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The Lacemakers of Calais in South Australia

The 1848 Revolution in France had an impact on far away South Australia with the arrival of a group of economic refugees collectively known as the Lacemakers of Calais. In all over 700 lacemakers reached Australia in 1848 in three main ships, the Agincourt and Fairlie to Sydney and the Harpley to Adelaide. Strangely they were neither French nor lacemakers!

The Calais Lacemakers were English men who designed, built and maintained the extremely complex lace-making machines that had been originally developed in Nottingham. Despite the best efforts by the British to keep the manufacturing process a secret, the techniques were leaked to France and the industry developed in the Calais region using British experience and skills. After the British got over the loss of their monopoly everything was fine until the 1848 Revolution that proved to be an economic disaster for the workers as their factories were closed and English owners returned to England. The workers were faced with destitution if they remained in France or returned to England.

One group of Calais Lacemakers saw life in an English Workhouse as untenable and in March 1848 they met in a church in Saint-Pierre to sign a memorial requesting the English Government to assist them to emigrate to the Australian colonies, especially South Australia. One George Louis Liptrott, who previously arrived in South Australia on the Anna Robertson in 1839, was probably the instigator in Australia being the destination and Adelaide as the first choice. At first the request was ignored because the men were too old and had a trade not wanted in Australia and many of them had large families with numerous children under the age of ten.

The British Government was swayed by support for the idea from the English Consul in Calais, and the realisation that if these people returned to England they would put a considerable strain on the Workhouses. Appeals to raise half the assistance money were launched in London and in Nottingham, and kits were found to outfit the emigrants. The Queen and Prince Albert gave £200.

The Harpley departed 12 May 1848 for Adelaide but on arrival the lacemakers discovered prospects were little better and with little chance of work they were, with few exceptions, destined to be destitute. However, with the same determination previously exhibited, many were settled into work within the first few months. Many of the single females quickly married to save themselves a placement in the Destitute Asylum in Adelaide.

The following vessels had lacemakers in their complement too: Andromache, Baboo*, Emperor, General Hewett, Harbinger, Navarino*, Nelson and Walmer Castle with those marked * coming to Adelaide.

Many modern South Australians are blissfully unaware that they may owe their origins to this determined troop of people. Check the following list of surnames and if you find one of interest type it into the search field to find out more about that particular emigrant family.

BARNETT | BOWN | BURGESS | CLARKE | COPE | CROWDER | DAVIS | DIXON | DONISTHORPE | DORMER | DUNK
FREESTONE | GOLDFINCH | HALL | HEMINGWAY | HEMSLEY | HIBBERT | HISKEY | HOLMES | HOPKINS
IRONS | JAMES | LANDER | LEE | LONGMIRE | MATHER | MATTHEWS | MOUNTENAY | MOUNTNEY | NEEDHAM
ORIEL | PARSONS | PAUL | PEAT | PEPPER | PIKE | REVEL | RICHMOND | RUSHTON | SAMUELS | SANSOM
SELBY | SHAW | SMITH | STREET | STUBBS | SUMNER | SWEENEY | TAYLOR | WATTS | WELLS | WIDDISON

This list is unlikely to be complete and if you know of additional families, the compiler would be pleased to hear from you.

lace machine

Calais Lacemaker Family name:   tips

Graham Jaunay thanks the Australian Society of the Lacemakers of Calais for alerting him to these people and their story and urges you to visit their website for much more information.
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