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

Why did the Earl Grey scheme come to an end?

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

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

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

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

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

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

About two thirds of the way down, in the section called “Bad Press” where i invited readers to go to ‘Trove’, I asked, ‘Were colonists opposed to the scheme because the orphans were Irish, Bog Irish dirty, Roman Catholic, from the workhouse, poorly trained, and immoral? Because there were too many of them and not enough from England and Scotland? Because the scheme belonged to Earl Grey and the British Imperial power? Because they wanted full control of their Land fund and immigration policies? ‘ My intention was to direct readers to ways they might unpick the prejudices against the young Irish female workhouse orphans. Maybe I should have a go at that myself.

 

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

The larger context. Imperial and colonial politics

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

Perhaps Earl Grey’s personal papers have something to say about his surrender to colonial demands to end the orphan emigration scheme? I certainly haven’t looked at these. What I’m suggesting here, is that there is more to this question than meets the eye.  If I may be allowed to make a contemporary political analogy, poor Federal funding of public education is not something totally unrelated to the present Australian government’s favouring coal mines at the expense of renewable energy schemes. Or even unrelated, for that matter, to silencing medical and other staff at so-called ‘refugee detention centres’. The ideology that underpins political decisions is worth considering. Things which on the surface do not appear to be linked, are in fact very much part of a whole.

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

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

Let me give you an example to clarify this.

The convict issue

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

When the Hashemy arrived in Port Jackson in the middle of 1849, 4-5,000 people took part in a public protest in the streets of Sydney, precisely when the Irish orphan emigration scheme was in full cry. In June 1849, the protesters presented Governor Fitzroy with a petition asking the ‘exiles’ be sent back to England and Ireland. When he refused, he was presented with resolutions adopted at a public meeting viz. (1) censuring the Governor himself for his lack of courtesy, (2) demanding the dismissal of Earl Grey from office, and (3) advocating the introduction of responsible government immediately! One can see how easy it was for colonists to say “we don’t want your convicts, and we don’t want your paupers”! Reports of “The Great Protest against Transportation” appeared in newspapers around the country: “the injustice they now faced was far more flagrant, far more oppressive than that which had given birth to the American rebellion” (Colonial Times, Hobart 29 June, p.4). Little wonder then, that the Imperial Government in London was ready to listen, and put a stop to Grey’s sending convicts and workhouse orphans. By September 1849 Orphan Committees in Adelaide and Melbourne were calling for a reduction in the number of orphans, and by the end of the year or early 1850, that the scheme should stop. The last orphan ship, the Tippoo Saib, was to leave Plymouth in April 1850.

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

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

Weaknesses of the scheme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

blogsubraon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

blogdouglass

blogdouglass2

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

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

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

Colonial opposition.

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

Not every newspaper is digitized; I recently was unsuccessful in looking for the Port Phillip Patriot (trying to find out more about William Kerr, the editor of the Argus)  and The Miner and Weekly Star (what happened to poor Mary Coghlan).  But there are more than enough newspapers for our purpose.  We might compare how the orphans were treated in South Australia, the Port Phillip district, and the rest of New South Wales, for example. The press coverage in each was slightly different: the ‘scandals’ associated with the orphans were not the same.

Typing ‘Irish orphans’ into the search box will bring up too many items to read. It would be best to ‘refine’ our search terms. Were colonists opposed to the scheme because the orphans were Irish, Bog Irish dirty, Roman Catholic, from the workhouse, poorly trained, and immoral? Because there were too many of them and not enough from England and Scotland? Because the scheme belonged to Earl Grey and the British Imperial power? Because they wanted full control of their Land fund and immigration policies? Try typing things like ‘Irish orphans Land fund’; ‘Irish orphans workhouse’; ‘Irish orphans immoral’ into the search box. Maybe set a time limit too: 1849, 1850 would be the years to search. Let me give you a taste of ‘gems’ we can discover.

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

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

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

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

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

http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/4771328?searchTerm=argus%2024%20January%201850%20irish%20orphans&searchLimits=l-title=13

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

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

I allude to the depot at the Native Location for the reception of the female orphans landed upon our shores, where the most disgusting scenes are nightly enacted. I will not attempt to portray the Bacchanalian orgies to be witnessed there every night…

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

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

On the arrival of the Inconstant we had for some time from 70 to 100 girls in the Depot. Their habits were insufferably dirty; we had ample water closet accommodation, but they were too lazy to cross the yard, to use this convenience…(ibid. p 42)

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

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

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

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

Contemporary media; a critical refrain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some positive reports

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

http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/result?q=yass+irish+orphans&l-state=New+South+Wales&l-title=364 

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

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

  –or perhaps most interesting of all,

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

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

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

Maybe a different kind of culture-clash?

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not going upstairs just to please you”. “I won’t eat with a heretic”. These are extracts from Orphans’ court cases.

NOT THE WHOLE STORY

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

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

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


By way of an incomplete conclusion

Obviously we need to pull all this together at some stage. The 1859 Report emphasizes opposition to the scheme was largely because the young women came from workhouses and were not domestic servants trained for city living: they were better suited to country living. But was this all of the story? I’ve suggested ‘far from it’. There are other things in the mix as well: anti-Irish, anti- Catholic sectarianism, class prejudice, a very limited understanding of the famine and workhouse experience of the famine orphans, both in Whitehall and in the colonies, a concerted campaign on the part of the colonial press against the scheme, particularly in Melbourne but not exclusively so, constitutional issues such as whether the Australian colonies should have control  of their Land Fund, inbuilt structural weaknesses aggravated by the ‘tyranny of distance’, opposition to Earl Grey himself by his political opponents both in Britain and in Australia.  In early 1850, for example, in the House of Lords, the Earl of Mountcashel repeatedly criticised the scheme for what he called its abuse “of the most disgusting and disgraceful character” of young Irish women, claims which naturally Grey ‘scornfully dismissed’ (Robins, p.218.) Under fire from so many quarters, Grey would call a halt to his female orphan emigration scheme.

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

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

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

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

Reminder

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

Just a few more orphan photos to end with; they are in order, Catherine Crowley per John Knox, Bridget Gaffney per Digby, Catherine Rooney per Eliza Caroline, and Eliza White per William and Mary.

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Catherine Crowley per John Knox

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Bridget Gaffney per Digby

focathrooneyelizcarolineCatherine Rooney per Eliza Caroline

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from the 1859 NSW Parliamentary Report

A Colonial Government want the scheme to end.

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

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Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans; Origins of the scheme

I’m very new to this so please forgive my booboos.

Here’s a little picture. Note the bulge in the graph, the percentage of 10-24 year old Irish female migrants arriving in New South Wales. This is explained by the arrival of c. 3,500 famine orphans from Irish workhouses who came to Port Jackson and Port Phillip between 1848 and 1850. It does not include the 600 who sailed into Port Adelaide. There were 4114-4175,  mostly adolescent  females in all, who came as part of the “Earl Grey Scheme”.

 

Viewing a graph like this illustrates just how remarkable a feat of British Imperial social engineering the  Earl Grey scheme was. One can imagine the conversation at the centre of power. “Do the Australian colonies need more females? Yes, well let’s send them some from our workhouses.”  Not that it was ever as simple as that.

ORIGINS

Where did the idea come from? It was not completely new. An important precedent  was set during the 1830s when young women, many of them from both Irish and English Foundling Hospitals,  Houses of Industry and other charitable institutions, were brought into New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land. The aim  of the British Imperial government,  as Lord Howick put it, was to “encourage the emigration of females“‘  “to remedy what is so very serious an evil in its present condition (the disproportion of the sexes)“. (Howick to Treasury 16 Feb 1831, quoted in British Parliamentary Report of 1835). This  motive was still very much in evidence  in 1848. As indeed was  the speed with which commentators in both Britain and Australia stereotyped such female emigration as “being injurious to the best interests of the colony”  (J. Eckfort, Surgeon on board the Duchess of Northumberland, giving evidence to  the Parliamentary enquiry in 1835). His sentiments  echoed those of the Presbyterian Minister, Reverend J. D Lang, who earlier that same week had  asserted to the Enquiry that “the female emigrants sent out by Government…although many of them have conducted themselves reputably, and are now comfortably settled, their general influence on the morals of the colony has been decidedly and highly unfavourable”.  (On the fifteen vessels which came from Ireland and England in the 1830s  see A. J. Hammerton’s essay in (Australian) Historical Studies in October 1975 and more recently,  Liz Rushen’s books. Her Colonial Duchesses,  on mainly Irish women, was published by Anchor Books in 2014. See her website www.rushen.com.au ) This early government scheme for bringing women to Australia had finished by 1836.

There was, however, an enormous influx of Irish women as Bounty migrants in the early 1840s.  Between January 1841 and June 1842 almost  17, 000 Assisted Irish immigrants arrived in New South Wales. More than half of them were female. The authorities were hard pressed to find accommodation and employment  for such a flood of people.  Caroline Chisholm, “The Emigrant’s Friend”, is deservedly renowned for her work with these immigrants. She met them at the wharves, advocated for, and set up a Female Immigrant’s Home and employment agency, promoted the establishment of depots at Liverpool, Parramatta, Campbelltown and Bathurst and travelled herself by dray, taking groups of individuals to the hinterland for employment, and supervising their terms of work agreement.  However, her ability to publicize her own good work in pamphlets such as Female Immigration:Female Immigration considered in a Brief Account of the Sydney Immigrants’ Home (Sydney, 1842) and Comfort for the Poor! Meat Three Times a Day!!! Voluntary Information from the People of New South Wales collected in that Colony in 1845-6, (London, 1847) , and before various parliamentary enquiries, has tended to overshadow the  achievement of  Francis Merewether, the New South Wales Immigration Agent (from 1841-51). He especially, was instrumental in preparing an administrative infrastructure–immigrant depots in Sydney and rural districts, making hiring arrangements– that was resurrected when Government Assisted Immigration recommenced in 1847.

Caroline Chisholm was  a strong advocate of family values and the importance of careful selection of migrants. “Under a good system the very best girls would emigrate”, she emphasized to the New South Wales Legislative Council Select Committee on Immigration in September 1845.  The very next day, 5 September, Francis Merewether also stressed how important female immigration was but it was he who suggested to the Committee, “I am informed that the difficulty of procuring female servants for the Colony is very great, and certainly those sent out during the past eighteen months were generally very inferior in every respect to the male immigrants. Some of the female orphan institutions of the Mother Country  might perhaps supply useful servants: but I am not sufficiently informed upon the subject to do more than throw out the suggestion.”  (My italics)  Merewether dealt with, cared for and distributed throughout the colony of New South Wales a much larger number of migrants than Caroline Chisholm ever did.

Yet Caroline Chisholm undoubtedly had influence on the formulation of British Imperial government’s emigration policy in the period between 1846 and 1848,  at the very time when government assisted emigration was being renewed.  She and her family had returned to England in 1846.  She herself appeared before a House of Lords Select Committee on Colonization from Ireland in July 1847 and submitted “I should not feel the Interest I do in Female Emigration if I did not look beyond providing Families with Female Servants–if i did not know how much they are required as Wives,  and how much moral Good may be done in this Way.” Her quintessential Victorian values  coincided with those in her network of friends and politicians. She was adept at gaining publicity for herself and in promoting what we might call ‘family reunion’. She also forcefully argued the case for the emigration of single females and for the proper treatment of newly arrived migrants, no mean feat.  Yet nowhere have I seen where she  recommended sending female migrants from Irish workhouses.

However, a direct appeal was made by Archibald Cunninghame, a pastoralist  sent by his fellow colonists of the Port Phillip District to appear before that same House of Lords Select Committee on Colonisation.  On 12 and 16 July 1847 Cunninghame presented a detailed and attractive plan for the emigration of Irish orphans, both male and female.

See http://www.dippam.ac.uk/eppi/documents/12344/page/303060

While his proposal differed from the one that was eventually put forward by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners (CLEC) early in 1848, not least on the question of who was to pay, there are enough similarities between his scheme and the one that was adopted for us to realize he may have had a formative influence on what became known as Earl Grey’s Irish female orphan scheme.  “And Orphan Girls, whose fate in this Country one can scarcely think of without a Shudder, would when their Apprenticeship in the Colony had expired find a ready and well-paid Demand for their Labour as single Girls, and the Certainty, if well conducted, of soon being respectably married” (A. Cunninghame Esq., before Select Committee 16 July 1847).

In a letter to H. Merivale, Under-Secretary for the Colonial Department, a year later, dated 6 June 1848, commenting on the CLEC proposal, Cunninghame showed he was under no illusions about the importance of his own role in the affair, “As the plan for orphan emigration was, I believe, originally brought forward by myself…it will naturally be supposed that I take a direct interest in its success”.

Clearly, the idea of sending orphans from Irish workhouses was ‘in the air’ among parliamentarians in both England and Australia at this time.  Earl Grey, Secretary of State for the Colonies, had received a similar suggestion directly  from Governor Fitzroy in New South Wales and  from Governor Robe of South Australia.

According to Archibald Boyd, when he was trying to persuade Earl Grey that British funds should be used to finance emigration to Australia, “the noble lord professed to have been there and then struck with a thought…the orphan girls whom the famine of Ireland had cast upon the parishes of that part of the kingdom, it might perhaps be advantageous to have a proportion sent out to the Australian colonies, on such terms as would divide the expense between the colonies and the parishes.” (see Sydney Morning Herald 13 March 1850).

In the end, responsibility for the Irish female orphan scheme lay with Earl Grey, Secretary of State for the colonies in Lord John Russell’s Whig government. It was Grey’s decision and his responsibility to set the whole scheme in motion. The point I’m also making is that the decision to send female orphans was made by the Imperial government but it was not a dictatorial whim, something which Earl Grey plucked out of the blue as the fancy took him. He had listened to government officials in Australia, Governors Robe and Fitzroy and even perhaps, Immigration Agent Merewether as well as representatives of Australian pastoralists such as  Archibald Cunninghame.

Yet in another sense, the real architects of the scheme were the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners in London who by that stage (1847-48) were responsible for land policy throughout the British Empire. It was they who would draw up the details, and fine-tune how the scheme actually worked.

We will also need to put the scheme into historical context; the Earl Grey female orphan scheme was but one of a number of similar ‘schemes’ emerging in the late 1840s.  Other schemes included bringing out the children of earlier Bounty migrants to join their parents, if they agreed to come; bringing out members of convicts’ families, if they  desired to come, and trialling the migration of other ‘orphans’ from the remnants of Dublin and Cork Foundling Hospitals and other charitable institutions, though these last may have had less  choice. Grey even attempted to renew convict transportation, much to the ire of colonists.  But the major interest and major  push was for the revival, renewal and extension of Government Assisted Emigration, designed to supply agricultural labour and domestic servants for pastoral interests in Australia. At the same time, it was what the Imperial government believed was the right kind of social engineering. We should be aware, too, that the administrative machinery for Government Assisted Emigration (which already drew on the experience of convict transportation and Bounty migration) would be a very useful foundation for the emigration of adolescent females from Irish workhouses between 1848 and 1850.

There are, of course, other contexts, –the Great Irish Famine, the voyage, what happened to the young women in Australia– but more of that later.

digging for potatoes

ORGANIZATION OF THE SCHEME