John & Ann
Mary  John  Annie  Moses  Isaac  Aaron  Margaret  Harriet  Matilda  Emma  Edwin  Charles  Henry

The Adsett Family: Origins and Migrants

by F. J. Erickson

In the English autumn of 1850 a group of three young men and a young woman left the county of Surrey, south-west of London, and travelled to the west country port of Plymouth, about 180 miles from their family home in East Horsley. Here they boarded a vessel to begin a long voyage as assisted migrants to the tiny settlement of Moreton Bay, in the Colony of New South Wales - almost as far from England as one might go on the face of the earth. The vessel was the Duchess of Northumberland, barque, of 504 tons - small indeed by the standards of today. The migrant group who sailed in her, on Friday, 27 September 1850, were John Adsett (then 27 years old), his wife Louisa (21), and his brothers Moses (23) and Aaron (18).1 Their voyage was the first step in a series that saw the Adsett family firmly established in the Australian colonies. Today, in 1991, 140 years after the initial migration, the number of Adsett family descendants living in Australia runs into thousands.

The brothers John, Moses and Aaron were three of seven sons born to John Adsett and his wife Ann (formerly Kitchenside) in their family of thirteen. They were, it appears, a hardy family, for most of them survived the considerable hazards that claimed many infant and juvenile lives at the time. They were also a long-living family; for of the ten (including the parents) who found their way to a new life in Australia, eight lived well beyond the age of three score and ten. The choice of given names from biblical sources in the family suggests that John and Ann were God-fearing parents; and history confirms that the family was attracted to the dissenting and non-conformist expression of Christiam faith that strongly influenced the English working class, both urban and rural, in the nineteenth century. Certainly the Adsetts were working class. Agent's Immigration Lists classify John Adsett (junior) as a farm labourer, and both Moses and Aaron as labourers. Census records for 1841, and again in 1851, show John Adsett (senior) to be an agricultural labourer;2 and the strong probability is that the Adsett forbears for generations past had been engaged in similar work, with family roots deep in the traditions of the English countryside.3

There is no written family record and no known piece of family lore that gives us today any indication of the painful deliberations that must have accompanied the decision to leave familiar English surroundings, and emigrate to a remote and possibly dangerous pioneering settlement. It is, however, an easy matter to place the family in its historical context; and social historians show the picture clearly enough. The Adsett family, like so many thousands of their contemporaries, were caught in the pressures of industrial change which they were powerless to resist, and from which emigration offered a logical and promising avenue of escape.

John Adsett (senior) was born in 1791, at Cobham in Surrey, perhaps fifteen or sixteen miles south-west of the heart of London. Early in 1793, some weeks after his baptism, Revolutionary France declared war on Great Britain; and hostilities with France persisted throughout his early life. He was twenty-four when the Battle of Waterloo was fought in 1815. Six years after the war, in 1821, he married Ann Kitchenside; and in the years to 1845 their thirteen children were born. On the wage of an agricultural labourer John and Ann Adsett must have found it a grim struggle to raise a large family in the economic conditions of the time.

By 1850, the year of the first Adsett emigration, the living standards of English rural workers had suffered a prolonged decline. The deterioration accompanied a process which accelerated during the late years of the eighteenth century, and continued for thirty years or more into the new century. By degrees the old open field agriculture was abandoned. Arable lands, commons, and waste lands were enclosed, ditches and drains were dug, and the countryside took on new patterns of hedges, fences and roads. Briggs notes that "the procedure used was usually enclosure by act of parliament rather than by voluntary agreement or pressure".4 Parliament, however, was dominated by the great landowners, the peers and the landed gentry, and commissioners invariably favoured the parties wishing to enclose. Many small landowners were forced out, and became labourers. In most enclosures the poor were injured.5

The enclosure movement was, in fact, a necessary part of an agricultural revolution in which greatly improved methods of farming and animal husbandry produced wealth for the great landowners. Improved efficiency, however, reduced the need for agricultural labour, at a time when population was rising. Under the new conditions the employed labourer's work was more likely to be seasonal. Old privileges and communal rights had largely been lost. Wages were low for the farm worker, and paid in cash.

Thomson observes that generation of Englishmen from 1815 to 1850 suffered from the effects of two great social and economic upheavals - the agrarian revolution and the industrial revolution.6 Of the two, the English industrial revolution - the first of its kind in the world - produced more spectacular achievements, and the social evils that attended the growth of the new industrial towns are more widely known. Urban workers and rural workers of the time, however, had this in common, that they had little say in determining their working conditions and wage levels. Without labour organisations and legal protection, they were vulnerable to all kinds of abuse. The antiquated electoral system, despite the reforms of 1832, denied them an effective political voice for many years; and the harsh penal system was rigorously used to check or prevent protest by other means. For example, a demonstration in 1830 by field workers south of the Thames, in support of wage increases, was ruthlessly put down. Several rioters were hanged, and over four hundred transported to Australia as convicts.7

The harshness of the penal code and its use as an instrument of suppression were a grave cause of unrest and dissatisfaction. Thomson notes that there were over two hundred offences for which the death penalty could be imposed.8 For other offences that would not be regarded as serious today, penalties were severe. For example, a law passed in 1816 provided that a man convicted of poaching might be transported for seven years.9 According to family lore, John Adsett's second son, Isaac, narrowly escaped such a fate.10

Directly, the industrial revolution was responsible for appalling conditions and abuses in employment and housing in the factory towns. Indirectly, it also affected many rural workers, apart from the farm workers themselves. Traditional cottage and village industries - spinning and weaving, harness and implement making, milling, furniture making - all suffered from the new competition. The inevitable result was that "the self-sufficing, self-clothing village became more and more a thing of the past".11 Trevelyn, however, offers a further comment of interest in this study:

But the English village during the first half of the nineteenth century was still able to provide an excellent type of colonist to new lands beyond the ocean. The men were accustomed to privation and to long hours of out-of-door work, and were ready to turn their hands to tree-felling, agriculture and rough handicraft. The women were ready to bear and rear large families.12

Such a comment is clearly pertinent to the Adsett family, of East Horsley.

Notwithstanding that widespread discontent and unrest in rural England during the years before 1850 created ample incentive to emigrate, there were important matters to be considered befor the prospective migrant could take any action. The first of these was the question of destination; the second was the question of means. In fact the flow of emigration was running strongly during these years. In 1830, 60,000 migrants left the British Isles, and by 1842 the figure was over 130,000. For the three years from 1847 70 1849, however, the annual average was 250,000. The main reasons around 1848 were famine in Ireland, and hardship in England and Scotland.13 Most of these migrants went to North America, but the tide also flowed to the antipodes.14 The migrating Adsett brothers were thus confronted with a range of possible destinations - the United States, the Canadian provinces, the Australian colonies, New Zealand, or even Cape Colony in South Africa; and even when a general preference had been determined, there remained the selection of a specific destination. In Australia for example, most migrants at the time went to the southern settled areas. One may enquire why it was that the Adsetts' choice fell on Moreton Bay, an insignificant outpost in the vast colony of New South Wales; and there can be little doubt that the answer lies in the publicity given to the area by Dr John Dunmore Lang, in England, during the years 1848 and 1849.

The Revd Dr John Dunmore Lang was one of the most influencial, and at the same time one of the most controversial figures in Australia's early history. He was, in the words of one text, "intelligent but almost blindly impulsive, unflinchingly courageous, indefatigable, self-sufficient, aggressive and intolerant".15 In matters of religion he was outspoken and outwardly bigoted, but his interests were wide-ranging, and included politics, education, colonization and writing. He undertook projects with the zeal of a crusader, but the methods he used to extricate himself from financial predicaments were questionable, and his credibility suffered. One such project was his recruitment of migrants for the Moreton Bay area, during his stay in England from 1846 to 1849. The convoluted story of this venture is recounted by Baker in his excellent biography of Lang, Days of Wrath.16 The essential outcome was that three migrant ships were despatched by Lang to Moreton Bay. The Fortitude sailed on 10 September 1848; and the Chaseley and the Lima followed.

Lang selected his migrants with care. They were, he claimed, of respectable families, some small farmers, others tradesmen of various kinds, and labourers.17 More significantly, so far as Lang was concerned, they were nearly all members of different evangelical communions in England.18 To make contact with such prospective migrants, Lang wrote a series of articles for a widely-read journal. This was the British Banner, a new weekly selling 20,000 copies an issue, and having a circulation greater than the combined circulation totals of all other metropolitan Dissenting and Wesleyan papers.19

Almost every week, from March 1948 till he left England in November 1849, he published an article of 1500 or 2000 words in this journal, praising Australia and trying to persuade his readers to cross the oceans and make it their home. His subject-matter varied. Descriptions of places in New South Wales and their evident future prosperity were interspersed of accounts of his doings in Great Britain and plans for assisting prospective emigrants. He answered readers' questions, described conditions on emigrant ships and listed standard rations and medical supplies. But he always remembered his main theme: the vast empty lands of Australia with their unlimited possibilities. These articles were first-rate journalism, informal, packed with information, argumentative and always very readable.20

It is here suggested that the Adsett family can hardly have failed to be aware of Lang's articles in the British Banner; and some corroborative evidence is to be found in the pages of the Moreton Bay Courier of 29 July 1854. Some forty-six electors then presented a request to Lang to accept nomination to represent the County of Stanley in the Legislative Council (Sydney), the seat then becoming vacant through resignation. The request to Lang refers to "your exertions on behalf of Moreton Bay when it was but little known in England"; and the list of signatures includes the name of Moses Adsett.

It is possible, and not at all unlikely, that the Adsett brothers and Louisa Adsett were prevented by lack of funds from sailing on one of the Lang vessels. On the Duchess of Northumberland they were classified as "assisted migrants"; and therefore there is some interest in examining the conditions under which they were given passage.

In fact the British Government had for some time been giving assistance to eligible migrants. The Waste Lands Act of 1842 provided that the minimum price at which colonial crown lands could be sold was one pound per acre, and that half the proceeds were to be spent in paying the fares for migrants from the United Kingdom who could not afford to pay for themselves. Some migrants were given free passage. Others, deemed able to pay part fare, were given assistance. Migrants were required to be healthy and able-bodied, honest, sober, industrious, and of good character. Adult males had to be migrating to work for wages. All were to be of the labouring class, with a predominance of agricultural workers and shepherds, or female domestic and farm servants. Numbers of young children and adults over forty were severely restricted. For a small sum each migrant received, and later kept, blankets, cutlery, plates, and mugs. In the colony migrants were expected to be industrious and of good conduct.21

The fact that the Emigration Commissioners found it necessary - or at least desirable - to provide such basic items as blankets and mess gear gives some indication of the general economic state of assisted migrants, and perhaps some hint of the conditions on board the ships. The Duchess of Northumberland put to sea carrying 225 migrants (including children), as well as crew. There can have ben little space to spare, and one must assume that migrant accommodation offered little privacy. Neverless the voyage was fortunate and fair, as the Courier account reveals.

No sickness of any kind was experienced during the voyage, and the passengers have all arrived in excellent health and spirits. The appearance of the ship is spoken of as most creditable to the officers. There was but one death - that of an infant, who, we understand, was sickly when brought on board; and there were four births on the voyage; consequently, the total number of immigrants - men, women, and children - brought into this port is 228. Of the number originally on board, fifty-five were from England, and the remainder from Ireland. The Captain was bound by his charter-party to land the immigrants at Brisbane, and accordingly engaged the schooner Lavina for that purpose. The callings of the married and single men, and of the single women, are as follows, according to the official list:- Labourers, sixty-eight; agricultural labourers, twenty-two; domestic servants, forty- three; smiths, three; schoolmaster, one; milliner, one; matron, one. The column of 'age' shows that none of the immigrants are past the prime of life.22

One wonders at the hardihood of women who would undertake a long voyage in such conditions in the certain knowledge that they would give birth on the ship. The conditions must have been difficult for all women, even those who, like Louisa Adsett, were young and healthy. It is worth noting, in passing, that Louisa, formerly Kitchenside, was John Adsett's cousin as well as his bride, and therefore a blood relation to all the family.

The Duchess of Northumberland anchored in the Bay on Friday, 31 January 1851. The voyage therfore took 126 days - a little over four months. The official date of arrival is recognized as Tuesday, 4 February; but in fact it was not until Sunday, 9 February 1851 that the four Adsett immigrants actually set foot in Brisbane. The Courier on the following day reported their arrival.

The whole of the immigrants by the Duchess of Northumberland were landed at Brisbane yesterday, and have been lodged in the former military barrack, tents having ben erected in the square for the use of the single men. The people are now open to engagement, through the immigration agent. Their appearance and demeanour speak well for the care and judicious discipline of the surgeon-superintendent Dr Ayre.

John, Louisa, Moses and Aaron Adsett thus spent their first night on Australian soil in the old military barracks - a relic of the convict settlement period - on the ground now occupied by the Treasury Building, in Queen Street, between George Street and William Street. The success of their voyage is perhaps best expresed in an address to the surgeon-superintendent of their vessel, and in his reply, published in the Courier of 17 February:

February 4th, 1851

Dear and Respected Sir,

We, the undersigned Emigrants, having arrived at our destination, and feeling truly grateful for your kindness to each one of us during our lengthened voyage, beg most respectfully to approach you on the present occasion with this address, humbly assuring you, that neither time, nor change, nor country shall ever erase from our minds the care and attention we have received whilst under your superintendence. Many and varied have been the means you adopted to preserve health and afford amusement. We bless God you have been successful and were it in our power to spread abroad the utter impossibility of anything immoral occurring in any ship coming to this country governed under similar circumstances, we feel assured many of our friends at home would seek the privilege allowed by our Gracious Sovereign, and follow after us. We are sure, Sir, it is a pleasure to you not to have to report more than one death, and that an infant, and that by the asistance of the Most High you are enabled to land us all in perfect health.

In conclusion, Sir, the only return we can make is to offer our prayers before the Throne of Grace, imploring Almighty God, of His goodness and mercy to protect you temporally and spiritually, and so guide every action of your life, that when yoyu pass from this fleeting world of trial and temptation, you shall be found numbered amongst the faithful, praising that God you have so often encouraged us to trust in.
We beg to be, Dear Sir,
Your most humble servants,
(Signed by on hundred and fifty of the immigrants.)

Barque Duchess of Northumberland
Moreton Bay, February 5th, 1851

Dear and Respected People,-

I feel great pleasure in acknowledging the receipt of your Address of yesterday's date, and, in reply, thank you for your kind expressions towards me. I am happy in that you have been so comfortable, and enjoyed the voyage, feling that it is through yourselves - in being obedient to the rules and regulations, and also to my orders. I also feel much pleasure in being able to say that you have shown yourselves to be a respectable, honest,industrious and well-conducted people, and who, I am persuaded, will prove an honour to the country you have left, and an ornament to the Colony in which you may settle. And, being now about to separate,probably for ever, I sincerely desire that your God, who has been your guide and protector, may provide for and prosper you both in soul and body; - and, giving you my best wishes, I beg to remain
Your sincere Friend,
(Signed) John Ayre, M.D.,
Surgeon Superintendent.

There is some merit in pausing at this point to look around, as the migrants must have done, at the small town of Brisbane as it was in 1851. In fact it was not so much a town as a frontier village, with a population of a little over two thousand. The numbers were increasing steadily, and doubled in the five years to 1856; but the great influx of migrants did not take place until after Separation from New South Wales at the end of 1859.

In 1851 Brisbane was a very young town indeed. The census of 1841 showed that the entire European population of the Moreton Bay area was just on two hundred - and of these, 132 were convicts. The area was not thrown open to free settlement until 1842, when the first land sale was held. The only buildings of any substance then were the convict-built structures of the penal colony. Brisbane had experienced just nine years of urban development when the Adsett group arrived in February 1851.

Despite its youth, Brisbane had made some progress, and had facilities to offer. Stores, hotels, blacksmiths, and stables had been established. A boiling down works was operating at Kangaroo Point. A government administration centre had been set up. The town was officially a port of entry, and a customs department had been established. The Moreton Bay Courier had begun publication in 1846. There was a ferry service to cross the river, and river steamers carried passengers and freight to Ipswich, the head of navigation. There was also a regular shipping service to Sydney. Several churches were active in the town, and Lang's migrants had taken steps to establish a School of Arts. In November 1850, a Branch of the Bank of New South Wales opened for business. On the other hand, there were no made roads, no buses, and no coaches. There was no reliculated water supply. No gas works had been built, and there was no street lighting. Services were few indeed. The Municipality of Brisbane was not proclaimed until 1859, and such services as scavenger and sanitary collection did not exist.

From time to time during the 1850s the Adsett names appear in the pages of the Moreton Bay Courier. On 3 March 1851, for example, a list of letters awaiting collection at the Post Office includes the names of Moses and John Adsett. Another letter in July, was addressed to 'Jno. Adsett, Moreton Bay.' There are, however, few records to show the brothers made their way during the early years in the colony. There was a shortage of labour that persisted for years, and willing workers would have found ready employment. Land, however, was available in plenty, and there are occasional indications that the brothers were not slow to seize opportunities. The electoral lists published in the Courier of 7 July 1854 show the names of all three brothers, all freeholders.23 John and Aaron held land at Breakfast Creek, and Moses in the western suburbs. There is an amusing sequence of advertisements in the Courier from August to November 1854, in which John and Aaron are in contention with two other parties over the ownership of a parcel of land of about nine acres, at Mount Pleasant, Breakfast Creek. The land, according to the advertisements, ran cows and calves, and grew fruit trees and banana plants. The brothers are described in one advertisement as "Agricultural farmers".24

It appears that the brothers were not slow to defend their rights, even in court. In another case, John and Moses Adsett, in December 1854, were summonsed on the complaint of one William Smith, that they had branded a heifer, his property. The evidence given, however, was contradictory, and the Bench dismissed the case.

Moses Adsett, as a freeholder in the western suburbs, must have been one of the very early residents in that area. His name is closely linked at that time - and later - with that of Henry Howard Payne:

Henry Howard Payne was the first man to cultivate the soil on the north side of the river, the original lands at Milton, where he attempted the growing of cotton. He and his partner Adsett owned 12 acres of land situated at the corner of Milton and Baroona Roads.25

Henry Payne was born in Lincolnshire in 1822, and died in Milton in 1903. He and his family were also assisted migrants on the Duchess of Northumberland, and it is probable that a personal friendship with the Adsetts developed on the voyage.26 Like Moses Adsett, Payne later held much land at The Gap, and was also known as 'Payne of the Gap'.27 The twelve acres to which McClurg refers was possibly an early holding, possibly known as Lang Farm, in honour of John Dunmore Lang.28 Certainly both men bought land at Milton in a Government sale in April 1859 - Moses Adsett, 58 acres; and H.H. Payne, 42 acres. Both men built residences there, Adsett in Milton Road, and Payne in Baroona Road.29

It would appear that by 1855 the first group of Adsett migrants were well established in the colony. By then all three brothers were married. On 9 September 1854, Aaron Adsett married Mary Maddock, at St. John's Brisbane; and on 21 June 1855, Moses Adsett married Susan Jude, also at St. John's. top of page

In the later part of 1855, the second group of Adsett migrants arrived in Australia.

At the time of the first Adsett family reunion, in October 1981, there were many questions to which family lore provided no answer. Since that time, a good deal of research has been done; and from among the answers has emerged the fact that John Adsett (senior), his daughters Matilda and Emma, and his son Charles landed in Australia, not as might have been expected, in Brisbane or Sydney, but in Melbourne.30

Donald Mckay

On Wednesday 6 June 1855 the royal mail ship Donald McKay, one of the James Baines and Co line of Liverpool and Australia packets, sailed from Liverpool to Melbourne, with full cargo, and 610 passengers.31 John Adsett (snr), his two daughters and his young son sailed in her, probably in the steerage, but apparently as fare-paying passengers. The Age (27 August 1855) reported on the voyage:

The Donald McKay experienced adverse winds before rounding the Cape, but has made the passage from that place in 20 days, and the passage from England in 81 days. Though her passage has been somewhat longer than anticipated, it is the opinion of Capt Warner, that with a fair average of winds she would have performed it within the contract time.

The vessel was reported in Hobson's Bay on 25 August, and arrived on Sunday 26 August 1855.

The Donald McKay, of 2560 tons register, was a large ship for her day. In a long a detailed report, the Argus (28 August 1855) described her as "the largest sailing merchant ship in the world". She was also a beautiful ship, and in full sail must have been spectacular.

Of all the ships Mr McKay has built, and many of them are unsurpassed for beauty and speed, this, to our eye, excels them all. She has all the airy beauty of a clipper, combined with the stately outline of a ship of war; and, though not sharp, yet her great length, bouyancy, and stability, indicate that she will sail very fast, and be an excellent sea boat.

One is disappointed to learn that there were numerous complaints of bad provisions among the passengers.

Again, family lore does not reveal how John Adsett and his charges reached Moreton Bay. Examination of shipping arrivals in the Moreton Bay Courier, with due allowance being made for the trip from Melbourne to Sydney, suggests that their journey from Sydney was probably made on one of the following vessels: Shamrock (arrived Brisbane 17 September, and again 14 October 1855); Waratah (24 September); Sable Chief (19 October); or Boomerang (20 October). Some future researcher may provide the answer.

There are other questions to be answered. Why was it that the Donald McKay passenger list shows the group as follows: John Adsett, age 55, labourer; Matilda Adsett, age 44, wife; Emma, age 11, child; and Charles, age 9, child?32 In June 1855, John was 64 years old; Matilda, his daughter, was 17; Emma was 15 and Charles 12. Was it a subterfuge to allow the family to remain together as a group? And how did they get away with it?

An index of the names of unassisted passengers who boarded ships to Victoria from British and foreign ports between 1852 and 1879 is available at the Public Record Office of Victoria website. A search on "adsett" confirms the details quoted above.

There are still more questions. Why did Ann Adsett not accompany her husband John when the family home was broken up? With whom did she remain in England, and where? And where did John, Matilda, Emma and Charles live after their arrival in Brisbane?

There is some evidence to suggest that John Adsett lived with his son Moses, at Milton. On Saturday, 11 July 1857, the Courier published an account of a misadventure that befell him:

Lost and Found:- On Sunday morning last, an old man of 70, named Adsett, left Lang Farm to go into the bush for some purpose, when he missed his way, and wandered about during the whole of Sunday, Sunday night, and Monday. On the evening of the last mentioned day, he was found on the beach at Sandgate by a German, who lent him his horse and carried him to the nearest dwelling. Adsett had not long been in the country, and this fact, coupled with the weight of 70 years,must have made his two days of bush wandering dreary and desolate indeed. When found by the German, his strength was well nigh gone, and he was altogether in a state of great exhaustion.

John Adsett (senior) died on Monday, 3 May 1869, having lived for over thirteen years in Brisbane. His death certificate shows that he had been living at Milton. He was buried in the the Independent Cemetery (now a playground near the swimming pool in Caxton Street, Milton, north of Lang Park). top of page

The third group of Adsett migrants to arrive at Moreton Bay, also during the 1850s, was another group of four. They were Isaac Adsett (then 29 years old), his wife Jane (formerly Thompson, 24), and their two daughters Ann (2) and Jane (an infant). Their ship was the Alfred, which arrived in Moreton Bay on Sunday, 19 September, 1858. The Alfred's registered tonnage was 1270. It was thus a relatively large vessel, the largest to enter Moreton Bay with immigrants till that time. The voyage was fair and fortunate. The Courier of 2 October published a full report:

The passage was one of the most prosperous on record. There was certainly great delay on the part of the authorities at home in despatching the vessel from the River Mersey; as she left the dock on Sunday morning, the 13th of June, she began business on her own account.... In 30 days the Alfred made the Line; and the winds she fell in with up to this time cannot be spoken of as favorable. The vessel passed through the Tropics without the passengers suffering more inconvenience than might have been anticipated. In 60 days the latitude of the Cape of Good Hope was made; and about this period of the voyage the vessel suffered ten day's adverse winds...

The passage was in every respect a favorable one. Lectures were delivered on various subjects. Entertainments of vocal and instrumental music were given; the votaries of terpsichore also delighted to trip the light fantastic toe. A mock trial - and a mock execution also took place - the particulars of which will, some other time, form an interesting tale, with which we shall gratify our readers. Before the Commissioners there were no complaints from the passengers, a fact almost unprecedented in the history of immigration....

It was remarked by a gentleman of colonial experience, who saw the body of immigrants previous to the commencement of the hiring, that it was rarely so respectable a number was seen together.

The Alfred brought 437 immigrants; and the Courier made the interesting observation that the number of those who came out by the Alfred on remittance orders was large. This, claimed the Courier, plainly showed "how those already established in New South Wales value the comfortable position in which a laboring family may place themselves by the exercise of economy, temperance, and industry".

Agent's Immigration Lists (Brisbane) show Isaac Adsett's birthplace as Gloucester, and that of his wife as Middlesex. It is more likely, however, that Isaac was born in Surrey (as shown in the 1841 Census). The Board's List of Assisted Immigrants for 1858 shows that Jane Adsett (Thompson) came from Bermondsey, and that the two daughters (Ann and Jane) were born at Bristol. Reliable evidence, however, shows that Ann and Jane were born at Brixton, not Bristol. Baptismal records for four later children, held at St John's, Brisbane, indicate that the family had taken up residence at Breakfast Creek.

Nearly twenty years were to elapse before the next group of Adsett migrants arrived in Moreton Bay; and the years to 1877 were significant ones for Queensland and for the Adsett family in the Colony. Late in 1858 Matilda Adsett married John Simon Kehl, an American. In the following year Emma Adsett married James Young, from Bedford; and in 1867 Charles married Susan Ann Chappell, from Cornwall. The family events of these years, however, are the concern of later chapters.

In December 1859, Governor George Bowen arrived in Brisbane, and the Colony of Queensland was formerly proclaimed. An organizing committee, made up of a good number of Brisbane's elite, opened a subscription list, and planned both the manner and the course of the Separation rejoicings. The working men of Brisbane, however, manifesting a sturdy independence of spirit in keeping with colonial conditions, held their own meeting in the Foresters' Hall (Valley), raised their own subscriptions, and mounted their own reception to the Governor, complete with a band of music. And in the list of working men subscribers, published in the Moreton Bay Courier of 22 December 1859, are the names of John Adsett (2/6) and Thomas Maddock (5/-).

No time was lost in making preparations to elect Queensland's first Parliament. Elections were held in May 1860; and the list of voters for East Moreton (with allowances for the flexible spelling practices of the time) includes the following names:

Adset, Aaron
Adsett, John Sen.
Adsett, John Jun.
Adset, Moses
Adset, Isaac33

The first Queensland Government borrowed heavily to promote public works, and inaugurated a vigorous programme to attract migrants. There was a burst of immigration during the early and middle sixties, and another between 1874 and 1877. During the later period the fourth group of Adsett migrants came to Brisbane. top of page

By 1859 seven of John and Ann Adsett's family of thirteen were living in Brisbane. Four daughters continued to live in England. The eldest daughter, Mary (born 1821) married William Rackley, probably in 1849 or 1850. The couple had two sons: William (born 1851), and Edwin (born 1859). It was these two sons, with William's wife (Louisa Jane) and his young family, who sailed from London in the Woodlark in October 1876. These were migrants of a later generation.

The Woodlark, 869 tons, sailed from London on 6 October 1876. She was off Exmouth on 10 October. The Brisbane Courier of 19 January 1877 reported her arrival:

The Woodlark, ship, of the Orient line, arived off Cape Moreton from London yesterday afternoon, at 3 o'clock, and reported all well. In addition to two passengers in the saloon, the vessel brings 10 steerage, 119 assisted, 44 remittance, and 125 free immigrants - equal to 255 and a half statute adults; and also a general cargo valued at 16,400 pounds.

The voyage appears to have been free of trouble, but the arrival was not so fortunate. The Health Officer, on examining the immigrants, found one to be suffering from enteric fever, and refused to grant a clean bill of health. The result was that the immigrants were obliged to remain on board for some days, in cramped conditions, in a Brisbane January. On 23 January one of the immigrants, a person with a rhetorical turn of phrase, penned a letter to the Brisbane Courier. The following extracts give the reader some glimpse of shipboard conditions:

Why should we be detained in such close confinement where we have to exert every power of thought, strength, and mind to battle against sickness?...Thanks to the admirable qualities and exertions of our medical adviser - the worthy Dr. Henderson, whose natural and professional capacities have been imbibed by the whole of the adult passengers - great interest is taken in keeping our persons, berths, and clothes as clean as possible. I can without doubt, assure the public that ever since we left the London Dock, our ship has been kept as clean as possible, under the direction of our medical adviser, and that to his entire satisfaction, of which he himself can testify.... Quarantined would have been bad enough, but this is horrible. Denied even the luxury of a straw bed, some having a week before anchoring thrown their beds and bed clothing away, preparatory to a thorough cleansing and fumigation of the whole ship. Since then we have lain where and how we could....34

The vessel was given its clearance on 23 January, and the Immigration Agent took the steamer Settler to the ship on 24 January. By some bureaucratic bungle, however, the formal release had not reached the Health Officer, and he refused permission for the passengers to leave. It was not until Thursday, 25 January 1877 that most of the immigrants were taken up to Brisbane on the Settler. Some, however, were detained on medical grounds, and on the Saturday one young woman died on board, from typhus fever. The ship was therefore placed under quarantine at Peel Island, and did not finally anchor at Brisbane Roads until 9 February.

Queensland Immigration Records show the names of William Rackley (25), Louisa (21), Florence (4), Frederick (2), and George H. (1), with Edwin Rackley (18), on the Woodlark. The vessel carried 288 assisted immigrants. Of these 125 were free, 119 were assisted, and 44 were remittance immigrants. The Rackleys were remittance immigrants - that is, part of their fares had been pre-paid by someone in the colony. Family lore does not say who it was.

For over a century a letter written by Mary Rackley to her son William in Queensland has survived in the care of the Rackley family. Extracts from it are reproduced here. They afford insights into the trauma and the heartbreak suffered by migrant families, and also by those who remained in the country of origin. The letter was written in December 1876, two months after the departure of the Woodlark, The address given in the letter is 12 Deremy Road, Southend, Croydon. One may assume that this was the Rackleys' family home.

...I feel very Anxious to hear from you all for you have been my first thought and last at night your father and myself have Shed many tears about you all... he as quite made up his mind to Come out to you if we have the Opportunity and means to do so...

Clearly, Mary Rackley's standard of literacy was not high; and one is reminded that education in England at the time was neither free nor compulsory. In the early years of the nineteenth century the British Government acknowledged no responsibility for popular education and it was not until the 1830s and 1840s that any significant moves were made. For the family of a farm labourer to have received any education was a considerable achievement.

The letter also reveals a secondary motivation for emigration - the desire to follow loved ones who had already left to make a new life overseas. For many, no doubt, this was not possible, and the break between the migrants and the families at home was complete. Comparatively few emigrants were able to revisit the land in which they were born. top of page

In the case of the Adsett family the outcome was happier; for it brought about a reunion between family members, some of whom had been parted for more than twenty-seven years. The final Adsett migrants were William Rackley (senior), his wife Mary, and Ann, widow of John Adsett (senior).

William and Mary Rackley, with Ann Adsett, sailed from Greenhithe (London) at 6 p.m. on Thursday, 25 April 1878, on Southesk, barque (Orient Line), of 1138 tons. The vessel was commanded by Captain Charles Grey, RNR. Grey's report on the voyage appears in the Courier of 7 August 1878. It is filled (as befits the report of an RNR officer) with navigational and meteorological detail; but it also reveals that "the passengers were landed on August 1, all in good health, and the ship was towed up the river the same night". The Courier wrote its own report:

The fine clipper ship Southesk, which, on her preceding voyage to this port, attracted so much attention in shipping circles from her beautiful lines and general equipment, again arrived off Cape Moreton, from London, yesterday morning, after a passage of 90 days from the Channel. On this voyage, Captain C. Grey, RNR, who is still in command, brings 363 immigrants, equal to 315 adults, comprising 98 married people, 115 single men, 63 single women, and 82 children, and who are all reported well. Dr. Raphael, who has made several previous voyages to this colony in charge of immigrants, is the surgeon-superintendent, and Mrs Jaap, matron.3

The report is interesting, even if the arithmetic will not bear close scrutiny. The voyage from London to Cape Moreton took 127 days, but Brisbane's winter westerlies prevented Southesk from anchoring in the Brisbane Roads until 30 July. And Queensland Immigration Records show 360 immigrants on board, plus two births, less one death - a final total of 361. Of the 360 emigrants who embarked, 136 were assisted, 193 free, and 31 remittance.

Like the Rackley immigrants of the preceding year, William and Mary Rackley and Ann Adsett were remittance immigrants - and no doubt assistance with fares was readily given by family already in the colony. Immigration Records, however, show Mary's age as 51, William's as 56, and Ann's as 67. In fact their ages in 1878 were respectively 57, 60, and 77. Perhaps a little deception was needed to circumvent the rigour of the emigration regulations.

Ann Adsett came to Australia twenty-three years after her husband John had emigrated, and nine years after his death. It seems a safe conjecture that she had been living with one or other of her daughters in England. Perhaps she found the emotional bond with Mary too strong to break, and migrated with her. She died on 22 April 1891, aged 89 years and 10 months, at Redbank. The death certificate gives the name of Mary Rackley, of Redbank, as informant; and it would appear that she had lived with Mary till her death. She is buried in Toowong Cemetery. In the same grave are buried her daughters Mary and Matilda, and Rupert Rackley (infant son of Edwin).

The parents of John Adsett (senior) were James Adsett and Ann Smith. No record is held of John's date of birth in 1791; but he was christened on Sunday, 18 November 1792. Ann Kitchenside was born in June 1801, and christened on Sunday 15 August 1802. Her parents were James Kitchenside (brickmaker), and Frances (Fanny) Street. Ann and her brother Edward (father of Louisa Adsett) were born at Fetcham, Surrey. John Adsett and Ann Kitchenside were married on Sunday 2 September 1821. The marriage is recorded as having taken place at Thames Ditton, although Ann's death certificate gives Long Ditton, and John's gives Croydon. It is a comment on the state of common literacy at the time that the surname was recorded as 'Hatsett'; and it is worth noting that there are other variants of the name, including Adset, Adsit, Adsetts, Adshead, and possibly Ansett.

Of the family of John and Ann Adsett, five sons and three daughters migrated to Queensland. Three daughters (Annie, Margaret, and Harriet) are thought to have remained in England. Edwin (or Edmund) was born in 1841, and died in 1843. The youngest child, Henry, was born in 1845. He is not mentioned in the 1851 Census; and his father's death certificate (1869) shows that he was then deceased. It seems safe to suppose that if he had survived, he would have accompanied his father to Australia in 1855. Probably he died in infancy or early childhood.

Of the daughters little is known. Annie (or Amy) was born in 1825, and was living in 1869, but predeceased her mother, Ann. Margaret was born in 1834, and is mentioned in the 1841 Census, but predeceased her father, John. Harriet, born in 1836, was still living at the time of her mother's death in 1891. They may have married, and had families; but in this, as in many another matter of interest, family lore has nothing to say.

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1. Ages shown in shipping lists are not all accurate.

2. The Adsett Families 1851 - 1981 {Brisbane}: n.p. {p.3}

3. John Adsett's death certificate shows that his father, James Adsett, was also a farm labourer.

4. Asa Briggs, A Social History of England (London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1983), p. 172

5. Briggs, pp. 172 - 174

6. David Thomson, England in the Nineteenth Century , Vol. 8 of The Pelican History of England (London: Penguin Books, 1950), p.33

7. George Macaulay Trevelyan, English Social History (New York: Longman, 1978), p.416

8. Thomson, p.17

9. Trevelyan, p.446

10. The Adsett Families 1851 - 1981, {p.8}

11. Trevelyan, p.417

12. Trevelyan, p.417

13. At that time all of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom.

14. Thomson, p.94

15. Raphael Cilento and Clem Lack, Triumph in the Tropics: An Historical Sketch of Queensland (Brisbane: Smith and Paterson, 1959), p.100

16. D.W.A. Baker, Days of Wrath: A Life of John Dunmore Lang (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1985), p.257

17. Moreton Bay Courier, 6 August 1849

18. A.A.Morrison, 'Colonial Society 1860-1890 (Queensland)', Queensland Heritage, 1, No. 5 (November 1966), p.23

19. Baker, p.257

20. Baker, p.257

21. Baker, pp. 259-260

22. Moreton Bay Courier, 10 February 1851

23. Voting was neither compulsory nor universal. The list tables voter qualification as 'freeholder', 'householder', 'leaseholder', or 'squatter'.

24. Moreton Bay Courier, 7 October 1854

25. John H. McClurg, Historical Sketches of Brisbane (Brisbane: Library Board of Queensland and Royal Historical Society of Quensland, 1975), p.14

26. H.H.Payne's name appears as witness on the marriage certificate of Aaron Adsett and Mary Maddock (1854), and again on the death certificate of Moses Adsett (1873).

27. An obituary report on H.H.Payne appears in the Brisbane Courier, 19 February 1903.

28. A Brisbane Courier report on Toowong (23 February 1878 and an obituary report (18 January 1900) appear to ascribe ownership of Lang Farm to Thomas Payne.

29. It is possible that the land held by Moses Adsett and H.H.Payne at Milton earlier in the 1850s was selected before survey. Much land in Enoggera (including Milton) was sold in 1858 and 1859. Moses Adsett purchased 40 acres of Enoggera land in September 1858, and another 80 in August 1859. John and Aaron jointly purchased two lots (total 81 acres) in 1859.

30. Credit for this research is due to Linda Garbutchen Singh, descendant of Aaron Adsett and Mary Maddock.

31. Inward Passenger Lists British Ports (1852-1899) give the date of departure as 4 June 1855. The Age and the Argus agree on 6 June.

32. Inward Passenger Lists British Ports (1852-1899), held in Public Records Office, Melbourne

33. Moreton Bay Courier, 7 April 1860

34. Brisbane Courier, 25 January 1877

35. Brisbane Courier, 30 August 1878