How’s it going? Did you meet your new supervisor yet’?
K. ‘Yes thanks, Dr Mac. I hope you don’t mind me calling in; I’ve known you for a while, and can talk to you easily. You know you mentioned before that women weren’t found guilty of capital crimes anywhere near as frequently as men. That Ellen Thomson case you mentioned last time we met is very interesting. What a speech she gave on the gallows. However, I’ve found that infanticide was a felony that carried the death sentence, and it’s one where women figure prominently.
I’ve been reading some secondary sources, Constance Backhouse and Judith Allen, and both mention how common infanticide was in Canada and Australia towards the end of the nineteenth century. Backhouse says infanticide was a common feature of life,
“the bodies of newborn infants were frequently discovered inside hollow trees, buried in the snow, floating in rivers, at the bottom of wells, under floorboards, under the platform of railway stations, in ditches, in privies, in stove pipes, and in pails of water” (Backhouse, Petticoats and Prejudice, p.113).
And Judith Allen talks about how common it was in Oz at the time of the ‘Baby Farmers’ in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, providing numbers of unidentified babies taken to Sydney city morgues, 107 1881-89, 154 1890-99, and 242 1900-09. Yet emphasizes how infrequently mothers were brought to trial and rarely punished with the full force of the law.
I was wondering about the Irish Famine orphans. One would think their being without a strong support network, without kin, without friends, innocent in the ways of the world, not very educated, having little money and being dependent on their job as domestic servant, isolated, and working long hours, made them vulnerable to the advances of the males in their household. So…may I ask, were any of the Irish Famine orphans accused of infanticide? Were any of them found guilty of that crime, and if so, what happened to them’?
T. ‘Sorry Kirsty. I don’t know of any. As far as I’m aware none was charged and none was convicted, even of concealment of birth. [yet see Julie Poulter’s comment at the end of this post. Sydney Morning Herald 5 September 1850, p.3].
But this case might interest you. It concerns two sisters from Enniskillen workhouse, Alice and Jane Ball, Alice being the younger of the two. They were about 16 or 17 (ages are always a bit iffy) when they came to Port Phillip by the Diadem in January 1850. Fortunately both Board of Guardian Minute books and Indoor registers for Enniskillen have survived. The two young girls first entered in 1847 shortly after the workhouse was reported as being “in a miserable state of filth and irregularity”. They were both Protestant. Only one had work experience. And they had been living on the Enniskillen Commons.
We also know who first employed them in Melbourne , and on what terms. Sadly we next meet Alice in the Argus newspaper, 26 April, 1850, 29 April and again on the first of May. The newspaper entries concern the report of an inquest on Alice; she had drowned herself in the River Yarra. “There were some men on the bank of the river who threw reins to her, but she would not lay hold of them”. One of the witnesses, James Craig “deposed…Mrs Brown (in whose service the deceased was) told him she had gone to destroy herself, and that the deceased and her husband had been too intimate, and she (deceased) was in the family way…”. See page 2 cols.3 and 4 of’
K. ‘Oh my gosh. How terrible. Poor Alice. Where did she get all that shame and guilt, so powerful to make her take her own life, even when the horse reins were thrown to her? Where does all that come from? Was it social control? Religious belief? It’s an ethos that says sex is dirty and sinful, that mothers who have children outside wedlock will be denied forgiveness and love. They will be punished, forget the fathers, make the mothers pay, and most despicable of all, punish the little children. Deprive them of love, neglect them, fail to nourish them. It is a slaughter of the innocents. You are starting off along the road to the Magdalen laundries, the Tuam babies and the dreadful infant mortality at the Bessborough Children’s home. Sorry. Excuse my rant. It makes me angry. I’ve been reading the Mother and Baby Homes report. Australia doesn’t have an innocent history either.
T. ‘I’ll be sure to have a look at that report. To come back to infanticide, may i draw your attention to a poem that appeared in the Bulletin 4 May 1895, ‘Marian’s child’ by John Shaw Neilson, at the time of the Baby Farming scandal? In some measure it is sympathetic towards the mother, her friend Annie, and the baby but his refrain condemns the murderer to hell.
“First we thought of the river,
But the body might be found;
And it did not seem so cruel to bury it in the ground.
…Icarriedit down the garden—
The moon was bright outside.
…down at the foot of the garden,
Where the moon-made shadows fell,
I sold myself to the Devil
And bought a home in hell.“
It is certainly an emotionally charged subject. Even today there are plenty of people who see things in black and white, and are very judgemental. The law itself i think was more ambivalent. It wasn’t always easy to establish a baby was born alive, and to have incontrovertible evidence about its murder. In the cases I’ve looked at, not counting the Baby farming ones, there is rarely a death sentence acted upon. The “Mercy” option was always there. You are welcome to have a look at my notes, Kirsty. There are quite a few. The cases are usually Irish-Australian ones and no doubt you’ll want to cast your net wider, test for yourself if the law tended to be merciful towards women who ‘concealed a birth’ or who committed infanticide. And look too at what changes occurred over time.
Mental Health issues
One last thing, I’d love to hear if you come across any cases where due weight is given to the mental state of the mother, where the law has recognised the hormonal mayhem that sometimes accompanies a birth, or recognised the effects of post partum blues, and how depression and anxiety can really mess with your brain. I’m not aware of any such cases in the nineteenth century myself; it doesn’t mean they are not there. That sort of argument about diminished responsibility is sometimes found in defence lawyers’ submissions, no? But did their arguments swing the verdict? That’s another matter. In Alice Ball’s case the jury found that she ‘threw herself in the river while in a state of great mental excitement’. You’d think if they can do that for a case of suicide, they could do it for infanticide.
We really should talk to a lawyer or a legal historian, don’t you think’?
“Gosh Kirsty, long time no see. How have you been? What happened”?
“Trev, I’m really sorry not to have been in touch. I’ve been having a hard time in Iso. I needed to see someone about my mental health, and thankfully found the right person to help me. Only last week she prescribed some meds that i’m still getting used to. Seriously, though, I don’t want to abandon my research, even if any kind of academic future for me is out of the question.
“Ok. I very much agree with you: early career prospects are not looking good for anyone in the humanities at present. If you want to talk about this sometime, we can do so. But just for now, if you want to continue with your research, hoping things will improve eventually, you might have a look at a couple of my blogposts , that is, if you want to pursue the question, how many Earl Grey orphans came before the courts? Ten per cent? fifteen ? More? What do you think? Is this worth doing?
And the other is ‘More court cases’. Some of the problems I have with the topic, i mention briefly at the end of this second one. https://wp.me/p4SlVj-25B
You will notice in these posts how i am indebted to a young researcher, Julie Poulter. Maybe approach Julie to ask her about her project, ‘Orphans on the streets of Sydney’. She has a new website, http://www.quirkycharacters.com.au
That is the best way to get hold of her. You might like to ask her about her methods, and how she confirms it is Earl Grey orphans she’s found in the records.
But to begin, let me recap the rich detail of Victorian records. Here are a couple of examples, and problems.
The examples are taken from PROV VPRS 516Central Register of Female Prisoners (in Melbourne gaol) and PROV VPRS 521 Register of names, Particulars, and descriptions of prisoners received (in Melbourne women’s prison).
PROV is so good these days, researchers can work with many of these records online, establish cross linkages, and prepare beforehand a visit to the records themselves, in North Melbourne, when that becomes possible.
This is just a random selection from,
VPRS 516 Unit 1 (1855-61) Register of female prisoners
Number 34 Annette Skipper born 1831 Ireland per Panama to Sydney 1949 Free married 3 children
82 Margaret Walker b. 1823 Ireland per Lady Kennaway 1848 Free married
115 Mary Ann Bourke, Mary Farrell, Eliza Turner, Eliza Tyrell, Mary Tyrell b. 1823 Dublin per Roman Empress to Adelaide 1848
231 Elizabeth Maher/ Mair b.1832 Clonmell per Lady Kennaway 1848 free widow
454 Sarah Berry b. 1833 Ireland per Diadem free widow
624 Alice Fitzgerald/ Alice Ryan b. 1832 Ireland per Eliza Caroline to Melbourne 1848 free married
886 Margaret Jones 1832 Ireland per Pemberton to Melbourne 1848 free married.
937 Kate Strahan b 1835 Ireland per Diadem to Melbourne 1849, husband in Pentridge.
And from VPRS 521 vol. 1, 1853-57, Register of names, particulars and description of female prisoners. Please note a physical description is provided.
No. 129 October 1854 Amelia NottNew Liverpool 1849 born 1827 Free 3 convictions drunk of slender build fresh complexion dark brown hair grey eyes neither read nor write two small scars on the bridge of her nose born Jersey married servant 20 October for medical treatment.
Amelia was a frequent visitor to the Melbourne women’s prison. She is there again in February 1855 , number 291 and again no. 295 as Amelia Knottwith added detail of her height 5 foot one inch with a front upper tooth decayed, this time fined 20 shillings or 24 hours incarceration.
At number 334 she is described as a habitual drunkard, and at 472 she says she arrived by the New Liverpool arriving in 1850. She is there again at numbers 597 and 601, 883, 916, 1009, 1125, recording she had eleven previous convictions and her sentence increasing in severity, 3 calendar months 10 December 1855 to 10 March 1856.
Or Julia Driscoll 402 per Eliza Caroline 1848 born 1834, five foot five and a half inches, stout, fresh dark brown hair grey eyes neither read nor write slight scar top of nose Cork RC married felony for trial sent to Police Office April 1855.
She appears again at 412 , for stealing a shawl and is sent to prison for a month.
Or Julia Connolly per Eliza Caroline 1849 b. 1835 one previous 5’6” slight brown hair blue eyes neither read nor write Ireland Catholic married imprisoned for one calendar month no means of support.
Or in the next volume, no. 701 Bridget Allen per Pemberton 1851 b. 1932 7 previous 5’2” stout sallow brown hair grey eyes non literate Ireland Protestant married Williamstown to be kept lunacy 10 October 1857 sent to Yarra Bend 1 April 1858.
There are literally hundreds of such cases in Victorian prison records, of women found guilty of minor crimes, drunk and disorderly, without visible means of support, idle and disorderly, obscene language and the like. And despite the names of orphan ships appearing regularly, their date of arrival is rarely accurate. Did they forget or were some of them former convicts from Van Diemen’s land trying to pass themselves off as orphans. Many of them are married. Does that mean we will find them in early church records, or by ‘marriage’ do the the women mean common law marriage?
It seems to me that is a tough challenge. To establish that these women prisoners in Melbourne gaol in the 1850s, were in fact Earl Grey famine orphans is a formidable, even thankless, task”.
“I’m so glad you brought that up Trevor. I’ve been thinking the same; I’d be spending so much time and getting such a small return for my efforts. Maybe i would find the percentage of orphans was greater than the 10% most people suggest, maybe not. No big ting.
I’m still not sure how to to tell you what I’ve been thinking. I’m very interested in the research papers and notes you gave me on ‘Irish women before the law’ and wondered if i should do my thesis on that. I’ve jotted down a few things, basically focussing on one particular example to illuminate the ‘crime’ i had in mind. Here then are my first thoughts,
Mt Rennie and rape, NSW:
Johanna Sullivan, infanticide, concealment of birth, abortion, South Australia:
Ellen Thompson, murder, Queensland:
Some i haven’t examples for yet,
Inheritance, marriage and divorce:
Misdemeanours, prostitution, vagrancy, drunk and disorderly, petty theft, obscene language:
Activism, women and labour legislation, women and the vote. When are women ‘allowed’ to become lawyers Do you know?
My worry is that i have no training in the law, and little knowledge of the law in colonial Australia”.
“Same here, Kirsty. But when did that stop anyone? Let me ask around to see if there is someone who can help. Being interested and excited by your research project is very important”.
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
Let me continue with the fiction I created last time, a researcher wishing to find out more about the Irish workhouse orphans who went into institutional ‘care’ in Australia. This time, I’ll suggest we search for orphans who went into mental hospitals, whether in Fremantle, Sunbury, Woogaroo, Ararat, Yarra Bend, Adelaide Lunatic Asylum, Callan Park, Goodna, Gladesville, Ballarat, or wherever. It won’t be an easy task.
In these days of ‘quarantino’ Kirsty and myself shall communicate via Skype, Zoom or FaceTime. I told her ‘ Kirsty, there is no easy access to secondary sources, or to some of the people you need to meet. Neither is there access to the very rich archive of different Mental Hospitals across the country. None of this has been digitised as far as i know. Even at the best of times you may not have access to these records. When I did a teeny bit of work in this area some years ago, most Victorian records were on open access; NSW records had the rider that one should be careful not to hurt anyone; and Queensland records sometimes were available, sometimes not. I’m not sure what the position is with regards to West Australia and South Australia or Tasmania. I’d love to think these records are readily available. I believe the healthy option is to be up front and open about mental illness, yet always careful of an individual’s needs. Not everyone agrees with that.
‘I have a number of books on my shelves’, says Kirsty, “hysteria is the dis-ease of women in a patriarchal culture“, according to Claire Kahane. ‘That and other interpretations of the history of insanity will be worth pursuing if you decide to pursue this further’, said I. ‘It could be a very large subject. The sheer size of original sources, never mind secondary ones, is daunting. Here are a couple of examples from case histories which by law, these institutions were required to keep. [For example, 1845 Act for the regulation and care and treatment of lunatics, 8 and 9 Vic . c. 100].
“Although the Big House was not hell for everybody, it was definitely limbo for most poor souls”. (Hanna Greally, Bird’s Nest Soup, 1971)
The following case is from Woogaroo which later became Goodna and then Wollston Park Mental Hospital in Queensland.
“Ellen (I’ll not mention her second name) 23y.o single, domestic servant from Co. Clare Ireland residing Ipswich RC suffering from melancholia…readmitted 25 Jan 1871 (thenceforward there are yearly notes 1871-1898) eg. March 24 1884 sometimes makes an extraordinary noise between a screech and a croak while she is at work…March 1885 industrious in laundry but when at home sits with folded arms and her hat down over her eyes“. Ellen suffered from ‘religious mania’.
‘With this kind of detail in the records, surely we can find Earl Grey orphans who went into these institutions, when the time comes’ says Kirsty?
‘Do you think we can’? I replied. ‘I never went through these records searching for orphans in any systematic way. One would need to know the young women’s marital history in great detail, including their common law marriages, and know about all the uncertainties relating to their age, place of origin, who provided the information to the authorities, and the like. Anyway, here’s the handful of examples I happened across. I’ll start with the Port Phillip examples’.
From the Lady Kennaway shipping list we know that Bridget was a 14 year old nurse from Dunfanaghy, Donegal, RC, who could neither read nor write and who brought with her a prayer book and testament. In the record above she is described as a ‘congenital idiot’.
Eliza Armstrong per Diadem was a 16 yo Anglican from Enniskillen, Fermanagh who had entered the workhouse without any fixed address. She was described in the Yarra Bend record as suffering from paralysis and dementia.
Interestingly I recorded in my own notes (VPRS 7417/P1/1A p.88, at number 37) Eliza Armstrong, from the Colonial Surgeon’s Hospital, 17 yo pauper per Derwent 1850. There was a Bessy Armstrong on board the Derwent who hailed from Lisnaskea, Fermanagh. And to complicate matters even further, there also was an Eliza Armstrong admitted to Yarra Bend 26 October 1848 (before the official arrival of any of the Earl Grey orphans). She was described as suffering from chronic dementia, dangerous, and being ‘not in a good state of bodily health’. That poor woman stayed in Yarra Bend for 64 years until she died in 1912.
Professor Malcolm tells us both our orphans, Bridget and Eliza, were released ‘cured’ after only a few months stay in Yarra Bend Asylum, suggesting the young women may have used the asylum for their own ends, “as a means of escaping from intolerable living conditions”. But you will notice how tricky it is to confirm we have found an Earl Grey orphan in the Mental Asylum records. The next couple of cases did not end up in an asylum but they so easily could have done so.
Margaret Gorman from Donegal Union per Lady Kennaway
This 15 year old was described by the Port Phillip authorities as an ‘imbecile’ who suffered from fits. She would most likely have ended up in an asylum, perhaps even a mental asylum, had it not been for the Chief Matron, Mrs Ensor.
Have a look at my blog post 35, https://earlgreysfamineorphans.wordpress.com/2016/06/05/earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-35/ and scroll down to item 50/93, to a letter dated 20 /3/1850. There is information there from Irish authorities defending their sending Margaret to Australia under the Earl Grey scheme. They eventually found that information about her being subject to fits had been ‘carefully kept from Captain Herbert, Lieutenant Henry, and the Medical Officer’ of the workhouse.
The letter from James Patterson to the Superintendent recommends, and i quote, “Mrs Ensor will take charge of this orphan for a period of twelve months, and will feed and clothe her and endeavour to instruct her so that she may be able to go into service” “in return for a small remuneration”. As Kelly says,’Thank Goodness for kindly Mrs Ensor’.
Anne Muldoon from Ballyshannon workhouse per Inchinnan
For information about Anne I am indebted to Brian Harris. See her story in Brian’s brilliant blog, ‘From Prisons and Poorhouses’,
We know Ellen was in a mental hospital, only because she told the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum that she spent some time in Goodna. Imagine looking for her using the names of her six husbands, Jones, Stanley, Heffernan, Dwyer, Munro, Hickson. It appears that Ellen too may have used the Asylum ‘to escape from intolerable living conditions’.
Ellen Brady or Brodie from Kilrush per Pemberton
Dr McIntyre recentlyreminded me of this case from my Barefoot. The information originally came from Ellen’s descendant. Ellen married John Wall in Geelong in 1852 and had five children with him. The family later moved to Batesford and Dean but by 1867 Ellen was in Ararat Hospital. That is where she died, in January 1883.
Kirsty asked. ‘Did you find out what happened to Bridget Ferry, Eliza Armstrong and Margaret Gorman? Maybe they went back into an institution later in life’.
‘Good point’ i said, ‘No, i haven’t. Linking diverse records is crucial to this study. Births, deaths, marriages, Hospital records, Prison records, they can lead us to our orphans in Mental Asylum records’.
‘I’m worried’, says Kirsty, ‘There are only three mentioned here who actually went into an asylum. The subject looks overwhelming. Do i begin by going back to Foucault, Freud, Elaine Showalter and the rest? Those case histories you showed me are so sad. Why did these immigrant Irish women end up in an asylum? I read an essay by the late Sister Mary MacGinley where she argued that family standing was what bestowed status, and it’s among Irish families of standing we find the climbers, those determined to establish themselves. At the other end of the spectrum, are the vulnerable ones, and i would assume she includes here immigrant women who lacked a strong support network, or who couldn’t cope with their intolerable living conditions, such as abuse by their husband, postpartum depression, poverty, intemperance, vagrancy, abandonment, and other hardships’.
“That’s good’, i said. ‘You are already thinking about what you said last time; it’s not about numbers, it’s about exploring the underbelly of colonial society, or something to that effect. Let’s first try and find a few more orphans who went into a mental asylum, and then we’ll see where we go from there.Were they more likely to go into such an institution in their old age, for example’?
Women Residents in the Newington Asylum c. 1890. From the State Library of NSW Picture Collection SPF/1170
Postscript: I almost forgot. Jaki McCarrick has an interesting piece about her play ‘Belfast Girls’ in the April edition of tintean.org.au
Reading the excellent series of orphan stories, written by descendants, in the free online magazine tintean.org.au has reminded me of something else we need to do: that is, make a thorough search for those orphans who spent time in an institution in Australia, whether it be prison, a Benevolent asylum, a mental hospital, an Industrial school, a Lying-In hospital, or an asylum for destitute children. [ Should we widen the search to include the orphans’ children] ?
I’ve said before the numbers involved were not large, probably only ten percent of the whole. That is a familiar gut-reaction. But it is a gut reaction: we shouldn’t make up our minds and prejudice the results of our research before it is complete. It is becoming easier to do that research as more and more primary sources are digitised, and made available online. Trove is the obvious example. There are others. See http://www.geelonginfirmary.net/how_to_use.htm
But that search for ‘Irish orphans in Asylums’ is still a daunting project, one that may require a team of researchers, especially if the intention is to cover the whole of Australia. If a student came to me with such a project proposal, I would ask him or her, ‘is it do-able? Show me how’. The student might reply, ‘it’s not about numbers. Sure, there will be records that haven’t survived. It’s more than that. It’s about digging deeper; it’s about truth-telling; it’s about discovering the darker side of Australian life some of these Irish orphans endured.’
Benevolent Asylum Dunwich records
Note how informative these records can be. But they don’t always allow us to identify our Irish orphan ‘girls’.
No 89 Ellen Flynn or Cunningham admitted 21 August 1879 from Toowoomba Hospital having lost her sight for the last six months. She was from King’s County, Ireland, daughter of John Dooley, a farmer. She was Roman Catholic, could read and write, and married John Flynn at Wollongong when she was 17 and he, 23. Her husband was a Lockup Keeper at Tenterfield. He died about thirteen years ago. She had seven children alive, three were in Tenterfield, two in Roma, two in Warwick. Two girls had died. She came to Sydney with friends as an immigrant per Tippoo Saib about 1855. She lived in New South Wales for many years. Her husband was 12 years in the Police.
Now is this the orphan Ellen Dooley who arrived by the Tippoo Saib in 1850? The information so far accords with the information provided by Ellen’s descendant, Ann Faraday, for my Barefoot volume 2.Ann had no record of Ellen after 1861.
This Ellen married again in 1885 to Michael Cunningham, himself an inmate of Dunwich. The Register records her frequent stays in the Benevolent Asylum and when she was absent on leave, from 1887 to her death 16 September 1898.
No 259 Eliza Scholes admitted October 10th 1889 from Brisbane Hospital suffering from rheumatism. She was from Belfast, Ireland, a domestic servant, Church of England, could read and write, daughter of Anthony Rodgers, engraver, and Jane Harver. [Now you would need to know that an Eliza Rogers daughter of Anthony and Jane was one of the infamous Belfast girls on board the Earl Grey who were banished directly to Moreton Bay in 1848.] Eliza said she was married in Brisbane at age 14 to Charles J. Worth (dead) and at age 42 in Sydney to Jacob Scholes (address unknown, last heard of in Victoria), 7 children by her first marriage. Addresses unknown all in Queensland…No property, no cash. She was last seen by the Medical Superintendent Nov. 21 1894. She died and was buried a day later 22 Nov. 1894. [ElizaScholeswas an inmate of Toowoomba Women’s prison serving three months for vagrancy in 1888, and six months, early in 1889].
NO 453 Ellen Agnes Hickson admitted October 29 1895 from Goodna Asylum, daughter of John Leyden, farmer and Mary Cronin. [This is another orphan who arrived by the Thomas Arbuthnot in 1850. She has appeared already at the end of my post about “Some Sad Stories” https://earlgreysfamineorphans.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-9/ Once again you will need prior knowledge to recognise Ellen as one of the Earl Grey Irish Famine orphans].
No 498 Mary Clark admitted 19 January 1897. She was from the Brisbane Depot suffering from a bad leg. She was from Belfast, Ireland, Roman Catholic, could read, daughter of Charles Murray, a leather cutter, and Mary Donnelly. She married twice, first to William Campbell when she was 26 at Armadale (sic), NSW, and second, to John Edward Clark when she was 34, also at Armadale. She had four children by her first marriage, three of whom lived at an address unknown,. The fourth, Charlotte Campbell was married to H. Lambourne in South Melbourne. ‘Came to Australia 49 years ago by Ship Roman Emperorlanded at Adelaide S. A. stayed there 18 years, went to N.S.W, lived there 15 years then came to Brisbane and staid (sic) there ever since.
Last 2 years at Brisbane working and assisted by the Benevolent Societies and Government, and at Brisbane Depot’. The giveaway here allowing us to identify Mary as one of the orphan ‘girls’, is the name of her ship and the date and place of its arrival.
No 506 Ann Gregory admitted 16 March 1897, born in Boyle, Ireland, a housewife and ladies’ nurse, can read and write, daughter of Andrew Heggerty and Salina Reynolds. [Ann Haggerty arrived in Sydney with her sister Catherine, the daughters of Andrew and Sarah, both dead, from Boyle, Roscommon, by the Digby in 1849. Both had their indentures cancelled in the Sydney Water Police Office and sent to Moreton Bay]. Ann married John Gregory when she was 18, in Brisbane. According to the information she gave the Benevolent Asylum, she came to Australia in 1848 and landed in Brisbane, She had lived in Rockhampton, Charters Towers and Brisbane, and had no money and no property. She died 30 May 1900.
No 549 Eliza Dwyer admitted May 4 1898 from Brisbane suffering from bronchitis, born Belfast, Ireland, Roman Catholic, housewife, can read and write, daughter of John Frazer, Bootmaker, and Margaret Gallagher, married Edward Dwyer when 20yo at Brisbane, husband dead 4 years, 5 children alive, one dead, has information about the other 4, came to Australia 50 years ago, landed Moreton Bay, been in Brisbane ever since as nurse and housework etc, last 2 years living with daughter Ipswich Road. No property, no money. Last seen by Medical Superintendent 1 December 1903, died 2 December 1903, buried 3 December 1903. [Eliza Frazer was one of the “Belfast girls” on board the Earl Grey, sent directly to Moreton Bay by Surgeon Douglass].
Ellen Dooley, Eliza Rogers, Ellen Leyden or Lydon, Mary Murray, Ann Haggerty and Eliza Frazer were all ‘Earl Grey Irish workhouse orphans’.
‘There are even two women in the Register who arrived by the James Pattinson the vessel that brought young Irish women to Sydney in 1836; Susan Gillan from Mountmellick, daughter of Edward Finlay and Mary Keogh, and Jane Richards nee Turkington’, i said to the student.
‘The project is a goer’, says my student. ‘I’ll need to look at the Registers again to see if there are some you’ve missed. Trove will also open up more information i’m sure. I certainly won’t leave anyone in limbo. There is a lot i can do. I’ve already had a look at a doctoral thesis at the University of Queensland. Dr Goodall says Dunwich was far from the ideal retreat some contemporaries claimed it was. ‘Inmates quickly developed institutional behaviours…they were subject to overcrowding, senseless regimentation, little or no recreational opportunities…infantilisation and poor quality and unappetising food, he says’.
It doesn’t sound like they had a good quality of life in the end. And look how many Irish women go there towards the end of their life.
It will be interesting to see what Benevolent Asylum records in Sydney and Melbourne throw up. I’ll have to get permission to gain access to some of those particular records, won’t I.’
‘Are you thinking of narrowing down your project already’? i answered. ‘What about the orphans who went to gaol, or into a mental asylum? Maybe we should talk about this next time’.
Just in case you haven’t heard already, the Irish-Oz online magazine http://tintean.org.au intends running a series of orphan histories over the next few months, beginning this Saturday 7 September.
Last month, August 2019, the editors approached me to help organize it. I was happy to do so for their philosophy is very much in line with my own. Open access to knowledge lies at the core of every republic of letters.
I am also an acquaintance/friend of one of Tinteán‘s editors whose work i happen to admire. She is a world authority on James Joyce and Joseph Furphy, and an editor of great skill and integrity who will do the contributors proud.
A small number of people have accepted an invitation to write a short narrative history of ‘their’ orphan ‘girl’. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. It is wonderful to see the orphans stay close to you 170 years after their arrival in Australia.
The first history will appear 7 September inst. How long the series runs will depend on how it’s received, i imagine. Would you like to subscribe to the magazine? It’s free, and easy to unsubscribe. See the top right hand of this webpage https://tintean.org.au/about/ And don’t be afraid of letting us know your reaction.
How many millihelens (the word is from Sinéad Morrissey’s On Balance) would it take to launch another series, do you think?
Allow me to update the contents of my blog. By clicking on the url you will be taken to the post. The titles are not that informative. But note the Search Box at the end of the post that should take you to wherever you want to go. Goodness me. Try typing ‘Hyde Park Barracks Monument’ or ‘Irish sources’ or the name of a particular orphan. Good luck.
Memory is a funny thing. I just knew i had collated some of my early findings in Workhouse Indoor Registers on a file for the journal Familia, and whilst searching for that, i came across these pics. They were from Paula V., whose Dutch surname i cannot spell. There was an accompanying letter too. Now where is that? Did i give it to Marie and Perry back in the day with my other 800 or so letters from orphan descendants? Nah. I’m sure i saw it later than that. But where on earth can it be? Do i have to rely on my memory for its contents? Let’s hope my memory is reliable.
Paula even mentioned she had sought assurance from a former colleague and good friend of mine, David Bollen, in Goulburn. Yes, David said, she was on the right track. Her orphan descendant, Eliza Mahon from Carlow had arrived by the Lady Peel in 1849. Paula and her husband even went to Ireland, and visited Carlow in search of Eliza.
The ancestral link is along the female line. Can you see any resemblance between Eliza Mahon above, and Dr Julia Baird? The eyes? The forehead? The cheekbones? Or, to quote “The Castle”, should I “tell him he’s dreamin'”?
Paula’s letter, if i remember correctly, told me she employed a researcher in Ireland. But he found no records of Eliza in Church of Ireland (Anglican) records, and suggested she may have ‘converted’ during the Famine in order to receive some food. Yet there’s no trace of Eliza’s baptism in Catholic records for Carlow either.
When she arrived in Sydney in July 1849, according to the Lady Peel shipping list, Eliza was only fifteen years old, from Carlow, the daughter of James and Catherine Mahon, and a member of the Established church (Anglican).
Taking up the suggestion of Paula’s researcher, I looked for Eliza in the Catholic baptismal records for the parish of Carlow and Grague https://registers.nli.ie/parishes/0697 and found 5 January 1830, Mary Mahon daughter of James and Ann Mahon, and 5 December 1836, John son of John and Catherine Mahon of Pollardstown Road. Neither one had the appropriate pair of parent’s names.
Does anyone have access to the baptismal records of St Mary’s Anglican church in Carlow? Can we check again to see if there’s any trace of Eliza?
Or should we be looking elsewhere? Does anyone have access to things like ‘Find my Past’?
Irish workhouse indoor registers
Here, from my 1987 Familia article, are a few more examples of Earl Grey orphans from extant workhouse Indoor Registers mostly in the north of Ireland. One of the things i value most about these workhouse registers is that they bring us close to the orphans themselves, for a moment. And they allow us to review the question, “who were the female orphans”?
Have a Go
I can almost feel the quickening of your pulse when you discover something new about your orphan ancestor. It can be a wonderfully inspiring feeling. But before you view the examples i’ve provided below, may i ask you to try something challenging? That is, take off the blinkers you wear when you are chasing your own particular orphan ‘girl’. Look around. Use your peripheral vision. Let’s see if we can set aside the saccharine formulae, and imposition of present-day values on the past that are part and parcel of genealogical service providers, and television programmes. Set aside the sugar coating and feelgood elements we all prefer to find. Try putting ourselves in the shoes of the “others”.
‘Your’ orphan was one of the Famine survivors, after all. Unlike Paul Lynch’s Colly, the young brother of Grace, the subject of his moving 2017 novel. The four jet-black pages towards the end of the novel are preceded by four or five pages of young Colly dying of hunger.
…gagsmell — that was a rat are the rats not all eaten–don’t sick all over yourself the smell—there it is now bring to mouth–
…listen listen listen listen listen–why can’t I hear me–why can’t you hear me…mister don’t lift me..don’t lift don’t lift not into this cart…
Paul Lynch, Grace, pp.293-4.
Or if you are feeling ambitious, put yourself in the shoes of Garry Disher’s Her in country Victoria in the first years of the twentieth century. “Her”, she has no name, sold for a pittance, a young life tied together with pieces of foraged string. Novelists often bring us closer to the emotional life of the past, than do historians, do they not?
Varied circumstances; what did the orphans bring with them?
What we find in these Workhouse Indoor Registers is not just an understanding of how many– large numbers of– people lived at or below the poverty line. They show the variety of circumstances ‘our orphans’ emerged from as well.
Some ‘orphans’, not many, were in the workhouse from their early childhood, almost as soon as the workhouse opened its doors, confined by its walls, imprisoned by its regulations. What did that experience do to your soul, your outlook on life, your mental state?
Other young women, as Dympna McLoughlin suggests, lived a life on the begging road, only seasonally entering the workhouse, out of the cold at winter-time, leaving when they were ready, or seeking the emigrant’s escape if it was offered.
See Dympna’s chapter on ‘Subsistent Women’ in the Atlas of the Great Irish Famine or my blogpost at https://wp.me/p4SlVj-4X
about half way down.
Or there, look, that is a little family isolated or abandoned by other family members, battered by illness, or unemployment, or infirmity, getting up, knocked down again, and again, and again, and again, until ground into the dirt, swallowed by the poverty trap.
The orphans did not start out with the same ‘mentality’, or the same outlook on life. And what of those who left behind a young brother who had ‘gone over the wall’, their mother and sickly sister still in the workhouse? Inside their ‘luggage’, that 6″ X 12″ X 18″ wooden box, was their ‘outfit’ and Douay Bible. But hidden inside there was also a parcel of guilt, and bereavement.
And after viewing the examples below, you may be inspired to ask if the impact of the Famine on these northern Irish orphans was very different from that experienced by other orphans, from Galway, or Mayo, or Cork, or Tipperary, for example. There are lots of things you can explore to help you place your individual Irish orphan in her appropriate historical context
Let me show you these examples from my file. (Some people may not have access to that 1987 Familia article of mine). At last! i hear you say. Not all the examples are connected to a present-day descendant. Nor is this one,
Mother and Daughter: Catherine Tomnay from Armagh per Earl Grey
Catherine appears in PRONI record BG2/G/1 as Catherine Tomaney. At entry 456 she is described as the child of entry 322, Elenor Tomaney, a 59 year old RC widow, no calling, healthy, Armagh, coming in to the workhouse 1 February 1842 and leaving 14 October that year. Catherine was 16 but left the house earlier than her mother, on 15 August.
Yet soon after, at entry number 1166, Catherine re-enters the workhouse 1 September, and this time is described as ‘destitute’. She and her mother are regular ‘visitors’ to the workhouse throughout the 1840s until Catherine leaves 25 May 1848 to join other Earl Grey orphans on their way to Australia.
Having entered 1 September 1842, Catherine leaves again with her mum on 14 October. Then at entry numbers 1474 and 1475, 12 January 1843, Ellen is described as being ‘delicate’, and Catherine ‘unhealthy’. This time, the mother leaves 10 April 1843, Catherine not until 8 April 1844.
Once more at entry 3899, Elenor re-enters the workhouse 29 November 1845. This time she is described as a 62 year old widow who is “tolerably well”, from Armagh City. She leaves 16 March 1846.
Independently of her mother, (3967) Catherine comes back into the workhouse 13 December 1845 and is described as a 19 year old single Roman Catholic without calling who is thinly clothed and dirty, from Armagh City. This time, once again, she leaves with her mother 16 March 1846.
Finally, at entry 4536, Catherine is registered as Catherine Tamoney a Roman Catholic single female 19 years old who is thinly clothed and hungry, from Armagh City, entering the workhouse 7 March 1846, and leaving 25 May 1848. [Note the discrepancy re her surname and her date of entry].
My early findings, with a few annotations
I did find the file i was looking for. So here at last are some more examples of young female orphans inside their Ulster workhouse. They originally appeared in my 1987 Familia article. Since then, independently too, some of them were researched by their descendants. Some were not and still are not. Maybe more descendants will emerge as new generations are bitten by the family history bug.
The examples here are all Port Phillip arrivals, coming by the Derwent, and a few by the Diadem. They are from Indoor workhouse records for Armagh, Ballymoney, Downpatrick, Enniskillen and Magherafelt held in PRONI which is nowadays in the Titanic Centre in Belfast, should anyone wish to view the original records for themselves. Let me know if you have trouble reading them. My annotations are pretty scrawly.
Luci continues working with material gathered from her conversation with me at the end of 2018. Luci, I’ll see if I can add this second episode to post 65 where the first one appeared. https://wp.me/p4SlVj-2cy
That way we can keep them all together. I’m very impressed with what you have achieved. Congratulations, and best wishes, Trevor.
Let me see if i can create a fallback link in case people cannot go directly to the Soundcloud one. I must be doing something wrong. doh.
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 thesurface, at least, conditions appear to have been no better. HelyDutton, in his StatisticalSurvey of County Clare, Dublin,1808, claims it was customary for married women in County Clare towalk down the street a few paces behind their husbands! Irishproverbs and sayings are often derogatory towards women:
‘Women are stronger than men, theydo not die of wisdom.’
‘A woman told me that a woman toldher that she saw a woman who saw a woman who made ale of potatoes.’
‘Never make a toil of pleasure, asthe 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 byparents; and, respecting which, there is as much higgling as aboutany other bargain. Girls are extremely obedient; and sometimes neversee the bridegroom until the moment of the marriage; for it notunfrequently happens that the girl’s father and the intended husbanddiffer, about a pig, or a chair, or a table, less or more; andanother ‘boy’, who chances to stand in need of a wife, making a moreliberal offer, he is accepted and the first lover discarded.
H.D. Inglis, Ire/andin 1834: Ajourney throughout Ire/and during the Spring, Summer and Autumn of1834, 2 vols, London 1835,vol. 1, p. 129.
Inglis also observed (vol. 2, p. 142):
… [less affection] between manand wife, among the country people in Ireland, than is found to adorndomestic life in the humbler spheres on the other side of the water… Marriage… is seldom the result of long and tried affection onboth sides but is either a rash step, taken by unthinking children,or else a meremercenarybargain, in which the woman has little voice, and in which herpartner 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 onthe mercenary nature of the marriage contract, a practice notuncommon in traditional peasant societies we might hasten to add, butnonetheless one which reflects social values in which women’s viewswere seldom held in high esteem. Patrick Kavanagh, in The GreenFool, suggests a materialbasis to these patriarchal social values:
“Oh, God, what did I do on youat all”, I once heard a man say after God had sent him the thirdconsecutive daughter. No wonder he was displeased with Providence:daughters were a fragile and expensive commodity.
On the other hand, the Halls allude tothe immense power wielded by the Irish mother in her own house andover her own sons:
… when she grows old, the motherof the husband rules, not only him but his home and his wife; andyoung girls have always a great dread of ‘the mother-in-law overthem’, but in their turn they rule, and with the same power and thesame results.
(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.
“We hopethat Sir Richard McDonnell, in the course of his peregrinationsthrough the various public establishments, will not omit to look inat the Female Immigrants’ Depot on North Terrace. There issomething to be seen there which requires his instant attention. Hewill find there between 300 and 400 strong healthy girls, all withvigorous appetites, living idly at public expense. They have beensent to this colony at an expense of nearly £20 per head by theColonial Land and Emigration Commissioners. By a fiction in whichthese Commissioners are fond of indulging, they are called “domesticservants”, and have been ostensibly shipped to these shores for thepurpose of occupying that position in the social scale, and in answerto a demand for a supply of female immigrants of that description.But they are not “domestic servants”, and never have been.”(TheSouth Australian Register, Tuesday,June 19, 1855)…
“From thedraft documents subjoined [acircular to all District Councils and Stipendiary and ResidentMagistrates asking if there was a need for female domestic servantsand female farm labourers in their area, and what measures can betaken to house them] itwill be seen that the Government are preparing to deal with the greatsocial problem of Irish female immigration. That the time had nowcome when the interests of the colony demand a faithful considerationof this question, no one will dispute. The number of Irish femaleimmigrants now subsisting on the public revenue, and expected withinthree weeks is 800! There is not the slightest hope, under existingarrangements, of greatly diminishing this fearful total ofdestitution and pauperism. Every day from five to eight of thesefemales return from service, and become again chargeable to thepublic purse. The cost of supporting the 800, including rent,superintendence and food, is estimated at £20 per diem, or £350 perweek—a sum quite sufficient to awaken the concern of the mostapathetic or indifferent among us.
The onlyplaces at present available for the reception of these unfortunatedependents upon pubic charity are so overcrowded, that more than 30women sleep at night in a room 16 feet square. Scarcely anyconvenience exists for, cooking provisions, or for preserving theordinary decencies of life. The result is that the moral tone of thecolony is being fearfully undermined, whilst the institutions ofBritish pauperism, in their worst form, threaten to establishthemselves permanently among us.”(Register,Thursday, June 28, 1855)…
“The mostdoleful announcement now made through the medium of the newspaper isthat which informs us, morning after morning, of the huge and stillincreasing number of immigrants at the Depot, of a class whollyunsuited to the wants of the colony…There are hundreds more comingof the same class with which we are already deluged, and unless weput a peremptory stop to the present system, our female Irishpaupers, insteadofbeing counted by hundreds, will be counted by thousands. There areyet abundant supplies in the Irish workhouses, and no lack of fundsin the hands of the Emigration Commissioners. Remonstrances have beensent to England without avail.”(Register,Tuesday,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”.
The government’scircular (see above) produced and crystallized objections, both tothe ‘excessive and unsuitable nature’ nature of the migrants andto their “Irishness”, without overtly saying so. Thus James Brandat Evandale, the hundred of North Rhine, replies to the Governmentcircular that ‘the proportion of English settlers is small comparedwith that of Germans’ and ‘there are some Irish families and Ithink a few Irish females might find employment as farm servants’.But, for domestic servants, ‘some have already obtained situationsbut their conduct in many cases has been such as to induce their employers to determine that theywill not take into their houses persons whose habits, education andreligion are frequently the source of much inconvenience andannoyance’(my italics GRG 24/6 2227). Or, from Henry Seymour at MosquitoPlains, ‘my impression is that if we had Irish servants generallywe should be most uncomfortable’ (2233).
Not that thepolicy of distributing the young women throughout the colony was anunmitigated success, especially if we view the practice from thewomen’s point of view. A researcher sometimes needs reminding notto accept the sources at face value and that ‘reading against thegrain’ is most illuminating. That is one way of identifying withthe women. Occasionally we see traces of their feistiness. InNovember 1855 the Surgeon Superintendent of the Orientalreported, “Thereappears to be a fixed feeling of dissatisfaction in the Colony at thegreat influx of Irish emigrants sent out…The great objection tothem is that they are obstinate and will not obey orders and likewisethat they know nothing of domestic habits”. (SAA GRG 35/48 Ship’sPapers 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 samelocation is found extracts from the StAloysius College (Sevenhills) Marriage register.Again make allowances for mistakes in my transcription. A JudithO’Brien married Aloysius Kranewitter(?) 5 February 1856 atMintaroo; Johanna O’Leary m Robert Giles 10 June 1856 at Kooringa;Ellen Moore m John McKenzie, 20 January 1857; Cathy Rynne(?) m OwenClarke 24 Feb. 1857; Elizabeth Donovan m John Hearn 21 March 1857;Mary Green m James Luke 27 April 1857; Johanna Fitzgerald m JosephTilgner 4 October 1857 at Kooringa; Hanna Fitzgerald m Thomas JEverett 7 November 1587; Mary Coppinger (see above in the employeelist and on the Nashwauk)m John Langton 15 November 1857 at Kooringa; Johanna Shay m ThomasCastle 13 January 1858; Catherine Ryan m Jacob Dai 27 June 1858; MaryO’Leary m John Edwards 4 December 1858; Bridget Ryan m John Magner2 July 1859 at Mintaroo, and Catherine Ryan married Martin Banan 7December 1859. Perhaps unbeknownst to you, you have one of thesewomen 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 youwell know, family history can be a treacherous quest. Note thedifference between some of the names as they appear in the minutes ofevidence and as they appear in the ‘Proceedings of SelectCommittee’ that precedes the minutes. Honor Kennedy was recorded inthe ‘Proceedings’ as Honor Kermoody, Mary Ring as Mary King,Elisabeth Cagney as Elizabeth Kagney, Elisabeth Williams as ElizabethFitzwilliams 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
From Melbourne,2 October 1855 James Byrnes addressed his letter to the SouthAustralian Immigration Agent,
You willoblige me by sending me the directions of Honora Hogan and MargaretHogan sisters who came out by the ship Harlequin Comm. By CaptainPayne the(y) wrote two letters to my wife Ellen Hickey and I rote diletters to them and got no reply so you will oblige me if they are inthe depot to give them this letter or if not to let me know wherethe(y) are so as I will know where to write to them for when I getan account from them I will pay their passage by return of post downto Melburn direct your letter to James Barry Harvst Home QueensStreet Melbourne for James Byrnes”
On the 13thFebruary 1856, William Marcus of Penola wrote enquiring after AnneJames Williamson of Drumgarlic, Newbliss, Monaghan, Ireland and wastold she had been hired whilst on board the FitzJames.12 July 1856 there is an enquiry from Mrs Therese Sheehan fromWellington in New Zealand about her daughter on the Isleof Thanet, “…giveher (Mary Ann Sheehan) the enclosed (note) not as I think she willlet me know where to find her …it is a long time since I left herat home she was only a child”. (The ‘children left behind’ is aneglected 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 inNew South Wales and Victoria. Sometimes they provide us with preciseplaces of origin. Mary Donavan of Kilkee, county Clare enquires ofher daughter Johanna per NorthernLight; anenquiry from William McCausland of Sharn, ManorCunningham, countyDonegal about his daughter Bridget per Europa;from David Beatty, Lisnadill, Armagh about his sister in law MaryMcCormick or from the uncle of Teresa Clarke per Nimrodin William Street, Lurgan, Ireland.
Some are lettersof desperation such as that from Bridget Murrey in Dublin about thesafe arrival of her daughter Sarah,
“And I begof you if there is any humanity in your country to relieve a brokenhearted parent from the chains of sorrow and anxiety of mind forneither night or day do I know one peaceful hour. This is the tenthletter 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,Adelaide’ isthe reply.
(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 theliberty of writing a few lines to see if you would be so kind as totrouble yourself so much with me as to let me know if I could get anyof my brothers or sisters out to me as I should verry much wish tobring them out here to do well as I have got on well since I came outto this colony. I was one of the passengers on the FitzJames. I leftthe vessel to go to Mr Goldsack I stopt there seven months I am nowliving with Mr White ever since—I am thankful to government for mypassage and as I have no one to tell me anything about emigration Itooke the liberty of writing to you as I thought you knew all aboutit I hope I have not taken too much Fredom as to ask you to let meknow I should very much wish to have some of them out here I am sureif they get out they would not be a burden on the colony after theirlanding here so if you be pleased to write me a few lines to let meknow I shall be much oblidged to your Honour for your trouble withme. Aldinga,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.