Letter from James Lawrie 1850

The following letter was sent by James Laurie to his brother John Laurie who was living in America at the time. The letter was sent in May 1850, just 8 months after James arrived in Australia with his family in September 1849 as assisted immigrants on the ship Kate. The letter was discovered by Carol Bommarito who is a philatelist in New York – she forwarded it to a friend in Australia who sent it to our local historical society who sent it on to some of James Laurie’s descendants.


         New South Wales

Sunday 26 May 1850

Dear Brother

I would have wrote you before this time but having wrote home to my friends a short time after I came here wishing them to write you when they had an opportunity of so doing and also wanting to know how I was to get on made me delay writing you till the present and in case you have heard no word about me since I wrote you when I left Gravesend I will give you a statement of how I have come on. We landed in Sydney on Sunday morning 23rd September after a voyage of 101 days all in good health having only one death and four births and on the Tuesday following was examined before the Commissioners and having got an account of how things were going in Sydney from two of our Townsmen who came alongside of our ship a short time after we landed stating to us that all a weaver could make on the average was about 18 shillings per week besides house rent was very high a room & kitchen cost about 8 shillings a week and fuel & water now having got that statement from them and having a wife & family besides very little cash made me resolve to come up the bush.

Well we got an offer from the commissioners either to come up to Maitland a distance by water of 150 miles where there was a depot when we would get provisions till such time as we could get employment so I left along with about twenty families in the steam boat on the Wednesday after we landed and in coming up I engaged with a Mr. Wm. Boydell as Shepherd for six months at the rate of £7:10 besides rations viz 10 lb flour 10 lb beef 1/4 lb Tea 2 lb sugar weekly. When I left him on the 29th March and engaged with one of the name of Mr. James Towns to work with another man on the halves and I will try and explain how the man ploughs the ground and Jamie drives the bullocks while I the wife & children does any other thing we can do on the farm and for that the Master has to pay the rent of the ground providing us with bullocks and all our working utensils besides the half of all our seeds and 3 rations weekly that is 30 lb flour 30 lb beef 3 qtr lb Tea 6 lb sugar and he receives the half of all we raise while the man & I receive the other half. We have about 20 acres of ground and we intend to lay it out in the following manner. We will grow about eight or nine acres Tobacco and the rest in wheat and Indian corn and if the Tobacco should only turn out about half a ton to the acre and allowing it to sell at the rate of 4d per pound as it does at shop and sometimes as high as 7 or 8 pence in the leaf I will have a chance of soon being able to take a piece of ground for myself and any person can grow and work Tobacco. We first sow beds and then transplant them out same as we do cabbages at home. I have been falling trees since I came on the farm. We first cross cut them and then draws them altogether in a heap and burns them. I found it very strange at first but I would rather work out of doors than I would do at the Loom.

My shears are all rust and I think if you had as much money beside you as would pay your passage and hold yourself for a twelvemonth and getting 2 or 3 acres of ground which I could get for you by planting Tobacco you might make as much here in one year as you may have done since you went to America that is to say if you were inclined to come here or if you had not that while I had a bite you would have the half of it. The provisions here are very cheap you can get an hundred pounds of flour for eight shillings, beef the same, Tea 1/ per pound, sugar 2 ½ per pound. We use no other thing than beef, tea and bread and to let you see how the man and Wife children that I am beside did last year they grew about 4 acres of Tobacco and had about 2 tons and it was counted a very bad year. He has sold the one half in Leaf at 8d per pound and the other half he makes it up in the same manner as niggerhead and sells it at 1/2 per pound. I have a sow and two pigs and we get as many cows in as we like to milk. I have likewise bought a fillie 2 years old and is getting it broken in Jamie is away out riding with the man that is my mate he is a single man and I forgot to say that he pays Jamie a fee for driving the bullocks besides any extra rations that we may use he pay the half. The wife washes his clothes and he pays the half of all the soap that is used in the house – we need no warm clothing here the only thing that is worn is moleskin trousers, striped shirt and a belt about your waist beside a cabbage tree hat. It is winter here now, turns a little cold when the sun sets and continues till he rises and when the sun is up it is about as warm as at home in the summer. We mostly all live besides rivers here the cultivation is not a ¼ of a mile off the river. I live close beside one named the Allyn, it takes its rise about 20 miles further up than where I am and joins along with another river named the Paterson about 20 miles further down where it is navigable. It is very mountainous in this part of the country but it is good pasture for cattle and a man that takes a piece of ground for cultivation has a run for so many cattle & bullock about half of the number of acres he cultivates all for nothing. The cultivated land lets at about a pound an acre but there are some places where you may get it cheaper.

Away about thirty miles from us you will get it to buy for the same. The blacks here are a large dirty set of people, they are willing to do any thing but work. They go almost naked, having only a bit of blanket thrown over them which they get from government once a year. No person need be afraid to come to the bush as they are very harmless. We had two of them striping bark for us last week to cover our hut and all they cared for was belly full of meat and plenty tobacco. If I smoked I could get a qtr. of a pound weekly for my own use – my mate gets that and so does a great many of the hired servants here. There is not many snuffers as snuff is very dear so that if you were here you would become a smoker or be like me – do none of these. You can buy colonial wine for about 3/ the gallon, Rum 10/ per gallon, Brandy 18/. They hold Christmas in this country the same as they do in England. I had a very happy hanselmonday, along with my present master we had plenty of beef and plum pudding and a keg of good wine. We got plenty of peaches and apricots all last summer and made pies of them. We bake all our own bread. We have got an oven since we came, it cost about twelve shillings and bakes our bread with yeast. We have likewise to get a Tea pot, it holds as much as a Tea kettle. We are getting very busy, our plouging is mostly all done. We will sow about 8 acres next week, the produce of which averages about 15 bushels to the acre. The bushel is about 50 pounds weight so that you see by that I will have are 30 bushels besides planting early Indian corn and likewise taking a crop of the same after the wheat is off the ground, or if we do not plant corn we can grow potatoes. They generally have two crops in the year here. We don’t begin to plant out the Tobacco till about the month of October and then the strongest of the work commences but it is work the children can do a great deal to it, that is by leafing it and pulling the suckers of it. I have sent two letters home since I came here giving them an account of the country and how I am getting on and advising William & Andrew to strive to get out, they might do as well here. It is a country where they will get work and plenty of meat and no taxes to pay.

When you write you can say if you are receiving any word from them and how you think they are all getting on. My last words to William Collier was to join Teetotal and get Will & Andrew to do likewise. Be sure and write when you receive this and let me know what you think about coming here. I would like you to come and I would urge on you to come as I think you will never rue it. All you have to do is to take ship for Sydney and when you arrive there you will take a steamboat to Maitland for eight shillings, when you could remain there by posting a letter to me when you landed and I would come and fetch you. It is a fine healthy country, every thing is dry and warm here and a very light atmosphere. My wife, family and I enjoy the greatest of pleasure by coming out here. Our longest day in summer is from 5 in the morning till seven in the evening and our shortest 7 in the morning till about 5 in the evening, we have no twilight. Wednesday every 30, John, I am down at the Township a distance of 20 miles from where I live. I have come to buy some cloths to the wife & children and all I have to say is this, that all that I would like to see is for you to come here, for I am sure you would have a chance to do well, for I think by the time that you receive this and the time you would take to come here I will be getting the crop off and you need not care. Suppose you had not a farthing when you landed as I would do every thing that lay in my power for you Dear John. I don’t think I will not write you before I receive a letter from you and let me know what you think about what I have wrote you. My wife joins with me in sending her compliments to you and joins with me in wishing you to come as you would find that you would have a chance here. I must close but oh John write me and that soon for I am anxious to hear how you are getting on.

                                                                 I am your affectionate

                                                                     Brother & Sister

                                                                   J.  and J. Laurie