Eight page, handwritten letter by 23 year old Rebecca Sarah Greaves from her family property on the Plenty River, Victoria, dated 25 November, 1851. The letter reveals the complex feelings of loss and separation, excitement and adventure, felt by newly arrived migrants; as well as the hard work involved in establishing a rural property and the dispersal of families to find work. It includes useful details about the cost of land, crops, stock and supplies.The letter also contains a wonderful description of the excitement and chaos caused by the gold rush as well as a calm yet dramatic picture of the threat posed by bush fires.

Rebecca Greaves was born in 1828 in Biddlesden in Buckinghamshire, England and migrated to Melbourne in 1849. She arrived on the 'Louisa Baillie' with her mother and nine brothers and sisters, leaving behind one sister who had married and wished to remain in England. Her father had arrived some months earlier via America.The family set up a farm on the Plenty River, in what would become Greensborough. They cleared the difficult terrain for wheat, potatoes and livestock and built a family cottage. Rebecca probably worked as a domestic servant, while it is believed three of her brothers carted potatoes from a neighbouring farm to the Victorian goldfields. They may have done a little prospecting while they were there.

Rebecca mentions the 1851 Black Thursday bushfire, the largest fire ever recorded in Victoria since settlement:
'they are so anxious to get it cleared a little round the house for fear of the bush fires, the heat here is so great in summer that the grass takes fire and it sometimes runs for fourty or fifty miles burning trees, houses and cattle as when it once begins all attempts to escape are in vain. The fire last summer burned many mothers and children and all the cattle on the station where the fire raged. I myself saw two gentlemen that the heat of the sun, as they were coming down the bush, set fire to their coats they had on their backs. So from that I leave you to guess how powerful the sun is here. The fire last summer got over the rivers so you see even water will not stay its rage'.

In 1854, Rebecca married James Timms, having moved with members of her family to Cranbourne. She had one child. Sadly, she died from acute rheumatism in 1856, just five months before her father John was killed by a falling tree branch. Three years later her mother Elizabeth passed away. The entire family are buried at Brighton cemetery in Melbourne.

Physical Description

Eight page letter on two separate sheets, folded at centre. Pages filled with hand written script in brown ink. Paper very thin; text difficult to read due to the script and the reverse side text showing through the front pages.


This letter provides an important account of life in early colonial Victoria from the perspective of a young female English migrant. Her observations on farm life, bush fires, the impact of gold discoveries on Melbourne and other aspects of domestic and agricultural life are invaluable, as is her more gendered commentary. It is a lively and intelligent account and her style is engaging, evocative, and warm.

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