...de The Union:
Two walking reservoirs of Cornish knowledge are reminded of their heritage by the sights and history of western Nevada County during this week's 15th Gathering of Cornish Cousins.
Professor Philip Payton is one of world's leading experts on the people of Cornwall and teaches Cornish studies at the University of Exeter, which has a campus in the county on the southwestern peninsula of England.
Vanessa Beeman is an anthropologist and Cornish language expert who is keeping the tongue alive.
Both noted western Nevada County's contribution to Cornish culture Wednesday.
“The whole reason we're here is because of the great adventure of Cornish immigrants of the 19th century,” Payton said. “It was principally hardrock miners” looking for work in places including Grass Valley, Canada, South America, Australia, Africa and India.
“Their skills were much in demand,” Payton said. “If you wanted a mine to work, you hired the Cornish.”
While many Gold Rush mining towns boomed and then died, Grass Valley and Nevada City may have survived because of the Cornish, Payton said.
“They built communities that lasted” wherever they went, he said.“
The miners took their way of life to places,” Beeman said. “There's a saying in Cornwall: Wherever in the world there's a hole in the ground, there will be a Cousin Jack at the bottom of it.”
Beeman's father was Cornish, and she learned to speak the language with him while studying Cornish culture.
“Cornish has been recognized as a minority language, and many of the children want to learn it to retain their heritage,” Beeman said.
“It's a very poetic language. We gather in pubs and talk it.”Beeman became a bard — a promoter of Cornish culture — after studying the Cornish language. She recently was elected Grand Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd, a bard committee.
She lives in Cornwall, which is somewhat independent from the rest of Britain.
“It's not part of England,” Beeman said. “England thinks it is, but Cornwall doesn't. It's never been officially brought into England. It's been a gradual absorption.”