The G7 Summit
and south africa
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 New Redruth to a lucky explorer, here are three Cornish connections with our friends in South Africa – a guest of this year’s G7.
In the 19th Century, a man named Claude Berry would ask a young St Just girl if she had ever been to Land’s End, just six miles along the coast. The little girl would reply, “Aw no… We St Just people don’t travel much, only to South Africa.”
The encounter illustrates how the Cornish would see little reason to travel far on land, but were more than eager to traverse the seas for new adventures. After the rush for North America, South Africa would take centre stage as the land of gold and diamonds, with one Cornish writer exclaiming that “Johannesburg is but a suburb of Cornwall”. Place names soon followed with New Redruth in Alberton and Baragwanath (meaning ‘wheaten bread’ in Cornish) in Soweto, whilst word of the almighty pasty would soon spread far and wide – becoming known as the ‘Cornish Pie’ amongst locals.
Our crimped delicacies would be far from the only pockets of Cornish to be fused with South African culture, with phrases passed down by the miners such as ‘clonkey’ (a variant of ‘claggy’, referring to a sore throat) and ‘I be going up town’ still dotted around the English parlance of South Africa today. The corner of Pritchard Street and Von Brandis would be ‘Cousin Jack Corner’, where the Cornish expats would exchange news and reminisce about their former home.
The Cornish are also credited with first introducing the sport of rugby to South Africa. They seem to have got the hang of it.
Born in Truro’s Fighting Cocks Inn in 1805 – still existing today as the Dolphin Inn – Richard Lander would become one of the great explorers of the African continent, most notable for following the River Niger and discovering its termination in the Atlantic Ocean. But the young Cornishman came desperately close to never setting foot on the African continent at all, sailing close to the wind on his voyage to South Africa.
Attempting to reach Simon’s Town on the Western Cape, the Lady Campbell of forty passengers and twenty seamen was on the brink of collapse early in its journey; falling foul of extreme gales, the rudder would collapse and the hold would be breached with four feet of water. The unfortunate vessel could count itself lucky that it was spotted by a small French boat, helping to tow it into the port at Lorient.
After six weeks of repair work and fifty days of the resumed journey, the ship was in flames. With huge commotion and a frenzy of firefighting, the ship was eventually extinguished in the nick of time – perilously close to the artillery room and its supply of gunpowder.
There would have been many sighs of relief as the Lady Campbell entered the bay of Simon’s Town. But it would prove to be a third-time unlucky. The ship would strike the “Noah’s Ark”, a rock in the bay that had brought many a ship to its watery end.
It’s hard to fathom how uncomfortable that final stretch of the journey would have been, but the encounter with Noah’s Ark would prove to not be fatal. Richard Lander and his compatriots would land, exhausted and grateful that sheer luck had guided them back to shore. The five months of continuous disaster was at an end; Richard Lander’s exploration had just begun.
“When the button is pressed in South Africa, the bell rings in Cornwall.” When the Boer Wars broke out in South Africa, Cornwall would mourn for the nation that had given renewed life to so many Cornishmen, both past and present. Cornwall was stuck in the middle, caught between favouring the South African people that had welcomed them or supporting the wider interests of Britain.
The shining light of the conflict would be Emily Hobhouse, a descendant of Sir Jonathan Trelawny (a folk hero with a song in his honour, Trelawny, considered to be the Cornish national anthem) and resident of St Ive near Liskeard. Appalled by the treatment of captives, the humanitarian would create the South African Women & Children’s Distress Fund and initiate an untiring campaign to bring awareness about the conditions.
There were reports that there “was scarcely a Cornishman agitating against the Boers” with many choosing to leave the area to avoid any conflict, leading to accusations of cowardice and insulting graffiti scrawled on Cornish carriages. Back home, there are examples of Cornish politicians who won constituencies off the back of their support for the South African people.
Amidst the resulting downturn of the mining industry, many Cornishmen would be forced into a return to Cornwall. “Some old friends who were thought to have been under the sod long ago turn up again, and are easily recognized,” wrote the West Briton about the returning travellers, jokingly called ‘Afrikanders’.
Emily Hobhouse would receive a hero’s welcome upon her return to South Africa, with a town in the Free State province named after her. Back in Britain, a statue of Hobhouse was erected in St Ives church. The work of Hobhouse and others had proven that the Cornish would continue to look out for their South African colleagues and their home away from home. The Cornish adventure in South Africa may have been put on hold, but the friendships it had created would long endure.