Pioneering Families of Australia


A Matter of Life or Death

How tough would life “back home” have needed to be to make somebody like William Robertson, a family man, contemplate moving his family to what was, in the 1830’s, little more than a penal colony?


According to McGilchrist, William may have been a Dissenter (or Separatist) and therefore considered to be on the wrong side of the Law and says “what more firm conviction could I hold than that, because of the legal disabilities which Dissenters were called upon to suffer – imprisonment and death, William Robertson became fearful of his own safety and the safety of his family, and eventually decided to bring his family to Australia.  


On arrival in Hobart; he immediately became an active member of the Independent Church in that town.”

migration poster

try our luck in a new land .......

Separatists: Radical or orthodox Puritans who believed that the Church of England could not be cleansed from Roman Catholic practices. The Separatists decided to separate themselves from the Church and advocated the independence of each congregation.


We will never know what the motivating factors were  that convinced Christian Diedrich, his 2 brothers and sister-in law and also his fellow passenger and soon to be wife, Elisabeth Mahine, to place their faith in a new land.  What we do know is that both Christian and Elisabeth appeared to be devout Lutheran, as archives from the German Church, Melbourne, now the Trinity Church record the christening of their first daughter, Johanna and the marriage of Christian and Elisabeth themselves.


In his book A History of Germans in Australia 1839-1945 Charles Meyer lists four basic reasons for German emigration: religion, the economic situation, political motives, and social motives.


These four main reasons were not all significant factors at the same time, nor can they be seen as working independently of each other (often at least two of the reasons drove an emigrant's, or emigrant group's, decision to emigrate), and nor were they equally important in terms of the numbers of emigrants involved. People's reasons for emigrating are also complicated by the factors that often both "push" and "pull"   Examples of "push" factors (circumstances that made people want to leave Europe) were: failed crops, rising prices and the desire to avoid compulsory military service. Examples of "pull" factors (attractions in Australia) were: shortage of workers, cheap (and sometimes free) land, and the lure of the gold rushes.  


Regardless of William's religious persuasions, life in Scotland was certainly difficult at the time.  The industrial revolution had provided considerable wealth and opportunity for many particularly in the manufacture of Pig Iron, but Scotland was still basically an agrarian country with an unskilled labour force.  


The sheer growth of the population was a striking feature of the time. At no period, before or since, has the increase been more marked. In 1836 the population totalled 2,315,926. By 1847 it had grown to 3,718,316, a figure reached through large-scale Irish immigration as well as by natural increase.  After 1836, when economic conditions all over the country worsened, the Highlands were especially hard-hit, and it was partly due to this temporary economic set-back in the late 1830s and early 1840s that the flow of Scottish emigration to Australia from both the Highland and Lowland areas reached an unprecedented level.

After some months of expectation and anxiety, Dr. Boyter, the Government emigration agent for Australia, arrived at Fort William on x 8th current. The news of his arrival, like the fiery cross of old, soon spread through every glen of the district, and at an early hour on Monday, thousands of enterprising Gaels might be seen ranked around the Caledonian Hotel, anxious to quit the land of their forefathers and to go and possess the unbounded pastures of Australia. . . . While we regret that so many active men should feel it necessary to leave their own country, the Highlands will be considerably relieved of its over-plus population.  


 Inverness Courier, 30 May 1838

The Scots

The German Connection

The life and death decisions facing John Molloy and Oliver Devlin may have been far different to William & Christian, Ireland was in the grip of famine and the hardships as experienced by the Donegal Victims was repeated throughout the country, but were no less compelling as evidenced by the thousands of “Bounty Immigrants” that made the decision to “try their chance” in Australia.


The end of war in Europe in 1815 had a drastic impact on the economy. The war had led to a huge growth in tillage farming to supply the armies, and a dependence on the potato as a staple food. When war ended there was a change from tillage to pasture, causing agrarian unemployment. The population increased rapidly and reached 8 million by 1841, two- thirds of whom depended on agriculture.  In this precarious agrarian economy the failure of the potato crop in 1845, due to blight, proved disastrous.


The crop failed again in 1846, 1847 and 1848 and, coupled with severe weather, resulted in famine.  By 1851 the population had been reduced by at least 2 million due to starvation, disease and emigration.  


Up to 30% of the Australian population is estimated to be of Irish descent, making Australia probably the most 'Irish' country in the world outside of Ireland itself.

The Irish Mob

"What matters not is what their religion was, but that they came from Ireland"



Dr. Jane Lyons