The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

Hertfordshire Immigrants into Australia 1830 - 1860

By Linda Butler

This article was originally published in the July 1997 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society

The advent of the Sole Society left me with a quandary - where should I now direct my family history research effort?  There was no point continuing to research the SOLE line in England as others were doing this very ably and with access to much better resources.  I had come to a dead-end with the one incomplete line left within Australia - Sarah WELCH, the four-times married mother-in-law of my Kelshall immigrant, Edward SOLE (CAL 054 on the Sole Society charts).  There were a number of other lines I could have started to explore in more detail, but I kept being drawn back to the Kelshall connection.  Perhaps it was the connection with the Sole Brothers Circus, or perhaps my visit to Kelshall and Therfield had stirred up ghosts from the past.  Whatever the reason, I have always had more interest in the Therfield/Kelshall connection than in any other line in my ancestry.

So I decided to look more closely at the emigration of my ancestor, Edward SOLE, to Australia.  When I first found the details of Edward's voyage here in 1856, accompanied by his brother Daniel (CAL 051), I had pictured them as intrepid adventurers, leaving behind all the support of family and friends to strike out for a new life in a harsh, distant land.  A somewhat romanticised view!  As I did more research, it soon became apparent how inaccurate that perception was.  They may have left behind their parents and siblings, but they came to a country in which many of their cousins and neighbours were already residing or to which they soon followed.  The first indication I had of this was my contact with Jeff Stevenson in Adelaide and obtaining details of the emigration of Edward and Daniel's niece, Annie GIFFEN (CAL 228).  On further investigation, various sources yielded a number a number of names familiar to those with connections in the Therfield/Kelshall area:  PRATT, DOWTON, ATKINS, HAGGAR, STAINES, BEALE and , of course, SOLE among them.  These discoveries have given me a focus for the family history research I am currently engaged in.

I have now embarked on a project aimed at identifying all Hertfordshire immigrants to Australia between 1830 and 1860 - both voluntary and involuntary immigrants.  I will attempt to track down the relationships that existed between the immigrants and set them into a time frame which I expect will show an explosion of immigration as the net from those already in the country spread further, and the recruiting drives of the emigration board gained momentum.  It is not a small task, but as data becomes more readily accessible in machine-readable form, it is not as momentous as it was for those who have carried out similar studies before.

There are a number of excellent resources now available to the family historian in Australia.  The VicGold database was a national centenary ancestral project, undertaken by the National Heritage Foundation.  It contains information from B,D & M certificates and early church records of Victoria for families who were married or had at least one child prior to 1860.  The database covers Victoria's gold rush era, hence the name, and one of the options on which it is possible to search is birthplace .  I have extracted from this the details of nearly 400 families in which one or both parents was born in Hertfordshire.  The beauty of the database is the way in which the family members are linked.  The format for a typical family record, and one which will be of interest to those researching the Kelshall SOLEs, is: 

Family No: D11879
Name Sex Event Birth Marriage Death Parents
DOWLER, James  M P 1830 Hertfords, Engl 1857 Hertfords, Engl    
SOLE, Emma F P 1834 Hertfords, Engl 1857 Hertfords, Engl    
Children (10)            
Dowler, William John   S 1858      
Dowler, James Joseph   S 1861      
Dowler, George   S 1863      
Dowler, Walter   S 1865      
Dowler, Mary Ann   B 1866 Brighton, Vic   1868  
Dowler, Levi   B 1869 Brighton, Vic      
Dowler, Harry   B 1871 Brighton, Vic      
Dowler, Fanny Ann   B 1874 Brighton, Vic      
Dowler, Minnie   B 1876 Brighton, Vic      
Dowler, Peter   B 1878 Brighton, Vic      

B=Victorian Registered Birth of church record;  P= Parent whose marriage was not registered in Victoria;  S=Child whose birth was not registered in Victoria.

On checking the birthdates given in VicGold with those in the IGI fiche for Hertfordshire I notice there is often a "slippage" of one or two years.  Emma SOLE in the above family is most likely to be the daughter of Richard and Ann SOLE, born in Kelshall in 1837 (CAL 083).

This identification is confirmed by details obtained from immigrant shipping records which contain a wealth of information of relevance to the family historian.  The immigration record for James and Emma tell us they arrived in Sydney on the "John and Lucy" on 6 May 1856 and give us the following information about them: 

Age 23 20
Calling Farm labourer  
Native Place Hertfordshire Hertfordshire
Parents John and Fanny, living at Sandon Richard & Anne, living at Kelshall
Religion C. of E. C. of E.
Read/Write both both
Relatives in 
brother, William at Mr Jeremiah Beale's, Fish River, Bathurst  

I expect an examination of NSW BD&M indexes, now easily searchable on CD-Rom, will confirm my guess that James and Emma's first four children were born in NSW, prior to a move to Victoria.  It will be interesting to see if the NSW indexes record them as DOWLER or DOWTON.  It is also interesting to note that Emma's illegitimate daughter, Hagger Emily SOLE (CAL 084), did not emigrate with them.

I am anticipating finding around 1000 families in which at least one parent was born in Hertfordshire, and emigrated here before 1860.  Hopefully the immigration records will tell me where in Hertfordshire they were born.  Most of the NSW records I have already looked at, covering the period from 1848-1854, give more detail than that shown for James and Emma - it is usual for the town of their birth to be shown in addition to the county.  Where this information is missing I will turn to the IGI indexes and other sources for help.

The final and most complex step will be to try to sort out the pattern of emigration and the network of friends and acquaintances that were involved.  James and Emma's record shows that James already had a brother resident in the colony when he emigrated.  William DOWTON was working for Jeremiah BEALE, whose family also managed farms in Hertfordshire and were, according to local historian Ann King, popular employers.  They appear to have attracted farm labourers from their home villages out to Australia to work on their properties there.  There will no doubt be many stories to be found in the data.  I was interested in one particular ship in the early 1850's whose assisted immigrants consisted almost entirely of railway workers and their families, many of them from Hertfordshire.  There were workers with a diverse range of callings: carpenters, excavators, labourers, carriage drivers, and many more.

I sometimes look at the amount of data I am collecting and wonder if I will ever be able to make any sense of it or whether, like Mr Casaubon in Middlemarch, my study will still be littered with unpublished notebooks when I die.  However, along the way I am sure I will enjoy the research and there should be plenty of interest to pass on to the Sole Society.

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