Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (66); More Irish Sources

May I invite readers to have a look at Kay Caball’s ‘Comment’ to my blog post (64)? Kay outlines her method for tracing the “Kerry Girls”, the subject of her book, and stresses how important it is to get in touch with someone local who can help find your particular Earl Grey orphan in Ireland.

Let me return to what I’ve been trying to do in the last couple of blog posts viz. place an orphan in the workhouse where she lived before coming to Australia. I know full well I’ll repeat some things I’ve said before, or to put it more politely, reinforce what I’ve said before.

For instance, for this post which intends focusing on workhouse Indoor Admission and Discharge records, you may wish to review my https://wp.me/p4SlVj-4X

Towards the bottom of that one you will see how i found some of the Earl Grey orphans in Indoor Workhouse Registers. There’s a brief mention of Letitia Connelly and Alice Ball from Enniskillen, Maria Blundell and Mary Dowling from North Dublin, Marianne Howe and Mary Bruton from South Dublin, Sarah and Margaret Devlin, and Charlotte and Jemima Willcocks from Armagh, and Cathy Hilferty from Magherafelt. The orphans can be elusive. They are sometimes difficult to find. [Karen S. tells me she has found some Lady Peel orphans in the Cashel Registers].

Should you intend retracing your orphan’s steps in Ireland, it is very important to do all the homework you can before you leave for the Emerald Isle. Exactly which workhouse did she come from? What records have survived for that workhouse? Can I get access to them? Do i need to apply for a reader’s ticket? Can I find her baptism in church records? Is any member of her family mentioned in Tithe Applotment Books or in Griffith’s Valuation? Even send an email to a local history society. That kind of thing. Nowadays there is an ever increasing number of records being put online which will help you do this.

My aim in this post is to introduce you to information found in Workhouse Indoor Admission and Discharge Registers. Whet your appetite if you will. Let me pull together some of the things I’ve suggested recently. I’ll start by using the third example from a couple of posts ago.

Margaret Love from Enniskillen per Diadem 

Margaret married in July 1851, shortly after arriving in Port Phillip. She would have been about 17 years old or so. {Thanks Perry}.She married William Hargrave, a blacksmith from Leeds, England, a man of different religion from her own, and six years older. They had twelve children, six boys and six girls. But their first five girls and one boy died in infancy. That is a high infant death rate.

“The night your sister was born in the living-room

you lay on your bed, upstairs, unwaking,

Cryptsporidium frothing and flourishing

through the ransacked terraces of your small intestine...”

Sinead Morrissey, Home Birth

First settling in Geelong, the couple tried their hand at the gold diggings in Ballarat. Most likely with little success since William took up smithy work again in Moomambel, Mosquito and Maryborough. Margaret herself died in Maryborough Hospital of tertiary syphilis at the end of April 1877 when she was about 43 years of age. Margaret did not have an easy life.

Let’s see if we can turn her life clock back and locate her in Irish workhouse records. Try typing “Church Hill Fermanagh” into your search engine. (You’ll need to skip Winston Churchill’s relationship with Fermanagh). And lo, there is a place spelled both Churchill and Church Hill in the parish of Inishmacsaint. Unfortunately its baptismal records do not cover the period we want. Churchill is some distance from Enniskillen workhouse where I found Margaret and her siblings, Sarah and Thomas, and Mary their dropsy afflicted mother. More of that in a moment.

Margaret Love

and from the database,

  • Surname : Love
  • First Name : Margaret
  • Age on arrival : 16
  • Native Place : Churchill, Fermanagh
  • Parents : Mary
  • Religion : Roman Catholic
  • Ship name : Diadem (Melbourne Jan 1850)
  • Workhouse : Fermanagh, Enniskillen
  • Other : shipping: house servant, reads; PRONI Enniskillen PLU BG14/G/4 (3251) Union at large, sister of Sarah (also on Diadem) and Thomas, daughter of Mary who was disabled from dropsy. Empl. John Buckland, Geelong, £8, 12 months; apprentice; married William Hargrave in Geelong 1 Jul 1857, husband a blacksmith and miner; 12 children; lived Geelong, Ballarat; admitted Maryborough Hospital 27 Feb 1877, died 30 Apr 1877.

Margaret’s sister Sarah

  • Surname : Love
  • First Name : Sarah
  • Age on arrival : 15
  • Native Place : Fermanagh
  • Parents : Mary [PLU records for sister Margaret]
  • Religion : Roman Catholic
  • Ship name : Diadem (Melbourne Jan 1850)
  • Workhouse : Fermanagh, Enniskillen
  • Other : shipping: nursemaid, reads; Enniskillen PLU PRONI BG14/G/5 (2238) servant out of place, Union at large (see sister Margaret also on Diadem) brother Thomas entered workhouse 3 Aug 1849, left 3 Oct 1849. Empl. John O’Loughlin, Point Henry, £7, 1 year, apprentice; married James Barry, Geelong, 2 Jun 1851.

Enniskillen workhouse

For some ‘recent’ news about the workhouse see https://www.irishnews.com/news/2017/11/21/news/enniskillen-workhouse-to-be-brought-to-life-with-lottery-funding-1192436/

There are a number of other Irish workhouses being restored, refurbished and turned into heritage sites. I know of at least two; Carrickmacross in County Monaghan and Portumna in County Galway. Readers may know of others?

Enniskillen workhouse is well served with surviving records . To find out more about its history try the following two links. Or type ‘Enniskillen workhouse’ into the search box at the end of this post to see what i have said about it already.



In this second link Cormac O’Grada , Timothy Guinnane and Desmond McCabe provide information on ‘Agency and Relief’ in Enniskillen, stressing how a ‘careless, incompetent, penny pinching‘ administration of the workhouse exacerbated the Famine throughout the Poor Law Union, and led to the dissolution of the Board of Guardians in March 1848. That was a lucky strike for Margaret and Sarah Love who were to leave in late 1849, by which time administration of the workhouse was in the hands of ‘professional’ Vice-Guardians, Gowdy and Trevor. Do have a look at that working paper. It may help you understand why so many Earl Grey orphans went to Australia from Enniskillen.

In the Board of Guardian Minute Books, 17 November 1846 [BG/XIV/A/2 page 490] and 16 March 1847 [p.572] we read that a Visiting Committee reported on the abysmal state of the workhouse. They found the house “in a miserable state of filth and irregularity” and complained “it must eventually result in fever and other diseases“. By March 1848 signs of the new reforming broom were being felt: “Resolved…that a pair of sheets be used in each bed, instead of one as at present; that a pauper be appointed to place a clean pair on each bed every fortnight and a clean shirt or chemise every week.

Resolved that the Schools of the Enniskillen workhouse Union be placed under the National Board of Education…” 

New buildings, better financial management, and administrative reform not only reduced the number of fever cases but prepared the way for Enniskillen workhouse being a major source of Earl Grey orphans going to Australia.

Indoor Registers : Enniskillen

To repeat what i said in blogpost 5, these are large heavy volumes containing plenty of information about inmates. They have space to record by number, the name and surname of each ‘pauper’, their sex, age, whether married or single, if child whether orphan, deserted or bastard,

widower or widow;

their employment or calling; their religious denomination,

if disabled, the description of their disability,

the name of their wife or husband, number of children,

observations on the condition of the ‘pauper’ when admitted,

the electoral division and townland where they lived,

the date when admitted or when born in the workhouse, and the date when they died or left the workhouse.

Potentially a goldmine of information, they are certainly worth ‘mining all within’. Yet such was the crushing day-to-day pressure of the Famine, not all registers were so meticulously kept, and relatively few have survived, most of them in the North of Ireland, and held in PRONI in the Titanic Centre in Belfast.

My own research notes written on cards in pencil are not as legible as i would like. I was determined to catch as many Earl Grey orphans as possible. I certainly did not research each orphan in detail. Tracing their whole workhouse history was not always possible. But those descendants who wish to visit Ireland and walk in the same space as their orphan ancestor, or breathe the same air, surely will have more time to comb these records, should they have survived. May i wish you every success?

What do i have for Margaret and Sarah Love in my notes?

My search in volumes BG14/G/4 and 5 in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) was principally for those Earl Grey orphans who left Enniskillen workhouse on 3 October 1849 en route to Plymouth to join the Diadem, and those who would leave on the 26th of the same month to join the Derwent.

At BG14/G/4 No. 3249 Mary Love entered the workhouse on the 15 June 1848 with her children, Thomas (14 year old) and Margaret and Sarah who were described as twins and as being 16 years old. Note the discrepancy with Port Phillip shipping records. Their place of residence was Union at large, that is, they were homeless.

Mary was a 59 year old widow, Roman Catholic, who was disabled from dropsy, all of her family living from hand to mouth. Most likely they had survived by begging. And whilst Mary was recorded as being from the Union at large, alongside that entry appears the name of a townland which in my spidery handwriting looks to be Coldrum. We’ll need to check the names of townlands. Here’s a possibility https://www.townlands.ie/fermanagh/magheraboy/inishmacsaint/caldrum-glebe/

Mother Mary left the workhouse 12 October 1848, leaving her children still in the workhouse. Young Margaret stayed there until 3 October 1849. Sarah left 4 July 1849 but (at BG14/G/5 no. 2238) re-entered a couple of weeks later, 3 August ’49, before leaving with her sister on the 3rd October to join the Diadem.

There is another record at BG14/G/5 no. 1238 for a 65 year old Mary Love, Roman Catholic, no calling, aged and infirm, who entered the workhouse 1 May 1849 and left 30 July. She can hardly be the mother of our sixteen year old twins but as Kay Caball suggests, ages were not reliable. If we believe the entry we have above at no. 3249, our Mother Mary would have been about 45 years old when she gave birth to her son Thomas! More conundrums to resolve.

at Ulster Folk Museum, Cultra.

Here are a few more examples from Irish workhouse Indoor admission and discharge records relating to orphans who came to Australia per Diadem, Derwent and Earl Grey .

McManus families in Enniskillen workhouse

My first example is one that demands another visit to the archives. I’ve misplaced some of my notes, and the remaining ones are in a state of disarray. There was evidently more than one McManus family in Enniskillen workhouse. My surviving notes however do underline how desperate these families were. The McManus females were not long term residents of the workhouse but they frequented it on numerous occasions during the Famine years. {I’ll highlight the dates of their entry and leaving to help you trace that frequency}. They came in when they needed to, or when they were desperate enough. Using a bit of historical license, one might even imagine the emotions involved in their family breaking apart. But I’d be careful about ascribing my own emotions to people in the past.

Here, from my surviving notes, are references to them as they appeared in Indoor Registers BG14/G/4 and 5. {I’ll also highlight their place of residence. Remember what i said in an earlier post about the importance of geography. Type the townland name along with County Fermanagh into google or your alternative search engine and you will find exactly where the townland is}.

  • No. 210 Mary McManus and 211 (?) Margaret McManus 15 yo single RC Laragh entered 4/7/1847 left 30/08/47
  • 470 Mary McManus 18 yo RC 4/7/47 to 27/7/1847
  • 947 Ann McManus 15 RC Letterbreen in 4/7/1847 out 18/09/47. She had entered along with her 9 yo, 5 yo and 3 yo siblings.
  • 1185 Margaret McManus 16 s deserted by mother RC clean Laragh entered 3/09/1847 along with Mary 12 yo and Thomas 7 yo
  • 1441 Mary McManus 14 yo entered with her 30(?) yo mother Mary(?) and her siblings Margaret 12, Eliza 8, Pat 5, Thomas 2 and Redmond 2 mths. Husband in Scotland. Laragh Cleenish Island entered 12/10/47 left 7/04/1848. Two members of this family were to come to Australia by the Derwent.
  • 1474 Margaret McManus 12 yo orphan RC mother in house Ballycassidy Twy.
  • 1797 Anne McManus 20yo paralyzed
  • 2315 a Mary McManus (mother?) left the workhouse in 1850.
  • 2362 & 2615 Mary McManus
  • 2648 Ann McManus
  • 2728 Mary McManus 12 yo daughter of 38 yo Ellen RC Florencecourt
  • in 25/04/48 out 25 May 48
  • 4060 Margaret McManus 16yo single RC Rahalton Derrygonnelly in 24/10/48 out 26/10/49 the date other orphans left Enniskillen to join the Derwent at Plymouth
  • and 4064 as part of the same family group Mary 14 yo who entered on this occasion 24/10/48 and went out 9/11/48. This is looks to be Margaret’s sister who was also to join the Derwent.
  • and just to confuse matters further in BG14/G/5 number 15 Margaret MacManus 17 yo s. RC Union at large Drumbeg, in 23/1/49 out 3/10/49 which is the date others left to join the Diadem. But there was no Margaret McManus on the Diadem.

One would need some time in the archives to find which of these McManus women and children belonged to whom. Notice how they moved around from townland to townland during the Famine years. {Remember how far the young hero traveled during the Famine in Paul Lynch’s brilliant novel, Grace}. It would appear that Margaret and Mary McManus per Derwent were sisters. Ann McManus may have belonged to a different family.

Ellen and Mary Fitzsimmons

Just a couple more for the Diadem, at BG14/G/4 nos 464 and 465, as part of a family, with mother Grace a 45 yo widow, Established Church, and a 15 yo brother Robert, Ellen Fitzsimmons 14 yo and Roseanne 12 yo entered 4 July 1847 and left 16 February 1848 ; nos 3592-5 Grace Fitzsimmons 45 yo widow no employment Aghnaglack in 10/08/1848 entering with Mary 17 yo no employment, along with Ellen 11 and Rose Ann 9, all of them leaving four days later on the 14th August. Then in BG14/G/5 at nos. 254-5 Ellen Fitzsimmons 18yo Protestant Carn Blacknett and Mary Fitzsimmons 16 yo Protestant entered the workhouse 26 January 1849 and left 3 October 1849, the same date as other orphans leaving to join the Diadem at Plymouth.

Armagh Indoor Registers BG2/G/1 and 2. Mary Littlewood

Let me finish with a couple more from Armagh Indoor Register where you can find many more Earl Grey orphans. The first relates to Mary Littlewood whose story i recounted in blogpost 9 https://wp.me/p4SlVj-dQ

I included a synopsis of her stay in the workhouse there. Here are further details that i hope help us understand young Mary a bit more. {I’ll continue highlighting the family’s dates of entry and leaving, and the townland where they resided}.

BG2/G/1 Unfortunately I didn’t always note down the numbers and there seems to be some duplication of entries in the second volume BG2/G/2.

BG2/G/1 nos. 5440-44 Mary Littlewood 54 yo married, husband Samuel, Protestant, enters with her four children from Rich Hill Ragged and dirty 1/11/1846 leaves 28/12/46; Mary, 15 yo thinly clothed and hungry 29 Nov. ’46 to 28 /12/46; Thomas William 13 yo leaves 1/12/46; John 11 yo and Ann Eliza 9 yo who leave 28/12/46. {Incidentally Richhill and Ballybreagh are not too far from Portadown, the birthplace of that great poet i quoted earlier, Sinead Morrissey}.

No 6159 Samuel married to Mary 57 yo Established Church from Rich Hill enters the workhouse with one of his children 13 yo Thomas William 12/12/46 leaves with his wife and the rest of the family 28 December 1846. The family all left on the same date. I wonder did they not like being separated from each other in the workhouse.

Nos. 7532-36 Mary Littlewood married no calling Protestant delicate husband Samuel Rich Hill Ballybreagh enters 16/2/47 leaves 14/08/47. No.7533 is 11 yo John followed by Ann Eliza 9years old, Samuel 57 yo married weaver very ill died 25 February 1847, and finally Mary 15 yo single leaves 10/08/1847.

Then in the next volume BG/G/2 nos. 1469 et seq. Mary Littlewood 54 yo married Established Church, thinly clothed and quite destitute, from the Union at Large (now she has nowhere to live) re-enters the same day 14/08/47 along with 11 yo John and 9 yo Ann Eliza. They all leave a few weeks later on 6/09/47. The family is only staying in the workhouse for very short periods.

We see the remainder of the family again at No. 2076 et seq. Mother Mary is described as a 52 year old widow a member of the Established Church (Church of Ireland or Anglican) from Rich Hill Ballybreagh coming in to the workhouse 5 October 1847. But she dies on the 10 March 1848. Shortly after, her eldest daughter Mary 15 yo leaves the workhouse 24 May 1848 en route to Plymouth to join the Earl Grey. She leaves behind her siblings, all of them described as thinly clothed and destitute, thirteen year old Thomas who absconds from the house 11 July ’48, 11 yo John who leaves 10 September 1850 and Ann Eliza 9 years old who leaves 18 July 1851. Bit by bit the family falls apart. I wonder what became of them. Mary Littlewood’s story, Earl Grey orphan, is recounted at https://wp.me/p4SlVj-dQ

Mary Anne Kelly per Earl Grey

Finally, the ubiquitous Mary Kelly. This one is Mary Anne Kelly who also came on the Earl Grey with her sister Rose. I did have some loose sheets with specific references to entries in the Indoor Registers that i used for the second volume of Barefoot & Pregnant? But they’ve gone missing. Here are the references from Barefoot; BG2/G/1 3119, BG2/G/2 439, 1417and for Rose BG2/G/2 439, 1418, 1819.

From my early numberless notes, BG2/G/2

Mary Anne Kelly single female 19 yo. Established Church, Thinly clothed and hungry, resides Middletown, entered 30 April 1847, left 6 May 1847. She had come in with her mother 40 yo Rose Kelly along with her siblings, sister Rose 15 yo and two brothers Patrick and Michael, all of them described as thinly clothed and hungry.

Three months later Mary Anne re-enters the workhouse but this time is described as a single female 19 yo Roman Catholic, recovering from fever thinly clothed and hungry, residing Middletown. She enters along with her younger sister Rose who is 15 years old. She too is recovering from fever. They enter 7 August 1847. Rose leaves 13 September 1847, Mary the 8th November.

But Rose comes back one day later, 14 September 1847, along with her two brothers 12 yo Patrick and 10 yo Michael. Rose is described as s f 15 reduced to 14 years old, Fatherless RC thinly clothed etc. Middletown. Rose will leave the workhouse on 24 May 1848 the same date other Armagh orphans leave to join the first orphan vessel, the Earl Grey. Patrick and Michael will leave the workhouse 26 September 1849.

Finally, Mary Anne Kelly single female 19 yo RC thinly clothed and destitute residing Middletown comes back to the workhouse 28 December 1847 and she too will leave 24 May 1848 en route to Port Jackson. The shipping record in Sydney will state her parents are called James and Rose, her mother being still alive and living in Middletown.


I can think of more things we might do. For example, see what we can discover about Armagh during the Famine. Or about the changes happening to the weaving industry in this densely populated county. Or about the workhouse itself.

Obviously the content of this post will be of particular interest to the descendants of Margaret and Sarah Love or Margaret and Mary McManus, and the others. Nonetheless i hope it encourages you to research ‘your’ own particular orphan inside the workhouse, in Downpatrick, Magherafelt, Ballymena, Dublin, Cashel or wherever. Be warned though, if Indoor Registers have survived, you may discover only a brief reference to your orphan. Yet nothing ventured, nothing…

…discover by your grave cloths a replica of yourself

in turquoise faience, fashioned with a basket.

Here, it says. I’ll do it. Take me“.

from The House of Osiris in the field of reeds in Sinead Morrissey’s Parallax

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine orphans (28):H.H.Browne and the 1859 NSW parliamentary report on Irish female immigrants 



(Votes and proceedings of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales)



A while ago I alerted readers to the importance of this Parliamentary report for the history of the Irish Famine orphans. If you remember, NSW Immigration Agent, H.H. Browne, made such disparaging remarks about Irish female immigrants in his 1854 report he provoked the Sydney Irish community to lobby for a parliamentary enquiry. (See my earlier blogposts, 26, “A NSW Parliamentary Enquiry”  at http://wp.me/p4SlVj-BT,  and  comments I made at the end of post 21 on ‘why the Earl Grey scheme came to an end’, at http://wp.me/p4SlVj-q8 ) As the enquiry got underway, Browne did a quick twostep and claimed he never meant to include all Irish female immigrants, only the orphan ‘girls’. You will thus appreciate why the report, its minutes of evidence and appendices are so important for a history of the Irish Famine orphans. Whatever its limitations, and there are plenty, it is a very important, near contemporary, primary source.

Careful readers will notice I’ve already used the report in a couple of my earlier posts; Mrs Capps, not long after she arrived from Cork, became Matron at Hyde Park Barracks. In her evidence presented to the committee of enquiry, and she was generally sympathetic to the orphans, she recounted the punishment meted out to Barracks ‘returnees’; they being locked in a small room spending their days picking oakum. This was briefly mentioned in post 13, ‘Government preparations Again’, at http://wp.me/p4SlVj-g4. Likewise, some of the sad history of Mary Littlewood, in post 9, at http://wp.me/p4SlVj-dQ, comes from Appendix L; and post 22, concerning the cancellation of orphan indentures, at http://wp.me/p4SlVj-vf , is inspired by the report’s Appendix J.

The information for the last two items comes from the bulky collection of documents that Immigration Agent Browne presented to the enquiry. There were seventeen (17) Appendices attached to the Report, all from Browne, and a number of ‘Addenda’ relating to South Australia’s difficulties coping with a large influx of Irish women immigrants in the mid 1850s. All this material was presented to the enquiry by Browne, to defend himself, and to support what he said when he appeared before the committee.

Historians are very grateful for such important ‘primary’ sources, even if they are biased. I’m reminded of something I said earlier about not accepting everything you read at face value; I’m reminded too of my very first term at Trinity College when the renowned medieval historian J. Otway-Ruthven, told the class, “for every ten minutes you spend reading, spend at least half-hour thinking about what you’ve read”. I can still mimic her voice. Good advice, I think, in these days of  ‘instant’ social media. It’s important we read this particular report with our critical antennae twitching. I wouldn’t want to accept everything presented to the enquiry as gospel. Certainly not take it as a true measure of the orphans’ worth. That requires a separate investigation.

Extract from H.H.Browne's evidence

Extract from H.H.Browne’s evidence


Let me illustrate what I’ve just said about the need to be critical of primary sources. Browne made sure he handed the committee the first report of the Sydney Immigration Board in 1848 concerning the first vessel to arrive, the Earl Grey. You may remember it was the vessel that carried the infamous ‘Belfast Girls’. His only comment, about a third of the way down the extract above, was, “Fortunately there were no other ships to be compared with that.” Yet, somehow he completely, or conveniently, forgot to mention the report of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners on this matter. Nor did he provide any of the details of C. G. Otway’s report from the Irish Poor Law Commission, a printed copy of which appeared in NSW parliamentary records in 1850! [check date]  Nor did he mention Earl Grey’s admonishing Dr Douglass for being too quick to jump to conclusions about the young women in his charge.  Strangely, none of the committee members mentioned any of these either. Memories are often short-lived and selective, are they not? Maybe we construct the memories we are comfortable with.

Similarly, Browne carefully selected the individual cases he put before the committee. They were cases where employers had asked ‘to be released of their charge’Mary Littlewood from Armagh, Betsy McCormick from Galway, Hannah Mack from Mayo, Cathy Conlon from Leitrim and Ellen Maguire from Cavan–because the orphan was a thief, disobedient, intractable, wild, ‘having been found in bed with an apprentice boy’ or given to running away. It is hardly surprising he should ‘select’ cases he thought would justify his remarks that the orphans were “distasteful to the majority of colonists”. Too selective by far, one might suggest. Somehow, too, it escaped him that Mary Littlewood had previously been smashed in the face by her employer on Sydney’s North Shore.

Nonetheless, there is much that is valuable in the material Browne submitted. He gathered together and presented to the enquiry [Appendices C to H] minutes from Orphan committee meetings in Sydney and Melbourne, and letters from his predecessor, Immigration Agent Merewether, and Superintendent La Trobe in Melbourne. These demonstrate the most clearly how early were the official moves to bring the orphan immigration scheme to an end.

As early as April 1849 [remember the scheme only ran from 1848 to 1850] the Sydney Orphan Committee, under the chairmanship of Francis Merewether, warned the Colonial Secretary the ‘Earl Grey orphans’ would be a greater drain upon the public purse than ordinary female immigrants (Appendix C, p.58). And in October of the same year, Superintendent La Trobe, at the request of the Melbourne Committee, urged the Colonial Secretary to send ‘English orphans concurrently’, and to reduce the total number being sent: “the demand for the orphans has sensibly diminished”; “by each succeeding ship” they were “disposed of to parties of a lower rank, and less desirable class…“; that there was a preference for other migrants “on account of the inexperience and incapacity for household work of the orphan girls”; and because they had to follow the regulations of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners, the orphans’ “cost to the Colony” was greater than that of ordinary immigrants. By early 1850 both committees unanimously resolved to recommend “to the Government that the emigration from the workhouses in  Ireland should for the present be discontinued“.

Clearly, the orphan committees in Melbourne and Sydney, and indeed in Adelaide as well, played an important part in bringing the Earl Grey Scheme to an end. I have  tried to put this ‘official’ position into broader context, elsewhere ( blogposts 21 and 22). Neither Browne nor members of the 1858 parliamentary committee mentioned other factors that helped bring the scheme to an end; the vitriolic, sectarian and blatantly political battles played out in Melbourne newspapers, for example. Nonetheless it was an astute move on Browne’s part to remind both Archdeacon McEncroe and Francis Merewether of this ‘official’ position: both were members of the Sydney Orphan Committee, and both would be called to give evidence before the Parliamentary enquiry in 1858. It not only helped them construct their memory of the scheme but allowed them to tell the enquiry that orphans were paid a lower rate of wages; that they were better suited to rural employment; and that employers should have made greater effort training them as their certificates of indenture required.

Browne was to make much of the large number of cancelled indentures he dealt with as Water Police Magistrate.  But  members of the enquiry reminded him it was precisely because he was responsible for the Irish orphans that he heard so much about them. There was no such requirement by the colonial government to regulate English, Scottish or other Irish domestic servants in quite the same way. [See also http://wp.me/p4SlVj-vf ]

The modern observer will be surprised by the privileges allowed Immigration Agent Browne and the ways the enquiry conducted itself. At the very first meeting of the Parliamentary committee, 6 July 1858,  Browne was invited to attend all their meetings, and if he desired, put questions to the person being asked to give evidence. His would have been a disconcerting presence to say the least. He  absented himself when members of the Celtic Association gave evidence.  Surprise, surprise. But he was present at all the other meetings, including those abandoned for want of a quorum, and including those where his pointed questions to Archdeacon McEncroe, Daniel Egan and Mrs Capps  undoubtedly worked to his advantage.

At the request of Captain Browne, who was present during the examination, the following questions were put to the witness–

(p6) The Ven. Archdeacon McEncroe 6 July 1858

87. By the Chairman: Were you, Mr Archdeacon, a member of the Orphan Immigration Committee? Yes…

88. You attended, I believe, very regularly,? Pretty much so…

90. After eighteen months experience, you were one of those persons who were of the opinion that orphan immigration should be discontinued? I don’t recollect that.


 At the request of Captain Browne, the following question was put to the witness by the Chairman–

(p.31)  Mrs Capps 4 Nov. 1858

25. By the Chairman: During the period that this immigration was going on, do you know of some hundreds of instances of those girls being returned to you as being unsuitable for their employment? Yes but in some instances it was the fault of the employers; they were very hard upon them. There was always some explanation…

Browne continued to put questions to the witness through the Chairman, George Thornton.

28, 29; Were not some of them so excessively bad that they were placed under the charge of a sergeant of police, in a sort of hard labour department in a building adjoining the depot? Yes a few of them were unmanageable—about twelve altogether.

Did they not sometimes amount to upwards of a hundred, who were occupied in picking oakum to keep them employed? I never knew there was so many as a hundred…

Mrs Capps was not as malleable as Browne would have liked.


I wonder what kind of answers the orphans themselves might have given, had they been asked to appear before the enquiry.

Would they have been all “Yes sir, no sir, three bags full, sir” when they were questioned by powerful, authoritative males? Or do you think they stood up from themselves? 

Mary Black; So you couldn’t find the money to look after us famine refugees? Ya never tasted the milk of human kindness? Yer heart not big enough? Nothin’ much’s changed, has it, ya fuckers?

Mary McCann: I’d four kids to look after by 1858. Me and my husband took no notice of any bother. We didn’t know what was in the papers. Himself couldn’t read anyway. We were off to the diggins at Kangaroo Gully.

Bridget Harrington; There was always a crowd of fellas outside church on a Sunday, not all of them young fellas neither. None o’ them found us ‘distasteful’.


Sometimes I think the main purpose of parliamentary enquiries such as this one is to pour oil on troubled waters. In this case, allow Browne to save face, give the Celtic Association an opportunity to air its grievances, and reach a compromise regarding the orphan ‘girls’.

On 19 August 1858, representatives from the Celtic Association, Jeremiah Moore, William Davis and James Hart were given the opportunity to express their disgust at the tenor of Browne’s remarks about Irish female immigrants and to defend the honour and good name of the orphans. But in their polite way of doing things, they insisted they were moved by ‘no personal hostility towards Mr Browne‘. Previously, in July, John Valentine Gorman, a notable Sydney merchant and auctioneer, and signatory to the Association’s petition, told the enquiry, he thought, as per the petition, that he would be giving evidence about Irish Female Immigration generally, and ‘not any particular class of it’, viz. the orphans. Some of the petitioners’ thunder had been stolen. Politics can be a sly and dirty business, can it not?

The enquiry stumbled forward, until nearly three months later, in early November, its committee met again. But now it had become smaller; Donaldson and Parkes no longer attended. On the 4th and 5th November it interviewed the Honourable Francis Merewether Esq MLC and Mrs Capps and Pawsey, both of whom kept  Female Servants’ Registry Offices in Sydney. It would be another forty seven days and five attempts to reach a quorum before H.H. Browne himself was called. He had been given plenty of time to prepare himself and gather documentation for his own defense. Despite being closely questioned by Daniel Deniehy who exposed  contradictions in his statements, Browne always managed to wriggle free and save face.

(p.51) 22 December 1858  57. By Mr Jenkins: In your replies to the questions of Mr Deniehy, when he wished to obtain from you the meaning you attached to the word “distasteful” , I understood you to say that the word referred to the system—that of apprenticeship?  The system had a great deal to do with it; because under the agreement the employer could not get rid of a servant without going before a Police Bench, and he would rather submit to inconvenience than submit himself to annoyance.

58. Apart from the system of apprenticeship, do you think orphan female immigration as desirable as other female immigration? Certainly not; I would not have recourse to any workhouse immigration. I think it is not a desirable class.

Thereafter the committee retired to consider the evidence it had gathered. In late January and early February 1859 they convened again to draw up their report. It was now in the hands of a small, intimate, in-house committee, consisting of only four or five men; George Thornton, Mr Deniehy, Mr Faucett, Mr Rotton and Mr Jenkins.

What decision did these five come to? What did their report contain?

You might like to read it for yourself. It is available via Trove in the Sydney Morning Herald, 10 February 1859, page 5 col.6  http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/1492527?zoomLevel=1

Here is a brief summary.

  • The Immigration report [1854] petitioners complained of, it should be noted, was signed not just by Agent Browne but by two other members of the Immigration Board as well.
  • An expression used in that report which was complained of by petitioners, referred not to all Irish female immigrants but to Irish Orphan Immigrants alone. The expression was not specified in the Report.
  • Petitioners also complained of the slur made against the moral character of Irish female immigrants. At the beginning of the enquiry, Agent Browne denied intending any such slur. The Committee  believed this to be true. And asserted ‘the character of Irish Female Immigrants’ was ‘equal to any other class of female immigrants’.
  • Many Irish females may not have been suited to upper-class urban domestic service when they arrived but trained properly they could aspire to that service.
  • The Orphans in particular may not have been suited to urban domestic service but they were sent out ‘at a season of particular want and affliction in Ireland‘ and ‘accepted by the local government as apprentices to the vocation of domestic servants‘, and paid a much lower rate of wages than other servants. And because they were indentured, any cancellation of their indenture was required to be officially noted.  They thus appear more prominently in the records.
  • Finally, the committee recommended the establishment of depots in Southern, Western and Northern districts to which suitable immigrants might be sent in the future.


Not everyone would be satisfied by their Report. Some would have preferred H. H. Browne be censured. But yes, that sound you hear is of hands being washed and the Famine orphans being consigned to history.

Extract from the appendices to the Report most of them submitted by H. H. Browne.

I have included his ‘selective’ submission re Mary Littlewood per Earl Grey. See below

Appendix L. I’ve written about her in Post 9. see https://wp.me/p4SlVj-dQ