Eager for Labour
The Swan River Indenture
by Valerie Fitch
ISBN 085905 314 8, (2003 new), soft cover, 190 pp, illustrated, 260grams
$26.00 + POST
Eager For Labour could be described as a story of avarice, exploitation and retribution, of anticipation, deception and disillusionment, of hardship, determination and success, of disappointment, disease or death. For all of these are manifest in this account of emigration to the British settlement at Swan River, Western Australia between 1829 and 1832. But although the lives of several individuals and families are woven through this book, it is not a novel. It is a history of events connected by a single thread that runs throughout: that of indentured labour.
It describes the emigration of a large and diverse group of persons - some 92 masters and approximately 900 indentured servants - to the Swan River Colony in its foundation years. It describes the widespread recruitment, by some ambitious entrepreneurs, using dubious contracting procedures and the wholesale shipment of young persons to work there, i.e. the guaranteed provision of unconscionably cheap labour by using the legal controls of the indenture system and the unanticipated and eventually disastrous outcome of this practice.
Eager For Labour also examines the terms and conditions of the labour contract i.e. the Swan River Indenture, which, when signed by labourers, committed their labour to the service of a master for a period of five to seven years. This was in order to fulfil that master's projected goals, in return for which their passages to the private settlement at Swan River plus their own keep and\or minimal wages were paid. In no other Australian colony were white labourers imported en bloc as indentured servants to provide the foundation of a labour supply. This book therefore fills a gap in Australian as well as Western Australian history. Indeed, the history of the founding of the Swan River Colony cannot be considered to be complete until details of the initial labour migration scheme of 1829-1832 have been told.
Eager For Labour is also a social history. It shows the ancient and continuing role of English county parishes in the management of the parish poor by various means, including their use of the system of Apprenticeship and Indenture. It then describes the further efforts of parish wardens to reduce parish costs by their early 19th century involvement in the mass emigration of young persons to the colonies. For the first time evidence has been documented showing payment of ships' passages to the Swan River by a parish in England in a 'pauper shovelling' emigration scheme. This book presents the first evidence of parish-paid emigration of poor, dependent young persons and children to Western Australia, who, as late as the 1950's,were being sent to Western Australian institutions.
The shocking 19th century social and economic conditions of poverty and unemployment in the south of England, from which the majority of indentured servants came, are described, as also are the conditions in the new settlement at Swan River, to which they sailed. This historical account reveals many of their origins, the reasons for their emigration and the outcome of the endeavours of some. This was in the face of an unforseen degree of hardship and danger - even tragedy - yet for others some luck and eventual success in the dogged pursuit of their dreams.