Why did pioneers choose to migrate to Gawler

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Why Did Our Pioneer Settlers Choose to Migrate to South Australia to towns including Gawler ? Perhaps the hope of better opportunities than those available in Great Britain of Ireland. Consideration of the lifestyle changes that occurred in Britain and all of Western Europe may provide some explanation of their reasons. From 1500 onward changes began to occur that prompted enormous developments in trade and later the manufacture of commodities.


At that time Elizabeth I followed Henry VIII with a massive increase in the amount of English shipping available, but Spain and Portugal had control of the sea routes to Asian markets. Until that time goods from Asia were transported by land through several different nations. Queen Elizabeth ignored, if not encouraged, the acts of English piracy against particularly, Spanish ships trading with the Americas. Also, at this time Francis Drake circumnavigated the world evidencing previously unknown land masses or coasts, which excited expansion prospects for England.


Imported items such as tea, sugar, spices and Asian cloth became popular in England and a trade demand for such items arose. During this time English ships were improved and increased to the stage of being the world enable power. However, routes to the Asian ports became available and trade, particularly with India where there were already French and Portuguese trading posts. Overseas trade was later enhanced by the enactment of Navigation Acts which required colonies to only ship their exports using British ships


British food production was carried out in a peasant style whereby families lived on properties controlled by manorial owners, and operated as a unit with each member having an important support duty to assist the family budget. In effect the peasants were self-supporting but at a meager level of existence.


There are some important facts to note regarding the growth of European populations. Europe had for centuries experienced high death rates, at about35 per 1,000 persons annually while birth rates were a little below 40 per 1,000. That level of increase was manageable. Much of this trend resulted from lower infant mortality. By 1820 life expectancy has risen to about 36 years and by 1900 about 46 years.


The longer life- expectancy came about through the discovery of methods to control diseases which had previously decimated several populations. Additionally, national health regulations and public works in sanitation and water supply contained such disastrous events.


As the populations of European countries expanded the need to increase food production became essential, but the areas of land available for that purpose were restricted. It should be noted that at this time farm implements were of the handheld type. For example, planting was undertaking by a system known as 'broadcasting' whereby grain was strewn about and soil scratched over it, the use of scythes, and hand threshing with whips to separate grain from the stalk. Later one furrow ploughs and animal power came into use.


Much of the population was rurally based and later families were supplied with equipment and materials by urban merchants to spin and weave materials. These were then collected by the merchants and retailed in local and overseas markets.


Factories then appeared in urban districts and the machinery was located there, and thus the work-place became the factory not the home. The rural family then became not the production unit but individual wage earners. This saw many rural dwellers move to urban locations near their work-place, causing crowding and most unhygienic domestic living arrangements.


Men had previously been the skilled worker but with larger mechanical operation it was possible for industrialists to use unskilled labour. This resulted in women and children being hired at lower rates of pay than men, however childbirth was a problem for women as they left the workforce and were rarely re-engaged by factory proprietors.


Between the years 1815 (when the Napoleonic Wars ended) and 1914 there were not enough jobs available in Britain for all. Workhouses accommodated some, those convicted of crimes were executed or transported. At that time theft of value over one shilling was punishable by execution. It was a time when politician Wilmot Horton was activating a policy of "shovelling out the paupers". Between the above years it has been estimated that some 60 million people migrated from Europe to other parts of the world, some 35 million to the United States, 5 million to Canada, some 15 million to South American countries with lesser numbers to Australia and New Zealand. Of the above total 18 million were from Britain and Ireland. The Irish population dropped from 8 million in 1840 to 4.5 million in 1900. The failure of the potato crop in Ireland caused famine and saw many seek refuge in foreign countries where land to grow food was plentiful.


The South Australian venture was aroused by the concept put forward by E.G. Wakefield to have the British Government sell colonial land at a 'sufficient price' to enable the payment of passage for workers of 'marriageable age' to be conveyed to work for the land purchasers.


There were several factions with various modes of how the settlement should be organised and the British Government insisted that there should be no cost to it in the enterprise. The South Australian Company had financial strength to settle the new province but their plan included the purchase by it and later resale of the land. It did however, undertake to establish the settlement. Its proposal was rejected by the British Government as a "land jobbing" scheme.


Eventually, compromise led to the passing of an Act in1834 to enable the establishment of the new province. The settlement arrangements were to be undertaken by a Board of Colonial Commissioners with the British Government appointing a Governor to maintain authority over the settlement. The Foundation Act required payment of 35,000 pounds in preliminary sales before settlement could proceed and a bond posted for 20,000 pounds to secure the British Government from any expense.


It is likely that many of the intended workers would have been illiterate to the extent of comprehending the ramifications of the intended province. However, the fact that the passage was to be paid for would have provided an opportunity that otherwise would not have been available to them. Added to this, the promoters issued from their headquarters at Adelphi Chambers pamphlets emphasizing the benefits of migration with work in demand, and support during any waiting period prior to engagement.


While Wakefield's concept was to send agricultural workers, to fill the chartered ships to leave on a given date, agents employed by the Commissioners to seek volunteer migrants may have provided some inaccurate descriptions, but the desire to take the chance of employment on arrival was accepted.


Another variance from Wakefield's concept was however beneficial to the province. It was that family groups were accepted. This enabled a balance of ages with a balance of family duties to enable the cash crop producer to provide expenses requiring cash payment, while others provided non-cash essentials such as vegetables, fruit, eggs, poultry and the like avoiding essential family cash outlays. Returning to the question, why did they migrate, it may be observed that life in Britain and Ireland was not pleasant for family's dependent on employment. Many people were migrating to various parts of the globe at the time, but at that time a passage to Australia could be obtained free of charge or without entering into an indenture with an employer for two years to repay the fare. Work was thought to be in demand in South Australia, and the Commissioner's offered support until work was found. A convincing encouragement compared with alternative schemes. By Peter Whimpress