John Williams
John Williams
John Williams' family
John Williams' family
Letter to John Williams from an American tinplate manufacturer
Letter to John Williams from an American tinplate manufacturer, Loaned by Sharon Williams
Letter of recommendation for John Williams
Letter of recommendation for John Williams, Loaned by Sharon Williams

The manufacture of tinplate was another area where Wales held a virtual monopoly in the world. South Wales accounted for over 80% of world production in the early 1890s.

The Welsh industry hit a crisis in 1891 when the USA imposed the 'McKinley Tariff'. This protectionist tariff was charged on imported goods, making them uncompetitive with American-produced goods. Many Welsh works temporarily closed or cut their production and their workforce. At the same time, demand for skilled tinplate workers rose in America leading to much emigration.

Lewis and David John Thomas, tinplate workers from Pantyffynnon, Carmarthenshire met for a fnal time with their friends in 1895. The meeting was recalled in the journal Industrial World:

'There's no need to say where the two brothers were heading, because so many of the Alcan-workers of Wales are heading west, just as the cockles congregate on Penclawdd beach... Many Welsh have left their native land for America, and that for various reasons...'

John Williams

Born in Caerleon in 1854 and working in the tinplate works at Pontymister from the age of 10, Williams worked in Workington (England), Piombino (Italy), Dos Convives (Spain), Syova (Siberia, Russia) as well as Gilwern, Nantyglo, Llanelli, Mold and Pontardawe in Wales. He retired aged 70, dying in his 90s.

Comments(3)

Brenda Evans
10 January 2021, 15:42
Hi, how can I find details of my great grandparents travelling to America in the 1880's from Pontymister, South Wales he worked in the local Tin plate works.
Marc Haynes Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
3 October 2018, 14:10

Dear Hilary Kyriazis,

Please see the reply below from our Principal Curator of Industry, Jennifer Protheroe-Jones.

Best wishes,

Marc
Digital Team

'In the nineteenth century, Wales was the centre of the world tinplate industry, and as a result when other countries began to set up their own tinplate industries they often recruited Welsh workers to help open up new works and to instruct local workers. Some Welsh workers permanently settled abroad, but most appear to have returned to Wales when, after a few years, the new works were running successfully. Some Welsh tinplate workers travelled abroad a number of times, opening up new works in a number of different countries.

'The greatest single phase of emigration of Welsh tinplate workers was in the 1890s when the Welsh industry experienced a major but temporary recession due to the USA introducing protective trade tariffs to encourage an American tinplate industry to come into being. A high proportion of the 1890s tinplate emigrants travelled to the USA where numerous new tinplate works were being opened up, and many settled in the USA permanently. This phase of emigration was so distinctive that it was chosen as one of the examples of Welsh industrial emigration for the Museum’s 2008 exhibition “Ffarwal Cymru: working abroad”, which presented a range of stories and examples of Welsh industrial workers who travelled abroad to work. A version of this exhibition is now on the Museum's website and it is the tinplate examples from that website that you have mentioned.

'As far as I am aware, the first tinplate works in Australia opened at Port Kembla, New South Wales, in 1957, so your ancestor must have emigrated to work in a different field. He may have worked in an early sheet mill producing corrugated galvanised sheets, as the work of shearers in sheet works was very similar to their work in tinplate works. However, I am afraid that I do not have detailed knowledge of when sheet works first opened in Australia or where they were located. Alternatively your ancestor may have worked in a completely different field, unrelated to his previous work in the Welsh tinplate industry. To research what his work was, you would need to access Australian records such as census returns, directories listing residents of towns, and any birth, death or marriage records of his children from his time in Australia as these records often state the father’s occupation.

'Most nineteenth-century Welsh emigrants to Australia at roughly the period that your ancestor lived in that country were general economic migrants seeking a better life, including those attracted by the country’s rapidly expanding mining industry for metals, coal and other minerals. The Australian iron and steel industry grew in this period but was smaller than it would become in the twentieth century, and the country imported much of the iron and steel products that it needed, including galvanised sheets and tinplate. By the end of the nineteenth century larger sheet works were being built in Australia and this trend intensified in the early twentieth century after the first steel works in the country opened in 1900.

'I am sorry that I cannot be at all definite as to what field that your ancestor worked in, or provide similar examples of Welsh tinplate workers emigrating to Australia around the time that he lived in the country. Those Welsh iron steel and tinplate workers who did emigrate to Australia around that time may have been general emigrants, though a proportion are likely to have found work in Australia’s early iron industry. I am not aware of detailed research having been published on this section of Welsh emigrants to Australia in this period, I’m afraid. I hope that this information is useful to you and wish you well in your family history research.'

Hilary M Kyriazis
30 September 2018, 14:23
Even before the McKinley tariffs, welsh tinplate workers had emigrated. My great-grandfather, Benjamin Davies, tinplate shearer, born in Morriston in 1848, emigrated to Australia, arriving on 15 January 1878 on the ss Peterborough. He worked subsequently in Melbourne until 1892, when he returned to Wales, and then lived with his family in Gorseinon.
I wonder if this was part of a general movement of workers in the industry, or if it was an individual decision. As he moved with his wife and daughters, he was presumably certain he wold find work.
Do you have any similar cases?
Thanks,
Hilary Kyriazis

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