Saturday, 22 November 2014

Life in the Colonies

Recently my father sent me some geneology research he's been dabbling in for the last few decades. Perhaps the most interesting family document of all is a letter from my great great grandmother in Australia to her sister back in Devon, England. My paternal great great grandmother was born Elizabeth Wickett, on New Years Day 1801 in Cornwall, England. She died near Geelong, Victoria, in the south east of Australia in 1874. The letter is dated 15 May 1854. Here is an extract:
Dear and Loving Sister, I have had a great desire for a long time to hear from you. I thought you would have writen to me, or one of my brothers long ago, but I think you have almost forgotten me or you do not think it worth your while to write to your eldest sister who is now in a distant land from you, but I can assure you I have not forgotten you nor my dear brothers ethor how it would rejoice my heart to see you all once more in time that I might tell you what I have seen and past through since I saw you last and also hear you talk about home and what you have had to pas through I suppose you are all getting on well as touching this worlds goods for we are informed that times are very brisk in England now: But I should still be much more glad to hear from you that you all are walking in the way of heaven for then by the help of God we should soon meet again where we might listen to each other tell how Jesus hath Done all things well. I am happy that Samuel hath chosen the Lord for his portion, happy choice may the Lord keep him in the Slippery path of youth. I have also heard By Mary Luxmore that Sarah Ann hath left Mr Walkey on account of bad health I was very sorry for that, But I do hope By this time she is quite restored and that she and all the family are now enjoying good health. I now hasten to let you know a little about our family and this colony, their is no doubt But you have heard of the Death of Elizth Ann. She was ill only one weekof typhus fever before she left this world, we hope to be forever with the Lord. it was a great treil to me to part with her. Charlotte is married with Mr. Richard Hamm sone of Henery, he is a nice young man and hath bin very Sucksesful at the gold diggings above one thousand pounds worth of gold fell to his share. John is lately married with his uncle Rogers daughter Fanny Ann, the rest of our children are living with us and enjoying tolerable good health. the times are very good in this colony for all sorts of industrious people. wheat is woth one pound per Bushel 60lb. Barley 10/- and strange as it is Oats is 15/- per Bushel 40lb.potatoes 6 pence per pound hay is woth £25 per ton. We shall make this year at least £1500 of hay. labour horses are worth £150 each a pare of Oxen £50 and a good cow £15. Masons and carpenters 30/- per day, labour men from 15/- to £1 per day, Ducks are £1 cupple fowls 10/-, eggs 6 pence each, butter 5/- lb. Money is very plenty I can assure you we have more of it than we should if we had lived in England all our days. John says if we were to give up Bisnes now our incom would be above £700 a year. I hope Dear friends you will not think I name these Bostingly I can assure you I do not it is only to let you know what people can do for themselves and theire familys with the Blessing of heaven on them in this colony.
When Elizabeth left England she was married and living in a farmhouse in north Devon. The farmhouse is now a listed historic building I see, but unfortunately I don't have a photo of it. This is a drawing of it done by my sister [photo courtesy of my father]. It is a Devon longhouse with later additions.
 Neither do I have a picture of the farmhouse where she lived in Australia, and it no longer exists. This is a painting of the homestead commissioned by my uncle just before the building was demolished [photo courtesy of my father].


  1. £1500...
    that was a lot of boodle!!
    By modern equivalent of £140,000 in purchasing terms...
    £1,500,000 if invested from 1854 to 1864.
    but an egg at 6d was expensive at £2!!
    That's a lot to pay for half-a-dozen eggs...
    a very GOOD reason for keeping chooks!
    Butter at £20 a pound... no chance of putting on any excess pounds there then!!
    And a duck at £82 each... a real luxury item... feast days only?
    Unless, again...
    you raised your own!!

    The hoss is pretty close to a modern car at £12,280....
    the oxen look cheap at £4000 for what was the equivalent of a tractor!!

    The cow [I presume a milker!?] at £15 would cost you £1,228 today...
    I don't know how much a modern milker would cost.

    And Labour!!?
    Masons and carpenters 30/- per day is a labour equivalent of over £1,000 today...
    and unskilled labour was half or less of that.
    you'd need to be earning that sort of money to buy food!

  2. What a remarkable document! In my family we've been warned off genealogy research, my cousins and I don't know why. Your ancestor is "bosting" a little, despite her denials!

  3. Tim: the prices are in part a reflection of the gold rush. £700 a year seems to be the magic figure. I seem to remember Jane Austen talking about people with that level of income as being very comfortably off.

    PG: She's sort of boasting, but it's about reassuring those back home too. Simon commented that it is remarkable how similar her letter is to his mother's letters home a hundred odd years later.

  4. It's interesting how much closer in time to "the old country" your family members and ancestors were than mine were. By the 1850s, I'm sure my ancestors had lost all contact with, and even all conscious memory of, the British Isles. I suppose the political split between the North American colonists and the Crown had a lot to do with it. I know of no one in the area where I was born and spent my childhood -- and we were all of British stock, aside from the African Americans among us -- who had any family ties with anybody in England, Wales, Scotland, or Ireland. Not even at the ancestral level. However, we went on living and talking like our ancestors over the sea had done (more or less).

  5. Ken: White settlement in North America is twice as old as in Australia. It makes a lot of difference, that's quite a few generations.

  6. That is such an interesting window back to the past and the cost of things is interesting to compare, but prices were a bit different for the gold rush times.
    I think it must have been so sad for the women to leave family on the other side of the world with very little or no hope of ever seeing them again.

  7. Margaret: Indeed, Elizabeth must have felt it particularly with all her siblings far away. In contrast, her husband's side of the family virtually all emigrated.