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Emigrants from the Hop Country.

From ‘The Western Daily Mercury’- 30th January 1879

The dispute between the farmers and labourers of Kent, which has been going on for some months past, has at length come to a crisis, and no less than five hundred adults have determined to emigrate to New Zealand, and in this determination they are supported by the Kent and Suffolk Agricultural Labourers Union. Yesterday morning about five hundred souls left Maidstone by a special South-Western train for Plymouth. They were escorted to the station by a large number of friends and sympathisers. They were expected to arrive at the North-road Station at about a quarter to seven. The train, however, was somewhat late, and did not arrive until about quarter to eight. As the train drew up the intending emigrants cheered lustily, and the platform soon presented a lively scene of bustle; men looking after their luggage, women with babies crying, and porters taking the huge quantities of baggage out of the goods vans. In a few minutes, however, something like order was restored, and the women and children being placed in the wagons and in cabs, the men and women without children walking, they began to make their way to the depot. Mr. T. Hill, the depot master, son of Mr. Arthur Hill, the proprietor, met the emigrants at the station, Mr. Veysey, the station-master at Devonport, superintended the railway arrangements while Mr. Wainwright was also present. On the road from the station to the depot the unusual procession of people with sundry bundles etc., on their shoulders together with the hurrying of cabs and wagons, caused no little excitement. On their arrival at the depot they were received by the matron, Mrs. Watson, who attended to their wants. The emigrants having been divided into the three usual divisions:- “Married,” “Single Men,” and “Single Women,” and again subdivided into messes, a substantial meal was served, consisting of tea, roast beef, and bread, which seemed thoroughly enjoyed, the travellers shortly afterwards retired to rest. The sleeping arrangements are somewhat similar to those on board ship, the beds being fitted up as bunks, one over the other; one room is capable of accommodating upwards of three hundred people. Notwithstanding the fact that upwards of 300 persons were already in the establishment ample arrangements were made for the accommodation of the new arrivals, and there was hardly a single hitch in the whole programme. This was due to the excellent management of Mrs. Watson and Mr. T. Hill. One of the men, in answer to a question put to him by a Mercury reporter, said the dispute between the farmers and labourers of Kent has been going on for two or three months. Their wages at the commencement of the quarrel was 2s • 9d per day, but the masters wanted to reduce the money to 2s • 6d per day. The men would have accepted this way out of the difficulty, if it had not been that they feared further reductions, and resented the masters dictating that they should leave the Union. The whole of the men that were going out to New Zealand had not been locked out. Most of them were engaged in the hop gardens, and the disaffection prevailed for the most part round Faversham and Ashford. Hop labourers were somewhat above the ordinary farm labourer. They did not belong to the National Labourers Union, but to the Kent and Sussex Labourer’s Union. These societies did not agree on a great many points, and were consequently somewhat antagonistic to each other, for which he was extremely sorry. The Union to which they belonged comprised about 15,000 members, and they not only derived benefits in cases of a strike, but received aid in case of sickness, or birth of a child, or in case of death. The Union had helped in the present instance, and had paid their expenses to Plymouth. In answer to what he intended doing when he got to New Zealand, he replied that “He did not care what it was, he could turn his hand to anything, and would accept the first good offer made to him.” They leave Plymouth for New Zealand on this day week by the steamship ‘Stad Haarlem’, they will consequently remain at Plymouth somewhat longer than the usual time.

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