IN 1848, three boat loads of remarkably skilled immigrants arrived in Australia within three months of each other.
They were referred to in the Press of the time as "refugee emigrants", "distressed British artisans from France", but are now generally known as the Lacemakers of Calais.
Their descendants now number in the thousands and are represented all over Australia. This is the story of three of these families whose forebears found their way to the NSW North Coast.
During the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th Century, traditional lace-making families in Nottingham began to feel the effects of competition from machine-made lace.
After a time, some of these families found ready employment by migrating to Calais, France, where English lace-making machinery had been smuggled and a competitive industry was emerging.
In 1848, some 3000 English were living in Calais and St Pierre, France, when the Revolution of 1848 brought that country to a standstill.
The English lacemakers could not stay in France, their bank accounts were frozen and all work stopped; they could not return to England, as the lacemaking trade and poorhouses there could not accommodate them.
Emigration was the solution found, and funds were raised in England to send the lacemakers to the Australian colonies.
Three ships carrying the lacemakers, the Fairlie, Harpley and Agincourt left England in April, May and June 1848 respectively.
Aboard the Agincourt were the families of Joseph and Jane Roe (my great-great-great grandparents), Thomas and Elizabeth Duck and George and Isabella Saywell.
The Agincourt berthed in Sydney on October 6 1848, however its passengers were not destined for that city, but were directed to immigrant depots in Bathurst and Maitland to satisfy the demand for immigrant labour in rural areas.
The Roe, Duck and Saywell families were taken off the Agincourt and travelled via the steamer Maitland to that town of the same name.
Joseph and Jane Roe had three children - William (14), Joseph (10) and Emanuel (6), all born in Nottingham.
After some years in Maitland and Morpeth, the family moved to Nundle, possibly attracted by the gold rushes of the time. William died young, Joseph married Rhoda Alldridge and the couple had 12 children. At one time he was leading hand of the shearing shed at Belltrees Station.
Thomas and Elizabeth Duck arrived in NSW with seven children and settled on the Allyn River in the Hunter region where they had a further four children.
Eldest sons George and Samuel, together with their younger brother Charles, selected land on the Comboyne Plateau and are regarded as pioneers there.
Hiram Harold Cornelius Duck was the son of Henry, another French-born son of Thomas and Elizabeth Duck.
In 1913 he married Violet Everingham at Taree before enlisting in the First AIF. On Hiram's return from active service, the couple made their home at Frederickton with their seven children.
George Saywell and his wife Isabella with their seven children settled in the Hunter Valley where George became a haulage contractor and later invested in a small coal mine.
Their eldest son Thomas became a noted merchant and developer and had substantial investments in coal-mining and real estate.
Two of the many descendants of daughter Rosanna and husband James Pryor became prominent in law circles in Australia, both becoming High Court Judges as well as serving as Parliamentarians.
- Descendants of the Lacemakers of Calais is a group of family researchers who aim to maintain the interests of the Australian Society of the Lacemakers of Calais Inc.
- Their website www.lacemakersofcalais.com.au offers a growing database for many researchers whose ancestors worked in the lace factories of Calais and who lived through the upheavals there in 1848.