Tag: South Africa

Empire Settlement Schemes after WWI

English: A map of the British Empire in 1921 w...
A map of the British Empire in 1921 when it was at its height. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Emigration had sharply declined over the course of the First World War. Capitalizing on the potential of Britons wanting to emigrate from post-war England, both Canada and Australia began concerted efforts to encourage renewed immigration. Owing to these efforts, migration gradually increased between 1919 and 1920.

During this time, the British government began implementing schemes of its own – though often in collaboration with the various colonies. A couple of programs were instituted to not only encourage emigration to Australia and Canada, but also to New Zealand, and South Africa as well.

The Overseas Settlement Scheme

The 1919 Overseas Settlement Scheme was passed to assist discharged soldiers returning home from the Great War. The scheme offered free passage to ex-service men and women and their dependents.  This scheme lasted until the end of 1922, and over its duration, over 86,000 migrants were provided assistance. Of this 86,000, 26,560 went to Canada, 34,750 went to Australia, 12,890 went to New Zealand, 5,890 to South Africa, and nearly 3000 ended up in other parts of the Empire.

In Australia, just over 24 million acres was allocated to the settlement scheme. Approximately 23,000 farms were established across the country, and by June of 1924, 23,367 soldiers and sailors had emigrated and settled on the farms. This scheme enabled greater development of land that had been previously uninhabited in territories throughout Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia.

New Zealand saw a dramatic shortage of farm labourers after the loss of 17,000 men in the war. In addition to aiding ex-service men, various private sectors in New Zealand also instituted juvenile immigration schemes. The Flock House Scheme, for example, was initiated in honour of the British Navy and Mercantile Marines, and provided homes for the children of sailors who had been killed during the war. Boys received instruction in agriculture, while the girls were trained in domestic and industrial occupations. Through this scheme and others, approximately 2600 children were brought to New Zealand.

The Empire Settlement Act

King George V with the British and Dominion pr...
King George V with the British and Dominion prime ministers at the 1926 Imperial Conference (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1922, the Overseas Settlement Scheme was expanded to provide assistance to any “suitable persons” from the general public who might want to emigrate. This scheme was dubbed the Empire Settlement Act.

This act allowed the British government to collaborate with its Dominion governments, as well as with private organizations and public authorities, to develop emigration schemes. Under this act, married couples, single farm laborers and teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17 were given free passage, and occasionally, training opportunities. In exchange for passage, the emigrants were expected to settle and remain on the land.

A variety of public and private schemes were instituted under this act, including the “3000 Families Scheme” and the “Dominion-Provincial Land Settlement Scheme” in Canada, and various Australian settlement schemes initiated by Dr. Barnardo’s, the Big Brother movement, and others.

Over its duration, the Empire Settlement Act provided assistance to 212,000 immigrants to Australia, and another 130,000 immigrants to Canada.

Gold Rush: California to Kimberley

Few things spark the adventurer’s spirit like the promise of gold. People are willing to leave the security of home for the dream of striking it rich on the gold fields. Time after time, gold rush fever has struck the general population, spurring massive migration to the latest gold find. Few truly find a fortune, yet this rarely stops folks from trying.

Britain has not been immune to gold fever. There are always those who are beguiled by the potential for instant wealth, and each new strike has spurred heavy migration as fortune hunters flock to the find.

English: Sailing to California for the Califor...
Sailing to California for the California Gold Rush (originally published in 1850s). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

America: The California Gold Rush (1848)

When James Marshall struck gold at John Sutter’s mill on January 24th, 1848, it went largely unnoticed. News of the find moved slowly and it wasn’t until late in the year that gold fever really caught on in El Dorado County. Sam Brannan was a store owner at Sutter’s Fort, and he immediately saw the potential for gain. He began advertising the strike in San Francisco and from there, the word spread like wildfire.

By June, nearly 5000 miners were working in the gold district. When news of the strike was legitimized by a statement from President James Polk, news began to spread across the country. Stories of gold, free for the taking, could hardly be contained and by 1849 immigrants were pouring into the country from the UK, China, Europe, Australia, and South America. According to the census in 1850, there were some 3,010 Britons living in California.

English: Australian 'Gold Rush' house The vill...
Australian ‘Gold Rush’ house ‘The Adelong’ was built by a local who made his fortune in the Australian Gold Rush! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Australia: The Victoria & NSW Gold Rush (1851)

Bathurst in New South Wales was little more than a backwater penal settlement when Edward Hargraves discovered gold there in 1851. Within weeks, however, thousands of settlers had flocked to Australia and were digging frantically for a fortune. The governor of Victoria saw potential in the new settlers and offered a reward for anyone who struck gold within 200 miles of Melbourne. Diggers took up the challenge and soon found gold in even greater abundance.

By the end of 1851, the Australian gold rush was at full steam. Tens of thousands of settlers arrived, tripling Victoria’s population to 237,000 in 1861, and doubling it again to 540,000 by 1861. New South Wales also saw a significant population increase, reaching 357,000 by 1861. Of these immigrants, 290,000 came from the British Isles and quickly became the dominant nationality in the region. In fact, by 1861, 60% of the population was from the UK.

South Africa: The Kimberly Gold Rush (1886)

The initial riches of South Africa were found in diamonds; however, in 1886, George Harrison discovered an enormous amount of gold-bearing conglomerate along the reefs of the Witwatersrand Basin. Unlike previous strikes, there were no nuggets to be found. Instead, there were miles of low-grade ore covered in thousands of feet of hard rock.

News of the strike spread quickly and men came flocking, but only those with capital could get in on the action. A number of men who had made a fortune off of Kimberly diamonds quickly grabbed control of the gold fields. Claims were soon staked along the fringe of Johannesburg, and new techniques were being developed for extracting gold from the ore.

Not many were able to capitalize on this gold rush; however, Cornish hard rock miners had just the skills that were needed to extract diamonds and gold from the mines.  Over 2500 Cornishmen migrated to South Africa and soon made up a large percentage of the white workforce in the South African mines.

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Off to Work We Go!

An engraving of Cornish miners from the St Ive...
An engraving of Cornish miners from the St Ives area in 1866 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A factor that has impacted migration to, from and within the UK has been the ready availability of employment. As economic conditions declined in certain regions throughout Europe, people naturally picked up and moved on in search of better opportunities. A prime example of this phenomenon is the migration of the Cornish miners – a migration that has, in fact, had a major impact on the global mining industry for over a century.

In the early 19th century, the mining industry in Cornwall was thriving. The industrial revolution had produced an enormous demand for copper, and at that time, Cornwall was the greatest producer of copper in the world. Thanks to heavy demand, copper prices were high, and since Cornwall’s copper deposits were so large, there was little competition elsewhere in the country.

So huge was the industry that not only was copper mined in Cornwall, but for a long while, the metal was smelted there as well. At the peak of the copper mining boom, up to 30% of the county’s male workforce was employed by the mining industry.

By the mid-19th century, however, the best copper deposits in Cornwall had been mined out, and huge copper deposits had been discovered in other countries around the world. Fortunately, in digging deep for copper, miners had run across significant tin deposits. The mining industry was able to maintain thanks to tin; however, the tin industry was no match for copper. Cornwall’s mining industry progressed at a much smaller scale and employed a much smaller work force.

Richard Trevithick's statue by the public libr...
Richard Trevithick’s statue by the public library at Camborne, Cornwall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The tin mines were also extremely deep, and this led to high costs and drainage problems. Interestingly enough, however, this problem turned out to be something of a boon for Cornwall’s miners as the problems drove folks like Richard Trevithick to begin innovating. His high pressure steam engines revolutionized the world of mining, and many of the systems were built locally providing much-needed employment.

As mining companies around the world began to take note of Cornish technology and skilled labour, they began to cash in on their own mining booms. And since work was scarce for miners in Cornwall, they were eager to look elsewhere for better pay and conditions.

The Cornish flocked to work wherever it appeared, rehabilitating mines as they went. In the 1820s they took over abandoned, derelict mines in South America and restored them to high levels of productivity.

Peru began to import the now-perfected high power steam engines for their silver mines; however, their mining region was hardly industrialized. Because of that, they were forced to import from Cornwall everything from the steam engines and boilers to the staff that was required to work the mines, process metals, and even organize and administrate the enterprise. Gold mining companies in Brazil also contracted hundreds of Cornish miners to work in the Morro Velho and Gonco Soco mines.

The Cornish became the first hard rock miners in the USA, and were considered some of the best in the world. Many migrated there, finding work in the lead mines in Illinois and Wisconsin, and the copper fields of Michigan. Eventually, the Cornish even joined in on the California Gold Rush, offering their expertise and technology.

Cornish miners also turned to the copper and lead deposits in Norway and Spain in the 1830s, then to the huge copper boom in Australia in the 1840s. In fact, Australia might not have its status as a major copper region if it were not for the expertise of the Cornish miners who migrated and settled there.

When diamonds and then gold were discovered in South Africa in the 1860s and 1870s, the Cornish miners were ready. Their perfected hard rock mining techniques were just what were needed to retrieve the precious stones, and many Cornish immigrants flocked in to make their fortunes.

To this day, there are active, thriving Cornish communities throughout North and South America, Australia and South Africa. The Cornish ex-pats, fondly known as “Cousin Jacks”, brought much of their heritage with them, making their presence and culture a prominent feature in their communities around the world.


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