The Farthest Promised Land — English Villagers, New Zealand Immigrants of the 1870s
7 Lincolnshire and the Northern Wolds
7 Lincolnshire and the Northern Wolds
TO THE EYES of a rural New Zealander the wolds of northeast Lincolnshire seem at once familiar and different. This rolling chalk upland has an appearance of emptiness and openness to the sky that is reminiscent of many landscapes in his own country. From vantage points on the wolds one can see, in any direction, great fields sweeping across the slopes, with seldom a copse, hamlet or village to break their flow. When Tennyson, who grew up in the wold village of Somersby, wrote of
… long fields of barley and of rye
That clothe the wold and meet the sky
he captured this feeling of uncluttered space. Yet the New Zealander does not feel altogether at home, for there is something unfamiliar in the gentle swell of the soft rounded contours, and in the well-cared-for neatness of the trim low hedges and narrow road side verges. Most of the more than two thousand emigrants recruited by the Laceby local agent, John H. White, between 1874 and 1879, had spent their working lives on these northern wolds and on the coastal marshlands between them and the North Sea. Many of them came from open villages such as Keelby, Laceby, Caistor and Grasby, built around springs emerging at the edge of the wolds, which provided much of the labour for these thinly populated uplands. In this chapter, while we will give some attention to emigration from all parts of Lincolnshire, and more special attention to White's recruits from various parishes in the Parts of Lindsey, our main concern will be with the area which he worked most assiduously - the wolds from Binbrook to the Humber, and the adjoining coastal marshlands. Possibly for no other district in England is there a better coverage of first-hand reports on the human experience of the 1870s emigration movement. Before we turn to this, however, we must first sketch in the relevant background of agrarian and social history.
The Lincolnshire wolds are a belt of upland, some forty-five miles long, and from five to eight miles wide. The northern wolds, extending from the Humber to just north of Caistor, have at their western edge a marked escarpment rising in places to 300 feet. They are simple in relief, with few streams and valleys, a few villages, but the soils are relatively deep and fertile. The central wolds, from near Caistor to a few miles south of Binbrook, are wider and considerably higher, with a more complicated relief. The western escarpment is less steep, but the countryside is more broken, by comparatively deep valleys, some of which contain streams, flowing out to the east. Villages are more numerous, nestling unobtrusively in the valleys. From the higher points one gets far-stretching views over the wolds, and across the marsh to the North Sea. The southern wolds are more varied again. Much of the chalk has been washed from the hillsides, exposing clay and sandstone. This part of the wolds is a gently undulating country, and from early times its sheltered valleys attracted settlement, so that villages are more numerous again than in the central wolds.
The marshland is a belt of clay and saltmarsh, up to ten miles wide, paralleling the wolds from the Humber Estuary to Wainfleet. If we begin our survey of the agrarian past with the sixteenth century, we find that this coastal strip was then a region of large villages, in which the wealth was fairly evenly distributed, and the average farmer was comparatively well off. In a mixed farming economy the rearing and fattening of cattle and sheep was the most important element. A good deal of improvement had been carried out in the way of drainage, protection of the coastal lands by sea walls, and recovery of land from the sea. In contrast, the northern wolds had a great deal of waste, small villages, a small minority of fairly well-to-do farmers, and a majority who were considerably poorer than the average marshland peasant. The mainstay of wold husbandry was sheep, producing a highly prized fine wool. Barley was the main crop.
Until late in the eighteenth century farming in north-east Lincolnshire page 138 experienced only slow change. As elsewhere, there was enclosure, leading to improvements in husbandry, but the early results were not dramatic. On the wolds the main change was that early in the eighteenth century turnips began to join sheep and barley in the crop rotation. However, more fundamental changes were needed before the full benefit of the turnip could be realised. On the marshlands there was some decline in the prosperity of peasant farming, mainly through the Crown, native gentry and upland farmers taking over considerable areas of good grazing land. In part this was the beginning of a process whereby marshland farming became merged with that of the wolds. By the seventeenth century the marsh was no longer considered a suitable place for a country squire's residence.2 As the lead in the adoption of improved methods of husbandry usually came from resident gentry, it is not surprising that it was on the wolds, where their numbers increased, that an agricultural revolution got under way. By the end of the eighteenth century the wold farmers had virtually annexed the marsh.
The revolution on the wolds is believed to have begun some time shortly after 1770. In the past the soil had been considered too thin and infertile to be used as arable. Sheep had fed on the poor quality hill pasture during the day, and been folded at night on the lowland arable. Now the soil was transformed by chalking, boning, and growing turnips for the sheep to eat off, thereby returning rich manure to the ground. Flocks were no longer folded at night, but kept on the hills, and so that they would enrich the soil still further, they were fed oil cake. Within a few years the land could be put under the plough to produce worthwhile crops of barley, and later wheat. In his dialect poem ‘Northern Farmer, Old Style’, Tennyson has one of the improving farmers on his death bed protesting at this untoward interference in his affairs by God Almighty, and telling of the great work of his life:Dubbut looök at the waäste: theer warn't not feeäd for a cow;
Nowt at all but bracken an’ fuzz, an’ looök at it now —
Warnt worth nowt a haäcre, an’ now theer's lots o’ feeäd,
Fourscoor yows upon it an’ some on it down i’ seeäd.
Nobbut a bit on it's left, an’ I meäned to ‘a stubbed it at fall,
Done it ta-year I meäned, an’ runned plow thruff it an’ all,
If godamoighty an’ parson ‘ud nobbut let ma aloän,
Meä wi haäte hoonderd haäcre o’ Squoire's, an’ land o’ my oän.3
In the course of time the method of bringing the waste into cultivation had developed into a fairly standard system. Gorse and bracken was ‘stubbed’ or grubbed, and the old grazing herbage pared. All this rubbish was then burned, and the land heavily dressed with chalk and bones. After ploughing the land was first sown with barley and seeds and the seeds grazed for two years by sheep fed on oil cake. Crops of wheat and turnips followed, and a husbandry based on variations from the Norfolk rotation then became established.
… the whole length of the Wolds is intersected by neat white-thorn hedges, the solitary furze-bush appearing only where a roadside or plantation border offers an uncultivated space. And the whole of the improvements have been accomplished on a grand scale; the holdings are large, there being scarcely a single farm under the size of 300 acres; many contain 800, 1000, 1500 and more acres.
… the fields are all of a proportionate magnitude, varying generally from 30 to 100 acres, presenting to the eye of a stranger the aspect of open-field lands, the fences being often concealed by the surface swelling into hills or descending steeply into deep hollows. There is only a trifling proportion of grass-land, which is found beside the rivulets in the valleys, and is mostly mown for hay.5
In keeping with the scale of farming, and the size of the farms, the farmhouses and buildings erected during this agricultural revolution were well-built and commodious. Even after several decades of depression they could be described in 1906 as ‘particularly good’ and ‘the best in England’:
The houses, generally well situated, with good gardens and pretty surroundings, are most commodious and well appointed, some of them containing three reception and a dozen bedrooms; while there is often stabling for half a score of hunters and carriage horses. The farm buildings are all exceedingly well built and up-to-date, and great neatness and tidiness is observed in the roomy, well-filled stackyards.6
Clearly the wold farmers aspired to a gentry style of living. While the landlords did their tenants proud, however, there was no corresponding provision made for the labourers. The transformation of the countryside created an unprecedented labour demand, and when the new level of farming was established, the small villages of the wolds were quite unable to supply the needed large increase in labour. But the landlords were extremely reluctant to build more labourers' cottages, lest their occupants page 140 should later become a charge on the parish. Some landlords, indeed, even pulled down cottages over these years, to keep down the poor rates. Most of the muscle which transformed these uplands was therefore drawn from open villages adjacent to the wolds. To staff the new husbandry, the farmers hired a few unmarried men to live in, mainly to work their horses, and for the rest, continued to draw from the open villages, often seven or more miles away. Many of the Lincolnshire emigrants of the 1870s, who carved pioneer farms from the Taranaki bush, must have been the children and grandchildren of men who had yearly trudged their thousands of miles to the work of taming and farming the wolds.
The growth of marshland villages to supply labour for the wolds was one aspect of the change which made the marsh an adjunct of the wolds. Another was the continuing amalgamation of marshland with upland farms, so that the rich marsh pastures could be used for the fattening of sheep bred on the wolds. This came about partly by the migration of marshland landholders to the wolds, and partly by the acquisition of marsh pasture by wold farmers. Despite this trend, the marshland continued to support an extremely high number of smallholders. In 1870 between 60 and 65 per cent of the holdings were 20 acres and less — a fact of some significance to both the experience and the motivation of the region's emigrants to New Zealand.
Between 1801 and 1871 the marshland experienced the most remarkable population growth of all Lincolnshire's regions, with 40 per cent of the villages more than doubling their population. This was only partly due to the transformation of the wolds, for the marshlanders had also turned to the sea. The port of Grimsby, after a long decline since the Middle Ages, caused by silting, was given new life by dredging and dock constructions, and in 1847 was linked by rail with industrial Yorkshire and Lancashire. Fisheries, and trade, especially with the Baltic, began to thrive. The north Lincolnshire coast was also becoming a popular holiday resort. The growth of fishing and the holiday industry helped to offset the relative stagnation of marshland farming.
We must now move from our general survey for a more close-up look at particular villages and individual persons from our chosen area of north-east Lincolnshire. Some we will choose for their particular importance in the region, others because they were typical of their class, and yet others for the part they were to play in the Revolt of the Field and emigration to New Zealand. Our examples will illustrate the range of social class in the rural hierarchy and the inter-action between the various ranks. They will also introduce two important influences on the lives of the village labourers — philanthropy and Methodism. We will look first at the Earls of Yarborough and their Brocklesby estate.
The 1873 Return of Owners of Land shows the Earl of Yarborough as Lincolnshire's largest landowner, possessing 55,272 acres in the county with a gross annual rental estimated at £72,226. The first member of the line to settle at Brocklesby was Sir William Pelham, a distinguished page 141 military commander of the reign of Elizabeth I. The line was raised to the peerage in 1794, and the earldom was created in 1837. The first earl's father, who succeeded to the Brocklesby estates in 1763, gave a lead in the transformation of the wolds. In his report of 1799 Arthur Young wrote of excellent examples of reclaimed wolds on Lord Yarborough's estate. The first Lord Yarborough's successors continued the work of turning their wold lands into large, prosperous farms with handsome farm buildings. For generations these farms, though only on yearly tenure, passed from father to son, and in one case, when a farmer died leaving a 3-year-old son, two neighbouring tenants arranged with the landlord to manage the farm in trust for the infant.7 The dean of Westminster, visiting at Brocklesby, is reported to have remarked to the first earl, ‘Your tenants are of a very high character; where do you get them from?’ ‘Get them!’, replied his host proudly, ‘get them! I don't get them, I breed them.’8 What, in fact, the earl was concerned with breeding was a class of men with whom he could mix on easy social terms at fox hunting and other gentlemanly sports. These easy relations between landlord and tenant, and the tradition of family succession to the tenancy, were facilitated by the ‘custom of Lincolnshire,’ dating from early in the nineteenth century, whereby the tenant was guaranteed compensation for his improvements if he had to leave his farm. By mid-century there are said to have been over seventy of these fox-hunting farmers in Lord Yarborough's country, driving to market in carriages, dining every evening, and hunting in scarlet.9
The broad fields and low hedges of the improved wolds made them ideal hunting country, and their attractiveness was enhanced by the Brocklesby Woods, whose planting was begun in 1787 by the first Lord Yarborough. Stretching across the breadth of the wolds from Brocklesby to Pelham's Pillar, a landmark erected by the second earl in 1849, on a high point of the estern escarpment above Caistor, these woods represented an economic use of some of the poorer upland soil, a beautification of the countryside, and a paradise for lovers of horse riding. The woods were traversed from end to end by broad sheltered rides of the best springy turf.
This affluent sporting life style of the upper ranks of rural society, led by the Pelhams, must have stirred in diverse ways those villagers who were later to become New Zealand immigrants. Some must have resented the lavish expenditure on luxuries and amusements, and have contrasted it with the miserable wages they were offered. This gulf between aristocratic extravagance and labouring penury is neatly illustrated by an incident of 1875. In this year the third Earl of Yarborough died, and as his heir was still a boy, the late Earl's cigars and cigarettes were auctioned in London. They sold for £850 — enough to pay a farm labourer the then princely weekly wage of eighteen shillings a week for eighteen years.10 Something of the flavour and appeal of nonconformity in the region can surely be inferred from the fact that in this nineteenth century hey-day of field sports, ‘most of the clergy were hunting men’.11 But there must also have been many labourers who derived vicarious enjoyment from the exploits of their page 142 ‘betters’. Surely many a north Lincolnshire settler in New Zealand must have had stories to tell of the Brocklesby hunt, and of the Earl's fine pack of foxhounds, for centuries one of the most famous in England. The sight of the hunt in full cry would have been a memory to treasure for a lifetime, and in New Zealand as well as in England there must have been many retellings of famous runs, such as that of 6 March 1869, which lasted over two hours, took the hounds through fifteen parishes, and covered twenty-four miles, before the kill was achieved. There must have been stories, too, of the steeplechases organised by the Brocklesby Hunt Union Club, and of the winning of the Grand National in 1873 and 1874 by J. Maunsell Richardson, a prominent member of the Brocklesby Hunt. The zest with which New Zealand's English immigrants of the 1870s took up the colony's democratic opportunities for hunting and horse racing, surely needs to be viewed in the light of backgrounds such as this.
The lives of New Zealand's north Lincolnshire immigrants would also have been influenced by the philanthropy of the Pelham family. In the 1840s the second Earl of Yarborough began a policy of building schools for the children of the labourers on his estates. Among the first was Brocklesby Park School, erected to serve the parishes of Great Limber, Brocklesby, Keelby, Kirmington and Habrough.12 A number of New Zealand settlers must have attended this school, and enjoyed treats in the Earl's 1,000 acre park, and conducted tours of the palatial Brocklesby Hall. A newspaper report of 1852 tells of over a hundred children from the school being conducted around the Hall by the Countess and Lady Sophia Pelham, and sitting down to a feast in the specially decorated servants' dining hall. Similar treats were given in succeeding years.13
However, one had only to cross the wolds to the little market town of Caistor to discover that educational philanthropy could not do more than tinker with the deep social problems of this agrarian world. Caistor was once a walled Roman camp which succeeded to a British hill-fort, and its streets climb the steep slopes of the western escarpment. ‘Down this hill I see hundreds of labouring people pass at night, coming back from Swallow, Thoresway, Cuxwold, and so on’, J. Kirman, the Caistor relieving officer told Edward Stanhope, assistant commissioner to the 1867 Royal Commission. ‘Some of them go four, five, or even six miles. There is a great want of cottages in the surrounding villages.’14 To meet the labour demand of the close parishes on the neighbouring wolds, the population of Caistor had grown from 861 in 1801 to a peak of 2,166 at the 1851 census. Charles Winter, the Caistor schoolmaster, found that the demands of agriculture undermined the work of his school. He told Stanhope that ‘The children from 8 to 12 years old all leave the school here in March and don't come back till November, except for an odd day or two sometimes…. But there are lots of families here who never send their children at all …’ And commenting on one of the Commission's chief concerns, Winter told the assistant commissioner that ‘A gang master is looked down on here almost worse (I think) than a policeman.’15page 143
Some idea of what work with these gangs involved for young children can be gathered from the evidence of other witnesses. James Harrison, a Caistor labourer who had given up the job of gangmaster six years previously, told Stanhope that private gangs were little better than public ones.16 ‘… the man who is put over them has no reason for caring at all about them,’ he explained, ‘and the farmers are very negligent as to the sort of man they choose…. Plenty of them go four miles from here; some are only 6 or 7 years old, and they are quite tired before the day's half over.’ Harrison was quite firm in his views on the evils of the gang system. ‘I say put all ganging down…. I say the lasses ought not to go. It's in the fields and nowhere else they learn what's bad. Children ought not to work till they're 10; there are plenty of men out of work, who can do any work that must be done’.17 One Caistor gangmaster whom Stanhope interviewed was ‘a swearing blustering fellow’ named Colbeck. His gang was composed of ‘women, men, boys and girls’ and Stanhope described him as ‘going on in too indecent a sort of way with them, swearing and using bad language’. Colbeck took his gang as far away as Stainton Top, high on the wolds, five miles from Caistor, but when their day's work was done he ‘gallops home on a galloway, and leaves them to come by degree’.18 Colbeck also gave evidence and described the kind of work his gang was put to. ‘I only do stone picking by ta'en [contract] work. That lasts all the winter. But weeding, pulling swedes, and so on, I do by the day. The farmers pay me by the day, and I take the children. I give the farmer a book with the price in it which each boy has cost me, and he pays it.’ Colbeck was opposed to the idea of prohibiting mixed gangs — ‘I don't know how it's to pay me without mixing them. I can't get boys enough.’19 John Taylor of Caistor, described by one of his boys as a kind ganger who ‘don't beat us’, told of the hours worked by his 10 and 11 year old boys. ‘They go at 6 and come back at 6. They have a good hour for dinner, but no “andrew” (time for lunch).’20
While there were turnips to be singled, weeded, and later pulled, couch grass to be gathered up from the fallows, and stones to be picked, the farmers of the northern wolds wished to be left free to use this, the simplest and cheapest method of arranging for the work. The Gangs Act of 1869 removed some of the worst abuses of the system, and the education acts that followed helped to undermine it, but child labour continued to frustrate the work of the schoolmasters of parishes such as Caistor. Yet Caistor's schoolmasters were more fortunate than many, for a strong and persistent philanthropic concern for the education of the poor had been finding expression there since early in the century, through the Caistor Matron Society. This society, founded in 1808, by William Dixon, a farmer and landowner of nearby Holton-le-Moor, grew out of educational experiments he had initiated in the local workhouse. The purpose of the Matron Society was to foster and encourage the education of children in Sunday Schools, which it was hoped the local children would join at about 6 years of age, and remain in for fourteen years.21 Many who later page 144 emigrated to New Zealand must have benefited from the society's work, and carried memories of its anniversary and prize-giving festivities. The 54th anniversary, 1863, was described thus:
… The children were brought in waggons from the surrounding villages. Stalls of toys and sweetmeats were set out in the streets, and eagerly patronised. After the procession of schools, each carrying its distinctive flag, had paraded the town, headed by the Royal North Lincoln Militia band, and followed by the Caistor Juvenile Drum and Fife band, the rewards were distributed in the Market Place and tea served to about 850 children…. The numbers of assembled children amounted to 900, exceeding by 100 those of former years …22
The State came to the aid of private philanthropy in 1860, with a grant of £456 towards the erection of a National Society school, the Caistor Dixon Memorial School. Thenceforward the National School feasts rivalled those of the Matron Society. A newspaper report of the 1861 National School feast noted that ‘… churchmen and dissenters, sinking their denominational differences, fraternised and blended together … admirably in friendly intercourse and amusement.’ Unfortunately this friendliness declined as social rifts deepened in later years.23 In the 1860s the Wesleyans began to aspire to the provision of something more than Sunday schools. A new schoolroom was built in 1867, and night-school classes conducted in it. In 1871 a Wesleyan day school was opened in the building and within a few years was efficient and flourishing, leading to a marked decline in the rival National School, with little love being lost between the two institutions.24
The rift between churchman and nonconformist is clearly illustrated in a poem by Charles Tennyson-Turner, the Poet Laureate's brother, who was vicar of Grasby, the parish which bordered Caistor to the north-west. Entitled ‘Fanaticism, a Night-Scene in the Open Air’, the poem was published in Turner's Small Tableaux in 1868:
These sectaries deal in parodies of truth —
Their narrow-minded fancies, crude and mean,
Uttered with gestures wild and words uncouth
In Nature's mighty presence, move our spleen,
When they should move our tears. The gale blew loud,
But still the raving and the rant were heard —25
Machine threshing, Eastern England. These machines caused widespread winter unemployment among the farm labourers
Did any seer of ancient time forebode
This mighty engine, which we daily see
Accepting our full harvests, like a god,
With clouds about his shoulders —27
For the cottager it raised a question much nearer to home, ‘Will there be work enough for me to feed my family this winter?’ Probably the Grasby cottagers could have explained more succinctly than their vicar the connection between the mechanisation of agriculture and entries in the log book of his Church of England school, such as, '2 October 1867: 4 present page 146 — Children potato picking and gleaning’ or '4 January 1869: Several returned to school who have been out at work since the beginning of summer.’28 Yet Turner was a generous vicar maintaining the village school solely at his own expense until 1878.29
As an example of the close villages of the wolds that were affected by emigration to New Zealand we will choose Rothwell. The 1871 census returned a population of 224 for the parish, compared with Grasby's 408, yet Rothwell had 2,872 acres, Grasby only 1,089. Rothwell village was tucked unobtrusively into a wold valley a mile or two to the south-east of Caistor. Most of the parish's farmlands belonged to the Earl of Yarborough. The rector, the Revd I. G. Overton, told Stanhope, for the 1867 Royal Commission, that ‘Four pairs of new cottages have been built here by Lord Yarborough within fifteen years; a rood of land let with each.’30 Overton himself had a commodious rectory built in 1845, and about 400 acres in lieu of tithes. A school had been provided in 1856 by the Earl of Yarborough. In his report, Stanhope described these small close wold parishes as ‘favoured’. ‘Work is plentiful and certain, and the wages high,’ he wrote, ‘and the labourers having this are not inclined to leave the place. Their wives are too well off to work.’31 One might expect that all would have been contentment and harmony in such a well-provided village. Yet Rothwell appears to have experienced the same social rifts as Grasby. Among those who took the initiative in forming a union branch at Caistor, early in 1872, was ‘Robert Waller, of Rothwell, labourer and shopkeeper’,32 The village had had a Wesleyan Chapel since 1843, but by the 1870s Primitive Methodism was well established and a substantial brick chapel, seating about 120 (as against the Wesleyans 70) was opened in November 1874, at a cost of about £230.33 Much of the work of building up this congregation must have been carried out by lay preachers from the adjacent open villages of Caistor and Nettleton. Five laymen (probably lay preachers) contributed ‘earnest and stirring addresses’ at the opening of the chapel. Two of them emigrated to Taranaki the following year; J. Borman, a lay preacher from Nettleton, and F. Bell. From Rothwell itself Annie Swaby, 20, housemaid, left for New Zealand in June 1873, followed by Charles Dixon, 32, farm labourer, with his wife and three young sons, in page 147 October 1874, and Charles Dawson, 22, farm labourer, in April 1876.34 The favourable physical conditions of these close wold villages apparently did not, with some of their labourers, compensate for the defects in their social climate and accordingly they joined with the larger contingents from the open villages, to emigrate to New Zealand.
From the wolds we now turn to the coastal marshlands, where we will look first at the parish of Aylesby, lying a few miles inland from Grimsby. The village of Aylesby seems to have decayed during the seventeenth century, and Aylesby of the nineteenth century was a close parish, drawing much of its labour from the nearby village of Laceby, situated on the eastern edge of the wolds, on the banks of the Freshney, a stream flowing down from the wolds and meandering to reach the sea at Grimsby. At the beginning of the 1870s almost all the land of Aylesby parish was owned by the lord of the manor, the Revd T. T. Drake, and leased by three farmers, Theophilas Clark, Francis Sowerby and William Torr. William Torr, who rented the manor farm which extended onto the wolds, also rented wold land in other parishes, farming nearly 3,000 acres, as one of the leading agriculturists of his day. He was famous as a stock breeder, and everything on his land had to be pure-bred, from the Shorthorn cattle and Leicester sheep down to the ducks and cats. Following his death in 1875 his herd was auctioned in a famous Shorthorn sale which dispersed them as far afield as New Zealand.35 It is Francis Sowerby, however, who will enter more fully into our story, and whose farm was to be even more deeply affected by New Zealand.
The 1871 Census returns show Francis Sowerby as a 67-year-old widower living in Aylesby village, and farming 982 acres (almost half the parish), with twenty-six men and nine boys in his employment. Francis Sowerby was born in 1803, into a farming family in the North Riding of Yorkshire. In 1817 the family migrated to north Lincolnshire, where in the 1820s Francis married, and took up the tenancy of Pyewipe Farm, Aylesby, which he was to hold for over sixty years. After ‘pursuing worldly pleasures’ during his earlier years, Sowerby and his wife were deeply influenced by a religious revival in Laceby and the neighbourhood in 1836, and became staunch Methodists, joining the Laceby Wesleyan congregation. Sowerby's brother-in-law, William Coates of Laceby Manor, was converted during the same religious awakening, and the two men were thereafter close associates in many philanthropic and religious activities. In 1836 Sowerby gave generously to the enlargement of the Laceby Wesleyan Chapel. He doubtless helped again when a fine new chapel was erected in 1853, seating 478 persons. The Wesleyans wished to erect a day school and master's residence adjacent to their new chapel, but there was opposition to the move in the village, and this induced the government to decline a building grant. Thereupon Francis Sowerby and William Coates met the greater part of the expense of opening a school accommodating 100 children, in the Sunday School premises.36 Besides his generosity in Laceby, Sowerby's benevolence found expression elsewhere, page 148 particularly in the Grimsby and Caistor Wesleyan circuits. This was made possible by his continuing prosperity as a farmer. He had a reputation as a high-class farmer, and as ‘an extensive purchaser of Scotch cattle’, no doubt for fattening on the lush Aylesby pastures. At the time of his death in 1886 he was head partner in the Grimsby firm of Messrs Sowerby and Co. Ltd., seed crushers. Already by the early 1870s he was a venerable patriarch of local Methodism, an impressive, robust, tall man whose features ‘wore a habitual expression of unconscious meekness, serenity and benevolence’. He was from time to time circuit steward at Laceby, he was a leader of a class in which he met his own labourers and those of other villages, and he was a regular attendant at a week-night prayer meeting in one of the cottages on his farm.37 This picture of amity between a benevolent master and dutiful labourers, under the umbrella of village Methodism, was to be rudely shattered when the Revolt of the Field reached Laceby and Aylesby.
Among those whose convictions led them to openly challenge the rural social order, of which the godly rectitude and ample benevolence of Francis Sowerby were among the finer fruits, was John H. White, the local New Zealand emigration agent at Laceby. White came from a family of the rural middle class, with several generations of experience in village shopkeeping. Village shopkeepers were prominent among the outside helpers upon whom the unions of the Revolt depended so heavily for leadership,38 and, as we have already noted, supplied many of the local emigration agents for New Zealand. In the 1870s village retailers still enjoyed an importance which was soon to be whittled away by improved communications to market towns, the growth of chain stores, and village depopulation. Their literacy and relatively wide social contacts added to their influence among a population whose literacy was still limited.39 Quite apart from John H. White's emigration work, the family will repay our study as an example of an important element in English rural society.
John H. White was born in 1843 in Ludborough, a marshland village near the eastern edge of the wolds, some eight miles south of Grimsby.40 The place was a typical moderate-sized Lincolnshire village, with a village green, a smithy, a grocery and drapery store and a cobbler's shop. Its population at the 1871 census was 378. The White family had a long association with the place. John H. White's grandmother survived till the early 1870s, living in a thatched cottage in the village. She was quite a famous local matriarch, having borne twenty-five children, eighteen of whom had lived. On her mantlepiece she kept a named mug for each of them, the living on one side of the clock, the dead on the other. To feed them all she had made great bakings of rye bread. When they grew up, several of her sons had emigrated to Canada, and the remittances they sent home made her last days more comfortable. Several other sons entered the rural grocery and drapery trade in north Lincolnshire, among them John's father, George Patchett White. His ‘People's Mart and Village Store’ was the only grocery and drapery shop in the village, and John was the eldest of the family of eight which grew up in the home attached to the shop. John's page 149 father died at a relatively early age, probably as a result ofa fall while sliding on a frozen pond with his boys. His widow continued the business with help from her sons. Her grandson, John's eldest son George, spent many of his holidays in her home, and remembered her as a very good, but very strict, woman. He records that she had kept a dame school in earlier life. For young George, a highlight of these holiday visits was to be taken by his Uncle Tom on one of the ‘rounds’:
A fairly heavy two-wheeler made the round, one day of the week in one direction and another day to a different village. The goods ordered one week would be delivered the next and a new order taken. In this method of business no hawker's licence was needed. We would start off with a heavy load, including bags of flour, sharps, pollard, bran etc., and the usual run of household groceries, and sometimes on the return journey I should be allowed to drive a very quiet horse. I remember encouraging it, but not disturbing it, by singing lustily that touching song, very popular at the time, ‘My Grandather's clock was too tall for the shelf’.41
This Ludborough business was brought to an abrupt end, sometime in the late 1870s, when the agent for the absentee landlord, probably disapproving of the family's radical views, terminated their tenancy. An apparently satisfactory visit by some of the White family to see the landlord in Bath, and a telegram from him saying that they could stay, were brushed aside by the agent. As he administered almost the whole village for this same landlord, it was impossible to find other premises there. The family managed to find two cottages in another village, in which to store their stock, and somehow worked the old ‘rounds’ for a time. They received no compensation for brick warehouses that they had added to the Ludborough shop.
Besides the broadening experience given by the family business, John H. White enjoyed the benefits of a secondary education, something at that time still unusual for people of his class. He was sent to Samuel Cresswell's Northgate Academy at Louth. Later he became a clerk in an ironworks in Yorkshire. While there, he met his wife-to-be, Emma Jane Wales, then working as a governess in a Yorkshire family. She was the daughter of a Leeds jeweller, but had been orphaned quite young, and was then cared for by a maiden aunt, who was in turn cared for in her old age by this niece. It was John and Emma White's concern for ‘Auntie Wales’ that prevented them from emigrating to New Zealand until 1893, following her death — though John could not explain this to his opponents when they taunted him with sending others where he dared not go himself.
Before the birth of their first child, George, in 1867, John and Emma had moved to Laceby, and opened a grocery and drapery business in a small rented shop at the bottom of Old Chapel Lane, living in rooms attached to the shop. Laceby of 1871 was a large open village with a population of 1,025, almost three times the number returned in 1801. George White's memoirs, written in 1952, give a clear, intimate picture of the home and the village in the 1870s as seen by a young boy. In order that his mother might page 150 be free to help in the shop, a household servant, usually a young relative, was employed. George was strictly told that he must not order the servant about, and accordingly he enjoyed obediently watching in silence as a new girl made mistakes in the housekeeping arrangements. A very early memory was accompanying his mother to her Wesleyan class meeting on Sunday afternoons. The class leader was Charlie Horton, the chapel keeper, an old man with a cleft upper lip, who lived in the church premises in New Chapel Lane, just up the wold slopes from the White's shop. One of the most versatile characters in the village was Horace Watson, the postmaster. His accomplishments included tooth extractions; George's loose teeth he took out free, as the boy was a favourite of his. An outstanding event of George's pre-school days was the erection of the Temperance Hall, on a good site, opposite the Post Office. At the opening bazaar George had charge of an electrical machine — a small dynamo providing the mysterious thrill of an electric shock, for those prepared to pay a penny for the novel experience. Another remembered experience was watching men pitsawing logs on a piece of land owned by the village joiner and builder, not far from the White's shop. John was able to purchase this land and have a shop and residence erected on it, when in August 1875 his landlord, a Grimsby Wesleyan, terminated the tenancy of his rented premises.
Given White's deep social concern, he can have had little difficulty in deciding where his sympathies lay when the Revolt of the Field spread to Laceby. It is clear that the Laceby Wesleyan congregation must have been deeply divided by the Revolt. At a meeting in the Yarborough Hotel, Grimsby, on 13 March 1874, the two prosperous farming patriarchs of Laceby circuit, Francis Sowerby and William Coates, joined with twenty-six other farmers of the district in signing a resolution committing themselves to dispense with the services of any labourer who was a member of the union, until the men who had struck for higher wages had returned to work.44 Sowerby and Coates were both class leaders of the Laceby circuit, while Henry Tomlinson, the first secretary of the Labour League's Laceby branch, was a teacher in the Sunday School; and his brother, George Cartwright, who succeeded Tomlinson as branch secretary when the latter emigrated to New Zealand in September 1874, was another of the class leaders.45 John Tomlinson, aged 64, the father of Henry, joined the page 152 union branch. He had worked for Sowerby for forty years, but nevertheless was dismissed for his union membership, in accordance with the lock-out resolution. When the lock-out ended in a compromise agreement, John Tomlinson and three other members of the Laceby branch who had previously worked for Sowerby, were refused re-employment by him.46 White's openly expressed sympathy for the union, and his collaboration in its emigration work, was carried through at the cost of unpopularity among many of the leading local Wesleyans. Despite his gifts as a public speaker, for several years White received no further appointments as a local preacher in the three largest chapels in the circuit.
White's appointment as a New Zealand local emigration agent was made early in May 1874, while the lock-out battle was at its height.47 Some idea of the spirit and determination of the labourers of the district, and of the angry opposition they were meeting from many of their employers, is given by a case which came before the Grimsby magristrates on 5 May 1874.48 On Saturday afternoon, 25 April, John Cook, labourer, was returning from market in Caistor to his home in the wold village of Swallow. He was a member of the Labour League, and while passing through the village of Cabourne he met, and stood talking with, a fellow unionist, Edwards. Charles Henry Brown, a farmer from Cook's own village of Swallow, rode up, probably also on his way home from the weekly market. He joined in the conversation, and soon high words were flying. Farmer Brown said he would ride over a laneful of men such as Edwards and Cook. He rode up to Cook, who backed away a pace at a time, until he was driven against a hedge. To protect himself he then struck Brown's stick out of his hand, and fended off the horse by striking it over the head. If Brown was surprised at this display of spirit, he had more in store for him, for Cook, doubtless aided by his union, proceeded to have him charged with assault. The magistrates' bench of five squires and parsons were obviously embarrassed by the case, which they must have known was being followed with widespread interest. Cook's evidence was supported by his companion, Edwards and by Richard Towers, wheelwright of Cabourne, and was not denied by Brown. Brown's lawyer made offers to Cook, and the magistrates suggested that the matter be settled without their help, but Cook pressed for them to dispose of the case. Finally Brown was convicted and fined one shilling plus costs. The case was reported and commented upon by an anonymous correspondent of the Labour League Examiner. He suggested that if John Cook, unionist and labourer, had tried to ride down Charles Henry Brown, he would have received three months' imprisonment with hard labour. Then naming the five magistrates, he suggested that if John Cook had tried to ride any one of them down, a bench of their peers would have awarded him five years' penal servitude. What is striking in this incident is not only the pride of class, good living and fine horseflesh of a wold farmer of the closing days of the Golden Age, or the resolute defence of his rights and human dignity by a rural labourer, but also the willingness of a village craftsman, Richard page 153 Towers, to appear as a witness for the labourer. Towers's business would depend mainly on farmer patronage, and there may well be a link between this incident and the fact that in July 1876 one of Towers's two sons, John Henry Towers, emigrated to New Zealand as a 20-year-old carpenter.49
John H. White, it is clear, was also prepared to put business prosperity at risk in order to follow his convictions. In the Labour League Examiner of 16 May 1874, he allowed his name to be linked with that of Banks, the League's General Secretary, as the two with whom unionists might communicate about emigrating to New Zealand. One must not presume from this, however, that White approved of all the union's policies and activities. He seems never to have expressed support for the union's strike policy, and may well have believed it unwise and unlikely to succeed. The League's strike policy, set out in its rules, was that men should be called out in a few carefully selected parishes only, and that enough members elsewhere should remain at work to support those on strike by their regular union contributions.50 This policy of selective strikes was particularly objectionable to the farmers, and led directly to their decision to lock out all union members while any were on strike. The published lists of contributors to the lock-out fund do not include any members of the White family. But while White may not have approved of the union's industrial policy, he made no secret of his sympathy for its main objectives. He considered the rural labourer to be grossly underpaid for his toil. He was also disturbed that the only way a man could be assured of regular employment, was to bind himself to a master each year at the May statutes. These statute fairs, once widespread, persisted in the north of England, and in north Lincolnshire were held each May in rural centres such as Laceby, Caistor and Binbrook. White described the confined labourer as ‘a slave by yearly agreement’.51 He would also have disapproved of the intemperance associated with this annual holiday. He soon learnt that the statutes also hampered emigration, for the confined man could only come forward in spring, where he was likely to be hampered by debts incurred during the winter. It was White's conviction that emigration would both benefit those who went, and bring about a new order in the home labour market. As a tradesman, the view of the problem as one of supply and demand must have had a natural appeal to him. His own family's experience of emigration to Canada must also have helped to shape his thinking. An incident which he reported a year or two after embarking on his emigration work, suggests the importance of this family background:
I met a poor old man in a village in the Wolds, doubled and bent with years and toil, and he told me he had nothing in prospect but the parish; and fifty years ago he went to his first day's work with an uncle of mine, and each of them had twopence a day! Now, my uncle emigrated years ago. He has land, cattle, home; his photograph shows a round, full, happy face. This old man was pinched, wrinkled, and poverty-stricken.52
By mid-May 1874, White was able to advertise that he was recruiting for page 154 a shipload to go to New Zealand in the autumn. At a public meeting in Laceby Temperance Hall, he expounded his views on emigration as the answer to the rural labourer's problems.53 He believed that ‘in a natural state of society’, an industrious frugal man should earn enough to be able to give at least a tithe ‘to God's cause and the need of his brother man’, to make provision for a family, so that an annual increase in the home should be a cause for gladness, not anxiety, and to provide for his children's education, for the special needs of sickness, and for old age. If society were run as God intended, all these needs would be met. White did not see how a man could do with less than thirty shillings a week. (Only a few days later, in reaching its agreement with the farmers, the Labour League had to cancel three objectionable rules from its constitution. One of these set the minimum rate of wages for its members at not less than eighteen shillings per week.54 According to White's calculations the League's target was hopelessly inadequate.) White was driven by the low wages and unemployment which he saw about him, to conclude that labourers were too many. He saw the hand of divine providence in the coincidence of labour unrest at home with an urgent need for labour in the colonies. He therefore proposed emigration as a Christian duty, whereby a man might meet his various obligations, fulfil the divine command to subdue the earth, and hasten the coming of Christ's kingdom. He envisaged that wholesale emigration would raise rural wages, and lower the rents paid to those who had more than enough. White's combination of Christian and economic arguments made him a convinced and convincing advocate of emigration. Having expounded his philosophy of emigration, he proceeded to explain the practical details. He pointed out the advantages of proceeding together with old neighbours and friends, explained that the planned ship would get them to the colony in time first for the hay, then the grain harvest, and told of the excellent opportunities for land purchase in New Zealand. At the close of this, his first meeting, White took some fifty names of those wishing to join the party.
At this Laceby meeting brief speeches were given by three heads of families who were to emigrate within the next week or two. One of these was Michael Cook, 37 years of age, who had for several years been foreman on Francis Sowerby's farm at Aylesby. He sailed for Canterbury with his wife Ellen and five children, on the Carisbrook Castle on 29 May 1874. Possibly Sowerby had dispensed with his services on account of union membership, when his agreement ran out in May. In any case, he was soon exulting from Waihi Bush, near Geraldine in New Zealand, that he could sit down in his own house, from which ‘no one can give me my discharge or put me out’.55 White was fortunate in having Cook as one of his first recruits, for Cook sent home a flow of lucid letters which served as admirable emigration propaganda. From the Thames, just before sailing, he wrote of the fine, large vessel he was aboard, and of the dinners of roast beef.56 He kept a diary of the voyage for his old friends at Pyewipe Farm, Aylesby, and this found its way to the union newspaper, which published page 155 it in two parts in January 1875.57 In March the paper published a letter he had written to John H. White.58 This frankly admitted that his Ellen wished they had never come, on account of their losing their two little children on the voyage, but having since been confined with a son, she had been overwhelmed with the kindness of folk for miles around, who sent her fowls, eggs, milk and mutton. In later letters he told of the acre of land ‘better land than any in Aylesby’ which he soon had freeholded. On this he built himself a comfortable house and planted a vegetable garden. By April 1875 he was buying three more acres and writing of his pig and pig-sty, and hens and hen house. He had also built a dairy, and was planning to buy a cow. Ellen no longer rued leaving Aylesby. After doing some odd jobs of fencing and well digging, Michael had settled into steady employment driving a steam engine at a nearby sawmill. His master had been so pleased with his work that he had raised his wages from eight shillings to nine shillings a day.59 When he wrote on 2 September 1875 he was still working happily at the same job, and was pleased that he had plenty of time and energy left each day to do a lot of work for himself on his farmlet. ‘Our house’, he reported ‘is more comfortable than the smokey old kitchen at Pyewipe; we have a good boarded floor.’60 He was also pleased that the Primitives had begun to hold services at the schoolroom, and at his own house. The last letter in the published sequence is dated March 1876, and was in reply to one from his old friends at Pyewipe Farm:
You said I was to send you word if we kept Christmas up. Of course we do, and we had green peas, new potatoes, and roast beef for dinner, and that will puzzle you at Pyewipe; and on New Year's day, no one here will work. There was some races on our park ground … My wife says, if you don't like dressing poultry she does not wonder, she could not come back again to do it if the money was sent to fetch her - what she dresses now she helps to eat.61
White's Laceby meeting was followed by others in various villages within easy reach of Laceby, from Ulceby to the north, to Binbrook to the south.62 Among those who decided to emigrate was Henry Tomlinson, secretary of the League's Laceby branch, who had worked for five years for Mr Clark (probably Theophilas Clark, the Aylesby farmer), but was refused re-employment at the close of the lock-out, and ‘spotted’ by the other farmers of the district.63 The Labour League Executive proceeded to appoint him as delegate in charge of the September party, and no doubt he assisted White with the recruitment campaign. By mid-August Tomlinson was able to report that 50 souls had been enlisted from Laceby, 20 or 30 from Keelby, 20 or 30 from Ulceby, 20 or 30 from Binbrook, and about 100 from the district around Caistor.64 Andrew Duncan had paid a visit to the area 10 assist with the recruiting, holding meetings at Laceby, Caistor, Binbrook, Waltham and Keelby between 27 June and 2 July, and he had returned at the end of August to make a final selection from among the applicants.65 White believed for a time that 250 to 300 would be going, but the number who finally left Grimsby railway station on 15 September was page 156 136, and with those who joined at the other stations the party apparently totalled about 200.66 A number had been dissuaded or delayed by false rumours or difficulties arising from poverty, and some had had second thoughts about emigrating. Nevertheless the party was large enough to create quite a stir. It led the Caistor correspondent of the Stamford Mercury to comment that, ‘The emigration mania continues to grow and spread in this neighbourhood.’67 He reported eleven adults and three children leaving the village of Nettleton to join Tomlinson's party,68 and noted that others from this village had already written back. One of these was probably Dixon Catley, a 20-year-old shoemaker, who sailed for Otago by the J.N. Fleming on 21 February 1874. He appears in the Nettleton census schedules of 1871 as a journeyman shoemaker the eldest of six children of George Catley, shoemaker, and his wife Harriett. The Stamford Mercury of 20 November 1874 printed an enthusiastic letter he had sent to a friend in Nettleton. ‘This is the place for beef steaks and mutton!’ he wrote, ‘… What with one good thing or another I am getting quite stout, and have every reason to like this country.’
Something of their background and the circumstances of their going can be discovered for a number of the members of Tomlinson's party. From Laceby came Charles Allenby, 25, farm labourer, and James Allenby, 24, navvy. At the 1871 census both were boarders in a farm labourer's home in Mill Lane, Laceby. Both had been born in Aylesby, and Charles had worked for two years for Francis Sowerby, before being dismissed in 1874 for union membership, and subsequently ‘spotted’.69 Also from Laceby came George Hill, 37, farm labourer, his wife and 15-year-old daughter. On arrival in Canterbury George secured a job at £75 a year, plus a house and a cow. ‘Our house is close to the masters, but we don't live upstairs,’ his wife reported in an early letter home. ‘George only wishes he had come ten years ago.’70 Joseph Handleby, 21, shepherd, and Charles Ingham, 19, ploughman, emigrated together from Bilsby, near Alford. They were apparently looking for better working hours and conditions. Writing on 12 February 1875, from a farm near Hastings in Hawkes Bay, they said they would not like to go back to shivering and shaking in an old stable at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. In New Zealand they lay in bed until 6, then had a leisurely breakfast, and got to work at 8. They knocked off at 5 at night, with no more work after that.71 A letter which vividly expresses some of the grievances which contributed to the decision to emigrate, was written early in 1875, from Greenpark, Canterbury, by John Traves, 38, farm labourer. He joined the party, probably from in or near Caistor, with his wife Jane, 42, his son Charles, 13, and four younger children. In the letter, which was to his sister, he wrote:
We are busy getting the harvest in; we turn out at about 9 o'clock in the morning, and home again at 7 in the evening. That's not like your old grumps. The ‘boss’ is with us working, and sits down and smokes his pipe and chats like yourself. There is no bowing and scraping here to Mr Woolley, as you do, and then you are worn out from old age, sent page 157 to the slaughter-house, as my poor old father was at that cursed union, where he pined to death. I would rather die in a ditch. The wife has been tying and she earned three pounds in seven days - that ‘crazy Jane’ you can tell old doctor rabbit-jaws; you know who that is. I have been bid 8/- a week for Charles, with meat and lodgings, but I have not let him out at present. There's no fear of letting them out when you like….72
The Geraldine Paget, with Henry Tomlinson and his party, arrived safely at Lyttelton on 27 December 1874, and the arrival was reported in the union newspaper of 16 January 1875. Friends and relations anxiously awaited the first mail from the colony, and also, no doubt, did John H. White. Farmers were reported to be saying that White would be careful to be out of the way when the letters came. In the event, according to the new secretary of the League's Laceby branch, George Cartwright, it was the farmers who were noticeable by their absence, when the League called a meeting in the Temperance Hall, following the arrival of the mail.73 The only announcement had been that made by crier, giving only 24 hours notice, but the word spread as by magic, and people came from miles in all directions. It was the largest League meeting ever held in Laceby, with the hall crammed and numbers unable to get in. William Burton, recently arrived from New Zealand, took the chair, and for two hours White read letter after letter, all confirming the version he had given of the colony. White himself wrote to the Labourer that the letters had caused ‘such a commotion as was never known in this corner of North Lincolnshire before’. Tomlinson's company were better received, better paid, and better in every way, than they had expected when they left. Among the letters which White read out must have been one from James Rickell, a 33-year-old Laceby Labourer, who had gone out with his wife Emma, and 14-year-old daughter Bessy:
We have got hired; myself and Emma have got 70 pounds a year and all found; Betsy £20, and she is only five miles from us. My master and hers are brothers…. You can tell John Barr that I have not seen thousands of people crying to come back; and he said that my nearest neighbours would be sixty miles off; there are scores of bigger, and ten times finer shops than his in New Zealand….74
White maintained that the farmers had committed a blunder as well as a crime in keeping Harry Tomlinson out of work for months ‘just because he stuck firm and true - back and edge - to the interests of his own class’. When he left, they had rejoiced, and said his evil influence, was well rid of, but they would find that his influence, through his letters, was more widespread than ever. White promptly had Tomlinson's diary of the voyage, and letters, published as a two penny pamphlet, and he was soon reporting that the printer could not get them out fast enough, a thousand having been disposed of in four days. He declared that the diary had ‘shut many a mouth in its career of mis-statement and falsehood’.75 Further letters from Tomlinson were printed in the Labourer, and in January 1876 White arranged the publication of a pamphlet written by Tomlin- page 158 son, entitled A Farm Labourer's Report of New Zealand. Tomlinson prospered in Canterbury, working for about twenty years as a farm manager, and then acquiring his own farm and an accommodation house, at Hawarden.76
For a short time, beginning in November 1874, John H. White served as an agent of the Emigrant and Colonist's Aid Corporation. The Corporation, formed in England in 1867, under aristocratic patronage, with the Duke of Manchester as chairman, had the philanthropic aim of relieving distress in Britain by fostering emigration to the colonies. It entered into an agreement with the New Zealand government in 1872 to settle a block of some 106,000 acres of mainly forested land, in the Rangitikei district, and its first settlers began to arrive to found the township of Feilding in January 1874. White was probably attracted by the special facilities which the Corporation provided for immigrants to advance to land ownership, and he had a handbill printed, stressing this aspect, which he sent to local secretaries of the Labour League, to be distributed at their meetings. When William Burton arrived in January 1875, White decided to withdraw from the Corporation's agency, and concentrate on recruiting for Taranaki.77 It is nevertheless surprising that no more than two families seem to have been drawn by his advertising of the Corporation's terms. Possibly its aristocratic patronage rendered the Corporation suspect to members of the Labour League, and White's sensing of this may have contributed to his decision to drop the agency. Both the families he did send seem to have been well pleased with their venture. The first consisted of William Barker, 39, farm labourer, his wife, and four children, who sailed by the Hindostan on 10 February 1875. The children were Sunday School scholars of John H. White's brother and sisters at Ludborough, coming from the adjoining wold parish of Wyham.78 Helena-Barker, aged 10 when the family emigrated, wrote home to her old Sunday School teachers. A letter written a month after landing was printed by White as recruitment material. Another, written after thirteen months in Feilding, was printed in the Labourer of 30 September 1876. She reported that:
Father has never worked for less than 9 shillings per day since he has been here. Our section is all under cultivation now, that is the one acre. We have apples, plums, black currants bushes, and strawberries planted, and the remaining part will be potatoes and corn, and mother is cultivating a small flower garden in front. Father has a nice black horse, and we have killed one little pig about 10 stone…. Father has taken up his 40 acres of bush ground but he has not got any of it felled yet …. I do not think we have more than one Lincolnshire family in Feilding, that is Mr Oliver, Mr Kemp's foreman of Elkington…. Mr Oliver is our Wesleyan Class Leader, and we have got a nice new chapel…
The Oliver family, consisting of George, 43, his wife, and a grown-up son and daughter, sailed two months later than the Barkers. As Elkington is also within a few miles of Ludborough, they too were probably recruited through the White family connection. George Oliver wrote home in page 159 enthusiastic terms after four months at Feilding, and by 1882 he had freeholded both his acre in the township, and his 40 acre farm.79 The North Lincolnshire recruitment campaign entered a new phase with William Burton's arrival in January 1875. He was a good public speaker, had served for some years on the Taranaki Provincial Council, and brought to his new task the authority of twenty-two years of colonial farming experience. His wife, a capable woman and experienced colonial, assisted him. Having no children of their own, the Burtons had adopted an orphaned family of seven children, and three adopted daughters accompanied them to England.80 They set up home in an apartment attached to the Laceby Temperance Hall. Burton's first meeting was at Laceby on 14 January, and thereafter he systematically visited the surrounding parishes. For a time he met with only a limited response. Winter was, of course, an unseasonable time both for meetings and emigration, those most free and willing to emigrate had already gone, and the farmers, frightened by the exodus, had raised wages. But, in Burton's opinion, the greatest difficulties stemmed from rural ignorance and poverty, and from the active opposition of the rural ruling class. Writing from Laceby on 9 March 1875, he explained the situation to the folk back in Taranaki:
Scarcely ever out of the sound of their own church bells, they can hardly realise the existence of any larger place than the village they were born in, even in England; and very much more difficult is it to make them believe in the existence of another land as large as England. Their perceptive and comprehensive powers are dormant, or move so slowly that it takes line upon line to renew the impression made, and confirm the faith just beginning to be exercised; and when at last, with half-uplifted eyes, they venture to tell the farmer, squire or clergyman that they have made up their minds to go to New Zealand, it takes very little from those whom all their lives they have been accustomed to regard as the repositories of learning and truth, to induce them to abandon the idea.81
In nineteen cases out of twenty, Burton reported, chapels and schoolhouses of all denominations were closed against them. Sometimes they could get a large room in a public house, though farmers might prevent even this, but where they had asked for a temperance hall they had never been refused. Often they had no option but the open air, even in freezing weather. Having been forced into the open air on one occasion, they asked a wheelwright to move a cart from his shed to give shelter for the speaker and women among the listeners. He refused for fear of the consequences. This was probably a meeting at Hatcliffe on 9 February, of which John H. White wrote to the Labourer, 82 Hatcliffe was a small village on the wolds about four miles south of Laceby, with a population of 181 in 1871. It had a long tradition of Methodism, which had benefited from the generosity of Francis Sowerby of Aylesby. A Wesleyan day school, built in 1856, provided for the needs of all the children of Hatcliffe and the neighbouring parish of Beelsby, and the rectors of the two parishes were usually on the board of managers.83 When John H. White visited it for the page 160 emigration meeting he found that ‘scarcely a cottage dare open his door to admit me’, and the owner of a cartshed dared not lend it for fear of the consequences. Standing on an upturned wash-tub ‘in the damp and dirty street with a black sky overhead’, White addressed the villagers, and took about twenty names for New Zealand. In his letter Burton mentioned another occasion when he had to ride twenty miles on a freezing winter night in an open cart and then stand in the open air to address the people.
After a few weeks the persistent campaigning began to bear fruit. By March, when the letters from Tomlinson's party were beginning to take effect, White was reporting that he had never been so full of work, and by the beginning of April he was receiving twenty or thirty letters a day on emigration.84 For the first large Taranaki party, sailing from London on the Collingwood on 13 April, the Labour League appointed George Cartwright, the Laceby branch's second secretary, as their delegate in charge. His wife and three children went with him, and the members of his class at the Wesleyan chapel were transferred to White's class.85 Meanwhile a much larger party was forming to leave in May, when the confined men would once again be free. White reported that the villagers of Laceby were amazed at the steady flow of fine strong healthy strangers coming to see him about emigrating. Some who would not be free till May Day were making application early in February to go on the May ship, for fear that the New Zealand government might stop its free passages.86 This party became so large that a special train was arranged for 25 May to take them to London to join the Halcione. It left Grimsby with 140 emigrants aboard, and stopped at six stations before it reached Alford, so that the total reached 242. An emigrants' special was something new to the Great Northern Railway, and the great weight of baggage had not been allowed for. Two luggage vans had to be left behind at Alford, to follow by a later train.87
A number of the members of this Halcione party will repay brief notice. From Grasby came George Mumby, 30, farm labourer, with his wife and four children. When Burton and White had visited Grasby, the Revd Charles Tennyson-Turner had made the schoolroom available to them. It was crowded to the door, and before the year was out George Mumby was writing from Taranaki to his father-in-law, Francis Wilson of Grasby, and other relatives and friends, to confirm what he heard that night. ‘Tell all enquirers’, he wrote, ‘they may depend upon all Mr Burton said at the lecture in the school room; I have found every word correct that he said about the soil, the bush, the climate, the fruit and everything else that he mentioned.’88 From Nettleton came John Borman, the Primitive Methodist lay preacher, and his wife, and another Primitive Methodist family, Francis Lacey, 35, farm labourer, with his wife and six children.89 From the little wold village of Cuxwold came Benjamin Urry, 38, farm labourer, with his wife and five children. This family's birthplaces, as listed in the 1871 census schedules, show a migratory pattern quite common to wold farm workers, arising from the lack of cottages on the northern page 161 wolds, and the yearly jockeying for good places at the May hirings. Benjamin himself was born in the neighbouring parish of Rothwell. His wife and eldest child (aged 7 in 1871) were born in Caistor, so Benjamin may well have spent some years tramping daily to work on the wolds, from this large open village. The next two children were born at Newark, Nottinghamshire, which suggests a family migration in search of better conditions. The youngest, a boy of one year, was born in Cuxwold - Benjamin must at least have succeeded in securing a position with a cottage on the wolds, not far from his own birthplace. From the wold village of Thoresway came Martin Cash, 32, farm labourer, with his wife and three children. John H. White reported that it was Mrs Cash who had taken the initiative in writing to him about emigrating:90 it was more common for the wives to be reluctant to agree with their husbands' desire to emigrate. Among those who joined the special train at Alford must have been Frank Clough with his wife and seven children, from Willoughby. This will have been the family which John H. White quoted in the Labourer of 24 April, as an example of the incentive to emigration which miserble housing conditions provided. ‘… father, 48, mother, 42, six sons, 18,16,14,12,7,4, and a daughter 10. Of course at May-day all these coming home, and they write “be sure and get us off by the May ship - we have only one bedroom.”’91 Also joining the train at Alford would have been two related families from South Ormsby parish, on the eastern edge of the wolds. From South Ormsby village came 42-year-old farm labourer Richard Langley, his wife and seven children. At the 1871 census the oldest child, Edwin, then a 10-year-old scholar, was living about a mile away in the hamlet of Ketsby with his widowed grandmother, Margaret Wright, a 75-year-old pauper. Next door lived Edward Wright, in 1871 a 33-year-old agricultural foreman with his wife and eleven-month-old daughter. By the time this Wright family joined the Halcione party two further daughters had been born. The emigration of agricultural foremen such as Edward Wright, Michael Cook of Aylesby and George Oliver of Elkington, gives support to White's contention that ‘nearly all the men with brains’ were deciding to go.92
The steady work of White and Burton produced a flow of emigrants during the remainder of 1875. From the midsummer month of July we take two final glimpses of these two well-matched campaigners at their work. On 5 July they travelled twenty miles by rail and four on foot to reach the secluded village of South Ferriby, on the bank of the Humber. As was commonly the case, the meeting had been advertised by the Labour League. No room could be hired, so a venue was chosen on the green bank of a retired highway leading from the village. A chair was brought for a chairman, but for half an hour no villager appeared who dared to occupy it. At last the brave spirit, for whom the audience had been waiting, appeared, and was immediately voted to the chair. He was a local tradesman named Hibblewhite. The audience of about 150 was then addressed by White, followed by Burton. While Burton was speaking a drunken farmer page 162 appeared, armed with a thistle spud, and roughly ordered him to ‘move off this ground at once’. As the audience were squatting on the bank on one side of the roadway, and the chairman and speakers were on the other, they were causing no obstruction so, after exchanging words with the farmer, Burton resumed his address. The intruder thereupon laid hands on Burton, and dragged him off towards the village. Burton insisted that he be taken to the lock-up and the man, having got as far as the centre of the village, lost his nerve and plunged into the public house. The disturbance had doubled the crowd, so Burton seized the opportunity and once more addressed them. The local clergyman, the Revd Andrew Veitch, then came forward to speak. He said he had a son in New Zealand, and could confirm all that Burton had said. White concluded the meeting by urging his listeners to emigrate to a land where the rights of public assembly and free speech were treated with more respect. The sequel to this affair was that the farmer, to avoid a prosecution for assault, apologised to Burton, and paid him £2 10, which he used to help some needy families to emigrate to New Zealand.
Our second example concerns a visit to the marsh village of Immingham on 22 July. Here there was no overt opposition, but the meeting well illustrates the humble nature of much of the emigration work. There was no Labour League branch in the parish, so the meeting was announced by means of a poster, which created a great stir in a village unused to labourers' meetings. When Burton and White drove in, their first problem was to accommodate their horse, as there was no public house in the place. Having got over that difficulty they gave a lad sixpence to take a handbill to each house, advising that the meeting was about to begin. The crowd consisting of all the men of the village, and a few women, gathered on the village green. It was decided that the ground there was too damp owing to recent heavy rain, so the meeting adjourned to the parish pound, with the poundkeeper's permission. A plank across one corner provided a platform, and the men sat around in a square on the pound rails ‘like so many fowls on their perches’, while the women stood outside, peering between the rails. A local worthy took the chair, a hymn was sung, White asked for three cheers, to show that they were ‘no-wise ashamed of what they were doing’, and the two agents proceeded to tell their story.94 By such primitive means was the future of many a north Lincolnshire labourer transformed and the wilderness of the Taranaki bush peopled.
The rulers of rural society in north Lincolnshire did not let so many good men leave them without considerable opposition. Among ‘all sorts of influence’ which White found being used to dissuade intending emigrants, a very common form was the spreading of falsehoods concerning New Zealand, and the voyage thither.95 By the end of 1875 Burton reported that most of the leading provincial newspapers of the region had ‘had a fling’ at the New Zealand agents.98 One line of attack was to point out the inconsistencies between the accounts Burton and White gave of the land, climate and life of Taranaki, and the accounts sent home by the 1874 emigrants to Canterbury. The copious flow of favourable letters from page 163 Taranaki provided material for effective replies, but occasionally a newspaper was able to print a letter from an immigrant who was dissatisfied with the colony.97 The emigration meetings seem generally to have proceeded without disturbance, but Burton and White seem to have had a lively time in the marsh village of Hogsthorpe, on 11 July 1876. Very few would come to listen, but many stood at a safe distance to sneer, jeer and horse laugh at the lecturers. A nut scramble and a race for the village children were organised in the street to distract attention from the meeting. The Labourer claimed that the working men of the village were kept in such a state of slavish terror that they dared not speak their own thoughts.98 It says much for the character, persistence and persuasiveness of White and the Burtons that in the interests of New Zealand they succeeded in extricating some two thousand emigrants from this rural world.