.
The houses were built of rubblestone and the fences were dry stone walled, showing the specific building practices that Cornish settlers brought with them to the goldfields.
Located near the Prince of Wales mine shaft and Pennyweight Gully, the Harvey Town settlement shows how a community formed and clustered around their centre of livelihood.
Some of the distinctive Cornish mining practices seen on the central Victorian goldfields included the tribute system. Cornish tools and techniques also included the use of singlepointed picks, bucket pumps, the ‘hammer and tap’ method of drilling holes in a rock face, the ‘Cousin Jack’ wheelbarrow and Cornish-designed whims.
Cornish skills of shaft sinking, ‘stoping’, which was the practice of removing ore from underground and leaving behind an open space, and pumping water were also in demand in Sandhurst gold mines.
The Ninnes grave in Maiden Gully shows the difficulty of early goldfields life on migrants, particularly women and children. Cornish immigrant Maria Ninnes and her two children are buried at this lone grave, having died of illness in 1852.
Thomas, his wife Maria and their children had travelled overland by wagon from Burra in South Australia, having arrived in Australia in 1848. Thomas’ account of the journey is held in the State Library of Australia. The grave is now cared for by Ninnes’ descendants and the Cornish Association of Victoria.
The Bendigo Cornish Association was founded in 1913 by Sir John Quick. The Cornish Association of Bendigo and District was formed in 1986. It ceased operations in 2011 but the Cornish Association of Victoria (founded 1986) has now formed a Bendigo Interest Group in July 2013. Regular festivals remembering the Cornish have held in the district. The next at Eaglehawk in March, 2014.
By permission, from: BENDIGO & DISTRICT THEMATIC ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY THE CORNISH Prepared for City of Greater Bendigo FINAL REPORT June 2013 Adopted by City of Greater Bendigo Council – July 31, 2013
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