What is the Parallel Lives project?

The Parallel Lives project gathers local stories of migration. Place by place across Britain, it tells tales of people who’ve left or arrived there. They may be centuries apart, but their stories are often similar – and they show how migration has always been part of life. Each performance of The Transports includes Parallel Lives stories from nearby. We also invite a local refugee or migrant support group to partner the show.  Click on the towns and cities below to read stories we’ve collected so far.

Think of a town. Your town, maybe. Think of all the people who, at some point, have lived there. Those who’ve come, those who’ve left, and those few whose families have never moved.

What of the people who departed – where did they go, will they return? Think of those who arrived – what roots have they planted? And who will come next?

The world’s oceans have always teemed with humans on the move. Migration sits at the heart of history. And many of those migrants are refugees, forced onto dangerous journeys.

Back in the 1600s, Brick Lane in East London filled with Huguenots escaping France. Later on, those same buildings welcomed Irish escaping famine, then Jews escaping pogroms in Russia. Now the area is mainly Bangladeshi. And what was once a church, then a synagogue, is now a mosque.

Few places transform so radically as Brick Lane, but every community evolves. Such change is inevitable, which brings a strange consolation – for it frees us from seeing today’s tensions as irresolvable.

Let’s not kid ourselves, these are tense times. Seldom before has British politics been so riven with fear of the outsider. Migration is a defining dilemma of our time – a dilemma in which people cannot help but take sides.

So let’s try and bridge that gap. Let’s take a wider look at our communities. Let’s chart the PARALLEL LIVES of people who have lived here at different times. Let’s see what links, in Norwich, the maid who left for Australia in 1787 with the dentist who arrived from Damascus in 2015. Or what links, in Shrewsbury, the labourer who left for New South Wales in 1817 with the Polish mechanic who settled there after the Second World War.

Maybe, by seeing what we have in common – whether as Britons forced abroad or foreigners driven to these shores – we may fear the future less.

During our first tour of The Transports, we gathered and told stories for PARALLEL LIVES in each town where we performed. We’re now expanding the project. Here’s how to help or get in touch.

Berwick-upon-Tweed

JAMES DEBEARE, aged 22 of Berwick-upon-Tweed ‘being a stout youth and desirous to go overseas’ travelled as an indentured servant to the colony of Virginia in 1685. As an indentured servant he could be bought or sold, or abandoned if he got sick, and was required to complete his term of indenture – usually seven years – before he might work freely for a wage.

ALEXANDER NESBITT, a teenage baker’s boy, was caught stealing soap. In 1836 the Berwick Quarter Session sentenced him to seven years transportation to New South Wales.

FRANZ WOLFF, an 18 year old jewish man, escaped from Berlin in 1939 and arrived in Britain. Classed as an enemy alien, he chose not to be interned on the Isle of Man but took the other choice – to join the British army. He worked in intelligence. After the war he became a customs officer in Berwick-up-Tweed. Afterwards he learnt that several family members died in Auschwitz. He died in 2001. His daughter Judith, a nurse, has recently submitted her application for German citizenship. She was shocked by the referendum result. ‘I saw the doors to Europe closing to me.’

More stories from Berwick and the surrounding area.

Bury

THOMAS EASTWOOD was an unlucky man. He was wrongly accused of highway robbery at Rochdale in 1835 and sentenced to transportation for life. He sailed on the Neptune, arriving in Van Diemen’s Land in 1838. The actual culprits were later tried and executed in Shrewsbury. What made this worse, Eastwood had already a year earlier been wrongly sentenced for a similar crime in the same place, but saved by a Captain Hopwood, who proved his innocence. Both crimes were actually committed by the same gang. Eastwood was finally pardoned in Tasmania.

GULWALI PASSARLAY had witnessed more than any 13-year-old should have to, when he arrived in Britain on a banana lorry, on his hundredth attempt, from Calais. Eventually he persuaded the Home Office he was not 18, as they thought, and settled in Bolton, where he has worked hard for the community, earned a degree from Manchester University, and written his life story.

Our partner organisation in Bury is Eagle’s Wing.

More about Gulwali and other stories from Bury and the surrounding area.

Buxton

Labourer DANIEL GOOD of Buxton was convicted in 1833 of the theft of two silver teaspoons, one table cloth and a cloak belonging to Mary Bates. We have no record of which boat he sailed upon.

JOSEPH HARDY of Matlock was transported for life for the theft of one cow belonging to Thomas Young. He arrived in New South Wales on 11th Nov 1835 on the Mary Anne.

JOSPEPH HALL and WILLIAM TAYLOR of Carsington, both labourers were convicted of stealing two hundredweight of lead belonging to Phillip Gell in 1791. They arrived in New South Wales on the Pitt on Valentine’s Day 1792.

JOSEPH PALFREYMAN of Eyam stole a gelding belonging to Benjamin Wyatt. He arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on board the Atlas on 27th December 1833. Also on board the Atlas was Henry Fogg junior of Bakewell, convicted of stealing a mare belonging to Joseph Wilson.

Our partner organisation in Buxton is Hummingbird Project.

More stories from Buxton and the surrounding area.

Cambridge

Cambridge resident MARY STEARN was only 17 years old when she was convicted on 3rd January 1848 at the Cambridge Borough Quarter Sessions for stealing ‘wealthy apparel’ from her employer. This earned a seven year sentence for transportation. She arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) on the Tory on 6th August 1848. Only 4’10” tall, she was soon performing hard labour at the Female Factory in Hobart. But by December 1851 she had received her Ticket of Leave and in July 1853 she married Jeremiah Coffey in Hobart.

ENRIQUE IBANEZ, an NCO in the Chilean Air Force, escaped execution for opposing the 1973 military coup that ousted President Allende. On arriving in Cambridge, as part of a community of Chilean refugees in the town, one of his first desires was to find a park, an open space where he could spread-eagle on the grass and feel free.

Our partner organisation is Cambridge City of Sanctuary.

More stories about Cambridge

Cheltenham

In 1682 TOBY LEECH emigrated from Cheltenham with his wife Esther Ashmead and settled in what became known as Cheltenham Township, Philadelphia.  Leech became a large landowner and was prominent politically, serving as a member of the Provincial Assembly 1713-1720. HENRY KITCHEN, a 21 year old resident of Cheltenham, was convicted at Gloucester on 5 Jan 1847 for stealing ducks and geese. Sentenced to 10 years transportation, he arrived in Tasmania in August 1850.

October 1914 saw the arrival of many Belgian refugees in Gloucestershire, as 250,000 Belgians took refuge in Britain from the German invasion.  Many returned to Belgium after the war, but many settled. These included FREDDIE MOUCHERON, who danced with Cheltenham Morris Men in the 1930s.

In December 2015 the first Syrian refugees started arriving in Gloucestershire, with a Syrian couple and a family settling in Cheltenham.

More stories about Cheltenham and the surrounding area.

Chesterfield

In 1797 JOSEPH HOBSON, who worked as a hatter in Chesterfield, stole a box belonging to John Eyre and was sentenced for transportation to Australia. Earlier, in July 1775, JOSEPH FELLOWS, a flax dresser from Sheffield sailed to Maryland on the Elkridge from the Port of London. He and 24 others aboard all travelled as indentured servants, who had signed up for a term of four years’ indenture. Their occupations ranged from husbandmen, cordwainers, carpenters and butchers to cutlers, cooks and combmakers.

Orphan ROBERT BLINCOE was trafficked at the age of seven from a London workhouse to labour in textile mills in the Midlands. He ended up at Litton Mill in Derbyshire where, in addition to 12 hour working days, six days a week, he was regularly beaten, had weights hung from his ears and was forced to eat candle ends.

More stories about Chesterfield and the surrounding area.

Crawley

JOSEPH POTASKI arrived in London in the late 18th century, probably as a refugee or asylum seeker. He had fled Poland after fighting in the Polish army. In 1802 he was sentenced for seven years transportation at the Sussex Spring Assizes in Horsham for stealing a woman’s hair shawl from Mrs Pollard’s shop in Newhaven, Sussex. The first Pole to arrive in Australia, he had been accompanied on the Ocean by his Irish wife and son, arriving as free settlers. His wife was granted land near Hobart. Potaski was freed in 1810 and within a few years was the most successful wheat farmer on Tasmania.

Our partner organisation in Crawley is Eastern Stream.

More stories about Crawley and the surrounding area.

Derby

adam fletcherANN BEARDSLEY from Derby sailed with Henry Cable and Susannah Holmes on board the Friendship in the First Fleet to Australia. She had been convicted at the Derby Assizes in 1786 for stealing clothing and sentenced to five years transportation. Lieutenant Ralph Clark describes her as one of the best behaved on the journey. Aged 21 on arrival in New South Wales, she was sent to the sister colony on Norfolk Island. By this time she had a baby. A year later she married a John McCarthy and they had four more children. Only one of these survived.

MILAD ARBASH came to Derby in November 2015 after fleeing his home near Damascus in Syria. Milad’s perilous journey to the UK involved car, boat, foot, train, bus and plane. His first attempt to travel from Turkey to Greece ended in the poor conditioned boat, filled past capacity with 300 people, sinking in the water and 30 people losing their lives. Within a month of arriving in Derby he found work at Marks & Spencer. Now he works for a local charity called Upbeat Communities. More about Milad and more stories from Derby.

Our partner organisation is Derby City of Sanctuary.

Exeter

Convicted of stealing sheep at the Devon Lent Assizes in 1801, ROBERT WEEKS first traded his death sentence for a life sentence, then traded the grim confines of Exeter Jail for a chained berth upon the Perseus, which arrived in New South Wales in August the next year. Thence his life proceeded more favourably. In 1817 he married Sarah Weavers. In 1823, though only conditionally pardoned, he was able to buy 50 acres at Kissing Point. In time he gained more land and, apart from being fined £30 in 1835 for’ illegally retailing half a pint of rum to a runaway from a road party’, respectability.  HANNAH MADDOCKS, convicted of burglary at the same Devon Lent Assizes in 1801, along with her husband William, also ended up in Kissing Point, though without her husband. As a ‘widow’, which may have been true but was a polite way to disguise a living spouse in England, she married a Lancastrian convict, James Newton.

During the Second World War, a brave squadron of Polish airmen made their way to Exeter, where they worked night and day to defend the South West. Many of them later settled in the city. Read their story, and more stories from Exeter and Devon.

Our partner organisations are Exeter City of Sanctuary and Refugee Support Devon.

Gateshead

JOHN WEST of Gateshead arrived in Australia in 1963 aged 24, ‘just to look around’. He had a trade as a coachbuilder, but found that in a new country brimming with opportunity he could take almost any kind of work anywhere. Apart from willingness to work, he found another asset, he was a footballer of more than average ability. So, although he was happy to tour around Australia, he found that wherever he went, people wanted him to stay. He settled in the Queensland city of Rockhampton, working as a carpenter.

MUZOON ALMELLEHAN, a Syrian teenager, spent three years trying to get an education while moving with her family between refugee camps in Jordan.  Arriving in Newcastle in November 2015, Muzoon was soon enrolled at Kenton School and, within six months, gained some excellent GCSE results. Unsurprisingly she’s become billed the ‘Syrian Malala’ – indeed she’s already met fellow education activist Malala Yousafzai – and hopes one day to become a journalist.

Our partner organisation is Crossings.

More about Muzoon and other stories from the area.

Glasgow

JOHN LATTIMER was one of four teenage handloom weavers from Paisley who had a drunken night out on 24th March 1829. Walking by the canal, they stole some pigeons from a farm then, on the Glasgow road, they stole a watch from a passer-by. All were teenagers. All received life sentences at Glasgow Court of Justiciary. Wages for weavers in Paisley, a centre of the Scottish textile trade, were then less than half their rate of ten years before. The crimes of these four lads were a mix of juvenile delinquency and hunger. The four arrived together in New South Wales in 1830 on board the Nithsdale. Lattimer died in Parramatta Hospital six years later.

PATRICIA NGANGA was a paediatric nurse in Congo Brazzaville. After her chemist mother was murdered by the government, and her husband fled the country to avoid persecution, she decided in 2003 she must herself escape. She reached Britain and was put into detention. After a few years she came to Glasgow and in 2011 she was granted leave to remain in the UK.

Our partner organisation is Positive Action in Housing.

More about Patricia Nganga and other stories from Glasgow.

London

Aboard the same boat as Henry and Susannah – the Friendship – was a boy called JOHN HUDSON. He was nine years old when indicted for ‘burglariously and feloniously’ stealing some clothes and a pistol worth 22 shillings from a house in East Smithfield. The child appeared before the Old Bailey, where his occupation was listed as chimney sweep.

HODAN OMAR was luckier than many young women born in Somalia. She was able to take GCSEs and then study international business in Malaysia. But she still could not escape the threat of forced marriage and so, in 2014, paid a smuggler to get her to London. She received her papers the next year.

Our partner organisation is Sante Refugee Mental Health Access Project.

More about Hodan Omar and other stories from London.

Norwich

Norwich Gaol became home for HENRY CABELL and SUSANNAH HOLMES in 1784, both awaiting transportation to Australia. They left Britain, never to return, but they made good in Australia. Henry became the new colony’s first Chief Constable. Susannah became known as one of the 100 most important women in Australia’s history. Their story lies at the heart of The Transports.

28-year-old ANAS was a dentist at the University of Damascus. In today’s Syria, dentistry is a dangerous profession. In 2015 the Syrian government put Anas on its hit list. To stay alive, he fled the country, hoping to bring out his wife and one-year-old son as soon as he could. He made a perilous trek on one of those flimsy inflatables. He managed to reach Britain, where he moved from one refugee camp to another. Then a man in Norwich called John offered Anas a room in his flat. A base from which he can improve his English, get work to use his training, then bring his family across.

More about Anas and other stories from Norwich.

Preston

In 1844, MARY ANN ABBOTT was convicted at Preston Quarter Session of stealing a dress. She was 25, single, a house servant, four foot seven inches tall, and could read. It was her first offence. She was transported for seven years and sent to Tasmania on the Tory, arriving 4 July 1845. By October 1847 she was married to a bootmaker called John Black. We don’t know the detail, but it was common practice to transport unmarried women on flimsy pretexts, to provide what were effectively comfort brides for free men and freed convicts in the colony.

On 31st July 1939, aged nine, MILENA FLEISCHMANN travelled with her three year old sister on a kindertransport  from Prague to Britain. She was one of nearly 700 jewish children saved by Nicholas Winton; some, like Milena, escaped just weeks before the war started. She made England her home and as Lady Milena Grenfell Baines was in 2015 made an Honorary Freeman of the City of Preston in recognition of all she has done for the town.  You can hear her talking about that journey here.

Other stories from Preston and surrounding area.

Shoreham-by-Sea

In 1839 SOPHIA CLIFTON and OLIVE KING were teenage inmates of the Brighton Workhouse. At the Sussex quarter sessions they were convicted of stealing clothing valued at only a few shillings and sentenced to 14 years transportation to Australia. They arrived on the Mary Anne, whose cargo of women prisoners was immediately advertised for use as servants. Unofficially, the women were also intended to become wives of convicts who had finished their sentences. Within six months Sophia had married such a man, William Pallister. Their story is a clear example of Britain exiling young women on flimsy pretexts to provide labour for the colonies.

TEHMTAN FRAMROZE came to the UK in 1964 from Zanzibar. Trained as a librarian, he has also worked as a Labour Councillor and Mayor of Brighton and Hove.

More about Tehmtan Framroze and other stories from Shoreham-by-Sea and surrounding area.

Shrewsbury

In 1817 a 25-year-old labourer from Shrewsbury called RICHARD HOWELL was sentenced to death for stealing sheep. His sentence commuted to 14 years transportation, he was taken to New South Wales, where he got married, got free, worked hard and made his life in Gundaroo in the valley of the river Yass. He died aged 80 in 1859.

In November 2015 a Syrian boy called YAMEN DHNIE who had fled to Greece was photographed in a refugee camp wearing a jumper from Belvidere Primary School in Shrewsbury. Local radio reported this, provoking a flood of local opinion about migration. Many were proud that support from Shrewsbury was reaching refugees in Greece, that clothes sent from the town were proving helpful. Others shared their hatred of refugees, arguing they should stay in their own country and certainly not come to Britain. Two people decided to spray the words “Syians Welcome” (sic) across the gates of Shrewsbury’s old prison. Presumably they hoped their graffiti would show that refugees would only be welcome in prison. But, ironically, the prison they chose – the Dana prison – was once the unhappy home of many petty criminals condemned to transportation as British migrants to Australia.

Our partner in Shrewsbury is Shropshire Supports Refugees.

More stories from Shrewsbury.

Wavendon

WILLIAM JUFFS and his father, agricultural workers from Houghton Conquest in Bedfordshire, were together convicted of housebreaking at Bedford Assizes in 1832 and sentenced to death. This was commuted to transportation for life for both of them (unlike in The Transports, where the father was hanged and the son transported). Their family was forced to enter the local workhouse. The convicts were transferred to the Justitia prison hulk in the Thames, where Juffs senior died, presumably from the hard labour. William arrived in New South Wales on the Parmelia in late 1832, finally received a pardon in 1846 and died at Gundaroo in 1852.

RUTH DESALE faced the threats of arbitrary arrest, torture and forced labour in her home country of Eritrea. Joining a group to escape the country, she survived a hellish journey across desert in Sudan, then embarked on a dangerous crossing from Libya to Italy.  Ruth’s journey brought her finally to Milton Keynes where, still a teenager, she started to make a new life.

Our partner organisation is Refugees Welcome Milton Keynes.

More about Ruth and other stories from Wavendon and the surrounding area.

Yeovil

On 8th April 1821, ROBERT SAUNDERS was convicted at the Somerset Quarter Sessions in Yeovil of stealing chickens. For this crime, he was sentenced to seven years transportation, arriving in Tasmania on 27 July 1821. Then nearly forty, he left behind a wife and two children, plus many other relations for he had come from a family of sixteen. Fifteen years later, now free, he married Ann Clancy in Longford, Tasmania.  They were married for 53 years, for much of which Robert served as sexton of his local church.  He died at the age of 107. ‘He was sensible up to the last, and only a few days prior to his death he bought his usual quantity of groceries from the shop and carried the parcel home with his own hand.’

During WW1 over 250,000 BELGIAN NATIONALS came to the UK, refugees from the German Army’s advance through Belgium. The War Refugees Committee (WRC) appealed for accommodation and support. They received 100,000 offers within two weeks. Somerset, like every county in Britain, received significant numbers of Belgian refugees. Yeovil provided homes for 250 individuals and families, who arrived during October 1914.

More about Yeovil and the surrounding area.