Cornish Miners on Sark
When I heard the song ‘The Silverlode of Sark’ by Tom Bliss , it intrigued me. Tom admits that he wrote it only from the stories he’d heard on Sark about the mine, so I decided to do some research, although the story of the mine itself is already documented.
My interest was in the Cornish miners, especially in the story that one married a local girl. According to the Jersey Heritage Trust, two hundred and fifty Cornish miners were employed at the mine and one wonders what induced them to leave Cornwall. The mine started in the latter half of the 1830s and closed in 1847. So I went to the 1841 census for Little Sark, and there are forty men, listed as working at the Silverlode mine and born in England (the enumerator was only given the choice between, whether 'born on the same island’ or ‘England, Scotland, Ireland' or 'foreign parts’).
Of these, fifteen are shown as having family with them, although as the 1841 census does not give relationships, by family I mean that they are living with women and/or children of the same surname. All the women but one are shown as being born in England; Thomas Row, age 25, born in England is living with Rachel, age 20, Jane Row, age 2, and Bennett Row, age 2 months, all born on Sark. So the story of one of them marrying an island girl appears to be confirmed.
No addresses for places of residence are given in the census, and the single men are living in groups of about six. There are also ‘English’ families with occupations probably associated with the mine, such as a blacksmith and a mason. There is also one mother and a child from England, with no husband or occupation shown, and three older women living together, two of whom have the same surname as an English miner, who were perhaps mothers who went to Sark to housekeep for the miners.
This means that at least sixteen families went with their husbands and/or fathers to Sark during the latter half of the 1830s, returning to England in the early 1840s. It would be interesting to discover the reason for this; was it possibly the difficulty of sending money back to family in England perhaps? By 1841, eight children are listed in these families as having been born on Sark.
As the place of birth is only shown as England, I then went to the 1851 census to see if I could find the same men. Thomas Row(e) and John Remfrey were still on Sark, although Thomas was now married to Martha, so presumably Rachel had died. Bennet was with him, but Jane was living with John and Rachel Hamon, listed as their granddaughter, suggesting that Rachel’s maiden name was Hamon.
It also appears that a widower, William Pearce, married a Rachel Hamon from Guernsey, the widow of William Hamon of Sark, who was a miner there in 1841, but they had returned to Cornwall by 1851.
It was almost impossible to find those listed without families on the 1841 census, but of those I found, most were in Cornwall by 1851.
There was a mine collapse in 1845 in which ten men where killed, although it appears that Thomas was not among them, so Tom Bliss has used a degree of poetic license in his song.
I have produced a table listing the miners from the 1841 census and where I think they were in 1851. I'm happy to be corrected, both in the transcription of surnames and their identification in 1851.
The 1861 Sark census is missing , so the trail of Thomas Row(e) has gone cold.
However, this is not exhaustive research, but it is a start. Hopefully it may help someone to discover their Cornish miner ancestors on Sark, or inspire someone with easier access to Sark records to go further. More details could be added such as the marriage of Thomas Row(e) to Rachel (Hamon?) and the baptisms of those children born on Sark.
Also searches through records of deaths and burials might, unfortunately, locate more of the 1841 miners, and of course someone might find the missing 1861 Sark census.
Mavis by the Moor
© Mavis by the Moor 2008
1. Listen to ‘The Silverlode of Sark’ by Tom Bliss