Oral History

Mr. Harry Bevin is a local historian who gave a talk to the Hinckley Local History Group.

Mr. Harry Bevin was a local historian who lived in Peckleton for many years.

The following is an edited transcript of a talk he gave to the Hinckley Local History Group.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentleman.

I suppose on a talk such as this, it is advisable to begin at the beginning. My name is Francis Henry Bevin, but I have always been known as Harry. I was born in 1908, and I was the second oldest of four children.

In 1918, I won a scholarship to the Wyggeston boy’s school in Leicester, but two or three month’s later tragedy struck our family. My father was killed in the Somme, and the benevolent government of that day allowed my mother seven and six punce a week to keep clothe, educate, and look after me, and everything in general. But as some of you may know in these days, it was almost customary for boys and girls to leave school the day when they were fourteen, into the factories and workshops and so forth. Well my pension was to cease the day I was fourteen and that rather perturbed my mother, as to dock seven and six punce a week, was a lot. So she wrote to the headmaster asking if he was prepared to release me at the end of the summer term. This he reluctantly agreed to do, and on my last term report he personally wrote in red ink "he leaves prematurely"

The unemployment situation was very bad in Leicester at that time, but I was lucky within two or three days I got a situation as office boy. Now anyone that knows any think about office management, knows, that office boy is the lowest form of life in any office; Bevin fetch those circulars; Bevin fetch some stamps; Bevin put the kettle on; and so it went on and on. Working from nine in the morning to six at night Monday to Friday, and nine to five on Saturday with an hour for lunch, oh we called it dinner then, I was to receive the magnificent sum of ten shillings. But I didn’t receive it. The miserable old cashier stopped a penny for the Leicester Royal Infirmary, and I had some coppers in my pay packet. I got a bit wise as I got used to the job. If I was going any distance round the town on errand, I went on the bike, and I charged tram fares. So at the end of the week I might have had tupunce apney or thrupence extra to draw. So they didn’t have to break into the ten-shilling note. There was no prospects attached to this job and my mate of school days he was in about the same form, he was working for his father seven days a week on a little small holding, and he had a shilling on Saturday night.

Well we were both dissatisfied with our lot, and we saw a advert in the Mercury I suppose "Australia needs lads to work on the land" we made inquires we found the immigration officer up Highfields, somewhere, we got the forms, and I got my mother's consent, and we were accepted to go to Australia. This was in 1925; the assisted fare was ten pounds. When I paid my ten pounds, I’d got just under three pounds left me worldly possessions.

The great day came, we went to the Midland Station London Road then trained for St Pancras. At St Pancras we cross over to Gower Street, where there was some sort of hostel. We had a reservation for the night, bed and breakfast. The next morning entrain for St Pancras we went to Tilbury Docks, King George the fifth dock. The train, I can picture it now drew alongside the ship, the Esperence Bay, two thousand immigrant ship. I only seen the sea once before, a day trip to Blackpool. We entered the ship up the gangway through the door in the side, we were given our berth passes, sorted our selves out, and eventually we found we were in a berth in a cabin with twelve other lads, three, three, three, three. Just a little doorway to get out into the passage. Cause the first thing, "where do you come from," I remember one said "Glasgow toon," and another I says he came from Sussex he says "my name is Charlie Mills but they calls I Bar," third one says "he came from Barrel" I hadn’t the faint’st idea where Barrel was. Never heard of it. Then he explained it was Barwell. I was none the wiser anyway. It was an immigrate ship with about two hundred to three hundred lads, a few families. Although it was a one-class ship, there were one or two higher up families that were emigrating, they were Jews and they didn’t mix. We had not, breakfast, lunch, dinner but breakfast dinner tea, though eventually, the tea bell rang just as the ship cast off. Hurried down, had a quick meal, back to the rail.

There was old England gliding slowing by. Oh my thoughts, was I doing the right thing would I be seeing England and Parent again. What would happen to me when I got there so it went on eventually we turned in for the night? We were still just moving down the estuary, and eventually all got to sleep, I slept well that first night. Next morning, I woke I was on the top bunk on my three. Most of the others were out there. They were suffering from meldemere. Oh dear what a sight it was. I felt A1 on that top bunk. I got up started to get dressed, as soon as I was upright that was it I rushed through the door to the ships rail. I couldn’t die quick enough I got back on the bunk and I stopped there. They said it was a rough crossing across the Bay of Biscay. I don’t know I wasn’t with it at that time. I never surfaced until we go to the Straights of Gibraltar. Then it was calm as a millpond, through the Mediterranean to Port Said, as they called it then its Port Side now, more refined. That was our first glimpse of the mysterious Middle East. The peddlers have everything around the docks and so forth. I know one lad in our cabin he bought a packet of French cards on strict instruction not to open until he had got on to the ship. When he opened them they were a packet of ordinary Playing cards printed in France. We were in port about a day, coaling the coolies were carrying skips of coal up the plank into the ship. Eventually we moved off through the canal. The speed is limited to four miles an hour, because the canal was so narrow in those days, its wider now I believe. The banks of pure sand, and the least bit of wash from a ship brought the banks in. It was about twenty-four hours to get right through the canal and out into the Red Sea at Aden then we moved a little bit quicker. We were averaging almost three hundred miles a day through the Red Sea by gee it was hot. Any of you that have been through the Red Sea knows it can be warm. Eventually we went on to Ceylon called in at Colombo, spent most of the day there seeing the sites, keeping tight hold of the few shillings we’d got. Then cast of again and we saw the Promised Land about eight days later, Freemantel what a dingy hole it was. Nothing like it is today, just bare docks for ships to pull up and unload, and Perth is twenty miles up the country, we didn’t get as far as Perth. Off again across the Australian Bite that can be rough. I was sick again. Oh dear what a life. We got to Adelaide, lovely city, half a day there. We cast off in the evening, woke up the next morning, we were in Port Melbourne. Disembarked went to a hostel.

We were given rail tickets and instructions where we had got to go and who was going to employ us, we were guaranteed a job and this is where my mate and I were parted. He went to the western district of Victoria; I went due north further than Bendigo right up nearly to Echuca on the Murray if you know anything about the country.

The future boss met me at the station. He’d got a Chev truck. Motor vehicles were few and far between, this, well it should be in the ark by now, it had got two size wheels, big ones at the back and little ones at the front. Instead of taking the wheel off with a puncture you took the rim and the tyre and put another one on. Eventually we got to the block, at Barringarra that was the place. Cuss I was so confused I could not take it all in. That night they were milking about thirty or forty cows by hand, it was dead of the winter, June, and most of the cows were dry, waiting for the spring to calve. We were milking by hand. We had supper and turned in. There was another lad working there, he’d come from Birmingham. We got on very well together; until towards Christmas he got itchy feet he thought he’d walk to Mildura for the grape picking season. There were good money to be earned there. He went, so I said to the boss are you replacing him, he said Oh yes, yes we shall have to. I said what about my friend that’s out in the western district, well he said, if he’d like to come he can. I wrote and we were re-united again. It was a biggish Block right on the edge of an irrigation area. Half the land was low enough to irrigate by gravitation, the other was a little bit higher couldn’t get water on to it, four or five hundred acres, that was what we call dry country. It was cultivated, ploughed, cultivated to grow corn, oats, barley, and wheat. I’d moved up to be, well I suppose these days you would call it the Waggoner. I was working horses we had a team of six, three and three, five for a plough. Far more advanced than the English Farmer they were. They had got a seat on the plough so as you rode. They didn’t stumble behind the horses like they do here. You rode all day, and then a bit later than, that now that’s all brought back to me just recently, the Wall Street sliding and crashing. Well it was just rumoured in about 1930-31 the Wall Street crash, cause we never thought it would affect us, but twelve months later the boss had a word with Bill and I, he explained how things were Wool price had gone wallop, the butter fat, the butter had gone, the wheat had gone he was having a difficult task to hold his own. He didn’t like putting it to us, but would we be prepared to take a pound a week less. Well we had no option, and so we agreed, and so it went on best part of twelve months. Came again with the same pitiful tale, things had got worse they were no question of it. He couldn’t see his way clear to keep us on. So I though that’s it, I am not going to work for nothing, so I packed my bags went down to Melbourne and caught the train from Melbourne to Sydney.

I got to Sydney; I booked on a little tramp steamer the Maramer to go across to Wellington in New Zealand. I thought you know I am bound to better myself it couldn’t be worse, but it was worse. I toured the North Island. The best offer I got, a weeks work for my keep. I wasn’t having that. I was staying in the Salvation Army Hostel in Wellington, one and sixpence a night, a bed and a little bit of breakfast, we had a few weeks a that and I saw a fair bit of North Island where the earthquake had been in 1928 Palmaston, Hastings and Napier, I saw the hot water geysers. Oh yes I’ve got memories.

So I decided that was it. I’d go back home while I’d got a shilling or two, and I booked on the Ionic a white star liner, about twenty-five thousand ton. It was designed to carry something about two thousand five hundred to three thousand passengers, but when she pulled out of Wellington Harbour you can tell how bad things were there were fifty six passengers. Most of them were lads like myself, disillusioned, we went oh six seven eight days, we docked at Pitcairn Island, do you now know anything about Pitcairn, the Mutiny on the Bounty, it’s where the Mutineers settled after they mutinied on the Bounty. They settled with some Tahitian women and they built quite a large colony, but the ship couldn’t anchor, it was a very deep anchorage. There was no pier, the ship drifted round the island, once round the island in almost twenty-four hours. The natives came aboard in the bumboats with souvenirs; they’d sell you anything they’d got, fruit. The ships company, cuss they knew they were going to go there. The cook had saved all the fatty food, they had a great big barrel of fat for them, the seamen when they changed the ropes on the rattling and so forth, instead of dumping the ropes over the side, they kept these ropes for the natives. Eventually we moved on from there and we got to Panama, you know Panama, the junction of north and South America. The ship went into the dock into the loch by three lifts it was lifted seventy-five feet this ship was, into the cutting through the mountains about twelve fourteen hours barely moving through this cutting, we got to the other end of the Panama to colon. It was lowered in three more lochs just the same out into the Atlantic, steaming steadily never saw sight of a ship or smoke or anything for days. Then one morning there was a shout went round ‘land, land’ The Needles, now then if you have ever been away and come back you don’t know what a sight that is. It reminds me of an old poem, I’m not too sure who wrote it, something about "be there a man with soul so dead who never to himself has said when homeward his footsteps he hath turned this is my home my native land." What a sensation. We were soon in Southampton and then home to Leicester.

That’s what I have to tell you about the first part of my life, but I can elaborate on one particular incident when I worked at Barringarra with Bill, God rest his soul, he lies in Peckleton Church yard now, the girls were few and far between. Our settlement at Barringarra had got another settlement Ninella ten miles due east and we’d scraped up an acquaintance with two sisters we’d done something good, but to get to Ninalla there were two ways, you could either go south a bit, to a town and across the creek on a wooden bridge then go north again, but another way was to go a straight line and across the creek. Now alongside this creek there was an area four, five, six hundred acres adjoining the creek that was a relic of the days when the early settlers over landed sheep and cattle. This was called Restdown, they could rest there for two or three days, plenty of water and probably a little bit of feed for the cattle, and adjoining this Restdown was what was suppose to be an Aboriginal burial ground, cuss the black fellas wouldn’t go near this at night, they were superstitious but some white men wouldn’t, but we didn’t care a damn for these things. So this particular night we were going to Ninella to the dance, we mounted our horses got to the creek, there was just a little but of moon, I remember that as if it was yesterday down the bank of the creek through the water and up the other bank and on to Ninella. We had a good time until it was time to return. Mounted the horses got to the creek; the moon had gone, so we trusted to the horses down the bank, through the water and up the bank. Just as I got to the top of that bank something grabbed me. Oh dear, it put the wind up me, I put my head on the horse and went like the clappers for three or four hundred yards when I pulled up what do you think it was, I’d got two pair of trousers on, an old pair over my good ones, so this was a blackberry briar it clinged on to me, I didn’t feel the thorns with having two pairs of trousers, and there was length, oh dear didn’t I sweat that night.

Another incident we were milking a big lot of cows there and we used to separate the milk twice a day, into ten gallon churns the cream went. We’d got an idea something was interfering with this cream at night, and we lay on our bunks one night and heard a clatter at the dairy, so I nips out of bed. I’d got a little two two rifle, so I took that with me, got to the dairy just in time to see something go through the window and disappear. A few nights later there was the same sound. I were a bit wiser by then I whistled the old dog, he came with us, this (animal) went through the window but he treed it. I could just see the outline of this pine tree. I took careful aim shot it, buried it the next day and said nothing. It happened believe it or not twice after that, I shot three. Three weeks later I was going down the road and an old settler that used to live on his own, always glad to talk to anybody that was going by. Ah pom he said, cuss anybody that wasn’t born in Australia was a pom to him, Ah pom have you seen any ginger cats about, I’ve lost three.

Now water is a big item in Australia, its not too bad in the irrigation areas because you’ve got the canals running twenty four hours a day, you’ve got plenty of water, but get on to the dry country where you perhaps got seven, eight or ten inches a year, water was valuable. We had our water bags, you could fill these with water, last thing at night we used to do this, hang them under the veranda. Next morning it would be iced cold. If we went working in the paddocks, we could take it with us, hang it on the branch of a gum tree, it hadn’t got to touch anything, if it touched anything all the water would seep out, or if you were going in the buggy hang it on the back axle, just clear of the ground, and it kept lovely and cool.

I passed my driving test in 1926 in this old Chev truck. I’d been driving it about a bit to fetch pig meal from the station and that. One day the old man says you’d better get a license when you’re in town. You go to the police station they’ll give you one. Polls up with this truck, and went into the police station, there’s only a sergeant for the district and a trooper, cover a big area, "what do you want." I told him, "whose with you," that was the first question, "nobody," he let rip into me. I should have had a driver with me, "where are you from?" I said "Harry Shear at Berringarra," changed completely. This police sergeant had a couple of pedigree jersey cows, and to get them mated he used to walk to Barringarra, about nine miles, stop the night and walk back. As soon as I said Harry Shear calls the trooper and says take him round the town. I got my license, and that’s how I got my driving license. I never passed a test in this country but I passed a test before many other people did. 1926 that’s 63 years.

Question: What happened when you came back to England Mr. Bevin, did you go back to Peckleton?

Oh no I’d never heard of Peckleton then, me Mother was still in Leicester and I got two or three jobs on farms, living in of course. I went after one at Lutterworth and he offered me five shillings a week and my keep. Things were bad. Eventually, we saw a farm to let at Barwell the incomer to take to the live and dead stock at valuation. Went and had a look at it and liked the idea, I’d got a brother a bit younger than me, and we decided we’d take it. That’s how we came to Barwell. It’s the Brockey farm, on the left hand side as you’re going up to Kirkby. We moved there and I had a milk round in Barwell. Then they started bottling it, Oh dear. We used to ladle it out the bucket and that, and then we had the expense of bottles. My brother and I didn’t agree for long, and we split, and I went to Peckleton, and I’ve been there above fifty years. Question: You’d never done any farming then when you went to Australia, when you said you milked the cows? Yes, all my relatives were farmers. If you look in the phone directory under the name Bevin you’ll see a dozen or more. I spent all my spare time on the farm. I could milk pretty well by hand. When I were eight or nine I first learned and when I got out there it surprised the old men to find he’d got a new chum that could milk.

Question: Did your friend come back with you?

No, he stayed on a bit longer, he tried to weather the storm, but it beat him and he came back. He had a job to get any work when he got back. I got him a job at Peckleton, and he worked for Needham at the Manor for several years, then moved on to Clarke who was at Tooley Farm, and the arthritis, overtook him and he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t do anything, and three or four years ago he past away, and he is buried in Peckleton Church Yard.

Question: And did you move from Barwell to Peckleton?


Question: When was that?

1937. I don’t know whether you know the place at all. As you go into Peckleton from Kirkby Mallory there’s the Pub, well just as you get to the Pub there’s a lane that goes up to the left. Well there’s a little old farmhouse on that corner. Hill Foot Farm they call it, but I’ve since found it was a very early Pub, the first Pub they had in Peckleton known as ‘The Haunch of Venison’ I was there for two or three years then a little bit further up the village a farm came for sale and I bought that and we moved into a bigger place.

Question: How big a farm was it.

About ninety acres all told now, I’ve nothing to do with it, my son runs it, and I’m past it.

Question: Have you ever been back to Australia?

Yes, yes 1972, yes I flew out, I went from Heathrow, New York, San Francisco, Fiji, Sydney and Melbourne, and when I came back I came from Melbourne to Perth, Singapore, Bahrain and back to Heathrow. So in affect I’ve flown right round the world and I’ve been right round the world on the water. It took six weeks to go from London to Melbourne, and it took thirty hours the next time.

Transcript by: Jean & David Wood.