Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (51) : just a few from South Australia


One of the advantages of this blogging business is that you can lay your cards on the table however you like. Some of what I’ve done already is all of a jumble, set down and put out as I came across material in my filing cabinets. The beauty of it is, nothing is set in stone. My intention is to revisit some of my more substantive posts when I get the chance. Post 16 http://wp.me/p4SlVj-h8 looks as though it could do with some reworking, for example.

In the meanwhile, here are a couple more stories I hope you will like. South Australian Irish Famine orphans are relatively neglected. It may be because there weren’t so many of them or maybe they are just hard to trace. Let me suggest some avenues of research which I hope may have wider application. I’m just casting a net and hoping when I drag it to shore I’ll have an interesting catch.

Mary Taafe from Dublin per Inconstant to Adelaide

Mary was to live a long life with her convict husband, Samuel Dunn from Nottingham. After marrying, the couple moved quickly to Victoria where Mary was to give birth to fourteen children, nine boys and five girls, three of them dying in infancy or childhood. She herself lived till she was ninety.

It must have been Dawn Barbary who sent me this. Thankyou Dawn. Dawn supplied the names of her and Samuel’s childrens’ spouses, Hanns Wanned, Niels Jorgens, Nellie Plunkett, W. Renison, Tom Lucas, and Maud Tr…. Maybe their descendants have yet to discover they have an Irish Famine orphan in their family.

Our starting point, as always, must be the Irish Famine Memorial database for it has the most up to date information. There in synopsis is what is known about Mary. I wonder if Eliza was Mary’s older sister. That would mean she had a younger sister called Ellen and a mother called Mary. What kind of proof would we need for that?


I remember working with those North and South Dublin workhouse Registers in 1987. They were large, heavy registers closely packed with names which were sometimes difficult to read. Nowadays you can gain access to these Dublin registers online if you subscribe to findmypast.ie

In the North Dublin Register (National Archives of Ireland [NAI] BG 78/G/6 number 30984) Mary was described as being ‘in good health‘ and from Jervis Street in the city. Jervis Street runs directly north from the Ha’penny Bridge, not far from the city centre. Not that Mary would recognise it today.  In Mary’s case, the Workhouse Register explicitly states, “sent to Australia“, as indeed it did for some others, Bridget Fay (28228), Eliza Harricks (29777), Mary Ann Newman (BG78/G/5 No.20650) and  in G4, no.14640, Rebecca Thompson. Mostly, however, one has to use the method I described  in blog post number five, http://wp.me/p4SlVj-4X See about a third of the way down under “Identifying the female orphans”.

The next step is to Peter Higginbotham’s brilliant work on workhouses to find out more about the workhouse Mary was in. See http://workhouses.org.uk/DublinNorth/

 That is one excellent website, worth the many hours I’ve spent exploring it.


Casting the net a second time, I dragged ashore an article by Flinders University academic, Mark Staniforth, that treats the orphans who came to Adelaide on the Inconstant. Do have a look for yourself


Dr Staniforth also offers information about individual orphans, some of it originating with family historians. Mary Taafe is one such, where the claim is made that Eliza was indeed her sister. But no proof of that is offered there. I believe it is important to always ask, how do you know that, what evidence do you have, and how reliable is your evidence? Is your claim based on hard fact or have you taken imaginative license or a leap of faith? Just so long as you state clearly what the position is.

Catherine Bracken from Parsonstown

And to emphasise how treacherous this ‘telling orphan stories’ can be, compare Dr Staniforth’s brief biography of Catherine Bracken with Karen Semken’s that appears on the Irish Famine memorial website at http://irishfaminememorial.org/media/Catherine_Bracken_Inconstant.pdf These two accounts show us how easy it is to become ensnared in the tangled webs we weave.

One is a straightforward account of Catherine from Parsonstown (Birr) workhouse marrying William Robinson at Mount Barker in 1851, their having at least three children, and Catherine dying aged 52 in the Clare Valley. (Staniforth, p. 37, after the endnotes).

The other is a thoroughly researched and beautifully illustrated tale of ‘murder and mayhem’. Catherine’s first husband had his throat slit in 1856, and her second was executed in 1862 for the murder of their servant Jane McNanamin at Salt Creek. Catherine married yet again, for a third time, to George Ingham in 1871. According to Karen, she died in 1915 and is buried in West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide. Karen mentions that one of Catherine’s descendants Dawn Ralfe was writing a book about Catherine. Does anyone have any news about this?

I see Dawne Ralfe has published her book. It’s called  Murders and Mayhem: the true secrets, Inspiring publishers, 2014.

Karen has a facebook page devoted to the orphans. There are some great photographs there. https://www.facebook.com/EarlGreyIrishOrphans/ On the 5th April 2015 for example, she posted a pic of Matthew Moorhouse’s residence, next door to the Native School that acted as an Immigration Depot for the orphans. The same pic appears in her account of Catherine’s history at page three of the link above.

Karen’s revision of Catherine Bracken’s history raises a larger, interesting question: how many of the orphans had a criminal history in Australia, however minor their crimes or misdemeanours might have been? Those that did were found guilty of minor crimes, being drunk and disorderly, obscene language, petty theft, or ‘vagrancy’, a charge which the police often used instead of ‘prostitution’.

Margaret Dehee (or Duhy)

Dr Staniforth also draws our attention to a South Australian government report that lists sixteen Inconstant orphans who were prostitutes, including Margaret Dehee (various spellings) from Donohill in Tipperary. Dr Staniforth argues convincingly her surname was Duhy.

The information on this next family reconstitution form was from an excellent genealogist, Wendy Baker, sent to me in 1986. I hope Wendy is still with us. Margaret Dea(n)(e)/Duhy had five female children by her first husband Robert Strickland and another, Lucy, by her second, Charles Lindrea. Like Mary Taafe she left South Australia and sought her fortune in Victoria.


The Government report Dr Staniforth refers to can be found in British Parliamentary Papers. I’ve used the hard copy 1,000 volume Irish University press edition.

On the second of November, 1850, Governor Sir H.E. F. Young wrote to Earl Grey,

My Lord,

I have the honour of forwarding a report by the Children’s apprenticeship Board, on 621 female orphans introduced into the colony during the last two years.

2. Thirty two cases of crime or misconduct were brought before the police magistrate; six are mothers of illegitimate children, and required relief as destitute persons at their lying-in.

Six more are living in the country in adultery.

Forty three have fallen into the condition of common prostitutes; although all had been placed by the Board in respectable situations…”.

(In all, less than fifteen percent of orphans, my comment).

Sixty-six circulars had been sent to Police Magistrates throughout the colony asking about ‘the conduct and respectability’ of the orphans in their district. Only thirty Magistrates had replied. (British Parliamentary Papers, Irish Universities Press edition, Colonies Australia, vol.13, Sessions 1851-52, Papers relative to Emigration, p.292). [I only wish our own present-day pollsters explained to us the methods they use, and on what their results are based].


Incarcerated orphans

I wonder if asking how many of the orphans were incarcerated in Melbourne Women’s prison or in Darlinghurst gaol, or in Yarra Bend mental hospital, or Wollston Park, in Liverpool Lying-in hospital, or Dunwich Benevolent Asylum, or any similar institution, is the question I want to ask. A minority of the orphans (and how substantial a minority is moot) i believe were bound to spend part of their life in such institutions.

More than twenty years ago I asked, retouching what I said just a bit, ‘did Irish immigrants (to Australia) agree with other immigrants on …”the big issues”? Did they accept ‘capitalism and the modernizing, anglophone, world’ (D. Akenson), or were the casualties among them those would not or could not adapt to this new world? … And among those Irish immigrants were ‘friendless’, single, Irish Famine orphans the most vulnerable of all because of their ethnicity, because of their sex, because of their class, because of their lack of independence, because of their lack of kin support, and because of their dependence on males? The questions are easier to pose than to answer’.

Some have even suggested the trauma of the Famine made the Irish more susceptible to mental illness. I remain unconvinced. As I’ve said elsewhere, to suggest our orphans were transmitters of some workhouse dumping ground mentality, or biologically prone to some sort of “Celtic Melancholy”, or psychologically predisposed to mental illness, ‘borders on bigotry'(Akenson?).

Unlike most assisted Irish immigrants, the Earl Grey orphans were not part of a safety network. They did not have a network of ‘friends’,– friends in the usual sense of people from the same village or locality with whom they had a close, long-established relationship, and friends in the Irish sense of family members, once, twice and even thrice removed–friends they could turn to in times of need. They did not have a complex safety-net, woven with threads of kinship. That  is what made them vulnerable to alienation in their new Australian world.

Orphan stratagems

The question we may prefer to ask is what stratagems did the orphans use to deal with whatever life threw at them? What legal rights did they have? When they were young, did they get married in order to escape a burdensome master-servant contract? And if their husband was legally allowed to beat them with a stick, how did they withstand domestic abuse? Did they adopt the drinking habits of their husband? Fit in, or flee? Ellen Leydon from Ennistymon in County Clare who arrived by the Thomas Arbuthnot, ‘married’ six times, using(?) males as her ‘shelter’, her way of coping. See her story towards the bottom of http://wp.me/p4SlVj-dQ And when old, if your husband has died and you do not meet the requirements for entry to a Benevolent Asylum, do you deny your children, say you have lost touch with them, say you have no money, and no means of support. Then you will meet requirements. Do as needs must. Did the orphans contest the historical role colonial society imposed upon them? Did they negotiate a place for themselves? Or is that being too optimistic?

(I’ve just started reading Garry Disher’s Her. That will cure any desire to return to the ‘good old days’).

May I ask if anyone knows a good general history of women in Australia that would help  answer the questions asked in the last part of this blog? Which historians can we turn to? Shurlee Swain? Christine Twomey? Tanya Evans? Diane Kirkby? All suggestions gratefully received.

For those who  didn’t get to hear Dr Kildea’s oration at Hyde Park Barracks on the 27th August 2017, Tinteán have kindly put it online at https://tintean.org.au/2017/09/06/only-nineteen/

Thank you Jeff for a brilliant, poignant speech.

6 thoughts on “Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (51) : just a few from South Australia

  1. Hello My name is Melissa Barnard and my great, great, great grandmother was Mary Doran, who arrived in Adelaide on the Inconstant in 1849. She married a convict in 1850 in Adelaide, by the name of Joseph Wickers who served his time (7 years) in Tasmania. He changed his name to Joseph Sullivan before leaving Tasmania to sail to Adelaide after completing his time. Joseph and Mary moved to Victoria between 1851 and 1853. Mary gave birth to their first child in March 1853 in Melbourne a girl named Mary Ann. Mary went on to have another 8 children the last being born in 1873. I have all their details if you would like me to share them.
    On board the Inconstant was another girl by the name of Biddy Doren. I was wondering if Biddy might be Mary’s sister with their last names being spelt wrongly. I have tried to find some information on Biddy but have come up empty handed.
    Mary died at one of her daughters house in Melbourne and is buried with another daughter in the General Melbourne Cemetery. My mother and I recently visited the cemetery and found a small head stone.
    I would really love to know more about Mary past coming from Ireland if anyone can help.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Melissa,
      lovely to hear from you. I’m sure they would love to meet you at the ‘gathering’ on 19 Nov. 3pm at the standing Rock in Burgoyne park Williamstown, if you are able to make it.
      May I ask you please, if you could send your information to Perry via the contact link on ?
      I’ll arrange an invite for you to join the fb page on Ireland reaching out. There should be people there who will love to hear form you.
      best wishes,


      • Hello Trevor,
        Melissa’s story is so similar to our orphans, who had the same Christian names.
        My great grandmother Bridget Condron aged 15 and her sister Mary aged 18 also arrived on the Inconstant in 1849 with the 40 girls from Mullingar, Co Westmeath.
        The passenger list shows 2 Biddy Condrons but not Mary.
        It wasn’t until we found an 1863 advertisement that Bridget had put in an S.A newspaper, (found on Trove) looking for her sister Mary, that came to the colony on the Inconstant.
        We have no idea how they got separated, we recently found a descendant of Mary’s on Ancestry, she ended up in Victoria, married to a convict.
        Nobody knows how Mary got to Victoria, we do know the sisters never found or had contact with each other again.
        Bridget married a young man William Selleck from Devon, they had 10 children, 6 of them still living when Bridget died in1916.
        The couple worked hard, built a house in Clare SA and ran a market garden from their property.
        We started our search back in Ireland, all we had to start with was a misspelling of the town Mullingar, on Bridget’s death certificate.
        We found her baptism in church records, with her parent’s names and we were able to confirm we had the right family when we found her parent names on Mary’s marriage certificate here in Victoria.
        We are now looking for descendants in Ireland, from the sisters older brother James.
        We sent this info to Perry 3 years ago and in 2016 my sister and I attended the great Irish Famine 17th Annual Commemoration at the Hyde Park Barracks.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Melissa,
      I am sorry I can’t help you with your Mary Doran, but your story is very similar to mine.
      My great grandmother Bridget Condron aged 15 also arrived on the Inconstant in 1849, as one of the 40 Mullingar girls.
      I searched Irish baptism records in Mullingar, County Westmeath, until I came up with Bridget’s 2 siblings,
      James and Mary, the records give their parents names Edward and Elizabeth Condron (nee L’estrange)
      There were 2 girls on the Inconstant’s passenger list with the same name, Biddy Condran.
      Four years after arriving in SA, Bridget married 21 year old William Selleck at Hutt River on 24/8/1853.
      They eventually bought a large block of land in Clare SA, build a house and started a market garden.
      William dies in 1881 aged 48, six of their 10 children were still living at the time of Bridget’s death years later in 1916.
      Both were buried in the Clare cemetery.
      In 2017 my sister searched on Trove and found an advertisement from a SA newspaper, placed by Bridget.
      Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904) Saturday 12th December 1863 – Page 8
      IF this should be read by MARY CONDRON, who came to this colony in the Queen Inconstant, in 1849, she can hear of her Sister Bridget Selleck, by writing to her, at Mr Buchanan’s, Anlaby, near Kapunda.
      Anlaby, December 1, 1863. 339-’53
      This is the first time we knew Mary had come on the Inconstant with Bridget, she was listed as the second Biddy Condran. My sister then searched on Ancestry and found descendants of Mary.
      Mary marries Peter Chadwick a former convict from Van Diemen’s Land, in August 1855, they have 11 children in Tarraville, Gippsland Victoria. Her marriage certificate gives her parents names, so we were able to cross-reference them with the names on Bridget’s baptism.
      Mary dies in Tarraville 19/5/1885 aged 55.
      We always thought Bridget came on her own, there were never any family stories about a sister.
      She never had any contact with her sister again and how they got separated is a mystery.
      We don’t know what happened to her parents back in Ireland, I cannot find any death records, I think they may have died in the Workhouse? I have found a marriage record in Mullingar for James Condron, he might be their brother? Unfortunately, his records don’t show his parents names, it is very tricky to make a positive connection, Irish church records in the early 1800s don’t give a lot of information and a lot are missing completely. Regards Lyn Hyde


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