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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: 175 years ago today, 7 August 1848, lacemaker migrants from Calais arrived in Sydney. They were the first of some 700 lacemakers and their families who left Calais and St Pierre-lès-Calais and began to arrive in the Australian Colonies

Australian Colonies 1848

The Australian Colonies - A New Beginning


After their voyages of between 3 to 4 months, the lacemakers begin to arrive in their new homeland. Fairlie was the first to depart from England and the first to arrive when she sails into Port Jackson on 7 August 1848 and anchors in Sydney Cove. Most of the other ships arrive over the next 5 months being Harpley on 2 September at Port Adelaide/Adelaide

Agincourt on 6 October at Port Jackson/Sydney, Emperor on 4 November at Port Jackson, Andromache on 8 November at Corio Bay off Geelong (Port Phillip/Melbourne), Navarino on 10 November at Port Adelaide, Nelson on 11 November at Corio Bay (Port Phillip), General Hewitt on 13 November at Port Jackson, Baboo on 5 December at Port Adelaide, Hooghly on 5 December at Port Adelaide, Walmer Castle on 30 December at Port Jackson, Harbinger on 12 February 1849 at Port Jackson and Duke of Bronte on 16 October 1849 at Port Phillip. Some years later Norfolk arrives on 29 May 1857 in Hobson’s Bay (Port Phillip/Melbourne).

The first sightings bring relief that the long voyage is coming to an end, excitement for the future and perhaps some trepidation of what they will find when they disembark.

First impressions are mixed to say the least. Those heading for Port Adelaide see the wooded foreshore of Kangaroo Island and the bleaker and wilder shoreline of the Yorke Peninsular. On the far side of St Vincent’s Gulf, they approach a desolate and sandy shoreline with scrub and marshes behind low dunes. So far not one building is in sight. Perhaps in the exposed Holdfast Bay, described by one intending immigrant as an “uninviting” shoreline, the ship anchors until a favourable wind allows it to slowly make its way into the river, “a wretched place for ships to go up and down” to get to the very busy but very foreign looking Port Adelaide.

Those bound for Port Phillip and Port Jackson have different first impressions. They sail past timbered and rocky shores of the wild Bass Strait coastlines and islands and the new Cape Otway lighthouse. The entrance to Port Phillip can be treacherous with contrary winds and currents that force ships to anchor just inside and wait for more favourable conditions. From the entrance the migrants view a wide and open bay with low and flat sandy shorelines. Arriving off Port Jackson the immigrants sail past soaring rocking cliffs guarding the entrance and enter a large but enclosed waterway with three harbours, rivers and open bays all sheltered by timbered hills rising above sandy and rocky shorelines.

Getting Ashore

Once safely anchored, the immigration agent and clerks go aboard. Certainly, in Port Jackson this is usual. They inspect the migrants’ quarters and interview them to determine their particulars such as gender, age and previous trade. In most ports the migrants can then disembark and find their own way to lodgings and hopefully find employment. In Sydney by 1848 the procedure is well-ordered and stricter. The migrants remain on board the vessel and vetted prospective employers are allowed on deck to interview and hopefully select migrants suitable for their businesses. In the past unscrupulous employers had taken advantage of the unwary migrants, in particular unaccompanied girls and young women. Newspaper reports in Tulle Issue 10 pp9-10 explain why and how the procedure applied to the migrants on Fairlie. Government notices in the local newspapers inform employers how and when they will be allowed on board. When Walmer Castle arrives, the ship anchors in Sydney Cove and police are stationed at the boarding ladder to ensure “no stranger or person in quest of servants will be admitted on board … and no stranger will be allowed to visit the ‘tween decks of the vessel unless accompanied by the surgeon-superintendent.” [Sydney Morning Herald, Tue 2 Jan 1849, p2]. A similar procedure applies to those on-board General Hewett after advice in the NSW Government Gazette.

The usual procedure in Port Jackson requires that the unmarried females on-board are taken to the Migrants Depot at Hyde Park Barracks where “they can be hired … by employers whose respectability is known … provided that such employers do not keep inns or other houses of public entertainment.” The strict procedures in Sydney were alone in this form of protection of the newly-arrive migrants. In other ports, the migrants disembark and find their own way from the dockside.

The Agincourt arrives in Port Jackson together with several other migrant-carrying vessels but its migrants are treated differently. The Colonial Government decides those on-board Agincourt do not disembark for Sydney but continue their journey to the migrant depots at the inland towns of Maitland, Bathurst and Goulburn. In his Report on Immigration for the Year 1848, the Immigration Agent draws particular attention to the lacemaker immigrants on Agincourt who he states are “as a body superior to any that I have ever inspected, and that their conduct during the voyage and after their arrival here, their respectful demeanour, and their readiness to proceed at once into the country districts, fully justified the expectations formed by the authorities in England of their probable usefulness, and proved that they were, as in their address to the British Government they pledged themselves to be, ‘men of good moral characters and industrious habits, in the full possession of health and strength, and men whose feelings revolted at the idea of becoming a burden to their native land.’ " The Sydney Morning Herald, Tue 26 Jun 1849, p3, Council Paper

For those who arrive in Adelaide in 1848, the small town is perhaps “a little underwhelming”. However, those who land in Sydney in 1848 find a town probably somewhat more developed than they expected of a colonial town. The article in Tulle Issue 6 pp6-8 reveals what they find.


Did the migrants arrive in “good condition”? Probably most arrive well and able to look after themselves to find lodgings and employment, but not all. Tulle Issue 119 p36 notes within a week of Harpley’s arrival, immigrant Mary Ann Clarke (née Tinson) is admitted to Adelaide Hospital where her disease is recorded as scurvy, an indication of a poor diet. Newspaper reports in Adelaide state the disease is found “in several emigrant ships, of late, … or has manifested itself among the passengers after arrival, to an extent heretofore unknown”.

Mary Ann Clarke and her family are one of six families on Harpley who are not lacemakers. Tulle 37 pp21-24 explains why they are onboard and the lacemakers they replace.

In Sydney following inspections of Emperor, a vessel described “as not well-suited for carrying emigrants”, the Ship’s Deposit Journal 1849 states that “the ‘tween decks of the vessel were in a dirty state and there was every appearance of defective discipline” during the voyage with “great freedom of intercourse … between the emigrants and the Mates and the seamen”. The poor conditions onboard Emperor in 1848 have further consequences as a family from it arrives in Maitland suffering from typhus fever as noted in the article in Tulle Issue 49 pp27-28. Also, onboard Emperor is lacemaker Frederick Gamble who is recorded as insane on arrival - he is taken directly to the Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum for treatment.

Their new lives

Like most migrants to new lands, the lacemakers met with mixed fates. They had said goodbye to family, friends and their previous lives. A condition of the British Government’s assistance was that they did not continue their trade in the Australian Colonies. However, it seems that many saw opportunities to use their skills and knowledge to make new lives for themselves and their families in their new land. Some lacemakers began businesses within weeks of arrival and prospered while others struggled to find their way with some turning to the local charities for help.

A few of the lacemaker migrants returned to England or set out to other lands to make their future. However, most stayed and created new families and lives for themselves. Some travelled across the colonies seeking new lives while others settled in one place. Maria Potter was one. She arrived on Agincourt aged 5 years, travelled to Bathurst with her family and there she stayed. She describes her trip from Sydney and her memories of nearly 80 years life in her new home in Tulle Issue 82 pp6-9.

Tulle References

There are many more articles in the Journal Tulle about the lacemaker families and their lives in the Australian Colonies to be found in the Lander Directory.

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