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 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.
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.