Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (59): Miss D. Meanors

Misdemeanors

This is a brief codicil or supplement to an earlier post called “Skibbereen and Beyondhttps://wp.me/p4SlVj-1Aq

If you remember I’d asked a couple of questions,

had an orphan’s Famine experience damaged her, and made her especially vulnerable in Australia?

What were the circumstances and experiences in Australia that contributed to her difficulties, thrusting her into a life of petty crime, or alcoholism, or to the doors of a Benevolent Asylum or Mental Hospital?

In that particular post i suggested some things we could  examine, for example,

  • 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

and said a few words about those who suffered sexual and domestic abuse, sought refuge in a Benevolent Asylum especially in old age, or became a patient in a mental hospital.

In this post I’d like to add a little about ‘criminal misdemeanors’. But first a couple of caveats. The ‘crimes’ I’ll be talking about are mostly public order crimes, drunkenness, obscene language, causing a nuisance, vagrancy, prostitution and the like, many of them no longer on the statute book. Imagine if today you could be thrown into gaol for swearing or being drunk in a public place.

As Dr Kildea informed us in his oration at Hyde Park Barracks in August 2017 public intoxication was only decriminalised in New South Wales in 1979. He suggested “in mid-Victorian New South Wales with its colonial imitation of Dickensian England, the law was used as a blunt instrument to defeat anti-social behaviour, with punishment rather than intervention the preferred antidote“. Still, these petty offences were ‘crimes’ in mid nineteenth century Australia, and if you did the crime, you did the time, or paid the fine.

The other thing I’d like to stress is that I’ve separated poverty and destitution from alcoholism and abuse and mental illness and the others as a means of examining each in turn. But clearly they should not be separated. The orphan who became a casualty in Australia would experience a mixture of these different things in different measure and in different intensity at different times in her life. One would have to look at each individual case on merit.

South Australia

Let me start with South Australia. Many of our South Australian orphans are still elusive. South Australian State Records may now have a different numbering system from the one I’ve given below. These cases are taken from the Adelaide Police Court Minute Books, SRSA GRG 65/1/1 +. Those who were Earl Grey female orphans were often but not always described as such. They are from research notes I made in the dim and distant past. I had a limited time available to me.

Mary Murray per Roman Emperor September 3 1849 Prostitute behaving indecently in Hindley Street 2 September, 14 days hard labour P.C. Dyke No 266. See the AJCP (Australian Joint copying Project) for Colonial Office (CO) 13/70 Return of Adelaide Prostitutes 30 September 1850. The microfilm will be in your State Library. I’ll put CO 13/70 beside the names of those who appear in this Government Report.

Mary appeared regularly in the Adelaide Police Court, 12 December 1849 violent behaviour at Police Station, 11 March 1850 along with Margaret Kenny another female orphan and Ellen Nugent, common prostitutes behaving in a riotous manner in Hindley Street, 19 July 1850, 6 February 1851 obscene language in Light Square, fined 40 shillings and 10 shillings costs, 7 November 1851 drunk on the racecourse discharged with a caution. I wonder is this the Mary Clark nee Murray per Roman Emperor who entered Dunwich Benevolent Asylum in Queensland in  1897. Given what we know about the geographic mobility of some orphans that is not beyond the bounds of credibility. That Dunwich Mary Murray per Roman Emperor married William Campbell at Armadale (sic) New South Wales when she was 26. Her second husband was John Edward Clark whom she married when she was 34.

Catherine Duffy per Roman Emperor (CO 13/70) 23 March 1850. charged along with  Susannah Griffiths with ‘feloniously receiving’ two rings stolen by Joseph Cooper. The prisoners were committed for trial on the 26th and allowed bail 2 sureties each of £25. ‘Bail was procured by Cooper and Griffiths, but no one coming forward to answer for the appearance of Duffy, she was taken to gaol’. See South Australian, 29 March 1850, p.3, col. 2. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/71625931/6252341

Young Catherine was to have a long criminal career. 6 January 1851 disorderly prostitute in Light Square discharged, 13 February, 1 March 1851 Prostitute disorderly in Hindley St. fined 40 shillings paid, 28 March using obscene language Morpeth St. discharged, 9 May 1851 drunk and disorderly pleads guilty, 10 July drunk,  4 October, drunk and disorderly fined 20 sh., 16 October, 24 October drunk fined 5 sh., 18 November drunk, 19 January 1852 drunk in Currie St., 5 April 1852, drunk, 27 July drunk in Rosina st., 24 August driving on footway in Currie st., fined 5 sh. 15 November drunk in Hindley st. fined 10sh. 1 March 1854 Drunk in Hindley st. But there is no sign of her in the first six months of 1857. I wonder what became of her.

Ann Curran per Inconstant (CO 13/70) Monday 8 April 1850 drunk and using obscene language in Hindley St. fined 10 shillings paid. Ann Curran and June Rogers charged with wilfully breaking eight panes of glass belonging to Catharine Duffy at Light Square, complainant declined to prosecute. 31 July 1851 to answer complaint of Mary Tilly for using obscene language to her near the Theatre, fined 5 sh.

Margaret Kenny per Inconstant (?) There was a Mary Kenny according to the S. A. Register. See Mary Murray above. 15 July 1850 charged with Sarah Hannon, Fanny Clarke and Sarah Cobbe disorderly prostitutes fined 20 sh., 28 august 1850  Margaret Kenny Irish orphan charged with stealing 14 shillings from John Iris at Adelaide imprisoned for three calendar months as a rogue and vagabond. 13 March 1852 obscene language.

Mary Kelly per Inconstant 24 February 1851 indecent behaviour in Light Sq. discharged with a caution, 13 June 1851 Emma Baker and Mary Kelly prostitutes fighting in Gilles Arcade fined 5 sh., 17 June Margaret Kelly drunk and using obscene language, 24 July drunk, 14 August 1852 Margaret Kelly obscene language 10 shillings fine.

Catherine Ryan Irish Orphan per Elgin CO13/70  There was another Catherine Ryan fined for her hog sty nuisance 2 March 1849. Obviously not the one by the Elgin which didn’t arrive until 12 September that year. 17 August 1850 stealing in the dwelling house of August Fischer at Adelaide one gold brooch and one gold locket, remanded,  24 August 1850 remanded last Saturday for stealing a brooch and a locket. Committed for trial. 27 September 1851 theft committed for trial. 9 March 1854 Larceny.

Bridget Cotter per Elgin CO 13/70  23 September 1850 with three others including Catherine McDonald per Elgin CO 13/70 prostitutes with using indecent language in Hindley St. Cotter and two others 40 sh. each plus 20 sh. costs in default one month hard labour. McDonald discharged.

Mary Ann Dorgan per Inconstant CO 13/70 12 October 1850 using obscene language in Currie St. fined 40 sh. plus 20 sh. costs or one month hard labour. A  Margaret Doran per Inconstant appears 10 march 1851, 26 November 1851 and 29 July 1852, possibly the same person(?)

Jane Robinson Irish orphan per Roman Emperor CO 13/70 17 august 1850 using obscene language in Light Square fined 40 sh. and 20 sh. costs paid. 23 September 1851 obscene language discharged. 4 December drunk in Currie St. fined 5 sh. 27 January 1852 theft of one silver watch prosecuted  discharged.

Catherine Reardon Irish orphan per Inconstant CO 13/70 13 August 1850 obscene language in Hindley St. 40 sh. plus 10 sh. costs paid.

Elizabeth Quinlan per Elgin CO 13/70 12 August 1850 drunk and using obscene language in Hindley St. 40 sh. paid.

Mary Maher per Inconstant CO 13/70 4 July 1850 drunk and disorderly in Currie St. fined 20 sh. or 14 days in prison

Sarah Johnston per Roman Emperor CO 13/70 5 August 1850 disorderly and obscene Hindley St. 10 sh. or one month in gaol.

Rose McShane per Roman Emperor CO 13/70  22 January 1851 drunk Rundle St. 5 sh.

Sarah McEwen per Roman Emperor CO13/70 30 June 1851 indecent, 26 November 1851 obscene language discharged, 4 February 1852 abusive language.

Clearly there is a lot more work to be done on this subject. I’m far from satisfied with the hurried nature of my research in the Archives. How do we trace those who changed their name with marriage or by adopting an alias? What are the limitations of the sources available to us? What explanation should we give for the petty criminal behaviour of these particular orphans? Poverty and hardship? A desire to be independent? Alcohol? Lack of extended family support? Domestic abuse? Psychological or other medical problems? Pizzazz? And what of those who fell on hard times later in life? How do we find those? Fortunately this last question is taken up in the next section.

New South Wales

I am indebted to Julie Poulter for the information contained in this next section. The cases below are taken from Julie’s careful research and pursuit of ‘Earl Grey orphans on the streets of Sydney’. It is work she did for her studies at the University of New England. Most of her information has made its way to the database http://www.irishfaminememorial.org/orphans/database/

The first five cases from Julie’s work are Sarah Packham née Arlow, Jane Lansdowne née Kelly, Mary Ann Lankenon née Hanbury, Cecilia Day née  Maguire and Margaret Hanlon née Burke.

Old Darlinghurst Gaol
OLd Darlinghurst Gaol. Bird’s eye view from Sydney Illustrated News 16 November 1866

These women who fell on hard times and were imprisoned in Darlinghurst Gaol in Sydney led tragic lives. They suffered domestic abuse, desertion, habitual intemperance, grinding poverty and illness. They lived in the dirtiest, most insalubrious parts of the city and sold their bodies for sex, and neglected their children in their desperate struggle for survival.

Julie argues it was not so much  their Famine experience as their experience in New South Wales that tipped them into the quagmire of petty criminality. Unlike the Adelaide cases above, it would be a long time, on average more than fourteen years in the colony, before they committed any crime.

Sarah Arlow from Banbridge, Co. Down per Earl Grey

Sarah was one of the ‘good’ girls on board the notorious Earl Grey, according to the Matron Maria Cooper. Deserted by her husband on the goldfields of Turon River, she and her two children went to the Benevolent Asylum. (On the Asylum see Tanya Evans, Fractured Families, UNSW Press, 2015). Sarah’s first crime was committed eight years after her arrival. In 1862-5 she was sent to gaol for her indecent behaviour, being idle, drunk and disorderly, and as a vagrant. She was found in a laneway in a drunken stupor and died in 1865 aged 36. Here is her database entry.

  • Surname : Arlow
  • First Name : Sarah
  • Age on arrival : 19
  • Native Place : Banbridge, Down
  • Parents : William & Eliza (both dead)
  • Religion : Church of England
  • Ship name : Earl Grey (Sydney 6 Oct 1848)
  • Workhouse : Down, Banbridge
  • Other : shipping: house servant, reads only, no relatives in colony. Empl. Mr O’Brien, Sydney, £10, 1 year; married Alfred Packham in 1850 at St Andrews, Sydney; Aug 1855 Alfred Peckham (alias John Harris) charged with deserting wife & children, ordered to pay 20s a week for 2 years; Sarah & children went to Benevolent Asylum; Sarah drunk and disorderly in 1856 & 1862; Sarah Packham (aka Davis) died at the Infirmary.

Mary Hanbury from Boyle Roscommon per Digby

See Julie’s account of Mary’s life on the database link below. Mary’s first crime was committed seventeen years after her arrival in the colony. Between 1866 and 1872 she had thirteen convictions for  drunkenness, assault and robbery, prostitution and vagrancy.  (see Sydney Morning Herald 23 January 1872, p.3 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/13251153/1455990). She too sought refuge in the Sydney Benevolent Asylum.

  • Surname : Hanbury
  • First Name : Mary (Mary Ann)
  • Age on arrival : 16
  • Native Place : Boyle, Roscommon
  • Parents : Terry & Kitty (father living in Manchester)
  • Religion : Roman Catholic
  • Ship name : Digby (Sydney 4 Apr 1849)
  • Workhouse : Roscommon, Boyle
  • Other : shipping: house servant, reads & writes, no relatives in colony; with her two sisters, Bridget & Catherine; Register No.584 request for her, in Sydney, to be with sister; No.724 30 Jul 1849, request for her & 26 Sep 1849 indentures cancelled; de facto husband, Johannes Lankenon whose illness in 1866 apparently began their life of crime; Nov 1866 Mary admitted 2 children to Benevolent Asylum & Johannes numerous criminal convictions 1866-71; Mary had 12 convictions: drunk & disorderly, assault & robbery and charges of prostitution; 12 months hard labour Parramatta Gaol 1867; dau Charlotte Maria’s birth 1862 confirmed her mother was Mary Ann Hanbury; 3 children died (1863, 1867 & 1868). See attached story
  • Read Her Story

http://www.irishfaminememorial.org/media/Hanbury_from_Julie_Poulter.pdf

Jane Kelly from Athlone, Co. Westmeath per Digby

Jane’s first crime was committed fifteen years after her arrival on the Digby. In 1856 whilst she was pregnant her husband assaulted her so severely she needed surgery and a long stay in hospital. She said he tied her to triangles and cut her clothes off. While she was undressed he struck her back with a whip. He accused her of infidelity and associating with prostitutes. (see, Goulburn Herald, 30 December 1857, p.2 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/118246611 and 2 January 1858, p.3 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/118244726/10143494). She fled and found work  with a local Reverend Sowerby. As Julie put it (Jane is one of Julie’s ancestors, her great great great grandmother) ,”she took up with another man {William Garner} who by 1862 had deserted her, and facing starvation Jane endured a 200 kilometre walk during summer, whilst pregnant and with three small children, in order to reach help at the Benevolent Asylum”. By 1863-4 she  was living in Sussex Street and associating with her shipmate Bridget Higney. Both were living in the worst of Sydney slums. She was first jailed for vagrancy, and then, by 1866, three other times for indecent and riotous behaviour. She died of tuberculosis in 1872. From memory, Jane’s story also appears in Tanya Evans’s Fractured Families.

Below is Jane’s database entry.

  • Surname : Kelly
  • First Name : Jane
  • Age on arrival : 19
  • Native Place : Athlone, Westmeath
  • Parents : Patrick & Isabella (both dead)
  • Religion : Church of England
  • Ship name : Digby (Sydney 4 Apr 1849)
  • Workhouse : Westmeath, Athlone
  • Other : shipping: houseservant, reads & writes; Jan 1850 working for James W Chisholm at ‘Kippelaw’, Mummel nr Goulburn, indentures cancelled after absconded; married Thomas Lansdowne (alias Digby) at Yass 4 Nov 1850; 6 chi; marriage broke down, he assaulted her, case in Goulburn Court Dec 1857/Jan 1858, 5 children remain with Thomas; Jane awarded maintenance, began work for William Garner whose wife had died in Nov 1857; 1858-1863 5 children with Garner who deserted her in 1863; she walked to Sydney Benevolent Asylum; Garner charged with desertion & ordered to pay 7s6d weekly; 1864-1866 Jane Lansdowne (alias Digby) gaoled for vagrancy in Sydney, sometimes with friend & fellow Digby shipmate Bridget Higney; two of Jane’s daughters sent to the Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children; 12 Jul 1872 Jane Digby died of tuberculosis in St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst. No trace of her sister Isabella also arrived on the Digby

Celia Maguire from Castlebar, Co. Mayo per Panama

There isn’t a lot of information about Celia or Cecilia Maguire either on the irishfaminememorial database or on Barbara’s brilliant website http://mayoorphangirls.weebly.com/

Both will be grateful to Julie for her research. Celia’s first crime was committed seven years after her arrival in Sydney. In 1852 she married Edwin Day of the 11th Regiment but in 1856 Edwin struck an officer and was sent to prison, leaving Cecilia to fend for herself and her four year old daughter. She did so by working in a brothel.  In 1857 she was found guilty of larceny and sent to Darlinghurst Gaol for twelve months. Shortly afterwards, in May 1858, a Coronial Inquest found that she died of “disease brought on by intemperance“.  See The Illawara Mercury 6 May 1862, p. 2, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/136441137

Here is the database entry.

  • Surname : Maguire
  • First Name : Celia
  • Age on arrival : 18
  • Native Place : Castlebar, Mayo
  • Parents : Michael & Sarah (both dead)
  • Religion : Roman Catholic
  • Ship name : Panama (Sydney 12 Jan 1850)
  • Workhouse : Mayo, Castlebar
  • Other : shipping: house servant, cannot read or write, no relatives in colony, sister Jane also on Panama; Empl. E Cherry, Fort Street, Sydney, £8, 1 year

Margaret Burke from Portarlington, Co. Laois per Tippoo Saib

Only fourteen when she arrived, it would be thirteen years before Margaret Hanlon née Burke was convicted of any crime. It was the first and only time she was convicted  for theft. She then embarked on a twenty-five year period of petty crime. In the 1870s she was hardly out of gaol. By 1873, Julie tells us, she was well-known to police as a habitual drunkard. See Empire 17 June 1873 p.2. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/63231600/5662874

In all, she was convicted more than 122 times, mostly for drunkenness and vagrancy but also for assault, riotous conduct, obscene and indecent language, being disorderly, and in 1883, when she was 47, as a prostitute. What set her on this life of crime is unknown. She may even have used the vagrancy laws and the police watch house as a means and source of shelter and food. What became of her is unknown. She disappears from the record after 1886.

Here is the current  database entry.

  • Surname : Burke
  • First Name : Margaret
  • Age on arrival : 14
  • Native Place : Port Addington [Portarlington], Queens [Laois]
  • Parents : John & Mary (both dead)
  • Religion : Roman Catholic
  • Ship name : Tippoo Saib (Sydney Jul 1850)
  • Workhouse : Queens [Laois], Mountmellick
  • Other : shipping: nursemaid, reads & writes, no relatives in colony. Mary also per Tippoo Saib with same parents is probable sister.

Finally, for now anyway, an orphan Julie has begun work on. She has yet to confirm all that she has suggested here. So please take this as work in progress.

Mary O’Brien from Ballina, Co. Mayo, per Inchinnan

What Barbara has on her website would suggest that Julie may be on the right track. See

http://mayoorphangirls.weebly.com/mary-obrien.html

where Mary was threatened with being sent into the interior for breaking her indenture.

Julie suggests this is the same Mary who married John Reily (Riley, Reilly, etc) in Sydney in 1852. Her first (next?) conviction is in 1856 eight years after her arrival. But then she is gaoled 26 times between 1856 and 1871 for being idle and disorderly, using indecent language and found guilty of riotous conduct, prostitution and theft.

Her husband John died in Liverpool Asylum in 1872.  Mary in 1873 then married John Coy, a West Indian known as “Black Jack”. He had been given a twelve month sentence in 1864 for ‘keeping a bawdy house’. Mary was not to survive much longer. She died after  a fight with Julia Mahoney alias Jane Mathews in Sussex Street in 1874.  We shall await further news from Julie on this one.

——————————————————————-

Julie has very kindly offered to answer any enquiries via email . Her email address is juliepoulter19[at]hotmail.com. I’d be most grateful if you would also put your queries in the comments section at the end of this post. Thankyou in advance. And thank you Julie for your research.

To be continued

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”.

Were Skibbereen orphans especially vulnerable?

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 evictions

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”.

And from April 6 1848, …the crowding of the fever hospital causes me serious anxiety. The relieving officer has directions to send no more in, yet, notwithstanding this caution, panic-stricken and unnatural parents frequently send in a donkey load of children in fever a distance of 14 or 15 miles for admission. How to dispose of them I know not. BPP [Reports and Returns relative to evictions in the Kilrush Union ,1849 [1089] XLIX, pp.315-71]

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 was different?

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”.

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.

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (53): Skibbereen and beyond

More stories

Skibbereen and beyond

For this post, I found myself facing something of a dilemma. How could I remind people of the conditions that sent the Famine orphans fleeing from Ireland, and at the same time, how could I draw attention to the commemoration of the Port Phillip orphans held at Williamstown in mid November, 2017? They were two separate  subjects.

I decided to put the Eliza Caroline in my cross-hairs. She was the last Earl Grey orphan vessel to arrive in Port Phillip, filled with young Famine refugees from all over the country, from Tipperary, Sligo, Wexford, Carlow, Waterford, Dublin, Cork, Donegal and Kilkenny. Fittingly, she was one of two vessels carrying young women from an area that symbolizes the Great Irish Famine, the area in west Cork around Skibbereen. The other vessel was the Elgin the last orphan vessel to arrive in Adelaide. Alas, we do not know the names of those on board the Elgin who came from Skibbereen.

News of the Famine around Skibbereen

Many of you will be familiar with the engravings of James Mahoney and others in the London Illustrated News making its readers aware of the tragedy unfolding in Cork. This one perhaps?

A funeral in Old Chapel Lane Skibbereen

or this one?

boy and girl at Cahera

From London Illustrated News 1847

These two youngsters were scratching the ground with their bare hands looking for potatoes. Cahera is about four miles north of Skibbereen on the road to Dunmanway.

Or perhaps,

Woman begging for a coffin for her dead child, near Clonakilty

Clonakilty is about twenty miles to the west of Skibbereeen.

Skibbereen has passed into Irish folklore, and into the identity of the ‘Rebel’ county. Try typing the town’s name into your browser and see what you come up with. Here’s a couple of results to sample

http://skibbheritage.com/great-irish-famine/

http://www.skibbereeneagle.ie/uncategorized/skibbereen-witness-to-the-great-famine/

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/disturbing-remains-a-story-of-black-47-1.3365683

Of course it wasn’t only Mahoney’s engravings that made an impact on middle-class sensibilities. It was the accompanying articles as well. Along with the pictures that appeared in February 1847, in the middle of that terrible winter, came the report, “Neither pen nor pencil could ever portray the misery and horror, at this moment, to be witnessed in Skibbereen”.

The reporter quoted from the diary of the resident medical officer, Dr Donovan, describing the Barrett family who had ‘literally entombed themselves in a small watch-house‘ in the cemetery in Skibbereen. “By the side of a hut is a long newly made grave…near the hole that serves as a doorway is the last resting place of two or three children;…in fact the hut is surrounded by a rampart of human bones…and in this horrible den, in the midst of a mass of human putrefaction, six individuals, males and females, labouring under most malignant fever, were huddled together, as closely as were the dead in the graves around”.

The ‘malignant fever’ may have been brought on by any of the Famine diseases, relapsing fever, typhus and dysentery being the most common. In typhus for example, a host scratches and releases bacteria from an infected insect into their own bloodstream. The small blood vessels are attacked causing a spotted rash and delirium. Eyes become bloodshot, muscles twitch and the delirium deepens to stupor. With dysentery, bacteria is transmitted by rotting food, fingers and flies, bacteria that multiply, inflame and ulcerate the intestines, bringing about painful and exhausting straining, violent diarrhoea and the passage of blood. The ground is often marked with blood. In both cases the death rate is high.

Knowing your parents were dead, Bridget Driscoll, you had even watched them become delirious, fall into a stupor and crawl into a corner to die, it’s okay to fear the worst and forever worry about what will become of you. You’d need to have the skin of Tollund man not to be concerned. So many Earl Grey orphans would be affected psychologically by their Famine experience.

Were the orphans from Skibbereen more vulnerable than other orphans because of their unique circumstances and experience? Were they more likely to become casualties in Australia? Or was the experience of other orphans, in other places, you Mary Kearney from Dingle, or you Mary Carrigge from Ennis, equally traumatic? Clare Abbey

“I ventured through that parish [Clare Abbey] this day, to ascertain the condition of the inhabitants, and, although a man not easily moved, I confess myself unmanned by the extent and intensity of the suffering I witnessed, more especially amongst the women and little children, crowds of whom were to be seen scattered over the turnip fields, like a flock of famishing crows, devouring the raw turnips, mothers half naked, shivering in the snow and sleet, uttering exclamations of despair, whilst their children were screaming with hunger; I am a match for anything else I may meet with here, but this I cannot stand”. (Letter from Captain Wynne, District Inspector for Clare to the Chairman of the Board of Works 24 December 1846, cited in M. Kelleher, The Feminization of Famine, Cork U.P., 1997, p.27.) Clare Abbey is close to Ennis.

Dingle

“About a fortnight ago a boy named John Shea of Tullaree died of starvation–such was the verdict of a jury. On yesterday week his sister died, entirely from the same cause: she lay naked and uninterred on what had been the hearth, for four days, during which time she had been gnawed by rats. On Friday evening last a brother of hers died of dysentery, brought on by hunger,and on Saturday the father also fell a victim to this desolating scourge. They had no food for many days…The door was hasped on the outside, and the famishing family abandoned by every relative”. (John Busteed, Surgeon attached to the Castlegregory dispensary, in the Kerry Evening Post, 24 February 1847, cited in Kieran Foley, “The Famine in the Dingle Peninsula”, Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, p. 401).

We haven’t heard of these so much: the contemporary media did not direct our attention there. As today, we’ve heard more about a hurricane in Puerto Rico and Florida, and little about what happened to Barbuda or Antigua or other small Caribbean islands.

Understanding the psychological baggage the orphans brought with them to Australia is not an easy task. Did some ‘friendless’ orphans become more vulnerable than others when they faced the harshness of the Australian environment?

I thought I’d look into this a bit more, first turning to the Irish Famine memorial database for the Eliza Caroline. You can find it here, http://irishfaminememorial.org/orphans/database/

Mary Coghlan again

And lawdy, lawdy what jumped out at me were two names I knew only well, Mary Coghlan and MaryMinahan, both from Skibbereen. I was alerted to Mary Coghlan’s history by her descendant Barbara Borland back in 1990.  I’ve written about Mary before, towards the end of blog post 22 on ‘Cancelled Indentures’. You can read it here, http://wp.me/p4SlVj-vf

Mary was the victim of the most shocking domestic abuse by her husband James Walton. Barbara was descended from the couple’s eldest daughter who had married a Swedish seaman. She wrote that she was “happy her great grandmother had a rewarding marriage and descendants to be proud of which makes Mary Coghlan’s life seem to be of some worth”.

Mary Minahan

Mary Minahan‘s history has been researched by her descendant, Kathleen Newman. Kathleen told me about her in 2000. A synopsis of Mary’s story appears on the Irish Famine memorial database. Only one of Mary’s eight children survived. All the others died young. Was that sad history of childbirth related to her Famine experience, i wonder? Or indeed her history of petty crime?

  • Surname : Minnahan [Minahan]
  • First Name : Mary
  • Age on arrival : 17
  • Native Place : Skibbereen, Cork
  • Parents : Not recorded
  • Religion : Roman Catholic
  • Ship name : Eliza Caroline (Melbourne 1850
  • Workhouse : Cork, Skibbereen
  • Other : shipping: house servant, cannot read or write. Empl. John Hopkins, farmer, Mercer Vale [now Beveridge] 24 miles from Melbourne, ₤8, 6 months; convicted many times (by 1899, 32 previous convictions) for a variety of misdemeanors (assault, vagrancy, being idle and disorderly, soliciting) and under a variety of aliases (Brown, Sorento, Freck, Coutts)’ & sent to Melbourne Gaol. She had 8 children, the first by Henry Wallace, the next 4 by Charles Joseph Pruen, the last to Charles J Brown (the same man?). By 1867 only 1 child, David William Minahan, had survived. Her death not located. kathleennewman[at]optusnet.com.au

Kathleen tells us, her gaol record in 1878 described her as “5 feet 3 inches tall with a fresh complexion, red hair and hazel eyes.”  By the time of her court appearance in 1894, (Richmond Guardian 24 November), she was “a wretched looking old woman…charged with having no lawful means of support”.

Maybe these were  exceptional cases. To check I looked through some of my family reconstitutions which are biased toward stable family histories. Here’s two I have.

Jane Leary

Jane Leary was also from Skibbereen. She married twice, had a family of nine children but lived to the ripe old age of eighty. [Thanks to R.M. Reilley for alerting me to Jane. I’ve gone back to my original forms; that’s were i recorded names of those who sent me information. In some cases I still had access to vital statistics that allowed me to add  precise dates. That precision was necessary for a demographic analysis.]

blogfojlearyecaroline

Ellen Fitzgerald

Ellen Fitzgerald, likewise from Skibbereen, also married an ‘exile’ per Maitland. Thanks to Jenny Dedman for this one. Ellen and William had all of their eleven children on the Victorian goldfields. It looked to be a stable family. But wait, how did she die? Of malnutrition! How on earth did that happen? What exactly does that mean? Did she not have enough food? Was she suffering from some kind of illness?

blogfoefitzgeraldecaroline

This prompted me to look carefully at the other Skibbereen orphans on board the Eliza Caroline. And found Catherine Coughlan, who had numerous convictions for drunkenness and vagrancy, and died in 1869. c. 36 years old: Mary Donovan married well; her husband was later a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria, and she too became a social activist. But she died in 1866, also c. 36 years old. Julia or Judy Driscoll died in Ballarat Hospital, aged about 39. And Mary Hicks‘ husband deserted her and their eleven children in 1866. This was not a particularly happy outcome for these West Cork orphans. Maybe there is some substance to the claim West Cork orphans were especially vulnerable, after all.

Let me continue with this in the next post. https://wp.me/p4SlVj-1G0 I’d advise against making up your mind about this argument just yet.

May I finish by reminding you of the Irish Famine Orphan commemoration in Williamstown on the 19th November? Thankyou Chrissy Fletcher for this.

“SAVE THE DATE
Irish Famine Orphan Girls Commemoration – Melbourne
Sunday 19 November 2017 – 3pm start
Standing Stone Famine Rock, Burgoyne Reserve, The Strand, Cnr Stevedore Street, Williamstown”.

“…She fainted in her anguish, seeing the desolation round
She never rose, but passed away from life to mortal dream
And found a quiet grave, my boy, in dear old Skibbereen”.

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (9): Some sad stories

No Rose-Tinted Spectacles

Let me draw attention to some of the fascinating work on the Earl Grey Famine orphans currently in progress. Perry McIntyre and Karen Semken, for example, are working on a database comprising biographies of each and every orphan. It is an ambitious project. I can only wish them well. To aid them in this, I’m sure contributors to Facebook pages, such as Anne-Marie’s ‘Ireland Reaching Out’ or Karen’s ‘Earl Grey’s Irish Orphans’ and Melissa’s ‘Great Irish Famine Commemoration Memorial Community’, will be willing to help. Please do have a look.

 There is also a marvelous three-disc CD-Rom set by Ray Debnam on the orphans who went to present-day Queensland, “The Feisty Colleens” http://thefeistycolleens.com/author.html

Kay Caball’s book on The Kerry Girls,The History Press Ireland, 2014, tells the story of the orphans from that part of the world. It’s a great read, and available on kindle.

And for a very interesting literary turn, see http://jakiscloudnine.blogspot.ie/

I’m rediscovering the wheel myself, finding material wrongly filed (ha- as if there ever was a system) among my research notes. Here’s a couple more photos I wasn’t aware I had.

fojaneclarkeearl grey1Jane Clarke from Belfast per Earl Grey(?)
 Anne LawlerAnn Lawler from Galway per Lady Kennaway(?)
foannelawlerthomashigginsThomas Higgins husband of Ann Lawler

I didn’t use these pics in volume two of Barefoot because there was doubt about whether they were Earl Grey orphans. I knew from experience how difficult it was establishing if x and y really were part of the scheme. How does one confirm that they were?

Some fundamental questions historians use, and I’m sure other disciplines too, are often forgotten–and not just by historians. How do you know that? What is the evidence? How reliable is it? Is it independently verified? A pity such questions are not more widely used in all walks of life.

Another thing historians do, is question everything, even the words they use. For instance, in the last post I talked about Letitia Connelly’s ‘success’ story. Putting the word ‘success’ in quotation marks indicates I had qualms about using the word. Does ‘success’ only mean bourgeois respectability and material well-being?  I much prefer the ideas of Bessie Stanley myself. I’ve changed her ‘He’ to ‘She’ in the following,

“She has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much, who has gained the…love of little children;…who has left the world better than she has found it…who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty…who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best she had…”

Finding hard evidence for this, in the lives of the orphans, is an almost impossible task, however much one would like to pluck something out of the air. In fact, I’m now prepared to argue that asking whether or not the orphans were ‘successful’ in Australia is the wrong question to ask.

‘Coming to Australia rather than staying in Ireland was better for the young women’, is another way of putting it. I’ve said that myself on more than one occasion. But that too should be questioned. My intention in this post is to show  that coming to Australia was not the best thing that could have happened to every orphan–just in case I’m tempted to view their  Australian lives through rose-tinted spectacles. It may well have been for the best. But how many examples, such as those I’m about to relate, does it take–ten percent, twenty, twenty-five of the whole– before we reject the claim? Maybe this too is the wrong question to ask. Everything, may I suggest, is up for debate.

Let me tell you a couple of stories. They prevent me from being starry-eyed about the orphans’ lives in Australia. They are sad stories. Perhaps they shouldn’t be read all at once.

Death by Fire

At the age of eighteen, Catherine Toland, along with her fifteen year old sister Sarah, left the beautiful lakes, lochs and waterways  near Rathmelton and Milford workhouse in Donegal (do have a look on Google Earth). They arrived in Port Phillip on board the Lady Kennaway early in December 1848. They had each other, and were lucky to be employed by the same person, Mrs Catherine Ro(a)che of Bourke Street in Melbourne. Just over a year later, Catherine married Mike Murphy, a Cork man, a marriage that would last until Michael’s death in 1882. Catherine and Sarah would remain close for most of their lives.

Is there anything that strikes you about Catherine and Mike’s family reconstitution below?

focathtolandladykenn

Perhaps you noticed the death of four of their children at Gledfield Station in early February 1863. They were buried on a rise overlooking the Wannon River: John was nine, William six, Lizzie four and Michael only two. The Coroner’s verdict at the inquest was “the four children were burnt to death by the conflagration of the hut in which they slept, but how the fire originated there is no evidence to show and no blame can be attached to any person“.

At the inquest we hear Catherine’s voice but it is a simple statement of fact, devoid of the grief she felt.  The local newspaper, the Ararat & Pleasant Creek Advertiser was to report on 13 February “the utter prostration and distress of Michael and Catherine Murphy was harrowing in the extreme…everyone present seemed greatly affected at the intense grief displayed by the parents of the unfortunate children.

I am the wife of Michael Murphy who is a shepherd in the employment of Hugh McDonald; I left our hut about half past six in the morning; it is about three miles from the home Station; I had two of the children sleeping with me; three generally slept in one bed and one in another; I woke my eldest boy, John, and told him to dress the little girl; he said he was very sleepy and I did not like to take him up, so I left them; previous to going away I put one log of wood on the fire, and left the kettle with the tea near the fire for the children; I put one match on the table, in the middle of some pines; when I left the fire was not bright, and the log I put on was damp; I pulled the door but did not fasten it; the two beds were close to each other; when my husband got up he put one  of the children in his place; there was no one near the place when I left; my husband never left matches about; he was very careful…

There is a Murphy family history in the La Trobe Manuscript section of the State Library of Victoria. Later in life, Catherine, a devout Catholic, is reputed to have said I have suffered my Purgatory here on earth. I’ll surely go straight to heaven.

A Lost Soul

Let me tell you the story of Mary Littlewood. Her’s is one I also find disturbing.

In late 1846, ‘ragged and dirty’, Samuel (57) and Mary (54) Littlewood from Ballybreagh, Rich Hill entered Armagh workhouse along with their four children; 15 year-old Mary who was described as ‘thinly clothed and hungry’; 13 year-old Thomas William; 11 year-old John, and 9 year-old Ann Eliza. Over the next couple of years, in and out of the workhouse, the family was slowly destroyed.  Described variously in these years as ‘very ill’, ‘delicate’, ‘thinly clothed and quite destitute’, residing in the ‘Union at large’, (i.e. homeless) the family broke apart. Samuel, a former weaver, died 25 February 1847. His widow, Mary, died 10 March 1848, shortly before their 16 year-old daughter (also named Mary) set out on her long journey to Sydney.

Already psychologically affected by her famine and workhouse experience, 16 year-old Mary joined the Earl Grey in June 1848, along with other orphans from northern Irish workhouses.  Once again, she watched the authorities impose their will on their charges, and she watched the ‘Belfast girls’ fight back. She may not have taken part in the ‘clash of cultures’ on board the Earl Grey but she certainly learned some ‘attitude’, and whose side she was on.

Her first employment in Sydney as a servant apprentice was with J. C. Curtis at the rate of £9 per annum for two years. Alas, it was not to be. By the end of 1848 she was in court defending herself against the domestic violence inflicted upon her by Mrs Curtis of Sydney’s North Shore. You can read about the case in the Sydney Morning Herald for the first of January, 1849, beginning page 3 at the bottom of column 3.

Here is the Trove link. http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/4094385?zoomLevel=4

In late December, Mrs Curtis took Mary to the Sydney Police Court and charged her with assault. She claimed Mary had ‘struck her and threw a chair at her’. Fortunately, one of Mary’s neighbours, John Higley, believed Mary ought to have been the complainant and ‘engaged the services of Mr Nicholls, Solicitor, to defend her’. (He was later reimbursed by Immigration Agent Francis Merewether out of public funds). In court, Mrs Curtis denied she had ever struck the girl. But Nicholls produced two witnesses who testified “she saw Mrs Curtis…‘hammering the girl as hard as ever she could’, striking her on the face, and that the girl was bleeding”. The second witness confirmed this report, “adding that she found the girl nearly fainting from the loss of blood, and that she had considerable difficulty in conveying her to the residence of Mrs H. H. Browne, who most humanely received her into her house“.

I lost sight of young Mary after this. But she surfaced again in Appendix L of the Legislative Assembly, New South Wales, Report from the Select Committee on Irish Female Immigrants (Petition of Celtic Association), printed by the Government Printer, Sydney, 1859–once again in a court case. But this time she had no one to come to her defense. (I reprinted the documents concerning her case in volume two of my Barefoot, pp.106-7).

On September 7 1849 Elinor Magrath wrote to the Bench of Magistrates at Scone frightened by the “paroxysms of rage” that Mary was subject to. She explained that Mary had come to her and her husband Thomas as an indentured orphan apprentice on the 3rd January–just after the cancellation of her indentures with Mrs Curtis. They themselves were recently arrived immigrants from Ireland, if my memory is correct (ha). In her letter Mrs Magrath stated that “for the last six weeks” Mary was acting in a very strange way. “Her conduct is much like that of a person delirious or excited by drink”.

I wonder what had happened. Did Mary have a mental breakdown? Had she just had enough of being told what to do? Was she fed up being locked away? Was she fed up with having no friends and being isolated in the country? Was she just very angry because she wasn’t allowed to see her male friend?

On 14 September Elinor Magrath presented the same information contained in her letter to the two Justices of the Peace who made up the Bench of of Magistrates at Scone viz. “she refuses to obey my lawful commands or to attend to her duties as a servant, and is excessively insolent when spoken to”. On the 2nd September, before she went to church, she forbade Mary to leave the house, thinking she intended meeting a man outside. But Mary became  “excessively violent”. Thomas had to deal with it, placing himself between Mary and the door. Let me out! Let me out, damn it! I’ll throw myself in the well. Damn me, damn my soul to Hell. Holy Christ. Open the door, open the window. Damn you to Hell. Damn you and the mistress to Hell! I’ll tear down the curtains, I will.

The Bench cancelled her indentures and ordered she be sent to the Immigration depot at Maitland, in effect at her own expense, from the wages owed to her.

Mary disappears thereafter. She obviously needed help and may not have received it.

I have often wondered what happened to this angry young lost soul.

A Hard Life

 Ellen Leydon (or Lydon) from Ennistymon in County Clare was also only 16 years old, when she joined the Thomas Arbuthnot in late 1849. She may well have danced and sang on deck, under the watchful eye of Surgeon Strutt, as the ship made its way to Sydney. Her life was full of promise. But she didn’t travel with Strutt over the ranges to south-western New South Wales. Instead, she went north, to Brisbane, where she was employed as an indentured servant by W. Coombes at the rate of £7-£8 for two years. Within the year, she had married Thomas Stanley, a brickmaker from Ipswich.

For research on the births, deaths and marriages of the Earl Grey orphans in the 1980s, I was given access to records in New South Wales and Victoria. An employee of the Registry of Births, deaths and marriages did work for me in Queensland. Here is Ellen’s reconstituted family from that work. Look carefully. By 1863, whilst pregnant, she has become a widow. Two years later she has a little girl whose birth is recorded as “illegitimate” but she, like her sister before her, is soon dead.

foellenleydonthoarb

 I found Ellen again in the records of Dunwich Benevolent Asylum which is situated on Stradbroke Island, Moreton Bay. Remember to gain access to the Asylum an applicant had to have no visible means of support, either financial, or from a friend or relative. Some applicants would have provided information to suit their purpose.

Ellen Agnes Hickson was “admitted, age 61, October 29 1895, from Goodna (Mental) Asylum. The cause of her admission was ‘old age’. She was born in Clare, Ireland, and her religion was Roman Catholic. Her trade or profession was that of ‘Housewife‘ and she could read and write. Her father was John Leyden, a farmer, and her mother was Mary Cronin”. It was Ellen herself who provided the information.

“Married? Yes, six times. 1st: to Thomas Stanley, 14 years of age” (I assume this is the age she thinks she was), “in Ipswich. He died July 21 1862. 2nd: to Thomas Heffernan, 27 years , in Ipswich. 3rd: to Hugh Munro, 30, Ipswich. 4th: to William Jones, forget age, in Cairns. 5th: to James Dwyer, forget age, in Maryland, New South Wales. 6th: to James Penrose Hickson–died 1889–Charters Towers”. Ray Debnam has confirmed these marriages; to Thomas in 1866 with whom she had two children, Hugh in 1871, James in 1875, William in 1886 and finally James Hickson in 1888. He actually died 16 December 1891. Ellen may not have had the best memory for dates. I don’t think the researcher in the Queensland BDM records could have uncovered this complicated history with the pittance I was offering. What always impresses me is the geographical ground the famine orphans travelled; just look at the distance Ellen’s travels covered.

“How many children did you have? Thirteen. Ten by my first marriage– William Stanley. He’s 44 and lives in Sandgate. Thomas Lot, don’t know how old. He’s in Strathpine. John Sovereign. He’s dead. George James is dead I believe. Alled Henry is in Charters Towers. One died at three days old. Mary Ann is dead, Elizabeth Ann is dead. Can’t think of the others. I had two children by my second husband, Jerry Joseph who’s in Charters Towers, can’t remember the next. I had one only by my third husband. She–Jane–died in infancy”.

I wonder how one should read this record. Given Ellen was married six times and had thirteen children, and given she was 61 years old and had spent time in Goodna Mental Asylum, that’s a pretty good memory is it not? Or do you think she should have had closer emotional ties to her children? It certainly raises questions about the accuracy of the information we have in our family reconstitutions.

“I came to Australia in 1850 and landed in Sydney. I remained in New South Wales for three weeks then came to Moreton Bay. Then I went to Ipswich and remained there for many years. Then I went up North and remained up North many years and on the death of my husband Hickson I went wrong in the head and was in Goodna for a long time.

The last two years were spent in the Asylum at Goodna. She has no money and no property.

She went on leave from Dunwich February 11th 1896 until ? 1896 She stayed beyond her leave and was struck off, 28 May 1896. She was readmitted 6 October 1897 and remained in the Benevolent Asylum until her death 16 December 1901″.

Here’s a pic of Woogaroo Mental Asylum, later known as Goodna, now Wollston Park. It was built at Wacol in 1865. I remember it was a very hot day when I took the pic. The building was close to a river and I hope cooler for the inmates than I imagined.

wollston park1ascan

In some States access to Asylum records is more freely given than in others. Personally, in the interests of good health, I believe we should be as open about these things as we possibly can. But I understand the contrary argument too. I’ll not mention any other names. Ellen would have had the company of many an Irishwoman in both institutions, Dunwich and Goodna. Explaining this is not an easy task. Should we make something of their Irish background, their ‘collective memory’ of Estate clearances, Famine or family upheaval? Or was it a result of their demographic history; many of them married much older men, and in the days before pensions or ‘social security’, vulnerable women were more likely to end up in such institutions? I leave that for you to ponder.

Parramatta womens asylum c1890a

My thanks to the Picture Collection of the New South Wales State Library. The photograph is of “Women Residents in the Newington Asylum” c. 1890 SPF/1170.

The case books of such institutions make for sad reading.  “Attack came on suddenly. Loud crying. Seems to have a desire to injure others. Bodily health good”; “melancholic with great emaciation”; “having been exposed to much hardship and trouble”; “has threatened to drown herself”; “very excitable and quarrelsome”; “a strong bony woman. She expresses herself with vigour and delusions”; “a thin wrinkled old woman who smiles when spoken to and always sits holding a cloth to her left cheek”.

A number of the Earl Grey orphans would spend some period of their life in such an institution in Australia. Exactly how many would spend any time in prison, in lying-in hospital, in Benevolent Asylum or Mental hospital is unknown. Maybe when Karen and Perry’s database is complete we’ll have a better idea.

To return to what I was saying earlier, I don’t think looking at the ‘success’ (or its corollary, ‘failure’) of the orphans is the right way to go–too judgemental for my liking.  Trying to decide whether coming to Australia was the best thing the young women could have done, interesting as it may be, is in the end pointless. I’d much prefer to research subjects such as the following; what was it like living as a shepherd’s wife at Ross Bridge on the Wannon River or what was it like living in Brisbane or Ipswich in the 1850s? Did any of the orphans see the last public execution in Brisbane in 1855–of the great Aboriginal warrior, Dundalli? (I’m really looking forward to Libby Connors’ book on Dundalli which Allen & Unwin will publish in the next month or two). What kind of life was there for a gold-miner’s wife at Ballarat or Castlemaine? What work did you do ‘on your selection’ in the 1860s? Who exactly were the German family members of your husband in the Clare valley in South Australia? The possibilities are endless. I’m sure you can think of others.

 Scusi. I seem to have wandered. I haven’t even started on “Arrival”. And a trip to the Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens beckons at this time of year.