The Cornish in South Australia

The Cornish in South Australia


'Wherever in the world there's a hole in the ground at
the bottom of it you'll find a Cornishman searching for metal.' A.K.
Hamilton Jenkin.
Thousands of skilled miners came to SA. They could
sink shafts, handle explosives, operate and build mine machinery, assess
the value of ores and prospect for new deposits. They spoke a Cornish
dialect. Traces of this have survived in Australian colloquialisms
They were interested in music/singing, festivals,
wrestling, and athletics. They ate pasties and saffron buns and
cultivated food crops. They could build their own houses and were
adventurous and could move on if a mine closed down or a richer deposit
opened up.

Cornish culture and ethnicity

The Cornish are a distinct ethnic group in the United Kingdom and are descendants of the Celts who came across the English Channel about 500 BC.
Cornwall is the peninsula on the very western end of England across the Tamar River. The Cornish kept much of their way of talking and ways of doing things. The Cornish were great miners, farmers and fishermen.
They love singing and music, and were religious people. Cornish people immigrated to Australia when the mines opened up as economic conditions were difficult in Cornwall. Many came to Kapunda, Burra, Moonta and Kadina in South Australia.
Because the Cornish greeted each other as 'cousin' they were called Cousin Jennys and Cousin Jacks. (Jack and Jenny were the most common names in Cornwall at the time). They were hard working and adventurous and created a new home 18,000 kms from their own land. Life was hard for Cornish settlers. Today it is estimated that 20% of people in SA alone have a Cornish heritage.

Some facts

1. Cornwall is approx the same size as Kangaroo Island
2. There are more people with a Cornish background living in SA than in Cornwall
3. It is estimated over 20% of SA have a Cornish heritage
4. Kadina, Wallaroo & Moonta are called Australia's Little Cornwall
5. Kapunda is the oldest mining town in Australia and has a statue 7m high of a Cornish miner.


Most Cornish people were Methodists Wesleyan, Bible Christian or Primitive Methodists. There are many old churches dotted around our Australian countryside that the Cornish built. A famous one is the Moonta Mines church which can seat 1200 people.


Kernewek is the revived language of Cornwall. By the beginning of the 20th century native speakers of Cornish had died out, but a man called Henry Jenner believed the Cornish should speak the Cornish language if only for the reason they were Cornish. He wrote a handbook in 1904 which proved to be the turning point for the revival of interest in the Cornish language. Now Kernewek is spoken again in Cornwall and Cornish studies are taught. Cornish has been accepted as a Celtic language and is now being taught in schools as Welsh is.
Kernow Bys Vyken! Cornwall forever!


By Tre,  Ros, Car, Lan, Pol and Pen
Ye may know most Cornishmen.
Many names in SA are Cornish eg Goldsworthy, Hawke, Hancock, Angove, Hayes, Woon, Trevilyan, Pengelly, Polkinghorn, Hosking, Pascoe.
And many place names are Cornish in origin eg
Callington, Roseworthy, Rundle Street, Truro, Launceston, Redruth (in Burra area), St Agnes.

Festivals and holidays

1. The Kernewek Lowender is held in Kadina, Moonta, and Wallaroo every 2 years.
2. St Piran's Day on 5th March. St Piran was one of the many Celtic saints who came to Cornwall preaching Christianity in the 5th century.

In Cornwall, besides St Pirans' Day, there are the following festivals:
1. Last day in April Trevithick Day is in memory of Richard Trevithick who invented the steam engine.
2. 1st May May Day at Padstow. The Hobby Horse makes a tour of the town to commemorate arrival of Summer
3. 8th May Helston's Furry Day.
4. 23rd June Golowan and Mazey Day in Penzance celebrating St John. Also midsummer bonfires.
5. 27th June -  the Cornish rebels of 1497 against the English are remembered.
6. Autumn Crying of the neck an ancient Celtic fertility rite
7. 1st Sat in Sept the ceremony of the Bards of the Gorseth Kernow.
8. 23rd Dec Tom Bawcock's Eve in Mousehole.


A white cross on a black background commemorates Saint Piran.

The Cornish Coat of Arms

It has 15 gold coins on a shield,
with the motto 'One and All'. It represents the ransom raised in Cornwall
for the Duke of Cornwall, captured by the Saracens during the Crusades.

Some famous Cornish-Australians

1. Kate Cocks first police woman in the British Empire    
2. George Waterhouse premier in 1861
3. John Verran led the first Labor government
4. Don Dunstan Premier of SA
5. Albert Hawke born in Kapunda, SA, became Premier of WA
6. Bob Hawke Prime Minister of Australia
7. Sir Langdon Bonython served in the first federal government; owned 'The Advertiser'.
8. Sir Richard Williams served in the Royal Australian Air Force and was called the 'Father of the R.A.A.F'.
9. Henry Hancock Captain of the Moonta Mine.
10. Frederick May engineer, manufacturer and inventor.
11. James Martin manufacturer and 'the Father of Gawler'.
12. Henry Binney Hawke from Kapunda, iron founder, producer of iron lace and machinery.
13. Governor Philip King of NSW was born in Launceston, Cornwall.


The Cornish in earlier times based their diet on barley flour, the potato and pilchards. Soups and stews were eaten and also the famous pasty.
Pasties were filled with different filling according to whose pasty it was pork, rabbit, fish, eggs, vegetables and even jam and fruit. The person's initial was marked on it. The proper pasty was filled with potatoes, turnip and a little meat and was a meal in itself. Miners' pasties often had apple in one end for dessert. Miners held the pasty by the crust at the top since their hands were dirty.