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Thomas Waters’ Letter to Bedfordshire Kyneton 23 May 1864

December 3, 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. 

Kyneton May 23rd 1864

Dear Brother

I made up my mind I should have a letter last mail, but disappointed I have not heard from you since you sent Mary’s and Ann’s portraits and that is a long time now. I did not write last mail.

When I last wrote, I was working with a farmer. I was ploughing with two young colts. The horses are not worked here the same as at home. No boy to drive for you, but for all that, I managed exceedingly well. I wish I had been put to such work before I left home. I think I told you the farm did not keep any hands after the seed was in, until such time it requires cutting. I finished there a fortnight back, and the master managed to get me a job at the cemetery. That is to trench the borders of the carriage roads and plant shrubs, and that is like all other work, hurried over. I think another fortnight will finish it. I was in hopes it would last some time.

I am now living in Kyneton Town, and have been here a little more than a week, in a comfortable little house at a rent of 3/- per week. I paid 3/6 in the other, with a half an acre of ground.  I planted nearly the whole of it with potatoes, but the crickets were so numerous they destroyed them.  I think I shall have a bag full of it and that will be all. I was in hopes of having sufficient to last me through the winter, and a few to help pay the rent.

The living is very dear here now. A loaf of bread is one shilling and other things in comparison. The loaf is supposed to weigh 4lbs, but we are obliged to be content with 3lbs and half. I suppose my next work will be road making, as that is the principal work here through the winter.

I hope my health will continue as well as it is at present. I suffered greatly last winter with bad eyes. I think I was nearly 5 months not able to work, and the greater part of that time I was getting in debt, and am now struggling to get clear, which I hope I shall. My heart is willing if I get plenty of employment. I have no desire to be rich, I merely want to get a comfortable living and pay my way, and my children to do the same after me. They may some day be a blessing to me, if I am able to bring them up in the world as I would wish. My eldest boy is 7 years of age. I put him to school as much as I can. He can read and write a little, but of course I cannot expect him to be much of a scholar as yet.

There is one thing grieves me much. We are living close to the Wesleyan Chapel and I have no other clothes, than what I work in, and I do not like to be seen in a place of worship in such a dress, but I am happy to say we have mustered sufficient for my wife to attend, as a few shillings will make a woman appear decent.

I live in hopes of being able to do better shortly.  In fact, I am always in hopes of better employment turning up for me. I don’t spend money in public houses. I cannot recollect the time when I last spent sixpence in one, in fact if I had the means, I have no desire to do so. I have a smoke occasionally, and I often wish I could get some of the same kind of tobacco I used to get at home. Here it is all in cakes.

I was very agreeably surprised the other night, when I came home from work to find my wife had managed to get Annie’s and Mary’s portraits framed. The man we rent the house off is a carpenter and he certainly has framed them very nicely. The cost of them was 4/- and I considered it very reasonable.

I would rather go short of food than had them destroyed and I hope you will fulfill your promise, and send me as many more as you possibly can. I do not know what it may cost to get them taken, but try and send me yours, your wife’s and children if you can manage it, and perhaps shortly I may be able to get some others. I should be happy to get them. You may rely on seeing mine and my family’s as soon as I am in a position to send them.

I trust this will find you all well, and Father comfortable. Give my love to him, and to all, and accept the same yourself, from self, wife and family.

And remain yours truly

Thomas Waters

Brief timeline for Thomas Waters

Links to previous letters written by Thomas Waters:

Thomas Waters’ Letter to Bedfordshire – May 1862
Thomas Waters’ Letter to Bedfordshire – August 1862
Thomas Waters’ Letter to Bedfordshire – 17 May 1863

*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. An interesting revelation that the family did not have appropriate Sunday clothes to wear to church. I know this happened in Melbourne in the 1890s when poor people were being criticised for not attending church, by the same wealthier people who set the tone for what was appropriate. Damned if they did and damned if they didn’t!
    Also sad to hear Thomas asking for images of his brother and family. I hope he received them and they gave him some comfort at being so far apart.

    • Jen I do often wonder if he ever received those photos. I was quite surprised when I read this letter and his concerns about not having clothes good enough for church. I hadn’t ever thought about it. But when I think about it, I can understand the concern and them not wishing to be disrespectful. Thanks for visiting Jen.

  2. So sad to read about the concern for respectful clothing. Obviously thrilled to have the portraits – ‘a little bit of home’. Oh! I do hope he got at least a bag of spuds. Poor man – his bad luck breaks my heart.

  3. These letters are such wonderful treasures for your family! Like others mentioned, I had never thought of the clothes situation before, and that they couldn’t go to church in their shabby work clothes. And photographs were certainly treasured possessions back then. I hope they gave him some comfort during those long years away from his family!

  4. I, too, was touched by Thomas’ grief at not having the proper attire to attend church, but he was able to scrape up enough money for his wife to be able to go.

  5. I enjoyed reading Thomas’ letter home. You can feel his great desire to provide for his family, to help his children be educated and to have a suitable dress for his wife to attend church. The fact that he spent hard earned money on framing the portraits shows how much the family left behind meant to him. What a treasure these letters are!

  6. Thomas’ letter is so,illuminating on his life. It was lovely to read how proud he was of the portraits but concerning to read the effect of his period of poor health and the fact he felt unable to,attend church because of the state of his clothes. A wonderful family history treasure.

  7. Great letters! What a blessing to have these!

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