Category Archives: History of my family

Well known figure in the township

Vice President of the Amalgamated Miners Association was the title Henry held for some years, later it was known as the Amalgamated Miners Union which then became the Australian Workers Union. Henry’s best mate John Verran, was at one time, president of the union and when he was elected to State Parliament as a Labor member, Henry was elected President.


To add to the fame of Henry, there is now a book out called “Australia’s Little Cornwall” where a man by the name of Oswald Pryor has a cartoon of Henry, a rather good one too. Oswald writes in the book about the union clashes with management of the mines, of industrial unrest and of Captain Hancock who was a well known figure around the mines and Moonta. Henry along with Phillippa were also written about by a reporter in 1926 for the Moonta newspaper, the article was titled “A Venerable Couple” where Henry also states that he started the Amalgamated Miners Association and that he was vice president for 13 years.


I did learn one thing, in the book “Australia’s Little Cornwall” Henry is called Uncle Arr, this puzzled me for awhile, I thought maybe people were calling him Arthur or because of their accents it was easier to call him Arr. Well, I was half right, it seems Henry was known to all and sundry on the mines as Harry, shortened in Cornish fashion to “Arr”. As he was an office holder in the Union, the miners put “Uncle” in front. Which is why on the mines he was called “Uncle Arr” but at home and to family members he was called Henry.

Something which happened in 1875 which I find to be slightly amusing is that there was a strike regarding wages, which was then the beginning of organised union activity. A man by the name of John Prisk emerged as a leader and he addressed the wives and daughters of miners who were very angry at their loss of house keeping money.

“There’s a rumour,” he shouted, “that you are going to sweep all the scabs out of the engine houses and stables.” This was enough for the Jennys to get their brooms and cleaning gear, and with the miners cheering and egging them on, they cleared out the stables, all of the surface areas including the engine houses, and dressing floors, sweeping all men before them. Men that the Jennys considered weak they let off with a good rubbing down of bristles. Others who really raised their ire, got a good scrubbing with soap and water, much to their embarrassment.

(There is a gentleman in the photo below who looks somewhat like Uncle Arr, I’ll need to ask family about it, back row in the middle, short gentleman with full faced white beard beside the tall slim gentleman)


Strikes later followed due to the falling price of copper and meeting after meeting was held to try and find a solution that would keep all involved happy, from the miners to the Union members to the wives and daughters. Henry tried to keep out of these strikes the best he could as he could see it from the miners point of view, he had been there and done that, he had worked for a very small wage back in Cornwall before coming to Australia. Though it is said that he shared what he could with the striking miners, primarily food as the miners had been earning no wage while on strike and had no money for food, this is why their big strike, which lasted 18 weeks ended, starved men went back to the mines begging for work no matter the wage.



Old family values

We’ve read how Henry and Phillippa came to be together, Henry was very much the gentleman back then and was for the rest of his life. He formed a relationship with Phillippa which possibly wasn’t based on love to begin with but after time it blossomed into the most beautiful love of all.

Phillippa and Henry taught their children many important values in life, the importance of honesty, civic spirit and the acceptance of responsibility. They also encouraged their children to adopt spiritual values along with the need to care for and protect women. For a wonderful example of the latter, their children had only but to look at the relationship between their mother and father and the way they treated and responded to each other.

Family Values Sign

All their sons, and their wives had an equality in marriage, especially in financial decision making, which made for real partnerships. This in many respects, was very unusual for the times, but this was the reality. Their daughter Emily, being brought up in this environment, expected likewise, and she was treated similarly by her husband. To this family, any other partnership was not a real partnership.


Henry’s Water Tank

Phillippa may have kept the house running and sparkling clean but it was Henry who did something truly amazing and well before anyone every thought of it, what he did kept the family healthy and to be healthy back then was a big thing as there were so many diseases around that could kill a person.

Water was a big problem, the Moonta Mine company had a big ‘still’ which treated water from the mine, which was salty. Trouble was that the result of this treatment to the water created water which was almost unpalatable, they sold it from 2 pence to 6 pence a bucket.

There were springs South of Moonta which were brackish and of little use, so this ruled them out. The primary way that people in Moonta got water was from the rains, rainwater, believe it or not, was Moonta’s most treasured possession. When it rained everyone raced out with anything in which they could collect water, which was then saved.

This way of collecting water was also very dangerous and a deadly activity. The unusual method was by surface drain into an underground tank, which was usually walled about 3 feet above ground for safety for the children but the tank was left open at the top. A hole at the ground level let the water from rain run off, into the tank. The sediment in the run off settled to the bottom leaving clear drinkable water on top.

Unfortunately the bacteria did not settle out, and this was the source of many of the deadly diseases of which typhoid was the most prevalent, followed by all of the other diseases including cholera, which took their toll on both adults and children.

What Henry did was he roofed his tank with corrugated iron, by doing this it kept rubbish out and provided a clean extra catchment for run off into the tank. No surface water got into his tank as it came from the corrugated iron roof gutters, and down pipes fed the tank. He soon then installed the normal round corrugated iron tank on a stand at the back of his house.

By doing what he did with the tanks, it gave immeasurable benefit to the family in the future, epidemics did still cost him and Phillippa some of their children but the family no had a source of water with which, if they were careful, they could get through each summer in comfort. The other benefit was that in hot weather, the water was always cool.

Phillippa and Henry’s cosy home

The features of the house Phillippa and Henry lived in was very much like what we live in today, with a few exceptions.

The best bedroom had a double bed with a canopy, watch pockets and valances and cedar chest drawers. Phillippa had her cabin trunk from her voyage out, along with a dressing table and mirrors. This was complimented by a washstand with a water set which included a jug, bowl and his and her chamber pots. These days its the master bedroom with a King size bed, a tall boy or chest of drawers, walk in robes and an ensuite, if we’re lucky.

This wonderful home that Henry built had two distinguishing features, it had a different underground tank where as most other cottages/homes didn’t. The other feature was the kitchen, see Henry was very observant, he’d seen and fought many house fires, he’d seen the loss of life, the horrific burns and the loss of all possessions. Majority of these fires started in the kitchen and he had noticed on his travels from Adelaide to Burra and then on to Moonta, that the squatters and more affluent farmers had detached kitchens from the rest of the house. When he asked as to why this was he was told “so that if there is a fire only the kitchen is lost”. This was good enough reasoning for Henry to do the same when he built his house.

So Henry went and built a detached kitchen which was quite large, it had a large open fireplace, on one side there was a wood stove, and on the other a hob and swing out irons to hold such things as hot water fountains and camp ovens, a brandis, an iron stand with four legs on which was placed a large cast iron cauldron used for boiling the clothes on washing days, coking puddings, brewing swanky etc. Swanky for those who don’t know was a brew of hops, malt, yeast, ginger and wheat. Methodists were teetotal of course but swanky didn’t count. Ginger beer was made in the summer, complete with sultanas and currents. It was put away until the corks popped. Then it was ready for these teetotallers who stated “never a drop of alcohol did touch my lips”.

The fireplace took up just about took up the whole one end of the room. The kitchen was warm in winter, airy in summer with lots of room and became the family centre of activity as this is also where you would find the main dining table. There was also another small building between the kitchen and the main house, this was the cabin in which the grandchildren stayed in when they came. There was a detached wash house out in the yard, this was also because of the fire risk, from the copper when lit for washing day.

(I did have a lovely picture to add to this post but unfortunately it is uploading on here sideways instead of the correct way up)

Remember in the previous post where I mentioned that Henry was not musically gifted as he was tone deaf and could not hold a note, the family had a harmonium which was initially used for sing song when visitors came by who could play it. I’m not sure if either Henry or Phillippa were able to play the harmonium or not. The Cornish were born choristers and a surprising number of miners with no tuition at all could play tunes on the harmonium, accordions, fiddle and brass instruments. It is known though, that in the next generation of the family, music played a large part and some of their grand children were especially talented. There was an enjoyable custom which lasted three generations where they had Sunday night singsong after church. When TV came along though, the tradition was lost.

In their yard they kept fowls, geese and pigs, the day of the pig kill was an occasion for all of the family. There was enough land for all these animals to be kept in hygienic conditions which was unlike many of the other families and their houses around where they had so little land that they had a pig sty right at the back door. When the children grew up and started earning their own salary, they could provide better for their farms, they could provide hay, chaff, a cow and a horse too. It was with these animals that Henry won some awards, he raised poultry and won several prizes at the annual Agricultural and Horticultural shows.

Next I’ll tell you what clever things Henry did to keep his family healthy without knowing it.

Cousin Jennys

20130408_141312Now I’ve mentioned what Henry did with regards to the house, he and family basically made it, but what did Phillippa do? Well, as a ‘Cousin Jenny’ she kept the inside of the house spotless, this was very much a Cornish trait, Cousin Jenny’s were always dusting, polishing and cleaning, as money became available the house was slowly improved upon with wall paper and better floors.

In the home, Phillippa was dominant. She ran the house and the domestic side of the family, as was tradition back then as women were not really to work and rarely employed, much different to today. When it came to money matters though, it was always a joint decision, though like all marriages there were occasional disagreements. Henry, being the gentleman that he was, never argued with Phillippa but he did get mad with her, during such times he had a standard response until either he cooled down or she relented. When he was angry, he would leave the house, banging the door and singing loudly (somewhere between a flat tune and a growl) “Hold the Fort, for I am coming.”

Unlike most Cornish men, Henry did not have a singing voice, because of this, he was not a typical Cornishman. He couldn’t hold a note and was tone deaf, he certainly didn’t have a voice for singing either. His family though were the opposite.


A common thing was that a Cousin Jenny was not satisfied until her last room was carpeted or had a carpet square on the floor, a harmonium against a wall with a book of Wesley Hymns on top, and a round table and some polished cedar chairs with crocheted antimacassars spread over the back of them.

Phillippa was no exception and there is some of her crocheting on display in the Hall next to the Mines Church, also a cloth with embroidered signatures of some of the ladies of the church, this cloth also includes Phillippa and Henry’s names. Phillippa had at least learnt how to write her name, which is really nice, otherwise we may not have had this wonderful memory of her.

Family photographs were very important and held pride of place in the house, in the best room, this best room with it’s easy chairs was not for everyday use, it was for Sundays and visitors.  There was a full set of china in this room but was hardly ever used as it was for show and to add style to the room. Phillippa would have marvelled at this and the increased style of living she now had compared to how things would have been had she stayed in Cornwall.

Next I’ll tell you about the house they lived in and how some things are still the same as today and how much we’ve lost in the past.


Things are looking up

Now that Henry and his family have moved to Moonta, things start to look up. The Mining company, for one, are keen to have miners stay on the lease instead of move into town, this way they are close at hand and away from the hotels. There were no rates to pay which meant that wages could be lower and, there was never a hard working employee evicted from any house built on the leases.

Miners and their families made do on their wages and certain materials were ‘borrowed’ from stacks belonging to the mines, for example roofing materials and timbers, other materials such as stone, clay, pug and pine were more readily available all around them.

Henry’s decided he wanted to build his own house and chose a plot of land on a bit of a rise which was overlooking Hamley Flat which was near Hamley mine where he worked. Henry fenced off nearly an acre of land as it was not a premium, there was an inner fence constructed close to the house consisting of teatree stakes in an attempt to protect the house garden from goats.

Some houses were quite different, in an attempt to save money, houses were built by excavating rooms down a few feet and then using the limestone which had been dug up to build walls to the required height. It is said that the end result was a house so squat, it looked as though a man could “put his an’ deow’n the chimney and can lock or unlock the front door.”

Henry and Phillippa’s house was all constructed thanks to the help of family and friends and all done outside of working hours, it was built on ground level from whatever materials he could aquire. The end result being a home made from stone, rammed limestone and clay, brick and flooring boards and then roofed with galvanised iron.Imagine if you can, a house that has slowly been added to over several years, some floors were hard rammed earth, later to be timbered in some rooms, concrete floors in other rooms which were later covered in linoleum. Would be a bit like walking through time just by walking through the house.

Next I’ll tell you what part Phillippa played in running the house 🙂

Life seems to settle, for only a moment though

So we are up to the part where Phillippa and Henry have married and he has accepted her son Charley from her previous marriage to James.

August 1867, roughly 13 months after their marriage, their first child Amelia is born, she is named after Henry’s sister back in Menheniot, who unfortunately died a year later, aged 15. Also about this time, the Burra Mine ceased after reaching 183 metres underground. As with most mines, there is only a certain amount to be found at that location and it was only a matter of time before the resources were all dug up.

Henry now being 22 years old had a big priority to find work, not just for his own benefit and survival but for his new family of four. To obtain work though, he had to move on, word was that there was work going over at Kadina in the Cornwall Mine, so this is where the new family lived but only for the next 12 months because unfortunately, the resources dried up there too. Their next move was to be their last, this time to Moonta, only a few miles down the road.

A Genealogists nightmare

Years ago the Burra council thought to clean up the Burra Cemetery and remove all of the old headstones and flatten the graves. The outcome of this vandalism on such early South Australian history caused an uproar around South Australia so great that the work had to be stopped, unfortunately the damage was already done to many of the graves and the headstones are now lined up in their broken state along the west wall of the cemetery. The grave of James Edmund Sarah did not have a headstone though it is listed on the records and can be identified.

Back to Henry and Phillippa

Fortunately Henry obtained work in the Moonta Mines and so he and Phillippa went about putting down roots and settling in to their new location, though they had a tough start as not long after arrival Charley died in 1869, cause unknown but the living conditions they were in were not the best at the time. On a happier note, Emily was born to them later in the same year, also named for another of Henry’s sisters. Then in 1871 there was another son, Henry II in September and then William John was born in late 1873 and Charles was born in March of 1877, William John was then born in 1879 in March and then John Moyle in April of 1880, he was given Moyle for Phillippa’s family name (Phillippa Moyle).

A sad twist of fate happened for Henry and Phillippa, their son William John, born 1873 was the second child they lost, he was three years of age, then a son born in March of 1879 they named William John, an unlucky name for them as he also passed away, he was only three weeks old. All in all, Phillippa and Henry lost three children in infancy or early childhood, such a tragic and devastating experience to have to go through. The children’s deaths were more than likely due to the disease and unsanitary conditions at the time, for a large family to lose more than half of it’s children in their early years was not a rare thing at all.



As many of the miners had moved to Moonta from Burra or Kapunda with their families after the mines had closed, they were a bit unsure of how long the Moonta mine would last and so they were reluctant to build houses and fully settle down, once bitten twice shy. This attitude permeated the Moonta workings.

They took no chance with building in the actual township and preferred instead, to live on the Mining leases which was the scrub around the mines, nothing permanent was built though, just crude shacks as they thought they would outlast the mine because of previous history with the other mines.

Once it became obvious that this was a major find in Moonta, some decided to build what were substantial buildings on the leases, some even moved into the township but that was rare. They said that the town was for townies and businessmen, not for “Cousin Jacks and Jennys.” Nobody at the time would have imagined that the mine would work continually for nearly 63 years, though when it became obvious that there was plenty of work for them, the miners then either constructed new cottages or expanded the ones they had already made so that they were more substantial to cater for their family needs.


I’ll have to read more tonight so I can tell you more of what happened to my amazing family 🙂

Love and a new life

Picking up from where I left off with my last post, Phillippa has just become a widow as her husband James has passed from Typhoid, leaving her a new single mother in an unfamiliar town.

Good thing for Phillippa the town was mostly Cornish, some may have even been from her parish, main thing was they rallied round to help her and gave James a traditional Cornish Wake and Funeral. After this was all over though, she was on her own.

It was either just before or after James’ death that Phillippa met Henry for the first time, he may have even helped her nurse James through his sickness. What is certain though is that on the 26th of July 1866, some 3 months after James’ death, Henry and Phillippa were married at Kooringa in the house of Tobias Pearce.

An interesting fact is that while in Cornwall, Henry signed his name ‘Henry Symons’ the final time he signed his name like this was on his wedding day to Phillippa, afterwards he signed his name ‘Henry Simmons’. Another little fact was he wrote that he was 21 years old, when in fact he was still 9 months shy of being 21 and Phillippa also changed her age, on the wedding certificate it states she is 22 but really she was 23. The fun that can be had when you move to a place where nobody knows you, you could be any age.

If you look at the circumstances of their wedding, Phillippa didn’t have much choice in life.

1. Find a job as a live in domestic where a child would also be accepted

2. Find a husband quickly to support her and her child.

Since Phillippa was unable to read or write, employment would be very difficult and in any case, in these times, employment for women was not usually available especially to a woman with a child to look after. Not only that but the husband would have to accept the child and have a house of his own as the house she had been living in with James went with his job. Sounds all a bit traumatic really, she would have still been grieving for her late husband yet forced to marry again to survive.

Despite all this, their marriage turned out to be one of love and happiness that their children cherished all their lives and caused them to hold their parents in the highest esteem. Not long into their lives together they purchased a large family bible and after Henry had inscribed his own details, he then inscribed Phillippa’s then followed by another entry.

‘Charley Simmons was born on 8th December 1865’ Henry had obviously determined that Charley was to be brought up as a Simmons, and Phillippa agreed, In a way a very lovely gesture, a sign of love and confidence in her second husband. The future looks much brighter now for Phillippa and Henry too, having now found not only a companion but a wonderful partner to love and cherish.

What more could the future hold for them? You’ll just have to wait and see 🙂


From Henry to his love

I’ve now come to read about Henry’s love and wife, Phillippa, who has a very interesting story to tell. A story of adventure, a foreign land, tragedy and love, best part is it was all true.

Born in the village of Gwennap to a Celtic family, Phillippa Moyle was raised in an Anglican family. Her uncles had been “Bell Ringers” at the Church of England in Gwennap for three generations and so the church and churchyard was very much her ‘backyard’, and she was sometimes asked to help ring the bells, which were said to be a very good set. Phillippa was even allowed, on occasion, to go down into Sir George Williams’ vault, a very scary adventure for a little girl one would think, how many out there would want to venture into a vault?

In 1864-65 Phillippa met and fell in love with James Sarah (Sara) who was a mining engineer. They married at ‘Coldwind Downs’ in Cornwall. At the age of 21 and pregnant, James and Phillippa left Cornwall for a new life in South Australia and in particular, Burra. They left on the ship the ‘Lincoln’ on the 13th of September 1865, the ‘Lincoln’ was 995 Tons and T.P. Seaman, was the Master.

The only down side on arrival was the ship and all on board (it is believed) was put in a quarantine as one of the passengers had developed Typhus, and so nobody was allowed on or off the ship, not even the media, much to their disappointment.

All in all, there were 358 people from England, 33 people from Scotland and 17 people from Ireland, a total of 408 people.Though this ship didn’t just bring with it people, it also brought over goods such as casks, cases, sheets of lead, iron castings and many many more much needed goods.

England was in a position to happily help people to Australia as it then lowered their unemployment percentage and poverty level, not only that but it would give a much needed boost to a new colony desperately in need of skilled immigrants.

A couple days after arrival, Phillippa, who was heavily pregnant, gave birth to their first child, a son, Charles Sarah, who was born either on the ship or immediately upon disembarkation or perhaps in a lodging place. Soon after the birth, the new family made their way to Burra where James had employment as a mining engineer. You could imagine the journey to Burra being something incredibly new to them, different surroundings, incredibly hot temperatures, long distances to walk, nothing familiar and all this with a new born baby.

Sadly something went terribly wrong on their trip to Burra, James is believed to have contracted Typhoid Fever not long after arriving in Australia, possibly from the ill person on the vessel, though it is believed he contracted it from drinking water out of wagon tracks after a summer thunderstorm, he sadly passed away some 4 months later at the age of 23, leaving Phillippa in a foreign new town with a new born baby to look after.

What happens next will have to wait as this is as far as I have read … for now 🙂 There will be more.

Back to Henry and his mining

I’ve been so preoccupied finding this and listing that and had forgotten to write a little more about dear old Henry from Cornwall. My last post on him made mention that he had been working hard in the mines in Cornwall and was saving up to get a ticket to Australia, which he did.

The ship he came over to Adelaide on was the Electric and upon disembarking he made straight for the copper mines at “The Burra” which is a very long walk from Adelaide, fortunately he got rides on drays and wagons as far as Kapunda, which is probably half way if not more. Then from Kapunda he walked roughly the last 48 miles, pushing a wheelbarrow with all his worldly possessions in it, straight to the Burra where he immediately began work.

Only a year before Henry’s arrival, outcrops of brightly coloured ore had been had been located by shepherds, this is where it then gets interesting. Regulations at the time were that a Special Survey of 20,000 acres from the Government was necessary to gain mineral rights to any deposit. Two groups then fought for ownership of the land bearing copper and both groups were soon nicknamed the “Snobs” and the “Nobs” with the “Nobs” later calling themselves the “Princess Royal Mining Company”.

The special survey along the Burra Creek where the ore was found measured 8 miles by 4 miles and both groups purchased it in 1845 and agreed to divide it into two as equally as possible going on the amounts located. A lot was then drawn to determine which company got which half. The Snobs drew the Northern half and named their mine Burra Burra and the mine very quickly became one of the largest copper mines in the world, while the Princess Royal Mining Company drew the Southern Half and the mine was closed in 1851 as the ore had run out after 6 years.

(below picture is of what the mines and some the Cornish Castles looked like when they were in use; bottom: What the successful mine looked like)

Burra mines 01

Burra mines






Also in 1851, a collection of towns known as “The Burra” had formed with a population of over 5,000 people and it was the first mining town in Australia to be surveyed and was Australia’s largest inland town. Its influence on mining in Australia and South Australia in particular was of crucial importance until of course, gold was discovered elsewhere in Australia in 1860.

When Henry started mining at The Burra it was at the height of production, 1,000 men and boys were employed there, majority of them being Cornish and believe it or not but all positions of responsibility were held by Cornishmen. Much of the equipment being pumping engines were imported from Cornwall also and housed as only they knew best, in what were called Cornish Castles. Although Henry arrived there at the height of peak production, production was declining.