As Dorset gears itself for its annual Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival it is interesting to note that so many of the earliest free settlers to make their lives in the penal colony of New South Wales came from this same county.
The first family to take the plunge were Thomas and Jane Rose from Blandford with their four children, a niece, a friend and her baby. They migrated on the Bellona in 1792, just four years after the First Fleet planted the Union Jack on the shores of Sydney Harbour.
Nine years later it was the turn of my four times great grandmother Mary Pitt and her five children, from Fiddleford, subject of my book The Worst Country in the World. They arrived in 1801 and the following year were granted land on the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney.
It is hard to overestimate the courage of these early settlers, who sacrificed everything they had ever known to make a new life the opposite side of the world, living among convicts, in a country hardly anyone could be persuaded to go to voluntarily. The man responsible was – in the case of Mary and quite possibly the Roses too – George Matcham, Admiral Nelson’s brother-in-law.
George was Mary’s cousin and was married to Nelson’s sister Kitty. He was one of the first to recognise the opportunities in the far-off newly-discovered colony, even though he never went there himself. His relationship to Nelson helped, naturally. It was partly thanks to the Nelson connection that the Pitts were given grants on the Hawkesbury, which they named Pitt and Nelson Farms, later combined under the name of Bronte, again in recognition of the Admiral, whose full title was Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, Duke of Bronte.
The names Bronte and Nelson were and still are ubiquitous throughout Australia, not just on houses but on places – the suburb of Bronte in Sydney is named after nearby Bronte House – and people. There’s even a Bronte Park in Tasmania, named after the admiral by George’s son-in-law Captain Arthur Davies, who married George’s daughter Elizabeth and migrated there in the 1828.
But of all these groups the only ‘legitimates’ – in other words those transported ‘for their country’s good’ – were the Tolpuddle Martyrs themselves, who were convicted on a trumped-up charge of making a secret oath and spent barely two years in the penal colony before being released, thanks to public protest; and whose legacy lives on to this day.
For more about the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the Festival see here: www.tolpuddlemartyrs.org.uk.
Patsy Trench, London, July 2016