Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (66); More Irish Sources

May I invite readers to have a look at Kay Caball’s ‘Comment’ to my blog post (64)? Kay outlines her method for tracing the “Kerry Girls”, the subject of her book, and stresses how important it is to get in touch with someone local who can help find your particular Earl Grey orphan in Ireland.

Let me return to what I’ve been trying to do in the last couple of blog posts viz. place an orphan in the workhouse where she lived before coming to Australia. I know full well I’ll repeat some things I’ve said before, or to put it more politely, reinforce what I’ve said before.

For instance, for this post which intends focusing on workhouse Indoor Admission and Discharge records, you may wish to review my https://wp.me/p4SlVj-4X

Towards the bottom of that one you will see how i found some of the Earl Grey orphans in Indoor Workhouse Registers. There’s a brief mention of Letitia Connelly and Alice Ball from Enniskillen, Maria Blundell and Mary Dowling from North Dublin, Marianne Howe and Mary Bruton from South Dublin, Sarah and Margaret Devlin, and Charlotte and Jemima Willcocks from Armagh, and Cathy Hilferty from Magherafelt. The orphans can be elusive. They are sometimes difficult to find. [Karen S. tells me she has found some Lady Peel orphans in the Cashel Registers].

Should you intend retracing your orphan’s steps in Ireland, it is very important to do all the homework you can before you leave for the Emerald Isle. Exactly which workhouse did she come from? What records have survived for that workhouse? Can I get access to them? Do i need to apply for a reader’s ticket? Can I find her baptism in church records? Is any member of her family mentioned in Tithe Applotment Books or in Griffith’s Valuation? Even send an email to a local history society. That kind of thing. Nowadays there is an ever increasing number of records being put online which will help you do this.

My aim in this post is to introduce you to information found in Workhouse Indoor Admission and Discharge Registers. Whet your appetite if you will. Let me pull together some of the things I’ve suggested recently. I’ll start by using the third example from a couple of posts ago.

Margaret Love from Enniskillen per Diadem 

Margaret married in July 1851, shortly after arriving in Port Phillip. She would have been about 17 years old or so. {Thanks Perry}.She married William Hargrave, a blacksmith from Leeds, England, a man of different religion from her own, and six years older. They had twelve children, six boys and six girls. But their first five girls and one boy died in infancy. That is a high infant death rate.

“The night your sister was born in the living-room

you lay on your bed, upstairs, unwaking,

Cryptsporidium frothing and flourishing

through the ransacked terraces of your small intestine...”

Sinead Morrissey, Home Birth

First settling in Geelong, the couple tried their hand at the gold diggings in Ballarat. Most likely with little success since William took up smithy work again in Moomambel, Mosquito and Maryborough. Margaret herself died in Maryborough Hospital of tertiary syphilis at the end of April 1877 when she was about 43 years of age. Margaret did not have an easy life.

Let’s see if we can turn her life clock back and locate her in Irish workhouse records. Try typing “Church Hill Fermanagh” into your search engine. (You’ll need to skip Winston Churchill’s relationship with Fermanagh). And lo, there is a place spelled both Churchill and Church Hill in the parish of Inishmacsaint. Unfortunately its baptismal records do not cover the period we want. Churchill is some distance from Enniskillen workhouse where I found Margaret and her siblings, Sarah and Thomas, and Mary their dropsy afflicted mother. More of that in a moment.

Margaret Love

and from the database,

  • Surname : Love
  • First Name : Margaret
  • Age on arrival : 16
  • Native Place : Churchill, Fermanagh
  • Parents : Mary
  • Religion : Roman Catholic
  • Ship name : Diadem (Melbourne Jan 1850)
  • Workhouse : Fermanagh, Enniskillen
  • Other : shipping: house servant, reads; PRONI Enniskillen PLU BG14/G/4 (3251) Union at large, sister of Sarah (also on Diadem) and Thomas, daughter of Mary who was disabled from dropsy. Empl. John Buckland, Geelong, £8, 12 months; apprentice; married William Hargrave in Geelong 1 Jul 1857, husband a blacksmith and miner; 12 children; lived Geelong, Ballarat; admitted Maryborough Hospital 27 Feb 1877, died 30 Apr 1877.

Margaret’s sister Sarah

  • Surname : Love
  • First Name : Sarah
  • Age on arrival : 15
  • Native Place : Fermanagh
  • Parents : Mary [PLU records for sister Margaret]
  • Religion : Roman Catholic
  • Ship name : Diadem (Melbourne Jan 1850)
  • Workhouse : Fermanagh, Enniskillen
  • Other : shipping: nursemaid, reads; Enniskillen PLU PRONI BG14/G/5 (2238) servant out of place, Union at large (see sister Margaret also on Diadem) brother Thomas entered workhouse 3 Aug 1849, left 3 Oct 1849. Empl. John O’Loughlin, Point Henry, £7, 1 year, apprentice; married James Barry, Geelong, 2 Jun 1851.

Enniskillen workhouse

For some ‘recent’ news about the workhouse see https://www.irishnews.com/news/2017/11/21/news/enniskillen-workhouse-to-be-brought-to-life-with-lottery-funding-1192436/

There are a number of other Irish workhouses being restored, refurbished and turned into heritage sites. I know of at least two; Carrickmacross in County Monaghan and Portumna in County Galway. Readers may know of others?

Enniskillen workhouse is well served with surviving records . To find out more about its history try the following two links. Or type ‘Enniskillen workhouse’ into the search box at the end of this post to see what i have said about it already.

http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Enniskillen/

https://ideas.repec.org/p/ucn/wpaper/200315.html

In this second link Cormac O’Grada , Timothy Guinnane and Desmond McCabe provide information on ‘Agency and Relief’ in Enniskillen, stressing how a ‘careless, incompetent, penny pinching‘ administration of the workhouse exacerbated the Famine throughout the Poor Law Union, and led to the dissolution of the Board of Guardians in March 1848. That was a lucky strike for Margaret and Sarah Love who were to leave in late 1849, by which time administration of the workhouse was in the hands of ‘professional’ Vice-Guardians, Gowdy and Trevor. Do have a look at that working paper. It may help you understand why so many Earl Grey orphans went to Australia from Enniskillen.

In the Board of Guardian Minute Books, 17 November 1846 [BG/XIV/A/2 page 490] and 16 March 1847 [p.572] we read that a Visiting Committee reported on the abysmal state of the workhouse. They found the house “in a miserable state of filth and irregularity” and complained “it must eventually result in fever and other diseases“. By March 1848 signs of the new reforming broom were being felt: “Resolved…that a pair of sheets be used in each bed, instead of one as at present; that a pauper be appointed to place a clean pair on each bed every fortnight and a clean shirt or chemise every week.

Resolved that the Schools of the Enniskillen workhouse Union be placed under the National Board of Education…” 

New buildings, better financial management, and administrative reform not only reduced the number of fever cases but prepared the way for Enniskillen workhouse being a major source of Earl Grey orphans going to Australia.

Indoor Registers : Enniskillen

To repeat what i said in blogpost 5, these are large heavy volumes containing plenty of information about inmates. They have space to record by number, the name and surname of each ‘pauper’, their sex, age, whether married or single, if child whether orphan, deserted or bastard,

widower or widow;

their employment or calling; their religious denomination,

if disabled, the description of their disability,

the name of their wife or husband, number of children,

observations on the condition of the ‘pauper’ when admitted,

the electoral division and townland where they lived,

the date when admitted or when born in the workhouse, and the date when they died or left the workhouse.

Potentially a goldmine of information, they are certainly worth ‘mining all within’. Yet such was the crushing day-to-day pressure of the Famine, not all registers were so meticulously kept, and relatively few have survived, most of them in the North of Ireland, and held in PRONI in the Titanic Centre in Belfast.

My own research notes written on cards in pencil are not as legible as i would like. I was determined to catch as many Earl Grey orphans as possible. I certainly did not research each orphan in detail. Tracing their whole workhouse history was not always possible. But those descendants who wish to visit Ireland and walk in the same space as their orphan ancestor, or breathe the same air, surely will have more time to comb these records, should they have survived. May i wish you every success?

What do i have for Margaret and Sarah Love in my notes?

My search in volumes BG14/G/4 and 5 in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) was principally for those Earl Grey orphans who left Enniskillen workhouse on 3 October 1849 en route to Plymouth to join the Diadem, and those who would leave on the 26th of the same month to join the Derwent.

At BG14/G/4 No. 3249 Mary Love entered the workhouse on the 15 June 1848 with her children, Thomas (14 year old) and Margaret and Sarah who were described as twins and as being 16 years old. Note the discrepancy with Port Phillip shipping records. Their place of residence was Union at large, that is, they were homeless.

Mary was a 59 year old widow, Roman Catholic, who was disabled from dropsy, all of her family living from hand to mouth. Most likely they had survived by begging. And whilst Mary was recorded as being from the Union at large, alongside that entry appears the name of a townland which in my spidery handwriting looks to be Coldrum. We’ll need to check the names of townlands. Here’s a possibility https://www.townlands.ie/fermanagh/magheraboy/inishmacsaint/caldrum-glebe/

Mother Mary left the workhouse 12 October 1848, leaving her children still in the workhouse. Young Margaret stayed there until 3 October 1849. Sarah left 4 July 1849 but (at BG14/G/5 no. 2238) re-entered a couple of weeks later, 3 August ’49, before leaving with her sister on the 3rd October to join the Diadem.

There is another record at BG14/G/5 no. 1238 for a 65 year old Mary Love, Roman Catholic, no calling, aged and infirm, who entered the workhouse 1 May 1849 and left 30 July. She can hardly be the mother of our sixteen year old twins but as Kay Caball suggests, ages were not reliable. If we believe the entry we have above at no. 3249, our Mother Mary would have been about 45 years old when she gave birth to her son Thomas! More conundrums to resolve.

at Ulster Folk Museum, Cultra.

Here are a few more examples from Irish workhouse Indoor admission and discharge records relating to orphans who came to Australia per Diadem, Derwent and Earl Grey .

McManus families in Enniskillen workhouse

My first example is one that demands another visit to the archives. I’ve misplaced some of my notes, and the remaining ones are in a state of disarray. There was evidently more than one McManus family in Enniskillen workhouse. My surviving notes however do underline how desperate these families were. The McManus females were not long term residents of the workhouse but they frequented it on numerous occasions during the Famine years. {I’ll highlight the dates of their entry and leaving to help you trace that frequency}. They came in when they needed to, or when they were desperate enough. Using a bit of historical license, one might even imagine the emotions involved in their family breaking apart. But I’d be careful about ascribing my own emotions to people in the past.

Here, from my surviving notes, are references to them as they appeared in Indoor Registers BG14/G/4 and 5. {I’ll also highlight their place of residence. Remember what i said in an earlier post about the importance of geography. Type the townland name along with County Fermanagh into google or your alternative search engine and you will find exactly where the townland is}.

  • No. 210 Mary McManus and 211 (?) Margaret McManus 15 yo single RC Laragh entered 4/7/1847 left 30/08/47
  • 470 Mary McManus 18 yo RC 4/7/47 to 27/7/1847
  • 947 Ann McManus 15 RC Letterbreen in 4/7/1847 out 18/09/47. She had entered along with her 9 yo, 5 yo and 3 yo siblings.
  • 1185 Margaret McManus 16 s deserted by mother RC clean Laragh entered 3/09/1847 along with Mary 12 yo and Thomas 7 yo
  • 1441 Mary McManus 14 yo entered with her 30(?) yo mother Mary(?) and her siblings Margaret 12, Eliza 8, Pat 5, Thomas 2 and Redmond 2 mths. Husband in Scotland. Laragh Cleenish Island entered 12/10/47 left 7/04/1848. Two members of this family were to come to Australia by the Derwent.
  • 1474 Margaret McManus 12 yo orphan RC mother in house Ballycassidy Twy.
  • 1797 Anne McManus 20yo paralyzed
  • 2315 a Mary McManus (mother?) left the workhouse in 1850.
  • 2362 & 2615 Mary McManus
  • 2648 Ann McManus
  • 2728 Mary McManus 12 yo daughter of 38 yo Ellen RC Florencecourt
  • in 25/04/48 out 25 May 48
  • 4060 Margaret McManus 16yo single RC Rahalton Derrygonnelly in 24/10/48 out 26/10/49 the date other orphans left Enniskillen to join the Derwent at Plymouth
  • and 4064 as part of the same family group Mary 14 yo who entered on this occasion 24/10/48 and went out 9/11/48. This is looks to be Margaret’s sister who was also to join the Derwent.
  • and just to confuse matters further in BG14/G/5 number 15 Margaret MacManus 17 yo s. RC Union at large Drumbeg, in 23/1/49 out 3/10/49 which is the date others left to join the Diadem. But there was no Margaret McManus on the Diadem.

One would need some time in the archives to find which of these McManus women and children belonged to whom. Notice how they moved around from townland to townland during the Famine years. {Remember how far the young hero traveled during the Famine in Paul Lynch’s brilliant novel, Grace}. It would appear that Margaret and Mary McManus per Derwent were sisters. Ann McManus may have belonged to a different family.

Ellen and Mary Fitzsimmons

Just a couple more for the Diadem, at BG14/G/4 nos 464 and 465, as part of a family, with mother Grace a 45 yo widow, Established Church, and a 15 yo brother Robert, Ellen Fitzsimmons 14 yo and Roseanne 12 yo entered 4 July 1847 and left 16 February 1848 ; nos 3592-5 Grace Fitzsimmons 45 yo widow no employment Aghnaglack in 10/08/1848 entering with Mary 17 yo no employment, along with Ellen 11 and Rose Ann 9, all of them leaving four days later on the 14th August. Then in BG14/G/5 at nos. 254-5 Ellen Fitzsimmons 18yo Protestant Carn Blacknett and Mary Fitzsimmons 16 yo Protestant entered the workhouse 26 January 1849 and left 3 October 1849, the same date as other orphans leaving to join the Diadem at Plymouth.

Armagh Indoor Registers BG2/G/1 and 2. Mary Littlewood

Let me finish with a couple more from Armagh Indoor Register where you can find many more Earl Grey orphans. The first relates to Mary Littlewood whose story i recounted in blogpost 9 https://wp.me/p4SlVj-dQ

I included a synopsis of her stay in the workhouse there. Here are further details that i hope help us understand young Mary a bit more. {I’ll continue highlighting the family’s dates of entry and leaving, and the townland where they resided}.

BG2/G/1 Unfortunately I didn’t always note down the numbers and there seems to be some duplication of entries in the second volume BG2/G/2.

BG2/G/1 nos. 5440-44 Mary Littlewood 54 yo married, husband Samuel, Protestant, enters with her four children from Rich Hill Ragged and dirty 1/11/1846 leaves 28/12/46; Mary, 15 yo thinly clothed and hungry 29 Nov. ’46 to 28 /12/46; Thomas William 13 yo leaves 1/12/46; John 11 yo and Ann Eliza 9 yo who leave 28/12/46. {Incidentally Richhill and Ballybreagh are not too far from Portadown, the birthplace of that great poet i quoted earlier, Sinead Morrissey}.

No 6159 Samuel married to Mary 57 yo Established Church from Rich Hill enters the workhouse with one of his children 13 yo Thomas William 12/12/46 leaves with his wife and the rest of the family 28 December 1846. The family all left on the same date. I wonder did they not like being separated from each other in the workhouse.

Nos. 7532-36 Mary Littlewood married no calling Protestant delicate husband Samuel Rich Hill Ballybreagh enters 16/2/47 leaves 14/08/47. No.7533 is 11 yo John followed by Ann Eliza 9years old, Samuel 57 yo married weaver very ill died 25 February 1847, and finally Mary 15 yo single leaves 10/08/1847.

Then in the next volume BG/G/2 nos. 1469 et seq. Mary Littlewood 54 yo married Established Church, thinly clothed and quite destitute, from the Union at Large (now she has nowhere to live) re-enters the same day 14/08/47 along with 11 yo John and 9 yo Ann Eliza. They all leave a few weeks later on 6/09/47. The family is only staying in the workhouse for very short periods.

We see the remainder of the family again at No. 2076 et seq. Mother Mary is described as a 52 year old widow a member of the Established Church (Church of Ireland or Anglican) from Rich Hill Ballybreagh coming in to the workhouse 5 October 1847. But she dies on the 10 March 1848. Shortly after, her eldest daughter Mary 15 yo leaves the workhouse 24 May 1848 en route to Plymouth to join the Earl Grey. She leaves behind her siblings, all of them described as thinly clothed and destitute, thirteen year old Thomas who absconds from the house 11 July ’48, 11 yo John who leaves 10 September 1850 and Ann Eliza 9 years old who leaves 18 July 1851. Bit by bit the family falls apart. I wonder what became of them. Mary Littlewood’s story, Earl Grey orphan, is recounted at https://wp.me/p4SlVj-dQ

Mary Anne Kelly per Earl Grey

Finally, the ubiquitous Mary Kelly. This one is Mary Anne Kelly who also came on the Earl Grey with her sister Rose. I did have some loose sheets with specific references to entries in the Indoor Registers that i used for the second volume of Barefoot & Pregnant? But they’ve gone missing. Here are the references from Barefoot; BG2/G/1 3119, BG2/G/2 439, 1417and for Rose BG2/G/2 439, 1418, 1819.

From my early numberless notes, BG2/G/2

Mary Anne Kelly single female 19 yo. Established Church, Thinly clothed and hungry, resides Middletown, entered 30 April 1847, left 6 May 1847. She had come in with her mother 40 yo Rose Kelly along with her siblings, sister Rose 15 yo and two brothers Patrick and Michael, all of them described as thinly clothed and hungry.

Three months later Mary Anne re-enters the workhouse but this time is described as a single female 19 yo Roman Catholic, recovering from fever thinly clothed and hungry, residing Middletown. She enters along with her younger sister Rose who is 15 years old. She too is recovering from fever. They enter 7 August 1847. Rose leaves 13 September 1847, Mary the 8th November.

But Rose comes back one day later, 14 September 1847, along with her two brothers 12 yo Patrick and 10 yo Michael. Rose is described as s f 15 reduced to 14 years old, Fatherless RC thinly clothed etc. Middletown. Rose will leave the workhouse on 24 May 1848 the same date other Armagh orphans leave to join the first orphan vessel, the Earl Grey. Patrick and Michael will leave the workhouse 26 September 1849.

Finally, Mary Anne Kelly single female 19 yo RC thinly clothed and destitute residing Middletown comes back to the workhouse 28 December 1847 and she too will leave 24 May 1848 en route to Port Jackson. The shipping record in Sydney will state her parents are called James and Rose, her mother being still alive and living in Middletown.

——————————————————————————————————————–

I can think of more things we might do. For example, see what we can discover about Armagh during the Famine. Or about the changes happening to the weaving industry in this densely populated county. Or about the workhouse itself.

Obviously the content of this post will be of particular interest to the descendants of Margaret and Sarah Love or Margaret and Mary McManus, and the others. Nonetheless i hope it encourages you to research ‘your’ own particular orphan inside the workhouse, in Downpatrick, Magherafelt, Ballymena, Dublin, Cashel or wherever. Be warned though, if Indoor Registers have survived, you may discover only a brief reference to your orphan. Yet nothing ventured, nothing…

…discover by your grave cloths a replica of yourself

in turquoise faience, fashioned with a basket.

Here, it says. I’ll do it. Take me“.

from The House of Osiris in the field of reeds in Sinead Morrissey’s Parallax
Advertisements

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (54): Skibbereen and beyond (cont.)

 Skibbereen and beyond (cont.)

The poster above contains essential information about the November commemorative ‘Gathering’ in Williamstown this year. Wouldn’t it be good to see an Outreach programme associated with this Standing Rock in memory of the young Irish Famine women who arrived in Port Phillip? Organisers and descendants could choose the kind of outreach they would like. What do you think? I’m sure Dr Noone would encourage any proposal.

To return to some of the issues raised in my last post. Most of us will agree that the Earl Grey orphans had psychological baggage when they came to Australia. Some of them from places such as Skibbereen or Dingle or Kilrush may have been damaged more than others, making it hard for them to cope with the troubles they met in their new home.

If I may quote from Dr Kildea’s poignant oration, ‘Only Nineteen ‘ delivered at Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney at the end of August 2017,

To be uprooted from your home country by force of circumstance, whether it be persecution or the prospect of starvation, and transported to a strange and foreign land can be a deeply traumatic experience. The fact that the refugee is thereby enabled to survive is unarguably a good thing. But that obvious benefit does not eliminate the emotional damage which the forced displacement causes”.

I encourage you to read Jeff’s speech if you haven’t already done so. https://tintean.org.au/2017/09/06/only-nineteen/

Reading his oration again I’m aware how much I’m indebted to him in these two blogposts on “Skibbereen and beyond”.

But let me play the devil’s advocate. What counter arguments or qualifications might be made to the claim that orphans from the Skibbereen area were especially vulnerable? Was Skibbereen so exceptional? Some qualifications to the claim have appeared already viz. there are places other than Skibbereen just as badly affected by the Famine. Dingle and Clare Abbey were mentioned in the previous post, for example. Note too the cover picture of the last post which features Captain Arthur Kennedy’s young daughter distributing clothing to children at Kilrush.

Kilrush, in County Clare, was notorious for the number of evictions that drove people from their homes. Captain Kennedy, the Poor Law Inspector in Kilrush Poor Law Union, reported in July 1848,

“These helpless creatures are not only unhoused, but often driven off the land, no one remaining on the lands being allowed to lodge or harbour them. Or they, perhaps linger about the spot, and frame some temporary shelter out of the materials of their old homes against a broken wall, or behind a ditch or fence, or in a bog-hole (scalps as they are called), places totally unfit for human habitations, or they crowd into some of the few neighbouring cabins still left standing, when called to do so, as lodgers, where such numbers congregate that disease, together with the privations of other kinds which they endure, before long carry them off. As soon as one horde of houseless and all but naked paupers are dead, or provided for in the workhouse, another wholescale eviction doubles the number, who in their turn pass through the same ordeal of wandering from house to house, or burrowing in bogs or behind ditches, till broken down by privation and exposure to the elements, they seek the workhouse, or die by the roadside”.

scalp of brian connor nr Kilrush union house
scan0009

Or to take a different tack, there were another eighteen or so orphans from Skibbereen on board the Eliza Caroline and another eighty-five (85) on board the Elgin to South Australia about whom we know little or nothing. We just do not know how they fared in Australia. And therefore surely cannot be certain their Famine experience predisposed them to disaster in Australia.

Remember too that the orphans did not board ship carrying disease or wearing lice infected rags. They had an outfit, a wooden box, a Bible, and would be well fed during their voyage to Australia.

Dunmanway

My thanks to  Síle Ní Muirchú (O’Driscoll) whose spiritual home is the beautiful Gougane Barra in West Cork. Síle provided the following excerpts from the Dunmanway Board of Guardian Minute Books. Dunmanway is just up the road from Skibbereen. Fifteen orphans from Dunmanway were also on board the Eliza Caroline.

“1st December 1849  “The Reports of the Master and other Officers were read, and orders made thereon, as follows”:

“The matron reported that 350 yards of gingham was required for girls bibs” 

The clerk was directed to advertise for contractors to supply gingham. Contracts to be made on the 8th inst.

8th December 1849

Letter from the Commissioners of 6th Inst No. 76770 containing instructions respecting Female emigrants – directions were given to the union officers to carry out the instructions of the Commissioners.

Special Business “Tender for supply of gingham deferred for consideration”.

The clerk was directed to advertise for persons willing to convey to Cork 15 female emigrants with their boxes etc? – tender to be considered on the 15th inst”.

15th December 1849

Special Business “Tenders for conveying female emigrants to Cork deferred for a few days”.

The tender of Mr Ralph Phipps? To paint boxes for the female emigrants at 5/2d each was accepted”.

22nd December 1849

“Debit Workhouse Invoice Account, and Credit Treasure, with the several sums as above”. 

“4. Emigration Account”.

Messr Skilling? And Co Books £1 s3 d9

Mr. ? for Bonnets 1 0 0

Mr Standley for Emigrants shoes 1 5 0

Mr Winder? For conveyance to Plymouth 3? 13 10 0

Mr ?? Fares to Cork 1 15 0

“The Reports of the Master and other Officers were read, and orders made thereon, as follows”:

That all? The clothing and requirements/requisites? Required for the outfit of the Female emigrants are now complete”.

Bibles, bonnets, boxes, shoes, and dressed in gingham, the Dunmanway orphans were privileged indeed, and cut a fine bib as they made their way to Cork en route to Plymouth and thence Port Phillip.

I doubt that today many Syrian children seeking refuge in Lebanon or Jordan, or in Canada or Germany are receiving professional counselling. Nor are the Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh. How far have we failed to come? Such psychiatric help did not exist for our Famine orphans either. Yet maybe 235 Earl Grey orphans living close to one another on board the recently built, well appointed but small, Eliza Caroline, fostered memories of home. Living cheek by jowl for a ninety day voyage provided plenty of opportunity to share and talk about past experiences, and about anxieties, and hopes, and dreams. Good medicine in itself, for some at least, was it not?

There are different and subtle hues to our picture of ‘Skibbereen and beyond’, are there not?

Australian circumstances and events

gillslygrogc
Sly Grog Shop on the road to Bendigo by S. T. Gill, 1852. Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria picture collection

Vulnerable orphans

What tipped a vulnerable orphan into the abyss? What things made her life so difficult in Australia? Maybe the life cycle of an ‘at risk’ orphan became a disaster because of events that happened in Australia. How many of them fall into this category? It is hard to know. We may never know. My gut reaction would be, about ten percent (10%) of the whole. But if we include any Earl Grey orphan who went into an institution, even once, to a Benevolent Asylum, a Lying-in hospital, a women’s prison, a Mental Asylum, or whose children went to an Industrial school, I’d put the figure higher. We just do not know the history of all the orphans. Which is why the work of people such as Perry Mc Intyre, Karen Semken, Cheryl Mongan, Richard Reid, and committed family historians is so important to our understanding of this issue.

Let me briefly explore, in general terms, the kind of thing that had an adverse effect on an orphan’s life. Here’s an incomplete list just off the top of my head. I hope you will identify others. Let me know your thoughts.

  • the vulnerability of a lonely female immigrant who lacked a support network from ‘home’
  • sexual and domestic abuse
  • criminal misdemeanours
  • alcoholism
  • mental illness, and other maladies
  • poverty and hardship
  • desertion, illness and death of her husband

Sexual and domestic abuse

I’ll just look at a couple of things from the list above. Under sexual and domestic abuse let’s include any orphan, vulnerable because of her servitude, who was a target for an employer abusing his or her power as master in the master-servant relationship. There will be more than the ones that came to court. Here are a few that were reported in the Melbourne press, the Argus.

Sarah Higg/Head ( the Melbourne Daily News named her as Sarah Head) a 14 year-old from Limerick per Pemberton took her employers to court in November 1849. Richard Clarke a printer in the Gazette office in Melbourne abused her with ‘the most insulting language’, calling her a ‘poor-house brat’. His wife had grabbed her by the neck and thrown her out the door. See Argus, 13 Nov. 1849 p.2 col 6 http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/504313

Catherine Mackie per New Liverpool was also a 14 year-old but from from Wicklow. The Argus 3 Nov 1849 reported as follows,

“The evidence went to prove that Mr.Williams (a schoolteacher of Brighton) had struck the girl repeatedly with a broom handle, and when she cried with pain he filled her mouth with ashes, to prevent the neighbours being alarmed”.
Or in Catherine’s words,”he then knelt upon me and took two fists full of ashes and put them down my mouth”.

And

Tragically, in April 1850, Alice Ball  a 16 year-old from Enniskillen per Diadem committed suicide by throwing herself into the River Yarra in Melbourne. “Even though reins were thrown to her from the bank of the river, she would not, she refused to lay hold of them”. She was pregnant by her married master. See the Argus, 26 April, 29 April and 1 May 1850.  http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/4773296

On Alice see https://www.prov.vic.gov.au/about-us/our-blog/tragic-end-irish-alice

My final example, one that i cannot forget, is Mary Coghlan from Skibbereen per Eliza Caroline. You can read about some of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband via this link http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/6455284?zoomLevel=1

“He pulled me out of bed and shoved me one way and then another. I was stupid and taken in labor after he beat me, and I can’t tell half what he did to me… The child was born dead. Prisoner struck me with his hand and his foot. He struck me all over. He struck me with the point of his foot. I was tumbling on the floor. My daughter was in the house when he beat me. He ill-used me from the Saturday till the Friday, when the child was born. Sometimes he’d up and give me a shove or a slap”.

The sad thing is, a husband’s so-called “rights” to discipline and punish his wife and children was enshrined in law, a legal position which was underpinned by the ideology of most churches of the time. The head of a household, that is, the male, had a duty to administer ‘moderate’ correction to his wife and children to keep them on the straight and narrow. I wonder do we really live in more enlightened times. There are still plenty of troglodytes about.

Mental Hospitals

In the 1990s I did some research on Irish women in Mental asylums for my Irish Women in Colonial Australia. I am glad to say some excellent work has appeared since then, particularly by the former Professor of Irish studies at the University of Melbourne, Professor Elizabeth Malcolm. Have a look for Elizabeth Malcolm, “Mental Health and Migration: The case of the Irish, 1850s-1990s”, in Migration, Ethnicity and Mental Health…, ed. A. McCarthy & C. Coleborne, Routledge, 2012, and her chapter on Yarra Bend Asylum, “Irish Immigrants in a Colonial Asylum during the Australian Gold Rushes, 1848-69”, in Asylums, Mental Health Care and the Irish:1800-2010, ed. Pauline M. Prior,  Irish Academic Press, 2012, 2017.  One can gain access to substantial portions of these works by searching via Google books.

Professor Malcolm identifies two orphans in her chapter on case histories in Yarra Bend, Bridget Ferry  from Dunfanaghy in Donegal per Lady Kennaway, and Elizabeth Armstrong from Enniskillen per Diadem. One was described as a ‘congenital idiot’ and the other as suffering from ‘paralysis’ and ‘dementia’. But both were released ‘cured’ after only a few months stay in the institution. Professor Malcolm suggests they may have used the asylum for their own ends, “as a means of escaping from intolerable living conditions”.

There was no shortage of Irish women in Australian mental hospitals. Dr Malcolm lists the reasons for their being there; post natal depression, grief at the death of children, alcoholism, head injuries and poor physical health, and some evidence of ‘gold fever’ i.e. overwhelming disappointment at not finding gold on the Victorian gold fields.

And if I may add, from my own research notes, the reasons given by the medical authorities of the day as the ‘supposed cause’ of an inmate’s illness. They help identify some of the ‘difficulties’ an ‘at risk’ orphan may have faced. These are taken from mental hospital records in Victoria, Queensland, and New South Wales;

“her mind is affected by her child burning to death”,

“feeble and much emaciated”,

“drunkenness and ill usage of her husband”,

“death of her husband and destitute circumstances”,

“states she has been living in a solitary hut, her husband having been up the country and that continued fear was the cause of her illness”,

“form of mental disorder, nostalgia. Supposed cause, grief at leaving her country and ardent desire to return to it”,

“she continually reads her Prayer Book…becomes excited over religious subjects stating she has renounced her husband, that she considers sexual intercourse a crime and that she would sooner die than submit”,

“supposed cause of her melancholia, ‘regret at leaving home coupled with her recent desolate condition'”,

“she is a native of Ireland and lived by selling fruits…she has been long parted from her husband on account of his brutal usage”,

“the mother states that during her pregnancy with this child she received the most cruel usage from her husband”.

No matter how heavy the psychological baggage the orphans brought with them from a Famine ravaged Ireland, sometimes the struggle they had in their new home in Australia  tipped them over the edge, and determined the downward course their lives.

wollston park1ascan
Woogaroo, later Goodna, now known as Wollston Park mental hospital in Queensland, built in 1865.

Benevolent Asylums

Elsewhere in my blog I’ve drawn readers’ attention to the fact that because so many orphans married older men, in their old age they were more likely to spend their last days in an institution such as a Benevolent Asylum. Or as Dr Malcolm puts it, ‘elderly working class widows were especially vulnerable to psychiatric institutionalisation’. They coped as best they could, whatever way they could.

Unfortunately records of the names of those in the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum have not survived. But they have done so elsewhere. One needs to be aware of the name of the ship and date of arrival to detect an Earl Grey orphan. Here are a few from the ‘Register of Personal details relating to persons admitted to Dunwich Benevolent Asylum’.(Queensland State Archives Ben 2/4). Dunwich is on Stradbroke Island in Moreton Bay.

In alphabetic order,

Mary Clark aged 69 admitted January 19th 1897. Born in Belfast, daughter of Charles Murray and Mary Donnelly…came to Australia 49 years ago by ship Roman Emperor, landed at Adelaide S.A. Goodness how far had she travelled.

Eliza Dwyer aged 75 admitted May 4th 1898. Born in Belfast, daughter of John Frazer and Margaret Gallagher…came to Australia 50 years ago landed Moreton Bay. Eliza was one of the original Belfast girls who arrived by the Earl Grey.

Ellen Agnes Hickson aged 61 admitted Oct. 29  1895 . Born Clare Ireland, daughter of John Leyden and Mary Cronin…came to Australia 1850 landed in Sydney…last two years in Asylum Goodna. Ellen Leydon  from Ennistymon in County Clare arrived by the Thomas Arbuthnot.

Eliza Scholes aged 52 admitted October 10th 1889. Born Belfast, daughter of Anthony Rodgers and Jane Harver…came to Brisbane ’48 & have been in Queensland ever since. Eliza was another of the original Belfast girls who arrived by the Earl Grey.

It would be a major research project searching for, and cross referencing orphans in different institutions throughout Australia. Eliza Scholes nee Rogers had served three months for vagrancy in March 1888 and another 6 months for the same ‘crime’ in January 1889 in Toowoomba Women’s prison.

A reminder, though, searching for orphans in such institutions, as I’ve said elsewhere, ” is merely adding the bias of expectations to the bias of the evidence itself”. But it is still worth doing.

The work of family historians can act as a counterweight to this, even if they too have a bias of their own. Their concern is not with the ‘lost’ orphans. They are the survivors, and sometimes, maybe too often, view things through rose-tinted spectacles. As Noeline Kyle puts it in her very useful book, Writing Family History Made Very Easy, Allen & Unwin, 2007, in her chapter called “Nostalgia, Sentiment and Blazing Sunsets”, “we read about devoted wives, hardworking men, dear children and pious wives” (p.165). Noeline has important and valuable advice for all would-be genealogists and family historians.

My intention was to include some Port Phillip orphan stories via family reconstitutions in this post, on the occasion of this year’s Williamstown commemoration. But the post is too long already. Next time, I promise, before the ‘gathering’ occurs.

Here’s an incomplete key to the contents of my blog http://wp.me/p4SlVj-oE

I hope it may be of use to the actors researching their roles for Jaki McCarrick’s play “Belfast Girls”. Break a leg!

At the bottom of each blog post after the comments there is a search box. Type in whatever you are looking for and click enter and you will find what reference there is, if any, in the whole of the blog. Thus if you enter “Ellen Leydon” you will be told she appears in posts 51, 25, 9, and 4. Happy hunting.