The Dirty Thirties
In the mid 1830’s Wiltshire was in the grip of a severe economic depression that was worse than the one to come 100 years later.
50 to 100 parish men were permanently out of work.
Crops were poor from 1828-1830. In 1830, riots swept Southeast England. Labourers protested the introduction of new threshing machines, which jeopardized their livelihood. They fired ricks, smashed the machines and sent threatening letters to farmers. They invented a Captain Swing as their leader, and he became a figure of fear to the landed gentry.
On 21st of November 1830 riots started in Wiltshire. Along with many other farms in the county, machines in Downton, Whiteparish and West Dean were destroyed. The harsh government response saw 153 men tried and deported to Australia. Their protests crushed, the remaining labourers were thoroughly demoralized.
In 1835, Samuel Payne, Assistant overseer of Downton Parish describes the parish labourers thus:
‘Prior to the winter of 1831 the superfluous labourers of this Parish were generally employed on the Roads or in the Gravel Pits in congregated masses of from 50 to 100, the few industrious Labourers being thus brought into contact with the indolent, dishonest and profligate, the former soon assumed the character of the latter, and theft rioting drunkenness became the result, passers by accosted with the most obscene language, and their general behaviour was of the most violent and daring description.
In consequence of which the Churchwardens & overseers finding it absolutely impossible to conduct Parochial affairs under such circumstances�’
In response, the parish decided to put labourers to work for individual tax payers during the times of the year when they were unemployed, and pay their wages out of taxes.
1832 -Cholera struck the parish.
1833 -from January 27 to May 18, sixteen children died. Paupers were put to work on the roads. 3911 pounds paid in poor relief.
1834 -3243 pounds paid in poor relief.
1835 -3771 pounds paid in poor relief.
To parish officials, it began to look as if no end was in sight. Something had to be done.
The Parish Tries Emigration
Someone came up with the idea that the poor could be sent to the colonies. Sanguine reports about life in the colonies had been coming out of the Colonial office, so perhaps Lord Radnor or the Reverend Clark suggested it.
On March 15, 1835 the parish power brokers met to discuss the issue. On March 20th, Reverend Clark received a circular from the Poor Law Commissioners stating how money could be borrowed to pay for emigration. It was probably too late to apply for the current season, but the parish decided to send a few families anyway.
In early May of 1835, the first group of people left for Canada. They probably caught the weekly wagon from Salisbury to Southampton from where they caught a sailing vessel to Portsmouth to be placed on the American ship Louisa. They stayed at the Quebec Hotel. The receipts indicate passage was paid for 25 people. They bought things for the voyage such as 200 pounds of pork, chamber pots, stockings, tobacco, blankets, kettles and other provisions for life in the new world. Parish records list the following people as having left:
Jas KING and wife, plus 2 Adults and 4 children
J. PRACEY (PRESSEY) and wife plus 1 adult and 3 children
Jas. CHALK and wife and 5 children
Where did they go?
James Chalk and John Pracey and their families ended up as pioneers in the Talbot settlement, near present day St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada. James King may have ended up nearby, as the surname is found in Norfolk county. The Bundy’s may also have ended up in the same area, although no one is certain.
One thing is for certain, someone wrote reports back to Downton and gave a favorable report to other villagers. It seemed to generate lots of interest.
By the end of February 1836, having received authorization to borrow money for the emigration, Parish Overseers were in contact with J.D. Pinnock Esq. Agent General for Emigration at the Colonial office. In a February 26th reply to Overseer R.H. Hooper, Pinnock asks him to send a list with the names and ages of each emigrant. He also instructs Hooper to deposit money into his London bank account, at which time he will engage passage on a ship in either March or April, to depart from Southampton or Poole.
The following notice was then published:
Downton February 28th 1836
Notice is hereby given, that all Fathers of Families, and all single persons, who wish to emigrate to Canada, are to attend a meeting of the vestry, tomorrow at three o’clock in the afternoon, at the vestry room ,at the church, for the purpose of securing their passage and other necessary arrangements
By order of the Select Vestry
On that day representatives of 220 people showed up for the meeting. There must have been considerable excitement in the surrounding area, because by February 29th the neighbouring parish, Whiteparish, was contacting Pinnock with a complete list of names and all the forms filled out as required by law, requesting that a group of their poor be included.
On March 12th, Pinnock wrote a letter to the parish stating that he has found a four year old British built vessel, the King William. She was to be fitted up to carry 230 adults, and will have a surgeon on board.
After all this work, Pinnock did not want to chance that people would get cold feet and want to stay. In an April 5th letter to Colonial Office officials at Quebec concerning the King William, Pinnock advises the following:
…but with a view to prevent any from seceding after their embarkation, it has been stipulated that the vessel shall sail immediately [when?] they are on board.
No direct evidence, such as receipts, names of emigrants, or accounts of the second group’s trip seems to have survived at the parish level. The Alderbury poorhouse Minute Book records a request from Downton parish for shoes for the poor about to emigrate from the parish, this seems to be all that has survived.
The King William sailed on April 7th, 1836.
Arrival in Quebec
Traveling by wooden sailing ships was not a pleasure cruise and Quebec in 1836 was no tourist haven.
In a damning report filed in 1835, A.C. Buchanan, Agent General for Emigration in Quebec notes an increasing number of shipwrecks with serious loss of life. 731 lives were lost in 1834 due to shipwrecks of vessels enroute to Quebec. He states that the use of alcohol should be banned, and that it’s use was carried to an alarming extent in the North American Trade.
In May 1835, J.D. Pinnock wrote to the Poor Law Commissioners in London of:
“..complaints which have been received from Lower Canada of the great distress and sickness which has occured in that province, in a great measure owing to the immense inundation of Emigrants who arrive every year at Quebec and Montreal in the short space of a few months, and who are in most cases landed from crowded ships without means of subsistence.”
Author Catherine Parr Trail writes of Cholera that was ravaging Quebec and Montreal when she arrived in 1832. This was due in part to poor sanitary conditions on ships, some of them arriving full of deathly ill emigrants. This problem was to reach a peak in the 1840s when thousands died in quarantine at Grosse Isle, Quebec.
However, the King William seemed to have been exempt from these maladies. Her 30 year old captain, George Thomas, and his crew of 20 delivered the passengers to Quebec, arriving the week of May 28th, 1836.
A.C. Buchanan wrote that the passengers were all well, and that ‘I advanced each head of family here, sufficient to purchase them some fresh provisions and paid them the balance on their reaching Montreal, – having secured them passage to Upper Canada.
The Talbot SettlementColonel Thomas Talbot
Between 1791 and 1794, Irish born Colonel Thomas Talbot explored the thick, mixed deciduous forest wilderness on the shores of Lake Erie with the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe. After finishing his tour of duty, Talbot, unable to forget the wilds of Canada, sold his commission and emigrated to upper Canada in 1803.
As an officer, he was granted 5000 acres of land for his service. With the help of Simcoe, he arranged a deal with the crown:
‘that 200 acres shall be allotted to him for every family he shall establish thereon, -50 acres thereof to be granted to each family in perpetuity, and the remaining 150 acres of each lot to become his property, for the expense and trouble of collecting and locating them.’
This land was kept in reserve for him along the shores of Lake Erie. By the time the colonial government forced him to wrap up his operations, his settlers had populated a swath of Ontario land land running from east of London clear to Windsor. Violently contemptuous of government red tape, he was a continual headache to land officials; yet he managed to settle 27 townships, thousands of settlers, and they cleared over ½ million acres.
Living the life of a hermit in a log house on a cliff above Lake Erie, he had a steady stream of immigrants, would be settlers, visit him to strike a bargain for land. The settler would go to a special window that was much like a wicket in a post office. He would state his business, and if the Colonel had no reason to object to him, out came the Colonel’s maps of the area and the settlers name was inscribed in pencil on a 50 or 100 acre parcel. If the Colonel took exception to someone he would dismiss them immediately, and if they resisted, he was not above setting the hounds on the hapless visitor. The eccentric Colonel was truly one of the great characters of Canadian history having pioneered the most successful non-governmental land settlement program in Canada.
In 1835, James CHALK and John PRESSEY heard about the Colonel, and made their way to Port Talbot.
A Pressey family history states that:
“They sailed up the St. Lawrence River and through Lake Ontario until they arrived at Toronto.ï¿½ Here they were forced to leave the boat and go in a wagon from there to the shores of Lake Erie, where at Fort Erie, they entered a ship once more on the last lap of their journey to Port Burwell.
By this time their money was almost exhausted and the two brothers [the story mistakenly says that John’s brother was present] together with John’s oldest son, George, who at this time was a lad of sixteen years, walked the remainder of their journey. On their arrival at Port Burwell, which at that time contained only a few houses, their combined money amounted to but seventy-five cents.”
So far, it has been confirmed that the 1836 emigration brought the following Downton families into the settlement:
James and Ann PRINCE, George and Mary and John and Eliza LIGHT, William and ? EDMONDS, Thomas and Sarah PRETTY, George and Mary? PRESSEY, Some of the BUNDYs, Thomas and ? ALLEN,ï¿½and Issac and Lucy DEARE.
The following people have been located, near, but not in the settlement: William and Sarah BAMPTON (and the POORE boys, from her first marriage), and William MUSSEL.
Investigation into the wherabouts of the others is on-going, contact the webmaster if you have any information.