I have just found some more of my research on the orphans sent to South Australia. You may remember from earlier posts that the Imperial authorities in Britain, recognizing the difference between the colonies, dealt with South Australia separately from New South Wales. See for example my posts 13 earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-13 and 16 earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-16
It looks like my newly surfaced folder consists mainly of British Parliamentary Paper photocopies, and my notes from South Australian archives. A quick glance shows nothing particularly new, just a lot more detail. If you want to search for yourself, your State Library should have copies of the Irish University Press 1,000 volume edition of BritishParliamentary Papers. See BPP Colonies Australia vols.11-13. Volume 11 covers Sessions 1849-50, and volume 13 Sessions 1851-2.
It sometimes is forgotten that South Australia dealt independently and directly with the Imperial authorities in Britain. Governor Robe (1845-48) may have been in favour of receiving female orphans from Irish workhouses but his successor Governor Young easily gave way to pressure from locals wanting to end the scheme. Support was only ever reluctant anyway. In reality, Adelaide’s trajectory regarding the Irish workhouse orphans was much the same as Sydney and Melbourne. Though it must be said they were usually quicker off the mark with their initiatives,
lobbying for an equal, or rather ‘appropriate’, number of ‘young lassies’ from England and Scotland:
registering the complaints from Surgeons on board the orphan ships about their difficulties in dealing with these young women:
“…they were governed by their passions and impulses hence I experienced much difficulty in preventing moral degradation and in establishing and preserving good order”.
SAA GRG 24/6 1848/1763, Col. Secy. Letters received, Eades to Munday, 25 October 1848
showing concern for the interference from the local self-appointed guardians of public morals, who described the ‘Government Location’ (Adelaide depot) as a ‘ Government Brothel’ and whose gossip about the unhygienic or dirty habits or rowdy behaviour of the Irish orphans spread like wild fire in such a small place.
“I allude to the depot at the Native Location for the reception of the female orphans landed upon our shores, where the most disgusting scenes are nightly enacted “.
The South Australian Register, 21 January 1850, p.3.
South Australia differed from the others in deciding it was inexpedient, or too expensive to apply, and police, their newly enacted arrangements for employing the Irish orphans. Thus leaving themselves open to the young women working the system, returning to the Adelaide depot more frequently than might have been the case otherwise. Given that we are talking about a relatively small number of orphans, it astonishes the modern reader to find so much paper, and so many enquiries generated by the Earl Grey scheme.
Adelaide from the South East c.1849 courtesy State Library New South Wales
Almost thirteen years ago I began a project which involved revising my Shamrock to Wattle Digging up your Irish Ancestors: unfortunately it came to nought. For this blog post i’d like to share with you some of the revisions I made to its chapter 5, on “Female Migrants”. It is still in an incomplete state. What I’ve done is select those parts that suggest some other ways of looking at the question, was it worth these young women coming to Australia? I’ve also included material that says something about the large numbers of young Irish women who came to South Australia in the mid 1850s. That too has bearing on the question was it worth their coming to Australia?
Irish Female Migrants
…One remarkable feature of the Irish who came to Australia was the high proportion of women among them. Seventy percent of the government assisted Irish migrants to Victoria in the 1850s were female, for example. This chapter seeks to emphasize and help you appreciate how large a part women played in Irish migration to Australia. Of course instead of ‘female migrants’ we might choose to look at ‘family migration’, a subject in its own right. But I’ll stay with ‘female migrants’ for the present since many of us still need to acknowledge the importance of Irish women, both in the migration process and in Australian history generally. Nonetheless it would be useful to know exactly how many single Irish females arrived as part of ‘family migration’, part of a family group. Maybe they came with their siblings or other family members, perhaps even on different ships over a number of years. My impression is that many did come this way. This would be an interesting subject for someone to research…
The large proportion of females among Irish migrants led to a gender balance, a balance of Irish males and Irish females. This was unmatched in any other ethnic group. When emigration agents in Great Britain had difficulty meeting their quota of female migrants, they turned to Irish women in order to reach their quota. At specific times in the nineteenth century, the Irish female presence was very striking. Casting an eye across the census figures for New South Wales in 1846 and 1851, for instance, it is evident that among the foreign-born, Irish males were rarely in a majority in any district. The opposite was the case with regard to Irish women. In city, suburb, town and village, in parish, police district and beyond the limits of the nineteen counties, Irish females were rarely in a minority, that is, always excluding the native-born. In Camperdown and Paddington in the Sydney suburbs, in Brisbane, Binalong, Goulburn, Ipswich, Kiama and Yass and in the districts of Lachlan, Menaroo and Murrumbidgee, the proportion of Irish-born females was especially marked, reaching as high as 38 per cent in some cases.
Irish women were found all over Australia, on the ever changing frontier, in the cities and towns, on the goldfields, and in shepherd’s huts. They were found in all walks of nineteenth century life, as domestic servants, factory workers, wives and mothers, hotel-keepers, boarding-house keepers, midwives, nurses, and inmates of asylums and prisons, teachers and nuns, selecting land, giving birth to large families and running farms and family businesses. As examples of this last, Maria Capps from Cork, Matron at Hyde Park Barracks, within ten years of her arrival was running her own employment agency in Sydney. In 1860, Mary Herr, a famine orphan from Limerick, opened ‘The International Dining Rooms’ in Sydney to cater mainly for seamen. She later selected land at Berowra where she was an orchardist until she died. Sarah McCann from Armagh accumulated property in her own right from her business as Boarding House Keeper in Hamilton, Victoria. Mary Mayne, nee McIntosh, from County Clare, widow of Patrick Mayne, took over her husband’s butcher shop in Brisbane. After her husband’s death in 1865, she largely controlled the management of the Mayne estate, an estate that was to play a very important role in founding the University of Queensland… Other Queensland Irish women with successful business skills include Ellen O’Brien of Defiance Flour in Toowoomba and Kate Mary Smith of the firm, KM Smith funeral directors, today one of the largest in Brisbane.
Specific examples elsewhere are not hard to find, whether of Hotel-keepers, Emma Byrnes who ran the ‘Nambucca Shamrock’ in Bellingen, Winifred Roach, the ‘Wee Water Hotel’ in Wilcannia, Margaret Lynch, the ‘Harp of Erin Hotel’ in Cowra or Johanna Corcoran, the Court House Hotel in Burrowa, or of warders in asylums, Rose Kavanagh, Honora Barry and Ellen McGuinness at Yarra Bend asylum, Bridget Curran and Mary O’Shanahan at Kew, Mary Croughan, Elizabeth Scully, Margaret O’Mara at Ararat, and Bridget Ryan, Bridget Cassidy and Fanny O’Leary at Sunbury in Victoria. The role of Irish women as teachers is best known through the work of religious orders such as the Sisters of Mercy. Less well known is their contribution to secular education. Mary Kennedy nee Maher, another famine orphan, from Galway, was the first teacher at Bomaderry Public school. She appears in her later years in the photograph below. Margaret and Eliza Berry from Kildare, Mary Johnstone nee Knowles from Kilkenny, Dora Harrison from Wexford, Olivia Mary Hope Connolly from Mayo, Mary Canny, Mary Jane Roulston, Elizabeth Dignan and Catherine Healy are just a few of the stalwarts of the Queensland education system in the second half of the nineteenth century.
So too, Irish women played an important role in selecting land, often as part of family strategy. In the late 1870s Irishwoman Miss Catherine Teresa Layden (or Leyden) selected 16 acres in the parish of Neilborough in the County of Bendigo, her block adjoining that of her father Peter. It is worth emphasizing that the selection acts did not always lead to the kind of rural poverty Ned Kelly’s family experienced in North East Victoria. Wherever Irish selectors took up land in family groups, as on the plains of northern Victoria, they had more success.
A similar story exists in parts of Queensland where land was selected as part of family, even extended family strategy. In this, women played an essential part, helping the family amass enough land to make their farm viable. Lucy Kinnane’s selection of 80 acres in the parish of Rosevale, county of Churchill, near Ipswich was part of a Kinnane-Burnett extended family selection of land in Rosevale, and at Peak Crossing. It allowed these two families to put down roots in the district. Local historian, Ian Harsant, has found twenty-one Kinnane children attending Peak Crossing School between 1881 and 1909. ..
In addition, and contrary to the practice which prevailed in North America where the Irish male was the first migrant to send money home to pay for the passage of other family members, in Australia, women were often the trail-blazers. In 1887, for example, Annie Clarke paid the required monies to nominate her brother Robert and sister Jane from Bushmills in County Antrim. In 1890, Nora Fitzgerald from Moira Station nominated her two farm labouring brothers, John and Patrick, from Abbeyfeale in County Limerick. Perhaps you have such an Irishwoman in your family history helping other family members come to Australia?
This next section is from the original Shamrock to Wattle.
< [Writing about the history of Irish women nowadays is more sophisticated than in the 1970s and 1980s. But there is more than an element of truth in what I wrote then. Feel free to criticise]. Robert Kennedy Jnr., in his work The Irish Emigration, Marriage and Fertility, University of California Press, 1973, provides some evidence of the inferior status of women in post-Famine times and the greater opportunity for improving their social status that migration afforded them. This was especially true of rural women migrating to urban areas. In rural areas women were expected to help with men’s work. Yet men would be ridiculed if they helped with women’s work. Women were expected to work in the fields during turf cutting, during the planting, cultivation and the backaching-job of lifting potatoes. The pitching, raking and building of haystacks was left to women. All this plus the traditional duties of raising large families, cooking, cleaning the house, sweeping the yard, milking cows, feeding animals and tending the vegetable garden was their lot. In post-Famine society women had a shorter life expectancy than males, the result of undernourishment and fatigue. Migration offered an escape from such an existence.
But what of pre-Famine times? On the
surface, at least, conditions appear to have been no better. Hely
Dutton, in his Statistical
Survey of County Clare, Dublin,
1808, claims it was customary for married women in County Clare to
walk down the street a few paces behind their husbands! Irish
proverbs and sayings are often derogatory towards women:
‘Women are stronger than men, they
do not die of wisdom.’
‘A woman told me that a woman told
her that she saw a woman who saw a woman who made ale of potatoes.’
‘Never make a toil of pleasure, as
the man said when he dug his wife’s grave only three feet deep’
Other literary sources further emphasize the inferior status of women in nineteenth-century Irish society. Marriages, for example, were often arranged marriages:
… from all that I could learn,
marriage in this country is a very commercial concern; arranged by
parents; and, respecting which, there is as much higgling as about
any other bargain. Girls are extremely obedient; and sometimes never
see the bridegroom until the moment of the marriage; for it not
unfrequently happens that the girl’s father and the intended husband
differ, about a pig, or a chair, or a table, less or more; and
another ‘boy’, who chances to stand in need of a wife, making a more
liberal offer, he is accepted and the first lover discarded.
H.D. Inglis, Ire/and
in 1834: A
journey throughout Ire/and during the Spring, Summer and Autumn of
1834, 2 vols, London 1835,
vol. 1, p. 129.
Inglis also observed (vol. 2, p. 142):
… [less affection] between man
and wife, among the country people in Ireland, than is found to adorn
domestic life in the humbler spheres on the other side of the water
… Marriage… is seldom the result of long and tried affection on
both sides but is either a rash step, taken by unthinking children,
or else a meremercenary
bargain, in which the woman has little voice, and in which her
partner is actuated solely by sordid views.
Whether or not we agree with Inglis,
other observers, Mr and Mrs S.C. Hall for example, also commented on
the mercenary nature of the marriage contract, a practice not
uncommon in traditional peasant societies we might hasten to add, but
nonetheless one which reflects social values in which women’s views
were seldom held in high esteem. Patrick Kavanagh, in The Green
Fool, suggests a material
basis to these patriarchal social values:
“Oh, God, what did I do on you
at all”, I once heard a man say after God had sent him the third
consecutive daughter. No wonder he was displeased with Providence:
daughters were a fragile and expensive commodity.
On the other hand, the Halls allude to
the immense power wielded by the Irish mother in her own house and
over her own sons:
… when she grows old, the mother
of the husband rules, not only him but his home and his wife; and
young girls have always a great dread of ‘the mother-in-law over
them’, but in their turn they rule, and with the same power and the
(Mr and Mrs S.C. Hall, Ireland: its scenery, character, etc., 3 vols, London, 1841-2-3, vol. 3, p. 330.)
For those not prepared to wait this long, emigration must have held hopes of personal advancement and the beginning of a new and better life. At least, when the opportunity to migrate to Australia presented itself, women eagerly took it. This is one of the remarkable things about Irish migration to Australia in the nineteenth century. Perhaps somewhere in your family there is such a strong Irish mother-figure who reared a large family, showed tremendous courage in the face of life’s trials and tribulations and who wielded immense power in her own household, however little she may have had in public?
In order to impress on you the fact that a relatively large number of Irish females came to Australia, I should like to introduce you to three groups of young women who came here in the 1830s, between 1848 and 1850 and in 1854-56. Such ‘infusions’ of single Irish females tipped the gender balance on the distaff side. It is this sort of thing that increases the likelihood of many Australians having an Irish ancestor somewhere in their family tree, even if she is ‘hidden’. See, for example, the story of Irish Famine orphan Mary Tobin per New Liverpool >
Let me go directly to the 1854-56 example. I’ve said something about all three of these groups elsewhere in my blog. This time I’d like to say a bit more about Irish women in South Australia. I hope it will complement what i said in blogpost 40 http://earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-40 Since I dabbled with my revisions much good work has appeared on the Irish in South Australia by Ann Herraman, Stephanie James, Dymphna Lonergan, and Marie Steiner among others. I hope what i say here also complements their work …
…Between 1854 and 1856, over 4,000 single Irish females arrived in Adelaide, to the chagrin of Governor and colonists alike. Since many of these women were unable to find work and had to be supported as destitute poor at public expense, the rumour quickly spread that they had been dumped on South Australia from Irish workhouses, a charge which the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners in London were quick to deny. The traumatic experience of the Famine meant that many in Ireland came to identify their native place with the name of a Poor Law Union. Contemporary opponents to the immigration of such large numbers of Irish women, and indeed some later historians, mistakenly took the name of this ‘new’ place of origin of a young female migrant to mean she had come directly from a ‘workhouse’. There may have been some who had experience of a workhouse during the famine, or a few who came directly from a workhouse but the vast majority did not do so, unlike those of the Earl Grey scheme of 1848-1850…
The subject is an interesting one for it allows us to raise questions on the role of women in Irish and Australian society – why were they willing to emigrate? Some of the South Australian material allows us to give a precise answer —‘I was in poverty at home, and my sister sent for me’; ‘I was induced by the published statements to think that I might do well here’; ‘I have friends in Sydney’; ‘I thought it was a good country’.
What did they stand to gain? Were they the ‘second sex’? What was their attitude to sex and marriage? What experience of life did they bring with them? What role did women play in the migration process, and in the spread of white settlement in Australia? How easily did they settle in to their new home? Did the fluidity of a relatively new colonial society offer Irishwomen greater opportunity in many walks of life? Were they free to choose their own husbands? …
The best introduction to our immigrants to South Australia in the 1850s, is contained in work of the late Professor Eric Richards, “The importance of being Irish in Colonial South Australia” in J. O’Brien and P. Travers, The Irish Emigrant Experience in Australia, Poolbeg Press, Dublin, 1991, and “Irish Life and Progress in Colonial South Australia”, in Irish Historical Studies, vol. 27, no. 107, May 1991, pp. 214-36. Professor Richards acknowledges his debt to a pioneering 1964 University of Adelaide BA honours thesis by Cherry W. Parkin entitled ‘Irish Female Immigration to South Australia’ which argues that both the female orphans of who came by the Roman Emperor, Inconstant and Elgin in 1848 and 1849, and the large influx of single Irish women in the mid 1850s, were quickly absorbed into South Australian society despite initial difficulties.
There are a number of different approaches we can take to … female immigration schemes, each of them interesting in its own way. They can be viewed from a number of perspectives. Should we see the young women’s migration as an early stage of ‘globalisation’, ‘part of the early evolution of the international labour market’ as Eric Richards puts it? That’s to look at them from a long term perspective, what we might call a bird’s eye view. Do we place them firmly in the context of British Imperial history, perhaps as part of British social engineering? That’s to view them closer to earth. Or do we see their history as part of an evolving and tolerant South Australian society that coped very well with the social problems caused by such a rapid influx of single women? Do we come down to ground level and try to empathize with the young women, try to put ourselves in their place, and appreciate what life for them was like?
Finding precisely how many single Irish women arrived in South Australia in the 1850s is like trying to grab the tail of a Kilkenny cat. The following figures are rubbery to say the least; 1854 and 1855 were the years when most arrived, 1044 in 1854, and 2978 in 1855, just over four thousand in only two years. In 1855 the Coromandel,Telegraph, Rodney, Northern Light, Flora, Europa, Nashwauk, Grand Trianon, Sea Park, Velocity, Constantine, Octavia, South Sea, Aliquis, Lismoyne and Admiral Boxer all carried a big cargo of young single Irish women. Such an influx depressed wages which for a domestic servant fell from £25 per annum in 1853 to £15 in 1856. Many were unemployed and sought both outdoor and indoor relief as destitute poor or became sick and were housed in the Colonial Hospital or ‘Lunatic Asylum’. In the end, the crisis in Adelaide faded partly because many of the young women left the colony altogether—they had been duped by immigration agents into going to South Australia in the first place—and partly because authorities sent the young women elsewhere. In 1855 and 1856 the South Australian Government dispersed its surfeit of female Irish immigrants up country to Clare, Kapunda, Robe, Encounter Bay, Gawler, Mount Barker, Willunga and Yankalilla.
For an up-to-date account of this ‘dispersal’ see Marie Steiner, Servants Depots in colonial South Australia, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 2009. Marie puts this policy into context and provides a balanced account.
Fortunately there are a number of SOURCES that bring us close to some of these women in the South Australian archives, in the Government Gazette, in newspapers such as the South Australian Register and The Adelaide Times, and in parliamentary papers. There exists, for example, a ‘Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council of South Australia appointed to inquire into the EXCESSIVE FEMALE IMMIGRATION; together with minutes of evidence and appendix’ printed in 1856 (SA LC VP, vol. II, no. 137). see my blogpost 40 https://wp.me/p4SlVj-V4
SHIPPING LISTS too provide some details. On the Telegraph (arrived 23 January 1855) came Rachel Boardman a 19 year old Roman Catholic servant from Antrim; on the Flora (8 April 1855) Sarah Bouchier, an 18 year old Anglican domestic servant from county Clare; on the Northern Light (same date) Anastasia Keane, a 21 year old Roman Catholic kitchen maid from Limerick, and Rosanna Ferguson, an 18 year old Roman Catholic dairymaid from Derry. On ships carrying over a hundred single Irish females, by the Europa (13 May 1855) Cathy Arthur, a 20 year old farm servant from Clare and Anastasia Bergin a dairymaid from Kilkenny; by the Nashwauk Mary Coppinger a 21 year old Roman Catholic farm servant from Galway and Abigail Mulcahy, a domestic servant from Cork or, on the Grand Trianon (10 June 1855) with 205 single Irish females on board, Anne Quinlivan a 20 year old farm servant from Clare, Jane Stack a 26 year old farm servant from Kerry, and Ellen Shanley a farm servant from Westmeath.
ADELAIDE NEWSPAPERS made their views known in no uncertain terms. Their cries raised something of a clamour in the winter of 1855. Nowadays you will be able to follow these for yourselves via Trove.
that Sir Richard McDonnell, in the course of his peregrinations
through the various public establishments, will not omit to look in
at the Female Immigrants’ Depot on North Terrace. There is
something to be seen there which requires his instant attention. He
will find there between 300 and 400 strong healthy girls, all with
vigorous appetites, living idly at public expense. They have been
sent to this colony at an expense of nearly £20 per head by the
Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners. By a fiction in which
these Commissioners are fond of indulging, they are called “domestic
servants”, and have been ostensibly shipped to these shores for the
purpose of occupying that position in the social scale, and in answer
to a demand for a supply of female immigrants of that description.
But they are not “domestic servants”, and never have been.”(The
South Australian Register, Tuesday,
June 19, 1855)…
draft documents subjoined [a
circular to all District Councils and Stipendiary and Resident
Magistrates asking if there was a need for female domestic servants
and female farm labourers in their area, and what measures can be
taken to house them] it
will be seen that the Government are preparing to deal with the great
social problem of Irish female immigration. That the time had now
come when the interests of the colony demand a faithful consideration
of this question, no one will dispute. The number of Irish female
immigrants now subsisting on the public revenue, and expected within
three weeks is 800! There is not the slightest hope, under existing
arrangements, of greatly diminishing this fearful total of
destitution and pauperism. Every day from five to eight of these
females return from service, and become again chargeable to the
public purse. The cost of supporting the 800, including rent,
superintendence and food, is estimated at £20 per diem, or £350 per
week—a sum quite sufficient to awaken the concern of the most
apathetic or indifferent among us.
places at present available for the reception of these unfortunate
dependents upon pubic charity are so overcrowded, that more than 30
women sleep at night in a room 16 feet square. Scarcely any
convenience exists for, cooking provisions, or for preserving the
ordinary decencies of life. The result is that the moral tone of the
colony is being fearfully undermined, whilst the institutions of
British pauperism, in their worst form, threaten to establish
themselves permanently among us.”
Thursday, June 28, 1855)…
doleful announcement now made through the medium of the newspaper is
that which informs us, morning after morning, of the huge and still
increasing number of immigrants at the Depot, of a class wholly
unsuited to the wants of the colony…There are hundreds more coming
of the same class with which we are already deluged, and unless we
put a peremptory stop to the present system, our female Irish
being counted by hundreds, will be counted by thousands. There are
yet abundant supplies in the Irish workhouses, and no lack of funds
in the hands of the Emigration Commissioners. Remonstrances have been
sent to England without avail.”
July 3, 1855)
Not that there was any proof of the women coming from workhouses, or that arrangements for the women’s emigration could ever be stopped immediately. The journalists were in high dudgeon, and depending on your perspective, they were right to voice their concerns. The colonial government, for its part, first circularized District Councils and Magistrates, arranging for distribution of the young women throughout the countryside.
Replies from many of these District Councils and Magistrates have survived and are held in the SOUTH AUSTRALIAN ARCHIVES at SAA GRG 24/6 Col. Sec. in- letters 1855. From Brixton Laurie JP at Port Elliott, “there is a demand for about 30 female domestics and farm servants in equal proportion”. He promises to arrange for a building, a government cottage to house them, and suggests “…the District Councils have suggested the propriety of employing the unoccupied females in the destruction of thistles under proper superintendence” (GRG 24/6 2153); from James Gilbert at Pewsey Vale, “in my opinion the best and cheapest course to pursue would be to send them back to England” (GRG 24/6 2154) and from John Hope who was Irish, in Clare, “any assistance will be given in carrying out his (the Colonial Secretary’s ) wishes” (GRG 24/6 2155). Material relating to this matter goes all the way to item 2441, should you wish to do some research for yourself. It includes the Immigration Agent’s report for the quarter ending 30 June 1855, describing how the migrants by the Nashwauk came to Adelaide by steamer and overland in drays after the shipwreck at Noarlunga. [See appendix 1 in Marie Steiner’s work for a list of Nashwauk passengers, and Jane Callen’s book What really happened to the Nashwauk? (Blackwood, 2004)] The Immigration Agent also reported the complaint made by many of the young women “that an injury has been inflicted upon them by sending them to this colony, having applied for a passage to other colonies where their friends reside”.
circular (see above) produced and crystallized objections, both to
the ‘excessive and unsuitable nature’ nature of the migrants and
to their “Irishness”, without overtly saying so. Thus James Brand
at Evandale, the hundred of North Rhine, replies to the Government
circular that ‘the proportion of English settlers is small compared
with that of Germans’ and ‘there are some Irish families and I
think a few Irish females might find employment as farm servants’.
But, for domestic servants, ‘some have already obtained situations
but their conduct in many cases has been such as to induce their
employers to determine that they
will not take into their houses persons whose habits, education and
religion are frequently the source of much inconvenience and
(my italics GRG 24/6 2227). Or, from Henry Seymour at Mosquito
Plains, ‘my impression is that if we had Irish servants generally
we should be most uncomfortable’ (2233).
Not that the
policy of distributing the young women throughout the colony was an
unmitigated success, especially if we view the practice from the
women’s point of view. A researcher sometimes needs reminding not
to accept the sources at face value and that ‘reading against the
grain’ is most illuminating. That is one way of identifying with
the women. Occasionally we see traces of their feistiness. In
November 1855 the Surgeon Superintendent of the Oriental
appears to be a fixed feeling of dissatisfaction in the Colony at the
great influx of Irish emigrants sent out…The great objection to
them is that they are obstinate and will not obey orders and likewise
that they know nothing of domestic habits”. (SAA GRG 35/48 Ship’s
Papers 1855 Oriental)
Eric Richards, in his essay mentioned above, provides a sympathetic treatment of his subject. He stresses the hardships of their early days and their eventual absorption and acculturation. “The girls”, he says, “were sometimes humiliated by their employers and insulted by offers of employment at wages one-third…of the normal servant rates. Some of the girls who went to Gawler weren’t even provided with mattresses and were expected to sleep on straw, just like pigs, according to one of their outraged countrymen. At Willunga they became mutinous, apparently out of fear of the bush and snakes, refusing to travel the rough country tracks, complaining bitterly about the lack of letters from home, poor wages, and about being dispersed and thereby isolated from their friends.” The matron at Willunga defended the women against their critics, “I can assure you, Gentlemen, that what I state is nothing but the truth: three of the poor girls walked yesterday, barefooted, about sixteen miles, between the hours of ten and four, to get a situation. Mary Cain will leave today, at five shillings per week—and the other two expect to be sent for this week. Catherine Uninn was hired, yesterday, at two shillings and sixpence per week. My husband gave Mary Cain an old pair of boots to go to her situation.” (cited in Uphill all the way. A documentary history of women in Australia, compiled and introduced by Kay Daniels and Mary Murnane, University of Queensland Press, 1980). Other women returned to Adelaide their hands and their feet painfully raw from the work they were expected to do. Elsewhere, at Clare Valley north of Adelaide, for example, the story was different.
Fortunately material relating to some of the young women who went to the Clare Valley–who their employers were, and who they married—has survived, and is held in the South Australian State Archives. (The archivists there do a great job. They need more of your support and more support, especially financial support, from government.) At SAA GRG24/6 2431 set out are the ‘Rules for the Immigrants at the Country Depots’, and in a difficult to read hand, names of some of the women who went there, and their employers.
It is clear that the person keeping this record was not familiar with Irish names; Ryan is spelt Rian, for example. Sometimes in his transcription you can hear their Irish accent. My reading of the women’s names, as they appear, is; Brigit O’Brian, Brigit Flavity, Johanna Rian, Margaret Hanassy , Brudget Redling or Rodling, Mary Cathale, Ann Jones, Hanah McCarthy, Margaret Green or Gavin, Cathrin Carthy, Cathrin Kneal, (…?) Tracey, Elen Lubn, Mary Brian, Mary Rian, Nancy Slattery, Mary Sexton, Elen Collings, Susan Callagin, Briget Wite(?), Elen Barney or Bonney, Briget Minihan, Kate Downer, Briget Horan, Judea(?) Sheay, Elen McDowale, Elen More, Cathrin Corpey, Mary Copinger (engaged 27 July at 26 per week to Mr George (…?) (Clare), Mary Fogerty, Ann Fogerty, Susan Donnovan, Elen Dalton, Elen Wood, Johanna Fitzgarld, Margaret Fitzgarld, Bessy Donnovan, Mary Carrse or Kearse, Mary Lakeman or Lokesnan, Hanah Steal, Elen Carmody (?), Brigit Callagin, Brigit Wite and Brigit Rian.
At the same
location is found extracts from the St
Aloysius College (Sevenhills) Marriage register.
Again make allowances for mistakes in my transcription. A Judith
O’Brien married Aloysius Kranewitter(?) 5 February 1856 at
Mintaroo; Johanna O’Leary m Robert Giles 10 June 1856 at Kooringa;
Ellen Moore m John McKenzie, 20 January 1857; Cathy Rynne(?) m Owen
Clarke 24 Feb. 1857; Elizabeth Donovan m John Hearn 21 March 1857;
Mary Green m James Luke 27 April 1857; Johanna Fitzgerald m Joseph
Tilgner 4 October 1857 at Kooringa; Hanna Fitzgerald m Thomas J
Everett 7 November 1587; Mary Coppinger (see above in the employee
list and on the Nashwauk)
m John Langton 15 November 1857 at Kooringa; Johanna Shay m Thomas
Castle 13 January 1858; Catherine Ryan m Jacob Dai 27 June 1858; Mary
O’Leary m John Edwards 4 December 1858; Bridget Ryan m John Magner
2 July 1859 at Mintaroo, and Catherine Ryan married Martin Banan 7
December 1859. Perhaps unbeknownst to you, you have one of these
women somewhere in your family tree?
Not that distributing the young women throughout the hinterland would solve the South Australian government’s problems. Many of the young women were so exploited they returned to local depots and Adelaide itself for respite. So concerned were the authorities with the number of immigrants continuing to arrive, and the costs of looking after them, they set up a parliamentary inquiry. Their report, ‘Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council of South Australia appointed to inquire into the EXCESSIVE FEMALE IMMIGRATION; together with minutes of evidence and appendix’ was printed in 1856 (South Australia Legislative Council Votes & Proceedings, vol. II, no. 137). For more on this, see myhttps://wp.me/p4SlVj-V4
Do have a close look at this Report. You should be able to find a copy either in the South Australian Parliamentary Library or in the Mortlock Library http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au/collections/mortlock.htm , and in South Australian university libraries as well. If you have trouble finding the South Australia Legislative Council Votes and Proceedings in their catalogue, don’t give up. There are plenty of librarians willing to help. Be careful, though, you want both the tabled report and the ‘Minutes of Evidence and Appendix’. It’s these last that will take you to individual immigrants. You can hear the young women speak for themselves, at least through the intermediary of a clerk, as well as the voices of people such as Mr Moorhouse and Mrs Ross, Superintendent of the Female Immigrant’s Depot and Matron of the Female Immigrant Depot respectively, among others. The evidence of the young women is particularly useful to family historians. In addition to what they tell us about historical context, they give the name of their ship, often (but not always) their county of origin in Ireland, and most interestingly, their reasons for coming.
Thus, 15 February 1856, Margaret Hanlon was called in and examined. She had arrived by the Admiral Boxer and was originally from Naas in county Kildare. She had what she called ‘the evil in my arms’. Her sister Bridget Odon had assisted her, and her daughter’s passage. Frances McDowell had arrived from Dublin twelve months ago by the Rodney; Jane O’Hara from county Antrim was three months in the colony and had wanted to go to Sydney; Ellen Door but a week in the colony was from the City of Cork; Honor Kennedy had come by the Northern Light; Jane Higgins was from ‘the County Kildare’; Ellen Neal from the City of Cork; Mary Fitzgerald had wanted to go to Melbourne as did Mary Ring, Bridget Broderick, Elisabeth Cagney, Margaret Duggan and Ellen Downey but were sent to Adelaide instead. So too was the case with Anastasia Collins from county Kilkenny, Margaret Fitzgerald, and Elisabeth Williams. Miss Williams and her sister applied through Mr Ellis of Marlborough Street in Dublin for a passage to Melbourne but on arrival in Birkenhead ‘were told we must go where we were sent’. Mary Connolly, Jane Carolly and Sarah Keogh were from Dublin, Mary Riley came from county Cork, Mary Ann O’Brien from Clare, Bridget Keogh from Gort in county Galway, Mary Fohey also from county Galway and Harriet Hunt from Tuam in the same county. All were questioned about their experience as servants. Harriet Hunt had been ‘greatly petted and indulged by her friends’. Young Jane Carolly, from Dublin city where her father was an engineer on the Dublin and Drogheda railway, had never been in service before but had hoped to be employed as a nursery governess.
Still, as you
well know, family history can be a treacherous quest. Note the
difference between some of the names as they appear in the minutes of
evidence and as they appear in the ‘Proceedings of Select
Committee’ that precedes the minutes. Honor Kennedy was recorded in
the ‘Proceedings’ as Honor Kermoody, Mary Ring as Mary King,
Elisabeth Cagney as Elizabeth Kagney, Elisabeth Williams as Elizabeth
Fitzwilliams and Jane Carolly as Jane Connolly!
Appended to the report is a list of those women known to have travelled to other colonies, most likely only a fraction of those who would leave South Australia. Appended also is a list of other young women who had been sent to South Australia despite their having asked for other destinations. This deception by immigration agents overseas and others (some of the women themselves travelled under assumed names) is confirmed by letters in the South Australian Archives at SAA GRG 35/43IMMIGRATION AGENT LETTERS RECEIVED
2 October 1855 James Byrnes addressed his letter to the South
Australian Immigration Agent,
oblige me by sending me the directions of Honora Hogan and Margaret
Hogan sisters who came out by the ship Harlequin Comm. By Captain
Payne the(y) wrote two letters to my wife Ellen Hickey and I rote di
letters to them and got no reply so you will oblige me if they are in
the depot to give them this letter or if not to let me know where
the(y) are so as I will know where to write to them for when I get
an account from them I will pay their passage by return of post down
to Melburn direct your letter to James Barry Harvst Home Queens
Street Melbourne for James Byrnes”
On the 13th
February 1856, William Marcus of Penola wrote enquiring after Anne
James Williamson of Drumgarlic, Newbliss, Monaghan, Ireland and was
told she had been hired whilst on board the FitzJames.
12 July 1856 there is an enquiry from Mrs Therese Sheehan from
Wellington in New Zealand about her daughter on the Isle
of Thanet, “…give
her (Mary Ann Sheehan) the enclosed (note) not as I think she will
let me know where to find her …it is a long time since I left her
at home she was only a child”. (The ‘children left behind’ is a
neglected aspect of emigration history that awaits its researcher.)
There are enquiries from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Scotland,
Ireland, New Zealand and from within South Australia and elsewhere in
New South Wales and Victoria. Sometimes they provide us with precise
places of origin. Mary Donavan of Kilkee, county Clare enquires of
her daughter Johanna per Northern
enquiry from William McCausland of Sharn, ManorCunningham, county
Donegal about his daughter Bridget per Europa;
from David Beatty, Lisnadill, Armagh about his sister in law Mary
McCormick or from the uncle of Teresa Clarke per Nimrod
in William Street, Lurgan, Ireland.
Some are letters
of desperation such as that from Bridget Murrey in Dublin about the
safe arrival of her daughter Sarah,
“And I beg
of you if there is any humanity in your country to relieve a broken
hearted parent from the chains of sorrow and anxiety of mind for
neither night or day do I know one peaceful hour. This is the tenth
letter I have written to you and never got an answer to any of them…”
‘Tell mother to direct letters to Mr Clerke of 125 Hindley St,
(There are even a couple of letters from relatives of famine orphans, one dated 16th July 1855 from Margaret Mahoney in Cork enquiring about her daughter Bridget who had gone by the Elgin in 1849, from Fermoy workhouse, another dated 18 May 1857 from Arrabella McTagart in Dundee enquiring about her sister Margaret who had left from Belfast workhouse, most likely in the Roman Emperor.)
Others are upbeat, and point the way to assimilation, such as that from Dinah Moore of Whites Valley, originally from Derry/Londonderry, who came with her brother William on the FitzJames in January 1856,
I take the
liberty of writing a few lines to see if you would be so kind as to
trouble yourself so much with me as to let me know if I could get any
of my brothers or sisters out to me as I should verry much wish to
bring them out here to do well as I have got on well since I came out
to this colony. I was one of the passengers on the FitzJames. I left
the vessel to go to Mr Goldsack I stopt there seven months I am now
living with Mr White ever since—I am thankful to government for my
passage and as I have no one to tell me anything about emigration I
tooke the liberty of writing to you as I thought you knew all about
it I hope I have not taken too much Fredom as to ask you to let me
know I should very much wish to have some of them out here I am sure
if they get out they would not be a burden on the colony after their
landing here so if you be pleased to write me a few lines to let me
know I shall be much oblidged to your Honour for your trouble with
10 May 1857”
No doubt most of these young women were absorbed into colonial society in the long run, however many catastrophes and casualties there were along the way. That the experience of these three groups of single women is representative of Irish female migration to Australia generally is not the point I wish to make. On the contrary, I should prefer to argue for a depiction of Irish women’s experience in Australia as complicated and diverse as that of the human condition itself. Some people may prefer to see in them ‘little Irish mothers’, ‘around the boree log’, protectors and defenders of Catholic ways and religion. Others may see them as essentially conservative carriers of Irishness. Yet others would contend their very willingness to emigrate and make the most of opportunities presented them, would suggest otherwise. They do not fit easily into any preconceived mould. Beware the stereotype.
Along with the contributors to my Irish Women in Colonial Australia (Allen & Unwin, 1998) I see most of these women as ‘high-spirited and independent’, able to take ‘advantage of any bargaining power they discovered’. They ‘showed a remarkable ability to resist prejudice and adapt very well to colonial conditions. Irish women sustained family networks by fostering chain migration. By providing domestic labour in Australian households either as servants or as wives and mothers they helped weave the social fabric of an emerging Australia’. The flip side of this is the grinding poverty, mental illness and petty criminality, or as Tanya Evans puts it, ‘fractured families’, that many of them endured. Not to mention anything about the patriarchal nature of Australian society. Australia for these young women would be no bed of roses. In the end, however, it is you the family historian who can say what became of the Irish women in your Australian family tree.
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
One of the advantages of this blogging business is that you can lay your cards on the table however you like. Some of what I’ve done already is all of a jumble, set down and put out as I came across material in my filing cabinets. The beauty of it is, nothing is set in stone. My intention is to revisit some of my more substantive posts when I get the chance. Post 16 http://wp.me/p4SlVj-h8 looks as though it could do with some reworking, for example.
In the meanwhile, here are a couple more stories I hope you will like. South Australian Irish Famine orphans are relatively neglected. It may be because there weren’t so many of them or maybe they are just hard to trace. Let me suggest some avenues of research which I hope may have wider application. I’m just casting a net and hoping when I drag it to shore I’ll have an interesting catch.
Mary Taafe from Dublin per Inconstant to Adelaide
Mary was to live a long life with her convict husband, Samuel Dunn from Nottingham. After marrying, the couple moved quickly to Victoria where Mary was to give birth to fourteen children, nine boys and five girls, three of them dying in infancy or childhood. She herself lived till she was ninety.
It must have been Dawn Barbary who sent me this. Thankyou Dawn. Dawn supplied the names of her and Samuel’s childrens’ spouses, Hanns Wanned, Niels Jorgens, Nellie Plunkett, W. Renison, Tom Lucas, and Maud Tr…. Maybe their descendants have yet to discover they have an Irish Famine orphan in their family.
Our starting point, as always, must be the Irish Famine Memorial database for it has the most up to date information. There in synopsis is what is known about Mary. I wonder if Eliza was Mary’s older sister. That would mean she had a younger sister called Ellen and a mother called Mary. What kind of proof would we need for that?
I remember working with those North and South Dublin workhouse Registers in 1987. They were large, heavy registers closely packed with names which were sometimes difficult to read. Nowadays you can gain access to these Dublin registers online if you subscribe to findmypast.ie
In the North Dublin Register (National Archives of Ireland [NAI] BG 78/G/6 number 30984) Mary was described as being ‘in good health‘ and from Jervis Street in the city. Jervis Street runs directly north from the Ha’penny Bridge, not far from the city centre. Not that Mary would recognise it today. In Mary’s case, the Workhouse Register explicitly states, “sent toAustralia“, as indeed it did for some others, Bridget Fay (28228), Eliza Harricks (29777), Mary Ann Newman (BG78/G/5 No.20650) and in G4, no.14640, Rebecca Thompson. Mostly, however, one has to use the method I described in blog post number five, http://wp.me/p4SlVj-4X See about a third of the way down under “Identifying the female orphans”.
Dr Staniforth also offers information about individual orphans, some of it originating with family historians. Mary Taafe is one such, where the claim is made that Eliza was indeed her sister. But no proof of that is offered there. I believe it is important to always ask, how do you know that, what evidence do you have, and how reliable is your evidence? Is your claim based on hard fact or have you taken imaginative license or a leap of faith?Just so long as you state clearly what the position is.
Catherine Bracken from Parsonstown
And to emphasise how treacherous this ‘telling orphan stories’ can be, compare Dr Staniforth’s brief biography of Catherine Bracken with Karen Semken’s that appears on the Irish Famine memorial website at http://irishfaminememorial.org/media/Catherine_Bracken_Inconstant.pdf These two accounts show us how easy it is to become ensnared in the tangled webs we weave.
One is a straightforward account of Catherine from Parsonstown (Birr) workhouse marrying William Robinson at Mount Barker in 1851, their having at least three children, and Catherine dying aged 52 in the Clare Valley. (Staniforth, p. 37, after the endnotes).
The other is a thoroughly researched and beautifully illustrated tale of ‘murder and mayhem’. Catherine’s first husband had his throat slit in 1856, and her second was executed in 1862 for the murder of their servant Jane McNanamin at Salt Creek. Catherine married yet again, for a third time, to George Ingham in 1871. According to Karen, she died in 1915 and is buried in West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide. Karen mentions that one of Catherine’s descendants Dawn Ralfe was writing a book about Catherine. Does anyone have any news about this?
I see Dawne Ralfe has published her book. It’s called Murders and Mayhem: the true secrets, Inspiring publishers, 2014.
Karen has a facebook page devoted to the orphans. There are some great photographs there. https://www.facebook.com/EarlGreyIrishOrphans/ On the 5th April 2015 for example, she posted a pic of Matthew Moorhouse’s residence, next door to the Native School that acted as an Immigration Depot for the orphans. The same pic appears in her account of Catherine’s history at page three of the link above.
Karen’s revision of Catherine Bracken’s history raises a larger, interesting question: how many of the orphans had a criminal history in Australia, however minor their crimes or misdemeanours might have been? Those that did were found guilty of minor crimes, being drunk and disorderly, obscene language, petty theft, or ‘vagrancy’, a charge which the police often used instead of ‘prostitution’.
Margaret Dehee (or Duhy)
Dr Staniforth also draws our attention to a South Australian government report that lists sixteen Inconstant orphans who were prostitutes, including Margaret Dehee (various spellings) from Donohill in Tipperary. Dr Staniforth argues convincingly her surname was Duhy.
The information on this next family reconstitution form was from an excellent genealogist, Wendy Baker, sent to me in 1986. I hope Wendy is still with us. Margaret Dea(n)(e)/Duhy had five female children by her first husband Robert Strickland and another, Lucy, by her second, Charles Lindrea. Like Mary Taafe she left South Australia and sought her fortune in Victoria.
The Government report Dr Staniforth refers to can be found in British Parliamentary Papers. I’ve used the hard copy 1,000 volume Irish University press edition.
On the second of November, 1850, Governor Sir H.E. F. Young wrote to Earl Grey,
I have the honour of forwarding a report by the Children’s apprenticeship Board, on 621 female orphans introduced into the colony during the last two years.
2. Thirty two cases of crime or misconduct were brought before the police magistrate; six are mothers of illegitimate children, and required relief as destitute persons at their lying-in.
Six more are living in the country in adultery.
Forty three have fallen into the condition of common prostitutes; although all had been placed by the Board in respectable situations…”.
(In all, less than fifteen percent of orphans, my comment).
Sixty-six circulars had been sent to Police Magistrates throughout the colony asking about ‘the conduct and respectability’ of the orphans in their district. Only thirty Magistrates had replied. (British Parliamentary Papers, Irish Universities Press edition, Colonies Australia, vol.13, Sessions 1851-52, Papers relative to Emigration, p.292). [I only wish our own present-day pollsters explained to us the methods they use, and on what their results are based].
I wonder if asking how many of the orphans were incarcerated in Melbourne Women’s prison or in Darlinghurst gaol, or in Yarra Bend mental hospital, or Wollston Park, in Liverpool Lying-in hospital, or Dunwich Benevolent Asylum, or any similar institution, is the question I want to ask. A minority of the orphans (and how substantial a minority is moot) i believe were bound to spend part of their life in such institutions.
More than twenty years ago I asked, retouching what I said just a bit, ‘did Irish immigrants (to Australia) agree with other immigrants on …”the big issues”? Did they accept ‘capitalism and the modernizing, anglophone, world’ (D. Akenson), or were the casualties among them those would not or could not adapt to this new world? … And among those Irish immigrants were ‘friendless’, single, Irish Famine orphans the most vulnerable of all because of their ethnicity, because of their sex, because of their class, because of their lack of independence, because of their lack of kin support, and because of their dependence on males? The questions are easier to pose than to answer’.
Some have even suggested the trauma of the Famine made the Irish more susceptible to mental illness. I remain unconvinced. As I’ve said elsewhere, to suggest our orphans were transmitters of some workhouse dumping ground mentality, or biologically prone to some sort of “Celtic Melancholy”, or psychologically predisposed to mental illness, ‘borders on bigotry'(Akenson?).
Unlike most assisted Irish immigrants, the Earl Grey orphans were not part of a safety network. They did not have a network of ‘friends’,– friends in the usual sense of people from the same village or locality with whom they had a close, long-established relationship, and friends in the Irish sense of family members, once, twice and even thrice removed–friends they could turn to in times of need. They did not have a complex safety-net, woven with threads of kinship. That is what made them vulnerable to alienation in their new Australian world.
The question we may prefer to ask is what stratagems did the orphans use to deal with whatever life threw at them? What legal rights did they have? When they were young, did they get married in order to escape a burdensome master-servant contract? And if their husband was legally allowed to beat them with a stick, how did they withstand domestic abuse? Did they adopt the drinking habits of their husband? Fit in, or flee? Ellen Leydon from Ennistymon in County Clare who arrived by the Thomas Arbuthnot, ‘married’ six times, using(?) males as her ‘shelter’, her way of coping. See her story towards the bottom of http://wp.me/p4SlVj-dQ And when old, if your husband has died and you do not meet the requirements for entry to a Benevolent Asylum, do you deny your children, say you have lost touch with them, say you have no money, and no means of support. Then you will meet requirements. Do as needs must. Did the orphans contest the historical role colonial society imposed upon them? Did they negotiate a place for themselves? Or is that being too optimistic?
(I’ve just started reading Garry Disher’s Her. That will cure any desire to return to the ‘good old days’).
May I ask if anyone knows a good general history of women in Australia that would help answer the questions asked in the last part of this blog? Which historians can we turn to? Shurlee Swain? Christine Twomey? Tanya Evans? Diane Kirkby? All suggestions gratefully received.
As per the ‘About’ page of this blog, you’re not forced to accept anything I say. Please, feel free to let me know your take on why the Earl Grey scheme came to an end. History has always been about discussion and debate.
“‘Uncertainty in meaning is incipient poetry‘-who said that?” (Brian Friel, Translations)
One of the problems we face is that the most accessible sources that have survived–government enquiries, parliamentary papers, newspaper articles and the like–were written from the vantage point of the upper and middle-class establishment. It would be a shame to let that decide for us what is important and accept what they say at face value. It would give us a one-sided history. But sometimes, as in this case, they are very important. I just hope we don’t lose sight of the young women themselves, or at least, make sure we come back to them.
I’ve always found that writing something down is a good first step. More than one draft is always needed.
Returning readers will be aware of recent revisions (June 2017) to this blog post (first published in August 2015). Here’s another go (July 2019). My initial effort constructed its analysis of the demise of the Earl Grey scheme with ideology and Imperial-colonial politics at its base before suggesting the scheme’s innate structural weaknesses ‘doomed’ it from the start. What also worked against it from the start were the scandals associated with the Subraon and the first vessel to arrive in Sydney, the Earl Grey.
In the end, demolition of the scheme came from within the colonies themselves. Mounting opposition in the colonial press maligned the young orphans as ignorant workhouse Irish; they were untrained and immoral girls, sent out to Romanize the colonies.The cry went up that no more young women be sent from Irish workhouses.
About two thirds of the way down my initial post, in the section called “Bad Press” where i invited readers to go to ‘Trove’, I asked,
‘Were colonists opposed to the scheme because the orphans were Irish, Bog Irish dirty, Roman Catholic, from the workhouse, poorly trained, and immoral? Because there were too many of them and not enough from England and Scotland? Because the scheme belonged to Earl Grey and the British Imperial power? Because they wanted full control of their Land fund and immigration policies? ‘ My intention was to direct readers to ways they might unpick the prejudices against the young Irish female workhouse orphans. Maybe I should have a go at that myself.
We can start by looking at Earl Grey’s relationship with the Australian colonies, that is, the larger context of the Orphan Emigration Scheme.
The larger context: Imperial and colonial politics
What political issues formed the backdrop to the Earl Grey Scheme? For example, who controlled Imperial and colonial finances? Where was the money to come from to pay for government-assisted emigration? Were colonial ‘Crown Revenues’ completely under the Crown’s control, to be used and spent as Earl Grey wished? Did Earl Grey arbitrarily charge colonial crown revenues for continued convict transportation to Van Diemen’s Land, and for his underhand renewal of convict, or ‘exile’, transportation to New South Wales?
Perhaps Earl Grey’s personal papers have something to say about his surrender to colonial demands to end the orphan emigration scheme? I certainly haven’t looked at these. What I’m suggesting here, is that there is more to this question than meets the eye. The ideology that underpins political decisions is worth considering. Things which on the surface do not appear to be linked, are in fact very much part of a whole.
At base, the Irish Famine orphan emigration scheme is linked to a number of sensitive political matters: coloniallabour supply and the expansion of government-assisted emigration; Grey’s attempt to continue Lord Stanley’s renewal of convict transportation to New South Wales; control of the Land fund and colonial revenues generally; and how Imperial Government and Colonial legislatures would handle the approaching constitutional reform.
If I may illustrate this further, at an early stage of his administration, Grey accepted pastoralists’ demands for access to lands that Governor Gipps had previously denied. But he had little faith in New South Wales pastoralists’ ability to govern in the best interests of the colonies. The whole issue of constitutional reform for the Australian colonies, which was to lead to ‘Representative‘ and later ‘Responsible‘ government, was a burning issue for Grey’s administration. As my good friend Professor Frank Clarke puts it, “Grey always harboured the most serious mistrust over the ability of squatter-dominated colonial legislatures to administer the land revenues in an impartial fashion. He thought they would more often than not treat the land funds as loot to be distributed among themselves. He appeared to have a fine understanding of the mindset of most colonial conservatives“. Some may argue that constitutional reform lay in the future. But it was nonetheless there, and not always in the background, as opposition to the orphan emigration scheme unfolded in Australia.
Let me give you an example to clarify this.
The convict issueand Earl Grey’s attempt to supply labour
Even though convict transportation to New South Wales had ceased in 1840, Grey, without consulting colonists, sent a number of convicts between 1847 and 1849. For him, it was another way of supplying labour to the colonies. The Joseph Soames, Adelaide, Randolph, Havering, Hashemy and Mount Stewart Elphinstone arrived in Port Phillip, Port Jackson and Moreton Bay carrying convicts, or ‘exiles’ as they were euphemistically known. The ‘exiles’ were given tickets-of-leave immediately on landing, and dispersed throughout New South Wales. Some were forwarded to Sydney from Port Phillip because they were not wanted there. Others were farmed out to Maitland, Newcastle, Clarence River, and the Moreton Bay districts.
When the Hashemy arrived in Port Jackson in the middle of 1849, c.4500 people took part in a public protest in the streets of Sydney, precisely when the Irish orphan emigration scheme was in full cry. In June 1849, the protesters presented Governor Fitzroy with a petition asking the ‘exiles’ be sent back to England and Ireland. When he refused, he was presented with resolutions adopted at a public meeting viz.(1) censuring the Governor himself for his lack of courtesy, (2) demanding the dismissal of Earl Grey from office, and (3) advocating the introduction of responsible government immediately! One can see how easy it was for colonists to say “we don’t want your convicts, and we don’t want your paupers”! Reports of “The Great Protest against Transportation” appeared in newspapers around the country: “the injustice they now faced was far more flagrant, far more oppressive than that which had given birth to the American rebellion” (Colonial Times, Hobart 29 June, p.4). Little wonder then, that the Imperial Government in London was ready to listen, and put a stop to Grey’s sending convicts and workhouse orphans.
By September 1849 Orphan Committees in Adelaide and Melbourne were calling for a reduction in the number of orphans, and by the end of the year or early 1850, that the scheme should stop. [See the documents appended at the end of this post. They were part of H.H. Browne’s submission to the NSW Parliamentary enquiry.] As early as October 1849, for example, the Melbourne authorities were suggesting orphan immigration to the Port Phillip district should be suspended. But it was not until April 1850 that the last orphan ship, the Tippoo Saib, would leave Plymouth.
To quote something I wrote earlier viz. “Grey’s larger concern, providing the Australian colonies with labour, was to draw him into the quagmire of renewed transportation, ‘exile-ism’, and the emigration of convict families, political issues that would tarnish his name and from which he never really recovered. Not helped, of course, by his own high-minded attitude to colonials. Grey’s principal means of meeting colonial demands for labour was the renewal of large-scale government-assisted emigration. And of this, the female orphan scheme was but a part.
Yet, as Grey responded to pressing colonial demands for labour, he failed to resolve the long-standing differences between colonist and Imperial authority over the question of how government-assisted emigration should be funded and run. In fact he aggravated these differences by insisting that Britain keep control over land funds, and hence, emigration policy. His opponents would seize on the Female Orphan scheme as a means of embarrassing him and of pursuing their own political claims. In turn, some of the odium attached to Earl Grey rubbed off on the female orphans. Whether the orphans, themselves, were aware of being pawns in this larger political contest remains to be seen, it is clear their immediate fate was inextricably bound up with the name of Earl Grey”.
Weaknesses of the scheme
Some of the scheme’s weaknesses were ‘structural’ or ‘systemic’ weaknesses. Even before the first orphan ships had arrived, South Australian government officials were advocating the scheme should include a proportionate number of female ‘orphans’ sent from workhouses in England and Scotland. But that was always difficult to arrange. Young people in English Parish workhouses were sent into service at an early age, 14 or 15 years, was the response when the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners (CLEC) enquired about the possibility. [There were c. 80, in fact, sent from English workhouses to different parts of Australia, including some on the Ramilliesto South Australia]. From a purely organisational point of view, it was easier for the CLEC to bring young women from Irish workhouses. Nonetheless, the cry that there should be young women sent from England and Scotland in proportionate numbers, was something critics of the scheme in Australia could and would use to their advantage.
The CLEC became a victim of their own organisational skills. Once the ‘production line’ of orphan ships was set in motion it was difficult to stop. Commissioners sent too many, too soon–that is– from an Australian point of view, not an Irish one. By early 1850, there was an oversupply of Irish female servants in Melbourne and Sydney. It became increasingly difficult to find employers the Sydney and Melbourne Orphan committees approved of.
Similarly, organisation of the scheme in Australia–Orphan Committees, master-servant regulations, children’s apprenticeships and the like–would come back to cause trouble for colonial authorities. South Australia, for example, stepped around the master-servant apprenticeship arrangements the Imperial government had asked for (except for the very young): they were too expensive to administer. Only to find the Irish orphans could exploit this weakness. Some of the orphans, knowing authorities were obliged to ‘protect’ them, returned to immigration depots when things were not to their liking. The orphans were to prove a lot more savvy than people expected. But their returning to the immigration depot was also an unwelcome expense colonial authorities had not foreseen.
After the scheme had ended, the Irish Poor Law Commissioners were to “ascribe much of the misconduct of the Irish orphan girls, to the mistaken injudicious leniency and indulgence shown to them by the [Children’s Apprenticeship] Board…whilst they were allowed to resort to the Depot from the country and from their employers, and to the absence of sufficient discipline and control whilst they were at the Depot on their first resort to it…“. Grey himself agreed: “...in my opinion the Irish Poor Law Commissioners have succeeded in showing that a considerable part of the causes which led to the failure of the plan is to be found in the injurious though well-meant kindness which was shown to the orphans by the colonial authorities” (Grey to Governor Young 24 Feb. 1851, British Parliamentary Papers Colonies Australia vol.13 Session 1851-2, p.348). See the same place for the full Report of the Irish Poor Law Commission, pp.348-52.
a ‘collective male mentality’
Also working against the scheme, was what we might call a ‘collective (male) mentality’ towards single female emigrants who dared travel “without natural protectors”. Here’s something from my Preface to volume one of Barefoot and Pregnant? to clarify what I mean.
“It is worth making the general point that contemporary attitudes towards females were inimical to any easy acceptance of the orphans. Single female immigrants to Australia were too often looked down upon by religious leaders and members of the upper and middle-class public in both Britain and Australia for much of the nineteenth century. It was as if the language of ships’ captains and surgeons, who were uncomfortable if not downright hostile to women convicts and female paupers in their charge, was the accepted way of saying things. Their condemnatory language was repeated parrot fashion by a succession of commentators on female immigrants as a way of attracting attention. The hostility of the early days towards convicts, and the paupers of the 1830s, for example, was to forge images and condition attitudes towards later female migrants, not least the famine orphans from Irish workhouses. Virtuous single women just did not emigrate to such a faraway country as Australia ‘without natural protectors’. Therefore those who did, could not have been really virtuous. George Hall put it to a South Australian Parliamentary enquiry in 1856 that one ‘could never expect to derive such girls of good character from such a source’, as Irish Poor Law Unions. Such a propensity for prejudging the young women led to the condemnation of them all, not just a few, as prostitutes, ill-disciplined and promiscuous during the voyage, and ill-suited for work in the colonies. The stereotype, once fixed, became very difficult to remove”.
No doubt there are exceptions to such generalisations. Surgeon Strutt comes immediately to mind, and no doubt many male commentators were well-meaning; they saw themselves as guardians working to improve the morals of the lower classes. Their fear was that the orphans would easily be led astray, and fall on ‘evil courses’. All they required, however, was one or two examples of ‘misconduct’ and their prophecy became self-fulfilling.
Thus for example, the Presbyterian Reverend Robert Haining accepting his appointment to the Orphan Committee in Adelaide, and before any orphans had arrived, suggested the young women be allowed “as little intercourse with the town of Adelaide as possible until they obtain situations and never if it can be managed, without some sort of surveillance for otherwise they will undoubtedly be thrown into the society of evil disposed persons who will both lead them into much harm and hold out inducements to them to withdraw themselves from under all control whatsoever and thus defeat the object which the government at home has in using that of indenturing them to respectable colonists who will look to their welfare and morals…“. (State Records of South Australia GRG 24/6 1287, 22 August 1848).
Or, from the Sydney Immigration Board, on the scandal associated with the Subraonwhich arrived shortly before the Earl Grey.
“a party of 12 female orphans had been put on board from a foundling institution in Dublin. The ship had not long left Plymouth when some of these girls were taken to wait on the officers and surgeon. A connexion of the worst kind sprung up between the first and third mates and some of these girls; and it is difficult to doubt that the same was the case with the captain, whose conduct and language to the girl who attended upon him is described by her as of the most improper and corrupting kind…the girls were repeatedly seen intoxicated with liquor given them by the captain and mates…several of these girls are now pursuing in Sydney the evil course into which they had been initiated on the voyage by the misconduct of the captain and his officers”. (Minutes of the Proceedings of the Immigration Board at Sydney respecting certain irregularities which occurred in board the ship “Subraon”. Printed for the use of the Government only, Bent St., Sydney, 1848) The enquiry into what happened on the Subraon occurred in May and June 1848, just a few months before the arrival of the first orphan ship.
A troubled beginning. The scandal associated with the first orphan ship, the ‘EARL GREY’.
Shortly after the Subraon brouhaha came the shock of Surgeon-Superintendent Henry Grattan Douglass’ report on the first vessel of the official scheme to arrive in Sydney, the Earl Grey. In a letter to the Colonial Secretary, dated 7 October 1848, only a day after the ship arrived in Port Jackson, Douglass claimed, that in the selection of orphans,
“gross imposition had been practised upon the Land and Emigration Commissioners;
that instead of girls educated in the orphan schools in Ireland (as the Secretary of the Emigration Board in London had led him to expect) the females placed under his charge had been early abandoned to the unrestricted gratification of their desires, and left to conceive as erroneous any idea of the value of truth as of the necessity of personal restraint;
that there are not wanting among them those who boast of the prolific issue of their vices;
that expatriation had been held out to them as the reward of the workhouse, and that 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”.
Two weeks later, shortly after the arrival of the Roman Emperor in Adelaide, a similar letter was sent to the Colonial secretary by Surgeon Superintendent Richard Eades,
“the moral education of a great number of the emigrants was neglected, erroneous or vicious, careless of the opinion of society, possessing little self respect, and less self control, they were governed by their passions and impulses. Hence I experienced much difficulty in preventing moral degradation and in establishing and preserving good order…I gave several lectures on the cultivation of moral virtues“. (GRG 24/6 1763 CSO letters received)
The rationale of sending mainly Protestant northerners in the first vessels had backfired on the Imperial government.
But it was Surgeon Douglass’s report and the ensuing Sydney Immigration Board enquiry that was to prove the most damaging.
It was to take a year and several other enquiries–one by the Sydney Immigration Board, one by the Irish Poor Law Commissioners led by C. G Otway in Belfast, and one from the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners, in London,–before Grey made his own views known, viz.
Dr Douglass made charges of too sweeping a nature; …I think it is to be lamented that he had not been more scrupulous in specifying the persons he felt justified in describing in such unfavourable terms, instead of casting a general and indiscriminate stigma upon a large body of young women, several of whom must be presumed from the present evidence to have been undeserving of such blame.
The length of time it took for communication between England and New South Wales had worked to the disadvantage of the scheme. It, too, was a victim of the ‘tyranny of distance’.
Colonial opposition to the scheme
The immediate cause of the scheme coming to an end was that colonists in South Australia and New South Wales demanded it end. And Grey acceded to their demand. One advantage of the ‘electronic revolution’ of the last forty or fifty years is that we can read about, and explore, the opposition to the scheme by means of http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper The National Library of Australia has digitized, and made available online, lots and lots of newspapers. May I invite you to explore this great resource for yourself?
Not every newspaper is digitized; I recently was unsuccessful in looking for the Port Phillip Patriot (trying to find out more about William Kerr, the editor of the Argus) and The Miner and Weekly Star (what happened to poor Mary Coghlan). Alas nor is the Melbourne Morning Herald. But there are enough newspapers for our purpose. We might compare how the orphans were treated in South Australia, the Port Phillip district, and the rest of New South Wales, for example. The press coverage in each was slightly different: the ‘bad press’ and ‘scandals’ associated with the orphans were not the same in each district.
Typing ‘Irish orphans’ into the search box will bring up too many items to read. It would be best to ‘refine’ our search terms. Try typing things like ‘Irish orphans Land fund’; ‘Irish orphans workhouse’; ‘Irish orphans immoral’ into the search box. Maybe set a time limit too: 1849, 1850 would be the years to search. Let me give you a taste of the ‘gems’ we can discover.
I’ll start with the rabid sectarianism of the Reverend John Dunmore Lang who was in England between 1846 and 1849. Here’s a link to some of the letters he wrote to the British Banner while he was in England.
…I am as confident as I am of my own existence that these young women (Orphans from the Union workhouses in the south of Ireland) who are almost exclusively Roman Catholics, from the most thoroughly Romish and bigotted parts of Ireland, have been selected as free emigrants for Australia, expressly with the view to their becoming wives of the English settler and Scotch Protestant shepherds and stockmen of New South Wales, and thereby silently subverting the Protestantism and extending the Romanism of the colony through the vile, Jesuitical, diabolical system of “mixed marriages”.
The views he expressed here were later taken up by one of his acolytes, William Kerr, editor of the Argus newspaper in Melbourne, and in letters to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. See the letter in the Herald from “A Looker-On” on page 3, 1 March 1850, http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/1511476?zoomLevel=3
Kerr’s attack on the Irish orphans in the Argus and in the Melbourne City Council was to give rise to a furious debate in the first half of 1850. This link will take you to a passage that is often quoted about the orphans’ lack of domestic skills. I’m sure you know it already; it’s the one about ‘distinguishing the inside from the outside ofa potato‘, and ‘chasing a runaway pig across a bog‘–page 2 of the Argus 24 January 1850. It also reiterates the views expressed by the Reverend Lang above, and criticises migration policies that neglect the ‘braw lasses of bonnie Scotland‘ and ‘the rosy cheeked girls of England‘. Do have a look.
The South Australian denunciation of the orphans took a different turn, even though the underlying issues were much the same. I’ll call this one ‘CULTURE CLASH‘.
Aliquis (hiding behind a pen-name is obviously not the prerogative of present-day social media) wrote in a letter to the South Australian Register21 January 1850, page 3, column 5, under the heading “The Government Brothel at the Native Location”,
I allude to the depot at the Native Location for the reception of the female orphans landed upon our shores, where the most disgusting scenes are nightly enacted. I will not attempt to portray the Bacchanalian orgies to be witnessed there every night…
The accusations were so pointed that Moorhouse [Matthew Moorhouse was the Secretary to the Children’s Apprenticeship Board which was the legal guardian of the orphans] organised an enquiry to show such claims were without foundation. (You can read the evidence collected at the enquiry, in my Barefoot vol. 2 pp.35-43 ). What came to light, however, is how fearful some of the young orphans were, left on their own, in a strange place, not knowing where the toilet was. Or maybe they were what Moorhouse accused them of being, ‘dirty Irish brutes” .
On the arrival of the Inconstant we had for some time from 70 to 100 girls in the Depot. Their habits were insufferably dirty; we had ample water closet accommodation, but they were too lazy to cross the yard, to use this convenience…(ibid. p 42)
And to defend himself against calling the orphans ‘brutes’, he told of the orphans assaulting one of the matrons, Mrs Kelly. They were obviously hungry for food that reminded them of home. Maybe another kind of ‘culture clash’?
There were 110 girls in the Mess Room, and as soon as they saw the potatoes, they rose, en masse, seized the Matron, tore some of her clothes off her back, and got possession of the potatoes. (p.42)
The Register later concurred with the Board that the allegations made by Aliquis were groundless. But nonetheless continued criticising the orphan migration scheme. See page 2 column 5 and particularly page 3 column 1 of this http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/3932169?zoomLevel=2
[The young and friendless orphans from Ireland] are provided with situations sometimes, and occasionally retain them with credit and character. Those who have not been debauched on board ship by the men, in some instances, from the Captain downwards to the cook, of course have a good chance of a quieter and a happier home than poor Ireland can give.
The contemporary media; a critical refrain
By early 1850, the refrain of the major Australian newspapers was the Irish orphans were ‘useless trollops’ who did little for ‘their’ colony. They were sent from the workhouse, without any skills, imposed upon them, using ‘their’ money when that money could be better spent on bringing others from England and Scotland. There were just far, far, too many of them flooding into the country. The SYDNEY MORNING HERALD stated its objections in its editorial of 13 March 1850. See page 2, beginning column 2, near the bottom of the page,
Instead of a few hundreds, the girls are coming out by thousands. Instead of mere orphans, we are being inundated with Irish paupers. Instead of a temporary expedient,…we behold a settled system of poorhouse deliverance which, if not checked by colonial remonstrance, bids fair to go on as long as the Irish parishes have girls to spare, and the colony the means of paying for their emigration…
Of British female orphans we do not complain that we have had a disproportion, but that we have had none at all. This new species of immigration is altogether one-sided–it is exclusively Irish, and exclusively Roman Catholic…It is not an immigration of mere labour, but of sex; of females, and of young females. The destiny of these girls is understood by everybody…
The ground, then, upon which the colonists complain…is not simply that Ireland monopolises too large a share of their emigration fund, nor that Irish paupers are thrust upon them under the name of orphans; but that their unmarried youth are coerced into matrimonial alliances with Irish Roman Catholics.
To which the ARGUS added its own besmirching commentary; ‘their [the orphans] coming amongst us has not tended at all to raise the tone of colonial morality’ (editorial 22 December 1849): ‘…they hang on hand at the depot till a very considerable proportion of their number join the ranks of prostitutes infesting the more public streets of the city’ (15 March 1850 editorial):
and from a correspondent, ‘Adsum‘, 24 April 1850,
The females of this class can neither wash nor bake, they can neither attend to household wants nor field labour. They refuse in general to go into the country, and when placed in town they refuse either to work, or to learn those parts of their business of which they are ignorant. They lose their places, -and they have no friends to fall back upon–the brothel is open, and it receives them–and there amid unhallowed orgies, that youth, and strength and beauty, is spent and ruined…
[My own Barefoot & Pregnant? volume 2 pp. 35-78, has lots of extracts from the Melbourne press about the orphans and the great furore that occurred when the Melbourne Irish community took up the cudgels in their defense. See for example the wordy report in the Melbourne Morning Herald, Friday April 19, 1850, “Irish Orphan Immigration. Public meeting. In pursuance of a public notification to this effect, a public meeting of all persons interested in the cause of Irish immigration was held at the St Francis Hall, Lonsdale Street, last evening; the attendance was numerous in the extreme, every part of the building being filled to overflowing“. Alas the Melbourne Morning Herald does not appear to have been digitised and made its way to Trove as yet].
Some positive reports
Sometimes one reads a positive newspaper report about the orphans–the arrival of 105 orphans in Yass along with Dr Strutt, in the Goulburn Herald and County of Argyle Advertiser, for example,
–Or of their compatriots taking up their defense, the St Patrick’s Society of Australia Felix, in the Melbourne Morning Herald, 11 May 1850, 24 May and 6 June– against the Argus and the Melbourne City Council.
[See also Edward Finn’s letter to the Superintendent of Port Phillip at PROV VPRS 116/p unit 1 file 51/95 reporting the motions passed at a public meeting at St Patrick’s Hall, Melbourne on the 9th May 1850 for another taste of that Melbourne furore].
–or from letter-writers who were at pains to point out the young women entered agreements with their employer to be taught the trade of domestic servant. For this they were to be given food and lodging, and wages below the current rate for servants. Give them a chance and they would learn.
–or perhaps most interesting of all,
orphans who in the Moreton Bay district, in the words of Dr Connors, “appropriated the politics of law to defend their rights and status”. It is as if some orphans had heard the young woman in Brian Merriman’s Cúirt An Mheán Oiche (Midnight Court). I like to think some of the orphans in Brisbane courts did indeed channel that particular young woman.
Tar éis bheith tamall don ainnir ag éisteacht Do léim ina seasamh go tapa gan foighne, Do labhair sí leis agus loise ina súile Is rabhartaí feirge feilce fúithi:
Maybe there’s a different kind of culture-clash. That of feisty orphans. Here are some orphan voices from court cases,
“I worked twenty days for James Kelly the defendant at 3 shillings a day about four months ago which he now refuses to pay”.
“I couldn’t carry the water. I left because I couldn’t stand the abuse”.
“Mrs Williams caught me and put me out of the house–and I slept at Mrs Baldwin’s. I want my agreement cancelled”.
“She called me a bitch and ordered me out of the house…and held up a stick as thick as her arm to beat me with…I had to sleep on the dresser and buy soap to wash my own clothes”.
“What quality do you expect on Sunday that ye must have the knives cleaned?… No, I don’t know any better”.
“I’m not going upstairs just to please you”. “I won’t eat with a heretic”.
NOT THE WHOLE STORY
Clearly the press campaign against Earl Grey’s Irish orphan scheme is not the whole story. But it helps explain why the scheme was short-lived. The first vessel arrived in early October 1848, the last one, twenty-two months later, at the end of July 1850. Advice from the Governors of South Australia and New South Wales–based on requests from each of the Orphan committees in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney–may have been enough to persuade Earl Grey. A clamouring colonial press and ‘awkward’ questions in the British Parliament convinced him he should bring the scheme to an end. Thereafter, he simply may have re-directed other orphans from Irish workhouses to a different destination within the British Empire, Canada for example?
Some readers will have noticed that i have not made use of the “Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, Report from the Select Committee on Irish Female Immigrants..together with Minutes of Evidence, 1858-59, Ordered by the Legislative Assembly to be printed, 2 February 1859 (78 pages)”.
I intend looking at this separately. Indeed, there is much in the minutes of evidence about the Earl Grey scheme. It reminds us there would be further repercussions at a later date. But it is first and foremost about the Celtic Association in Sydney petitioning against the prejudices of the Immigration Agent, H.H. Browne. Browne had made adverse comments about Irish female immigrants in his Immigration reports for 1854 and 1855. He was allowed to attend the enquiry, able to put direct questions to witnesses, and given every opportunity to defend himself. The evidence he was allowed to present, as valuable as it is for the history of the orphans, is heavily weighted in his defense. There would be no rocking of the boat. Moreover, the witnesses, in talking about the orphans were relying on memories more than eight years old, a memory whose reliability may be questioned. I look forward to studying it more closely. See http://wp.me/p4SlVj-BT
By way of an incomplete conclusion
Obviously we need to pull all this together at some stage. The 1859 Report emphasizes opposition to the scheme was largely because the young women came from workhouses and were not domestic servants trained for city living: they were better suited to country living. But was this all of the story?
I’ve suggested ‘far from it’. There are other things in the mix as well: anti-Irish, anti- Catholic sectarianism, class prejudice, a very limited understanding of the famine and workhouse experience of the famine orphans both in Whitehall and in the colonies, a concerted campaign on the part of the colonial press against the scheme, particularly in Melbourne but not exclusively so, constitutional issues such as whether the Australian colonies should have control of their Land Fund, inbuilt structural weaknesses aggravated by the ‘tyranny of distance’, opposition to Earl Grey himself by his political opponents bothin Britain and in Australia. In early 1850, for example, in the House of Lords, the Earl of Mountcashel repeatedly criticised the scheme for what he called its abuse “of the most disgusting and disgraceful character” of young Irish women, claims which naturally Grey ‘scornfully dismissed’ (Robins, p.218.) Under fire from so many quarters, Grey would call a halt to his female orphan emigration scheme.
Joseph Robins’ The Lost Children: a study of the charity children in Ireland 1700-1900, Institute of Public Administration, Dublin, 1980, has a solidly researched chapter, chapter 9, on “Orphan Emigration to Australia”. It is well worth your attention.
Interestingly, right at the end of this chapter, Dr Robins answers a question i was about to put to you, “How much weight do you put on each of the things I’ve identified in this post?” He says (p.221) “…probably the main influence operating against the scheme was not so much that it related to immigrants who were both Irish and Catholic but that the colonists had now developed an amour propre which rejected the idea that their burgeoning state should continue to be built up on the unwanted produce of the workhouses and gaols of Britain and Ireland.”
Would you agree with this? With all I’ve said in this blog post? I’m glad to say that my analysis of the collapse of the Earl Grey scheme is not totally at odds with what Dr Robins’ writes in his chapter. His analysis concentrates on traditional political sources. He may disagree with my insistence that we attempt to view things from an ‘orphan’ perspective. He may disagree with what I have to say in my next post on “Cancelled Indentures”? http://wp.me/p4SlVj-vf
I’ve added (April 2018) some appendices from the NSW 1859 Parliamentary Report to the end of this post. They tell us WHEN exactly colonial officials made clear their opposition to the scheme, among other things.
May I remind you of the annual gathering at the monument at Hyde Park Barracks on the 27th August, 2017? [The 20th annual gathering is on 25 August 2019] see www.irishfaminememorial.org for more information.
Just a few more orphan photos to end with; they are in order, Catherine Crowley per John Knox, Bridget Gaffney per Digby, Catherine Rooney per Eliza Caroline, and Eliza White per William and Mary. My thanks to their descendants who sent me these photos to use.
Catherine Rooney per Eliza Caroline
from the 1859 NSW Parliamentary Report
A Colonial Government want the scheme to end.
Appendix A is the Report of the Sydney Immigration committee re the first vessel the Earl Grey. These are appendices that H. H. Browne submitted to the NSW parliamentary enquiry. You will notice, page 62, that the Port Phillip Superintendent considered the William and Mary and Mahomet Shah to have brought orphans to Melbourne. These two ships were never recognized as part of the Earl Grey scheme.
“And after the commanded journey, what?…A gazing out from far away, alone”
(Seamus Heaney, Lightenings)
It looks like I’ll be trying to square the circle once more. Searching for reliable sources that describe the arrival and early days of the Famine orphans in Australia is one thing. Trying to find what the young women themselves thought of the experience, is another. Allow me to keep the training I’ve had as an academic historian. At the same time, please cut me cut some slack when it comes to ‘inventing’ the orphans’ voice. As before, my idea of their voice will appear in blue typeface.I’ll look for other sources too, poetry reading, pictures and the like, so we may imagine the orphans other than through the eyes of officialdom.
LANDING and INSPECTION
Surgeon Strutt’s diary has an exemplary account of the Thomas Arbuthnot arriving in Sydney 3 February 1850, at the height of an Australian summer. The diary appears in full in Richard Reid and Cheryl Mongan’s, ‘a decent set of girls’ The Irish Famine orphans of the ‘Thomas Arbuthnot’ 1849-1850, Yass, 1996.
Buíochas le Dia, Maire Brandon. Tá sé go breá innui.
Chomh te. No, no Bríde Burke. The doctor says we have to speak English. Oh Lord, I’m sweating so. Where’s the sea breeze gone to?
Strutt’s diary recorded his eyewitness account of the official landing process. The orphans and other passengers remained on the ship whilst the Sydney Board of Immigration, consisting of F.L.S. Merewether, Health Officer Savage and Water Police Magistrate, H.H. Browne, along with Robert Hardy, a clerk from the Immigration department, came on board and drew up a Board of Immigration List. The List was to fulfill the requirements of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners in London(CLEC). Had the Surgeon, the Ship’s Captain and Officers carried out their obligations satisfactorily? Had the terms of the Charter Party, the contract between CLEC and Shipowner been met? Details such as names of orphans, their native place, their religion, their occupation, parents’ names, state of health, literacy, relations in the colony, if any, complaints, if any, were all recorded in meticulous detail. Sometimes names and places of origin would go awry, the clerk writing down in a phonetic way what he thought the young woman said. Hiccups such as this notwithstanding, the Board of Immigration Shipping Lists are an unrivalled record of all the orphans who landed in Port Jackson. See http://www.irishfaminememorial.org
Innesdiamond, [Ennistymon] Clare
Abinachmaigh [Abbeyknockmoy], Galway. Mother at Tume (Tuam)
A similar record, if not with quite the same details, was made at the other two ports of entry, Melbourne and Adelaide. Immigration Agent Patterson at Port Phillip and Captain Brewer at Port Adelaide, accompanied by clerks and representatives from their Orphan Committee went on board to examine the female orphans before they disembarked. Thus Lady Kennaway orphan, 14 year-old Bridget Ferry from Dunfanaghy, when asked if she was in possession of a Bible, could reply Prayer Book and Testament.
On arrival, Surgeon Superintendents presented a written report to local Immigration authorities. Surgeons were responsible for the well-being and health of the emigrants in their charge. Or as Robin Haines put it in her Doctors at Sea (Palgrave MacMillan), 2005, p.81, “Surgeons supervised the sanitary regime on board, oversaw the distribution and cooking of rations, attended to the sick, and were in control of discipline and the moral tone on board”.
Surgeons were appointed by the Imperial Government and thus only answered to them, and were independent of ships’ officers and crew. They were part of an important system of checks and balances designed to make Government Assisted emigration work well. Had the emigrants not received their proper rations, had the Irish orphans been allowed to mix too freely with the sailors, was the Charter Party abused in any way, then Immigration authorities in Australia conducted an enquiry into the misdemeanours and a report submitted to the representatives of the Imperial government in Australia. One can find extensive and detailed reports for many of the orphan vessels, especially the early ones, the Subraon, Earl Grey, Digby and others. Use the Search Box at the end of the post. Even for the William & Mary that arrived mid 1849, which was found to be “in a very dirty state on arrival“. Surgeon Phillips complained of the “rude and improper conduct of the Captain and his crew“. And that “all the conditions of the Charter Party were [not] fulfilled in respect of proper issuing of provisions, water and medical comforts, nor the prevention of intercourse between officers, crew and single females“.
The report on the Diadem to Port Phillip could not “consider it prudent to have allowed, single women, particularly young Orphan Girls, to remain about the upper deck after dark, and amongst sailors, especially without constables or any efficient guard…it appeared the Surgeon had repeatedly to go forward, and “drive” or send some of them aft…”.
The Melbourne Orphan Committee reported “the period within which the “Orphans” per Pemberton were disposed of, has been longer than in the case of those received by the Lady Kennaway: and we were obliged to be less strict in requirements respecting parties to whom the first named “Orphans” were hired, a greater number of the employers being of a lower class of society than those who engaged the orphans per Lady Kennaway”.
For these early arrivals especially, and before the demand for servants fell– which occurred towards the end of the scheme–prospective and approved employers went on board ship to hire their servant directly. Nonetheless, most orphans were hired from the Immigration Depot in each city.
The advantage of records in the Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV) is that “Disposal Lists” tell us who first hired the orphans, and how much they would be paid. PROV VPRS 14 reel 3 contains the shipping list for the Lady Kennaway , the list of officers on the ship and the gratuities due to them, and who was employed as Chief Matron, submatrons, constables and hospital assistants. The Disposal List at Book 4B p.1 repeats their name, their calling, their age, their date of admission into the depot and the date of their leaving, the number of days they spent in the depot, the name and residence of their employer, the terms of engagement, and the rate of wages per annum, and whether with or without rations.
The Report of the Immigration Board of Inspection, dated 23 December 1848, says of the orphans by the first vessel to arrive in Port Phillip, the Lady Kennaway,
“…their general aspect indicates good health and gives the impression that they belong to the humbler ranks of life. They are generally of a stout make, rather low in stature, and are endowed with strongly marked Irish Physiognomies…We do consider them… a most sensible supply and acquisition for this city and its environs and hope that we may in future have more importations of a similar kind, and as they come originally from small county towns and adjoining districts they have never seen or been accustomed to witness those demoralizing scenes too frequent in larger towns in many parts of the Empire, and we doubt not but that they will continue to conduct themselves as hitherto and keep in the paths of virtue…they are most anxious to please their employers… during the voyage… some few of them were inclined to be rather noisy and boisterous occasionally, and would not hesitate at times to let out a bit of an oath…”.
It’s a report that may tell us more about its authors than what it says about the orphans.
Attitudes to the orphans by Government officials
It would be worth researching the different attitudes towards the orphans among Government officials generally. Who was sympathetic? In South Australia, Matthew Moorhouse, no; Mrs Murphy, Matron in the depot, yes; Mrs Hill, Acting Matron, no (see below under ‘Immigration Depots’). In Port Phillip, Dr Patterson and Superintendent La Trobe, generally yes: in Port Jackson Immigration Agent Merewether yes, his successor H.H. Browne, no. Mrs Capps, Matron at Hyde Park Barracks, yes.
It is worth asking, too, how the attitudes and reports of Surgeons from orphan ships coloured the way the orphans were viewed and received in Australia. There’s a very marked difference between Surgeon Strutt (Thomas Arbuthnot) and Surgeons Douglass (Earl Grey), Eades (Roman Emperor), Ramsay (Inchinnan) and Hewer (Elgin). Surgeon Hewer was to write “I was so disgusted by the behaviour of the orphans per “Elgin”, –so worried by their tricks, simulating fits day after day to procure porter and spirits–so disheartened by their misrepresentation and utter disregard for truth, that I would not come out in another Irish orphan vessel if the Government would pay me £10 per orphan”.
These last four Surgeons were so aware of their own social class, so lacking in empathy and unable to–what’s the word– ‘understand’, ‘communicate’, ‘connect’– with the young women, they distorted the image people would have of the orphans even before they landed. By contrast, Strutt is the Surgeon we’d all like to have today; he has the ‘human’ touch we’d all like to have. It is a subject for further research.
Here are some pics that will give us an idea of what the young women saw when they disembarked. The first one is a sketch of emigrants landing at Glenelg in South Australia, not that the orphans landed at this particular location. Their ships would dock at Port Adelaide.
There is an interesting account of the arrival of the Inconstant orphans in Port Adelaide in 1849. It appeared in the South Australian Register, 13 June 1849 (p.2. Local Intelligence bottom rt of page). Nowadays, with digitisation, research among newspapers has become much easier than before. Here’s the link to the paragraph I’m talking about. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/4148476?zoomLevel=1 . The orphans had arrived at Port Adelaide, 8th June, about 14 kilometres away from the Native School on North Terrace, where they were to find “temporary asylum”. Travelling by dray gave them plenty of time to look around at their ‘new’ country. What a sight they must have made.
“On Monday evening an extraordinary procession was seen on the North Terrace Road Ten drays fully laden with Irish female orphans were seen moving along at a brisk pace towards the Native School Location where it is understood they will find a temporary asylum. They all seemed warmly and comfortably clad, and excited much sympathy”.
The next one is of Hobson’s Bay, Williamstown. There are lots of ships in Port Phillip Bay in 1853, more than when the orphans landed 1848-50. The Victorian gold rush was under way.
This next pic is of Port Jackson. It’s by Oswald Brierly and called ‘Emigrants arriving at Sydney Cove’, dated 1853. Again it’s a couple of years after the Earl Grey scheme ended. There’s a steamer in the background, bottom right of the pic. A steamer was to take orphans from their ship to a landing dock.
On the 8th February 1850 Surgeon Strutt wrote in his diary,
“Landed all the girls in a large steamer and walked at their head to the Depot [Hyde park Barracks]. There was such weeping and wailing at leaving the ship; when on board the steamer an effort was made to give three cheers, but with very indifferent success. I stopped nearly all day at the Depot with them and got them settled as well as I could and saw that they all got their dinner, which unluckily was a meagre one, being a fast day. They will now be visited by the Catholic clergy and nuns for about a fortnight, confessed and persuaded to take the pledge. They will then be permitted to take situations”.
The Irish Famine Memorial website http://www.irishfaminememorial.org has a link to ‘the historical walk the young women took from the harbour to Hyde Park Barracks’ which is well worth a visit. Not that the roads and ‘pavements’ the orphans walked were the same as today.
A NEW WORLD
What did the Famine orphans think of this ‘new world’? Did some of them make their way to the Depot, their eyes down, frightened little waifs, still traumatised by their Famine and workhouse experience? Or did some have a sense of freedom, of being liberated from their past, being healed in part by their long sea journey? Undoubtedly there was a wide range of emotions. But it would be a sorry state if we were to deny them the wonder of their world turned upside down when they arrived in Australia.
After the hurly-burly of the harbour and goods being loaded and unloaded at the docks, travelling to the Depot gave the young women a chance to look around.
Hanna Hayes, Hanna Hayes, will ye look at them big white birds? Look, look, watch them swoop. Squawwck, squawwk. They’re wearing a big yellow comb on their head. Lordy, lordy.
Ach no, Kitty Kelly. Look over there. Who’s that man watching over the river? Over there, over there–the tall black man standing straight. He’s standing on one leg.[26 March 1850, Strutt tells in his diary of an Aboriginal man refusing to take Biddy Rabbit as his wife; his wives would be jealous and anyway, she had “too much yabber”.]
Aw Mary Carty, Ellen Dunbar, will ya look at that. Ah go on. I dare ya. Talk to him.
“You observe…He wears a broad-brimmed cabbage tree hat…a check shirt, open at the neck, and presenting a bold front; a blue jacket, and a gay waistcoat. His trowsers…are cut so much to the quick, that your dread of their bursting keeps you in a state of uncomfortable nervous apprehension. He wears an immense moustache…and a red scarf or comforter is tied around his waist”. (Lurgan etc Agricultural Gazette 4 Oct 1849)
Where’s Mary Power? She knows all her flowers. What’s that yellow flowering bush by the side of the road?
Young Mary Power probably had no idea what it was. The people, the flora, the fauna, everything was so very different to what the orphans knew. Even the sky seemed bluer, and further away than at ‘home’. The light was brighter. The sun shone harder. They were seeing things few people in Ireland had ever seen–wallabies and kangaroos, kookaburras and lizards, and big hairy spiders, bright coloured parrots, wattle and gum trees, red earth and dry dust, and Aboriginal people coming into town. Evelyn Conlon gives her readers a sense of this very different world in her novel about the orphans, Not the Same Sky, Wakefield Press, 2013.
Let me try giving you another yet similar sense of what I’m talking about. My thanks to http://tintean.org.au/ for the link.
Let’s see if this works. It’s part of a trailer for an Irish film called “Assimilation”. https://vimeo.com/75656628 Louis de Paor is reading from his poem ‘Didjeridu’ (from his Gobán Cré is Cloch). Here’s a verse or two of his poem. An English version appears as subtitles on the video. He’s accompanied by Kev Carmody on Didgeridoo.Sorry the video no longer exists (2019).It is back Feb. 2020.
Má sheashann tú gan chor
ar feadhsoicind amháin
nó míle bliain
cuirfudh sé ealta liréan
ag neadú i easc na gcuach
id chlaon fholt cam
ar do ghuaillí loiscthe
is cucabora niogóideach
ag fonóid féd chosa geala,
beidh treibhanna ársa an aeir
ag cleitearnach timpeall ort
ag labhairt i mbéalrá
ná tuigeann do chroí
gall ghaelach bán.
This music is not played to lure a snake
from the woven basket of your distended belly
with a heatwave of torrid notes and swooning melodies.
It won’t set your rebel foot tapping on stone
to taunt your straight jacketed intellect with squalls
of hornpipes and twisting
If you stand and listen for a second
or a thousand years
lyrebirds will nest in the devious loops
of your branching hair,
green blue red
parrots will perch on your scalded shoulders
and a sarcastic kookaburra
make fun of your scorched white feet,
you’ll hear parakeets and lorikeets flutter round your head,
ancient tribes of the air
speaking a language your wild
colonial heart cannot comprehend.
Hey Mister, Where we goin’?
To the Immigration Depot? How far is it?
Who’s the Matron, do ye know? Hey, Hanna, Mary, Jane…Alice Smith, listen, the matron’s a Cork woman at the Barracks.
Isn’t that the best news? It’s the best news I’ve heard all day, so it is.
The Port Jackson (Sydney) arrivals made their way up the hill to the former convict building, Hyde Park Barracks which had been refurbished to accommodate female immigrants earlier in 1848. The Port Adelaide arrivals would travel to the Native School, behind Matthew Moorhouse’s residence on North Terrace in Adelaide itself. I’m not sure where the Port Phillip (Melbourne) orphans first went. Did the Lady Kennaway orphans go to a building in Williamstown? I doubt they went to any kind of tent city, colonial authorities being ever so concerned these young women were “without natural protectors”. However, on the 5th January 1849 the Port Phillip Gazette reported that Governor Fitzroy had arranged for “the depot situated on allotments 8 and 9 of section 16 at the angle of William Street and Collins Street has been appropriated as an establishment for the reception of the…female orphan immigrants from Ireland”. That presumably was where the Melbourne Immigration Depot was situated.
Thanks to Kelly Starr we know where the Immigration depot was in Melbourne from this 1855 map.
Kelly also has alerted us to an article in the press referring to the hiring of orphans from the first vessel to arrive in Port Phillip, the Lady Kennaway. It is from “The Melbourne Daily News (Vic. : 1848 – 1851) Tue 12 Dec 1848 Page 3 Advertising” .
For some of the young women, Depot life could be an untimely reminder of their workhouse days. They were once again subjected to an institutional discipline. Orphan ships arrived within months of each other, one hot on the heels of another. With each ship carrying about 200 young women, pressure was put on Immigration Agents and Matrons alike. To cope with such a large body of arrivals, some kind of regimen was necessary–when should the young women go to bed, when should they rise, when they should eat, when should they prepare themselves to meet their prospective employers. And most controversially, should they be allowed to return to the Depot when their indentures were cancelled?
Conflict in the South Australian Depot
Of course conflicts did occur between government officials and the young women. One of the most explicit examples, perhaps not so well-known, occurred in the South Australian Depot at the Native School on North Terrace.
A local newspaper, The South Australian Register, 21 January 1850, published a damning letter written by Aliquis, who turned out to be a Mr D’Arcy (not that Mr D’Arcy!) “…I beg to call your attention to the existence of a brothel supported at the public expense and to the disgrace of an establishment under the superintendence of a paid officer of the Government. I allude to the depot at the Native Location for the reception of the female orphans landed upon our shores, where the most disgusting scenes are nightly enacted. I will not attempt to portray the Bacchanalian orgies to be witnessed there every night…”.
The editor of the newspaper added to the calumny claiming “…the rations of the girls were occasionally stopped, punishments inflicted on trivial pretexts, and that some girls have been capriciously expelled”.
Ever mindful of being seen to do the ‘right and proper’ thing, the Children’s Apprenticeship Board, under Matthew Moorhouse, immediately set up an enquiry to defend themselves and rebut the charges. Their report is available as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP) on microfilm in Australian State Libraries. The original is in the Public Record Office in London at Colonial Office (CO) 13/71, pp.461-485. It is also available in my Barefoot, vol.2, pp.35-43. Do have a look at the Report if you can. I’d be interested to learn how you read and interpret it.
For me, it is clear some government officials were less than sympathetic towards the Irish orphans. Not that the orphans themselves were totally innocent. They asserted themselves and were combative, refusing to do work they did not want to do, and refusing to be cowed by those in authority. They saw themselves as entitled to food and able to leave an employer and return to the depot if it was in their own best interest. Not everyone agreed. Unfortunately only a few of the orphan witnesses to the enquiry are linked to specific ships, Mary Creed per Elgin, Nora McDonald per Elgin, Mary Ann Murray ex Roman Emperor. Others, not so.
Sometimes matrons themselves defied regulations. Mrs Murphy defied Matthew Moorhouse by allowing orphans to visit her “in defiance of all instructions”, sometimes allowing an orphan to stay overnight. She was given to a ‘secret harbouring of orphans‘, according to Moorhouse. Mrs Murphy said “she could not have it on her conscience of having refused any girl a night’s lodgings”. But she would lose her job for her troubles.
I’m not filling the water casks, Nora McDonald. It’s not my turn.
She called me a blackguard slut, so she did. I did not. Yes you did. Not. Did. Not. Did.
Lizzie Coogan. Watch out. They’ll stop your tea and sugar.
Some employers’ complaints about orphans who returned to the Depot suggest that an apprenticeship agreement or master-servant contract may well have existed in law. But in practice, things came down to personal relationships, how well master and servant got on with one another. Neither seemed aware of the wording of the contract itself. And the examples in this report are of ones that did not work. Jane Hall was “dismissed for want of civility, violent temper and abusive language”.“I had great difficulty keeping Margaret Collins within doors of an evening”. “My brother in law who is now dead of relapse said, let her (Eliza Day) go and don’t have another in her place—she is a dirty, filthy, idle wretch, let her go…”.
It is also clear there were clashes between the orphans and Mrs Hill, Acting Matron and Mr Moorhouse. Mrs Hill admitted “to having called the girls “dirty brutes” but I never told anyone to go to the Devil; or called one a blackguard wretch”. Matthew Moorhouse also admitted to calling them ‘brutes’, had seen them stealing stores from native stores, and dismissed Creed, McCarthy and Collins for having refused employment three times. “Had I not dismissed them, we should have had an average of about 100 constantly living upon Government”.
Perhaps the sensibilities of modern day’s readers would be most shocked by the orphan girls’ toilet habits. Was it a case of ‘bog Irish’, or young women frightened of the dark in a strange land, of inadequate arrangements in the Depot, or of our own lack of knowledge of toilet habits in the past?
Mrs Hill deposed to the enquiry, “I have frequently known the girls use their pannicans as night vessels and in the morning dip them into the water cask which we use for cooking. I have also witnessed when rising in the morning the passage made into a water closet and night soil here with ashes thrown over.
Matthew Moorhouse submitted “On the arrival of the Inconstant we had for some time 70 to 100 girls in the Depot Their habits were insufferably dirty; we had ample water closet accommodation, but they were too lazy to cross the yard, to use this convenience. On paying my morning visit, I beheld quantities of human faeces about the verandah and door, and in one instance i saw that one girl had not even taken the trouble to go outside the door, but had soiled the wall against which her bed was lying…These instances of offensiveness and filth being daily before me, caused me to express myself in severe, and probably, in apparent unkind language”. Culture clash at its most basic?
In Sydney, the orphans who returned to Hyde Park Barracks after their indentures were cancelled, discipline was more severe. They were put into a cramped and poorly ventilated room at the Barracks to pick oakum (unpicking old rope). Only when the Sisters of Mercy intervened did the practice end, and the young women sent to country depots at Wollongong, Parramatta, Bathurst, Maitland, Newcastle, Port Macquarie, and Moreton Bay. [check 1859 Report]
The Immigration depots were designed to be temporary accommodation for the Earl Grey orphans, an asylum where they could rest awhile and receive religious instruction from the clergy of their faith. But their primary purpose was to hire out the orphans as servants, indenture those under 17(?) as apprentices and hire out the others under “ordinary agreements”. (See the example of a Female Apprenticeship contract in post 13 https://wp.me/p4SlVj-g4).
Members of the different Orphan Committees vetted potential employees. Anyone with a poor reputation or ran a public house would not be permitted to have an orphan as servant. But rules are made to be broken, and in practice cannot always be enforced. One can follow the approval process, and indeed the employment history of many of the orphans, in the Registers and Indexes of applications for orphans in New South Wales State Records 4/4715-57, and dispersed throughout the Immigration Agent’s correspondence beginning c. SRNSW 4/4635.
Registers of application etc for orphans
No 326 From Adelaide Forbes, Wooloomooloo 5 April 1849 Expresses desire to get rid of Mary Ann Galway (Earl Grey) who entered her service November last. Answer. could only get rid of her by bringing her up at the Police Office or by a regular transfer of indentures
No. 807 John Armstrong, Surveyor Macquarie Street 24 August 1849 Applying for an orphan female as a general house Servant under an Indenture 895. Approved for an apprentice.
No 833 Mr J Solomons, Australia Hotel, Clarence St., 5 Sept 1849 Requests permission to have Ann Callaghan per Digby as general house servant transferred from service of Colin MacLeod. Consent to this request against the rule laid down with reference to publicans.
No 967 Sarah Cullins per Lady Peel, Parramatta Street, Sydney 22 October 1849 complaining of ill-usage from her mistress and requesting to be removed from her service. Ask Dr Gregory to investigate.
My mistress was unkind sur. She called me a dirty papist and wouldn’t let me go to Mass on Sunday.
No 329 Principal Superintendent Convicts 12 March 1850 forwarding application of John Lawrence for permission to marry Rosanna Cartwright per Digby.
Colonial government officials and Orphan Committees were conscientious in adhering to the letter of the law, at least in the early days. Asking for character references; conferring power of attorney; even asking Police Magistrates in the country for character references from local clergy for prospective employers; arranging for constables to accompany orphans going to country depots; appointing married couples to look after the orphans in country depots were all grist to Merewether’s mill. Surgeon Strutt personally supervised the placement of ‘his girls’, 100 of whom accompanied him over the Ranges, through Goulburn, Yass and as far as Gundagai. The correct legal procedure for cancelling indentures was also enforced as far as practicable. In contrast, H H. Browne, Magistrate in the Water Police Office, presided over the Sydney court which cancelled orphan indentures. As member of the employer class, he tended to favour employers over the orphans. His prejudices were to come back to haunt him at a later date.
The indenture system did not work so well in South Australia, despite the Governor’s Ordnance of August 1848 (See my blogpost no. 13). As long ago as 1964, Cherry Parkin pointed out in her Honours thesis at the University of Adelaide, that 142 employers had failed to apprentice their orphan servants, objecting to the legal formality of binding the ‘girls’. Whilst as early as January 1849, 32 out of 60 indentured ‘girls’ had left their situations, only one of whom was taken to court. Moorhouse, himself, objected to the expense involved in taking matters to court. (GRG24/6 1849 991 28 March) The problem then arose of how long authorities were obliged to accommodate orphans who returned to the depot after leaving their situations.
But let me to return to the question of cancelled indentures at a later date.
Orphans sent up country
Immigration Agent’s correspondence SRNSW 4/4635
1848/106 10 August 1848 Military Barracks at Brisbane to be used as Immigrant Barracks
1848/129 Immigration depot to be established at Goulburn perhaps vacant Court House to be rented at £35 pa
1849/111 2 March 1849 the 19 orphans named in the margin to be taken to Parramatta, their binding to be approved by the clergyman of their religion.
Ach Jaysus Sarah Moran here we go again. Where to this time? Will it be any better than before? I’m going to find meself an ould fella to marry. I’ll be workin’ for no one but me.
Merewether in Sydney and Patterson in Melbourne coped with the influx of female orphans by distributing them throughout the colony. As the numbers increased and it became increasingly difficult to find employers for the orphans, such a strategy became imperative. The usual means of transport was by water. Many an orphan found herself on a boat again, this time on her way to Windsor or Parramatta, Wollongong or Newcastle, Maitland and the Hunter Valley, or to Port Macquarie and Brisbane, all of which could be reached by water. Otherwise, it was a long and probably less comfortable journey by dray over the mountains to Bathurst, Goulburn and beyond.
Strutt’s diary gives a wonderful account of his travels with 108 orphans from the Thomas Arbuthnot, over the Ranges and well into the South western regions of today’s New South Wales. He took “his girls” via Parramatta to Liverpool and Camden, over Razorback to Picton, across the Bargo River to Berrima and Goulburn, thence to Gunning and Yass. And from Yass he took the remaining 45 young women on a 12 hour trek to Gundagai. His round trip lasted from 18 February 1850 until 29 April.
Monday 18 Started with 108 girls and young women…by steamer to Parramatta
Tuesday 19 Started with 14 drays drawn by teams of horses, from 2 to 4 each. Was sworn in Special Constable on the occasion…Encamped for the night about ten miles beyond Liverpool, I sleeping under a dray, and much more tormented by ants, fleas or some creature that bit like fury.
aeeeeye aaeeeye aaah Wednesday 20…Mary Brandon and Mary Conway were thrown off..and the wheel went over their legs.
The orphans were not the only ones struck by the unfamiliar Australian fauna. Still using the “European’ words he was familiar with–‘forest’, magpies’ and ‘tarantula’–Strutt recorded in his diary,
Monday 25 …The forest was more animated with parrots, large magpies, cockatoos etc., to say nothing of the insect tribe, large ants, which make great hills three or four feet high, and as hard as clay very much sun dried. The people use these hills beaten into a fine paste with water to make floors for their cottages. Biddy O’Dea caught a large tarantula, which she brought to me in her apron…
A similar tactic of distributing the orphans into the hinterland was employed by the Acting Immigration agent in Melbourne, John Patterson and Superintendent La Trobe. Below is a contemporary map, not drawn to scale which shows where some of the orphans were sent–Salt Water river, Geelong and Portland.
PROV VPRS 32 Police Magistrate Portland Letters-in. Item 4 contains letters from Superintendent La Trobe making arrangements for 37 orphans per Pemberton to be sent to Portland by the steamer Raven accompanied by Surgeon Sullivan and a sub-matron. Two of the major settlers in the area, Henty and Leake, were appointed as their Guardians.
“Police Magistrate Portland to his Honor the Superintendent 23 June 1849
The single females have been housed in the Immigration Barrack at the Customs post under the protection of two married immigrants recommended by the Surgeon and a married constable”.
The other major area to receive Earl Grey Famine orphans was Geelong. By the time the Eliza Caroline arrived in Port Phillip–the last orphan vessel, with orphans from Skibbereen on board–finding positions for them in Melbourne was extremely difficult. Many of them would be sent to Geelong.
I’m very much aware what I’ve left out or left undeveloped in this post. There are orphan histories begging to be told: Eliza Taafe per Inconstant designated as ‘insane’ when she arrived in Adelaide. The Surgeon later attributed her strange behaviour on board ship to her Famine experience in Ireland. A local doctor predicted she was not permanently insane: simply in need of kindness and care: Mary Stephens, of Inchinnan fame, whose indentures with J Mackay, in Sydney, were cancelled 20 July 1849 and she sent to Moreton Bay. [It is always pleasing to see the high standard of work being done by others interested in the Earl Grey Famine orphans, for example, on the website www.mayoorphangirls.weebly.com ] Mary Stephens, according to Ray Debnam, was visited in the Brisbane Barracks four times by Dr Ballow, 15 -19 August 1849. Less convincingly, Ray suggests she may have married Thomas Kavanagh in Brisbane RC Church 17 September 1849.
Or, to finish my three examples, Margaret Cumins per Pemberton ‘raped’–‘violated forcibly’– is the term used in her statement, by her employer Patrick Ryan at Salt Water River in 1849. (PROV VPRS 115/P unit 3 49/381. See also my Barefoot vol2., pp.31-4) “…when her relative was out milking the cows, Ryan violated her forcibly and against her will: she did not tell this to her relative or to anyone else at the time, but went back again to live at Ryan’s, and Ryan had frequently criminal connexion with her since that time…” Dr Rule told me the case did not go to court, perhaps a conviction would be too difficult. Margaret lived what Dr Rule calls a ‘fairly rackety life’ being convicted of robbery in 1862 and other convictions in the late 1860s. In 1872 she was sent from gaol to a lunatic asylum.
There are other details I’ve omitted from this post, Merewether’s administration of orphans being sent up country, for example; Im. Cor. 49/240 ‘Mr Featherstone to be in charge of the party [to Goulburn]. It will be his duty to keep a strict watch over the females on the road, to prevent them having any communication with strangers and not to allow them to quit his charge under any circumstances’,
which continues, Im. Cor. (49/271) 31 May Merewether to the Police Magistrate Parramatta re the misconduct of draymen who conducted orphans to Goulburn under the charge of Martin Featherstone,
and finally, Im. Cor. (49/328) 18 June Merewether to Police Magistrate Bathurst re the appointment of Martin Featherstone and his wife as Superintendents of the Immigrant Depot at Bathurst. They are to be given two shillings and sixpence per day, a daily allowance of an adult and a female ration, fuel and candlelight, and accommodation for himself and his family at the Depot.
One wonders too if orphans were paid proper wages. Merewether was well aware ‘the orphans were under the complete control of the government’ and could be made to accept lower than the current rate of wages, if it proved expedient. Yet in 1850 (50/341) he replied to the Bench of Magistrates at Wollongong which had tried to reduce the orphans’ wages, “the present wages readily given in Sydney and elsewhere are as much below the current rate for female servants, as the [Orphan] Committee would feel themselves justified in fixing them…”.
And what of the frequency with which orphan indentures were cancelled? Was it higher than usual? How is this to be explained? Was it part of a systemic weakness of the Earl Grey scheme? Or is there more than this? What part did it play in giving the scheme a bad reputation and bringing it to an end? How should the cancellation of orphans’ indentures be interpreted? Closer examination may uncover some truths everyone may not like to hear. This is something that warrants a closer look, don’t you think?
I’ll need to return to some of these issues when next I examine opposition to and ending of the Earl Grey scheme–soon come, I promise..and if you believe that…