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Looking Back Now

Looking Back Now

Why did the first group emigrate on the ship Brothers to Port Phillip arriving in 1850? While we can’t be definitive, there is a strong case that a key impetus was seeking a healthier climate. TB – widespread in England at the time – had affected both the Minter and the Peck families – and two of the adult emigrants ultimately succumbed to the disease (Mary Anne King and James Peck), with two other adult emigrants likely to have been sufferers, although evidence is not conclusive (Ann Elizabeth Hedley and Michael Minter). “Bad health” was cited as the reason given by Michael Minter for emigrating. Although now discounted by medical science, in the mid nineteenth century there was a widespread belief that a long sea voyage and warmer climate was helpful to sufferers of TB and other debilitating conditions.

While this group emigrated prior to the gold rush, new opportunities and adventures may also have beckoned. As mentioned above, the colonies were actively promoted in England throughout the nineteenth century. The opportunities and advantages of Gippsland were well known to George Hedley through a newspaper article collected by his brother-in-law in the early 1840s. At this time at the end of the convict era, emigration was being vigorously promoted. The unexpected death in 1848 of Dr Robert James Peck, the father of the Peck siblings, created a change in family circumstances which may well have made it attractive for three of the siblings to leave England in 1849, being joined later by another. The family home in Newmarket, Suffolk, was auctioned in 1850 by their mother who chose to return to her native town of Folkestone, forming a new locus for most of those siblings who remained in England.

The eldest son, Ffloyd Peck, remained in Newmarket until 1858 ensuring his mother and siblings were well settled and handing the family medical practice on to a new partner. Then, with his family, he joined the first emigrants in Gippsland – a family reunion for both him and his wife. And in 1864 their cousin, Antoinette Gehle, married the then recently widowed brother-in-law, John King, in London prior to travelling to Gippsland.

What was the experience of the emigrants? And did they remain a close-knit group?

Many tragedies beset the group of emigrants over their lifetimes in Victoria, and there is evidence they pulled together and provided considerable mutual support. First was the death of Ann Elizabeth Hedley at the age of 31, four years after arriving – possibly already weakened and suffering dysentery. In 1859 Anna Maria Peck died unexpectedly at the age of 36 less than a year after emigrating – her death the result of birth complications; in 1863 Mary Anne King died of TB at the age of 39; and 1864 within a month of each other, Ffloyd Peck aged 43 died unexpectedly of septacaemia following an autopsy, and Michael Minter aged 57 of general debility. By 1864, five of the ten adult emigrants had died at a relatively young age. And in 1871 Edward Hedley, who emigrated as a child, died tragically at the age of 23 of burns in an accident at a Stockyard Creek[now Foster] hotel.

Response to these tragedies appears to have drawn the group together, with much mutual support provided. Following Ffloyd Peck’s death, George Hedley and family moved to Sale to take over Ffloyd’s medical practice, also living close by his family. Following the death of Michael Minter in Mount Moriac, sons-in-law James Peck and Robert Copland Lethbridge helped manage the property until it was let and subsequently sold. The entire Minter family then moved to Gippsland, close to their Peck cousins. In later life, Ada Peck and Mary Hedley, both widowed, lived together in Sale once their families had grown up and moved – indicating an enduring friendship.

Family ties were also strengthened through marriages within the network. George Hedley, Ffloyd Peck and John King, widowed with young families, all remarried within a couple of years – two from within the family network. James Peck married his cousin Ada Minter, both emigrants together on the Brothers.

The three older men amongst the emigrants were all established medical doctors with qualifications completed in England. James Peck, arriving at the age of 17, moved into pastoralism, beginning his working life at Snake Ridge after his sister, Mary Anne Peck married John King in 1853. Mary Anne brought a network of people to Snake Ridge. Besides her brother James, a friend from Newmarket, William Phillips, gained employ on Snake Ridge (later marrying Rosa Minter), and Mary Anne’s cousin Antoinette Gehle was to become the second Mrs King. The husbands of the three eldest Minter girls were all associated with Snake Ridge in the 1850s/ 60s.

While Michael Minter established a medical practice in Mount Moriac, he also had a strong agricultural focus, with two vineyards beside pastoral activities on his 640 acre property. He, and later his son, both made a mark by engaging in and advocating innovative practices in agriculture. The Minters established a fine garden around their home at Mount Moriac. During their years in Tarraville, the Hedleys purchased five acres nearby, where George grew and exhibited vegetables, grapes and orchard fruit. He actively promoted the development of farmers clubs and an agricultural association.

Little detail has come down about the women emigrants. They were obviously well educated and capable. Ada Peck, Mary Hedley and Flora Gregson were all accomplished artists. Anna Maria Peck’s lively letter and Anna Josepha King’s recording of her father’s stories showed literary talents. Mary Hedley had a long career in teaching and running a small private boarding school; Menie Peck established and ran a successful boarding house. Ella Lethbridge and Annie Chomley both became respected matriarchs on large pastoral stations. These women proved themselves resourceful and able – qualities needed in good measure in a new and raw settlement.

Those who emigrated as adults remained a tight knit, mutually supportive group. Those who emigrated as children in the main settled in Gippsland, a few in other parts of Victoria; one eventually in Queensland; one returned to England following the death of her husband. Not enough is known of their later lives to know how close their ties to each other remained.

The declining fortunes of Gippsland towards the end of the nineteenth century were doubtless a factor– the first generation of those born in Victoria have moved further afield (inter-state, New Zealand, United States), but only two returned to England. Thus, for those who emigrated in the 1850s/60s it proved a definitive move. The adults of the original group remained close knit and mutually supportive, with ties lessening across the group within a generation or two.

What sort of people were they? Those who emigrated were from an educated background, from families in the medical profession. Spouses were also well educated. While those medically qualified continued to practice once in Victoria, they also became actively engaged in community building and public office in the newly established colony, taking on positions among them such as member of parliament, public vaccinator, justice of the peace, chairman of the Roads Board, and chairing committees to (successfully) establish a public hospital and gain municipal status for a township. They appear to have been active members of the Anglican church community, as well as benefactors to several parishes. And an entrepreneurial streak is evident in George Hedley’s various mining ventures, in John King’s pastoral enterprises, in James Peck’s stock and station business, and in Menie Peck’s boarding house.

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