Old Cornwall Christmas Traditions
Cornish Carols - A Tradition For The World
13. South Africa
Although many Cornishmen had visited South Africa as seamen, the first true Cornish settlers arrived around 1820 as part of a special scheme to assist settlers. These first settlers were mainly agricultural workers who found the land they were given was both too small a portion and very poor. As a result immigration soon dwindled and by 1834 the Cape was virtually bankrupt.
The revival came with the discovery of South Africa's mineral wealth around 1852 when the Copper Deposits of Namaqualand an area immediately South of the Orange river with the Atlantic Ocean as its western border. From then on more and more mineral deposits were discovered first diamonds and then gold. This made South Africa attractive to the hard rock miners of Cornwall and today it is said that Cornishmen and women have left a deep legacy not only in mining techniques and development but also in the social and cultural life of South Africa.
Reference Click here
From Cornish Immigrants to South Africa by Graham B Dickason 1978
“At the corner of Pritchard and Von Brandis was Heath’s Hotel, a corner that was to become known as Cousin Jack Corner. It was here on a Saturday night that Cornishmen and their womenfolk would gather to promenade down the length of the street and back, exchange news fo friends and family, at home in Cornwall or scattered all over the developing mining communities strung along the line of the reef. The men would recognise each other as Cornish by the Cornishman’s handshake, the palm outwards, followed usually by “wher be ‘ee working” or “ ’ows everybody ‘ome”.
On Christmas Eve, when the Cornish Choir would sing from the balcony of the Grand National Hotel, hundreds of Cornish people would flock into town to listen and participate. All in the streets below would join in the singing, creating an atmosphere both poignant and beautiful. Here, remote, isolated, earning a precarious living and lonely for the companionship of their fellow countrymen, Cornish voices would rise up into the clear African sky singing of Trelawney —6 000 miles away.
It was in January 1897, that the Cornish community on the Witwatersrand was to enjoy an altogether rare event, bringing with it many memories and more than a little reminiscing. After many invitations to come out to South Africa to sing, the Cornish Nightingale finally arrived at Park Station, Johannesburg.
Madame Fanny Moody-Manners was by then internationally acclaimed and in giving concerts round the world, her origins in the mining town of Redruth had meant that Cornish miners claimed her as their own.
She was born on 23 November 1866, the daughter of a photographer in Redruth, one of 13 children. Musical prowess was common in Cornish families in those days, particularly among families living in the mining areas. Only a child of deaf or tuneless ear could fail to imitate the stirring songs coming from the mines. It was only in the majestic beauty of songs and the evangelist hymns that people working in the mines could seek relief from their dismal work. It was indeed the devout singing of songs of praise that gave the Cornish miners the same message of hope that negro slaves were — at the same time — finding in their spirituals and work songs a continent away and which led to the birth of Jazz.
It was in South Africa, however, that Fanny was to find the greatest measure of love and affection from a Cornish community…….
Madame Fanny's own diary tells the story of the greatest night of her life, in Johannesburg:
“When we arrived at the Park station a perfect mob of people appeared to be waiting for us. They gave a hearty cheer when they saw me, and they also presented me with an illuminated address of welcome. Amongst the people there were many who I had known in my Redruth days, or who had at least known some member of my family. Indeed, it seemed as if every Rand man who had hailed from the rocky moorland, every Jack from Camborne or Reduth, every fisherman from Mount's Bay, and every reefman who claims the Duchy as his native heath, had made it his business to be on the platform that morning.
Then we got into the carriage that was waiting for us and the horses were unyoked and replaced by a score or so of Cornishmen who dragged us to the Grand National Hotel [then situated at the corner of Pritchard & Rissik streets, Johannesburg] and this, mind you, in the noontide heat of a South African day.”
That night she sang for four hours at the Theatre Royal, Johannesburg, but the crowd of Cornishmen would not disperse. They flocked behind her and waited. outside the hotel. As the stars twinkled in the clear South African night sky, and the heat stilled sound and movement, all eyes turned to a tiny balcony. The curtains moved ... thousands of Cornish voices cried with delight ... the window's opened and out stepped Madame Fanny.
Johannesburg daily paper described the scene in these words: 'There was an assemblage of enthusiastic but strangely silent and peaceful Cornishmen; this congregation of robust Romeos waited for their Juliet to appear upon the balcony. it was a beautiful night, a starry night, and the star of the evening was not long in presenting herself to their view. To a silent crowd she sang Cornish songs. And as she sang, these big men of Cornwall wept. They did not applaud they hid their faces from each other and went quietly away when she had finish
Next day Madame Fanny was asked to make yet another impromptu appearance, this time at the Masonic Hall. Johannesburg. Her programme was entirely Cornish, chosen as being 'dear to the hearts of Cornishmen, and perhaps all the more welcome for the waste of waters which divided us from the land of their nativity'.
At the end of the concert, W. Pope, the then President of the Cornish Association of the Transvaal presented an Illuminated address to Fanny and there was a surprise gift. Every Cornishman In the Rand had contributed to it. It was a glittering diamond tiara with the Cornish coat of arms picked out in 15 huge diamonds, and the motto 'One and All' made of silver and jewels.
Fanny Moody wearing the tiara.
For more than 40 years the tiara was her most treasured possession, and one from which she would not be parted. Then, In 1940. when she was 74, she felt that she must make some contribution to the welfare of the wounded. She wrote this letter to the West Briton newspaper‑
To my dear Cornish People. I have today sent the lovely diamond tiara, which the Cornish miners gave me in Johannesburg. to the British Red Cross. It will be sold to help the maimed and wounded of those who are so bravely defending us in this awful war, and I am sure that every one of you will approve of my action.
I shed tears when I parted with it, as it brought back memories of the happy days I spent in South Africa, and my dear late husband who made a speech at the presentation, and we all sang 'And Shall Trelawney Die?', and how good my dear Cousin Jackies were to me — which I shall never forget.
In affection, Fanny Moody-Manners.
New year celebrations in Kimberley in 188I
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December 30th 1893
Cornish Carols Music Composers.
Robert H. Heath was a local teacher of music and organist at the Redruth Parish church before emigrating to Johannesburg where he became the organist at the Cathedral. His carols tunes, which are in the Cornish style, were handed down from father to son and sung not only in church or chapels but also deep underground in the mines, on street corners and in the local inns. Because they are very simple with a basic four part harmony a precise knowledge of music was not required to perform them. Consequently, the Cornish carried their "tunes" with them wherever they went and Robert H. Heath took them to South Africa Today you can hear them performed from Grass Valley, California, to Moonta, Australia as well as many places in between wherever the Cornish settled .
In 1899, Heath was joined in Johannesburg by Stephen Nicholls [born 2nd September 1865 at Redruth.] Nichgolls was a accomplished musician having become the organist at Treruffe Hill Bible Christian Chapel in Redruth. In 1899 he moved to South Africa where he became the Choirmaster and Organist of the Congregational Church, Johannesburg. One of his most popular carols is "The Star of Jacob" which is sung on three recordings from around the world. Unfortunately we do not have one from South Africa.
An A4 size book containing the words and musical score for the above plus 31 other Cornish Christmas Carols collected and published by Robert H. Heath in Redruth in 1889 can be purchased for just £5 + p&p by clicking here or you can download the music and words of all 33 carols for £3 by clicking here . A splendid present for anyone with an interest in Cornwall and its music.
Victorian Cornish Carols Number 1
Redruth & St Agnes District
Published by Federation of Old Cornwall Societies
Published October 2010
Federation of Old Cornwall Societies
The Federation of Old Cornwall Societies is a Registered Charity No. 247283
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