Arrival and early days
“And after the commanded journey, what?…A gazing out from far away, alone”
(Seamus Heaney, Lightenings)
It looks like I’ll be trying to square the circle once more. Searching for reliable sources that describe the arrival and early days of the Famine orphans in Australia is one thing. Trying to find what the young women themselves thought of the experience, is another. Allow me to keep the training I’ve had as an academic historian. At the same time, please cut me cut some slack when it comes to ‘inventing’ the orphans’ voice. As before, my idea of their voice will appear in blue typeface. I’ll look for other sources too, poetry reading, pictures and the like, so we may imagine the orphans other than through the eyes of officialdom.
Surgeon Strutt’s diary has an exemplary account of the Thomas Arbuthnot arriving in Sydney 3 February 1850, at the height of an Australian summer. The diary appears in full in Richard Reid and Cheryl Mongan’s, ‘a decent set of girls’ The Irish Famine orphans of the ‘Thomas Arbuthnot’ 1849-1850, Yass, 1996.
Buíochas le Dia, Maire Brandon. Tá sé go breá innui.
Chomh te. No, no Bríde Burke. The doctor says we have to speak English. Oh Lord, I’m sweating so. Where’s the sea breeze gone to?
Strutt’s diary recorded his eyewitness account of the official landing process. The orphans and other passengers remained on the ship whilst the Sydney Board of Immigration, consisting of F.L.S. Merewether, Health Officer Savage and Water Police Magistrate, H.H. Browne, along with Robert Hardy, a clerk from the Immigration department, came on board and drew up a Board of Immigration List. The List was to fulfill the requirements of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners in London; had the Surgeon, the Ship’s Captain and Officers carried out their obligations? had the terms of the Charter Party, the contract between CLEC and Shipowner, been met? Details such as names of orphans, their native place, religion, occupation, parents’ names, state of health, literacy, relations in the colony, if any, any complaints, were all recorded with meticulous attention. Sometimes names and places of origin would go awry, the clerk writing down in a phonetic way what he thought the young woman said. Glitches such as this, notwithstanding, the Board of Immigration Shipping Lists are an amazing record of all the orphans who landed in Sydney.
Innesdiamond, [Ennistymon] Clare
Abinachmaigh [Abbeyknockmoy], Galway. Mother at Tume (Tuam)
A similar record, if not with quite the same details, was made at the other two ports of entry, Melbourne and Adelaide. Immigration Agent Patterson at Port Phillip and Captain Brewer at Port Adelaide, accompanied by clerks and representatives from their Orphan Committee, went on board to examine the female orphans before they disembarked. Thus Lady Kennaway orphan, 14 year-old Bridget Ferry from Dunfanaghy, when asked if she was in possession of a Bible, could reply Prayer Book and Testament. For these early arrivals especially, and before the demand for servants fell– which occurred towards the end of the scheme–prospective and approved employers went on board ship to hire their servant directly. Nonetheless, most orphans were hired from the Immigration Depot in each city.
Here are some pics. The first is a sketch of what looks like emigrants landing at Glenelg in South Australia, not that the orphans landed there, of course(??) Their ships docked at Port Adelaide.
The next one is of Hobson’s Bay, Williamstown. There are lots of ships in Port Phillip Bay, more than when the orphans landed. The Victorian gold rush was under way.
This next is of Port Jackson. It’s by Oswald Brierly and called ‘Emigrants arriving at Sydney Cove’, dated 1853. Again it’s a couple of years after the Earl Grey scheme ended. There’s a steamer in the background, bottom right of the pic.
On the 8th February 1850 Strutt wrote in his diary,
“Landed all the girls in a large steamer and walked at their head to the Depot [Hyde park Barracks]. There was such weeping and wailing at leaving the ship; when on board the steamer an effort was made to give three cheers, but with very indifferent success. I stopped nearly all day at the Depot with them and got them settled as well as I could and saw that they all got their dinner, which unluckily was a meagre one, being a fast day. They will now be visited by the Catholic clergy and nuns for about a fortnight, confessed and persuaded to take the pledge. They will then be permitted to take situations”.
The Irish Famine Memorial website http://www.irishfaminememorial.org has a link to ‘the historical walk the young women took from the harbour to Hyde Park Barracks’ which is well worth a visit. Not that the roads and ‘pavements’ the orphans walked were the same as nowadays.
Another interesting account, this time of the arrival of the Inconstant orphans, appeared in the South Australian Register, 13 June 1849 (p.2. Local Intelligence bottom rt of page). Nowadays, with digitisation, research among newspapers has becomemuch easier than before. Here’s the link to the paragraph I’m talking about. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/4148476?zoomLevel=1 . The orphans had arrived at Port Adelaide, 8th June, about 14 kilometres away from the Native School on North Terrace, where they were to find “temporary asylum”. Travelling by dray gave them plenty of time to look around at their ‘new’ country. What a sight they must have made.
A NEW WORLD
What did the Famine orphans think of this ‘new world’? Did some of them make their way to the Depot, their eyes down, frightened little waifs, still traumatised by their Famine and workhouse experience? Or did some have a sense of freedom, of being liberated from their past, being healed in part by their long sea journey? Undoubtedly some did, some didn’t, and some were somewhere in between. But I refuse to deny them the wonder of a world turned upside down which greeted them when they came to Australia.
After the hurly-burly of the harbour and goods being loaded and unloaded at the docks, travelling to the Depot gave the young women a chance to look around.
Hanna Hayes, Hanna Hayes, will ye look at them big white birds? Look, look, watch them swoop. Squawwck, squawwk. They’re wearing a big yellow comb on their head. Lordy, lordy.
Ach no, Kitty Kelly. Look over there. Who’s that man watching over the river? Over there, over there–the tall black man standing straight. He’s standing on one leg. [26 March 1850, Strutt tells in his diary of an Aboriginal man refusing to take Biddy Rabbit as his wife; his wives would be jealous and anyway, she had “too much yabber”.]
Aw Mary Carty, Ellen Dunbar, will ya look at that. Ah go on. I dare ya. Talk to him.
“You observe…He wears a broad-brimmed cabbage tree hat…a check shirt, open at the neck, and presenting a bold front; a blue jacket, and a gay waistcoat. His trowsers…are cut so much to the quick, that your dread of their bursting keeps you in a state of uncomfortable nervous apprehension. He wears an immense moustache…and a red scarf or comforter is tied around his waist”. (Lurgan etc Agricultural Gazette 4 Oct 1849)
Where’s Mary Power? She knows all her flowers. What’s that yellow flowering bush by the side of the road?
Young Mary Power probably had no idea what it was. The people, the flora, the fauna, everything was so very different to what the orphans knew. Even the sky seemed bluer, and further away than at ‘home’. The light was brighter. The sun shone harder. They were seeing things few people in Ireland had ever seen–wallabies and kangaroos, kookaburras and lizards, and big hairy spiders, bright coloured parrots, wattle and gum trees, red earth and dry dust, and Aboriginal people coming into town.
Let me try giving you a sense of some of this. My thanks to http://tintean.org.au/ for the link.
Let’s see if this works. It’s part of a trailer for an Irish film called “Assimilation”. https://vimeo.com/75656628 Louis de Paor is reading from his poem ‘Didjeridu’ (from his Gobán Cré is Cloch). Here’s the central verse of his poem. An English version appears as subtitles on the video. He’s accompanied by Kev Carmody on Didgeridoo.
Má sheashann tú gan chor
ar feadhsoicind amháin
nó míle bliain
cuirfudh sé ealta liréan
ag neadú i easc na gcuach
id chlaon fholt cam
ar do ghuaillí loiscthe
is cucabora niogóideach
ag fonóid féd chosa geala,
beidh treibhanna ársa an aeir
ag cleitearnach timpeall ort
ag labhairt i mbéalrá
ná tuigeann do chroí
gall ghaelach bán.
Hey Mister, Where we goin’?
To the Immigration Depot? How far is it?
Who’s the Matron, do ye know? Hey, Hanna, Mary, Jane…Alice Smith, listen, the matron’s a Cork woman at the Barracks.
Isn’t that the best news? It’s the best news I’ve heard all day, so it is.
The Port Jackson (Sydney) arrivals made their way up the hill to the former convict building, Hyde Park Barracks which was refurbished to accommodate female immigrants earlier in 1848; the Port Adelaide arrivals would travel to the Native School, behind Matthew Moorhouse’s residence on North Terrace in Adelaide itself; I’m not sure where the Port Phillip (Melbourne) orphans first went. Did the Lady Kennaway orphans go to a building in Williamstown? I doubt they went to any kind of tent city, colonial authorities being ever so concerned these young women were “without natural protectors”. However, on the 5th January 1849 the Port Phillip Gazette reported that Governor Fitzroy had arranged for “the depot situated on allotments 8 and 9 of section 16 at the angle of William Street and Collins Street has been appropriated as an establishment for the reception of the…female orphan immigrants from Ireland”. That presumably was were the Melbourne Immigration Depot was situated.
For some of the young women, Depot life could be an untimely reminder of their workhouse days. They were once again subjected to an institutional discipline. Orphan ships sometimes arrived within months of each other. With each ship carrying about 200 young women, pressure was put on Immigration Agents and Matrons alike. To cope with such a large body, some kind of regimen was necessary–when should the young women go to bed, when should they rise, when they should eat, when should they prepare themselves to meet their prospective employers. Should they be allowed to return to the Depot when their indentures were cancelled?
Naturally, conflicts did occur between government officials and the young women–the Elgin orphans, like so many others in Sydney and Melbourne, spent too long talking to men after they attended church on Sunday–according to those in authority. There were differences over personal hygiene and who should clean up the mess. Words were said and tempers flared. Something of Depot regulations may be seen in the instructions meted out to Country depots in South Australia–No person to remain in Depot if she refuses any respectable situation; the matron’s orders to be in all cases strictly obeyed under pain of expulsion; no girl to sell her bedding or any part of her property at the depot.
Sometimes matrons themselves defied regulations. Mrs Murphy in Adelaide defied Matthew Moorhouse by allowing orphans to visit her “in defiance of all instructions”, sometimes allowing an orphan to stay overnight. She was given to a ‘secret harbouring of orphans’, according to Moorhouse. Mrs Murphy said “she could not have it on her conscience of having refused any girl a night’s lodgings”. But it appears she lost her job for her troubles.
I’m not filling the water casks, Nora McDonald. It’s not my turn.
She called me a blackguard slut, so she did. I did not. Yes you did. Not. Did. Not. Did.
Lizzie Coogan. Watch out. They’ll stop your tea and sugar.
Even worse was the treatment of some orphans whose indentures were cancelled in New South Wales: they were put into a cramped and poorly ventilated room at the Barracks to pick oakum (unpicking old rope). Only when the Sisters of Mercy intervened did the practice end, and the young women sent to country depots at Wollongong, Parramatta, Bathurst, Maitland, Newcastle, Port Macquarie, and Moreton Bay.
The Immigration depots were designed to be temporary accommodation for the Earl Grey orphans, an asylum where they could rest awhile and receive religious instruction from the clergy of their faith. But their primary purpose was to hire out the orphans as servants, indenture those under 17(?) as apprentices and hire out the others under “ordinary agreements”. (See the example of a Female Apprenticeship contract in post 13).
Members of the different Orphan Committees vetted potential employees. Anyone with a poor reputation or ran a public house would not be permitted to have an orphan as servant. But rules are made to be broken, and in practice cannot always be enforced. One can follow the approval process, and indeed the employment history of many of the orphans, in the Registers and Indexes of applications for orphans in New South Wales State Records 4/4715-57, and dispersed throughout the Immigration Agent’s correspondence beginning c. SRNSW 4/4635.
Colonial government officials and Orphan Committees were conscientious in adhering to the letter of the law, at least in the early days. Asking for character references; conferring power of attorney; even asking Police Magistrates in the country for character references from local clergy for prospective employers; arranging for constables to accompany orphans going to country depots; appointing married couples to look after the orphans in country depots were all grist to Merewether’s mill. Surgeon Strutt personally supervised the placement of ‘his girls’, 100 of whom accompanied him over the Ranges, through Goulburn, Yass and as far as Gundagai. The correct legal procedure for cancelling indentures was also enforced as far as practicable. In contrast, H H. Browne, Magistrate in the Water Police Office, presided over the Sydney court which cancelled orphan indentures. As member of the employer class, he tended to favour employers over the orphans. His prejudices were to come back to haunt him at a later date. Or maybe this too harsh an assessment, do you think?
The indenture system did not work so well in South Australia, despite the Governor’s Ordnance of August 1848 (See my blogpost no. 13). As long ago as 1964, Cherry Parkin pointed out in her Honours thesis at the University of Adelaide, that 142 employers had failed to apprentice their orphan servants, objecting to the legal formality of binding the ‘girls’. Whilst as early as January 1849, 32 out of 60 indentured ‘girls’ had left their situations, only one of whom was taken to court. Moorhouse, himself, objected to the expense involved in taking matters to court. (GRG24/6 1849 991 28 March) The problem then arose of how long authorities were obliged to accommodate orphans who returned to the depot after leaving their situations.
Perhaps you will allow me to return to the question of cancelled indentures at a later date?
Registers of application etc for orphans
No 326 From Adelaide Forbes, Wooloomooloo 5 April 1849 Expresses desire to get rid of Mary Ann Galway (Earl Grey) who entered her service November last. Answ. could only get rid of her by bringing her up at the Police Office or by a regular transfer of indentures
No. 807 John Armstrong, Surveyor Macquarie Street 24 August 1849 Applying for an orphan female as a general house Servant under an Indenture 895. Approved for an apprentice.
No 833 Mr J Solomons, Australia Hotel, Clarence St., 5 Sept 1849 Requests permission to have Ann Callaghan per Digby as general houseservant transferred from service of Colin MacLeod. Consent to this request against the rule laid down with reference to publicans.
No 967 Sarah Cullins per Lady Peel, Parramatta Street, Sydney 22 October 1849 complaining of ill-usage from her mistress and requesting to be removed from her service. Ask Dr Gregory to investigate.
My mistress was unkind sur. She called me a dirty papist and wouldn’t let me go to Mass on Sunday.
No 329 Principal Superintendent Convicts 12 March 1850 forwarding application of John Lawrence for permission to marry Rosanna Cartwright per Digby.
Immigration Agent’s correspondence SRNSW 4/4635
1848/106 10 August 1848 Military Barracks at Brisbane to be used as Immigrant Barracks
1848/129 Immigration depot to be established at Goulburn perhaps vacant Court House to be rented at £35 pa
1849/111 2 March 1849 the 19 orphans named in the margin to be taken to Parramatta, their binding to be approved by the clergyman of their religion.
Ach Jaysus Sarah Moran here we go again. Where to this time? Will it be any better than before? I’m going to find meself an ould fella to marry. I’ll be workin’ for no one but me.
Merewether in Sydney and Patterson in Melbourne coped with the influx of female orphans by distributing them throughout the colony. As the numbers increased and it became increasingly difficult to find employers for the orphans, such a strategy became imperative. The usual means of transport was by water. Many an orphan found herself on a boat again, this time on her way to Windsor or Parramatta, Wollongong or Newcastle, Maitland and the Hunter Valley, or to Port Macquarie and Brisbane, all of which could be reached by water. Otherwise, it was a long and probably less comfortable journey by dray over the mountains to Bathurst, Goulburn and beyond.
Strutt’s diary gives a wonderful account of his travels with 108 orphans from the Thomas Arbuthnot, over the Ranges and well into the South western regions of today’s New South Wales. He took “his girls” via Parramatta to Liverpool and Camden, over Razorback to Picton, across the Bargo River to Berrima and Goulburn, thence to Gunning and Yass. And from Yass he took the remaining 45 young women on a 12 hour trek to Gundagai. His round trip lasted from 18 February 1850 until 29 April.
Monday 18 Started with 108 girls and young women…by steamer to Parramatta
Tuesday 19 Started with 14 drays drawn by teams of horses, from 2 to 4 each. Was sworn in Special Constable on the occasion…Encamped for the night about ten miles beyond Liverpool, I sleeping under a dray, and much more tormented by ants, fleas or some creature that bit like fury.
aeeeeye aaeeeye aaah Wednesday 20…Mary Brandon and Mary Conway were thrown off..and the wheel went over their legs.
The orphans were not the only ones struck by the unfamiliar Australian fauna. Still using the “European’ words he was familiar with–‘forest’, magpies’ and ‘tarantula’–Strutt recorded in his diary,
Monday 25 …The forest was more animated with parrots, large magpies, cockatoos etc., to say nothing of the insect tribe, large ants, which make great hills three or four feet high, and as hard as clay very much sundried. The people use these hills beaten into a fine paste with water to make floors for their cottages. Biddy O’Dea caught a large tarantula, which she brought to me in her apron…
A similar tactic of distributing the orphans into the hinterland was employed by the Acting Immigration agent in Melbourne, John Patterson and Superintendent La Trobe. Below is a contemporary map, not drawn to scale which shows where some of the orphans were sent–Salt Water river, Geelong and Portland.
PROV VPRS 32 Police Magistrate Portland Letters-in. Item 4 contains letters from Superintendent La Trobe making arrangements for 37 orphans per Pemberton to be sent to Portland by the steamer Raven accompanied by Surgeon Sullivan and a sub-matron. Two of the major settlers in the area, Henty and Leake, were appointed as their Guardians.
PROV VPRS 34 Police Magistrate Portland Letters-out 1849-52 Item 3
“Police Magistrate Portland to his Honor the Superintendent 23 June 1849
The single females have been housed in the Immigration Barrack at the Customs post under the protection of two married immigrants recommended by the Surgeon and a married constable”.
The other major area to receive Earl Grey Famine orphans was Geelong. By the time the Eliza Caroline arrived in Port Phillip–the last orphan vessel, with orphans from Skibbereen on board–finding positions for them in Melbourne was extremely difficult. Many of them would be sent to Geelong.
I’m very much aware what I’ve left out or left undeveloped in this post. There are orphan histories begging to be told: Eliza Taafe per Inconstant designated as ‘insane’ when she arrived in Adelaide. The Surgeon later attributed her strange behaviour on board ship to her Famine experience in Ireland. A local doctor predicted she was not permanently insane: simply in need of kindness and care: Mary Stephens, of Inchinnan fame, whose indentures with J Mackay, in Sydney, were cancelled 20 July 1849 and she sent to Moreton Bay. [It is always pleasing to see the high standard of work being done by others interested in the Earl Grey Famine orphans, for example, on the website www.mayoorphangirls.weebly.com ] Mary Stephens, according to Ray Debnam, was visited in the Brisbane Barracks four times by Dr Ballow, 15 -19 August 1849. Less convincingly, Ray suggests she may have married Thomas Kavanagh in Brisbane RC Church 17 September 1849.
Or, to finish my three examples, Margaret Cumins per Pemberton ‘raped’–‘violated forcibly’– is the term used in her statement, by her employer Patrick Ryan at Salt Water River in 1849. (PROV VPRS 115/P unit 3 49/381. See also my Barefoot vol2., pp.31-4) “…when her relative was out milking the cows, Ryan violated her forcibly and against her will: she did not tell this to her relative or to anyone else at the time, but went back again to live at Ryan’s, and Ryan had frequently criminal connexion with her since that time…” Dr Rule told me the case did not go to court, perhaps a conviction would be too difficult. Margaret lived what Dr Rule calls a ‘fairly rackety life’ being convicted of robbery in 1862 and other convictions in the late 1860s. In 1872 she was sent from gaol to a lunatic asylum.
There are other details I’ve omitted from this post, Merewether’s administration of orphans being sent up country, for example; Im. Cor. 49/240 ‘Mr Featherstone to be in charge of the party [to Goulburn]. It will be his duty to keep a strict watch over the females on the road, to prevent them having any communication with strangers and not to allow them to quit his charge under any circumstances’,
which continues, Im. Cor. (49/271) 31 May Merewether to the Police Magistrate Parramatta re the misconduct of draymen who conducted orphans to Goulburn under the charge of Martin Featherstone,
and finally, Im. Cor. (49/328) 18 June Merewether to Police Magistrate Bathurst re the appointment of Martin Featherstone and his wife as Superintendents of the Immigrant Depot at Bathurst. They are to be given two shillings and sixpence per day, a daily allowance of an adult and a female ration, fuel and candlelight, and accommodation for himself and his family at the Depot.
One wonders too if orphans were paid proper wages. Merewether was well aware ‘the orphans were under the complete control of the government’ and could be made to accept lower than the current rate of wages, if it proved expedient. Yet in 1850 (50/341) he replied to the Bench of Magistrates at Wollongong which had tried to reduce the orphans’ wages, “the present wages readily given in Sydney and elsewhere are as much below the current rate for female servants, as the [Orphan] Committee wold feel themselves justified in fixing them…”.
And what of the frequency with which orphan indentures were cancelled? Was it higher than usual? How is this to be explained? Was it part of a systemic weakness of the Earl Grey scheme? Or is there more than this? What part did it play in giving the scheme a bad reputation and bringing it to an end? How should the cancellation of orphans’ indentures be interpreted? Closer examination may uncover some truths everyone may not like to hear. This is something that warrants a closer look, don’t you think?
Finally, something else this post has neglected, how did the attitudes and reports of Surgeons from orphan ships colour the way the orphans were viewed and received in Australia? There’s a very marked difference between Surgeon Strutt (Thomas Arbuthnot) and Surgeons Douglas (Earl Grey), Eades (Roman Emperor), Ramsay (Inchinnan) and Hewer (Elgin). Surgeon Hewer was to write “I was so disgusted by the behaviour of the orphans per “Elgin”, –so worried by their tricks, simulating fits day after day to procure porter and spirits–so disheartened by their misrepresentation and utter disregard for truth, that I would not come out in another Irish orphan vessel if the Government would pay me £10 per orphan”.
These last four Surgeons were so aware of their own social class, so lacking in empathy and unable to–what’s the word– ‘understand’, ‘communicate’, ‘connect’– with the young women, they distorted the image people would have of the orphans even before they landed. By contrast, Strutt is the Surgeon we’d all like to have today; he has the ‘human’ touch we’d all like to have.
I’ll need to return to some of these issues when next I examine opposition to and ending of the Earl Grey scheme–soon come, I promise..and if you believe that…