“Dear Friends” … Letter From an Emigrant in 1864

So what was life like for those who emigrated to South Australia back in the 1800s? Generally you’re only likely to find this information from letters written to family or friends in the ‘old country’, or otherwise from diaries. So it was a surprise to find an article on Trove about an emigrant who not only came to South Australia, but actually settled in the tiny town of Gumeraka (note the alternate spelling of Gumeracha).

Written in 1864 to some friends in England (or maybe Wales), it was produced as an article the Scotts Circular (Newport, Wales), and then in The Adelaide Express, 22 April 1865 (as reproduced below). The writer details what it was like for him and his family with housing food, work and wages, neighbours and other businesses all getting a mention. What we don’t know is who the author of the letter is. Still, it makes for an interesting read.

In 1864 the town of Gumeracha was not very old, having only been laid out in the 1850s  (for more on that click here).

earliest known photo of Gumeracha, taken c1870 [click for a larger image]

earliest known photo of Gumeracha, taken c1870 [click for a larger image]

The article starts off with “The following interesting letter has arrived from an emigrant who received a passage under Government, to South Australia.”


An Emigrant's Letter, Adelaide Express, 22 April 1865 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article207600900

An Emigrant’s Letter, Adelaide Express, 22 April 1865 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article207600900

The text below is a full transcript of the article. Note the paragraphs have been added in by me to make it easier to read.

Gumeraka, Australia,
September 18th, 1864.

My Dear Friends, I am glad to tell you that I have got plenty of work the first day that I went on after landing, and the first master that I spoke to I  engaged to go with to go into the Bush a dray-making and waggon-making at the wheelwrighting trade, at the rate of wages I will give you, and you can see whether it is as good as in England. I think there is a better chance for a working man to get on here; the wages that I am going to have is, with lodgings, that is a hut and firewood as much as I like to burn, and all my food, and I have meat every meal, and  eggs and tea every meal, and pudding every day, and £1 10s. per week, if that is not; good send and let me know of it; that was the first chance that I had.

I think it as good as £2 10s per week, and my wife have a good many things gave her, and the children get plenty to eat at the farm which we live close to.

Our hut have got canvas windows instead of glass, but they do out here as there is not many people to see out here, only at the farm house. They keep a blacksmith’s shop and a wheelwright’s shop, but it is about a mile from the farm, and they send our meals down to us; there is another wheelwright that married the daughter which live at the farm; their house is like a cow-shed-in England, but they got plenty of money, they are Scotch people; and they are good people to work with, and my wife and children are quite well and myself in good health.

We can live as cheap as  we could in England, and butter is 8d. per pound; beef, 2 1/2d. to 3d.; mutton, 2d. to 4d. per pound; sugar, 4d.; tea, 2s. 6d. to 3s.; bread now is rather dear Is. a gallon (?) ; beer, 10d. per quart and 1s.

There is plenty of work out here if people will but come out to try. If any body will come out I will go and meet them, and keep them till they can get work, or I will ‘try and see if I could get them a place, but there is nobody out of work here; cloth is about the same as in England.

Please to read this to all of the shop, and tell them that I am very much obliged to them for what they done for me when I were at home, but if I can do anything for any of them in any way, I will do it with the greatest pleasure of doing it to any of my old shopmates; please to tell them all to write to me, and I will write to them in return, and please to send me some newspapers, and I will send they some.—Scotts Circular, (Newport, Wales.)

So there you have it. That’s what life was like in Gumeracha back in 1864, and no doubt similar in other country towns, taken from a firsthand account.

2 Responses to ““Dear Friends” … Letter From an Emigrant in 1864”

  1. Geoff Cooper says:

    Hi Alona..the gentleman who wrote the letter may have worked for an Irish farmer by the name of Greig of Kenton Valley. He described the Irishman as a good person..but if this is him your 5th generation GG was charged with assault for throwing him out of a council meeting when he refused to leave..case was dismissed so he obviously deserved it lol Kind regards

  2. crissouli says:



    Thank you, Chris

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