Thursday, November 1, 2012

John Douglas - migrating from England to New South Wales

John Douglas in 1850 was living in England, age 22, and had recently graduated from university, something that few achieved in mid-Victorian England. Having decided, despite his strong religious beliefs, not to become a clergyman, he was forced to consider his future. As the seventh son in a large family, he could not rely on family wealth and property to sustain him indefinitely. He had a desire for travel and adventure, and the example of his late father and several of his elder brothers, who had fashioned careers within the British Empire, encouraged him towards a similar venture. He had also recently been jilted in love.[1] It was therefore not surprising that at the end of 1850 Douglas, along with his younger brother Edward, decided to migrate to the far-flung colony of New South Wales.[2]He,
had been induced to come out to Australia by reading Haygarth’s account of bush life in Australia and the description of pastoral enterprise and adventure on the Murray and Murrumbidgee.  About the same time he and his brother [Edward] had met a Mr. Andrew Wauchope, who had lately returned from Australia, where he had a station in New England, and they thought it would be delightful to combine a pastoral and patriarchal life with the making of a little money, and the chance of visiting the old country when their flocks and herds had increased and multiplied.[3]
Britain’s loss was Australia’s gain.  Douglas’s upbringing, religious beliefs and education would stand him in good stead, enabling him to lead an interesting, varied and fulfilling life in the Australian colonies.  He was one of a breed of men, who, as Manning Clark observed:
apart from the incentive of material gain, the men who brought British civilisation to Australia were spurred on by two forces - their faith in God, and in the value of their civilisation.[4]
As an immigrant to the Australian colonies, Douglas followed a route familiar to many of his colleagues.  They came to “make a fortune ... or at least to better themselves in a pecuniary point of view.”[5]  Marjoribanks, a Scottish traveller in New South Wales in the 1840s, believed that emigrants could be divided into two classes; “those who intend to settle permanently in their adopted country, and those who intend to return after having amassed a competency.”  Among the latter were those whom Marjoribanks considered to be sons of good families who through the law of primogeniture or other causes had been deprived of the wealth appropriate to their station.  These men were sent abroad by their families to recoup or make their fortunes, in preference to staying at home and being disgraced through application to industry or the lowering of the family name through comparative poverty.[6]
This situation applied to John and Edward Douglas.  Edward achieved his fortune and returned to Scotland before the decade was out,[7] but John charted a different course and permanently settled in Australia.  Not for Douglas the observation of another contemporary observer, G. C. Mundy, who remarked on:
the temporary sojourners who deliberately intended to make the colony a sponge from which to wring wealth, [who] often courted local popularity by most loudly declaiming about the stake they had in their ‘adopted country,’ while secretly counting the days until their departure.[8]
The Douglas brothers came to Australia with £2,000 in their possession, with which they hoped to buy a pastoral station.[9]  Their adventure began when, on 23 April 1851, they sailed as unassisted passengers from Plymouth on board the Malacca.[10]  And what an adventure it would have been!  Voyages to the Antipodes were long, arduous and dangerous, with the possibility of shipwreck ever present.[11]  Another traveller to the Antipodes, Rachel Henning, who sailed to New South Wales in 1854, remarked that, “If we ever survive to reach Australia, I am sure we shall stay there for life for I do not think I would undertake another voyage even to get home again.”[12]  Fortunately, the young Douglas brothers were not shipwrecked or plagued by illness and arrived in Sydney 96 days after their departure.[13]
Douglas’s dreams of a pastoral life did not immediately come to fruition due to the tumultuous events taking place in the colony following the discovery of gold.  He did eventually become a pastoralist, but this led not to him returning to England a rich man, but rather to a life of service and sacrifice in the colony of Queensland.  Douglas found adventure, fame and fortune in Australia, but he also endured bankruptcy and dishonour.  Coming to Australia was the single biggest decision in his life, and one that he never regretted.  England and Scotland had provided him with a privileged upbringing, and the best education money could buy.  In New South Wales and Queensland, he utilised these in service to his country and his fellow man.

[1] John Douglas to Edward Douglas 11 June 1899.  Douglas Papers, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, OM 89-3/B/2/(c)/9
[2] Mason, p. 15
[3] Torres Straits Pilot and New Guinea Gazette, 28 November 1903. This book, written by Henry William Haygarth, was entitled Recollections of Bush Life in Australia during a Period of Eight Years in the Interior and published by John Murray in London in 1848.
[4] C. M. H. Clark.  Select Documents in Australian History 1851-1900.  Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1955, p.  XV
[5] George Nadel.  Australia’s Colonial Culture:  Ideas, Men and Institutions in Mid-Nineteenth Century Eastern Australia.  Melbourne, Cheshire, 1957, p. 31
[6] A. Marjoribanks.  Travel in New South Wales.  London, 1847, p. 234, quoted in Nadel, p. 31
[7] Edward Douglas married his cousin, Hannah Charlotte Scott-Douglas, an heiress worth some £90,000.  (Blanche Nicholson Mitchell.  Blanche:  An Australian Diary, 1858-1861.  Sydney, John Ferguson, 1980, p.238)
[8] G. C. Mundy.  Our Antipodes; or Residence and Rambles in the Australian Colonies [1846-1851].  London, 1855, p. 138, quoted in Nadel, p. 31
[9] Eve Douglas, p. 4.  However, this sum of money would have been patently insufficient to buy the sorts of properties they did purchase.  As Mundy noted in the early 1850s, the younger sons or brothers of opulent English families who came to the Australian colonies typically invested ten or twenty thousand pounds in grazing properties.  (Nadel, p. 31)
[10] Aileen Frindes and Pat Stemp.  Index to Unassisted Arrivals in New South Wales, 1842-1855.  12 Microfiche.  Sydney, Pastkeys, 1994; Mason, p. 17; The Shipping Gazette and Sydney General Trade List, vol 8, no 385, 16 August 1851, pp. 233-34; Colonial Secretary.  Vessels Arrived, July-September 1851.  State Records New South Wales, COD 97)
[11] For a detailed account of just how arduous and dangerous these voyages could be, see Geoffrey Blainey.  Black Kettle and Full Moon:  Daily Life in Vanished Australia.  Melbourne, Viking, 2003, pp. 66-70
[12] Rachel Henning.  The Letters of Rachel Henning.  Sydney, Bulletin Newspaper Co., 1952, p. 16
[13] Frindes; Mason, p. 17; The Shipping Gazette and Sydney General Trade List, vol 8, no 385, 16 August 1851, pp. 233-34; Colonial Secretary.  Vessels Arrived, July-September 1851.  State Records New South Wales, COD 97