Humble Beginnings in Ireland

Humble Beginnings in Ireland

Robert Campbell Edwards was born in Ireland in 1862 in the county of Drumgowan, on a small rural property called ‘Three Trees’ on the river Foyle. Just eight months after Robert was born, his father died from an accident in the farm’s mill machinery. Robert’s mother, Grace Anna, then moved Robert and his younger brother Thomas to Londonderry in Northern Ireland.

The Ireland of young Robert’s times was a hard place. The potato famines of the 1840’s had left a million people destitute, and their effects were still being felt. Desperate, young Irish people were leaving the country in droves. Robert’s uncle had already emigrated to Australia, and in 1877 he returned to try to convince Robert’s mother to move the family down to Australia. At the time, Robert was being educated at the Londonderry Model National School, where he was apparently a good student, winning at least one prize.

Robert’s mother had reservations about the long sea voyage and the great unknown of a strange country 10,000 miles away. Limited space aboard meant most emigrants could only take the bare necessities, and most would never see their homes or families again.

Grace Anna eventually decided that her family’s welfare depended on making the long sea journey to Australia. In December 1877, she and her two sons (Robert, 15, and Thomas, 14) set sail for Melbourne on the S.S. Lusitania with 167 other passengers in search of a new beginning.

The sea voyage to Australia undoubtedly made a lasting impression on young Robert. Living conditions were primitive, with space and privacy hard to come by. The ship jousted constantly from the weather and waves, and during storms the door was latched and passengers had little light or fresh air, pervaded by an overwhelming stench of vomit and unemptied chamber pots.

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