The full content of this document is only available to subscribing institutions. More information can be found via

Title Letter, Rebecca Greaves from Plenty River to England
Author Greaves, Rebecca (1828-1856)
Date 25 Nov 1851
Document Type Correspondence; Manuscript
Reference HT 8270
Library / Archive Museums Victoria
Collection Name Diaries / Journals / Letters
Description Letter written by 23 year old Rebecca Sarah Greaves in 1851 giving an account of rural life in Victoria at the beginning of the gold rush. The letter reveals the feelings of loss and separation felt by migrants, the hard work involved in establishing a rural property from scratch and how families dispersed to find work. It includes useful details about the cost of land, crops, stock and supplies. The letter contains a description of the excitement and chaos caused by the gold rush as well as a calm yet dramatic picture of the threat posed by bush fires. The experience or resettlement seems to be an adventure for the writer.
Series Description The letter reveals that the writer migrated from England with her mother and all but one of her siblings and has left family behind, She encourages her uncle and aunt to come out "on a visit to our splendid country"; "do dear uncle come see us". She seems keen to return to England for a visit, but not to stay, but her mother is against any return voyage. Her references to potential work as a maid indicates her working class social position. She appears quite an independently minded girl, hinting at marriage offers which she has declined and wanting to "have my own way a little longer". The letter indicates that their arrival is relatively recent (approximately one year ago) as she refers to the ship voyage and her mother's purchase of 160 acres of uncleared land. It sounds as though there were troubled times both before leaving England and after arriving in Victoria. The letter later implies that the father may have arrived later and that he is the cause of the trouble (with hints at drinking, "thoughtlessness" and overspending). The writer mentions not knowing '"what would have become of us had it not been for dear mother and John" and also thanks her uncle saying that "I wish I could repay you a little for the trouble we have given you". The writer describes the land as "beautiful" with "beautiful black soil" and John is building a cottage, clearing some land for wheat as well as for fire protection, and fencing and stock yards. It appears John was working in service until his mother bought the land – he now appears to have given up his job to live with the family and work the property, saving his mother the need to employ labour. The father appears to be a threat to their comfort. She also refers to having 20 cows and calves, three horses, one pig, four goats, four turkeys, three geese and 20 hens. She notes that while people mostly work bullocks her mother remains unconvinced and prefers horses. The Plenty River runs along the bottom of their hilled property and she writes "how splendid the bush is". She mentions that they will be adding sheep to their stock once the fencing is completed and refers to the price of cattle, wheat and potatoes; "... this is indeed a fine country for a large family like ours, anyone may do well if they try at all". The writer describes the summer heat and bush fires (including deaths of families and stock). The writer seems not to be living with the family from the way she uses third person to describe "their stock", "their comfort" etc. and also mentions that she is home for a month's holiday. She is probably in domestic service. John has gone to the diggings but the writer hadn't heard from him at the time of writing. She describes stories of gold finds, the luck involved in success or failure and the general 'rush' atmosphere: "it is thought that Victoria abounds in gold – now what do you think of us emigrating to this gold region? – Everyone has left town to go to the gold diggings, there is not a man or boy to be seen in the town even the gents at the bank are 'off to the diggings' such an uproar was never known in the colony before. Not a ship can leave the bay for as soon as the ships get in port the sailors are away to the gold mines, go where you will you cannot see a man unless it is an old man like my father. The papers are full of shops to let on account of the owners going 'to the diggings'". She also notes that: "If i were only a young man would not I go gold digging? And even now I feel half inclined to dress in men's clothes and go. I am certain if I could not dig I could rock the cradle only I should be afraid they would know I was not a man as I should not like to part with my curls?"
Biographical Note / History Rebecca Greaves was born in 1828 in Biddlesden in Buckinghamshire, England and migrated to Melbourne in 1849. She arrived on the Louisa Baillie with her mother and nine brothers and sisters, leaving behind one sister who had married and wished to remain in England. Her father had arrived some months earlier via America. The family set up a farm on the Plenty River, in what would become Greensborough. They cleared the difficult terrain for wheat, potatoes and livestock and built a family cottage. Rebecca probably worked as a domestic servant, while it is believed three of her brothers carted potatoes from a neighbouring farm to the Victorian goldfields. They may have done a little prospecting while they were there. In 1854, Rebecca married James Timms, having moved with members of her family to Cranbourne. She had one child. Sadly, she died from acute rheumatism in 1856, just five months before her father John was killed by a falling tree branch. Three years later her mother Elizabeth passed away. The entire family are buried at Brighton cemetery. Page four of the letter references Victoria's largest ever bushfire: Black Thursday, 6 February 1851. The fires covered a quarter of what is now Victoria (about five million hectares). Areas affected included Portland, Plenty Ranges, Westernport, the Wimmera and Dandenong districts. Around 12 lives, one million sheep and thousands of cattle were lost. In the letter Rebecca writes: "... they are so anxious to get it cleared a little round the house for fear of the bush fires, as the heat here is so great in summer that the grass takes fire and it sometimes runs for forty or fifty miles burning trees, houses and cattle, as when it once begins all attempts to escape are in vain. The fire last summer burned many mothers and children and all the cattle on the stations where the fire raged. I myself saw two gentlemen that the heat of the sun as they were coming down the bush set fire to their coats they had on their backs. So from that I leave you to guess how powerful the sun is here, the fire last summer got over the rivers so you see even water will not stay its rage, it is only He whose voice the wind and seas obey that can still its rage."
Theme(s) Arrivals: Ports and Early Experiences; Permanent Settlement and Successive Generations
Places Greensborough, Victoria, Australia
Ships Louisa Baillie
Keywords gold rush, agriculture, farming, emigration, family, livestock, living conditions, bush fire, alcohol, prospecting, property
Additional Information Text is difficult to read due to the script and the reverse side text showing through the front pages. Please note: Some of the metadata for this document has been taken from the Museum Victoria catalogue.
Catalogue Link Museums Victoria Catalogue
Language English
Copyright Museums Victoria