George and Sarah Stubbs

Stubbs family treeThe passenger manifest of the barque "Fairlie", arriving at Port Jackson, New South Wales in September 1848, lists George Stubbs as a whitesmith and rough carpenter. His wife and daughters are listed as house servants and needlewomen.   George and Sarah Stubbs and their children came originally from Quorndon, in Leicestershire. However, the birthplace of the three youngest children, Elisabeth,George and Henry, is given as Calais, France. As their dates of birth span the years 1840 to 1847 and their port of embarkation is also Calais, the family had evidently been in France for at least 7 years.  Why was this English family living in France? Why were other English families also embarking in Calais? Why would an English ship pick up passengers in France?

Finding the answers to these questions led us to uncover a fascinating story.  In the early 1800s there were tens of thousands of English people living and working in France. In the north there were ironworkers building a railway. In Lille, flax and linen weavers, mainly women, worked in the factories. In Calais, in an area called St Pierre les Calais, or Basseville,several thousand English workers lived and toiled.

Mostly from Nottingham, they had built a lace industry in France to rival that of their English fellow citizens. After the revolution the French had found themselves with no laceworkers, most having been executed as friends of the aristocracy. So, in his last hundred days, Napoleon had laid the foundations for a revival of the trade by importing (smuggling) lace machines and the workers to operate them into France. It was a serious crime to take such machinery out of Nottingham, such was the precious nature of the industry. Some say it was via a Breton fishing boat in the dead of night that the first machines left England for France.

It is also said that the French had not the understanding of the stockinet machines, nor the dexterity, to operate them, and so needed skilled British workers to do it for them. They came from Nottingham, the world centre of lacemaking at the time, and from Leicestershire. The men were whitesmiths and carpenters.  They built and operated the machines. The women were lace dressers, embroidering and crafting the fine patterns. The lace patterns themselves identify the maker.

With high wages and a good market the French attracted not only laceworkers and their families, but the folk who supported this little England in France, inn keepers, boot makers, shop keepers. In the period between 1780 and 1847 the little enclave of St Pierre-les-Calais thrived. But it was not to last.

If you go to the archives and read the newspapers of 1848 from England and France you will find many reports of English workers leaving France. There are graphic reports of English linen workers being forcibly evicted from their dwellings in Lille and told to go back home. This was a time of recession. The French Revolution had caused huge upheavals. The potato famine had hit Europe and particularly Ireland, there was poverty and unemployment all over Europe, riots of all kinds, banks unable to pay and the English found that they soon became the brunt of "allez les anglais" - English go home. The poor blamed them for taking jobs that were needed for French nationals As well as the fear, there was the economic situation of some of the English workers.

When the hard times came, many of the laceworkers who had settled in France became destitute. With no money left, and filled with fear, they appealed to the British Government for assistance. They could not return to Nottingham and its surrounds, the pinch was being felt there too. Besides they were none too popular with the Nottingham lace workers, after all they had set up in competition with them. No, the best they could hope for at home was the workhouse. They asked to be settled in one of the colonies, preferably Canada.

Within a few months they were aboard three ships, the Agincourt, the Fairlie and the Harpley......... bound for Australia. The Agincourt and the Fairlie sailed to Port Jackson, the Harpley to South Australia.There were two distinct groups among the laceworker immigrants - those who were destitute, and those who had some resources of their own.

The Agincourt and the Harpley carried those who were destitute. There are reports of their needing to be supplied with the basics of linen and clothing before the journey could begin. These passengers were all laceworkers and were required to settle where they were told in Australia . The Agincourt passengers went mainly to the Hunter Valley of NSW, walking from Newcastle to Singleton, in pouring rain. The Harpley settlers went mainly to the Barossa Valley in South Australia. Strange that both groups should all go to great winemaking areas of Australia. Mind you, the Lacemakers of Calais were not welcomed by all in Australia. In Adelaide the newspaper carried protests against their arrival. 'We need farmers and builders, not laceworkers' was the cry.

The Fairlie passengers were not all laceworkers. Those who were refugees from Calais had resources of their own. They were permitted to stay where they liked. There were three families of Stubbs in Calais, those of George, of Henry and of Francis. The connection between them, if there is one, we do not know. They witnessed each other's weddings and births and deaths, but who knows... the search goes on.

Henry remained in France and he and his family are buried in the cemetery at St Pierre. Francis was on the Harpley and settled in South Australia.

George and his family settled in Rose St, Darlinghurst, in Sydney.   Frances, better known as Fanny, married Joseph Smeal in 1855.


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