Willingdon and Emigration to South Australia

Top: Parish church of St Mary-The-Virgin, Willingdon

Centre: Chalk Farm Hotel, Willingdon

Below: South Downs from Meadows Road

In a previous post titled English Origins in the 18th Century and posted on 5 July 2011, we read that John Mewett ( born 1778) married Elizabeth Woollar of Willingdon in 1803. Their children were: Samuel (1803), Elam (1805), Maria (1807), Harriett (1810), Sophia (1812), Naomi (1813), Lucy (1816), Moses (1819), Ruth (1821), Barbara (1824).

Samuel was married to Martha Balcomb in September 1828, in the Willingdon parish church of St Mary-The-Virgin where Samuel’s parents, his grandparents and great-grandparents had been married. The children born to Samuel and Martha in Willingdon were: Robert (1829), Susanna (1831), Charlotte (1833), Jesse (1835), Harriett (1837).

The baptism entries listed Samuel’s occupation as “labourer”, seemingly a general term to include agricultural labourer. Samuel gave his occupation as “shepherd” when he formally applied for a free passage to South Australia in June 1838. Shepherds were in demand in the two-year-old colony of South Australia. The family was soon on the high seas in the 300 ton barque Platina.

The reasons for a young man’s decision to leave the country of his birth are not hard to find. Emigration to Australia in the early 19th century was more of an escape from the grim reality of English rural life than a dream of riches and wealth in the colonies. It was an unhappy time for farm labourers. Enclosure of the old open fields made farming more efficient, but the cottagers lost their small allotments and the valuable rights of pasturing a cow or pig on the common. They became mere wage labourers, debarred by law from seeking work outside their home parish and by the savage game laws from replenishing their larder with an occasional rabbit or bird. With a daily wage of 1s.6d (15 cents) they faced starvation. In 1830 a general agrarian uprising threatened the whole of the south-east of England.


The Platina had been built at Sunderland in 1830 and had been used as a convict ship in 1837 to transport 116 female convicts from London to Hobart. The voyage had taken 172 days, the slowest time for a convict ship in that year.

The Mewett family sailed from London aboard the Platina on September 25, 1838, three months after Samuel had applied for the free passage. The voyage to South Australia took 137 days, but the conditions for the emigrants were little better than they had been for the female convicts in 1837. The emigrants’ deck would have been a public dormitory with double bunks above for the married couples and a double bunk below for their children, a curtain being the only means of privacy. A bench down the middle of the deck was the migrants’ common table. Drinking water was usually polluted, and toilet facilities would have been inadequate, to say the least. The communal coughing, the crying of sick or hungry children, the groaning and retching of the ill, the arguing and yelling, all this would have made the voyage a living hell for all.

Harriett’s first birthday and Jesse’s third birthday occurred on board the Platina. One cannot imagine the birthdays were happy in the traditional way.


The Platina arrived at Port Adelaide on February 9, 1839, with 12  paying passengers and 15 children, and 70 emigrants and their children, and general cargo. Nine deaths had occurred during the voyage, including the three children of one couple who were passengers. The newspaper, Southern Australian, carried reports in the edition dated February 13, 1839, that complaints were made by the emigrants of their treatment during the voyage.

The South Australian Gazette and the Southern Australian later carried an advertisement in the form of a letter from the Platina’s surgeon (medical officer), James Weston M.D., who defended himself against any inference that the nine deaths had occurred through lack of medical attention. Forming part of the advertisement was another letter addressed to Mr Weston and signed by 34 emigrants, attesting to his “unwearied attention” and his “ceaseless activity and unabating zeal in that period of distress when the Lord was pleased through the instrumentality of the diarrhoea to make such fearful havoc among our small number”.

The eighth signature to this letter was that of Samuel Mewett and the ninth was the X of Mrs Mewett. In the Gazette Samuel’s signature was published as Samuel Meadett.

The Mewett family, having survived the ordeal of the voyage, settled temporarily in the environs of the District of Adelaide. The colony had been established just three years at that time; it is not hard to envisage the improvised nature of accommodation available to immigrants on their arrival at Port Adelaide.

Four more children were born to Samuel and Martha in South Australia: Elizabeth (1840), Thomas (1842), Ruth (1845), John (1852).

“This is Port Adelaide! Port Misery would be a better name; for nothing in any other part of the world can surpass it in every thing that is wretched and inconvenient.”

– almewett

Published in: on July 24, 2011 at 8:04 am  Leave a Comment  

English Origins: Mewetts in the 16th Century

Above:  Arlington Church, Sussex

Right:  South Downs sheep

(The text that follows has been transcribed from A Digest of Mewett Family History published in April 1976 for the Mewett Family Reunion at Williamstown, South Australia, held on 16 April 1976. The text of the Digest was based on research by the late L. Robert (Bob) Mewett, formerly of Noradjuha, Victoria; it was prepared and edited by Alan Mewett. The Digest was dedicated to the memory of Samuel Mewett and his wife Martha Balcomb, pioneers of the family in Australia.)

The South Downs Of Sussex

Sussex is a county on the south coast of England.  Near the coastline there is a range of hills, never higher than about 300 metres, known as the South Downs. They have been described as “bold smooth masses heaving themselves up to the skies, sometimes wooded, more often bare, but always creating an indefinable atmosphere of solitude and peace”.  For centuries these hills have been grazed by flocks of sheep; the South Downs gave their name to the breed of sheep famous the world over.

The ancient Britons mined flintstone out of the South Downs chalk for their primitive tools.  The Roman soldiers marched nearby to build a fortress at Pevensey and a villa at Eastbourne.  The Saxon invaders settled along the coastal plain beneath the Downs and gave the county its name.  William the Conqueror and his Norman army landed at Pevensey in full view of the Downs.

Today, ancient villages nestle into the Downs, each with its old church of flint and stone, some with traces of Saxon and Norman workmanship.  Towards the eastern extremity of the South Downs are the villages of Alfriston, Arlington, Bishopstone and Willingdon.  And this is where the recorded origins of the Mewett family are found.


In 1538 King Henry VIII ordered all parishes to keep a written record of baptisms, marriages and burials performed in the Churches of England.  Before then there were virtually no records of any sort maintained in England; few people could read or write.  Henry’s order meant that the church clerics were charged with the responsibility of writing in registers, entries giving dates and names of persons baptised, married and buried.  Many parishes were slow in complying with the order; furthermore the registers were not always written up accurately or diligently.  Some registers have since been lost or destroyed. It is from the existing registers that the first three hundred years of our story have been taken.  Omissions and inaccuracies in these books have made the piecing together of the family history a challenging, sometimes frustrating, experience


The earliest entry of interest to us occurred during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in 1567 when, on June 10, Joane Mewett (Mewet) was married to Richard Smythe in the parish church at Bishopstone, a village which shelters in a sunny hollow on the seaward side of the South Downs.  It was the second marriage for Joane who had been married previously to Thomas Mewett (later deceased), and she had a son also named Thomas Mewett (see below).  Before marriage, her maiden name had been Joanne Owton.

Several miles from Bishopstone is the village of Arlington, situated two miles north of the Downs on the Cuckmere River. It was here in 1592 that her son Thomas Mewett lay dying.  On November 2  he made a Will naming his mother, Joane Smythe, as a beneficiary and appointing his uncle Richard Owton as a trustee; his son, also named Thomas, was named a beneficiary and his wife Joane as executrix. This information has been gleaned from the terms of Thomas’s Will which, translated into modern English, reads:

“To my son Thomas Mewett I leave 13 ewe sheep, 6 tag, and my great chest, to be delivered to my uncle, Richard Owton, of Bishopstone.  If he wishes to sell them, the money he shall get for them shall be used to benefit Thomas towards his keep and upbringing till 14 years of age.  Until the age of 21 he shall have the profit of the sheep, and after 21 he himself shall get the sheep or money.  If Thomas departs out of this age before 21 then said sheep or money I give to my Uncle Owton’s children to be equally divided between them.

“I give to my mother Joane Smythe, 2 bushels of wheat, to be delivered there within four days after I die.  Rest of money etc. to be used to pay my debts and funeral expenses.  Any still remaining thereafter to go to Joane my wife whom I make my whole executrix.  Also I ordain and make William Older of Lullington my overseer of this last Will and Testament.  He is to get 6d. (sixpence) for his painstaking work.”  

(This post should precede a previous one titled Origins in the 17th Century and posted on 5 July 2011.)

Published in: on July 16, 2011 at 4:04 pm  Comments (4)  

English Origins: Mewetts in the 18th Century

Top: Old village shops, Willingdon

Centre: Wish Hill, Willingdon

Below left: View from Downs

Below right: Old village pump, Willingdon

Thomas Mewett and his wife Catherine had come to Willingdon from Alfriston and the baptism of  their two daughters and three sons were the first Mewett entries in the parish register at Willingdon. Their son, Edmund (b 1700), named Edward in the register,  and Mary Manser were married at the very old St Mary-The-Virgin church in Willingdon. Their children were: Thomas (b 1725), Mary (b 1729), William (b 1732, died 1734), Samuel (b 1733), Lucy (b 1736), Allen (b 1738, died 1754).

There was no record of the marriage of Thomas to his wife Sarah, but the register details the baptisms of their children: Thomas (b 1752), Mary (b 1755), William (b 1757), Lucy (b 1760), Samuel (b 1762). Sarah, the wife and mother, died in 1765. Thomas, aged 50, remarried Anne Stretton in 1775 and  two sons were born to this second marriage: Edward (b 1776), and John (b 1778).

Edward Mewett (b  1776) married Elizabeth Rigelsford at Brightling, 12 miles north-east of Willingdon, in 1798. They established a line of descent to the Mewett families in Newcastle, New South Wales; Mewett families in New Zealand, and to Alan Mewett Beattie of Lerwick, Scotland, who has assiduously researched Mewett family history world-wide.

John Mewett (b 1778) married Elizabeth Wooller of Willingdon in 1803 and they established a line of descent to our Australian families through their eldest son. Their family of ten included Samuel (b 1803), Elam (b 1805), Maria (b 1807), Harriett (b 1810), Sophia (b 1812), Naomi (b 1813), Lucy (b 1816), Moses (b 1819), Ruth (b 1821), Barbara (b 1824). (Readers will notice that the names of the sons forming a direct line of descent have been given in bold type.)

Before moving on to the 19th Century history, I should go back to Mewett origins in the 16th Century in my next post before I attempt their emigration to Australia.


Published in: on July 5, 2011 at 11:59 am  Comments (1)  

English Origins: Mewetts in the 17th Century

Alfriston viewed from the South Downs

“Ye Olde Smugglers Inne” – Alfriston

Two miles south of Arlington in Sussex is the village of Alfriston, hidden in the heart of the South Downs where the Cuckmere River has cut a gorge on its way to the open sea. The placid river and the bordering meadows contrast vividly with the high hills of the Downs. The picturesque old inns and houses along its narrow winding streets give it a peculiar charm and interest, especially the Market Cross Inn which was a smugglers’ retreat. Alfriston was the chief centre of Sussex smuggling when that industry was at its highest.”  (This description was written probably sometime early in the 20th century and now one could easily visualise the meadows overbuilt by housing estates, and the village modernised by 21st century self-serve supermarkets; but for our purposes the description would be appropriate for the 17th century.)

In 1616 Thomas Mewett was married to Margaret Rickwater at the Alfriston church of St Andrew, sometimes called the Cathedral of the Downs. They had five children: Ann (b 1617), Margaret (b 1621, married to Richard Worger in 1635), Thomas (b 1627, died in 1635), Nicholas and Sarah (b 1631). In 1634 the father Thomas died, and his widow remarried William Allan.

The marriage of Nicholas Mewett (b 1631) to Mary was not recorded at Alfriston but their children were baptised at the church of St Andrew: Mearey (Mary, 1659), Elizabeth (b 1661, died 1678), Thomas (b 1668), Sarah (b 1670). It appears to have been the custom of the Mewetts to name their eldest son, Thomas.

The marriage of Thomas Mewett (b 1668) was not recorded, but we find a Thomas Mewett, aged 28, and his wife  Catherine living at Willingdon where the baptisms of their children were entered: Mary (1695), Thomas (1697), Edmund (1700), Nicholas (1701, died 1704), Elizabeth 1705, died 1708).

The next post on this weblog will cover the Mewett family story as it developed in Willingdon.

Published in: on July 5, 2011 at 11:35 am  Leave a Comment