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Thomas Waters’ Letter to Bedfordshire – May 1862

October 29, 2018

Thomas Waters was my great great grandfather. He was born on 05 October 1829, at the family farm, ‘Newtonbury’ Dunton, Bedfordshire, England.  He died on 28 June 1913 at Rochester, Victoria, Australia

Some years ago, I obtained from the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, letters that Thomas had written from Kyneton to his family in Bedfordshire, between 1862 and 1874. I have copies of these letters at hand. They make very interesting reading, giving a glimpse into the life of a battling newcomer to Australia in the 19th century, The letters outline his difficulties in trying to support his family without economic or family support.  The homesickness Thomas is feeling for his family in England, is very obvious and heartbreaking to read. .
HSV Location: Box 79-2
Item Type: MSS Collection
Item No: MS000976

I have decided to publish these letters over a series of blog posts, in the hope that family members may see them and contact me. I am very interested to make contact with other researchers of this family, so we can compare notes about the Waters family. I have started compiling articles for a book detailing the life of Thomas Waters and his family, both in Australia and England. 

Letter from Kyneton dated May 20th 1862

(page corner torn off: date deduced to be 1862 (from the time frame mentioned in the letter)

Dear Father

There has been a long time passed without any communication. I am very sorry that I have neglected writing for such a length of time. I put it off until I had good news for you, but it appeared that bad luck was to attend me, and I grew more careless in writing, but there has not a day passed for the last eight years that I have not thought of home and those I left behind. Some people here are very fortunate, and others on the contrary, and I happen to be one of those individuals who are unlucky in all their attempts to better themselves.

I held a Government situation four years as Bailiff in a Local court. The first year I was doing well, and by degrees the business became very slack. I was paid only for the number of summonses issued from the Court. Serving the Summons, and mileage going with the same, amounted to one shilling per mile. Some times I would earn two or three pounds a day. Then again, I might be a week without any thing. I was obliged to be at the office every morning at 10 o’clock and wait a few hours to see if any persons should come and take out any summonses. By that means you see, it hindered me from doing other work to fill up my leisure time. It was rather an unpleasant billet. Occasionally, I was obliged to walk into a neighbour’s house and seize all their goods and chattels. I dare say you would laugh at the idea of my being an auctioneer, but I have sold hundreds of pounds worth. I was bound to sell within five days after they were seized if the debt was not paid, but the people about there began to get too honest pay all their debts and the poor Bailiff was obliged to give up his Billet.

I was paying £20 a year rent for a house and keeping two horses. I was obliged to sell my horses to pay expenses. I thought then I would try another part of the Colony and I very shortly sailed for Melbourne. But I must tell you, five years ago I took unto myself a wife  and I am happy to say a good industrious one, and I am now the father of two little boys and very nice little boys they are. In fact they are acknowledged to be very pretty children – one is named Thomas William and the other George Burton.

It grieved me very much to hear from Mr. Birt of poor William Burton’s death. I hope Edith and Tommy is well and comfortable.

I dare say you will think this a strange ……. (indecipherable) me running from one thing to another in …..(undecipherable) manner but when I had made up my mind to go to Melbourne, I was going with another married couple, that was fellow servants of mine on a station. It was settled they should sail from Adelaide a week before me as I could not leave the Court business for a few days, and they were to wait with my wife in Melbourne, until my arrival the following week. But as bad luck generally attended me, the boat had sailed when I arrived in Adelaide, and therefore I was compelled to wait another week. I went to Mr. Birt’s and stayed with him until another boat sailed. During this time, the family that went to Melbourne with my wife, proceeded to Inglewood diggings, and left my wife in Melbourne for us to follow after them when I arrived in Melbourne.

But much to my sorrow when I arrived in Melbourne I met my wife at the railway station, with the youngest child in her arms, most dangerously ill, and she had that day paid the last of her money to the Doctor for advice. I had a few pounds by me, and the Doctor took every farthing from me trying to save the child but all to no …… (undecipherable). The child died and then I was left …. (undecipherable) Got the child buried without money or friend, and then obliged to give the Doctor a promisary note for £2, for a certificate of his death, before I could get it buried, which I managed at last, in a government grave at the Melbourne Cemetery.  And then in a strange country, strange people, and no money and no work to be got of any kind, in fact hundreds of people walking about out of employment with hard struggling, I managed to get as far as Kyneton, a distance of 60 miles from Melbourne. I walked that in one day, and a person paid my wife’s fare to go by coach, and I have remained in Kyneton ever since.

I had great difficulty in getting employment here at first. The country is so thronged with the labouring class. My principal employment here has been working amongst stone, using a hammer 20 pounds weight all day. It requires a great deal of practice to break the stones, not only to use the hammer. I am by this time well accustomed to it now and I like it very well if I can get plenty to do. I sometimes take a few Chains of a road to pitch, in fact, I have three Chains on hand now.

I started to work this morning but it came to rain. I was obliged to come home. I only get 15/- per chain for doing it 66 feet in length and 14 feet wide and the engineer is very particular with the work, so that I can only make about 4s/6d a day. Those that are doing well here, are in good situations, or have a horse and dray. They take those contracts, and do well by them. In the first place, they get about £10 per chain. They do what little carting there is to do, and get the labor done for £3, and pocket the balance.

There are several good gold fields discovered within the last 12 months, not a very great distance from here, and all those that have the means of going, try their luck. Several from this neighbourhood tried their luck and most of them returned with a nice little sum sufficient to give them a good start. Any person to come out here, and have about £150 clear, when they arrived here, they would be able to make an excellent fortune with care, in a few years. Not a great distance from here you can purchase 100 acres of land for £50.

I live in hopes of doing better myself shortly, but there is no prospect at present. It is a long lane that has no turning. We are at present living in a tent, 12 feet long by 10 wide – rather an uncomfortable residence you would fancy. My wife gets a little washing, which is a great help. Winter has fairly set in now, and of course it makes it rather bad for us now, as every thing is dull here at this time of year.

It would give me great pleasure to have a letter occasionally from Bedfordshire, from William, David or George. I hope one of them will write a few lines to me as early as possible, as I should very much like to hear how you all are. I suppose there is a great change since I left, but I hope for the better.

I am happy to say my self, wife and two children are quite well and hope you are all enjoying as good health. Give my love to all not omitting one. I will give you a good account how things are going on here in my next. I shall be anxiously looking for a letter in four months from this time, if I am spared so long. You may depend on hearing from me occasionally, as I feel within myself, I have done very wrong in neglecting to write.

Believe me to remain

Your affectionate son

Thomas Waters

Brief timeline for Thomas Waters

 *Punctuation and paragraphs  have been added to the above transcription for ease and speed of reading
My thanks to Graham Revill, Surrey, England, for transcribing these letters and lodging them with the Royal Historical Society of Victoria.
  1. It is so amazing that a letter like this has survived. What a treasure you have it. I found it so sad though, even in is optimism I felt such loneliness.

  2. I wonder how the letter describing such sad circumstances was received by his family.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Thomas Waters Letter to Bedfordshire – August 1862 | Tracking Down The Family
  2. Thomas Waters’ letters to Bedfordshire – 17 May 1863 | Tracking Down The Family
  3. #National Family History Month Week 1 | Tracking Down The Family

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