For the past few days I’ve had what I like to call ‘Nose in book syndrome’ where you pick up a book and simply can’t put it down, before you know it, that cuppa you had 10 minutes ago, turns out you finished it a good 2 hours ago and remember those few things you were going to buy for dinner, no chance of that now as the shops are shut and that cute little puppy of yours is looking at you as if to say ‘come on mum, get your nose out of that thing!’
The book my nose has been stuck in lately has been the same one I received for my Birthday earlier in the year about my family history, on my mother’s father’s side anyway. The Simmons family tree, to be more precise.
What got my attention was who, why, how and when these ancestors came over and why Australia. The man who made the big decision and the even bigger move from Cornwall was none other than Henry Simmons – Symons (I included a photo of him in an earlier post).
You think we have it tough these days with work and life in general, have a read over this life and tell me if its the kind of life you would want, in this era of my family, the boys/men predominantly worked in the mines.
From the age of 8-10 years the boys worked as ‘pickie boys’ where by they picked up ore up on the surface, from the age of 11-12 years they were then working underground in horrible conditions. You have to remember too that at this time it was illegal to employ children to work in the mines and so on registers and official papers they were put down as being ‘scholars’ even though they were not.
At the age of 15, Henry is marked on the census as being a Miner, along with all the other boys in the family of that age or older. Bit old to be starting in the mines though and there are rumors in the family as to why he started at this age but none are solid. What is known is that he was well educated for his age, being able to read, write and do figures well. He was not the only one in the family though, his siblings were also educated even though they started in the mines a bit earlier than Henry.
A day in the life of Henry Symons
Henry lived 7 miles from the mine, work was scarce and unemployment was rife as the mines were closing and paying out or becoming unprofitable, this all depended on the price of copper and tin. To make matters worse, mine owners let miners bid for jobs and so the desperate men would bid the lowest to get the job and earn below subsistence wages which lead to all wages being this low. Work was six days a week and in 12 hour shifts from arrival at the work face in wet and airless conditions.
Henry’s day began at 4am when he would wake and eat a very meagre breakfast before walking the seven miles to the mine which would take him a good hour and 45 minutes. This would give him enough time to draw his hard hat and necessary tools for the work ahead. He would have to buy his own candles from the store and climbing down the ladders to his level took him about 30 minutes. There were no winches or cages for the miners, they were only for the ore. Work began on the face about 6:30am, he had a 30 minute crib break half way through the shift and his shift was finished at 7pm. He then took almost an hour to climb to the surface on wet ladders which were in poor condition and often men who were tired slipped and fell to their deaths from these ladders.
Arriving up at the surface around 8pm, the men would generally lay about on the ground at the Pit Head for up to an hour depending on their physical condition and the depths they were working at, until their lungs, seared from the fresh air, returned to normal and the pain decreased. This would roughly take half an hour to an hour before Henry then walked the seven mile journey back home, in all weathers, then having an evening meal before getting into bed by 11pm to then do it all again the next day.
If the work itself wasn’t bad enough, men died on ladders, in rock falls and in explosion but if you were spared from all of this then you would generally die in your late 30’s to 40’s due to lung damage and the chills and ills of working continually in water, dust and airlessness.
Henry hated working in the mines in England due to the conditions and at the age of 19 he had saved seven pounds, enough to buy himself passage to Australia, steerage class though. The conditions on the ship are another story all together, no privacy, crammed conditions, the smell of unwashed bodies and dreadful food, not to mention everything was always wet and many people were continually vomiting from seasickness. Though for the chance at a better life, Henry was prepared to endure this for the length of the trip which was 84 days.
….. To be continued 🙂