Let me continue with the fiction I created last time, a researcher wishing to find out more about the Irish workhouse orphans who went into institutional ‘care’ in Australia. This time, I’ll suggest we search for orphans who went into mental hospitals, whether in Fremantle, Sunbury, Woogaroo, Ararat, Yarra Bend, Adelaide Lunatic Asylum, Callan Park, Goodna, Gladesville, Ballarat, or wherever. It won’t be an easy task.
In these days of ‘quarantino’ Kirsty and myself shall communicate via Skype, Zoom or FaceTime. I told her ‘ Kirsty, there is no easy access to secondary sources, or to some of the people you need to meet. Neither is there access to the very rich archive of different Mental Hospitals across the country. None of this has been digitised as far as i know. Even at the best of times you may not have access to these records. When I did a teeny bit of work in this area some years ago, most Victorian records were on open access; NSW records had the rider that one should be careful not to hurt anyone; and Queensland records sometimes were available, sometimes not. I’m not sure what the position is with regards to West Australia and South Australia or Tasmania. I’d love to think these records are readily available. I believe the healthy option is to be up front and open about mental illness, yet always careful of an individual’s needs. Not everyone agrees with that.
‘I have a number of books on my shelves’, says Kirsty, “hysteria is the dis-ease of women in a patriarchal culture“, according to Claire Kahane. ‘That and other interpretations of the history of insanity will be worth pursuing if you decide to pursue this further’, said I. ‘It could be a very large subject. The sheer size of original sources, never mind secondary ones, is daunting. Here are a couple of examples from case histories which by law, these institutions were required to keep. [For example, 1845 Act for the regulation and care and treatment of lunatics, 8 and 9 Vic . c. 100].
“Although the Big House was not hell for everybody, it was definitely limbo for most poor souls”. (Hanna Greally, Bird’s Nest Soup, 1971)
The following case is from Woogaroo which later became Goodna and then Wollston Park Mental Hospital in Queensland.
“Ellen (I’ll not mention her second name) 23y.o single, domestic servant from Co. Clare Ireland residing Ipswich RC suffering from melancholia…readmitted 25 Jan 1871 (thenceforward there are yearly notes 1871-1898) eg. March 24 1884 sometimes makes an extraordinary noise between a screech and a croak while she is at work…March 1885 industrious in laundry but when at home sits with folded arms and her hat down over her eyes“. Ellen suffered from ‘religious mania’.
‘With this kind of detail in the records, surely we can find Earl Grey orphans who went into these institutions, when the time comes’ says Kirsty?
‘Do you think we can’? I replied. ‘I never went through these records searching for orphans in any systematic way. One would need to know the young women’s marital history in great detail, including their common law marriages, and know about all the uncertainties relating to their age, place of origin, who provided the information to the authorities, and the like. Anyway, here’s the handful of examples I happened across. I’ll start with the Port Phillip examples’.
From the Lady Kennaway shipping list we know that Bridget was a 14 year old nurse from Dunfanaghy, Donegal, RC, who could neither read nor write and who brought with her a prayer book and testament. In the record above she is described as a ‘congenital idiot’.
Eliza Armstrong per Diadem was a 16 yo Anglican from Enniskillen, Fermanagh who had entered the workhouse without any fixed address. She was described in the Yarra Bend record as suffering from paralysis and dementia.
Interestingly I recorded in my own notes (VPRS 7417/P1/1A p.88, at number 37) Eliza Armstrong, from the Colonial Surgeon’s Hospital, 17 yo pauper per Derwent 1850. There was a Bessy Armstrong on board the Derwent who hailed from Lisnaskea, Fermanagh. And to complicate matters even further, there also was an Eliza Armstrong admitted to Yarra Bend 26 October 1848 (before the official arrival of any of the Earl Grey orphans). She was described as suffering from chronic dementia, dangerous, and being ‘not in a good state of bodily health’. That poor woman stayed in Yarra Bend for 64 years until she died in 1912.
Professor Malcolm tells us both our orphans, Bridget and Eliza, were released ‘cured’ after only a few months stay in Yarra Bend Asylum, suggesting the young women may have used the asylum for their own ends, “as a means of escaping from intolerable living conditions”. But you will notice how tricky it is to confirm we have found an Earl Grey orphan in the Mental Asylum records. The next couple of cases did not end up in an asylum but they so easily could have done so.
Margaret Gorman from Donegal Union per Lady Kennaway
This 15 year old was described by the Port Phillip authorities as an ‘imbecile’ who suffered from fits. She would most likely have ended up in an asylum, perhaps even a mental asylum, had it not been for the Chief Matron, Mrs Ensor.
Have a look at my blog post 35, https://earlgreysfamineorphans.wordpress.com/2016/06/05/earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-35/ and scroll down to item 50/93, to a letter dated 20 /3/1850. There is information there from Irish authorities defending their sending Margaret to Australia under the Earl Grey scheme. They eventually found that information about her being subject to fits had been ‘carefully kept from Captain Herbert, Lieutenant Henry, and the Medical Officer’ of the workhouse.
The letter from James Patterson to the Superintendent recommends, and i quote, “Mrs Ensor will take charge of this orphan for a period of twelve months, and will feed and clothe her and endeavour to instruct her so that she may be able to go into service” “in return for a small remuneration”. As Kelly says,’Thank Goodness for kindly Mrs Ensor’.
Anne Muldoon from Ballyshannon workhouse per Inchinnan
For information about Anne I am indebted to Brian Harris. See her story in Brian’s brilliant blog, ‘From Prisons and Poorhouses’,
We know Ellen was in a mental hospital, only because she told the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum that she spent some time in Goodna. Imagine looking for her using the names of her six husbands, Jones, Stanley, Heffernan, Dwyer, Munro, Hickson. It appears that Ellen too may have used the Asylum ‘to escape from intolerable living conditions’.
Ellen Brady or Brodie from Kilrush per Pemberton
Dr McIntyre recentlyreminded me of this case from my Barefoot. The information originally came from Ellen’s descendant. Ellen married John Wall in Geelong in 1852 and had five children with him. The family later moved to Batesford and Dean but by 1867 Ellen was in Ararat Hospital. That is where she died, in January 1883.
Kirsty asked. ‘Did you find out what happened to Bridget Ferry, Eliza Armstrong and Margaret Gorman? Maybe they went back into an institution later in life’.
‘Good point’ i said, ‘No, i haven’t. Linking diverse records is crucial to this study. Births, deaths, marriages, Hospital records, Prison records, they can lead us to our orphans in Mental Asylum records’.
‘I’m worried’, says Kirsty, ‘There are only three mentioned here who actually went into an asylum. The subject looks overwhelming. Do i begin by going back to Foucault, Freud, Elaine Showalter and the rest? Those case histories you showed me are so sad. Why did these immigrant Irish women end up in an asylum? I read an essay by the late Sister Mary MacGinley where she argued that family standing was what bestowed status, and it’s among Irish families of standing we find the climbers, those determined to establish themselves. At the other end of the spectrum, are the vulnerable ones, and i would assume she includes here immigrant women who lacked a strong support network, or who couldn’t cope with their intolerable living conditions, such as abuse by their husband, postpartum depression, poverty, intemperance, vagrancy, abandonment, and other hardships’.
“That’s good’, i said. ‘You are already thinking about what you said last time; it’s not about numbers, it’s about exploring the underbelly of colonial society, or something to that effect. Let’s first try and find a few more orphans who went into a mental asylum, and then we’ll see where we go from there.Were they more likely to go into such an institution in their old age, for example’?
Women Residents in the Newington Asylum c. 1890. From the State Library of NSW Picture Collection SPF/1170
Postscript: I almost forgot. Jaki McCarrick has an interesting piece about her play ‘Belfast Girls’ in the April edition of tintean.org.au
Visitors to the Irish Famine Monument at Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney will know well the glass panels where names of about 400 Earl Grey’s famine orphans are inscribed. As the late Professor Joan Kerr put it, “the transparent screen that takes its place bearing the names of…the Irish migrant women who lived at Hyde Park is a tribute to those whose journey created this bridge between a fondly remembered yet tragic past and a more promising yet alien future”.
Perhaps you noticed how the names fade away at the edge of the panels. That ‘fading’ is the artists’ intent.
I imagine this first example is one of the ‘fading memories’ the artists had in mind.
Jane Lidd(e)y per Diadem from Leitrim
Before the nineteenth century wore out, there would be few people in Australia who would remember young Jane Liddy (Liddey) from Leitrim. She may have come from Carrick on Shannon workhouse, http://www.workhouses.org.uk/CarrickOnShannon/
When Jane arrived in Port Phillip as a sixteen year old she was apprenticed to William Brickwood of Brighton, being promised £7 per annum. In 1852 she married, and married well, to a man from Denmark nearly eighteen years her senior. Like many who profited from the Victorian goldrush of the 1850s, Charles Christian Frederick Stander, or Stender, provided goods and services to miners, and for a while had success as a miner too. When their last child was born in 1868, Charles Frederick was describing himself as a ‘Gentleman’. The family owned a hotel, The Golden Age, at Knockwood.
Here is the family ‘reconstituted’ from my days working in Victorian records. Note how young Charles and Jane were when they died. Very few, if any, of their children would survive to adulthood. According to the ‘Account of Administration’ of the estate only one child, Joseph William, was still alive in 1889, and had reached the age of 21.
Here is the database entry.
Surname : Liddey
First Name : Jane
Age on arrival : 16
Native Place : Leitrim
Parents : Not recorded
Religion : Church of England
Ship name : Diadem (Melbourne Jan 1850)
Other : shipping: nursemaid, reads & writes; Empl. William Brickwood, Brighton, £7, 12 months, apprentice; married Charles Frederick Stander/Stender 3 Feb 1852, husband a carrier, miner, publican & gentleman; 9 children most did not survive to adulthood; Jane died 28 Feb 1881, 3 months after her husband. Husband’s estate valued at £1759. Owned the ‘Golden Age Hotel’ in Knockwood. The inheritance was swallowed up in the maintenance and medical care of the children.
By the time of Charles’s death in November 1880 his estate was valued at £1759, a considerable sum for those days. Jane’s estate would be valued at £338. Yet little of that would make its way into the pocket of any surviving children.
Here is the ‘Account of Administration’ of their estate which shows you where the money went. Quite a few people laid claim;
monies owing to various people;
commission to those who arranged sale of their assets whether it was the Golden Age Hotel at Knockwood, their furniture or cattle or personal effects;
and regular sums for the board and lodging and maintenance of their young children at the Melbourne Orphan Asylum.
By June 1889, eight years after Jane’s death, Joseph William Stander having reached 21 was entitled to one fourth of the remaining estate, £102 2 shillings and 5 pence halfpenny. I wonder what became of young Joseph. Did he remember much about his mother? How loving she was? Where she came from? Did he know anything of her past?
Just a couple more brief histories. These ones are remembered.
Catherine Naughton from Tynagh, Galway per Inchinnan
Catherine married John Broderick in 1852 less than three years after her arrival. John was also from Galway. Together they had eight children, six girls and two boys. Her father Edward, convicted of Whiteboy activities, was transported to Sydney in 1832 and was supposedly living in Sydney. One hopes Catherine was able to find him. Irish birth dates and ages, especially for that era, are notoriously flakey. If Catherine was indeed only 18 when she joined the Inchinnan she may still have been in her mother’s womb when Edward was tried and transported. Like many of her compatriots Catherine knew the importance of ‘family’. Her sister Mary was also part of the Earl Grey scheme, arriving in the next vessel to Sydney, the Digby. Another sister Bridget who arrived by the Sabrina in 1854 may have been sponsored by Catherine and her husband.
Catherine and John had ten, or was it eight? children, and prospered in the Goulburn area of New South Wales. When John died in 1912, nearly eleven years after Catherine, his estate was valued at £2124. At one time I did have a photograph of Catherine’s grave in Laggan, Crookwell. I only hope i gave it to someone who cherished it.
From the database, originally in Barefoot vol.2, p. 166 which lists my informant Pat Astill of Narromine.
Surname : Naughton
First Name : Catherine
Age on arrival : 18
Native Place : Tenagh [Tynagh], Galway
Parents : Edward & Bridget (father living in Sydney)
Religion : Roman Catholic
Ship name : Inchinnan (Sydney 13 Feb 1849)
Workhouse : Ballinasloe or Loughrea PLU
Other : shipping: nursemaid, cannot read or write, relation in colony: father living in Sydney – Edward Naughton had arrived per Eliza in 1832, whiteboy; Catherine married John Broderick in Goulburn in 1852; 10 children; died 1901, buried Crookwell; gravestones in Laggan cemetery. Her sister Mary also arrived by the ‘Digby’ 4 Apr 1849 and sister Bridget by the ‘Sabrina’ 10 Jul 1854. Her husband’s estate was valued at £2,124, mostly real estate.
The next one is a tale of acculturation, two of Catherine’s children organised the Gilgandra Coo–ee recruitment march in the spring of 1915 during the First World War, shortly after their mother had died. I wonder would she have approved. Would she have voted against conscription? Or perhaps she too, like her sons, became caught up in defence of the British Empire.
Catherine Guare from Askeaton, Limerick perLismoyne
Parents : Richard & Bridget (mother living at Eskeaton)
Religion : Roman Catholic
Ship name : Lismoyne (Sydney 29 Nov 1849)
Workhouse : Limerick, Rathkeale
Other : shipping: nursemaid, cannot read or write, no relatives in colony; empl. Mr de Phillipsthall, Bathurst, £8, 1 year; mother’s name Mary according to Askeaton baptismal records; married George Hitchen, Bathurst 1850; 10 children; husband ex-convict and gold digger on Meroo River, 1854-83; two sons, Richard & William, organised the Gilgandra Cooee Recruitment March in the spring of 1915; grandson, Roy Munro, was awarded a DCM for conspicuous gallantry in France in 1917. George died in 1902; Catherine died 1913, buried Gilgandra.
My Barefoot volume 2, p.218 has a bit more. “Catherine died 27 October 1913, buried Gilgandra; her estate valued at £1049. Their present descendants number in the region of 1200 people. Her obituary is in The Leader and Stock and Station News, Morning Daily, Orange, 29 October 1913. There is an excellent family history by her descendant David Leese”. I see David did a good job of filling out my family reconstitution form in April 1986!
Catherine’s obituary appears in Barefoot vol.2, p.136. It begins “There crossed the bar, at the ripe old age of 80 years, on Monday night, Mrs Catherine Hitchen, one of the grand old pioneers, who “won the land from the bitterest wastes out back“. Like Charles Stander, George Hitchen would make his fortune as miner and later hotelier, first in Tooraweenah, then ‘at Collie, on the Marthaguy Creek, mid way between Gilgandra and Warren’, and finally Dubbo. According to The Leader and Stock and Station News, “Mrs Hitchen was well known for her charitable deeds and actions, and many a western man and woman of the old and sturdy stock will shed a silent tear to the memory of the departed lady“.
Finally just a couple of extracts from the wills of orphans who prospered in Australia. They are a contrast with the sad lives of those on the streets of Sydney who appeared in the last couple of posts. Neither epitomizes the history of the orphans in Australia.
The first is of
Letitia Connelly from Enniskillen, Fermanagh per Derwent
From the database,
Surname : Connelly (Connolly)
First Name : Letitia
Age on arrival : 16
Native Place : Enniskillen, Fermanagh
Parents : Not recorded
Religion : Roman Catholic
Ship name : Derwent (Melbourne Feb 1850)
Workhouse : Fermanagh, Enniskillen
Other : Shipping: house servant, reads & writes; Enniskillen PLU PRONI BG/14/G/4 (2065) orphan, Ballyreagh, Salry, entered workhouse 2 Feb 1848 left 26 Oct 1849. Empl. L Tweedy, Lonsdale St., Melbourne £7, 12 months; 18 Mar, returned to depot; 29 Apr reassigned Mr & Mrs McClelland, Collins St., Melbourne £5, 3 months; 3 Jul ‘still not returned’; married William Hayes, 4 May 1856 at Brighton; 5 children, husband a storekeeper, lived Dunolly; she died 13 May 1899; husband was an astute businessman whose wealth was from dividends of Goldsborough Mining Company, his estate valued at £7487 in 1890; See ‘Barefoot & Pregnant’, vol. 2, pp.134-6 for details of Wills, funeral and death notices.
Finally, a Queensland success story,
Margaret Blair from Ballymena, Antrim per Earl Grey
From the database,
Surname : Blair
First Name : Margaret
Age on arrival : 16
Native Place : Ballymenagh [Ballymena], Antrim
Parents : Charles & Elizabeth (both dead)
Religion : Presbyterian
Ship name : Earl Grey (Sydney 6 Oct 1848)
Workhouse : Antrim, Ballymena
Other : shipping: house servant, reads only, no relatives in colony. PLU Ballymena PLU BG/4/G/2 (49) Union at large; empl. Mr P Friell, Paddington, near Sydney, £9, 2 years indenture; Register No.262 30 Nov 1848, transfer from Philip Friell to Rev Charles Woodward, Headmaster, Sydney College, Hyde Park, allowed by committee; orphan wages: Empl Rev Charles Woodward in 1849 & empl Elizabeth Underwood, Ashfield by Oct 1849; Rev John McGarvie applied for her as house servant 12 Mar 1849, response was to send her to the country, No.901 2 Oct 1849 Moreton Bay; married John Hardgrave in Brisbane in 1850, husband a shoemaker, 8 children; died 1924, buried Toowong. Husband’s estate valued at £9250.
What a turn up for a youngster who was of no fixed abode in 1848!
Please excuse the quality of these scans. At least they should give you an idea of the Hardgrave family’s extensive landholdings.
“What is it that we really know anyhow? We cannot hold the truth of this world in our hands. And this word truth, what can a word measure? The truths that men hold solemn, their beliefs and their doctrines and their certitude, all of it is but smoke on the wind. And so I am happy to as I am in this not knowing…”. Paul Lynch, Grace, p.353
“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
Innesdiamond, [Ennistymon] Clare
Abinachmaigh [Abbeyknockmoy], Galway. Mother at Tume (Tuam)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.Sorry the video no longer exists (2019).It is back Feb. 2020.
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
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
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.
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.
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” .
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]
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).
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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…
I’m going to have a go at this; an historian’s view of the female orphans’ voyage to Australia interspersed with, and in a blue typeface, imaginary voices or snippets of conversation from the young women themselves. I promise not to go ‘overboard’ with this (that’s a terrible pun). There is a great variety of possible ‘voices’-over 4,000 individual ones in fact. The psychological effects of the Famine, the loss of loved ones, their varied workhouse experiences and the different strategies they used to cope with life’s setbacks are all in the mix. So too must be the ebullience of young women setting out for a new life. I’ll do my best to immerse myself in the sources and not just pluck something out of the air. What I put into their mouths may be very different from what readers think they would say. But the benefits, I believe, outweigh the negatives; it helps us see the young women’s voyage differently and it gives them something they haven’t had before; a voice of their own, however inadequate that imaginary voice may be. At least it makes us view and think about the famine orphans from a different perspective.
Some very talented writers have had a go at this already. Kirsty Murray’s Bridie’s Fire, (Allen & Unwin, 2003), Evelyn Conlon’s Not the Same Sky, (Wakefield Press, 2013) and Jaki McCarrick’s play, Belfast Girls scheduled for Artemisia Theater in Chicago in May 2015, show just how stimulating this approach can be. For example, Jaki McCarrick treats the voyage as a liminal space, a world– between the world they have left– and a world they have yet to see. http://www.theatreinchicago.com/belfast-girls/7557/
Reflect on this. The long, three to four month, voyage was a transforming experience for the young women; for many it was the first time they had gone outside their small familiar world and met people and cultures other than their own. Friendships and alliances they made on board ship might be short-lived and fluid, or last well into their new Australian home, at least until they married. Virtually all of them lacked the family support that other Irish migrants had; thus their shipboard alliances became crucial to their survival and well being–ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine. (Under the shelter of each other, people survive).
Historians, in their own fashion, have long appreciated the importance of the voyage to Australia. Emigrants generally, “when at last they landed…were by no means the same people who had boarded ship months before” (Charlwood). What occurred was ‘a gradual and complex adjustment’ that sheds light on their subsequent behaviour (Campbell). Maybe they felt remorse at leaving Ireland, some becoming ultra-Irish in Australia, some “deliberately severing bonds with home, wishing to vanish and hear of it no more” (O’Farrell). Unwise of us, then, to dismiss the voyage as being of little significance, don’t you think?
At the end of post number three (3) http://wp.me/p4SlVj-2p I outlined some of the arrangements Guardians of different workhouses made, outfitting and conveying to Plymouth the female orphans in their charge. The outline is clear enough–the clothes, the wooden boxes and other necessities–and the carts, Bianconi coaches, and trains that carried the young women to an Irish Port and thence to Plymouth. But the details often escape us.
Were the orphans’ clothes cut to the same style and shape? Were they of a dull grey and black or dark green colour? Some seamstresses we know used gingham. And at the International Irish Famine seminar in Sydney in 2013 one of the speakers talked of the availability of inexpensive, usually blue-patterned, cloth in mid nineteenth century. Exactly what were the clothes the young women wore? Were they tight-fitting, full length, allowing little freedom of movement? Were some of the young women wearing their own fitted shoes for the first time, or even wearing underwear for the first time? How did they wash? What toilet facilities were available to them? Maybe our concerns would not have been their concerns?
The orphans must have been quite a sight moving through the Irish countryside, making their way to a local train station or to a local port where they could catch a steamer to Dublin or Cork. What kind of cart, or coach, or train, did they travel in? How fast did it move? How comfortable were they? What did they do if it rained? “Aw Mr Donovan, Mr Donovan, what’ll happen if it rains? Be quiet Bridie Ryan, ye’ll do as ye’ve always done, get wet; and dry out as ye’ve always done.”
I never cease to be amazed at how little I know about these things, and about the private lives of the Earl Grey female orphans. It may be worth thinking about this a bit more, sometime in the future. In Ireland, was their family and their village the focus of their private life? Did communal living in a workhouse afford little time for solitude, or developing self-awareness? Did that experience make them eager to create a family life for themselves once they arrived in Australia?
Board of Guardian Arrangements
Apart from Edward Senior’s assembling orphans from a number of different workhouses, in Belfast, in May 1848, generally it was left to individual workhouses to arrange transport of ‘their own‘ orphans to Plymouth, the port of embarkation for all Australia bound Famine orphans. Most of them, it would seem, went first to Dublin where they boarded a steamer to take them to Plymouth.
A comprehensive survey of Board of Guardian minute books might tell us how many orphans departed via Cork. Kay Caball, for instance, reports in her Kerry Girls that orphans for the Elgin and John Knox, from Kenmare and Killarney, left from Penrose Quay in Cork. (The thirty-five young women from Killarney for the Elgin went first to Liverpool and thence to Plymouth, poor things). However, the orphans from Listowel and Dingle by the Thomas Arbuthnot and the Tippoo Saib left from Dublin. Síle Murphy, in Coppeen, tells me that orphans from Dunmanway and Skibbereen in West Cork also left from Penrose Quay in Cork. We know, too, from the Clonmel Board of Guardians’ Minute Books, that at least one group of women went to Cork, and others by rail to Dublin. Perhaps it all depended on who was available to examine the young women before they left Ireland.
LongfordBoard of Guardian Minute Book 29 November 1848
The following orders of the Poor Law Commissioners were laid before the Board and directions given thereon, as follows:
Dublin 24th November 1848 Enclosing a list of the Female emigrants selected by Lieut. Henry and directing that they arrive at Plymouth on the 4th December the day named for the sailing of the Vessel for South Australia and the necessity of their being in Dublin on Saturday 2nd December before 12 o’clock for the Duke of Cornwall steamer to take them to Plymouth.
[Then follows the names of 50 young women, ranging in age from 15 to 18 years.]
Resolved that Mr Doyle the Master do proceed in charge to Dublin and pay the necessary charge and expense…
Rossgrey (Roscrea) Board of Guardian Minute Book (Oct.1848-July 1849)
30 December 1848 A letter was received from Lt Henry, emigration officer, directing the Master to have the 60 girls who had been selected for emigration, in Dublin on the evening of the 9th instant. The Master stated that he would require a person to assist in escorting the emigrants to Dublin and a cheque for expenses. Ordered and a cheque for expenses to be drawn…
17 February 1849 The Clerk having reported that the cost of the 60 emigrant girls forwarded from this Union was as follows:
Outfit of clothing and necessaries……………………………………..£228.12.2
Master and Assistant’s expenses escorting them ……………………5.0.0
Lodging and board in Dublin…………………………………………………15.15.6
Cords and cards for boxes………………………………………………………..2.3.0
Fares to Plymouth…………………………………………………………………..40.10.0
Clogheen (Tipperary) Board of Guardian Minute Book
7 July 1849
Resolved that the Clerk be directed to write to the Superintendent of the railroad station at Dublin requesting he will direct that the 3rd class carriage may be attached to the day mail train on Wednesday the 18th instant for the conveyance of the 26 females proposed for emigration to Australia or that he will give direction that they be permitted to travel in a second class carriage at the rate of fare paid for the 3rd class and to request an immediate answer.
Resolved that the Clerk be directed to write to Mr Bianconi requesting he will state on what terms he will provide for the conveyance of 26 females and that the person in charge with 26 boxes 2 feet long, 14 inches high and 14 inches wide from the Clogheen workhouse to the Dundrum Gold’s Cross railroad station on the morning of the 18th instant in time for sufficient for their further conveyance too Dublin by the day mail train…
Resolved that the Clerk be directed to purchase from Mr Hackett, stationer, Clonmel 26 prayer books and 26 Bibles (Douai) for the females proposed for emigration and that he be further directed to purchase any necessary articles which may be required for which provision has not already been made by the Guardians.
My thanks to all the descendants of Famine orphans who sent me photographs to use.
Crossing to Plymouth
Clearly, getting to Plymouth could be a complicated and expensive task. In the late 1840s Ireland’s railway network was limited. There was only about 120 miles of track in 1847 but things were improving so that by 1853 Dublin was connected by rail to Waterford, Limerick, Galway and Belfast (MacDonagh, Pattern, 1961). Still, many an Earl Grey orphan must have risen very early in the morning and travelled by cart, often in the dark, to join the mail train at a station closest to their workhouse. And what of those from remote parts, from Ballyshannon, from Ennistymon, from Listowel and Dingle, for example? Did they travel all the way to Dublin by cart? How good were the roads? Such conditions added hours, even days, to the initial stages of the orphans’ voyage.
One of the advantages of the unholy row concerning the ‘Belfast Girls’ who came by the first ship, the Earl Grey, is that we find detailed information about their voyage to Plymouth in the government enquiries that ensued. (The documents in the first volume of my Barefoot…? are all about that ‘unholy row’). Surprisingly, Edward Senior, Poor Law Inspector for the North-East of Ireland, wrote in defense of his choice of orphans that even “when their friends and relatives were crowding on the pier endeavouring to press into their ship, their conduct was exemplary…”. We sometimes forget the orphans had friends and relatives too. The letters orphans supposedly sent back from Brisbane and Sydney mention sisters and aunties and a step-mother to whom they wished to be remembered, and from whom they’d like a lock of hair: more than just the orphans themselves were affected by the Earl Grey scheme.
One can well imagine the scene when the young women left other workhouses, perhaps ‘keeners’ coming together in Irish speaking areas. Oliver MacDonagh (Pattern, 1961, pp.167-8) writes of ‘the piercing experience of parting’ for many an emigrant at this time: “some of the women would fall fainting when they saw any person going, others would hang out of the car to keep back the departing one; but when it would go, the whole lot, men and women, would raise a cry of grief that would wrest an echo from the peaks”. The young women on board the Thomas Arbuthnot, for example, fell to keening as they rounded the Cape of Good Hope on Christmas Day 1849, mná caointe literally letting their hair down, in small groups, moving rhythmically, perhaps registering their protest and renewal, defining themselves… Their keening was not about ‘mercenary tears’. According to one witness, “…circle after circle rapidly formed, and the shrieks of grief and woe resounded through the good Thomas Arbuthnot from stem to stern”. (Reid and Mongan, ‘a decent set of girls’, p.123).
S ariú! Agus méliom féin Dá mbeitheá go moch agam… Agus och! och! ochón airiú! – gan thú!
(And now I’m on my own,
If I had you at the break of dawn…
Agus och! och! ochón airiú! – without you!)
Or maybe this one farewelled those going to join the Lismoyne in August 1849; it’s called Slán le Máigh. It’s associated with localities near the River Maigue.
Och, ochón, is breoite mise gan chuid gan chóir gan chóip gan chiste gan sult gan seod gan spórt gan spionnadh ó seoladh mé chun uaignis.
(Alas, alas! ’tis sickly I am,
Without possessions or rights, without company or treasure,
Without pleasure or property, without sport or vigour,
Since I was sent into loneliness.)
(my thanks to Tom Power and Síle ní Murphy for this caoineadh)
But back to the Earl Grey orphans: it was more than a week after leaving Belfast before they could board their ship at Plymouth. Their first journey would be long and uncomfortable. On the night of 24 May 1848, the young women from Dungannon, Cooktown, Armagh, Banbridge and other outlying workhouses slept in an auxiliary Belfast workhouse building in Barrack Street where Poor Law Inspector Senior called the roll.
Sarah Arlow Heer, Sur
Isabella Banks Here sir
Susan Barnett Here, sir
Annie Best Sur, here
Margaret Best Sur, here (This is not the way, me trying to reproduce dialects. I should stop that.)
The next day they joined the orphans from Belfast workhouse and later that day, all 185 of them, made their way through the streets of Belfast to join the steamer Athlone at the docks. It was quite a parade, a long line of young women in the charge of James Caldwell, Ward Master, accompanied by Poor Law Inspector Senior, maybe some other Workhouse officers and members of the Board of Guardians, and ‘friends’ of the orphan emigrants, all of them making their way from Belfast workhouse (now the City Hospital) across town to the pier at the docks. Their boxes would have preceded them and been put on board in the hold before they arrived. Maybe the sun was shining that spring evening or a light drizzle fell on their faces? Maybe there was a lot of crying? Maybe there was laughter and banter? The next morning they arrived in Dublin, 26 May.
Other emigrant families joined this first shipload of female orphans in Dublin. But the orphans had to stay on board while Lieutenant Henry inspected them. Then they waited till the steamer left for Plymouth the following evening, the 27th. It was yet another 42 hours before they arrived at Plymouth Depot, at 2 o’clock on Monday 29 May! The following days were spent in the Depot being checked by representatives of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners and being organized into messes. James Caldwell later reported to the Otway enquiry (Barefoot…?, vol. 1) that one orphan had lost a shoe in landing and another lacked “two bed gowns and one petticoat that she had not been furnished with; I bought material to make her two bed gowns and one petticoat and gave it to her; the clothes of the Belfast girls were numbered, and a card, with a list of their clothing, nailed on the inside of the box…”.
Crossing by steamer from Dublin or Cork to Plymouth was probably the most uncomfortable part of the orphans’ long voyage. The steamers were known as ‘deckers’, that is, there was little protection from the elements. Our orphans may have slept lying down on the deck in crowded conditions, making do with the meagre supply of food they carried with them. There was plenty of time to be sea-sick, or be drenched by the rain. Ach Jeez Mary Boyle will ye move over and let me lie down? Eliza Carroll’s just been sick. I don’t want to sleep next to her.
The Plymouth Emigrant Depot
In October 1849, Surgeon Charles Strutt, the best Surgeon the orphans could have wished for, saw that orphans intended for the Thomas Arbuthnotwere in a miserable, bedraggled, soaking-wet state when they arrived in Plymouth. He organized a bath for over a hundred of them. One can only hope that other surgeons were capable of such kindness. Many an Earl Grey orphan appreciated a good meal and a decent night’s sleep in the Emigration Depot before boarding the vessel that would take her to Australia.
The Emigrant Depot in Plymouth was also the place where well-meaning members of parliament, clergymen and naval officers saw prospective emigrants for the colonies. They were quick to express their opinions and prejudices to the Commissioners. Thus the “girls” by the first two vessels (the Earl Grey and the Roman Emperor) “did not show any peculiar absence of cleanliness, yet, with some exceptions, they were wanting in that orderly and tidy appearance which characterize many of the female emigrants from Great Britain. Though generally short and not at all well-looking, they did not appear weak or unhealthy; they seemed good-humoured and well-disposed…” (Mr Divett M.P. August 1848). Or, “I would say that they were better calculated for milking cows and undergoing the drudgery of a farm servant’s life, than to perform the office of a lady’s maid” (Rev. T. Childs, August 1848). Meanwhile, that same month, Lieutenant Carew R.N. commented sympathetically, “In one respect they are very inferior, viz. in personal appearance and physical development, caused, I believe, by a life of poverty, and having from infancy been always ill-fed. Could these girls, however, be seen after having been six months in Australia, after having, during that time, enjoyed the fresh air and plenty of good nourishing food, with a feeling of independence, I believe the change would be so wonderful that it would be difficult to recognize them…”. (from British Parliamentary Papers, 1,000 volume Irish Universities Press edition, Colonies Australia Sessions 1849-50, Despatches from the Right Honourable Earl Grey, Secretary of State, vol.11, pp. 351-2).
The Plymouth Depot was the first and only place, on English soil, that representatives of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners (CLEC) actually met the orphans. They would examine their papers; check their boxes; see that each had the outfit required; and check they were in a good state of health. That the CLEC paid such meticulous attention to the Earl Grey scheme is the reason the orphans’ death rate was so low; less than 1%! It is worth repeating; the female orphans who arrived in Australia did not experience the tragic death rates of the Irish who went to British North America in 1847-8. Australia did not have a Grosse Isle or a Partridge Island or the grief that extended all along the St. Lawrence River.
Regulations for the Voyage to Australia
Britain’s 1843 Passenger Act and the modified 1847 and 1849 Acts may have imploded under the sheer weight of Irish numbers fleeing to British North America. But they worked well for the Earl Grey female orphans who went to Australia. The Australian scheme was very well organized, which is not to say it didn’t have its problems. The Passenger Acts, like the Earl Grey scheme itself, were a work in progress; it would not be until the 1855 Act that the British government was satisfied they had things the way they wanted. My impression is that the earlier regulations and charter parties, (i.e. contracts between CLEC and shipping companies or their brokers), focused particularly on ships’ conditions, space for emigrants, their dietary, and prevention of intercourse between female migrants and crew members. It was not until early October 1849 that a detailed regulation of the emigrant’s day was written down and given an official imprimatur. That’s something worth checking since it implies the orphans who sailed before October 1849 were not subject to the same detailed guidelines as those who sailed after that date.
Extract from Charter Party of Thomas Arbuthnot 18 August 1848
(not carrying orphans this time but it did carry Surgeon Strutt)
We hereby tender to Her majesty’s Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners the above Ship, rated A1 at Lloyds, for the conveyance of Passengers to Port Adelaide, Port Phillip or Sydney at the rate of £13-15- Pt Phillip, £13-17-6 Pt Adelaide, £13-7-6 Sydney for each Adult passenger, subject to the stipulations contained in the Charter Party hereto annexed…
4. That the said Ship shall at all times during the continuance of this contract be fitted in the between decks with proper bed places for the accommodation of he passengers, and with a separate Hospital for males and females, fitted up with bed places and two swing cots; and that the said Ship shall also be fitted and furnished with with sufficient water closets, a head pump, a good accommodation ladder for the use of passengers in embarking and disembarking; and, also for the exclusive use of passengers, with such cooking apparatus as may be approved by the said Commissioners…of good coals, wood, and coke; of scrapers, brooms, swabs, sand, and stones for dry rubbing, four to be mounted; together with whatever else the said Commissioners or their Agents, be thought necessary for the cleanliness of the Ship, and the comfort and safety of the passengers in addition to the following mess utensils viz.–For each Mess of six persons.
One mess kit, with handle,
One tin oval dish–About 14 inches long and 4 inches deep,
One mess bread basket–About 14 inches long, 6 1/2 inches deep and 10 wide with handles,
Two three-pint tin pots, with covers and bar hooks, for boiling water,
Two water-breakers of two gallons each, properly slung for use,
One potatoe bag,
One pudding bag,
with an addition of one-fifth to provide against loss or breakage…
19. And it is hereby mutually agreed that the Commissioners have the right to appoint a Surgeon, who shall be entitled to a cabin, to be approved by their Agent, with an allowance of forty cubical feet of space in the hold for luggage, and shall be dieted at the Captain’s table, on condition of his taking the medical charge of of the Officers and Crew of the Ship.
20. That the Master is strictly to forbid and prevent on the part of the Crew or Officers any intercourse whatever with the Female Passengers on board, and also the sale of spirituous or fermented liquors to the Passengers.
Which is not to say such conditions were rigorously adhered to; one of the ‘mistakes’ of the Surgeon (?) of the Earl Grey was to make the messes too large, about twenty five orphans together, instead of a much smaller, more easily controlled, number. He and the Matron would get into a heap of trouble with the ‘Belfast Girls’.
Extract from the 1849 Regulations
Appendix 7 to the 10th General Report of the CLEC 6 October 1849
(You may have to type the reference into your browser and ‘go to’ page 46)
1. Every passenger to rise at 7 a.m. unless otherwise permitted by the surgeon, or, if no surgeon, by the master.
2. Breakfast from 8 to 9 a. m., dinner at 1 p.m., supper at 6 p.m….
8. The passengers, when dressed, to roll up their beds, to sweep the decks (including the space under the bottom of the berths), and to throw the dirt overboard…
11. Duties of the sweepers to be to clean the ladders, hospitals, and round houses, to sweep the decks after every meal, and to dry-holystone and scrape them after breakfast…
18. On Sunday the passengers to be mustered at 10 a.m., when they will be expected to appear in clean and decent apparel. The day to be observed as religiously as circumstances will admit…
1. The emigrants are to be divided into messes…
3. The surgeon-superintendent will appoint from among the emigrants a sufficient number of constables for the enforcement of the regulations, and of cleanliness and good order.
4. The constables will attend daily at the serving out of the provisions, to see that each mess receives its proper allowance, and that justice is done…
7. If there be no religious instructor on board, or schoolmaster appointed by the Commissioners, the surgeon-superintendent will select a person to act as teacher to the children.
The Route Taken
In post 7 (a) there is a picture of the Constance as it made its way to Adelaide. I’ve reproduced it here. Have a look where Kerguelens Land is on the map below, which is from Robin Haines, Doctors at Sea, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, p. 3, with permission of the author. It’s just above where it says ‘Southern Ocean’.
The Captain’s decision to take the recently discovered Great Circle Route meant the Constance arrived in Adelaide in record time, after only 77 days. But she had to sail through the icy waters of the Southern Ocean, dodging pack ice, and endangering her passengers. (There were a number of deaths on board the Constance). The Commissioners were furious but eventually they recommended a modified route for emigrant ships sailing to Australia, according to the time of year. Fortunately, no ship carrying orphans went so far south. The Earl Grey was to take 123 days but somewhere along the way it lost its yardarm and mainmast which slowed its progress considerably. The Thomas Arbuthnot, in contrast, took only 88 days, according to the unidentified witness quoted above (re keening). By my count the figure should be 96 days. According to my calculations, the average length of the voyage between Plymouth and Adelaide for Earl Grey orphan ships was c. 101 days; for Port Phillip, c. 98 days; and for Port Jackson, c. 108 days. No matter which ship the orphans boarded, it was a long time to be at sea.
How did they pass the time?
Regulations such as those above, and Instructions to Surgeons, give us some idea how the orphans’ day was planned; when to rise; when to open and close scuttles and hatches; when to eat; when to sweep and clean; when to knit or sew; when to go to school, or when to go on deck, and when to go to bed. But remember, the Commissioners were not on board to oversee how well their regulations were applied. As I’ve said before, there is often a difference between how things should be and how things are, in practice. There were, in fact, lots of variables involved.
How well did a Surgeon relate to young women, and they to him? Was the Surgeon’s relationship with the ship’s Captain and Officers to their mutual advantage? What if the Captain was uncooperative and irascible?
How strong a personality was the Matron? How caring was she? Could she explain to an orphan having her first period what was happening? Help! Help! There’s blood all over my legs. What’s happening to me?– Shush now, Ellen. Here, come here, my wee pet. Some of the young women on the Roman Emperor began having their first period, only to find the Surgeon unprepared for the eventuality. There were not enough ‘cloths’ on board to go round. The main illness recorded by the Surgeon of the Earl Grey was amenorrhoea. Either ovulation was suppressed by severe physiological hardship and stress, or some young ones were beginning to ovulate in a stop-start sort of way.
What were the dynamics of adolescent interaction between themselves, and towards authority figures; Surgeon, Matron or Sub-Matron, Master of their vessel or First Mate? How did young adolescent women relate to other members of the crew? Mary Madgett, Mary, Look at the young fella with the scarf on his head? Isn’t he lovely? Isn’t he busy? And what happened if unforeseen events occurred– blustery stormy sea-swelling weather when a mainmast broke, and came crashing down–how scary was that for someone who had not been to sea before? What excitement and chatter there was when they stopped at Tenerife or the Cape of Good Hope for ‘wood and water’, saw an albatross or shark, or were invited by King Neptune to join him in Davy Jones’s locker when they ‘crossed the line’.
The Commissioners, however, had a weapon in hand. Surgeons were required to keep a diary and a medical journal. When the ships arrived in Australia an Immigration Agent and his assistants inspected the ship and interviewed the migrants. If anything was remiss, if the conditions of the Charter Party were found to be unfulfilled, then gratuities for the Master and his Officers, and for the Matron and the Surgeon were withheld, and they would never again be employed on an emigrant ship.
On the second vessel to Sydney, the Inchinnan, there was short issue of rations and maltreatment of some of the orphans by the Surgeon, Mr. Ramsay. See http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/1512513?zoomLevel=2 The young women on board were gutsy enough to complain about and redress the short issue of rations. They were gutsy, litigious young women prepared to stand up for their rights. Mary Stephens/Stevens from Mayo even took the Captain to court for throwing her on the deck, for kicking her and beating her with a stick. An account of the case was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald 8 March 1849. You can read about it here, in a report from the Central Criminal Court http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/1512481?zoomLevel=1
On the Digby, the orphans were also defrauded of a large portion of their rations. The Immigration Board in Sydney (Merewether, Savage and Browne) submitted a detailed report to the Colonial Secretary based on the Surgeon’s private log. It provided overwhelming evidence that the Captain was “utterly unfit to command an emigrant ship”. “Dr Neville further charged the Master with having ‘permitted the Sailors to be too familiar with the female Emigrants in opposition to the authority on board and clause No 20 of the Charter Party'”. (The reference I have is State Records NSW Reel 2852 4/4699 Reports 1838-49 but it is an old one).
Or again–in November 1849 Francis Merewether, the Immigration Agent, informed the Master of the William and Mary that gratuities to himself and his Officers were being withheld. The Matron was to receive only half of hers and three of the sub-matrons nothing at all. The Captain and his Officers were rude, insulting and interfered with the Surgeon when he tried to perform his duties. And they had not issued the emigrants with their full allowance of rations and medical comforts. Dysentery, diarrhoea and amenorrhoea were the principal diseases on board.
Not that these examples are typical of the whole Earl Grey scheme. But it’s worth searching for such reports, if only for what they tell us about the orphans’ voyage. The Surgeon of the Roman Emperor to Adelaide reported that “to establish discipline, preserve good order and prevent moral evil, I experienced much difficulty…The excitement caused by arrival which naturally prevails, inordinately affects the Irish of the class to which these emigrants belong”. The Inconstant to Adelaide also had its troubles; matrons visiting the Captain’s cabin; the Captain reputedly striking the Surgeon; crew members’ dissatisfaction with their Captain. Becca, Johanna, Did you see that hussy go off with the Captain? Will we tell the others?
For the sake of balance, here are a couple of examples from ships arriving in Hobson’s Bay, Port Phillip: Isabella Browne, acting as a nurse and in charge of the Hospital on the Diadem, arranged nocturnal visits (i.e. at 2 .am.) for occasional crew members. Yet “it appears that the Surgeon Superintendent used much vigilance in endeavouring to prevent communication or intercourse between the girls and crew, seldom retiring from the deck to his Cabin before 12 o’Clock at night, and sometimes 1 or 2 o ‘Clock in the morning”. To modern eyes, middle class Victorians certainly had a fixation about keeping the sexes apart.
And from the report on the Derwent, “9. The Board cannot conclude without remarking upon the very indifferent success attending the School established on board…” although the greater part of the orphans “attendedthe school regularly throughout the voyage, very few had learned to spell their own names or the most simple words”. It would appear Northeners were adept at bucking the system.
Let me finish this by comparing two very different voyages, that of the Earl Grey and that of the Thomas Arbuthnot. They illustrate some of the things I’ve been talking about. But they are like chalk and cheese. The Surgeon of the Earl Grey, Henry Grattan Douglass was a fifty-eight year old member of the Protestant Irish Ascendancy. He had little sympathy for the young women in his charge, especially the ‘Belfast girls’, and even less understanding. They clashed early in the voyage, barely two weeks out. “The first eight or ten days most of the people were sick, and I did not pay much attention to the language used by them, but when they recovered, the difficulty I had with them for the first month was extreme, as they used the most abominable language. and actually fought with each other”. (See my Barefoot…? vol. 1, or Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Council of New South Wales 1850, vol. 1 pp.394ff).
On the 16th June Douglass found two orphans fighting, one of them armed with a fork,– maybe Catherine Graham or Catherine McCann? I’ll have your bloody guts with this, ya wee shite. Douglass ordered her to be put on the Poop where she was bound to be reviled, insulted and mocked by the crew. (The Surgeon of the Inchinnan would later be chastised for using such a punishment. Not so Dr Douglass). The Belfast ‘girls’ objected to Douglass’s authoritarianism and rose in revolt demanding Cathy’s release. As you’d expect, there’d be only one winner in such a clash, the one who held most power and who was backed by the Master of the vessel. Maybe they reached an uneasy truce. The women, some of them undoubtedly worldly-wise, street smart, and all too familiar with the school of hard knocks, set down their markers. We’re going to swear as much as we like, ‘borrow’ each others clothes as much as we like, No, I’m not going to mend my bonnet. It’s torn. I’ll wipe my boots with it if I want to, stop anyone else coming into the Belfast ‘mess’, talk with members of the crew when we’re on deck, tell the Matron what we think of her. Helsfuckenbells. Piss off Banbridge. Back to where you came from.
In evidence taken by the Sydney Orphan Committee, in December 1848, the Matron was asked, “32. Was there any improper conduct on the part of any of the crew in connexion with these females?”“I wished to stop all intercourse between the immigrants and the crew, and to prohibit the girls speaking to them, but the Doctor thought this was impossible…”. Maybe the Belfast women won some minor victories after all? Hey Mister. Come and talk with us. What’s that? You have to wait till eight bells. You have eight bells? Woo-hoo
But Douglass was scathing in his criticism of the orphans once he arrived in Sydney. The orphans “were early abandoned to the unrestricted gratification of their desires…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”…”one woman was married, and had run away from her husband…the women frequently charged each other with having had children…they were for the most part addicted to stealing, and to using the most obscene and gross language…” . He was to single out, and name, 56 orphans who were sent to Maitland and Moreton Bay, instead of landing in Sydney.
Hey Gina, Are you gonna give Mr Fancy pants, Mr Smellunderthenose, a dose? Fuckoff Black. Shut yer bake. Where’d ya leave yer wee dick of a husband anyway? Were you and yer Ma on the game, or not? She was a right hoorbeg.
The voyage of the Thomas Arbuthnot would be very different indeed. The Surgeon, Charles Strutt was a thirty-five year old unmarried Englishman. (He was later to marry Bridget Ryan from Ennis, in Geelong–Reid & Mongan, decent, p.169) His diary has survived, as has that of Arthur Hodgson, politician and Darling Downs squatter who also travelled on the Thomas Arbuthnot at this time. Richard Reid and Cheryl Mongan also reproduce, in their decent set of girls, (pp.115-26) an essay entitled ‘Female Emigration’, author unknown, which is a most useful account of the voyage.
Whereas Douglass knew little about the young women in his charge–he claimed the orphans from Cavan were well-behaved but alas, no Cavan orphans were on his vessel–Strutt would refer to “my people”, and when asked if any would accompany him to Yass, “130 at once expressed their wish to go any place that I might be going to”. Where Douglass had shaky support from an English born Matron, Maria Cooper and her daughter–“if I made a remark to any of them, all I had in return was “Thank goodness, we shall not long have her to bully over us”— Strutt had Mrs Murphy, a 42 year old widow from Dublin, and her daughter, to support his efforts to apply ‘detailed’ regulations. They made school lessons work especially well, “with patience, kindness and care”.
Strutt empathized with his charge. He was kind; he improved ventilation through the hatches and personally mended lanterns; he arranged salt-water baths in warmer latitudes; issued lime juice and plum pudding, and let ‘his girls’ stay up a little longer on deck. But he applied discipline; he made his charges work, and he made them work hard. “Friday 7 December My girls have become much more orderly and tidy under the constant steady pressure I keep up against holes, rags, tatters and dirt”. He allowed them their play. Meg, Mary, Bridget, Ann, Let’s give this handsome Walter Davidson a couple of pinches. You first Biddy. See if he can catch us.
Strutt allowed the young women from Galway, Clare, Kerry and Dublin to express themselves in song and dance, taking their turn with their reels, slipjigs and quadrilles, –maybe a South Galway set or step dancing, St Patrick’s Day, The Blackbird and Three Sea Captains–dances the orphans would know–beating out their own rhythm, learning new moves, glad to be alive.
Let me finish with an extract from the essay on “Female Emigration’ mentioned earlier. It is an account of the Arbuthnot voyage seen through rose-tinted glasses but it demonstrates how, in the right circumstances and with the right people, the Commissioners’ regulations could work.
“The berths settled, and duly taken possession of, the next thing was to arrange the messes. Each mess consisted of eight persons, and a card was given, showing the provisions that were to be delivered out each day of the week, with the quantity on each day”. In addition to their mess kit, “the Commissioners added, for each emigrant, a new mattress, bolster, blankets and counterpane; a large canvass bag, for holding linen and clothes, a knife and fork, two spoons, a metal plate, and a drinking mug—all of which articles they were allowed to retain upon landing…
As the regular routine of the day was now fully established, our readers may be interested in learning its details. By half past seven all the Emigrants who were in good health were expected to be washed, dressed, and in a neat and fitting order to present themselves…When breakfastwas ready the cook reported it to the officer of the watch…the ship’s bell was rung, and the breakfast served out in regular rotation, to the respective messes…
Immediately after breakfast the berths, tables, lockers and ‘between decks’ were swept clean; well scraped, and polished with holystones and sand; the ladders were brought on deck, scraped and washed, the mattresses and bedding neatly folded up, and everything made clean, dry and comfortable. In the early days of the voyage there was a lot of dampness until caulking of the leaking timbers was completed. Maggie, Maggie, don’t open that side port. Oh hell we’re soaked.
At half past ten the Surgeon Superintendent, generally accompanied by the master of the carpenter, took his rounds of inspection…a girl with her hair unbrushed, holes in any part of her attire, or dirty hands never escaped reprimand. In general, however, his commendation far exceeded his censures…
At eleven the various classes of the school commenced…The classes succeeded each other throughout the day, when the weather permitted, and the pupils made a regular, and some of them a rapid advance, in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Neither were needle-work and knitting neglected; industry was the order of the day, and it was rare to see any of the girls unemployed, for any length of time…
Whilst the morning classes were going on the Surgeon attended in the Hospital…After this he…investigated grievances, heard complaints on both sides, rebuked quarrelling or negligence, and endeavoured to reconcile differences, when they occurred… Doctor, Harriet Carmody won’t let me brush her hair and she’s taken my comb. Tell her to give it back.
At half past twelve the cook gave the welcome report that dinner was ready; and the officer of the watch having tasted it, and pronounced it to be dressed as it ought to be, the ship’s bell was rung…and immediately served to the messes in due order; one person from each mess attending to receive it, and to take it down to the rest. After dinner the school was resumed till half past five, when the ship’s bell announced that tea was ready, and it was served out with the same regularity as had been observed with respect to breakfast and dinner. Thus regularly and methodically were the wants of two hundred passengers provided for day by day, whilst those of the crew, nearly fifty in number, the captain, mates and fourteen cabin passengers were all attended to with the same punctuality…
We left our large party at tea, but sounds of gaiety are heard, and we find the remainder of the evening is to be passed in singing; dancing, and other innocent amusements…At dusk, lanterns were hung on deck to light the dancers, and equally between decks, for…those who preferred remaining below. At eight, or a little later, according to the weather, all the girls retired to their quarters, the between decks were swept clean…the Surgeon-Superintendent paid his last visit at half-past nine; all the lamps were extinguished, with the exception of three, and the doors were closed until half-past five the next morning.
…We are now approaching the end of the voyage…’we ranged cables, took a pilot on board, entered the Heads, and cast anchor near Garden Island about dusk…The Health Officer came on board, was much pleased with the condition of the ship…The following morning we came into the Cove, and were inspected by the Colonial Secretary, the Agent for Immigration, the Health Officer of the port, and several other gentlemen. They were highly satisfied with the order and regularity on board, the good health, fatness, and deportment of the girls, the cleanliness of the decks, berths, tables, pots and pans, etc., and to do the poor girls justice, they deserved the praise, for they had exerted themselves to the utmost, and spared no trouble or labour’.
This account is well worth examining. It’s reprinted in full in R. Reid & C. Mongan, ‘a decent set of girls The Irish Famine orphans of the Thomas Arbuthnot 1849-1850, Yass, 1996, pp.115-126. (update: thanks to the great detective work of Karen Semken we know a slightly earlier version appeared in the Daily News, London, Wednesday 6 November 1850, under the heading, ‘Emigration and the Colonies’. It’s looking increasingly likely that it was written by Strutt himself.)
Did an orphan’s voyage experience affect her life in Australia, do you think?