Monday, 29 October 2012

Hard Times in Felsham: the life of Robert Kidby 1813-1848

“Hard Times” is Dickens’ powerful description of the grim lives led by factory workers in a Lancashire mill town in the 1840s.  During the same period, life for farm workers in Suffolk could be equally grim and challenging.  Poets may have waxed lyrical about a rural idyll, but in reality, country life was frequently ‘nasty, brutish and short.’  Chronic illness could make you unfit for farm work and force you to become dependent on the 19th century equivalent of social security: charity handouts, parish dole and the dreaded workhouse.


Robert Kidby, a Felsham farm labourer, was dogged by persistent ill-health and weakness all his working life. He died young in 1848 at the age of thirty-five, and was buried in a pauper’s grave in the local churchyard.  During the last few years of his life, he and his family were in receipt of parish relief.  We know this because they appear in the official records of the overseers of the poor.

Robert was born in 1813 in a small cottage at Mudlin End and started work on a farm at the age of twelve.  He had regular work to begin with but eventually he ended up being a day labourer – employed only when work was available.

In 1840, when he was 27 years old, Robert married Esther Snelling in Felsham Church and soon after a son called Reuben was born.  Then, about a year after their marriage, Robert and his small family moved a few miles to the adjoining parish of Cockfield.

In 1845, the family were receiving help from the parish of Cockfield in the form of bread flour and small amounts of cash. Clearly, Robert’s illness prevented him from providing adequately for his family. In the same year, their four-year old son Reuben died.

However, a year later, Esther gave birth to a daughter, whom they named Caroline.  The family were still on the bread-line and receiving parish assistance but the time had now arrived for the family to be legally deported to their “village of settlement” which was Felsham.  Soon after his return to his village of birth, Robert is reported as being treated for his illness in the workhouse at Onehouse while his family is recorded as receiving “out-relief” from the Felsham overseers of the poor. 

After Robert’s death in 1848, Esther and her two-year old daughter Caroline moved to Bradfield St George.  They were recorded in the Census of 1851 but what happened to them after that we do not know.

(Oct 2012)


A detailed description of the life of Robert Kidby can be found in PART THREE of the illustrated booklet:

Available from Felsham Post Office priced £3.50



Friday, 15 June 2012

Where was Felsham’s Baptist Chapel?

During the19th century, non-conformists had a considerable presence in Felsham. Wesleyans, Primitive Methodists, and Congregationalists all had official meeting houses though we know little about the size of their congregations. The exception is to be found among the Baptists. It is recorded in the Religious Census of 1851 that they had a Chapel in Felsham which adjoined a dwelling house, and that on Sunday 30th March (the date when the census was taken), a hundred people attended the evening service.

The Religious Census also records that 248 people attended the evening service in the Parish Church of St Peter’s. The population of Felsham at this time was about 400. If the congregations of the Baptist Chapel and the Parish Church were all drawn from within the village, the figures suggest that over half the population attended the established church and that a quarter of the population were dissenters.

If these figures are accurate it is quite remarkable that the religious practices of such a large proportion of the population in Felsham in the mid-19th century have received so little attention. The reason must be to do with the relative dearth of information.  The parish records are fairly comprehensive in providing information about the Parish Church but are absolutely silent with reference to non-conformist or dissenting places of worship.

The mention of a Felsham Baptist Chapel in the religious census leaves us with a number of questions:
  • Where was this chapel situated in the village?
  • What did the building look like?
  • Who were the 100 people that attended the evening service?
  • When did the chapel fall into disuse?

Some answers are to be provided in the Minute Book of meetings of the Rattlesden Baptist Church. In 1851, both Felsham and Rattlesden shared the same Baptist Minister and it is clear that the Felsham Chapel was a “daughter” chapel to that at Rattlesden. A clue to where the Felsham Chapel was situated is provided in a Minute of a meeting held on 16th July 1850:

‘Mr Gladwell of Felsham having made an offer of a room in his house for occasional preaching on condition of paying him 5/- to have it whitewashed etc. and afterwards an annual collection of about 10/- and to defray the expense of lighting and cleaning. We agreed to accept the offer.”

It is highly probable that this is the same house that was recorded as a Baptist Chapel during the 1851 Religious Census that took place about eight months later.

It is also likely that the Mr Gladwell mentioned was Mr Joseph Gladwell, a master shoemaker, who was living and working in a house on the south side of The Street between the Church and the Rectory. The Minute Book mentions ‘a room’ which would have hardly been large enough to house the 100 people mentioned in the religious census. However, maps show that the house was surrounded by many outbuildings and barns. It is probable that it was one of these buildings which housed the hundred members of the Baptist congregation that attended evening service on that Sunday in 1851.

Joseph Gladwell’s house with its attached ‘Baptist Chapel’ no longer exists. It was demolished sometime between 1851 and 1895 when the 1st edition of the OS map for Felsham shows that the whole area between the Poorhouse [the current PO Stores] and the Rectory gardens had reverted to fields.

In 1897, a new school was built on the site of Joseph Gladwell’s house and is now the Village Hall.

A fully referenced article on the Felsham Baptists, with illustrations and maps, is available online at

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Hodskinson’s map of Suffolk

"Joseph Hodskinson’s map of Suffolk, published in 1783, was one of a large series of English County maps produced in the second half of the 18th century by entrepreneurial surveyors, engravers and cartographic publishers.

Printed usually at a scale of one inch to the mile, these maps were often the first serious attempt to record English topographical detail, using improved surveying techniques and instruments. Many of the maps are historically important in that they were surveyed just before Parliamentary Enclosure irrevocably changed the rural landscape. Hodskinson’s Suffolk map is particularly unusual in that it was awarded a coveted gold medal by what came to be known as the Royal Society of Arts."

In 2010 Andrew Macnair produced a digitally enhanced version of the original map:

Macnair version of Hodskinson’s map of Suffolk: extract centred on Felsham
I have used part of this digitally enhanced map, which covers Felsham and environs, on the cover of my booklet:

Farm labourers and their families in a Suffolk village
 ~ FELSHAM 1830-50 ~

I chose this 1793 map for the booklet cover because it highlights features that would have been very familiar to the farm labourers living in Felsham in the first half of the 19th century. The three farm labourers who get most mention in the booklet - William Osborn, Robert Kidby and Batley Seaman - would have been growing up during the 20s and 30s, and the road patterns, woodland, place names and commons and greens would have been very familiar to them. In many ways the map provides an impression of Felsham and the adjoining villages that was largely medieval in origin. During the life time of these three farm labourers this traditional pattern would have changed radically as the nineteenth century progressed with greater industrialization, accelerated population growth, and improved communications represented in particular by the arrival of the railway in Suffolk in 1846.

However, this is not to say that the map is a perfect representation of the landscape at the end of the 18th century. Although the Hodskinson map was a considerable improvement on previous maps it contains many anomalies and obvious misrepresentations. The reader familiar with Felsham will be struck by the blob of woodland shown on the map just south of the village centre. This is completely inaccurate. In fact, Hodskinson's biggest failure is his inability to show woodland shape very effectively and his seemingly rather casual attitude to positioning woodland is a serious fault in his approach.

The rather indistinct blob that perhaps is meant to represent Felsham wood on the southern boundary of the parish should, in fact be connected to Thorpe Wood, and should be positioned much further south. The First Edition of the OS Map (surveyed between 1820 and 1860) for the area is far more accurate in this respect:

David Dymond has provided an excellent introduction and overview of Hodskinson's map of Suffolk [See] where he discusses the value of the map to the historian. He points out that one of the strengths of the map is the way it shows the "tight, intricate road-pattern of Suffolk" that is typical of the county. He also points out that "many hedged lanes on the map have now entirely disappeared, or simply survive as rights of way across featureless ploughland." An example in Felsham is the road that begins at Oxes Green on the boundary with Brettenham and heads off towards Hightown Green in Rattlesden. The early OS Map shows an even more complex structure of lanes and paths in this area. The place name "Oxes Green" is something that appears to have disappeared completely from local usage. This emphasizes another important feature of the map: its value as a record of place names many of which have changed or become extinct.

David Dymond explains that the county was surveyed using a triangulation framework. Felsham lies within a triangle where the nodes are the church towers of Elmswell, Brettenham and Bradfield St George. Presumably, all these churches were visible from each other. Dymond points out that:
"In a comparatively gentle landscape like Suffolk's, and given clear atmospheric conditions, it is astonishing how far one can often see from towers 50 to 100 feet high."
The broken line that runs across the Felsham extract of the map, shown above, is Hodskinson's unsuccessful attempt to show the hundred boundary between Stow and Cosford and therefore between Felsham and Cockfield/Brettenham. Dymond decisively rejects the reliability of these boundary lines.
The greens, that are a feature of Felsham village centre, and the general pattern of settlement, including the houses at Mudlin End, are shown quite well on the map. Similarly, the main houses, such as the Rectory, Mausoleum House, and Felsham Hall are represented fairly accurately but there are obvious discrepancies. Where are Brook Hall and Maiden Hall, settlements that go back to medieval times? The Brook Hall omission could be explained by Dymond's comment: "Bearing in mind how eighteenth century surveyors relied on road-traverses, it is perhaps not surprising that a high number of isolated farms have been omitted."  There are other serious omissions, including Moore's farm and Poplar farm, as these farmsteads are called today.

The Rattlesden River and it contributing streams are fairly accurately represented. Relief is delineated on the original Hodskinson map as delicate shading and is particularly relevant to the way they emphasize valleys.

Dymond comments: "The darker end of the shading represents the higher end of the slope, as if the sun were falling on the uplands and casting deep shadows on the slopes."

Perhaps, the most striking feature of this 1793 map is how little common land there was in Felsham at this time. Apart from the small twin triangular greens at the village centre, there is a complete absence of the extensive greens to be found in villages like Drinkstone and Hessett.

Dymond comments:
"This map is the best record the economic historian has of the distribution of ancient common land in the county. Although much arable and meadow, particularly in High Suffolk, had been enclosed centuries before, and although local people had been converting bits of common land into private property since at least the thirteenth century, there was still a substantial acreage of greens, commons and heaths for Hodskinson to record in 1783."

The extensive common land at Drinkstone Green was eventually enclosed in the 1840s. The boundary of the old Green can still be traced by following the line of the older houses that surrounded the green. Many of the greens appear to stretch quite long distances along the edges of the highways. The map hints that the Great Green (or Broad Green) at Cockfield extended tentacle-like right up to the area occupied today by Capel Farm and Stone Farm at the western end of the parish of Felsham.

The farm labourers portrayed in my booklet would almost certainly have been aware of the sentiments of the working man towards the enclosure of land, even if, by the mid-nineteenth century it was beginning to fade into folk-lore. Perhaps the most famous out-pouring of feeling on this subject is represented by the Suffolk poet - Nathaniel Bloomfield - who wrote the "Elegy on the Enclosure of Honington Green". I print two verses from this elegy below:

Those fenc'd ways that so even are made,

The pedestrian traveller bemoans;

He no more the green carpet may tread,

But plod on, 'midst the gravel and stones:

And if he would rest with his load,

No green hillock presents him a seat,

But long, hard, tiresome sameness of road

Fatigues both the eye and the feet.

Sighs speak the poor Labourers' pain,

While the new mounds and fences they rear,

Intersecting their dear native plain,

To divide to each rich Man his share;

It cannot but grieve them to see,

Where so freely they rambled before,

What a bare narrow track is left free

To the foot of the unportion'd Poor.

Friday, 13 April 2012

New history booklet on Felsham in the early Victorian period

FELSHAM 1830-50

Christopher Bornett

This exciting new local history booklet from WalkingKit Publications explores the lives of Felsham farm labouring families in early Victorian times.

It is now available from the FELSHAM POST OFFICE STORES.  Price £3.50.
It is also available from the author for £4.50 [incl p&p].  To order click here.

Summary of content:

Farm labourers formed the largest occupational group in Felsham during the 19th century but they were never listed in the official directories of the time. This is fairly typical as the lives of the lowest strata of society, throughout history, are rarely recorded. The local historian who attempts to study the lives of early 19th century agricultural workers is severely hampered by the paucity of biographical material and has to rely fairly heavily on official records such as Census Returns and Parish records, including registers of births, deaths and marriages, as well as accounts kept by the overseers of the poor.

Nevertheless, great effort has been made to re-construct early Victorian village life as seen through the eyes of farm labourers and their wives and children – despite the fact that most of the time they just appear as statistics and names in rather dry and impersonal official documents.


Part One of the booklet addresses three questions. Who were the Felsham farm labourers? Where did they live? What did they look like? The focus is on 1838 and 1841 because these were the years in which the Felsham Tithe Map was drawn up and when a Census was taken. Information from Map and Census provides clues about people and places that enable us to build up a picture of village life at this time. To supplement these relatively well documented years of 1838 and 1841, evidence has been gathered from the ten years either side of 1840 to provide sufficient documentation to construct a snapshot of life over twenty years – a generation– to arrive at our chosen period of study: 1830-50. At the beginning of this period, parts of Suffolk witnessed the rural disturbances associated with the Swing riots when hayricks were burnt and machines smashed. The 1830s also witnessed decisive developments in the way the Poor Law was administered. The 1840s saw a revolution in communications with the introduction of the Penny Post at the beginning of the decade and then the arrival of the railway in Suffolk linking Bury St Edmunds, Stowmarket and Ipswich with London, during the second half of the decade.

Part TWO looks at the working life of the farm labourer, his wife, and his children. We explore questions of schooling, diet and the importance of allotments. We focus on one particular family – the Osborn family. This family was one of many in Felsham which rented an allotment provided through the local Charity. The renting of land within the village gave the labourer an important stake in society, raising his self-esteem, as well as providing essential food supplies. We focus on the paternalism of the Charity Trustees and the moral dimension of allotment rules.

In Part THREE the impact of the Poor Laws on the lives of the labourers is examined. This time we focus on a Felsham family – the Robert Kidby family – who fell on hard times and became paupers. This family certainly lived on the “bread line”, receiving help from the parish and experiencing extended periods of unemployment and illness. They spent some time in the village poorhouse and also the Union workhouse near Stowmarket. An attempt will be made to unravel the circumstances in 1846 which led to the family being removed from the neighbouring village of Cockfield and being returned to their “settlement” village of Felsham.

Part FOUR focuses on the issue of migration. Throughout the 19th century a growing number of Suffolk farm labourers were leaving their villages and heading for London or the newly industrialised towns of the north of England. Some departed these shores altogether and emigrated to Canada, Australia or New Zealand. We have documentary evidence of at least one Felsham family which emigrated to South Australia in 1849: the Seaman family. Why did this large family with nine children under the age of fifteen, leave Felsham and undertake a long and arduous sea voyage across the world to set up a new life in the Antipodes? How did they cope with the vicissitudes of life in “steerage class” on a sailing ship in the mid 19thcentury? What happened to the family after they walked down the ship’s gangplank to set up a new life in the young colony of Southern Australia?


The text is well supported throughout by maps, charts and illustrations.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Felsham Paupers in the 1840s

I am currently writing a chapter on the lives of Felsham farm labourers in early Victorian times, entitled "Felsham Paupers in the 1840s".  I was amazed to see this editorial in a contemporary newspaper that discussed issues that were at the forefront of people's minds over a 160 years ago.

I have reproduced the article in full, highlighting the "history lesson" bit in red.

"Rich and poor: deserving and undeserving

The attempt to distinguish between different categories of the poor is almost as old as the modern British state

When the Archbishop of Canterbury warned against "a quiet resurgence of the seductive language of 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor" he may not have expected his immediate predecessor to lead a charge against "hand-outs given to the long-term unemployed", as he did this week. Yet Lord Carey's attack upon his fellow bishops for resisting the government's welfare reform legislation breathes new life into that most unhelpful of distinctions. According to Lord Carey, we now have a "bloated" welfare system that "rewards fecklessness and irresponsibility". In contrast, the former archbishop offers his own story of how hard work and diligence led him from a Dagenham council estate to Lambeth Palace. By so doing he reinforces the view that there are a whole category of people who are responsible – and thus to be blamed – for their own misfortune.
The attempt to distinguish between different categories of the poor is almost as old as the modern British state. The Elizabethan poor laws were designed to keep the poor at home – and thus to stop them from becoming vagrants. By the time of the Napoleonic wars, however, the rise in population, the escalating cost of war, and sharp differences in the scale of poor relief between urban and rural parishes, all led to the conclusion that the old poor law wasn't working. Utilitarians insisted that a great deal of poverty was not inevitable but a product of fecklessness. Economists like Rev Thomas Malthus argued that the Elizabethan poor law encouraged irresponsibly large families. All this has a horribly familiar ring again today.
The result was the introduction of an increasingly uniform system based around the idea of the workhouse – a place where paupers would be incarcerated and made to work. In 1834 the new poor law was promulgated. At its heart was the notion of less eligibility: reducing the number of people entitled to support, so that only those who could not work (rather than those who would not work) would receive support. It's here that the distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor became a legal one. To deter those who would not work from applying for poor law support, workhouses were made deliberately unpleasant, often resembling a prison as much as a refuge. Critics condemned them as "the new Bastilles". As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens, we are witnessing a return of just the sort of language about the poor that he did so much to expose as cruel and inhuman.
Who are today's new undeserving poor? The familiar tabloid assumption is that you know them when you see them. The undeserving poor drink White Lightning in the daytime, have too many children, keep dangerous dogs and spend their lives lolling about on the sofa. Now as in the past, the undeserving poor make an easy and popular target, especially when public money is tight again. Which is why references to fecklessness and irresponsibility have become such effective drivers of the coalition's welfare reform legislation.
During the last recession in the 1990s, public attitudes towards those living on benefits were considerably more sympathetic than they are today. Anxieties involving welfare and work, immigration and housing shortage, have all contributed to a hardening approach. As the latest British Social Attitudes survey demonstrates, 55% of the English subscribe to the view that high benefits encourage poor people to remain poor. Which is undoubtedly why even the Labour party is hesitant to challenge the prevailing mood to limit state support for some of the most vulnerable in our society. Like any other government programme, welfare must be open to serious reform. Yet a society that cannot cap the income of the undeserving rich – witness the latest row over bank bonuses this week – but is quite happy to cut off funds to the poor is a society that has learned nothing from its own history."

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Leaving Felsham: an emigrant family’s journey to Australia 1849-50

On the 1st day of February, 1850, the emigrant ship, “Agincourt” arrived at Adelaide in southern Australia. On board were the Felsham farm labourer family – the Seamans – consisting of Peter Seaman, his wife Hannah, and their nine children. Their 13,000 miles sea voyage from England to Australia had taken 116 days.

The ship’s passenger list recorded the family thus:

SEAMAN Peter B 42

SEAMAN Hannah 41

SEAMAN Luke 15

SEAMAN Rachel 14

SEAMAN Eliza 13

SEAMAN Mary 11

SEAMAN David 10

SEAMAN Phillip 7


SEAMAN Rebecca 1

SEAMAN Peter infant

Why did this large family, with three children under the age of five, leave Felsham and undertake a long and arduous sea voyage across the world? How did they cope with the vicissitudes of life in “steerage class” on a sailing ship in the mid 19th century? What happened to the family after they walked down the ship’s gangplank to set up a new life in the young colony of Southern Australia?

The answer to these questions is that we do not really know. We can only make inspired guesses based on the little documentary evidence that we have about the family in the form of tithe map apportionments, parish records, census returns and some basic Australian family archives. But we can build up a picture of what may have happened to the family using newspaper reports and evidence such as diaries and letters written by other emigrants to Australia making the journey at about the same time.

I have written a fictional account of the family’s journey in the form of three imaginary letters written by the eldest daughter, the 14 year old Rachel Seaman. It is imagined that Rachel addressed the letters to her old schoolmistress who it is assumed would read them out to her pupils. It is also imagined that the first letter was written from near the port of Gravesend on the River Thames in north Kent prior to embarkation; that a second letter was written on board the Agincourt and sent back to England via a homeward-bound ship; and that a third letter was written some years later when the family were settled in their new home.


Deptford Emigration Depot, London 5th October 1849

Dear Mrs Frost

I am writing to you and all the children from the Emigrant Depot at Deptford by the river Thames. Tomorrow we get on the train again for the short journey to Gravesend where we board our ship in readiness to sail for Australia the day after that on the best tide.

Soon after we left Felsham on Boggis’s cart three days ago, it started to pelt down with rain and we were glad of our new coats. Because the cart was packed full, Dad and Luke had to walk behind and they got very muddy. Despite the extra weight the horses got us to the new Stowmarket railway station at 6 o’clock, just as it was getting light, and in good time to catch the steam train to London. We helped the porters heave our trunks onto one of the open carriages and we sat down beside them trying to keep dry. And then we were off.

The journey was really noisy and so frightening that the young ones began cry. Not only were we careering along so much faster than the carrier’s cart, but every time we looked up we got a smut in the eye from the smoky chimney of the engine. When we got in the tunnel the other side of Ipswich station it was really spooky and dark and I could see water dripping down the sides of the wall.

When we arrived near London Bridge we had to change trains and get on the London to Greenwich railway. I had never seen so many people in my life before. And so much hustle and bustle - you would not believe it. At last we arrived at our destination, the Depot in Deptford where all the emigrants are assembled before boarding ship. There were over two hundred people all crowded together. We were given some dry bread and some bitter coffee, boiling hot. I am sure I am not the only one who lost the skin off the roof of the mouth. But everyone was very kind and civil to us and we were very grateful for a nice lie down after our long journey from Felsham.

In the morning, after more coffee and lots of bread and butter, I helped to scrub down the mess tables. Everything is organised as if we were already on board ship. I overheard someone say that it is help us get acclimatised to the long sea voyage ahead. We have messes and berths and we are organised into gangs to do the cooking and cleaning. The children are learning fast and they now use the water closets without any fuss and climb into the berths as agile as little monkeys.

Eliza and Mary are learning straw plaiting and basket weaving, while David and Philip are being taught how to make ropes and tie knots. They reckon these will be handy skills to know when we get to Australia. I spend a lot of time playing with little Emma while Mum has her hands full looking after baby Peter. Dad and Luke have been chatting with some of the other emigrants. They have met another Suffolk family travelling on our boat – the father is a gardener and they have a daughter called Ellen who is fifteen years old and has also done some domestic work just like me. They have also met up with some emigrants from Scotland – the way they talk is really funny – and they have been hearing stories about what it was like on the coastal journey by steamer from Dundee to Deptford. Lots of people were terribly seasick.

Dad has been telling people about how he first started thinking of emigrating. It was over eight years ago when he heard someone talking in the Bells public house about an advert they had seen in the Bury and Norwich Post. It told of free passage to Australia for married agricultural labourers and how they were crying out for workers and giving good wages. It was some years later that the Reverend Anderson spoke of emigration from his pulpit one Sunday and Dad went to speak to him about applying to the Colonial Commissioners. Life was very hard at the time and Dad had been out of work for over three months.

Neither he nor Mum can read very well and they find writing very difficult but Luke and me helped them fill in the application form that the rector gave him. Mr Anderson also wrote a testimonial to go with the application to say that Dad was very hard-working and that the whole family were well regarded in the village. By the way, we still look hard at that map you gave us showing the new colonies in Australia. We can’t wait to get on board ship but I’m very worried about getting seasick.

We have to go for a medical inspection now. We will have to show our birth certificates and also the certificate proving that we have all had the smallpox inoculation. The scar on my left arm still itches occasionally. I just hope we stay healthy and get to Adelaide without any major mishaps. Mum worries about the little ones catching something nasty from all the other emigrants. She is always talking about the Felsham children who got measles or whooping cough or scarlet fever and nearly died. She is a real worrier, is Mum.

Thank goodness for the Penny Post. I am going to post this letter in the Depot post box and you might get it from the Felsham shop before school starts on Monday.

Your ever-loving friend and past pupil,

Rachel Seaman

Somewhere in the south Atlantic, 11 January 1850

Dear Mrs Frost

Writing in haste - passing homeward bound ship has signalled that it would be happy to accept letters addressed for England. The captain and some of the cabin passengers are going to be rowed across soon for luncheon as the sea is quite calm. So I have quickly found pen and ink and excuse my scribble.

Well, where do I start? There is so much to tell. We left Gravesend on the 7th October at high tide and headed down the Channel to Plymouth where we picked up more emigrants. We left Plymouth loaded to the gunnels (please notice that I have picked up some sea-faring words) with labouring families from Ireland and the West Country. We did not clear land until well after the 20th October because the winds were so contrary. Many were seasick especially poor mother and my new friend Ellen Smith. They both spent days and nights retching into buckets and neither could keep any food down.

Life in steerage takes some getting used to. Below the main deck there are two rows of bunks one above the other which run all round the sides of the ship. The young unmarried men have to sleep in the fore-hatch area. Luke has to join them at night because he is fifteen, but fortunately I have been allowed to stay with Mum and Dad and the children in the married quarters in the main hatch. This is so I can help with the little ones. All the single women have berths in the after-hatch and this is where Ellen has her quarters. It is all a bit crowded and noisy but it is not much different from when we lived in that little cottage on Upper Green near the Smithy which we had to share with the Pilbrow family. We are lucky because our bunks are near the hatchway so we get some light and fresh air.

All the boxes have been stowed away down below in the hold. The sailors bring them up about once a week, weather permitting, to give them an airing. That is also the time we can grab some clean clothes.

We are allowed to have full run of the ship except for the Poop Deck which is reserved for the officers and the ten cabin passengers. On the first few days I took my brothers and sisters on deck as Mum was unwell and we listened to the sailors singing sea shanties and watched them scrubbing the decks and climbing the ratlines. We don’t wash much but Dad and the boys have saltwater showers on the deck. Mum and me and the girls, we sponge ourselves down with a basin whenever possible.

The mess tables are long wooden benches down the centre of the main hatchway. They have raised edges so that plates don’t roll off in rough seas. The food is very generous. In fact, we have never eaten so well. We eat three times a day and there is plenty of salt beef and pork. We get bread, ship’s biscuits (very hard), rice sometimes and lots of potatoes. We get rations of sugar, lime juice (to prevent the scurvy), tea, coffee, butter, cheese, raisins, suet, pickles and even mustard. The water is usually quite fresh tasting considering it is kept in oak barrels. Sometimes, we get rainwater to drink when the sailors spread sail-cloths during rain showers.

On calm days we take long walks around the decks. Dad, in particular, loves doing this because it allows him to get out from under Mum’s feet and gives him the chance to talk to the other Dads. He comes back with so many extraordinary stories about life in other parts of the United Kingdom. In some counties it seems that wages for agricultural labourers is worse than in Suffolk.

To while away the time we play chequers, backgammon and cards. On deck we play shovel-board, where we slide flat wooden discs along the deck into nine numbered squares. Sometimes, we watch the sailors “heaving the log” and counting the knots, which is what they do to find out how fast we are travelling. We love to look out for other boats and sometimes we spot whales and dolphins. Near Madeira lots of small birds flew into the rigging and one day a hawk was caught up there.

After the Captain, the Surgeon is the most important person on board. He appointed one of the emigrants, a shoemaker back in England, to be a schoolmaster and to hold lessons on deck for the boys and girls. I was asked to help with teaching the girls and I showed them how to read their letters and do some sewing. At the end of the voyage the schoolmaster might get a £5 gratuity for all his work. I wonder if he will give me a shilling or two?

By the time it got to November it was getting very hot as we were near the equator and sometimes Dad and the boys went to sleep on deck. Mum wouldn’t let us girls do that so we had to stay below decks and “steam” in our nightclothes! We crossed the Line on the 26thNovember and we had all sorts of fun and games to celebrate the occasion. The sailors even fired one of the cannons. When one of the sailors, dressed as Neptune, started being a bit rude with his trident and the single men started cheering, Dad told us all to go below decks. But later on, while we were collecting our food from the galley, Luke told me all about what had happened. I won’t go into details except to say that it involved shaving one of the young sailors who had never crossed the Line before.

Two babies were born in early December and there was a christening service held by Captain Cumberland. The babies were given ‘Agincourt as second Christian names after the name of the ship. After some stormy weather Christmas arrived at last. We were told that we were still 5,000 miles from Adelaide. There was a lovely Church Service held on deck and we all sung our hymns with great gusto –you would have been proud of us. Then we had the New Year festivities on the 31st and we all stayed up till after 12 o’clock, even Mum with baby Peter in her arms. There was a fair breeze and the moon shone brightly on the white heaving sails. I stayed on deck all night and Ellen and I saw the dawn come up. Then, magically, an albatross with its broad wings outstretched glided by, and after doing a brief inspection of the ship flew off and quickly disappeared from view.

Sadly, on the 7th January we had our first death on board. Baby Agincourt Maslin died in the night. He was buried in the way they do it on board ship. The funeral took place in the evening just before sunset. The little body was wrapped in a piece of sail and placed on the grating by the side of the ship, and at the words, “We therefore commit this body to the deep,” slid off into the sea and was instantly lost to sight. The memory of that tiny sail-wrapped body sliding into the troubled waters will never leave me. Sea life is very difficult for the little ones. I am so glad baby brother, Peter, now 6 months old, is doing well and gaining weight. It must have something to do with the fact that Mum, since she has gained her sea-legs, is eating well on the generous ship rations, and is getting quite fat, as Dad has rudely pointed out.

Must hurry as the row boat is about to leave for the homeward bound ship and I must hand this letter to the bosun. It will probably be months before you receive it. Miss you all dreadfully.

Your ever-loving friend and past pupil,

Rachel Seaman

Morpett Vale, Adelaide, South Australia, 1st March 1853

Dear Mrs Frost

I am so sorry not to have written to you sooner. I hope this letter finds you all in good health, as it leaves us at present, thank God for it. I have fond memories of the little school room behind the churchyard especially when during cold dark winter days you piled logs into the old stove and we all sang hymns in front of the flickering flames of the fire.

Life inAustralia since we landed at Port Adelaide on the 1st February 1850 has been so incredibly full and busy we have had hardly a thought for our old existence in Felsham. The day the good ship Agincourt sailed into the harbour was a time of great joy. We had been impatient to arrive from New Year’s Day onwards. Every day we checked the direction of the wind, noted the number of miles we had accomplished and the distance yet to be travelled. We were getting increasingly tired of our dry, salted rations and the lack of fresh food.

We experienced such pleasure when, on our arrival, the Emigration Agents boarded the ship bringing with them supplies of fresh produce: green peas, lettuces, spring onions. All so wonderful. We were not allowed to disembark immediately. We had to wait until we were allocated a home and jobs ashore. In the meantime, we gorged ourselves on all the lovely greens. The Agents questioned us about our voyage and whether we had been treated correctly and whether everything had been done according to the regulations. Dad was complimentary about the running of the ship but he did mention some of the coarse language spoken by the sailors as being unacceptable in the hearing all God-fearing folk. I was congratulated on helping with the schooling of the girls and given a gratuity of 10 shillings by Dr Gregory, the ship’s Surgeon-Superintendent.

After seven day waiting on board ship we were eventually allowed ashore. It was marvellous to have solid land under our feet after three months being tossed around the oceans. The only thing that annoyed us was that we were plagued by mosquitoes which breed in the nearby swamps. Fortunately, we were soon on our way to Morphett Vale, a hamlet about ten miles south of Adelaide where Dad and Luke had been promised a job. They started work in a gentleman’s garden for 10 shillings a day and I entered service in a good house on the very first day of our arrival for the princely wage of £15 a year.

After a few months, a farmer came down out of the bush and hired Dad and Luke –both of them for 5 shillings a day but with all rations thrown in. That consisted of 40 lbs of flour, 40 lbs of meat (beef or mutton), 1lb of tea and 4lbs of sugar. The house the farmer provided for us, and which was big enough for the whole family, was rent free and we didn’t have to pay for any of the firewood that we used for cooking. After the hay harvest, the master was so pleased with the way Dad and Luke had done the mowing that he gave Dad a cow and a calf on top of the wages which he increased to twelve shillings a day for Dad and ten shillings for Luke. My brothers, David and Phillip also worked around the farm doing odd jobs and carrying out errands. Meanwhile Eliza helped the farmers’ wife and Mary did her best to support Mother with the little ones.

When I went home on my afternoon off, I would spend many an hour sitting in the new kitchen garden gazing at all the lovely vegetables that my family had sown. They grow so much more easily than those we struggled to nurture on the clayey soil of the Felsham allotments. And here there are no Felsham Charity rules and regulations to annoy Dad especially that requirement to attend Church every Sunday. In fact there is no Church in our hamlet though there are plans to build one soon.

All the gardens are wonderful here. You can grow peas all year round and cucumbers about nine months out of a year. You may grow two crops of potatoes and turnips a year; the onions and cabbages are the best that I ever saw. There are grapes, oranges and figs, almonds and peaches in abundance, all growing in open gardens.

Some things are dearer here. Things like pins and needles for sewing are expensive. Dad also complains about the price of tools such as hammers and hatchets, and kitchenware such as pots and kettles. Clothing is a little dearer than at home but now that I earn about 12 shillings a week as a general servant I don’t find it difficult to buy a pretty dress for myself.

Last year Dad and Luke bought about twenty acres of land with the money they had saved up. Land is about £1 an acre here. They will soon have a nice little farm with horses, cattle and pigs. Dad can’t believe how lucky we are. He is always going on about this free country of Australia where he doesn’t have to pay any tithes, taxes, nor rates of any kind.

Please tell all the people of Felsham about our good fortune. If any of them want to come out here, send me a letter and we will meet them at the port. We could help them find a house till they could get one for themselves.

And I nearly forgot to say. I have a new baby brother. Elisha Seaman was born on Valentine’s Day earlier this year. And he is thriving in this wonderful new country of ours.

I remain your ever-loving friend

Rachel Seaman