The Way We Were with John Taylor: Real gold diggers

William Cowper
William Cowper
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In a period of agricultural depression, during the 19th century intrepid sons of the soil could seek opportunities abroad.

A few married agricultural labourers ‘with not more than two children under 10’, could apply to Thomas Chew, of Great Brickhill, for free emigration to Australia.

As for females, for those engaged in lace making the beginnings of industrialisation had begun a general decline for the home based industry.

Indeed, in December 1777, had come the comment that ‘a machine has been introduced for making point lace, which threatens the destruction of the pillow lace trade, in which so many hands are now employed in Buckinghamshire.’

Even the Olney poet, William Cowper, identified with their plight, for as an observer of the contemporary situation he wrote: ‘I am an eye-witness of their poverty and, do know that hundreds in this little town are upon the point of starving.’ But of the town’s male population, in 1849 Francis Herring left to seek his fortune in the gold diggings of Australia.

He became very successful and sent his father a valuable nugget as proof, the first example of this ‘golden harvest’ that had been seen in the district. Another to leave for foreign shores was an Olney baker.

He left with his two sons for America, leaving behind his wife and daughter. Then, during the time of the American Civil War one of the sons became a baker in the Federate camp.

Taking a brief rest from his labours he one day took a walk to see wh at was happening. Quite a lot in fact, for he was shot and killed by a sniper.

In those days, long before Facebook and other social media, those left at home could often lose contact with their loved ones abroad.

However, they could always seek the help of Messrs. Gun & Co, ‘ the old established American and Colonial agents’, who ‘have for some time successfully engaged in discovering the whereabouts of persons abroad......’