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Around the world near St Day - stories from Gwennap churchyard

Set in a rolling landscape of farmland, and with the church in an elevated position, the extensive old churchyard of Gwennap is a time-capsule of life here in the 1800s. Work at local mines swelled the rural population, and episodes of redundancy drove miners – with or without their families – to seek opportunities overseas. A stroll around the graveyard reveals many references to parishioners who died abroad, often early in their lives; doubtless, their loss was both emotionally and financially difficult for the family members left behind.

Here, I’ve brought together some of their stories to illustrate how mobile and connected this inland tract of Cornwall was to the distant continents across the globe and how the quiet, insular village of today belies a past which was permeated by the early part of the industrial revolution. The Google Map I’ve created shows the locations of the headstones of the people who are mentioned here, and others that indicate a connection with overseas locations.


John Bear, born in 1812 in Gwennap, married Jennifer Nicholls on 5th September 1836. At the time of the census in 1851, John was working as a miner, and the couple were living in Gwennap Mores (sp?) with their five children – three sons and two daughters - aged between 13 and newborn. Not long after this, John must have left to work in Australia – perhaps motivated by higher wages, or closure of mines near home – and he was tragically killed in an accident there in 1854. His widow and children were living at Lanner Moor in 1861; the eldest two sons were miners, their eldest daughter was a servant, and the two youngest children were still at school. The household also accommodated a boarder – presumably for extra income – in this case a police officer who had been born in Sancreed.

Their eldest daughter, Mary Jane, passed away in 1867, aged 22, and her death is also recorded here. Their younger daughter, Emily married a miner, Thomas Curnow, who died in Sydney, Australia. Her headstone, including the names of other family members, is adjacent to that of her parents.

Left: the grave recording the resting place of Emily Curnow (nee Bear), and a flower vase commemorating a grandchild, Richard, who died aged 1 year & 9 months - only 11 days before Emily passed away. On the side of the blocks there is another inscription to perhaps another grandchild, Joseph, who died a month prior to Emily.


Richard Rowe

Richard was born in 1815, and married Margaret Jose (six years his senior) in Gwennap, on 2nd January 1834. Richard was a toll house keeper at Comford for much of his life, and it as there that the couple’s first three children were born: Richard, in 1836; William (1841), and Jane in 1843. A fourth child – Catherine – was born in 1851, and at this time Richard was an inn keeper in the village of Gwennap.

There is no indication of when William and Mary Jane travelled to Australia, though it would be likely that they travelled together. Mary Jane passed away in Australia early in 1875, and her brother died there 18 months later, both at the age of 32. Their parents remained local, living at Lanner Moor towards the end of their lives.


William Bath

Records suggest that William Bath married Mary Combellack in Wendron in 1817, the village where they were both born. William was one year older than Mary – the age of Mary at her death is incorrect here, and her actual age (as seen in the OPC transcripts) was 84 years.

The couple lived in Wendron for around 15 years, during which time four sons and three daughters were born to the couple, at approximately two-year intervals. Around 1821, William changed his work from a farm labourer and husbandman to a miner. Perhaps due to a down-turn in mine employment, they moved to Gwennap around 1833, and here three more daughters and a son joined the family, with their last child being born in 1842, when Mary was 45 years old.

By the time of the 1851 census, William is aged 53 and working as a farmer; perhaps advancing age meant that working underground was not advisable. Five of their older children are not at home, presumably married and living elsewhere; William (aged 26) is living at home, along with four younger siblings, and working as a miner.

Their son Thomas, who had been born in 1826 in Wendron, died there in 1903, aged 77, having spent much of his life in Kooringa, Australia: passenger records show him travelling outbound in 1849 to Victoria, and his occupation as a farm labourer and butcher. Thomas’ death was recorded in The Register of Adelaide on 4th November 1903, suggesting he moved back to Cornwall late in life.

South America

William Lean (b. 1834) was the son of a miner, and was a miner himself when he married Ellen (nee Gray) in April 1854. Ellen was the daughter of an inn-keeper in Lannarth, and she was 22 at the time of marriage – three years older than William.

Only one child, John, was born to the couple, in the year following their marriage. It is unclear in what periods William was working in South America, but the mention of Chili on the headstone suggests he must have had been connected there relatively late in life.

South Africa

Their son was working in the Kimberly region of South Africa when he fell ill; the probate record shows he died at Carnarvon Hospital (in the Northern Cape) on 13th August 1890, leaving behind a wife, Clara, and an infant daughter, Elsie.


South America

Catherine Harris & family

Catherine Harris (nee Grey) was born in Gwennap in 1822. She married a copper miner from St Agnes - Thomas Harris - in 1850, and the couple had four children: Thomas (b. 1853), Catherine (b. 1856), John (b. 1858) and Mary Ann (b. 1861). All four siblings were living at home at the time of the 1871 Census, though their father is absent - perhaps working overseas. Thomas is a 'miner', presumably at-surface, when he is only 8 years old, indicating that the family needed all the income they could get.

Thomas seems to have not married (though he is a witness to a marriage in Gwennap in 1888) and there is no information to suggest how he came to be at sea near to Cuba, where he died. Catherine married Thomas Eliot, an arsenic burner, at Gwennap in 1877 and a son, Thomas John, was born in 1879.

Mary Ann married a miner, Abraham Sandow at Gwennap in 1881 and a son, William, was born to them the following year. But all could not have gone well; Abraham died in the Union Workhouse, Illogan, in 1909. Around this time, Mary and her son relocated to Lanner, where they both lived in to old age. William married in 1919, and lived in to his late 80s.


James Letcher

Mary and James were married in St Day on 6th November 1877. Mary (nee Higgins) was the daughter of a farmer; James’ father was a mine agent, and James was working as a miner at the time of their marriage. Their daughter, Mary, was baptised on 29th September 1878 in Gwennap, and at this time the family were living at Carnmarth. No other children were born, and there is no record of when James went overseas to south America.


South Africa

Nanny Vibert Tredre was born in 1863 as the second child of five siblings born to Nanny V (b.1837) and Thomas Tredre (b. 1832). At the time of the 1881 census, her father Thomas was working in south America, and the family lived at Albion Row in Gwennap (having previously lived in Carharrack during the 1861 census, when her husband was again absent – perhaps overseas). In 1881, Nanny was aged 18, and was working at home, whilst her elder sister was a draper’s assistant, and three younger children were at school. That she remained at home and her elder sister went to work, is perhaps an indication that her health was not considered to be robust, as it was typically the eldest daughter who stayed at home to help run the household.

Ten years later, in 1891, her father was working as a grocer in Gwennap; perhaps advancing age or ill-health had led him to leave mining. Nanny and her four siblings are all at home and still unmarried: Nanny is working as a grocer’s assistant, her younger brother is a book keeper (perhaps for the family business) whilst her older sister is a draper’s assistant. Sadly, Nanny V (jnr) passed away just six years later. Her brother, William is also commemorated here, having died in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1890; he must have moved abroad relatively young.

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