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The Making of ‘Cousin Jack’ and ‘Cousin Jenny’

Unless otherwise stated, all content is © Sharron P. Schwartz and may not be reproduced without permission


The Making of ‘Cousin Jack’ and ‘Cousin Jenny’

A Working Paper

Copyright © Dr Sharron P. Schwartz 2023


That the Cornish are closely associated with hard rock mining is well known, epitomised by the saying, ‘where ever there’s a hole in the ground, there’ll be a Cornishman working away at the bottom of it.’[1] Cornwall is a peninsula at the far south west of Britain that covers an area less than 3,562 km2 (1,365 square miles), and at no time during the nineteenth century had a population greater than 375,000.[2] Yet Cornwall’s size, both in terms of territory and population, is disproportionate to the impact the Cornish have made on the global hard-rock mining industry in the century after 1815.[3]

Cornwall was undoubtedly one of the great emigration regions of Europe.[4] In the last quarter of the nineteenth century alone, a figure equivalent to 40 per cent of Cornwall’s young adult males and 25 per cent of its young adult females migrated overseas.[5] During the 1860s and 1870s, Cornwall was the only English region where there were more overseas emigrants than migrants to other parts of the UK. Dudley Baines estimates that gross emigration would have been about 20 per cent of the Cornish-born population in each ten-year period from 1861 to 1900 and about 10 percent of the female.[6] Many of the male migrants were connected to the mining industry in some way. They have been dubbed ‘the aristocracy of mine labour’[7] or ‘the light infantry of British capital,’[8] and were nicknamed ‘Cousin Jacks.’ Yet, as Cornish historian John Rowe has noted, although ‘Cousin Jack’ is a widely used nickname for a Cornish miner, no one is really sure how it came about.[9]

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