Emigration to Australia … Eventually

Peter Tickle was a provision dealer and beer seller in Manchester in the 1850s. At that time, Manchester was a thriving city at the heart of the Lancashire cotton industry. Everything changed when it was hit by a depression known as the Lancashire Cotton Famine or Cotton Panic.

The Cotton Famine

The raw cotton used in the 2,500 cotton mills in the county was imported from the southern states of America. When Civil War broke out in the states in 1861, this supply was interrupted – first by a Southern imposed boycott, aimed at forcing Britain to enter the war to get cotton, and then by a Union blockade of the southern ports. Confederate states’ wealth came from their cotton exports and the North believed the blockade would ruin the Southern economy and suffocate the Confederacy war effort.

Gradually, the Lancashire mills ran out of raw materials and production stopped. By October 1861 many mills were forced to close and up to 400,000 of the county’s cotton workers were left unemployed.

Despite the hardship this brought, the workers of Lancashire showed little sympathy for the Confederate cause. On 31 December 1862, cotton workers gathered at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester and resolved to stand with the Union and against slavery. They wrote a letter of support to Abraham Lincoln in the name of the Working People of Manchester. Lincoln replied, calling their effort “…an instance of sublime Christian heroism”.

As thanks, the Federal American government sent sent three shipments of food to the people of Lancashire

Help for the Cotton Workers

In addition to the shipments of food from the United States, local relief committees were established to help the poverty stricken unemployed They ran soup kitchens, raised funds, and provided financial help. The government empowered local authorities to borrow money to fund public works, such as sewerage systems, road-surfacing and public landscaping, providing jobs for some of the unemployed textile workers.

Despite this, many cotton workers decided their best option was to leave Lancashire and emigrate, using one of several Assisted Passage schemes in operation at the time. These were funded by governments or by wealthy individuals in the colonies to encourage migration by paying all or part of the cost of the voyage.

In Need of a Fresh Start

Peter Tickle’s second wife, Mary Hughes, was a widow who had inherited considerable property from her husband, including the beer-house which Peter ran for a number of years. Mary died of cancer in 1863. From her will, we know that she and Peter were living apart at the time of her death and, the day prior to their marriage, Mary had signed an Indenture of Settlement, under which Peter was excluded from owning any of her assets, as would normally be the case. On her death, he would have ceased to have any claim on the beer house. With children to support, and little chance of alternative employment during the Cotton Panic, Peter was one of those who decided to leave for a new life overseas.

Lured to Queensland


The majority of those who decided to make their futures in another country went to America, but other parts of the world also attracted migrants. Among them was Queensland, a vast area in the north-east of Australia, which had become an independent colony in 1859. The new Queensland government was keen to encourage immigration, particularly among Lancashire textile workers. The colony was viewed as a potential area for growing cotton and working in the hot and humid conditions of cotton mills was considered good preparation for growing cotton in hot, humid Queensland.

During the Cotton Panic, special societies such as the Lancashire Relief Fund were formed to promote emigration to Queensland. The Queensland land grant scheme was publicised in the Manchester Guardian, the major newspaper in Lancashire, in 1862-63. Pamphlets about Queensland were widely distributed and an agent for Queensland travelled around, delivering lectures and promoting the colony.

In contrast to the vast cotton plantations with enslaved labour found in other countries, they painted a picture of a life where families would work their own small cotton farms, living a healthy life in simple houses surrounded by lush gardens, with fruit trees and vines.

Several ships were chartered by the Queensland government to take people to the new colony. Lured by the promise of a new, better life, in August 1863, Peter Tickle and his family boarded the clipper, Fiery Star, bound for Australia.


Their’s was not to be a straight-forward journey. The Fiery Star left London and sailed to Queenstown in County Cork, Ireland (now Cobh) to pick up further emigrants. Numerous newspapers reported what happened next.

For some little time past a system of deception has been carried on in Manchester by persons who, taking advantage of the assisted emigration system instituted for the benefit of distressed operatives have, by representing themselves as belonging to that class, obtained forged certificates which entitle them to a passage to Queensland on the terms offered by the Queensland Emigration Society. The ship Fiery Star recently left London for Australia containing, among a large number of emigrants, several men, their wives, and families, from Manchester, who were found, after the ship left dock to have falsely styled themselves operatives. Inspector Buckley of the Manchester Detective Police, was accordingly despatched to Queenstown to meet the vessel on her passage, and he succeeded in apprehending three men named Peter Tickle, Joe Luckman, and John Hunter, on a warrant charging them with obtaining forged passage orders.

… the wives and families of the prisoners have been left in Cork, while the greater portion of their luggage is gone on to Australia.

London Daily News, 22 August 1863

Four hundred and seventy emigrants left Queenstown on Tuesday for Queensland on board the “Fiery Star” of the Black Ball line, specially chartered by the Emigration Association. Just before the vessel sailed, three respectable-looking men, from Manchester, were arrested on warrants granted by the magistrates of that city for having forged certain documents – viz. certificates of character by employers and magistrates, by which they had obtained cheap passages through the agency of the above committee. Each of them had a wife and a large quantity of luggage with them.

24 August 1863 – Glasgow Herald – Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland

The men were taken back to Manchester, where they were charged with fraudulently obtaining assisted passages to Queensland. Meanwhile, the wives and families, including Peter’s children, aged 7 – 10, were left in Queenstown while their luggage sailed on to Australia without them.

Before the Court

The men were brought before the magistrate in Manchester Police Court. Peter Tickle claimed that, a couple of months previously, one of his neighbours told him he was going to Australia. Peter said that he would also like to go. In order to proceed he needed a certificate of character. He explained to the court that he had great difficulty in locating his previous employer at Charles Clarke and Company to verify his character. He was introduced to a man named Campbell, the secretary of the Overlookers Association, who gave him an application form to complete, telling him it “would do to get it signed by anyone.” Peter filled out the form himself, a man present at the meeting offered to sign the form, and Campbell then sent him to the Mayor, who signed it immediately. Campbell forwarded the form to the Emigration Office, accepting £4 for his trouble. Peter Tickle duly received his sailing orders.

The other two men also claimed that they did not know they were doing anything wrong, especially as Campbell had recommended them to get the certificates … doubtless receiving payment from each of them. The prosecuting solicitor asked for the men to be held on remand for 10 days, while he took instruction from the benefactors in London who had donated to the Emigration Society. When they were returned to court, he announced that he would not be proceeding with the charges, as none of those ‘defrauded’ wanted to pursue a case. The bench decided that there had been no fraudulent intention on the part of the defendants and discharged them.

Resumption of their Voyage

While the men faced charges in Manchester, the women and children, 10 people in all, were stranded in Cork. Although destitute, they were provided with accommodation, clothing and food while they waited for a subsequent sailing. The next ship to sail for Queensland was the clipper, Wansfell, which left Liverpool on 5 September 1863. She was advertised as “a very fast sailing clipper, and a most desirable conveyance for goods and passengers.” This proved true. The ship made the longest immigration voyage to Australia in terms of distance, yet it was a very fast non-stop passage of only 94 days.

A Dangerous Entry

At the end of December, the Wansfell anchored at Point Denison, a large bay in the northern part of Queensland. As a sailor, I was fascinated to read that the ship made history by successfully navigating the Barrier Reef, which in that vicinity was un-surveyed and considered impenetrable. The chart below shows the track of the Wansfell through the reef. A report in the local paper describes her grounding twice as she manoeuvred though the dangerous waters. It states that the ship entered the Reef on Christmas Day and proceeded through it over the next days. They anchored at night and moved only during certain hours of daylight, when the underwater rocks were visible but not obscured by reflected sunlight, possibly putting boats out ahead to guide the ship.

Having avoided a possible shipwreck on the Barrier Reef, the Tickles and other immigrants disembarked with their luggage into small boats to be taken ashore. I’ll continue the story of their life in Australia in future posts.

A Mystery ‘Wife’

Peter was widowed in July 1863, barely a month before leaving for Australia. There is no record of him re-marrying. However, the newspaper reports and immigration lists show Peter as having a wife, Elizabeth. This is the wife who was left with his children in Queenstown. A clue as to who she might have been lies in the 1861 census, which shows the family had a 16-year old servant, Elizabeth Johnson. It seems likely that Elizabeth travelled to Queensland with the family, to look after the children. It’s possible that Peter could only obtain a passage for her by declaring her as his wife.

Peter married for a third time, shortly after arriving in Australia, but not to Elizabeth.

Peter’s Children

At the time of his emigration, Peter had fathered five children. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth, stayed in England with Peter’s sister, Ann, and her husband, William Ainley, who were childless. It is not known what became of his youngest child, Peter, the son of Mary, his second wife. He would have been two years old when his mother died. There is no record of his death, nor can he be found in any later census. It’s possible he was adopted by a member of his mother’s family.

Peter’s three middle children, Eliza b.1853, Thomas b.1854, and John (Known as ‘Jack’)b.1856, travelled with their father to Queensland. I’ll tell more of their stories in the future.

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