Robin Bell (b 1785), the third son and fourth child of Thomas and Ann Bell of Mereworth, married Mercy Cheeseman in 1811 and had a family of ten children.
This family emigrated to New South Wales on the Woodbridge in 1838.
In the late 18th Century, England was again at war. The most terrible effect was a great depression it brought about in agriculture. It was essential the land produce an ever-increasing amount of food and although land enclosure had been going on for a long time the pressures of war hastened the movement. Many more taxes were introduced and although they mainly applied to the rich landowners they had a roll-on effect to the labourer in that as his taxes rose the landowner used them as an excuse to pay his workers less. By 1795 in the south of England agricultural labourers were paid only a pittance compared to what they had been and attempts were made to supplement his income from the parish poor rate. Many people resisted this step and tried to do without this assistance because of the stigma associated with it. They were willing to work, but there was no work. Of course, the Industrial Revolution played its part too.
We know that by the early 1830’s conditions had become so terrible that some agricultural labourers caused riots. In some effort to assist the poor, workhouses were set up all over England. It was probably about this time that Robin and Mercy Bell and family were forced to return to Mereworth from East Farleigh where they had lived and worked for a number of years. (Mereworth was Robin Bell’s parish of birth, so became responsible for him and his family in times of unemployment and destitution).
At the same time, the colonies were calling for more agricultural labourers for the expanding wool trade. Immigration was encouraged but only the richer farmer could afford to go.
By 1837 the first of the assisted immigration schemes to Australia were in place. The summer of 1837 in England and Europe was cold and wet which led to a very poor harvest for that year.
This was probably one of the catalysts that led James and George Bell of East Farleigh, the sons of Thomas Bell (b 1782) and his first wife Mary, to sign on as sailors on board the convict ship Asia to work their way to Sydney in late 1837. See former blogs My Bell Ancestors-George Bell (1817-1894) Sorting Red Herrings posted 3 July 2015 and My Bell Ancestors-George Bell Red Herrings Sorted posted 1 February 2016.
The bad summer of 1837 was followed by a very harsh winter with much snow.
Many families were literally destitute and starving. Several of our Bell families like many others decided to emigrate, hoping to make a better life. The ‘bait’ as it were, was the dream to be able and own land after a few years working in the new colony. This was a dream they couldn’t have realized if they had stayed in England. Having decided to emigrate the families had to full-fill very strict conditions for a free passage to Australia. Many applicants were turned down as they were not able to fit these conditions. Robin Bell (b1785)and his family of Mereworth, Kent, were able to satisfy the conditions to emigrate to Sydney, as most of their family were adults and employable. See former blog “Robin and Mercy Bell of Kent, England, and Scone in New South Wales”, posted 1 September 2012.
With the bounty System for New South Wales, the male members of the family would have applied to the Workhouse Union Clerk at Malling for an assisted passage. He would have sent their application onto the Agent General for Emigration in London. Writing back to the clerk at Malling the Agent-General would announce that the Surgeon Superintendent of a certain bounty ship, such as the Woodbridge, or his agent, would be available to interview applicants on a certain day in the workhouse boardroom. The necessary certificates had to be presented at the interview. The applicant had to produce certificates certifying to moral and industrious habits, good health and practical knowledge concerning his given occupation. These documents had to be signed by the parish clergyman and other respectable inhabitants in the parish where the applicant resided. The applicant also had to tender certificates to his age and that of his wife and children. These were usually extracted from the parish registers. It is probable that Robin Bell and his family made the original application sometime in February 1838.
Other specified conditions for passage to Australia included a certain amount and type of clothing. Luggage packages were not to exceed 18″ deep and every steerage passenger before embarking had to put sufficient linen and other changes of clothing for a month into a box, not more than 15″ square as only these small boxes were allowed in the steerage compartment. All other luggage was stored(preferably in a tin-lined trunk), in the holds to be retrieved and brought onto the deck in calm weather about four or five weeks into the voyage.
Eligibility for free passage was determined by the Superintendent or his Agent at the interview. The successful applicants would then be advised the ships departure date and the necessity of reaching the place of embarkation a couple of days before the date of departure so their luggage could be examined for correctness under the rules of passage.
Preparations would take several weeks to complete, as the clothing alone which was all made by hand would take time. Parish Overseers Accounts in the Parish Chest Records for Mereworth, Kent, give a great insight into the lives of our Bell families, as these show us that the Mereworth Parish Overseers paid for the shoes and clothing to be made to allow our Bell families to emigrate. Also the tin lining for the trunk and tools for their trade. Emigrants were expected to travel to the place of embarkation at their own expense. Again the Mereworth Parish Overseers assisted. Note the ‘landing money’ which was given to the emigrants on landing in the colony.
Original Parish Chest, St Lawrence Mereworth, that once held the parish account books including the Overseer of the Poor. Copyright Nola Mackey-2004
“1838 – An Account of Moneys Spent by me for the parish of Mereworth to assist in clothing and other expenses attending so many poor families who were emigrating from this parish to New South Wales”
|April||Gave Robt Bell by check To purchase tools etc||£4|
|Paid Mr. Farrant a bill for Robt Bell and family||£6|
|Pd the Revd Mr. Jebb for Robt Bells Family
To receive at Landing in Sidney (sic)
Robin and Mercy Bell were also known as Robert and Mary Bell in the Mereworth records.
The family was given ten pounds on landing in Sydney to help them live until they could arrange employment.
The Woodbridge left England on 7 May and arrived in Sydney on 15 September 1838.
In the next blog, I will give more information on the voyage of the ‘Woodbridge‘ itself.