Sunday, 15 August 2010

Dancing with shadows

ABOVE: From Devon, England to South Australia. A journey begins with the first step.

Tracing ancestors is like dancing with shadows. We have names, dates and sometimes a blurred photograph but the images are ephemeral and we know little or nothing about their lives or the times in which they lived.

Fleshing out the ‘skeleton’ of knowledge is vital if these names are to be reflected back from the mirror of history as real people. Elizabeth Mashford (Lewis) Atkins was born in Devon in the early part of the 19th Century. That is the only absolute fact we have so far. While it is not possible to know what her particular life was like, it is possible to know what life was like around her. She was born at an historical epoch in Britain in particular and in the world in general.

When Elizabeth took her first breath the First Industrial Revolution, which began in England and spread throughout the world, was into its fourth decade and life was changing in ways that her parents and grandparents would never have thought possible. And, by the time of her death, the Second Industrial Revolution would have wrought even greater changes upon the world and she would have lived most of her life in a strange new country; far, far away from the green sweep of Devon fields.

 LEFT: The industrial revolution would  change much of rural England forever. 

The Industrial Revolution which began in the late 18th century and continued throughout the 19th century brought major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining and transport and in turn profoundly affected the way of life for everyone; particularly the poor. It marked a seminal point in human history which would ultimately impact every aspect of daily life.

It started with mechanisation; replacing manual labour and draft animals with machines. The development of iron-making techniques followed as did the use of coal; transport was improved and steam power revolutionised production capacities. The rural was becoming industrial in many parts of England’s ‘green and pleasant fields.’

But not so much in rural Devon - where Elizabeth probably grew up living life in much the same way that her parents, grand-parents and even great-grandparents had done. She would have had a place in the social structure and the world around her would have continued to remind her of that place. How different life would be in Australia where social structures certainly existed, but in far less rigid form than England and where she could believe, or hope, that her children would move up in the world in a way which would have been impossible in England.

The poor in England were classified along with gypsies and the Irish as ‘inferior.’ The attitudes of the day ascribed certain qualities to these groups: they were seen as childlike; simple; more superstitious than religious; inclined to crime with no respect for private property; dirty in their habits; excessively sexual and with particular physical qualities.

I am not sure what the particular physical qualities were which the poor shared with the Romany and the Irish but phrenology ... a study of the shape of the head ... was popular in Victorian times and young Elizabeth may well have had her head studied more than once.

LEFT: The poor were believed to have certain 'negative' qualities in 18th and 19th century England.

Being poor for most people was a life sentence. Perhaps those who were sentenced to life imprisonment in the colonies were more fortunate than they may have imagined. A far less rigid class system, plenty of sunshine and the opportunity to move up the social ladder because the new colonies needed all skills and any skills, no matter the source, brought unheard of opportunities for the so-called ‘dregs’ of English prisons and ‘gutters.’

If the convicts who were sent to Australia did not find freedom in their lifetime – although many, if not most did – then their descendants certainly would. There is no doubt that life in Australia was hard in the late 18th century but by the early 19th century conditions had improved dramatically and by the time the Mashfords arrived at Port Adelaide in 1847, conditions would probably have been better than those they left behind.

England’s class system had been entrenched for centuries and by the time Elizabeth was growing up labels such as ‘middle class’ and ‘working class’ and ‘the poor’ were in common use. The aristocracy, the so-called ‘gentry’ had been around for more than a thousand years but the concept of a middle class was relatively new. This class would provide the great momentum for reform, however, it would be many decades before the working class and the poor were able to claim their rights.

ABOVE: Being transported to Australia turned out to be a ticket to a better life for many of the convicts and most of their descendants.

Whether she knew it or not, and probably she did, when Elizabeth was growing up she was part of an ‘under class’ which many referred to as the ‘sunken people’; those who lived in poverty. Living in poverty as she did, the middle class was a class to which Elizabeth Mashford (Lewis) Atkins could never aspire; no matter how much she may have dreamt of her supposedly noble father. This was a class however, into which many of her descendants would be born. One can only wonder if this would have been the case if she had not decided to emigrate to Australia in her twenties.

One outcome which was a certainty, once she made her decision, was the fact that she would be granted the right to vote far earlier than any relatives she left behind in Devon. South Australia would grant universal suffrage in the 1890’s while England would not do so until 1918 ... some one hundred years after English citizens began the fight for their right to vote.

But in many respects, life in the new colony on the other side of the world, would echo life in the country of her birth. In a 19th century family the father was head of the family. His wife and children respected him and obeyed him ... or were meant to. Until 1882 all a woman's property, even the money she earned, belonged to her husband. Divorce was made legal in 1857 but it was very rare and would remain so really, and continue to be regarded as shameful, until the middle of the 20th century.

In 19th century Britain women were expected to marry and have children. However, there was in fact a shortage of available men. Census figures for the period reveal there were far more women than men. There were three main reasons why women outnumbered men. The mortality rate for boys was far higher than for girls; a large number of males served in the armed forces abroad and men were more likely to emigrate than women. By 1861 there were 10,380,285 women living in England and Wales but only 9,825,246 men.

British laws were much like laws of the period anywhere. A woman was in essence a possession and she was expected to marry. Her father would then hand responsibility for her care to her husband. Such situations are still the norm in most of the undeveloped world. Before the passing of the 1882 Married Property Act, when a woman got married her wealth was passed to her husband. If a woman worked after marriage, her earnings also belonged to her husband. This was either less of a problem or more of a problem for a poor woman and unlikely to have been much of an issue for Elizabeth’s mother.

Once married, it was extremely difficult for a woman to obtain a divorce. The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 gave men the right to divorce their wives on the grounds of adultery. However, married women were not able to obtain a divorce if they discovered that their husbands had been unfaithful. Double standards were the state of play. Once divorced, the children became the man's property and the mother could be prevented from seeing her children.

For the poor, such concepts were probably irrelevant. It is likely however, that Elizabeth’s mother, despite having an illegitimate child, did marry. For a woman in the early 1800’s life was even more of a struggle without a husband. Whether or not she did marry, it is clear that for Elizabeth Mashford (Lewis) Atkins to survive to adulthood, there must have been family support.

Life for Elizabeth and her family may not have been quite so ‘brutal and short’ as Hobbes coined it in the 16th century, but it was hard. Few of the poor had ovens and had to rely on an open-fire pan or buy hot food from outside which was costly. Cold meals were common even if meals were uncommon at times. Even at the beginning of the 20th century social workers looking to teach the poor to cook healthy meals would find there was one pot in the house and it was multi-functional; bathing the baby or used as a toilet.

Even in 1904 the poor made do with primitive or non-existent cooking facilities. They also faced problems finding cheap fuel and combined with ignorance and adulterated foods ... common throughout the 19th century ...people were undernourished, anaemic, weak and suffering from rickets. There is little reason to expect the Mashfords, living in rural Devon, to have experienced anything different.

‘. . . Esther Copley's Cottage Cookery (1849) suggests the poverty of the rural diet, for her recipes were for potato pie, stirabout, stewed ox-cheek, and mutton chitterlings. In Wiltshire, admittedly one of the poorer counties, the Poor Law Commission found that the standard fare consisted of bread, butter, potatoes, beer, and tea, with some bacon for those earning higher wages. . . .If the rural poor ate birds then the urban poor ate pairings of tripe, slink (prematurely born calves), or broxy (diseased sheep). Edgar Wallace recollects working-class families along the Old Kent Road shopping for 'tainted' pieces of meat and 'those odds and ends of meat, the by-products of the butchering business.' Sheep's heads at 3d each and American bacon at between 4d and 6d a pound (half the price of the native product) were too expensive for the irregularly-employed casual labourer to have frequently. In Macclesfield 23 per cent of the silk workers and in Coventry 17 per cent of the labourers had never tasted meat. Stocking weavers, shoe makers, needle women and silk weavers ate less than one pound of meat a week and less than eight ounces of fats. . . .’

By the time the diet of the poor and working classes improved, Elizabeth would be living in Australia where at least it was possible to kill one’s own meat. The early settlers grew their own vegetables, planted fruit trees and vines where they could and killed rabbits, kangaroos, possums and native birds. It was probably the most meat Elizabeth and her family had ever eaten in their lives.

Ironically, at a time when people believed in the importance of the health of the physical body, British society produced some of the most adulterated foods in history.

A cartoon published August 4, 1855 shows a young girl leaning over the counter and talking with a store clerk. The girl says to the clerk:

 "if you please, Sir, Mother says, will you let her have a quarter of a pound of your best tea to kill the rats with, and an ounce of chocolate as would get rid of the black beadles."

It was no joke. Toxic substances were commonly used as additives. ‘The list of poisonous additives reads like the stock list of some mad chemist: strychnine, cocculus inculus (both are hallucinogens) and copperas(ferrous sulphate) in rum and beer; sulphate of copper in pickles, bottled fruit, wine, and preserves; lead chromate in mustard and snuff; sulphate of iron in tea and beer; ferric ferrocynanide, lime sulphate, and turmeric in Chinese tea; copper carbonate, lead sulphate, bisulphate of mercury, and Venetian lead in sugar confectionery and chocolate; lead in wine and cider; all were extensively used and were accumulative in effect, resulting, over a long period, in chronic gastritis, and, indeed, often fatal food poisoning.’ (Adulteration and Contamination of Food in Victorian England.)

Adulteration was a major problem in Victorian England and often resulted in sickness and death. Not only could many foods kill vermin, they could kill humans as well. It was not until 1860, when Elizabeth was safely in Australia, that the first pure-food act was passed. Even then it only targeted the producer and gave people no protection from vendors who sold unsafe foods.

And it was not just additives; as one finds still in the undeveloped world, much of the food consumed by the lower classes at this time was also contaminated by chemicals or fouled with human or animal excrement. By the 1840’s home-baked bread had died out amongst the rural poor and in 1872, Dr. Hassall, a pioneer into the investigation of adulterated food, found that half of the bread he examined had large quantities of Alum. Alum is not poisonous but it does inhibit digestion and thereby lowers the nutritional value of foods.

And as late as 1877 the Local Government Board found that nearly a quarter of the milk examined contained excessive water or chalk and some ten percent of butter had copper in it to heighten colour. As did eight percent of bread and fifty percent of gin. It reminds me of when I lived in Bombay in the 1990’s when a study showed that many chilli powders... a ‘sacred’ product in India... contained up to 50 percent brick dust or dyed flour! Adulterated foods are still a dangerous part of life in the undeveloped world.

But, there were positives in being poor. Some of the things which Elizabeth and her family could not afford to eat were better not eaten at all. One study of ice-cream samples at the time found the following: cocci, bacilli, torulae, cotton fibre, lice, bed bugs, bug’s legs, fleas, human hair, cat and dog hair and straw. Such contaminants caused diphtheria, scarlet fever, enteric fever and diarrhoea. And in 1862 the Privy Council estimated that one-fifth of butcher’s meat in England and Wales came from diseased animals or those which had died of pneumonia or those which suffered from anthacid or anthracoid disease.

Perhaps it was fortunate that between 1801 and 1850 more doctors were trained, over 8,000, more than at any time before. More than seventy special hospitals were also founded between 1800 and 1860, most of them in London or major cities, so there was unlikely to be much available to the Mashfords in rural Devon.

Great advances were being made not only in medical anatomy and physiology but also in pharmacology. Among the drugs developed between 1800 and 1840 were morphine, quinine, atropine, digitalin, codeine, and iodine. Although these were, in the main, remedies for the rich. Britain does however have a rich history of herbal medicine and it was on these that the poor most often relied. Many towns, villages and rural communities would have someone who plied herbal medicines and many families handed down a tradition of making remedies at home. Perhaps this was so with the Mashfords and perhaps it kept them healthier than some of the more radical and often experimental, medical treatments of the period.

There is no doubt that the greatest improvement in health came about through improved sanitation and improved diet. But scientific advances have aided the process of making life healthier for human beings.

The nineteenth century was also a notable period in the identification, classification, and description of diseases. Scarlet fever was clinically distinguished from diphtheria- a disease which would kill two of Elizabeth’s great-granddaughters in Australia; syphilis from gonorrhoea; typhoid from typhus.

Diseases caused by poor sanitation also took their toll, particularly on the very young and the very old. Studies done between 1800 and 1890 showed, ‘that the various forms of epidemic, endemic, and other disease caused, or aggravated, or propagated chiefly amongst the labouring classes by atmospheric impurities produced by decomposing animal and vegetable substances, by damp and filth, and close and overcrowded dwellings prevail amongst the population in every part of the kingdom, whether dwelling in separate houses, in rural villages, in small towns, in the larger towns — as they have been found to prevail in the lowest districts of the metropolis.’ The answer to it was adequate drainage and waste removal; proper ventilation; thorough cleaning and pure water supplies.

It was said that the annual loss of life from poor ventilation and filth was greater than from any war in which the country had engaged. Some 43,000 cases of widowhood and 112,000 cases of destitute orphanages in England and Wales alone at this time resulted from the head of the family dying from such diseases.

LEFT: Living a rural life in Devon did not necessarily protect Elizabeth against disease and death caused by poor sanitation and malnutrition.

At the time the poor had to share toilets and it was not uncommon, particularly on Sunday mornings, for queues to form. Maintaining hygiene must have been impossible.

Not only that, but children who grew up in such circumstances were inferior in physical terms and general health. It is a reminder that not only was Elizabeth Mashford lucky to be born alive, she was lucky to survive long enough to take ship to Australia and lucky enough to give birth to healthy children of her own. Or perhaps she was born stronger and fed better than we imagine.

It would be some time before death rates for infants and children declined. One of the biggest causes of infant mortality was premature birth resulting from poor nutrition. Diets deficient in milk, butter, eggs, green vegetables and fruit, which was similar to the diet of the Victorian working classes and the poor, caused serious anaemia and contracted pelvises. It also caused rickets which resulted in contracted and deformed pelvises and which complicated childbirth.

Women of the lower classes, at this time, were often seriously underweight and small in stature. Great-grandmother Mary Atkins was particularly small in stature although her sister Elizabeth was not and the one photograph we have of Elizabeth Mashford does not show her as particularly small either.

The other major cause of infant mortality was syphillis .... the scourge of the 19th century. But the disease, also known as the Great Pox had been around for centuries. It first appeared in the late 15th century after Christopher Columbus returned from the New World. While the disease could cause terrible suffering, disfigurement and eventual death in adults it could also be present with no manifesting symptoms .... except, as was realised in the 20th century .... dead babies. Babies born to mothers infected with syphilis could be born 'healthy' but die within days, weeks or months. Such deaths would usually come in 'clusters' with mothers giving birth to healthy babies which survived both before and after losing two, three, four, six or more babies.   Babies might live but be blind, deaf and suffering from mental deficiency and bone damage. The disease would weaken at times, no doubt as the body managed to overcome the bacterium, although it would remain present ... and allow the birth of healthy babies.

Perhaps syphilis was the reason why Chrysantheous Christus and his wife Alice Maud lost three children in almost as many years within days and weeks of birth. We know he had gonorrhea from his military records and syphillis would have been just as likely. Syphillis was not brought under control until the development of penicillin in 1929... a few years too late for them.

The common belief these days is that infant mortality has dropped because we have more doctors but the evidence indicates what common sense suggests.... that  the major reasons infant mortality has dropped is because women are better nourished and because sanitation has improved dramatically. Both of these factors not only improve overall health but they give human beings a far greater capacity to resist disease in the first place.

But even with so many deaths the population boomed. It was around nine million in 1801 and had risen to 41 million in 1901.Despite the fact that some 15 million people, including Elizabeth Mashford and her family, emigrated to Australia and North America between 1815 and 1914, to escape poverty.

ABOVE: Life in Australia was the choice for many of England's poor. Port Adelaide as it looked when the Mashford family arrived.

For most of the poor poverty was grinding, cruel and endless. For some the only relief came from a belief in a better world to come and the only time they could ‘relax’ was when they went to church.

Organised religion was much more important in the 19th century, but a survey in 1851 England showed that less than half of the population regularly went to church. The poor were even less likely to go to church or chapel although, given the fact that Elizabeth married twice in an Anglican church, there is a possibility that her family was more devout than most.

There is also the possibility that she worked from an early age. Child labour was common at the time and while she would not have worked 12 hours a day in a factory as many children did, she may well have worked as a servant or on the land at harvest time. And she probably did.

Children as young as five, worked underground in coal mines, in shocking conditions and were also employed as chimney sweepers. I look at Elizabeth’s great-great-great-great-grandson -my grandson, Sam and can only wonder at the barbarism of a society which considered itself to be so civilized and superior to other cultures and races and yet which allowed this. But, for so many life was so hard that there was simply no time, energy, nor knowledge which allowed children to be seen as different or to be treated differently. That however was beginning to change.

The first effective law to curtail child labour was passed in 1833 but it mainly applied to factories. It would have been harder to enforce in rural areas. It said that children aged 9 to 13 must not work for more than 12 hours a day or 48 hours a week. Children aged 13 to 18 must not work for more than 69 hours a week. Furthermore nobody under 18 was allowed to work at night (from 8.30 pm to 5.30 am). Children aged 9 to 13 were to be given 2 hours education a day.

Given the fact that all of Elizabeth’s children appear to have been illiterate it is unlikely that she received any sort of education herself... not even the two hours a day.

In 1842 a law banned children under 10 and all females from working underground. In 1844 a law banned all children under eight from working. Then in 1847 a Factory Act said that women and children could only work 10 hours a day in textile factories.

More is known about the life of the poor during the time Elizabeth Mashford was growing up because for the first time in history studies were done. And this was despite the fact that the Victorians generally took a fairly callous attitude to the poor. They believed, ironically as many Americans still do today, that poverty was self-inflicted. And, just as many Americans still believe, the Victorians believed that everyone should be self reliant and not look to others for help. Victorians would not feel out of place in 21st century America where a very common belief is that if the poor were just thrifty enough and worked hard enough, they could leave their poverty behind. In other words, if you are poor it is your fault you are poor.

Luckily there were many other Victorians who did not share this somewhat prejudiced and unkind view. One can only hope there are enough Americans today who will help to bring about change for the millions of poor and working poor in that country. I digress, but the 19th century view of poverty which is so common in the United States is not only bizarre it is backward. We should be grateful, as I am sure Elizabeth Mashford (Lewis) Atkins and most of her descendants were, that in Australia the belief is that the poor should be assisted and the greater community has responsibility for that assistance.

ABOVE: Ending up in the workhouse or poorhouse was always a threat to the poor.

For Elizabeth Mashford and her family, life was a constant struggle. Clearly it was a fairly successful struggle because, as far as we know, none of them ended up in the workhouse. Although a few of my ancestors on my mother’s paternal side, tragically did. My great-grandfather Alfred Belchamber was sent to the poorhouse at the age of three along with four of his siblings... the youngest aged one... after his father died. I look at the sweetly innocent face of my three-year-old grandson, Thomas, and want only to weep for the trauma which must have engulfed little Alfred and his brothers and sisters. He was taken out by his mother, at the age of seven along with his remaining siblings after the youngest, a boy and an older sister, died.

The workhouses or poorhouses were hated and feared. They were meant to be unpleasant to deter the poor from asking for help... poverty after all, being their fault. Inmates wore uniforms. Husbands and wives were separated and parents separated from their children. The work was hard – breaking stones or pulling apart old rope. Although, by the late 19th century they had become a little more humane because attitudes to poverty had begun to change. However, in Elizabeth’s time the workhouse must have loomed large as a fearsome fate.

We do not know quite how poor she was but her illiteracy is a sign that the family was pretty poor. Did she have shoes? Possibly not. Many poor children went barefoot and it was not until the turn of the 19th century that organisations like the Salvation Army were founded to help clothe and feed poor children and their families.

Such poverty seems horrendous in a nation which rode on the back of an empire which straddled the world and which saw itself as the most civilized of nations. But, like many empires, wealth was held by the few and by the 19th century there was actually less poverty, not more. In the 18th century nearly half of the population lived at subsistence level; by the time Elizabeth was growing up that was down to a quarter. Elizabeth’s parents and grandparents may have seen her life as far more fortunate than theirs. However, it was not that fortunate and they were still members of the percentage of the population which lived in poverty. And there would be plenty more to take their place. Poverty was and always had been a fact of life. That would not begin to change in England or Australia until the 20th Century.

While conditions may have been simple for Elizabeth in Adelaide and primitive in the Wirrabara Forest, they may well have been more pleasant than anything she had experienced as a child. The poor lived in one room cottages in the main and if the building were larger, possibly a 2-3 room house, it would be shared with extended family. The really poor slept on piles of straw because they could not afford beds.

Food would have been cooked on an open fire ... when there was food to be had. One of her jobs may have been to gather wood for the fire from nearby forests; or to hunt for wild mushrooms and fruits in season.

Windows were often repaired with paper if the glass broke.. that is if they had glass in the first place and light would have come from cheap candles or a fire; that is when the family could afford to buy candles or wood for the fire.

Winters would have been freezing cold in Devon and family members would have slept together to keep warm. Sharing a bed, if they had a bed, otherwise sharing the straw, was common amongst the poor until well into the 20th century. In winter it would have saved lives.

Elizabeth would have woken to the smell of cold ash; the feel of icy floors; the chill of winds whining through flimsy walls and unsealed windows and the teeth-chattering prospect of a quick wash after breaking the ice on frozen water.

A South Australian winter, by comparison, must have been considered mild even if she were living in a tent.

She would have gone to bed when it got dark, sometimes with a full stomach but often with an empty one and she would have gotten up when it was light. There were no public holidays in the early 19th century and Sunday was likely to have been the only day of rest... although not necessarily if one worked as a servant or as a labourer during the harvest season.

Holidays, hobbies, entertainment and sport would probably have been unheard of for the Mashfords. Although such things were common for the middle and upper classes.

The steam driven printing press was invented in 1814 so newspapers were common but Elizabeth and probably all of her family were illiterate and could not read even if they had possessed the money to buy newspapers or books... which probably they did not. Newspapers were written in a deliberately sensational style throughout the 19th century, to attract readers with little education. Some things don’t change despite readers being better educated.

Elizabeth would have dressed simply; possibly in clothes handed down from others. Then again, that is something which would not change for many of her descendants until the 20th century. In the early 19th century girls and women wore light dresses. By the 1830’s they had puffed sleeves and by the 1850’s frames of whalebone or steel wire called crinolines. The latter can be seen in the one photograph we have of Elizabeth but it would have been her best dress and probably her only best dress. Underwear only became common for women around 1800. Drawers as they were called. Originally they were two garments... one for each leg tied together at the top. One suspects that the poor could not afford underwear.

Henry Fox Talbot took the first photograph in 1835 when Elizabeth was 16, but I suspect the first photograph taken of her is the one we now have. It may well have been the first and the last. Photographs were expensive and more of a middle class indulgence than something for the working class or the poor.

Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, introduced the Christmas Tree to England but I doubt if one ever appeared in a corner of Elizabeth’s living room either in Devon, or later in South Australia. Although I like to think her children took up the tradition. And I doubt she could ever afford to ride on a horse drawn omnibus which first appeared in London in 1829 and which were soon common in other towns.

Seven years before Elizabeth sailed for Australia the Penny Post was invented. However, since she did not write it would have played no part in her life. However, it would for her grandchildren and future generations, all of whom would learn to read and write.

The world was changing, faster than it had before and Elizabeth’s life was about to change dramatically. Why she chose to emigrate we do not know but it is likely that she and her family, like so many others, did so simply to escape poverty and to create a better life for themselves and their children.

LEFT: The industrial revolution may have changed life forever for the Mashford's but colonisation would change life forever for Australia's Aboriginal people.. and not always for the better.

Although even Elizabeth’s daughter, Mary Atkins Ross, would live in a house with lime-washed hessian walls so, any changes, while no doubt improvements on her childhood life in rural Devon, would be small and slow.

Even with hopes of a better future, life remained perilous. The concept of welfare would not become any sort of reality until the 20th century and even then it would be a slow process. Britain and Australia would both develop some of the most enlightened and comprehensive welfare ‘safety nets’ in the world. But until that time people were dependent upon their immediate and extended families and if they were lucky, their friends and the community in which they lived. Some would have the support of a church as well, but for most, the family was the only ‘safety net’ they would ever have and therefore, vital to survival.

This is why movement either within a country or even across the world was so often linked to family connections. A move from Winkleigh to Coldridge is most likely to have been made for this reason as was the move from Kensington to Wirrabarra Forest. And the Mashfords may well have had family already living in South Australia when they set sail. Perhaps members of the Lewis family for instance, including Peter, who would be Elizabeth’s first husband.

Or perhaps other Mashfords had gone on before them and we have neither names or records to establish their existence. Whoever was waiting on the far side of the world, if anyone, there is no doubt that Elizabeth and her family left the land of their birth for a new life in the colonies not so much because they wanted to, but because they had to.... and because they could.

Somehow they raised the money to pay for their passage or perhaps the family story is true and Elizabeth's father's family provided the funds to ensure that she left Devon and any 'claims' on them behind. Although I suspect it was neither. Demand for labour was high in the new colony of South Australia and female servants of good character were particularly sought after. As were miners, farm servants, agricultural labourers and shepherds. And, the Government was offering free passage, including food, to South Australia to agricultural labourers, shepherds, female domestic and farm servants, dairy maids, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, carpenters, and others with rural skills.  The ships sailed from London and Plymouth; the latter being the port of embarkation for the Mashfords and conditions, to all accounts were more than reasonable. All things being relative however; reasonable for those used to grinding poverty may not be reasonable or even pleasant in the eyes of others. But it was a means to an end.

However they gained passage, the reality is that all of the Mashfords found the motivation to make the move to a strange and unknown land and that in itself suggests they had courage, strength, determination, fortitude and common sense. All qualities which saw them through the voyage itself and into a new life in Australia ... qualities which have been handed down to all of their descendants in greater or lesser measure.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Roslyn, I would like to contact you privately about this blog. Could you please email me at I hope to hear from you.