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When the lacemakers decided to leave Calais and St Pierre-lès-Calais in early 1848, they asked the British Government for help to journey to and settle in the Australian Colonies. The Government agreed to the request and provided assistance with supplies and clothing to those in need and found berths for the lacemakers on ships for the journey to Australia.


Australia is a continent, albeit the smallest of them and it includes the landmass and the islands that are near its almost 26,000 kilometres of coastline. However, it is still a very large landmass surrounded by oceans and seas, and it is a very great distance from Britain and France; it is almost on the far side of the world. In 1848 it took about 90 to 100 days to sail non-stop from London to the ports in the southeast of Australia. Sixty years after the establishment of the first British colony, those ports of Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart and Sydney were still the only ports of any size.


Australia had been inhabited by indigenous peoples for some 65,000 years before the British Government sent a fleet of 11 ships to establish a penal colony on the east coast of the continent then named New Holland. This first settlement was on the shore of a small cove in a grand natural harbour. The penal colony was the beginnings of the town of Sydney.


In 1848, there were four colonies in Australia, being Western Australia, Van Dieman’s Land, South Australia, and New South Wales. All were independent of each other and reported separately to the British Government.


The majority of the lacemakers who left Calais for the Australian colonies in 1848 first settled in South Australia and New South Wales. Their destination towns in those two colonies were Adelaide, Sydney, Bathurst and Maitland. 

For the lacemaker immigrants in 1848, the Colonies of New South Wales and South Australia were new worlds in so many ways.

Western Australia

South Australia

New South Wales

Van Dieman's Land

Colony of New South Wales

In 1788 the Colony of New South Wales was established by the British Government and encompassed the eastern third of the Australian continent. The western portion of the continent was named New Holland and was not under the control of the British Government until 1827. The boundaries of the colony changed during the nineteenth century as other colonies were established.


In 1825 Van Dieman’s Land became a separate colony and in 1829 the Colony of Swan River (later Western Australia) was established in New Holland and the boundary between the then two colonies moved westward. The area of New South Wales again reduced in 1836 when the Colony of South Australia was established.


Whatever the reasons, New South Wales was established as a penal settlement. The convicts transported there provided a substantial labour force for the government and the free settlers who began to arrive in numbers during the 1820s. Transportation of convicts from Britain to New South Wales ceased in 1840 with a few thousand more arriving until 1850. The cessation of the free work force coincided with a severe economic downturn in New South Wales and the Colony was eager to attract migrants to replace the convicts’ labour.


In 1848 the Colony of New South Wales ranged from the tropical rainforests of Cape York in the north to the wild coast along Bass Strait in the south and from the fertile strip along the east coast to the deserts and salt lakes of the inland. The principal towns were mostly on the coast including Moreton Bay (later Brisbane), Sydney and Melbourne. Inland the larger settlements included Parramatta, West Maitland, Bathurst and Goulburn.


Settlers from Britain found the climate to be both warmer in summer and milder in winter than that of England. The climate on the eastern coast was favourable to habitation all year round while that inland beyond the mountain ranges was hotter and cooler. The plains around Bathurst, Goulburn and beyond the banks of the Hunter River were fertile and productive. 


The lacemakers initially settled in Sydney, Bathurst and Maitland

Colony of South Australia

Established in 1836, the Colony of South Australia was mostly desert. In 1848 it was also mostly unexplored apart from the three peninsulas Eryria {now Eyre], Yorke and Fleurieu and the fertile coastal area along the southeast coast. Except for a few hundred settlers at Port Lincoln, the population had not spread far beyond the fertile areas east and south of Adelaide, the only settlement of any size.


South Australia was first established on the principles of free settlement, without convicts and on land sales rather than land grants as had occurred elsewhere in the other Australian colonies. The planners and founders of South Australia called for the colony to be their ideal embodiment of what they perceived to be the best qualities of British society. They sought to prevent a reliance of convict labour found in other colonies, thus also reducing unemployment; to eliminate religious discrimination and to make the colony economically self-sufficient. It was intended that free settlers would be attracted based on freedom in the political, economic, civil, and religious spheres, as well as opportunities for wealth through farming and commerce. It was called the Wakefield Scheme and it failed within five years of the arrival of the first settlers. The British Government assumed responsibility and created another Crown colony.


In 1848 the population of the Colony of South Australia was about 38,000. Adelaide was the main city, but other towns included Gawler, Hahndorf, Encounter Bay and Glenelg. Sheep were soon imported, and wool became a vital industry before farms growing wheat were established in the fertile south while lead and copper mines in the drier regions also added to the growing wealth of some of the residents. The greater part of the Colony was dry with infertile soils including in the north huge inhospitable deserts where often-dry rivers ended in salt lakes.

See also 'South Australia in 1848' Tulle No 81 pp19-23 and 'South Australia As It Is' [1848] in Tulle Issue 103 pp19-29 and continued in Tulle Issue 104 pp7-14.

The lacemakers on the ship Harpley, initially settled in Adelaide.

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