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.