The Farthest Promised Land — English Villagers, New Zealand Immigrants of the 1870s
6 Oxfordshire and Wychwood Forest
6 Oxfordshire and Wychwood Forest
UP TO THIS point we have been concerned with giving a broad view of the course of the New Zealand immigration drive of the 1870s, and with relating this drive to the changing fortunes of the English agricultural labourer, and more particularly to his Revolt of the Field. We will now undertake a study in greater depth of some of the districts of England which provided strong contingents for the immigrant ships. The rural world of Victorian England was rich in its variety, and our closer study will illustrate the diversity of circumstances that led to emigration, and indicate the variety of traditions and skills which the villagers brought to the task of shaping a new life in a new land. But while providing examples of this diversity and variety we will also be searching for underlying patterns which may give unity and significance to the flow of emigration. Did the villages that the New Zealand agents found most fruitful possess certain common features? Is it possible to discern the profile of a typical emigrant, by discovering circumstances, qualities and attitudes in which he differed from those who stayed? And what was the significance of the movement in the continuing history of those villages which lost large numbers to the colony? How were they affected both by the exodus, and by the reports which were sent back from the antipodes? The history of rural life in both England and New Zealand poses questions to which our closer enquiry may suggest some answers.
IMPACT OF NEW ZEALAND EMIGRATION DRIVE 1873–76
New Zealand immigration records list county of origin for all males and unmarried females of 12 years and over. They are here related to English county populations as at the 1871 census. The figures approximate to the number emigrating per 100,000 of county population
The county unit is, however, in general too large for the close study which we are about to undertake. Fortunately, a detailed study of individual villages is made possible by the good coverage of local union branches provided by the newspapers of the Revolt, and the information which can be derived from collating New Zealand immigrant passenger lists with the enumerators' schedules of the 1871 English census. Nevertheless, some guidance is needed for the selection of smaller districts, as the coverage of emigration by the union newspapers was fairly haphazard, and searching the enumerators' schedules is an onerous task, for which some leads are needed if it is to prove fruitful. The evidence suggests Oxfordshire as the most profitable county in which to begin our search. Only in Cornwall did the New Zealand emigration drive make a greater impact, but Cornwall was, of course, a special case, brought about by the collapse in mining; it lay outside the range of the Revolt, and its social conditions were not typical of rural England in general. Oxfordshire, on the other hand, lies in the heart of the recruitment area, and was deeply involved in the Revolt. The Oxford District of the National Union decided at an early stage to foster emigration rather than migration within Britain, and it was with emigration to New Zealand that it was mainly concerned.
Oxfordshire occupies the central portion of a strip of still largely rural country that stretches diagonally across England, separating the two industrial realms of London and the Midlands - what has been described as a no-man's land between metropolitan and industrial England.5 Prior to the 1974 boundary revisions, the country was of a very irregular shape, an artificial division formed mainly by historial agencies, but given some natural definition by being shut in to the north-west and south-east by the limestone and chalk escarpments of the Cotswolds and the Chilterns, and watered throughout by the tributaries of the Thames, which forms its southern boundary. Water-ways and water-power have played their part in the county's history. The streams of the Cotswolds contributed to the past glories of the woollen industry, and the city of Oxford grew up near the navigational head-waters of the Thames. But with the coming of steam and electricity, the world of industry largely passed Oxfordshire by. While Oxford itself has, through its great university, spoken down the centuries to the world, the city itself has been described as an overgrown market, cathedral and county town. The city's wider concerns have often led to a neglect of the welfare of the county's rural districts. C. S. Read, writing on page 105 Oxfordshire farming in 1854, noted that Oxford was an exception to the rule that ‘towns encourage their markets'.6 He also remarked that nearly one-sixth of the county's rents and tithes belonged to Oxford colleges and other religious bodies, and that generally speaking the property of the university was badly managed.7 Half a century later the Victoria County History gave the same picture of a rural world relatively unaffected by the intellectual stimulus of its county town:
The flood of modern progress has overwhelmed the city of Oxford, but the rural villages have slept on undisturbed in their peaceful seclusion. Yet still, on market days the flocks and herds obstructing the narrow mediaeval Oxford streets, and the carriers' waggons clustered about the church of St Mary Magdalen, recall the fact that only a few miles from that busy centre of activity lies a county of archaic survivals and old-world traditions.8
We must now examine this rural world with its hundreds of villages, and endeavour to discern any significant patterns which underlay the emigration movement that stirred some areas of its peaceful seclusion’ in the 1870s. We have already noted that two of the county's union leaders, Holloway and Leggett, led parties of emigrants to New Zealand. It is of significance that both these men came from open villages, and that both were able to recruit numbers of emigrants from their own village. From the nature of the case, it would not be surprising if the majority of the recruits for New Zealand came from open villages. As we proceed we will test this as one possible pattern. Another is suggested by the fact that there were two districts in the county where the interest in emigration was such that the union arranged for C. R. Carter to pay special visits to address mass rallies. One was the Wychwood area of Oxfordshire's western margin, which, as we have seen,9 Carter visited twice in November 1873 - on 4 November to address some 500 to 600 persons assembled at Milton-under-Wychwood, and on the 25th, when ‘a very large number of labourers’ gathered to hear him at Charlbury. By April 1875 the Milton branch claimed that it had sent away ‘upwards of two hundred souls’, most of them to New Zealand.10 A search of the 1871 census schedules shows that this area was indeed one of the most fruitful for New Zealand recruitment. The other district visited by Carter was in the region of Islip, where, as we have seen,11 he addressed a large meeting on 27 January 1874, and subsequently selected 150 emigrants. What characteristics, if any, have the Wychwood Forest villages, and the area around Islip, in common?
While reading J. N. Brewer's Topographical and Historical Description of Oxfordshire, published in 1810, I was struck by the significance of his comments on the wastes of the county:
Except the dreary district termed Otmoor, and the extensive wilds appertaining to the forest of Whichwood, the waste land of Oxfordshire is comparatively small. The common of Otmoor is situate near Islip, and contains about 4000 acres, the whole of which lie nearly on a level, and are completely inundated in wet seasons.
Eight adjoining townships possess a right of commonage on this page 106 dismal tract; but, as this right is possessed without stint, the abuses are very great, and many cattle are placed there, to feed which really belong to persons who have no privilege to reap benefit from the waste … the cottager appears to reap the greatest benefit from Otmoor. He turns out little except geese; and the coarse, aquatic, sward of this waste is well suited to the wants and constitution of his flock …
In the purlieus of Whichwood Forest there are extensive tracts of waste ground, the commonage of which is confined, by right, to horses and sheep; but the instances of illegal assumption are numerous, and cattle of almost every description may be seen nearly in every part …12
Both these extensive wastes had been enclosed by the 1870s - Otmoor by an enclosure award of 1815, and Wychwood Forest by an award of 1857, but it is surely significant that the two areas where Carter held mass rallies should be precisely those with recent memories of the freedom of the waste. There is good evidence that the existence of the waste had fostered a spirit of virile and unruly independence in the neighbouring villages. The Otmoor villagers bitterly resented the enclosure of their waste, and when in 1830 they were led to believe that the enclosure was illegal, they came out in their hundreds to tear down the fences.13 When troops were called out, they refused to disperse on the reading of the Riot Act. Numbers of them were thereupon seized and sent off to Oxford Gaol in wagons under an escort of yeomanry. Oxford, however, was crowded for St Giles' Fair, and when the prisoners raised the cry of ‘Otmoor for ever’, the crowd fell upon the yeomanry and released the prisoners. Although the prisoners were later rearrested and convicted, the spirit of rebellion simmered for some years, with fences being pulled down at every full moon, and the local magistrates making frequent appeals to the government for troops to suppress the Otmoor outrages. With village traditions drawing on events such as these, and memories of a recent past when every cottager had livestock on the common, it is not difficult to understand why Carter found men here who were prepared to venture in order to escape from servility and to gain access to land.
The enclosure and clearance of Wychwood Forest in the late 1850s did not cause resentment among the common people, for such rights as they possessed were treated with due respect. There is, however, copious evidence that in villages neighbouring the forest there was a long tradition of independence of spirit, and of lawlessness. Arthur Young, in his View of the Agriculture of Oxfordshire, published in 1809, had recommended the enclosure of Wychwood not only on economic grounds, but also because:
… the morals of the whole surrounding country demand it imperiously. The vicinity is filled with poachers deer-stealers, thieves, and pilferers of every kind; offences of almost every description abound so much, that the offenders are a terror to all quiet and well-disposed persons; and Oxford gaol would be uninhabited, were it not for this fertile source of crimes …14
And writing about the same time, on the same subject, J. N. Brewer commented on
Clearly servility would not come easily to these villagers, and it is not surprising that so many of them opted for colonial freedom.
These two districts, then make a special claim for our detailed study. Our choice between them is aided by comments from the Oxford District of the National Union on their emigration work, published in the English Labourer of 14 October 1876. Favourable labour conditions in the district were attributed to the way in which the work of emigration had been vigorously pushed. ‘Most of the Oxfordshire emigrants have gone to New Zealand,’ the item explains, ‘a few to Canada, while Queensland has taken a large number from the Buckinghamshire side of the district.’ The emigrants to Canada were probably from the north of the county. Here the unionists had close links with their Warwickshire neighbours, and would have been particularly influenced by Arch's advocacy following his visit to Canada. The Otmoor villages, lying along the Buckinghamshire border, were probably among those affected by emigration to Queensland. If, therefore, we choose the Wychwood villages for our special study, we will be dealing with an area where a strong flow of emigration was directed almost entirely towards New Zealand.
The area with which we will principally concern ourselves lies on the western borders of the county, where two tributaries of the Thames, the Evenlode and the Windrush, have carved their valleys deep into the Oolite limestone of the eastern edge of the Cotswolds. Between these rivers rises the range of downs that through the centuries was clothed by the royal forest of Wychwood. We will first describe this district as it was in the early 1870s, and then examine some features of its earlier social history that are relevant to our story. The area had two little local ‘capitals’, Burford to the south, and Charlbury to the north, both market towns in the 1870s. Our description will move from south to north, beginning with the large village of Burford (1871 population 1,403). This was one of the loveliest of the Cotswold towns, with substantial buildings in the beautiful Cotswold stone along its wide High Street that sloped towards the Windrush. Yet it had a languishing air, as if it had known much better times. Many of its finest buildings dated from the fifteenth century, when it shared in the prosperity of the flourishing Cotswold woollen industry. The famous quarries at nearby Taynton, and a remunerative toll-bridge, added to its prosperity. The good times passed, but the town had revived in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, partly through its position on the main route from London to Gloucester and South Wales. For many years it rivalled Newmarket as a horse-racing centre. Then, early in the nineteenth century, the through traffic was diverted to a shorter route along the ridge south of the town, and the railways chose to avoid it by a good five miles. Burford had reverted to the role of a quiet rural centre. Its liveliest days were now the mops or hiring fairs, when men and girls offered themselves page 109 for hire, the shepherds with a bit of wool pinned to their hats, carters with a piece of whipcord, housemaids displaying a mop and so on. The ‘fasten penny’, the shilling accepted from the employer, sealed the engagement.16 In the early 1870s the town's labourers were experiencing hard times. The district's relieving officer reported low wages of from eight to eleven shillings a week, and numbers unemployed for much of their time.17 In summer many migrated in search of work, though the best workers managed to find work in their home district.
The traveller going north to the Wychwood villages crossed the Windrush by a narrow three-arched bridge. To his right the river flowed on down through the little villages of Fulbrook, Swinbrook, Asthall and Minster Lovell, to the larger town of Witney, where blanket-making continues as a survival of the old Cotswold wool trade. But Witney lies outside our district, and contributed little to New Zealand immigration. More important for our story was the little village of Taynton (1871 population 335), lying upstream, above the banks of the Coombe Brook, a tributary of the Windrush. Here lived the latest generation of the army of men who had raised the famous Taynton stone from the long range of quarries further up the Coombe Valley, since before the Norman Conquest. The beauty of this stone could be seen in many buildings in the neighbourhood, and also in some of the finest buildings in Oxford, in Blenheim Palace and at Windsor.
The traveller leaving Taynton to take the road to Charlbury had to climb the slopes of the downs. Here grazed the sheep whose fine wool had contributed so much to Burford's medieval prosperity. By the 1870s farming had become more mixed.18 Since early in the century the farmers had begun to rear cattle in a district where it had formerly been considered impossible to do so. They were mainly Herefords, raised to be sold as store beef cattle, chiefly to the Buckinghamshire graziers. Some of these beasts were broken in at two years old and worked till five years old, when they were disposed of in store order. Three or four made up a plough team, and in this district a typical 400 acre farm would keep two teams of working bullocks. Proficiency in breaking and working these animals would be one useful skill taken from these hills to far-off New Zealand. The cultivation was clearly for large fields of both root and grain crops, the roots being used as stock food.
Reaching the ridge of the downs, the traveller would see stretched before him one of the finest pieces of scenery in Oxfordshire.19 The Evenlode comes down from the north-west to Shipton, where it swings to the north-east past Ascot. The ridge on which he stood parallels the course of the river, as also does the sweep of the hills on the far side of the broad valley. From these heights he would see that the villages along the Evenlode are set in a vast amphitheatre, almost too grand for the little Evenlode. At closer quarters he would find that the river has a more humble intimacy, well caught in Hilaire Belloc's lines:page 110
She lingers in the hills, and holds
A hundred little towns of stone
Forgotten in the western wolds!
But there is more to be seen before leaving this vantage point. In the distance, between himself and Charlbury, the traveller would have made out the remaining remnant of Wychwood Forest, preserved as part of Cornbury Park, the seat of the Churchill family. Nearer at hand were the seven farms created following the enclosure and clearance of the forest. There are few cottages on these new farms, for most of their labour was drawn from the villages in the valleys below. But not all who climb the slopes each day were farm labourers. As he passed the road leading from the ridge down to Milton-under-Wychwood, the traveller could glimpse George Groves's Milton Quarries, just below the summit, where a score of stone masons earned their livelihood.
Moving northwards we would have been able to chose a route that passed through the remnant of Wychwood Forest. From the local villagers we could, in the 1870s, have gathered many memories of its broader reaches before the clearance. Some might have told us of spring days when with the village children they had wandered abroad like Matthew Arnold's Scholar Gipsy to gather a
… heap of flowers
plucked in shy fields, and distant Wychwood bowers.
For many, the highlights of their youth would have been the revelry of the annual Forest Fair. The Fair was held late in September, when the forest was in the full beauty of autumn, and even the small forest remnant would have been at its most glorious at this season.
There are parts in it where the hoary and heavily ancient thorn trees are almost primeval in aspect, yet even their lichened and wizard-like age is magically kindled in autumn. Then the scarlet and crimson of holly and spindle berries turn the sky over them to aquamarine; the Old Man's Beard streams in silver cascades; and the colour of the beach leaves runs through lemon and orange to flame. The bracken everywhere has been breast high and overhead in a great many places; its height is shrinking a little in September, but it spreads everywhere tawny and golden.20
Moving onwards past Rangers Lodge one would soon have reached the northern edge of the forest remnant, and found Charlbury just ahead, on the opposite bank of the Evenlode. Approaching the town on a fine summer's day in the 1870s the traveller would have had another feature of life in the Wychwood villages brought forcefully to his notice. Here and there the hedges would be covered with sheepskins and goatskins bleaching in the sun. These were the raw materials of the flourishing gloving industry that employed so many of the women of the region. Small groups of women were to be seen gossiping in the cottage doorways, enjoying the sun as they plied their needles. Charlbury (1871 population 1,335), owed its size and relative prosperity partly to this industry, of which it was one of the main centres. Upstream from Charlbury, were the other little ‘towns of page 111 stone’ of the Evenlode - Ascott-under-Wychwood, Shipton-under-Wychwood, Milton-under-Wychwood, and Lyneham. After travelling through them, a visitor in the 1870s would be left with an overall impression of rural beauty and a grasp of one or two general social facts. As in Burford, the labourers outnumbered the general level of local demand. But employment provided by gloving, a cottage industry which the Industrial Revolution had failed to destroy, had helped to alleviate the situation. Another striking social fact was the strength of nonconformity throughout the Wychwood region. Both Burford and Charlbury had Baptist, Quaker and Wesleyan chapels. Milton (1871 population, 962) had three dissenting chapels. Ascott (1871 population, 462) had two, while in the hamlet of Lyneham (1871 population, 249) it was the Wesleyan chapel, not the Anglican church, which dominated the scene.
From our survey of the district in the early 1870s, we now turn to some aspects of its social history. The royal forest was undoubtedly the most important general influence down the centuries.21 In medieval times it provided the crown with both a hunting preserve and a source of income. The king had, for feudal times, a singularly direct control over such a district, exercised through special forest laws and forest officers. When the Crown was strong, the forest bounds were enlarged, when it was weak, feudal nobility and common people worked together to have the forest area reduced. In the course of time the kings ceased to use the forest for the royal chase, and there was a gradual breakdown of crown rights in the forest. In 1792 the Commissioners of Woods and Forests made a report, after examining the forest to assess its value for naval timber. They found it almost entirely surrounded by a stone wall, and managed by a team of forest officers, with the Duke of Marlborough, as Ranger, at their head. There were about a thousand head of fallow-deer. Many of the surrounding parishes and hamlets had rights of pasture for horses and sheep. The coppices were granted by lease, and thus privately harvested. All these arrangements were, however, vitiated by various forms of lawlessness. The lessees of the coppices were taking much wood that they were not entitled to. In other parts of the forest there was much lopping and cutting of young trees ‘which is done in open day, and carried away often in waggons, in the night’.22 The rejuvenation of the forest was further hindered by the fact that it was over-run with swine, for which there were no common rights. And there was also, of course, poaching. Not surprisingly, the forest was of little use for naval timber. The advocates of complete clearance and enclosure had a strong case.
The Forest Fair originated at about the same time as serious official thought was first being given to the forest's future.23 It apparently began about 1790, as a simple picnic arranged by the local Wesleyans to enable their Witney members to escape the unseemly frivolity of carnival day in Witney wake week. Unfortunately for them, theirquiet picnic on Newhill Plain above the upper lakes in the forest, was invaded by the very merry-makers they were trying to avoid. Through the second quarter of page 112 the nineteenth century the fair was the neighbourhood's great annual event, with an average attendance of 20,000 persons.
From two days before the Fair every available nook and cranny in Charlbury was filled. An army of entertainers, as well as those to be entertained, had to be housed; for there were ‘Wild West Shows’, ‘travelling theatres’, ‘Atkins and Womwell Menageries’, ‘Monsieur Columbier and his French Company with Fireworks’, and last, but not least, ‘the Vauxhall dancing saloon, with harps and violins, lit up at night with hundreds of lamps’…. Music of kinds must have been plentiful; for almost all the shows and booths had their gangs: many local fiddlers and one or two clarionet players were present; and the Charlbury Yeomanry Band performed from Lord Churchill's boat on the lake.24
Although year by year Lord Churchill, as forest ranger, drove his carriage with coachmen and footmen in full glory, down the broad streets of booths, he was not really in favour of the occasion. The fair had developed something of a name for petty crime and debauchery. In the early 1830s Lord Churchill endeavoured to have it discontinued, but failed. Finally, at the time of enclosure, he succeeded in suppressing it - but only after he had had great trenches dug to make it impossible for the vans and shows to reach the plain.
The enclosure and clearance of such an extensive area of forest land aroused considerable interest, and it was described at length in a prize essay by C. Belcher, published in the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society.25 The area was first opened up by public roads. The greater part was allotted to the Crown, and the work of clearance was carried through in sixteen months, beginning in October 1856. First the deer were removed - a few being taken alive to stock distant parks, but most being killed. For a short period the taste of venison was legally enjoyed in cottage as well as hall. Then an army of hundreds of men and boys began a steady advance, clearing the brushwood and felling and cutting up the trees. This part of the operation showed a handsome profit from the sale of the timber. Next came the expensive work of grubbing out the roots and stumps. Great quantities of rough firewood had to be burnt on the ground, but much was carried away by the cottagers. Finally the land was subdivided with hawthorn hedges, and the seven new farms, totalling 2,843 acres, were let by public tender. The new tenants had plenty of work for the village labourers over the next few years. There was a great deal of grubbing and breast-ploughing before the land was brought into full cultivation.
The gloving industry of Oxfordshire dates back to remote times.26 Its long history owes a great deal to the deer of Wychwood Forest, and to the Cotswold sheep, whose skins have provided much of its raw material. Various centres have from time to time been associated with the industry, including Oxford, Woodstock, Charlbury, Wootton, and Chipping Norton. In Charlbury the industry was flourishing early in the eighteenth century, but had died out by its end. It was revived in 1808 by a local page 113 Quaker, partly to relieve distress in the town and its neighbourhood.27 In 1823 the glove industry was reported to have drawn so much population to the town that there was ‘hardly an old malt-house, barn, stable, or hovel but is converted into a dwelling house’.28 The industry continued to flourish throughout the century. Thus in the census return of 1851 a population increase at Charlbury is put down to the fact that people were attracted by the glove industry.29 The gloving industry must undoubtedly have had an influence on the outlook of the women, and also on the home life of the Wychwood villages. George Hambidge, born in 1840, recalling his youth in Leafield, remembered that the girls there made gloves, and very seldom ‘went to service’. They would meet in each others' homes, to talk as they worked, and in cold weather warmed their feet around a large ash-pan.30 In 1867 a good sewer was said to make up one dozen gloves a week, earning five shillings to seven shillings. Unlike some other cottage industries, such as straw plaiting, gloving was not suitable for young girls. A Wootton gloveress told the 1867 Royal Commission that ‘a girl ought to be 14 or 15 before she is trusted with a glove’.31 In various ways, the industry would seem to have worked to enhance the independent spirit of the cottagers. It must have encouraged them to keep their daughters at school until they reached their ‘teens. They could then begin work in their own homes, without experiencing the subservience of ‘service’. Their craft was a skilled one, in which they could take a justified pride. By keeping the older women away from field service, it would have served to encourage good house-keeping and the creation of comfortable homes, and this would have had its effects on the morale and ambitions of their menfolk.32 The social intercourse which it encouraged among the village women must also have had a considerable influence on the spirit and outlook of the women themselves. All this helps to explain the forthright involvement of the women of Ascott in their men's union conflict, with which we shall be dealing shortly. Over these years English cottage women seem often to have been opposed to their menfolk's interest in the union and in emigration. It seems likely that in the Wychwood villages it was more common for them to share their men's outlook.
In the Wychwood area of Oxfordshire, the village of Milton was apparently the first to raise the banner of the Revolt, and it continued to be the organising centre after the movement had been spread to neighbouring villages.33 As Milton was also to be very deeply affected by emigration to New Zealand, it will repay our closer study. The 1871 Census schedules show it to have been a fairly typical moderate-sized open agricultural village. Its 10 farmers were providing employment for 58 men, 6 women and 21 boys, but as about 100 of the village men were farm workers, many of them will have had to find their work elsewhere. The quarry was employing 18 men and 2 boys; 10 women were returned as gloveresses; and there was the usual range of village craftsmen, with indications that in building the village was serving a wider district. The 1873 Register of Electors for Oxfordshire shows that over 20 of the inhabitants of Milton page 114 had voting rights through owning houses or cottages in the village. Several of these were labourers, craftsmen or small tradesmen. From these facts and figures we can deduce some of the circumstances underlying both unionism and emigration. The labour surplus provided the incentive for working-class action, while the existence of diverse avenues of employment (agriculture, quarrying, gloving, building) and of some freehold working-class homes, must have helped to sustain the spirit for action. A local historian depicts early nineteenth century Milton as a lawless place, in which Sundays were ‘profaned and given over to prize-fighting, bull-baiting, and all ungodliness’.34 Milton, it seems, shared in the general unruliness of the Wychwood area. Many of those who followed more ‘godly’ ways, did not support the Established Church. An earlier Quaker movement in the village had apparently died out,35 but as the century progressed three other forms of dissent became firmly established. First came the Strict Baptists, who initially suffered considerable opposition from the village roughs. The house in which they met was stoned, and more than once a stream was diverted to run through it ‘to give the dippers plenty of water’.36 Primitive Methodism came next, with ‘glorious camp meetings’ held on the village green.37 Among its staunchest supporters was a more well-to-do villager, Isaac Castle, who was to give valuable assistance to the union movement. In the interests of temperance he built a house with a room for a coffee tavern, and he invested in a large tent for use in religious and other causes. In due course Wesleyan Methodism also became established in the village, and by the mid-century all three groups had built themselves chapels.
Stirred, no doubt, by the news from Warwickshire, the labourers of Milton met on the village recreation ground on 16 April 1872 to discuss forming a union. About fifty of them agreed to proceed with the venture.38 A committee of six labourers from the villages of Lyneham, Shipton and Milton was set up, with Joseph Leggett as secretary. Leggett is listed in the Milton 1871 census schedules as a 34-year-old carpenter and joiner, born at Windsor, Berkshire. He must, however have been living in Milton since at least 1860, as his wife, and all six of his children (aged two months to eleven years) are shown as born in the village. He and his family apparently attended the Baptist Chapel.39 Under Leggett's guidance the union spread rapidly. As in Warwickshire, a member's weekly contribution was set at two pence, and it was agreed that some of the funds should be used to hold meetings in the surrounding district.40 These Oxfordshire developments became known to the Warwickshire union, and by early May the two movements were in touch with each other, with the result that a member of the Milton Union attended a Whit-Monday demonstration of the Warwickshire Union at Wellesbourne.41 At this meeting a Warwickshire spokesman described the Milton Union as an independent movement with thirteen branches and over five hundred members.42 The Milton Union sent Leggett and two other delegates to the conference at Leamington on 29 May 1872, and on their return the executive of the Milton Union, at a page 115 meeting on 1 June 1872, unanimously agreed that their organisation should join the newly created National as a district.43
Meanwhile, on 29 May 1872, a branch of the Milton movement was established at Wootton, with Christopher Holloway as chairman.44 In less than a month its membership grew to about 185, and the men decided to take action to get their basic wage raised from eleven shillings to sixteen shillings a week. A respectful letter, dated 22 June 1872, and signed by Holloway, was distributed to the farmers of the parish, advising them of the required five shillings a week rise in wages to come into effect on 6 July, but inviting them, if they could not agree with the terms, ‘to appoint an early time to meet us so that we may fairly consider the matter and arrange our affairs amicably’. The Wootton farmers' response was a meeting held on 3 July at which resolutions were passed requiring the immediate discharge of all union men, and setting up a Property Protection Society, to compensate members for malicious damage to their property, prosecute anyone caught doing such damage, and offer rewards for information leading to convictions.45 On 13 July, at a meeting after market in Oxford Corn Exchange, a gathering of 200–300 farmers and their sympathisers, agreed to set up a larger defence association to be known as the Oxfordshire Association of Agriculturists. This Association met with little success, as the majority of farmers stood aloof. Meanwhile in Wootton the failure of the farmers to either meet the union's terms or negotiate had put most of the local farm labourers out of work either by lock-out or strike. The dispute lasted for nearly two months, and during its course there were several developments which must have helped to decide some of the labourers on emigration. Contrary to the Queen's Regulations, a number of soldiers were made available to several of the farmers, to help get in the harvest. The Duke of Marlborough also came to the assistance of the farmers, offering to transfer to them the renting of any cottages or allotments which labourers were renting directly from him, so as to strengthen the farmers' position when bargaining with the workers.46
Richard Heath, a contemporary journalist who sympathised with the labourers, wrote perceptively of this particular conflict and its setting:
In passing rapidly through the villages which lie under the Blenheim aegis, one's sense of the orderly and the beautiful is certainly gratified. The white cottages and pretty porches overgrown with jasmine and honeysuckle, the small gardens just now blazing with gorgeous hollyhocks, and often well stocked with fruit trees, seem at first sight to leave little to be desired.
But look deeper. Talk with the peasantry, and you will find discontent everywhere. Not a grumbling, unreasonable discontent, but a deep sense that things are very far from what they should be.
… in the Duke's manifesto the reason avowed for putting both cottages and allotment-grounds into the hands of the farmers is the attitude of labourers in forming a Union. Moreover, these cottages are mainly in villages, so that the result is to place one class of the page 116 community directly under the control of another. This is still more shown in the determination to take away the allotment-grounds, since it proves that it is considered unwise to allow the labourer to feel, even in the slightest degree, independent of his employer. As there are 914 allotments, the greater proportion of which are forty poles in extent, and 360 cottages on the Duke's estates in Oxfordshire, it will be seen how numerous are the persons likely to be affected by the manifesto.47
Commenting on the illegal use of the military, Heath reported that the soldiers were ‘somewhat disconcerted at the sight of groups of sad-eyed men standing about in enforced idleness …’ and he considered that their employment ‘envenomed a dispute hitherto carried on by the men without the least desire or sign of violence’.48
Through his resolute leadership of the struggle at Wootton, Holloway was emerging as the main leader of the Oxfordshire movement. Goaded by the tactics of the opposition, he spoke out in strong terms at a meeting in Oxford early in August, advising the labourers: ‘Let them … have a revolution rather than go back to the dark ages and be serfs and slaves of the farmers’.49 Meanwhile the unionists of the Wychwood villages were not only assisting their brethren at Wootton, but also facing some local opposition. At a meeting of the Oxfordshire Farmers' Association late in July, Mr J. Maddox of Shipton-under-Wychwood remarked that he had dismissed six out of his twenty-five labourers for having joined the union.50 The ground was obviously well prepared for an emigration agent. It was probably through the union that arrangements were now made for C. R. Carter to hold a meeting in the interests of John Brogden and Sons. ‘At Shipton, in Oxfordshire,’ Carter reported, ‘the agricultural labourers mostly came from the harvest fields to meet me. At this place I selected ten married men, who, with their wives and children, embarked in the Chile for Napier.’51
The close links between the Oxfordshire rural unionists and the New Zealand emigration drive date from the recruitment of this party, and it is therefore unfortunate that New Zealand's Brogden immigrants are very poorly recorded. There is, however, good evidence that the letters written home by members of the Chile party did much to stimulate the flow of emigration to New Zealand of the following years. The fortuitous circumstance that Brogdens sent this shipload to their contract in Hawke's Bay led to strong links between the Wychwood villages, and the new bush settlements of southern Hawke's Bay. The Chile sailed from London on 12 September 1872, and reached Napier on 28 December 1872, with 220 assisted immigrants, of whom 192 had been recruited by Brogdens, mainly from Cornwall.52 A rather carelessly copied list of the immigrants expected by this ship was published by the Hawke's Bay Herald of 29 November 1872, and from this it has been possible to identify several of the families recruited by Carter from the Wychwood villages. Thus ‘Thos. Howse, 25, laborer’ listed with his wife Caroline, aged 22, seems very likely to have been the ‘T. House, West Clive’, who on 1 July 1873 successfully page 117 nominated ‘Timothy House, Milton nr. Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire’ for consideration as an assisted immigrant.53 By 1882 Thomas Howse was a settler with 50 acres freehold at Makaretu.54 These men may well have been sons of Daniel Howse of Milton, who was appointed to the executive of the Oxford district on 13 June 1872.55 He appears in the Milton 1871 census schedules as a 62-year-old agricultural labourer living with his 61-year-old wife, and an unmarried son, John. He is very probably the Daniel Howse, 52, labourer, who sailed for Hawke's Bay as a nominated immigrant in November 1874.56 Probably he was joining his emigrant sons, after having been widowed. George Franklin, who appears on the Herald's list as a labourer of 29, with his wife Emily, 23, and two young children, can be definitely identified in the 1871 census schedules for Milton as an agricultural labourer, a native of the village. He is probably the ‘Geo. Franklin’ who on 13 November 1873 nominated two other Milton farm labourers and their families for the free passages which Vogel had just introduced. These two men were Lawrence Franklin and William Jackson,57 who both left for Hawke's Bay, with their wives and families, by the same ship, in March 1874. Also probably from the Wychwood area, was William Cook, listed as a 36-year-old labourer, with his wife Elizabeth, 32, and children, Clara, 9, Albert, 7, and Alice, 4. A William Cook is listed in 1882 as a settler with 100 acres freehold at Makaretu.58 This family is identified as almost certainly among Carter's Wychwood recruits, through an account of the career of the son, Albert. According to the Cyclopaedia of New Zealand,59 Albert William Cook, J.P., and member of the Waipawa County Council, was born in Oxfordshire, England on 22 April 1866, and came to New Zealand as a lad. He had had a successful career as a storekeeper and farmer, and in 1908 owned a general store at Ashley-Clinton, a 900-acre farm with nearly 2,000 sheep, and considerable property in Takapau. If the Cooks had emigrated to improve their children's chances in life, they had certainly succeeded with Albert.
The interplay between the members of the Chile party and the villagers back in Oxfordshire can be well illustrated by the case of George Smith, who appears on the Herald's list as a 31-year-old farm labourer, with his wife Maria, 31, and children George, 11, Ellen, 9, and Lydia, 111/2 months. The brief introduction which the Labourers' Union Chronicle provided for a letter from George Smith which it printed on 20 September 1873, the Oxford District Minute Book,60 and comments in letters from later emigrants to Hawke's Bay,61 together provide a good deal of information about him. He had been an active unionist, representing the Burford branch at delegate meetings. The published letter was to John Pinfold, secretary of the union's Taynton branch. Both Pinfold and Smith were local preachers. Smith's recommendations must have helped decide both Pinfold and Edward Harding, a foundation member of the Taynton branch, to follow him to Hawke's Bay. His letter is therefore worth quoting extensively. It is dated from Kaikora, Hawke's Bay on 28 May 1873:page 118
… If any of you are willing to come out to this sunny land you don't need to fear the sea; if you have a passage like ours it will be quite a pleasure trip … The day we arrived in the port of Hawke's Bay we had a first rate dinner on board - fresh beef, young potatoes and carrots…. I had no difficulty in getting work. I was employed soon after I got here. I am now working on the road for the Government. I have 6s. a day from eight o'clock in the morning to five in the evening. If I had been in Bourford [sic] I should have worked three days for that. Working men in this country don't believe in much walking; I have a horse and new saddle and bridle to go to my work on. I bought the horse for £4, and saddle and bridle for about £3, so you see I got rigged out very soon; and now I am about getting a cow; my wife has got her fowls. The house we are living in is a two roomed cottage with a garden. I give 5s. per week, and I have firewood and the food for my cow for that. You must understand that we burn nothing but wood. Most provisions are cheap. Flour is about the same as at home; beef is threepence or fourpence per pound, and mutton, 21/2d. We used to be told that the beef and mutton of this country were not so good as at home; come and try them, and I assure you you will find out your mistake. We thought it a fine thing to get a pig's cheek or three or four pounds of bacon in old England; but now I can have half a sheep at a time, and sometimes a whole one, and about 80 or 90 pounds of beef. We can sometimes get a leg of mutton for sixpence. This is really the land of Goshen, and if you acted wisely you would come; there is plenty of work for you. Shearing is a fine trade in its season; a good shearer will get £1 a day. A shepherd with not more than one or two children will get from £60 to £70 a year, and all found. Clothing is a little dearer here, but not a great deal. If you come, provide yourselves with a good supply, but if you cannot, still come, and you will soon get clothes when you get here. I will send you a newspaper, and enclose two papers showing you how you can come. Read the papers well and lend them about, and please send me a newspaper sometimes; you can send one for a penny stamp. George has been to school, but he has now gone to work. He has 6s per week and his food. I am very glad I came here, I wish I had come years ago. I have no anxiety now about how I am to get food and clothing for myself and children … I have not been to class yet out here, but as I am now living within five miles of Waipawa, where the class is held, I intend to go and give my name as a member with the United Methodist Free Churches. The minister comes to Kaikora to preach every fortnight, and at Waipawa every Sunday night. Be sure to write and tell me how the Union is getting on, and how you are getting on with your chapel affairs …62
Smith listed eleven folk to whom he wished his letter shown, ‘and as many more as you think proper’. There is a footnote by the Revd George Taylor of Waipawa, who had written the letter for Smith, which indicates that although Smith was a local preacher and therefore undoubtedly literate, he was not a confident writer. Taylor endorsed all that Smith had written about the colony, remarking that, ‘It is a fine country for working men. I wonder that more don't come.’ The repeated persuasions of this letter are obviously well supported by its content. With copious down-to-earth detail, New Zealand is depicted as a land of plenty, where the hard-pressed English labourer is freed from want. In place of a hopeless future, he is page 119 offered ample opportunities of bettering himself. The prospect of almost immediately acquiring a good riding horse must have been a potent bait. Valued features of the home village, such as chapel and old friends, are shown to be already waiting in the new land, for any who will make the venture.
While the Chile party were establishing themselves in Hawke's Bay and their letters were creating a growing interest in New Zealand among their friends and relatives back in Oxfordshire, developments in one of the Wychwood villages led to a clash which caused a widespread stir throughout England. This was the notorious ‘Chipping Norton Case’, in which two clerical magistrates sentenced sixteen women from Ascott-under-Wychwood to imprisonment with hard labour for a comparatively mild act of picketing in support of a strike by their menfolk. In an editorial of 30 May 1873 The Times commented that ‘had the Magistrates at Chipping Norton desired to illustrate the existing agricultural system in its worst light, to show beyond a doubt its severance of social ties and its moral mischiefs, they could not have done more than they have done’. Not only do these events throw further light on the English rural scene, but they also merit our attention in that many Oxfordshire emigrants to New Zealand would have been deeply affected by them, while some were directly involved.
Immediately after the Chipping Norton case, Holloway, as chairman of the Oxford district of the National Union, carried out an investigation into the wages and conditions of the Ascott farm labourers. He found that prior to the appearance of the union, wages had been nine shillings a week in winter, ten shillings in summer, with two shillings a week extra for 13 or 14 weeks at busy seasons, when hours were 12 to 16 a day. There were no perquisites, and no wages when time was lost on wet days. Following the forming of the union branch, wages were raised by two shillings per week. Holloway considered many of the Ascott cottages to be ‘simply horrible and a disgrace to a Christian country’. He described the homes of two of the women who had each had to take an infant to prison with them. These belonged to a block of three cottages:
Imagine a narrow place, like a coal cellar, down which you go two or three steps, no flooring except broken stones, no ceiling, no grate, rough walls, a bare ladder leading to the one narrow bedroom about 6ft. wide, containing two bedsteads for a man, his wife, and three young children, the whole place as wretchedly bad and miserable as imagination can conceive, and only divided by a rough wooden partition not reaching to the roof, but over which you may look into the bedroom of the next adjoining house, equally wretched and miserable, and with the additional evil that the only way to the bedroom of a third house is through the bedroom of No. 2 house, and that in No. 2 live a man, his wife, and six children, and till recently the third house (one room down, one up) was occupied by a man, his wife, and also six children …63
The farmers wrote in reply to Holloway, contending that in Ascott the page 120 general condition of the labouring poor was above the average of their class. The building of which Holloway complained was ‘a large old building erected in the time of Queen Elizabeth for a village workhouse, and so used until the establishment of the union workhouses’. It was now used only by those who would not pay more than a shilling a week for rent, or who were so objectionable as tenants that owners of better accommodation refused to have them.64 In an earlier letter the farmers had complained of the effect the unionists were having on ‘the peaceful and orderly condition of the village’. No one who was not favourable to union principles could appear in the village without being annoyed and assailed with ‘Ba, Ba, Black legs; old black legs, Ba, Ba, Ba,’.65
In April 1873 the union decided to move for a further increase of two shillings a week in wages at Ascott. Following a not uncommon union tactic, they picked upon one leading farmer. This was Robert Hambidge, who had the parish's largest farm -one of 400 acres, provided by the recent clearance of Wychwood Forest. Hambidge with his wife and young family had come to the village from Gloucestershire about seven years earlier. The 1871 census shows him as a 43-year-old farmer employing ten men and four boys. He was no doubt chosen for the union's attention because he was particularly vulnerable to a strike, as all his men were unionists, and also, probably, because he had attended union meetings and taken the names of those joining.66 When presented with the union's demand for a wage of fourteen shillings a week, he agreed to pay this amount to his most efficient labourers, but not to those whose work was affected by age or infirmity. This offer was refused, and his men left him in the middle of a backward barley sowing with twelve agricultural horses, four working bullocks, a flock of 500 sheep at turnips, milking cows, bullocks and young stock, and only two yearly servants, a shepherd and a youth to man the establishment. Hambidge's neighbours rallied to his support, a parish meeting was convened, and it was agreed that none would pay their labourers more than twelve shillings a week. The following Monday morning, 21 April, the union retaliated by calling out all its members in the village, paying them an allowance of nine shillings a week. After a fortnight, work was found for about twenty of them, felling and barking timber about five miles away. The farmers meanwhile sought out what non-union labour they could find, and Hambidge was able to engage two young men from another village.67
The strike was three weeks old when the village women took the action which brought them before the court. Their unusual display of spirit was commented upon by contemporaries, and probably owed a good deal to the social effects of their working together at gloving.68 A special correspondent of the Daily News who visited the district at the time, commented on this aspect of the affair, and remarked that:
Not long since I sailed down the river with a party of emigrants, selected partly from this and partly from the Buckinghamshire District, and I could not fail to perceive that the women were in many, if not page 121 most instances, the ruling spirits. But for them the little allotment and the uneventful routine of the hamlet would never have been given up; they it was who, when the ship started on her way, struck up the jubilant songs and choruses which gave life and cheerfulness to an otherwise dismal scene.69
The Ascott women chose Monday, 12 May, for their intervention, as all the farmers of the village had left at an early hour to attend the large annual horse fair at Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire. The women assembled at about half-past-six and waited in the turnpike road for labourers coming to Ascott. According to the union they had no sticks or weapons of any kind with them.70 When Hambidge's two young labourers appeared, the women asked them if they thought they were doing right in taking the Ascott men's places, and offered to buy the two youths a drink if they would leave the work. The young men refused this offer, but when they went off, the women thought they had gone to collect their wages. However, someone in the village had sent for the neighbouring policeman, and he shortly appeared with the two labourers, who went to work under what The Times ironically described as his ‘powerful protection’. The women were in due course summoned to appear at Chipping Norton Petty Sessions on a charge of a breach of the 1871 Criminal Law Amendment Act, a harsh measure designed to restrict picketing.
The case was brought to trial on 21 May 1873 before two clerical magistrates, the Revds Thomas Harris and W. E. D. Carter. To the surprise of the accused, Hambidge's two labourers gave evidence that the women had carried sticks and had threatened them with violence. The union's own subsequent investigation led it to believe that the men had been improperly influenced and had given false evidence. In support of this conclusion it claimed to have collected abundant contrary evidence in the village, pointed to the conduct of the two witnesses in court and their prompt disappearance from the neighbourhood. Henry Taylor, the National Union General Secretary, bluntly charged that a very little false swearing seemed to have been necessary ‘to make the cause of justices’ justice, priestism and slave-owner a common one, and make felons of as honourable and respectable a company of women as you could select from a score of villages'.71 But the union, being, like the women, unaware of the danger they were in, had failed to see that they were adequately defended in court. The labourers who attended the case were not as sweeping as Taylor in their condemnation of the bench. They even had some sympathy for magistrate Carter, who must have been known to many of them, as he lived at Sarsden, only a mile or two from Ascott. They noticed that he shifted uneasily on his seat during the magisterial investigation, and more than once requested to be informed whether Hambidge really wished to press the case.72 But Hambidge was determined, and magistrate Harris was adamant that a real example must be made of the accused. Of the seventeen women charged, sixteen were sentenced to imprisonment - seven to ten days' hard labour, and nine to seven days' hard labour.page 122
Both the wealth and the calling of the two magistrates added to the notoriety of the case. The Revd Carter was a wealthy landowner, and the 1871 census schedules show eight servants living in at his Sarsden rectory, and his butler living next door. The Labourers' Union Chronicle commented bitterly:
Parson Carter's living is worth £439 per annum, besides perquisites. He has only 808 souls to ‘cure’. He has also a farm which he lets out at a rent, as well as being an employer of labour, direct. He is an M.A., Surrogate rural dean, rector of Sarsden, and a vicar of Churchill. Parson Harris, his fellow magistrate, is a B.D., rector of Swerford, has the cure or keeping in fettle of 402 souls; his living brings him in £496 per annum, besides perquisites. This is the ‘craft’ which points at the ‘agitator’ and cautions the labourers against paying them, and tells them to trust their friends who have always kept a paternal eye over them. Yes, truly, like a vulture!73
The union had already suffered repeatedly from clerical opposition, arising from the close links between the clergy and the social hierarchy which ruled rural England. In the Chipping Norton case the provocation to bitter comment is undeniable. Yet, in steering the National Union towards a strongly anti-clerical line, the union leaders were being less than wise. They had already won some support from the rural clergy, including several in Oxfordshire, and they had everything to gain from a judicious presentation of their cause as a righteous one with an unanswerable claim on the Christian conscience.
The heavy sentences on their womenfolk shocked and angered the labourers. After the woman had been removed from the court, the husbands present were allowed to see their wives before they were taken to Oxford gaol, on condition that they then returned quietly to their homes. But when the news reached Ascott, a large number of unionists set out for Chipping Norton, which they reached about seven in the evening.74 Reinforced by a large number of inhabitants of Chipping Norton, they marched on the Police Station, in the hope of rescuing the women, who they presumed were to be taken to Oxford by the last train. The Police Superintendent telegraphed to Oxford for reinforcements and a conveyance to take the women to Oxford, and settled down to withstand a siege.
As darkness fell, the crowd grew. Amid repeated cheers for the ‘Union’ and ‘the women’, the Police Station and Superintendent's residence were stoned, a number of windows being broken and slates dislodged from the roofs. About ten o'clock the mayor and ex-mayor of the town addressed the crowd, begging them to disperse to their homes, but with little avail. Eventually, around 1 a.m., the crowd melted away. Shortly afterwards a drag with four horses arrived bringing the reinforcements from Oxford. The Superintendent decided to despatch the women to Oxford immediately, while all was quiet. The women were therefore bundled hurriedly into the drag, two of them with infants in their arms. On their release from prison both these women signed statements complaining of page 123 the inhumanity of this trip, and of their treatment in prison.75 Mary Pratley, who had a ten-weeks-old child at breast, claimed that she had not even been allowed to dress the infant before being hustled into the open van, and that although she wrapped the child as best she could, it caught a severe cold. Although she had ‘as good a breast of milk as any woman in England’, she found that she was unable to suckle the child on the poor prison fare of bread and skilly. Elizabeth Pratley claimed that she caught a very bad cold on the night journey, and that her seven-months-old baby was so poorly fed in prison that it could not sleep at night for hunger.
The sudden removal of so many wives and mothers presented the village of Ascott with various problems, including the feeding of many motherless children. The village women tackled this task, at first on the village green, and later in a suitable cottage. Meanwhile the press blazoned the case throughout the land. Both The Times and the Daily News sent special correspondents down from London, and the treatment of the women was widely condemned. As a result of the outrcy, on the 29 May, the day after the first nine women were discharged, the governor of the prison received a telegram from the Home Office intimating that the Queen would be advised to remit the remainder of the sentence on the other seven women. The Queen's warrant arrived on 31 May, the day the full sentence expired.76
The leaders of the National Union had obviously decided that their opponents had played into their hands, and they proceeded to make the maximum capital out of the case.77 When the last seven women were released on Saturday morning, 31 May 1873, they found Christopher Holloway and Henry Taylor awaiting them. Taylor, meeting them for the first time, described them as ‘seven as respectable looking well-dressed women as you need wish to see’; one of them, a young newly-married wife - a teacher in a Sunday School; two others Sunday School scholars; and the other four respectable mothers of families. They were immediately conducted to the union's district offices, Joseph Leggett's house in Botley Street, where Mrs Leggett had prepared a breakfast for them. Various officers and friends of the union gathered here to greet them, and Joseph Arch himself was half expected. Following breakfast the women and an escorting party, making about eighteen in all, mounted a large brake drawn by four horses, and set off on a triumphal progress through the Oxfordshire countryside, with the driver blowing his horn, and crowds gathering to cheer them as heroines and martyrs. At Woodstock, where they stopped for refreshments and a brief visit to Blenheim Park, a large crowd had gathered to cheer them. On the road out of Woodstock Henry Taylor noted an example of the injustice done to the labourers:
Here, by the side of the road, for a long distance is a good wide strip of land, immediately outside the park wall, with another outer fence by the roadside. Only a few years since the whole of this land was used as chain land - garden ground - by the cottagers of Woodstock; but now the good old paternal and parental paw of the duke has grasped it from page 124 them, not having sufficient inside the park, and there are now trees, brambles and weeds where not long ago we cultivated gardens.78
Not long after the brake had left Oxford, Joseph Arch arrived in the town. Finding that the women had already left, he spent some pleasant hours ‘lionising at Christ Church’ and seeing the sights of the town. He then took the train to Chipping Norton, where a great demonstration had been arranged to celebrate the women's release. On the same train was a posse of police from Oxford, sent to preserve order. For the last stretch of the journey the nine women released earlier, joined the train. Large numbers of agricultural labourers, many of whom had travelled long distances, crowded the meeting, which was held in the Chipping Norton marketplace, a wagon serving as the platform. Arch and various other officers of the union addressed the gathering on such topics as the necessity for manhood suffrage, and the evils of clerical magistracy. This meeting by no means exhausted the union's exploitation of the affair. The following Monday evening a tea was staged on the village green at Ascott, for the women ‘martyrs’.79 This was a more local affair, attended by unionists from the Wychwood villages. On 20 June 1873 a much more ambitious meeting was held on Ascott green in order to make a presentation of five pounds to each of the women, the money having been raised by public subscription.80 Joseph Arch was accompanied on this occasion by some notable friends of the union, including Jesse Collings and the Revd Frederick S. Attenborough. The proceedings began with a procession headed by the women ‘martyrs’, and a demonstration in front of Hambidge's house, but the crowd then proceeded to the green for the main business of the evening. One of the women was still too ill to attend, and her infant was also reported to be ‘in a poor way’.
There were various other repercussions of the Chipping Norton affair. The complaints made by the two mothers with infants led to questions in the House of Commons,81 and an urgent enquiry addressed by the Secretary of State to the Oxfordshire Quarter Sessions.82 After due investigation the justices reported that all had been carried out in due conformity with the rules, and with the dictates of humanity. The Lord Chancellor wrote to the Duke of Marlborough, who was Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire, remarking that he was ‘unable to conceive any state of circumstances which would make it necessary or calculated to promote the real ends of justice, to send so large a number of persons simultaneously to prison in a case of this nature’,83 and asking for the observations of the Duke and the two magistrates, on the subject. The Duke replied that he considered that the magistrates had exercised their discretion ‘not unwisely’, and enclosed a testimonial to the magistrates from the inhabitants of the neighbourhood.84 To this the Lord Chancellor replied that he was still unconvinced that a mistake had not been made, and that the very fact that occasion had been given for so unusual a step as the presentation of an address to the convicting magistrates seemed to support his opinion. He desired his views to be given more serious consideration if similar page 125 circumstances should again occur.85 Farmer Hambidge saw to it that the magistrates should have an opportunity to exercise greater restraint. On 24 July 1873 the Ascott branch of the union celebrated its anniversary with a tea on the green, in a large new marquee belonging to Isaac Castle of Milton.86 The programme included entertainment by the Chipping Norton Temperance brass band, and speeches by Holloway, Leggett, and other union leaders. Soon after the meeting began, Hambidge and his wife appeared, and under the protection of the police constable, tried to disrupt proceedings by shouting. The policeman was alleged to have done his best to provoke a brawl, and in due course one William Pratley was summoned for assaulting him. The case came before the Revds Carter and Harris at the Chipping Norton Petty Sessions.87 This time the union had engaged a London barrister for the defence, and produced ample evidence in refutation of the charge. The bench could not agree in their opinion, so the case had to be dismissed. The union had another success in a legal clash with Hambidge in June 1875. Hambidge had summoned a labourer for absenting himself from his service, but the union's London barrister was able to prove the contract defective.88
By the time New Zealand introduced free immigration late in 1873, the Wychwood villages were offering her agents a ready harvest. We will now look more closely at C.R. Carter's meeting in Milton-under-Wychwood on the evening of Tuesday, 4 November 1873.89 The meeting was held in Isaac Castle's large new marquee, pitched for the occasion in a field near the village. In the dim light of a few tallow candles, some 500 to 600 persons ‘from villages far and near’ listened to a lecture that lasted for an hour and forty minutes. Carter first discussed the farm labourers' prospects in England, likening them to ‘one continued march down a hill with the workhouse at the bottom’. He then described his own experience of twenty years of colonial life. With the help of a large map he presented New Zealand as ‘offering advantages superior to any other colony in the world’, and described its climate and beauty by saying that ‘if we threw Italy and Spain and Switzerland together we would have a fair representation of New Zealand’. He told how, in the two years since the colonial agency had been set up, eighty or ninety ships with some 13,000 emigrants, had been sent out without a single shipwreck. He dwelt at some length on the attractions of ‘the fertility of the soil, the cheapness of the land, and the civil, religious and political privileges of the people’. At the close of the meeting seventeen pounds was collected to outfit a party about to leave for Hawke's Bay. The negotiations which shortly led to Holloway's departure with the Mongol party were also begun
John and Phillis Ireland and family as New Zealand settlers. Photographed at Waipawa c. 1881. All but the two young boys were English-born
… I must tell you the children are all getting quite fat, and so is Ted; as for myself, I can't remember the time when I felt so strong and well; I suppose it is having plenty to eat of good substantial food, for we do have plenty of good food - beef, mutton and pork. You know we did not have enough in the old country, we could not have it and pay for it, but there is no fear of that here, if a man will keep himself steady and will work, and you know there is no fear of Ted working, if God spares his health and strength…. We were put down free of charge; you know we expected to have £14 to pay, but we were quite free. Ours was the first free emigrant ship that had arrived in New Zealand … I think it was the best thing we ever done for ourselves and children … Ted is at work on the line and Frank with him. The price of wages out here is seven and eight shillings per day (chiefly eight) from eight o'clock in the morning till five at night. If it keeps fine this month Ted's wages will be about £13. Don't you think that is better than working at home for two pounds sixteen shillings? … I suppose John Pinfold is still at Taynton…. Is he still working for Mr Lousley? Tell him there is no sitting under the hedge knawing [sic] a piece of bread and an onion, and talking over the bad times…. I wrote to John Pinfold as soon as we arrived; did they receive it? Ted has not got a horse yet but thinks of getting one soon. I have been on Mr Smith's pony; they say I am a good jockey, better than Mrs Smith. Ted thinks of getting some land before the summer is over.91
Sarah Harding proceeded to explain the time payment terms on which land could be acquired. She asked after friends in Taynton, and wanted her letter shown to friends who were ‘too many to mention their names’. She concluded her letter by listing the price of provisions in Hawke's Bay. John Pinfold, the Taynton branch secretary, forwarded this letter for publication in the Chronicle. His employment by the Mr Lousley92 whom Sarah mentions must have come to an end about the time the letter was received, as it was resolved at a meeting of the committee of the Oxford district on 28 October 1874 ‘that J. Pinfold be allowed Lock-out pay until the time of his Embarkation’.93 He sailed for Hawke's Bay on 20 November 1874. The passenger list shows him as a 37-year-old shepherd, accompanied by his wife Mary, and five children.
In her letter Sarah Harding mentions that: ‘Our Fanny and Harry live on a station; they get £75 a year and all found. They have three children’. This family can be identified on the Invererne's passenger list as Henry Cox, a 30-year-old miller, his wife Frances J., and their three children aged three months to 4 years. On 2 June 1874, Henry Cox wrote from Te Aute, Hawke's Bay, to Mr G. Blackwell, Old Steam Mill, Snow Hill, Birmingham:
… I have been working on the line, making a new railway. It is a very good job. We do it by piece-work; it averages from 8 shillings to 10 shillings per day of eight hours only we have had a good drop of wet. We had to lose a good bit of time, as it was all flooded. We have been living in a tent put up in a large shed. There are four families beside us; we each have a tent to ourselves. It is very comfortable and we like it very much. We have had a good deal of sport since we have been out here with our guns. We find them very useful. We often shoot a pig and page 128 ducks, and swamp fowl, all wild, but they are very nice … We have got a very kind gentleman here, a missionary. He has recommended me to a gentleman about 14 miles further up the country, to go and live on his farm. We are to have seventy-five pounds per year, with house, firing and provisions all found. My wife will have to cook for eight or ten men, and I shall have to get wood and water. The gentleman is going to send two horses and a waggon to fetch us next Monday …94
Cox then tells of the voyage out on the Invererne, on which his three children were ‘poorly’, but now ‘the two youngest are getting as fat as pigs’.
Although he does not mention the fact, Cox must, like the Hardings. have had ambitions of owning land. The Return of Freeholders shows him with 58 acres freehold at Woodville in 1882. It also shows that of the ten married men in the Oxfordshire party on the Invererne, seven owned freehold land by that date, in amounts ranging from 55 acres to 314, the total owned by the seven being 805 acres. Members of the party may also have been purchasing land on deferred payment, for which they did not hold the freehold in 1882. Their letters, giving details of steady progress in land ownership and farm development, cannot have been without significant effects back in the Wychwood villages.
The next party to leave Oxfordshire was that recruited to sail with Holloway. We have already followed their train journey to Plymouth, and the voyages to New Zealand of the Mongol and Scimitar, but we must here note that a significant number of them came from the Wychwood villages. C. R. Carter made a further contribution to Wychwood recruitment with his meeting in a tent at Charlbury on 25 November 1874 - probably the tent used was Isaac Castle's ubiquitous marquee. The Mongol's party included two families from Charlbury: Thomas Morris, a farm labourer in his early fifties, with his wife Eliza and four children; and Edwin Gardener, a young carpenter, with his wife Jane and their infant daughter. Gardener appears in the 1871 Charlbury census schedules as a 20-year-old unmarried carpenter and wheelwright, living with his widowed mother, a gloveress. From Milton came two farm labouring families, those of Thomas Turner, with eight children, and of James Mills with two children. Mills was a member of the original committee of six elected at Milton in April 1872, and so also was another of the party, William Tripp of Lyneham,95 a widowed farm labourer emigrating with six children. Also from Lyneham came Frederick Tripp, 38, farm labourer, with his wife Leah, 36, and Charles and Ann Jeffrey with their four children. From Ascott-under-Wychwood came Phillip Pratley, 25, farm labourer, his wife Jane and three young children. The Pratleys had probably been deeply affected by the Chipping Norton affair: three of the imprisoned married women were surnamed Pratley. From Churchill came Charles Pearce, 38, labourer. He had represented his union branch at delegate meetings.96
A study of New Zealand Immigration Department passenger lists shows that approximately two-thirds of the assisted immigrants who left page 129 Oxfordshire for the colony in the 1870s, sailed in 1874. During this year eighty-one immigrant ships were despatched from London and Plymouth, the two English ports used by Featherston's organisation, and sixty-seven of these carried some immigrants from Oxfordshire. Several patterns can be discerned in this flow of emigration. Of seven ships despatched from England to Hawke's Bay during 1874, six had parties from the county; in the case of the seventh, two ships sailed on the same date, with one of them taking all the Oxfordshire emigrants. The county's strong support for the National Union is apparent in the substantial groups that joined each party that left the Midland counties under the leadership of a delegate of the union. Four such parties left during 1874, all for Canterbury, with a total of 315 Oxfordshire emigrants. Another pattern, apparent also with other counties, is that whenever a successful recruitment campaign was run in this way, for a particular sailing, other ships leaving just before and just after tended to have significant numbers from the county. Often this was caused by the emigrants' particular circumstances in their home village. In some cases preparations for emigration led to immediate dismissal by employers, and a family would leave earlier than the party they had intended to join. Conversely, sometimes families were unable to gain their freedom from local obligations until after the main party had left. In other cases, the New Zealand authorities had to break up parties, in order to match the capacities of the immigrant ships.97
Recruitment in Oxfordshire for the 1874 year got off to a strong start with Joseph Leggett's drive for his Ballochmyle party.98 The work was obviously helped by the fact that he was travelling in the combined capacities of emigration agent and union organiser. Thus, after a good meeting on 2 January 1874, in the Primitive Methodist Chapel at Benson in south Oxfordshire, concluding with the union song ‘Stand like the brave’, several men gave their names in for New Zealand.99 Although it was mid-winter, Leggett was daily receiving applications for New Zealand.100 He was now widely known in the county, and emigrants were coming forward from many parts. The party of forty-one which joined the Atrato, on which Leggett had originally been intending to sail, seems to have been drawn from the south and east of the county. However, the 111 who sailed with Leggett on the Ballochmyle included three large families from his old home village of Milton-under-Wychwood. Alfred Groves appears on the passenger list as a 44-year-old quarryman, accompanied by his wife and five children. Edwin Stringer is entered as a 36-year-old farm labourer, emigrating with his wife Ann, and seven children. The 1871 census schedules list Ann as a gloveress. Although this family emigrated to Canterbury, and settled at Geraldine, the strong links between the Wychwood villages and Hawke's Bay appear in the fact that one of the sons, Joseph, later moved to Dannevirke, where in 1885 he married a Danish immigrant, Marie Mortensen.101 The third Milton family in Leggett's party was that of Daniel Wilks, a 43-year-old farm labourer, emigrating with his wife and five children. Another family from the page 130 Wychwood area was that of Frederick Barnes, who appears in the 1871 census schedules as a 34-year-old shepherd living at Fifield. He brought a wife and five children with him. In July 1875 Ann Leggett wrote home to her mother that ‘Fred Barnes says he should want five thousand a year for them to live upon if they came back again’. The Ballochmyle party also included the first fruits of C.R. Carter's very successful meeting at Islip on 27 January 1874: Richard Miles, a 32-year-old farm labourer with his wife and three children, and Joseph Webb, a 25-year-old shepherd with his wife and two children, were living a few doors from each other in Mill Street, Islip, at the 1871 census. Two neighbouring families from Mill street shortly followed them to New Zealand; the James Beckleys in April, and the William Fawdrays in October. Beckley and Fawdray were both farm labourers in their late thirties, and Beckley had represented his union branch at a delegate meeting of the Oxford district.102
The next union party from the Midlands, sailing by the Peeress on 5 April, had thirty-four Oxfordshire emigrants, but none appear to have been from the Wychwood area. On 26 September 101 Oxfordshire emigrants sailed from Plymouth in the Crusader, as members of a party led by George Allington, and several families from Ascott-under-Wychwood were among them. They included Frederick Pratley, a 31-year-old farm labourer, his wife Mary Ann aged 31, and their six children. This is almost certainly the Mary Pratley who was imprisoned with her ten-weeks-old child in May 1873. The child appears as Thomas, aged one, on the passenger list. Among the single women imprisoned was a Mary Smith, who also appears to have been in the Crusader's party, as the oldest of the family of eight travelling with Edwin Smith, 43-year-old farm labourer, and his wife Harriet. Mary was not at home the night of the 1871 census, but she is listed as an 18-year-old servant girl in the ship's passenger list. The secretary of the Ascott branch of the union, John Tymms, a 33-year-old farm labourer, accompanied by his wife and six children, also sailed with Allington. He had been a regular member of delegate meetings of the Oxford district.103 Two other small Ascott families were in the party, headed by younger farm labourers, Peter Honeybone, 30 and Eli Pratley, 28. Possibly all of these families had been represented at the meeting held in the Ascott Baptist chapel on Monday, 1 June 1874, to celebrate the first anniversary of the release of the imprisoned women.104 The last union party of the year was that led by Thomas Osborne, sailing by the Lady Jocelyn on 3 November. Among her seventy-two Oxfordshire emigrants were at least nineteen from the Wychwood villages of Milton and Lyneham. They included four married farm labourers; from Milton, William Gardner, 52; and from Lyneham, Henry James, 43, Henry Rooke, 30, and George Watts, 22.
The ships despatched to Hawke's Bay during 1874 took nearly 150 Oxfordshire emigrants, including nearly forty from the Wychwood villages. They included four family men from Milton: William Alden, 38, Lawrence Franklin, 53, Joseph Franklin, 22, and William Jackson, 31. page 131 Family men from other villages in the area included John Pinfold, the Taynton branch secretary; Charles Coombes, 28, from Lyneham; William Maisey, 38, from Fulbrook; and from Churchill, across the Evenlode valley, James Hoverd, 37, and David Margetts, 42. All of these were farm workers. The men in the largest of these parties, that sailing on the Hudson on 20 November, and the two autumn parties to Canterbury, led by Allington and Osborne, must have carried the voice of Joseph Arch ringing in their ears. He had addressed a meeting of about 3,000 at Fulbrook on 10 September, and thirty names had been taken for Canada and New Zealand.105 By the northern autumn of 1874 ‘New Zealand’ must have been a household name in the Wychwood villages along the Evenlode, and Milton, which had sent about 140 emigrants there, must have had links with the colony as strong as any place in England.
It is rather strange to find that the village of Shipton-under-Wychwood, lying between the two radical villages of Milton and Ascott, was slow to follow their lead in unionism and emigration. After a meeting in the village on 8 May 1874, presided over by Isaac Castle of Milton, and addressed by a union delegate, the district secretary commented in the Chronicle that though Shipton was surrounded by union influence, it was so cold that unionism had not yet permeated it. He described it as ‘a large, respectable village, with only about 14 or 16 in Union’.106 Apart from the possibility that there were Shipton folk among those recruited by Carter for Brogdens after his meeting in the village in the autumn of 1872, only one family of three had left Shipton for New Zealand before the autumn of 1874. This was Richard Wiggins, a 40-year-old farm labourer, his wife Eliza, and her 15-year-old son Henry Greenaway, who joined Leggett's party on the Ballochmyle. Early in September 1874. however, a party of seventeen left Shipton to join the Cospatrick, which sailed for New Zealand on the 11th of the month. The party was made up of members of the Hedges and Townsend families. Richard Hedges, 56, was accompanied by his wife Sarah, and four sons. Two of the sons, Henry, 30 and John, 24, were accompanied by their wives. Henry had married Mary Townsend, a daughter of the second family in the party, and Henry and Mary took their three young children with them. Henry Townsend, 62, was accompanied by his wife Ann, and his two married daughters. The second of these was Jane, 35, who had married George Charter, 31, a Cambridgeshire man. They had two young children.107 All the men were agricultural labourers. Around midnight on 17 November 1874, when the Cospatrick was in the South Atlantic, fire was discovered in the vicinity of the boatswain's locker. It spread rapidly, and panic ensued. The ship had only two lifeboats, which were successfully launched, and filled with sixty-two persons. The majority of the passengers perished by fire, or drowned when they jumped overboard, one of the lifeboats was never heard of again, and the only survivors of ten nightmare days in the other were four crew members, one of whom died soon after rescue. This disaster, involving the loss of 429 emigrants, was one of the worst shipping tragedies of the page 132 nineteenth century. The official enquiry led to the conclusion that it was caused by members of the crew or emigrants yielding to the temptation to raid a large consignment of wine and spirits among the cargo, which also included inflammable items such as varnish, linseed oil, turpentine and candles.108 News of the disaster reached England in the closing days of 1874. In 1878 the villagers of Shipton erected a memorial stone and fountain on their green, inscribed with the names of the seventeen parishioners who had perished. It may be seen there today, opposite the Shaven Crown Inn, providing a permanent reminder not only of the disaster, but also of the district's considerable contribution to the peopling of New Zealand.
The burning of the immigrant ship Cospatrick, off the Cape of Good Hope
After 1874 there was only a meagre flow of Oxfordshire emigrants to New Zealand, and of these very few were from the Wychwood district. No doubt the shock of the Cospatrick disaster dampened interest, but there are also other likely factors. The emigration policy of the Oxfordshire unionists was doubtless by now paying off, giving them a stronger bargaining position in the labour market. Most of the rural labourers therefore turned a deaf ear to the urgings of friends and relatives in the antipodes, and settled down to enjoy the improved conditions at home. Thus, on 10 November 1874, the Milton branch inaugurated a social club meeting in the Butcher's Arms Inn.109 Probably, as they warmed themselves by the inn fireside that winter, their conversation often turned to the pros and cons of emigrating when the better weather came, and letters spelling out the attractions of New Zealand must have been read out from the original scripts or from the pages of the Chronicle.
In the issue of the Chronicle for 20 February 1875, James King Peirce of Wardington, secretary of the Banbury district of the union, announced his intention of accompanying a party of farm labourers to New Zealand. page 133 When he sailed on the Alumbagh on 9 May, he had only succeeded in recruiting thirty-two emigrants from Oxfordshire, and none of them appear to have been from the Wychwood area. A week or two earlier, the Milton branch had celebrated its third anniversary, packing Isaac Castle's marquee to overflowing. The Chronicle's account of the occasion reported that ‘Upwards of two hundred souls have left the village since the formation of the branch. Most of them have gone to New Zealand’, but there was no mention of current interest in emigration.110 On 27 May 1875 Christopher Holloway visited the district for the first time following his return from New Zealand. He addressed an audience of about 300 in the British school-room at Charlbury. The union had not previously succeeded in gaining the use of this room, and Holloway was further honoured in that his meeting was chaired by Jesse Clifford, who had been schoolmaster there since 1851, a popular and able man.111 He may well have had a son in New Zealand, for a Jesse Clifford, who appears in the 1871 census schedules of Charlbury as a 28-year-old glover, living with his wife Mary Ann, a gloveress, and his 2-year-old son, had sailed for New Zealand on 1 September 1874 with his wife and child, as assisted immigrants on the Assaye. But Holloway apparently found no new takers for New Zealand. Nor can this lack of interest be put down to any decline in local unionism. Union leaders who visited the area at this period found the branches in good heart. Even laggard Shipton was coming to life. When Thomas Bayliss, who succeeded Leggett as district secretary, held a meeting in the village on 13 July 1875, he found that more than forty new members had lately joined. On Wednesday, 28 July 1875, Milton-under-Wychwood had one of the great days of its branch history. A huge demonstration, attended by three or four thousand people, was staged, with addresses by Joseph Arch and John Charles Cox as its highlight. It was about one o'clock when the train reached Shipton station bringing Mr Arch and his companions. A trap was in waiting and as it entered the village of Shipton a halt was made to allow the villagers to greet their leader. A first rate branch of about sixty members has been formed here within the last few weeks, though hitherto Shipton has been behind its neighbours. Here too the brass band and several hundred of Unionists and their wives awaited Arch's arrival, and a procession was soon formed headed by the Milton flag. The street of Milton and the village green presented quite a gala appearance, flags flying, bands playing, booths erected, roundabouts in full swing, cricket and other games in active operation, and all the concomitants of a rustic fair. At one side of the village green was a large and handsome tent, where nearly eight hundred people sat down to tea during the course of the afternoon.112
With the union thus riding high, and looking as if it might even revive the vanished glories of the Wychwood forest fair, there was little drawing power in the pioneering privations of the New Zealand frontier, half a world away. A letter which Thomas Rathbone wrote home to Lyneham, from Westport, on 2 May 1875, must have been circulating about this time -it appeared in the English Labourer of 11 September 1875. He reported: page 134 Our boys are looking well, and they often inquire how it was that we did not get such joints of meat when we was at Lineham … Dear brother, you would laugh to see me with my swig [sic] at my back, consisting of a blanket, frying pan, boiler, etc., going off to work …113
But in Milton of 1875 the rewards of ‘swagging it’ in the New Zealand bush could not compete with the prospect of a life enlivened by union festivals in Castle's marquee and convivial winter evenings at the Butcher's Arms.