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Why leave England

Why leave England?


The ship "Brothers", from London to Adelaide & Port Phillip, 1850 / drawn by the first mate of the vessel, Mr Campbell. (Source: National Library of Australia)

The 1849/50 Emigrant group on the ship Brothers

The 380 ton barque Brothers, under Captain Ellery, sailed from London on 14th October 1849, arriving in Port Phillip on 10 March, 1850. On board was Dr George Dixon Hedley, then aged 33, leading a party of twenty people.1George Hedley, a surgeon from Bedford, England2 was accompanied by his then 28 year old wife, Ann Elizabeth Hawes Hedley (née Peck), the eldest daughter of Dr Robert James Peck of Newmarket, Suffolk. With the Hedleys were their then four children: Agatha, George, Edward and Emily.

Also in the group were two of Ann Hedley’s unmarried siblings - her sister Mary Anne, then aged 26, and brother James, then aged 17. Further members of the migrant party were 43 year old Dr Michael Minter, a surgeon of Folkestone in Kent, and uncle of the Peck siblings on their mother’s side. Michael Minter brought with him his then 29 year old wife, Eleanor Edmonds Minter (née Jeffery), and their then four children: Michael, Ella, Ada and Rosa. Another member of the group was Mary Briarly Robertson, then 35 years old, whose sister Anna Maria was the wife of another Peck sibling, and later emigrant, Dr Ffloyd Minter Peck.

These fifteen people were all related to the family of Dr Robert James Peck and his wife Sarah Peck née Minter of Newmarket, Suffolk. The remaining five members of the Brothers’ party are not known. The claim in The Gippsland Times that “Dr” Reeve of The Ridge, Rosedale was in the party is not supported by the list of passengers on the ship Brothers, as printed in The Adelaide Observer Feb 13, 18503. It is interesting, however, that the Hedley/ Peck / Minter party is seen as connected with John Reeve on their voyage out, given their subsequent links with Reeve’s property, The Ridge, Rosedale4.

Copy of testimonial written by passengers to Captain Ellery of the Brothers on arrival in Adelaide, Feb 1850. (Source: Tim Kendall)

If not John Reeve, who, then, were among the five additional passengers in the first emigrant party? It seems most likely that they were servants, and that we will not be able to discover their names for certain. In that era in England it was commonplace for middle class professional families to have servants, and census data indicates both the Peck and the Minter households in England had servants during the 1850s5. Also, on 6th April 1851 Dr Hedley’s brother-in-law, Dr George Witt, who had emigrated to Sydney in 1848, wrote to his friend Thomas Barnard of Bedford: “…we have kept our old Servant at present, her husband is now Captn. of a Ship & is gone to China, but we hear from Dr. Hedley that he has met with the common lot of all who bring out Servants, his man & his wife have left him – We have never seen him [Dr H.] yet, but we hear that he has grown quite stout & strong.’6

It is possible that the Hedley’s servants were Mr and Mrs Plowman, given that a Mr and Mrs Plowman travelled at the same time as the Hedley party on both the ship Brothers from England to Port Phillip, and, several months later, on the schooner Cecilia from Melbourne to Port Albert.

Health, adventure, opportunity…

Dr Michael Minter was said to have migrated “because of bad health”7. With regard to the other emigrants, we have nothing in writing from any of those emigrating as to why they decided to leave England, why they left then, and why to Port Phillip. But could health considerations have been a factor for others as well?

Tuberculosis (also known as phthisis or consumption), which was a major cause of death in England during the 19th century, appears to have affected both the Minter and the Peck families. Michael Minter’s first wife, Sarah Baldock, had died of TB in 1841 at the age of 36. Of the twelve Peck siblings, TB was to be cited as the cause of death for three of them, with a fourth possible, although it cannot be established from available records8. Three of the four were among those who migrated to Gippsland. While today climate is generally disregarded by experts as ameliorating the condition of TB, in the mid 19th century a long sea voyage and a warm climate were widely regarded as helpful for improving the condition – thus many sufferers came to Australia. While 1849 was slightly ahead of the popularization of the sanatorium movement for treating TB, the medical practitioners in the Hedley/ Peck/ Minter families are likely to have had an early awareness and understanding of new treatments for the condition. Tuberculosis has a gradual onset, intermittent progress and a generally sad conclusion. It was and is a distressing disease.

While health considerations may well have been a major reason for emigration; other factors are also likely to have contributed. A key influence in the decision to emigrate to Port Phillip appears to have been Dr George Witt (1804-1869), the brother-in-law and medical colleague in Bedford of Dr George Dixon Hedley9. A glowing portrait of the potential of Gippsland was given in the article “Australia, And The Comparative Merits of Some Of Her Provinces” in London’s The Morning Post of 27 August 1842. Dr Witt pasted a cutting of this article into his scrap book in the 1840s10:

Sydney, March 30, 1842.“….. We now arrive at the last, and by far the most important district, which has yet been discovered in New Holland - I mean Gipps’ Land. The only unfortunate thing about it is its name. This noble territory extends from Cape Howe to Corner Inlet, and runs back nearly 100 miles to the Australian Alps. The soil is for the most part a chocolate loam, of an alluvial character, entirely free from even the smallest stones, gently undulating, lightly timbered, fertile to excess, yet sound enough for sheep. It is watered by many large and deep rivers, with numerous smaller streams, which, having their sources in the lofty Alps, and being fed by the never failing moisture of dissolving snows, are not, as is too often the case in other parts of Australia, mere beds of shingle, showing the occasional rush of devastating torrents. In the possession of this very important feature, a central spine, or back-bone, of stupendous elevation, Gipps’ Land, it will be observed, differs most essentially and remarkably from every other known portion of New Holland, where, in general, nature seems to have stopped prematurely short in the laborious process of up-heaval, and where the want of ranges of sufficient elevation to precipitate moisture, has cursed the country with eternal barrenness.”

Given George Witt’s longstanding interest in the Australian colonies, it is most improbable he would not have discussed the possibility of emigration with the Hedleys, and over some considerable time. Why Witt and his wife decided to emigrate to Sydney in 1848 is not known, but their move could have precipitated the Hedleys’ decision to emigrate to Gippsland the following year.

Australian colonies were certainly being spruiked as offering “opportunities” – a new and attractive life-style. Land agents, colonial administrators, governments were all in the business of promoting emigration. While the Peck siblings emigrated before the discovery of gold in the Australian colonies, authorities were certainly talking up the opportunities available for new settlers, especially at a time when the convict system was on the way out.

1848 was a turbulent year in continental Europe, with widespread, though short-lived, revolutions. In England the Chartists gave their petition peacefully to Parliament. It was also a time when the potato blight – having arrived in Europe in 1845 – was devastating potato yields particularly in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. But none of these, on the face of it, appear to be strong push factors for the Hedley/ Peck/ Minter group whose adults comprised three established doctors, their wives, two unmarried women and a 17 year old boy fresh from school in France.

View of High Street, Newmarket, c 1905; RJ Peck’s home, now known as Mentmore House, is between the Crown Inn and the Waggon and Horses Inn on the right hand side of the road next to the lamppost. (Source: The Suffolk Real Ale Guide index No. 13882.jpeg)

An enabling factor for the emigration may well have been the unexpected death in 1848 of Ann Hedley’s father, Dr Robert James Peck who for some 35 years ran a general medical practice from his home in Newmarket, Suffolk11, the centre of horse racing in England. Robert Peck was 59 when he died of pneumonia after a mere five day illness, leaving his wife Sarah Peck née Minter (1799-1874) and ten of their twelve children (two died in infancy).

Within a few years of the death of Dr Robert James Peck several significant changes occurred to the Newmarket household. Sarah Peck née Minter, Robert James Peck’s widow, put the family home and contents up for auction on 9th April 185012. She left Newmarket to return to her home town of Folkestone some time during the 1850s, probably immediately following the sale of the house. While Sarah would appear to have been left comfortably off on the basis of her husband’s will (written some fifteen years before his death), a large mortgage on the family home at the time of sale suggests circumstances may have tightened.

Mentmore House, early 1900s, (on left), 30-32 High Street, Newmarket – believed to be the family home and surgery of Robert James Peck in Newmarket from the 1820s until his death in 1848. (Source: Peter Norman of the Newmarket Local History Society)

In 1848 the eldest son, Dr Ffloyd Minter Peck, a surgeon and general practitioner, returned from work in Folkestone to take over his father’s medical practice in Newmarket. Ffloyd was then newly married to Anna Maria Robertson, and their five eldest children were born in Newmarket. Ffloyd and his family joined the emigrant group in Victoria in 1858, and it seems this may have been a long term plan. Ffloyd apparently chose not to purchase his father’s house in Newmarket – an option provided for in RJ Peck’s will. Ffloyd continued the medical practice from rented premises further up the Newmarket High Street13until 1857 when he established a transitional partnership with William Day before leaving for Victoria in 1858 (see further below).

In 1851 Ffloyd’s sister Harriott was a teacher in Stowmarket, Suffolk and boarding with her aunt Harriott Peck, schoolmistress there. In 1853 the younger Harriott Peck married a farmer of nearby Great Blakenham, and was the only sibling of the family to remain in Suffolk14. All the other siblings either emigrated to Victoria or moved, ultimately, to Folkestone.

Five of the Peck siblings moved to Folkestone. In April 1850, Emily Peck married John Hammond of Cressners Manor, Suffolk, and they settled in Folkestone. Over the following decade Robert William Peck, Frederic John Peck, Sarah Maria Peck and Martha Clay Peck all moved to Folkestone15.

In 1861 Sarah Peck née Minter was living with her widowed sister, Ann Holman in Upper Sandgate Road, Folkestone; in 1871 with her then widowed daughter, Emily Hammond née Peck in Pembury Villas, Folkestone. Within a few years of the death of Robert James Peck, the English locus of the Peck family shifted from Newmarket in Suffolk to Folkestone in Kent.

When, in 1858, the eldest son, Dr Ffloyd Minter Peck, emigrated from Newmarket with his family to join his Gippsland siblings and his wife’s sister, he would have known that his siblings that remained in England were all well started in their adult lives, that his mother was well settled, and that there was continuity for his father’s Newmarket general practice.

The Minters were a long-established family of Folkestone. John Minter (1764-1840) – father of Sarah and Michael – followed considerable family tradition in becoming a mariner and later gentleman, jurat and mayor of Folkestone – possibly also one of the surgeons among the extended Minter family16. John Minter moved his family to Vlissingen (Flushing), Holland for some eleven years in the first decade of the nineteenth century during the Napoleonic wars. His youngest son, Michael, was born there. John was probably involved with his eldest son, John, and three sons-in-law in the trading company Minter & Co., which amongst other ventures owned the ship Vre Brodiers notoriously apprehended in 1823 by the HM Customs vessel Badger. A subsequent Crown prosecution for smuggling was lost on the grounds that the ship was judged to be Dutch and more than half the crew Dutch17. Sea voyages, then, were part of the Minter heritage – if generally only of short duration.

Click on the following link to read the next section of the story: Arrival of the ship Brothers in Port Phillip 1850

1 According to his obituary some thirty years later in the The Gippsland Times Monday March 17, 1879, Dr Hedley: “… After a course of travel on the Continent, … left England at the head of a party of 20 persons, comprising his wife and family, Dr Minter and family, Mr James Peck (now of Sale), Dr Reeves (subsequently proprietor of the Ridge station) and others. …” Independent evidence confirms a party of at least fifteen. See also Appendix 5.

2 George Hedley was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, holding also the M.D. diploma of St. Andrew's, Edinburgh. For some years he acted as physician to the infirmary at Bedford.

3 In the absence of a record of the ship’s register, we need to rely on this list of arrivals, which, however, contains several minor inaccuracies concerning the names which are known. For example the newspaper listed: James Peek for James Peck; and Martin Minter for Michael Minter.

4 As discussed further below, John Reeve first came to Gippsland in 1841. Although there are no supporting shipping records, it is possible that Reeve may have returned to England in 1848/9 and in the course of the visit encouraged the Hedleys to emigrate to the then fledgling Gippsland settlement and visit him at Snake Ridge. No evidence has been found to indicate John Reeve was ever “Dr” Reeve.

5 Census data indicates that Sarah Peck née Minter, following her move to Folkestone in the 1850s employed several servants. The household of Dr Ffloyd Minter Peck in Newmarket employed servants in the 1850s, as evidenced by an article in The Cambridge Independent Press newspaper on 20 Dec 1851, reporting an alleged robbery at Dr Peck’s house. The 1851 census listed three domestic servants in Ffloyd’s household: Naomi Pledger aged 27, Ann Cullen aged 22, and James Seargent aged 21.

6 Dr George Witt’s letter to Thomas Barnard of Bedford, dated April 6th 1851, was quoted in a web exchange by Geoffrey Woollard, Cambridgeshire, England, 12 July 2000.

7 Nell Gregson (1954) Notes on sketches by Mr W.H. Gregson and Mrs Gregson (née Flora Minter). State Library of Victoria. La Trobe Picture Collection. Provenance File.

8 Sarah Maria Peck died of phthisis (TB) in Folkestone in 1853 aged 25; Mary Anne King née Peck in 1863 aged 39; James Peck in 1884 aged 51. It appears possible that TB contributed to the death of Ann Elizabeth Hawes Hedley née Peck in 1854 at the early age of 31.

9 Dr George Witt married George Hedley’s sister, Elizabeth Hedley, in Bedford in 1832. George Witt was a house surgeon at Bedford County Infirmary and Mayor of Bedford in 1834. He remained in Bedford until he emigrated to Sydney in 1848, practicing there as a physician for a number of years before changing to the more lucrative profession of banker and returning to England a wealthy man. He presented the “Witt collection” of antiquities and objects associated with ancient cults, notable of fertility and phallic worship, to the British Museum in 1865. Witt’s scrapbooks are kept in the Central Library of the museum.

10 In 2001 Geoffrey Woollard from Cambridgeshire, distant cousin of Dr Witt, noted in a web conversation that he had recently acquired a photo-copied scrapbook kept by Dr. Witt up to the time he left for Australia, in 1848. The extract from The Morning Post was transcribed from this photocopied scrapbook. Appendix 1 gives the full text.

11 This practice is part of a continuous chain of linked medical practitioners that spans three centuries, continuing as The Rookery Medical Centre today. Ref Dr Paul Saban: “Three centuries of medical practice in Newmarket” www.rookerymedicalcentre.co.uk/pdfs/History_Poster.pdf .

12 “To sell by auction, without reservation, the whole of the valuable and excellent household furniture, 250 volumes of books, pictures, china, glass and other property, throughout the spacious dwelling house in Newmarket… freehold family residence, situate in the High Street, Newmarket, in the county of Suffolk, and for many years in the occupation of the said Robert James Peck… possession may be had immediately after the sale…” Advertisement in The Bury and Norwich Post, and Suffolk Herald, Wed March 27, 1850 p.1.

13 Ffloyd and Anna Maria lived at 3 Park Terrace, High Street Newmarket, a house later known as Cardigan Lodge.

14 In October 1853 Harriott Jane Peck married John Edward Peecock, a farmer of Great Blakenham, Suffolk; Harriott died at Stow, Cambridgeshire in 1898.

15 In April 1850 Emily Peck married John Hammond of Cressners Manor, Suffolk (also described as John Hammond of Ashley Hall, Cambridgeshire). They married in Folkestone, Kent and appear to have lived there. Robert William Peck, a solicitor, married Susanna Clark Holman in July 1851 at Elham, Kent. After a few years living in Fairfield, Manchester, Robert and Susanna, by 1861, had moved to Folkestone where they remained. Sarah Maria Peck (b. 1827) died of TB in Folkestone in June 1853. Frederic John Peck (b. 1825) and Martha Clay Peck (b. 1831) appear never to have married; they were living in Folkestone by 1861.

16 It is believed that Dr Robert James Peck undertook his medical apprenticeship in Elham, Kent (the administrative region includes Folkestone), and family tradition holds it was with Sarah’s father, John Minter. If not with him, there are at least two other medical Minters to whom he might have been apprenticed. Certainly Robert James Peck undertook the early years of his practice in Elham, Kent (The Bury and Norwich Post or Suffolk, Essex, Cambridge, Isle of Ely and Norfolk Telegraph 6th Jan 1819 edition)

17 Lord Teignmouth and Charles G Harper (1973) The smugglers: picturesque chapters in the history of contraband. EP Publishing Ltd, East Ardsley, Wakefield, Yorks. First published 1923 by Cecil Palmer. London. pp.133-138.