The Farthest Promised Land — English Villagers, New Zealand Immigrants of the 1870s
10 Cornwall and Devon
10 Cornwall and Devon
WITH CORNWALL ANDDevon our study moves beyond the reach of the Revolt of the Field, which appears to have affected Devon a little in its eastern districts only, and Cornwall not at all.1 We shall therefore have to proceed without the aid of the newspapers of the rural unions which have so far proved such invaluable sources, making possible a close touch with the humble actors in the emigration story. Since we have already covered a wide range of rural England, it would be tempting to ignore these less well documented western counties, but much would be lost if we did so. The Revolt was by no means the only factor in rural emigration, and our account will gain in balance by going beyond its bounds. For Devon, we will concentrate our attention largely on a single agricultural parish which appears to have been quite unaffected by the union movement. For Cornwall, we will be concerned with the total flow of emigration to New Zealand. We will show how, in response to economic forces of a global nature, Cornwall sent a larger proportion of her population to the colony during the 1870s than any other English county. We have noted Kent's considerable contribution, but with well under half Kent's population, Cornwall sent New Zealand over 1,500 more assisted immigrants during the decade. Passenger lists of government immigrants show 5,240 from Cornwall, and there were as well about 300 brought out by Brogdens. This represents more than ten per cent of all the colony's English assisted immigrants of the 1870s. As they joined a population already rich in Cornishmen, New Zealand could claim she was much more Cornish than England. Since Cornwall possessed a highly distinctive social and economic life, her contribution to the making of rural New Zealand is too significant to be ignored.
The land of Cornwall is markedly different from any other English county; a long boot-shaped peninsula probing out into the Atlantic Ocean; a bony ridge, swept by the ocean winds. Surrounded on three sides by the sea and with the River Tamar in its deep trench forming the boundary with Devon, Cornwall was until recent times isolated from the rest of England. The county has altogether some three hundred miles of coast, most of it cliff-lined. The north coast is generally the more exposed, and has the higher cliffs, some of which rise sheer several hundred feet from the Atlantic swell. The south coast is more indented, with more drowned-valley estuaries, more natural harbours, numerous creeks, and cliffs which are generally rounded with grassy slopes. The landscape behind these cliffs and beaches consists of a series of wind-swept rolling plateau surfaces cut in granites and slates. These rise in steps to an interior dominated by great page 212 stretches of moorland, bleak exposed reaches of high granite landscape, much of which has never been tamed by man.
The modern traveller through Cornwall will see many evidences of its ‘different’ past. He will notice that it is a country of hamlets rather than of villages. This is a continuation from the Celtic past; a reminder that Anglo-Saxon conquest came late, and was not followed by widespread settlement. Much of rural Cornwall consists of small settlements of two or three farmhouses and labourers' cottages, often situated at cross-roads. Even the parish church often stands alone. The New Zealand visitor is reminded of the scattered settlement of his own countryside, but finds the farmland between the hamlets quite unfamiliar. Characteristically the fields are small and irregular-shaped, bounded by massive granite- or slate-walled hedges. The farmsteads are often connected by narrow tunnel-like lanes with massive hedgebanks on either side. Evidence of a more recent past of dramatic vigour is provided by the hundreds of derelict chimneys and engine-houses that survive from the great days of Cornish mining, and by abandoned or little-used harbours that once serviced this great industry, or were busy with fishermen in the days when the pilchards still ran on the Cornish coast. We must take account of the mine and the seine as well as the land if we are to understand Victorian Cornwall, and the contribution it made to the shaping of rural New Zealand.
The story of Cornish mining begins in prehistoric times with the working of alluvial stream tin. In the course of time tin miners who had exhausted alluvial deposits, sought and exploited the underground lodes. As they dug deeper they came to copper lodes, which were first exploited in Cornwall in the closing years of the seventeenth century. For almost two hundred years her tin and copper were to make Cornwall one of the most important metal-mining areas in the world. The ever-growing demand for these metals made Cornwall one of the earliest regions to be deeply affected by the Industrial Revolution. The increasing depth and drainage problems of the mines led to the early harnessing of mechanical power for the working of pumps and raising of ore. At the height of the mining age, in the mid-nineteenth century, over six hundred steam engines were at work in the Cornish mines, while scores of Cornish foundries were manufacturing engines for mines in distant parts of the world. As their improved machinery enabled them to go even deeper, the Cornish miners found a lower zone of tin-veins beneath the copper-bearing strata that they were rapidly exhausting. The story of Cornish mining thus begins and ends with tin, with the great days of copper coming in between.
To understand the fortunes of the New Zealand emigration drive in Cornwall, we will need to follow closely the course of the decline of the mining industry in the late 1860s and the 1870s, but first we must briefly survey the impact which the great days of the preceding decades had had on the life of the county, and sketch something of the life of the working miner. Between 1301 and 1861 the population of Cornwall nearly doubled, from 192,000 to 369,000. While Cornwall provided the world's main page 213 source of copper, other industries flourished in the county. Ports and railways were built, and quarrying became a major industry. Agriculture expanded to feed the growing population, and with recurrent labour shortages during mining booms, farmers were encouraged to follow the example of the mines, and adopt machinery. Thus New Zealand's Cornish immigrants came from a region where technology was held in high regard, where the high-pressure steam engine had been pioneered, and where the civil engineer could point to many striking achievements. The Cornish experience was no bad preparation for the pioneering of the rugged New Zealand landscape.
The underground miners of Cornwall were divided into two classes, known as tutmen and tributers.2 The tutman did ‘tut’ work, which was simple excavation let out by contract to the party offering the lowest bid. A tut party consisted of a number of men, normally divided into three gangs, each of which would work an eight-hour shift, so that work proceeded right round the clock. When a new mine was being opened up, tutmen were employed to sink the shaft and run the levels in preparation for working the lode. Once metallic ground was reached, it was common to shift to tribute work. The work of tributers was organised at the mine's regular ‘setting’ day. The tributers and the captains of the mine would meet at the stipulated time and place. The captains, of whom there would be three or more, according to the size of the mine, were invariably men who had risen from the rank of miners. It was their duty to set and superintend the work. The working face of the mine was divided into pitches, and on setting day the captains became auctioneers, offering the pitches to the tributers as bidders. Both miners and captains were supposed to know the quality of the pitches, and each pitch was let to the party of tributers offering the lowest bid. Thus, for a rich pitch, a party of tributers would offer to work for five shillings in the pound - in other words their tribute would be five shillings out of every pound's worth of ore raised to the surface. Matters were arranged so that men already working in the mine had preference over strangers, and where a new setting was being made for a pitch, the captain would first offer it to the party who had already worked it, and only put it up for auction if they refused his offer. Pitches were normally set for two months. During this period each party of tributers extracted as much ore as they could from their section of the lode, raised it to the surface, and prepared it for market. For the latter task, the tributers employed surface workers, mostly women and boys, who saw to the stamping, cleaning and washing of the ore.
It will be apparent that in economic and social terms, the working of the Cornish mines was very differently arranged to either the factories or farms of contemporary England. The tutmen were in effect contractors, being paid by piecework according to the amount of material they excavated, while the tributers were little short of being partners in the mine, sharing its profits and losses, investing both their judgement and their labour, and dependent on the ruling price in the metal market for the size of their page 214 reward. The work was directed by men who had risen from the ranks to become captains. The women and children were employed by their own menfolk as fellow labourers. In the Methodist chapels to which so many of the miners belonged, the mine captains were not uncommonly lay preachers, while class leaders and other office-bearers would be drawn from among the men. It would seem that there was little scope for industrial conflict, and in fact miners' strikes were virtually unknown until the declining days of Cornish mining. The comparatively harmonious arrangements of the mining industry, and the tribute system, make understandable the miner's deep commitment to his craft. Many Cornish miners were prepared to go to the ends of the earth, rather than leave their calling. Those who were prepared both to emigrate and to try their hand at other work, possessed valuable experience in trained judgement and cooperative endeavour. Some of the pioneering qualities of the Cornish miner may be inferred from the following description of his mental outlook, penned in the 1850s:
He is engaged mostly in work requiring the exercise of the mind. He is constantly taking a new ‘pitch’ in a new situation, where his judgment is called into action. His wages are not the stinted recompense of half-emancipated serfship, but they arise from contract, and they depend upon some degree of skill and knowledge. In fact, the chances of the lode keep alive a kind of excitement, and foster a hope of good fortune that never altogether deserts the miner … Osler, in his life of Lord Exmouth, observes that Cornish miners are better calculated for seamen than any other class of men on land; and this because the discipline of the mine is scarcely surpassed in a ship of war, and the order and business of the mine compels even the lowest man to act continually with judgment, so that habits are formed of ready obedience, intelligence, promptitude, and intrepidity.3
The Cornish miner would have been less valuable as a colonist had he not also commonly gained some experience in working the land. This arose in part from the ebb and flow in the fortunes of mining, and of individual mines, which both drew men from farm labour, and on occasions sent them back into it. Even more important was the widespread holding of land by miners. A great deal of the waste land of Cornwall was reclaimed by miners in holdings that were commonly of from one to five acres. During the eighteenth century a number of landowners adopted the practice of leasing this coarse land at a rent of a few shillings an acre, for a term of three lives, on condition that a cottage was built on the holding.4 Many a miner thus built his own home, at little cost, the main building material being stone which could be had from the moor for the labour of carrying it. Thus, by the mid century the Earl of Falmouth had nearly 2,000 tenements of this description, and a large proportion of his rental was derived from land which the miners had brought under cultivation.5 The system was as beneficial to the miners as to the landowners. As the miner generally worked an eight-hour day, he had a good deal of spare time to give to his holding. With the assistance of his wife and children many a page 215 miner produced most of his requirements of potatoes and vegetables and reared one or two pigs each year. When he killed two pigs, the sale of the meat which he did not need for himself would often bring enough to enable the cottager to pay the year's ground rent, and purchase two young pigs to raise in the succeeding year.6 This type of landholding has left an enduring impression on the landscape in a pattern of hundreds of small, squarish fields of roughly the same sizes, which is to be found in the old mining districts.7
Writing in the mid-1850s, J. R. Leifchild has described the daily round of a Cornish mining district, and the scenes he depicts must have been familiar to many a New Zealand immigrant family. The day dawns on a countryside scattered with cottages, ‘quiet and dull enough in the grey morning’:
Soon, however, the scene becomes very animated for this part of the county, and, if you stand on an eminence, you see, as far as the eye can reach, men, women, and children of all ages, beginning to creep out of low cottage-doors. You watch their course, and observe that, after various windings, all begin to converge towards one spot, and that one spot is the mine and its shaft. To that entrance the old men walk direct and grave, while the maidens and boys skip or move towards it more indirectly. On their arrival at the mine, each set diverge to their different tasks; the women and children to the rough sheds under which they work at the surface-work of the mine; while the men retire into a house, and having stripped, put on their underground clothes, composed of coarse flannel, and generally much the worse for wear …8
The underground miners then descend, usually by a succession of ladders, for lifts, or ‘man-machines’ as they were called, were not common in the Cornish mines. Lighted by candles stuck to the brims of their hats the men page 216 often have a long journey climbing down shafts and crawling or walking half bent along tunnels before their real work begins in the over-warm and often ill-ventilated depths. After their day's stint of blasting, hammering and picking at the face of their pitch, the men face an arduous climb to regain the surface. In the deeper mines the return journey may take an hour.
Throughout the day the surface works of the mine are a scene of noisy activity. Engineers tend the machinery that drains and ventilates the mine and raises the ore, while the majority of the surface workers are busy on the dressing floors. Boys and ‘maidens’ first pick out the rubbish with which the ore is intermixed. The larger ore fragments are cobbed, or broken into smaller pieces, and then again picked. Various processes of washing and stamping then follow. Leifchild describes the ‘grass-work’ of a large copper mine thus:
Enormous wheels are slowly and solemnly revolving. High up in the air there are skeleton platforms, and iron chains clanking painfully over iron pulleys. There is a lofty engine chimney, and near it you catch a glimpse of huge machinery, and hear puffs and pulls, and gaspings and groanings, and all corresponding to the alternate movements of big beams of wood starting up into the air and sinking down in dead heaviness. Then here we are at the foot of descending and discoloured streams, evidently polluted by metallic admixture. And somewhere near us flows an unseen but not unheard brook, probably bent on a similar errand, and brought from a similar source for similar work. Now let us rest awhile here. What a congregation of women and children, all engaged in this surface-mining work.9
The underground miner's work-day ends with what they call ‘coming to grass’, their term for coming to the surface. Leifchild describes the scene:
Observe them rising up out of different shafts, perspiring, dirty and jaded. The remainder of his bunch of candles hangs at the bottom of each miner's flannel jacket. Now they flock to the engine-house, where they leave their underground clothes to dry. They all wash themselves in the warm water of the engine-pool, and put on their decent daily ‘grass’ clothes.
About the same time the grass-workers, the maidens and boys and women have stopped work, and washed their faces. They now join their relatives, and all proceed homeward, past chimney, and heaps, and mining erections, and then across fields and commons, in different directions and different groups. The men look grave and fatigued, and speak little and curtly. The wives want to chatter, and must therefore chatter chiefly with one another, while the husbands are mute and moody. The lads talk and laugh, and sometimes stop and wrestle on a green soft spot, trying to practise the ‘Cornish hug’, a famous wrestling manoeuvre. The maidens will either blush or bluster, smile or scream, as circumstances render most appropriate and age inclines. The bigger boys advance per saltum, that is, by leap-frog. Little urchins of tiny growth stand on their heads, or tumble head over heels. Mothers scold them, and sisters tickle them. The group now grows smaller and smaller by diminution at every cottage passed.10page 217
A little later, after he has supped and rested, the miner may often be seen abroad once more, working on his farmlet, or perhaps, if he lives near the coast, going down to the sea to fish.11
It is clear that while the mines prospered, the Cornish miners were much better fed than the English farm labourers, and indeed the industry could hardly have flourished if this had not been so. Beside the food which so many produced on their small holdings, pilchards and dairy produce were readily available and widely consumed, and Penzance was reputed to have the cheapest pork in England.12 For firing, turf could be had from the vast tracts of common land, for the trouble of cutting it.13 Mid-nineteenth century observers commented on the love of fine dress found among the mining population.14 Peripatetic dealers worked their way around the county to meet the demand for clothing, and chapel of a Sunday wore a decidedly prosperous air. Nevertheless, there was a darker side to mining life. Investigators found good evidence that the miner's calling was marked by ill-health and short lives.15 Accidents, and the occupational diseases of phthisis and silicosis took their toll. Many a miner was already ‘worn-out’ in his forties. When selecting navvies for Brogdens, C. R. Carter instructed the medical examiners that they must reject any man suffering from ‘what in Cornwall is termed “a miner's heart’”.16 The decline of Cornish mining was, of course, marked by widespread distress among those connected with the industry.
How large a proportion of New Zealand's Cornish immigrants of the 1870s had had mining experience, it is not easy to say. A count of the immigrant passenger lists shows 134 men given as miners, 9 as mine labourers, and several women as mine girls. There is a variety of evidence, however, that many who are otherwise listed were experienced miners. Several who appear as labourers or farm labourers in the immigration records, are recorded as miners in 1882, in the Return of Freeholders of New Zealand.17 Richard B. Daniel was nominated from New Zealand in November 1872 as a miner living at Madron, near Penzance,18 but the passenger list of the Allahabad, sailing from London on 31 May 1873, records him as a farm labourer. Two other young men listed as farm labourers on the immigrant ships appear in the Cyclopaedia of New Zealand some thirty years later as mine managers: Thomas Moyle who is said to have been brought up to mining19: and James Martin who is recorded to have been engaged at mining for eight years in Cornwall.20 Numerous similar examples could be cited, drawing on information from a variety of sources. In some cases a man may have felt a genuine ambivalence as to which was his predominant occupation. There are several instances of men listing themselves as ‘agricultural labourer and miner’.21 Many, however, will have been ‘tailoring’ their occupation to the predominant note of the New Zealand recruitment drive, which consistently sought for farm labourers, but only occasionally asked for miners. Probably few Cornish miners were without some agricultural experience, and with the decline of the mining industry many whose main working experience had page 218 been in the mines would have been farm labourers at the time they made their emigration application. Clearly we can safely say that there was a significant fund of mining experience among these immigrants. But it is equally clear from the records that even with the Cornish immigrants, the most common work experience was in farm labouring. We must therefore take some account of the general character of Cornish farming.
Through the centuries Cornish agriculture followed quite a different course to that of the counties we have so far considered. Until recent times the Cornish people tended to neglect their land in favour of seeking wealth from the mine and the sea. However, most of the fertile land had been enclosed long before the eighteenth century enclosure movement, which in Cornwall involved, in the main, winning new land from the waste rather than enclosing open arable fields. An important result was that while the small yeoman farmer was being eliminated elsewhere, in Cornwall the number of small holders was increasing. It has been estimated that probably 25,000 to 30,000 acres of wasteland were reclaimed between 1700 and 1860.22 Over the same period there was also much building up of soil fertility, largely by drawing on the resources of the coast and the sea. Seaweed, and the waste products of the pilchard fishery, were extensively used as fertilisers.23 Many Cornish soils are deficient in lime, and this was widely corrected by dressing the land with sea-sand.24 W. F. Karkeek began his essay ‘On the Farming of Cornwall’ in 1845 with the remark that, ‘Only within the last fifty years has any claim been made by the county to be considered as an agricultural one; but great and permanent advances in the path of improvement have been made during that period’.25page 219
New Zealand's Cornish immigrants will have brought to the colony much valuable experience in the subduing of waste land, and in the adoption of improved farming methods. Many of them must have brought farm management skills, for in Cornwall management was widely spread. Karkeek remarks on the high proportion of farmers to cultivated acres, arising from the ‘immense number of small occupiers’ of what were essentially family farms. He quotes ‘Marshall's Digest’ for the fact that in 1831 Cornwall had 3,613 persons of this description, and 4,608 farmers who employed labourers. Karkeek reported that this numerous body of small farmers had a considerable influence in forcing up rentals of small farms in some localities. Farms of 20 to 50 acres were often let at full twenty per cent higher than those of 200 acres and upwards.26 This strong competition for land must have contributed, along with other factors, to the emigration from the county. It is of interest that sixteen of the assisted emigrants from Cornwall give their occupation as ‘farmer’, while for most other counties this calling is extremely rare. Many of the farm labourer emigrants will have been farmers' sons, and will have had some management experience in the family setting.27
Another notable feature of the New Zealand assisted immigrant lists of the 1870s is that twenty-three of the Cornish women are recorded as dairymaids. Many more must have had dairying experience, beside those for whom it was the predominant occupation. When the assistant commissioner to the 1881 Royal Commission on Agriculture met the farmers of the Helston district, he was told not only that dairying was important in the farming of the region, but also that many labourers hired cows from their masters at £12 a year.28 It was in this south-west extremity of Cornwall that a curious system of renting cows had become a regular feature of husbandry. The farmers apparently wished to be concerned with cattle for draught and beef purposes only. By a system known locally as ‘dairying’, cows flush with milk, together with ground for the support of the animals and the growing of potatoes, were made available to the cow-renters. These dairymen also raised pigs, and found a ready market for their surplus produce among the mining population.29 The collapse of mining will have deprived these folk of their local market, and it seems very likely that some of them will have joined the flow to New Zealand. The nature of the experience which they brought to the colony's rural life can be inferred from Karkeek's description of the system in its heyday:
The larger farmers keep a number of old black dairy cows, supposed to be the aboriginal breed of the county. Many of these are rented by dairymen at £8 per annum per cow, for which sum they have a quarter of an acre of potato-ground, 2 loads of turnips, 9 cwt of straw, 72 fagots of furze, 100 turf, and 1 ¼ acres of land for the keep of the cow. A renter of five cows has a dwelling-house, pig-houses and potato-houses provided in addition. The calves belong to the dairymen. Numbers of these cottagers are sometimes located near or on a farm, forming a curious scene, the homestead being crowded with cows, pigs, men, women and children.30page 220
The ingenuity of Cornish farmers also appeared in the introduction of mechanical methods to agriculture, attributed by John Rowe to the proximity of the mines, and their competition for the available labour. Karkeek also mentions the ingenuity of Cornish farmers in contriving agricultural implements suited to their wants.31 Rowe mentions that the example of mining led farmers to make the utmost possible use of water power, constructing leats to take water as far as three miles to serve a farm.32 The 1881 Royal Commission on Agriculture was told that farmers in Cornwall invested more money in machinery than usual, and that a farmer with 25 acres would have a reaping machine.33
Having examined in a little detail several aspects of Cornish social and economic life, let us now endeavour to sum up the value of the Cornish background as a preparation for the colonial environment. Clearly, Cornishmen were much better prepared than emigrants from most parts of rural England for life in a society which depended little on class or deference for its ordering. A. L. Rowse has noted the influence of the extensive land holdings of the Duchy of Cornwall in inhibiting the growth of an aristocracy of large landowners in Cornwall, and he has also commented on how ‘the rough moorlands of the Cornish interior, themselves rough, independent, free’ have influenced those who dwelt on them.34 The organisation of the county's industries also served to foster a spirit of equality. The family organisation of yeoman farming, tut and tribute work in the mines, and the share system of the fishing industry, must all have contributed something to the cooperative, yeoman traditions of rural New Zealand. Cornwall's industries fostered mechanical skills, inventiveness and a positive attitude towards technology, all of which were decided assets in colonial conditions. The moral and social heritage of Cornish Methodism had also a good deal to give to New Zealand society.
We must turn now to the interaction between the decline of the Cornish mining industry and emigration to New Zealand. Cornish farmers and rural labourers first crossed to North America in substantial numbers in the depression year of 1816,35 and miners began to follow them in considerable numbers before 1840.36 The first organised settlement of New Zealand coincided with a slump in the price of tin, which remained low for several years,37 so it is not surprising that a significant number of Cornishmen made their way to the Wakefield settlements. Over the ensuing decades Cornishmen appear to have been well represented in every sizable flow of English emigration to New Zealand. The Cornish mining collapse of 1866 sent a large number of miners abroad, most of them to North America, but many further afield, including some to New Zealand, in its great decade of gold mining. The catastrophe in Cornwall was brought about by falling mineral prices, largely due to foreign competition, much of it the work of Cornwall's own emigrants. Costs in the ever deepening Cornish mines had been rising, and matters had not been helped by the emigration of so many of the best miners. The Cornish copper mines suffered a blow from which many failed to recover, but there were also tin page 221 and lead mines among the casualities of 1866. It was estimated that nearly 11,400 were thrown out of work in the mining districts of Cornwall and West Devon in the eighteen months ending in December 1867, and that about two-thirds of them left the western counties, leaving nearly 20,000 dependents behind them.38 A county Distress Fund was organised in August 1867, to assist migration and help poor families in desperate need.39 Though there was much suffering in Cornwall it was fortunate for the county that the crash came at a time when its miners were in demand in the northern coal mines, and across the Atlantic.
In 1863 tin had replaced copper as the leading metal from the Cornish mines, and following the collapse of 1866 it was tin that dominated the fortunes of the industry. It was a boom in tin that brought a short-lived return of prosperity in 1870–72, and accounts for the disappointing results of Carter's visit to the county in September-October 1871. In April 1872 the tin standard soared to around £150 a ton,40 and a mania for starting new mining concerns was getting under way.41 Without the superficially attractive appearance of Brogdens' terms, New Zealand would have had little chance of competing during this season. When 150 of Brogdens' recruits were farewelled with considerable excitement at Truro railway station, in September 1872, on their way to join the Chile, the correspondent of The Times expressed surprise that the emigration fever still had a hold in Cornwall, in the face of continually rising wages and an abundance of work.42 Yet those who left were wise not to trust the boom, though it is improbable that many of them were able to read the specific signs of the times. One of these was the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, giving a new advantage to the tin mining industry of Malaya. But in the short term an even more ominous development was the shipping of 200 tons of tin ore from Australia during 1872. In 1871 a New South Wales mining adventurer, C. S. McGlew, tracked down the origins of a small sample of tin that had been brought to Sydney by a commercial traveller, and passed from hand to hand. He found that the sample had been sent on its way by an eccentric shepherd on the New England tableland. McGlew started a rush to the rich tinlands of the region. This alluvial tin could be mined like gold by men with little capital and experience, so its development was rapid. In 1872, following up another rumour, McGlew found another rich tinfield just across the Queensland border, and in 1873 the Border tin region produced more tin than any other region or country in the world.43 The Cornish mines paid out nearly a quarter of a million pounds in dividends in 1872, but thereafter few of them brought much joy to the adventurers who financed them. Australia was to remain the world's largest tin producer for a decade.
Throughout 1873 Cornish mining experienced deepening depression. As the flood of Australian tin ore joined the regular flow from Malaya, the smelters steadily reduced the standard, which dropped by £20 a ton during the year. The copper standard, was also falling. Meanwhile costs continued to rise. It was estimated that a rise in the price of the coal used to fire the page 222 hundreds of mine engines had added over £120,000 a year to expenses.44 In the northern spring of 1873 Cornishmen at last began to respond to the New Zealand emigration drive in significant numbers. Yet the flow slackened as the year progressed. In the last quarter of the year the Cornish labourer was being confused by contradictory developments, and spurious hopes struggled with doubts and fears. Remembering the ups and downs of the past, some miners began to cast around for better ways to weather the storm at home, rather than emigrating. There was talk of unionism and strikes. In October the surface hands at Tincroft tin mine, between Camborne and Redruth, were on strike against a notice of reduction of wages. The tensions of the times, and the presence of these striking miners, led to a large-scale riot in Camborne on 7 October 1873.45 There had been growing resentment in the town against a police force which was accused of victimisation and brutality. When two brothers involved in an earlier disturbance were to be put on trial, the magistrates asked for extra police, and the Chief Constable attended himself with thirty constables. When the crowd became threatening following the conviction of these men, the Chief Constable hustled them out of a side door into a van, and galloped off with them to Truro. The angered crowd then took over the town. Four of the five magistrates left the town, while the mob occupied and wrecked the police station, hunted the policemen from one hiding place to another, unmercifully beating and kicking those that they captured, and broke the windows of a number of public buildings. Two companies of soldiers were hurried by special train from the barracks at Plymouth to restore order to the town. The riot evoked widespread surprise, as the Cornish miners had a justified reputation for orderliness.
Meanwhile the reports of rising production on the Australian tin fields were causing consternation in Cornwall.46 Agents from the coal districts of Lancashire and Staffordshire placarded the Cornish mining towns with bills, and as mine after mine closed down, recruited many of their best miners.47 The exodus to America continued until November, when it was brought to a rude halt by a returning flow of earlier emigrants, bringing reports of a wretched labour market in the States.48 The return of these disillusioned men appears to have put a damper on all emigration, and is no doubt one of the reasons why, despite the depression, it was several months before there was any marked response to New Zealand's generous free emigration scheme, introduced in October. Also, there were false hopes abroad of a mining revival. Mine managers were encouraged by the prospect of a fall in the price of coal, and by the return of skilled miners from America.49 One or two valuable discoveries of new veins of ore were made, and with an easiness in the money-market, investors began to rush back into the industry at the close of the year.50
The renewed optimism persisted for a few weeks into 1874, while labour relations worsened as the men futilely endeavoured to resist changes in their conditions of work. There were repeated short strikes as the mine managers endeavoured to cut costs by introducing changes in the tribute page 223 system. The men quietly accepted reductions in wages, but repeatedly struck, with some success, against the unpopular practice of setting on a ‘five weeks month’ which they had managed to get abolished in the boom two years earlier.51 The returning inflow from America continued. Late in January the tin standards began to slide once more, falling £6 in ten days. By mid March they were as low as the bad year of 1866, while costs were much higher.52 While Cornish mines continued to close, the newspapers arriving from Australia brought news of heavy shipments of tin. The April quarter began with The Times reporting that the position of Cornish mining ‘appears to become more hopeless every day’.53 At last Cornwall began to respond whole-heartedly to the New Zealand emigration offer, 470 set sail over these three months, while the 515 who left in the July-September quarter represented one of the two peaks of Cornish emigration to the colony during the decade. It is not surprising to discover that the flow included some who had already ventured abroad to try their fortune in the industrial north, or across the Atlantic. Thus, when the Waikato left Plymouth on 24 March 1874, her emigrants included Samuel Luke, a 43-year-old moulder, accompanied by his wife, ten children and a daughter-in-law. The one married son, William, the eldest, had recently returned from America, which he had visited with a view to settlement of the whole family. He had returned with an unfavourable report, so the family decided upon New Zealand instead.54 Biographical information links the family with the mining village of St. Just-in-Penwith.55
Some idea of the tensions which the mining decline imposed upon the labourers is provided by events occurring in the St. Just district just after the departure of the Luke family. Boscaswell Downs, one of the oldest mines at St. Just, suddenly collapsed, when a merchant put in an execution. The work force of about 300 men, women and boys had two months wages due, so they crowded into Penzance to obtain summonses against the manager.56 Extraordinary happenings occurred on Monday, 6 April 1874. The work people had heard a rumour that the mine was to be put up for sale that day, and as their wages were unpaid resolved to prevent any attempt to sell. Armed with sticks, they lay in ambush near the road from Penzance to the mine, and turned back anyone endeavouring to travel in the direction of the mine.57 During the following week about 100 of the men were reported to have left the district for Wales and the north of England.58
The decline of Cornish mining continued steadily over the next year or two, and emigration to New Zealand flowed quite strongly until the end of 1875. It then eased considerably, probably because the Cornish labour market was finding a new equilibrium in line with the new lower prices for tin and copper. In the later 1870s there were several renewed bursts of emigration to New Zealand, as the now erratic colonial recruitment drive synchronised from time to time with worsening times in the county. That New Zealand was not always ready to profit from the Cornish labourer's need was evident during a bitter strike of the china clay workers over the 1876–7 winter. This industry, situated in the St. Austell area, had its page 224 beginnings in the eighteenth century. Its rapid expansion in the 1870s provided employment for about a quarter of the men who lost their livelihood in the mining of metals.59 ‘Going to clay’ was not popular with the copper and tin miners, as it entailed leaving an ancient, honourable and highly skilled calling, for one that required only unskilled labour.60 Nevertheless, many miners who were not able or willing to leave Cornwall made their way to the clay works. Because of their vulnerable position in the depressed state of the Cornish labour market, the clay workers began in 1875 to form a union. Most of the employers were opposed to unionism, and the men realised that their own safety lay in enforcing a hundred per cent membership. When conflict was joined in November 1876, large mobs of unionists roamed the moors, hunting for black-legs, and endeavouring to persuade non-union men to join up. The employers made the most of what they termed a ‘Reign of Terror’: two of the men's leaders were convicted under the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875, and hundreds of black-legs were imported from the depressed mining areas of West Cornwall. The men threatened mass emigration, and when their movement was finally crushed early in 1877, many of them followed this course.61 But New Zealand, facing economic problems of her own at this time, was not in the market for them. When she began recruiting again in the latter half of the year, she had no difficulty in securing emigrants from Cornwall. On 27 November 1877 the committee of the 1867 County Distress Fund met in Truro, and decided that conditions warranted disbursing aid from a sum of over £1000 remaining from the nearly £5000 collected in 1867. Those present maintained that the task was rendered most difficult by the fact that the class suffering distress, were such as would rather suffer any hardship than appeal for relief.62
To conclude our treatment of Cornwall, we will make a brief tour of the county as it was in the 1870s, indicating the origins of a representative selection of the emigrants, to fill out our account of the traditions, skills page 226 and memories that they brought to New Zealand. We will begin near the ‘heel’ of Cornwall, at the village of St. Keverne, about four miles north-east of the Lizard. In September 1874 a 21-year-old farm labourer, John Ebbett, sailed for New Zealand on the Clarence and the certificate of his marriage in New Zealand in 1882 shows him to have been born at St. Keverne, the son of a coastguard. His childhood and youth will therefore have been shaped by the land and sea of this corner of Cornwall. The area has had no mines, but the belt of land between St. Keverne and the fishing village of Coverack, about two miles to the south, is so fertile that it has been called the Garden of Cornwall. About a mile to the east of St. Keverne is Manacle Point with a coastguard watch-house which must have been well known to John Ebbett through the work of his father, William Wilkins Ebbett. From his home in St. Keverne's small cluster of cottages and houses, John Ebbett must often in his youth have taken the road to the watch-house, and he must also have been familiar with the fishing hamlet of Porthoustock, tucked under the point to the north. A writer of the early twentieth century chose this hamlet as typical of many little Cornish havens, and we will quote from his description, for such scenes will have been a common memory to Cornwall's emigrants:
They one and all possess the rich Southern colouring peculiar to Cornwall. They are nearly always situated at the bottom of a steep valley close to a shingly or sandy cove enclosed by abrupt cliff walls. Down the valley and through the village and into the cove invariably comes a stream, bringing with it many flowers and an unspeakable charm. On this south coast where there is little mining, and railways are for the most part distant, these villages retain their old-world picturesqueness and rural charm…. The cottages are generally large-chimneyed, thatch-roofed homes, their walls smothered with creepers, and their gardens brilliant with flowers.67
Off the coast from Manacle Point lie the dreaded Manacle Rocks, which have filled St. Keverne churchyard with the graves of many shipwrecked wanderers. Though he chose to gain his livelihood from the land, John Ebbett's childhood must have been filled with tales of the sea. In 1855, when he was a young child, the emigrant ship John, bound for Quebec, was wrecked at the Manacles, with the loss of 191 lives - an event which may well have impinged directly on the life of his coastguard father. Besides stories of this and many other victims of these treacherous rocks, he would have heard of the smugglers who once flourished in nearby Coverack Bay. Early in the nineteenth century Captain Laurie, the first district commander of the then newly formed coastguard, advised in his first annual report that despite the utmost vigilance he was quite unable to prevent the wholesale smuggling that went on around Coverack. He reported that he had reliable evidence that seven thousand aukers of brandy had been landed in the bay and successfully run inland, most of it to the Camborne-Redruth mining district.68
If we follow the coastguard path round the cliffs of Lizard Point we come to the hamlet of Gunwalloe and the town of Helston, to both of page 227 which we can trace young farm labourer emigrants whose experience of life must have been similar to John Ebbett's. In 1883 Thomas S. Lukers put in a nomination for 21-year-old William Henry Lukers, labourer, of Gunwalloe, probably his brother.69 Thomas himself had emigrated on the Rakaia in May 1879, and William accepted the nomination and came out on the British King late in 1883. From Helston came James Rowe, a 28-year-old farm labourer, with his wife Elizabeth, on the Isles of the South, sailing in November 1873. Rowe became a successful pig farmer near Christchurch, probably drawing on his working experience in Cornwall.70 Immigrants of a similar background, with surnames such as Snell, Hutchens, Nicholls and Daniel could be quoted from the Penzance area, but we will move instead to the important mining district around St. Just in Penwith, on the west coast a mile or two north of Lands End.
In 1873, on the same ship as James and Elizabeth Rowe, came widow Mary Ellis, aged 52, with six sons and daughters. They had been nominated from Canterbury, and their address given as ‘Boscaswell’. The nominator's name is not recorded, but it could well have been an older son of Mary Ellis's perhaps a Brogden recruit, or even an earlier emigrant, possibly following the call of gold. The nomination lists Mary Ellis's three older sons and a 13-year-old daughter as farm labourers.71 However, the Cyclopaedia of New Zealand's account of the life of one of them, John, who was 17 when he emigrated, reports that he was brought up to a miner's life in the tin mines of Pendeen and St. Just.72 The 1873 flood of tin ore from Australia may well have been a deciding factor in the emigration of this family party. The emigrant list of the Tweed sailing for Otago in June 1874, shows 22-year-old Philip Edwards as a miner. He had been nominated by H. W. Edwards of Dunedin, and his address given as Fore Street, St. Just.73 By the same ship also came Mary E. Bottrell, a 21-year-old servant, and her 16-year-old labourer brother Henry, both nominated by a person of their own surname in Dunedin, their address given as Pleasant Row, St. Just.74 Charles Austin, aged 36, who emigrated to Nelson by the Caroline in October 1875, with his wife and five children, gave his occupation as general labourer, but his 5-year-old son had been born in St. Just,75 and he himself is recorded as a miner at Reefton in 1882.76
The other great mining area of west Cornwall, the Camborne-Redruth district, is also well represented by names that have been traced. The Charlotte Gladstone, sailing for Canterbury in November 1871, had three married farm labourers surnamed Moyle, probably a large part of the limited fruits of C. R. Carter's visit a few weeks earlier. Two of the couples had children, making a clan migration of twelve persons in all. A link with mining in this district is provided by biographical information on the youngest of the men, Thomas Moyle, which shows him to have been born in Illogan Parish in 1850, and brought up to mining.77 An earlier emigration from this district to New Zealand's West Coast gold rush is suggested by the nomination from Greymouth on 19 August 1872 of page 228 Harriet F. Lawn, 26, with her 3-year-old son, and of William Thomas Richards, a 28-year-old commercial traveller and his wife Rosina. For both the address given was Cannon Moor, Redruth.78 They all left in April 1873 on the Halcione. Her records show Richards as a draper, so he must have been one of the itinerant salesmen catering for the Cornish miner's love of fine clothing. Among Brogdens' first party of navvies, on the Schiehallion, was 22-year-old Samuel Prisk, his wife and two children. In December 1873, S. R. Prisk of Heathcote Valley, near Christchurch, nominated a number of other Prisks, giving the address for all but one of them as Four Lanes, Illogan, near Redruth.79 They came out as a family migration on the Eastern Monarch, sailing in May 1874. The party consisted of 48-year-old farm labourer Joseph Prisk, apparently a widower, and his daughter Eliza, 17; James Prisk, 28-year-old farm labourer, with his wife and four children; John Prisk, 24-year-old miner, with his wife and infant son, and Paul Prisk, a 21-year-old miner. The nomination, however, had given Paul as a farmer, at Porkellis, about three miles south of Four Lanes. This family, in fact, well illustrates the common interweaving of farming and mining in Cornish experience, and the scattered settlement of Four Lanes, on the moors, about equidistant from Redruth and Camborne, is typical of the farmlets won from the waste by the miners. Of other examples available for the Camborne-Redruth area, we will quote two provided by nomination records. In November 1873, Stephen Trevela, a 30-year-old miner with a wife and two daughters, was nominated by R. Trevela of Waltham, Christchurch, their address being given as Rosekear Fields, Camborne. They sailed on the Stonehouse in April 1874. In December 1873 O. Tenby nominated 22-year-old mine girl Elizabeth Jane Collins, giving her address as Illogan, near Redruth. She sailed on the Duke of Edinburgh in July 1874.80
Before we leave the metal mines of west Cornwall we will travel a few miles north, to where the daring enterprise of the industry's engineers met the wild vigour of the open Atlantic at St. Agnes, on the north coast. St. Agnes' Head juts out into the ocean swell, and above the cliffs rises the high hill of St. Agnes Beacon. The headland provides some shelter for Trevaunance Cove to its north, and here, late in the eighteenth century, a harbour known as Trevaunance Quay, was built to serve the mines of the surrounding cliffs. In the 1870s the workings of famous mines clung boldly to the cliff faces, or towered from the rocky plateaux above, and the streams of the little combes below were harnessed for a progression of water-wheel stamps and tin dressing floors.81 The St. Agnes area was hard hit when the bad times began in the late 1860s. In February 1867 it was reported that many families in the parish were living on remittances sent home by emigrants to California,82 and in January 1868 240 persons in St. Agnes were said to be trying to live on eighteenpence each a week.83 But mines such as Wheal Kitty continued working and making a profit through the hard times, and mining survived in the area into the twentieth century. A. G. Folliott-Stokes writing early in the twentieth century describes page 229 scenes which would have looked familiar to a number of New Zealand immigrants of the 1870s. He is approaching the area from the north, along the coastguard path.
In front of us, about a couple of miles away, towers St. Agnes Beacon, its shoulders bristling with chimneys and mine workings, and on its southern flank is the mining township of St. Agnes. Soon we descend into the Trevellas Valley and Cove. Here the once pellucid brook is almost black, stone walls instead of flowers line its banks, and it befouled waters darken the sand in the cove and discolour the sea for several yards from the shore. Clambering over some rocks we soon reach Trevaunance Cove, where things are still worse. On the beach itself a great over-shot wheel revolves, and discharges dirty water onto the already discoloured sand. On the hill-side above are more wheels, slowly moving chains, mud heaps and smoking chimneys; while the loud and ceaseless clatter of stamps fills the air with noise. This valley, before man polluted it, must have been a very beautiful one, so too, the cove, for the cliffs are high and shapely, and well sentinelled by outlying rocks, but their sides are scarred with adits, and the surrounding water, instead of aquamarine, is the colour of pea soup. At the western end of the cove the quays of a quaint little harbour project from the smooth perpendicular cliff wall with almost Italian picturesqueness. It was built for the exporting of copper and tin, but is now only used by a few local fishing boats.84
At the 1871 census of St. Agnes, one household consisted of Mary James, 44, housekeeper, as head, and her daughter, Mary Jane, 14, tailoress, both born in St. Agnes. This may well be one of the homes from which the father emigrated following the mining crash of 1866, for on 4 January 1872 the two women were nominated from Otago, the deposit on their passage being paid at the goldmining centre of Roxburgh.85 They sailed in the Hydaspes in June 1872. Another St. Agnes household at the 1871 census was that of Jane Whitford, 53, widow, farmer, of 10 acres, with seven children aged from 10 to 23. She may well have been a miner's widow, and her 21-year-old copper miner son, John, is very probably the John Whitford, 23, navvy, who sailed for New Zealand on the Berar in May 1873, with his wife Mary Ann. By the Ballochmyle in March 1874 there sailed the 39-year-old farm labourer Jonathan Barrett, with his wife and eleven children. They had been nominated, and their address given as St. Agnes, by Thomas Fowler, labourer, Christchurch.86 This was probably the Thomas Fowler, 28-year-old labourer, who sailed with his wife Eliza for Canterbury by the Lady Jocelyn in July 1872, and they may therefore also be from St. Agnes. By the Otaki, sailing in October 1875, came 21-year-old farm labourer, Frederick Blitchford, probably the same man as appears in the 1871 census of St. Agnes as a 15-year-old indoor farm servant in the household of Joseph Luke, a farmer of thirty acres. St. Agnes is no longer as these folk remembered it, or as Folliott-Stokes described it. The silent engine houses and smokeless mine chimneys have acquired the mellow aging beauty of ruins, the streams run again unhindered and unsullied to the sea, which has reclaimed its own, destroying the harbour in a storm of 1934.page 230
Leaving the coast, we move north-east to the inland farming centre of St. Columb Major. Even in this quiet agricultural district we find evidence of the attraction of the mines among those who emigrated to New Zealand. Thomas Giles was born here in 1853, and at the age of 8 began work on the local farms. At the age of about 18 he was drawn into the china clay industry, and apparently his younger brother William joined him. The great china clay workers strike of 1876–7 turned their thoughts to emigration, and they in due course left for New Zealand on the Hydaspes in August 1878. They must have found New Zealand to their liking, for Thomas returned to the colony after visiting England about 1885, and William in 1883 nominated two young men, Charles Giles and Edgar Kneebone, both of Indian Queen Street, Columb, who emigrated on the British Queen early in 1884.87 Mining had led Robert Grigg, another St. Columb man, much farther afield than the St. Austell moors, before he emigrated to New Zealand on the Opawa in September 1877, as a 41-year-old farm labourer with a wife and two young children. He had already spent about ten years at the Australian and New Zealand gold diggings, before returning to England in 1865. After marrying in 1872 he went to the silver mines of Nevada, returning to England again in 1877. In New Zealand he finally settled down to farming.88 His global wanderings are by no means unique among New Zealand's Cornish immigrants of the 1870s.
We will end our tour of the county in one of the small scattered settlements that are so typical of rural Cornwall. Bilberry is situated on the northern edge of the Hensbarrow Downs that lie between St. Austell and Roche. The place is too insignificant to appear in any but the most comprehensive gazetteers. Much of the land of the district is ill-drained moor, providing rough grazing on marsh pasture. Because of the frequent bad drainage and the exposure of many of the farms, young stock in this region have to be brought in for a longer period than usual in the winter.89 It is hardly surprising that inhabitants of this bleak district should have gone roving in search of a better life. Their wanderings probably began by their tramping south over the moors to work in the china clay pits. New Zealand immigration nominations provide evidence that the gold of the Otago diggings served as a magnet to draw some Bilberry men to the ends of the earth.90 On 29 May 1872 Miriam Wedlake, 32, housemaid, and her 8-year-old daughter Catherine, of Bilberry, Roche, Cornwall, were nominated from Otago. They sailed by the Christian McAusland in September 1872. On 8 September 1872, Maria Roberts, 32, servant, was nominated in Lawrence, Otago. In this case the name of the nominator was recorded - J. Clarke, of the goldmining settlement of Waipori. Maria Roberts sailed on the Asia in February 1874, and on the same ship were four young people surnamed Wedlake - Julia, 17; Fred W., 14; John A., 12 and Lottie, 10. The three younger of these had been nominated on 26 September 1873 by F. Wedlake, of the Otago goldfields settlement of Tuapeka. Many another obscure Cornish moorland settlement must have page 231 had its little exodus to the equally humble life of an insignificant New Zealand frontier settlement.
With a population nearly two-thirds as large again as Cornwall's, Devon sent only about 2,000 assisted emigrants to New Zealand in the 1870s - not much more than one third as many as Cornwall. Though Devon had some mining, mainly near the border with Cornwall, it was not on such a scale that the depression in metal prices affected the county greatly. In any case, the industry in Devon was dominated by the Devon Great Consols Mine, one of the richest in the world, which continued to work on a large scale and make profits throughout the decade. Only eight of New Zealand's assisted immigrants from Devonshire in the 1870s gave their occupation as ‘miner’. We have, therefore, neither a collapse of mining, nor, as we have already noted, the Revolt of the Field, to account for the county's moderate flow of emigration. The listed occupations of the emigrants, however, show that they were predominantly from rural life. We will therefore briefly sketch the general background of rural Devon, and then give an account of emigration from the parish of Stockland to illustrate some of the characteristics of the recruitment from the county.
Though third in order of size among the counties of England, Devon ranked only ninth in population in the 1870s. The land continued, as always, to be her main source of wealth. The great granite dome of Dartmoor, a broken tableland of some 400 square miles, dominates the topography of the county, providing the source of most of its chief rivers. Large stretches of Dartmoor are uninhabited, and a large part of the rest of Devon is relatively infertile. Besides the dominance of Dartmoor, one other fundamental geological fact must be mentioned: the existence of three great platforms at 1,000 feet, 750–800 feet and 430 feet above sea level. The uplift of these platforms has led to the rivers cutting deep, steep-sided valleys into them. This platform and deep valley structure of so much of the county has had a profound effect on its land-use and agrarian history. Despite their elevation, much of the land of the platforms is badly drained. Nevertheless, arable cultivation has been largely restricted to the drier parts of the plateaux, as the valleys are for the most part too steeply incised to be cultivated. On the other hand, the valleys are protected from the strong winds, and so produce thick woods, and are the favoured sites for villages and farmhouses. The drowned mouths of the valleys also serve to carry the moderating influence of the sea far inland, encouraging the growth of flowers and fruit in the valley bottoms. The heights of Dartmoor, and the tableland of Exmoor, reaching into the rain-bearing winds of the Atlantic, make Devon a well watered county. The overall picture, then, of the inhabited parts of Devon, is of a land of a thousand streams in their combes, a land of tumbled hills and tablelands, a land between two seas, with ragged and indented coasts.91
To understand the agrarian landscape of Devon, and the social world that shaped the rural emigrants of the 1870s, we must go back to the end of the eleventh century. At that time the county was poor, under-populated page 232 and under-developed. Much of the usable land was completely uninhabited, and the scattered patches of cleared land were almost lost in a great sea of uncolonised forest. Despite her size, Devon ranks only nineteenth in the Domesday assessment figures. This picture was to be greatly changed by a remarkable colonisation movement, which got underway in the mid twelfth century and lasted for about two hundred years. A large part of this colonisation of the woods, moors and marshes was the work of free peasants, each working in terms of a charter from the lord of the manor, granting a piece of land within specified boundaries. As they worked, these colonists created a new landscape of small enclosed fields surrounded by hedge banks, for their aim was to create individual farms, not the open fields characteristic of the earlier clearings. Between the thousands of new farms wound narrow lanes in an irregular network, vastly different to the regular patterns and straight lines which surveyors were to create in other counties during the great enclosure movement of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In Devon this colonisation movement quickly demonstrated the advantages of individual farming over communal farming, and most of the open fields of the earlier clearings had been enclosed before Tudor times. Not only did the colonisation movement give Devon its characteristic agrarian landscape of the meandering, narrow hedged lane, and the isolated farmstead, often at the end of a track, but it also had a deep and abiding effect on the county's social structure. The ownership of land remained more widely diffused in Devon than almost anywhere else in the country. Though the ownership of land became more concentrated with the passage of time, the typical Devonshire parish of the nineteenth century had several families of minor gentry - sometimes as many as half a dozen - while below them was a numerous class of yeomen. Though there were some large landowners in Devon, they were not able to dominate the social and political life of the county.92
The parish of Stockland aptly illustrates many of the characteristic features of the Devonshire countryside, and the party of twenty-three emigrants who left the place in December 1874 to settle in New Zealand were typical products of the county's rural social order. Stockland is in south-east Devon, about six miles north-east of Honiton, well off the beaten track, on a bold range of hills. In the 1870s, as today, the village was rather straggling in nature, built on rolling slopes above a spacious fourteenth century church, but much of the population of the parish lived in scattered farmsteads, joined by narrow winding lanes. Professor Hoskins describes it as ‘a good example of land cleared piecemeal and directly from the forest’.93 The ordinance survey maps show that, as is common in south-east Devon, many of the farms are called hayes. The parish has a long history of smallholding, doubtless dating from the original clearance of the forest. The dispersed holding of its 5,849 acres is clearly evident in the 1873 Return of Owners of Land, which shows fifty-two owners of holdings over one acre living in the parish. Of these twenty-eight had less than 5 acres, and only four had over 100 acres, the page 233 largest being 288 acres.94 The Return also shows fourteen holdings in the parish, belonging to persons whose addresses had not been ascertained. The patronage of the vicarage living was also widely dispersed. In 1688 the then owner of the great tithes and the advowson had sold them to fifty-six owners of land in the parish, and the incumbent of the 1870s had been presented to the vicarage in 1869 by about ten freeholders who had been able to prove their rights.95
An informant96 who has lived in the parish for most of his life and whose memory reaches back to the 1880s has described life in Stockland as it must have been throughout Victorian times. Farming on the small holdings was basically dairying. The small holders made cottage cheese, keeping pigs on the whey, and also skimmed cream and made butter. To fatten the pigs, barley meal was bought to supplement the whey. When ready for killing, the pig was sold to the butcher, and the smallholder usually took only the head, trotters, chitterings, liver and lights for himself, though a better off man might sometimes keep a quarter of the beast. The Stockland folk were expert at supplementing their diet by catching game, as, due to the way land was held in the parish, poaching was not an issue. Every farmlet had some apple trees, often grafted to give both cider and cooking apples on the same tree. Every home had a press for making cider, which was kept in hogshead barrels, and sold in considerable quantities to the brewers. To further supplement the household income, the women regularly tramped the six miles to Honiton, carrying baskets of butter, chicken and eggs to market. The parish had 61 acres of common on which people used to run goats, and from which the poor used to cut their firewood. The overall picture is of a thrifty, hardworking community, engaged in farming that was predominantly subsistence in nature.
The root cause of emigration from this community was quite clearly the pressure of population in a district where most of the soils were not particularly fertile. From 1,164 in 1851 the population declined by a third to 772 in 1901. Commenting on a decrease of 43 in the preceding decade, a footnote to the 1871 census returns remarks that it is ‘attributed to migration and emigration, owing, it is reported, to its isolated situation and to the languishing condition of trade’. We have no union newspapers, with their branch reports and emigrant's letters, to tell the story behind these figures. While the dramatic decline of the Cornish mining industry, with the resultant distress and diaspora, reached the columns even of The Times, the obscure difficulties and quiet emigration of parishes in rural Devon were virtually unrecorded. Yet, from the parish registers and from memories handed down in the emigrant families in New Zealand, something of the human experience involved can be recreated.
The oldest of the 1874 emigrant party was born as Sarah Showers in 1801. In August 1824 she married Thomas Strawbridge, born in 1800. One of their sons, Eli, born about 1833, became a wanderer, and in due course would seem to have been the main initiator of the family migration to New Zealand. Unsubstantiated family traditions in New Zealand report that he page 234 became a whaler, and was also involved at some stage in smuggling brandy across the Channel from France. In 1863 he emigrated, with his brother Thomas to New Zealand, persuaded, it is reported, by good accounts sent home by a cousin who had emigrated to Nelson about a year earlier. Other members of the family held to the more mundane farming life back in Stockland. John, born to Thomas and Sarah Strawbridge in 1826, married and reared a family of six children. He appears in the 1873 Return as the owner of 21 acres of land, probably inherited from his father who died in 1867. His sister, Sarah Anne, born about 1838, married John Bond, born about 1833 in the neighbouring parish of Membury, and by the time they joined the 1874 party emigrating to New Zealand they had reared nine children. Two glimpses may be given of the life of John Bond in the 1860s. When his son Joseph was baptised in January 1865 he gave his occupation as ‘pig-jobber’, which means that he must have been engaged in livestock transactions, supplying pigs to be reared by his neighbours. A grandson97 remembers his uncle, Eli Thomas, born to John and Sarah Bond early in 1861, telling how when he was seven years old there was a bad winter when there was no money. His father went to Wales to work in the mines, taking the lad with him, and he told of sitting in the mine, opening and shutting a door for the trucks to go through, with only a candle for light. Some corroboration for this story is provided by the fact that in 1868 England suffered a major summer drought. Spring-sown grass and clover died, pastures were burnt up, men died of sunstroke in the fields, and the moors and commons were said to be ablaze from one end of England to another.98 The smallholders of Stockland may well therefore have been reduced to dire straits in the 1868–9 winter, and John Bond may well have left his wife and his oldest son, 10-year-old Malachi, to attend to his farmlet, while he and his second son went in search of work.
The 1871 census schedules tell us something of the lives of these families shortly before emigration, while the parish registers help to fill out the picture. The widow, Sarah Strawbridge is shown as a small shopkeeper and a farmer of 9 acres. The 1873 Return of Owners of Land shows that she owned 7 acres. Living with her in 1871 is her unmarried 22-year-old son Joseph, working as her assistant. Not far away, at Huntshayes her son John is farming 27 acres, assisted by his oldest son, 16-year-old Henry Albert. Her son-in-law, John Bond, is shown farming 20 acres at Spring Head. Family traditions report that the emigration of December 1874 was brought about by nomination by Eli, Sarah's son already in New Zealand, and emigration records confirm that some members of the party were in fact nominated. Parish records suggest that one motive behind the move was a desire to marry, inhibited by the undue pressure of population on Stockland's resources. The Banns Book of Stockland shows that banns were called on 1, 8 and 15 November 1874, for Sarah's son Joseph, and Elizabeth Pavey, spinster; and for her grandson 22-year-old Henry Albert (son of John) and Emma Berry, spinster. The marriages took place on Monday, 16 November. Presumably these arrangements were set in page 235 motion after acceptance as assisted emigrants, and while awaiting embarkation notices. Elizabeth Pavey appears in the 1871 census of Stockland as a 19-year-old dressmaker, born in the parish, living with her widowed mother, also a dressmaker. Emma Berry appears as a 16-year-old dairymaid, born at Axmouth, living with her unmarried older brother, a farmer of 60 acres, who also has his retired parents living with him.
When the Dallam Tower sailed from London for Wellington on 22 December 1874, she had on board the 73-year-old Sarah Strawbridge; her son John, his wife and five unmarried children, and the recently married Henry and his bride; her recently married son Joseph and his bride; and her daughter Sarah and son-in-law John Bond, and their nine children. The parish records of Stockland suggest that the departure of this party cleared the way for the marriage of other couples in the parish. Correspondence with descendants of the immigrant party in New Zealand shows that they, on their part entered vigorously into the less restricted opportunities of colonial life and made a most worthwhile contribution to the pioneering of rural New Zealand.99page 236