Shelford Emigrations

Our Louisa Petitt married Charles Dean in 1851 and they emigrated to Australia setting up home in Adalong, NSW Australia.\

Louisa Pettit1 (F)
b. 23 Mar 1828, d. 02 Mar 1892, #1768
Last Edited=11 Jul 2003

     Louisa Pettit was baptized on 23 March 1828 in All Saints, Little Shelford, Cambridgeshire, England.2 She was the daughter of Thomas Pettit and Elizabeth Gifford.1 Louisa Pettit appeared on the 1841 Census in the household of Thomas Pettit at House 033, Little Shelford, Cambridgeshire, England, and Elizabeth Gifford, Philip Pettit, Thomas Pettit, Frederick Pettit, John Pettit, Harriet Pettit and George Pettit lived in the same house.3 Her married name was Dean.4 Louisa Pettit married Charles Dean, son of Stephen Dean and Sarah Fletton, on 26 July 1851 in All Saints, Little Shelford, Cambridgeshire, England.5 Louisa Pettit arrived with Charles Dean on 18 November 1854 in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, aboard the Kate.6 Louisa Pettit died on 2 March 1892 in Adelong, New South Wales, Australia, at age 63.7
     Children of Louisa Pettit and Charles Dean:
Louisa Dean   (1851 – 21 Jun 1926)
Stephen Dean   (1853 – 08 Dec 1938)
Amelia Pettit Dean   (1856 – 1856)
Thomas Pettit Dean   (1858)
Alfred Dean   (1860 – 1874)
Harriett Pettit Dean   (1862)

The Shelford Diaspora

Leaving the village for a new life

If, like me, you are a local historian, you soon come into contact with people from America, Australia and other former colonies whose forebears migrated from Shelford to find a new life.
So when did they leave, and why? I guess there are as many reasons for leaving home to make a new life as there are people. Perhaps you are naturally adventurous and want to see the world; perhaps you find your family and village suffocating, and want to move away to a place where you can make a fresh start, with no-one looking over your shoulder. But by far the most common reason, and one that certainly prevailed in Shelford in the nineteenth century, was simply that, if you were one of the poor – and that was the greater part of the village population – there wasn’t a good living to be had here.
Now if you’ve read my other pieces on the nineteenth century (Class War in Shelford, The Shelford Arsonist), you’ll know that, in the 1820s and 1830s the village had too many labourers for the amount of work available, and that there was unemployment within the village. Wages were appallingly low. Life for the labouring families was grim. They had few moveable possessions, whether clothes, furniture, or consumer goods. They would have bought things for necessity, not pleasure. Their diet was mostly bread. Their houses were primitive and overcrowded. The system of poor relief bound them to the parish.
You’ll also know that, while the farmers were more affluent, they too were frustrated by the economic stalemate that existed in the village. Something had to give. And it did. But it was not what anyone expected.
In July 1845 the railway came to Shelford. Suddenly travel to London and the Midlands, and indeed many other parts of the country, was easy (though not necessarily cheap).
By 1851, you could find adverts such as these in the local newspapers:


Attendance given at the Little Rose Inn, Cambridge, on Thursdays from one to four, for the applications of Farm Labourers and others, to the Australian Colonies, Cape of Good Hope, Canada and America, by Mr Josias Johnson, Barley, Selecting Agent to Her Majesty’s Emigration Commissioners.

Her Majesty’s Emigration Commissioners are prepared to grant to Eligible Emigrants, under modified regulations, passages to the several Australian colonies of ADELAIDE, PORT PHILIP, & SYDNEY. A limited number is also wanted for the CAPE OF GOOD HOPE…. 

EMIGRATION TO CANADA & THE WESTERN STATES of AMERICA, via Southampton. – The first ship, the “Ava”, of 600 tons, Perrett Webster, commander, carrying an experienced surgeon, will embark her passengers on the 10th of April punctually. Emigrants to the Western States can engage for their passage at one payment, from England to any of the following points:- In Canada to Quebec, Montreal, Kingston, Coburgh, Port Hope, Toronto, Hamilton, and Port Stanley: – and in the United States to Oswego, Buffalo, Cleveland, Sandusky, Toledo, Detroit, Milwaukie, Chicago, and Cincinnati, without occasion for any intermediate landing. Passengers will be embarked at Southampton, and be conveyed thither by railway, free of expense…

Imagine reading this and starting to think… Word soon spread in Shelford.

On 20 March the Cambridge Chronicle reported:

EMIGRATION – On the 11th inst. a number of emigrants started from Shelford Station to go on board the Phoenician, at the London docks, bound for Australia. About 20 persons had congregated to witness the departure.

On 18th September:

EMIGRATION – a family consisting of 7 persons, viz., father, mother and 5 children, bade adieu to their native place, Gt. Shelford, on the 15th instant – going on the first train to London, on their way to Australia. Others, we hear, are shortly to follow.

Well, this turn of events certainly rocked the boat in Shelford, because on 25th June we read:

THE FARMERS AND LABOURERS – The farmers of this parish and neighbouring villages are already endeavouring to engage their labourers for the ensuing harvest, and they have offered considerably to raise their wages above those given last harvest; this has, in nearly every instance, been refused by the men. It has been very generally anticipated that labourers would be very scarce at the ensuing harvest, in consequence of so many able-bodied men emigrating; and as Ireland is so drained by the emigration mania, we must not expect many labourers from there. The crops have such a prospect of being abundant that we fear the farmers will be short of hands to secure them in due time.

On 11th March the Chronicle further reported that:

Within the last 2 years, upwards of 120 persons have emigrated from this village, Lt Shelford and Stapleford. There is scarcely a ship that is allowed to carry letters from the Australian colonies to this kingdom that is not the bearer of communications from emigrants there, to their relations or friends here; and it is gratifying to state that nearly every letter received is couched in language the most satisfactory. Many of the senders strongly advise their friends to follow them; and some of them have offered to send money, providing parties here could, or the parish would, make up sufficient to pay the outfit and the expenses. Many of our own able-bodied labourers have a severe attack of the emigration fever and are determined if possible to follow their relations for the land of gold.

Money for the fare, of course, was an issue, but it seems that fares were cheap, though the conditions in the ships were, consequently, pretty awful. There also seems to be a hint here that the parish might be prepared to find the fare to rid itself of some of the surplus labour.

In April 1854, Hayes Powter and his wife, who had emigrated to Australia in 1850, made a return visit to Shelford. They were welcomed at the station by a group of friends and family, and the bells were rung to greet them. Lots of people called round to see them. Powter had obviously gone to the gold fields. He made a good showing, with his gold watch and chain, a fistful of gold rings, and pockets bulging with gold sovereigns. He was the master of grandiose gesture, presenting a gentleman who had helped him emigrate with a handsome gold ring.
There were more stories of fortunes made: John Howard (of Lt Shelford) heard from his son, who was at the gold fields in Australia, that he was earning £10 per week. Labourers in Shelford at this time would get 7-10s per week. James Butler, a labourer in Australia, had saved £50 in his first year, and thought that “by perseverance” he would have £100 by the end of the next. These were prospects so far beyond anything possible in the village that it was like a fairy tale.
The aforementioned Hayes Powter, by November, was announcing that his funds were nearly exhausted, and that he would have to return to Australia to replenish them. By this time he had, it seemed, outstayed his welcome. The Chronicle headlined his departure:
Powter had, it appears, been had up any number of times for poaching, and had fled under a warrant for his arrest for breach of good behaviour. He had got through his fortune of over £100. “The whole of the inhabitants of the village express a wish that he may not return again”. Of course the “whole of the inhabitants” may mean only the respectable and affluent village residents, readers of the local Conservative newspaper. Perhaps the labouring class saw it differently. Powter, however, left with one last flourish. He paid the bellringers to ring him out of the village.

Another party of labourers from Shelford and Stapleford left on 14 November 1854. In February 1855:

Another family, consisting of 13 individuals, father and mother and nine children, together with the husbands of the two eldest daughters, who are married – left their native place and country for that of Australia. The man (Henry Poulter) is uncle to the oft-mentioned Hayes Poulter, whose return to Australia was noticed in this paper a few weeks since. Such a contined run of emigration would seem to thin the population; but not the slightest likelihood of a short supply in the labour market is at present apprehended.

So I guess those high harvest wages offered in June 1851 had not lasted.

On 8th August:

Several letters have been received here within the last few days from Australia and America, all giving cheering accounts of the success of the senders. One party from Little Shelford, named Rider who left about 6 years since, and were at great distress at the time, state that since they have been in Australia, they have amassed sufficient capital to purchase a farm, and were living very comfortably. A respectable young man from Stapleford, who left about the same time, informs us that since he has been at the Antipodes he has saved a sufficient sum to redeem his estate at Stapleford, which was deeply mortgaged before he came into possession. Many other accounts have been received here and in the neighbourhood, too numerous to mention.

You can see how such letters, which would have been read, and passed round and talked over in the village would have encouraged others to consider taking the plunge. It wasn’t, however, without its dangers. That month, the emigrant ship Martin Luther was wrecked on its voyage from Liverpool to Quebec. The 408 passengers were miraculously saved by another vessel, which towed them back to Plymouth. W. Smith of Great Shelford, an emigration agent, was himself on board, and hastened to underline the fact that this was the first mishap to befall any immigrants.
Thereafter we don’t hear any more about emigrants in the papers. It had become old news. But, by then, many families had looked at their lives in Shelford, and voted with their feet. Were their new lives better? Where did they go, and what did they find there? How did they earn their living? If you are in America, or Australia, or South Africa, and part of the Shelford diaspora, then perhaps you can tell me. I’d love to know.

Transportation and after…

Of course, not all emigrants went voluntarily. William Dean was tried for “grand larceny” at the Epiphany Quarter Sessions in Cambridge in 1827 and sentenced to seven years’ transportation to Australia.
William Dean was a “higgler and dealer in poultry”, working with or for his father (also a William). The family farm was in Tunwells Lane, roughly where Norfolk House is now. Dean was accused of having stolen 8 turkeys in November 1826.
Turkeys featured prominently in Shelford farming, presumably for the Christmas market. The landlord of the Greyhound, John Moore produced particularly good birds. Dean stole some of the best, and sent them off to the London market. Unfortunately, Moore heard about this, went up to London and identified his birds.
It sounds as though Dean really annoyed the court – his defence made “unremitting endeavours… to defeat step by step the evidence adduced in support of the prosecution”. All in vain. he was sentenced to 7 years’ transportation to Australia. I think the sentence was so severe because he was not just stealing turkeys to eat, but as an item of business.
We next find Dean on the hulk, Captivity, at Portsmouth. After sentence, prisoners for transportation were sent from Cambridge Gaol to floating prisons where they were held awaiting the next transport ship. Dean, who was only 20, is listed alongside another turkey thief from Cambridge – there were obviously a lot of them about!
I know nothing more about Dean until he apparently received a full pardon in May 1832 – not quite the full 7 years. I think he must have behaved well and kept a clean slate. He hotfooted it back to Shelford, and, we find, married Hannah Ellum on Christmas Day that year. His childhood sweetheart? It certainly wasn’t that common for transported men to return home again. The couple remained in Shelford, William continuing as a poulterer. In 1851 they are living in the thatched cottage right beside the Square and Compasses.

The Deans’ home in the 1850s

Presumably life didn’t go well because, in the mid-1850s, they emigrated, not to Australia like the rest of the Shelford labourers, but to West Bend, Wisconsin in the United States. I can only assume he’d had enough of Australia to last him a lifetime! William went first, sailing from Liverpool, and Hannah followed a year or so later with 2 of their children, by now young adults.
I gather from his descendant, Valerie Breen, that he remained an agricultural day labourer for the rest of his life. Was his life in the States better? Only he could tell us that…


From: “Peter Galanakis” <> 
Subject: [ENG-CAMB] Emigration from Gt & Lt Shelford 
Date: Mon, 21 Jul 2003 18:53:55 +0300

Hello everyone,

Further to the discussions regarding emigration, I have come across the following articles. Hope they are of interest.


20 March

On the 11th inst. a number of emigrants started from Shelford Station, to go on board the Phoenician, at the London docks, bound for Australia. About 20 persons had congregated to witness the departed.


11 March

Within the last 2 years, upwards of 120 persons have emigrated from this village, Lt Shelford & Stapleford.

On Tuesday last, the villagers of this parish were set in commotion in consequence of the return of HAYES POWTER, who emigrated about four years and a half since. The emigrant was met by several of his relatives and friends at the railway station, who escorted him and his wife into the village. The ringers were soon called into requisition, and the iron tongues of the church bells gave forth their loud greetings. He was visited by many persons during the day. MR POWTER, it appears, has amassed considerable property while in Australia, he has a profusion of gold rings, he also sports a gold watch and chain and it is said that his pockets are filled with glittering sovereigns, and he says, he offered to sell another emigrant from Shelford a piece of land for £700 before he left. We hear POWTER has presented a gentleman of this place with a gold ring value £11 as a testimonial of respect, for being instrumental in causing his emigration. A few days since, a letter was received !

by MR JOHN HOWARD of Little Shelford, from his son at the gold fields, who states that he is gaining £10 per week. Another letter has just been received from JAMES BUTLER, a labourer in Australia, by his father-in-law, at Stapleford. BUTLER emigrated about two years since, and states that he saved £50 in the first year, and he thought, by perserverance, he should have £100 by the second.

11 November

Shelford & Stapleford are about to be deprived of some more of their able bodied labourers, who it is stated will leave these parishes on the 14th inst. for Australia. MR HAYES POWTER, the returned and lucky emigrant, we hear is again about to return to the golden regions as he states his exchequer is nearly run out, and Shelford fields will not replenish it, he therefore intends to try his fortune once more in the Antipodes.


3 February

On Thursday morning the 1st instant another family, consisting of 13 individuals, father, mother and 9 children, together with the husbands of the two eldest daughters, who are married – left their native place and country for that of Australia. The man, HENRY POULTER is uncle of the oft mentioned, HAYES POULTER, whose return to Australia was noticed in this paper a few weeks since. Such a continued run of emigrants would seem to thin the population, but not the slightest liklihood of a short supply of the labour market is at present apprehended.


8 August

Several letters have been received here within the last few days for Australia & America, all giving cheering accounts of the success of the senders. One party from Little Shelford, named RIDER, who left about 6 years since, and were at great distress at the time, state that since they have been in Australia, they have amassed sufficient capital to purchase a farm, and were living very comfortably.


20 January

It is with the deepest regret that we announce that MR H J DENNIS son of MR JOHN DENNIS of Great Shelford was one of the unfortunate passengers on board the ill-fated LONDON, a steam ship which had left Plymouth for Melbourne on January 11 with the loss of 220 lives.

(There are two lengthy articles on Henry John Dennis and the wreck of the London, if anyone is interested I’d be happy to send them to you)

Source:- The Great Shelford Chronicle, Containing news about some of the inhabitants and happenings in the village 1774 – 1868.

I’d also be happy to look up names for anyone who may be researching family in Gt & Lt Shelford. But please be patient as the book is not indexed.

All the best

Therese Galanakis