“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 wemay imagine the orphans other than through the eyes of officialdom.
LANDING and INSPECTION
Surgeon Strutt’s diary hasan exemplary account of theThomas Arbuthnot arriving in Sydney…
There may always be some spillage ‘twixt cup and lip, a difference between plan and practicality. Still, may I suggest the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners’ Memorandum for the emigration of female orphans from Irish workhouses to Australia is of crucial importance to any understanding of the Earl Grey scheme? The Report is well thought out, well set out, and comprehensive. If I may return to it (see my second post), I can illustrate this assertion further. Later, I’ll look more closely at the ways Irish Boards of Guardians met the requirements the Commissioners asked of them; viz. providing the ‘Out-Fit’ asked for, and arranging the orphans’ conveyance to Plymouth, their port of embarkation for Port Jackson (Sydney), Port Phillip (Melbourne) or Port Adelaide. That should help us appreciate the practical difficulties they faced.
6. The Governor will be directed on the arrival of these Emigrants in the Colony to make such arrangements in regard to their…
Before returning to sources for researching the Irish background of the Famine ‘girls’, I’d like to draw readers’ attention to a reference provided by Shona Dewar (see comments to post 63). It concerns a question raised in the previous post, why family history is so popular. Here’s the link from Shona . It’s an essay by psychiatrist Chris Walsh. https://www.mbsc.net.au/genealogy-and-family-constellations/
Let me know what you think.
Here is something else from my old research notes. I’m assuming the classification is much the same nowadays for records both in Northern Ireland and the Republic. Best not to get too excited. These records may not exist for the workhouse in which you are interested.
AJ Dispensary Minute Books
BC Letters from Poor Law Commissioners
BGMB Board of Guardian Minute Books
BGG Indoor Admission and Discharge Registers
EG Relieving Officer’s Diary
F Workhouse Master’s Diary
HD Medical Report Books
It is the Board of Guardian Minute Books and the Indoor admission and discharge registers that I’ve used most of all. Australians descended from the Earl Grey Famine orphans who visit Ireland will want to see these for themselves. But it is best to do plenty of homework before going to Ireland, finding exactly where the records are located, and what you need to do in order to gain access to them, for example. Some records may even be available online, though not always for the time you want. These links may take a while to download. https://www.irishgenealogynews.com/2018/12/more-workhouse-registers-online-at.html
Let me return to one of the cases mentioned in my previous post to illustrate further some of the problems associated with researching Port Phillip arrivals. I hope it will suggest ways of researching the background of the orphan that interests you, and help you prepare for a holiday-family history visit to Ireland.
CATHY TYRELL from Donegal per Lady Kennaway
In 1854 just over five years after arriving in Melbourne, Cathy Tyrell married a young bricklayer who was originally from Bedford, England. They settled in Carlton, North Melbourne where together they had seven children, three girls and four boys. Sadly in 1860 they lost a son Frederick when he was only six months old. When her husband died aged 58 in 1887, Cathy had thirteen years of widowhood ahead of her.
“…I know nothing of my country. I write things down. I build a life & tear it apart & the sun keeps shining“. (from Daily Bread by Ocean Vuong)
May i ask readers for their help? Let me set out the problem. How do we find out more about Cathy’s Irish background? She supposedly came from a workhouse in Donegal but if we look at the following record we’ll see that on board the Lady Kennaway were orphans from four different Donegal Poor Law Unions; Donegal, Dunfanaghy, Letterkenny and Milford. And very rarely are these names specified alongside an orphan’s name on shipping records.
Before going any further, we’d need to confirm the Archives centre at Three Rivers in Lifford holds Poor Law records for the period we’re interested in. There are in fact Board of Guardian Minute books for all of the Donegal workhouses except the one that sent most of the Donegal orphans on board the Lady Kennaway, Donegal itself! Lawdy, lawdy. And if a visitor wanted to see any of these records she or he would be advised to write to the Lifford Archives centre beforehand to arrange a viewing.
Most of these workhouse records are now held in county record offices and libraries in the Republic of Ireland. But for the six counties of Northern Ireland they are held in the Public Records Office in the Titanic Centre in Belfast. One is a decentralised system, the other is centralised.
there were some orphans on board the Lady Kennaway from Ballinasloe workhouse in Galway. That’s not far from Castleblakeney the place name associated with Cathy. I wonder if there is an error in the shipping record. Or maybe Cathy was born in Castleblakeney but somehow ended up in Donegal workhouse before leaving for Australia.
What records have survived for Ballinasloe? The wonderful thing is that more and more of these records are appearing online. Check out this link below by clicking on the plus sign alongside Ballinasloe.
Baptismal records have survived for the dates we want but they aren’t easy to read. They are a bit of an eyestrain. We’d need to take things very slowly and carefully. I suppose it comes down to how desperate we are.
will be the place to start. There will be disappointments. No records may have survived for the period you want. But you may find Board of Guardian minute books that take you into the world where your orphan lived before she left for Australia. Most likely you will not find her name in these minute books but you will discover other fascinating details about her workhouse surroundings.
“…and my dead father’svoice,
which I’d forgotten I’d loved,
just singing a foolish song”.
(from Birthday video by Penelope Layland)
Board of Guardian Minute Books
May i suggest you don’t carry preconceived notions of workhouse life with you into the archives. You know the kind of thing i mean, most of it imprinted on the common memory by the works of Charles Dickens. Most of these young Irish Famine women were but short term residents of recently built institutions, institutions that were bursting at the seams, and severely strained by the crisis of the Great Irish Famine.
The Board of Guardian minute books vary considerably from workhouse to workhouse. Guardians were legally required to keep a weekly record of the state of the workhouse: how many people received relief, both Outdoor relief and indoor relief, how many died in the workhouse, and what rates were collected and how much was not collected. Their minute books tell us what illnesses there were and how they were being treated; how discipline was maintained in the house and what punishment was meted out; what food there was for inmates, what bedding, and were teachers available for children. We see how well they coped with the shocking tragedy of the Famine, and how well they did not.
Let me give a few more examples of the kind of thing you might find, beginning with Belfast workhouse.
Belfast was one of the better-off and better organized workhouses. In early 1847, the Irish Poor Law Commission refused the Guardians’ request for more money to extend its fever wards, on the grounds “the town of Belfast is so wealthy and its inhabitants so enterprising, and the funds and credit of the Union is in such excellent condition that if assistance was given to the Belfast Board from the public purse by way of loan, it would be impossible to refuse a similar application from any Union in Ireland“. (BG7/A/5)
On the first of March 1848 (BG7/A/7, p.27) the diet for able-bodied inmates was changed to,
two days a week there would be
Breakfast consisting of 6 oz meal and one third of a quart of buttermilk
Dinner would be one quart of soup and 9 oz bread
three days a week there would be
Breakfast 6 oz meal and a third of a quart of buttermilk
Dinner would be 6 oz rice and an eighth of a quart of sweetmilk
Supper 4 ox meal and one fifth of a quart of buttermilk
and two days a week able-bodied inmates would receive
Breakfast 6 oz meal and a third of a quart of buttermilk
Dinner 8 oz meal and a third of a quart of buttermilk
Supper 4 oz meal and one third of a quart of buttermilk
Indian and oatmeal were to be used in equal proportions.
As you can see, it was not a nutritious diet.
Belfast did have its own problems: it was ‘peculiarly pressed by paupers from other places’. In 1847, authorities in Scotland, facing famine of their own, deported the Irish-born poor in their parish to the nearest Irish port which was usually Belfast. Those from Edinburgh, Paisley and Dundee were given bread and cheese for their voyage and day of landing. Those from Glasgow were given nothing. Such an influx of extra people put an enormous strain on Belfast’s local charities and public works programmes. In turn, many of the new arrivals were moved on, out of town.
In the workhouse itself the Medical Officer complained that “treating several contagious diseases in the same place is attended with very great risk to the patients”. He treated smallpox patients in a small bathroom, those suffering from erisipilas (a bacterial skin disease) in the straw house, and asked for another place for dysentery patients. In August 1847 there were 337 patients in the fever ward.
In May 1848 just before the first contingent of Earl Grey orphans left the workhouse for Plymouth a number of syphilis cases were admitted (BG7/A/7, p.153) . In November there were 30 cases still under treatment. And then, in December of the same year, the Medical Officers had their first scare of cholera, a disease that would add many more to the Famine death toll.
Belfast workhouse would be an important ‘staging post’ for Earl Grey orphans setting out to join ships that would take them to Australia, the Earl Grey, the Roman Emperor, the Diadem and the Derwent.
Cashel workhouse, Tipperary
At the other end of the country, Cashel workhouse guardians were to buckle under the pressure of the Famine in 1847 and 1848. At the end of 1847 the Matron of the workhouse wrote a damning report. “I again beg to call your attention to the state of the House. It is in such disorder and confusion that it is impossible to stand it… The pints and quarts are taken away and in consequence the children are not getting their rights. Several sheets and other articles were lately stolen. The bad characters in the House are at liberty to go out and return when they please…”.
And on the first of January 1848, the Medical Officer was equally distraught, “your Hospital is crowded to excess and the paupers are falling sick in dozens. I cannot admit anyone into the hospital for want of accommodation”.
There was such distress in the area there was an immense shortfall in the rates being collected, (Week ending15 January 1848 Collected 401 pounds and seven pence, 401.0.7, Uncollected ten thousand eight hundred and ninety four pounds fifteen shillings and two pence, 10,894.15.2). The situation was not helped by the likes of Michael Lyons, Collector for Clonoulty and Kilpatrick, collecting some of the arrears, and absconding.
11 October 1848, the Guardians were dismissed. The Board was dissolved and semi professional bureaucrats, or Vice-Guardians, took over running the workhouse–fortunately for the female orphans who would set out for Australia the following year. To give you an idea of the scale of demands, provisions for the workhouse in the last week of October 1848 included,
6,000 lbs bread
300 lbs meat
5,200 gallons milk
224 lbs salt,
2 lbs tea,
14 lbs sugar
40 lbs sugar surrup…
7 lbs candles
1 1/4 cwt soap
6 lbs starch
21 lbs washing soda
Re the female orphan emigration itself in 1849, such was the work, and such a large amount of monies required for
sending the female orphans to Plymouth,
with wooden boxes,
properly clothed, (3 Feb. 1849 Resolved that the tender of John O’Brien be accepted for the supply of 100 pairs of women’s shoes of the required sizes equal in quality and workmanship to the sample lodged with the Clerk of the Union at 4 shillings a pair”… Resolved…that advertisements be issued for other articles viz, twilled calico, twilled linen, whalebone, cheap quilts, cheap bonnets, printed calico for wrappers and gowns, wool plaid for gowns and cl0aks, neck handkerchiefs of various qualities, pocket handkerchiefs, gingham for aprons and boxes)
and equipped with Bibles, Prayer books and other religious books,
that the local economy must have benefited. Yet this benefit may not have outweighed the burden imposed on the workhouse itself. It could ill afford the expense of sending the orphans, given its other commitments. I wonder did some of the young women feel guilty about their emigration?
Some online workhouse records
Why not have a go yourself? Here is a backpack, a compass, and a toasted vegemite and cheese sandwich to help you with your ‘virtual’ exploration of some Irish workhouse records.