Edwin Varker followed the path of many a Cornish miner in the late 19th Century when the mining boom of West Cornwall came to a sudden end. The population of St Hilary Parish more than halved in less than fifty years. In the 1890s he emigrated with his family to Idaho where large new mineral discoveries were being made. His skills as a hard rock miner were in great demand and he is recorded as a ‘gold miner’ in the 1900 US Census.
Edwin was an explosives expert and that is where tragedy struck as recorded in the local newspaper The Owyhee Avalanche:
‘Last Saturday night between the hours of ten and eleven o’clock a powder thawing magazine containing from 75-100 sticks of giant powder and located in the South Drift of the Alpine vein in the Trade Collar works exploded with terrible force, instantly killing Edwin Varker and Albert E Nicholls and severely injuring William Williams shift boss.’
William Henry and Edwin Varker, Idaho, USA
Wisely both he and his wife, Rebecca, whose descendants still live in St Hilary had had the foresight to join Friendly Societies at a time when there was, of course, no other welfare provision. He joined both The Knights of Pythias, an organisation that still exists today and The Da Lamar and Silver City Miners Union. Rebecca joined The Gem of the Mountain Temple No 7 Rathbone Sisters. All these organisations provided vital support to his widow and their four children, one of whom was born posthumously. The Societies not only paid heartfelt tributes to their colleague but also helped in practical ways. The collection of money that was raised to support his family was enough for them to return to St Hilary in Cornwall and for Rebecca to buy a small cottage and meadow in the village which enabled the family to leave mining for other occupations. A full account of Edwin and Rebecca Varker’s life may be found in the Group’s publication Women of West Cornwall