Many thousands of people have left Alston Moor over the years, mainly due to recession and decline in the lead industry, and those who left in the early 1800’s must have been among the first to do so. In the archives of the Alston Moor Historical Society the fate of a few of these people can be traced.
After the Napoleonic Wars there was heavy unemployment, and administrators of poor relief urged emigration as a solution. The government responded by reversing its former position of opposition to emigration, and gave financial aid to emigration schemes. In 1817 a select committee on the poor recommended, “that all obstacles to seeking employment wherever it can be found, even out of this realm, should be removed; and every facility that is reasonable afforded to those who may wish to resort to some of our colonies”. There followed a lot of propaganda extolling the virtues of emigration, and the first national experiment on a large scale was made in 1819, when Parliament voted £50,000 to be spent on sending 5,000 settlers to the eastern section of the Cape Colony in South Africa. In general, government land in the colonies was sold to settlers at extremely cheap rates to help defray the cost of the scheme.
Before the South African experiment, however, in the Spring of 1818 the following men and their families had left Alston; William, John, and Isaac Dixon, Thomas and Robert Milburn, Joseph, John and George Lee, John and Robert Walton, Walton Wilson and John Smith.
Amongst others they travelled to Whitehaven where they boarded the Jason, “a square-sterned brigantine” with two masts and a single deck. After what can have been at best an uncomfortable voyage, there were 110 men, women and children who landed at Quebec on 19th September 1818. From there they travelled by flat-bottom boat to Port Hope, Ontario, where the women and children stayed while the men went north to Smith Township to locate their grants of land. The men built a shanty town to live in during the winter, then in the spring they located their land grants on what became known as Communication Road, and returned to collect their families.
A little is known of Thomas and Robert Milburn, the eldest of four brothers and a sister who eventually all emigrated to North America. Thomas (b.1779) married Ruth Haldon in 1806, and had two sons, John and Robert. Robert (b.1781) married Sarah Walton in 1811, and had three children, John, Margaret and Walton.
The third brother, William Milburn (b.1783) married Mary Varty in 1814 and they had the following children: Robert, John (b.1816) and Mary (b.1817). The family moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne and at some point William left his family and sailed to the U.S.A. where he settled in Bradford in Pennsylvania. In 1827, his wife Mary in Newcastle received a letter from a neighbour of William’s in Bradford telling her that William had married a widow named Polly Millar and they had had four children!
William and Mary’s son John emigrated from Newcastle to Peterborough, Ontario in 1843 with his wife Alice (nee Armer) and joined his two uncles, Thomas and Robert and their families.
William and Mary’s daughter Mary married John Lindsay, and they emigrated to Buffalo in the state of New York, U.S.A.
The fourth brother John (b.1787) and sister Peggy (b.1794) also moved to Smith Township near Peterborough in Ontario, where John died without marrying.
John Walton was the son of Tom and Jane Walton (nee Wallis). He was born in Low Lee House, Garrigill, in 1799 and in 1818 he was one of the emigrants via Whitehaven to Canada with his parents. Part of his story is told in the “History of the Township Of Scarboro”:
“Having worked in the lead mines in England, he turned his knowledge to account by sinking wells. Many of those sunk in the vicinity of Gooderham & Worts distillery were sunk by John Walton. In 1823 he settled in Scarboro, on lot 35, concession 2, and lot 35, concession 3, for which he paid $1 an acre. He afterwards sold the north half to Robert Oliver, and lived on the south half. He married Mary Thomson, third daughter of the first settler in Scarboro.
“Mrs Walton carried her butter and eggs to York market, a distance of ten miles, by a footpath through the woods. She received fourpence a pound for her butter, or one York-shilling* for two pounds, and the same for her eggs per dozen, taking groceries and other necessaries instead of cash. One takes an interest in learning that at the end of three years the family fortunes had prospered well enough to provide the worthy daughter of a brave mother with a mare called “Kate”, and a side saddle on which she might ride to market. After two years more, the industrious couple procured a second steed, and, with ingenious fingers, fashioned for the team a set of harness, from strips of basswood bark.”
(*York was the original name for Toronto. A York-shilling was a British sixpenny piece, equivalent to sevenpence-halfpenny currency, or twelve and a half cents.)
In England, in common with most parishes, Alston Moor had its own emigration scheme. “An Account of Receipts and Disbursements by the Committee respecting the Emigration to Upper Canada, of Poor Persons belonging to the Parish of Alston Moor, in the Year 1832”, showed that £310.16s. had been raised to assist twenty-four households and individuals (a total of 124 people) to emigrate. Upper Canada was the area around Toronto towards the Great Lakes.
Prospective emigrants were obviously means tested, for example one widow received £3, while another received £4, and one family of six received £2, while another family of six received £5.
£200 of the overall sum came from the Greenwich Hospital, £25 from the London Lead Company and the rest was donated by local individuals. A disbursement item of £5.3s.6d was described as “Various Expenses in removing the Emigrants to the Sea Coast &c, &c”.
The American and Australian gold rushes in the middle of the nineteenth century tempted many men away from the lead mines. The article in the Autumn 1998 Newsletter gave the example of Stephen Madgen, who wrote home for seventeen years after his arrival in Australia.
Emigration continued into the twentieth century, and between 1911 and 1913 immigration to Australia was 207,816, the main source being the United Kingdom.
On January 1st 1911, Joseph Hodgson wrote from Moonyoonooka Western Australia to his home in Alston. He was newly arrived in Australia and was moving from job to job, being a clerk one week, or a farmhand the next. He describes the climate, with temperatures of 103 degrees in the shade, the differences in farming, particularly the differences in crop yields, and that land could cost as little as 10/- an acre. He enjoys shooting kangaroo and wild turkeys, etc, but good guns were difficult to get.
“Last week there was a very big bush fire here, it was eight miles long and one mile in breadth, so that it lit up the country side at night. Just now they are very common, and there is a one burning now, quite near where I am sitting, but there is a sand belt, and it will prevent it from spreading. So I will sit still and finish my letter.”
He says that water is very precious that they really appreciate a good glass that folk in the old country would turn up theirs noses at. “You haven't got to be too particular about going without a wash sometime and sometime you let your beard grow, but no one's to see you in the Bush.”
“Well I don't think there is much more I can say except that you will please remember me to all my friends around the neighbourhood and let them know I am going on first class, and in the Best of Health, so I will conclude with best of love to all at Alston.
I remain yours aff.