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The Great Escape to the Colonies

by Averill Adlam

I am the great great granddaughter of Anne and John Westaway of Bradworthy who married in 1820 and had fourteen children. Their daughter Athalia (1824-1905), my great grandmother, seems to have been the black sheep of the family. Athalia never married but had four children, two boys and two girls, three of whom are well documented, but her first son, born in Exeter in December 1847 still eludes us.

During the 1860's and 70's a number of the Bradworthy Westaways emigrated to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. My grandmother Rosa Jane, born in 1852 and her young sister Clara Ellen born 1859, took the opportunity to escape from their immediate family background and set sail for New Zealand on the Stonehouse which left London on 10th April and arrived in Lyttelton, New Zealand on 29th June 1874. The girls were listed as Rosa (21) and Clara (15) from Devon, Servants and their fare of £14 10s each was paid by the Government.

During the lengthy sea voyage the girls seem to have concocted a more respectable family background for themselves and on arrival changed their name to West . Clara was known as Minnie. Poor Minnie died young in 1890 (leaving five children), but not a whisper of the horrible truth leaked out and when I began to excavate in 1992 I did not know my grandmother's correct maiden name, only that she had been born in Exeter, date unknown and that her mother's name was Athalia. Two small pieces of a jig-saw and no final picture to guide me. Those two pieces and the 1861 Census for Exeter were enough and gradually all was revealed. Well, not quite all, - who was my great-grandfather? Most likely a legal eagle named Henry Tripe . I haven't finished with this bloke yet - I can't trace him after 1871, when he was living in Exeter with his wife and family.

The Colonial Land & Emigration Commission was established in 1840 as a sub-branch of the Colonial Office and until 1878 organised assisted and free passages to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the Cape, financed from colonial land revenues. After 1842, London and Plymouth were nominated as the two official emigration ports. Vessels were chartered and emigrants selected for a passage on the basis of a rigid set of criteria. Because colonial funds were being used, those sent out were chosen to meet the needs of the colonial economy and the relief of distress at home was always a secondary consideration (for the authorities but not for the passengers!). The qualifications necessary for acceptance by the Commissioners were laid down in 1847: "The candidates must be sober, industrious and of good moral character; on all which points decisive certificates will be required. They must also be in good health, free from all bodily and mental defects, and the adults must be in all respects capable of labour and going out to work for wages."

I do not have specifications for 1874, but in 1847 women emigrants were advised to take "6 shifts, 2 flannel petticoats, 6 pairs of stockings, 2 pairs of shoes and 2 gowns." They would also need 3 sheets for each berth, 4 towels and 2lb of soap per person.

I have a description of the voyage of the Stonehouse as reported after the ship's arrival (Lyttelton Times, June 30, 1874).

“... the Health Officer, accompanied by the Commissioners and His Honor the Superintendent... found that, although a number of deaths had occurred during the voyage, yet there was no sickness at that time on board the vessel...

The ship is well suited for carrying immigrants, her 'tween decks being well ventilated and lofty, but the lighting was very indifferent. The single girls' compartments comprised the half of the saloon (starboard side), and a portion of the ‘tween decks. These were most scrupulously clean... In reply to inquiries, the immigrants state that they have fared well during the passage and they one and all express their greatest satisfaction at the treatment they had received, the only complaint being made that they had had more given them than they could eat... they look an extremely good lot of people, especially the single girls, who will at once find situations. They come out under the superintendence of Miss Cole (Matron) who gives them an excellent character. The other immigrants come out under the care of Dr. Odley... (who) states that after passing the Equator measles and opthalmia appeared... The single girls were not affected by either complaint. Between seventy and eighty cases of measles appeared on the voyage resulting in twenty four deaths of children."

I do not know how the girls earned a living after they arrived in New Zealand. Although both girls were literate, there was not much offering except positions in service. Minnie married into a well-to-do Dunedin family in 1877. My grandmother melted into the colony until the 1880's, marriage and children. But all that is another story!

Averill Adlam, Auckland, New Zealand

Westaway Jigsaw May 1998

( Thanks to Averill and Nicola Aldridge for sharing this with us)

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