For many of the first years I spent in England people I met, many of whom I would have expected to be better informed, were under the impression that all Australians were descended from the convicts who were transported there from England. It was not then understood that in fact many more of the first settlers in Australia went the as voluntary immigrants. However today, with so many people travelling to Australia, this belief does not seem to still be the general understanding. When I was a child in Australia it would have been shameful to have found out that this was your heritage and if it was known to be so then it was kept hidden. Nowadays, I understand that it is a source of pride and to be descended from "First Fleeters" is indeed something to be proud of. It is a distinction to which I cannot aspire however, for my ancestors all emigrated to Victoria, Australia as free settlers. Victoria was never a penal settlement.
The question always arises of why did they go to Australia. Was it that they were attracted to a new life or were they escaping from what they already had? Were there carrots of encouragement or sticks of enforcement?
They all went to Australia between 1842 and 1855 so perhaps it is best to look first at the conditions were in the places they were emigrating from.
English towns and cities
Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was the US Consul of Liverpool at its greatest time of emigration from England, wrote:-
England was overcrowded; too many people and not enough work. The authorities in local districts began to encourage emigration both to America, Canada and to Australia. Advertisements were put on bill boards and in newspapers extolling the virtues of life in Australia and comparing the wonders of life there to the miseries of life in England. Local authorities saw emigration as an answer to problems of their poor and inducements were offered for people to go.
This certainly paints a dreadful picture of the lives of poor people in the industrial cities at that time and encouragement to emigrate to the "land of plenty" was seen as an answer. Many local authorities, both in cities and in rural villages, paid for the poor in their areas to emigrate. Also the new settlers in Australia were crying out for workers of all kinds. Commissioners were set up by Australian authorities to select people considered as suitable to be immigrants to Australia under the "Assisted Passage" scheme. If selected they supplied to immigrants, free of charge, provisions for the journey out, medical attendance and cooking utensils. These were distributed at the depots where people were assembled before embarking on the ships and on board the ships themselves. There were also mattresses, bolsters, blankets, spoons, metal plates and drinking mugs. These articles were given to the immigrants on arrival at their final destination if they had behaved well on the voyage. For people who had seldom been given anything in their lives this must have seemed amazing.
From this information it can easily be seen that for the poor and destitute an answer to their problems could well have been to accept this lure and emigrate to Australia. However this does not seem to have applied to my ancestors as only one family went to Australia under the Assisted Passage scheme.
England - Agriculture
When Thomas and Eliza lived there agriculture was in the doldrums and this affected all members of the village in a rural community dependant on agriculture. If the farmers did not prosper then their workers were either made redundant or had a severe drop in wages. The farmers did not build new buildings, or buy new things and the workers had no money for extras either. Other trades in a village floundered. Thomas Waldock had completed a 7 year apprenticeship in 1848, had married and had two children. Under the economic conditions of the times he probably could not get sufficient orders for new clothes to give him enough money to feed and clothe his children. The inducement to emigrate was probably presented to him, but what a difficult decision it must have been to make! We today have to make no comparable decision. If we decided to go to the other ends of the earth we could make the journey in hours, not months and we would have full information of the place and conditions of living of where we were going. We could easily keep in touch with friends and relations by phone if we wish. Most important of all - we could come back again if we didn't like it. None of these options were available to our ancestors - they were embarking on a long, dangerous journey to an unknown land and an unknown way of life with very little hope of a return journey to all they were familiar with. They were leaving behind friends and relations with the very strong likelihood that they would never see them again and only a very poor chance of keeping in touch by letter. The need to go must have been very strong indeed. One can imagine the long discussions between Thomas and Mary Ann of their options - to take a chance of possible prosperity in a strange land or stay in familiar surroundings to a future of fairly certain poverty. With the Assisted Passage scheme Thomas had to have a job promised at the end of the journey. He went as a labourer and he never returned to being a tailor. It is sad to relate but he never achieved real prosperity either although I guess that even with what he did have in Australia he was at least able to feed and clothe his children.
There does seem to have been a certain amount of stigma attached to accepting an Assisted Passage so if potential emigrants could possibly rake up the fare themselves then they did so. My Stevens, Newman, Govan and Raymond ancestors all paid their own fares so obviously they were not in such poor financial circumstances as the Waldocks - so why did they emigrate?
The shipping companies were advertising many different types of accommodation for passengers to go to Australia. There were advertisements for different types of people: single women, younger sons in well off families, respectable families with good trades or professions. I expect some of them were painting the voyages as an exciting adventure or at least as having a prospect of future wealth and advancement.
Prussia and the TOPPERWIEN family
There was also polical unrest in Prussia at this time.
Ireland and the FOX family
In 1845 - 1852 there was a series of failures of the potato crop - the main diet of the poor. This caused severe famine with starvation and death to many people. Thousand emigrated to America and Australia at this time. Rachel and James Fox emigrated to South Australia in 1854.
The GOVANS in Scotland
The Raymonds from London
The lure of Gold