Local Historical Stories


Early in 1996 Alastair Robertson - one of our local historians was asked if he would write a couple of historical articles for the Alston Moor Newsletter. He thought he could manage three or four but in the event, over 20 years later, they were still going. Once, and only once, he received an unsolicited article from an outside source, this was the reminiscence of a school for wartime evacuees at Nent Hall that came from Mr. Michael Dickinson and it was gratefully included in the series.

They’re a real mixed bag, too random to put into a book, but they’re still worth keeping in a more permanent form, so the Historical Society website seemed the perfect place to have them.

Material for the articles came largely from local sources, from the Alston Moor Historical Society Archives, St. Augustine’s Church Records, Alston Library, the Cumbria County Records Office in Carlisle and the County Records Office Northumberland.

There has been editing in some cases that will be noted at the beginning of each item, otherwise the articles have been left as they were written, complete with occasional references to such things as cement lorries, the millennium, and foot and mouth disease, which are themselves now things of the past (?).
Read on …

Story No 16: Home thought from abroad

Route to Australia
The discovery of gold in Ballarat, Australia, in 1851 led to a huge rush of British citizens to the colony; 65,000 people in 1852 alone. The possibility of fortunes to be made and to leave poverty behind tempted many men and their families away from the lead mines of Alston Moor, Allendale and Weardale. For example, on Easter Monday 1852, 22 men with 11 wives and 17 children left Alston for Liverpool to take ship for Port Phillip in South Australia. They were followed a week later by a group of people from Weardale, also bound for Port Phillip.
Stephen Madgen was one of the many people who left Alston Moor for Australia. He was born in 1828, the oldest son of Leonard and Hannah Madgen of Swalwell Cottage, Nenthead. In this letter he speaks for himself 160 years ago from the gold field of Tarrangower near Melbourne, Victoria.

Tarrangower July 5th 1855
Dear Father,

Having Rec’d no Letter from you since my arrival in Australia I now embrace the Opportunity of writing to you now, I hope this will find you in good Health as it leaves me at present. I am now on Tarrangower Gold Digings but have not met with any extraordinary success as yet, but made a Good living, but I have confidence in myself that I shall do so. The digings is like this that a person may Dig for Months and make good wages or a living, and then a person may sink one hole with is Fortune in it sometimes in a week and in a day. I have written Two letters to you and one to Richard at Wall and Have received no answer but shall Continue to write to you to let you know how Matters is going now with me in this Country, as I may be here for this two years to com, but if I meet with good luck it will alter my mind. The Quartz Reef is all the go now with many Diggers that has some Money they work it with Machinary they smash the quartz to Powder and Malgamate with Quick Silver. They are similar to a Cartwheel working in a circle about of a Cwt weight of Quartz at once which takes 1 hour work with two men a horse. The yield of gold from the quartz is from 15oz to 40oz per ton. I shall be Glad to see some three or four young single men persevere and come out here but not to leave their minds at home, as Robt Nicholson and Blacklock and party did. They were always thinking about their wives, but I am not thinking about my wife as she is not in this Colony. I would not have a wife out in this Colony for £100 per year, some mens’ wives cost them £300 or even £400 per year so you see what pull back the feamales is to their Husbands. You must tell William Stout if he has an heart ..... with 6d else would come out here and not spend his life in the Lead Mines. Give my love to my Brothers and Sisters, Uncles + Aunts + all inquiring Friends and my intended wife if you know who she is, and accept the same from your Affectionate Son.
Stephen Madgen.

P.S. I am no going to give you a Description Cattle and Prices of things. Beef 7d per lb, 6d Mutton, Flower good £7 per 200lbs, Sugar 7d per lb, Tea 3/0 per lb. The kind of Hay is Oats and Barley sown and mowed for hay and selling on those digings for £50 per ton, potatoes 5d per lb, Cabages 1d each good ones, Good Unions 2/0 lb, Salads deer, lettice 6d each, Small Turip 6 in a bunch 6/0, Butter 3s/6d per lb. There are a great deal of Spirits and Liquors Consumed on the Digings, I make use of one Glass every night as the wether is very wet and cold, The people is obliged to take a little, living in Tents upon the Goldfield some ten thousand or even 20 thousand people upon some of the Digings. There is no hardships upon the digings if a man has his Health and Strength, it is far Better and more Independant than working for a Master. There are plenty of Amusements and all sorts of Game to Intice people to spend their Money, but it is their own fault if they goes astray but I never look at thoes things nor doesen't intend to. I have sent you 2 Newspapers and will send you some more soon if any of my Friends coming to this Country forward a letter to me my address is as Follows:

Stephen Madgen
If they want to find me out General Post Office
advertise me in the Herald Melbourne
newspaper on arrival in Victoria
Melbourne that paper
is upon every diging and
will find me out

Late of Nenthead nr Alston Moor Cumberland

Please to keep my letters till I return home. I defy any man to Condemn my letters upon any Ground whatever. You may show this letter if you think fit.
Stephen Madgen
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About Us
Alston Moor Historical Society was founded in 1973 and, due to the nature of Alston Moor, it is a member of both the Northumberland Association of Local History Societies and the Cumbria Federation of Local History Societies.
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