the G7 summit
With the 2021 G7 Summit arriving at Carbis Bay from 11th to 13th June, we explore the history between Cornwall and the nations it will be welcoming. From the first tentative steps of an explorer to the mad dash of a convict, here are three Cornish connections with our friends in Australia – a guest of this year’s G7.
Captain Cook and
He was famous for becoming the first European to make contact with Australia, but Captain Cook never could have done it without the help of some trusty Cornishmen.
Off the back of the European discovery of Tahiti and the Wallis Islands – the latter of which was named after him – Samuel Wallis of Camelford would be able to supply charts, journals, logs, first-hand knowledge and even crewmembers of his circumnavigation to Cook as he prepared for a seismic journey of his own.
Captain Wallis’ voyage was said to fall foul of winds and currents on a more southerly and westerly course than had ever been previously navigated by the Western world; because of Wallis, one of the earliest explorers to precisely locate his findings on a globe, James Cook knew the exact co-ordinates of Tahiti to aim for as a stopover in the new territories. Even with Wallis’ knowledge of what straits to avoid and new methods for keeping the crew in good health, Cook could still only manage 70% of the intrepid Cornishman’s speed.
Captain Cook and
Captain Cook’s discoveries may have been more impressive than those of Wallis, but it was still the work of a Cornishman to first spot Australia upon his Endeavour. The watchman Zachary Hicks would also become the first Western man to step foot upon Australian soil, on a land that would become known as Point Hicks. It was the first Cornish step of many.
boats at st ives harbour
the ballad of
Born in an unknown location of Cornwall that history didn’t care to remember, perhaps in or near Illogan around February of 1826, Joseph Johns was arrested for stealing three loafs of bread, one piece of bacon and several cheeses – a meal deal which came with a coupon for a free trip to Australia (also known as ‘transportation’, a penalty for crimes that often saw criminals relocated to the other side of the world).
Due to good behaviour, Joseph Johns would be released upon his arrival to Australia and make the Avon Valley his new home, a region known to the Aboriginal people as Moondyne. Due to less-good behaviour – Johns would catch an unbranded horse and brand it himself – the Cornishman would find himself back in jail, but this wouldn’t be for long; Johns would break out during the night and steal the horse that had got him there in the first place.
the ballad of
There was then another escape attempt, but it only resulted in a further six month sentence for trying to cut the lock to his door. But then there was another attempt, breaking both his chains and his record for longest escape: two months and over 300 kilometres. A new sentence of five additional years would follow, along with an ‘escape-proof’ cell made especially for him with over a thousand nails lining the surfaces.
As he laboured away as a stonemason, prison wardens would begin taunting him to try and escape again. But behind a mound of rocks, Johns was busy swinging at the prison wall. He would exit through the hole and not be seen again for nearly two years. It was a lifetime best and, whilst his career as a part-time escape artist was over, Johns could rest easy in the knowledge that the wardens would never take his presence for granted. Moondyne Joe was imprisoned only by the gap in his creativity for great escapes.
To the south of the River Tamar lies Launceston; Exeter is to be found further north. And yet this isn’t the dividing line of Cornwall, but a slim waterway in Tasmania. The Cornish (and their Devonshire neighbours) had made moves on Australia, their names springing up on all corners of the map.
Long since the days of Zachary Hicks, as many as 4.3% of the Australian population are now believed to have Cornish origins; this would suggest that the Cornish Australian population may now be exceeding one million people, making it around double the population size of the Cornwall at home. Australian culture glistens with Cornish that brought songs down the mineshafts, scents along the streets of the bakeries, partying in new festivals, wrestling in muddied fields and passionate speeches upon the soapboxes.
Robert Menzies was the longest-serving prime minister, Bob Hawke the third longest. John Quick would draft the Australian constitution; Don Dunstan would decriminalise homosexuality and bring an end the death penalty. All four men would proudly state their Cornish ancestry. It is a badge of pride for many Australians, displayed with a flag of St Piran or a few learnt phrases of the Cornish language, some homemade pasties or a simple tick on the census. No matter the passing of the centuries and the 9,600 miles, Australia can still make the Cornish feel right at home.