History of the Cornish Pasty in Australia
The Cornish Pasty as a food product originated in Cornwall (southwest England) and can be traced as far back as the 1200’s. The Cornish Pasty was homemade and baked by the wives and mothers of tin miners during what was once a thriving industry. Pasties were made with a thick crimped edge along one side to hold onto whilst eating. This was needed because the miners hands were often dirty and a miners fingertips would be covered in arsenic from the mines.
The miners would always leave the last bit of the crimped part of the Pasty and throw it down a dark tunnel when they were done. The crusts were never wasted as many miners were believers in ghosts or “knockers” as they named them that inhabited the mines and left these crusts to keep the ghosts content.
Traditionally one end of the pasty would usually contain a small sweet filling which their wives would mark or initial with pastry so that the miner wouldn’t eat his dessert first, while the savoury end would contain meat and vegetables. Today traditional Cornish Pasties are filled with steak, potatoes, turnips and onion. Today Cornish Pasties are well known throughout England and are eaten as a lunch, a snack or even at dinner time.
The First Fleet to Australia which was made up of 11 ships, sailed from Great Britain on 13 May 1787 with about 1,487 people to establish the first European colony in New South Wales. Looking through the ships convicts list we can see 21 men and 1 woman who were Cornish in origin.
Nearly 100 years later, with the decline of England’s Cornish mining industry, many miners immigrated for work to other countries including the USA, South America, South Africa and Australia. This resulted in the Cornish pasty becoming popular in many far flung corners of the globe.
In the 1840s Cornwall, England was going through a depression in many of their industries, i.e. Mining, Agriculture, Fishing . Poverty in Cornwall promoted migration. The opportunities that were available in South Australia and the promise of a better life were enough for many families to leave their homeland for Australia. In the following decade after the initial settlement of South Australia, the greatest number of immigrants to the state came from Cornwall. In the period 1836-1840 10% of all applications for free passage to South Australia were lodged in Cornwall.
One notable story from the era was in 1854 when a team of 7 Cornish ex-tin miners, an adventure had begun at the Star Inn in Newlyn. The decision was to embark on a journey to seek fortunes mining gold in Australia. The 114 day voyage would take the crew from Penzance in Cornwall to Melbourne in Australia aboard a Cornish Lugger called the Mystery. The Mystery was built in Newlyn for mackerel diving and her overall length was 36 feet, with 32 feet of keel, 11 feet beam, drawing 6 feet of water and tonnage 16. The Mystery was widely believed to be a fishing boat converted to a sailing yacht, the first voyage of its kind in an unorthodox vessel.
By the mid 1860’s the greater Moonta area near Adelaide had as many as 6000 Cornish Australians living on the Moonta mining leases. Because of The rich Copper deposits that were discovered at Wallaroo and Moonta in the 1860s added with the Mining at Kadina, the area was later to become known as “the Copper Triangle” or in recent years the “Cornish Triangle on Yorke Peninsula, South Australia.
In one year alone, 1875, over 10,00 people left Cornwall for Australia. Dr Philip Payton in his excellent book “The Cornish Miner in Australia” states that between the years 1836 to 1886 in South Australia alone, of the 162,853 migrants who settled, 12,967 (8% of the population) came from Cornwall. When taking into account the possible migration from other states together with missing data, a figure of perhaps 16,000 is quite likely.
With the decline of the Mining operations in the “Copper Triangle” a new discovery or ore was found across the border at Silverton and Broken Hill in 1885. A lot of Miners subsequently left the area and headed for New South Wales.
It is interesting to note that during the 1890’s, following a local Cornish Pasty Competition, there were numerous articles published in the Bendigo Advertiser (a paper still running today), on the correct way to make a Cornish pasty. Interestingly and though it may have some relation to women’s reluctance to seek publicity in those days, all the letters were from men.
One could not even hazard a guess at how many Cornish pasties have been baked and eaten over the years in Australia, but today the real traditional Cornish Pasty seems to be forgotten.
It is estimated that 250,000 Cornish migrated abroad between 1861 and 1901 and these emigrants included farmers, merchants and tradesmen, but miners made up most of the numbers. There is a well known saying in Cornwall that “a mine is a hole anywhere in the world with at least one Cornishman at the bottom of it!”
And finally one bit of Australian Pasty trivia: In Cornwall, a pasty is often called an “Oggie” or “Oggy”, sometimes when women had finished baking pasties they would yell down the mine ‘Oggy, Oggy, Oggy’, and that the miners would reply with ‘Oi, oi oi!’ Could this be the origin of the popular sporting chant, ‘Aussie, Aussie Aussie, oi, oi oi’ As Cornish rugby supporters in Australia have been reported adopting the chant “Oggie, oggie, oggie, oi, oi, oi!” when cheering on their team. Many people believe this is the origin of the great Aussie chant “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi!”
Enjoy your Cousin Jacks Pasty – Rich in flavour and in History!