One of my aims in researching my family history, is to determine why my ancestors left their home and relocated to Australia, the relative unknown. A couple I have found had little say in the matter. However, most made the choice themselves or followed along with their parents. While it is easy to see the advantages of Australian living now, it would not have been the case when the colony was still in its developing stages. Add to this the three to four month voyage by ship … it is worth looking at what they were leaving behind to see what promises they looked for in their future.
Most of my ancestors arrived in groups or knew people in Sydney and could rely on some assistance, or the very least, a familiar face, at the very end. My great, great, great grandmother, Phebe Hutchby, left London, on her own, at the age of 21. She arrived in Sydney in 1949 having sailed from London on the Diana.
Phebe was born in 10 Jan 1828 to George Hutchby and his wife, Mary. The family were living at 92 Drury Lane, London at the time of Phoebe’s baptism in May at St Mary Le Strand. Her brother, Thomas, was baptised the same day. George’s occupation was listed as wine cooper (maker of wine barrels). Phebe was one of six known children born to George and Mary.
Drury Lane was not the best start in life. On the website The Victorian Dictionary, there is a description of Drury Lane taken from the book “Saunterings In and About London” written by Max Schlesinger in 1853. He describes Drury Lane as “always narrow, and numberless are the blind alleys, courts, and passages on either side. The first and second floors of the high and narrow houses, shelter evidently a class of small tradesmen and mechanics, who in other countries would pass as “respectable,” while here they work for the merest necessaries of life, and, like their customers, live from hand to mouth.”
Ewing Ritchie, writing in 1880, Days and Nights in London, describes, “Drury Lane is a shabby but industrious street. It is inhabited chiefly by tradespeople, who, like all of us, have to work hard for their living; but at the back of Drury Lane – on the left as you come from New Oxford Street – there run courts and streets as densely inhabited as any of the most crowded and filthy parts of the metropolis, and compared with which Drury Lane is respectability itself … you are surrounded by men, women, and children, so that you can scarce pick your way. In Parker Street and Charles Street, and such-like places, the houses seem as if they never had been cleaned since they were built, yet each house is full of people – the number of families is according to the number of rooms. I should say four-and- sixpence a week is the average rent for these tumble-down and truly repulsive apartments. Children play in the middle of the street, amidst the dirt and refuse; costermongers, who are the capitalists of the district, live here with their donkeys; across the courts is hung the family linen to dry. You sicken at every step. Men stand leaning gloomily against the sides of the houses; women, with unlovely faces, glare at you sullenly as you pass by.”
It is confronting to think that this is the life that a part of your family lived. I have tried to place the family in better circumstances but the truth is that they have very humble origins.
In 1841, Phebe’s mother, Mary’s occupation is listed as Charwoman and she is living with two of her children in Drury Lane. In 1851, Mary and her children are listed without employment and living off Drury Lane in White Hart Street. She was still living there in 1861 and 1871 and employed as a charwoman. She died in 1883. It is possible that Phebe’s grandfather was Thomas Fuller, the father of a girl named Scoti. In the 1881 census, Scoti is a widowed charwoman living at the Strand Union Workhouse, a pauper. She died that same year. From these sources I am forced to admit that these were people who lived in harsh circumstances and were probably quite harsh themselves.
In 1841, Phebe is 13, working as a servant, and living on her own in Red Lion Square. Her mother and siblings, Thomas and Emma, are still living in Drury Lane. Her father, George, died in 1840. It is hard to say how respectable Red Lion Square is at this time but I feel confident stating that it is a step up from where she had come from. She was staying at number 20 along with other residents who were basket makers, office keepers, carpenters and cabinet makers. For me, this is Phebe’s first step towards finding a new life for herself and escaping the poverty she had grown up in.
In February 1849, Phebe was aboard the Diana and sailing towards Port Jackson. She is listed in the passenger records as being a single female, travelling without family. She was 21 years old, could read but not write, was a housemaid and of the Church of England faith. An account in the Sydney Morning Herald on 27 June 1849 (the Diana arrived 9 June) states that 54 of the immigrants were sent to Maitland, 2 to Goulburn, 29 to Bathurst, 35 were received into the Depot, 61 were hired from the ship, and 48 left the ship on their own. Given that Phebe’s life in Australia was situated in the Hunter Valley, I am certain that she was sent to Maitland.
An article in The Maitland Mercury on 23 June 1849, comments on the allocation of immigrants who had arrived by Steamer from Sydney. At this time, the East Maitland Depot was holding immigrants that had arrived from six ships. The Emmigrant’s Immigrants number 170. Due to overcrowding, many of the immigrants were relocated to the old bank building. It is likely that Phebe was part of this group and it was from here that she would have received employment.
It seems that Phebe married Thomas Fuller in 1850 although no record has been found. There is a record of Phoebe Hatchby marrying a John Shoot in 1850. I am not sure if this is our Phebe or not. Phebe gave birth to eight daughters and two sons. The family lived in Lochinvar and later in Greta.
Phebe’s husband, Thomas, was a convict who had received his ticket of leave in 1841 and was required to stay in the district of Port Stephens. In 1862, Thomas appeared in the courts and was declared insolvent.
In 1866, Thomas is before the courts on charges of stealing nine sheep. The article describing the court case (The Maitland Mercury, 13 Sep 1866) states that he lived ‘on the old line of road at Dunnering near the Lochinvar Railway Station’ and was a wine seller. He is recorded as saying to his wife, Phebe, “Don’t you be dealing in sheep until I come back, if ever I come back.” Two witnesses testified to his character. Mr J F Doyle had known Thomas seven years and declared him a hard working honest man as did Densi Coleman who had known Thomas twelve years. He was acquitted and the court returned the goods they had taken from his house.
Phebe died in 1921 in Nelson Street, Greta where she had been living with her daughter, Annie and her family.
It is unfortunate that I never had the opportunity to meet Phebe. There are many questions I would have put to her. I would ask her about the voyage over on the Diana. Ask her to describe her first impressions of Sydney, so different to the city that she had left. I would ask her if it was worth it and whether, given her time over, would she do it again.
When I compare, with my scant knowledge, Phebe’s end to that of her mother’s, I do think that she fared better. She lived to see her family begin to prosper far from the slums of her childhood and away from the spectre of the workhouse.