Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (34):applications for orphans

Another Aside

Ah! The wonders of my filing cabinets. Having moved rooms at work a number of times, thrusting stuff quickly into folders, and into boxes when I retired, I shouldn’t be surprised if nowadays ‘lost’ research turns up in the most unlikely places. I’ve just found a report from another excellent research assistant, Margaret Burgmann which I’d like to share with you.

I was preparing the first volume of Barefoot & Pregnant? at the time and was looking at reasons for the brevity of the Earl Grey scheme. I wanted to test the claim it had become increasingly difficult to find suitable employers for the orphans. In the words of Melbourne officials, “…the orphans by each succeeding ship have been disposed of to parties of a lower rank, and less desirable class than those preceding”. Or as Archdeacon McEncroe put it, “…the cause of dissatisfaction was with some vulgar masters who had got up it the world. Those who had got money by the gold discovery are the most overbearing towards their servants”. 

I asked Margaret to examine the Registers of applications for orphans 1848-51 held in the State Records of NSW. (nowadays NRS 5240, formerly 4/4714-17). See https://www.records.nsw.gov.au/publications/now-then-enewsletter/now-then-67-april-2014

And to look for the applicants in local commercial directories. Here are her findings;

Applicants for orphans 1848
Applicants for orphans 1848
Applications for orphans February-July 1851
Applications for orphans February-July 1851

Margaret used W & F Ford, Sydney Directory, Sydney, 1851, Francis Low, The City of Sydney Directory, 1844-5, Sydney, 1844 and his Directory for the City and District of Sydney, 1847, as well as Sands and Kenny, Commercial and General Sydney Directory for 1858-59, (first year of publication). With some qualifications, her conclusion was that yes indeed, 84% of the 1848 applicants were from the upper middle class. In 1851 only 52% of them were. Margaret reminded me that “applicants in 1851 were harder to identify. There were many more applicants from outside Sydney. Further, the directories concentrated on white-collar and well-off blue-collar members of Sydney society. Only occasionally was an entry classified as ‘gentleman'”.

If i was to do a similar exercise again, my starting point would be the people who actually employed the orphans. Since the 1980s, we have been able to identify many more of the orphans’ employers. See the website http://www.irishfaminememorial.org/en/orphans/

I hope this will encourage people to find out more about the masters and mistresses of their own particular orphan servant(s). What directories and other sources could we use?

9 thoughts on “Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (34):applications for orphans

  1. It was Google of you to give Margaret such prominence. Researchers are often rendered invisible in the pronouncements of the high and mighty. Good on y’a. Brian

    Brian Deane


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Trevor
    I enjoy your posts but my main problem is that I can never find my Irish Orphan on your database. She is in your book, “Barefoot and Pregnant” although she wasn’t! And the ship she arrived upon – The Pemberton – is listed but not her name – Margaret Galvin. She is also not on the Memorial in Sydney. She is part of the memorial in Victoria, I feel a little incensed that it appears the the Sydney/Melbourne rival is well and truly alive.
    Cheryl Mullens


    • Hi Val,
      I’m not sure what you are after. A Kate Kennedy per Pemberton was employed by Mrs Greaves of Portland at the rate of 8 pounds per annum. Vic records include ‘disposal lists’ of the orphans i.e who first employed them. I’m not sure records of those who applied for orphan domestics exist separately from that.


  3. Thank you so much to Trevor for posting these snippets of the requests. This is the first mention of my 2Great Grandmother’s future husband – Edward Coomber. The Irish Famine Orphan database has her name as
    Elizabeth McKay (aged 19, arrived John Knox 1852 with her sister Sarah), though I know her as Elizabeth Mackey/Mackay. I have no information on Edward Coomber other than his suspected birth c1820 in Spitalfields. Edward and Elizabeth married 21 July 1851 in St Philips Church, Sydney, by William Cowper, and had 14 children. Elizabeth died 1880 in Bundella, NSW, and Edward survived until 1900, and died in Armidale.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great job, Trevor, what we forget today is that we didn’t have such wonderful access to stuff online, I’ve been using W & F Ford’s 1851 Sydney Directory and also the City of Sydney Directory by Francis Low 1844-45 to identify the employers and it will be great to be able to pull up this electronically to see how many girls some people did employ. Does this ever end? Short answer, NO! Perry

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Re Ellen Hurley; Earl Grey Orphan; Her Employer John Flannigan (b Co. Galway) and his wife, Bridget “Biddy” immigrated as Assisted Immigrants, both aged 27, (with their son Patrick aged 1) to Australia per Alexander, departing London and Plymouth and arriving Port Phillip December 1841. John was a wheelwright and blacksmith and set up a smithy’s shop at Anakie, near Geelong. Biddy died in 1850, at which time, Ellen Hurley was already on her way to Port Phillip on board the “Eliza Caroline”. By the end of 1850, Ellen Hurley had married her Employer John Flannigan, becoming step mother to his 4 children and having 8 of her own with John. I note a Land application in 1863 in the Geelong Advertiser – FLANNIGAN, John Parish: Anakie Acres: 30; Purpose: Vineyard & orchard for
    wine, cider & dried apples. After John’s death in 1866, she re-married and had a further 2 children with Frederick Daniel Miller (from Prussia), one from which I am descended. Greg Nichols CSR

    Liked by 1 person

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