Welcome to Exodus! – an online exhibition of articles and activities exploring the Chrishall villagers who left the village for Australia in the mid to late 1800s. CAG (Chrishall Archive Group) are very grateful to ALL the people who have contributed to these articles from both sides of the planet! There is an awful lot of information here which I have done my best to pull together. Whilst many checks have been made, please do not use these articles as main source information if you are family tree searching, but think of them as a guide to lead you on to the original documents. And of course if you find any inaccuracies or can add further information or photographs CAG would be pleased to hear from you.
I hope you enjoy Exodus!
(The following article was first written for village magazine by Richard Keeling for Chrishall Archive Group)
In the mid 19th century a number of families upped sticks and left Chrishall for Australia, among them the Canes, the Reads, the Pitches, the Buttons and the Corbys. You might wonder what would cause them to leave such a pleasant village for a big step into the unknown, especially as the voyage was long and arduous.
Why did they leave?
The basic cause was poverty. At that time most villagers worked on the land and life had become increasingly hard.
Developments in agriculture were making large farms economic and rendering traditional farming methods obsolete. For centuries families had practised subsistence farming whereby they grew produce for their own needs from one or more strips of land allocated to them by the lord of the manor. In the first half of the nineteenth century, enclosure acts were passed throughout the country which enabled landowners to evict their tenants and take control of the land.
No doubt some of the dispossessed managed to find low paid work as agricultural labourers on the new farms, but for others equally low paid employment in a town or city was a likely and quite probably unwelcome fate, with the industrial revolution now getting into full swing. The New Poor Law of 1834 stipulated that any able bodied person who was unable to provide for him or herself could receive assistance only from an institution such as a Workhouse. These were often little better than prisons and were designed to discourage people from claiming relief.
Life was hard for many in the mid 19th century then, and poverty was widespread, but Australia had been wooing the British for some years and the prospect of a new and perhaps prosperous life on the other side of the world was for many an attractive proposition. News of the Australian gold rush would undoubtedly have reached these shores and provided an added incentive for some to try their luck Down Under.
The search for gold
The story of the Tinworths of Elmdon is a real rags-to-riches tale. Charles and Elizabeth Tinworth from Ickleton Road arrived in Geelong, Victoria in 1854 and soon found their way to the goldfields of Ballarat where they eventually made their fortune. Interestingly one of Charles’s brothers decided not to join them and instead put down roots in Chrishall, at Jasmine Cottage in the High Street. You can read more about the Tinworths at here.
From the late 18th century transportation to Australia had been a regular punishment, sometimes for quite minor crimes. As the 19th century got under way, the Australian government realised that it was not in the country’s best interest for a high proportion of the population to have criminal backgrounds. Accordingly, they started offering financial assistance to encourage emigration from the UK.
The voyage was long and hazardous … during the nineteenth century at least 26 ships were lost
The voyage was long and hazardous however and during the nineteenth century at least 26 ships were lost during the sea crossing. The journey generally took four to five months in the years before steam power was introduced from around 1870. The psychological and physical impact of such a long journey on the emigrants was considerable, particularly as many country people had barely ventured beyond their own rural district, let alone contemplated a lengthy sea passage.
The accommodation on board was generally cramped, with limited privacy. Men were often able to have saltwater showers on the upper deck, but many women did not bathe during the whole journey. Those cramped unhygienic quarters encouraged the spread of infection, with the result that sickness and mortality rates on board the ships were high. It was a while before conditions improved later in the nineteenth century.
The 1851 census shows James and Betsey Button living in Broad Green, Chrishall, with James working as an agricultural labourer. They were around 40 years of age when they set sail for Australia on the ‘Talbot’ in 1857, taking with them their eight children aged between 1 and 18. Just imagine!
New arrivals in Australia must have found the experience nerve wracking, at least to begin with. They had to find somewhere to live and look for employment and needed to be on their guard against thieves and confidence tricksters. Emigrants from a village or district therefore tended to stick together for mutual support, at least until they had established themselves.
Caroline Chisholm, the immigrants’ friend
‘Assisted passage’, which is how a lot of the Chrishall travellers managed to get to Australia, was the scheme where the Australian government would pay their fares for travel. Assisted passage would get you to Australia and provide food and lodging on board. But what happened when you got to Australia? Adverts in the UK are often seen encouraging tradesmen – carpenters, stone masons etc. – to make the voyage, and if you had a trade you might be able to find work. But you would need some savings for when you first arrived and inevitably there are stories of people being swindled out of their money and having to sell possessions to make ends meet. The story of Caroline Chisholm is well worth a read. Born in Northampton she went out to Australia and not only set up board and lodging for immigrants but also found work for them. You can read her biography here. While I have found no direct connection between Caroline and the Chrishall travellers, it seems very likely that someone came across her and was able to benefit from her help.
Further reading (external websites):
None of the following contain any information about Chrishall travellers specifically but they give more background information:
- Why did they leave? Further Reading: “Emigration: why leave England?“
- There are some wonderful descriptions of what it was like on the ships to be found on The Ships’ List website here.
- 1850s-1870s – A long and dangerous journey – an article from the Australian Immigration Museum with diary extracts from travellers.
- As well as ‘assisted passage’ there was also the Wakefield scheme which it is thought the Kemps used. You can read their story and find out more about the scheme here.
These sites do contain some Chrishall links:
- OZIGEN – Robert Mote’s family tree
- AUSIGEN – family trees for the Mote, Aspland and McInnes families in Australia
Further links within this site:
All the Exodus articles:
- Exodus! An introduction
- The Exodus Timeline
- Interactive Map
- The Button family
- The Cane family
- James and Sarah Kemp
- Tinworths - on the trail of gold
- Mary Ann Wright, Primitive Methodist
- The Woods family and Eliza Griggs
- The Warren and Eliza Griggs
- The Corby family
- Joseph and Mary Pitches
- George and Ellen Pitches
- Pig stealing, missing brothers and other random facts
- The Ships
- Exodus! - children's activities