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Bobbin and Carriage


Machine-made Lace and Lacemaker Stories

The journal Tulle is a treasure trove of facts, comments, research and speculation about machine-made lace, the Lacemakers of Calais and their families.

All 141 issues of Tulle are available in full on this website to everyone.

SHORTCUTS to the stories in Tulle will make this trove more accessible, but the links here are just a hint of what's hiding inside 35 years of those stories.

1848 to 2023: In the first half of the year 175 years ago, many of the lacemakers began to leave Calais and St Pierre-lès-Calais

The Journeys, the Ships and Life at Sea


In early 1848 the economic and social chaos in France now concerns many of the lacemakers and their families in Calais and St Pierre-lès-Calais. Some decide to stay. Others, out of work and with few resources decide to leave Calais and St Pierre-lès-Calais. Some return to England while almost 700 men, women and children decide, with the British Government’s assistance, to start new lives in the Australian Colonies.

With the decision made to migrate, preparations begin. The British Government provides funds, charters Harpley and begins to outfit and provision those migrants who lack the required clothing and equipment for the voyage. Other vessels will be needed.

Returning to England or starting their journey to Australia, the lacemakers make their way from Saint Pierre, through the Porte Royale gate in the Calais wall, along rue Royale, through another gate and onto the dockside. There they board side-paddle steamers such as Tourist, the packet boats that make regular trips across the Channel to Dover and London. Looking back dockside they have their last sights of loved ones and the nearly completed railway station and lighthouse. On arrival in London, many travel onto Nottingham and other towns. However, for the nearly 700 migrating to Australia, the journey by sea is just beginning.

Calais showing packet boats dockside

The nearly completed railway station is to the right and the town, its wall and gate beyond


As the lacemakers arrive in England the British Government assess their needs to ensure that all have sufficient equipment and clothing for use on the voyage and after their arrival. This is additional to the family’s belongings and includes any additional clothing and boots, bedding (mattress, bolster, blankets) and a small box for clothes, a knife, fork and spoons, a metal plate and drinking mug. This box is stored in the bunk space. While the remainder of the lacemakers’ possession are stored in the hold below.

Most of the lacemaker migrants depart from the Thames River. A few possibly join the ships in Plymouth. The steamers from Calais typically come alongside the waiting migrant ship and the migrants scramble across as their meagre belongings are hoisted aboard. Perhaps some migrants are taken to the Deptford Immigrants Depot before they transfer to their vessel. The article in Tulle Issue 37 pp30-32 about Agincourt does not give a favourable impression of that depot!

Towing Out [An Emigrant Ship] from Deptford

Illustrated London News, 13 Apr 1844, p230

When the vessels sailed

For the Australia-bound migrants, the Government changes its proposed schedule and so, on 19 April Fairlie slips its moorings at Deptford and heads down river. The normal start for an immigration vessel sees it towed downstream to Gravesend from where it can set sail into the Thames estuary, round North Foreland Head and heave-to in the Downs off Deal to allow the pilot to go ashore. Sailing south to the Channel, a possible last view of the towers and spires of Calais and then west for a day or two and the vessel heaves-to or maybe anchors off Plymouth to exchange letters for newspapers and embark a few last passengers. Weighing anchor, the ships steer southwest and into the Atlantic Ocean. It is now non-stop to Australia.

Harpley follows Fairlie a few weeks later (Tulle Issue 13 pp5-8) and Agincourt departs mid-June. Seven more vessels carrying the lacemaker immigrants depart in July and August (Andromache, Nelson, Emperor, Navarino, Hooghly, General Hewett and Baboo) with two more in September and October (Walmer Castle and Harbinger). Duke of Bronte follows in May 1849 and Norfolk sailed in March 1857.

Ship - a general term for the sailing vessels

Lacemakers on which ships? Why are these ships nominated as carrying lacemakers? Read the editor’s article “Those Other Ships” in Tulle Issue 112 pp5-8 and a reply in Tulle Issue 113 pp7-9. “Ship” is a general term for the emigrant vessels, all of which are sailing vessels built of timber, but they vary greatly in many aspects. They differ in ages, sizes, rigs and build locations. A ship is a sailing vessel with square sails and yardarms on all masts (a ship-rig) while a barque is a sailing vessel with only a fore-and-aft sail on the mizzen (aftermost) mast. Read about the different rigs in detail in Tulle Issue 18 p6. A detailed discussion on possible “Other Ships” is in Tulle Issue 110 pp7-15.

Ship Harbinger

Three-Masted Sailing Barque

Fairlie was built in Calcutta in 1812 while Harpley was built in Tasmania and almost new when she sails from England in 1848. Read more in Tulle Issue 16 pp16-17. Harpley is new but is she a sea-worthy ship? A book reference in Tulle Issue 20 pp5-6 states when she arrived in London in 1847 Harpley was condemned by Lloyd’s surveyors as unfit to carry emigrants, some of her beams being declared rotten. Another comment about Harpley’s timbers is in Tulle Issue 110 pp21-22. Was she really a sea-worthy vessel and perhaps this is how it came to be available for the lacemakers who were not on the British Government’s planned emigration schedule? However, why then did Lloyd’s Register rate Harpley in 1848 as A1– the best. In fact, it was rated A1 in every year until 1862-1863 being the last time Harpley appeared in Lloyd’s Register and the year she foundered in the Canary Islands.

Sailing Route from England to Australia

In 1848 the usual route for the migrant ships to Australia is to sail across the Bay of Biscay, west of the Madeira and Canary Islands to a possible sighting of the Cape Verde Islands off the African west coast. Crossing the Equator, the ships head south and take a wide arc to the east to clear well south of the Cape of Good Hope probably at about 37 to 39 degrees south latitude. Depending on the wind strength and direction, the route east across the Indian Ocean sees the ship staying clear of the strong winds and high seas of the Roaring Forties. See a map of the probable route in Tulle Issue 113 p30

Accommodation and Life on Board

Most of the lacemakers travel in steerage between-decks completely separated from the ship’s crew and officers. In turn the emigrant families are separated by gender and age with the single males forward, the parents with children centrally and the single females towards the stern. The typical layout of the accommodation depends greatly on the size of the vessel and whether it has accommodation for the crew on the main (weather) deck.

Layout of an Emigrant Ship Accommodation Deck [Steerage]

The bulkheads between the divisions were adjusted to suit the gender and ages of the emigrants on each voyage.

Across the 14 ships conditions vary. Rats, cockroaches and bed bugs are a usual annoyance while staying dry is a daily problem for many as the vessels often leak. The emigration ships usually have scuttles in the sides for light and air, but these are often small and closed due to poor weather. Hatches over the companionways between decks are also closed in rainy weather, so closing off light and ventilation. There is a lot more to say about hygiene, cooking, behaviour and amusements to pass the time so read more in Tulle Issue 123 pp9-13. Emperor with 277 migrants including members of the Goldfinch, Plummer and Gamble families onboard is not well-suited to carrying emigrants. It is narrow and lacks sufficient large side scuttles and ports. General Hewett however is a large ship twice the size of Emperor with 9 feet (2.7m) between decks and provides better accommodation and amenities for the 333 emigrants.

Emigrants’ Accommodation Between Decks

Illustrated London News, 13 Apr 1844, p230

No matter the size of the vessel, it’s a long, boring voyage.

The typical voyage time from England to the Australian ports is usually about 14 to 16 weeks and whatever the time of year, poor weather can arise anywhere and life onboard can be trying for young and old, many of whom have never been to sea for more than a day or two, if that. However, routines develop for access to the main deck for good air and light, for food preparation and eating, washing and laundry, socialising within and between families. Discipline among the emigrants can be a problem especially on those ships where most of them are unknown to each other. It is usual that some emigrants assist the crew to provide duties to and control of the passengers. On Harpley for example lacemakers work as a schoolmaster, hospital nurses and assistants, constables and cook’s assistants. For their service, they receive “gratuities under the Commissioner’s instructions” as noted in Tulle Issue 109 p25.

Accounts of voyages to Australia in the 1800s are common and diaries can be read including one of a paying passenger on the 1849 Harpley voyage to Port Adelaide included in Tulle Issue 38 pp9-15. An interesting fictional diary of a passenger on Agincourt’s 1848 voyage is in Tulle Issue 15 pp8-16 and in Tulle Issue 40 pp14-17 a diary of passenger on its 1849/50 voyage. Not all the lacemakers travel with Government assistance. The Holmes family on Navarino to Port Adelaide paid for their own passage. (South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900) Wed 15 Nov 1848)

The weeks turn to months and the passengers have few contacts other than among themselves on board. Perhaps the chance sighting of an island, a sea bird overhead or fish alongside distract them for a short time. Occasionally there is a sighting of another vessel. The first real hint of their destinations come when the flat and barren shoreline of the Yorke Peninsula or the more undulating wooded shores of Kangaroo Island is sighted for those heading for Port Adelaide or the islands in Bass Strait and the Cape Otway lighthouse for those sailing to Port Phillip or Port Jackson.


Fairlie was the first to leave England and the first to arrive in Australia when it sails into Port Jackson on 7 August 1848. The 296 immigrants are reported as “principally English, and of a superior class” and the ship as being kept in a “cleanly, wholesome, and orderly state”. Tulle Issue 10 pp9-10 has newspaper reports on Fairlie’s arrival. Not so Emperor that arrives in early November and reported to be in a dirty state with poor discipline among the emigrants and crew.

The vessels mostly arrive in the order that they sailed. In September Harpley reached Port Adelaide and Agincourt anchored in Port Jackson in early October 1848. Then in November five vessels arrived in port, three in December 1848 with another in February 1849. The late departures of Duke of Bronte and Norfolk sees them arriving in October 1849 and May 1857.

On arrival in port and after the agent’s checks, the lacemaker immigrants’ experiences vary greatly from permission to land to find their own way, the “usual” regulated system of hiring from the vessel to immediate despatch to inland migrant depots.


In Tulle there are numerous references to the ships including construction, launch, voyages, diaries of passengers, accommodation and life aboard, careers and the passengers. Search the Lander Directory or try some of these articles:

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In Times Past

1848 to 2023 – it is 175 years since some of the lacemakers left Calais and Saint Pierre-lès-Calais for the Australian colonies. Others returned to Britain, but not all left.

Many lacemakers remained and continued their lives in France.

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