Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (72): Mental Asylums

Woogaroo Asylum was built at Wacol, Queensland in 1865

Let me continue with the fiction I created last time, a researcher wishing to find out more about the Irish workhouse orphans who went into institutional ‘care’ in Australia. This time, I’ll suggest we search for orphans who went into mental hospitals, whether in Fremantle, Sunbury, Woogaroo, Ararat, Yarra Bend, Adelaide Lunatic Asylum, Callan Park, Goodna, Gladesville, Ballarat, or wherever. It won’t be an easy task.

In these days of ‘quarantino’ Kirsty and myself shall communicate via Skype, Zoom or FaceTime. I told her ‘ Kirsty, there is no easy access to secondary sources, or to some of the people you need to meet. Neither is there access to the very rich archive of different Mental Hospitals across the country. None of this has been digitised as far as i know. Even at the best of times you may not have access to these records. When I did a teeny bit of work in this area some years ago, most Victorian records were on open access; NSW records had the rider that one should be careful not to hurt anyone; and Queensland records sometimes were available, sometimes not. I’m not sure what the position is with regards to West Australia and South Australia or Tasmania. I’d love to think these records are readily available. I believe the healthy option is to be up front and open about mental illness, yet always careful of an individual’s needs. Not everyone agrees with that.

‘I have a number of books on my shelves’, says Kirsty, “hysteria is the dis-ease of women in a patriarchal culture“, according to Claire Kahane. ‘That and other interpretations of the history of insanity will be worth pursuing if you decide to pursue this further’, said I. ‘It could be a very large subject. The sheer size of original sources, never mind secondary ones, is daunting. Here are a couple of examples from case histories which by law, these institutions were required to keep. [For example, 1845 Act for the regulation and care and treatment of lunatics, 8 and 9 Vic . c. 100].

“Although the Big House was not hell for everybody, it was definitely limbo for most poor souls”. (Hanna Greally, Bird’s Nest Soup, 1971)

The following case is from Woogaroo which later became  Goodna and then Wollston Park Mental Hospital in Queensland.

Ellen (I’ll not mention her second name) 23 y.o single, domestic servant from Co. Clare Ireland residing Ipswich RC suffering from melancholia…readmitted 25 Jan 1871 (thenceforward there are yearly notes 1871-1898) eg. March 24 1884 sometimes makes an extraordinary noise between a screech and a croak while she is at workMarch 1885 industrious in laundry but when at home sits with folded arms and her hat down over her eyes“. Ellen suffered from ‘religious mania’.

‘With this kind of detail in the records, surely we can find Earl Grey orphans who went into these institutions, when the time comes’ says Kirsty?

‘Do you think we can’? I replied. ‘I never went through these records searching for orphans in any systematic way. One would need to know the young women’s marital history in great detail, including their common law marriages, and know about all the uncertainties relating to their age, place of origin, who provided the information to the authorities, and the like. Anyway, here’s the handful of examples I happened across. I’ll start with the Port Phillip examples’.

Bridget Ferry and Eliza Armstrong

A while ago, in blogpost 54, https://earlgreysfamineorphans.wordpress.com/2017/10/20/earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-54-skibbereen-and-beyond-cont/ i drew readers’ attention to Professor Malcolm’s important work on Yarra Bend Asylum where she identified two Port Phillip orphans, Bridget Ferry per Lady Kennaway, and Elizabeth Armstrong per Diadem. [Or should it be Derwent]? I happened to come across these two cases myself.

From the Lady Kennaway shipping list we know that Bridget was a 14 year old nurse from Dunfanaghy, Donegal, RC, who could neither read nor write and who brought with her a prayer book and testament. In the record above she is described as a ‘congenital idiot’.

Eliza Armstrong per Diadem was a 16 yo Anglican from Enniskillen, Fermanagh who had entered the workhouse without any fixed address. She was described in the Yarra Bend record as suffering from paralysis and dementia.

Interestingly I recorded in my own notes (VPRS 7417/P1/1A p.88, at number 37) Eliza Armstrong, from the Colonial Surgeon’s Hospital, 17 yo pauper per Derwent 1850. There was a Bessy Armstrong on board the Derwent who hailed from Lisnaskea, Fermanagh. And to complicate matters even further, there also was an Eliza Armstrong admitted to Yarra Bend 26 October 1848 (before the official arrival of any of the Earl Grey orphans). She was described as suffering from chronic dementia, dangerous, and being ‘not in a good state of bodily health’. That poor woman stayed in Yarra Bend for 64 years until she died in 1912.

Professor Malcolm tells us both our orphans, Bridget and Eliza, were released ‘cured’ after only a few months stay in Yarra Bend Asylum, suggesting the young women may have used the asylum for their own ends, “as a means of escaping from intolerable living conditions”. But you will notice how tricky it is to confirm we have found an Earl Grey orphan in the Mental Asylum records. The next couple of cases did not end up in an asylum but they so easily could have done so.

Margaret Gorman from Donegal Union per Lady Kennaway

This 15 year old was described  by the Port Phillip authorities as an ‘imbecile’ who suffered from fits. She would most likely have ended up in an asylum, perhaps even a mental asylum, had it not been for the Chief Matron, Mrs Ensor.

Have a look at my blog post 35, https://earlgreysfamineorphans.wordpress.com/2016/06/05/earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-35/ and scroll down to item 50/93, to a  letter dated 20 /3/1850. There is information there from Irish authorities defending their sending Margaret to Australia under the Earl Grey scheme. They eventually found that information about her being subject to fits had been ‘carefully kept from Captain Herbert, Lieutenant Henry, and the Medical Officer’ of the workhouse. 

Thanks to the inimitable Kelly Starr who is a whiz at finding what’s available online, we know that Mrs Ensor came to the rescue. Kelly provided the link to VPRS19 Inward Registered Correspondence regarding the return of Margaret Gorman to the Immigration Depot. http://access.prov.vic.gov.au/public/component/daPublicBaseContainer?component=daViewRecord&entityId=090fe2738249e434

The letter from James Patterson to the Superintendent recommends, and i quote, “Mrs Ensor will take charge of this orphan for a period of twelve months, and will feed and clothe her and endeavour to instruct her so that she may be able to go into service” “in return for a small remuneration”. As Kelly says,’Thank Goodness for kindly Mrs Ensor’.

 

Anne Muldoon from Ballyshannon workhouse  per Inchinnan

For information about Anne I am indebted to Brian Harris. See her story in Brian’s brilliant blog, ‘From Prisons and Poorhouses’,

 https://harrisfamhistory.com/2019/09/10/trove-tuesday-a-cry-for-help/

Anne committed suicide in September 1872  ‘throwing herself into a well whilst being of unsound mind’.

 

Ellen Leydon from Ennistymon per Thomas Arbuthnot

You may have met Ellen before, in the previous post on Benevolent Asylums, as Ellen Hickson, and more of her story in my blog post 9 under ‘A Hard Life’.

https://wp.me/p4SlVj-dQ

We know Ellen was in a mental hospital, only because she told the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum that she spent some time in Goodna. Imagine looking for her using the names of her six husbands, Jones, Stanley, Heffernan, Dwyer, Munro, Hickson.  It appears that Ellen too may have used the Asylum ‘to escape from intolerable living conditions’.

————————————————————————–

Kirsty asked. ‘Did you find out what happened to Bridget Ferry, Eliza Armstrong and Margaret Gorman? Maybe they went back into an institution later in life’.

‘Good point’ i said, ‘No, i haven’t. Linking diverse records is crucial to this study. Births, deaths, marriages, Hospital records, Prison records, they can lead us to our orphans in Mental Asylum records’.

‘I’m worried’, says Kirsty, ‘There are only three mentioned here who actually went into an asylum. The subject looks overwhelming. Do i begin by going back to Foucault, Freud, Elaine Showalter and the rest? Those case histories you showed me are so sad. Why did these immigrant Irish women end up in an asylum? I read an essay by the late Sister Mary MacGinley where she argued that family standing was what bestowed status, and it’s among Irish families of standing we find the climbers, those determined to establish themselves. At the other end of the spectrum, are the vulnerable ones, and i would assume she includes here immigrant women who lacked a strong support network,  or who couldn’t cope with their intolerable living conditions, such as abuse by their husband, postpartum depression, poverty, intemperance, vagrancy, abandonment, and other hardships’.

“That’s good’, i said. ‘You are already thinking about what you said last time; it’s not about numbers, it’s about exploring the underbelly of colonial society, or something to that effect. Let’s first try and find a few more orphans who went into a mental asylum, and then we’ll see where we go from there.Were they more likely to go into such an institution in their old age, for example’?

Parramatta womens asylum c1890a

Women Residents in the Newington Asylum c. 1890. From the State Library of NSW Picture Collection SPF/1170

 

Postscript: I almost forgot. Jaki McCarrick has an interesting piece about her play ‘Belfast Girls’ in the April edition of tintean.org.au

There are other interesting articles there also.

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine orphans (71); Asylums

And another thing…

Reading the excellent series of orphan stories, written by descendants, in the free online magazine tintean.org.au has reminded me of something else we need to do: that is, make a thorough search for those orphans who spent time in an institution in Australia, whether it be prison, a Benevolent asylum, a mental hospital, an Industrial school, a Lying-In hospital, or an asylum for destitute children. [ Should we widen the search to include the orphans’ children] ?

I’ve said before the numbers involved were not large, probably only ten percent of the whole. That is a familiar gut-reaction. But it is a gut reaction: we shouldn’t make up our minds and prejudice the results of our research before it is complete. It is becoming easier to do that research as more and more primary sources are digitised, and made available online. Trove is the obvious example. There are others. See http://www.geelonginfirmary.net/how_to_use.htm

or https://www.records.nsw.gov.au/archives/collections-and-research/guides-and-indexes/node/1561/browse

But that search for ‘Irish orphans in Asylums’ is still a daunting project, one that may require a team of researchers, especially if the intention is to cover the whole of Australia. If a student came to me with such a project proposal, I would ask him or her, ‘is it do-able? Show me how’. The student might reply, ‘it’s not about numbers. Sure, there will be records that haven’t survived. It’s more than that. It’s about digging deeper; it’s about truth-telling; it’s about discovering the darker side of Australian life some of these Irish orphans endured.’

Benevolent Asylum Dunwich records

Note how informative these records can be. But they don’t always allow us to identify our Irish orphan ‘girls’.

No 89 Ellen Flynn or Cunningham admitted 21 August 1879 from Toowoomba Hospital having lost her sight for the last six months. She was from King’s County, Ireland, daughter of John Dooley, a farmer. She was Roman Catholic, could read and write, and married John Flynn at Wollongong when she was 17 and he, 23. Her husband was a Lockup Keeper at Tenterfield. He died about thirteen years ago. She had seven children alive, three were in Tenterfield, two in Roma, two in Warwick. Two girls had died. She came to Sydney with friends as an immigrant per Tippoo Saib about 1855. She lived in New South Wales for many years. Her husband was 12 years in the Police.

Now is this the orphan Ellen Dooley who arrived by the Tippoo Saib in 1850? The information so far accords with the information provided by Ellen’s descendant, Ann Faraday, for my Barefoot volume 2. Ann had no record of Ellen after 1861.

This Ellen married again in 1885 to Michael Cunningham, himself an inmate of Dunwich. The Register records her frequent stays in the Benevolent Asylum and when she was absent on leave, from 1887 to her death 16 September 1898.

No 259 Eliza Scholes admitted October 10th 1889 from Brisbane Hospital suffering from rheumatism. She was from Belfast, Ireland, a domestic servant, Church of England, could read and write, daughter of Anthony Rodgers, engraver, and Jane Harver. [Now you would need to know that an Eliza Rogers daughter of Anthony and Jane was one of the infamous Belfast girls on board the Earl Grey who were banished directly to Moreton Bay in 1848.] Eliza said she was married in Brisbane at age 14 to Charles J. Worth (dead) and at age 42 in Sydney to Jacob Scholes (address unknown, last heard of in Victoria), 7 children by her first marriage. Addresses unknown all in Queensland…No property, no cash. She was last seen by the Medical Superintendent Nov. 21 1894. She died and was buried a day later 22 Nov. 1894. [Eliza Scholes was an inmate of Toowoomba Women’s prison serving three months for vagrancy in 1888, and six months, early in 1889].

NO 453 Ellen Agnes Hickson admitted October 29 1895 from Goodna Asylum, daughter of John Leyden, farmer and Mary Cronin. [This is another orphan who arrived by the Thomas Arbuthnot in 1850. She has appeared already at the end of my post about “Some Sad Stories” https://earlgreysfamineorphans.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-9/ Once again you will need prior knowledge to recognise Ellen as one of the Earl Grey Irish Famine orphans].

No 498 Mary Clark admitted 19 January 1897. She was from the Brisbane Depot suffering from a bad leg. She was from Belfast, Ireland, Roman Catholic, could read, daughter of Charles Murray, a leather cutter, and Mary Donnelly. She married twice, first to William Campbell when she was 26 at Armadale (sic), NSW, and second, to John Edward Clark when she was 34, also at Armadale. She had four children by her first marriage, three of whom lived at an address unknown,. The fourth, Charlotte Campbell was married to H. Lambourne in South Melbourne. ‘Came to Australia 49 years ago by Ship Roman Emperor landed at Adelaide S. A. stayed there 18 years, went to N.S.W, lived there 15 years then came to Brisbane and staid (sic) there ever since.

Last 2 years at Brisbane working and assisted by the Benevolent Societies and Government, and at Brisbane Depot’. The giveaway here allowing us to identify Mary as one of the orphan ‘girls’, is the name of her ship and the date and place of its arrival.

 

No 506 Ann Gregory admitted 16 March 1897, born in Boyle, Ireland, a housewife and ladies’ nurse, can read and write, daughter of Andrew Heggerty and Salina Reynolds. [Ann Haggerty arrived in Sydney with her sister Catherine, the daughters of Andrew and Sarah, both dead, from Boyle, Roscommon, by the Digby in 1849. Both had their indentures cancelled in the Sydney Water Police Office and sent to Moreton Bay]. Ann married John Gregory when she was 18, in Brisbane. According to the information she gave the Benevolent Asylum, she came to Australia in 1848 and landed in Brisbane, She had lived in Rockhampton, Charters Towers and Brisbane, and had no money and no property. She died 30 May 1900.

No 549 Eliza Dwyer admitted May 4 1898 from Brisbane suffering from bronchitis, born Belfast, Ireland, Roman Catholic, housewife, can read and write, daughter of John Frazer, Bootmaker, and Margaret Gallagher, married Edward Dwyer when 20yo at Brisbane, husband dead 4 years, 5 children alive, one dead, has information about the other 4, came to Australia 50 years ago, landed Moreton Bay, been in Brisbane ever since as nurse and housework etc, last 2 years living with daughter Ipswich Road. No property, no money. Last seen by Medical Superintendent 1 December 1903, died 2 December 1903, buried 3 December 1903. [Eliza Frazer was one of the “Belfast girls” on board the Earl Grey, sent directly to Moreton Bay by Surgeon Douglass].

Ellen Dooley, Eliza Rogers, Ellen Leyden or Lydon, Mary Murray, Ann Haggerty and Eliza Frazer were all ‘Earl Grey Irish workhouse orphans’.

‘There are even two women in the Register who arrived by the James Pattinson the vessel that brought young Irish women to Sydney in 1836; Susan Gillan from Mountmellick, daughter of Edward Finlay and Mary Keogh, and Jane Richards nee Turkington’, i said to the student.

‘The project is a goer’, says my student. ‘I’ll need to look at the Registers again to see if there are some you’ve missed. Trove will also open up more information i’m sure. I certainly won’t leave anyone in limbo. There is a lot i can do. I’ve already had a look at a doctoral thesis at the University of Queensland. Dr Goodall says Dunwich was far from the ideal retreat some contemporaries claimed it was. ‘Inmates quickly developed institutional behaviours…they were subject to overcrowding, senseless regimentation, little or no recreational opportunities…infantilisation and poor quality and unappetising food, he says’.

It doesn’t sound like they had a good quality of life in the end. And look how many Irish women go there towards the end of their life.

It will be interesting to see what Benevolent Asylum records in Sydney and Melbourne throw up. I’ll have to get permission to gain access to some of those particular records, won’t I.’

‘Are you thinking of narrowing down your project already’? i answered. ‘What about the orphans who went to gaol, or into a mental asylum? Maybe we should talk about this next time’.