Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (22): Cancelled Indentures 

CANCELLED INDENTURES

One of the things I ‘d love to do is put the young Irish Famine orphans at the centre of their own story. It would mean looking differently at the sources we have. Maybe it’s beyond this aging, increasingly discombobulated male. Old methods are also still valuable. The first thing I learnt as a history student many, many, years ago, was to examine the source I was using–where did it come from? How authentic was it? Was it reliable? If it was a document, who wrote it, and why? What was its purpose, what barrow was the author pushing, what axe did he or she want to grind? There’s no such thing as an unbiased source.

I’m beginning this post with Appendix J Return of Cases of Orphan Female Apprentices whose Indentures were cancelled, by the Court of Petty Sessions, at the Water Police Office [in Sydney]. It is part of the Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee on Irish Female Immigration, 1858, pp. 373-450. The Legislative Assembly also ordered it to be printed in February 1859. I know some people may have trouble finding it, so I’ve scanned the whole of Appendix J. I’m sure a librarian in your State Library will help you too, should you wish to see more of the evidence.

Appendix J is a submission made by Immigration Agent H. H. Browne to a New South Wales Parliamentary Enquiry. The Enquiry was a result of a Petition by the Celtic Association complaining about the Agent’s remarks in his report for 1855, concerning Irish female immigrants. Browne had claimed Irish female immigrants were “most unsuitable to the requirements of the Colony, and at the same time distasteful to the majority of ‘the people'”. In other words, the ‘Return of cases of cancelled indentures’ is part of Browne’s defense. It would be worth a close scrutiny at some later date.

Below is the Appendix in full. You should be able to read each page in turn by clicking, or doing whatever you do with tablets and ipads. There are eight pages, listing 254 cases in all. Browne did not become Immigration Agent until mid 1851. Before that, he was a member of the Sydney Orphan Committee and Water Police Office Magistrate. In other words, he was the Magistrate who presided over the cases listed here.

As the observant Surgeon Strutt noted in his diary, on Friday 3 May 1850, Went to the Water Police Court to hear the complaints made against the orphan girls. Six of them were summoned and one mistress for harsh treatment, but the tone of the Magistrate was against all the girls…”.

Appendix J

blogapp1859i

blogapp1859ii

blogapp1859iii

blogapp1859iv

blogapp1859v

blogapp1859vi

blogapp1859vii

blogapp1859viii

Newspaper reporters of the day were strongly influenced by the political ruckus surrounding the Earl Grey Scheme. No doubt they were influenced too, by gossip, rumour, and innuendo, some of which came from the Water Police Office late on a Friday afternoon, after Browne had finished with the orphan cases. Petty sessions court reports, a standard feature of major colonial newspapers such as the Sydney Morning Herald or the Argus in Melbourne and even local, country, newspapers, were full of stories about individual female orphans in 1849, 1850 and 1851. The Sydney cases listed above were not reported in the Herald as often as cases from other Courts of Petty Sessions, in Parramatta, Windsor, and Penrith, for example.

Let me examine one particular case, the case of Francis Tiernan. It may alert you to different ways of interpreting evidence. Remember, just as there were specific legal requirements before a person could be incarcerated in a mental asylum, or before a divorce would be granted, so too, there were specific legal grounds for cancelling indentures. “Insolence” or “disobedience”, “improper conduct”, “absconding” and “neglect of duty” on the part of the apprentice, or servant, were permissible legal reasons. Have a look at the ‘nature of charge’ column in the lists above. See also the apprenticeship agreement at the end of my blogpost 13, http://wp.me/p4SlVj-g4 for information about the obligations of both master and servant.

Reading against the Grain: the case of Francis Tiernan

Here’s the case I want to examine; it’s a report of proceedings at the Court of Petty Sessions in Parramatta, from the Sydney Morning Herald, 4 January 1850, page 3.

Irish Orphan Girl—FRANCES TEARNEN (Tiernan),

apprenticed to Mr John Kennedy, appeared

before their Worships, Mr Hardy, P. M., and

Dr Anderson, J. P. The girl’s behaviour be-

fore the Bench clearly indicated her character.

Mrs Kennedy deposed that the girl was impu-

dent in the extreme, and informed her (Mrs.

K.) that she would not stand at the wash tub

unless she was allowed to wear patent leather

shoes; she was in the habit of beating and ill-

using the children, and with showing her mis-

tress sundry five-shilling pieces, stating she

had received them from single men; also, that

Frances had expressed her determination to be

married, and be her own mistress. Mr Ken-

nedy stated he cold not keep the girl, and the

indentures were cancelled.

Putting aside the reporter poking fun at Frances’s desire to wear inappropriate shoes at the wash tub, what do we see? Surely, you might say, Frances was guilty of ‘improper conduct’ and her indentures should have been cancelled.

Now what happens if you read the report ‘against the grain’, not as the reporter wants you to read it but if you put yourself in that young Famine refugee’s shoes? What stands out? I’m going to get married and be my own mistress”. I won’t have to submit to this life of drudgery or obey your stupid commands, your bossiness, and your snotty children who deserve the smack around the ears I give them. I have men friends who want to marry me. I’ve never before had money to spend on myself and buy what I like.You don’t know what it was like in Longford when there was no food, and the workhouse was so crowded people were dying like flies. http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Longford/ I swear you have no idea what happened on board our vessel, the DigbyThe Captain was a right bastard. I had to protect my poor wee sisters all the time.

I’m suggesting there are different ways of reading the evidence. To counteract the ‘official’ ‘establishment’ view, I’m suggesting, put yourself in the shoes of  the Famine orphans, see things from the viewpoint of the young women themselves.

Some time ago, in the introduction to Barefoot vol.1, I wrote the following,

‘…indentures cancelled on grounds of the orphans’ absconding, insolence, misconduct, negligence or disobedience are not simply evidence of the orphans being ‘improper women’ ‘unsuited to the needs of the Colony’.  Such evidence might also reflect the young women’s resistance to being treated as drudges by ‘vulgar masters who had got up in the world’. [Archdeacon McEncroe at the 1858 Government Enquiry] It might reflect the young women’s ‘culture shock’…

Undoubtedly, too, both master and servant tried to work the ‘system’. The protection offered the young women by colonial officials encouraged employers to complain the more. Masters thought they could return their unruly servants to… Barracks, forgetting that they were already compensated for the orphans’ ignorance of domestic service by the low wages they paid. Masters’ dissatisfaction was also fuelled by the bad press the young women received. “They had been swept from the streets into the workhouse and thence to New South Wales’; they were ‘Irish orphans, workhouse sweepings. ‘hordes of useless trollops’, ‘ ignorant useless creatures’,  a drain upon the public purse who threatened to bring about a Popish Ascendancy in New south Wales…

In turn, the young women, hearing of better conditions elsewhere–higher wages, a kinder master or mistress–knew full well that insolence or neglect of their duties was the means of terminating their employment. Cancellation of their indenture by the Magistrate at the Water Police Office in Sydney, a return to Hyde Park Barracks before being forwarded up the country to Goulburn, Bathurst, Bega, Yass or Moreton Bay may have been preferable to remaining in their current position. It was a gamble many were willing to take’.

Now if I had the energy, or the talent, I’d unpick this argument and develop it some more. To repeat, I’m trying to insist we view what was happening through the eyes of the orphans themselves. What explains the orphans’ relatively high rate of cancelled indentures?

Culture shock

Let me try to develop something I mentioned briefly in that quote above, viz. the culture shock the young women must have experienced. What kind of culture clash upset their well-being? In the example I used in that quotation from the introduction to Barefoot 1, I drew attention to the anger, and anomie, and frustration, of young Mary Littlewood. (See my  post 9 http://wp.me/p4SlVj-dQ )

But there were other things as well, things that every migrant experiences to a greater or lesser degree–how to feel your way, how to keep your identity, and yet adapt to your new society. Our young Famine orphans, however, were different from this. They felt the usual uprooting and confusion more acutely than others. They were first and foremost refugees, refugees fleeing a society torn apart by a tragedy of monumental proportions. They were young females without the ‘normal’ support of family and ‘friends’. They were adolescents whose religion and ethnicity was at odds with many members of their ‘host’ society. The figures in authority who were to give them guardianship and support–Orphan Committees, Sisters of Mercy, Matrons in Immigration Barracks–were not always people with whom the orphans could easily communicate. They more likely trusted their shipmates.

What do youse think you’re doin’, dressin’ up like a wee tart Ellen Lynch? Where’d ya get those clothes an’ those silly flowers?

Jealous Missus? Your old man has nuthin’ for ye. He just loves the drink. I’m goin’ to see ma frens an ye can’t stop me.

C’mere ya cheeky wee hussy. I’ll box yer ears. You’re going nowhere. C’mere. C’MERE. ELLEN. I’m warning ya.

I’ll tear yer guts out, silly old sow.

Sydney Morning Herald 18 January 1850 Ellen Welch… appeared before the Court, dressed in the latest fashion, her face was encircled with artificial flowers of the most choice selection, and her general appearance was certainly not that of a servant…

Sydney Morning Herald 19 December 1849 Judy Caerney…appeared before their Worships…charged with refusing to do her work. The bench ordered the indentures to be cancelled and Judy to be returned to barracks. In an hour or two afterwards she was seen walking through the town smartly dressed, and apparently in good spirits at having received between two and three pounds balance in wages. There is not a doubt but that was more money than the girl ever possessed before…

It’s not hard to imagine how excited young workhouse famine orphans were, at receiving wages, having money in hand, money to spend on new clothes. And excited, too, by the gifts and attention of male admirers. Or the feeling of independence, they had rarely known. Their mistresses and masters may well have been concerned, even jealous of their charge. Such displays as those of Ellen and Judy could lead to disapproval, words exchanged, quick wit, cutting repartee, impudence, and absconding on the part of orphan servants. The young women also may have resented their ‘inferiority’ in the household, and having to work harder than they’d ever worked before.

Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser 23 January 1850 Yesterday, Mr James Quegan applied to the bench to cancel the indentures of Bridget Kearney…[who] had latterly become insolent to her mistress and had refused to obey her orders. Kearney also wished to leave her service. The bench cancelled the indentures.

Ties formed on the long sea journey to Australia could be incredibly strong. The orphans made new friends and crafted their own moral code, doing what was right by each other, even if it meant breaking the law.

Sydney Morning Herald 22 April 1850 Irish Orphan Girls.–One of these girls, in the service of a family no great distance from the Emigrant Barracks, committed a robbery on her mistress. The articles consisted of a variety of baby linen, which were not missed till after the girl had left her service, when suspicion falling upon her by her mistress, search was made among the girls in the Barracks, and the articles found in the boxes of two other girls. It was ascertained that the object of the girl committing the theft was, to supply the anticipated necessities of the two girls, whose early accouchement is expected.

For some who were finding their way in their new land, it would involve a loss of sexual innocence. {All this makes me realize how little I know about Irish attitudes to work, the depth and extent of religious belief, and female sexuality before the Famine. I’m fairly confident their sex lives were not as repressive or as puritanical as they became in post-Famine Ireland}.

Sydney Morning Herald 19 September 1850. Page three provides an account of a case against Captain Morphew of the Tippoo Saib  for a breach of the Hired Servants Act, he having harboured Julia Daly, a runaway from the service of A. H. M. McCulloch, an Elizabeth Street solicitor. Early in August Mr McCulloch had hired two orphans, Julia Daly and Mary Connor. By the end of the month they had absconded and gone to a hotel. Mary acted as witness in the case, stating “…they went to a furnished house at Newtown: there were two bedrooms in the house, one of which was occupied by her and the other by Julia and the Captain…she left Mr McCulloch’s because Julia would not stay, and she would go any where with her rather than stop alone… Other witnesses, including the owner of the house in Newtown, stated that Captain Morphew “represented Julia Daly as his wife”. Morphew was convicted, and fined £20, with costs.

No doubt an orphan’s experience would differ from place to place, Sydney Town, the Port Phillip district, Geelong, the Victorian goldfields, Adelaide, country South Australia, and we’d need to examine that sometime in the future. Let me look at one in particular, for the moment.

The Moreton Bay District: orphans in court

One of the most interesting aspects of this whole saga of cancelled indentures is the freedom and skill with which orphans in the Moreton Bay district used the law to defend themselves and to ‘contest the hostile environment they found themselves in’. The history of the orphans’ cancelled indentures is a lot more complicated than Immigration Agent Browne would have us believe.

Some details of the story are in my Barefoot 2, Section 5 ‘Feisty Moreton Bay Women’, pp.112-23. Maybe your library has a copy? I didn’t learn about the court appearances of these young women, most of them from Clare, Galway and Kerry, until Libby Connors’s brilliant conference paper, at the 7th Irish-Australian Studies conference, in the University of Queensland, in 1993.

Assoc. Professor Connors examined the cases concerning orphans and the cancellation of their indentures that came before the Brisbane Court of Petty Sessions, in 1850 and 1851. Sometimes orphan apprentices initiated prosecution of their employer. Sometimes an employer was the plaintiff. The orphans, Professor Connors argued, were willing to assert their ‘legal rights and privileges’ and to contest ‘wage and employment issues’. Even as defendants, they ‘readily resorted to counter-claims of religious or ethnic discrimination and moral impropriety in the face of strong evidence of their own misbehaviour’.

Thus, for example, 2 August 1850, when Mary Byrnes from Galway complained to the court about her employer using “improper expressions“, she was awarded the wages owing to her; she had her indentures cancelled; and court costs were shared equally.

Likewise, 22 October 1850, Mr Windell, the master of feisty young apprentice, Margaret Stack from Clare, found her more than a redoubtable opponent in court. Windell presented evidence of Margaret’s persistent impudence and neglect of duty. She has for some time conducted herself in a most insolent manner…when sent to the butcher’s for meat, she took off her muddy shoes, and placed them in the basket, on the meat, which was consequently covered with filth; and when remonstrated with, and asked if she did not know better, she replied, NO I Do Not! He beat me and boxed my ears–many times. 

A master did have a legal right to beat his apprentice, Dr Connors explains, but the Brisbane authorities, given the controversy surrounding the orphans, could not afford ‘any allegation of impropriety’. Margaret’s indentures were cancelled and she lost the 8 shillings in wages owing to her. But when an orphan had her indentures cancelled, she oftentimes considered herself to be the victor.

blogmsmithfam

Margaret Smith Ni Stack and family

blogmsmith

msmith

In 1851, when Thomas Hennessy complained of the absenteeism and misconduct of young Mary Moriarty  from Kerry, Mary countered with allegations of sexual harassment and beatings. Hennessy used to come to the sofa every morning and make uses of expressions I cannot repeat and because I laughed he struck me and kicked me down. Mary’s indentures were cancelled and she received the £1.2s.8d wages owed to her.  For more information see Kay Caball, The Kerry Girls. Unfortunately we do not have the accent, or the intonation, of the young women recorded. Perhaps you would like to add that yourself? (See below for details of the origins of these particular young women).

Catherine Elliott Ni Moriarty and her family. Mary's sister.

Catherine Elliott Ni Moriarty and her family. Catherine was Mary’s sister.

Whether the Moreton Bay District was unique or whether the orphans were as feisty and combative elsewhere, has yet to be discovered. There were, however, exceptional Moreton Bay circumstances we need to acknowledge. Setting aside the spirit and determination of the young women themselves, Dr Connors alerts us to a bureaucratic loophole that allowed them some freedom of movement. Because there was no Orphan Committee in Brisbane, she says, all orphan master-servant, master-apprentice contracts were sent to Sydney for approval, a delay the orphans were not slow to exploit. “They found themselves without legal restraint and took the opportunity to go from one job to another, residing at the barracks in between” (Connors, ‘Politics of ethnicity’, Papers delivered, 177).

It was an intolerable situation that should not be permitted, according to the Moreton Bay Courier,  25 August 1849 p. 2 column 4, http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/541372?zoomLevel=1

When one of those immigrants is engaged as an apprentice, the indentures are prepared in triplicate, signed by the employer, and transmitted, by the local Immigration Agent, to Sydney, for completion by the signatures of the guardians there. In the meantime, the servant is taken home by her master or mistress, who is not long in discovering that the young lady has full consciousness of her freedom from any restraint to bind her to her service. She will work if she pleases, but, if not,she returns to her idle quarters kn the barrack, and by the time that the indentures are signed and returned from Sydney the apprentice” is perhaps making trial of another service, to be vacated afterwards in a similar manner. This is clearly an evil that calls for remedy…we cannot recognise their claim to greater immunities, and it is certain that in ordinary cases, an apprentice would not be permitted to exercise the wilfully independent spirit which has been evinced in some instances by these Government “Orphans”. During the past week we have heard of a case where one of these gentle dames left her service for the avowed reason that she “would not eat the brad of a heretic”, and this is not a bad sample of some of the excuses given by others”.

Hurrah for the young women’s ‘wilfully independent spirit‘ that occasionally tipped the scales in their favour is all I can say.

Another ‘exceptional circumstance’ working in the young women’s favour was the ‘village’ scale of Brisbane. People knew each other, and each other’s business. The orphans met regularly and gave each other support. The Courier even reported the local Catholic priest, the Reverend Father Hanly, having a quiet word with the Bench, in favour of the feisty young Margaret Stack.

And if I may add something more…here are the orphans who appeared before the courts in Brisbane over breaches of Master-Servant legislation. What strikes you?

Mary Byrnes 15 year old from Ballynakill, County Galway per Thomas Arbuthnot

Catherine Dempsey 17 year old from Castlehackett, County Galway per Panama

Margaret Stack 14 year old from Ennistymon, County Clare per Thomas Arbuthnot

Catherine King 14 year old from Loughrea, County Galway, per Thomas Arbuthnot

Alice Gavin 16 year old from Ennis, County Clare per Thomas Arbuthnot

Mary Moriarty 16 year old from Dingle, County Kerry per Thomas Arbuthnot

Mary Connolly 14 year old from Kilmaley, County Clare per Thomas Arbuthnot

Jane Sharp 15 year old from Cavan per Digby

Apart from their tender years, and their origin in the West of Ireland, what struck me most is the name of the vessel they sailed in, viz. the Thomas Arbuthnot. If we could hear these orphans talk, what might they say? Perhaps “Thankyou Surgeon Strutt. God Bless you. You treated us with kindness and compassion. You believed in us and you made us believe in ourselves. You told us we, too, had rights, and we should stand up for ourselves”. (Every teacher knows that praise and positive encouragement are  the best skills they can have).

MARRIAGE

Finally, the single most important reason for ending an orphan’s indenture was her marriage. Remember Frances Tiernan’s, “I’m going to get married and be my own mistress”. For marriage, permission from Orphan Committees had to be sought, and if the proposed spouse was a ticket-of-leave holder, from the Superintendent of Convicts as well. But this was usually granted: once the orphan married she was no longer the legal responsibility of her Guardians. I suspect most of the older ones did not bother seeking permission. From my family reconstitutions, an Earl Grey orphan married when she was just over nineteen years of age, and within two and a half to three years of her arrival. There are examples of my family reconstitutions in earlier posts. See, for example, http://wp.me/p4SlVj-gb  [It follows that ‘orphans’ marrying’ is where I should go for the next post. Maybe I’ll do it later. I would like to take a closer look at the 1858 NSW Government enquiry first. Who knows]?

The marriage lottery; the sad case of Mary Coghlan

Allow me to finish by drawing attention to how much of a lottery an orphan’s marriage could be. The Moriarty sisters mentioned above, married well, and raised large families. Their story is told in Kay Caball’s lovely book,  The Kerry Girls.

On the other hand, the ‘lottery’ was a disaster for Mary Coghlan from Skibbereen. I wonder if the Skibbereen orphans, badly traumatised by their experience of the Famine, found it harder than others to settle in Australia. Mary was a 17 year old when she arrived in Port Phillip on board the Eliza Caroline in 1850. With a number of shipmates–Mary Driscoll, Ellen Collins, Mary Donovan, Julia Dorney–also from Skibbereen, she was sent round the Bay to Geelong, where she was to meet her husband, James Walton. The pair quickly took off for the gold diggings at Ballarat. We know that Mary, returned to Geelong to baptise her first two children, Mary and James, in the St Mary’s of Angels Church.

It wasn’t till 1857 that we hear of them again, when both of them were on trial for the murder of Edward Howell in Ballarat. The report of the case in the Miner and Weekly Star, 1 May 1857, shows that alcohol played a part. Mary claimed Howell had called her a whore which provoked her to hit him on the forehead with a wooden batten. But what killed Howell, was not that blow but the head-kicking he received from James. A witness spoke in favour of Mary, The male prisoner [James Walton] was under the influence of liquor but he understood what he was about. I know the prisoner [Mary Walton] to be a hard working woman, and at the time the occurrence took place her husband was bound over to keep the peace towards his wife. At the end of the trial, after Mary was acquitted, the Judge, Mr Justice Molesworth, turned to Mary’s husband, James Walton, You appear to be a man addicted to liquor and using violence to your wife, and that violence perhaps led to her violence to the deceased. This, your violence has resulted in the melancholy loss of the life of a human creature. The jury with one exception, have recommended you to mercy, and I shall pass a more lenient sentence than I otherwise should do. The sentence of the Court is that you be kept to hard labor on the road for eighteen months.

 

Once again it is the Miner and Weekly Star 4 April 1862 that provides details of what happened. Luckily a more accessible copy of the report from the inquest is available in The Star Ballarat, 31 March 1862, Supplement, page 1, under the headline “Brutal Outrage in South Street”. You can view it at http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/6455284?zoomLevel=1 You will need to zoom in closer.

The inquest tells us more about what happened to Mary. Evidently, she suffered badly from domestic abuse. Her husband beat her physically and cruelly abused her psychologically. In mid March 1862, she was about a month short of full term when her husband assaulted her. After being thrown out of their tent into the cold, at night, from 7 p.m. till the early hours of the next morning, semi-clad, and having been “shoved and kicked about” by James, Mary lost yet another of her babies. Mary claimed he had made her lose four others by ill-treating her the same way. Before she died Mary made a deposition to the Police Magistrate in Ballarat, Stephen ClissoldHe 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.

Jane Skilling, a neighbour, deposed While I was undressing, I heard her repeatedly asking to be let in. He refused, and she was still outside at two o’clock, when I had retired to my tent and fallen asleep. While sitting on the children’s bed, she told him that he had killed four children to her, and that he was trying to kill the fifth…The witness said that their 11 year old daughter had seen her father beat her mother on several occasions.

Margaret Mickison, another neighbour, deposed…During the nine months they have resided near us, the woman was a hard working woman, especially when her husband was in prison. While he was in prison I have once seen her intoxicated. She seemed to have taken drink at other times, but did her work. They were decent-like for a fortnight after he came out of gaol. She was never actually drunk, and kept her children very respectable during the time her husband was in prison. She was always working hard, and went out to wash.

After a brief period…the jury returned the following verdict:- “Her death took place…in the Ballarat District Hospital, and was caused by typhoid fever and enteritis brought on by a miscarriage, and such was occasioned by the ill-treatment of her husband, James Walton”. The prisoner was then removed to prison on the charge of manslaughter.

Poor Mary Coghlan, a victim of the Famine in Skibbereen. Indentures cancelled. Brutalized in Ballarat.  Life ended.

And death shall have no dominion

no more gulls cry at their ears

or waves  break loud on the seashores; (Dylan Thomas)

Post script.

As always, my thanks to family historians who provided me with documents and photographs.

Thanks also to Judith Kempthorne who did brilliant work as my research assistant (in late 1987 was it, whilst still an undergraduate?) working professionally through  newspaper microfilm uncovering references to ‘Irish orphans’. Thanks heaps Judith.

Finally, a link to a post that lists the contents of this blog. I hope it will help us navigate our way around it.

 http://wp.me/p4SlVj-oE

For information about the annual gathering at Hyde Park Barracks and other events, see www.irishfaminememorial.org

Advertisements

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (16):Orphans’ Arrival and early days in Australia

 Arrival and early days

“And after the commanded journey, what?…A gazing out from far away, alone”

(Seamus Heaney, Lightenings)

It looks like I’ll be trying to square the circle once more. Searching for reliable sources that describe the arrival and early days of the Famine orphans in Australia is one thing. Trying to find what the young women themselves thought of the experience, is another. Allow me to keep the training I’ve had as an academic historian. At the same time, please cut me cut some slack when it comes to ‘inventing’ the orphans’ voice. As before, my idea of their voice will appear in blue typeface. I’ll look for other sources too, poetry reading, pictures and the like, so we may imagine the orphans other than through the eyes of officialdom.

LANDING and INSPECTION

Surgeon Strutt’s diary has an exemplary account of the Thomas Arbuthnot arriving in Sydney 3 February 1850, at the height of an Australian summer. The diary appears in full in Richard Reid and Cheryl Mongan’s, ‘a decent set of girls’ The Irish Famine orphans of the ‘Thomas Arbuthnot’ 1849-1850, Yass, 1996.

Buíochas le Dia, Maire Brandon. Tá sé go breá innui.

Chomh te. No, no Bríde Burke. The doctor says we have to speak English. Oh Lord, I’m sweating so. Where’s the sea breeze gone to?

Strutt’s diary recorded his eyewitness account of the official landing process. The orphans and other passengers remained on the ship whilst the Sydney Board of Immigration, consisting of F.L.S. Merewether, Health Officer Savage and Water Police Magistrate, H.H. Browne, along with Robert Hardy, a clerk from the Immigration department, came on board and drew up a Board of Immigration List. The List was to fulfill the requirements of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners in London(CLEC). Had the Surgeon, the Ship’s Captain and Officers carried out their obligations satisfactorily? Had the terms of the Charter Party, the contract between CLEC and Shipowner been met? Details such as names of orphans, their native place, their religion, their occupation, parents’ names, state of health, literacy, relations in the colony, if any,  complaints, if any, were all recorded in meticulous detail. Sometimes names and places of origin would go awry, the clerk writing down in a phonetic way what he thought the young woman said. Hiccups such as this notwithstanding, the Board of Immigration Shipping Lists are an unrivalled record  of all the orphans who landed in Port Jackson. See http://www.irishfaminememorial.org

Fakel,[Feakle] Clare

Innesdiamond, [Ennistymon] Clare

Abinachmaigh [Abbeyknockmoy], Galway. Mother at Tume (Tuam)

Listole, [Listowel]Kerry

A similar record, if not with quite the same details, was made at the other two ports of entry, Melbourne and Adelaide. Immigration Agent Patterson at Port Phillip and Captain Brewer at Port Adelaide, accompanied by clerks and representatives from their Orphan Committee went on board to examine the female orphans before they disembarked. Thus Lady Kennaway orphan, 14 year-old Bridget Ferry from Dunfanaghy, when asked if she was in possession of a Bible, could reply Prayer Book and Testament.

Reports

On arrival, Surgeon Superintendents presented a written report to local Immigration authorities. Surgeons were responsible for the well-being and health of the emigrants in their charge. Or as Robin Haines put it in her Doctors at Sea (Palgrave MacMillan), 2005, p.81, “Surgeons supervised the sanitary regime on board, oversaw the distribution and cooking of rations, attended to the sick, and were in control of discipline and the moral tone on board”.

Surgeons were appointed by the Imperial Government and thus only answered to them, and were independent of ships’ officers and crew. They were part of an important system of checks and balances designed to make Government Assisted emigration work well. Had the emigrants not received their proper rations, had the Irish orphans been allowed to mix too freely with the sailors, was the Charter Party abused in any way, then Immigration authorities in Australia conducted an enquiry into the misdemeanours and a report submitted to the representatives of the Imperial government in Australia. One can find extensive and detailed reports for many of the orphan vessels, especially the early ones, the Subraon, Earl Grey, Digby and others. Use the Search Box at the end of the post. Even for the William & Mary that arrived mid 1849, which was found to be “in a very dirty state on arrival“. Surgeon Phillips complained of the “rude and improper conduct of the Captain and his crew“. And that “all the conditions of the Charter Party were [not] fulfilled in respect of proper issuing of provisions, water and medical comforts, nor the prevention of intercourse between officers, crew and single females“.

The report on the Diadem to Port Phillip could not “consider it prudent to have allowed, single women, particularly young Orphan Girls, to remain about the upper deck after dark, and amongst sailors, especially without constables or any efficient guard…it appeared the Surgeon had repeatedly to go forward, and “drive” or send some of them aft…”.

The Melbourne Orphan Committee reported “the period within which the “Orphans” per Pemberton were disposed of, has been longer than in the case of those received by the Lady Kennaway: and we were obliged to be less strict in requirements respecting parties to whom the first named “Orphans” were hired, a greater number of the employers being of a lower class of society than those who engaged the orphans per Lady Kennaway”.

For these early arrivals especially, and before the demand for servants fell– which occurred towards the end of the scheme–prospective and approved employers went on board ship to hire their servant directly. Nonetheless, most orphans were hired from the Immigration Depot in each city.

The advantage of records in the Public Records Office of Victoria (PROV) is that “Disposal Lists” tell us who first hired the orphans, and how much they would be paid. PROV VPRS 14 reel 3 contains the shipping list for the Lady Kennaway , the list of officers on the ship and the gratuities due to them, and who was employed as Chief Matron, submatrons, constables and hospital assistants. The Disposal List at Book 4B p.1 repeats their name, their calling, their age, their date of admission into the depot and the date of their leaving, the number of days they spent in the depot, the name and residence of their employer, the terms of engagement, and the rate of wages per annum, and whether with or without rations.

The Report of the Immigration Board of Inspection, dated 23 December 1848, says of the orphans by the first vessel to arrive in Port Phillip, the Lady Kennaway,

“…their general aspect indicates good health and gives the impression that they belong to the humbler ranks of life. They are generally of a stout make, rather low in stature, and are endowed with strongly marked Irish Physiognomies…We do consider them… a most sensible supply and acquisition for this city and its environs and hope that we may in future have more importations of a similar kind, and as they come originally from small county towns and adjoining districts they have never seen or been accustomed to witness those demoralizing scenes too frequent in larger towns in many parts of the Empire, and we doubt not but that they will continue to conduct themselves as hitherto and keep in the paths of virtue…they are most anxious to please their employers… during the voyage… some few of them were inclined to be rather noisy and boisterous occasionally, and would not hesitate at times to let out a bit of an oath…”.

It’s a report that may tell us more about its authors than what it says about the orphans.

Attitudes to the orphans by Government officials

It would be worth researching the different attitudes towards the orphans among Government officials generally. Who was sympathetic? In South Australia, Matthew Moorhouse, no; Mrs Murphy, Matron in the depot, yes; Mrs Hill, Acting Matron, no (see below under ‘Immigration Depots’). In Port Phillip, Dr Patterson and Superintendent La Trobe, generally yes: in Port Jackson Immigration Agent Merewether yes, his successor H.H. Browne, no. Mrs Capps, Matron at Hyde Park Barracks, yes.

It is worth asking, too, how the attitudes and reports of Surgeons from orphan ships coloured the way the orphans were viewed and received in Australia. There’s a very marked difference between Surgeon Strutt (Thomas Arbuthnot)  and Surgeons Douglass (Earl Grey), Eades (Roman Emperor), Ramsay (Inchinnan)  and Hewer (Elgin). Surgeon Hewer was to write “I was so disgusted by the behaviour of the orphans per “Elgin”, –so worried by their tricks, simulating fits day after day to procure porter and spirits–so disheartened by their misrepresentation and utter disregard for truth, that I would not come out in another Irish orphan vessel if the Government would pay me £10 per orphan”.

These last four Surgeons were so aware of their own social class, so lacking in empathy and unable to–what’s the word– ‘understand’, ‘communicate’, ‘connect’– with the young women, they distorted the image people would have of the orphans even before they landed. By contrast, Strutt is the Surgeon we’d all like to have today; he has the ‘human’ touch we’d all like to have. It is a subject for further research.

————————————————————————————-

Here are some pics that will  give us an idea of what the young women saw when they disembarked. The first one is a  sketch of  emigrants landing at Glenelg in South Australia, not that the orphans landed at this particular location. Their ships would dock at Port Adelaide.

Glenelg 1847 courtesy State Library of South Australia
Glenelg 1847 courtesy State Library of South Australia

There is an interesting account of the arrival of the Inconstant orphans in Port Adelaide in 1849. It appeared in the South Australian Register, 13 June 1849 (p.2. Local Intelligence bottom rt of page). Nowadays, with digitisation, research among newspapers has become much easier than before. Here’s the link to the paragraph I’m talking about.  http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/4148476?zoomLevel=1 . The orphans had arrived at Port Adelaide, 8th June, about 14 kilometres away from the Native School on North Terrace, where they were to find “temporary asylum”. Travelling by dray gave them plenty of time to look around at their ‘new’ country. What a sight they must have made.

“On Monday evening an extraordinary procession was seen on the North Terrace Road Ten drays fully laden with Irish female orphans were seen moving along at a brisk pace towards the Native School Location where it is understood they will find a temporary asylum. They all seemed warmly and comfortably clad, and excited much sympathy”.

The next one is of Hobson’s Bay, Williamstown. There are lots of ships in Port Phillip Bay in 1853, more than when the orphans landed 1848-50. The Victorian gold rush was under way.

Hobson's Bay from the signal staff, Williamstown 1853 courtesy State Library Victoria
Hobson’s Bay from the signal staff, Williamstown 1853 courtesy State Library Victoria

This next pic is of Port Jackson. It’s by Oswald Brierly and called ‘Emigrants arriving at Sydney Cove’, dated 1853. Again it’s a couple of years after the Earl Grey scheme ended. There’s a steamer in the background, bottom right of the pic. A steamer was to take orphans from their ship to a landing dock.

with permission of State Library NSW DGV1/7
Oswald Brierly, ‘Sydney Cove Emigrants leaving ship’ ref DGV1/7 courtesy of State Library of New South Wales

On the 8th February 1850 Surgeon Strutt wrote in his diary,

“Landed all the girls in a large steamer and walked at their head to the Depot [Hyde park Barracks]. There was such weeping and wailing at leaving the ship; when on board the steamer an effort was made to give three cheers, but with very indifferent success. I stopped nearly all day at the Depot with them and got them settled as well as I could and saw that they all got their dinner, which unluckily was a meagre one, being a fast day. They will now be visited by the Catholic clergy and nuns for about a fortnight, confessed and persuaded to take the pledge. They will then be permitted to take situations”.

The Irish Famine Memorial website http://www.irishfaminememorial.org has a link to ‘the historical walk the young women took from the harbour to Hyde Park Barracks’ which is well worth a visit. Not that the roads and ‘pavements’ the orphans walked were the same as today.

The Sydney Depot Hyde Park Barracks in the 1840s, from the collections in the State Library, NSW.
The Sydney Depot Hyde Park Barracks in the 1840s, from the collections in the State Library, NSW.

A NEW WORLD

What did the Famine orphans think of this ‘new world’? Did some of them make their way to the Depot, their eyes down, frightened little waifs, still traumatised by their Famine and workhouse experience? Or did some have a sense of freedom, of being liberated from their past, being healed in part by their long sea journey? Undoubtedly there was a wide range of emotions. But it would be a sorry state if we were to deny them the wonder of their world turned upside down when they arrived in Australia.

After the hurly-burly of the harbour and goods being loaded and unloaded at the docks, travelling to the Depot gave the young women a chance to look around.

Hanna Hayes, Hanna Hayes, will ye look at them big white birds? Look, look, watch them swoop. Squawwck, squawwk. They’re wearing a big yellow comb on their head. Lordy, lordy.

Ach no, Kitty Kelly. Look over there. Who’s that man watching over the river? Over there, over there–the tall black man standing straight. He’s standing on one leg. [26 March 1850, Strutt tells in his diary of an Aboriginal man refusing to take Biddy Rabbit as his wife; his wives would be jealous and anyway, she had “too much yabber”.]

Aw Mary Carty, Ellen Dunbar, will ya look at that. Ah go on. I dare ya. Talk to him.

“You observe…He wears a broad-brimmed cabbage tree hat…a check shirt, open at the neck, and presenting a bold front; a blue jacket, and a gay waistcoat. His trowsers…are cut so much to the quick, that your dread of their bursting keeps you in a state of uncomfortable nervous apprehension. He wears an immense moustache…and a red scarf or comforter is tied around his waist”.  (Lurgan etc Agricultural Gazette 4 Oct 1849)

Where’s Mary Power? She knows all her flowers. What’s that yellow flowering bush by the side of the road?

Young Mary Power probably had no idea what it was. The people, the flora, the fauna, everything was so very different to what the orphans knew. Even the sky seemed bluer, and further away than at ‘home’. The light was brighter. The sun shone harder. They were seeing things few people in Ireland had ever seen–wallabies and kangaroos, kookaburras and lizards, and big hairy spiders, bright coloured parrots, wattle and gum trees, red earth and dry dust, and Aboriginal people coming into town. Evelyn Conlon gives her readers a sense of this very different world in her novel about the orphans, Not the Same Sky, Wakefield Press, 2013.

Let me try giving you another yet similar sense of what I’m talking about. My thanks to http://tintean.org.au/ for the link.

Let’s see if this works. It’s part of a trailer for an Irish film called “Assimilation”.  https://vimeo.com/75656628 Louis de Paor is reading from his poem ‘Didjeridu’ (from his Gobán Cré is Cloch). Here’s a verse or two of his poem. An English version appears as subtitles on the video. He’s accompanied by Kev Carmody on Didgeridoo.

Má sheashann tú gan chor

ar feadhsoicind amháin

nó míle bliain

cuirfudh sé   ealta liréan

ag neadú i easc na gcuach

id chlaon fholt cam

              gorma

pearóidí                    dearga

glasa

ar do ghuaillí loiscthe

is cucabora niogóideach

ag fonóid féd chosa geala,

beidh treibhanna ársa an aeir

ag cleitearnach timpeall ort

ag labhairt i mbéalrá

ná tuigeann     do chroí

gall    ghaelach    bán.

This music is not played to lure a snake

from the woven basket of your distended belly

with a heatwave of torrid notes and swooning melodies.

It won’t set your rebel foot tapping on stone

to taunt your straight jacketed intellect with squalls

of hornpipes and twisting

slides.

If you stand and listen for a second

or a thousand years

lyrebirds will nest in the devious loops

of your branching hair,

green blue red

parrots will perch on your scalded shoulders

and a sarcastic kookaburra

make fun of your scorched white feet,

you’ll hear parakeets and lorikeets flutter round your head,

ancient tribes of the air

speaking a language your wild

colonial heart cannot comprehend.

IMMIGRATION DEPOTS

 Hey Mister, Where we goin’?

To the Immigration Depot? How far is it?

Who’s the Matron, do ye know? Hey, Hanna, Mary, Jane…Alice Smith, listen, the matron’s a Cork woman at the Barracks.

Isn’t that the best news? It’s the best news I’ve heard all day, so it is.

The Port Jackson (Sydney) arrivals made their way up the hill to the former convict building, Hyde Park Barracks which had been refurbished to accommodate female immigrants earlier in 1848. The Port Adelaide arrivals would travel to the Native School, behind Matthew Moorhouse’s residence on North Terrace in Adelaide itself. I’m not sure where the Port Phillip (Melbourne) orphans first went. Did the Lady Kennaway orphans go to a building in Williamstown? I doubt they went to any kind of tent city, colonial authorities being ever so concerned these young women were “without natural protectors”.  However, on the 5th January 1849 the Port Phillip Gazette reported that Governor Fitzroy had arranged for “the depot situated on allotments 8 and 9 of section 16 at the angle of William Street and Collins Street has been appropriated as an establishment for the reception of the…female orphan immigrants from Ireland”. That presumably was where the Melbourne Immigration Depot was situated.

Thanks to Kelly Starr we know where the Immigration depot was in Melbourne from this 1855 map.

https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Melbourne_map_1855.jpeg?fbclid=IwAR0M9WPcItoACcMiFxKiLGBa6wLF_YTfQ5uqxXZQ9hDLQ8ift05inKiuTfA

Kelly also has alerted us to an article in the press referring to the hiring of orphans from the first vessel to arrive in Port Phillip, the Lady Kennaway. It is from “The Melbourne Daily News (Vic. : 1848 – 1851) Tue 12 Dec 1848 Page 3 Advertising” .

Image may contain: text

For some of the young women, Depot life could be an untimely reminder of their workhouse days. They were once again subjected to an institutional discipline. Orphan ships arrived within months of each other, one hot on the heels of another. With each ship carrying about 200 young women, pressure was put on Immigration Agents and Matrons alike. To cope with such a large body of arrivals, some kind of regimen was necessary–when should the young women go to bed, when should they rise, when they should eat, when should they prepare themselves to meet their prospective employers. And most controversially, should they be allowed to return to the Depot when their indentures were cancelled?

Conflict in the South Australian Depot

Of course conflicts did occur between government officials and the young women. One of the most explicit examples, perhaps not so well-known, occurred in the South Australian Depot at the Native School on North Terrace.

A local newspaper, The South Australian Register, 21 January 1850, published a damning letter written by Aliquis, who turned out to be a Mr D’Arcy (not that Mr D’Arcy!) “…I beg to call  your attention to the existence of a brothel supported at the public expense and to the disgrace of an establishment under the superintendence of a paid officer of the Government. I allude to the depot at the Native Location for the reception of the female orphans landed upon our shores, where the most disgusting scenes are nightly enacted. I will not attempt to portray the Bacchanalian orgies to be witnessed there every night…”.

The editor of the newspaper added to the calumny claiming “…the rations of the girls were occasionally stopped, punishments inflicted on trivial pretexts, and that some girls have been capriciously expelled”.

Ever mindful of being seen to do the ‘right and proper’ thing, the Children’s Apprenticeship Board, under Matthew Moorhouse, immediately set up an enquiry to defend themselves and rebut the charges.  Their report is available as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project (AJCP) on microfilm in Australian State Libraries. The original is in the Public Record Office in London at Colonial Office (CO) 13/71, pp.461-485. It is also available in my Barefoot, vol.2, pp.35-43. Do  have a look at the Report if you can. I’d be interested to learn how you read and interpret it.

For me, it is clear some government officials were less than sympathetic towards the Irish orphans. Not that the orphans themselves were totally innocent. They asserted themselves and were combative, refusing to do work they did not want to do, and refusing to be cowed by those in authority. They saw themselves as entitled to food and able to leave an employer and return to the depot if it was in their own best interest. Not everyone agreed. Unfortunately only a few of the orphan witnesses to the enquiry are linked to specific ships, Mary Creed per Elgin, Nora McDonald per Elgin, Mary Ann Murray ex Roman Emperor. Others, not so.

Sometimes matrons themselves defied regulations. Mrs Murphy defied Matthew Moorhouse by allowing orphans to visit her “in defiance of all instructions”, sometimes allowing an orphan to stay overnight.  She was given to a ‘secret harbouring of orphans‘, according to Moorhouse. Mrs Murphy said “she could not have it on her conscience of having refused any girl a night’s lodgings”. But she would lose her job for her troubles.

I’m not filling the water casks, Nora McDonald. It’s not my turn.

She called me a blackguard slut, so she did. I did not. Yes you did. Not. Did. Not. Did.

Lizzie Coogan. Watch out. They’ll stop your tea and sugar.

Some employers’ complaints about orphans who returned to the Depot suggest that an apprenticeship agreement or master-servant contract may well have existed in law. But in practice, things came down to personal relationships, how well master and servant got on with one another. Neither seemed aware of the wording of the contract itself. And the examples in this report are of ones that did not work. Jane Hall was “dismissed for want of civility, violent temper and abusive language”.  “I had great difficulty keeping Margaret Collins within doors of an evening”. “My brother in law who is now dead of relapse said, let her (Eliza Day) go and don’t have another in her place—she is a dirty, filthy, idle wretch, let her go…”.

It is also clear there were clashes between the orphans and Mrs Hill, Acting Matron and Mr Moorhouse. Mrs Hill admitted “to having called the girls “dirty brutes” but I never told anyone to go to the Devil; or called one a blackguard wretch”. Matthew Moorhouse also admitted to calling them ‘brutes’, had seen them stealing stores from native stores, and dismissed Creed, McCarthy and Collins for having refused employment three times. “Had I not dismissed them, we should have had an average of about 100 constantly living upon Government”.

Perhaps the sensibilities of modern day’s readers would be most shocked by the orphan girls’ toilet habits. Was it a case of ‘bog Irish’, or young women frightened of the dark in a strange land, of inadequate arrangements in the Depot, or of our own lack of knowledge of toilet habits in the past?

Mrs Hill deposed to the enquiry, “I have frequently known the girls use their pannicans as night vessels and in the morning dip them into the water cask which we use for cooking. I have also witnessed when rising in the morning the passage made into a water closet and night soil here with ashes thrown over.

Matthew Moorhouse submitted “On the arrival of the Inconstant we had for some time 70 to 100  girls in the Depot Their habits were insufferably dirty; we had ample water closet accommodation, but they were too lazy to cross the yard, to use this convenience. On paying my morning visit, I beheld quantities of human faeces about the verandah and door, and in one instance i saw that one girl had not even taken the trouble to go outside the door, but had soiled the wall against which her bed was lying…These instances of offensiveness and filth being daily before me, caused me to express myself in severe, and probably, in apparent unkind language”.  Culture clash at its most basic?

In Sydney, the orphans who returned to Hyde Park Barracks after their indentures were cancelled, discipline was more severe. They were put into a cramped and poorly ventilated room at the Barracks to pick oakum (unpicking old rope). Only when the Sisters of Mercy intervened did the practice end, and the young women sent to country depots at Wollongong, Parramatta, Bathurst, Maitland, Newcastle, Port Macquarie, and Moreton Bay. [check 1859 Report]

HIRING

The Immigration depots were designed to be temporary accommodation for the Earl Grey orphans, an asylum where they could rest awhile and receive religious instruction from the clergy of their faith. But their primary purpose was to hire out the orphans as servants, indenture those under 17(?) as apprentices and hire out the others under “ordinary agreements”. (See the example of a Female Apprenticeship contract in post 13 https://wp.me/p4SlVj-g4).

foapprentice
Anne Smith’s apprenticeship indenture

Members of the different Orphan Committees vetted potential employees. Anyone with a poor reputation or ran a public house would not be permitted to have an orphan as servant. But rules are made to be broken, and in practice cannot always be enforced. One can follow the approval process, and indeed the employment history of many of the orphans, in the Registers and Indexes of applications for orphans in New South Wales State Records 4/4715-57, and dispersed throughout the Immigration Agent’s correspondence beginning c. SRNSW 4/4635.

Registers of application etc for orphans

1849

No 326 From Adelaide Forbes, Wooloomooloo 5 April 1849 Expresses desire to get rid of Mary Ann Galway (Earl Grey) who entered her service November last. Answer. could only get rid of her by bringing her up at the Police Office or by a regular transfer of indentures

Wooloomooloo sketch 1850 courtesy State Library NSW
Wooloomooloo sketch 1850 courtesy State Library NSW

No. 807 John Armstrong, Surveyor Macquarie Street 24 August 1849 Applying for an orphan female as  a general house Servant under an Indenture 895. Approved for an apprentice.

No 833 Mr J Solomons, Australia Hotel, Clarence St., 5 Sept 1849 Requests permission to have Ann Callaghan per Digby  as general house servant transferred from service of Colin MacLeod. Consent to this request against the rule laid down with reference to publicans.

No 967 Sarah Cullins per Lady Peel, Parramatta Street, Sydney 22 October 1849 complaining of ill-usage from her mistress and requesting to be removed from her service. Ask Dr Gregory to investigate.

My mistress was unkind sur. She called me a dirty papist and wouldn’t let me go to Mass on Sunday.

1850

No 329 Principal Superintendent Convicts 12 March 1850 forwarding application of John Lawrence for permission to marry Rosanna Cartwright per Digby.

Colonial government officials and Orphan Committees were conscientious  in adhering to the letter of the law, at least in the early days. Asking for character references; conferring power of attorney; even asking Police Magistrates in the country for character references from local clergy for prospective employers; arranging for constables to accompany orphans going to country depots; appointing married couples to look after the orphans in country depots were all grist to Merewether’s mill.  Surgeon Strutt personally supervised the placement of ‘his girls’, 100 of whom accompanied him over the Ranges, through Goulburn, Yass and as far as Gundagai. The correct legal procedure for cancelling indentures was also enforced as far as practicable. In contrast, H H. Browne, Magistrate in the Water Police Office, presided over the Sydney court which cancelled orphan indentures. As member of the employer class, he tended to favour employers over the orphans. His prejudices were to come back to haunt him at a later date.

The indenture system did not work so well in South Australia, despite the Governor’s Ordnance of August 1848 (See my blogpost no. 13). As long ago as 1964, Cherry Parkin pointed out in her Honours thesis at the University of Adelaide, that 142 employers had failed to apprentice their orphan servants, objecting to the legal formality of binding the ‘girls’. Whilst as early as January 1849, 32 out of 60 indentured ‘girls’ had left their situations, only one of whom was taken to court. Moorhouse, himself, objected to the expense involved in taking matters to court. (GRG24/6 1849 991 28 March) The problem then arose of how long authorities were obliged to accommodate orphans who returned to the depot after leaving their situations.

But let me to return to the question of cancelled indentures at a later date.

Orphans sent up country

 Immigration Agent’s correspondence SRNSW 4/4635

1848/106 10 August 1848 Military Barracks at Brisbane to be used as Immigrant Barracks

1848/129 Immigration depot to be established at Goulburn perhaps vacant Court House to be rented at £35 pa

1849/111 2 March 1849 the 19 orphans named in the margin to be taken to Parramatta, their binding to be approved by the clergyman of their religion.

Ach Jaysus Sarah Moran here we go again. Where to this time? Will it be any better than before? I’m going to find meself an ould fella to marry. I’ll be workin’ for no one but me.

Merewether in Sydney and Patterson in Melbourne coped with the influx of  female orphans by distributing them throughout the colony. As the numbers increased and it became increasingly difficult to find employers for the orphans, such a strategy became imperative. The usual means of transport was by water. Many an orphan found herself on a boat again, this time on her way to Windsor or Parramatta, Wollongong or Newcastle, Maitland and the Hunter Valley, or to Port Macquarie and Brisbane, all of which could be reached by water. Otherwise, it was a long and probably less comfortable journey by dray over the mountains to Bathurst,  Goulburn and beyond.

Hunter River1853 courtesy State Library NSW collections
Hunter River1853
courtesy State Library NSW collections

Strutt’s diary gives a wonderful account of his travels with 108 orphans from the Thomas Arbuthnot, over the Ranges and well into the South western regions of today’s New South Wales. He took “his girls” via Parramatta to Liverpool and Camden, over Razorback to Picton, across the Bargo River to Berrima and Goulburn, thence to Gunning and Yass. And from Yass he took the remaining 45 young women on a 12 hour trek to Gundagai. His round trip lasted from 18 February 1850 until 29 April.

Monday 18 Started with 108 girls and young women…by steamer to Parramatta

Tuesday 19 Started with 14 drays drawn by teams of horses, from 2 to 4 each. Was sworn in Special Constable on the occasion…Encamped for the night about ten miles beyond Liverpool, I sleeping under a dray, and much more tormented by ants, fleas or some creature that bit like fury.

aeeeeye aaeeeye aaah Wednesday 20…Mary Brandon and Mary Conway were thrown off..and the wheel went over their legs.

The orphans were not the only ones struck by the unfamiliar Australian fauna. Still using the “European’ words he was familiar with–‘forest’, magpies’ and ‘tarantula’–Strutt recorded in his diary,

Monday 25 …The forest was more animated with parrots, large magpies, cockatoos etc., to say nothing of the insect tribe, large ants, which make great hills three or four feet high, and as hard as clay very much sun dried. The people use these hills beaten into a fine paste with water to make floors for their cottages. Biddy O’Dea caught a large tarantula, which she brought to me in her apron…

A similar tactic of distributing the orphans into the hinterland was employed by the Acting Immigration agent in Melbourne, John Patterson and Superintendent La Trobe.  Below is a contemporary map, not drawn to scale which shows where some of the orphans were sent–Salt Water river, Geelong and Portland.

Charles Norton map Port Phillip and around courtesy State Library of Victoria
Charles Norton map Port Phillip and around courtesy State Library of Victoria

 PROV VPRS 32 Police Magistrate Portland Letters-in. Item 4 contains letters from Superintendent La Trobe making arrangements for 37 orphans per Pemberton to be sent to Portland by the steamer Raven accompanied by Surgeon Sullivan and a sub-matron. Two of the major settlers in the area, Henty and Leake, were appointed as their Guardians.

PROV VPRS 34 Police Magistrate Portland Letters-out 1849-52 Item 3

Police Magistrate Portland to his Honor the Superintendent 23 June 1849

The single females have been housed in the Immigration Barrack at the Customs post under the protection of two married immigrants recommended by the Surgeon and a married constable”.

The other major area to receive Earl Grey Famine orphans was Geelong. By the time the Eliza Caroline arrived in Port Phillip–the last orphan vessel, with orphans from Skibbereen on board–finding positions for them in Melbourne was extremely difficult. Many of them would be sent to Geelong.

Geelong in 1850 courtesy State Library of Victoria
Geelong in 1850 courtesy State Library of Victoria
Country house Geelong courtesy State Library of Victoria
Country house Geelong courtesy State Library of Victoria

I’m very much aware what I’ve left out or left undeveloped in this post. There are orphan histories begging to be told: Eliza Taafe per Inconstant designated as ‘insane’ when she arrived in Adelaide. The Surgeon later attributed her strange behaviour on board ship to her Famine experience in Ireland. A local doctor predicted she was not permanently insane: simply in need of kindness and care: Mary Stephens, of Inchinnan fame, whose indentures with J Mackay, in Sydney, were cancelled 20 July 1849 and she sent to Moreton Bay. [It is always pleasing to see the high standard of work being done by others interested in the Earl Grey Famine orphans, for example, on the website www.mayoorphangirls.weebly.com ] Mary Stephens, according to Ray Debnam, was visited in the Brisbane Barracks four times by Dr Ballow, 15 -19 August 1849. Less convincingly, Ray suggests she may have married Thomas Kavanagh in Brisbane RC Church 17 September 1849.

Or, to finish my three examples, Margaret Cumins per Pemberton ‘raped’–‘violated forcibly’– is the term used in her statement, by her employer Patrick Ryan at Salt Water River in 1849. (PROV VPRS 115/P unit 3 49/381. See also  my Barefoot vol2., pp.31-4) “…when her relative was out milking the cows, Ryan violated her forcibly and against her will: she did not tell this to her relative or to anyone else at the time, but went back again to live at Ryan’s, and Ryan had frequently criminal connexion with her since that time…”  Dr Rule told me the case did not go to court, perhaps a conviction would be too difficult. Margaret lived what Dr Rule calls a ‘fairly rackety life’ being convicted of robbery in 1862 and other convictions in the late 1860s. In 1872 she was sent from gaol to a lunatic asylum.

There are other details I’ve omitted from this post, Merewether’s administration of orphans being sent up country, for example; Im. Cor. 49/240 Mr Featherstone to be in charge of the party [to Goulburn]. It will be his duty to keep a strict watch over the females on the road, to prevent them having any communication with strangers and not to allow them to quit his charge under any circumstances’,

which continues, Im. Cor. (49/271)  31 May Merewether to the Police Magistrate Parramatta re the misconduct of draymen who conducted orphans to Goulburn under the charge of Martin Featherstone,

and finally, Im. Cor. (49/328)  18 June Merewether to Police Magistrate Bathurst re the appointment of Martin Featherstone and his wife as Superintendents of the Immigrant Depot at Bathurst. They are to be given two shillings and sixpence per day, a daily allowance of an adult and a female ration, fuel and candlelight, and accommodation for himself and his family at the Depot.

One wonders too if orphans were paid proper wages. Merewether was well aware ‘the orphans were under the complete control of the government’ and could be made to accept lower than the current rate of wages, if it proved expedient. Yet in 1850 (50/341) he replied to the Bench of Magistrates at Wollongong which had tried to reduce the orphans’ wages, “the present wages readily given in Sydney and elsewhere are as much below the current rate for female servants, as the [Orphan] Committee would feel themselves justified in fixing them…”.

And what of the frequency with which orphan indentures were cancelled? Was it higher than usual? How is this to be explained? Was it part of a systemic weakness of the Earl Grey scheme? Or is there more than this? What part did it play in giving the scheme a bad reputation and bringing it to an end? How should the cancellation of orphans’ indentures  be interpreted? Closer examination may uncover some truths everyone may not like to hear. This is something that warrants a closer look, don’t you think?

I’ll need to return to some of these issues when next I examine opposition to and ending of the Earl Grey scheme–soon come, I promise..and if you believe that…