Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (67); An aside, mostly on young Irish women in South Australia in the mid 1850s

Almost thirteen years ago I began a project which involved revising my Shamrock to Wattle Digging up your Irish Ancestors: unfortunately it came to nought. For this blog post i’d like to share with you some of the revisions I made to its chapter 5, on “Female Migrants”. It is still in an incomplete state. What I’ve done is select those parts that suggest some other ways of looking at the question, was it worth these young women coming to Australia? I’ve also included material that says something about the large numbers of young Irish women who came to South Australia in the mid 1850s. That too has bearing on the question was it worth their coming to Australia?

Irish Female Migrants

Irish Famine orphan, Mary Haythorpe ni Ryan per Elgin; Harriet-Edith-Mary-Ann-Charlotte-Williamsnr-Elizabeth-William-Henry See blog post 14.

…One remarkable feature of the Irish who came to Australia was the high proportion of women among them. Seventy percent of the government assisted Irish migrants to Victoria in the 1850s were female, for example. This chapter seeks to emphasize and help you appreciate how large a part women played in Irish migration to Australia. Of course instead of ‘female migrants’ we might choose to look at ‘family migration’, a subject in its own right. But I’ll stay with ‘female migrants’ for the present since many of us still need to acknowledge the importance of Irish women, both in the migration process and in Australian history generally. Nonetheless it would be useful to know exactly how many single Irish females arrived as part of ‘family migration’, part of a family group. Maybe they came with their siblings or other family members, perhaps even on different ships over a number of years. My impression is that many did come this way. This would be an interesting subject for someone to research…

The large proportion of females among Irish migrants led to a gender balance, a balance of Irish males and Irish females. This was unmatched in any other ethnic group. When emigration agents in Great Britain had difficulty meeting their quota of female migrants, they turned to Irish women in order to reach their quota. At specific times in the nineteenth century, the Irish female presence was very striking. Casting an eye across the census figures for New South Wales in 1846 and 1851, for instance, it is evident that among the foreign-born, Irish males were rarely in a majority in any district. The opposite was the case with regard to Irish women. In city, suburb, town and village, in parish, police district and beyond the limits of the nineteen counties, Irish females were rarely in a minority, that is, always excluding the native-born. In Camperdown and Paddington in the Sydney suburbs, in Brisbane, Binalong, Goulburn, Ipswich, Kiama and Yass and in the districts of Lachlan, Menaroo and Murrumbidgee, the proportion of Irish-born females was especially marked, reaching as high as 38 per cent in some cases.

Irish women were found all over Australia, on the ever changing frontier, in the cities and towns, on the goldfields, and in shepherd’s huts. They were found in all walks of nineteenth century life, as domestic servants, factory workers, wives and mothers, hotel-keepers, boarding-house keepers, midwives, nurses, and inmates of asylums and prisons, teachers and nuns, selecting land, giving birth to large families and running farms and family businesses. As examples of this last, Maria Capps from Cork, Matron at Hyde Park Barracks, within ten years of her arrival was running her own employment agency in Sydney. In 1860, Mary Herr, a famine orphan from Limerick, opened ‘The International Dining Rooms’ in Sydney to cater mainly for seamen. She later selected land at Berowra where she was an orchardist until she died. Sarah McCann from Armagh accumulated property in her own right from her business as Boarding House Keeper in Hamilton, Victoria. Mary Mayne, nee McIntosh, from County Clare, widow of Patrick Mayne, took over her husband’s butcher shop in Brisbane. After her husband’s death in 1865, she largely controlled the management of the Mayne estate, an estate that was to play a very important role in founding the University of Queensland… Other Queensland Irish women with successful business skills include Ellen O’Brien of Defiance Flour in Toowoomba and Kate Mary Smith of the firm, KM Smith funeral directors, today one of the largest in Brisbane.

Specific examples elsewhere are not hard to find, whether of Hotel-keepers, Emma Byrnes who ran the ‘Nambucca Shamrock’ in Bellingen, Winifred Roach, the ‘Wee Water Hotel’ in Wilcannia, Margaret Lynch, the ‘Harp of Erin Hotel’ in Cowra or Johanna Corcoran, the Court House Hotel in Burrowa, or of warders in asylums, Rose Kavanagh, Honora Barry and Ellen McGuinness at Yarra Bend asylum, Bridget Curran and Mary O’Shanahan at Kew, Mary Croughan, Elizabeth Scully, Margaret O’Mara at Ararat, and Bridget Ryan, Bridget Cassidy and Fanny O’Leary at Sunbury in Victoria. The role of Irish women as teachers is best known through the work of religious orders such as the Sisters of Mercy. Less well known is their contribution to secular education. Mary Kennedy nee Maher, another famine orphan, from Galway, was the first teacher at Bomaderry Public school. She appears in her later years in the photograph below. Margaret and Eliza Berry from Kildare, Mary Johnstone nee Knowles from Kilkenny, Dora Harrison from Wexford, Olivia Mary Hope Connolly from Mayo, Mary Canny, Mary Jane Roulston, Elizabeth Dignan and Catherine Healy are just a few of the stalwarts of the Queensland education system in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Earl Grey orphan Maria Maher per Thomas Arbuthnot
Maria Kennedy ni Maher per Thomas Arbuthnot

So too, Irish women played an important role in selecting land, often as part of family strategy. In the late 1870s Irishwoman Miss Catherine Teresa Layden (or Leyden) selected 16 acres in the parish of Neilborough in the County of Bendigo, her block adjoining that of her father Peter. It is worth emphasizing that the selection acts did not always lead to the kind of rural poverty Ned Kelly’s family experienced in North East Victoria. Wherever Irish selectors took up land in family groups, as on the plains of northern Victoria, they had more success.

A similar story exists in parts of Queensland where land was selected as part of family, even extended family strategy. In this, women played an essential part, helping the family amass enough land to make their farm viable. Lucy Kinnane’s selection of 80 acres in the parish of Rosevale, county of Churchill, near Ipswich was part of a Kinnane-Burnett extended family selection of land in Rosevale, and at Peak Crossing. It allowed these two families to put down roots in the district. Local historian, Ian Harsant, has found twenty-one Kinnane children attending Peak Crossing School between 1881 and 1909. ..

In addition, and contrary to the practice which prevailed in North America where the Irish male was the first migrant to send money home to pay for the passage of other family members, in Australia, women were often the trail-blazers. In 1887, for example, Annie Clarke paid the required monies to nominate her brother Robert and sister Jane from Bushmills in County Antrim. In 1890, Nora Fitzgerald from Moira Station nominated her two farm labouring brothers, John and Patrick, from Abbeyfeale in County Limerick. Perhaps you have such an Irishwoman in your family history helping other family members come to Australia?

This next section is from the original Shamrock to Wattle.

< [Writing about the history of Irish women nowadays is more sophisticated than in the 1970s and 1980s. But there is more than an element of truth in what I wrote then. Feel free to criticise]. Robert Kennedy Jnr., in his work The Irish Emigration, Marriage and Fertility, University of California Press, 1973, provides some evidence of the inferior status of women in post-Famine times and the greater opportunity for improving their social status that migration afforded them. This was especially true of rural women migrating to urban areas. In rural areas women were expected to help with men’s work. Yet men would be ridiculed if they helped with women’s work. Women were expected to work in the fields during turf cutting, during the planting, cultivation and the backaching-job of lifting potatoes. The pitching, raking and building of haystacks was left to women. All this plus the traditional duties of raising large families, cooking, cleaning the house, sweeping the yard, milking cows, feeding animals and tending the vegetable garden was their lot. In post-Famine society women had a shorter life expectancy than males, the result of undernourishment and fatigue. Migration offered an escape from such an existence.

But what of pre-Famine times? On the surface, at least, conditions appear to have been no better. Hely Dutton, in his Statistical Survey of County Clare, Dublin, 1808, claims it was customary for married women in County Clare to walk down the street a few paces behind their husbands! Irish proverbs and sayings are often derogatory towards women:

‘Women are stronger than men, they do not die of wisdom.’

‘A woman told me that a woman told her that she saw a woman who saw a woman who made ale of potatoes.’

‘Never make a toil of pleasure, as the man said when he dug his wife’s grave only three feet deep’

Other literary sources further emphasize the inferior status of women in nineteenth-century Irish society. Marriages, for example, were often arranged marriages:

… from all that I could learn, marriage in this country is a very commercial concern; arranged by parents; and, respecting which, there is as much higgling as about any other bargain. Girls are extremely obedient; and sometimes never see the bridegroom until the moment of the marriage; for it not unfrequently happens that the girl’s father and the intended husband differ, about a pig, or a chair, or a table, less or more; and another ‘boy’, who chances to stand in need of a wife, making a more liberal offer, he is accepted and the first lover discarded.

H.D. Inglis, Ire/and in 1834: A journey throughout Ire/and during the Spring, Summer and Autumn of 1834, 2 vols, London 1835, vol. 1, p. 129.

Inglis also observed (vol. 2, p. 142):

… [less affection] between man and wife, among the country people in Ireland, than is found to adorn domestic life in the humbler spheres on the other side of the water … Marriage… is seldom the result of long and tried affection on both sides but is either a rash step, taken by unthinking children, or else a mere mercenary bargain, in which the woman has little voice, and in which her partner is actuated solely by sordid views.

Whether or not we agree with Inglis, other observers, Mr and Mrs S.C. Hall for example, also commented on the mercenary nature of the marriage contract, a practice not uncommon in traditional peasant societies we might hasten to add, but nonetheless one which reflects social values in which women’s views were seldom held in high esteem. Patrick Kavanagh, in The Green Fool, suggests a material basis to these patriarchal social values:

“Oh, God, what did I do on you at all”, I once heard a man say after God had sent him the third consecutive daughter. No wonder he was displeased with Providence: daughters were a fragile and expensive commodity.

On the other hand, the Halls allude to the immense power wielded by the Irish mother in her own house and over her own sons:

… when she grows old, the mother of the husband rules, not only him but his home and his wife; and young girls have always a great dread of ‘the mother-in-law over them’, but in their turn they rule, and with the same power and the same results.

(Mr and Mrs S.C. Hall, Ireland: its scenery, character, etc., 3 vols, London, 1841-2-3, vol. 3, p. 330.)

For those not prepared to wait this long, emigration must have held hopes of personal advancement and the beginning of a new and better life. At least, when the opportunity to migrate to Australia presented itself, women eagerly took it. This is one of the remarkable things about Irish migration to Australia in the nineteenth century. Perhaps somewhere in your family there is such a strong Irish mother-figure who reared a large family, showed tremendous courage in the face of life’s trials and tribulations and who wielded immense power in her own household, however little she may have had in public?

In order to impress on you the fact that a relatively large number of Irish females came to Australia, I should like to introduce you to three groups of young women who came here in the 1830s, between 1848 and 1850 and in 1854-56. Such ‘infusions’ of single Irish females tipped the gender balance on the distaff side. It is this sort of thing that increases the likelihood of many Australians having an Irish ancestor somewhere in their family tree, even if she is ‘hidden’. See, for example, the story of Irish Famine orphan Mary Tobin per New Liverpool >

http://colston-wenck.com/getperson.php?personID=I35&tree=colstonwenck

South Australia mid 1850s

Hindley Street, Adelaide by S T Gill courtesy State Library of Victoria

Let me go directly to the 1854-56 example. I’ve said something about all three of these groups elsewhere in my blog. This time I’d like to say a bit more about Irish women in South Australia. I hope it will complement what i said in blogpost 40 http://earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-40 Since I dabbled with my revisions much good work has appeared on the Irish in South Australia by Ann Herraman, Stephanie James, Dymphna Lonergan, and Marie Steiner among others. I hope what i say here also complements their work …

…Between 1854 and 1856, over 4,000 single Irish females arrived in Adelaide, to the chagrin of Governor and colonists alike. Since many of these women were unable to find work and had to be supported as destitute poor at public expense, the rumour quickly spread that they had been dumped on South Australia from Irish workhouses, a charge which the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners in London were quick to deny. The traumatic experience of the Famine meant that many in Ireland came to identify their native place with the name of a Poor Law Union. Contemporary opponents to the immigration of such large numbers of Irish women, and indeed some later historians, mistakenly took the name of this ‘new’ place of origin of a young female migrant to mean she had come directly from a ‘workhouse’. There may have been some who had experience of a workhouse during the famine, or a few who came directly from a workhouse but the vast majority did not do so, unlike those of the Earl Grey scheme of 1848-1850…

The subject is an interesting one for it allows us to raise questions on the role of women in Irish and Australian society – why were they willing to emigrate? Some of the South Australian material allows us to give a precise answer —‘I was in poverty at home, and my sister sent for me’; ‘I was induced by the published statements to think that I might do well here’;I have friends in Sydney’; ‘I thought it was a good country’.

What did they stand to gain? Were they the ‘second sex’? What was their attitude to sex and marriage? What experience of life did they bring with them? What role did women play in the migration process, and in the spread of white settlement in Australia? How easily did they settle in to their new home? Did the fluidity of a relatively new colonial society offer Irishwomen greater opportunity in many walks of life? Were they free to choose their own husbands? …

The best introduction to our immigrants to South Australia in the 1850s, is contained in work of the late Professor Eric Richards, “The importance of being Irish in Colonial South Australia” in J. O’Brien and P. Travers, The Irish Emigrant Experience in Australia, Poolbeg Press, Dublin, 1991, and “Irish Life and Progress in Colonial South Australia”, in Irish Historical Studies, vol. 27, no. 107, May 1991, pp. 214-36. Professor Richards acknowledges his debt to a pioneering 1964 University of Adelaide BA honours thesis by Cherry W. Parkin entitled ‘Irish Female Immigration to South Australia’ which argues that both the female orphans of who came by the Roman Emperor, Inconstant and Elgin in 1848 and 1849, and the large influx of single Irish women in the mid 1850s, were quickly absorbed into South Australian society despite initial difficulties.

[See the excellent work already done, and continuing to be done by Diane Cummings in providing shipping lists of those who arrived in Port Adelaide at http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au/fh/passengerlists/SAShips1848.htm and for references to the Irish in South Australian newspapers see the Manning index at http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au/manning/sa/immigra/irish.htm I’m not sure if this is still freely available. There may be some cost involved. ]

There are a number of different approaches we can take to … female immigration schemes, each of them interesting in its own way. They can be viewed from a number of perspectives. Should we see the young women’s migration as an early stage of ‘globalisation’, ‘part of the early evolution of the international labour market’ as Eric Richards puts it? That’s to look at them from a long term perspective, what we might call a bird’s eye view. Do we place them firmly in the context of British Imperial history, perhaps as part of British social engineering? That’s to view them closer to earth. Or do we see their history as part of an evolving and tolerant South Australian society that coped very well with the social problems caused by such a rapid influx of single women? Do we come down to ground level and try to empathize with the young women, try to put ourselves in their place, and appreciate what life for them was like?

Finding precisely how many single Irish women arrived in South Australia in the 1850s is like trying to grab the tail of a Kilkenny cat. The following figures are rubbery to say the least; 1854 and 1855 were the years when most arrived, 1044 in 1854, and 2978 in 1855, just over four thousand in only two years. In 1855 the Coromandel, Telegraph, Rodney, Northern Light, Flora, Europa, Nashwauk, Grand Trianon, Sea Park, Velocity, Constantine, Octavia, South Sea, Aliquis, Lismoyne and Admiral Boxer all carried a big cargo of young single Irish women. Such an influx depressed wages which for a domestic servant fell from £25 per annum in 1853 to £15 in 1856. Many were unemployed and sought both outdoor and indoor relief as destitute poor or became sick and were housed in the Colonial Hospital or ‘Lunatic Asylum’. In the end, the crisis in Adelaide faded partly because many of the young women left the colony altogether—they had been duped by immigration agents into going to South Australia in the first place—and partly because authorities sent the young women elsewhere. In 1855 and 1856 the South Australian Government dispersed its surfeit of female Irish immigrants up country to Clare, Kapunda, Robe, Encounter Bay, Gawler, Mount Barker, Willunga and Yankalilla.

Encounter Bay courtesy State Library South Australia B-15276-16

For an up-to-date account of this ‘dispersal’ see Marie Steiner, Servants Depots in colonial South Australia, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 2009. Marie puts this policy into context and provides a balanced account.

Fortunately there are a number of SOURCES that bring us close to some of these women in the South Australian archives, in the Government Gazette, in newspapers such as the South Australian Register and The Adelaide Times, and in parliamentary papers. There exists, for example, a ‘Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council of South Australia appointed to inquire into the EXCESSIVE FEMALE IMMIGRATION; together with minutes of evidence and appendix’ printed in 1856 (SA LC VP, vol. II, no. 137). see my blogpost 40 https://wp.me/p4SlVj-V4

SHIPPING LISTS too provide some details. On the Telegraph (arrived 23 January 1855) came Rachel Boardman a 19 year old Roman Catholic servant from Antrim; on the Flora (8 April 1855) Sarah Bouchier, an 18 year old Anglican domestic servant from county Clare; on the Northern Light (same date) Anastasia Keane, a 21 year old Roman Catholic kitchen maid from Limerick, and Rosanna Ferguson, an 18 year old Roman Catholic dairymaid from Derry. On ships carrying over a hundred single Irish females, by the Europa (13 May 1855) Cathy Arthur, a 20 year old farm servant from Clare and Anastasia Bergin a dairymaid from Kilkenny; by the Nashwauk Mary Coppinger a 21 year old Roman Catholic farm servant from Galway and Abigail Mulcahy, a domestic servant from Cork or, on the Grand Trianon (10 June 1855) with 205 single Irish females on board, Anne Quinlivan a 20 year old farm servant from Clare, Jane Stack a 26 year old farm servant from Kerry, and Ellen Shanley a farm servant from Westmeath.

ADELAIDE NEWSPAPERS made their views known in no uncertain terms. Their cries raised something of a clamour in the winter of 1855. Nowadays you will be able to follow these for yourselves via Trove.

We hope that Sir Richard McDonnell, in the course of his peregrinations through the various public establishments, will not omit to look in at the Female Immigrants’ Depot on North Terrace. There is something to be seen there which requires his instant attention. He will find there between 300 and 400 strong healthy girls, all with vigorous appetites, living idly at public expense. They have been sent to this colony at an expense of nearly £20 per head by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners. By a fiction in which these Commissioners are fond of indulging, they are called “domestic servants”, and have been ostensibly shipped to these shores for the purpose of occupying that position in the social scale, and in answer to a demand for a supply of female immigrants of that description. But they are not “domestic servants”, and never have been.” (The South Australian Register, Tuesday, June 19, 1855)


From the draft documents subjoined [a circular to all District Councils and Stipendiary and Resident Magistrates asking if there was a need for female domestic servants and female farm labourers in their area, and what measures can be taken to house them] it will be seen that the Government are preparing to deal with the great social problem of Irish female immigration. That the time had now come when the interests of the colony demand a faithful consideration of this question, no one will dispute. The number of Irish female immigrants now subsisting on the public revenue, and expected within three weeks is 800! There is not the slightest hope, under existing arrangements, of greatly diminishing this fearful total of destitution and pauperism. Every day from five to eight of these females return from service, and become again chargeable to the public purse. The cost of supporting the 800, including rent, superintendence and food, is estimated at £20 per diem, or £350 per week—a sum quite sufficient to awaken the concern of the most apathetic or indifferent among us.

The only places at present available for the reception of these unfortunate dependents upon pubic charity are so overcrowded, that more than 30 women sleep at night in a room 16 feet square. Scarcely any convenience exists for, cooking provisions, or for preserving the ordinary decencies of life. The result is that the moral tone of the colony is being fearfully undermined, whilst the institutions of British pauperism, in their worst form, threaten to establish themselves permanently among us.” (Register, Thursday, June 28, 1855)…

The most doleful announcement now made through the medium of the newspaper is that which informs us, morning after morning, of the huge and still increasing number of immigrants at the Depot, of a class wholly unsuited to the wants of the colony…There are hundreds more coming of the same class with which we are already deluged, and unless we put a peremptory stop to the present system, our female Irish paupers, instead of being counted by hundreds, will be counted by thousands. There are yet abundant supplies in the Irish workhouses, and no lack of funds in the hands of the Emigration Commissioners. Remonstrances have been sent to England without avail.” (Register, Tuesday, July 3, 1855)

Not that there was any proof of the women coming from workhouses, or that arrangements for the women’s emigration could ever be stopped immediately. The journalists were in high dudgeon, and depending on your perspective, they were right to voice their concerns. The colonial government, for its part, first circularized District Councils and Magistrates, arranging for distribution of the young women throughout the countryside.

Replies from many of these District Councils and Magistrates have survived and are held in the SOUTH AUSTRALIAN ARCHIVES at SAA GRG 24/6 Col. Sec. in- letters 1855. From Brixton Laurie JP at Port Elliott, “there is a demand for about 30 female domestics and farm servants in equal proportion”. He promises to arrange for a building, a government cottage to house them, and suggests “…the District Councils have suggested the propriety of employing the unoccupied females in the destruction of thistles under proper superintendence” (GRG 24/6 2153); from James Gilbert at Pewsey Vale, “in my opinion the best and cheapest course to pursue would be to send them back to England” (GRG 24/6 2154) and from John Hope who was Irish, in Clare, “any assistance will be given in carrying out his (the Colonial Secretary’s ) wishes” (GRG 24/6 2155). Material relating to this matter goes all the way to item 2441, should you wish to do some research for yourself. It includes the Immigration Agent’s report for the quarter ending 30 June 1855, describing how the migrants by the Nashwauk came to Adelaide by steamer and overland in drays after the shipwreck at Noarlunga. [See appendix 1 in Marie Steiner’s work for a list of Nashwauk passengers, and Jane Callen’s book What really happened to the Nashwauk? (Blackwood, 2004)] The Immigration Agent also reported the complaint made by many of the young women “that an injury has been inflicted upon them by sending them to this colony, having applied for a passage to other colonies where their friends reside”.

Johanna Bentley ni Shea Nashwauk survivor with some of her children in front of her dairy farm cottage Mt. Victoria NSW thanks to Sandra Tamburini

The government’s circular (see above) produced and crystallized objections, both to the ‘excessive and unsuitable nature’ nature of the migrants and to their “Irishness”, without overtly saying so. Thus James Brand at Evandale, the hundred of North Rhine, replies to the Government circular that ‘the proportion of English settlers is small compared with that of Germans’ and ‘there are some Irish families and I think a few Irish females might find employment as farm servants’. But, for domestic servants, ‘some have already obtained situations but their conduct in many cases has been such as to induce their employers to determine that they will not take into their houses persons whose habits, education and religion are frequently the source of much inconvenience and annoyance’ (my italics GRG 24/6 2227). Or, from Henry Seymour at Mosquito Plains, ‘my impression is that if we had Irish servants generally we should be most uncomfortable’ (2233).

Not that the policy of distributing the young women throughout the colony was an unmitigated success, especially if we view the practice from the women’s point of view. A researcher sometimes needs reminding not to accept the sources at face value and that ‘reading against the grain’ is most illuminating. That is one way of identifying with the women. Occasionally we see traces of their feistiness. In November 1855 the Surgeon Superintendent of the Oriental reported, “There appears to be a fixed feeling of dissatisfaction in the Colony at the great influx of Irish emigrants sent out…The great objection to them is that they are obstinate and will not obey orders and likewise that they know nothing of domestic habits”. (SAA GRG 35/48 Ship’s Papers 1855 Oriental)

Eric Richards, in his essay mentioned above, provides a sympathetic treatment of his subject. He stresses the hardships of their early days and their eventual absorption and acculturation. “The girls”, he says, “were sometimes humiliated by their employers and insulted by offers of employment at wages one-third…of the normal servant rates. Some of the girls who went to Gawler weren’t even provided with mattresses and were expected to sleep on straw, just like pigs, according to one of their outraged countrymen. At Willunga they became mutinous, apparently out of fear of the bush and snakes, refusing to travel the rough country tracks, complaining bitterly about the lack of letters from home, poor wages, and about being dispersed and thereby isolated from their friends.” The matron at Willunga defended the women against their critics, “I can assure you, Gentlemen, that what I state is nothing but the truth: three of the poor girls walked yesterday, barefooted, about sixteen miles, between the hours of ten and four, to get a situation. Mary Cain will leave today, at five shillings per week—and the other two expect to be sent for this week. Catherine Uninn was hired, yesterday, at two shillings and sixpence per week. My husband gave Mary Cain an old pair of boots to go to her situation.” (cited in Uphill all the way. A documentary history of women in Australia, compiled and introduced by Kay Daniels and Mary Murnane, University of Queensland Press, 1980). Other women returned to Adelaide their hands and their feet painfully raw from the work they were expected to do. Elsewhere, at Clare Valley north of Adelaide, for example, the story was different.

CLARE VALLEY

Fortunately material relating to some of the young women who went to the Clare Valley–who their employers were, and who they married—has survived, and is held in the South Australian State Archives. (The archivists there do a great job. They need more of your support and more support, especially financial support, from government.) At SAA GRG24/6 2431 set out are the ‘Rules for the Immigrants at the Country Depots’, and in a difficult to read hand, names of some of the women who went there, and their employers.


It is clear that the person keeping this record was not familiar with Irish names; Ryan is spelt Rian, for example. Sometimes in his transcription you can hear their Irish accent. My reading of the women’s names, as they appear, is; Brigit O’Brian, Brigit Flavity, Johanna Rian, Margaret Hanassy , Brudget Redling or Rodling, Mary Cathale, Ann Jones, Hanah McCarthy, Margaret Green or Gavin, Cathrin Carthy, Cathrin Kneal, (…?) Tracey, Elen Lubn, Mary Brian, Mary Rian, Nancy Slattery, Mary Sexton, Elen Collings, Susan Callagin, Briget Wite(?), Elen Barney or Bonney, Briget Minihan, Kate Downer, Briget Horan, Judea(?) Sheay, Elen McDowale, Elen More, Cathrin Corpey, Mary Copinger (engaged 27 July at 26 per week to Mr George (…?) (Clare), Mary Fogerty, Ann Fogerty, Susan Donnovan, Elen Dalton, Elen Wood, Johanna Fitzgarld, Margaret Fitzgarld, Bessy Donnovan, Mary Carrse or Kearse, Mary Lakeman or Lokesnan, Hanah Steal, Elen Carmody (?), Brigit Callagin, Brigit Wite and Brigit Rian.

St Aloysius Church Sevenhills courtesy State Library South Australia B2647 image from 1925

At the same location is found extracts from the St Aloysius College (Sevenhills) Marriage register. Again make allowances for mistakes in my transcription. A Judith O’Brien married Aloysius Kranewitter(?) 5 February 1856 at Mintaroo; Johanna O’Leary m Robert Giles 10 June 1856 at Kooringa; Ellen Moore m John McKenzie, 20 January 1857; Cathy Rynne(?) m Owen Clarke 24 Feb. 1857; Elizabeth Donovan m John Hearn 21 March 1857; Mary Green m James Luke 27 April 1857; Johanna Fitzgerald m Joseph Tilgner 4 October 1857 at Kooringa; Hanna Fitzgerald m Thomas J Everett 7 November 1587; Mary Coppinger (see above in the employee list and on the Nashwauk) m John Langton 15 November 1857 at Kooringa; Johanna Shay m Thomas Castle 13 January 1858; Catherine Ryan m Jacob Dai 27 June 1858; Mary O’Leary m John Edwards 4 December 1858; Bridget Ryan m John Magner 2 July 1859 at Mintaroo, and Catherine Ryan married Martin Banan 7 December 1859. Perhaps unbeknownst to you, you have one of these women somewhere in your family tree?

Not that distributing the young women throughout the hinterland would solve the South Australian government’s problems. Many of the young women were so exploited they returned to local depots and Adelaide itself for respite. So concerned were the authorities with the number of immigrants continuing to arrive, and the costs of looking after them, they set up a parliamentary inquiry. Their report, ‘Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council of South Australia appointed to inquire into the EXCESSIVE FEMALE IMMIGRATION; together with minutes of evidence and appendix’ was printed in 1856 (South Australia Legislative Council Votes & Proceedings, vol. II, no. 137). For more on this, see myhttps://wp.me/p4SlVj-V4

Do have a close look at this Report. You should be able to find a copy either in the South Australian Parliamentary Library or in the Mortlock Library http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au/collections/mortlock.htm , and in South Australian university libraries as well. If you have trouble finding the South Australia Legislative Council Votes and Proceedings in their catalogue, don’t give up. There are plenty of librarians willing to help. Be careful, though, you want both the tabled report and the ‘Minutes of Evidence and Appendix’. It’s these last that will take you to individual immigrants. You can hear the young women speak for themselves, at least through the intermediary of a clerk, as well as the voices of people such as Mr Moorhouse and Mrs Ross, Superintendent of the Female Immigrant’s Depot and Matron of the Female Immigrant Depot respectively, among others. The evidence of the young women is particularly useful to family historians. In addition to what they tell us about historical context, they give the name of their ship, often (but not always) their county of origin in Ireland, and most interestingly, their reasons for coming.

Thus, 15 February 1856, Margaret Hanlon was called in and examined. She had arrived by the Admiral Boxer and was originally from Naas in county Kildare. She had what she called ‘the evil in my arms’. Her sister Bridget Odon had assisted her, and her daughter’s passage. Frances McDowell had arrived from Dublin twelve months ago by the Rodney; Jane O’Hara from county Antrim was three months in the colony and had wanted to go to Sydney; Ellen Door but a week in the colony was from the City of Cork; Honor Kennedy had come by the Northern Light; Jane Higgins was from ‘the County Kildare’; Ellen Neal from the City of Cork; Mary Fitzgerald had wanted to go to Melbourne as did Mary Ring, Bridget Broderick, Elisabeth Cagney, Margaret Duggan and Ellen Downey but were sent to Adelaide instead. So too was the case with Anastasia Collins from county Kilkenny, Margaret Fitzgerald, and Elisabeth Williams. Miss Williams and her sister applied through Mr Ellis of Marlborough Street in Dublin for a passage to Melbourne but on arrival in Birkenhead ‘were told we must go where we were sent’. Mary Connolly, Jane Carolly and Sarah Keogh were from Dublin, Mary Riley came from county Cork, Mary Ann O’Brien from Clare, Bridget Keogh from Gort in county Galway, Mary Fohey also from county Galway and Harriet Hunt from Tuam in the same county. All were questioned about their experience as servants. Harriet Hunt had been ‘greatly petted and indulged by her friends’. Young Jane Carolly, from Dublin city where her father was an engineer on the Dublin and Drogheda railway, had never been in service before but had hoped to be employed as a nursery governess.

Still, as you well know, family history can be a treacherous quest. Note the difference between some of the names as they appear in the minutes of evidence and as they appear in the ‘Proceedings of Select Committee’ that precedes the minutes. Honor Kennedy was recorded in the ‘Proceedings’ as Honor Kermoody, Mary Ring as Mary King, Elisabeth Cagney as Elizabeth Kagney, Elisabeth Williams as Elizabeth Fitzwilliams and Jane Carolly as Jane Connolly!

Appended to the report is a list of those women known to have travelled to other colonies, most likely only a fraction of those who would leave South Australia. Appended also is a list of other young women who had been sent to South Australia despite their having asked for other destinations. This deception by immigration agents overseas and others (some of the women themselves travelled under assumed names) is confirmed by letters in the South Australian Archives at SAA GRG 35/43 IMMIGRATION AGENT LETTERS RECEIVED

From Melbourne, 2 October 1855 James Byrnes addressed his letter to the South Australian Immigration Agent,

Sir,

You will oblige me by sending me the directions of Honora Hogan and Margaret Hogan sisters who came out by the ship Harlequin Comm. By Captain Payne the(y) wrote two letters to my wife Ellen Hickey and I rote di letters to them and got no reply so you will oblige me if they are in the depot to give them this letter or if not to let me know where the(y) are so as I will know where to write to them for when I get an account from them I will pay their passage by return of post down to Melburn direct your letter to James Barry Harvst Home Queens Street Melbourne for James Byrnes”

On the 13th February 1856, William Marcus of Penola wrote enquiring after Anne James Williamson of Drumgarlic, Newbliss, Monaghan, Ireland and was told she had been hired whilst on board the FitzJames. 12 July 1856 there is an enquiry from Mrs Therese Sheehan from Wellington in New Zealand about her daughter on the Isle of Thanet, “…give her (Mary Ann Sheehan) the enclosed (note) not as I think she will let me know where to find her …it is a long time since I left her at home she was only a child”. (The ‘children left behind’ is a neglected aspect of emigration history that awaits its researcher.) There are enquiries from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand and from within South Australia and elsewhere in New South Wales and Victoria. Sometimes they provide us with precise places of origin. Mary Donavan of Kilkee, county Clare enquires of her daughter Johanna per Northern Light; an enquiry from William McCausland of Sharn, ManorCunningham, county Donegal about his daughter Bridget per Europa; from David Beatty, Lisnadill, Armagh about his sister in law Mary McCormick or from the uncle of Teresa Clarke per Nimrod in William Street, Lurgan, Ireland.

Some are letters of desperation such as that from Bridget Murrey in Dublin about the safe arrival of her daughter Sarah,

And I beg of you if there is any humanity in your country to relieve a broken hearted parent from the chains of sorrow and anxiety of mind for neither night or day do I know one peaceful hour. This is the tenth letter I have written to you and never got an answer to any of them…” ‘Tell mother to direct letters to Mr Clerke of 125 Hindley St, Adelaide’ is the reply.

(There are even a couple of letters from relatives of famine orphans, one dated 16th July 1855 from Margaret Mahoney in Cork enquiring about her daughter Bridget who had gone by the Elgin in 1849, from Fermoy workhouse, another dated 18 May 1857 from Arrabella McTagart in Dundee enquiring about her sister Margaret who had left from Belfast workhouse, most likely in the Roman Emperor.)

Others are upbeat, and point the way to assimilation, such as that from Dinah Moore of Whites Valley, originally from Derry/Londonderry, who came with her brother William on the FitzJames in January 1856,

Dear Sir,

I take the liberty of writing a few lines to see if you would be so kind as to trouble yourself so much with me as to let me know if I could get any of my brothers or sisters out to me as I should verry much wish to bring them out here to do well as I have got on well since I came out to this colony. I was one of the passengers on the FitzJames. I left the vessel to go to Mr Goldsack I stopt there seven months I am now living with Mr White ever since—I am thankful to government for my passage and as I have no one to tell me anything about emigration I tooke the liberty of writing to you as I thought you knew all about it I hope I have not taken too much Fredom as to ask you to let me know I should very much wish to have some of them out here I am sure if they get out they would not be a burden on the colony after their landing here so if you be pleased to write me a few lines to let me know I shall be much oblidged to your Honour for your trouble with me. Aldinga, 10 May 1857”

No doubt most of these young women were absorbed into colonial society in the long run, however many catastrophes and casualties there were along the way. That the experience of these three groups of single women is representative of Irish female migration to Australia generally is not the point I wish to make. On the contrary, I should prefer to argue for a depiction of Irish women’s experience in Australia as complicated and diverse as that of the human condition itself. Some people may prefer to see in them ‘little Irish mothers’, ‘around the boree log’, protectors and defenders of Catholic ways and religion. Others may see them as essentially conservative carriers of Irishness. Yet others would contend their very willingness to emigrate and make the most of opportunities presented them, would suggest otherwise. They do not fit easily into any preconceived mould. Beware the stereotype.

Along with the contributors to my Irish Women in Colonial Australia (Allen & Unwin, 1998) I see most of these women as ‘high-spirited and independent’, able to take ‘advantage of any bargaining power they discovered’. They ‘showed a remarkable ability to resist prejudice and adapt very well to colonial conditions. Irish women sustained family networks by fostering chain migration. By providing domestic labour in Australian households either as servants or as wives and mothers they helped weave the social fabric of an emerging Australia’. The flip side of this is the grinding poverty, mental illness and petty criminality, or as Tanya Evans puts it, ‘fractured families’, that many of them endured. Not to mention anything about the patriarchal nature of Australian society. Australia for these young women would be no bed of roses. In the end, however, it is you the family historian who can say what became of the Irish women in your Australian family tree.

Edith Haythorpe marries Alfred Burt 1897
Edith Haythorpe marries Alfred Burt 1897