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

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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.

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Margaret Smith Ni Stack and family

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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

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Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (21):why did the Earl Grey scheme come to an end?

Why did the Earl Grey scheme come to an end?

As per the ‘About’ page of this blog, you’re not forced to accept anything I say. Please, feel free to let me know your take on why the Earl Grey scheme came to an end. History has always been about discussion and debate.

“‘Uncertainty in meaning is incipient poetry‘-who said that?” (Brian Friel, Translations)

One of the problems we face is that the most accessible sources that have survived–government enquiries, parliamentary papers, newspaper articles and the like–were written  from the vantage point of the upper and middle-class establishment. It would be a shame to let that decide for us what is important and accept what they say at face value. It would give us a one-sided history.  But sometimes, as in this case, they are very important. I just hope we don’t lose sight of the young women themselves, or at least, make sure we come back to them.

I’ve always found that writing something down is a good first step.  More than one draft is always needed.

Returning readers will be aware of recent revisions (June 2017) to this blog post (first published in August 2015). Here’s another go (July 2019). My initial effort constructed its analysis of the demise of the Earl Grey scheme with ideology and Imperial-colonial politics at its base before suggesting the scheme’s innate structural weaknesses ‘doomed’ it from the start. What also worked against it from the start were the scandals associated with the Subraon and the first vessel to arrive in Sydney, the Earl Grey.

In the end, demolition of the scheme came from within the colonies themselves. Mounting opposition in the colonial press maligned the young orphans as ignorant workhouse Irish; they were untrained and immoral girls, sent out to Romanize the colonies.The cry went up that no more young women be sent from Irish workhouses.

About two thirds of the way down my initial post, in the section called “Bad Press” where i invited readers to go to ‘Trove’, I asked,

Were colonists opposed to the scheme because the orphans were Irish, Bog Irish dirty, Roman Catholic, from the workhouse, poorly trained, and immoral? Because there were too many of them and not enough from England and Scotland? Because the scheme belonged to Earl Grey and the British Imperial power? Because they wanted full control of their Land fund and immigration policies? ‘ My intention was to direct readers to ways they might unpick the prejudices against the young Irish female workhouse orphans. Maybe I should have a go at that myself.

We can start by looking at Earl Grey’s relationship with the Australian colonies, that is, the larger context of the Orphan Emigration Scheme.

The larger context: Imperial and colonial politics

What political issues formed the backdrop to the Earl Grey Scheme? For example, who controlled Imperial and colonial finances? Where was the money to come from to pay for government-assisted emigration? Were colonial ‘Crown Revenues’ completely under the Crown’s control, to be used and spent as Earl Grey wished? Did Earl Grey arbitrarily charge colonial crown revenues for continued convict transportation to Van Diemen’s Land, and for his underhand renewal of convict, or ‘exile’, transportation to New South Wales?

Perhaps Earl Grey’s personal papers have something to say about his surrender to colonial demands to end the orphan emigration scheme? I certainly haven’t looked at these. What I’m suggesting here, is that there is more to this question than meets the eye.  The ideology that underpins political decisions is worth considering. Things which on the surface do not appear to be linked, are in fact very much part of a whole.

At base, the Irish Famine orphan emigration scheme is linked to a number of sensitive political matters: colonial labour supply and the expansion of government-assisted emigration; Grey’s attempt to continue Lord Stanley’s renewal of convict transportation to New South Wales; control of the Land fund and colonial revenues generally; and how Imperial Government and Colonial legislatures would handle the approaching constitutional reform.

If I may illustrate this further, at an early stage of his administration, Grey accepted pastoralists’ demands for access to lands that Governor Gipps had previously denied. But he had little faith in New South Wales pastoralists’ ability to govern in the best interests of the colonies. The whole issue of constitutional reform for the Australian colonies, which was to lead to ‘Representative‘ and later ‘Responsible‘ government, was a burning issue for Grey’s administration. As my good friend Professor Frank Clarke puts it, “Grey always harboured the most serious mistrust over the ability of squatter-dominated colonial legislatures to administer the land revenues in an impartial fashion. He thought they would more often than not treat the land funds as loot to be distributed among themselves. He appeared to have a fine understanding of the mindset of most colonial conservatives“. Some may argue that constitutional reform lay in the future. But it was nonetheless there, and not always in the background, as opposition to the orphan emigration scheme unfolded in Australia.

Let me give you an example to clarify this.

The convict issue and Earl Grey’s attempt to supply labour

Even though convict transportation to New South Wales had ceased in 1840, Grey, without consulting colonists, sent a number of convicts between 1847 and 1849. For him, it was another way of supplying labour to the colonies. The Joseph Soames, Adelaide, Randolph, Havering, Hashemy and Mount Stewart Elphinstone arrived in Port Phillip, Port Jackson and Moreton Bay carrying convicts, or ‘exiles’ as they were euphemistically known. The ‘exiles’ were given tickets-of-leave immediately on landing, and dispersed throughout New South Wales. Some were forwarded to Sydney from Port Phillip because they were not wanted there. Others were farmed out to Maitland, Newcastle, Clarence River, and the Moreton Bay districts.

When the Hashemy arrived in Port Jackson in the middle of 1849, c.4500 people took part in a public protest in the streets of Sydney, precisely when the Irish orphan emigration scheme was in full cry. In June 1849, the protesters presented Governor Fitzroy with a petition asking the ‘exiles’ be sent back to England and Ireland. When he refused, he was presented with resolutions adopted at a public meeting viz. (1) censuring the Governor himself for his lack of courtesy, (2) demanding the dismissal of Earl Grey from office, and (3) advocating the introduction of responsible government immediately! One can see how easy it was for colonists to say “we don’t want your convicts, and we don’t want your paupers”! Reports of “The Great Protest against Transportation” appeared in newspapers around the country: “the injustice they now faced was far more flagrant, far more oppressive than that which had given birth to the American rebellion” (Colonial Times, Hobart 29 June, p.4). Little wonder then, that the Imperial Government in London was ready to listen, and put a stop to Grey’s sending convicts and workhouse orphans. 

By September 1849 Orphan Committees in Adelaide and Melbourne were calling for a reduction in the number of orphans, and by the end of the year or early 1850, that the scheme should stop. [See the documents appended at the end of this post. They were part of H.H. Browne’s submission to the NSW Parliamentary enquiry.] As early as October 1849, for example, the Melbourne authorities were suggesting orphan immigration to the Port Phillip district should be suspended. But it was not until April 1850 that the last orphan ship, the Tippoo Saib, would leave Plymouth.

To quote something I wrote earlier viz. “Grey’s larger concern, providing the Australian colonies with labour, was to draw him into the quagmire of renewed transportation, ‘exile-ism’, and the emigration of convict families, political issues that would tarnish his name and from which he never really recovered. Not helped, of course, by his own high-minded attitude to colonials. Grey’s principal means of meeting colonial demands for labour was the renewal of large-scale government-assisted emigration. And of this, the female orphan scheme was but a part.

Yet, as Grey responded to pressing colonial demands for labour, he failed to resolve the long-standing differences between colonist and Imperial authority over the question of how government-assisted emigration should be funded and run. In fact he aggravated these differences by insisting that Britain keep control over land funds, and hence, emigration policy. His opponents would seize on the Female Orphan scheme as a means of embarrassing him and of pursuing their own political claims. In turn, some of the odium attached to Earl Grey rubbed off on the female orphans. Whether the orphans, themselves, were aware of being pawns in this larger political contest remains to be seen, it is clear their immediate fate was inextricably bound up with the name of Earl Grey”.

Weaknesses of the scheme

Some of the scheme’s weaknesses were ‘structural’ or ‘systemic’ weaknesses. Even before the first orphan ships had arrived, South Australian government officials were advocating the scheme should include a proportionate number of female ‘orphans’ sent from workhouses in England and Scotland. But that was always difficult to arrange. Young people in English Parish workhouses were sent into service at an early age, 14 or 15 years, was the response when the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners (CLEC) enquired about the possibility. [There were c. 80, in fact, sent from English workhouses to different parts of Australia, including some on the Ramillies to South Australia]. From a purely organisational point of view, it was easier for the CLEC to bring young women from Irish workhouses. Nonetheless, the cry that there should be young women sent from England and Scotland in proportionate numbers, was something critics of the scheme in Australia could and would use to their advantage.

The CLEC became a victim of their own organisational skills. Once the ‘production line’ of orphan ships was set in motion it was difficult to stop.  Commissioners sent too many, too soon–that is– from an Australian point of view, not an Irish one. By early 1850, there was an oversupply of Irish female servants in Melbourne and Sydney. It became increasingly difficult to find employers the Sydney and Melbourne Orphan committees approved of.

Similarly, organisation of the scheme in Australia–Orphan Committees, master-servant regulations, children’s apprenticeships and the like–would come back to cause trouble for colonial authorities. South Australia, for example, stepped around the master-servant apprenticeship arrangements the Imperial government had asked for (except for the very young): they were too expensive to administer. Only to find the Irish orphans could exploit this weakness. Some of the orphans, knowing authorities were obliged to ‘protect’ them, returned to immigration depots when things were not to their liking. The orphans were to prove a lot more savvy than people expected. But their returning to the immigration depot was also an unwelcome expense colonial authorities had not foreseen.

After the scheme had ended, the Irish Poor Law Commissioners were to “ascribe much of the misconduct of the Irish orphan girls, to the mistaken injudicious leniency and indulgence shown to them by the [Children’s Apprenticeship] Board…whilst they were allowed to resort to the Depot from the country and from their employers, and to the absence of sufficient discipline and control whilst they were at the Depot on their first resort to it…“. Grey himself agreed: “...in my opinion the Irish Poor Law Commissioners have succeeded in showing that a considerable part of the causes which led to the failure of the plan is to be found in the injurious though well-meant kindness which was shown to the orphans by the colonial authorities” (Grey to Governor Young 24 Feb. 1851, British Parliamentary Papers Colonies Australia vol.13 Session 1851-2, p.348). See the same place for the full Report of the Irish Poor Law Commission, pp.348-52.

a ‘collective male mentality’

Also working against the scheme, was what we might call a ‘collective (male) mentality’ towards single female emigrants who dared travel “without natural protectors”. Here’s something from my Preface to volume one of Barefoot and Pregnant? to clarify what I mean.

It is worth making the general point that contemporary attitudes towards females were inimical to any easy acceptance of the orphans. Single female immigrants to Australia were too often looked down upon by religious leaders and members of the upper and middle-class public in both Britain and Australia for much of the nineteenth century. It was as if the language of ships’ captains and surgeons, who were uncomfortable if not downright hostile to women convicts and female paupers in their charge, was the accepted way of saying things. Their condemnatory language was repeated parrot fashion by a succession of commentators on female immigrants as a way of attracting attention. The hostility of the early days towards convicts, and the paupers of the 1830s, for example, was to forge images and condition attitudes towards later female migrants, not least the famine orphans from Irish workhouses. Virtuous single women just did not emigrate to such a faraway country as Australia ‘without natural protectors’. Therefore those who did, could not have been really virtuous. George Hall put it to a South Australian Parliamentary enquiry in 1856 that one ‘could never expect to derive such girls of good character from such a source’, as Irish Poor Law Unions. Such a propensity for prejudging the young women led to the condemnation of them all, not just a few, as prostitutes, ill-disciplined and promiscuous during the voyage, and ill-suited for work in the colonies. The stereotype, once fixed, became very difficult to remove”.

No doubt there are exceptions to such generalisations. Surgeon Strutt comes immediately to mind, and no doubt many male commentators were well-meaning; they saw themselves as guardians working to improve the morals of the lower classes. Their fear was that the orphans would easily be led astray, and fall on ‘evil courses’. All they required, however, was one or two examples of ‘misconduct’ and their prophecy became self-fulfilling.

Thus for example, the Presbyterian Reverend Robert Haining accepting his appointment to the Orphan Committee in Adelaide, and before any orphans had arrived, suggested the young women be allowed “as little intercourse with the town of Adelaide as possible until they obtain situations and never if it can be managed, without some sort of surveillance for otherwise they will undoubtedly be thrown into the society of evil disposed persons who will both lead them into much harm and hold out inducements to them to withdraw themselves from under all control whatsoever and thus defeat the object which the government at home has in using that of indenturing them to respectable colonists who will look to their welfare and morals…“.  (State Records of South Australia GRG 24/6 1287, 22 August 1848).

Or, from the Sydney Immigration Board, on the scandal associated with the Subraon which arrived shortly before the Earl Grey. 

“a party of 12 female orphans had been put on board from a foundling institution in Dublin. The ship had not long left Plymouth when some of these girls were taken to wait on the officers and surgeon. A connexion of the worst kind sprung up between the first and third mates and some of these girls; and it is difficult to doubt that the same was the case with the captain, whose conduct and language to the girl who attended upon him is described by her as of the most improper and corrupting kind…the girls were repeatedly seen intoxicated with liquor given them by the captain and mates…several of these girls are now pursuing in Sydney the evil course into which they had been initiated on the voyage by the misconduct of the captain and his officers”. (Minutes of the Proceedings of the Immigration Board at Sydney respecting certain irregularities which occurred in board the ship “Subraon”. Printed for the use of the Government only, Bent St., Sydney, 1848) The enquiry into what happened on the Subraon occurred in May and June 1848, just a few months before the arrival of the first orphan ship.

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A troubled beginning. The scandal associated with the first orphan ship,  the ‘EARL GREY’.

Shortly after the Subraon brouhaha came the shock of Surgeon-Superintendent Henry Grattan Douglass’ report on the first vessel of the official scheme to arrive in Sydney, the Earl Grey. In a letter to the Colonial Secretary, dated 7 October 1848, only a day after the ship arrived in Port Jackson, Douglass claimed, that in the selection of orphans,

“gross imposition had been practised upon the Land and Emigration Commissioners;

that instead of girls educated in the orphan schools in Ireland (as the Secretary of the Emigration Board in London had led him to expect) the females placed under his charge had been early abandoned to the unrestricted gratification of  their desires, and left to conceive as erroneous any idea of the value of truth as of the necessity of personal restraint;

that there are not wanting among them those who boast of the prolific issue of their vices;

that expatriation had been held out to them as the reward of the workhouse, and that the professed public woman and barefooted little country beggar have been alike sought after as fit persons to pass through the purification of the workhouse ere they were sent as a valuable addition to the colonists of New South Wales”. 

Two weeks later, shortly after the arrival of the Roman Emperor in Adelaide, a similar letter was sent to the Colonial secretary by Surgeon Superintendent Richard Eades,

the moral education of a great number of the emigrants was neglected, erroneous or vicious, careless of the opinion of society, possessing little self respect, and less self control, they were governed by their passions and impulses. Hence I experienced much difficulty in preventing moral degradation and in establishing and preserving good order…I gave several lectures on the cultivation of moral virtues“. (GRG 24/6  1763 CSO letters received)

The rationale of sending mainly Protestant northerners in the first vessels had backfired on the Imperial government.

But it was Surgeon Douglass’s report and the ensuing Sydney Immigration Board enquiry that was to prove the most damaging.

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It was to take a year and several other enquiries–one by the Sydney Immigration Board, one by the Irish Poor Law Commissioners led by C. G Otway in Belfast, and one from the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners, in London,–before Grey made his own views known, viz.

 Dr Douglass made charges of too sweeping a nature; …I think it is to be lamented that he had not been more scrupulous in specifying the persons he felt justified in describing in such unfavourable terms, instead of casting a general and indiscriminate stigma upon a large body of young women, several of whom must be presumed from the present evidence to have been undeserving of such blame.

The length of time it took for communication between England and New South Wales had worked to the disadvantage of the scheme. It, too, was a victim of the ‘tyranny of distance’.

Colonial opposition to the scheme

The immediate cause of the scheme coming to an end was that colonists in South Australia and New South Wales demanded it end. And Grey acceded to their demand. One advantage of the ‘electronic revolution’ of the last forty or fifty years is that we can read about, and explore, the opposition to the scheme by means of http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper The National Library of Australia has digitized, and made available online, lots and lots of newspapers. May I invite you to explore this great resource for yourself?

Not every newspaper is digitized; I recently was unsuccessful in looking for the Port Phillip Patriot (trying to find out more about William Kerr, the editor of the Argus)  and The Miner and Weekly Star (what happened to poor Mary Coghlan).  Alas nor is the Melbourne Morning Herald. But there are enough newspapers for our purpose.  We might compare how the orphans were treated in South Australia, the Port Phillip district, and the rest of New South Wales, for example. The press coverage in each was slightly different: the ‘bad press’ and ‘scandals’ associated with the orphans were not the same in each district.

Typing ‘Irish orphans’ into the search box will bring up too many items to read. It would be best to ‘refine’ our search terms.  Try typing things like ‘Irish orphans Land fund’; ‘Irish orphans workhouse’; ‘Irish orphans immoral’ into the search box. Maybe set a time limit too: 1849, 1850 would be the years to search. Let me give you a taste of the ‘gems’ we can discover.

I’ll start with the rabid sectarianism of the Reverend John Dunmore Lang who was in England between 1846 and 1849. Here’s a link to some of the letters he wrote to the British Banner while he was in England.

https://ia902606.us.archive.org/25/items/LettersOfDr.JohnDumoreLangInBritishBanner/Letters_of_Dr_John_Dunmore_Lang_in_British_Banner_1953.PDF See page 8 in particular for the following well-known quotation,

…I am as confident as I am of my own existence that these young women (Orphans from the Union workhouses in the south of Ireland) who are almost exclusively Roman Catholics, from the most thoroughly Romish and bigotted parts of Ireland, have been selected as free emigrants for Australia, expressly with the view to their becoming wives of the English settler and Scotch Protestant shepherds and stockmen of New South Wales, and thereby silently subverting the Protestantism and extending the Romanism of the colony through the vile, Jesuitical, diabolical system of “mixed marriages”.

The views he expressed here were later taken up by one of his acolytes, William Kerr, editor of the Argus newspaper in Melbourne, and in letters to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.  See the letter in the Herald from “A Looker-On” on page 3, 1 March 1850, http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/1511476?zoomLevel=3

Kerr’s attack on the Irish orphans in the Argus and in the Melbourne City Council was to give rise to a furious debate in the first half of 1850. This link will take you to a passage that is often quoted about the orphans’ lack of domestic skills. I’m sure you know it already; it’s the one about ‘distinguishing the inside from the outside of a potato‘, and ‘chasing a runaway pig across a bog‘–page 2 of the Argus 24 January 1850. It also reiterates the views expressed by the Reverend Lang above, and criticises migration policies that neglect the ‘braw lasses of bonnie Scotland‘ and ‘the rosy cheeked girls of  England‘. Do have a look.

The South Australian denunciation of the orphans took a different turn, even though the underlying issues were much the same.  I’ll call this one ‘CULTURE CLASH‘.

Aliquis (hiding behind a pen-name is obviously not the prerogative of present-day social media) wrote in a letter to the  South Australian Register 21 January 1850, page 3, column 5, under the heading The Government Brothel at the Native Location”, 

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…

http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/3932031?zoomLevel=1

The accusations were so pointed that Moorhouse [Matthew Moorhouse was the Secretary to the Children’s Apprenticeship Board which was the legal guardian of the orphans] organised an enquiry to show such claims were without foundation. (You can read the evidence collected at the enquiry, in my Barefoot vol. 2 pp.35-43 ). What came to light, however, is how fearful some of the young orphans were, left on their own, in a strange place, not knowing where the toilet was. Or maybe they were what Moorhouse accused them of being, ‘dirty Irish brutes” .

On the arrival of the Inconstant we had for some time from 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…(ibid. p 42)

And to defend himself against calling the orphans ‘brutes’, he told of the orphans assaulting one of the matrons, Mrs Kelly. They were obviously hungry for food that reminded them of home. Maybe another kind of ‘culture clash’?

There were 110 girls in the Mess Room, and as soon as they saw the potatoes, they rose, en masse, seized the Matron, tore some of her clothes off her back, and got possession of the potatoes. (p.42)

The Register later concurred with the Board that the allegations made by Aliquis were groundless. But nonetheless continued criticising the orphan migration scheme. See page 2 column 5 and particularly page 3 column 1 of this http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/3932169?zoomLevel=2

[The young and friendless orphans from Ireland] are provided with situations sometimes, and occasionally retain them with credit and character. Those who have not been debauched on board ship by the men, in some instances,  from the Captain downwards to the cook, of course have a good chance of a quieter and a happier home than poor Ireland can give.

The contemporary media; a critical refrain

By early 1850, the refrain of the major Australian newspapers was the Irish orphans were ‘useless trollops’ who did little for ‘their’ colony. They were sent from the workhouse, without any skills, imposed upon them, using ‘their’ money when that money could be better spent on bringing others from England and Scotland. There were just far, far, too many of them flooding into the country. The SYDNEY MORNING HERALD stated its objections in its editorial of 13 March 1850. See page 2, beginning column 2, near the bottom of the page,

http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/3932169?zoomLevel=2

Instead of a few hundreds, the girls are coming out by thousands. Instead of mere orphans, we are being inundated with Irish paupers. Instead of a temporary expedient,…we behold a settled system of poorhouse deliverance which, if not checked by colonial remonstrance, bids fair to go on as long as the Irish parishes have girls to spare, and the colony the means of paying for their emigration…

Of British female orphans we do not complain that we have had a disproportion, but that we have had none at all. This new species of immigration is altogether one-sided–it is exclusively Irish, and exclusively Roman Catholic…It is not an immigration of mere labour, but of sex; of females, and of young females. The destiny of these girls is understood by everybody…

The ground, then, upon which the colonists complain…is not simply that Ireland monopolises too large a share of their emigration fund, nor that Irish paupers are thrust upon them under the name of orphans; but that their unmarried youth are coerced into matrimonial alliances with Irish Roman Catholics.

To which the ARGUS added its own besmirching commentary; ‘their [the orphans] coming amongst us has not tended at all to raise the tone of colonial morality’ (editorial 22 December 1849): ‘…they hang on hand at the depot till a very considerable proportion of their number join the ranks of prostitutes infesting the more public streets of the city’ (15 March 1850 editorial):

and from a correspondent, ‘Adsum‘, 24 April 1850,

The females of this class can neither wash nor bake, they can neither attend to household wants nor field labour. They refuse in general to go into the country, and when placed in town they refuse either to work, or to learn those parts of their business of which they are ignorant. They lose their places, -and they have no friends to fall back upon–the brothel is open, and it receives them–and there amid unhallowed orgies, that youth, and strength and beauty, is spent and ruined…

[My own Barefoot & Pregnant? volume 2 pp. 35-78, has lots of extracts from the Melbourne press about the orphans and the great furore that occurred when the Melbourne Irish community took up the cudgels in their defense. See for example the wordy report in the Melbourne Morning Herald, Friday April 19, 1850, “Irish Orphan Immigration. Public meeting. In pursuance of a public notification to this effect, a public meeting of all persons interested in the cause of Irish immigration was held at the St Francis Hall, Lonsdale Street, last evening; the attendance was numerous in the extreme, every part of the building being filled to overflowing“. Alas the Melbourne Morning Herald does not appear to have been digitised and made its way to Trove as yet].

Some positive reports

Sometimes one reads a positive newspaper report about the orphans–the arrival of 105 orphans in Yass along with Dr Strutt, in the Goulburn Herald and County of Argyle Advertiser, for example,

–Or of their compatriots taking up their defense, the St Patrick’s Society of Australia Felix, in the Melbourne Morning Herald, 11 May 1850, 24 May and 6 June– against the Argus and the Melbourne City Council.

[See also Edward Finn’s letter to the Superintendent of Port Phillip at PROV VPRS 116/p unit 1 file 51/95 reporting the motions passed at a public meeting at St Patrick’s Hall, Melbourne on the 9th May 1850 for another taste of that Melbourne furore].

–or from letter-writers who were at pains to point out the young women entered agreements with their employer to be taught the trade of domestic servant. For this they were to be given food and lodging, and wages below the current rate for servants. Give them a chance and they would learn.

  –or perhaps most interesting of all,

orphans who in the Moreton Bay district, in the words of Dr Connors, “appropriated the politics of law to defend their rights and status”. It is as if some orphans had heard the young woman in Brian Merriman’s  Cúirt An Mheán Oiche (Midnight Court). I like to think some of the orphans in Brisbane courts did indeed channel that particular young woman.

Tar éis bheith tamall don ainnir ag éisteacht
Do léim ina seasamh go tapa gan foighne,
Do labhair sí leis agus loise ina súile
Is rabhartaí feirge feilce fúithi:

http://midnight-court.com/tmc-part-iv.html

Maybe there’s a different kind of culture-clash. That of feisty orphans. Here are some orphan voices from court cases,

“I worked twenty days for James Kelly the defendant at 3 shillings a day about four months ago which he now refuses to pay”.

“I couldn’t carry the water. I left because I couldn’t stand the abuse”.

“Mrs Williams caught me and put me out of the house–and I slept at Mrs Baldwin’s. I want my agreement cancelled”.

“She called me a bitch and ordered me out of the house…and held up a stick as thick as her arm to beat me with…I had to sleep on the dresser and buy soap to wash my own clothes”.

“What quality do you expect on Sunday that ye must have the knives cleaned?… No, I don’t know any better”.

“I’m not going upstairs just to please you”. “I won’t eat with a heretic”.

NOT THE WHOLE STORY

Clearly the press campaign against Earl Grey’s Irish orphan scheme is not the whole story. But it helps explain why the scheme was short-lived. The first vessel arrived in early October 1848, the last one, twenty-two months later, at the end of July 1850. Advice from the Governors of South Australia and New South Wales–based on requests from each of the Orphan committees in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney–may have been enough to persuade Earl Grey. A clamouring colonial press and ‘awkward’ questions in the British Parliament convinced him he should bring the scheme to an end. Thereafter, he simply may have re-directed other orphans from Irish workhouses to a different destination within the British Empire, Canada for example?

Some readers will have noticed that i have not made use of the “Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, Report from the Select Committee on Irish Female Immigrants..together with Minutes of Evidence, 1858-59, Ordered by the Legislative Assembly to be printed, 2 February 1859 (78 pages)”.

I intend looking at this separately. Indeed, there is much in the minutes of evidence about the Earl Grey scheme. It reminds us there would be further repercussions at a later date. But it is first and foremost about the Celtic Association in Sydney petitioning against the prejudices of the Immigration Agent, H.H. Browne. Browne had made adverse comments about Irish female immigrants in his Immigration reports for 1854 and 1855. He was allowed to attend the enquiry, able to put direct questions to witnesses, and given every opportunity to defend himself. The evidence he was allowed to present, as valuable as it is for the history of the  orphans, is heavily weighted in his defense. There would be no rocking of the boat. Moreover, the witnesses, in talking about the orphans were relying on memories more than eight years old, a memory whose reliability may be questioned. I look forward to studying it more closely. See http://wp.me/p4SlVj-BT


By way of an incomplete conclusion

Obviously we need to pull all this together at some stage. The 1859 Report emphasizes opposition to the scheme was largely because the young women came from workhouses and were not domestic servants trained for city living: they were better suited to country living. But was this all of the story?

I’ve suggested ‘far from it’. There are other things in the mix as well: anti-Irish, anti- Catholic sectarianism, class prejudice, a very limited understanding of the famine and workhouse experience of the famine orphans both in Whitehall and in the colonies, a concerted campaign on the part of the colonial press against the scheme, particularly in Melbourne but not exclusively so, constitutional issues such as whether the Australian colonies should have control  of their Land Fund, inbuilt structural weaknesses aggravated by the ‘tyranny of distance’, opposition to Earl Grey himself by his political opponents both in Britain and in Australia.  In early 1850, for example, in the House of Lords, the Earl of Mountcashel repeatedly criticised the scheme for what he called its abuse “of the most disgusting and disgraceful character” of young Irish women, claims which naturally Grey ‘scornfully dismissed’ (Robins, p.218.) Under fire from so many quarters, Grey would call a halt to his female orphan emigration scheme.

Joseph Robins’ The Lost Children: a study of the charity children in Ireland 1700-1900, Institute of Public Administration, Dublin, 1980, has a solidly researched chapter, chapter 9, on “Orphan Emigration to Australia”. It is well worth your attention.

Interestingly, right at the end of this chapter, Dr Robins answers a question i was about to put to you, “How much weight do you put on each of the things I’ve identified in this post?” He says (p.221) “…probably the main influence operating against the scheme was not so much that it related to immigrants who were both Irish and Catholic but that the colonists had now developed an amour propre which rejected the idea that their burgeoning state should continue to be built up on the unwanted produce of the workhouses and gaols of Britain and Ireland.”

Would you agree with this? With all I’ve said in this blog post? I’m glad to say that my analysis of the collapse of the Earl Grey scheme is not totally at odds with what Dr Robins’ writes in his chapter. His analysis concentrates on traditional political sources. He may disagree with my insistence that we attempt to view things from an ‘orphan’ perspective. He may disagree with what I have to say in my next post on “Cancelled Indentures”?  http://wp.me/p4SlVj-vf

I’ve added (April 2018) some appendices from the NSW 1859 Parliamentary Report to the end of this post. They tell us WHEN exactly colonial officials made clear their opposition to the scheme, among other things.

Reminder

May I remind you of the annual gathering at the monument at Hyde Park Barracks on the 27th August, 2017? [The 20th annual gathering is on 25 August 2019] see www.irishfaminememorial.org for more information.

Just a few more orphan photos to end with; they are in order, Catherine Crowley per John Knox, Bridget Gaffney per Digby, Catherine Rooney per Eliza Caroline, and Eliza White per William and Mary. My thanks to their descendants who sent me these photos to use.

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Catherine Crowley per John Knox
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Bridget Gaffney per Digby
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Catherine Rooney per Eliza Caroline

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from the 1859 NSW Parliamentary Report

A Colonial Government want the scheme to end.

Appendix A is the Report of the Sydney Immigration committee re the first vessel the Earl Grey. These are appendices that H. H. Browne submitted to the NSW parliamentary enquiry. You will notice, page 62, that the Port Phillip Superintendent considered the William and Mary and Mahomet Shah to have brought orphans to Melbourne. These two ships were never recognized as  part of the Earl Grey scheme.

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