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Presenting some of LIFE's ODDITIES and plenty of RANDOM JOTTINGS


Monday, 23 May 2011

Emigrating to Australia in the 1890's (A letter to his Mother)

Dear Mother An emigrant writes to his Mother

                                                 Bald Rock
                                           October 16th 1890

Dear Mother,
I trust these few lines will meet yourself, brothers and sisters in the enjoyment of the very best of health.

Dear Mother, as far as myself is concerned I am enjoying very good health, the last time I weighed on the scales I was twelve stone two pounds, I like this country very much.

Dear Mother, I am working with a farmer Mr Newton by name, he is an English man.  I am working about 4 miles from Mrs Ferris place and about sixty miles from a town called Sandhurst.

Dear Mother, Friends are all very well until you know them but in this country A Man’s pocket is his best friend.  Mrs Ferris told me that Tom was in New Zealand and now she tells me that he is in Africa, but I do not believe her, it appears to me that she do not want me to know where he is, she told me one thing one time and then told me another thing so I can not think she is telling me truth.

Dear Mother, the farms in this part of the country is very large, the houses are from one to two miles apart and there is not much fear of a person hurting himself coming down stairs as the houses are all but one storey high. The houses about here are all made of weather boards with iron roof and brick chimneys but in the towns they are different as there are some very good buildings as good as any buildings in the towns in England.
The farmer I am with had a brick chimney built the other day and he had to pay the brick layers three pounds for building it with regard to this place in the summer it is as hot as Albert said it was before breakfast so I leave you to guess what it was before dinner.

Dear Mother, this is a very good country for the working man this is the place to take the wrinkles out of a man’s belly, the food is very good, meat three times a day, there is as good sheep and bullocks out here as there is in England.

It will be a good place for you Mother to come when you retire and if you should think one place too hot you could go to another where you would find it cold enough, climate varies very much out here. The farmer kills all his own sheep up here, the butcher’s shop is just a pair of blocks and a tree to pull them up. When they kill a bullock one farmer takes one half and one the other. The harvest commences up here about the middle of November, there is plenty of game out here, the hares are nearly as bad as the rabbits, they shoot them and let them lay there as they would not take trouble to pick them up.

Dear Mother,  If I can I will send you a Possum’s skin rug soon that will make up for the one I lost, you will have to look out that it don’t get lost as the other one did as I will try to send you a good one.

Dear Sisters, I will send you them feathers as soon as I can save money enough to do so. I am expecting to knock out two pounds per week and my tucker at the harvest.
I would like to know how Charlie is getting on with his goats tell Percy I will send him some seeds I will try and send them by next Spring.

I hope Albert is getting on well at school for if a chap is a scholar he can make his way in the world, I hope Arthur is getting on better than I was for you but if I was home now I think I would have more sense as knocking about earns a man since a man gets six and seven pence per hour and tucker, I think I will try it at harvest, they work 14 hours a day, how would they like that in England?  Men can shear 160 sheep a day in this country.

Dear Mother, we were seven weeks coming out, we were seventeen days from the time we see one vessel or ship until we see another, nothing in between but sky and water. The jolly old ship rolled about fearfully nearly throwing us out of our bunks and the seas rolling mountains high when she would roll over one swell you would not think she would even come up again. She was shipping seas dreadful, I thought one night that I should never see Australia, we had a German doctor on board and he could speak not one word of the English language we had to get an interpreter, another German to explain to the doctor when we wanted anything from him and he was nearly as bad as the doctor at English.  She was fitted with electric lights but we only had it the first night leaving Antwerp and the night we got to Adelaide it was shut off all the other time we were on the voyage.

(disjointed afterthoughts)
(I have started to learn shearing and the boss said it was very good he said he could not do it half as well when he started)

When we were coming out we sighted the coast of India also the coast of Africa but she did not call at any of these places,the Mediterranean was nearly as rough as the Bay of Biscay in fact we had a rough voyage altogether, the sea was rough and the food rougher I broke some of my teeth trying to eat the hard biscuits. I have heard you say you would like to see a rough sea Mother, but if you were on board that vessel you would see it rough enough and no back door to get away from it.
So now Dear Mother I will conclude for this time with fondest love to you my Dear Mother, also my best love to my Brothers and Sisters.
From your loving Son
                                      Henry E Stewart.

Address your next letter in care of Robert Newton
                                     BALD ROCK  P.O

The above is exactly as the original letter was penned, though I did add the odd comma some places, also some spelling corrections, the facts are as portrayed. Typical of an English emigrants experiences in the 1890’s it seems. Note specially the promise to send fur, feathers and seeds, try that today!

Penned by my Great Uncle Henry to his Mother,  Fanny Stewart in England . Fanny died at 80 years of age in 1918, Henry survived until 68 when he died in 1932 he was a prosperous land owner. He had four sisters and five brothers, a goodly size family for  that period, all survived well into 60’s except for Ernest who suffered infant mortality and died at 1 year.

Letter No 2

                                                                               Bald Rock
                                    November 24th 1890

Dear Mother,

I trust these few lines will meet yourself and my Brothers and Sisters in the enjoyment of the best of health.

As far as I am concerned I am in good health and getting on alright so far and intend to get on in the World if I can, believe me it will be no fault of mine if I don’t as I have a little more sense now than I had when I was in England. There is nothing to make a mans sense like knocking about.

Dear Mother, I am sending by same post as this letter, four feathers for my Sister’s hats, three white ones and one salmon coloured, I would have sent you one but there were no more in the store where I got them.

Dear Mother, I had a letter from Albert Owens about three weeks ago, he is still in the same place but he says he will go back to Sydney, when I saw him he did not look so well as he did when he was in England.

I forgot to tell you in my last letter that I saw Mr Knight’s brother in Adelaide when I landed, he is in a grocery shop working. I mean Mr Knight’s brother of the Railway Inn.

With regard to Tom Bennett  I was in the next township to where I am working last week and there is a man living there that knows Tom well and he told me that he was pretty well sure that Tom is in Sandhurst, he says that he was there a very short time ago and he thinks he is there yet.

Dear Mother, I wish to inform you that there is a plague of grasshoppers in this part of the colony at the present time, they are eating all the grass and everything in the gardens, they eat the leaves off the fruit trees and grape vines, they are a great pest they have wings out here and fly about.

The harvest is just starting out here, my employer has some of his oats cut, you will think it strange when I tell you that the farmers out here cut both wheat and oats for hay, there is no grass cut here for hay same as at home.

Dear Mother, I would like to know if any of my Brothers and Sisters are thinking of getting married yet, my word if some of my Sisters were out here with their good looks they would soon get husbands with plenty of money.

I am thinking of getting married myself very soon as I think I would be better married as there are some good chances before my eyes if I like to take them, there is some ladies I can get with plenty of money and land, so I think I will take one of them soon.

Dear Mother, I would advise you to give my Brothers a good trade of some sort as it do not matter what part of the World a man goes to he can get on well, tradesmen out here are dressed like gentlemen at home, so give my Brothers a trade it will be for their good.

My Dear Mother, I wish that I had sense enough when I was home to have learned a trade it is now that I would find the benefit of it.

Dear Mother, the young woman milk the cows in this part there was two young women in the yard helping me to milk last night. I have had three different employers since I came out here but this is the best man of the three.

My Dear Mother, give my best love to my Brothers and Sisters. Arthur, Percy, Charley and Albert. My Sisters Laura, Isabel,. Amy, Bertha tell them both you my Dear Mother and Brothers and Sisters are always in my thoughts, you are my last thoughts at night and my first thoughts in the morning.

Tell Bertha that I will send her a flower in my next letter or I will send some with the feathers now.

Dear Mother, I will send you that Possum skin as soon as ever I can I have not forgotten it.

I will conclude for this time Dear Mother with fond love to you Dear Mother, Brothers and Sisters trusting that this will meet you all in the enjoyment of the best of health.

                                  Henry E Stewart
Address as before care of Mr Robert Newton
                                  Bald Rock P.O

Sadly there are no more letters in the archive, we were lucky that these two got preserved due to the good organisation of one of my Great Aunts and her offspring. There is also scant record of the ship that carried my great Uncle to Adelaide from Southampton, via Antwerp, although there are passenger lists of many ships from 1820 up to about 1886, records from that year on and up to early 20th century seen to be missing, research reveals that during the wars in that period there were fewer actual voyages made, I always assumed that there were more pressing things to do in life, like signing up for war. Certainly many shipping records of voyages from Germany were destroyed in the 1914-1918 period.

These dated letters give little hint that the 1890's saw the begining of one of the worse depressions in Australia's history. 1890 saw the maritime strike (another reason why the shipping records of that period are sparse). This was followed by the strike of the sheep shearers in 1891 and the beginings of the problems in the banking industry that resulted in the collapse of a number of the smaller banks. 1892 lead into the Broken hill strike and later into the collapse of many companies, specially in the Victoria area. 1893 the depression spread internationally, triggering the Federal Bank collapses. By 1894 and with new regulations and law reforms, the worse of the crisis was over. So began the process of recovery.  Not the best of times for an unskilled emigrant trying to find his way in the "country of opportunity" . 

I have managed to find entries for one Henry Erwin Stewart in the early 20th century electoral roles for Victoria and I have a record of his death recorded for 1932, one year after the last recorded electoral roll..

If anyone comes across these entries, recognises any family names, has any information that might be relevant I would like to hear from them, please post a comment here.