The Cornish overseas

More than half a million people left Cornwall in the nineteenth century and headed to destinations both overseas and within Britain. Kresen Kernow has a range of records covering the process of migration, as well as relating to individual families both in Cornwall and overseas.

At one point, migration was so commonplace that a great deal of infrastructure existed in Cornwall to support it. In our collections you can find newspaper adverts and articles offering advice and information to migrants from Cornwall as well as records of tickets bought and families (usually poor) chosen for a new life abroad.

Kresen Kernow is also home to the Scoble archive, a rich collection of correspondence and other documents that clearly demonstrates the impact of migration on one family. The collection includes more than 50 letters full of rich detail about life on the mining frontier sent home from Richard Scoble in North America to his family in Devoran.

Our collections also contain other correspondence from migrants overseas to their families in Cornwall, as well as diaries, pictures and photos. Not all migrants were miners; we hold letters and diaries from tailors and other professionals who had sought a new life abroad.

If you are interested in finding a migrant ancestor, the census can be enormously helpful, and can be accessed online at Kresen Kernow or via subscription sites at home. You can read our Family History collection guide for a little more information. We do not hold any passenger lists, but many of these can be accessed through for a fee. It is often worth checking the records of the countries you think your ancestor went to.

Not all migration was voluntary. The Bodmin Gaol registers and Quarter Sessions records (see the Crime and Punishment, Law and Order collections guide) contain numerous references to people sentenced to be transported overseas. It is almost impossible to know what happened to many of them.

Key search terms: migration, America, Australia (and other countries involved as well as towns and places), migrant, emigration, emigrant

Key collections: AD833 (Scoble family), AD1875 (James Keast, South Africa), AD1207/6 (County Distress Fund records)

Recommended reads:  Cornish overseas by Philip Payton, 1999; Cornish Miner in America by AC Todd, 1967; Cornish Farmer in Australia by Philip Payton, 1987

Watch: you can watch films about many items in our collections, including those related to the Gold Rush, on our YouTube channel.