Cornwall is a peninsula bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by the county of Devon, over the River Tamar. For centuries, it was a poor and remote land. There were valuable copper beneath the surface but it was impossible to extract the metal on any scale without the tunnels filling with water. Thus, the story of Poldark’s life (actor Aidan Turner) and times are closer than you’d think to historical reality.
In 1712 Thomas Newcomen, a tool salesman from Devon, invented a fire machine for drawing water from the mines using steam in a cylinder to propel a piston. It was the first steam engine and would change the world of Cornwall.
The Newcomen engine transformed fortunes at Cornwall. Landowners were suddenly businessmen. By the time of Ross Poldark’s story, about one hundred tall stone engine houses had sprung up across the county, and the former peasants were working in the mines now. Those were the days of the First Industrial Revolution!
But miners were very young men, aged between 15 and 25. The work was very dangerous, with numerous deaths, and a quarter of the men never reached 30. They were poorly paid and fed, and they smuggled whenever they could.
But the wealth that was created by the Cornish copper rush was to go almost as fast as it came, and fictional Ross Poldark’s father was not alone in ruin. With the new steam ships that could cross the Atlantic Ocean at speed, it was soon economic to import vast quantities of copper from South America. The result was the collapse of the Cornish copper industry, and by the middle of the 19th century, copper production in Cornwall has shrunk to a quarter of its former size.
Fiction and history walk together in Poldark TV show.
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