A FEW MORE ORPHAN STORIES
One of the advantages of this blogging business is that you can lay your cards on the table however you like. Some of what I’ve done already is all of a jumble, set down and put out as I came across material in my filing cabinets. The beauty of it is, nothing is set in stone. My intention is to revisit some of my more substantive posts when I get the chance. Post 16 http://wp.me/p4SlVj-h8 looks as though it could do with some reworking, for example.
In the meanwhile, here are a couple more stories I hope you will like. South Australian Irish Famine orphans are relatively neglected. It may be because there weren’t so many of them or maybe they are just hard to trace. Let me suggest some avenues of research which I hope may have wider application. I’m just casting a net and hoping when I drag it to shore I’ll have an interesting catch.
Mary Taafe from Dublin per Inconstant to Adelaide
Mary was to live a long life with her convict husband, Samuel Dunn from Nottingham. After marrying, the couple moved quickly to Victoria where Mary was to give birth to fourteen children, nine boys and five girls, three of them dying in infancy or childhood. She herself lived till she was ninety.
It must have been Dawn Barbary who sent me this. Thankyou Dawn. Dawn supplied the names of her and Samuel’s childrens’ spouses, Hanns Wanned, Niels Jorgens, Nellie Plunkett, W. Renison, Tom Lucas, and Maud Tr…. Maybe their descendants have yet to discover they have an Irish Famine orphan in their family.
Our starting point, as always, must be the Irish Famine Memorial database for it has the most up to date information. There in synopsis is what is known about Mary. I wonder if Eliza was Mary’s older sister. That would mean she had a younger sister called Ellen and a mother called Mary. What kind of proof would we need for that?
I remember working with those North and South Dublin workhouse Registers in 1987. They were large, heavy registers closely packed with names which were sometimes difficult to read. Nowadays you can gain access to these Dublin registers online if you subscribe to findmypast.ie
In the North Dublin Register (National Archives of Ireland [NAI] BG 78/G/6 number 30984) Mary was described as being ‘in good health‘ and from Jervis Street in the city. Jervis Street runs directly north from the Ha’penny Bridge, not far from the city centre. Not that Mary would recognise it today. In Mary’s case, the Workhouse Register explicitly states, “sent to Australia“, as indeed it did for some others, Bridget Fay (28228), Eliza Harricks (29777), Mary Ann Newman (BG78/G/5 No.20650) and in G4, no.14640, Rebecca Thompson. Mostly, however, one has to use the method I described in blog post number five, http://wp.me/p4SlVj-4X See about a third of the way down under “Identifying the female orphans”.
The next step is to Peter Higginbotham’s brilliant work on workhouses to find out more about the workhouse Mary was in. See http://workhouses.org.uk/DublinNorth/
That is one excellent website, worth the many hours I’ve spent exploring it.
Casting the net a second time, I dragged ashore an article by Flinders University academic, Mark Staniforth, that treats the orphans who came to Adelaide on the Inconstant. Do have a look for yourself
Dr Staniforth also offers information about individual orphans, some of it originating with family historians. Mary Taafe is one such, where the claim is made that Eliza was indeed her sister. But no proof of that is offered there. I believe it is important to always ask, how do you know that, what evidence do you have, and how reliable is your evidence? Is your claim based on hard fact or have you taken imaginative license or a leap of faith? Just so long as you state clearly what the position is.
Catherine Bracken from Parsonstown
And to emphasise how treacherous this ‘telling orphan stories’ can be, compare Dr Staniforth’s brief biography of Catherine Bracken with Karen Semken’s that appears on the Irish Famine memorial website at http://irishfaminememorial.org/media/Catherine_Bracken_Inconstant.pdf These two accounts show us how easy it is to become ensnared in the tangled webs we weave.
One is a straightforward account of Catherine from Parsonstown (Birr) workhouse marrying William Robinson at Mount Barker in 1851, their having at least three children, and Catherine dying aged 52 in the Clare Valley. (Staniforth, p. 37, after the endnotes).
The other is a thoroughly researched and beautifully illustrated tale of ‘murder and mayhem’. Catherine’s first husband had his throat slit in 1856, and her second was executed in 1862 for the murder of their servant Jane McNanamin at Salt Creek. Catherine married yet again, for a third time, to George Ingham in 1871. According to Karen, she died in 1915 and is buried in West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide. Karen mentions that one of Catherine’s descendants Dawn Ralfe was writing a book about Catherine. Does anyone have any news about this?
I see Dawne Ralfe has published her book. It’s called Murders and Mayhem: the true secrets, Inspiring publishers, 2014.
Karen has a facebook page devoted to the orphans. There are some great photographs there. https://www.facebook.com/EarlGreyIrishOrphans/ On the 5th April 2015 for example, she posted a pic of Matthew Moorhouse’s residence, next door to the Native School that acted as an Immigration Depot for the orphans. The same pic appears in her account of Catherine’s history at page three of the link above.
Karen’s revision of Catherine Bracken’s history raises a larger, interesting question: how many of the orphans had a criminal history in Australia, however minor their crimes or misdemeanours might have been? Those that did were found guilty of minor crimes, being drunk and disorderly, obscene language, petty theft, or ‘vagrancy’, a charge which the police often used instead of ‘prostitution’.
Margaret Dehee (or Duhy)
Dr Staniforth also draws our attention to a South Australian government report that lists sixteen Inconstant orphans who were prostitutes, including Margaret Dehee (various spellings) from Donohill in Tipperary. Dr Staniforth argues convincingly her surname was Duhy.
The information on this next family reconstitution form was from an excellent genealogist, Wendy Baker, sent to me in 1986. I hope Wendy is still with us. Margaret Dea(n)(e)/Duhy had five female children by her first husband Robert Strickland and another, Lucy, by her second, Charles Lindrea. Like Mary Taafe she left South Australia and sought her fortune in Victoria.
The Government report Dr Staniforth refers to can be found in British Parliamentary Papers. I’ve used the hard copy 1,000 volume Irish University press edition.
On the second of November, 1850, Governor Sir H.E. F. Young wrote to Earl Grey,
I have the honour of forwarding a report by the Children’s apprenticeship Board, on 621 female orphans introduced into the colony during the last two years.
2. Thirty two cases of crime or misconduct were brought before the police magistrate; six are mothers of illegitimate children, and required relief as destitute persons at their lying-in.
Six more are living in the country in adultery.
Forty three have fallen into the condition of common prostitutes; although all had been placed by the Board in respectable situations…”.
(In all, less than fifteen percent of orphans, my comment).
Sixty-six circulars had been sent to Police Magistrates throughout the colony asking about ‘the conduct and respectability’ of the orphans in their district. Only thirty Magistrates had replied. (British Parliamentary Papers, Irish Universities Press edition, Colonies Australia, vol.13, Sessions 1851-52, Papers relative to Emigration, p.292). [I only wish our own present-day pollsters explained to us the methods they use, and on what their results are based].
I wonder if asking how many of the orphans were incarcerated in Melbourne Women’s prison or in Darlinghurst gaol, or in Yarra Bend mental hospital, or Wollston Park, in Liverpool Lying-in hospital, or Dunwich Benevolent Asylum, or any similar institution, is the question I want to ask. A minority of the orphans (and how substantial a minority is moot) i believe were bound to spend part of their life in such institutions.
More than twenty years ago I asked, retouching what I said just a bit, ‘did Irish immigrants (to Australia) agree with other immigrants on …”the big issues”? Did they accept ‘capitalism and the modernizing, anglophone, world’ (D. Akenson), or were the casualties among them those would not or could not adapt to this new world? … And among those Irish immigrants were ‘friendless’, single, Irish Famine orphans the most vulnerable of all because of their ethnicity, because of their sex, because of their class, because of their lack of independence, because of their lack of kin support, and because of their dependence on males? The questions are easier to pose than to answer’.
Some have even suggested the trauma of the Famine made the Irish more susceptible to mental illness. I remain unconvinced. As I’ve said elsewhere, to suggest our orphans were transmitters of some workhouse dumping ground mentality, or biologically prone to some sort of “Celtic Melancholy”, or psychologically predisposed to mental illness, ‘borders on bigotry'(Akenson?).
Unlike most assisted Irish immigrants, the Earl Grey orphans were not part of a safety network. They did not have a network of ‘friends’,– friends in the usual sense of people from the same village or locality with whom they had a close, long-established relationship, and friends in the Irish sense of family members, once, twice and even thrice removed–friends they could turn to in times of need. They did not have a complex safety-net, woven with threads of kinship. That is what made them vulnerable to alienation in their new Australian world.
The question we may prefer to ask is what stratagems did the orphans use to deal with whatever life threw at them? What legal rights did they have? When they were young, did they get married in order to escape a burdensome master-servant contract? And if their husband was legally allowed to beat them with a stick, how did they withstand domestic abuse? Did they adopt the drinking habits of their husband? Fit in, or flee? Ellen Leydon from Ennistymon in County Clare who arrived by the Thomas Arbuthnot, ‘married’ six times, using(?) males as her ‘shelter’, her way of coping. See her story towards the bottom of http://wp.me/p4SlVj-dQ And when old, if your husband has died and you do not meet the requirements for entry to a Benevolent Asylum, do you deny your children, say you have lost touch with them, say you have no money, and no means of support. Then you will meet requirements. Do as needs must. Did the orphans contest the historical role colonial society imposed upon them? Did they negotiate a place for themselves? Or is that being too optimistic?
(I’ve just started reading Garry Disher’s Her. That will cure any desire to return to the ‘good old days’).
May I ask if anyone knows a good general history of women in Australia that would help answer the questions asked in the last part of this blog? Which historians can we turn to? Shurlee Swain? Christine Twomey? Tanya Evans? Diane Kirkby? All suggestions gratefully received.
For those who didn’t get to hear Dr Kildea’s oration at Hyde Park Barracks on the 27th August 2017, Tinteán have kindly put it online at https://tintean.org.au/2017/09/06/only-nineteen/
Thank you Jeff for a brilliant, poignant speech.
In my last post, I asked researchers in South Australia to consider making an in-depth study of the four thousand or so ‘Irish Famine women‘ who arrived there in the mid 1850s. If i may be allowed to explain myself further, or at least assure myself I wasn’t talking codswallop, I’d like to suggest some first steps for research into this topic. Here are a few basic questions.
- How do we know there were as many as 4,000 Irish females? When did they come, and on which ships? Where did they come from, even if our records only tell us their county of origin? Did they come alone or with other family members?
- What problems did the influx of such a relatively large number of female immigrants pose for South Australian authorities? How were the women received? (Some excellent secondary sources have broached this subject already. See for example Eric Richards, “The importance of being Irish in Colonial South Australia”, in The Irish Emigrant Experience in Australia, John O’Brien and Pauric Travers eds., Poolbeg Press, Dublin, 1991 and Marie Steiner, Servants depots in South Australia, Wakefield press, Adelaide, 2009, to mention but two.)
- What became of these Irish women both in the short term and during their life in Australia?
To address number one above, South Australian Parliamentary Proceedings 1858, Paper 16, allows us to extract the number of single Irish females who arrived in the mid 1850s. There were 251 in 1853, 1044 in 1854 and 2978 in 1855. That makes 4273, i.e. about the same number of Earl Grey Irish Famine orphans.
If we turn to the Reports 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, Adelaide, 1856, South Australia Legislative Council, Votes and Proceedings, First Session, 1855-56, Vol.II, No.137, we discover which ships carried most single Irish female immigrants.
The following table is from the appendix and relates to 1855 arrivals. Apologies, my copy is not the best. Which ships would you pick out? Coromandel, Rodney, Northern Light, Flora? Europa, Nashwauk, Grand Trianon, Seapark, Velocity, Constantine, Octavia, South Sea, Aliquis, Admiral Boxer, Thomas Arbuthnot, Warren Hastings, Bucephalus,? Others too? Double click or pinch the image to make it larger and more legible.
It would be a time consuming, yet necessary, task to go through the shipping records for all the vessels that arrived in Port Adelaide from the UK in these years. Some information is available online but it does not cover all the years we want or provide all the details that are available. See for example, http://www.archives.sa.gov.au/content/official-passenger-lists#overlay-context=user
It is a work in progress.
And unfortunately, some websites do not name which county the young women came from; see for example, http://passengersinhistory.sa.gov.au/ship-search
Indeed, not every shipping list names the county of origin of these young women. When you turn up in person, you will need to rely on the goodwill and assistance of the wonderful people in the State Library and the South Australian State Archives for direction.
I’m hoping the records contain enough information to compare the origins of these young women with Irish women who arrived elsewhere. Did most of them come from Munster, from Clare, Cork, and Tipperary, for example? Rachel Boardman on the Telegraph was from Antrim; Norry Nelson on the Flora was from Clare as was Sarah Bouchier; Catherine Condon and Anastasia Keane on the Northern Light were from Limerick. On the Grand Trianon, Mary Kewson (Kenson?) was from Cork, Ann Quinlivan from Clare, Jane Stack from Kerry, and Ellen Shanley from Westmeath.
Shipping lists do give the age of the women when they arrived, and thus we know how old they were when the Famine struck. A better knowledge of these women is possible, I’m sure of it.
I hope too that there will be some way of finding if these women came with other family members, with their brothers, other sisters or ‘friends’. Or did they travel alone? Fingers crossed this can be done.
The questions at number 2 and 3 above, I hope you will find interesting.
Was this deluge (the word is Professor Richards’) of Irish females to South Australia easily and quickly absorbed; “…the most remarkable aspect of the crisis was its brevity and swift evaporation” (Richards, p.79)?
Yet were the women forced to work long hours in the South Australian sun for miserable wages,
“some walking 16 miles in the heat of the day, barefoot, to go to a situation; others returning to depot sun-burnt, blistered, overworked and cast out after harvest was finished; some found crying, disappointed, despondent and depressed at their prospects”?
That was how I put it in my previous post. See,
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.
We might try approaching things from the Government’s point of view (for which lots of sources exist) and then try viewing what happened, from the perspective of the female immigrants themselves. Were they so easily and so quickly absorbed? How many became dependent on government for relief? Is there evidence that their Famine experience had an impact on their life? What trials did these young immigrants face in their new country? How many left South Australia? How many fell on hard times? Did our individual Irish Famine female become fatalistic, too easily accepting the constraints of her new surroundings? Did she abnegate, sacrifice her own hopes and ambitions for the sake of her children? What happened to her? You might like to think about these questions.
Let me direct you to some of the sources.
For a clear and balanced exposition of the way the South Australian Colonial Government dealt with the “excessive female immigration” of the mid 1850s, have a read of Marie Steiner‘s book Servants Depots in colonial South Australia, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 2009. There’s a good bibliography at the end, and two interesting appendices; one using the work of Janet Callen, on the ‘Servant girl passengers’ on the shipwreck, Nashwauk, the other enumerating how many young women were sent from the Adelaide immigrant depot to country depots by the end of January 1856. There were 121 sent to the Clare depot, 61 to Willunga, 80 to Guichen Bay (incl. Penola and Mount Gambier), 91 to Encounter Bay, 129 to Gawler and 246 to Mount Barker. Twelve more went to Morphett Vale and 17 to Yankallilla, though these districts did not have immigrant depots.
SOUTH AUSTRALIAN ARCHIVES
As I’m sure many of you agree, there is nothing quite like getting hold of primary sources themselves. For this little project they are basically the same as for the Earl Grey Famine orphans viz. records in the Archives, for example, SAA (South Australian Archives) GRG 24/6 Colonial Secretary Letters received (look for the appropriate year(s)),
SAA GRG 24/4 Colonial Secretary Letters sent; SAA GRG 35/43 Immigration Agent incoming correspondence; GRG35/47 Health Officer Port Adelaide; GRG 35/48 Ships Papers, or even GRG35/301 Irish female immigrants expenditure in Adelaide and country depots 1855-6 with similar returns for the Aborigines. Expenditure at the Adelaide depot was £2730.4.1 for the period December 1855 to November 1856, and £2285.12.10 for the country depots. When there is a demand upon the public purse, politicians are usually quick to act.
As you may have deduced already from the title of Marie Steiner’s book, one practical step authorities took was to distribute immigrants throughout the interior. But first the Colonial Secretary asked local councils if they would be willing to take them.
Thus GRG 24/6 2153 6 July 1855 from Brixton Laurie JP at Port Elliott, “There us a demand in the district of Encounter Bay for about thirty female domestics and farm servants in equal proportion…I have also to remark that the District Councils have suggested the propriety of employing the unoccupied females in the destruction of thistles under proper superintendence“.
And from John Hope who was Irish, at Clare, one of the most welcoming districts, (2155) They can take about 30 farm and 5 domestic servants and adds “…any assistance in my power will be given in carrying out the Colonial secretary’s wishes”.
By contrast, from Evandale, the hundred of North Rhine, (2227) “…the proportion of English settlers is small compared with that of Germans…there are some Irish families and I think a few Irish females might find employment as farm servants”. As 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 annoyance”.
And from Charles Brewer, Government Resident at Robe 1 Sept. 1855 (2969), “One of the girls Bridget Henessy has been so insubordinate that I have been under the necessity of expelling her from the Depot. She in the first instance having been named one of the party for Penola, refused to go…she was afterwards selected for Mount Gambier, but on the morning the party left, she hid herself away and did not make her appearance until night…”. See Marie Steiner, page 61 where she is described as Bridget Mahey(?)
Or see SAA GRG 35/43 Immigration Agent incoming correspondence where there are letters from relatives enquiring about individual immigrants. There are letters from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and New Zealand, from Thomas Smith of Melbourne asking about his sister Elizabeth Cassidy –“we have many Elizabeth Cassidys on our books”; Mrs Theresa Sheehan in Wellington New Zealand asking about her daughter Mary Ann who arrived by the Isle of Thanet; Mary Donovan from Kilkee, County Clare asking about her daughter Johanna per Northern Light; letters about Mary Ann Lynch from Dublin, Frances or Fanny McDowal from Dublin, and Bridget McCausland from Sharn, ManorCunningham, County Donegal.
There are letters of desperation, “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 nor day do I know one peaceful hour. This is the tenth letter I have written to you and never got any answer to any of them…” (7 April 1857); “I am very much depressed in mind since I parted with a sister of mine. I understand she arrived to the colony as there have been letters from many who went out in the same ship” (18 May 1857). And as late as 24 February 1859 a letter from James (shoemaker) and Elizabeth Orr, Lurgan, Armagh asking about Mary Jane Orr per Victoria Regina (arr.11/55) “…we her parents never received any word from herself although she could read and write well”.
There’s even one dated 16 July 1855, enquiring about an Earl Grey orphan, Bridget Mahony per Elgin, from her mother Margaret Mahoney, widow, No 5 Alley Coppingers Lane, off Popesquay Cork, Ireland. Matthew Moorhouse replied 23rd October that she was hired from the depot on the 3rd October 1839(sic) to Mr Walker shopkeeper Hindmarsh, “I know nothing of her since then”.
The best of luck working with these.
Nowadays it is a lot easier to gain access to contemporary newspapers, for instance, the Adelaide Observer or the Adelaide Times or the South Australian Register. You can do so via www.trove.nla.gov.au
Here is a link to a few of relevant newspaper articles http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au/manning/sa/immigra/irish.htm
And here is my order for copies of newspaper articles which the South Australia State Library kindly provided back in the 1980s.
Lots of them relate to the Earl Grey orphans, especially on this first page
These newspapers entries are not difficult to find. Thus, see the Adelaide Times 29 June 1855 page 2 http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/207025989
It’s worth looking for more. There’s a large number of editorials in the Register condemning the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners in the second half of 1855, for instance.
“We hope 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)…
SOUTH AUSTRALIAN PARLIAMENTARY PAPERS
In addition to the Report mentioned at the beginning of this post, there are other South Australian parliamentary papers worth perusing, for example, South Australia, Correspondence on Emigration No 54, ordered to be printed by the Legislative Council, November 23, 1855, Despatches on Emigration No 54, ordered to be printed December 18, 1855 and two more, all numbered 54, February 6 and February 12 1856. These comprise correspondence between the Secretary of State, and Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners in London, and Richard Graves McDonnell, newly appointed Governor of South Australia.
McDonnell asked why such a disproportionate number of single Irish females were being sent, and the London Commissioners gave the familiar reply, ‘it is impossible to obtain the proper proportion of English and Scotch for their emigrant ships…they have been obliged…to draw largely on Ireland, especially for females…’ (54**).
But McDonnell would have none of it. Just arrived at Government House in Adelaide, he writes to Lord John Russell in England, “It is my duty…to state to Her Majesty’s Government the great evil springing up here in consequence of the Emigration Commissioners sending to this Colony so many single Irish women, of a class, generally speaking, unfitted for Colonial employment, and whose probable future destiny it is painful to contemplate”. (25 June 1855) The reply from W. Molesworth, Secretary for the Colonies, dated 12 September 1855, is swift,“I have instructed the Emigration Commissioners to cease sending any unmarried female emigrants from Ireland to South Australia, excepting only such unmarried females as may form part of any families who are sent out …”.
Do have a look at this correspondence. McDonnell lets his Imperial masters know how misguided he thinks their emigration policy is; how expensive it is for the colony to provide lodging and rations for such a large number of immigrants; to provide welfare for the sick and the destitute and unemployed single Irish women; that as many as one fifth of the arrivals did not want to come to South Australia in the first place but had wanted to go to Melbourne or Sydney; that twenty five had arrived under assumed names; and what arrangements were being made to distribute the women throughout the colony. As early as 27 June 1855 circulars were sent to District Councils asking them to reply to the following questions,
- What demand exists in the District of for female domestics or female farm servants…?
- Would any, and what, advantages attend the establishment of a Depot for female immigrants, and for what number of such immigrants in the District of or its neighbourhood; those immigrants being boarded and lodged in such Depot whilst waiting employment?
- Supposing the establishment of such Depot expedient, what facilities does the District of afford for its erection and maintenance, and what would be the probable cost per diem of rationing each female immigrant?
- Are there any, and what, buildings to be hired in the said District suitable to the purposes of such Depot and at what rate? and
- Are there any and what parties in the District willing to contact for the maintenance in the said Depot of the females who might be sent there.
In time, the position of McDonnell and the colonial government would be supported by the South Australian Legislative Council’s inquiry into “Excessive Female Immigration”. The full title is at the beginning of this post. There should be a copy in the South Australian Parliamentary Library or the Mortlock Library. If you know of others, please let us know. Do try and have a look at it, especially its Minutes of evidence and Appendix.
It is in the minutes of evidence we 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. 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.
Even official sources such as this one can be misleading. 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.McDonnell estimated that upward of a fifth of the immigrants did so. Appended also is a list of which young women were sent to South Australia, despite their having asked for other destinations.
Here are these two appendices.
And here are some who left for Sydney, Melbourne and Geelong. My apologies I failed to align the next two pages.
WHAT BECAME OF THEM?
And what became of all these young Irish Famine women, the Lord only knows. Our best bet for finding more about their life history will be the valiant work of family historians. South Australian researchers have made a start on this already. Here are two pages from Marie Steiner’s lovely little book. She has used the work of Janet Callen for her appendix on the women who arrived by the shipwrecked, Nashwauk.
This appendix will also be useful in researching the women sent to the Clare Depot, on the main route to the north of the colony. Clare had a strong Irish community and welcomed the young females who arrived there. If I remember correctly, in 1964, Cherry Parkin in her BA Hons thesis at the University of Adelaide identified some the women who made the three day trek over rough roads to Clare in 1855.
SAA GRG 24/6 2431 25 July 1855 names them as the following, (best to look yourself. My hurried transcription may have misread what was written. I’ve followed one of the basic rules of historians. Don’t change the original document!)
Brigit O’Brian, Brigit Flavity, Johanna Rian, Margaret Henasey or Hanassy, Bridget Redling or Rodling, Mary Cathale, Ann? Jones, Hannah McCarthy, Margaret Green or Gavin, Cathrin Carthy, Cathrin? Kneal?,Cathrin Tracey, Ellen Lubin, Mary Brian, Mary Rian, Nancy Slattery, Mary sexton, Elen Collings, Susan Callagin, Bridget Wite, Ellen Barney or Bonney, Brigit Minihan, Kate Downer, [Bridget Steven, Bridget O’Leary or is it Bridget Horan or Kearn and Judy Sheary?], Elen McDowale, Elen More, Catherine Corpey, Mary Coppinger, Mary Fogarty, Ann Fogarty, Susy Donnovan, Elen Dalton. Elen Wood, Bessy Donnovan, Mary Carse or Kearse, Johanna Fitchgarld, Margaret Fitchgarld, Mary Lakeman or Lokesnan, Hannah Steal, Elen Carmody, Bridget Callagin, Bridget Wite, Bridget Rian.
Some of these appear in the St Aloysius College, Sevenhill marriage register at Clare. For example, an Ellen Moor married John McKenzie 20 January 1857; Elizabeth Donovan married John Hearn 21 March 1857; Johannah Fitzgerald married Joseph Tilgner 4 October 1857 at Kooringa and Catherine Ryan was a witness; Hanna Fitzgerald married Thomas J Everett 7 November 1857; and a Mary Coppenger married John Langton 15 November 1857 at Kooringa.
I’m sure many of the women who appear in that Register from 1856-7 onwards are part of that ‘deluge’ of mid 1850s Irish immigrant women. There are excellent South Australian researchers and family historians, (I know of a couple, Stephanie James, Simon O’Reilley and Ann Herraman, for example) who will be able to identify these women in marriage registers. Researchers like these have the skills to compile a database of these young Irish women.
Maybe one day we will recognize them as Irish Famine women. We will place the 1850s South Australian immigrants alongside the Earl Grey workhouse orphans, and the convicts transported to Van Diemen’s Land, 1846-53, as refugees from that terrible calamity, the Great Irish Famine.
Arrival and early days
“And after the commanded journey, what?…A gazing out from far away, alone”
(Seamus Heaney, Lightenings)
It looks like I’ll be trying to square the circle once more. Searching for reliable sources that describe the arrival and early days of the Famine orphans in Australia is one thing. Trying to find what the young women themselves thought of the experience, is another. Allow me to keep the training I’ve had as an academic historian. At the same time, please cut me cut some slack when it comes to ‘inventing’ the orphans’ voice. As before, my idea of their voice will appear in blue typeface.I’ll look for other sources too, poetry reading, pictures and the like, so we may imagine the orphans other than through the eyes of officialdom.
LANDING and INSPECTION
Surgeon Strutt’s diary has an exemplary account of the Thomas Arbuthnot arriving in Sydney 3 February 1850, at the height of an Australian summer. The diary appears in full in Richard Reid and Cheryl Mongan’s, ‘a decent set of girls’ The Irish Famine orphans of the ‘Thomas Arbuthnot’ 1849-1850, Yass, 1996.
Buíochas le Dia, Maire Brandon. Tá sé go breá innui.
Chomh te. No, no Bríde Burke. The doctor says we have to speak English. Oh Lord, I’m sweating so. Where’s the sea breeze gone to?
Strutt’s diary recorded his eyewitness account of the official landing process. The orphans and other passengers remained on the ship whilst the Sydney Board of Immigration, consisting of F.L.S. Merewether, Health Officer Savage and Water Police Magistrate, H.H. Browne, along with Robert Hardy, a clerk from the Immigration department, came on board and drew up a Board of Immigration List. The List was to fulfill the requirements of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners in London(CLEC). Had the Surgeon, the Ship’s Captain and Officers carried out their obligations satisfactorily? Had the terms of the Charter Party, the contract between CLEC and Shipowner been met? Details such as names of orphans, their native place, their religion, their occupation, parents’ names, state of health, literacy, relations in the colony, if any, complaints, if any, were all recorded in meticulous detail. Sometimes names and places of origin would go awry, the clerk writing down in a phonetic way what he thought the young woman said. Hiccups such as this notwithstanding, the Board of Immigration Shipping Lists are an unrivalled record of all the orphans who landed in Port Jackson. See http://www.irishfaminememorial.org
Innesdiamond, [Ennistymon] Clare
Abinachmaigh [Abbeyknockmoy], Galway. Mother at Tume (Tuam)
A similar record, if not with quite the same details, was made at the other two ports of entry, Melbourne and Adelaide. Immigration Agent Patterson at Port Phillip and Captain Brewer at Port Adelaide, accompanied by clerks and representatives from their Orphan Committee went on board to examine the female orphans before they disembarked. Thus Lady Kennaway orphan, 14 year-old Bridget Ferry from Dunfanaghy, when asked if she was in possession of a Bible, could reply Prayer Book and Testament.
On arrival, Surgeon Superintendents presented a written report to local Immigration authorities. Surgeons were responsible for the well-being and health of the emigrants in their charge. Or as Robin Haines put it in her Doctors at Sea (Palgrave MacMillan), 2005, p.81, “Surgeons supervised the sanitary regime on board, oversaw the distribution and cooking of rations, attended to the sick, and were in control of discipline and the moral tone on board”.
Surgeons were appointed by the Imperial Government and thus only answered to them, and were independent of ships’ officers and crew. They were part of an important system of checks and balances designed to make Government Assisted emigration work well. Had the emigrants not received their proper rations, had the Irish orphans been allowed to mix too freely with the sailors, was the Charter Party abused in any way, then Immigration authorities in Australia conducted an enquiry into the misdemeanours and a report submitted to the representatives of the Imperial government in Australia. One can find extensive and detailed reports for many of the orphan vessels, especially the early ones, the Subraon, Earl Grey, Digby and others. Use the Search Box at the end of the post. Even for the William & Mary that arrived mid 1849, which was found to be “in a very dirty state on arrival“. Surgeon Phillips complained of the “rude and improper conduct of the Captain and his crew“. And that “all the conditions of the Charter Party were [not] fulfilled in respect of proper issuing of provisions, water and medical comforts, nor the prevention of intercourse between officers, crew and single females“.
The report on the Diadem to Port Phillip could not “consider it prudent to have allowed, single women, particularly young Orphan Girls, to remain about the upper deck after dark, and amongst sailors, especially without constables or any efficient guard…it appeared the Surgeon had repeatedly to go forward, and “drive” or send some of them aft…”.
The Melbourne Orphan Committee reported “the period within which the “Orphans” per Pemberton were disposed of, has been longer than in the case of those received by the Lady Kennaway: and we were obliged to be less strict in requirements respecting oarties to whom the first named “Orphans” were hired, a greater number of the employers being of a lower class of society than those who engaged the orphans per Lady Kennaway”.
For these early arrivals especially, and before the demand for servants fell– which occurred towards the end of the scheme–prospective and approved employers went on board ship to hire their servant directly. Nonetheless, most orphans were hired from the Immigration Depot in each city.
The advantage of records in the Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV) is that “Disposal Lists” tell us who first hired the orphans, and how much they would be paid. PROV VPRS 14 reel 3 contains the shipping list for the Lady Kennaway , the list of officers on the ship and the gratuities due to them, and who was employed as Chief Matron, submatrons, constables and hospital assistants. The Disposal List at Book 4B p.1 repeats their name, their calling, their age, their date of admission into the depot and the date of their leaving, the number of days they spent in the depot, the name and residence of their employer, the terms of engagement, and the rate of wages per annum, and whether with or without rations.
The Report of the Immigration Board of Inspection, dated 23 December 1848, says of the orphans by the first vessel to arrive in Port Phillip, the Lady Kennaway,
“…their general aspect indicates good health and gives the impression that they belong to the humbler ranks of life. They are generally of a stout make, rather low in stature, and are endowed with strongly marked Irish Physiognomies…We do consider them… a most sensible supply and acquisition for this city and its environs and hope that we may in future have more importations of a similar kind, and as they come originally from small county towns and adjoining districts they have never seen or been accustomed to witness those demoralizing scenes too frequent in larger towns in many parts of the Empire, and we doubt not but that they will continue to conduct themselves as hitherto and keep in the paths of virtue…they are most anxious to please their employers… during the voyage… some few of them were inclined to be rather noisy and boisterous occasionally, and would not hesitate at times to let out a bit of an oath…”.
It’s a report that may tell us more about its authors than what it says about the orphans.
Attitudes to the orphans by Government officials
It would be worth researching the different attitudes towards the orphans among Government officials generally. Who was sympathetic, who was unsympathetic? In South Australia, Matthew Moorhouse, no; Mrs Murphy, Matron in the depot, yes; Mrs Hill, Acting Matron, no (see below under ‘Immigration Depots’). In Port Phillip, Dr Patterson and Superintendent La Trobe, generally yes: in Port Jackson Immigration Agent Merewether yes, his successor H.H. Browne, no. Mrs Capps, Matron at Hyde Park Barracks, yes.
It is worth asking, too, how the attitudes and reports of Surgeons from orphan ships coloured the way the orphans were viewed and received in Australia. There’s a very marked difference between Surgeon Strutt (Thomas Arbuthnot) and Surgeons Douglass (Earl Grey), Eades (Roman Emperor), Ramsay (Inchinnan) and Hewer (Elgin). Surgeon Hewer was to write “I was so disgusted by the behaviour of the orphans per “Elgin”, –so worried by their tricks, simulating fits day after day to procure porter and spirits–so disheartened by their misrepresentation and utter disregard for truth, that I would not come out in another Irish orphan vessel if the Government would pay me £10 per orphan”.
These last four Surgeons were so aware of their own social class, so lacking in empathy and unable to–what’s the word– ‘understand’, ‘communicate’, ‘connect’– with the young women, they distorted the image people would have of the orphans even before they landed. By contrast, Strutt is the Surgeon we’d all like to have today; he has the ‘human’ touch we’d all like to have. It is a subject for further research.
Here are some pics that will give us an idea of what the young women saw when they disembarked. The first one is a sketch of emigrants landing at Glenelg in South Australia, not that the orphans landed at this particular location. Their ships would dock at Port Adelaide.
There is an interesting account of the arrival of the Inconstant orphans in Port Adelaide in 1849. It appeared in the South Australian Register, 13 June 1849 (p.2. Local Intelligence bottom rt of page). Nowadays, with digitisation, research among newspapers has become much easier than before. Here’s the link to the paragraph I’m talking about. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/4148476?zoomLevel=1 . The orphans had arrived at Port Adelaide, 8th June, about 14 kilometres away from the Native School on North Terrace, where they were to find “temporary asylum”. Travelling by dray gave them plenty of time to look around at their ‘new’ country. What a sight they must have made.
“On Monday evening an extraordinary procession was seen on the North Terrace Road Ten drays fully laden with Irish female orphans were seen moving along at a brisk pace towards the Native School Location where it is understood they will find a temporary asylum. They all seemed warmly and comfortably clad, and excited much sympathy”.
The next one is of Hobson’s Bay, Williamstown. There are lots of ships in Port Phillip Bay in 1853, more than when the orphans landed 1848-50. The Victorian gold rush was under way.
This next pic is of Port Jackson. It’s by Oswald Brierly and called ‘Emigrants arriving at Sydney Cove’, dated 1853. Again it’s a couple of years after the Earl Grey scheme ended. There’s a steamer in the background, bottom right of the pic. A steamer was to take orphans from their ship to a landing dock.
On the 8th February 1850 Surgeon Strutt wrote in his diary,
“Landed all the girls in a large steamer and walked at their head to the Depot [Hyde park Barracks]. There was such weeping and wailing at leaving the ship; when on board the steamer an effort was made to give three cheers, but with very indifferent success. I stopped nearly all day at the Depot with them and got them settled as well as I could and saw that they all got their dinner, which unluckily was a meagre one, being a fast day. They will now be visited by the Catholic clergy and nuns for about a fortnight, confessed and persuaded to take the pledge. They will then be permitted to take situations”.
The Irish Famine Memorial website http://www.irishfaminememorial.org has a link to ‘the historical walk the young women took from the harbour to Hyde Park Barracks’ which is well worth a visit. Not that the roads and ‘pavements’ the orphans walked were the same as today.
A NEW WORLD
What did the Famine orphans think of this ‘new world’? Did some of them make their way to the Depot, their eyes down, frightened little waifs, still traumatised by their Famine and workhouse experience? Or did some have a sense of freedom, of being liberated from their past, being healed in part by their long sea journey? Undoubtedly there was a wide range of emotions. But it would be a sorry state if we were to deny them the wonder of their world turned upside down when they arrived in Australia.
After the hurly-burly of the harbour and goods being loaded and unloaded at the docks, travelling to the Depot gave the young women a chance to look around.
Hanna Hayes, Hanna Hayes, will ye look at them big white birds? Look, look, watch them swoop. Squawwck, squawwk. They’re wearing a big yellow comb on their head. Lordy, lordy.
Ach no, Kitty Kelly. Look over there. Who’s that man watching over the river? Over there, over there–the tall black man standing straight. He’s standing on one leg. [26 March 1850, Strutt tells in his diary of an Aboriginal man refusing to take Biddy Rabbit as his wife; his wives would be jealous and anyway, she had “too much yabber”.]
Aw Mary Carty, Ellen Dunbar, will ya look at that. Ah go on. I dare ya. Talk to him.
“You observe…He wears a broad-brimmed cabbage tree hat…a check shirt, open at the neck, and presenting a bold front; a blue jacket, and a gay waistcoat. His trowsers…are cut so much to the quick, that your dread of their bursting keeps you in a state of uncomfortable nervous apprehension. He wears an immense moustache…and a red scarf or comforter is tied around his waist”. (Lurgan etc Agricultural Gazette 4 Oct 1849)
Where’s Mary Power? She knows all her flowers. What’s that yellow flowering bush by the side of the road?
Young Mary Power probably had no idea what it was. The people, the flora, the fauna, everything was so very different to what the orphans knew. Even the sky seemed bluer, and further away than at ‘home’. The light was brighter. The sun shone harder. They were seeing things few people in Ireland had ever seen–wallabies and kangaroos, kookaburras and lizards, and big hairy spiders, bright coloured parrots, wattle and gum trees, red earth and dry dust, and Aboriginal people coming into town. Evelyn Conlon gives her readers a sense of this very different world in her novel about the orphans, Not the Same Sky, Wakefield Press, 2013.
Let me try giving you another yet similar sense of what I’m talking about. My thanks to http://tintean.org.au/ for the link.
Let’s see if this works. It’s part of a trailer for an Irish film called “Assimilation”. https://vimeo.com/75656628 Louis de Paor is reading from his poem ‘Didjeridu’ (from his Gobán Cré is Cloch). Here’s a verse or two of his poem. An English version appears as subtitles on the video. He’s accompanied by Kev Carmody on Didgeridoo.
Má sheashann tú gan chor
ar feadhsoicind amháin
nó míle bliain
cuirfudh sé ealta liréan
ag neadú i easc na gcuach
id chlaon fholt cam
ar do ghuaillí loiscthe
is cucabora niogóideach
ag fonóid féd chosa geala,
beidh treibhanna ársa an aeir
ag cleitearnach timpeall ort
ag labhairt i mbéalrá
ná tuigeann do chroí
gall ghaelach bán.
This music is not played to lure a snake
from the woven basket of your distended belly
with a heatwave of torrid notes and swooning melodies.
It won’t set your rebel foot tapping on stone
to taunt your straight jacketed intellect with squalls
of hornpipes and twist
If you stand and listen for a second
or a thousand years
lyrebirds will nest in the devious loops
of your branching hair,
green blue red
parrots will perch on your scalded shoulders
and a sarcastic kookaburra
make fun of your scorched white feet,
you’ll hear parakeets and lorikeets flutter round your head,
ancient tribes of the air
speaking a language your wild
colonial heart cannot comprehend.
Hey Mister, Where we goin’?
To the Immigration Depot? How far is it?
Who’s the Matron, do ye know? Hey, Hanna, Mary, Jane…Alice Smith, listen, the matron’s a Cork woman at the Barracks.
Isn’t that the best news? It’s the best news I’ve heard all day, so it is.
The Port Jackson (Sydney) arrivals made their way up the hill to the former convict building, Hyde Park Barracks which had been refurbished to accommodate female immigrants earlier in 1848. The Port Adelaide arrivals would travel to the Native School, behind Matthew Moorhouse’s residence on North Terrace in Adelaide itself. I’m not sure where the Port Phillip (Melbourne) orphans first went. Did the Lady Kennaway orphans go to a building in Williamstown? I doubt they went to any kind of tent city, colonial authorities being ever so concerned these young women were “without natural protectors”. However, on the 5th January 1849 the Port Phillip Gazette reported that Governor Fitzroy had arranged for “the depot situated on allotments 8 and 9 of section 16 at the angle of William Street and Collins Street has been appropriated as an establishment for the reception of the…female orphan immigrants from Ireland”. That presumably was where the Melbourne Immigration Depot was situated.
For some of the young women, Depot life could be an untimely reminder of their workhouse days. They were once again subjected to an institutional discipline. Orphan ships arrived within months of each other, one hot on the heels of another. With each ship carrying about 200 young women, pressure was put on Immigration Agents and Matrons alike. To cope with such a large body of arrivals, some kind of regimen was necessary–when should the young women go to bed, when should they rise, when they should eat, when should they prepare themselves to meet their prospective employers. And most controversially, should they be allowed to return to the Depot when their indentures were cancelled?
Conflict in the South Australian Depot
Of course conflicts did occur between government officials and the young women. One of the most explicit examples, perhaps not so well-known, occurred in the South Australian Depot at the Native School on North Terrace.
A local newspaper, The South Australian Register, 21 January 1850, published a damning letter written by Aliquis, who turned out to be a Mr D’Arcy (not that Mr D’Arcy!) “…I beg to call your attention to the existence of a brothel supported at the public expense and to the disgrace of an establishment under the superintendence of a paid officer of the Government. I allude to the depot at the Native Location for the reception of the female orphans landed upon our shores, where the most disgusting scenes are nightly enacted. I will not attempt to portray the Bacchanalian orgies to be witnessed there every night…”.
The editor of the newspaper added to the calumny claiming “…the rations of the girls were occasionally stopped, punishments inflicted on trivial pretexts, and that some girls have been capriciously expelled”.
Ever mindful of being seen to do the ‘right and proper’ thing, the Children’s Apprenticeship Board, under Matthew Moorhouse, immediately set up an enquiry to defend themselves and rebut the charges. Their report is available as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP) on microfilm in Australian State Libraries. The original is in the Public Record Office in London at Colonial Office (CO) 13/71, pp.461-485. It is also available in my Barefoot, vol.2, pp.35-43. Do have a look at the Report if you can. I’d be interested to learn how you read and interpret it.
For me, it is clear some government officials were less than sympathetic towards the Irish orphans. Not that the orphans themselves were totally innocent. They asserted themselves and were combative, refusing to do work they did not want to do, and refusing to be cowed by those in authority. They saw themselves as entitled to food and able to leave an employer and return to the depot if it was in their own best interest. Not everyone agreed. Unfortunately only a few of the orphan witnesses to the enquiry are linked to specific ships, Mary Creed per Elgin, Nora McDonald per Elgin, Mary Ann Murray ex Roman Emperor. Others, not so.
Sometimes matrons themselves defied regulations. Mrs Murphy defied Matthew Moorhouse by allowing orphans to visit her “in defiance of all instructions”, sometimes allowing an orphan to stay overnight. She was given to a ‘secret harbouring of orphans‘, according to Moorhouse. Mrs Murphy said “she could not have it on her conscience of having refused any girl a night’s lodgings”. But she would lose her job for her troubles.
I’m not filling the water casks, Nora McDonald. It’s not my turn.
She called me a blackguard slut, so she did. I did not. Yes you did. Not. Did. Not. Did.
Lizzie Coogan. Watch out. They’ll stop your tea and sugar.
Some employers’ complaints about orphans who returned to the Depot suggest that an apprenticeship agreement or master-servant contract may well have existed in law. But in practice, things came down to personal relationships, how well master and servant got on with one another. Neither seemed aware of the wording of the contract itself. And the examples in this report are of ones that did not work. Jane Hall was “dismissed for want of civility, violent temper and abusive language”. “I had great difficulty keepingMargaret Collinswithin doors of an evening”. “My brother in law who is now dead of relapse said, let her (Eliza Day) go and don’t have another in her place—she is a dirty, filthy, idle wretch, let her go…”.
It is also clear there were clashes between the orphans and Mrs Hill, Acting Matron and Mr Moorhouse. Mrs Hill admitted “to having called the girls “dirty brutes” but I never told anyone to go to the Devil; or called one a blackguard wretch”. Matthew Moorhouse also admitted to calling them ‘brutes’, had seen them stealing stores from native stores, and dismissed Creed, McCarthy and Collins for having refused employment three times. “Had I not dismissed them, we should have had an average of about 100 constantly living upon Government”.
Perhaps the sensibilities of modern day’s readers would be most shocked by the orphan girls’ toilet habits. Was it a case of ‘bog Irish’, or young women frightened of the dark in a strange land, of inadequate arrangements in the Depot, or of our own lack of knowledge of toilet habits in the past?
Mrs Hill deposed to the enquiry, “I have frequently known the girls use their pannicans as night vessels and in the morning dip them into the water cask which we use for cooking. I have also witnessed when rising in the morning the passage made into a water closet and night soil here with ashes thrown over.
Matthew Moorhouse submitted “On the arrival of the Inconstant we had for some time 70 to 100 girls in the Depot Their habits were insufferably dirty; we had ample water closet accommodation, but they were too lazy to cross the yard, to use this convenience. On paying my morning visit, I beheld quantities of human faeces about the verandah and door, and in one instance i saw that one girl had not even taken the trouble to go outside the door, but had soiled the wall against which her bed was lying…These instances of offensiveness and filth being daily before me, caused me to express myself in severe, and probably, in apparent unkind language”. Culture clash at its most basic?
In Sydney, the orphans who returned to Hyde Park Barracks after their indentures were cancelled, discipline was more severe. They were put into a cramped and poorly ventilated room at the Barracks to pick oakum (unpicking old rope). Only when the Sisters of Mercy intervened did the practice end, and the young women sent to country depots at Wollongong, Parramatta, Bathurst, Maitland, Newcastle, Port Macquarie, and Moreton Bay. [check 1859 Report]
The Immigration depots were designed to be temporary accommodation for the Earl Grey orphans, an asylum where they could rest awhile and receive religious instruction from the clergy of their faith. But their primary purpose was to hire out the orphans as servants, indenture those under 17(?) as apprentices and hire out the others under “ordinary agreements”. (See the example of a Female Apprenticeship contract in post 13 https://wp.me/p4SlVj-g4).
Members of the different Orphan Committees vetted potential employees. Anyone with a poor reputation or ran a public house would not be permitted to have an orphan as servant. But rules are made to be broken, and in practice cannot always be enforced. One can follow the approval process, and indeed the employment history of many of the orphans, in the Registers and Indexes of applications for orphans in New South Wales State Records 4/4715-57, and dispersed throughout the Immigration Agent’s correspondence beginning c. SRNSW 4/4635.
Registers of application etc for orphans
No 326 From Adelaide Forbes, Wooloomooloo 5 April 1849 Expresses desire to get rid of Mary Ann Galway (Earl Grey) who entered her service November last. Answer. could only get rid of her by bringing her up at the Police Office or by a regular transfer of indentures
No. 807 John Armstrong, Surveyor Macquarie Street 24 August 1849 Applying for an orphan female as a general house Servant under an Indenture 895. Approved for an apprentice.
No 833 Mr J Solomons, Australia Hotel, Clarence St., 5 Sept 1849 Requests permission to have Ann Callaghan per Digby as general houseservant transferred from service of Colin MacLeod. Consent to this request against the rule laid down with reference to publicans.
No 967 Sarah Cullins per Lady Peel, Parramatta Street, Sydney 22 October 1849 complaining of ill-usage from her mistress and requesting to be removed from her service. Ask Dr Gregory to investigate.
My mistress was unkind sur. She called me a dirty papist and wouldn’t let me go to Mass on Sunday.
No 329 Principal Superintendent Convicts 12 March 1850 forwarding application of John Lawrence for permission to marry Rosanna Cartwright per Digby.
Colonial government officials and Orphan Committees were conscientious in adhering to the letter of the law, at least in the early days. Asking for character references; conferring power of attorney; even asking Police Magistrates in the country for character references from local clergy for prospective employers; arranging for constables to accompany orphans going to country depots; appointing married couples to look after the orphans in country depots were all grist to Merewether’s mill. Surgeon Strutt personally supervised the placement of ‘his girls’, 100 of whom accompanied him over the Ranges, through Goulburn, Yass and as far as Gundagai. The correct legal procedure for cancelling indentures was also enforced as far as practicable. In contrast, H H. Browne, Magistrate in the Water Police Office, presided over the Sydney court which cancelled orphan indentures. As member of the employer class, he tended to favour employers over the orphans. His prejudices were to come back to haunt him at a later date.
The indenture system did not work so well in South Australia, despite the Governor’s Ordnance of August 1848 (See my blogpost no. 13). As long ago as 1964, Cherry Parkin pointed out in her Honours thesis at the University of Adelaide, that 142 employers had failed to apprentice their orphan servants, objecting to the legal formality of binding the ‘girls’. Whilst as early as January 1849, 32 out of 60 indentured ‘girls’ had left their situations, only one of whom was taken to court. Moorhouse, himself, objected to the expense involved in taking matters to court. (GRG24/6 1849 991 28 March) The problem then arose of how long authorities were obliged to accommodate orphans who returned to the depot after leaving their situations.
But let me to return to the question of cancelled indentures at a later date.
Orphans sent up country
Immigration Agent’s correspondence SRNSW 4/4635
1848/106 10 August 1848 Military Barracks at Brisbane to be used as Immigrant Barracks
1848/129 Immigration depot to be established at Goulburn perhaps vacant Court House to be rented at £35 pa
1849/111 2 March 1849 the 19 orphans named in the margin to be taken to Parramatta, their binding to be approved by the clergyman of their religion.
Ach Jaysus Sarah Moran here we go again. Where to this time? Will it be any better than before? I’m going to find meself an ould fella to marry. I’ll be workin’ for no one but me.
Merewether in Sydney and Patterson in Melbourne coped with the influx of female orphans by distributing them throughout the colony. As the numbers increased and it became increasingly difficult to find employers for the orphans, such a strategy became imperative. The usual means of transport was by water. Many an orphan found herself on a boat again, this time on her way to Windsor or Parramatta, Wollongong or Newcastle, Maitland and the Hunter Valley, or to Port Macquarie and Brisbane, all of which could be reached by water. Otherwise, it was a long and probably less comfortable journey by dray over the mountains to Bathurst, Goulburn and beyond.
Strutt’s diary gives a wonderful account of his travels with 108 orphans from the Thomas Arbuthnot, over the Ranges and well into the South western regions of today’s New South Wales. He took “his girls” via Parramatta to Liverpool and Camden, over Razorback to Picton, across the Bargo River to Berrima and Goulburn, thence to Gunning and Yass. And from Yass he took the remaining 45 young women on a 12 hour trek to Gundagai. His round trip lasted from 18 February 1850 until 29 April.
Monday 18 Started with 108 girls and young women…by steamer to Parramatta
Tuesday 19 Started with 14 drays drawn by teams of horses, from 2 to 4 each. Was sworn in Special Constable on the occasion…Encamped for the night about ten miles beyond Liverpool, I sleeping under a dray, and much more tormented by ants, fleas or some creature that bit like fury.
aeeeeye aaeeeye aaah Wednesday 20…Mary Brandon and Mary Conway were thrown off..and the wheel went over their legs.
The orphans were not the only ones struck by the unfamiliar Australian fauna. Still using the “European’ words he was familiar with–‘forest’, magpies’ and ‘tarantula’–Strutt recorded in his diary,
Monday 25 …The forest was more animated with parrots, large magpies, cockatoos etc., to say nothing of the insect tribe, large ants, which make great hills three or four feet high, and as hard as clay very much sun dried. The people use these hills beaten into a fine paste with water to make floors for their cottages. Biddy O’Dea caught a large tarantula, which she brought to me in her apron…
A similar tactic of distributing the orphans into the hinterland was employed by the Acting Immigration agent in Melbourne, John Patterson and Superintendent La Trobe. Below is a contemporary map, not drawn to scale which shows where some of the orphans were sent–Salt Water river, Geelong and Portland.
PROV VPRS 32 Police Magistrate Portland Letters-in. Item 4 contains letters from Superintendent La Trobe making arrangements for 37 orphans per Pemberton to be sent to Portland by the steamer Raven accompanied by Surgeon Sullivan and a sub-matron. Two of the major settlers in the area, Henty and Leake, were appointed as their Guardians.
PROV VPRS 34 Police Magistrate Portland Letters-out 1849-52 Item 3
“Police Magistrate Portland to his Honor the Superintendent 23 June 1849
The single females have been housed in the Immigration Barrack at the Customs post under the protection of two married immigrants recommended by the Surgeon and a married constable”.
The other major area to receive Earl Grey Famine orphans was Geelong. By the time the Eliza Caroline arrived in Port Phillip–the last orphan vessel, with orphans from Skibbereen on board–finding positions for them in Melbourne was extremely difficult. Many of them would be sent to Geelong.
I’m very much aware what I’ve left out or left undeveloped in this post. There are orphan histories begging to be told: Eliza Taafe per Inconstant designated as ‘insane’ when she arrived in Adelaide. The Surgeon later attributed her strange behaviour on board ship to her Famine experience in Ireland. A local doctor predicted she was not permanently insane: simply in need of kindness and care: Mary Stephens, of Inchinnan fame, whose indentures with J Mackay, in Sydney, were cancelled 20 July 1849 and she sent to Moreton Bay. [It is always pleasing to see the high standard of work being done by others interested in the Earl Grey Famine orphans, for example, on the website www.mayoorphangirls.weebly.com ] Mary Stephens, according to Ray Debnam, was visited in the Brisbane Barracks four times by Dr Ballow, 15 -19 August 1849. Less convincingly, Ray suggests she may have married Thomas Kavanagh in Brisbane RC Church 17 September 1849.
Or, to finish my three examples, Margaret Cumins per Pemberton ‘raped’–‘violated forcibly’– is the term used in her statement, by her employer Patrick Ryan at Salt Water River in 1849. (PROV VPRS 115/P unit 3 49/381. See also my Barefoot vol2., pp.31-4) “…when her relative was out milking the cows, Ryan violated her forcibly and against her will: she did not tell this to her relative or to anyone else at the time, but went back again to live at Ryan’s, and Ryan had frequently criminal connexion with her since that time…” Dr Rule told me the case did not go to court, perhaps a conviction would be too difficult. Margaret lived what Dr Rule calls a ‘fairly rackety life’ being convicted of robbery in 1862 and other convictions in the late 1860s. In 1872 she was sent from gaol to a lunatic asylum.
There are other details I’ve omitted from this post, Merewether’s administration of orphans being sent up country, for example; Im. Cor. 49/240 ‘Mr Featherstone to be in charge of the party [to Goulburn]. It will be his duty to keep a strict watch over the females on the road, to prevent them having any communication with strangers and not to allow them to quit his charge under any circumstances’,
which continues, Im. Cor. (49/271) 31 May Merewether to the Police Magistrate Parramatta re the misconduct of draymen who conducted orphans to Goulburn under the charge of Martin Featherstone,
and finally, Im. Cor. (49/328) 18 June Merewether to Police Magistrate Bathurst re the appointment of Martin Featherstone and his wife as Superintendents of the Immigrant Depot at Bathurst. They are to be given two shillings and sixpence per day, a daily allowance of an adult and a female ration, fuel and candlelight, and accommodation for himself and his family at the Depot.
One wonders too if orphans were paid proper wages. Merewether was well aware ‘the orphans were under the complete control of the government’ and could be made to accept lower than the current rate of wages, if it proved expedient. Yet in 1850 (50/341) he replied to the Bench of Magistrates at Wollongong which had tried to reduce the orphans’ wages, “the present wages readily given in Sydney and elsewhere are as much below the current rate for female servants, as the [Orphan] Committee wold feel themselves justified in fixing them…”.
And what of the frequency with which orphan indentures were cancelled? Was it higher than usual? How is this to be explained? Was it part of a systemic weakness of the Earl Grey scheme? Or is there more than this? What part did it play in giving the scheme a bad reputation and bringing it to an end? How should the cancellation of orphans’ indentures be interpreted? Closer examination may uncover some truths everyone may not like to hear. This is something that warrants a closer look, don’t you think?
I’ll need to return to some of these issues when next I examine opposition to and ending of the Earl Grey scheme–soon come, I promise..and if you believe that…