I hope you are all well this Australia Day. I wish to acknowledge the indigenous past and present and their roles in developing and preserving our wonderful nation. Their tragedies haunt many. Yet, the following is a brief account of my ancestral history. My great great grandparents, on my father’s side, arrived in Australia around 1850 from England and Ireland.
Therefore, I am fourth/fifth generation Australian and have written a fine (draft) family history, based on interviews, stories and unpublished writing by Uncle Denis and our revered family historian. The Colonial Government sought quality working class women to populate Australia, and thus attracted vast numbers of free settlers, whom intermarried and often produced large families. Many Australians know little of these steadfast people who arrived on our shores after fleeing the terrible consequences of Potato Blight in the UK and Europe where up to one million died. My ancestors, free settlers, worked for the Henty family. Our history describes the way my great great grandmother fled starvation during the potato famine in Ireland.
Our ancestral stories capture the charm of a bygone era. In the early years after emigration, my great great grandparents met and lived at a Portland whaling station where oil was manufactured. Catherine is said to have cared for the Henty children, while Charles cooked aboard their merchant vessel or whaling ship, after emigrating from Bristol or Weymouth, England.
In 1853 they set off on a journey from Portland to the Castlemaine Goldfields, with two other families, lured by the prospect of gold. Three bullockies drove their bullocks with the cart filled with possessions and the families walked ten miles a day until they reached Castlemaine. According to one historian, ten mile towns had sprung up at regular intervals where travelers found food and accommodation. Inns and stables serviced British troops, but bushrangers posed serious threats.
Conditions in the goldfields were extreme, ‘freezing in winter’ and ‘sweltering in summer.’ Great Great Grandfather suffered severely from consumption, but sold ice creams and confectionary to goldfield children. He made just enough for his family to survive. The family moved to Richmond. Charles worked at the Excelsior Hotel as a cook, but died, aged 51 in 1871, when the age expectancy in Europe was 30-40. Catherine survived until 1906 and maintained control of her own life. She is said to have read romance novels for entertainment.
Like many waves of migration, those who arrived 1850s onward also often fled major poverty, war and starvation, but in this instance, were not convicts. By sharing our family histories, we may shatter prejudices, for it’s all too easy to assume common experience and adopt inverse racism against early settlers and their descendants. I am proud of our Australian heritage, and value my ancestors’ contributions to our developing nation. Long live a harmonious and united Australia! Feel free to comment and share your historic journeys on my website.