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Back To Where It All Began

The following snippets appeared in Descent, the journal of the Society of Australian Genealogists.

Descent vol 10, number 4 (December 1980)


We have received a request for information on assisted immigrant lace-makers who travelled as refugees (displaced British workers) from Calais to Australia in 1848. Some 263 evidently travelled to Sydney on the Agincourt, of whom 121 went to Bathurst and 128 to Maitland. Another 56 arrived in Sydney by the Fairlie, and 254 in Adelaide by the Harpley. Any known details would be appreciated by A. F. Archer..........

Descent vol 11 number 4 (December 1981)


We have received the following plea for assistance from a well-known English genealogist. Mrs Elizabeth Simpson of Tollerton, Nottinghamshire.

"I have been working for some years now in Nottingham on Nottinghamshire records and I have had three Australian contacts, all of whom are descended from a remarkable migration of the artisan class out of England via France to Australia! I refer to the lacemakers who went to Calais to help the French put together and work the machines, which had been virtually pirated out of England, and Nottingham in particular, during the time when the Nottingham industrialists were trying hard to keep hold of this expertise themselves! One of the families I was researching descended from a young couple, who married here in Nottingham and went straight to Calais. There they lived and raised the first of their family. In 1848, the year of the Revolution, a year of unemployment and general unrest amongst 'workers' in the whole country, the 'English' suddenly found themselves very unpopular. Factories closed through lack of orders, the English were thrown out of work, life became rather unpleasant, and on top of this the French were screaming 'Go home, English'! So come home they did. The Nottingham city fathers suddenly saw great hordes of former Nottingham folk looming towards them, all with no work. They foresaw them coming on to the Poor Rate and there were totally insufficient funds to cope with this. They petitioned Parliament in great haste to help over the whole problem. The upshot was that these refugees were offered Government Assisted passage to Australia! Three boat-loads came over together, all leaving English shores in 1848 on board the Agincourt, Fairlie and Harpley. I began to uncover more about this story. Not all of them went and a large number were absorbed back into their own families here. Some were from Wales and the North West of England. Then I found a contact living in France . . . a genealogist! She had uncovered a great box of Napoleonic Prisoners of War. Technically all those English living and working in Calais were aliens, but they were so useful with their ability to work machines that they were allowed to live freely. But they had to report in frequently and, if they wanted to go anywhere, the they had to seek permission. The boxes she has found are full of details of these folk, such as who they were, where they worked, where they wanted to go and why."

Mrs Simpson suggests that descendants of these early emigrant lacemakers might form themselves into groups, either as a whole or as three separate entities, representing the three ships. Descendants of these families are invited to write to Mrs Simpson, who will be pleased to make contact with them.

Descent vol 12 number 2 (June 1982)


Further to the item in the December 1981 issue of Descent (vol 11, part 4, pages 198-199) announcing this project, we have been advised of the pending formation of an Australian based group specialising in researching the descendants of lacemakers, who emigrated to Australia in 1848. The following are surnames listed amongst the passengers on the 3 ships Fairlie, Agincourt and Harpley, which brought lacemakers to Australia.

BallElliot LanderShaw

Mrs Chris Sutton is in the process of organising an association of descendants of the lacemakers, and would be very pleased to make contact with people who feel they might be eligible for membership of the group.

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