The father of a girl with whom I attended primary school told me the story.
“My uncle emigrated to Australia in 1910. My grandfather took him to Taunton station and said to him as he left, ‘Whatever you do, don’t go into farming. My uncle got a job managing a canning factory for a couple of years, but it went broke and my uncle only knew one thing – farming. It was being lonesome that was the worse thing, he went to a farm where it was twelve miles just to go to post a letter.”
Trying to imagine the journey and the life that awaited was intriguing. The young man and his father would probably have travelled into Taunton on a pony and trap from their farm at the edge of the Quantock Hills, there being no other means of transport. Going to the county town would have been a big day out for most people, in rural communities travel beyond neighbouring parishes was often only a matter of necessity.
Standing on the platform of the Great Western Railway station, there must have been a deep sense of grief felt by father and son. The father would have known he might never see his son again, the son was saying goodbye not just to those whom he loved, but to home and work and the only life he knew. A deep sigh would have been breathed as a steam locomotive drew the train into the station, where did he travel for the sailing to Australia? Plymouth, Southampton, London?
The port of departure would have been a new experience for a young man from west Somerset. Perhaps it was a first visit to a big city, perhaps there would have been a sense of being intimidated by the strange surroundings.
The sailing would have taken weeks, through climes that grew progressively warmer as the Equator was reached, before more temperate zones were reached on the journey southward. Perhaps new friendships were formed during the long days.
On arrival, there might have been an address to which to go, a friendly voice to guide him on the way, a contact that gave him his work in the canning factory.
What took him back to the land? What took him to a place that demanded a twelve mile trip just to post a letter? Lonesome, it certainly was, but did it offer a security that was not found elsewhere? Did the farm boy feel a sense of place in this remote Australian community?
What memories of Somerset did he carry? In his distant home, what tales might he have told had he the means of communication we now possess?