Friday, July 29, 2011

Who are the Cornish?

The Cornish are a Celtic people originating from Cornwall in the far south west of the British isles. They have their own lesser used language, a member of the Brythonic group of Celtic languages that also includes Welsh and Breton. The language declined after the middle ages with only a handful of speakers by the 19th century. Luckily the language has experienced a revival over the last century and now there are several thousand speakers.

Cornwall and the Cornish have long been associated with mining and mineral extraction, the ancient Greek geographers tell how the Cornish were very civilised due to their interactions with Mediterranean merchants seeking metals. Cornwall is blessed with an abundance of minerals of all types, too many to discuss here, but the most important being Tin, Copper, and more recently China Clay (Kaolin).

The Cornish as a people have suffered any trials and tribulations over the centuries. They were constantly at war with the ever encroaching Anglo-Saxons. By the middle ages they were governed by a powerful Duchy given to the eldest son of the English monarch, with their own parliamentary and legal system. There was a flourishing of literature centred around Cornwall, Tristan & Iseult, King Arthur, etc.

In the mid sixteenth century however things changed, Henry VIII changed the state religion and Cornwall was forced to change with it. During the reign of his son Edward the Cornish language was removed from church services and English forced in its place. As a result a bloody war was fought by the Cornish against the English which claimed the lives of upwards of 10 percent of the Cornish populace.

During the 17th century Wars of the Five Peoples (Commonly known as the English Civil War) the Cornish sided with their Duke and his father King Charles I against the English parliament (like the Scots and Irish, the Cornish still had their own parliament at this point and were fearful that they would lose it should the English parliament win). Although the Cornish Army(as it called itself) was one of the most successful armies in the war, conquering a large swathe of southern England. However the war did not go so well elsewhere and so the Cornish leader suggested that the Duchy should seek a separate peace with the English, governing themselves. The King did not take kindly to this and had the leader, Richard Grenville, arrested. With the eventual defeat of the royalists, Cornish institutions were dismantled. The restoration of the throne saw a resurgence in the Duchy, the parliament and the courts, but by the 1750's the parliament had become politically dangerous, calling for sovereign powers, and was suppressed.

During the 18th and 19th centuries the Cornish continued a long-standing seafaring tradition, supplying many officers to the new colonies in Australia, Bligh and King amongst them. Lieutenant Zachary Hicks was Cook's second in command, he was not only the first of the expedition to set eyes on the Australian continent, at Botany Bay he was the first of the party to set foot on Australian soil. Not many of the convicts sent to Australia were Cornish, though on the First Fleet were James Ruse(Australia's first farmer) and Mary Bryant (With her husband William), all of whom were Cornish.

The first large scale emigrations from Cornwall to Australia were nonconformists going to South Australia for more religious freedoms. As soon as minerals like copper were discovered they sent back home for friends and relatives, the proverbial Cousins Jack, thus starting the flood of Cornish people into Australia from the 1830s and 40s onwards. In the 1840's there was potato famine in Cornwall, but, due to the fact that the Cornish were already well prepared to emigrate, there was little loss of life.

The Australian gold-rushes were like a magnet to the Cornish, not just from Cornwall and other areas of Australia, but from the USA, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Peru etc. (The World's two largest gold nuggets were discovered by Cornish diggers). Later many Cornish miners leaving southern Africa would come to Australia as well.

More historic Cornish Australians

I've mentioned before the two Prime Ministers of Australia who have identified as Cornish, Bob Hawke and Robert Menzies (Probably the two most iconic PMs you're ever likely to find). However there are many more heads of Australian government either actually born in the Cornish homeland (Kernow in the Cornish language) or else born into a Cornish Australian family.

George Pearce was acting prime minister for seven months in 1916 while Billy Hughes was overseas and remains the only Senator to have fulfilled the role of Prime Minister without resigning his Senate seat.

Premiers of South Australia

George Marsden Waterhouse

James Penn Boucaut

John Verran

Robert Richards

Don Dunstan

David Tonkin

(please tell me if you know of any more)

Premiers of Western Australia

John Scaddan

Albert Hawke

David Brand

John Trezise Tonkin

Premiers of Tasmania

Edward Braddon

John Earle

Premiers of Queensland

Anna Bligh

Premiers of Victoria

Albert Dunstan

Note should also be made of John Langdon Parsons who was Government Resident of the Northern Territory.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I am looking for people to endorse the campaign.

I am trying to get former Prime Minister Bob Hawke to support the campaign, though his biography tells us he rebelled against his Cornish upbringing. I have also been contacting various other people with Cornish ancestry.

There are many other great Cornish Australians in history such as:

Sir Robert Menzies - Australia's longest serving Prime Minister who stated that he was half Cornish.

Field Marshall Sir Thomas Blamey - Australia's only ever Field Marshall who commanded Australian and Allied forces during the Second World War and oversaw the surrender of the Japanese.

Air Marshal Sir Richard Williams - Known as the Father of the RAAF.

Sir John Quick - One of the Fathers of the Australian Federation. He proposed a formal national convention with delegates from the six Australian colonies, he then drafted a bill which formed the basis of the deliberations.

Sir Garfield Barwick - longest serving Chief Justice of Australia, Attorney-General of Australia, Minister for External Affairs, and a judge of the International Court of Justice.

John Gale - founder of the Queanbeyan Age newspaper, known as the Father of Canberra.

John Pascoe Fawkner - Founder of Melbourne.

Mary Bryant - the famous female convict and escapee, transported on the First fleet. With her husband and children she became one of the first to successfully escape the colony, though her family all perished along the way.

Moondyne Joe - Convict most famous for his many escapes.

Fletcher Jones - The founder of the Australia wide clothing manufacturer and retailer.

Henry Madren Leggo - Founder of Leggo's, the food manufacturers.

more can be found at Cornish Australian

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Australian Census 2011 – Yes, the Cornish count!

Great article at

Australian Census 2011 – Yes, the Cornish count!

"It is now Australia’s Census time, and yes the Cornish need to be counted!

"Cornish born, or with Cornish men or women in your ancestry? Now is the time to be counted, along with an estimated 300,000 Australians, on Australia’s Census night, Tuesday August 9, 2011."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Campaign Launch

I've been thinking of starting this Australian Census campaign since the 2011 UK census in March.

For that census the Cornish ethnic and national identity options received a great deal of support from both the media and the people themselves. But we also had Cornwall Council and various organisations throwing their weight behind that campaign.

There is no doubt Australian academic opinion supports the Cornish being on a par with the English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh. The Cornish theoretically making up one of the largest groups in Australia, possibly as many as 900,000 of us. However Australian Census statistics published show a different story. Line Count data from the 2006 Census showed that 2,648 persons responded to the Ancestry question with "Cornish". This is down from the 1986 Australian Census when 15,000 people reported their ancestry as Cornish.

This campaign will run in addition to that of the Celtic Council of Australia (CCA)

(Image: The Cornish Australian Heritage Flag)