Emigrants! Take Care of your Pockets
By James Sawle
This article was originally published in the December 2004 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
From John Slaughter: I have had a very interesting exchange of correspondence with Janet Drinnan in New Zealand. Janet is the descendant of a James Sawle who emigrated with his familyCornwall to Australia in 1839. He did not find the experience as pleasant as he had, no doubt, been led to believe. He wrote a letter in 1841 which he clearly intended for publication and to warn others. This letter was published in the London Weekly Dispatch on 7 March 1841 under the title of "EMIGRANTS! TAKE CARE OF YOUR POCKETS". It was also published in the Register, Adelaide on 11 September 1841. The letter is addressed "Dear Brother", but as far as we are aware James was an only child. James was a Methodist Minister and it may be that the letter was written to a fellow church member who he addressed as Brother. I think the letter is an important piece of history in its own right.
Adelaide, South Australia
DEAR BROTHER – The statements which I am about to make shall be strictly correct, and therefore I call upon you – I entreat you as a public man – as a friend to the human family –to give them the utmost publicity. It is necessary that the public should know what to expect on the voyage, and, if spared, on their arrival in the colony. When you are put on ship-board, you are, with all you have, and with all that is put on board for you, entirely under the control and disposal of the doctor and the captain, so that your every comfort, even life itself, is dependent on the disposition of those under whose care you are placed; and hence hundreds have found a watery grave though the unkindness and neglect of those under whose care they have been placed.
It is true you have a scale of rations which you may think should be the guide of all on board, and the sure proportions of which you may think you may reasonably demand; but, when at sea, it is in vain to urge the fulfilment of the contract between yourself and the Commissioners; you are told the things are not on board for you, and therefore it is in vain to ask for them; and if you had them, they would only be luxuries. You may urge the failure of your nature - the weak state of your family – but it is in vain. There is a grave deep enough in the ocean; and should you reach the land with a broken constitution, which has been the lot of many, you will find a grave there. But it is exceedingly painful to see the things put on board for you wantonly consumed by those who feed almost wholly on luxuries; in fact the emigrants are the subjects of plunder from the forecastle to the cabin; and if you speak, you are often called a d--- d convict, and treated in the most shameful way by the sailors.
Then your accommodation when you reach the land of promise. Visited by the agent appointed, you are told when you are to land: early in the morning, you have to get everything ready, and to take your family with you; you have not time to get breakfast, or, in the bustle of reaching the harbour, you have no rations or water served out, all hands being so engaged; you may take a little bread with you. It may happen, as it did with me, that your luggage and family are not to be taken by the first dray that is going up to town, which is distant seven miles: the day is far spent, and towards evening your luggage and family are placed on a bullock dray, and move towards the Square. After some delay and insolence on the part of the driver, you are brought into the midst of some very poor looking wood huts: you ask what place this is, and you are told that is the square. At a certain place your luggage is taken, or rather thrown down, so that your little glass, or whatever else you may have, is often knocked to pieces. After selecting what you can find of your things for the night, you ask where you are to lodge; you are directed to a wood hut, there may be a casement in the window place, or there may not; however, there is no chimney for you to burn a little fire, and if there was one it would be of no use to you for the night.
You are now exhausted with hunger and fatigue, your dear children crying with hunger and cold. You now enter into a place, out of which, perhaps, two or three or more of a family have been carried dead; probably some of the old dirty garments remain; your floor is nothing but the earth and dust; the smell from the burning of the oil and other causes is almost insufferable. But as it is, it is the only shelter, and you are obliged to enter; you want something now for your family to make use of; your enquiry is for a little wood, but you are told by the man who looks after the square, that there is no wood provided for the emigrants, and if he should give it to one he must give it to all –you may have some tomorrow from the natives, for a little bread; you ask for a little water –you are told that there is a well in the centre of the square, but the water is brackish, and you cannot drink it; you can get some from the Torrens, but you must go across the country for half or three quarters of a mile, and the person thinks it is so dark you cannot find it. You at least want a little light, but you cannot obtain it without going to the city (so called) which is distant about half a mile; a step of the road you are not acquainted with, so that you must sit on your box without fire, light, or meat, with a thousand hungry mice and fleas playing around and feeding on you during the night, whilst the cold, coming in from so many openings, would make your bones ache: in this place you have no bedstead, nor anything of the kind.
We are served with a week’s rations. On entering the colony you are pleased with its appearance, the loveliness of the country, the largeness and greenness of the trees have a very imposing appearance, and the country is really fine; but still there are many drawbacks. At first, I think the public should know that the statements put forth by the agent at home are not true; especially as it regards the healthfulness - sixpence for the support of his family. It is all credit in the colony, and there are so many leading men breaking, that there is little or no confidence. The colony produces nothing. Every article of consumption is brought from some other colony, and you have nothing to offer in exchange but money, and that, as much as those bringing in their goods may demand; and there is no alternative – you must have them, that is, their goods, or starve.
Thus you perceive the colonist had not the means of employing the labourer, and if he employs him he has not the means of paying him his wages, the money being taken away as fast as brought in. I can assure you there is a very great want of work amongst all classes of workmen at this time. I would work at any thing could I find employ. I went into a quarry last week; there were two men at work from Perranwell who told me they had not had half work; then they had a hundred load of stones in the quarry, and might have had a many more if they pleased, but there is no demand for them. It is truly distressing to be out of employ in this place. We have a small house for which we pay 16s per week; water costs us 2s per week; wood upwards of 3s per week. But you are ready to ask, cannot you cut your own wood for you own use? I answer no; the wood standing on the park grounds you are forbidden to touch; while the land beyond that is the property of gentlemen, it all being bought up, so that you cannot go there; and, therefore, you cannot have any wood but what is brought you, at a dear rate.
Flour is 9d per lb; potatos [sic] 3 ½d per lb; and we are told that before close of this week they will be 8d per lb; butter 2s 2d per lb; and every thing else in proportion, so that you cannot love for a trifle. I thought, previous to my coming out, that I should have a garden, and raise everything of the vegetable kind; but I have now found out my mistake. You cannot obtain a garden; and those who have had them have not planted them a second time; so that I have thought they have not been remunerated for their labour. As to fruit, I have not seen a tree bearing fruit since I have been here; there is no native fruit, native anything that is worth your trouble taking.
Talk about streets, indeed – we have streets, if the rooting up of trees in a straight line, about 50 feet wide and a mile long, will constitute streets, then we have plenty of splendid streets. However, there are two that resemble streets so far as buildings are concerned, and business is conducted; but even these are almost impassable for man or beast. The city is founded on a slimy, clayey bottom, and the quantity of rain that has fallen these three months past has completely saturated the land, and the streets being nothing but this slimy soil, and being the common thoroughfare, they are cut beyond description.
Though things are in such a state, yet ships, constantly coming out, bring out countrymen and countrywomen to new scenes of sorrow and conflict, while at this time there are hundreds upon hundreds here more than can find constant employ. A person from Weymouth told me that a man in Adelaide, coming from that place sent home, requesting his father and brothers and all of his family to come out. The consequence was, one brother took a wife, and landed safely in the land of promise; but, on their arrival, through want of work, the man and his wife were obliged to be separated, she going into service.
There is another thing – I would not recommend any young females to come out on any consideration; the dangers and evils to which they are exposed, both on the voyage and after their arrival are many – I am, as ever, your affectionate brother.
P.S. – The prospects or the colony are getting worse and worse every day; those who were thought the richest men in the colony, are now proved to be worth nothing, so that the trade is at a stand still. Do not let any of my neighbours be deceived by false representations. The William Mitchell is arrived, and will land the emigrants this day. I know not whether there are any persons from Truro on board. This is the fourth letter I have written – one to my dear parents, one to Thomas Crocker, and one to Mr Bath. Let my dear parents know this.
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