Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (62); Stories, revisions, and research tips.

SOME MORE STORIES, and a bit extra

I wonder should i continue posting orphan stories, limited as they are in their information and reach. But i notice some readers are unaware of the meaning of abbreviations in my Barefoot and on the www.irishfaminememorial.org database, BG., Im. Cor., Register 1, 2, 3., etc.  See below. I’ll try explaining what they refer to, and direct you to where you can find them at the Archives. If i may, I’ll use a few orphan examples to clarify things a bit further. But first, a few introductory comments.

PRIMARY SOURCES

I have often urged people to state clearly the origin of the information they use. It is not just a matter of being honest and acknowledging someone else’s work; it also helps distinguish between primary and secondary sources. For example, something stated by Trevor McClaughlin, Richard Reid, Perry McIntyre, or Ancestry, or on a website, in a book, or on a facebook page, is a secondary source. Inadvertently they only may be spreading an error, merely sharing ignorance. In that ‘native place’ column on that shipping list, does it say Draghin or Drynagh, or is it Inagh? It is always important to go back to the primary source yourself. Hence my plea at the end of the first paragraph in the Sydney Legend below.

When in the late 1970s I consulted the NSW State Records (NSWSR) Board of Immigration shipping list for the Earl Grey, the  first orphan vessel to arrive in Sydney, i found to my distress there were some missing pages. To locate the missing orphan names I went to the Immigration Agent’s shipping list, the list with less information about each orphan girl. There was no mention of parents’ names, for example. It was only much later the missing pages of the Board’s list were found.

I subsequently updated the record on the early version of the irishfaminememorial.org website, and added Lionel Fowler’s discovery of information contained in ‘enclosures’ to the NSW Governor’s Despatches. (See the second par. of my Legend below. CY690 etc. are the numbers for the relevant microfilm in the Mitchell Library in Sydney. I’m trusting this is still correct). These ‘enclosed’ lists told us who had employed the young women, and at what rate of pay. I know for a fact that a good many people, Aileen Trinder and others, searched high and low for similar enclosures for other orphan vessels. But without success. Nonetheless, all this is one more reason for returning to the primary sources. Look what additional information has been discovered since my 1991 Barefoot. More primary source material is coming to light all the time.

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Monument Hyde Park Barracks Sydney. Thank you Bryan Rose. This may be your photograph.

LITERACY

Another thing i’d like to draw your attention to, is my failure to include information about the orphans’ literacy. It is not recorded in my Barefoot but Perry McIntyre has added it to the database. The information about their literacy was recorded on the Board of Immigration shipping lists. That is a great research topic for a university student, don’t you think, the literacy of the Irish orphan ‘girls’ compared with others? I fondly remember studying the spread of literacy among early modern Europeans with my students. There were some brilliant studies that could provide inspiration for our hypothetical student…by Elizabeth Eisenstein, David Cressy, Roger Chartier, Harvey Graff, Rab Houston, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie et al. Clearly, neither the invention of the printing press nor the advent of the Protestant Reformation had led to mass literacy. Mass literacy did not come to Western Europe till the late nineteenth century with the spread of compulsory education. But why did these historians accept an ability to sign one’s name as evidence of basic literacy? Were there instances of women being able to sign their name but refusing to do so on their marriage certificate? Why was that? Were Protestants more literate than Catholics, townsfolk more literate than country dwellers, men more literate than women? Why did so many people think there was no pressing need to become literate? What exactly do we mean by literacy anyway? It is a fascinating subject generally, and would be no less fascinating in the case of the Earl Grey Famine orphans.

Let me introduce you to some of the work i did on this back in the days. In 1979 and 1980 using punch cards and with the help of computer student John Breen, information was fed into a Macquarie university computer to compare the orphans’ literacy with that of other female government assisted migrants. When they arrived, immigrants were asked could they read, read and write, or do neither. This data does not tell us much about the standard of literacy or the nature of literacy of our immigrants. But it does provide a basic, if crude, measure. The computer allowed us to cross tabulate a range of things, literacy by age, by occupation, by religion, by gender, by county of origin, for example. Not all of the results were particularly useful. You may however be interested in these next results. The data relates to the Port Jackson arrivals.

Orphans’ literacy compared with that of other Irish female assisted immigrants

In the period 1848-1851,

  • 22% of all Irish government assisted females, excluding the orphans, were non-literate. (Non-literate is a less pejorative term than illiterate). They could neither read nor write. Presumably the government clerk and the migrant herself understood the question to ask, can you read and write English?
  • 34% of female assisted immigrants could read,
  • and a remarkable 45% claimed they could both read and write (percentages are rounded).

Orphans

  • By contrast, 41% of the orphans were non-literate,
  • 33% could read
  • and only 26% could both read and write. (Hence my figure, in post 2 https://wp.me/p4SlVj-Z , where i said 59% could read, and where one could read she could read to others. I was recognizing the young women’s agency).

Age Groups

If we hone in on age groups, some interesting differences emerge.

  • Of the 10-14 age group
  • 22% of orphans were non-literate,
  • 31% could read
  • and 48% could both read and write.
  • Of the other Irish government assisted female migrants in the same age group, 24% were non-literate,
  • 38% could read
  • and 38% could both read and write.
  • Our youngest orphans were the most literate.

In the 15-19 or 15-20 age group the differences are also striking.

  • Both had a 22% non-literacy rate, but of the other assisted females,
  • 26% could read only
  • and a further 53% could both read and write.
  • By contrast 58% of the orphans claimed they could read only and
  • 20% that they were able to both read and write. The orphans were not quite so literate as their government assisted immigrant sisters.

Other results may warrant further examination;

Regional differences

Mayo orphans, for example, were 66% non-literate,

Clare had only 23% in this category,

and Kerry sat between these two at 58%.

Dublin immigrants were only 11% non-literate.

The spread of the early National Education system in Ireland played a decisive role in all of this, may I suggest ?

Irish National School System

There is an amazing record of the National School system in Irish archives that would allow us to put this to the test. Let’s look at County Clare, for instance. There were 204 schools set up in County Clare between 1835 and 1849. Not all of them got off the ground, some were struck off, and the Famine threw the whole system into disarray. Still, one can surmise how the system impacted upon a young girl’s literacy in English in the years before she sought refuge in a workhouse. Look at the growth in the number of schools, and the increase in attendance. For example, at Carahan school in the parish of Clonlea, there were 70 girls on the books in May 1841 and 74 in December, 153 in May 1842 and 90 in December. [Note the seasonal attendance]. But in 1848 the school was closed. In the north-west of the county, more than 300 pupils on average regularly attended Ennistimon monastery school in Deerpark townland in the 1830s, and just under half that number were girls. At Kilrush female school in 1842, in a room measuring 62 feet by 22, there were 158 girls in attendance in May 1842, and 187 in December. And at SixMileBridge in Kilfinaghty parish in a female school that measured 46 feet by 16, in 1841 there were 110 young girls attending in May and 125 in December. The next year in 1842 the numbers attending were 109 and 144. But in 1846 the teacher Jane Quigley resigned. She planned to emigrate. Before she left, she sold the furniture, the stock and maps of the school.

None of this broaches the questions related to the cultural influence of an gaeilge: living and learning in a culture based in the Irish language, or even one that was increasingly bilingual. That cultural world view would be challenged and threatened, even obliterated over time in the emigrant’s new home. Yet the language question reminds us how inadequate is the measure of whether or not an Irish emigrant could read and write in English. It is not a reliable indicator of how knowledgeable or educated he or she was.  Nor is it of the Irish Famine orphan girls. But it was an oral culture and very rarely a written one.

Máiréad Nic Craith’s chapter in Atlas of the Great Irish Famine will help anyone interested in looking at this. I imagine Aidan Doyle’s chapter on Language and Literacy in the Cambridge History of Ireland, vol. 3 would help too but i haven’t seen this one yet. {Thankyou Aidan for telling me how little the Irish language was written down. Aidan says, “with some very few exceptions, literacy in Ireland, of any kind, was literacy in English”}. Professor Máiréad Nic Craith suggests the 1851 Census of Ireland underestimates the number of Irish speakers: “…the language question…was entirely in English. A monoglot Irish-speaker would not have understood the question and would have been utterly reliant on the enumerator (who did not necessarily have Irish) to draw his attention to this element in the form” (p.583) . She does however provide Census details of those able to speak both Irish and English. Mayo’s percentage  of those ‘with Irish’, including those who could speak English as well, was 65.60, Clare’s 59.78, Kerry’s 61.49 and Dublin’s 1.33. There must have been a large number of the Earl Grey orphans, especially those from the West of Ireland, who were bilingual, yet not able to write in Irish.

SYDNEY LEGEND

But enough of this already. Here is the extract from my Barefoot. It’s now more than 18 years old and some of the references are now out-of-date. I’ll attempt to direct you to their new classification at State Records New South Wales when appropriate.  The map at the end marks the residence of orphans when they registered the birth of their children in 1861. Note too the ordering of the arrival of orphan ships is incorrect. The Tippoo Saib was the last vessel to arrive as part of this Earl Grey scheme. I’ll use the brief histories that follow to explain the abbreviations, and to draw your attention to what Perry McIntyre’s good work adds to the database.

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These next examples are based on my family reconstitutions. Double click or pinch the image to make it larger. The examples are selected from my ‘alphabetical pile’.

Which workhouse?

Among the many beneficial additions Perry has made to the database is one that will interest many readers; she has suggested which workhouse an orphan comes from. In Jane Adderley’s case, Perry names Edenderry workhouse.

You might like to try this exercise for yourself. You can do it online. Type a place name into google maps or google earth, or a similar search engine. Locate where exactly is the place you’re searching for. So, if we type “Clenmore, Kings County” into a search engine we’ll be told ‘do you mean Clonmore, Offaly’? May i encourage everyone to engage more with geography?

Once you have located your place on a map, you should go to Peter Higginbotham’s magnificent website http://www.workhouses.org.uk/   In the left hand column of that webpage, click on ‘workhouse locations‘, then on ‘Irish Poor Law Unions‘. Choose the county you are after and click on that, in this case Offaly. You may need to trawl through each workhouse Poor Law Union before you find the appropriate workhouse. Luckily in this case Clonmore is named as belonging to the Edenderry Poor Law Union. Just a word of warning, i suspect this may not work in every case.

JANE ADDERLEY from Clonmore, Kings County, per William and Mary

After the William and Mary shipping list, Jane next appears in the New South Wales Immigration Agent’s correspondence. See the ‘Legend’ above from my Barefoot 2.  Im. Cor. refers to State Records Of New South Wales SRNSW 4/4635-4/4641. You will need to go to https://www.records.nsw.gov.au/ to find where these records are now located. I had most success by typing “Francis Merewether Immigration Agent” into  their search box. That took me to Series NRS 5247 ‘Copies of letters sent to miscellaneous persons’. They are now available at microfilm SR Reel 3111. The microfilm of these volumes covers the years 1844 to 1852.

For most of this period F. L. S.  Merewether was the NSW Immigration Agent.  You will need to search for letters sent in March 1851 when Jane went to Bathurst.  Merewether was succeeded by H. H. H. Browne as Immigration Agent in 1851. You may like to compare the correspondence each has left behind. One is from a devoted, hard working and empathetic public servant. The other from a minimalist bureaucrat who was no friend of the orphans. See https://wp.me/p4SlVj-BT

Jane would appear to have married well, to a cabinet-maker born in Birmingham, England. Jane and Francis Beilby were married in Bathurst in 1855. Francis was the brother of her first employer in Woolloomooloo. Together Jane and Francis had six children, three boys and three girls, the couple spacing their births, maybe as a form of family planning(?) Waiting six years before marrying and spacing the births of her children makes Jane very different from  most of the other orphans. Yet her geographical mobility, moving from Sydney to Bathurst, to Wellington, to Orange, to Guyong, to Wagga Wagga, brings her back to the fold. Sadly, before she died in 1908 her youngest son, Frederick Charles had also died,  most likely in a Mental Asylum.

And from the database, http://www.irishfaminememorial.org/orphans/database/

  • Surname : Adderley
  • First Name : Jane [aka Jane Theresa]
  • Age on arrival : 17
  • Native Place : Clenmore [Clonmore], Kings [Offaly]
  • Parents : Thomas & Eliza (both dead)
  • Religion : Church of England
  • Ship name : William & Mary (Sydney 1849)
  • Workhouse : Kings [Offaly], Edenderry
  • Other : shipping: farm servant, reads only, no relatives in colony; with sister on William & Mary; empl. Edwin Beilby, Woolloomooloo, £8 a year; Im Cor Bathurst 1 Mar 1851, employed by J Jardine, Fitzgerald Swamp at £8 pa; married Francis E Beilby (brother of Edwin) at Bathurst, 1855; husband cabinet maker & carpenter, lived Alloway near Bathurst, then to Wellington, Orange & Guyong; 6 children; husband died 1892; Jane died 1908, Experimental Farm, Wagga Wagga.

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ISABELLA BANKS from Belfast per Earl Grey

It is worth doing the same geographic exercise for Isabella too. She was from the townland of Ballylesson, County Down. See if you can find it on a map. It will help you understand how close her native place was to Belfast workhouse. (You will find more about Belfast workhouse on Peter Higginbotham’s site http://www.workhouses.org.uk/ but under Antrim Poor Law Union. Follow the steps outlined in the paragraph above just before Jane Adderly).

Young Isabella was first employed by Mr Ross of Newtown for two years at a rate of £9 per annum. She would have been subject to the indenture agreement that was legally part of the Earl Grey scheme. It is reproduced at my blogposts 13 and 16. Here’s the link to post 16. https://wp.me/p4SlVj-h8  The female indenture agreement is about half way through the post.

Isabella was not one of the notorious ‘Belfast Girls’ sent directly to Maitland and Moreton Bay instead of disembarking in Sydney. Yet Isabella did live most of her life in the same area as those sent to the Hunter valley. I wonder if any of the Belfasters met each other later in life. Would they have recognized one another? [Mary McConnell, for example, was visiting her daughter in Newcastle in 1892 when she fell down the stairs and broke her neck. See the very end of the post about Mary https://wp.me/p4SlVj-LL ].

Isabella married William Snipe in Maitland (registered in Newcastle?) in March 1854. They had ten children, four boys and six girls, all of them born in the Newcastle area. When registering their birth they were required to state where they resided; Hunter Street, Newcastle, Pitt Town, Newcastle, Australian Agricultural Company’s paddock, Newcastle, Pitt Row, Newcastle, Borehole, Newcastle and finally, William was ‘Banksman’ and then ‘Groom’ living at Lambton, Newcastle when their last two children, Sarah and Margaret were born. Sadly, like so many other young children in New South Wales in the 1860s, three of their daughters succumbed to childhood illnesses. Rachel, Margaret and Isabella all died before they reached the age of two.

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And from the database, http://www.irishfaminememorial.org/orphans/database/

  • Surname : Banks
  • First Name : Isabella
  • Age on arrival : 16
  • Native Place : Ballillassin [Ballyvaston or Ballyvaston?], Down
  • Parents : William and Sarah (both dead)
  • Religion : Church of England
  • Ship name : Earl Grey (Sydney 6 Oct 1848)
  • Other : shipping: farm servant, reads only, no relatives in colony. Empl. Mr Ross, Newtown, £9, 2 years; married William Snipe, labourer, both of Newcastle, in 1854 at Independent Chapel, Maitland; 10 children, lived Newcastle, died 1897.
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Ulster Folk Museum Cultra

ANNIE JANE BEST from Sherrigrim, Tyrone per Earl Grey

Which Workhouse?

Once again, let us do our exercise in geography. If you type “Sherrigrim, Tyrone” into a search engine you will discover it is a townland in Tyrone on the western side of Lough Neagh. Find it on a map and have a look around. If you follow our suggestion  for Jane Adderly and Isabella Banks, which workhouse do you think Annie Jane and Margaret Best came from? You’d be forgiven for thinking either Cookstown or Dungannon. There were indeed some orphans from these two workhouses on board the Earl Grey, see https://wp.me/p4SlVj-rc

But

in my Barefoot I’ve named Antrim instead of either Dungannon or Cookstown. Why is that? I could be wrong of course. Best is not an uncommon name in the North of Ireland. Belfast City airport is named after a ‘Best’ is it not?

WORKHOUSE INDOOR REGISTERS

You will find how i traced the Earl Grey orphans in Workhouse Indoor Registers in this post http://wp.me/p4SlVj-4X Scroll down till you reach the section “Indoor Relief Registers”. Scroll down a bit further until you reach “Identifying the orphans”. Basically I looked for a group of adolescent young women leaving a workhouse at exactly the same time, about a week or ten days before their ship left Portsmouth bound for Australia. Come to think of it, perhaps this is a way of finding some of the ‘lost’ orphans who arrived in Adelaide by the Roman Emperor. Drawing a long bow perhaps? More information about these orphans has been discovered since i was last in PRONI. Knowing this ship left Portsmouth 27 July 1848 we’d be looking for groups leaving their workhouse say 17-22 July. Anyone going to Ireland?

There is just a brief entry for the Best sisters in the Antrim workhouse Indoor Register at BG/ 1/ GA/ 1 . [See paragraph 5 in the ‘Legend’ above describing BG numbers. They are the prefix to Irish archives relating to workhouses, such as Indoor admission and discharge registers, regrettably in short supply, and Board of Guardian Minute Books which have survived in much greater number. They are the reference numbers I recorded when i visited the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (hereafter PRONI) some years ago. https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/proni I’m having trouble finding my reference on the PRONI ecatalogue. But archivists at the PRONI Titanic Centre have kindly helped me find what I’m looking for. It’s at   https://apps.proni.gov.uk/eCatNI_IE/SearchResults.aspx

The reference I wrote down should be BG/1/GA/1. I had too many spaces in that earlier reference. You may have to copy that and put it into the PRONI search box in the link above].

Beside one another, in that Antrim Workhouse Indoor Admission and Discharge Register, at number 3942 ‘Margaret Best 17 single Established Church dirty’

and at number 3943, ‘Ann Jane Best 15 single Established Church Craigarogan also dirty, having entered 6 January 1848’.

Both of them left Antrim workhouse on the 26th May 1848, the same date as Sarah Burt, another Earl Grey orphan (see below).

I’m still convinced this is the Best sisters who travelled on the Earl Grey. Antrim is not so far away from Sherrigrim.

It is a reminder about how easy it is to make errors in our linking diverse records.  You will notice I made a mistake with the Australian family details of Margaret Best in my Barefoot, marrying her to someone in Brisbane instead of Thomas Jackman.

The two Best sisters married not long after arriving in Sydney. Annie Jane married William Burtenshaw in April 1849 and together they had had nine children, three boys and nine girls. Annie died in Inverell in 1883 strangled by an umbilical hernia. Her husband witnessed the second marriage of her older sibling Margaret to John Keating/Keaton in 1863. Margaret died at Glen Innes in 1873. It seems likely the two sisters remained in touch with one another for most of their lives.

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And from the database http://www.irishfaminememorial.org/orphans/database/

  • Surname : Best
  • First Name : Ann [Annie] Jane
  • Age on arrival : 17
  • Native Place : Sherrigrim [Sherrigrim], Tyrone
  • Parents : John & Jane (both dead)
  • Religion : Church of England
  • Ship name : Earl Grey (Sydney 6 Oct 1848)
  • Workhouse : Tyrone, Cookstown
  • Other : Shipping: house servant, read only, no relatives in colony, sister Margaret also on Earl Grey; PRONI BG/1/GA/1 (3943) Craigarogan, dirty; employed by Mr Andreas, Sydney £10, 1 year; married William Perks Burtenshaw, Sydney in 1849; lived Glen Innes, Wellingrove 30 miles east of Inverell; 9 children, 77 grandchildren; Ann died 1883; husband died 1908; she buried Inverell, he at Gilgai, NSW. Also see Margaret Best, her sister, also per ‘Earl Grey’.

ANNIE’S SISTER MARGARET BEST

  • Surname : Best
  • First Name : Margaret
  • Age on arrival : 19
  • Native Place : Sherrigrim [Sherrigrim],Tyrone
  • Parents : John & Jane (both dead)
  • Religion : Church of England
  • Ship name : Earl Grey (Sydney 6 Oct 1848)
  • Workhouse : Tyrone, Cookstown
  • Other : Shipping: house servant, reads only, no relatives in the colony, sister Ann Jane also on ‘Earl Grey’. Antrim PLU BG/1/GA/1 (3942), Craigarogan, dirty; empl. Mr J Steenson, Pitt St South, Sydney, £10, 12 months; Im Cor Register 6 Jan 1849 complaint, left employer; married 1) ex-convict Thomas Jackman in 1849 Sydney, moved to Glen Innes, 3 children; married 2) John Keating (Keaton etc) 1863, witnessed by sister & fellow shipmate’s husband WF Burtenshaw; 3 children; John died at Armidale 1885; Margaret died Glen Innes 1873.

REGISTERS

Registers,1,2,3 in the Legend above refers to the Registers and indexes of applications for orphans at State Records New South Wales. Their reference is (SRNSW) 4/4715-4717 which is available at  Microfilm SR Reel 3111.

APPENDIX

For Appendix J or K or L  in the Legend see http://wp.me/p4SlVj-BT

NANCY BOOTH from Portglenone, Antrim per Earl Grey

Checking a map will show how close Portglenone is to Ballymena workhouse which is where I found Nancy. She was registered as a single 20 year old Roman Catholic residing in Ballymena when she entered the workhouse 10 April 1848. She was discharged 24 May 1848. She was on her way to join the Earl Grey. https://apps.proni.gov.uk/eCatNI_IE/SearchResults.aspx

Nancy married a fellow Irishman Brien Molloy in November 1849 at St. Patrick’s Parramatta. Brien/Brian/Bryan was about eighteen years her senior. Together they farmed land at Baulkham Hills where Nancy gave birth to nine children, four boys and three girls. Nancy died in 1884 of pneumonia, her husband just a year later of heart disease.

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And from the database http://www.irishfaminememorial.org/orphans/database/

  • Surname : Booth
  • First Name : Nancy
  • Age on arrival : 19
  • Native Place : Portglenone [Portglenone], Antrim
  • Parents : James & Susan (both dead)
  • Religion : Roman Catholic
  • Ship name : Earl Grey (Sydney 6 Oct 1848)
  • Workhouse : Antrim, Ballymena
  • Other : Shipping: house servant, reads, no relatives in colony. PRONI BG/4/G/2 No. 2002 Ballymena. Empl. J Acres, Parramatta, £10, 1 year. Im Cor Register, 23 Jul 1849 left service of mistress in Parramatta; 24 Jul 1849 Hyde Park Barracks Daily Report, servant to Mrs Acre of Heywood Lane to depot at 6pm to lodge complaint against her mistress, was permitted to remain on account of distance from employer’s residence and late hour of the day; married Bryan/Brian Molloy, settler & farmer, Parramatta, 1849; 9 children; lived Baulkham Hills; died 1884.

For Nancy’s appearance in the Register 23 July 1849 see SRNSW Microfilm SR Reel 3111.

ANNE BOYLE from Belfast per Earl Grey

Anne Boyle was another ‘Belfast girl’ not banished to Maitland or Moreton Bay. About a year after arriving she married a Welsh born soldier, Thomas James, a private in the 11th Regiment stationed at Victoria Barracks in Sydney. Thomas worked as a soldier, labourer and coal miner at Mt. Keira and Newcastle. The couple had ten children, six boys and four girls, two of them dying before reaching the age of two. Thomas died in 1870, Anne seventeen years later in 1887.

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And from the database http://www.irishfaminememorial.org/orphans/database/

  • Surname : Boyle
  • First Name : Anne
  • Age on arrival : 19
  • Native Place : Belfast, Antrim
  • Parents : James & Anne (both dead)
  • Religion : Roman Catholic
  • Ship name : Earl Grey (Sydney 6 Oct 1848)
  • Workhouse : Antrim, Belfast
  • Other : Shipping: farm servant, cannot read or write, no relatives in colony. Empl. Mr Drewe, Sydney £10, 1 year. Im Cor Register 22 Mar 1849, letter from JL Drewe, master, refused to pay full wages, said he owed her nothing; married Thomas James, 1849 at Scots Church, Pitt St, Sydney; husband a soldier, labourer & miner; 10 children; lived Sydney, Newcastle & Mt Keira, died 1887.

For Anne’s appearance in the Register 22 March 1849 see SRNSW Microfilm SR Reel 3111.

SARAH BURT from Glenavy, Antrim per Earl Grey

Sarah married Sussex born John Stanford at Appin in March 1851. John was more than twenty years her senior. Together they had nine children, three boys and six girls, one of whom may have been born to Sarah out of wedlock. (yet to be confirmed) John was variously a farmer, gardener and labourer all in the Appin district south of Sydney, County Cumberland.

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The BG number BG/1/GA/1  4276 refers to Sarah’s appearance in the Antrim workhouse Indoor Admissions and discharge register where she is described as female single 16 year old Established Church dirty residing in Crumlin. One can check on a map where Crumlin is in relation to Antrim workhouse. Sarah entered the workhouse 23 March 1848 and left 26 May 1848, the same date as Annie and Margaret Best.

And from the database http://www.irishfaminememorial.org/orphans/database/

Details of Sarah’s death at Bellambi in 1906 were from Sarah’s descendant Marj. Jackel.

  • Surname : Burt
  • First Name : Sarah
  • Age on arrival : 16
  • Native Place : Glennevis [Glenavy], Antrim
  • Parents : William & Sarah (both dead)
  • Religion : Church of England
  • Ship name : Earl Grey (Sydney 6 Oct 1848)
  • Workhouse : Antrim, Antrim
  • Other : Shipping: farm servant, reads, no relatives in colony. PRONI Antrim BG/1/GA/1 (4276) Crumlin, dirty. Empl. Mary Hill, Park St., Sydney £9, 2 years. Im Cor Register 6 Nov 1848, letter from Mary Hill requesting cancellation of indenture on various grounds; 19 Nov 1848 Im Cor transfer allowed to Mr John Duross of Campbelltown; married John Stanford at Appin, 1851; 9 children by 1868; died at Bellambi 1906; buried RC cemetery, Corrimal.

For Sarah’s appearance in the Register 6 and 19 November 1848 see SRNSW Microfilm SR Reel 3111. It explains how she came to be residing at Campbelltown at the time of her marriage.

Meenagarragh Cottier's house? for widow?

Meenagarragh cottier’s house for widow? Ulster Folk Museum, Cultra

ELIZA CONN from Armagh per Earl Grey

On the recommendation of Surgeon Henry Grattan Douglass Eliza was one of the orphans prevented from disembarking at Port Jackson. She was sent directly to Maitland.

“Sent to Maitland” appears beside her name on the shipping list. She also appears with her surname misspelled as ‘Comm’ in the enclosures of a letter from Merewether to the Colonial Secretary, 8 February 1849, ‘List of the forty-seven Female Orphans…whose removal to the country was recommended…by the Surgeon Superintendent…’. The forty-seven names appear in British Parliamentary Papers, Colonies, Australia, IUP edition, vol.11, p.532 and in my Barefoot, vol.1, pp.132-3. As far as we know Eliza didn’t get into trouble ever again.

My family reconstitution form was filled out for me by one of Elizabeth’s descendants in the 1980s, Mrs A. Dreiser. There’s a wealth of information there. Elizabeth married Alfred Horder, a butcher, in West Maitland in 1851 and together they had thirteen children, the last one stillborn when Elizabeth was about 45 years old. She died in 1883, her husband Alfred in 1896. Both of them are buried at Maitland.

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And from the database http://www.irishfaminememorial.org/orphans/database/

  • Surname : Conn
  • First Name : Elizabeth
  • Age on arrival : 17
  • Native Place : Armagh
  • Parents : James & Margaret (both dead)
  • Religion : Church of England
  • Ship name : Earl Grey (Sydney 6 Oct 1848)
  • Other : Shipping: house servant, reads, no relatives in the colony. Armagh PLU PRONI BG/2/G/2 (2309) Ballinahone; empl. by Mr Dickson, West Maitland £10, 6 months; married Alfred Horder, an English-born butcher, West Maitland, c.1851; Horder family arrived free on ‘Coromandel’ 1838; 13 children; Alfred Nov 1896; Elizabeth Dec 1883, Wexford St., Sydney.

For the Armagh workhouse Indoor Register in PRONI see https://apps.proni.gov.uk/eCatNI_IE/ResultDetails.aspx

Let me finish by reminding you of the ‘Annual Gathering’ on the 26th August 2018 at Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney. It will be the first ‘Gathering’ without the late Tom Power, former Chair of the Great Irish Famine Commemoration Committee, unstoppable force behind the creation of a beautiful monument to the Great Irish Famine at Hyde Park Barracks. Vale Tom Power. Ar dheis Dé go raibh anam

You will find more about the ‘Gathering’ on the GIFCC facebook page Great Irish Famine Commemoration Memorial

or by clicking on the following link

2018 Final Annual Gathering Invite

“The hardest thing of all is to see what is really there.” (J.A.Baker, The Peregrine)

wreaths08 (2)

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (33):Mary in Australia 

UNFINISHED STORIES (2)

Mary McConnell (cont.)

Using her family history detective skills, Mary’s descendant, Tricia Evans, has discovered what became of Mary in Australia. She writes,

“For no apparent reason William and Mary never married but they did raise eleven children. Finding all these children and following them through was no easy task…Their first four children were all born pre-1856 which is when civil registration began in New South Wales, therefore births were not registered but luckily they did have them all baptised. I started with the microfilm of the Church of England, Newcastle Diocese registers. I thought I had struck the jackpot as I found them all one after the other right down to the last child, George Silvester Ashton being baptised on 20 June 1872. In fact, nine children were baptised in the Anglican Christ Church, Mount Vincent, and two in the Wesleyan Church in Mulbring.

I then thought it would be an easy task to look for any deaths and or their marriages. As their 7th child is my great grandmother, Margaret Ashton who married James Warby on 15 December 1883 at Maitland, NSW, I made this my starting point. Again I learnt that nothing is as it appears to be.

As I have already mentioned, the first four children were baptisms only, therefore they are listed as Ashton, naming both mother and father. Then when it became law in 1856 to register a birth, death or marriage, Mary registered the next seven children as illegitimate with no father’s name, and gave them the surname of McConnell. So we have a family, on paper, where some are under the name of Ashton and the rest are under the name of McConnell, then not to make it any easier, they all got married under the name of Ashton.

Mary McConnell (Ashton) was to leave a very large legacy in her new homeland by having eleven children who gave her 58 grandchildren”.

There must be quite a number of present-day Australians descended from this one Irish orphan.

Tricia’s good work has allowed us to revise Mary’s family reconstitution form, for yet a third time. Whoever said family history was a ‘finished’ history? Since we’re uncertain where some of Mary’s early children were born, we’ve left that blank to be filled in at a later date.

Mary McConnell family reconstitution upgrade
Mary McConnell family reconstitution upgrade

As is often the case, documented evidence of Mary’s life amounts merely to snippets of information. Shortly after her arrival, Mary was employed as a servant to Mr Wilson of East Maitland, for three months, at the rate of £8 per annum (we do not know where or when she met William). She described herself as washerwoman (registering Margaret’s birth in January 1863). Sometime during her life she learned to read and write. She was recorded as being unable to do either when she left Belfast workhouse but could do both, according to her gaol description of 1882. She was only c. 150 cms. tall (1880). She had lost the third finger on her left hand (1882) and was described as ‘stout’ when she fell down the stairs and broke her neck in 1892. As Tricia puts it, “we can only piece together what we believe could be the truth.” And yet, with a dash of curiosity, an enquiring mind, and a snifter of historical understanding, our appreciation of Mary’s life will increase. We may not have the same resources as Alison Light, census records, for example, that throw light on their neighbours but there are some things we could, and should explore. These examples are not the end of it.

May I urge family historians to try setting their Irish Famine orphan in a particular historical context. Even if you do not have a direct link to a particular thing, your curiosity will carry you along.  What was the difference in weather like for young Mary McConnell Ashton? Was she aware of Aboriginal people? Was her life experience very different from ours? How did she travel? What were conditions like on a tenant farm in the Hunter Valley? What work did a sawyer do? Mary was a washerwoman and sometimes acted as a midwife. What did that entail in the second half of the nineteenth century? And then of course there’s Trove. These are a few of the things I try to do here. Each case will be slightly different. But you appreciate what I’m after, don’t you? Put some historical flesh on your wee girl’s bare bones.

How did this young woman from Belfast feel about the weather in her first summer in Australia? She probably loved the warm sun on her back as she went about her household chores. She may also have looked up, and longed for a wet Belfast sky. Other Irish migrants recorded how they felt. A young Dubliner, Isabella Wyly, wrote from Adelaide in March 1857, “You say I told you nothing about the Climate, but what with dust, & Heat & hot winds & Flys & and an Insect that the call Moskitoes we do not know what to do with ourselfs just now. We ar suffering very much from the hot weather”. (David Fitzpatrick, Oceans of Consolation, p.117) Adelaide heat is not the same as Hunter Valley heat in the summer. But it was still shocking to young Michael Normile from County Clare who wrote from Lochinvar in 1855,

“The Climate of this Country is far differant to home. The winter is coming on with us now it is beautiful weather the same as home summer. The summer we past was dreadful hot…I heard that some people got sun struck, in fact I was a day and I would give a mouthfull of money for a mouthfull of fresh air…I Seen this last Summer 4 months without a drop of rain and all that time hot scorching weather. You would See cattle strewed dead in water holes, or along the roads fine working Bullocks all for the want of water”. (Fitzpatrick, Oceans, pp.70-1)

Remember Mary had three young children in tow by this time, all under three years of age.

May I suggest, too, that instead of writing Aboriginal people out of our history, we make every effort to write them in? Aboriginal history is flourishing. Libby Connors’ Warrior is testimony to that. With just a brief untutored internet search, here’s what we found relating to Aboriginal people in the Hunter in mid-nineteenth century,

http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/resources/heritagebranch/heritage/media/13235huntesvol1.pdf  See 4.2 by Alan Atkinson

Click to access brayshaw1987.pdf

http://www.historyofaboriginalsydney.edu.au/north-west/1850s

Alan Atkinson tells us the land of the Pambalang or Big Swamp tribe extended from Newcastle West to the foothills of Mount Vincent, whereas Helen Brayshaw refers to the Wonaruah or Gringai people of this general area. The number of Aboriginal people had fallen drastically since the beginning of the century: none was reported as coming to Maitland for blankets in 1850, for example. Some may have been employed on Knox Child’s estate at Mount Vincent which is where Mary and William settled in the 1850s. Or on neighbouring estates. Others ‘came in’ to live on the fringes of towns like Maitland.

Mary and William probably did not know of the Bulga Bora Ground used for initiation ceremonies near Wollombi but they were aware of the trials of Aboriginal people in West Maitland; of Murphy, Tommy Potts, Martin and King John of the Maitland tribe and Jemmy and Richard Wiseman of the Sugarloaf tribe in December 1851, and of Wickety Wee and Morris in 1853. (See the link to the history of Aboriginal Sydney above).

There were other ways Mary and William’s life experience was different from ours. Mary was about 150 centimetres tall, William 155. Our ancestors were smaller than we are. Their life expectancy was shorter, their families were larger, they had fewer material possessions, fewer labour-saving devices and most of them had a lifetime of hard physical work. By 1882 Mary was missing the third finger on her left hand. How did she cope with pain, and childbirth, and disease? There were no epidurals, no antibiotics, no analgesics, and no gum-numbing injection when she had a tooth extracted.

Janet McCalman in her history of the Melbourne Women’s Hospital, Sex and Suffering (1998) tells of the difficulties Irish Famine women had in giving birth to their children. Malnutrition and poverty in some cases led to underdeveloped and deformed pelvises. Once the women had a better diet, rest and sunshine, in Australia, their babies grew larger in the womb. Mothers had great difficulty giving birth to them. I remember seeing an exhibition of obstetric instruments, in Adelaide I think it was. Someone had commented that they wanted more focus on women themselves. But for me, those instruments were horrific instruments. They made me appreciate what women had to go through. In the cases Janet McCalman describes in the early pages of her book, craniotomy forceps were used. “If there was no room, [for the baby to pass through the pelvis] then the baby had to be removed by a destructive operation, most often a craniotomy where the baby’s skull was perforated and collapsed, or the child was taken apart in the uterus and extracted in pieces”. (p.22) Fortunately, our Mary McConnell did not suffer such horrors.

Their means of transport was also different from ours. We are uncertain when or where Mary and William met. William’s tickets-of-Leave were for the Paterson and Raymond Terrace Districts, granted with the usual conditions; he could live and work for himself in the district, must carry his ticket with him at all times, and must attend church. The couple’s first child, William Henry, was born in Miller’s Forest, about four miles from Raymond Terrace. In January 1853, with another child and Mary three months pregnant, we know they were in West Maitland. They were before a Police court charged with indecent language in a public place. See http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/127645 page 2 col 5. Mary and William had probably travelled by water, horse, cart or on foot. The tributaries of the Hunter river interconnect Paterson, Raymond Terrace, Morpeth and West Maitland and between there and Mount Vincent where the pair were to settle sometime after, it was a walk of 15 or 16 miles. We hope they at least had a cart for their young children. Here’s a map of the area courtesy of Brian Andrews.

Sugarloaf District, Hunter Valley, with thanks to Brian Andrews
Sugarloaf District, Hunter Valley

As Tricia discovered, all Mary and William’s children were baptised in church. For twenty or more years, Mary and William lived at Mount Vincent, on the Mulbring Creek, with other tenant farmers on the estate of William Knox Child. Knox Child had sold his estate in Kent and come to Mount Vincent in the 1840s. He divided his new estate into tenant farms letting them to free migrants and ticket-of-leave convicts.

William Ashton leased a tenant farm from Knox Child sometime in the early to mid 1850s, although exactly what kind of lease is uncertain. His lease may simply have entailed a dwelling, and a small plot of land of 10 acres. William presumably helped with the ploughing, sowing and harvesting of the wheat crop on the Estate at certain times of the year, and at others, worked as a timber-getter and sawyer. In 1862 and 1871, his name appears on official gazette lists of those licensed to cut hardwood on the slopes and ridges of Sugarloaf valley. (At different times, William’s occupation was recorded as brickmaker, sawyer, bushman and labourer).

The slab hut where Mary and William lived probably had a shingle roof made from local forest oak, and a well-watered, beaten and swept, dirt flour. Their furniture and utensils were sparse and simple, with Mary cooking porridge, stew and soup in cast iron pots. William may have added a lean-to, as his family grew larger. The split slabs of hardwood that formed their house were cut by sawyers like William.

The saw pits where William worked were usually in the bush, near where the trees were felled. A large square hole was dug deep enough in the ground to allow another sawyer to stand completely below ground level. Once the tree, now cut into carefully measured logs, was rolled into place above the pit, one man below and one above used a large hand-saw to cut the logs to the dimensions they wanted. It was hard work. One can imagine William with a big bushy beard coming home dirty, covered in sawdust. Our thanks to Brian Andrews for this information about sawyers and their work. Here are a couple of illustrations from Brian’s Sugarloaf magazine,

Slab Hut
Slab Hut
ashtonsawpit (2)
Saw Pit. Thanks to Brian Andrews.

 Mary herself had an ever-growing family to attend to, a child being born almost every two years from 1850 until 1872. She had her own daily domestic chores, maybe a kitchen-garden where she grew vegetables, even though the soil was not particularly fertile. When Tricia’s great-grandmother Margaret was born in January 1863, Mary described herself as ‘washerwoman’. Tricia writes “I have always felt (nothing to back it up except my gut feeling) that Mary was one of the washerwomen in the Knox Child household. If so, she may have worked in a building separate from the main household”. Or she may have boiled water for the laundry on a wood fire outdoors taking washing in from other tenants on the estate. At any rate, I doubt her job was as clean or ‘idyllic’ as in this image from the New South Wales State Library picture collection.

Washerwomen c. 1871 courtesy State Library New South Wales
Washerwomen c. 1871 courtesy State Library New South Wales

I wonder did Mary retain her ‘attitude’, and like Mrs Molony on the goldfields in Victoria, answer back those who questioned the quality of her work, or what she charged for her washing. William Kelly, in his Life in Victoria in 1853 recorded his meeting with Mrs Molony,

“…or about four shillings above the usual price, I remarked, in an audible soliloquy; upon which, putting her hands in the jacket pockets, approaching the attitude to which all voluble women incline in energetic declamation, she apostrophised us in the following vernacular terms; ‘Sweet bad luck to the pair of yes, ye lousy lime-juicers. It’s dirty linen that’s too good for the likes of yes. I wouldn’t give you a squeeze o’ me blue-bag for the money. Maybe yes think I wash for divarshun, and that me wood is laid down for me thankee, or that I git me wathur for the whistlin‘”. (Kelly, Life, pp.53-4). From what we know of her, I’m sure Mary gave a tongue-lashing if she was crossed.

Most of us, family historians especially(?), like to believe our ancestors lived the lives we would want for them. “If the creation of a nation rests on its ‘foundation myths’, family legends too, handed down the generations, are also the stuff, like dreams, of which we make ourselves” (Alison Light, Common People, p.130). It’s the natural thing to do. ‘Mary and William fell in love, they worked hard and raised a large family and were respected by their community’. you know the kind of thing I mean. Mary and William’s life at Mount Vincent may well have been their best years. William even wrote a letter to the press protesting against road works and signed a petition, both against and for, locating a post office on the Mount Vincent estate (1858 and 1859). Tricia says, “after they moved into Maitland in the 1870s, Mary gained a reputation as a midwife. Being a midwife in these times was not an official job. It was just a well-experienced person who was prepared to attend whenever she was needed. I know she was in attendance for many of her own grandchildren and this is where she gained her skill”.

But as Tricia was to find out, “nothing is as it appears to be”. In the Maitland Gaol Description Books in State Records of New South Wales April 1880, Tricia found not only both Mary and William linked together, convicted of obscene and profane language; that the Magistrate remarked at the trial ‘women appeared worse than the men in using bad language‘; that William was a convict not a Bounty migrant as she previously thought; and that he had 11 previous convictions recorded against his name. As she put it, “boy oh boy, the hunt was on”.

We’ve had a look through gaol records and reports in the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River Advertiser. Here’s some of what we found. Most of the cases were heard in the Police Court, West Maitland. Mary appears only a few times, William very often for ‘drunkenness and obscene language’, in effect for criminal misdemeanours, rather than major crimes. We began by searching for the ’11 previous’. http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/660805?searchTerm=%22William%20Ashton%22%201853&searchLimits=l-state=New+South+Wales

See page 2, col.5

1 January 1853 Both Mary and William were found guilty of using indecent language ‘at the end of Ashton’s house’ in West Maitland ’12 yards from a public thoroughfare’. [This may be a useful way of tracing where they lived. We also should search for the legal definition of ‘indecent language‘. I suspect the ‘crime’ was a means of controlling convict society and preventing civil disturbance.  No doubt there is more to it than that. Maybe a lawyer or legal historian could put us on the right path].

4 January 1863 William, obscene language

10 January 1867 William, assault. Both parties fail to appear

And then something that may be the key to all the rest, 10 April 1867, a JP commits William, on suspicion of insanity. 11 April he is found to be suffering from delerium tremens and a week later, he is remanded in gaol ‘for his own protection’. I wonder was William an alcoholic. He certainly had a problem with alcohol.

But in early 1878 he fell off the wagon. 12 March Drunk in the High Street, West Maitland; 8 August obscene language; 10 August Guilty of obscene language in Sparks Street. ‘He had been annoyed by his wife’; 8 October indecent language and drunkenness; 31 October 1879 Obscene language, gaol for a month; 20 December Maitland obscene language. 

Between 1878 and 1887, when he was about 58 to 68 years old, William appeared in court almost twenty times. He had had enough of a lifetime of ‘hard yakka’ and turned to his old friend, a bottle of rum? He is in and out of gaol, sometimes for only 48 hours, sometimes for a month. Mostly, he is found guilty of obscene language and being drunk. He just doesn’t have the money to pay the fine so he goes to gaol instead. These were not exactly fun times for Mary.

Let me finish William’s sorry tale with a few other court reports that help us understand what was happening to him. On the 23 rd January 1884 he was ‘drunk and disorderly’ again, and a month or two later, 13 March he’s charged with neglecting to send a child to school. [I wonder what that’s all about]. Shortly later, on the 19th April, a Mrs Griffiths sues him to quit tenancy of her dwelling in Devonshire Street, West Maitland.

In 1887 (30 July) there is a meeting of William’s creditors declaring his estate insolvent.  The next we hear from the Maitland Mercury 24 September 1887 ‘William Ashton of Mount Vincent was fined £10 plus costs by the Newcastle Bench for having on August 20th shifted certain points on the Homebush-Waratah Railway at Awaba by reason of which a train engine got off the line’.  There is a report of the case in the Newcastle Herald, 23 September 1887 page 3, col.5. see http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/135979909?searchTerm=%22William%20Ashton%22&searchLimits=l-state=New+South+Wales|||l-decade=188|||l-title=356

An aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick, unless…

(Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium)

We can but hope that Mary’s last few years were a bit more peaceful. She was visiting her married daughter in King Street, Newcastle when she fell down the stairs and broke her neck in 1892. In 1894 William died. Both of them are buried in Sandgate Cemetery. Their large family spread across the Hunter and beyond, working as rough carpenters, small farmers, labourers, sawyers and coal-miners, in areas such as Newcastle, Toronto, Moontown in East Maitland, and Mount Vincent. Their youngest child, George Silvester, joined up to fight in the First World War at the ripe young age of forty-three!

Tricia tells me, once her health issues are resolved, she hopes to return to her family history in earnest. She will look into William’s history further, do more on her great grandparents, Margaret Ashton and James Warby, have a look at George’s war record, and research the other two tragedies in her family history; the poisoning of Mary McConnell’s great-great-grandchild 9 month old Cyril Albert Ashton in 1899, and the murder of Cecil Boyne Lambert in 1917. Maybe another family member is willing to help?

Tricia has in her library, John Turner’s, The Rise of High Street, Maitland–A Pictorial History, Council of the City of Maitland, 1989 which reproduces some of F.C Terry’s beautiful prints of West Maitland. You may like to view them in a WordPress site.

Click to access charlton1961.pdf

George Ashton's war medal
George Ashton’s war medal
James Warby
James Warby

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (32):a “Belfast girl” Mary McConnell

Some Unfinished histories (1)

Mary McConnell

I’m not sure how this will go. I’ll try getting in touch with some of the orphans’ descendants who sent me material in the past. Maybe together we can give an outline of a family history that may be of interest to others, even if it’s just to suggest possible lines of enquiry. I’ll attempt some of the things I’ve suggested earlier, such as make our own presence felt, find something about the orphan’s Irish background, as well as what happened to her in Australia. And I hope, put her in some kind of historical context. I’m sure you know all this already. You are welcome to make a suggestion about the things we ought to include. 

This time, I’ve chosen to write something about one of the infamous ‘Belfast Girls’, Mary McConnell. I’ve been in touch with one of Mary’s descendants, Mrs Pat Evans, for more than twenty-five years; she herself has been working on Mary for more than thirty. Tricia has provided lots of information about Mary’s history. She tells me that she is emotionally close to her orphan descendant. After all, she is her great-great grandmother. It took her a while to reconcile herself to some aspects of Mary’s life but she understands her, and admires her resilience. Tricia says, ” I am able to accept that my Mary was not what we would call a good girl today and at the same time extremely thankful of what she did to survive in the harshness of the day”.

We both are very grateful to a renowned local historian, Brian Andrews, who helped us put Mary’s life into context, in the Hunter Valley of  New South Wales. Unfortunately I lost contact with Brian some years ago. But I see, via the web, he was awarded an OAM for his work as a local historian. Congratulations and well-deserved, Brian. Brilliant work.

I’d like to keep this post in an unfinished form to emphasize that orphans’ family histories are constantly being revised. The ‘facts’ can change so quickly.

Tricia rightly suggests that if she was writing Mary’s history outside and independent of this blog, she’d provide a summary of the Earl Grey scheme, something like the following. So , in Tricia’s words,

“Lord Earl Grey, the British Secretary of State, thought he had the magic answer for several problems facing the English Parliament. He could rid the Irish workhouses of the orphaned paupers by supplying the Colonies with female labour and females to correct the imbalance of the sexes, which were both needed in great numbers in the Colony of New South Wales. This scheme was called the ‘Earl Grey Scheme’ and was to remove about 4,000 female Irish orphans from the disgusting workhouses throughout Ireland. The scheme was to survive for only two years.

See http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Belfast/

 
From the Belfast Workhouse, Mary, with the other ‘Belfast Orphans’, left Belfast traveling to Plymouth by the Steamer ‘Athlone’ under the supervision of wardmaster James Caldwell. The ‘Belfast Girls’ and many others then left Plymouth on the 3rd June 1848 per ‘Earl Grey’ to Sydney Australia where they arrived after 122 days at sea on 6 October 1848.
 
Whilst on this voyage each girl was given daily rations of ½ lb meat, ¼ lb flour, raisins, peas, rice, tea, sugar, butter and biscuits. Each girl was also outfitted with 6 shifts, 6 pairs of stockings – two worsted & 4 cotton, 2 pair of shoes, 2 gowns – one of woolen plaid, 2 short wrappers, 2 night wrappers, 2 flannel petticoats, 2 cotton petticoats, 1 stout worsted shawl & a cloak, 2 neck and 3 pocket handkerchiefs, 2 linen collars, 2 aprons, 1 pair of stays, 1 pair of sheets, 1 pair of mitts, 1 bonnet, day & night caps, 2 towels, 2lb of soap, combs & brushes, needles, threads, tape & whatever other little articles (such as a few yards of cotton or calico) the Matron may know young females to require. They were also given a Bible and Prayer Book suitable for their respective religions. Then they were given one box – length 2 feet, width 14 inches, deep 14 inches, with lock and key, to be painted, & the Emigrant’s name painted on the front, & a catalogue of the contents pasted on the inside of the lid. The box was ordered to be strongly made, so as to bear a long voyage & besides being locked they should be strongly corded.
 
The first ship to arrive in The Colony was ‘Earl Grey’ on the 6th October 1848 into the harbour of Port Jackson. The last ship carrying it’s live cargo entered Port Phillip, Melbourne on 31st March 1850 and she was the ‘Eliza Caroline’.  There is also known to be four ships that sailed into the Port of Adelaide in South Australia.
 
The ‘Belfast Girls’, per ‘Earl Grey’, as they were referred to, were classified as refractory. One of the girls (I must admit was not one of the good girls)  was my Mary McConnell”.
 
In her family history, Tricia would also say more about the voyage itself, and about Surgeon Grattan Douglass’s condemnation of the ‘Belfast girls’, and the subsequent enquiries that followed his report.
 
I’m not going to do that here, for my purpose throughout my blog, is to give a more detailed picture of the scheme and of the Irish Famine orphans themselves, than is usually the case. Tricia’s comments have prompted me to ask how many Earl Grey descendants have read the report of C. G. Otway, the Irish Poor Law Commissioner? It’s in my Barefoot & Pregnant? volume 1, which should be available in your local library. Why do you think it has had such little impact?
 
May I invite anyone writing their orphan family history, especially if he or she wants to delve deeper, to think about what I’ve said in these thirty-odd blog posts; about the origins of the scheme; about how the plan may belong more to the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners than Earl Grey himself; about how Irish Poor Law Commissioners and Boards of Workhouse Guardians arranged things at the Irish end; about Charter Parties and the regulations that applied to every government assisted voyage; about the orphans’ arrival and early days in Australia, and above all, about the ways we might try to put ourselves in an orphan’s shoes and view things through her eyes?
 
Here’s a link to what my blog contains, http://wp.me/p4SlVj-oE  If you wish to use any of it in a fuller family history of your own, please feel free. But also please acknowledge your debt in the conventional academic way. I believe that goes something like this,  my name, name of the blog post and the date you accessed the site. My thanks in advance.
 
Mary McConnell
 
At last, to Mary.
A recently posted family reconstitution form gives us a brief synopsis of Mary’s life. And already our ‘facts’ have changed; we find the form needs revising. There is a big question mark over the names of Mary’s parents. James and Fanny are the names Mary gave to Belfast workhouse. So I’ll call them James and Fanny McConnell. 

Tricia recently informed me that William Ashton‘s details are also incorrect. He was not a Bounty migrant who came by the Brothers in 1841. Rather, he was a convict found guilty of highway robbery at Liverpool Quarter Sessions in July 1838. He arrived in New South Wales on board the Theresa in 1839. Tricia discovered this through Maitland gaol records and the Maitland Mercury which linked William and Mary’s name together. We should also remove William’s parents’ names and his birthplace and date from the form, and change his occupations to ‘brickmaker, sawyer, labourer, and bushman’.  The other details are correct.

fomarymcconnellearl grey

Among descendants of the Famine orphans, the story of the “Belfast Girls” is relatively well-known. Surgeon Douglass described the ‘Belfast girls’ as “notoriously bad in every sense of the word“.  “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”. It was a stain that’s been very difficult to remove.

A detailed enquiry by Irish Poor Law Commissioner C. G Otway rebutted Douglass’s claims –as might be expected– and was supported by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners in London–as also might be expected– but it was never enough to restore the good name of the rebellious ‘millies’ (Mill workers) and “gurriers” from Belfast.

As far as the Surgeon, Captain, and Matron of the Earl Grey were concerned, Mary McConnell was “a professed public woman”. She, and the other ‘Belfast girls’, should not be allowed to land in Sydney. “Considering that the landing of the Belfast girls in Sydney, would assuredly lead to their final ruin, and being also impressed with the importance of separating them from the remainder of the Orphans, the Committee [the Sydney Orphan Committee] acceded to the proposal of Dr Douglass, that they should be at once forwarded into the Country” .

Let me mention in passing, how much I enjoyed Jaki McCarrick’s recent award winning play, Belfast Girls“, not as a nitpicking historian but for its dramatic sensibility, its contemporary relevance, and above all, Jaki’s sympathetic treatment of the young women.

Ellen (with renewed resolve) …Remember, this is what you’re to be wed ta. Your books. Your learnin’. For Molly’s sake — let none of us waste this journey an’ all we’ve learned. You — in here (points to her head) are a great gift to Australia, an’ don’t ya  forget it. We all are an’ must none of us forget it.

(Belfast Girls by Jaki McCarrick © Samuel French Ltd. London. All rights reserved

Reprinted by permission of Samuel French Ltd. on behalf of Jaki McCarrick)

——————————————

We are lucky the Otway Report has survived: it has specific information about Mary McConnell. (For more details, see Disc 2 of Ray Debnam’s CD set, Feisty Colleens).

In the report, two Belfast Detective Police Constables, DC John Cane and DC Stewart McWilliams testified that none of the Belfast girls accused of prostitution by Surgeon Douglass was known to them as such.

Stewart McWilliams,  Police Constable sworn:

I am one of the detective police;…I have been so employed for the last eighteen years; from the nature of my duties, I have a knowledge of all the houses of ill-fame, and the persons frequenting them in Belfast; all of the prostitutes I mean. I do not think there is a prostitute in the town I do not know…

From my knowledge of young persons working in mills and manufactories, I know they are generally unguarded in their language and mode of expression, and use unchaste language, though they may not be unchaste in person, or prostitutes.

I have read over the names on the list of the females sent in the first vessel from Belfast, and there is not the name of a single person that I ever knew or heard of as being a prostitute amongst them.

Look at the name whose initials correspond with Mary McCann, No. 45 I had no knowledge of her as a prostitute or person of bad character, and she could not have been well known in Belfast as a prostitute without my knowing it.

Look at Mary McConnell, No.55 I give the same answer… (Barefoot vol. 1, pp. 106-7.)

Given the circumstances, theirs is the kind of evidence we might expect? I leave you to decide for yourself. My view is that people today are not so quick to adopt the high moral ground; they understand how someone may depend upon prostitution to survive and others might use it for their own empowerment and material security. Maybe Surgeon Douglass too quickly accepted as truth the insults and obscene language the Belfast orphans hurled at one another.

More interesting than the Constables’ evidence is the testimony of Catherine McKevey who lived with her husband, a Pattern Maker, in Laggan Village. She had known Mary personally for the six years before she left for Australia.

Catherine McKevey sworn statement to C. G. Otway
Catherine McKevey sworn statement to C. G. Otway (Barefoot, 1, p.123)

This has an authentic ring to it, does it not? Mary’s parents were ‘decent, hard-working people‘. Mary had lived and worked with Mrs McKevey for about a year when she 14 or 15 years of age, as ‘a thorough servant‘ (i.e. doing everything). Her dad had died three years ago (in c. 1845-6) and her mum two (in c. 1846-7); ‘she was an orphan‘. ‘I heard (gossip) she was in the penitentiary and had not behaved herself as she ought‘. After Mrs McKevey’s, Mary had gone first into service, and then to work in Mr Montgomery’s mill. ‘I…advised her as to conducting herself well where she was going…‘.

—————————-

Good-bye your hens running in and out of the white house

Your absent-minded goats along the road, your black cows

Your greyhounds and your hunters beautifully bred

Your drums and your dolled-up Virgins and your ignorant

dead

(Louis MacNeice, Valediction)

—————————————

Sometimes family historians need to make an educated guess about what happened to a descendant. We’ve done that in some of what follows.

Mary was born in Tyrone, the daughter of James and Fanny McConnell, and baptised a Presbyterian. Surely she had siblings? Maybe a brother or sister died before she and her young parents went to Belfast, in the early 1840s. ‘Jummie’ McConnell, a weaver, part of the declining domestic-putting-out system in Tyrone, and like an ever increasing number of others, was told there’d be a job and hope in Belfast. It was a city built on mud flats, and already growing into Ireland’s major manufacturing city.  But in the 1840s, it was a mere fledgling of what it was to become later in the nineteenth century.

The young family went across Queen’s bridge to Laggan Village, down near the Short Strand and the bottom of Ravenhill Road, in County Down.  It was part of Ballymacarrat, a largely working-class and Protestant area, with its Iron Works, Vitriol Works, Rope Works and Textile Mills.  Tricia was informed by a Senior Research Fellow at Queen’s University that Laggan Village was on the South Bank of the Lagan River, a Protestant working-class area that included Ballarat Street, Dungevan Street and Bendigo and Carrington Streets. The map Tricia has is a fairly modern one; it includes Albertbridge, one of the bridges crossing the Lagan but that bridge was not finished until 1890.  In the recent ‘Troubles’, the area was a ‘narrow ground’, a battleground for sectarian conflict. It has since been rebuilt. I doubt if Mary would recognize it, if she returned today.

 “I never saw a richer country, or, to speak my mind, a finer people; the worst of them is the bitter and envenomed dislike which they have to each other. Their factions have been so long envenomed, and they have such narrow ground to do their battle in, that they are like people fighting with daggers in a hogshead” (Walter Scott 1825)

Mary appears not have carried any of that ‘venom’ with her. Her common-law husband, William Ashton, was a Roman Catholic and her children were baptised in the Church of England.

Her parents, Jimmy McConnell and his wife, Fanny, were ‘hard-working, decent people’. But Belfast would be no earthly paradise, and Laggan village would be their deathbed. 

Tricia, I’ve tried to find out a bit more about Belfast during the Famine years. I haven’t bought this book, just seen bits of it via Google; Christine Kinealy and Gerard Mac Atasney, The Hidden Famine. Hunger, Poverty and Sectarianism in Belfast, 1840-50, Pluto Press, 2000. (The authors also have a chapter in the Atlas of the Great Irish Famine). They explain Belfast did not escape ‘the devastation triggered by’ the Famine which is something not widely recognized by historians. Nearly 1500 people died in Belfast workhouse during 1847 (Mary would have seen many of them die).

In the three months between late December 1846 and March 1847, during a very bad winter, nearly 280 thousand quarts of soup and 775 cwt of bread was given to the hungry through Belfast’s soup kitchens. “By the end of March, over 1,000 “wretched-looking beings” each day were receiving free rations of bread and soup at the old House of Correction“. The Belfast Relief Committee knew that more than food was needed.”There are to be found a vast number of families…who have neither bed nor bedding of any description–whose only couch is a heap of filthy straw, in the corner of a wretched apartment”. 

Now imagine you are 17-18 year-old Mary McConnell in late 1846, early 1847. Your dad died a year ago and you and your mum have survived, only just. In that desperately cold winter, your mum died too. You lost your job in the Flax Mill. What would you do? What do you think Mary did? Fight tooth and nail, as a street kid? Become a prostitute, at seventeen years of age? (that is still uncertain). Develop an obscenely sharp and cutting tongue to protect herself from rivals and predators? “That’s my fucken crust of bread, wee lad. Touch it and I’ll cut yer balls off”. Use soup kitchens; there was one in Ballymacarrat. Get into the workhouse when the cold months came. She was in Belfast workhouse “16 months previous to her emigration“, that is since early 1847 (Barefoot, 1, p.71).   But then she learned of the Earl Grey scheme, and with other street-wise young inmates, decided Australia was the place to go. Some of her shipmates, the Hall sisters, Rose McLarnon and Eliza Mulholland also had an association with Ballymacarrat.

 None of Douglass’s ‘troublemakers’ was allowed to disembark at Port Jackson. All of the orphans had to stay on board whilst the Sydney Orphan Committee called Surgeon, Matron, and Ship’s Master before them. They decided the feisty, rebellious, pilfering, potty-mouthed Belfasters should be kept separate from the others and sent immediately into the hinterland. Mary would be sent by steamer to Maitland, with eleven others, Ellen Rooney, Eliza Conn, Mary Black, Anne McGuire et al. Another thirty seven would be sent to Moreton Bay. Did Mary ever meet any of the others again? Would she have recognized them if she had passed them on the streets of Maitland in the 1880s?
 
One wonders too if the recalcitrant Belfasters suffered the same punishment as those observed by James Porter when he travelled to Moreton Bay as cuddy-boy on board the Eagle towards the end of 1849. “There (sic) hair had been cut short…consequently they were afterwards called ‘short grasses’. Their dress consisted of a plain cotton gown with white spots which hung loose from the neck to the feet. They were covered with heavy hob-nailed shoes. Each girl if she had any idea of adornment had no means of carrying it out”. It was a common punishment for convict women.
 
To be continued
We’ll take up the story of Mary’s life in the Hunter Valley, next time.
 

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (15): “Belfast Girls”

“BELFAST GIRLS”

This is just a short post in honour of Jaki McCarrick’s play, Belfast Girls, which opens this/next week (May 2015) at the Artemisia Theater in Chicago.

See the facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/events/1409959125987645/permalink/1429293680720856/

Volume two of Ray Debnam’s 3-CD set of The Feisty Colleens is a must for anyone interested in the history of these young women. Ray has researched the ‘Belfast girls’ per Earl Grey who were banished to Moreton Bay in 1848. He has done so with imagination and admirable thoroughness. See  http://thefeistycolleens.com/author.html 

Many of the orphans married former convicts which is hardly surprising given the history of the Moreton Bay settlement. Ray ‘s work however, shows much more than that. I was particularly interested in the support the young women gave each other, often turning up to each other’s marriages, as well as the differences between them. It is well worth a look. Ray has a good sense of historical context.

After Surgeon Henry Grattan Douglas’s scathing report on the ‘Belfast Girls’ —they were, in his words, ‘barefooted little country beggars, swept from the streets into the workhouse, and thence to New South Wales…notoriously bad in every sense of the word‘--thirty-four (34) of them were sent straight to Moreton Bay and seventeen (17) to Maitland without setting foot in Sydney.

In the John Oxley Library (Mss OM 68-18), in the James Porter Papers, there is an account of the Eagle steamer carrying orphans to Brisbane, towards “the latter end of 1849”. Obviously it’s not about our ‘Belfast girls’. In it, Porter claimed “about twenty of these girls were put on board as steerage passengers for Moreton Bay and although the lower classes in those days did not follow Paris fashions so slavish as now the girls to me presented a remarkable contrast. There (sic) hair had been cut short and the black fellow when he saw them for the first time in Brisbane called them “short grass” consequently they were afterwards called “short grasses”. Their dress consisted of  a plain blue cotton cotton gown with white spots which hung loose from the neck to the feet. These were covered with heavy hobnail shoes”.

I wonder if the ‘Belfast girls’ also had their hair cropped? It was a well-known form of punishment and humiliation for women in convict days. Perhaps the same attempt to control the Famine orphans was used by authorities?

Let me post a couple of photographs and a few family reconstitutions relating to the ‘Belfast girls”. I”ll put them up in alphabetical order. The first one is of Jane Clarke, allegedly a married woman. We’ve met her before. Unfortunately I haven’t come across many photographs of the ‘Belfasters’. Ray has Jane marrying Richard Bushnell, a former convict, with whom she has nine children. The couple lived on the Darling Downs, Warwick and near Gayndah. Jane died in Bundaberg in 1902.

Jane Clarke

fojaneclarkea

fojaneclarke

Eliza Frazer

The next is a family reconstitution of someone with a famous name in Australian history, Eliza Frazer.

foelizafrazerearl greyThere are another two probable children to the marriage.

In July 1850 Eliza was a witness at the trial of John Brown charged with an assault on a young servant, Mary Maddox. Another witness, Mary Sparkes, describes Eliza’s part in the affair, “… I know the little girl–and I know the prisoner he lodges at Humbys–Last night I was filling the kettle and I heard someone screeching–I listened and knew it was the voice of Humby‘s girl–the man was not naked but his trousers were unbuttoned–he said to the girl Hush! Hush! and I’ll give you five or six shillings…felt hurt and called to Mrs Dwyer  who came up and threatened to burst the door if he didn’t open it.–I remained at the back door–and Mrs Dwyer went to Mrs Humby and told her to be down quick for the girl was not being acted right by…” .
One of the ‘feisty colleens’ indeed,  as Ray calls them.

Eliza Greenwood

The next example is Eliza Greenwood. Note how far she travels during her lifetime.

foeliza greenwooda

foeliza greenwood

foelizagreenwoodearl grey

 Mary McConnell

Not all the ‘Belfast girls’ were banished to Moreton Bay. Some went to Maitland in the Hunter Valley. Here is one example, Mary McConnell, also alleged to be a married woman before she left Ireland. Mary never married her partner in Australia, William Ashton. All her children were registered by her as “illegitimate”. Yet they lived their lives and were married as “Ashtons”. As always, my thanks go to descendants who gave me information and sent me photographs. In Mary’s case, my sincere  thanks to Pat Evans and Brian Andrews. Maybe I can return to Mary’s family history at a later date?

fomarymcconnellearl greyTheresa Short

Finally, a family reconstitution for Theresa Short. Ray has discovered a possible fourteenth child.

fotheresashortearl greyNot all the ‘Belfast girls’ had such large families and apparently stable relationships. Some such as Georgina Mulholland or Mary Black appear fleetingly on the historical stage but they are given another fictional life, this time in Jaki McCarrick’s play.

https://twitter.com/artemisia4vr/status/591048220349964288

May it be a scintillating success and play to packed houses.