Volume 2

John Moore Wilton: Miner of Cornwall and Thames

Tony Wilton + David Wilton


John Moore Wilton was born near St Neot, Cornwall, in the copper mining area on the southern edge of Bodmin Moor, in September 1844. He worked as a copper miner in Cornwall and arrived in New Zealand some time in the late 1860s or early 1870s. He settled in Thames, the scene of a gold rush, working as a miner and died in Thames, from miners' lung disease, in 1903. This article gives details (such as are available) of John Moore Wilton's immediate family in Cornwall, then a more detailed history of John Moore and his descendants in Thames.

Figure 1: Remains of the Phoenix mine, Caradon Hill, near St Neot (2008). This is the area, on Bodmin Moor, where the Wilton family miners would have worked. The Phoenix was one of Cornwall's biggest producers of copper until 1865, when the drastic decline in world copper prices made it uneconomic and it ceased production. However, it was later re-opened for tin production, and finally closed in 1911.

The Wiltons of Cornwall

Bronze is an alloy containing copper and tin, and mining of these metallic elements took place from the days of the “bronze age”. Cornwall and the far west of Devon provided the majority of the United Kingdom's tin, copper and arsenic, and mining in Cornwall dates back to between 1000 and 2000 BC. In the 19th century, whole families were often employed in mining these metals. Copper mining in Cornwall reached its peak around 1850, before foreign competition depressed the price of copper, and later, tin, to a level that made Cornish ore unprofitable (Earl 1968 p.10, Barton 1968 p.7).

The demise of copper mining in the 1860s resulted in whole families leaving the area - often emigrating to other parts of the world. This period coincided with the opening of the Thames goldfield in 1867, and was the reason why many Cornish miners made their way to Thames; some directly, and others via other mining venues, such as South Africa, California and Australia (Hamilton-Jenkin 1927 pp. 321-340).

1851 census of England

HO107/1902 F344 P11
Dranes Common, St Neot, Cornwall.
Peter Wilton, Head, Mar, 34, Ag Lab, Cornwall, St Neot
Susan do, Wife, Mar, 33, , Cornwall Pelynt
Mary J do, Daur, , 9, , Cornwall St Neot
Elizabeth A do, Daur, , 8, , Cornwall St Neot
John M do, Son, , 6, , Cornwall St Neot
Charles E do, Son, , 4, , Cornwall St Neot
Sophia E do, Daur, , 2, , Cornwall St Neot
Louisa E do, Daur, , 2mo, , Cornwall St Neot
Mary Milsome, Lodger, U, 26, , N K

1861 census of England

RG9/1530 F42 P8
Dranes Common Cottage, St Neot, Cornwall
Peter Wilton, Head, Mar, 45, Copper Miner, Cornwall St Neot
Susan do, Wife, Mar, 44, , Cornwall Plynt
William H do, Son, Un, 21, Copper Miner, Cornwall St Neot
John M do, Son, Un, 17, Copper Miner, Cornwall St Neot
Charles E do, Son, Un, 15, Copper Miner, Cornwall St Neot
Thomas J do, Son, , 8, Scholar, Cornwall St Neot
Albert E do, Son, , 6, , Cornwall St Neot
Frederick G do, Son, , 4, , Cornwall St Neot
Mary J do, Daur, Un, 19, House Servt, Cornwall St Neot
Sophia do, Daur, , 12, , Cornwall St Neot
Louisa E do, Daur, , 10, , Cornwall St Neot
Rosabella do, Daur, , 1, , Cornwall St Neot
Angelina do, Granddaught, , 7 mo, , Cornwall St Neot

According to birth and census records, John Moore Wilton was the fourth child of Peter Wilton (c.1815-1892) and Susan Moore (c.1815 - after 1881) and was born in Liskeard Parish, Cornwall, in September 1844. In the 1851 census, he was listed as being six years old and the family at that stage was listed as living at Dranes Common, St Neot parish, on the Bodmin Moor. In the 1861 census, John was listed as a copper miner (as was his father, Peter, and three brothers) and the family was still listed as living at Dranes Common. By the 1871 census, John Moore Wilton's name was no longer listed, indicating he had left at least Cornwall. The localities mentioned above (St Neot village and parish, Liskeard town and parish, and Dranes Common) still exist, and have been visited by the authors and other descendants of John Moore Wilton in the 21st century.

Figure 2: St Neot parish church (2008)

The Wiltons of Thames, New Zealand

John Moore Wilton arrived in New Zealand some time in the late 1860s or early 1870s, settled in Thames and worked as a miner. No record has been found of what ship he arrived on, but that is possibly because he didn't come direct from England, but via another goldfield in another country. He was joined in Thames by his younger brother, Frederick George Wilton (1857 - 1930). John and Frederick both married in Thames, to sisters Elizabeth and Emma Amelia Jones, who were born in Staffordshire and came to Thames with their parents. John and Elizabeth had eight children, and Frederick and Emma had thirteen, which meant there were a lot of Wiltons in Thames until population mobility increased in the latter half of the 20th century.

According to Cleaves Auckland Directory (1894, p. 301) John and Elizabeth lived in Upper Sealey St (Block 27) on the southern corner of The Terrace (although which side of the corner is not clear). There are no current signs of a miner's cottage on that corner that would fit the age and likely condition of this residence, so it is highly likely to have been removed some time during the 20th century.

John died from miners' lung disease in 1903. Elizabeth survived him for nearly 20 years and died in 1923. They are buried in an unmarked grave, towards the back of Shortland Cemetery. Frederick and Emma are also buried in Shortland Cemetery, in a marked grave close to Danby St. James and Sarah Jones, parents of Elizabeth and Emma, are also buried towards the back of Shortland Cemetery, in a marked grave.

Figure 3: Elizabeth Wilton and family members: presumably taken after the death of John Moore in 1903, as he is absent from the photo.  Three of the sons worked as miners (William, Albert and Ted).  Two were blacksmiths (Charles and Ernie).  Frank Wilton was the Thames Fire Chief 1937 ­ 1951. Charles, and his wife Elizabeth; Lavinia, and her daughter Ada Brien, all died in the 1918 influenza epidemic.

John Moore & Elizabeth Wilton's children:

John and Elizabeth were married in Thames in 1874. Details of their children and those grandchildren in the photo are as follows.

Charles Edwin (Charlie) b. 21 Oct 1875 m. Elizabeth Hannah Aro 1898 d. 13 Nov 1918 buried Shortland 15 Nov 1918.
Edith Lavinia (Vin) b. 1877 m. Alfred James (Alf) Brien 1898 d.1918 buried Shortland 13 Nov 1918 [Alf Brien remarried Mary O'Callaghan in 1923].
Elizabeth Maud (Maud) b. 1879 m. Thomas Henry (Tom) Lanning Thames 9 July 1900 d. 1960 buried Totara 29 Nov 1960.
William Moore (“Weary Bill”) b. 1882 m. Isabella Gardner Law (Nell) 1908 d. 1945 buried Shortland 29 April 1945 (served Boer war).
Albert James b. 1883 m. Honora Eliza Collins 1905 d. 1962 aged 78Y buried Glenfield, North Shore.
John Edward (Ted) b. 28 Aug 1886 m. Ellen Thomson Smith (Nellie) Waihi 15 Nov 1907 d. 25 Oct 1966 aged 80Y buried Totara ? Oct 1966.
Francis Peter (Frank) b. 1890 m. Juanita Olive Hanlan 1911 d. 1951 buried Totara 2 Jun 1951.
Ernest Henry (Ernie) b. 1892 m. Win (Winifred? - date & place unknown) d.1970 buried ? (lived Epsom, Auckland; died Ranfurly Home; embarked with No. 2 Group, 23rd Reinforcements, and served with 1st Battalion, Auckland Infantry Regiment, World War 1).

Grandchildren (in the photo):
Violet May Lanning b. 24 Apr 1899 m. Leonard Daniel Comer 1927 d. 10 Jul 1989.
Clara Elizabeth Brien b. 9 Aug 1900 m. Walter Olief Lomas 1923 d. Sep 1984.
Herbert (Bert) Lawrence Claude Brien b. 1898 m. Muriel Winifred Duncan 1920 d. 1967.
Ada Lucy Brien b. 1902, d. Nov 1918 [buried in same plot as her mother in Shortland cemetery].

Ted Wilton:

Ted Wilton, registered at birth as John Edward but always known as Edward John, was born in 1886. He also became a miner. At first he worked in Thames mines, including the Eclipse and the Lucky Strike. In the early 1900s, he went to Waihi, another gold mining town, where he worked in the Martha mine. In 1907, he married Ellen Thomson Smith (Nellie). Nellie also came from a mining background, having been born in Silverton, New South Wales.

In 1912 Ted was involved in the great Waihi miners' strike, and was one of the Miners' Union members driven out of town after the government broke the strike (Holland 1913). He and Nellie returned to Thames where they lived the rest of their lives. Ted was a life-long union man, and a founding member of the NZ Labour Party. He was blacklisted by the Thames mine owners and did not go back underground until appointed a mines inspector by the first Labour Government in 1935. Ted was well known as the organiser of Thames' Labour Day parades, including that held in the year of his death (Unknown author 1966).

According to Moore and Ritchie (1996 p.41):“The real fortunes were probably made by those who held shares in the big companies, while the men who toiled long and hard to extract the gold, probably earned a living, but not much more.”Ted and Nellie had eight children: Maud (born 1908), Olga (1910), Cathrine (1912 - approximately one month after the family 'left' Waihi), Edward John (1915), Bert (1918), Ron (1921?), Dorothy (1923) and Valerie (1925). They grew up in a small house in the Moanataiari Valley, in the heart of the Thames goldfield. Existing family members remember the old house, and in particular Ted's highly productive garden and fruit trees. These had been of great value through the Great Depression, when Ted and Nellie struggled to raise the family on what Ted could earn from odd jobs.

[Note: an oral history was recorded with Cathrine Osborne in October 2006, about two months before she passed away, and is held in The Treasury collection.]

Nellie died in 1959, aged 69. Ted died in 1966, aged 80. They are buried in the Totara cemetery. The Moanataiari property was sold after Nellie died in 1959, and Ted moved into a small cottage near Prices' Foundry in Thames, where he worked until well into his seventies. The Moanataiari house burned down in the late 1960s. The steps leading to the Moanataiari property house site, the house and outbuilding sites, and some fruit trees are still visible, near the top end of Moanataiari Road, on the southern side of the road.

Figure 4: Ted and Nellie Wilton's home at Moanataiari Rd (c.1945).
From left: Val Davis (nee Wilton), Tommy Davis,
Muriel Wilton (wife of Bert) with Val's AA Ford Roadster.



  • Barton, D. B. (1968). A History of Copper Mining in Cornwall and Devon, D. Bradford Barton, Truro.
  • Earl, B. (1968). Cornish Mining: the Techniques of Metal Mining in the West of England, Past and Present, D. Bradford Barton, Truro.
  • Hamilton-Jenkin, A. K. (1927). The Cornish Miner, David and Charles Publishers Ltd, Abbott Devon.
  • Holland, H. E. (1913). The Tragic Story of the Waihi Strike, Workers' Printery, Wellington.
  • Moore, P. and Ritchie, N. (1996). Coromandel Gold: A Guide to the Historic Goldfields of Coromandel Peninsula, Dunmore Press, Palmerston North.
  • Unknown author (1966). Obituary - Edward John Wilton, Snr, Thames Star, 28th October 1966, Thames.


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