A Butte Story
It was a familiar story in Great Britain the early twentieth century. Men set out to find a better life and Joseph Henry MARTIN joined the throng. In 1914 he left his native St. Austell, Cornwall and his fiancée Florence HAMBLY and emigrated along with his cousin Nicholas CHESTERFIELD on the S.S. Oceanic in July 1914.
Joe already had a hereditary weakness in his chest but he secured work as a miner and went to work with great enthusiasm which he never lost - even in later years his favourite jaunt was a ride around all the clay tips in the St Austell area. In the 2 years before Florrie joined him he sent back many postcards of Butte and its mines.
postcards read, ‘This is just as she looks by night winter time, love
Joe. I used to live away up this street.’ And ‘This is part of the
main street, don’t it look like Plymouth, Love Joe’ The family have
about 15 of these postcards, some showing the insides of the mines with
Joe’s detailed descriptions of what is happening.
and Florrie were married August 16th 1916 at Unity M.E.
Church, Meaderville, Butte by the Rev William H. PASCOE and the
witnesses were Walter GAVED and Eva GAVED . When I was researching my
Grandparents’ life in Butte I wanted to know about people they had
known to build up a picture of their everyday life. I had no idea who
Walter and Eva GAVED might be or why they were witnesses at Joe and
Florrie’s wedding. It was a complete coincidence that whilst in
contact with someone researching their family tree that I saw they had
Joe’s mother Elizabeth Jane STONE on their tree. She had married
Joseph Henry MARTIN, Joe’s father. Looking more closely at the STONE
family tree I caught sight of the name Eva STONE who would be a cousin
to Joe. Eva had married Walter GAVED and they had emigrated a few years
before Joe. So that solved a mystery in a pleasing and satisfactory way.
and Florrie lived at 414 Warren Avenue in Meaderville, Butte.
Meaderville no longer exists, in the 1980’s huge open cast mining
works started in the area and so Butte lost a vital part of its history
including the church where Joe and Florrie were married. The wooden
frame house is no longer there although we have stood on the site where
it would have been as that part of Warren Ave just survived across the
road from the Berkeley Pit.
Life would have been far from easy in Butte. Despite being a
thriving and up to date city (‘just like Plymouth’ Joe had said,
high praise indeed for my Grandparents always thought a trip to
Plymouth, Devon was the tops), it was also a volatile hot bed of
corruption in politics and in Union troubles and racist problems, (Butte
had signs in its mines in 16 languages at one time) morality and the
weather. Searingly hot summers and bitter winters, exacerbated by the
immense fug from the mine workings which rolled down the hill and caused
the electric lights to be switched on by noon most days.
With 1917 came the North Butte mining disaster, well documented,
and for the young MARTINS it was a significant year. Joe was now working
on the ‘Safety First’ team at Mountain View Mine and may well have
been involved in the disaster along with many other teams called to help
deal with rescue and the grim task of removing over 100 bodies from the
fire wracked Granite Mountain and Speculator Shafts. Florrie must have
had extra cause to be anxious, she was just weeks away from the birth of
their first child. Joseph William MARTIN was born on 26th
have attributed the above photo to Florrie and Joseph William but cannot
be absolutely certain it is Joseph William. From the original which is
full length, the clothing style and surroundings suggest the time and
the troubles in Butte and although they never really spoke about their
time there my Grandmother told me a little about it (more of that later)
and from that I deducted that they envisaged staying.
events changed all that. Joseph William MARTIN succumbed to broncho
pneumonia and died 26th February 1918. Joe senior didn’t
fare well in health either, he had Silicosis, but still applied for the
‘Intent to Naturalise’. The document is dated 1919.
What changed their plans can only be surmised from the little my
Grandmother told me but they returned to Cornwall in 1920.
was very young when one day I was looking at photos with my Grandmother.
I pointed at one and said, ‘That’s Daddy’.
she replied ‘That’s my first little boy Joseph, he died aged 18
months’ (I obviously misheard that, he was 8 months old) in
America’. During the conversation that followed I remember just a few
sentences ‘And I had twin girls but they died a week old of heat
fever’ and ‘We would have stayed in America if your Grandad hadn’t
45 years later in 2001 and long after my Grandparents died my husband
and I visited Butte. Over the previous 3 years I had been searching for
evidence of my Grandparents’ time in Butte using the internet and had
excellent support and help from the Butte Archives and someone who has
become a very close friend, Dannette BETTISON whose family emigrated
from St Austell in 1916 when her father Jack was a few months old. I
therefore knew that Joseph William MARTIN was 8 months not 18 months old
at death and I knew that I had heard right when my Grandmother said they
would have stayed in America because Dannette had located the Intent to
Naturalise Document. Those 3 sentences my Grandmother had spoken to me
have always stayed in my memory so what about the twin girls?
remains a total mystery. We have never found any record of twin girls
either the birth or death. I calculated that they would have had to have
been born in 1919 as Joe and Florrie returned to Britain in 1920. Their
only other child, my father Joseph Roy MARTIN was born 26th
July 1921. Was it the death of these baby girls that prompted their
return? Was the Naturalisation turned down because of Joe’s ill
health? These are questions I think might never be answered. The records
for Butte are patchy in 1919 with some church record books
‘disappearing’ when Unity Church disappeared under the Berkeley Pit
although others survived.
we returned from Butte and I showed my parents the photo we’d taken of
Joseph William MARTIN’S grave at Mount Moriah Cemetery my father was
stunned. He never knew he had a brother (I assumed everyone in the
family already knew when I was told and it wasn’t until I got
interested in family history that all this came out) .
and Florrie’s parents and siblings must have known about the problems
in America and I once asked Florrie’s sister Daisy (Louisa May)
NICHOLLS nee HAMBLY if she knew anything about the American saga. Her
reply was ‘She went to America one person and came back another –
she never talked about it’.
know Florrie was not a sentimental person and was perceived to be quite
‘hard’. We are lucky to have any surviving documents or photos at
all on that side of the family!
returned to Butte in 2002. One day I would like to return to search
again for the mystery twins – I can still hear Nanny Martin saying
‘And I had twin girls but they died a week old of heat fever’. If
only we thought to ask more questions whilst those who can answer them
are still with us!