A Workers’ Paradise

A Report on our meeting held on 19th February 2018

Our speaker Margaret Jury found that her great aunt Mary emigrated to Australia in the late 1800’s. With the help of letters home from emigrants reported in the Rudston parish magazines she realised that Mary was not the only one. There had been a mass migration tempted by the Queensland authorities offering a “workers’ paradise”. Margaret told their stories illustrated with pictures.

An advert from the Driffield Times in 1886 invited female domestic servants to emigrate to Queensland.  They had to be hardworking, sober, thrifty and of good character and had to have references to prove it. This was just one of the inducements introduced by Henry Jordan, the Queenland Immigration Officer based in London.

The other inducement was the chance to escape from the low wages, lack of work, lack of security and little chance of social mobility that farm workers in particular were suffering from. And there was the frightening prospect of the workhouse in hard times or old age.

It is thought that the popular vicar at Rudston, the Rev. Charles Booty in charge from 1875 to 1924, helped and encouraged worthy folk to emigrate.  One of Margaret’s photographs shows him as a jolly rotund individual. On just one voyage the S.S. Eastminster had 28 Rudston people on board. Charles Booty was walking a tightrope balancing the aspirations of his poorer parishioners with the concerns of the land owning gentry.

Margaret told of life aboard the ships. Everyone received a “ships kit” including sheets, a washbasin, water bottle, tableware and 3 pound of marine soap. Meals were provide and taken together. There was a list of recommended clothes to take and a small chest to store them in.

Bunks for a married couple were 37 inches wide amidships. The single women forward and single men aft had 21 inch wide bunks. No alcohol was allowed, and educational classes and other leisure activities were organised. Whole families emigrated as no child under 18 could be left behind.

Margaret explained what happened when they arrived, and what Maryborough, their port of disembarkation, looked like at the time. A map from the time showed just how extensive the tracts of vacant land were. Those who worked hard prospered. Some soon owned their own houses, bought land, and maybe a horse and trap.

Margaret’s great aunt Mary married and had 10 children all of whom survived. Her husband Francis worked as a linesman on the railway for 15 years until he was killed in an accident. She was a gate keeper. They had a house provided and she was allowed to keep the house after her husband died.

For many it did indeed prove to be a workers’ paradise. Very few who emigrated returned.

The Prior Bro Garry Sunley asked Judy Wilson to give the vote of thanks.  She thanked Margaret for a story told with enthusiasm. She was amazed at the well thought out immigration plans of the Queensland authorities.