Although people had emigrated from England for many years, and to New South Wales from 1788 when a penal colony was established, it was not until 1836 people began to leave their homeland in England to settle in South Australia. Although some settlers had arrived before this date, 1836 saw the official arrival of ships carrying emigrants to South Australia and the declaration of that state as a Colony. The industrial revolution had commenced the century before in England and had bought with it significant wealth for many. However for the working person, conditions remained brutal. Charles Dickens outlined the social hardships for the ordinary person in England at this time in his novels.
As the cities grew, the effect on rural workers and traditional agricultural labourers intensified. Poor harvests across the country in 1837, coupled with an economic downturn in 1837 and 1838 increased the harshness of life. With little income and poor quality housing, no education or prospects of improvement for adults and children alike, many opted to emigrate.
Some to North America and South Africa and many to Australia. Emigration had been actively discouraged by the government of the day as it was considered that the loss of manpower would weaken the English economy. The population of England continued to grow steadily and economists realised it would be in the interest of the country to encourage emigration. About the same time, Wakefield commenced a public movement to establish free, civilised colonies in Australia. This was associated with a growing public disquiet about the transportation of convicts, which was likened to the slave trade that had only been abolished in 1833. It was hoped that free emigration would end ‘the leper-like ghastliness and deformity of convict society, and human barbarism of the Australian bush’. Many also considered emigration to be a preferable alternative to the growing number of the poor being committed to the infamous workhouses. With the introduction of “assisted passengers” and advertisements for land for sale in South Australia, labourers made the decision to emigrate with their usually large families to an unknown country another world away.
This journey must have been both exciting and frightening, for people who had spent their lives in one small part of Kent with generations of their families living and working in Kent, and their large extended family members living so close to them. I have a copy of a handwritten original diary kept by a young woman who came to South Australia on the Hooghly on the same voyage as the Heneker Family. I plan to add this diary to this blog, to gain an insight into the voyage the Heneker family would have experienced.