Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Herbert Down Under

Why did our great grandfather Herbert Lillies emigrate to Australia in 1885? Why did anyone? (No offence, Australia.)

The 1880s were a time of relative prosperity in most of the western world, including England. Herbert was a well-qualified professional with every prospect, one would think, of being able to earn a good living at home. And he was the first born in his family, principal heir to his doctor father’s estate.

It’s hard to see how the impetus could have been economic or employment related. So what was it? An itch to see the world? A craving for adventure? Wanting to get out from under the old man’s thumb?

We do know a little of Herbert’s early career in England and his departure for Australia. A potted biography in the Cyclopedia ofVictoria [Australia] for 1904 mentions his time at Honiton Grammar School (see previous post), and says he started his medical training at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London. He finished the four-year program there, earning his MRCS (Member Royal College of Surgeons) accreditation, in 1879.

Herbert, like George William before him, had started his medical career at a very young age by modern standards. Born in 1857, he could have been no older than 18, and possibly still only 17, when he entered St. Bartholomew’s.

He served two 12-month residencies, first at the Tiverton (Devon) Infirmary, then at the Devon and Exeter Hospital. In 1882, he received his LRCS (License, Royal College of Physicians) credentials – nominally from  Edinburgh Univiversity, although there is no indication he actually attended classes in Edinburgh. And there he was, at 24, a full-fledged doctor.

“After assisting his father for about a year,” the Cyclopedia of Victoria tells us, “Dr. Lillies came out to Victoria in 1884, and in February of the following year settled down in his present practice at Armadale [a Melbourne suburb]. The doctor married, in 1884, Charlotte, daughter of the late H.N. Abbot, Esq., of Torquay, England.”

How Oedipal – his Mum was Charlotte too. The marriage was registered in July 1884 in Newton Abbot, Devon, equidistant from Chudleigh (his home town) and Torquay (where her family lived), all within a ten mile radius, and not much further from the Lillies ancestral home of Kenton. Five months later, though, they were on a ship bound for the other side of the world.

Herbert may, like his father and grandfather, have gone to sea as a medical man and made that first trip to Australia in 1884 as a member of the crew of an immigrant ship. Or he might have gone out expressly to see if Victoria was a place he and Charlotte could make a life. We know in any case that when they finally emigrated, Herbert served as medical officer on the ship that took them, the S.S. Nurjahan. 

The Argus (Melbourne) for Monday, January 25, 1885, in its “Shipping Intelligence” column, makes brief note of the Nurjahan’s arrival on the 24th, and lists “Dr. Herbert Lillies and Mrs. Lillies” among the first class passengers. The ship had left London on November 26, 1884 and sailed via Plymouth, Teneriffe (Canary Islands), Cape Town (South Africa) and Hobart (Tasmania).

The bulk of the passengers had apparently been dropped off in Tasmania. A more detailed story on the same page explains that, “the Nurjahan was selected by the agent of the Tasmanian Government in London for the conveyance of immigrants to Hobart.” Government assisted immigration was still part of Australia's settlement pattern. The article goes on to add that, “the medical officer of the Nurjahan is Dr. Herbert Lillies, who has come out with a view of settling in Victoria.”

The Nurjahan, launched in 1884, was a new class of immigrant ship, with more room below decks for steerage passengers, who in the past had often been crammed in in unhealthy conditions for weeks on end. The Argus article, sometimes sounding as if it was written by publicists for the steamship company, noted that the Nurjahan was chosen by the Tasmanian government because of “her special fitness for the work. The ‘tweendecks of the steamers are unusually lofty and the system of ventilation is perfect. This was proved to a demonstration on the way out.”

S.S. Nurjahan
An article in the “Shipping News” in The Mercury (Hobart) a few days earlier had been similarly glowing. It noted that the ‘tween decks were eight and a half feet high. “In no other immigrant ship that has visited Tasmania has so much space been afforded below the ‘tween decks.” The article goes on to say that “the captain and his officers did their utmost to promote the comfort and enjoyment of the immigrants and passengers, and their efforts in this respect met with due appreciation.” 

Why all the puffery?

Perhaps the state governments and/or the steamship company hoped readers would write to their friends and relatives back in the old country and tell them the good things they’d heard about the Nurjahan and other new immigrant ships like it. Nothing easier than to offer the shipping reporter a few drinks, maybe a meal from the first-class kitchen, and fill his ear with ready-made copy.

The company, the Asiatic Steam Navigation Company, didn’t have many years to profit from the Nurjahan. It was wrecked on November 21, 1890, near Cape Comorin on a voyage from Bombay to Calcutta.

Herbert and Charlotte were, according to The Argus, booked through to Sydney on the Nurjahan on that inaugural voyage – probably to fulfill the terms of his contract with Asiatic. They must have made their way back to Melbourne directly, though, because by the next month, according to The Cyclopedia of Victoria, he was open for business in Armadale.

Did Herbert find a practice to buy there when he came out the first time, or did he simply hang out his shingle once they’d settled? Probably the latter. Armadale was a fairly new community. The train station opened in 1879, according to Australian Places: A Gazetteer of Australian Cities, Towns and Suburbs. The coming of the train created the first commercial district around the station. Before that, it had apparently been just a residential suburb. The first state primary school and post office had opened the year before.

The Australian Handbook, 1893, described Armadale this way: “It is 141 feet above the sea-level, and prettily situated; the streets are wide and well-laid out, with trees planted in most of the leading thoroughfares, the views from some points are enchanting, and it is one of the favourite resorts of wealthy Melbourne men, and a great number of fine mansions and villa residences [are] in the locality.” Sounds like a good place to open a medical practice.

Herbert must have made a good first impression in the local medical community, or perhaps his father’s reputation opened doors for him. Less than a year after arriving, he was in the running for the position of “honorary physician for outpatients” at The Alfred Hospital, a few kilometers from his practice in Armadale. “There were eight candidates for the vacant position,” The Argus reported. “Dr. Herbert Lillies was elected.”

The Alfred Hospital, Melbourne

He had arrived.

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