In the 1840s the Cornish tin and copper mining industry began to decline and within a few decades would crash. At the same time the Australian colonies and New Zealand began to usher in immigration schemes to attract a labour force to develop the economies of these pioneering states by offering free passage by ship. With the discovery of copper in 1845 in a place called Burra, the South Australian Colonial Government recognised that Cornish miners had the necessary skills to develop their copper mines. Funds were raised by selling off Crown land to cover the cost of the free passage program. Agents were deployed in Cornwall to promote the scheme through public meetings, newspaper advertisements, and posters. However, not just anyone could apply for free passage.

In summary, the reasons for Cornish emigration were:

1. Employment opportunities

2. Ability to earn higher wages

3. Ability to own land

4. Attraction of free or assisted passage




In Jim Faull’s fabulous book, The Cornish in Australia (p.23) he outlines the criteria for acceptance or rejection as follows:

Eligible candidates had to be in the habit of working for wages, were to be sober, industrious, of good moral character, in good health, free from mental and bodily defects and vaccinated or had small pox.

Categories of ineligible candidates were:

  • persons who had not arranged with their creditors
  • persons in business or intending to set-up business for themselves
  • to buy land or to resort to the goldfields
  • persons in the habitual receipt of parish relief
  • families with more than two children under seven or more than three children under ten
  • widowers and widows  with young children
  • parents without all their children under eighteen
  • children under eighteen without parents
  • husbands without wives or wives without husbands
  • single women over 35
  • single women who had given birth to illegitmate children
  • single men over 40


Of course, the emigration scheme required prospective emigrants to complete an application form. The application forms, in which the emigrants declared their eligibility, had to be accompanied by four signatures. Two from “respectable” neighbours, one from a medical doctor and one from a Christian minister. A copy of the application is given below. Although dated 1854 it corresponds with the description given in Jim Faull’s book.  Source for the form: New South Wales Government Gazette Friday 22 September 1854, Issue no. 121, p. 2055 Trove https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/229760867

If the application was accepted they would receive an approval circular. This would be followed some months later by an embarkation notice that would inform the successful applicant of the time they were to report into the port emigration depot and the name of the ship they were to sail in.