My Bounty Immigrants

By Ms Christine Christine Harris


During the 1800s Britain suffered a post war depression, a terrible famine and massive unemployment, caused by industrialisation and changing farm practices. Many thousands of people were desperate enough to take free or subsidised one-way passages to the end of the earth.

The American War of Independence had ended in 1783 but the cost to the U.K. was enormous. Then came the French Revolution and the War with France 1793-1815 which continued the drain on resources. The government opposed emigration at those times as men were needed for the Army and the Navy and to produce war supplies.

However, after these wars the government was broke and unemployment was high as those ex-servicemen needed jobs and the population began increasing.  Industrialisation increased so that prosperity by-passed the ordinary labourer. Bad harvests led to an agricultural depression. The Corn Laws were passed so that

  • food prices rose
  • wages fell
  • starvation set in.

Relief for the poor became urgent. In 1834 new Poor Laws led to the rise of Workhouses. The condition of village labourers continued to deteriorate until many reached such a state of despair that they were ready to revolt.

One factor contributing to the economic distress in the counties of southern England, was the decline in the demand for English Southdown wool. This was being ousted from the market by wool from German sheep crossed with Spanish merinos.  This period became so distressing for agricultural labourers and tradesmen that the Parish officials began encouraging them to emigrate to New South Wales.

Standard foodstuffs on migrant ships were:- salt beef, pork, flour, peas, tea, sugar, rice and oatmeal. The migrants themselves had to provide clothing, bedding, personal articles and they were advised to bring some tools.

The Bounty Immigration Scheme was first suggested by Edward Gibbon Wakefield. He suggested that:

  • The system of free land grants should cease and Colonial land should be sold.
  • The revenue from these sales should be used to boost emigration from the U.K.
  • Certain conditions should apply to the type of emigrant accepted.

This scheme was gradually adopted. The first set of Bounty Regulations was gazetted by Governor Bourke in October 1835:

  • The persons accepted should be mechanics tradesmen, or agricultural labourers.
  • They should have references as to their character from responsible persons, such as the local magistrate or clergyman.
  • To prove their age they should have Certificates of Baptism.

At first, before 1835, the passage money was advanced to emigrants by the Government, to be paid back out of their salary, but many refused to pay it back, so the Government converted this Loan into a Free Bounty.

download (3)Settlers in the colony were allowed to recruit their own workers in the U.K. Most employed agents to do so. The Government also had an Agent-General in London after 1837, and Agents in other embarkation ports.

Under the Bounty Scheme the settler who wanted workers paid the Emigrants' passages. On arrival these workers were examined by a Board appointed by the Governor and, if the Board were satisfied, the settler would be issued with a Certificate entitling him to claim the Bounty money back from the Government.

The costs were:

  • 30 pounds for a man and wife under 30 years on embarkation;
  • 15 pounds for each single female 15y to 30y with the approval of the settler or the agent, and under the protection of a married couple or to stay with the family until otherwise provided for;
  • 10 pounds for each unmarried male 18y to 30y (equal number of males and females mechanics or agricultural labourers were to be encouraged by the settlers);
  • 5 pounds for each child over 12 months.

My Weeks family were from the Dorset village of Sixpenny-Handley where the poor receiving support from the parish out-numbered the rest of the community.  During September and October 1836, the Rev John West, of Chettle in Dorestshire, organised a party of emigrants for New South Wales on behalf of Major Edward Macarthur, who was acting for his brothers William and James. There were 48 persons in all, men of argricultural background, their wives and children.  Included in this party were four families, the Weeks brothers John and Benjamin, their sister Jane and her husband George Vincen, and their cousin Richard. John and his wife Hannah had two small children, Maryann and Eliza (my 3xgreat grandmother).

download (2)They left Portsmouth aboard the Brothers on October 30 1836. Conditions in the channel were so bad that the Master was forced in at Cape de Verde Islands even though this was not his intention on setting sail. The ship arrived in Sydney Cove six weeks later than expected, on the 8 April 1837, with the emigrants being allowed ashore on the 14 April.  They were among the many immigrants who settled the Camden district of New South Wales.

The Sheathers were another large family group who were brought to Camden by the Macarthurs.  James and his brother Henry, with their wives both called Mary, and 16 children, plus James' and Mary's three adult sons from their previous marriages, arrived on the Royal George in 1839.  James (my 4xgreat grandfather) was 47 at the time, but his age in the immigration records is 40 and he (and his brother who was also "40") was approved for the scheme because of all the children that accompanied the group, many of whom were able to start work immediately.

John Weeks' daughter Eliza married James' Sheather's son Samuel at Camden in 1850 and the rest, as they say, is [my] history.

Atkinson, Alan: Camden: Farm & Village Life in Early New South Wales; Australian Scholarly Publishing Pty Ltd, 2008
Farmer, Kerry: Arrivals in Australia from 1788; Unlock the Past, 2015
Huntsman, Leone: Bounty Emigrants to Australia; Clogher Record, Vol.17, No.3, 2002
Joyce, Jenny: Notes on Assisted and Bounty Migration to Australia; accessed 24 Jun 2022 from



1 comment

Very useful article - thank you, Chris. I wonder whether you know anything about warrant immigrants, who also appear to have been another category of assisted immigrants? I haven't been able to find any further information. They are mentioned in this article about the arrival of the Corona in Melbourne in 1870.

Posted by Val, 10/07/2022 11:44:16 pm

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