Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (25):another sad story, Suzy Taggart


Given a preference, we like to feel good about what became of the Irish orphans in Australia. Sadly, our human canvas is not always sunshine and pretty flowers. Or cute little children, and young women overcoming the odds. If we take off our rose-tinted glasses and peer into the dark shadows of our canvas, who and what do we see? Mary Littlewood screaming and cursing at her fate? A battered, broken and abused Mary Coghlan? Catherine Toland in her own valley of tears wearing the darkest sackcloth and grief? Ellen Leydon worn out, tired and confused in a mental hospital or benevolent asylum?

Still, often we know these things only because their descendants were brave enough to bring them to light, give them recognition and pay them homage. Thank goodness the history, or rather histories, of the Earl Grey Irish female orphans is a co-operative effort.

Without the work of a family historian, the story of Susan (Suey) (Mc) Taggart would not be told. Thank you Norma Gardner–who told me about Suey, way back in 1987. Suey was the eighth child of Margaret Dempsey and Thomas (Mc) Taggart. Norma suggested Thomas dropped the Mac part of his name because people could not spell his name, or more likely, did not understand his accent.

Margaret Dempsey was one of the Earl Grey orphans who arrived in Port Phillip in August 1849 by the New Liverpool. She was from the Clonmel workhouse in County Tipperary (http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Clonmel/), and listed on the ship’s manifest as an eighteen year old house servant who could neither read nor write. A month later, in September 1849, she was among a group of orphans making their way to Port Fairy on the steamer Raven where she would soon be employed by a Mr Urquhart at a wage rate of £10 per annum. However, by the 10th of March 1850, she was in the Roman Catholic Church at Yangery about 16 miles from Port Fairy, marrying a Scottish Presbyterian, Thomas McTaggart. We’ve been able to put together a family reconstitution of sorts:


As you can see, the couple had twelve children, 9 girls and three boys, all of them born in what was then north of Melbourne, Keilor and Epping. In 1856, Thomas bought a small block of land in Epping, and built rooms around the tent the couple were living in, as was the custom. The house and land has passed down the male line and, at the time Norma wrote to me in 1987, a Taggart was still living in the ‘new’ house that had been built on the same block.

Look closely at the family reconstitution, and you will see that ‘Susanna’, our Suey, born in June 1861, was dead by January 1882. What on earth had happened? Norma suggested in her letters to me that “poor Susan had her love affair one hundred years too early; how time changes all things”. Made pregnant by her lover, rejected by her mother and father, and in despair, she took her own life. Here’s the documentary evidence we have. See what you can make of it.





This is Suey Taggart’s suicide letter. I have taken the diminutive form of her name from her signature. But perhaps it should be Susey. What do you think? Along the right hand side is something illegible in this scan; it reads “don’t look for me for I have drowned myself“. Here is the transcription Norma made; you might like to check it for yourself.



The letter and the result of the inquest into Susan’s death were reported widely in the press, in January 1882–in The Age, The Ballarat Star, Riverine Herald, The Leader, The Horsham Times and the Mount Alexander Mail. You can read these via Trove https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper Click on Victoria and put “Susan Taggart” into the search box. If you find it hard to decipher any of these, let me know your troubles.

Occasionally a bit more information is reported in the newspapers. For instance, the Riverine Herald 23 January 1882, page 3, has Mrs Pickett stating, “I went in [to Melbourne] after her, and found her at the wood market talking to Bill Heddle, who resides out here.”

Here are the depositions from the inquest.





The Magistrate at Nillumbik found ‘the cause of death was drowning, evidently caused by the deceased’s self-destruction“.  

Now let me challenge your historical imagination, what do you think happened here? See if you can piece together Suey’s story. Take some fictional liberty if you think it improves your story. Others will be better placed than me to go inside Suey’s head and understand what she was going through. Poor mite.

When she was nineteen Suey had gone to work as a servant at the Diamond Reef Hotel at Nillumbuk, north of Melbourne. Her employers, Margret and Edmund Pickett were good to her. Mrs Pickett was delighted watching the excitement and happiness of young Suey when she fell for a local lad, Bill Heddle, a patron of their hotel. But in that flush of excitement and wonder Suey had fallen pregnant. When she realized her period hadn’t arrived two months in a row, she went home to her parents who lived not far away in Epping. Surely, at Christmas, mum and dad would look after her and help her have her baby. But her dad rejected her, called her a slut who brought shame on them all, and sent her packing. [Norma suggested since Thomas was not even mentioned in Suey’s suicide letter, he must have been a hard man]. Desperate now, Suey followed her Bill to Melbourne pleading with him to take her back. But he too, useless coward that he was, spurned her. ‘What do you think I can do? It’s over. It’s over between us’.

Mrs Pickett who had learned where Suey had gone, travelled all the way to Melbourne, and found them arguing at the wood market. She insisted Suey came back with her to the Diamond Reef Hotel, where at least she would have a roof over her head and food in her belly. Shortly after, at the height of summer, feeling ill and with a splitting headache, Suey had gone to sit with Mrs Pickett and talked with her. What did they say? According to Suey’s letter, Mrs Pickett “‘told her the truth in every way”. ‘That Bill is every bit as responsible as you. You’re not to take all the blame. But you’ll have to raise the bairn on your own’. That same night Suey returned to her room. Feeling abandoned and alone, broken-hearted, and carrying a crushing guilt, she decided to end it all. Desperate for her mother’s forgiveness, she’d do what she’d thought of doing for some time now. She’d had her photograph taken so people would remember her. Poison was her first plan. But the Hotel Water Tank was close by and easy to get to. She’d do it now, tonight, when everyone was in bed.

The next day, 16 January 1882, about 9.30 in the morning, a wood carter, Christian Erikson unceremoniously dragged Suey Taggart’s body from the Water Tank at the end of a meat hook. “I pity the poor girls who are brought to misfortune like I was“.

What’s your view? What do you think happened?

8 thoughts on “Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (25):another sad story, Suzy Taggart

  1. Margaret Dempsey and my great great grandmother, Catherine Hickey were both employed by Roderick Urquhart (senior) at Yangery Park near Port Fairy/Tower Hill in Victoria’s Western District. They both came from the Clonmel Workhouse on the New Liverpool in 1849. Sadly, Catherine’s life continued to be terrible in Australia. She married William Robert Kinniburgh and had 9 children mostly on the Central Goldfields before being institutionalised (“lunatic asylums”) for her remaining 47 years. She died in the Castlemaine Benevolent Asylum in 1918.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Trevor
    I am researching orphans who were sent from the Newry/ Down PLU, and I would be interested to know if you felt there were any notable differences in the orphans’ backgrounds or the selection procedure for orphans in the North and South of Ireland.


    • Hi Maura. Sorry for the delay. Got a few personal matters that need attending to. I see from your IP you may be close some of the original materials. There is material through the blog that may help answer your interesting questions; e.g. recommendation to use “Atlas of the Great Irish Famine” for different backgrounds and experiences of the young women. There is evidence too of ‘people in the know’ using the system to their advantage. Maybe the Arbuckles from Strabane for instance. Or the Royal Hibernian School puts some on board the Pemberton. But that’s more similarity than difference. Vol 1 of my Barefoot is not near to my hand. Can you get access to it–QUB library? Linenhall Library NLI? There’s evidence there of Poor Law Commissioners like Senior in Belfast ‘interfering’ perhaps more than others did elsewhere?? But he’s soon disabused of that with the Earl grey scandal. What is your research for, if i may ask? Some of my tables and graphs in the blog may help you put together an answer.
      Best wishes


  3. Hi Trevor,
    This is a very informative site, but so sad.
    My great 3rd great grandmother Amelia Hall was an orphan on the Eliza Caroline.
    Amelia Hall, who arrived on the Eliza Caroline, spent 10 days in the Immigration Depot. Employed by George Beech, Little Collins Street, for 3 months at £8 per annum. (Disposal List – VPRS 14/P0000/0005).

    I’m trying to find out as much as I can about her.
    What is a disposal list and what sort of information is on the disposal list?
    Would this have information on her parents please?
    How can I find out which orphanage sent her please? Is there any record of this please?
    Do you have photos of these orphans?
    Would you have a photo of the Eliza Caroline or know where I can get one please?

    What we have pieced together and think may be correct about Amelia Hall is:
    According to her death registration, her parents may have been William Hall and Ann Tansey, but can find no record of them in England, Scotland or Ireland at this point.
    The shipping record shows she was from Sligo; so to me, that doesn’t necessarily mean she was Irish as Sligo was a main trading port, she of Church of England so her parents may have been from the UK and not necessarily Ireland.
    Amelia married a James Hall, apparently also Irish but from Tipperary Ireland soon after arriving.
    They headed for the Gold fields and had at least 4-5 children.
    James seems to have died around 1860.
    She then married a John Rodgers in 1868 who owned a news agency in Auburn Victoria.
    Amelia seems to have died in 1898.
    Fortunately, she seems to have hooked up with someone decent.

    Kind regards and thank you in advance.


    • Hi Jamie,
      Thank you for your message, Unfortunately i don’t have time to answer all your questions just now. But do look at the http://www.irishfaminememorial.org website . That has the info i put into Barefoot 2 and it has other recent info. See also the one that Barbara has for Mayo details of which are on one of my earlier posts. Disposal lists won’t have names of parents nor do the Vic shipping lists. The info that’s available is that she came from the workhouse in Sligo. See Peter Higginbotham;s great workhouse site. Often just typing what you are looking for into google will give helpful answers. Those suggestions should give you somewhere to start looking for yourself. best wishes
      p.s the ‘Ireland Reaching out’ facebook page has very helpful people on it.


  4. Hi,

    That was a truly remarkable history and so humanly raw in its unfolding. Thank you for sharing it.

    When reading about Clonmel, I wondered is there a list of the girls there? I did look via my mobile, but couldn’t see one. I was looking for Arabella Mills.

    With thanks.



    • Hi Adel,
      Names of the Clonmel orphans are scattered throughout more than one source. The Clonmel Board of Guardian Minute Books names about 29 I think it was in July 1849. British Parl. Papers (Blog post 20?) tell us there were 59 in all who came. From memory, some of those named in the BGMB went on the Elgin to South Australia. The most informative source is the Australian shipping lists, particularly the Board of Immigration Lists for Sydney. The http://www.irishfaminememorial.org website has the most up to date info about the Earl Grey orphans who came. I see it has the information you supplied.

      Do you think Arabella was in Clonmel workhouse? Very rarely do we find the names of the young women in the Board of Guardian Minute BOOks. And unfortunately most of the Indoor Admission and Discharge registers have not survived.It is in those that all the names of people who came into the workhouse is found. Peter Higginbotham’s great workhouse website will tell you what exactly has survived for Tullamore, or Clonmel workhouse, for eg. Hope this helps. Good luck


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