Books & Literature

Book Review: Pictorial History of Australia’s Little Cornwall, by Philip Payton

HISTORY: A widely researched book depicting the human face of the history of Australia’s Little Cornwall as it was and as it still is today.

A charming, if dated, work of history.

The 1840s saw the beginning of a significant wave of migration from Cornwall to Australia, and in particular to South Australia. Most of these migrants came from the mining industry, to work in the newer mining industry in the northern Yorke Peninsula. Those settlements—Wallaroo, Kadina, and Moonta—have since been known as Little Cornwall, or The Copper Triangle. 

Historian and academic Philip Payton originally discovered many of the photos in this work whilst completing his PhD in the late ‘70s. He gathered his archival finds into the original book and published it in 1978. Now the Moonta Branch of the National Trust of SA has sponsored a new edition of the book. 

Beginning with a brief essay about Cornish mining migration, the work mostly consists, as its title suggests, of photographs. These are gathered into thematic chapters, and each picture is given ample commentary. The reproductions and printing generally are excellent, as one has come to expect from Wakefield Press. 

Interestingly, Payton states in his Preface to the new edition that he made the conscious choice not to update any of the language, or really change anything except for obvious errors. This seems a missed opportunity. A new edition of a book, especially after 40 years, is generally updated, added to, and/or reworded. We could have read more of the Cornish relationship with the Narungga people, and far more about Cornish women. 

However, despite this quaint publishing decision, this is still a very enjoyable and interesting dive into Cornish settlement in the Copper Triangle, and into 19th-century South Australian history in general. 

A great gift for anyone of Cornish background, or any history buffs in your circle. It is also a great adjunct to a visit to the area, giving historic detail to the towns most South Australians have come to love as holiday destinations. 

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

Distributed by: Wakefield Press
Released: November 2020
RRP: $29.95

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