Migration then and now: precious packages

Julie from Anglers Rest blog recently posed a question in her A to Z challenge: what 5 precious things or books would you take to a new country and way of life. This set me to thinking of two strands: what precious things might my ancestors have brought to Australia, and what would I take now in the 21st century if I was relocating to another country.

MY ANCESTORS’ precious package might have included:

1.      Courage

The courage, blended with a mix of hope, faith and perhaps desperation, to take this giant voyage across the world because life would be better enough to overcome their losses of home place and family.

2.      Strength

Their physical strength, health and stamina were pivotal to surviving in the new life. It was a physically demanding life for most, so good health was essential. I think this is why most made good immigrants: they came from difficult situations in the most part and were used to hard work. Diaries and anecdotal evidence suggest they were amazed by the volume and quality of food they had here.

3.      Faith

Most of my ancestors came to Australia with a strong religious faith. The Irish Catholics among them mostly couldn’t read, so bibles, missals and prayer books would have been of no use to them.  I’m guessing they would have brought their rosary beads with them and/or possibly some water from a holy well nearby (the Irish were big on holy wells). Perhaps my German Catholic, George Kunkel, who was literate, may have brought a bible or prayer book in German. My Presbyterian McCorkindales definitely brought a family bible (now disappeared within the family) and I’m sure my Anglican/non-Conformist English rellies would have brought theirs as well.

4.      Mementos and money

Would they have picked a sprig of heather or a shamrock and pressed it so they could carry a little bit of home with them? Remembering no photographs and no money, did they bring some sketch of home? Most probably not, given they were mostly all relatively poor. Later emigrants may have brought something like that. Imagine leaving home forever, crossing the oceans, with nothing but a mental image of your loved ones and your birthplace…unimaginable to me. No wonder they were keen to send photographs home once the technology was available.

It’s likely they each had little money to bring with them, only as much as they or their families could manage.

5.      Family or friends

A surprising number of immigrants to Australia travelled with family or friends. Even though many of migration schemes focused on single people, it doesn’t mean they travelled alone. The vinedresser scheme for the German immigrants was the reverse, applying only to families. Single people had to pre-contract work with agents in Germany before departure.


The physical things on this list would have been packed into their ship’s chest which already contained the government’s statutory requirements for clothing and living supplies. Without this stock of specified items they could not accept the government funding and this alone would preclude some from making the voyage. Board of Guardian minutes reveal that the workhouse guardians knew they were getting a good deal by swapping the cost of kitting out a pauper emigrant and saving on the long-term cost of maintaining them. The Australian governments were much less pleased with the exchange.

In the 21st Century, I’m unlikely to feel I can never return to my place of birth, so the same courage is not required. What would I take with me if I thought I was going for 12 months or more (remember that Lotto dream).


1.      Adventure

A sense of adventure and optimism about the experiences and opportunities ahead is probably my “driver” for this migration, temporary or other. I believe it’s our ancestors’ leap of faith to migrate to Australia that has made Aussies “victims” of wanderlust.

2.      Health, energy and education

Without these it would be so much harder to maximise the adventure. I would be able to keep in touch throughout my time away, even without technology, because I can read and write.

3.      Technology

I would regard my light-weight laptop as a non-negotiable item. On it I’d have my family history, photos of family, friends, home and places I visit; books to read; videos to watch; and the opportunity to email, Skype and digitally record my experiences.

My camera would also be a non-negotiable item (#4 on the list if need be). The 21st century equivalent of the Grand Tourist’s sketchbook.

4.      Mementos and money

What small mementos would I take? I’d probably carry one hard-copy photo of my family, a painting by each of my grandchildren (only 3 sheets of paper), and some small iconic item (a shell or stone) that pins me to home, and no, not a toy koala or kangaroo.

Internet banking, savings and credit cards would mean I’d likely never feel as close to the breadline as my ancestors did.

5.      Family or friends

Travel is so much more fun with family so I’d like to take my husband with me.


What would I carry? A small backpack for items 3 and 4, and a drag-bag for as few clothes as I could manage. International airlines are less forgiving with weight than those long-ago sailing ships. There are also far more shops at my destination so as long as I have the cash I can take care of the daily practicalities. This is all about what I can’t buy wherever I go.

Thanks Julie for a fun and inspirational post. I’ve enjoyed thinking about the comparisons between then and now.

2 thoughts on “Migration then and now: precious packages

  1. I’d also be flexible when traveling to a new country. I find when traveling that if I have firm plans about when and what I want to do, that things inevitably go wrong; but that if I’m flexible and open to trying new adventures that I have a wonderful time.


    1. I confess that as I get older I’m more inclined to want to plan and schedule and particularly know where I’m going to sleep that night. Having said that I know to go with the flow when it all goes haywire, as it inevitably does somewhere.


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