“At a Meeting of the Owners of Property in this Parish [Child Okeford] legally intitled to vote,... at the Church in this Parish on Thursday the 22nd day of February…it was resolved that the Churchwardens and Overseers [of the Poor] shall, and they are hereby directed to raise the sum of twenty five pounds as a fund for defraying the expenses of the emigration of poor persons having settlement in this parish and being willing to emigrate to be paid out of the rates raised or to be raised for the relief of the poor in this parish.”
In March 1848 some 30 villagers in Child Okeford had volunteered to emigrate to Australia aided by the money raised. They arrived on 7th June some three months later, after a very speedy voyage. Records of emigration before 1890 have not survived in England but the immigration records of the Australian authorities ensure that we know who they were. I am grateful to those descendants who have traced them and who have published their findings on Ancestry but even so there are a number of gaps in our story.
The White family was led by William  and his wife Lucy. William was a shepherd and the couple had four children. William is mentioned in the Child Okeford census of 1841 but other than that we know nothing about him or the others whilst in this country. William died in 1879 and Lucy in 1900 in Parkes, New South Wales [NSW] about 360 km from Sydney. His children, with one exception all survived into the twentieth century and the oldest living, Mercy, died at 83 having had 15 children.
Of the second family, the Shorts, even less is known. There were clearly two family groups; the first was led by Henry aged 40 a farm labourer. Susan his wife was aged 24 and their two children were Eliza  and Emma an “infant”. It is highly possible that the latter was born en route . The second set of Shorts was led by Joseph aged 36 another farm labourer. His wife Elizabeth was 23 and they too had a 3 year old, George Edwin, and Larmia also an “infant”. No more is known of them.
The Norris family also had two parties sailing to Australia. William Norris was 32 and described as a groom. As a single man he would have travelled in the bows of the ship. Isaac Norris was Williams brother and was aged 49 when he left England with his wife, Mary and three children. He too was a groom, his son  a sawyer and his daughter  a house servant. One may assume that the Norris’s had not had an easy time in Child Okeford. Their father, Thomas, had been in gaol in Dorchester twice. The first time in 1817 he was committed for stealing barley, and served two weeks. As was the custom then they recorded his appearance which included a number of cuts over the eyes indicating he had been fighting. The second time, in 1822, he was committed having abandoned his wife and children to be “chargeable”, that is left to depend on the poor rate. He was then given three months hard labour. Isaac himself had been in trouble, in 1844 he had served two months for “vagrancy and leaving family chargeable.” He had been committed by George Peach, owner of Millbrook House who was a local magistrate.
William and Isaac had three siblings who had previously emigrated to Australia and to say the least had not done very well. Ann their sister died in Freemantle Australia 1836 at the age of 32, she had given birth to 6 children and appears to have died shortly after the birth of the last one. Henry their brother died aged 33 in Camden Park NSW. They also had a brother Sampson who died in 1856 in unpleasant circumstances. He entered a river to get a cask of water and in attempting to drive out some bullocks who were in the river got trampled by them and drowned, whilst his wife was on the bank watching.
William got married shortly after arriving in NSW and he and his wife, Mary-Anne had seven children before she died at the age of 35 a year after their last child. He survived until 1883 when he died aged 65. For Isaac his days of abandoning his family were over; his wife Mary died in 1893 when she was 94 and he died three years later at the age of 86- they had been married 63 years.
The largest single family were the Gulllivers. William Gulliver, the second to bear that Christian name, was 38 and is recorded in the 1841 census as a farm labourer, living in Gold Hill roughly where Aplands close is today. Life had not been entirely smooth for him either. In 1834 His father had been committed to a months hard labour in Dorchester Gaol for stealing hurdles and the prison records show that at some stage he had had small pox. William [2nd] had married Sarah Lyne from Holwell in 1833 and by the time they embarked for Australia they had five children, four girls and a boy who was named William like his father. Another son was to be born to them in Australia.
They settled in Maitland NSW and William 2nd died in 1865 aged 54. Sarah had a sad end; after her husbands death she lodged with another lady in Maitland but was becoming increasingly “feeble and getting of weak intellect.” On 16th May 1878 she told her landlady she was going for a walk and was later found drowned in a pool under a local railway bridge. She was 68.
William Gulliver [2nd] had a number of children and we cannot detail them all here but the life of Jane Gulliver is interesting. Her occupation when she landed in Sydney was given as, “housemaid” indicating that she had already been put to work. She was just 16. When she was 19 she married and with her husband of 48 years, John Hall, she eventually had 12 children. They established a mail post and then post office in what was then the outback in Tamworth NSW before moving to Hallsville some 420 km from Sydney. A photograph of her is typical of the time; a stern unsmiling woman gazes out at you but you should never judge a book by its cover. At some time after 1877 “she found the Christ her soul longed for” and became a very active Methodist. On her death in 1914 there were numerous memorials published to her. She was a woman whose “piety was free from ostentation”. “The kindness of her disposition, the unselfishness of her nature, her spontaneous eagerness to do good…infused around her and atmosphere of sweetness and geniality.”
In 1917 “an old and esteemed resident of Dunmore”, her brother, William [3rd] Gulliver died aged 75 after a “strenuous life engaged in agricultural pursuits.” He had been sexton of his church for over 30 years.
And so ends the story of 30 emigrants from Child Okeford. Did they regret their decision? We can never know as none left memoirs. Looking at all of their fates it was pretty mixed. A daughter of William Gulliver died aged 12, a son died aged 32 leaving a wife and four year old child, but many lived to a grand age and the size of the families that many of their descendants had, indicates that many were successful and thrived. Australia provided more than economic benefits however. If you examine the newspapers in England, at least until the first world war, you will not find obituaries of erstwhile housemaids, or agricultural labourers, no matter how virtuous they had been in morals or strenuous they had been in work. But Australia was built by such as these and it valued them in a way their home country never did.
Information on this page has been compiled from various sources including Ancestry.co.uk, Dorset History Centre and The British Newspaper Archive
It has been published on a non-commercial basis to further historical interest and knowledge about our village. No part may be reproduced without acknowledgement of the sources above from which it has been compiled.