England 1800 to 1850


My great, great grandfather Shadrach was born in 1828 in Sydenham into the family of Aaron and Damaris Pearce. Sydenham is a small town on a crossroads about three miles from the English market town of Thame. Thame itself is located only 45 miles West of London and 13 miles from Oxford. As a market town Thame was the hub of local commerce which is predominantly agricultural although it also supported many of the trades that align with a life on the land such as wheelwrights, butchers and woolstaplers. The following quotation illustrates the relationship between the town, the market and the surrounding district. It is from the Thame website at http://www.thame.net/ 

During the last century saw Thame grow from a population of 3,000 in 1901 to 10,000+ today. This has meant that Thame has, over the last 40 years, ceased to become a predominantly agricultural town, although Pearces, a woolstaplers since at least the fifteenth century, remains.

I mentioned woolstaplers above because two older cousins of Shadrach, Henry and Charles Pearce, took over a woolstaplers business that still exists in their names to this day. The reference to the fifteenth century is because the Pearce brothers took over an existing business run by the Payne family and greatly expanded it. The next quotation is from the H & C Pearce web page at http://www.hcpearce.co.uk/

In the early 1800's brothers Henry and Charles Pearce were taken on as apprentice wool graders by the Payne family business. In 1825 the two brothers took over the business which then supplied graded wool to the mills in Witney, Chipping-Norton and Trowbridge. In order to seek extra outlets for their wool, one of the brothers walked from Thame to Yorkshire to show the Pearce flag.

I think the 1825 really refers to the time that Henry and Charles were apprenticed, because they were only about 12 and 15 at that time. For reference, a woolstapler is a person who buys and sells fleeces and the name is derived from grading the wool by drawing out a small portion, a staple, to examine the fibre's texture and quality.

Thame has held a market every Tuesday since 1230 and is therefore an important focus for life in and around the area. The market today is a cross between a produce and craft market. Artisans and crafts people would, and still do, take this opportunity to reach customers at this regular gathering. That would have included artisans such as Shadrach’s father who was a Cordwainer. A cordwainer is a worker in leather similar to a shoemaker. The explanation of the related leather working trades is as follows. A cobbler could only work in old leather such as repairing shoes, a shoemaker made new shoes, while a cordwainer was a worker in the fine quality cordovan leather and did not necessarily make shoes Shadrach and his brothers also trained as cordwainers. Cordovan leather comes from Spain and is usually goat leather; you may have heard of Kid leather gloves for example.

The following quotation is from a small book Called “At the Foot of the Chilterns” by two local historians from Aston Rowant; Di Eaton and Jan Gooders.

“ For centuries the parish needed shoemakers and the earliest shoemaker recorded was Thomas Bonnet in 1682. .... from the 1860s to the 1880s, Aaron Pearce was a shoemaker. (in Kingston Blount) Soon, however cheap factory made goods replaced the old handcrafted shoes and the village shoemaker was out of business.”

Here we see another pressure that would begin to have some effect on the family, but not until later in the century. The pressure of making a living from a trade facing competition from factory made products. However Shadrach, his brothers and his father all continued as shoemakers or cordwainers for all their lives.

Shadrach’s Family

The details of the English Pearce families have been researched from the IGI, Census records, internet contacts in England and various references in publications about Thame and the surrounding towns.

Shadrach’s father was named Aaron and was born about 1802 in Thame. He married Damaris King in Sydenham on the 22nd of May 1823. Shadrach was the 4th of their children who were all born, christened or buried in Sydenham.

Transcribed from the holdings in the Oxford Records Office and held under the records for Buckinghamshire.

County Surname Forename Place Event Son/Dau Father Mother Year Date Occupation
Oxfordshire Pearce Richard Sydenham Baptism Son Aaron Damaris 1824 23-Mar Cordwainer
Oxfordshire Pearce Priscilla Sydenham Baptism Daughter Aaron Damaris 1825 06-Nov Cordwainer
Oxfordshire Pearce Mary Ann Sydenham Baptism Daughter Aaron Damaris 1827 11-Feb Cordwainer
Oxfordshire Pearce Shadrack Sydenham Baptism Son Aaron Damaris 1829 08-Feb Labourer
Oxfordshire Pearce Emma Sydenham Baptism Daughter Aaron Damaris 1836 19-Aug Shoemaker
Oxfordshire Pearce Eden Sydenham Baptism Son Aaron Damaris 1837 02-Jul Shoemaker
Oxfordshire Pearce Ada Sydenham Baptism Daughter Aaron Damaris 1842 31-Mar Shoemaker
Berkshire Pearce Edith Windsor* Baptism Daughter Shadrach Emma 1849 06-May Shoemaker
Oxfordshire Pearce Mary Ann Sydenham Baptism Daughter bastard Emma 1856 27-Apr  
Oxfordshire Pearce Edith Maria Sydenham Baptism Daughter Richard Mary 1856 21-Sep Shoemaker
Oxfordshire Pearce Ann Elizabeth Sydenham Baptism Daughter Richard Maria 1859 04-Sep Shoemaker

These records suggest that Aaron’s son Richard married and stayed in Sydenham although the two different entries for Richard's wife's name may mean that there were two Richards in these records. Also Aaron's daughter Emma may have been a bit naughty. The other interesting record for me is that of Shadrach’s first child Edith, who is shown as a “foreign” entry in the register because she was actually christened in Windsor. The entry could have been duplicated here at Shadrach’s request because he may have still considered himself a member of the Sydenham congregation. It is also interesting to see the changes in the descriptions of the father’s professions. This entry for profession was often the choice of the cleric, however it may also indicate the changing fortunes of the family. The spelling of Shadrach with a "k" is also because that is the way it was shown in the records.

I also noted the following burials and have one extra birth from the census records.

Further information is obtained from the census returns, which can show data relative to the various families movements and professions. However only sketchy references to Shadrach are extant by this means. Census were taken every ten years in England, but the records remaining for us to research may not be very complete, which can be somewhat frustrating. For example the 1831 census when Shadrach would have been about 3 is almost non-existent. What I have found instead is the Oxfordshire Militia list of 1831 and the entries are included here purely for record purposes. As the introduction states

It is the only surviving Militia Ballot List for the county, and it is for the Bullingdon Division; These comprised the City of Oxford and the rural Hundreds to the East and South Bullingdon, Thame and Dorchester. It lists most able bodied males (and some who weren't) between the ages of 18 and 45. As such it provides a valuable quasi-census.

Apparently it does not list every able bodied male, just enough to fill the quota for the militia, however there are some Pearces who have professions that suggest they may be from our lines, but unfortunately not Aaron in Sydenham. The list is in the following order; Name, profession, age, number of children and any notes such as their current health. It seems a bit strange, but they sometimes list people as "infirm".

The Pearces contained are -

Thame hundred - New Thame

Pearce, John, Wheelwright, 23, infirm (Aaron had a brother John who would have been this age, but I cannot confirm as yet that this is the same John Pearce)
Pearce, Aaron, Woolsorter, 34, Drawn (means drawn by ballot)

Thame – Liberty of Old Thame

Pearce, Charles, Labr., 19 

Thame - Liberty of Priestend

List compiled by John Pearce, Constable of the Liberty of Priestend (unfortunately there is no age stated for the Constables)

This is not very authoritative or particularly revealing, which means that the first data with real relevance is 1841 census and it states the following;

Forename Surname Age Occupation Where born
Aaron PEARCE 38 Cordwainer born Oxford
Damaris PEARCE 37   born Oxford
Richard PEARCE 17   born Oxford
Mary PEARCE 13   born Oxford
Shadrack PEARCE 11   born Oxford
Aaron PEARCE 9   born Oxford
Emma PEARCE 5   born Oxford

Born Oxford means that the county was Oxfordshire, it does not mean Oxford the town. It is a pity that the 1841 census does not record facts like which children are scholars or the professions as has been done in the 1851 version.

By the time of the 1851 census Shadrach has moved away from home, has married Emily Berne and they would have had their first child. I have not found Shadrach in the records but his parents and siblings are mentioned as follows –

 Forename Surname Status Marital Age Occupation Where Born Where Living
 Aaron  Pearce  Head  Married 48  Cordwainer (master)  Thame  Sydenham
 Damaris  Pearce  Wife  Married 47    Sydenham  Sydenham
 Richard  Pearce  Son  unmarried 26  Cordwainer  Sydenham  Sydenham
 Aaron  Pearce  Son  unmarried 20  Cordwainer  Sydenham  Sydenham
 Emma  Pearce  Daughter  unmarried 15    Sydenham  Sydenham

Perhaps Shadrach found that with two brothers and his father all in business as cordwainers, plus living in a small town, there was not enough work for all. Shadrach’s brother Aaron is the one mentioned as being a shoemaker in Aston Rowant from 1860 to 1880.

The next clear record of Shadrach is the marriage certificate from Birkenhead as shown below. Birkenhead is on the opposite side of the Mersey from Liverpool. This record shows that Shadrach married Emily Berne on the 25th of August 1847. The witnesses were Shadrach’s older sister Mary Ann plus John Berne. This John Berne is probably Emily’s father as I cannot find a brother or uncle of this name. John Berne states his profession as being a Mariner, which seems appropriate for a Merseyside residence.

You can also see that both Shadrach and his father Aaron are listed as shoemakers.

Emily’s Family

Since the spelling of Berne is not typical it was not too hard to find records in the IGI of Emily’s family. They are as follows;

There is a reference in the 1851 Census for Liverpool of a John Berne and his wife Ellen. There is good correlation with the ages of the sons William and Edward, but not such good match with John and Ellen's ages of 39 and 37 respectively. If they have been honest with their ages then Ellen would have only been 15 when she had Emily. I know that this is not unheard of, plus it might explain the gap of six years between Emily and William. John is described as a publican whereas on Emily's wedding record above he is a mariner.

The following is a transcription of the 1851 Census record.

Vol 24, HO 107 2182, Sect 1, record 139 for address 40 Lambon? Street. 

Name Station Condition Age Male Age Female Rank or Profession Where Born
John Berne Head Married 39   Publican Middlesex / London
Ellen Berne Wife Married   37   Liverpool
William Berne Son   15     Liverpool
Edward Berne Son   8   Scholar Liverpool
Annie Berne Daughter     5 Scholar Liverpool
Thomas ----- Nephew   11   Servant Liverpool
Elizabeth Wallace Tenant     20 Barmaid Liverpool
Sophia ----- Tenant     15 Servant Liverpool

The fact that John was either a mariner or a publican residing adjacent to a large port suggests to me that the family would have good access to the news of the world such as the gold strikes in Australia. In any case the gold discoveries were public knowledge very quickly right across England. I wonder if the possibility of future prosperity in Australia may have been one of the deciding factors for Shadrach to migrate.

The attraction of the gold strikes is not the only factor making emigration desirable, as life in England was pretty tough during the 1840’s. In particular the agricultural sector was in a severe depression that had been made even worse by the Irish potato famine. The potato crops in Ireland had been devastated by a rot in 1845 and 1846. The effect of this famine was to cause many other staple foodstuffs to be both scarce and expensive. The situation in many farming communities was dire and it led to some fairly creative solutions. One of these solutions was to assist whole families to migrate so as to reduce the population who were competing for both jobs and sustenance. The following example is taken from a brochure obtained in Sydenham whilst on a visit to England in 2000.

“ Times were very hard for agricultural workers in the first half of the 19th century. To help alleviate the poverty a number of the families from the village were helped to emigrate to Australia in 1843 and 1844. Five families went on the barque Wallace in Nov. 1843 with 18 children. Four more went on the United Kingdom bound for Sydney in Dec. 1843 with 14 children, 2 single girls and a young man. Sydenham farm William Quainton, and his little daughter Charlotte, aged one, died on the arduous voyage which took five months. Others went on the Elizabeth, the Francis Ridley and the Kate. That they worked hard and prospered is evident from stories told by their descendants who have written or come to Sydenham to trace their roots in the past few years.”

The parish would raise money to pay the fares for these immigrants. Similarly Thame was feeling the effects of this depression and the following quote comes also from the Thame website.

“The town in the nineteenth century was very poor because of extremely low agricultural wages, agriculture being the main industry and there were hardly any large landowners to defray the expense of the poor law. This aspect of the history of Thame is reflected visibly in the large Victorian Workhouse on the Oxford Road, now the home of Rycotewood College.”

It was not just rural districts that were feeling the pressure, even sections of the largest city in the world, London, were having a hard time. As a final indication of how hard life in England was becoming in the early decades of the 1800s I quote from Roy Porter’s book, London a Social History

“‘Already in the 1830s tens of thousands of Spitalfields weavers were unemployed. 1100 are crammed into the poor house, five or six in a bed; 6000 receive parochial relief’ reported the politician Charles Greville in 1832. ‘ The parish is in dept; every day adds to the numbers of paupers and diminishes that of rate payers. These are principally small shopkeepers, who are beggared by the rates. The district is in a complete state of insolvency and hopeless poverty’”

Life was obviously pretty tough and Shadrach’s trade depended on the general prosperity of the community because, if people could not afford food, then shoes or fine leather products would be out of the question. This situation may have assisted him to make the decision to migrate. Although Shadrach’s family was not sponsored by their own community, as previously described, they had taken advantage of a government sponsorship to migrate. From the record it appears that in order to do this, he may have needed to list himself as a labourer even though he would not normally refer to himself as such. We can confirm this fact from the ship’s log and the disembarkation record as shown below. Australia was desperately in need of labour to work on the farms at this time, hence the assisted migration schemes.

This shows Shadrach, wife Emily, daughter Edith and an infant born on board.

The timing for Shadrach to decide to be in the first rush to migrate after hearing about the gold rush is approximately correct. In order to reach Australia in December 1852 they would need to make application for assistance by about late 1851 or very early 1852. Gold had been discovered in Victoria prior to 1851, but the news was not announced until after Victoria separated from New South Wales in July. The following quotation from a history of Melbourne by W H Newnham

“ Four days after Victoria officially became a colony on the 1st of July 1851, it was announced that gold in payable quantities had been found. Gold had been discovered before separation, but there were several good reasons why it had not been publicly announced. ... Many Melbournites had not forgotten the action of some New South Wales parliamentarians. Even when the Victorian Electoral Bill was being read, one member admitted publicly that if he had his way, he would defer separation altogether and throw out the imperial act. Pioneers recollected too that the New South Wales Treasury had simply divided the revenue of 1850 in proportion to the populations of Victoria and New South Wales, and under this system Victoria received only £95,000. They pointed out that between 1835 and 1851 Victorian revenue had exceeded expenditure by £490,000 and that, even allowing for general expenses, the balance owing was £291,000.”

So Victoria was now in control of its’ own purse strings and sharing of the wealth could be better controlled.

I had originally thought that the discovery of gold would have meant the governments of the time would have cut the assisted migration schemes, however on further reading I found that, far from reducing assistance, the Australian administrators needed even more labour because almost all of the shepherds and farm labourers had walked off their jobs seeking possible fortunes on the goldfields. As the following quotes from Book 2 of the Peninsular Story show;

“The circumstances which bought about this situation were largely connected with the discovery of gold in the neighbourhood of Sydney and its major impact on the population in 1851. This, in the Port Phillip area, was typified by the wholesale desertion of shepherds and stockmen to the goldfields. The stock and pasturage left unattended posed a problem that only had one answer, more labour. This could only be obtained by increased immigration.”

The other interesting fact is how difficult it was to actually persuade people to migrate. The same booklet goes on to say -

“The year 1851 was a bad one for those seeking prospective emigrants in the British Isles. In spite of increased efforts by the Emigration Agents and a circular letter sent by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners to Clergymen of all rural parishes throughout England, the full number of ships authorised for the year could not be dispatched. In fact it was not always possible to fill those that sailed. The attitude of the British labouring class is difficult to understand. On one hand, in Australia they were highly excited by the thought of possible wealth on the goldfields, on the other hand, in England they seemed unconcernedly disinterested and not inclined to venture far afield. As labour became shorter in Australia, not only those with agricultural and pastoral interests who were facing ruin, but also others interested in the development of the country, increased their requests for additional emigration from England”

One of my frustrations is that I have been unable to trace Shadrach’s movements in the few years immediately prior to leaving England. For example; I cannot be certain that after they were married that Shadrach and Emily first settled anywhere near Liverpool or Birkenhead, because the christening of their first child Edith is recorded as taking place in Windsor, Berkshire. This indicates a move back down south because Windsor is between Thame and London and is where the famous Windsor Castle is located. Furthermore I cannot find them in the 1851 census records for Birkenhead, Liverpool, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire or, for that matter, Berkshire. Don Pearce, a fellow researcher, found a reference for the first Randolph being born on the 24th October 1850 in Islington, which is also part of London. This leaves a small gap at the interesting point in time for Shadrach where the decision was made to emigrate. Eventually I would like to find some record to fill the void; preferably the actual application to migrate, but no one appears to know if such documents actually still exist.

From all of this it is clear that Shadrach and Emily had a fairly difficult decision to make. It was increasingly hard to make a living in England, however Australia was a big unknown. As a shoemaker Shadrach was in the class of skilled labour who were called "mechanics". Because so many people of all types were trying their luck on the gold fields, the craft of shoe making would have been open to exploit in Melbourne. Perhaps this is the reason I cannot find any record of Shadrach going even near the gold fields. Possibly he made a satisfactory living in catering to the needs of the diggers without ever going far from Melbourne. Maybe something will eventually turn up to prove this speculation to be incorrect.

In summary we can see that Shadrach grew up in a family of cordwainers or shoemakers, close to a country town that was the hub of the parish, but in a period when agricultural areas were in a depression. He appears to have sought a change of fortune, or even just to obtain a basic livelihood by moving to a large town such as Liverpool. This was where he was to marry and perhaps even to start a family. He may have continued to move about because the christening of Edith suggests another move closer to London. Maybe around that time he hears of the gold strikes in Australia and he finally decides to migrate. Perhaps he had already resolved to do so and the opportunity of better fortune sealed the decision.