The Voyage (cont.)
I’m going to have a go at this; an historian’s view of the female orphans’ voyage to Australia interspersed with, and in a blue typeface, imaginary voices or snippets of conversation from the young women themselves. I promise not to go ‘overboard’ with this (that’s terrible!). There is a great variety of possible ‘voices’-over 4,000 individual ones in fact. The psychological effects of the Famine, the loss of loved ones, their varied workhouse experiences and the different strategies they used to cope with life’s setbacks are all in the mix. So too must be the ebullience of young women setting out for a new life. I’ll do my best to immerse myself in the sources and not just pluck something out of the air. What I put into their mouths may be very different from what readers think they would say. But the benefits, I believe, outweigh the negatives; it helps us see the young women’s voyage differently and it gives them something they haven’t had before; a voice of their own, however inadequate that imaginary voice may be. At least it makes us view and think about the famine orphans from a different perspective.
Some very talented writers have had a go at this already. Kirsty Murray’s Bridie’s Fire, (Allen & Unwin, 2003), Evelyn Conlon’s Not the Same Sky, (Wakefield Press, 2013) and Jaki McCarrick’s play, Belfast Girls scheduled for Artemesia Theater in Chicago in May 2015, show just how stimulating this approach can be. For example, Jaki McCarrick treats the voyage as a liminal space, a world– between the world they have left– and a world they have yet to see. http://www.theatreinchicago.com/belfast-girls/7557/
Reflect on this. The long, three to four month, voyage was a transforming experience for the young women; for many it was the first time they had gone outside their small familiar world and met people and cultures other than their own. Friendships and alliances they made on board ship might be short-lived and fluid, or last well into their new Australian home, at least until they married. Virtually all of them lacked the family support that other Irish migrants had; thus their shipboard alliances became crucial to their survival and well being–ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine. (Under the shelter of each other, people survive).
Historians, in their own fashion, have long appreciated the importance of the voyage to Australia. Emigrants generally, “when at last they landed…were by no means the same people who had boarded ship months before” (Charlwood). What occurred was ‘a gradual and complex adjustment’ that sheds light on their subsequent behaviour (Campbell). Maybe they felt remorse at leaving Ireland, some becoming ultra-Irish in Australia, some “deliberately severing bonds with home, wishing to vanish and hear of it no more” (O’Farrell). Unwise of us, then, to dismiss the voyage as being of little significance, don’t you think?
At the end of post number three (3) http://wp.me/p4SlVj-2p I outlined some of the arrangements Guardians of different workhouses made, outfitting and conveying to Plymouth the female orphans in their charge. The outline is clear enough–the clothes, the wooden boxes and other necessities–and the carts, Bianconi coaches, and trains that carried the young women to an Irish Port and thence to Plymouth. But the details often escape us.
Were the orphans’ clothes cut to the same style and shape? Were they of a dull grey and black or dark green colour? Some seamstresses we know used gingham. And at the International Irish Famine seminar in Sydney in 2013 one of the speakers talked of the availability of inexpensive, usually blue-patterned, cloth in mid nineteenth century. Exactly what were the clothes the young women wore? Were they tight-fitting, full length, allowing little freedom of movement? Were some of the young women wearing their own fitted shoes for the first time, or even wearing underwear for the first time? How did they wash? What toilet facilities were available to them? Maybe our concerns would not have been their concerns?
The orphans must have been quite a sight moving through the Irish countryside, making their way to a local train station or to a local port where they could catch a steamer to Dublin or Cork. What kind of cart, or coach, or train, did they travel in? How fast did it move? How comfortable were they? What did they do if it rained? “Aw Mr Donovan, Mr Donovan, what’ll happen if it rains? Be quiet Bridie Ryan, ye’ll do as ye’ve always done, get wet; and dry out as ye’ve always done.”
I never cease to be amazed at how little I know about these things, and about the private lives of the Earl Grey female orphans. It may be worth thinking about this a bit more, sometime in the future. In Ireland, was their family and their village the focus of their private life? Did communal living in a workhouse afford little time for solitude, or developing self-awareness? Did that experience make them eager to create a family life for themselves once they arrived in Australia?
Board of Guardian Arrangements
Apart from Edward Senior’s assembling orphans from a number of different workhouses, in Belfast, in May 1848, generally it was left to individual workhouses to arrange transport of ‘their own‘ orphans to Plymouth, the port of embarkation for all Australia bound Famine orphans. Most of them, it would seem, went first to Dublin where they boarded a steamer to take them to Plymouth.
A comprehensive survey of Board of Guardian minute books might tell us how many orphans departed via Cork. Kay Caball, for instance, reports in her Kerry Girls that orphans for the Elgin and John Knox, from Kenmare and Killarney, left from Penrose Quay in Cork. (The thirty-five young women from Killarney for the Elgin went first to Liverpool and thence to Plymouth, poor things). However, the orphans from Listowel and Dingle by the Thomas Arbuthnot and the Tippoo Saib left from Dublin. Síle Murphy, in Coppeen, tells me that orphans from Dunmanway and Skibbereen in West Cork also left from Penrose Quay in Cork. We know, too, from the Clonmel Board of Guardians’ Minute Books, that at least one group of women went to Cork, and others by rail to Dublin. Perhaps it all depended on who was available to examine the young women before they left Ireland.
Longford Board of Guardian Minute Book 29 November 1848
The following orders of the Poor Law Commissioners were laid before the Board and directions given thereon, as follows:
Dublin 24th November 1848 Enclosing a list of the Female emigrants selected by Lieut. Henry and directing that they arrive at Plymouth on the 4th December the day named for the sailing of the Vessel for South Australia and the necessity of their being in Dublin on Saturday 2nd December before 12 o’clock for the Duke of Cornwall steamer to take them to Plymouth.
[Then follows the names of 50 young women, ranging in age from 15 to 18 years.]
Resolved that Mr Doyle the Master do proceed in charge to Dublin and pay the necessary charge and expense…
Rossgrey (Roscrea) Board of Guardian Minute Book (Oct.1848-July 1849)
30 December 1848 A letter was received from Lt Henry, emigration officer, directing the Master to have the 60 girls who had been selected for emigration, in Dublin on the evening of the 9th instant. The Master stated that he would require a person to assist in escorting the emigrants to Dublin and a cheque for expenses. Ordered and a cheque for expenses to be drawn…
17 February 1849 The Clerk having reported that the cost of the 60 emigrant girls forwarded from this Union was as follows:
Outfit of clothing and necessaries………………………………£228.12.2
Master and Assistant’s expenses escorting them ……………………5.0.0
Lodging and board in Dublin……………………………………..15.15.6
Cords and cards for boxes…………………………………………..2.3.0
Fares to Plymouth…………………………………………………40.10.0
Clogheen (Tipperary) Board of Guardian Minute Book
7 July 1849
Resolved that the Clerk be directed to write to the Superintendent of the railroad station at Dublin requesting he will direct that the 3rd class carriage may be attached to the day mail train on Wednesday the 18th instant for the conveyance of the 26 females proposed for emigration to Australia or that he will give direction that they be permitted to travel in a second class carriage at the rate of fare paid for the 3rd class and to request an immediate answer.
Resolved that the Clerk be directed to write to Mr Bianconi requesting he will state on what terms he will provide for the conveyance of 26 females and that the person in charge with 26 boxes 2 feet long, 14 inches high and 14 inches wide from the Clogheen workhouse to the Dundrum Gold’s Cross railroad station on the morning of the 18th instant in time for sufficient for their further conveyance too Dublin by the day mail train…
Resolved that the Clerk be directed to purchase from Mr Hackett, stationer, Clonmel 26 prayer books and 26 Bibles (Douai) for the females proposed for emigration and that he be further directed to purchase any necessary articles which may be required for which provision has not already been made by the Guardians.
My thanks to all the descendants of Famine orphans who sent me photographs to use.
Crossing to Plymouth
Clearly, getting to Plymouth could be a complicated and expensive task. In the late 1840s Ireland’s railway network was limited. There was only about 120 miles of track in 1847 but things were improving so that by 1853 Dublin was connected by rail to Waterford, Limerick, Galway and Belfast (MacDonagh, Pattern, 1961). Still, many an Earl Grey orphan must have risen very early in the morning and travelled by cart, often in the dark, to join the mail train at a station closest to their workhouse. And what of those from remote parts, from Ballyshannon, from Ennistymon, from Listowel and Dingle, for example? Did they travel all the way to Dublin by cart? How good were the roads? Such conditions added hours even days to the initial stages of the orphans’ voyage.
One of the advantages of the unholy row concerning the ‘Belfast Girls’ who came by the first ship, the Earl Grey, is that we find detailed information about their voyage to Plymouth in the government enquiries that ensued. (The documents in the first volume of my Barefoot…? are all about that ‘unholy row’). Surprisingly, Edward Senior, Poor Law Inspector for the North-East of Ireland, wrote in defense of his choice of orphans that even “when their friends and relatives were crowding on the pier endeavouring to press into their ship, their conduct was exemplary…”. We sometimes forget the orphans had friends and relatives too. The letters orphans supposedly sent back from Brisbane and Sydney mention sisters and aunties and a step-mother to whom they wished to be remembered, and from whom they’d like a lock of hair: more than just the orphans themselves were affected by the Earl Grey scheme.
One can well imagine the scene when the young women left other workhouses, perhaps ‘keeners’ coming together in Irish speaking areas. Oliver MacDonagh (Pattern, 1961, pp.167-8) writes of ‘the piercing experience of parting’ for many an emigrant at this time: “some of the women would fall fainting when they saw any person going, others would hang out of the car to keep back the departing one; but when it would go, the whole lot, men and women, would raise a cry of grief that would wrest an echo from the peaks”. The young women on board the Thomas Arbuthnot, for example, fell to keening as they rounded the Cape of Good Hope on Christmas Day 1849, mná caointe literally letting their hair down, in small groups, moving rhythmically, perhaps registering their protest and renewal, defining themselves… Their keening was not about ‘mercenary tears’. According to one witness, “…circle after circle rapidly formed, and the shrieks of grief and woe resounded through the good Thomas Arbuthnot from stem to stern”. (Reid and Mongan, ‘a decent set of girls’, p.123).
S ariú! Agus méliom féin
Dá mbeitheá go moch agam…
Agus och! och! ochón airiú! – gan thú!
(And now I’m on my own,
If I had you at the break of dawn…
Agus och! och! ochón airiú! – without you!)
Or maybe this one farewelled those going to join the Lismoyne in August 1849; it’s called Slán le Máigh. It’s associated with localities near the River Maigue.
Och, ochón, is breoite mise
gan chuid gan chóir gan chóip gan chiste
gan sult gan seod gan spórt gan spionnadh
ó seoladh mé chun uaignis.
(Alas, alas! ’tis sickly I am,
Without possessions or rights, without company or treasure,
Without pleasure or property, without sport or vigour,
Since I was sent into loneliness.)
(my thanks to Tom Power and Síle ní Murphy for this caoineadh)
But back to the Earl Grey orphans: it was more than a week after leaving Belfast before they could board their ship at Plymouth. Their first journey would be long and uncomfortable. On the night of 24 May 1848, the young women from Dungannon, Cooktown, Armagh, Banbridge and other outlying workhouses slept in an auxiliary Belfast workhouse building in Barrack Street where Poor Law Inspector Senior called the roll.
Sarah Arlow Heer, Sur
Isabella Banks Here sir
Susan Barnett Here, sir
Annie Best Sur, here
Margaret Best Sur, here (This is not the way, me trying to reproduce dialects. I should stop that.)
The next day they joined the orphans from Belfast workhouse and later that day, all 185 of them, made their way through the streets of Belfast to join the steamer Athlone at the docks. It was quite a parade, a long line of young women in the charge of James Caldwell, Ward Master, accompanied by PL Inspector Senior, maybe some other Workhouse officers and members of the Board of Guardians, and ‘friends’ of the orphan emigrants, all of them making their way from Belfast workhouse (now the City Hospital, am I right?) across town to the pier at the docks. Their boxes would have preceded them and been put on board in the hold before they arrived. Maybe the sun was shining that spring evening or a light drizzle fell on their faces? Maybe there was a lot of crying? Maybe there was laughter and banter? The next morning they arrived in Dublin, 26 May.
Other emigrant families joined this first shipload of female orphans in Dublin. But the orphans had to stay on board while Lieutenant Henry inspected them. Then they waited till the steamer left for Plymouth the following evening, the 27th. It was yet another 42 hours before they arrived at Plymouth Depot, at 2 o’clock on Monday 29 May! The following days were spent in the Depot being checked by representatives of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners and being organized into messes. James Caldwell later reported to the Otway enquiry (Barefoot…?, vol. 1) that one orphan had lost a shoe in landing and another lacked “two bed gowns and one petticoat that she had not been furnished with; I bought material to make her two bed gowns and one petticoat and gave it to her; the clothes of the Belfast girls were numbered, and a card, with a list of their clothing, nailed on the inside of the box…”.
Crossing by steamer from Dublin or Cork to Plymouth was probably the most uncomfortable part of the orphans’ long voyage. The steamers were known as ‘deckers’, that is, there was little protection from the elements. Our orphans may have slept lying down on the deck in crowded conditions, making do with the meagre supply of food they carried with them. There was plenty of time to be sea-sick, or be drenched by the rain. Ach Jeez Mary Boyle will ye move over and let me lie down? Eliza Carroll’s just been sick. I don’t want to sleep next to her.
The Plymouth Emigrant Depot
In October 1849, Surgeon Charles Strutt, the best Surgeon the orphans could have wished for, saw that orphans intended for the Thomas Arbuthnot were in a miserable, bedraggled, soaking-wet state when they arrived in Plymouth. He organized a bath for over a hundred of them. One can only hope that other surgeons were capable of such kindness. Many an Earl Grey orphan appreciated a good meal and a decent night’s sleep in the Emigration Depot before boarding the vessel that would take her to Australia.
The Emigrant Depot in Plymouth was also the place where well-meaning members of parliament, clergymen and naval officers saw prospective emigrants for the colonies. They were quick to express their opinions and prejudices to the Commissioners. Thus the “girls” by the first two vessels (the Earl Grey and the Roman Emperor) “did not show any peculiar absence of cleanliness, yet, with some exceptions, they were wanting in that orderly and tidy appearance which characterize many of the female emigrants from Great Britain. Though generally short and not at all well-looking, they did not appear weak or unhealthy; they seemed good-humoured and well-disposed…” (Mr Divett M.P. August 1848). Or, “I would say that they were better calculated for milking cows and undergoing the drudgery of a farm servant’s life, than to perform the office of a lady’s maid” (Rev. T. Childs, August 1848). Meanwhile, that same month, Lieutenant Carew R.N. commented sympathetically, “In one respect they are very inferior, viz. in personal appearance and physical development, caused, I believe, by a life of poverty, and having from infancy been always ill-fed. Could these girls, however, be seen after having been six months in Australia, after having, during that time, enjoyed the fresh air and plenty of good nourishing food, with a feeling of independence, I believe the change would be so wonderful that it would be difficult to recognize them…”. (from British Parliamentary Papers, 1,000 volume Irish Universities Press edition, Colonies Australia Sessions 1849-50, Despatches from the Right Honourable Earl Grey, Secretary of State, vol.11, pp. 351-2).
The Plymouth Depot was the first and only place, on English soil, that representatives of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners (CLEC) actually met the orphans. They would examine their papers; check their boxes; see that each had the outfit required; and check they were in a good state of health. That the CLEC paid such meticulous attention to the Earl Grey scheme is the reason the orphans’ death rate was so low; less than 1%! It is worth repeating; the female orphans who arrived in Australia did not experience the tragic death rates of the Irish who went to British North America in 1847-8. Australia did not have a Grosse Isle or a Partridge Island or the grief that extended all along the St. Lawrence River.
Regulations for the Voyage to Australia
Britain’s 1843 Passenger Act and the modified 1847 and 1849 Acts may have imploded under the sheer weight of Irish numbers fleeing to British North America. But they worked well for the Earl Grey female orphans who went to Australia. The Australian scheme was very well organized, which is not to say it didn’t have its problems. The Passenger Acts, like the Earl Grey scheme itself, were a work in progress; it would not be until the 1855 Act that the British government was satisfied they had things the way they wanted. My impression is that the earlier regulations and charter parties, (i.e. contracts between CLEC and shipping companies or their brokers), focused particularly on ships’ conditions, space for emigrants, their dietary, and prevention of intercourse between female migrants and crew members. It was not until early October 1849 that a detailed regulation of the emigrant’s day was written down and given an official imprimatur. That’s something worth checking since it implies the orphans who sailed before October 1849 were not subject to the same detailed guidelines as those who sailed after that date.
Extract from Charter Party of Thomas Arbuthnot 18 August 1848
(not carrying orphans this time but it did carry Surgeon Strutt)
We hereby tender to Her majesty’s Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners the above Ship, rated A1 at Lloyds, for the conveyance of Passengers to Port Adelaide, Port Phillip or Sydney at the rate of £13-15- Pt Phillip, £13-17-6 Pt Adelaide, £13-7-6 Sydney for each Adult passenger, subject to the stipulations contained in the Charter Party hereto annexed…
4. That the said Ship shall at all times during the continuance of this contract be fitted in the between decks with proper bed places for the accommodation of he passengers, and with a separate Hospital for males and females, fitted up with bed places and two swing cots; and that the said Ship shall also be fitted and furnished with with sufficient water closets, a head pump, a good accommodation ladder for the use of passengers in embarking and disembarking; and, also for the exclusive use of passengers, with such cooking apparatus as may be approved by the said Commissioners…of good coals, wood, and coke; of scrapers, brooms, swabs, sand, and stones for dry rubbing, four to be mounted; together with whatever else the said Commissioners or their Agents, be thought necessary for the cleanliness of the Ship, and the comfort and safety of the passengers in addition to the following mess utensils viz.–For each Mess of six persons.
One mess kit, with handle,
One tin oval dish–About 14 inches long and 4 inches deep,
One mess bread basket–About 14 inches long, 6 1/2 inches deep and 10 wide with handles,
Two three-pint tin pots, with covers and bar hooks, for boiling water,
Two water-breakers of two gallons each, properly slung for use,
One potatoe bag,
One pudding bag,
with an addition of one-fifth to provide against loss or breakage…
19. And it is hereby mutually agreed that the Commissioners have the right to appoint a Surgeon, who shall be entitled to a cabin, to be approved by their Agent, with an allowance of forty cubical feet of space in the hold for luggage, and shall be dieted at the Captain’s table, on condition of his taking the medical charge of of the Officers and Crew of the Ship.
20. That the Master is strictly to forbid and prevent on the part of the Crew or Officers any intercourse whatever with the Female Passengers on board, and also the sale of spirituous or fermented liquors to the Passengers.
Which is not to say such conditions were rigorously adhered to; one of the ‘mistakes’ of the Surgeon (?) of the Earl Grey was to make the messes too large, about twenty five orphans together, instead of a much smaller, more easily controlled, number. He and the Matron would get into a heap of trouble with the ‘Belfast Girls’.
Extract from the 1849 Regulations
Appendix 7 to the 10th General Report of the CLEC 6 October 1849
You can read it at http://www.dippam.ac.uk/eppi/documents/12723/page/320998“>http://www.dippam.ac.uk/eppi/documents/12723/page/320998 Click on the second one.
(You may have to type the reference into your browser and ‘go to’ page 46)
1. Every passenger to rise at 7 a.m. unless otherwise permitted by the surgeon, or, if no surgeon, by the master.
2. Breakfast from 8 to 9 a. m., dinner at 1 p.m., supper at 6 p.m….
8. The passengers, when dressed, to roll up their beds, to sweep the decks (including the space under the bottom of the berths), and to throw the dirt overboard…
11. Duties of the sweepers to be to clean the ladders, hospitals, and round houses, to sweep the decks after every meal, and to dry-holystone and scrape them after breakfast…
18. On Sunday the passengers to be mustered at 10 a.m., when they will be expected to appear in clean and decent apparel. The day to be observed as religiously as circumstances will admit…
1. The emigrants are to be divided into messes…
3. The surgeon-superintendent will appoint from among the emigrants a sufficient number of constables for the enforcement of the regulations, and of cleanliness and good order.
4. The constables will attend daily at the serving out of the provisions, to see that each mess receives its proper allowance, and that justice is done…
7. If there be no religious instructor on board, or schoolmaster appointed by the Commissioners, the surgeon-superintendent will select a person to act as teacher to the children.
The Route Taken
In post 7 (a) there is a picture of the Constance as it made its way to Adelaide. I’ve reproduced it here. Have a look where Kerguelens Land is on the map below, which is from Robin Haines, Doctors at Sea, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, p. 3, with permission of the author. It’s just above where it says ‘Southern Ocean’.
The Captain’s decision to take the recently discovered Great Circle Route meant the Constance arrived in Adelaide in record time, after only 77 days. But she had to sail through the icy waters of the Southern Ocean, dodging pack ice, and endangering her passengers. (There were a number of deaths on board the Constance). The Commissioners were furious but eventually they recommended a modified route for emigrant ships sailing to Australia, according to the time of year. Fortunately, no ship carrying orphans went so far south. The Earl Grey was to take 123 days but somewhere along the way it lost its yardarm and mainmast which slowed its progress considerably. The Thomas Arbuthnot, in contrast, took only 88 days, according to the unidentified witness quoted above (re keening). By my count the figure should be 96 days. According to my calculations, the average length of the voyage between Plymouth and Adelaide for Earl Grey orphan ships was c. 101 days; for Port Phillip, c. 98 days; and for Port Jackson, c. 108 days. No matter which ship the orphans boarded, it was a long time to be at sea.
How did they pass the time?
Regulations such as those above, and Instructions to Surgeons, give us some idea how the orphans’ day was planned; when to rise; when to open and close scuttles and hatches; when to eat; when to sweep and clean; when to knit or sew; when to go to school, or when to go on deck, and when to go to bed. But remember, the Commissioners were not on board to oversee how well their regulations were applied. As I’ve said before, there is often a difference between how things should be and how things are, in practice. There were, in fact, lots of variables involved.
How well did a Surgeon relate to young women, and they to him? Was the Surgeon’s relationship with the ship’s Captain and Officers to their mutual advantage? What if the Captain was uncooperative and irascible?
How strong a personality was the Matron? How caring was she? Could she explain to an orphan having her first period what was happening? Help! Help! There’s blood all over my legs. What’s happening to me?– Shush now, Ellen. Here, come here, my wee pet. Some of the young women on the Roman Emperor began having their first period, only to find the Surgeon unprepared for the eventuality. There were not enough ‘cloths’ on board to go round. The main illness recorded by the Surgeon of the Earl Grey was amenorrhoea. Either ovulation was suppressed by severe physiological hardship and stress, or some young ones were beginning to ovulate in a stop-start sort of way.
What were the dynamics of adolescent interaction between themselves, and towards authority figures; Surgeon, Matron or Sub-Matron, Master of their vessel or First Mate? How did young adolescent women relate to other members of the crew? Mary Madgett, Mary, Look at the young fella with the scarf on his head? Isn’t he lovely? Isn’t he busy? And what happened if unforeseen events occurred– blustery stormy sea-swelling weather when a mainmast broke, and came crashing down–how scary was that for someone who had not been to sea before? What excitement and chatter there was when they stopped at Tenerife or the Cape of Good Hope for ‘wood and water’, saw an albatross or shark, or were invited by King Neptune to join him in Davy Jones’s locker when they ‘crossed the line’.
The Commissioners, however, had a weapon in hand. Surgeons were required to keep a diary and a medical journal. When the ships arrived in Australia an Immigration Agent and his assistants inspected the ship and interviewed the migrants. If anything was remiss, if the conditions of the Charter Party were found to be unfulfilled, then gratuities for the Master and his Officers, and for the Matron and the Surgeon were withheld, and they would never again be employed on an emigrant ship.
On the second vessel to Sydney, the Inchinnan, there was short issue of rations and maltreatment of some of the orphans by the Surgeon, Mr. Ramsay. See http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/1512513?zoomLevel=2 The young women on board were gutsy enough to complain about and redress the short issue of rations. They were gutsy, litigious young women prepared to stand up for their rights. Mary Stephens/Stevens from Mayo even took the Captain to court for throwing her on the deck, for kicking her and beating her with a stick. An account of the case was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald 8 March 1849. You can read about it here, in a report from the Central Criminal Court http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/1512481?zoomLevel=1
On the Digby, the orphans were also defrauded of a large portion of their rations. The Immigration Board in Sydney (Merewether, Savage and Browne) submitted a detailed report to the Colonial Secretary based on the Surgeon’s private log. It provided overwhelming evidence that the Captain was “utterly unfit to command an emigrant ship”. “Dr Neville further charged the Master with having ‘permitted the Sailors to be too familiar with the female Emigrants in opposition to the authority on board and clause No 20 of the Charter Party'”. (The reference I have is State Records NSW Reel 2852 4/4699 Reports 1838-49 but it is an old one).
Or again–in November 1849 Francis Merewether, the Immigration Agent, informed the Master of the William and Mary that gratuities to himself and his Officers were being withheld. The Matron was to receive only half of hers and three of the sub-matrons nothing at all. The Captain and his Officers were rude, insulting and interfered with the Surgeon when he tried to perform his duties. And they had not issued the emigrants with their full allowance of rations and medical comforts. Dysentery, diarrhoea and amenorrhoea were the principal diseases on board.
Not that these examples are typical of the whole Earl Grey scheme. But it’s worth searching for such reports, if only for what they tell us about the orphans’ voyage. The Surgeon of the Roman Emperor to Adelaide reported that “to establish discipline, preserve good order and prevent moral evil, I experienced much difficulty…The excitement caused by arrival which naturally prevails, inordinately affects the Irish of the class to which these emigrants belong”. The Inconstant to Adelaide also had its troubles; matrons visiting the Captain’s cabin; the Captain reputedly striking the Surgeon; crew members’ dissatisfaction with their Captain. Becca, Johanna, Did you see that hussy go off with the Captain? Will we tell the others?
For the sake of balance, here are a couple of examples from ships arriving in Hobson’s Bay, Port Phillip: Isabella Browne, acting as a nurse and in charge of the Hospital on the Diadem, arranged nocturnal visits (i.e. at 2 .am.) for occasional crew members. Yet “it appears that the Surgeon Superintendent used much vigilance in endeavouring to prevent communication or intercourse between the girls and crew, seldom retiring from the deck to his Cabin before 12 o’Clock at night, and sometimes 1 or 2 o ‘Clock in the morning”. To modern eyes, middle class Victorians certainly had a fixation about keeping the sexes apart.
And from the report on the Derwent, “9. The Board cannot conclude without remarking upon the very indifferent success attending the School established on board…” although the greater part of the orphans “attended the school regularly throughout the voyage, very few had learned to spell their own names or the most simple words”. It would appear Northeners were adept at bucking the system.
Let me finish this by comparing two very different voyages, that of the Earl Grey and that of the Thomas Arbuthnot. They illustrate some of the things I’ve been talking about. But they are like chalk and cheese. The Surgeon of the Earl Grey, Henry Grattan Douglass was a fifty-eight year old member of the Protestant Irish Ascendancy. He had little sympathy for the young women in his charge, especially the ‘Belfast girls’, and even less understanding. They clashed early in the voyage, barely two weeks out. “The first eight or ten days most of the people were sick, and I did not pay much attention to the language used by them, but when they recovered, the difficulty I had with them for the first month was extreme, as they used the most abominable language. and actually fought with each other”. (See my Barefoot…? vol. 1, or Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Council of New South Wales 1850, vol. 1 pp.394ff).
On the 16th June Douglass found two orphans fighting, one of them armed with a fork,– maybe Catherine Graham or Catherine McCann? I’ll have your bloody guts with this, ya wee shite. Douglass ordered her to be put on the Poop where she was bound to be reviled, insulted and mocked by the crew. (The Surgeon of the Inchinnan would later be chastised for using such a punishment. Not so Dr Douglass). The Belfast ‘girls’ objected to Douglass’s authoritarianism and rose in revolt demanding Cathy’s release. As you’d expect, there’d be only one winner in such a clash, the one who held most power and who was backed by the Master of the vessel. Maybe they reached an uneasy truce. The women, some of them undoubtedly worldly-wise, street smart, and all too familiar with the school of hard knocks, set down their markers. We’re going to swear as much as we like, ‘borrow’ each others clothes as much as we like, No, I’m not going to mend my bonnet. It’s torn. I’ll wipe my boots with it if I want to, stop anyone else coming into the Belfast ‘mess’, talk with members of the crew when we’re on deck, tell the Matron what we think of her. Helsfuckenbells. Piss off Banbridge. Back to where you came from.
In evidence taken by the Sydney Orphan Committee, in December 1848, the Matron was asked, “32. Was there any improper conduct on the part of any of the crew in connexion with these females?” “I wished to stop all intercourse between the immigrants and the crew, and to prohibit the girls speaking to them, but the Doctor thought this was impossible…”. Maybe the Belfast women won some minor victories after all? Hey Mister. Come and talk with us. What’s that? You have to wait till eight bells. You have eight bells? Woo-hoo
But Douglass was scathing in his criticism of the orphans once he arrived in Sydney. The orphans “were early abandoned to the unrestricted gratification of their desires…the professed public woman and barefooted little country beggar have been alike sought after as fit persons to pass through the purification of the workhouse, ere they were sent as a valuable addition to the Colonists of New South Wales”…”one woman was married, and had run away from her husband…the women frequently charged each other with having had children…they were for the most part addicted to stealing, and to using the most obscene and gross language…” . He was to single out, and name, 56 orphans who were sent to Maitland and Moreton Bay, instead of landing in Sydney.
Hey Gina, Are you gonna give Mr Fancy pants, Mr Smellunderthenose, a dose? Fuckoff Black. Shut yer bake. Where’d ya leave yer wee dick of a husband anyway? Were you and yer Ma on the game, or not? She was a right hoorbeg.
The voyage of the Thomas Arbuthnot would be very different indeed. The Surgeon, Charles Strutt was a thirty-five year old unmarried Englishman. (He was later to marry Bridget Ryan from Ennis, in Geelong–Reid & Mongan, decent, p.169) His diary has survived, as has that of Arthur Hodgson, politician and Darling Downs squatter who also travelled on the Thomas Arbuthnot at this time. Richard Reid and Cheryl Mongan also reproduce, in their decent set of girls, (pp.115-26) an essay entitled ‘Female Emigration’, author unknown, which is a most useful account of the voyage.
Whereas Douglass knew little about the young women in his charge–he claimed the orphans from Cavan were well-behaved but alas, no Cavan orphans were on his vessel–Strutt would refer to “my people”, and when asked if any would accompany him to Yass, “130 at once expressed their wish to go any place that I might be going to”. Where Douglass had shaky support from an English born Matron, Maria Cooper and her daughter–“if I made a remark to any of them, all I had in return was “Thank goodness, we shall not long have her to bully over us”— Strutt had Mrs Murphy, a 42 year old widow from Dublin, and her daughter, to support his efforts to apply ‘detailed’ regulations. They made school lessons work especially well, “with patience, kindness and care”.
Strutt empathized with his charge. He was kind; he improved ventilation through the hatches and personally mended lanterns; he arranged salt-water baths in warmer latitudes; issued lime juice and plum pudding, and let ‘his girls’ stay up a little longer on deck. But he applied discipline; he made his charges work, and he made them work hard. “Friday 7 December My girls have become much more orderly and tidy under the constant steady pressure I keep up against holes, rags, tatters and dirt”. He allowed them their play. Meg, Mary, Bridget, Ann, Let’s give this handsome Walter Davidson a couple of pinches. You first Biddy. See if he can catch us.
Strutt allowed the young women from Galway, Clare, Kerry and Dublin to express themselves in song and dance, taking their turn with their reels, slipjigs and quadrilles, –maybe a South Galway set or step dancing, St Patrick’s Day, The Blackbird and Three Sea Captains–dances the orphans would know–beating out their own rhythm, learning new moves, glad to be alive.
Let me finish with an extract from the essay on “Female Emigration’ mentioned earlier. It is an account of the Arbuthnot voyage seen through rose-tinted glasses but it demonstrates how, in the right circumstances and with the right people, the Commissioners’ regulations could work.
“The berths settled, and duly taken possession of, the next thing was to arrange the messes. Each mess consisted of eight persons, and a card was given, showing the provisions that were to be delivered out each day of the week, with the quantity on each day”. In addition to their mess kit, “the Commissioners added, for each emigrant, a new mattress, bolster, blankets and counterpane; a large canvass bag, for holding linen and clothes, a knife and fork, two spoons, a metal plate, and a drinking mug—all of which articles they were allowed to retain upon landing…
As the regular routine of the day was now fully established, our readers may be interested in learning its details. By half past seven all the Emigrants who were in good health were expected to be washed, dressed, and in a neat and fitting order to present themselves…When breakfast was ready the cook reported it to the officer of the watch…the ship’s bell was rung, and the breakfast served out in regular rotation, to the respective messes…
Immediately after breakfast the berths, tables, lockers and ‘between decks’ were swept clean; well scraped, and polished with holystones and sand; the ladders were brought on deck, scraped and washed, the mattresses and bedding neatly folded up, and everything made clean, dry and comfortable. In the early days of the voyage there was a lot of dampness until caulking of the leaking timbers was completed. Maggie, Maggie, don’t open that side port. Oh hell we’re soaked.
At half past ten the Surgeon Superintendent, generally accompanied by the master of the carpenter, took his rounds of inspection…a girl with her hair unbrushed, holes in any part of her attire, or dirty hands never escaped reprimand. In general, however, his commendation far exceeded his censures…
At eleven the various classes of the school commenced…The classes succeeded each other throughout the day, when the weather permitted, and the pupils made a regular, and some of them a rapid advance, in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Neither were needle-work and knitting neglected; industry was the order of the day, and it was rare to see any of the girls unemployed, for any length of time…
Whilst the morning classes were going on the Surgeon attended in the Hospital…After this he…investigated grievances, heard complaints on both sides, rebuked quarrelling or negligence, and endeavoured to reconcile differences, when they occurred… Doctor, Harriet Carmody won’t let me brush her hair and she’s taken my comb. Tell her to give it back.
At half past twelve the cook gave the welcome report that dinner was ready; and the officer of the watch having tasted it, and pronounced it to be dressed as it ought to be, the ship’s bell was rung…and immediately served to the messes in due order; one person from each mess attending to receive it, and to take it down to the rest. After dinner the school was resumed till half past five, when the ship’s bell announced that tea was ready, and it was served out with the same regularity as had been observed with respect to breakfast and dinner. Thus regularly and methodically were the wants of two hundred passengers provided for day by day, whilst those of the crew, nearly fifty in number, the captain, mates and fourteen cabin passengers were all attended to with the same punctuality…
We left our large party at tea, but sounds of gaiety are heard, and we find the remainder of the evening is to be passed in singing; dancing, and other innocent amusements…At dusk, lanterns were hung on deck to light the dancers, and equally between decks, for…those who preferred remaining below. At eight, or a little later, according to the weather, all the girls retired to their quarters, the between decks were swept clean…the Surgeon-Superintendent paid his last visit at half-past nine; all the lamps were extinguished, with the exception of three, and the doors were closed until half-past five the next morning.
…We are now approaching the end of the voyage…’we ranged cables, took a pilot on board, entered the Heads, and cast anchor near Garden Island about dusk…The Health Officer came on board, was much pleased with the condition of the ship…The following morning we came into the Cove, and were inspected by the Colonial Secretary, the Agent for Immigration, the Health Officer of the port, and several other gentlemen. They were highly satisfied with the order and regularity on board, the good health, fatness, and deportment of the girls, the cleanliness of the decks, berths, tables, pots and pans, etc., and to do the poor girls justice, they deserved the praise, for they had exerted themselves to the utmost, and spared no trouble or labour’.
This account is well worth examining. It’s reprinted in full in R. Reid & C. Mongan, ‘a decent set of girls The Irish Famine orphans of the Thomas Arbuthnot 1849-1850, Yass, 1996, pp.115-126. (update: thanks to the great detective work of Karen Semken we know a slightly earlier version appeared in the Daily News, London, Wednesday 6 November 1850, under the heading, ‘Emigration and the Colonies’. It’s looking increasingly likely that it was written by Strutt himself.)
Did an orphan’s voyage experience affect her life in Australia, do you think?