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
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. [ElizaScholeswas 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 Emperorlanded 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’.
Most readers will know of the recent death of Tom Power a man who played such a crucial role in the creation of the monument to the Great Irish Famine at Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney http://www.irishfaminememorial.org/ This wonderfully evocative artwork was a commemoration and a memorial to all the Irish people who fled the Famine and came to Australia. Its symbolism gave it universal significance. It became a tribute to everyone fleeing famine and catastrophe anywhere in the world. Tom knew that public monuments die by neglect. His hope was that this one, ‘his’ one, would be a living monument, life breathed into it by the descendants of orphan girls memorialized on the glass panels in Hossein and Angela Valamanesh’s beautiful sculpture.
There’s a host of other ways. Maybe readers would mention them in a comment to this blogpost?
In homage to Tom Power I’d like to present another brief ‘herstory’. It is based on information provided by a descendant, Alan Buttenshaw. Alan provided me with a file of information relating to Winifred Tiernan and her husband, David Masters when I met him in 2003.
WINIFRED TIERNAN/TIERNEY FROM ROSCOMMON per TIPPOO SAIB
there is the following,
Surname : Tiernan (Tierney)
First Name : Winifred
Age on arrival : 16
Native Place : Ardcarney [Ardcarn], Roscommon
Parents : James & Margaret (both dead)
Religion : Roman Catholic
Ship name : Tippoo Saib (Sydney Jul 1850)
Workhouse : Roscommon, Boyle
Other : Shipping: house servant, reads, no relatives in colony. 1858-9 Report, appendix J No.150, 29 Nov 1850 indentures cancelled with Mr J Caruthers, South Head Rd, for insolence & neglect of duty, sent up the country, WPO; Im Cor 50/917, 16 Dec 1850 Maitland; mar David Masters 7 Jun 1853, St James, Morpeth; then to Mitchell’s Island nr Taree, farming husband’s property; 15 ch; she died 12 May 1909. Photo p.289 Barefoot & Pregnant, vol.2. Heather Peterson: cadie[at]ace-net.com.au; Alan Buttenshaw: abuttens[at]bigpond.com.au; Darlene McGrath, email bounced, please contact us
Further down this post you will see the family reconstitution form I constructed after meeting with Alan. Alas, I never developed her history as either of us had hoped. Here is a brief version of ‘herstory’ anyway. It may assist other family historians writing her story if they haven’t done so already. It appears there were fourteen, not fifteen children born to the couple. Both were residing in Bolwarra Parish at the time of their wedding in St James Anglican church in Morpeth in 1853. I can’t help noting how long a child-bearing life Winifred had.
Some of the information in Alan’s file had been passed to him by other family members, including the transcript of a tape by Winifred’s granddaughter. It was a tape recording what Winifred had told her granddaughter about the Famine and the death of her parents. According to this, Winifred’s mum, Margaret Conlon died in 1846, followed by her dad and brother James the year after, in 1847.
Let me quote from the transcript,
“At the end of 1846 Great Grandmother Margaret, took ill. Her husband tookCatherine [Winifred’s younger sister who came to Australia in 1856] and James with him and slept in the hayloft above the cowshed. Each morning he took the milk and whatever else could be found in the way of food and left it on the kitchen doorstep. But he never went inside the house. The mother died, the two girls laid her out. … At the end of 1847, this time the father and the son James were stricken. A cart came to pick up any dead, and a neighbour told the men to call on the way back. The father was already dead, and by the time they returned the son would be also. There weren’t any records kept of who had died they were all buried in a large hole. This left the three girls orphans, Mary 15 yrs, Winifred, 12 and Catherine 9″.
One of the fascinating things about the transcript is the way we humans construct our memories to suit ourselves. In the transcript there is no mention of Winifred ever having been a workhouse and no mention of her indentures being cancelled or being sent up the country to Maitland.
See entry number 150 of the table relating to cancelled indentures in blog post 22.
On the contrary, the tape gives a sanitized version of Winifred’s coming to Australia.
“…Grandma wanted to emigrate-the fare was only £1, but she had to wait until early 1850 when she would be 15, in the May of that year. She even had her birthday while on the ship. Her uncle (Owen Conlon) allowed her to leave then because of Bridgett Quigley her cousin.
Bridgett Quigley came with her, Grandma was a pretty girl, and Bridgett was charged with the the responsibility of looking after her. They sailed in the Tippoo Saib…Winifred went into Catherine Chisholm’s Camp and a position was found for her as a nursemaid for the children of a Mr and Mrs Morcom, school teachers at Bolwarra, Morpeth”.
There was no Caroline Chisholm ‘camp’ for Winifred to go to in 1850. And to be eligible for the Earl Grey scheme she had to be in a workhouse, for however short a period of time. Uncle Owen Conlon may well have had influence with Boyle Workhouse Guardians and officers, enough to get Winifred into the workhouse and on to the list of those chosen to go. People in Ireland were aware the scheme was coming to an end which added to their sense of urgency. But all that is merely hypothesis. We have no independent verification of any of it.
Nonetheless it does seem Winifred was related to Bridget Quigley.
The account of Winifred’s emigration to Australia in the transcript was more personally acceptable than the reality of her having spent time in a workhouse or being sent up country after cancellation of her indenture for ‘insolence’. People often hid the fact they had spent time in a workhouse. It was a badge of undeserved shame. I’d suggest we may need help separating what the grandmother said, and what the granddaughter added to that transcript.
All this raises a question about the reliability of oral evidence, and how we go about appreciating its value. It is worth exploring. Simply type ‘Oral HistoryAssociation of Australia‘ into your search engine and you will find some helpful links. For the enthusiast who would like to take this further, there are some brilliant essays in The Oral History Reader edited by Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson, Routledge, 1998.
Winifred Tierney/Tiernan and David Masters
Winifred married Sussex born David Masters in an Anglican church in Morpeth in 1853. David had come to Australia with his parents and siblings in 1838 on board the Maitland, a voyage which saw 35 deaths, 29 of them children, mostly from scarlet fever. None of David’s family died.
The Masters family settled in the Hunter Valley, and it was in the same area that Winifred and David’s first two children were born. Sadly, their first child, Mary, died in infancy. According to ‘our’ transcript and the barely legible notes of my conversation with Alan, the family, sick of being flooded out so frequently, moved north to the Lower Manning Valley. There, too, their first farm on Jones’s Island was subject to flooding, forcing a move to higher ground on Mitchell’s Island. It was here the rest of their children were born. Winifred was surrounded by, and absorbed into families from Sussex. David inherited a farm of thirty acres to which he added a purchase of another forty-four acres.
Here’s is Alan’s map showing where they lived. Their children were born, lived, married and buried in the same area, in Ghinni Ghinni, Wingham and Taree, most of them returning to Mitchell’s Island to be buried.
Alan and I talked about the importance of putting Winifred and her family into context, into a ‘place’. And finding local histories and local historians who might help with that. Luckily the area is well served for anyone wanting to develop the story further. I managed to note down the following, W. G. Birrell, The Manning Valley, Landscape and settlement 1824-1900, Jacaranda Press, 1907(?); Helen Hannah, Voices a Folk History of the Manning Valley, Newcastle, 1988, and importantly, the excellent local history, John Ramsland, The Struggle against Isolation A History of the Manning Valley, Library of Australian History in association with Greater Taree City Council, 1987. In the early days of white settlement, the Manning was a cedar getting area and later one of dairy-farming. Most of those who settled here, says John Ramsland, were not people of capital.
John Ramsland’s work tells us how in the period Winifred and her family settled in the Manning Valley, the main urban centres were beginning to take shape. ‘The first shelters in Taree (where many of Winifred’s children were to live) were temporary huts made of locally collected bark or tents made of calico. These were soon replaced by split slab huts with bark roofs and dirt floors. And soon after sawn slab huts made their appearance with shingle roofs, and wooden floors and glazed windows‘ (p.49).
It wasn’t till the twentieth century that Winifred and David’s family went further afield. Alan’s own impression was of nutritionally good stews, kitchen and pantry built together, refrigeration coming late, of spartan and relatively ‘isolated’ living.
According to John Ramsland the lower Manning Valley was a very Protestant area. The Masters had a strong Methodist connection but by way of ‘compromise’, our transcript tells us, David and Winifred’s children were baptised in an Anglican Church. Winifred, a young Irish Catholic lass, was absorbed into mainly Protestant Sussex families who had migrated together on the Maitland and the Argyle. Nonetheless she kept a link with Ireland through her younger sister Catherine. Catherine arrived by the Cressy in 1856.
“Catherine often visited the farm on the Manning River. If one of the girls was being married, she would arrive with all the materials and know-how to help with the trousseau. If it was one of the boys then her present was £50 towards his own farm. In 1894 Catherine and her husband (William Hillas) went for a trip to England and Ireland. While she was there she visited the site of the old home. She went by cab, and took a cut lunch. Only the fireplace, front and back doorsteps and the stone grating in the kitchen floor remained. She could remember which flag had to be lifted so her father could get into the cellar where he made his corn liquor…”.
Not a third-class or fourth class dwelling then, to use the terminology of Ireland’s census takers. I wonder in what ways this trip of Catherine’s may have influenced Winifred’s own memory of things, and what appears in the transcript.
Unfortunately I have been unable to make contact with Alan again. He has rich pickings for a good extended family history, one that that would do Alison Light proud. [Type Alison Light into the search box that appears after the comments to this blogpost to see what I’m on about ].
For me, Winifred’s story is another little life breath demonstrating how adaptable and resilient an orphan ‘girl’ could be. Our orphan histories are as diverse as the human condition itself. Maybe we should think of adding some more. That Hyde Park Barracks monument should be kept alive.
I’m currently reading a powerful, poetic, tragic, brilliant work of fiction about a young girl during the Famine, which I heartily recommend, Paul Lynch’s Grace, Otherworld, 2017.
She looks around the table, sees the way the youngers stare at her, sees what is in …the whites of all their eyes and the who they are behind that white and what lies dangerous to the who of them, this danger she has feared, how it has finally been spoken, how it has been allowed to enter the room and sit grinning among them” (p.14).
This list should make it easier to navigate the blog. Some of the bits and pieces, photographs, maps, graphs and family reconstitutions et al., are meant to illustrate what I’m saying in other posts.
Clicking on the http:// link should take you directly to that post. At the end of each post, after the ‘Comments’ there is a Search box. Type in what you wish to search for and you will see if I’ve said anything about what you are looking for
The poster above contains essential information about the November commemorative ‘Gathering’ in Williamstown this year. Wouldn’t it be good to see an Outreach programme associated with this Standing Rock in memory of the young Irish Famine women who arrived in Port Phillip? Organisers and descendants could choose the kind of outreach they would like. What do you think? I’m sure Dr Noone would encourage any proposal.
To return to some of the issues raised in my last post. Most of us will agree that the Earl Grey orphans had psychological baggage when they came to Australia. Some of them from places such as Skibbereen or Dingle or Kilrush may have been damaged more than others, making it hard for them to cope with the troubles they met in their new home.
If I may quote from Dr Kildea’s poignant oration, ‘Only Nineteen ‘ delivered at Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney at the end of August 2017,
“To be uprooted from your home country by force of circumstance, whether it be persecution or the prospect of starvation, and transported to a strange and foreign land can be a deeply traumatic experience. The fact that the refugee is thereby enabled to survive is unarguably a good thing. But that obvious benefit does not eliminate the emotional damage which the forced displacement causes”.
Reading his oration again I’m aware how much I’m indebted to him in these two blogposts on “Skibbereen and beyond”.
Were Skibbereen orphans especially vulnerable?
But let me play the devil’s advocate. What counter arguments or qualifications might be made to the claim that orphans from the Skibbereen area were especially vulnerable? Was Skibbereen so exceptional? Some qualifications to the claim have appeared already viz. there are places other than Skibbereen just as badly affected by the Famine. Dingle and Clare Abbey were mentioned in the previous post, for example. Note too the cover picture of the last post which features Captain Arthur Kennedy’s young daughter distributing clothing to children at Kilrush.
Kilrush, in County Clare, was notorious for the number of evictions that drove people from their homes. Captain Kennedy, the Poor Law Inspector in Kilrush Poor Law Union, reported in July 1848,
“These helpless creatures are not only unhoused, but often driven off the land, no one remaining on the lands being allowed to lodge or harbour them. Or they, perhaps linger about the spot, and frame some temporary shelter out of the materials of their old homes against a broken wall, or behind a ditch or fence, or in a bog-hole (scalps as they are called), places totally unfit for human habitations, or they crowd into some of the few neighbouring cabins still left standing, when called to do so, as lodgers, where such numbers congregate that disease, together with the privations of other kinds which they endure, before long carry them off. As soon as one horde of houseless and all but naked paupers are dead, or provided for in the workhouse, another wholescale eviction doubles the number, who in their turn pass through the same ordeal of wandering from house to house, or burrowing in bogs or behind ditches, till broken down by privation and exposure to the elements, they seek the workhouse, or die by the roadside”.
And from April 6 1848, …the crowding of the fever hospital causes me serious anxiety. The relieving officer has directions to send no more in, yet, notwithstanding this caution, panic-stricken and unnatural parents frequently send in a donkey load of children in fever a distance of 14 or 15 miles for admission. How to dispose of them I know not. BPP [Reports and Returns relative to evictions in the Kilrush Union ,1849  XLIX, pp.315-71]
Or to take a different tack, there were another eighteen or so orphans from Skibbereen on board the Eliza Caroline and another eighty-five (85) on board the Elgin to South Australia about whom we know little or nothing. We just do not know how they fared in Australia. And therefore surely cannot be certain their Famine experience predisposed them to disaster in Australia.
Remember too that the orphans did not board ship carrying disease or wearing lice infected rags. They had an outfit, a wooden box, a Bible, and would be well fed during their voyage to Australia.
My thanks to Síle Ní Muirchú (O’Driscoll) whose spiritual home is the beautiful Gougane Barra in West Cork. Síle provided the following excerpts from the Dunmanway Board of Guardian Minute Books. Dunmanway is just up the road from Skibbereen. Fifteen orphans from Dunmanway were also on board the Eliza Caroline.
“1st December 1849 “The Reports of the Master and other Officers were read, and orders made thereon, as follows”:
“The matron reported that 350 yards of gingham was required for girls bibs”
“The clerk was directed to advertise for contractors to supply gingham. Contracts to be made on the 8th inst.
8th December 1849
“Letter from the Commissioners of 6th Inst No. 76770 containing instructions respecting Female emigrants – directions were given to the union officers to carry out the instructions of the Commissioners.
Special Business “Tender for supply of gingham deferred for consideration”.
“The clerk was directed to advertise for persons willing to convey to Cork 15 female emigrants with their boxes etc? – tender to be considered on the 15th inst”.
15th December 1849
Special Business “Tenders for conveying female emigrants to Cork deferred for a few days”.
“The tender of Mr Ralph Phipps? To paint boxes for the female emigrants at 5/2d each was accepted”.
22nd December 1849
“Debit Workhouse Invoice Account, and Credit Treasure, with the several sums as above”.
“4. Emigration Account”.
Messr Skilling? And Co Books £1 s3 d9
Mr. ? for Bonnets 1 0 0
Mr Standley for Emigrants shoes 1 5 0
Mr Winder? For conveyance to Plymouth 3? 13 10 0
Mr ?? Fares to Cork 1 15 0
“The Reports of the Master and other Officers were read, and orders made thereon, as follows”:
“That all? The clothing and requirements/requisites? Required for the outfit of the Female emigrants are now complete”.
Bibles, bonnets, boxes, shoes, and dressed in gingham, the Dunmanway orphans were privileged indeed, and cut a fine bib as they made their way to Cork en route to Plymouth and thence Port Phillip.
I doubt that today many Syrian children seeking refuge in Lebanon or Jordan, or in Canada or Germany are receiving professional counselling. Nor are the Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh. How far have we failed to come? Such psychiatric help did not exist for our Famine orphans either. Yet maybe 235 Earl Grey orphans living close to one another on board the recently built, well appointed but small, Eliza Caroline, fostered memories of home. Living cheek by jowl for a ninety day voyage provided plenty of opportunity to share and talk about past experiences, and about anxieties, and hopes, and dreams. Good medicine in itself, for some at least, was it not?
There are different and subtle hues to our picture of ‘Skibbereen and beyond’, are there not?
Australian circumstances and events
What tipped a vulnerable orphan into the abyss? What things made her life so difficult in Australia? Maybe the life cycle of an ‘at risk’ orphan became a disaster because of events that happened in Australia. How many of them fall into this category? It is hard to know. We may never know. My gut reaction would be, about ten percent (10%) of the whole. But if we include any Earl Grey orphan who went into an institution, even once, to a Benevolent Asylum, a Lying-in hospital, a women’s prison, a Mental Asylum, or whose children went to an Industrial school, I’d put the figure higher. We just do not know the history of all the orphans. Which is why the work of people such as Perry Mc Intyre, Karen Semken, Cheryl Mongan, Richard Reid, and committed family historians is so important to our understanding of this issue.
Let me briefly explore, in general terms, the kind of thing that had an adverse effect on an orphan’s life. Here’s an incomplete list just off the top of my head. I hope you will identify others. Let me know your thoughts.
the vulnerability of a lonely female immigrant who lacked a support network from ‘home’
sexual and domestic abuse
mental illness, and other maladies
poverty and hardship
desertion, illness and death of her husband
Sexual and domestic abuse
I’ll just look at a couple of things from the list above. Under sexual and domestic abuse let’s include any orphan, vulnerable because of her servitude, who was a target for an employer abusing his or her power as master in the master-servant relationship. There will be more than the ones that came to court. Here are a few that were reported in the Melbourne press, the Argus.
Sarah Higg/Head ( the Melbourne Daily News named her as Sarah Head) a 14 year-old from Limerick per Pemberton took her employers to court in November 1849. Richard Clarke a printer in the Gazette office in Melbourne abused her with ‘the most insulting language’, calling her a ‘poor-house brat’. His wife had grabbed her by the neck and thrown her out the door. See Argus, 13 Nov. 1849 p.2 col 6 http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/504313
Catherine Mackie per New Liverpool was also a 14 year-old but from from Wicklow. The Argus 3 Nov 1849 reported as follows,
“The evidence went to prove that Mr.Williams (a schoolteacher of Brighton) had struck the girl repeatedly with a broom handle, and when she cried with pain he filled her mouth with ashes, to prevent the neighbours being alarmed”. Or in Catherine’s words,”he then knelt upon me and took two fists full of ashes and put them down my mouth”.
Tragically, in April 1850, Alice Ball a 16 year-old from Enniskillen per Diadem committed suicide by throwing herself into the River Yarra in Melbourne. “Even though reins were thrown to her from the bank of the river, she would not, she refused to lay hold of them”. She was pregnant by her married master. See the Argus, 26 April, 29 April and 1 May 1850. http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/4773296
“He pulled me out of bed and shoved me one way and then another. I was stupid and taken in labor after he beat me, and I can’t tell half what he did to me… The child was born dead. Prisoner struck me with his hand and his foot. He struck me all over. He struck me with the point of his foot. I was tumbling on the floor. My daughter was in the house when he beat me. He ill-used me from the Saturday till the Friday, when the child was born. Sometimes he’d up and give me a shove or a slap”.
The sad thing is, a husband’s so-called “rights” to discipline and punish his wife and children was enshrined in law, a legal position which was underpinned by the ideology of most churches of the time. The head of a household, that is, the male, had a duty to administer ‘moderate’ correction to his wife and children to keep them on the straight and narrow. I wonder do we really live in more enlightened times. There are still plenty of troglodytes about.
In the 1990s I did some research on Irish women in Mental asylums for my Irish Women in Colonial Australia. I am glad to say some excellent work has appeared since then, particularly by the former Professor of Irish studies at the University of Melbourne, Professor Elizabeth Malcolm. Have a look for Elizabeth Malcolm, “Mental Health and Migration: The case of the Irish, 1850s-1990s”, in Migration, Ethnicity and Mental Health…, ed. A. McCarthy & C. Coleborne, Routledge, 2012, and her chapter on Yarra Bend Asylum, “Irish Immigrants in a Colonial Asylum during the Australian Gold Rushes, 1848-69”, in Asylums, Mental Health Care and the Irish:1800-2010, ed. Pauline M. Prior, Irish Academic Press, 2012, 2017. One can gain access to substantial portions of these works by searching via Google books.
Professor Malcolm identifies two orphans in her chapter on case histories in Yarra Bend, Bridget Ferry from Dunfanaghy in Donegal per Lady Kennaway, and Elizabeth Armstrong from Enniskillen per Diadem. One was described as a ‘congenital idiot’ and the other as suffering from ‘paralysis’ and ‘dementia’. But both were released ‘cured’ after only a few months stay in the institution. Professor Malcolm suggests they may have used the asylum for their own ends, “as a means of escaping from intolerable living conditions”.
There was no shortage of Irish women in Australian mental hospitals. Dr Malcolm lists the reasons for their being there; post natal depression, grief at the death of children, alcoholism, head injuries and poor physical health, and some evidence of ‘gold fever’ i.e. overwhelming disappointment at not finding gold on the Victorian gold fields.
And if I may add, from my own research notes, the reasons given by the medical authorities of the day as the ‘supposed cause’ of an inmate’s illness. They help identify some of the ‘difficulties’ an ‘at risk’ orphan may have faced. These are taken from mental hospital records in Victoria, Queensland, and New South Wales;
“her mind is affected by her child burning to death”,
“feeble and much emaciated”,
“drunkenness and ill usage of her husband”,
“death of her husband and destitute circumstances”,
“states she has been living in a solitary hut, her husband having been up the country and that continued fear was the cause of her illness”,
“form of mental disorder, nostalgia. Supposed cause, grief at leaving her country and ardent desire to return to it”,
“she continually reads her Prayer Book…becomes excited over religious subjects stating she has renounced her husband, that she considers sexual intercourse a crime and that she would sooner die than submit”,
“supposed cause of her melancholia, ‘regret at leaving home coupled with her recent desolate condition'”,
“she is a native of Ireland and lived by selling fruits…she has been long parted from her husband on account of his brutal usage”,
“the mother states that during her pregnancy with this child she received the most cruel usage from her husband”.
No matter how heavy the psychological baggage the orphans brought with them from a Famine ravaged Ireland, sometimes the struggle they had in their new home in Australia tipped them over the edge, and determined the downward course their lives.
Elsewhere in my blog I’ve drawn readers’ attention to the fact that because so many orphans married older men, in their old age they were more likely to spend their last days in an institution such as a Benevolent Asylum. Or as Dr Malcolm puts it, ‘elderly working class widows were especially vulnerable to psychiatric institutionalisation’. They coped as best they could, whatever way they could.
Unfortunately records of the names of those in the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum have not survived. But they have done so elsewhere. One needs to be aware of the name of the ship and date of arrival to detect an Earl Grey orphan. Here are a few from the ‘Register of Personal details relating to persons admitted to Dunwich Benevolent Asylum’.(Queensland State Archives Ben 2/4). Dunwich is on Stradbroke Island in Moreton Bay.
In alphabetic order,
Mary Clarkaged 69 admitted January 19th 1897. Born in Belfast, daughter of Charles Murray and Mary Donnelly…came to Australia 49 years ago by ship Roman Emperor, landed at Adelaide S.A. Goodness how far had she travelled.
Eliza Dwyer aged 75 admitted May 4th 1898. Born in Belfast, daughter of John Frazer and Margaret Gallagher…came to Australia 50 years ago landed Moreton Bay. Eliza was one of the original Belfast girls who arrived by the Earl Grey.
Ellen Agnes Hickson aged 61 admitted Oct. 29 1895 . Born Clare Ireland, daughter of John Leyden and Mary Cronin…came to Australia 1850 landed in Sydney…last two years in Asylum Goodna. Ellen Leydon from Ennistymon in County Clare arrived by the Thomas Arbuthnot.
Eliza Scholes aged 52 admitted October 10th 1889. Born Belfast, daughter of Anthony Rodgers and Jane Harver…came to Brisbane ’48 & have been in Queensland ever since. Eliza was another of the original Belfast girls who arrived by the Earl Grey.
It would be a major research project searching for, and cross referencing orphans in different institutions throughout Australia. Eliza Scholes nee Rogers had served three months for vagrancy in March 1888 and another 6 months for the same ‘crime’ in January 1889 in Toowoomba Women’s prison.
A reminder, though, searching for orphans in such institutions, as I’ve said elsewhere, ” is merely adding the bias of expectations to the bias of the evidence itself”. But it is still worth doing.
The work of family historians can act as a counterweight to this, even if they too have a bias of their own. Their concern is not with the ‘lost’ orphans. They are the survivors, and sometimes, maybe too often, view things through rose-tinted spectacles. As Noeline Kyle puts it in her very useful book, Writing Family History Made Very Easy, Allen & Unwin, 2007, in her chapter called “Nostalgia, Sentiment and Blazing Sunsets”, “we read about devoted wives, hardworking men, dear children and pious wives” (p.165). Noeline has important and valuable advice for all would-be genealogists and family historians.
My intention was to include somePort Phillip orphan stories via family reconstitutions in this post, on the occasion of this year’s Williamstown commemoration. But the post is too long already. Next time, I promise, before the ‘gathering’ occurs.
I hope it may be of use to the actors researching their roles for Jaki McCarrick’s play “Belfast Girls”. Break a leg!
At the bottom of each blog post after the comments there is a search box. Type in whatever you are looking for and click enter and you will find what reference there is, if any, in the whole of the blog. Thus if you enter “Ellen Leydon” you will be told she appears in posts 51, 25, 9, and 4. Happy hunting.
Just wetting a line…I hope i haven’t put these up before. The first ones are Earl Grey orphans’ families in Australia, that is, from the first vessel that carried the infamous ‘Belfast Girls’.
Jaki McCarrick’s brilliant play of the same name puts the Belfast girls on board the Inchinnan. Creative artists of Jaki’s stature weave their own magic to use history how they wish. It’s a wonderful play with a great history of its own already, thrilling audiences in London, Chicago, Vancouver, and soon to appear in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and Portland, Oregon. Have a read of her play if you will, maybe buy your own copy online, or order one for your library, even share with a friend.
There’s more to discover by examining the detail in these family reconstitution forms.
Some Earl Grey orphans
Jane Beattie from Lisburn died young, of tuberculosis.
Elizabeth McFarlane from Cookstown had nearly twenty seven years of widowhood. She gave birth to fourteen children, five boys and nine girls. She lost one of her twins because of an ‘accidental scalding’.
Charlotte Mackay from Banbridge lost four of her children to scarlet fever.
Eliza McLaughlin/McLoughlan from Clonfeakle in Tyrone lived all her life in Sydney but she too lost three of her children in infancy.
Sarah Wiley/Wylie from Banbridge married an Irishman of different religion from herself, lived most of her life in Sydney and lost three of her children at an early age. See the left hand side of the page which gives William’s various occupations and place of residence when he registered their children’s birth.
Lily Barber from Belfast went to the gold diggings but like most in the gold rush, didn’t strike it rich. She and James had eleven children. She is buried in Ballarat New Cemetery.
Eliza Ady from Dungannon or Cookstown in Tyrone married in Melbourne and went looking for gold with her husband. Her ‘treasure’ may have been her nine children. She is buried in Stawell.
Mary Byng from Enniskillen married a Londoner and also went searching for gold. She died of ‘heart weakness and cerebral hemorrhage’ in 1902.
Her sister Jane had ten children. I’ve left the names of some of their spouses supplied by one of her descendants, Munroe, Patchett, Radnell, Perry, Polglase. Maybe someone will be surprised to find they have a Famine orphan in their family tree?
The last but one of the Diadem orphans for the moment is Mary McCann from Enniskillen. The form was filled out by one of her descendants. I was able to add little to this one.
Rebecca Orr from Derry married a young carpenter from Somerset in a Wesleyan chapel in Geelong not long after she arrived. Present were her Diadem shipmate Margaret Love and her husband to be, William Hargrave.
A couple more to finish. When Mary Ann McElroy’s descendant returned my form, I had already lost access to Victorian BDM records. She came on that large ship, the Pemberton. Mary lived to the ripe old age of ninety, having given birth to nineteen children.
Finally two forms returned to me by other very cluey descendants. These date from the 1980s.
A new generation of orphan descendants is discovering a link to Earl Grey’s Irish Famine orphans. I’ve recently learned that Mary Theresa Slattery will be represented at a memorial celebration in Kilkenny this coming November (2017) by a member of her Australian family. She’s been in touch with the author of a fascinating work on Famine Burials in Kilkenny workhouse, Dr Jonny Gerber. (See Dr Gerber’s chapter in the Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, eds., Crowley, Smyth and Murphy, Cork, 2012).
“A way a lone a last a loved a long the” (James Joyce, Finnegan’s Wake)
Next instalment, this time of pages twelve to seventeen. I’ve used some of this material in my blog, and some has remained untouched for twenty-six or so years. Readers may have noticed I’m getting my jollies by adding missing references and notes. I do have heaps of stuff that could be added–i do love a substantive footnote–but I’ll give myself ‘a restraining order’.
As before, more notes will be added a bit later. I hope you liked the ones in my previous post.
Click on the introduction text a couple of times, or pinch and widen, and the image will be larger.
As mentioned in the notes to the previous post, most of the extant Irish Workhouse Indoor Admission and Discharge Registers are held in the Public Record Office in Northern Ireland. That they survived at all was thanks to the foresight and skill of a former Deputy Director, Dr Brian Trainor. We are all deeply indebted to him.
As far as I’m aware, outside of Northern Irish Poor Law Unions, and apart from North and South Dublin and Rathdrum (?) in County Wicklow, no others have survived for the years we want. Even then, not all of the Northern Ireland ones have survived. But fortunately Armagh Workhouse Registers do.
Anne and Jane Hunter PRONI BG2/G/1 entry numbers 3827 and 3828
The Devlin family entries are numerous. For Margaret PRONI BG2/G/1 entry numbers, 608, 1324, 2396, 3700, 5660. BG2/G/2 1507. All of these references should be on the website at www.irishfaminememorial.org
Catherine Tomnay or Tamoney PRONI BG2/G/1 456,1166, 1475, 3967, 4356.
One of the advantages of these records is that they provide information about other family members, about their age, their religion, their occupation, their place of residence, and their condition when they entered the workhouse, and the date they left.
Thus for example, Sarah Ann Devlin was a 15 year old Roman Catholic single female, thinly clothed and hungry when she entered Armagh workhouse 24 April 1847. She left three months later 29 July 1847. But she reentered 16 November the same year, this time the townland of Rathcarby being noted as her place of residence. Six months later, 24 May 1848, she left the workhouse with her sister Margaret on her way to Belfast to join the other orphans per ship Earl Grey.
page 13 par 2, I hope this clarifies the use of the word orphan as applied to these young women. They were “to use a modern term, wards of the State”. In the vast majority of cases both parents were dead which is the more commonly held view of ‘orphan’.
page 14 For membership of the Sydney, Melbourne and AdelaideOrphan Committees see my blog post 13 http://wp.me/p4SlVj-g4
pages 15-6 Towards the end of that same blog post there is a copy of an apprenticeship agreement for 15 year-old Anne Smith of the Digby which details the obligations of both apprentice and employer, or Master and Servant. There is another example in SRNSW 9/6193 Particulars of Orphans’ monies No.6 , Apprenticeship Agreement between Ann Deely per Thomas Arbuthnot, “now about the age of fifteen years”, and Frederick Hudson of Ipswich/Moreton Bay, dated 24 April 1850.
page 17 Details of young Margaret Devlin‘s seduction by William Small can be found in Immigration Agent F.L.S Merewether’s correspondence. [I am unsure if the numbering system at the Archives is still the same. Their staff will be all too willing to help]. See SRNSW 4/4637, 49/672, 17 Oct. 1849, pp.294-5. And 4/4638, 50/178, 14 Feb. 1850, p.66. And 50/190, 50/469,50/762, 50/764 and 50/901, with corresponding pages, pp.76-8 (re seduction), 182, 289-90 (letter to Thomas Small re his son William), 291-2, 331-2. There is more at 4/4639, 51/6, pp.6-7, and 51/225 ‘Would Mr Small make a lump sum of £50?‘, pp.66-7. For information about Mrs Small’s (sic) child at the Protestant Orphan institution, SRNSW 4/4639, 51/354, 10 September 1851, p.104.
Here is the next installment of the 1991 introduction to my Barefoot & Pregnant? volume 1. It’s pages 6-11 this time.
I’ll use the occasion to ‘dip my lid’ to the brilliant Jaki McCarrick. Her play “Belfast Girls” is soon to have its Canadian premiere in Vancouver in March this year, having had a wonderful run in London and Chicago already. There is a bit about it on the ‘Peninsula Productions’ facebook page, should you want to find out more.
As with the last couple of posts, I’ll try adding endnotes missing from the original a bit later, once i find the correct reference.
You can make the photographic image larger by clicking a couple of times or ‘pinching’.
parakeets and lorikeets
flutter round your head,
ancient tribes of the air
speaking a language your wild
colonial heart cannot comprehend” (Louis de Paor, Didjeridu)
The scandal surrounding the Subraon is not well known. However, if you take the trouble to read the very thorough enquiry of the Sydney Immigration Board you will understand more clearly how they would react to the furore associated with arrival of the first official Orphan vessel, the Earl Grey. Have a look at the extracts below.
The Minutes of the Sydney Immigration Board…re the irregularities aboard the Subraon, printed for the use of the Government only in 1848, comprises sixty pages, 75-80 lines per page, of small print. The Board consisted of Francis L.S. Merewether Esq., Agent for Immigration, A Savage Esq, RN Health Officer, and H.H. Browne Esq, Water Police Magistrate, names many readers of my blog will know. We even meet Thomas MaGrath, an immigrant who was schoolmaster on board the Subraon, (pp.15-17). We meet him again re Earl Grey orphan Mary Littlewood in my blog post 9 http://wp.me/p4SlVj-dQ
Page 2 of the enquiry,
“Charges affecting the First Mate
That a young female named Dorcas Newman, who had been sent out from a Foundling Institution in Dublin, and who died on the third day after her arrival here, (whether of fever or excessive haemorrhage consequently on a miscarriage is doubtful,) was constantly in his cabin, and that, even if positive proof be wanting, there is no moral doubt of her having been seduced by him.”
page 20, 5 June 1848
Statement of Patrick Ferry
“The girls who acted as servants to the officers spent the most of their time in the cabins of the Captain and Mates, from about seven o’clock in the morning to about eight or nine o’clock at night….Emma Smith was servant to the Captain, Dorcas Newman was servant to the Chief Mate, and Alicia Ashbridge to the second and Third Mates. Alicia Ashbridge was more frequently drunk than any of the girls.Dorcas Newman was improperly intimate withe Mate. I saw him on one occasion sitting with her on a chair kissing her, and putting his hand through the opening in the back of her clothes, and feeling her wherever he pleased…“
page 35, 10 June 1848
Statement of Emma Smith,
“I was an Immigrant by the ship Subraon. I was one of the twelve girls who came from the Orphan Institution, in Cork Street, in Dublin.”
page 39 10 June 1848
Mr Acret‘s further statement. (Acret was the Surgeon-Superintendent on the Subraon) .
“From the evidence which I have in the course of this enquiry respecting it, I am satisfied that Dorcas Newman had a miscarriage; had I been aware that such was the fact I should have treated her illness differently from what I have done…”.
Later that year, 26 October, the Subraon was wrecked at the entrance to Wellington Harbour. The Sydney authorities had successfully kept a lid on the scandal surrounding the vessel’s voyage to Port Jackson. Both ship’s officers and the Surgeon were in no position to object. It would be a very different matter when the Earl Grey and Surgeon Douglass arrived early in October 1858.
Page 9 There is a history of one of the “Belfast Girls’, Mary McConnell, at my blog posts 32 and 33. Here’s a link to post 33 which seems underused. http://wp.me/p4SlVj-LL
Notes pages 7 to 9
The major source for the documents surrounding the Earl Grey furore is the Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Council of New South Wales (hereafter VPLCNSW) 1850, volume 1, pp.394-436. (Incidentally, information on the Subraon follows at pp.437-45).
The material in British Parliamentary Papers (BPP), Irish Universities edition, Colonies Australia, vol 11 Sessions 1849-50, pp.417-20 and pp. 510-40, will also provide the names of the ‘Belfast girls’ Douglass accused of bad behaviour. Pages 417-18 reprints Douglass’s letter of 7 October 1848.
Dr Douglass continued to petition the New South Wales Parliament for restoration of his land. See SMH 7 September and 19 September 1852, page 2 in both instances.
Many of the Workhouse Board of Guardian Minute Books have survived for the period we are interested in viz 1847-51. At present, they are held in the local Archives of each county. So, for instance, if one wishes to view Donegal Board of Guardian Minute Books, a trip to the County Archives Office in Lifford is required. It is best always to get in touch beforehand and tell the archivist your particular interest. You have to arrange a prior appointment here. http://www.donegalcoco.ie/services/donegalarchives/maincolumncontent/researchroomservices/
Sadly very few of the Workhouse Indoor Admission and Discharge Registers have done so. Most of them are in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) which is now housed in the Titanic Centre in Belfast. Unfortunately Belfast Workhouse Indoor Admission and Discharge Registers have not survived. Again, may I suggest getting in touch before you visit. https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/proni
If in doubt about what records have survived, your first call should be the wonderful website of Peter Higginbotham, www.workhouses.org
RE Mary Campbell Belfast Board of Guardian Minute Book B.G.7/A/7, p.159.
The Minute Books help us put the orphans into historical context. In this same volume, for example, page 27, 1 March 1848, we learn of the diet for able-bodied inmates.
“Breakfast 6 oz meal. One third of a quart of buttermilk
Dinner 1 quart soup 9 oz bread
three days in the week
Breakfast 6 oz meal a third of a quart of buttermilk
Dinner 6 oz rice one eighth quart buttermilk
Supper 4 oz meal one fifth qrt buttermilk
two days in the week
B’fast 6 oz meal one third qrt buttermilk
Dinner 8 oz meal one third qrt buttermilk
Supper 4 oz meal one third qrt buttermilk.
Indian and oat meal used in equal proportions.” And this was one of the better off workhouses!
Re Sarah Butler, Magherafelt Board of Guardian Minute Book B. G. XXIII/A/2, page 370, ‘Sarah Butler one of the candidates for emigration to Australia has been rejected by Mr Senior on account of her being affected with itch‘.
Coleraine BG Minute Books B.G.X/A/6, p.165. The Medical Officer, Dr Babington was also asked to provide the emigrants with a medical certificate stating they were healthy. The same page also gives the names of twelve young women from Coleraine workhouse who would travel on the Roman Emperor to South Australia. It is always worth looking at the original sources.
I’m still not convinced that this is the best thing to do. But Barefoot volume one is long out of print and for some people, difficult to find. Putting my introduction into the blog also gives me the opportunity to add some references, ‘virtual’ endnotes, as it were. Please remember the introduction was written some time ago and mainly addressed the documents which preceded the Register of Irish female orphans. Not exclusively so, I might add, although my major concern was to ask readers if they agreed with my suggesting the first boatload of Earl Grey orphans “were wrongly condemned from the outset”? It is still worth debating.
Richard Reid, Cheryl Mongan and Kay Caball, among others, have rightly drawn attention to the more positive side of the orphans’ story. I’ve tried to take their work into account in a number of places in my blog. See for example post 7(c) on The Voyage http://wp.me/p4SlVj-7X
or where i talk about the independent spirit of the orphans, in post 22 on Cancelled Indentures, particularly the section towards the end entitled “Moreton Bay District”. See http://wp.me/p4SlVj-vf
Given the different backgrounds of the young women, that there were more than 4,000 of them, and that over time, they were scattered the length and breadth of rapidly changing societies in Eastern Australia, we should not be surprised to find their history is a mixed one. It is as complex as the human condition itself.
I’ll insert my 1991 introduction in stages. It will give the reader time to absorb what it says and i hope, respond to my interpretation.
Some may think I’m treating Surgeon Douglass too harshly, for example. Don’t be afraid to say your piece. You may wish to do some research on Surgeon Douglass yourself. He had both an illustrious and not so illustrious career. A google search may be the place to start. Here’s a link to an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/douglass-henry-grattan-1987
“Keats and Chapman were conversing one day on the street…there passed a certain character who was renowned far and wide for his piety, and was reputed to have already made his own coffin, erected it on trestles, and slept in it every night.
‘Did you see our friend?’ Keats said.
‘Yes’ said Chapman, wondering what was coming,
‘A terrible man for his bier’, the poet said“. (The Best of Myles, Myles na Gopaleen, Picador, 1977, p.187.)
That will do to start with. If you double click or pinch the pages above, they should become larger and easier to read. I’ll have a look for some references.
Tóg go bog é
Dunmore Lang’s “dupes of an artful female Jesuit” appears in his letter to Earl Grey printed in the British Banner, 21 November 1849. The link appears in my post 21 towards the end http://wp.me/p4SlVj-q8
see page 34 of the link below
The best printed record of the various reports concerning the Earl Grey scandal is found in Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Council of New South Wales, 1850, volume 1, pp. 394-436. Included there (pp. 407-28) is the report from Irish Poor Law Commissioner C. G Otway, defending the selection process of the orphans. See also British Parliamentary Papers, 1000 volume Irish University Press edition, Colonies Australia, volume 11, Sessions 1849-50, pp. 510ff. which provides the names of the young women only identified by their initials in the Otway Report. SRNSW (State Records New South Wales) 9/6190 Immigration Correspondence, 12 October 1848, has the minutes of evidence of the Sydney Immigration Board re the Earl Grey. I’m unsure if the same numbering system is still in use.
R. B. Madgwick, Immigration into Eastern Australia 1788-1851, second impression, Sydney University Press, 1969, Chapter X;
Miriam Dixson, The Real Matilda Women and Identity in Australia 1788 to 1975, Penguin, 1976;
Oliver Mac Donagh, “Emigration during the Famine” in The Great Famine, eds., R.D. Edwards & T. D. Williams, Dublin, 1962, p.357.
Disagreement among practitioners is the ‘stuff’ of history. What I was intimating here is even good historians sometimes get it wrong.
British Parliamentary Papers, IUP edition, Colonies Australia, volume 11, Sessions 1849-50, Papers Relative to Emigration, New South Wales, Fitzroy to Earl Grey, 16 May 1848, Enclosure 1, pp.131-3. In May 1848, Merewether reported on the Hyderabad(arrived 19 February) the Surgeon was ‘unequal to the office and should not be again employed in this service’; ‘the immigrants as a body failed to give satisfaction to the public’; ‘the single females…proved to be utterly ignorant of the business undertaken by them’; ‘several…did not go into service..or very shortly left…for the purpose of going upon the streets’ (p.131).
Re the Fairlie (arrived 7 August) ibid., pp.145-7, ‘a third of the female immigrants arrived in an advanced stage of pregnancy’ (p.145); ‘filthy songs‘ (p.147).
Re the Subraon (arrived 12 April), ibid, pp.147-51. I have a copy of the Minutes and Proceedings of the Immigration Board at Sydney respecting certain irregularities which occurred on board the ship “Subraon” Printed for the use of the Government only, 1848. The Board met between May and July 1848. It is a ‘negative’ copy i.e. white text on a dark background which makes me think it was printed from a microfilm. My unreliable memory tells me i got it from what was then the Archives Office of NSW. But for the life of me I cannot find the exact reference. Was it at AONSW 9/6197, pp. 147-61? we’ll need to check.
Using her family history detective skills, Mary’s descendant, Tricia Evans, has discovered what became of Mary in Australia. She writes,
“For no apparent reason William and Mary never married but they did raise eleven children. Finding all these children and following them through was no easy task…Their first four children were all born pre-1856 which is when civil registration began in New South Wales, therefore births were not registered but luckily they did have them all baptised. I started with the microfilm of the Church of England, Newcastle Diocese registers. I thought I had struck the jackpot as I found them all one after the other right down to the last child, George Silvester Ashton being baptised on 20 June 1872. In fact, nine children were baptised in the Anglican Christ Church, Mount Vincent, and two in the Wesleyan Church in Mulbring.
I then thought it would be an easy task to look for any deaths and or their marriages. As their 7th child is my great grandmother, Margaret Ashton who married James Warby on 15 December 1883 at Maitland, NSW, I made this my starting point. Again I learnt that nothing is as it appears to be.
As I have already mentioned, the first four children were baptisms only, therefore they are listed as Ashton, naming both mother and father. Then when it became law in 1856 to register a birth, death or marriage, Mary registered the next seven children as illegitimate with no father’s name, and gave them the surname of McConnell. So we have a family, on paper, where some are under the name of Ashton and the rest are under the name of McConnell, then not to make it any easier, they all got married under the name of Ashton.
Mary McConnell (Ashton) was to leave a very large legacy in her new homeland by having eleven children who gave her 58 grandchildren”.
There must be quite a number of present-day Australians descended from this one Irish orphan.
Tricia’s good work has allowed us to revise Mary’s family reconstitution form, for yet a third time. Whoever said family history was a ‘finished’ history? Since we’re uncertain where some of Mary’s early children were born, we’ve left that blank to be filled in at a later date.
As is often the case, documented evidence of Mary’s life amounts merely to snippets of information. Shortly after her arrival, Mary was employed as a servant to Mr Wilson of East Maitland, for three months, at the rate of £8 per annum (we do not know where or when she met William). She described herself as washerwoman (registering Margaret’s birth in January 1863). Sometime during her life she learned to read and write. She was recorded as being unable to do either when she left Belfast workhouse but could do both, according to her gaol description of 1882. She was only c. 150 cms. tall (1880). She had lost the third finger on her left hand (1882) and was described as ‘stout’ when she fell down the stairs and broke her neck in 1892. As Tricia puts it, “we can only piece together what we believe could be the truth.” And yet, with a dash of curiosity, an enquiring mind, and a snifter of historical understanding, our appreciation of Mary’s life will increase. We may not have the same resources as Alison Light, census records, for example, that throw light on their neighbours but there are some things we could, and should explore. These examples are not the end of it.
May I urge family historians to try setting their Irish Famine orphan in a particular historical context. Even if you do not have a direct link to a particular thing, your curiosity will carry you along. What was the difference in weather like for young Mary McConnell Ashton? Was she aware of Aboriginal people? Was her life experience very different from ours? How did she travel? What were conditions like on a tenant farm in the Hunter Valley? What work did a sawyer do? Mary was a washerwoman and sometimes acted as a midwife. What did that entail in the second half of the nineteenth century? And then of course there’s Trove. These are a few of the things I try to do here. Each case will be slightly different. But you appreciate what I’m after, don’t you? Put some historical flesh on your wee girl’s bare bones.
How did this young woman from Belfast feel about the weather in her first summer in Australia? She probably loved the warm sun on her back as she went about her household chores. She may also have looked up, and longed for a wet Belfast sky. Other Irish migrants recorded how they felt. A young Dubliner, Isabella Wyly, wrote from Adelaide in March 1857, “You say I told you nothing about the Climate, but what with dust, & Heat & hot winds & Flys & and an Insect that the call Moskitoes we do not know what to do with ourselfs just now. We ar suffering very much from the hot weather”. (David Fitzpatrick, Oceans of Consolation, p.117) Adelaide heat is not the same as Hunter Valley heat in the summer. But it was still shocking to young Michael Normile from County Clare who wrote from Lochinvar in 1855,
“The Climate of this Country is far differant to home. The winter is coming on with us now it is beautiful weather the same as home summer. The summer we past was dreadful hot…I heard that some people got sun struck, in fact I was a day and I would give a mouthfull of money for a mouthfull of fresh air…I Seen this last Summer 4 months without a drop of rain and all that time hot scorching weather. You would See cattle strewed dead in water holes, or along the roads fine working Bullocks all for the want of water”. (Fitzpatrick, Oceans, pp.70-1)
Remember Mary had three young children in tow by this time, all under three years of age.
May I suggest, too, that instead of writing Aboriginal peopleout of our history, we make every effort to write them in? Aboriginal history is flourishing. Libby Connors’ Warrior is testimony to that. With just a brief untutored internet search, here’s what we found relating to Aboriginal people in the Hunter in mid-nineteenth century,
Alan Atkinson tells us the land of the Pambalang or Big Swamp tribe extended from Newcastle West to the foothills of Mount Vincent, whereas Helen Brayshaw refers to the Wonaruah or Gringai people of this general area. The number of Aboriginal people had fallen drastically since the beginning of the century: none was reported as coming to Maitland for blankets in 1850, for example. Some may have been employed on Knox Child’s estate at Mount Vincent which is where Mary and William settled in the 1850s. Or on neighbouring estates. Others ‘came in’ to live on the fringes of towns like Maitland.
Mary and William probably did not know of the Bulga Bora Ground used for initiation ceremonies near Wollombi but they were aware of the trials of Aboriginal people in West Maitland; of Murphy, Tommy Potts, Martin and King John of the Maitland tribe and Jemmy and Richard Wiseman of the Sugarloaf tribe in December 1851, and of Wickety Wee and Morris in 1853. (See the link to the history of Aboriginal Sydney above).
There were other ways Mary and William’s life experience was different from ours. Mary was about 150 centimetres tall, William 155. Our ancestors were smaller than we are. Their life expectancy was shorter, their families were larger, they had fewer material possessions, fewer labour-saving devices and most of them had a lifetime of hard physical work. By 1882 Mary was missing the third finger on her left hand. How did she cope with pain, and childbirth, and disease? There were no epidurals, no antibiotics, no analgesics, and no gum-numbing injection when she had a tooth extracted.
Janet McCalman in her history of the Melbourne Women’s Hospital, Sex and Suffering(1998) tells of the difficulties Irish Famine women had in giving birth to their children. Malnutrition and poverty in some cases led to underdeveloped and deformed pelvises. Once the women had a better diet, rest and sunshine, in Australia, their babies grew larger in the womb. Mothers had great difficulty giving birth to them. I remember seeing an exhibition of obstetric instruments, in Adelaide I think it was. Someone had commented that they wanted more focus on women themselves. But for me, those instruments were horrific instruments. They made me appreciate what women had to go through. In the cases Janet McCalman describes in the early pages of her book, craniotomy forceps were used. “If there was no room, [for the baby to pass through the pelvis] then the baby had to be removed by a destructive operation, most often a craniotomy where the baby’s skull was perforated and collapsed, or the child was taken apart in the uterus and extracted in pieces”. (p.22) Fortunately, our Mary McConnell did not suffer such horrors.
Their means of transport was also different from ours. We are uncertain when or where Mary and William met. William’s tickets-of-Leave were for the Paterson and Raymond Terrace Districts, granted with the usual conditions; he could live and work for himself in the district, must carry his ticket with him at all times, and must attend church. The couple’s first child, William Henry, was born in Miller’s Forest, about four miles from Raymond Terrace. In January 1853, with another child and Mary three months pregnant, we know they were in West Maitland. They were before a Police court charged with indecent language in a public place. See http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/127645 page 2 col 5. Mary and William had probably travelled by water, horse, cart or on foot. The tributaries of the Hunter river interconnect Paterson, Raymond Terrace, Morpeth and West Maitland and between there and Mount Vincent where the pair were to settle sometime after, it was a walk of 15 or 16 miles. We hope they at least had a cart for their young children. Here’s a map of the area courtesy of Brian Andrews.
As Tricia discovered, all Mary and William’s children were baptised in church. For twenty or more years, Mary and William lived at Mount Vincent, on the Mulbring Creek, with other tenant farmers on the estate of William Knox Child. Knox Child had sold his estate in Kent and come to Mount Vincent in the 1840s. He divided his new estate into tenant farms letting them to free migrants and ticket-of-leave convicts.
William Ashton leased a tenant farm from Knox Child sometime in the early to mid 1850s, although exactly what kind of lease is uncertain. His lease may simply have entailed a dwelling, and a small plot of land of 10 acres. William presumably helped with the ploughing, sowing and harvesting of the wheat crop on the Estate at certain times of the year, and at others, worked as a timber-getter and sawyer. In 1862 and 1871, his name appears on official gazette lists of those licensed to cut hardwood on the slopes and ridges of Sugarloaf valley. (At different times, William’s occupation was recorded as brickmaker, sawyer, bushman and labourer).
The slab hut where Mary and William lived probably had a shingle roof made from local forest oak, and a well-watered, beaten and swept, dirt flour. Their furniture and utensils were sparse and simple, with Mary cooking porridge, stew and soup in cast iron pots. William may have added a lean-to, as his family grew larger. The split slabs of hardwood that formed their house were cut by sawyers like William.
The saw pits where William worked were usually in the bush, near where the trees were felled. A large square hole was dug deep enough in the ground to allow another sawyer to stand completely below ground level. Once the tree, now cut into carefully measured logs, was rolled into place above the pit, one man below and one above used a large hand-saw to cut the logs to the dimensions they wanted. It was hard work. One can imagine William with a big bushy beard coming home dirty, covered in sawdust. Our thanks to Brian Andrews for this information about sawyers and their work. Here are a couple of illustrations from Brian’s Sugarloaf magazine,
Mary herself had an ever-growing family to attend to, a child being born almost every two years from 1850 until 1872. She had her own daily domestic chores, maybe a kitchen-garden where she grew vegetables, even though the soil was not particularly fertile. When Tricia’s great-grandmother Margaret was born in January 1863, Mary described herself as ‘washerwoman’. Tricia writes “I have always felt (nothing to back it up except my gut feeling) that Mary was one of the washerwomen in the Knox Child household. If so, she may have worked in a building separate from the main household”. Or she may have boiled water for the laundry on a wood fire outdoors taking washing in from other tenants on the estate. At any rate, I doubt her job was as clean or ‘idyllic’ as in this image from the New South Wales State Library picture collection.
I wonder did Mary retain her ‘attitude’, and like Mrs Molony on the goldfields in Victoria, answer back those who questioned the quality of her work, or what she charged for her washing. William Kelly, in his Life in Victoria in 1853 recorded his meeting with Mrs Molony,
“…or about four shillings above the usual price, I remarked, in an audible soliloquy; upon which, putting her hands in the jacket pockets, approaching the attitude to which all voluble women incline in energetic declamation, she apostrophised us in the following vernacular terms; ‘Sweet bad luck to the pair of yes, ye lousy lime-juicers. It’s dirty linen that’s too good for the likes of yes. I wouldn’t give you a squeeze o’ me blue-bag for the money. Maybe yes think I wash for divarshun, and that me wood is laid down for me thankee, or that I git me wathur for the whistlin‘”. (Kelly, Life, pp.53-4). From what we know of her, I’m sure Mary gave a tongue-lashing if she was crossed.
Most of us, family historians especially(?), like to believe our ancestors lived the lives we would want for them. “If the creation of a nation rests on its ‘foundation myths’, family legends too, handed down the generations, are also the stuff, like dreams, of which we make ourselves” (Alison Light, Common People, p.130). It’s the natural thing to do. ‘Mary and William fell in love, they worked hard and raised a large family and were respected by their community’. you know the kind of thing I mean. Mary and William’s life at Mount Vincent may well have been their best years. William even wrote a letter to the press protesting against road works and signed a petition, both against and for, locating a post office on the Mount Vincent estate (1858 and 1859). Tricia says, “after they moved into Maitland in the 1870s, Mary gained a reputation as a midwife. Being a midwife in these times was not an official job. It was just a well-experienced person who was prepared to attend whenever she was needed. I know she was in attendance for many of her own grandchildren and this is where she gained her skill”.
But as Tricia was to find out, “nothing is as it appears to be”. In the Maitland Gaol Description Books in State Records of New South Wales April 1880, Tricia found not only both Mary and William linked together, convicted of obscene and profane language; that the Magistrate remarked at the trial ‘women appeared worse than the men in using bad language‘; that William was a convict not a Bounty migrant as she previously thought; and that he had 11 previous convictions recorded against his name. As she put it, “boy oh boy, the hunt was on”.
1 January 1853 Both Mary and William were found guilty of using indecent language ‘at the end of Ashton’s house’ in West Maitland ’12 yards from a public thoroughfare’. [This may be a useful way of tracing where they lived. We also should search for the legal definition of ‘indecent language‘. I suspect the ‘crime’ was a means of controlling convict society and preventing civil disturbance. No doubt there is more to it than that. Maybe a lawyer or legal historian could put us on the right path].
4 January 1863 William, obscene language
10 January 1867 William, assault. Both parties fail to appear
And then something that may be the key to all the rest, 10 April 1867, a JP commits William, on suspicion of insanity. 11 April he is found to be suffering from delerium tremens and a week later, he is remanded in gaol ‘for his own protection’. I wonder was William an alcoholic. He certainly had a problem with alcohol.
But in early 1878 he fell off the wagon. 12 March Drunk in the High Street, West Maitland; 8 August obscene language; 10 August Guilty of obscene language in Sparks Street. ‘He had been annoyed by his wife’;8 October indecent language and drunkenness; 31 October 1879 Obscene language, gaol for a month; 20 December Maitland obscene language.
Between 1878 and 1887, when he was about 58 to 68 years old, William appeared in court almost twenty times. He had had enough of a lifetime of ‘hard yakka’ and turned to his old friend, a bottle of rum? He is in and out of gaol, sometimes for only 48 hours, sometimes for a month. Mostly, he is found guilty of obscene language and being drunk. He just doesn’t have the money to pay the fine so he goes to gaol instead. These were not exactly fun times for Mary.
Let me finish William’s sorry tale with a few other court reports that help us understand what was happening to him. On the 23 rd January 1884 he was ‘drunk and disorderly’ again, and a month or two later, 13 March he’s charged with neglecting to send a child to school. [I wonder what that’s all about]. Shortly later, on the 19th April, a Mrs Griffiths sues him to quit tenancy of her dwelling in Devonshire Street, West Maitland.
An aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick, unless…
(Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium)
We can but hope that Mary’s last few years were a bit more peaceful. She was visiting her married daughter in King Street, Newcastle when she fell down the stairs and broke her neck in 1892. In 1894 William died. Both of them are buried in Sandgate Cemetery. Their large family spread across the Hunter and beyond, working as rough carpenters, small farmers, labourers, sawyers and coal-miners, in areas such as Newcastle, Toronto, Moontown in East Maitland, and Mount Vincent. Their youngest child, George Silvester, joined up to fight in the First World War at the ripe young age of forty-three!
Tricia tells me, once her health issues are resolved, she hopes to return to her family history in earnest. She will look into William’s history further, do more on her great grandparents, Margaret Ashton and James Warby, have a look at George’s war record, and research the other two tragedies in her family history; the poisoning of Mary McConnell’s great-great-grandchild 9 month old Cyril Albert Ashton in 1899, and the murder of Cecil Boyne Lambert in 1917. Maybe another family member is willing to help?
Tricia has in her library, John Turner’s, The Rise of High Street, Maitland–A Pictorial History, Council of the City of Maitland, 1989 which reproduces some of F.C Terry’s beautiful prints of West Maitland. You may like to view them in a WordPress site.
I’m not sure how this will go. I’ll try getting in touch with some of the orphans’ descendants who sent me material in the past. Maybe together we can give an outline of a family history that may be of interest to others, even if it’s just to suggest possible lines of enquiry. I’ll attempt some of the things I’ve suggested earlier, such as make our own presence felt, find something about the orphan’s Irish background, as well as what happened to her in Australia. And I hope, put her in some kind of historical context. I’m sure you know all this already. You are welcome to make a suggestion about the things we ought to include.
This time, I’ve chosen to write something about one of the infamous ‘Belfast Girls’, Mary McConnell. I’ve been in touch with one of Mary’s descendants, Mrs Pat Evans, for more than twenty-five years; she herself has been working on Mary for more than thirty. Tricia has provided lots of information about Mary’s history. She tells me that she is emotionally close to her orphan descendant. After all, she is her great-great grandmother. It took her a while to reconcile herself to some aspects of Mary’s life but she understands her, and admires her resilience. Tricia says, ” I am able to accept that my Mary was not what we would call a good girl today and at the same time extremely thankful of what she did to survive in the harshness of the day”.
We both are very grateful to a renowned local historian, Brian Andrews, who helped us put Mary’s life into context, in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales. Unfortunately I lost contact with Brian some years ago. But I see, via the web, he was awarded an OAM for his work as a local historian. Congratulations and well-deserved, Brian. Brilliant work.
I’d like to keep this post in an unfinished form to emphasize that orphans’ family histories are constantly being revised. The ‘facts’ can change so quickly.
Tricia rightly suggests that if she was writing Mary’s history outside and independent of this blog, she’d provide a summary of the Earl Grey scheme, something like the following. So , in Tricia’s words,
“Lord Earl Grey, the British Secretary of State, thought he had the magic answer for several problems facing the English Parliament. He could rid the Irish workhouses of the orphaned paupers by supplying the Colonies with female labour and females to correct the imbalance of the sexes, which were both needed in great numbers in the Colony of New South Wales. This scheme was called the ‘Earl Grey Scheme’ and was to remove about 4,000 female Irish orphans from the disgusting workhouses throughout Ireland. The scheme was to survive for only two years.
From the Belfast Workhouse, Mary, with the other ‘Belfast Orphans’, left Belfast traveling to Plymouth by the Steamer ‘Athlone’ under the supervision of wardmaster James Caldwell. The ‘Belfast Girls’ and many others then left Plymouth on the 3rd June 1848 per ‘Earl Grey’ to Sydney Australia where they arrived after 122 days at sea on 6 October 1848.
Whilst on this voyage each girl was given daily rations of ½ lb meat, ¼ lb flour, raisins, peas, rice, tea, sugar, butter and biscuits. Each girl was also outfitted with 6 shifts, 6 pairs of stockings – two worsted & 4 cotton, 2 pair of shoes, 2 gowns – one of woolen plaid, 2 short wrappers, 2 night wrappers, 2 flannel petticoats, 2 cotton petticoats, 1 stout worsted shawl & a cloak, 2 neck and 3 pocket handkerchiefs, 2 linen collars, 2 aprons, 1 pair of stays, 1 pair of sheets, 1 pair of mitts, 1 bonnet, day & night caps, 2 towels, 2lb of soap, combs & brushes, needles, threads, tape & whatever other little articles (such as a few yards of cotton or calico) the Matron may know young females to require. They were also given a Bible and Prayer Book suitable for their respective religions. Then they were given one box – length 2 feet, width 14 inches, deep 14 inches, with lock and key, to be painted, & the Emigrant’s name painted on the front, & a catalogue of the contents pasted on the inside of the lid. The box was ordered to be strongly made, so as to bear a long voyage & besides being locked they should be strongly corded.
The first ship to arrive in The Colony was ‘Earl Grey’ on the 6th October 1848 into the harbour of Port Jackson. The last ship carrying it’s live cargo entered Port Phillip, Melbourne on 31st March 1850 and she was the ‘Eliza Caroline’. There is also known to be four ships that sailed into the Port of Adelaide in South Australia.
The ‘Belfast Girls’, per ‘Earl Grey’, as they were referred to, were classified as refractory. One of the girls (I must admit was not one of the good girls) was my Mary McConnell”.
In her family history, Tricia would also say more about the voyage itself, and about Surgeon Grattan Douglass’s condemnation of the ‘Belfast girls’, and the subsequent enquiries that followed his report.
I’m not going to do that here, for my purpose throughout my blog, is to give a more detailed picture of the scheme and of the Irish Famine orphans themselves, than is usually the case. Tricia’s comments have prompted me to ask how many Earl Grey descendants have read the report of C. G. Otway, the Irish Poor Law Commissioner? It’s in my Barefoot & Pregnant? volume 1, which should be available in your local library. Why do you think it has had such little impact?
May I invite anyone writing their orphan family history, especially if he or she wants to delve deeper, to think about what I’ve said in these thirty-odd blog posts; about the origins of the scheme; about how the plan may belong more to the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners than Earl Grey himself; about how Irish Poor Law Commissioners and Boards of Workhouse Guardians arranged things at the Irish end; about Charter Parties and the regulations that applied to every government assisted voyage; about the orphans’ arrival and early days in Australia, and above all, about the ways we might try to put ourselves in an orphan’s shoes and view things through her eyes?
Here’s a link to what my blog contains, http://wp.me/p4SlVj-oE If you wish to use any of it in a fuller family history of your own, please feel free. But also please acknowledge your debt in the conventional academic way. I believe that goes something like this, my name, name of the blog post and the date you accessed the site. My thanks in advance.
At last, to Mary.
A recently posted family reconstitution form gives us a brief synopsis of Mary’s life. And already our ‘facts’ have changed; we find the form needs revising. There is a big question mark over the names of Mary’s parents. James and Fanny are the names Mary gave to Belfast workhouse. So I’ll call them James and Fanny McConnell.
Tricia recently informed me that William Ashton‘s details are also incorrect. He was not a Bounty migrant who came by the Brothers in 1841. Rather, he was a convict found guilty of highway robbery at Liverpool Quarter Sessions in July 1838. He arrived in New South Wales on board the Theresa in 1839. Tricia discovered this through Maitland gaol records and the Maitland Mercury which linked William and Mary’s name together. We should also remove William’s parents’ names and his birthplace and date from the form, and change his occupations to ‘brickmaker, sawyer, labourer, and bushman’. The other details are correct.
Among descendants of the Famine orphans, the story of the “Belfast Girls” is relatively well-known. Surgeon Douglass described the ‘Belfast girls’ as “notoriously bad in every sense of the word“. “The professed public woman and barefooted little country beggar have been alike sought after as fit persons to pass through the purification of the workhouse, ere they were sent as a valuable addition to the Colonists of New South Wales”. It was a stain that’s been very difficult to remove.
A detailed enquiry by Irish Poor Law Commissioner C. G Otway rebutted Douglass’s claims –as might be expected– and was supported by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners in London–as also might be expected– but it was never enough to restore the good name of the rebellious ‘millies’ (Mill workers) and “gurriers” from Belfast.
As far as the Surgeon, Captain, and Matron of the Earl Grey were concerned, Mary McConnell was “a professed public woman”. She, and the other ‘Belfast girls’, should not be allowed to land in Sydney. “Considering that the landing of the Belfast girls in Sydney, would assuredly lead to their final ruin, and being also impressed with the importance of separating them from the remainder of the Orphans, the Committee [the Sydney Orphan Committee] acceded to the proposal of Dr Douglass, that they should be at once forwarded into the Country” .
Let me mention in passing, how much I enjoyed Jaki McCarrick’s recent award winning play, “Belfast Girls“, not as a nitpicking historian but for its dramatic sensibility, its contemporary relevance, and above all, Jaki’s sympathetic treatment of the young women.
Ellen (with renewed resolve) …Remember, this is what you’re to be wed ta. Your books. Your learnin’. For Molly’s sake — let none of us waste this journey an’ all we’ve learned. You — in here (points to her head) are a great gift to Australia, an’ don’t ya forget it. We all are an’ must none of us forget it.
Reprinted by permission of Samuel French Ltd. on behalf of Jaki McCarrick)
We are lucky the Otway Report has survived: it has specific information about Mary McConnell. (For more details, see Disc 2 of Ray Debnam’s CD set, Feisty Colleens).
In the report, two Belfast Detective Police Constables, DC John Cane and DC Stewart McWilliams testified that none of the Belfast girls accused of prostitution by Surgeon Douglass was known to them as such.
Stewart McWilliams, Police Constable sworn:
I am one of the detective police;…I have been so employed for the last eighteen years; from the nature of my duties, I have a knowledge of all the houses of ill-fame, and the persons frequenting them in Belfast; all of the prostitutes I mean. I do not think there is a prostitute in the town I do not know…
From my knowledge of young persons working in mills and manufactories, I know they are generally unguarded in their language and mode of expression, and use unchaste language, though they may not be unchaste in person, or prostitutes.
I have read over the names on the list of the females sent in the first vessel from Belfast, and there is not the name of a single person that I ever knew or heard of as being a prostitute amongst them.
Look at the name whose initials correspond with Mary McCann, No. 45 I had no knowledge of her as a prostitute or person of bad character, and she could not have been well known in Belfast as a prostitute without my knowing it.
Look at Mary McConnell, No.55 I give the same answer… (Barefoot vol. 1, pp. 106-7.)
Given the circumstances, theirs is the kind of evidence we might expect? I leave you to decide for yourself. My view is that people today are not so quick to adopt the high moral ground; they understand how someone may depend upon prostitution to survive and others might use it for their own empowerment and material security. Maybe Surgeon Douglass too quickly accepted as truth the insults and obscene language the Belfast orphans hurled at one another.
More interesting than the Constables’ evidence is the testimony of Catherine McKevey who lived with her husband, a Pattern Maker, in Laggan Village. She had known Mary personally for the six years before she left for Australia.
This has an authentic ring to it, does it not? Mary’s parents were ‘decent, hard-working people‘. Mary had lived and worked with Mrs McKevey for about a year when she 14 or 15 years of age, as ‘a thorough servant‘ (i.e. doing everything). Her dad had died three years ago (in c. 1845-6) and her mum two (in c. 1846-7); ‘she was an orphan‘. ‘I heard (gossip) she was in the penitentiary and had not behaved herself as she ought‘. After Mrs McKevey’s, Mary had gone first into service, and then to work in Mr Montgomery’s mill. ‘I…advised her as to conducting herself well where she was going…‘.
Good-bye your hens running in and out of the white house
Your absent-minded goats along the road, your black cows
Your greyhounds and your hunters beautifully bred
Your drums and your dolled-up Virgins and your ignorant
(Louis MacNeice, Valediction)
Sometimes family historians need to make an educated guess about what happened to a descendant. We’ve done that in some of what follows.
Mary was born in Tyrone, the daughter of James and Fanny McConnell, and baptised a Presbyterian. Surely she had siblings? Maybe a brother or sister died before she and her young parents went to Belfast, in the early 1840s. ‘Jummie’ McConnell, a weaver, part of the declining domestic-putting-out system in Tyrone, and like an ever increasing number of others, was told there’d be a job and hope in Belfast. It was a city built on mud flats, and already growing into Ireland’s major manufacturing city. But in the 1840s, it was a mere fledgling of what it was to become later in the nineteenth century.
The young family went across Queen’s bridge to Laggan Village, down near the Short Strand and the bottom of Ravenhill Road, in County Down. It was part of Ballymacarrat, a largely working-class and Protestant area, with its Iron Works, Vitriol Works, Rope Works and Textile Mills. Tricia was informed by a Senior Research Fellow at Queen’s University that Laggan Village was on the South Bank of the Lagan River, a Protestant working-class area that included Ballarat Street, Dungevan Street and Bendigo and Carrington Streets. The map Tricia has is a fairly modern one; it includes Albertbridge, one of the bridges crossing the Lagan but that bridge was not finished until 1890. In the recent ‘Troubles’, the area was a ‘narrow ground’, a battleground for sectarian conflict. It has since been rebuilt. I doubt if Mary would recognize it, if she returned today.
“I never saw a richer country, or, to speak my mind, a finer people; the worst of them is the bitter and envenomed dislike which they have to each other. Their factions have been so long envenomed, and they have such narrow ground to do their battle in, that they are like people fighting with daggers in a hogshead” (Walter Scott 1825)
Mary appears not have carried any of that ‘venom’ with her. Her common-law husband, William Ashton, was a Roman Catholic and her children were baptised in the Church of England.
Her parents, Jimmy McConnell and his wife, Fanny, were ‘hard-working, decent people’. But Belfast would be no earthly paradise, and Laggan village would be their deathbed.
Tricia, I’ve tried to find out a bit more about Belfast during the Famine years. I haven’t bought this book, just seen bits of it via Google;Christine Kinealy and Gerard Mac Atasney, The Hidden Famine. Hunger, Poverty and Sectarianism in Belfast, 1840-50, Pluto Press, 2000. (The authors also have a chapter in the Atlas of the Great Irish Famine). They explain Belfast did not escape ‘the devastation triggered by’ the Famine which is something not widely recognized by historians. Nearly 1500 people died in Belfast workhouse during 1847 (Mary would have seen many of them die).
In the three months between late December 1846 and March 1847, during a very bad winter, nearly 280 thousand quarts of soup and 775 cwt of bread was given to the hungry through Belfast’s soup kitchens. “By the end of March, over 1,000 “wretched-looking beings” each day were receiving free rations of bread and soup at the old House of Correction“. The Belfast Relief Committee knew that more than food was needed.”There are to be found a vast number of families…who have neither bed nor bedding of any description–whose only couch is a heap of filthy straw, in the corner of a wretched apartment”.
Now imagine you are 17-18 year-old Mary McConnell in late 1846, early 1847. Your dad died a year ago and you and your mum have survived, only just. In that desperately cold winter, your mum died too. You lost your job in the Flax Mill. What would you do? What do you think Mary did? Fight tooth and nail, as a street kid? Become a prostitute, at seventeen years of age? (that is still uncertain). Develop an obscenely sharp and cutting tongue to protect herself from rivals and predators? “That’s my fucken crust of bread, wee lad. Touch it and I’ll cut yer balls off”. Use soup kitchens; there was one in Ballymacarrat. Get into the workhouse when the cold months came. She was in Belfast workhouse “16 months previous to her emigration“, that is since early 1847 (Barefoot, 1, p.71). But then she learned of the Earl Grey scheme, and with other street-wise young inmates, decided Australia was the place to go. Some of her shipmates, the Hall sisters, Rose McLarnon and Eliza Mulholland also had an association with Ballymacarrat.
None of Douglass’s ‘troublemakers’ was allowed to disembark at Port Jackson. All of the orphans had to stay on board whilst the Sydney Orphan Committee called Surgeon, Matron, and Ship’s Master before them. They decided the feisty, rebellious, pilfering, potty-mouthed Belfasters should be kept separate from the others and sent immediately into the hinterland. Mary would be sent by steamer to Maitland, with eleven others, Ellen Rooney, Eliza Conn, Mary Black, Anne McGuire et al. Another thirty seven would be sent to Moreton Bay. Did Mary ever meet any of the others again? Would she have recognized them if she had passed them on the streets of Maitland in the 1880s?
One wonders too if the recalcitrant Belfasters suffered the same punishment as those observed by James Porter when he travelled to Moreton Bay as cuddy-boy on board the Eagle towards the end of 1849. “There (sic) hair had been cut short…consequently they were afterwards called ‘short grasses’. Their dress consisted of a plain cotton gown with white spots which hung loose from the neck to the feet. They were covered with heavy hob-nailed shoes. Each girl if she had any idea of adornment had no means of carrying it out”. It was a common punishment for convict women.
To be continued
We’ll take up the story of Mary’s life in the Hunter Valley, next time.