n a trip to the U.K. at Christmas 1986, my late father-in-law Gerald Birch gave me a translation (the original is in olde English and in Chester museum) of a letter sent by Edward Blinkhorn of Launceston to William Birch, Gerald's great or great, great grandfather in the year 1855.
My interpretation of the letter is that Edward had quarrelled with a member of the family and moved to Van Diemen's Land in exile and that he was a cousin of William Birch.
The letter has a few gaps (gap) which could not be translated or is illegible but is as follows -
Letter dated 13 September, 1855
From: Edward Blinkhorn
To: Mr. Wm. Birch, Crown Street Timber Yard, Bolton Le Moors, Lancashire, England
Arrived: Liverpool - 28 December, 1855; Bolton - 29 December, 1855
Launceston, Van Diemen's Land, 15 April, 1855
I had hoped before this to have received a letter from home in answer to the one I sent to you about 12 months ago, but I cannot see my name in the lists which are published regularly here. Since my last letter I have passed through many scenes and have seen something of the changes in life. For as I write to you that I was getting better of the dysentery and in April 1854 I left Melbourne for to go a few miles in the countrywhere I worked until the end of July and then lost all my wages, through the person I was working for becoming bankrupt and ran away. I then went back to Melbourne and got work for a short term when trade all at once became very slack and my wages dropt 10/- a day and very difficult to get work at that price, and I was looking for work saw and met hundreds of good workmen who could not get work and so I and another man came over to Van Diemen's Land to Hobart town where we arrived on 27 September, 1855 and got a month's work, then after waiting a fortnight in vain for work we started off for Launceston 150 miles with 1/- between us but after we had walked for 22 miles we got a job at a public house for 2 days which set us up and sent us well on our road to Launceston where we got work immediately and have continued at it ever since but have not been able to make full time so that I have not been able to save much. Wages are very low viz. 10/- a day and everything is as dear here as in Melbourne as for instance I gave 25/- for a pair of Blucher shoes which after 3 months wear were quite worn out and useless. I daresay you will want to know something of this country and Melbourne and to tell you the truth I should not like to live in Melbourne or anywhere near it for any money on account of the dust and the heat and the general unhealthiness, and another thing it is quite overstocked with people newly arrived or come down from the diggings (gap) for I have known men with good trades who would have been glad to get a job to break stones for the road at 7/- a day which will barely keep a man and his family alive in Melbourne - as for this country it is a deal pleasanter and neither so hot nor so dusty, and it is hilly country but it is better cultivated than Melbourne and nearly every house has a garden attached to it, but in spite of all this I do not like the country on account of the inhabitants, no person being sure ofhis liberty even his life here, for being a penal colony, the laws are very severe, and no matter how innocent a person may be if a charge is brought against him it is a hard job to clear himself for if the law cannot find him guilty, he must however prove he is innocent which is sometimes very difficult but I have escaped well as I take care never to go out at night if I can help it, or give offence to any person to bear a spite against me.
Since I commenced writing the above I am sorry to say that work here has become very slack and what makes me feel it more so is that my master has been laid up with the gout for about 2 months and has only just been able to stir about so that he has not been able to go and look for work and it is only about (gap) weeks since I refused a job in the country where I was promised the same wages as I had in town besides being found in board and lodging, but I was not certain about the payment and so declined it and now to make the matter worse emigrants are now arriving at the port at the rate of 500 per week when there is not enough work for the old hands to do and according to what I can learn both Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney are quite as bad for it will not do to believe what the newspapers say in their trade reports, at least in respect of the labour market, and the newspaper owners themselves are all interested in bringing down the price of labour.
I often think here that after I have managed to save a few pounds that it was so much towards my return home, but before it had got to be one half of the amount, something or other comes to take it away, for a short time ago, I had both of the backs of my hands so sore that I could not work and I had to pay a doctor between 4 and 5 pounds beside the loss of time for about a month. And if you would be so kind as to write a few lines to say whether I should be welcome home I should get it in about 7 or 8 months from sending this and very likely by that time I should be in possession of sufficient funds to bring me home, for I really do not like living here though it is much more preferable to Melbourne or any other part of Australia. I have nothing much more to say at present except that you perhaps may have heard, that the ship I came out on the Anne Dashwood was wrecked on her voyage home near the wash of Callao in South America which was no wonder as her captain was a fool and she was half rotten - tell Thomas and Ellis that if they had any idea of coming out to this side of the world to give it up for it would never answer with either of them for if they should get here and (gap) of the weather (gap) season of the year would be enough to satisfy them, besides being alone in the world and being obliged to put up with anything either in the shape of work or living. Tell my sisters that Mrs. Chisholm when she was in England drew a fine picture for a young woman in Australia, but to show you an instance of her popularity in Victoria, a testimonial was got up to be presented to her on her return from England a short time ago and subscriptions were solicited especially from those women who had brought out, but know, scarcely a shilling was collected from them. I hope Uncle George and Aunt Mary are both well and doing well and also that both you and Miss G B are well and in good health and last though not least that Mother is well and hearty and free from rheumatism as I have been since I left home. Tell sister Elizabeth that I had part of a letter written to her but it accidently got destroyed and I have no more paper where I am at present which is about 150 miles from Launceston along the sea coast where I am now staying til the winter is over (viz, a place called Table Cape) but direct your letter to me as under, so good bye for the present from yours most truly Edward Blinkhorn at Mr. Thomas Hills, Enfield Hotel, Brisbane Street, Launceston, Van Diemen's Land.
Please do be so kind and send me a line as soon as you receive this so that I may expect to know the time you receive it. Send the enclosed to Miss Allet and if she has a note for me enclose in yours.
Editor's Note - It is believed that Edward Blinkhorn settled in northern Tasmania and has descendants in the area around Queenstown. The name Tasmania came into use over Van Diemen's Land in 1855.