The following is an extract from the book “The Farthest Promised Land” by Rollo Arnold, p 194-195The William Davie with the Kent Union’s first New Zealand party, reached the colony’s southernmost overseas port, Bluff Harbour, on 12 April 1874. In letters home during their first few months in the colony, the new arrivals made a good deal of direct and implied comment on the world they had left. On 27 April, James Miller, 49, brickmaker, had his daughter Mary, 14, write a letter from him in Invercargill to a ‘dear son and daughter’ back in Kent. ‘Father says you are not to stay in England to be transported’, she writes, ‘but you are to come out here, he says he was transported all the time he was there, but now he is free again.’James seems here to replying to gibes he suffered in his home village, perhaps from his old employers, James was earning 8 shillings a day for eight hours, his son George 17, was also on 8 shillings, and young Mary had had offers of 20 shillings a week and keep, but could not go because her mother was ill. This latter misfortune, however, gave occasion for the comment that ‘people are not like they are in England; they are very kind to mother, and I have to go to a lady’s house every day for beef-tea or cornflour for her (mother).’ Father, it seems, was itching to move the family ‘up in the bush’. He had been up there and met a young chap who had been in the colony about eighteen months and he keeps a cow, and can lay his hands on a hundred pounds now.
On Sunday, 17 May 1874, Hodges Swain 37, farm labourer, with a wife and five children, wrote home from Invercargill to his parents and friends to give his impressions of the new country. The evening before he had brought home three pounds to give to his wife. He had never lived so well in England, and he too was rejoicing in the eight hour day. As he contrasted the new life with the old, he seems to have felt some bitterness about the past;
I very often think of the slaves in England and the empty bellies. A man is drove to be dishonest in England, but here there is no call for him to be if he will work....... Tell several of the farmers round about Eltham that I thank them for turning their backs on me or else I should not have come.
The following Sunday, 24 May 1874, a letter was penned by Thomas Godsell 39, farm labourer, who had come out with his wife and five children. They had left the ragstone hills of the parish of Plaxtol, for the Southland settlement of Winton. Again it is the good food and the reasonable hours of work that are emphasised. ‘The best of this place is there is plenty of good food. . . . There is no sixteen hours a day for a man to work.’ Thomas himself was earning ten shillings a day and his three eldest children (aged 10 to 16) had found positions with good wages and ‘all found’, ‘I find it a great deal better than I did at the old Borer’s’. Thomas comments, and as an additional attraction he mentions that ‘there is only one class of people out here.’
Some of the William Davie’s party made strong and direct pleas for friends and relations to follow them. Thus George Woollett, 33, farm labourer, who had come out with his wife and five children, write from Invercargill on 5 July 1874;
George, I wish you were here as your trade is the best one out here, and it is a job to get a carpenter. You would get from 12s to 14s a day for eight hours, its all eight hours here. . . . Get the horse whip at my brother Thomas’s and drive him with you to Mr Simmons at once. This place would just suit him for there are thousands of rabbits here, and wild ducks, and swamp turkeys, and the farmers are pleased to see anyone shoot them - any amount of rabbits. Tell all the single girls to come here, they’ll get about 40 or 50 pounds a year.
George Woollett himself was making a living cutting cordwood in the bush, with the help of his 11 year old son Lewis. Working from nine till five, they were averaging ten shillings a day. George mentions the abundance of wood as one of the attractions of New Zealand. ‘I go out the back door and cut down a tree when I want it’, he reports, ‘so we don’t sit cold out here’. George sends greetings to all his friends, mentioning one, Johnny White, by name, and concludes with the appeal to ‘come at once to old Busser’. Weather George the carpenter responded to this appeal one cannot say, but Thomas Woollett, a 38 year old labourer, who sailed for New Zealand with his wife Susan on 31 October 1874, could well be the brother referred to, and the friend Johnny White may well have been the 22 year old labourer who left for the colony in November 1874.
From the book ‘The Farthest Promised Land’ by Rollo Arnold, page 199
Obed King, 35, farm labourer, who emigrated to Invercargill with his wife and daughter, in the union’s initial party on the William Davie, wrote back to his sisters and brothers a few months later that ‘there are as many rabbits, ducks and turkey as we like to shoot.
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