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;
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?