Reading the excellent series of orphan stories, written by descendants, in the free online magazine tintean.org.au has reminded me of something else we need to do: that is, make a thorough search for those orphans who spent time in an institution in Australia, whether it be prison, a Benevolent asylum, a mental hospital, an Industrial school, a Lying-In hospital, or an asylum for destitute children. [ Should we widen the search to include the orphans’ children] ?
I’ve said before the numbers involved were not large, probably only ten percent of the whole. That is a familiar gut-reaction. But it is a gut reaction: we shouldn’t make up our minds and prejudice the results of our research before it is complete. It is becoming easier to do that research as more and more primary sources are digitised, and made available online. Trove is the obvious example. There are others. See http://www.geelonginfirmary.net/how_to_use.htm
But that search for ‘Irish orphans in Asylums’ is still a daunting project, one that may require a team of researchers, especially if the intention is to cover the whole of Australia. If a student came to me with such a project proposal, I would ask him or her, ‘is it do-able? Show me how’. The student might reply, ‘it’s not about numbers. Sure, there will be records that haven’t survived. It’s more than that. It’s about digging deeper; it’s about truth-telling; it’s about discovering the darker side of Australian life some of these Irish orphans endured.’
Benevolent Asylum Dunwich records
Note how informative these records can be. But they don’t always allow us to identify our Irish orphan ‘girls’.
No 89 Ellen Flynn or Cunningham admitted 21 August 1879 from Toowoomba Hospital having lost her sight for the last six months. She was from King’s County, Ireland, daughter of John Dooley, a farmer. She was Roman Catholic, could read and write, and married John Flynn at Wollongong when she was 17 and he, 23. Her husband was a Lockup Keeper at Tenterfield. He died about thirteen years ago. She had seven children alive, three were in Tenterfield, two in Roma, two in Warwick. Two girls had died. She came to Sydney with friends as an immigrant per Tippoo Saib about 1855. She lived in New South Wales for many years. Her husband was 12 years in the Police.
Now is this the orphan Ellen Dooley who arrived by the Tippoo Saib in 1850? The information so far accords with the information provided by Ellen’s descendant, Ann Faraday, for my Barefoot volume 2.Ann had no record of Ellen after 1861.
This Ellen married again in 1885 to Michael Cunningham, himself an inmate of Dunwich. The Register records her frequent stays in the Benevolent Asylum and when she was absent on leave, from 1887 to her death 16 September 1898.
No 259 Eliza Scholes admitted October 10th 1889 from Brisbane Hospital suffering from rheumatism. She was from Belfast, Ireland, a domestic servant, Church of England, could read and write, daughter of Anthony Rodgers, engraver, and Jane Harver. [Now you would need to know that an Eliza Rogers daughter of Anthony and Jane was one of the infamous Belfast girls on board the Earl Grey who were banished directly to Moreton Bay in 1848.] Eliza said she was married in Brisbane at age 14 to Charles J. Worth (dead) and at age 42 in Sydney to Jacob Scholes (address unknown, last heard of in Victoria), 7 children by her first marriage. Addresses unknown all in Queensland…No property, no cash. She was last seen by the Medical Superintendent Nov. 21 1894. She died and was buried a day later 22 Nov. 1894. [ElizaScholeswas an inmate of Toowoomba Women’s prison serving three months for vagrancy in 1888, and six months, early in 1889].
NO 453 Ellen Agnes Hickson admitted October 29 1895 from Goodna Asylum, daughter of John Leyden, farmer and Mary Cronin. [This is another orphan who arrived by the Thomas Arbuthnot in 1850. She has appeared already at the end of my post about “Some Sad Stories” https://earlgreysfamineorphans.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-9/ Once again you will need prior knowledge to recognise Ellen as one of the Earl Grey Irish Famine orphans].
No 498 Mary Clark admitted 19 January 1897. She was from the Brisbane Depot suffering from a bad leg. She was from Belfast, Ireland, Roman Catholic, could read, daughter of Charles Murray, a leather cutter, and Mary Donnelly. She married twice, first to William Campbell when she was 26 at Armadale (sic), NSW, and second, to John Edward Clark when she was 34, also at Armadale. She had four children by her first marriage, three of whom lived at an address unknown,. The fourth, Charlotte Campbell was married to H. Lambourne in South Melbourne. ‘Came to Australia 49 years ago by Ship Roman Emperorlanded at Adelaide S. A. stayed there 18 years, went to N.S.W, lived there 15 years then came to Brisbane and staid (sic) there ever since.
Last 2 years at Brisbane working and assisted by the Benevolent Societies and Government, and at Brisbane Depot’. The giveaway here allowing us to identify Mary as one of the orphan ‘girls’, is the name of her ship and the date and place of its arrival.
No 506 Ann Gregory admitted 16 March 1897, born in Boyle, Ireland, a housewife and ladies’ nurse, can read and write, daughter of Andrew Heggerty and Salina Reynolds. [Ann Haggerty arrived in Sydney with her sister Catherine, the daughters of Andrew and Sarah, both dead, from Boyle, Roscommon, by the Digby in 1849. Both had their indentures cancelled in the Sydney Water Police Office and sent to Moreton Bay]. Ann married John Gregory when she was 18, in Brisbane. According to the information she gave the Benevolent Asylum, she came to Australia in 1848 and landed in Brisbane, She had lived in Rockhampton, Charters Towers and Brisbane, and had no money and no property. She died 30 May 1900.
No 549 Eliza Dwyer admitted May 4 1898 from Brisbane suffering from bronchitis, born Belfast, Ireland, Roman Catholic, housewife, can read and write, daughter of John Frazer, Bootmaker, and Margaret Gallagher, married Edward Dwyer when 20yo at Brisbane, husband dead 4 years, 5 children alive, one dead, has information about the other 4, came to Australia 50 years ago, landed Moreton Bay, been in Brisbane ever since as nurse and housework etc, last 2 years living with daughter Ipswich Road. No property, no money. Last seen by Medical Superintendent 1 December 1903, died 2 December 1903, buried 3 December 1903. [Eliza Frazer was one of the “Belfast girls” on board the Earl Grey, sent directly to Moreton Bay by Surgeon Douglass].
Ellen Dooley, Eliza Rogers, Ellen Leyden or Lydon, Mary Murray, Ann Haggerty and Eliza Frazer were all ‘Earl Grey Irish workhouse orphans’.
‘There are even two women in the Register who arrived by the James Pattinson the vessel that brought young Irish women to Sydney in 1836; Susan Gillan from Mountmellick, daughter of Edward Finlay and Mary Keogh, and Jane Richards nee Turkington’, i said to the student.
‘The project is a goer’, says my student. ‘I’ll need to look at the Registers again to see if there are some you’ve missed. Trove will also open up more information i’m sure. I certainly won’t leave anyone in limbo. There is a lot i can do. I’ve already had a look at a doctoral thesis at the University of Queensland. Dr Goodall says Dunwich was far from the ideal retreat some contemporaries claimed it was. ‘Inmates quickly developed institutional behaviours…they were subject to overcrowding, senseless regimentation, little or no recreational opportunities…infantilisation and poor quality and unappetising food, he says’.
It doesn’t sound like they had a good quality of life in the end. And look how many Irish women go there towards the end of their life.
It will be interesting to see what Benevolent Asylum records in Sydney and Melbourne throw up. I’ll have to get permission to gain access to some of those particular records, won’t I.’
‘Are you thinking of narrowing down your project already’? i answered. ‘What about the orphans who went to gaol, or into a mental asylum? Maybe we should talk about this next time’.
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”.
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, 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  XLIX, pp.315-71]
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.
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
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
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
“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.
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.
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 Clarkaged 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 somePort 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Irelandwas 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?
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.
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 Lof 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.
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.
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.
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.