WHO WERE THE FEMALE ORPHANS? (cont.)
In the last post I finished by recommending Peter Higginbotham’s website on Workhouses; http:www.workhouses.org.uk/Ireland/ It is an essential resource for anyone interested in the female orphans.
And just in case you missed Steve Taylor’s views of the Famine http://viewsofthefamine.wordpress.com/miscellaneous/cottage-interior-claddagh-galway/
But let me continue with what I started. First a standard account of the workhouse system generally then on to specific information about orphans and the workhouse they came from.
It was not till 1838 that Ireland had its first Poor Law with an Act ‘for the more effective relief of the destitute poor”. The Act divided the country into a number of Poor Law Unions, 130 of them in 1843, based on major towns. Each Union was to have a workhouse run by a Board of Guardians elected by rate payers in the Union. In theory, the money for the building and the running of the workhouses was to come from rates levied in each Union. By 1843, 112 of the workhouses were completed and the remaining eighteen were on their way. The more substantial ones such as those at Belfast and Newcastle West in County Limerick were built according to a standard plan drawn up by Government architect, George Wilkinson. His ground plan was for a workhouse to accommodate 800 people. Such buildings had a commanding and unwelcome physical presence in the local community where they were built.
Callan workhouse, Co. Kilkenny
The thinking behind the Poor Law System was that conditions in the workhouse should be so unattractive that only the truly destitute and desperate would enter. There was some doubt among Poor Law Commissioners that material conditions inside the workhouse would be inferior to that of the poor but they were convinced that the strict regimen and discipline and separation of families would deter people from seeking refuge. Contemporary middle and upper class thinking was aimed at ‘improving’ and ‘controlling’ the lower orders by incarcerating them and subjecting them to close supervision in institutions such as factory and mill, national school, workhouse or if all else failed, prison.
In a workhouse, inmates were subject to minute regulation of their lives. There were strict rules for their admission, first to a probationary ward. There they were ‘thoroughly cleaned’, ‘clothed in workhouse dress’ and examined by a medical officer. They were then classified as belonging in the sick or ‘idiot’ ward, placed in the adult male or female ward or the separate yards for boys and girls or the apartments for children. Families were broken up, wives separated from husbands, brothers from sisters, and children from their parents, although those under two years old could remain with their mothers.
“Buttermilk and urine,
The pantry, the housed beasts, the listening bedroom. We were all together in a foretime…” (Seamus Heaney, Keeping Going)
Also set down in meticulous detail were ‘rules for framing dietaries’–three meals a day for children, two for adults, consisting of such ‘delights’ as bread, Indian meal, oatmeal, buttermilk and soup in what can only have been ‘mouth-watering’ combinations.
Articles 14 to 48 of workhouse regulations dealt with discipline and punishment of ‘paupers’. When they got out of bed, when they were set to work, when they had their meals, when they finished work and when they went to bed were all timed by the ringing of a bell. Prayers were read before breakfast and after supper each day. Roll call took place half an hour after the bell was rung for getting out of bed. No one was allowed any tobacco or ‘spirituous or fermented liquor’ or to play at cards or ‘at any game of chance’.
The grounds on which an inmate could be deemed ‘disorderly’ and ‘refractory’ were also set out in detail as were punishments for such misbehaviour. Anybody who used obscene or profane language or did not ‘duly cleanse his person’, for example, was disorderly. Anyone who repeated one or more of the 12 offences constituting disorderly conduct or who insulted or reviled workhouse officers or who wilfully damaged or attempted to dispose of the property of the Board of Guardians or who climbed over any wall or fence or left the workhouse in an irregular way was deemed refractory. Refractory inmates were put in solitary confinement or were taken before a magistrate. As you can see, the refuge the workhouse offered rested on the twin pillars of discipline and punishment. The intention of the framers of the Poor Law as exemplified in the prison-like conditions of workhouses, their dull work routine and monotonous food and emphasis on strict discipline was designed to deter all but the truly destitute from becoming a burden on the poor rate.
In August 1847 an Irish Poor Law Commission took over from the English one. It now had to contend with the Famine. The number of Poor Law Unions was increased from 130 to 163. Existing workhouse buildings were extended and temporary fever sheds erected or rented in a forlorn attempt to deal with the crisis. By the end of 1847 it was officially estimated 417,000 people were being relieved inside workhouses in Ireland. At the end of 1848 that number had increased to 610,000 and was to increase again to 923,000 in 1849. [These figures do not include the number of people on outdoor relief.] In the midst of crisis the Poor Law system was asked to reorganize itself and deal with catastrophe on a horrendous scale, a scale for which it was not designed and for which it was ill-prepared.
The extra demands the famine placed on workhouses relegated the aim of disciplining and punishing to a secondary role. In fact discipline became harder to maintain. Rebellion was sometimes a very personal even existential thing. In September and December 1847, James McMahon, Betty Hill, Jane Campbell and Eliza Dawson were thrown out of Newry workhouse, James for refusing to eat his supper, Jane and Eliza for quarrelling and Betty for giving cheek to the Master. At other times, shortage of food led to full blown riots, many of them led by women, as in William Street Auxiliary workhouse in Limerick in 1849 and one week later, at the Barrack Street workhouse in Nenagh in Tipperary, where the women “broke in the door of the dining hall and threw the tins and other vessels within their reach about the floor, yelling fearfully all the time”.
Overcrowding and epidemics of disease strained even the biggest and best organised workhouses to breaking point. Cashel workhouse rarely had enough space or temporary fever sheds for the victims of dysentery, fever, measles and cholera. In January 1848 the Cashel Medical Officer P. Heffernan reported to the Board “Your Hospital is crowded to excess and the paupers are falling sick in dozens. I cannot admit anymore into the Hospital for want of accommodation”. The Guardians were later dismissed that year.
In Belfast the medical officer complained he could not contain the spread of contagious diseases unless he could treat patients in separate wards. Smallpox patients were put in a small bathroom, those suffering from ‘erisipilas’ went to the straw house but he still lacked a separate ward for dysentery patients. He said “…treating several contagious diseases in the same place is attended with very great risk to the patients”, not to mention workhouse officers. In 1847 the wards master, the schoolmaster and schoolmistress caught ‘famine fever’ and in June of that year Patrick Boyce the workhouse bookkeeper died of typhus. In 1849 the Belfast Board complained “that the practice of waking the bodies of the Dead from cholera prevails to a considerable extent, thereby exposing the people who assemble on such occasions to the risk of disease and causing alarm in the neighbourhood”. They asked they be allowed to bury bodies with haste, compulsorily if necessary.
There is a rich archive of material relating to Irish workhouses, not yet fully tapped which helps us place female orphans in a specific local context in the period before they left for Australia. What their workhouse was like may be depicted using both Indoor Admission and Discharge Registers and Board of Guardian minutes. For example, here’s a chart I drew some time ago, relating to inmates’ length of stay in 1848 in a selection of workhouses for which evidence was available. Overwhelmingly for most, their ‘length of stay’ was less than three months. There was little time for them to be ‘institutionalised’. At least 42 % or more of the orphans entered their workhouse on more than one occasion before leaving for Australia. [Please forgive my amateur attempts to insert these charts–I think we may be listing. I’ll not bore you with the statistical tests I used, except to say both the median and mode measures of central tendency lay in the first category i.e. less than three months. I am open to correction.]
Or again, a chart showing what percentage of inmates gave “Union at Large” (i.e. Poor Law Union) as their place of residence in 1848. That is, they were homeless, and probably mendicants.
These charts are interesting in light of Dympna McLoughlin’s chapter on “Subsistent Women” in the Atlas of the Great Irish Famine where she draws attention to women living ‘a hand-to-mouth existence, with no secure employment’. They included, Dympna says, “petty traders, tramps, peddlers, petty criminals, dealers, beggars and a high proportion of labourers”. (p.255) These were women who were geographically mobile, who used the workhouse for their own ends, coming in in winter and leaving again in spring. But they were hard hit by the Famine and being without ‘respectability’ and ‘reputation’ in society had little option other than assisted emigration. I am inclined to give some weight to her argument since I found only a handful of references to female orphans’ families in land records such as Tithe Applotment Books and enumerators’ returns for Griffiths Land Valuation. Only infrequently did they appear in baptismal records. I know too that a number of orphans gave ‘Union at large’ as their place of residence and that many of them entered and left the workhouse on a regular basis. Most of them certainly belonged to the labouring class. The argument is certainly worth exploring further. At the very least it helps underscore just how destitute the orphans were and how difficult it was for them to escape their poverty trap.
Note, however, fewer than 20% of Workhouse inmates gave ‘Union at Large’ as their ‘residence’. They may have been homeless but they still claimed they were from a particular Poor Law Union.
Most of our orphans were from among the unemployed and destitute cottier and agricultural labouring classes. They were from families whose economic strength was extremely fragile at the best of times and who were periodically thrown on the charity of good neighbours when illness, death and the uncertainty of employment destroyed their fragile cohesion. Tragically, the charity of good neighbours, any reluctance they may have felt about joining public works schemes or accepting food hand-outs or entering the workhouse was destroyed by the calamity of the Famine.
INDOOR RELIEF REGISTERS
One of the most important collections of workhouse records that have survived are the Indoor Relief Registers, sometimes known as Admission and Discharge Registers. Thanks to the wisdom and foresight of the former Deputy Keeper of Public Records Northern Ireland Dr Brian Trainor, many of these Registers have survived for Northern Irish Poor Law Unions. It is these and the Registers for North and South Dublin workhouses that I’ve studied, alas, all too briefly. The Registers record a number for each person entering the workhouse, their name, their gender, their age, whether they are single, married or widowed if they have reached adulthood i.e. usually 15 years of age and whether they are orphaned, deserted or a bastard, if they are children. Then follows details about their occupation and religion and more columns headed ‘if disabled, description of the disability’; ‘name of wife or husband’; ‘number of children’; ‘observations on condition of pauper when admitted’; ‘electoral division and townland in which resident’; ‘date when admitted or born in workhouse’; and finally, ‘date when died or left the workhouse’. It’s an amazing piece of recordkeeping.
In practice there existed a wide degree of latitude in the keeping of the Registers. At worst, details are often missing and the information we gain about individual orphans is sparse indeed. Thus, for an orphan who came by the Derwent to Port Phillip in 1849-50 from Ballymena, the record is No. 4115, Betty Hamilton, female, 15 years old, single, no employment or calling, Presbyterian, residing in Ballymena, admitted 14 June 1849, discharged 25 October 1849. At best, the information is extensive, not only about personal and family history but also about occupation. A plainmaker, helper in stable, brush maker, bootbinder, pinmaker, fustian cutter, fringe and tassel maker, ribbon weaver and woollen winder were among those entering South Dublin workhouse in 1848. Their place of origin is recorded in the North Dublin Register; born in Kilkenny county, County Louth, Cavan, Donegal, Derry, native of Dublin, demonstrating the pull of Ireland’s major city at the time of the Famine. And in Enniskillen Register at the beginning of 1848 we read of the condition of ‘paupers’ when admitted; ‘in great want’, ‘in great distress’, ‘orphan, father and mother died on the road’. ‘had to sell the coat off her back for food’, ‘in a starving condition’, ‘lying in the quarry starving’, ‘husband deserted her, to be prosecuted’, ‘beggarman, nearly blind, dirty and sickly’, ‘wandering about from place to place’, ‘beggar girl, deserted by mother’, and the mother of two young orphans, Mary Love, ‘widow disabled from dropsy’, a reminder that these are records of destitute people, victims of the famine who were yet fortunate enough to gain entry to a workhouse.
The one major deficiency is that Indoor Registers have survived for only a small number of workhouses; outside Dublin they are mainly from the North of Ireland. The evidence is thus weighted in that direction. But they allowed me to identify at least some female orphans in their workhouse.
Identifying the female orphans
The key is record linkage, in this case linking Australian shipping lists with Irish workhouse Registers. The names of the orphans who travelled to Australia as part of the Earl Grey scheme appear in shipping lists held in archives or State records in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Most information is available from the Board of Immigration shipping lists for arrivals in Port Jackson. Those in Melbourne tend to provide less information about their Irish background but more easily accessible information about their first employer in Australia. Adelaide records I am glad to say now include the shipping list for the first vessel to arrive, the Roman Emperor which had been missing for some time. From British Parliamentary Papers I also knew the names of the Poor Law Unions providing orphans for each vessel: this was a third link.
In the mid 1980s armed with this information and knowing the date of departure of each vessel I was able to spend some time looking for orphans in Dublin and Northern Irish workhouse Indoor Registers. For example, knowing the first vessel in the scheme the Earl Grey left Plymouth for Port Jackson on the 3rd June 1848, I looked for the names of individual adolescent females who were discharged from their workhouse in Belfast or Antrim or Armagh et al. on the same day, about a week or ten days before 3rd June. I applied the same method to the two vessels that carried Northern Irish orphans to Port Phillip, the Diadem and the Derwent. They were to leave Plymouth 13 October 1849 and 9th November 1849 respectively. The same method was used for the vessels with Dubliners on board. And voilá, in the massive Dublin Registers,
North Dublin No. 14737 Maria Blundell female 10 yrs old no calling RC delicate after fever native of Dublin returned from fever hospital, North City entered 11 March 1846 left 20 October 1849
North Dublin No. 22543 Mary Dowling female 14 yrs old no calling RC born in Dublin ragged and dirty Union at large entered 9 July 1847 left 20 October 1849 [she was listed alongside her 10 yr old brother Michael who was later discharged 26 July 1850]
South Dublin No. 1013 Marianne Howe female 16 yrs old no calling Protestant very old clothes South City Kevin St. entered 10 October 1848 left 13 January 1849
South Dublin No. 1079 Mary Bruton female 17 yrs old single servant RC old clothes S. City Engine Alley entered 16 October 1848 left 13 January 1849.
and in Northern Irish Registers. [ In some of these I was able to trace the number of times female orphans entered and left the workhouse, when their mother or father died and what happened to their other siblings, the Devlin and the Littlewood families being two such examples. To describe just one of these, in April 1842 shortly after it opened and three years before the Famine struck, a 39 year old widow Rose Devlin came into Armagh workhouse with three of her children, Margret 9 years old, Patrick, 6, and Bernard, 4. After four months stay she and her children left, only to re-enter three months later but this time her fourth child, Sarah Ann, 12, had joined them. On nine different occasions throughout the 1840s this little family group re-entered Armagh workhouse, sometimes for as short a period as a month, at others as long as six or ten months, until two of their number Sarah Ann and Margret left to join the Earl Grey in Plymouth. Ten years later Sarah was to sponsor her brother’s immigration to Australia. Ideally I would have liked a lot more time to examine different volumes of the Registers and thereby do a more thorough job tracing the workhouse history of Earl Grey female orphan families. Maybe some of you could do so for your orphan ancestor?]
Here is a little family akin to the Devlins in that they were a-typical long-term residents of Armagh workhouse. They appear in the first volume of Armagh’s Registers.
Armagh No. 12 Charlotte Wilcocks female 10 yrs old deserted by father no calling Protestant no disability healthy resides Armagh entered 4 June 1842 left 4 October 1849
No. 13 Jemima Wilcocks female 9 yrs old deserted by father (the rest ‘as above’ when the two sisters left to join the Diadem in Plymouth)
No 14 Edward Wilcocks male 13 yrs old (as above) totally disabled left the workhouse 17 November 1842.
(Here’s a little appetiser for later posts, should I ever get that far. It’s a family reconstitution for Charlotte in Australia. About 300 of these reconstitutions are the basis of the demographic information I’ve written about elsewhere. Workhouse Register reference numbers that I’d found appear alongside an orphan’s name in Barefoot, information which was later uploaded to the first version of the following website. The new version of the website continues to be improved and developed all the time. www.irishfaminememorial.org Keep watching there.)
Magherafelt No 1900(?) [my research notes are not as legible as they should be] Cathy Hilferty female 17 yrs old single never in service RC with fever clean Ballymeghan entered 3 April 1846 left 19 May 1846
No. 2080 Cathy was back in again less than a week later, this time described as a servant but ‘out of service’ having entered 22 May 1846 and left 11 June 1846.
She came into the workhouse later that year described as a 16 yrs old labourer who was out of employment but clean from Ballymeghan, entered 13 November 1846 left 4 August 1847.
Then in 1848 she came back in with her widowed mother and siblings. Ellen Hilferty was described as a 50 year old widow mendicant RC healthy 2 children (in fact 4) no means of support Killyfaddy entered 18 November 1848 left 15 August 1849.
Cathy this time was 18 yrs old and her siblings William 15 yrs, Nancy 11 yrs and John 9 yrs. Like Ellen they entered 18 November 1848. William left 4 December 1848, Nancy and John 15 August 1849 with their mother. Cathy left 30 October 1849 en route for Plymouth to join the Derwent.
Enniskillen No 2065 Letitia Connelly 14 yrs old orphan RC Ballyreagh Salry entered 2 February 1848 left 26 October 1849 to join the Derwent. Letitia did very well for herself marrying a store-keeper and astute business man, William Hayes.
Enniskillen No. 3048(?) Alice Ball 15 yrs old Protestant Enniskillen 4 July 1847 left 1 march 1848
No 3078 Alice Ball 14 yrs old orphan Protestant Enniskillen 30 August 1848 left 3 October 1849 (to join the Diadem). Alice was later to commit suicide in Melbourne.
My hope is that further local studies of workhouses may be realised; there are already good examples–Roscrea, Cork and Lurgan– in the Atlas of the Great Irish Famine as well as excellent local studies for the four provinces of Ireland. Perhaps these might be used as models? National School records might help us understand the local area too.
Perhaps someone can help?
Were these vessels part of the female orphan scheme?
- There are a number of vessels carrying a small number of female orphans which are not officially recognised as being part of the Earl Grey scheme viz. the William Stewart, Mahomet Shah and the Martin Luther (?) to Port Phillip and the Subraon to Port Jackson. At least three of them sailed before the scheme was officially underway. Are they easily identified on the shipping lists of these vessels? Were they from Irish workhouses or other charitable institutions and houses of industry? I wonder if authorities in London and Dublin sent them by subterfuge, as it were, testing the waters for the later female orphan scheme. It certainly didn’t work in the case of the Subraon.
Why did so many come from Enniskillen workhouse?
- If I might refer you to the map at the beginning of the previous post, have a look at Enniskillen. It is second only to Dublin and Skibbereen in sending the largest number of orphans to Australia. How do we explain this? Was the region particularly hard-hit by the Famine? Did the workhouse accept young women from surrounding areas in Donegal, Tyrone and Leitrim? They aren’t very close and entry to a workhouse was usually only open to inhabitants of the local Poor Law Union. Names of townlands and electoral divisions were painstakingly recorded when entering a workhouse. Maybe the answer is in the administration of the workhouse itself? Late in 1846 and in March 1847 reports from visiting Poor Law Commissioners castigated Enniskillen workhouse for its ‘miserable state of filth and irregularity’. In 1847 the death rate was 95 per thousand and may have been higher since no books were kept for eight weeks when fever was raging in the house. In 1848 the death rate dropped to approximately 10 per thousand and by 1849 had fallen to 2 per thousand. In March 1848 the elected Board of Guardians of Enniskillen Poor Law Union were dismissed and two professional Vice-Guardians appointed, Messrs John Gowdy of Monaghan and Edward Hill Trevor of County Down at a salary of £250 per annum. Before long the effects of the new broom were in evidence; inefficient officers were dismissed, doctors were appointed as vaccinators for various districts; new arrangements were made to improve the cleanliness of the workhouse; inmates were given a change of bed sheets every fortnight and a clean shirt each week. In the months following the appointment of Vice-Guardians the administration of the Union was put on a sound footing; cooked food was substituted for meal ‘in the several relief districts throughout the Union’; workhouse schools became part of the National Schools system and £800 was borrowed from the government for a new workhouse building. Was it this that determined so many orphans originating in Enniskillen? Sufficient numbers of the right age, an efficient administration with money for orphans’ clothing and transport to port of embarkation, at just the right time. All the orphans from Enniskillen left towards the end of 1849. What do you think? Maybe a reader has more information or another explanation?
Just a couple of family reconstitutions to finish, Jane Hogan and Cathy Durkin. There must be a way to improve the quality of these.