Telling the stories of ordinary people in the past
Cornish wives 'left behind'
The 19th Century saw unprecedented levels of emigration from the mining districts of Cornwall as successive waves of men left to work overseas in the Americas, Australia, South Africa and other far-flung destinations, responding to an increasing international labour market and fluctuations in the mining industries at home and abroad. They frequently left wives behind in Cornwall, intending to send for them later, or return home themselves as soon as they had made their fortunes or fulfilled their contracts.
The overwhelming perception that has entered into the public mythology is that these women were the passive victims of the Great Migration from Cornwall; ‘married widows’ deserted or half-deserted by their husbands. This research, for which I was awarded my PhD, challenges this idea and explores how the migration of the men involved in the mining industry really affected the lives of their wives who remained in Cornwall. Find out more in my new book:
The Married Widows of Cornwall: the story of the wives 'left behind by emigration
One of the products of this work is a collection of biographical information on thousands of women who at some point in their lives remained in Cornwall while their husbands were abroad. This is gradually being made available on this website.
Other resources (click on highlighted text):
Specific references to husbands abroad in censuses for Cornwall (1851-1891) by parish.
Wives as 'heads of household' in censuses for Cornwall (1851-1891) by parish.
Talking about the Cornish Wives 'left-behind'
In 2018 I had the opportunity to speak about
the Cornish wives 'left-behind' at the
Secret Lives - Hidden Voices of our Ancestors Conference.
In the short video below I chat to
Editor of Family Tree magazine
about my research on these women.