There is no doubt the RCM has a fine collection of minerals and artefacts along with various sections about tin mining, but a visitor was heard to remark, ‘the museum has it all – apart from the Cornish’.
While that may be a slight exaggeration, it’s not straying too far from the truth and promotes accusations of negativity towards Cornish people by a museum which, after all, is supposedly a Cornish museum that should represent the Cornish people.
Upon entering the ground floor, there are glass display cabinets that start with collections of early Britain and house the collections of that time. These cabinets that continue around the perimeter of the hall have timelines (thematic labels) across the top that have references and dates of a particular era.
Walking around the hall in a clockwise direction, visitors reading the timelines will note there is no mention of the Cornish until 1834. Although there is a reference to Richard Trevithick in 1804, there’s no explanation that the inventor was a Cornishman. The English are included, but are placed in a period of time before the Cornish, which does not consider the contextural timeline, and gives the viewer a false impression of an earlier English presence. Also noticed by a Cornish couple was the exclusion of the Cornish uprising against the imposition of an English Language Prayer Book; the book that ensured the demise of the Cornish language.
Rather than subsuming the Cornish under a ‘British’ identity, the RCM should be at the forefront of Cornish culture and consult widely with that aim. The Cornish (eventually recognised as a minority group, included within the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities) should have their progression reflected within the timelines/thematic labels that will serve to inform of their continuity, in context, throughout British history, rather than making a sudden appearance during 17th century.
The book ‘Cornwall – A History’ by Professor Philip Payton, has late Roman, and putatively in early Roman times, that the lands west of the Tamar were those of the Cornovii – the early Cornish. Yet the label ‘Romano-British Period’ gives visitors no information about the early Cornovii/Cornish presence, giving the unsuspecting reader the idea that a Roman Britain somehow gives way to an Anglo-Saxon England. Exclusion of the Cornish gives the museum a lack of credibility – not least in the minds of Cornish people. The museum seems to be affording more credibility to Winston Graham’s fictitious “Poldark” character that had a section on the first floor.
The RCM is a charitable institution and is in receipt of grant funding that includes Cornwall Council. The Council also understands the Cornish are a minority group and continues to support the Cornish Language and the Cornish indigenous culture. It is hoped that Kavita Winn, the marketing manager, will have Cornish identity as the main focus of the museum.
It must be realised that without the Cornish, there wouldn’t be a Cornwall.