Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (59): Miss D. Meanors

Misdemeanors

This is a brief codicil or supplement to an earlier post called “Skibbereen and Beyondhttps://wp.me/p4SlVj-1Aq

If you remember I’d asked a couple of questions,

had an orphan’s Famine experience damaged her, and made her especially vulnerable in Australia?

What were the circumstances and experiences in Australia that contributed to her difficulties, thrusting her into a life of petty crime, or alcoholism, or to the doors of a Benevolent Asylum or Mental Hospital?

In that particular post i suggested some things we could  examine, for example,

  • the vulnerability of a lonely female immigrant who lacked a support network from ‘home’
  • sexual and domestic abuse
  • criminal misdemeanours
  • alcoholism
  • mental illness, and other maladies
  • poverty and hardship
  • desertion, illness and death of her husband

and said a few words about those who suffered sexual and domestic abuse, sought refuge in a Benevolent Asylum especially in old age, or became a patient in a mental hospital.

In this post I’d like to add a little about ‘criminal misdemeanors’. But first a couple of caveats. The ‘crimes’ I’ll be talking about are mostly public order crimes, drunkenness, obscene language, causing a nuisance, vagrancy, prostitution and the like, many of them no longer on the statute book. Imagine if today you could be thrown into gaol for swearing or being drunk in a public place.

As Dr Kildea informed us in his oration at Hyde Park Barracks in August 2017 public intoxication was only decriminalised in New South Wales in 1979. He suggested “in mid-Victorian New South Wales with its colonial imitation of Dickensian England, the law was used as a blunt instrument to defeat anti-social behaviour, with punishment rather than intervention the preferred antidote“. Still, these petty offences were ‘crimes’ in mid nineteenth century Australia, and if you did the crime, you did the time, or paid the fine.

The other thing I’d like to stress is that I’ve separated poverty and destitution from alcoholism and abuse and mental illness and the others as a means of examining each in turn. But clearly they should not be separated. The orphan who became a casualty in Australia would experience a mixture of these different things in different measure and in different intensity at different times in her life. One would have to look at each individual case on merit.

South Australia

Let me start with South Australia. Many of our South Australian orphans are still elusive. South Australian State Records may now have a different numbering system from the one I’ve given below. These cases are taken from the Adelaide Police Court Minute Books, SRSA GRG 65/1/1 +. Those who were Earl Grey female orphans were often but not always described as such. They are from research notes I made in the dim and distant past. I had a limited time available to me.

Mary Murray per Roman Emperor September 3 1849 Prostitute behaving indecently in Hindley Street 2 September, 14 days hard labour P.C. Dyke No 266. See the AJCP (Australian Joint copying Project) for Colonial Office (CO) 13/70 Return of Adelaide Prostitutes 30 September 1850. The microfilm will be in your State Library. I’ll put CO 13/70 beside the names of those who appear in this Government Report.

Mary appeared regularly in the Adelaide Police Court, 12 December 1849 violent behaviour at Police Station, 11 March 1850 along with Margaret Kenny another female orphan and Ellen Nugent, common prostitutes behaving in a riotous manner in Hindley Street, 19 July 1850, 6 February 1851 obscene language in Light Square, fined 40 shillings and 10 shillings costs, 7 November 1851 drunk on the racecourse discharged with a caution. I wonder is this the Mary Clark nee Murray per Roman Emperor who entered Dunwich Benevolent Asylum in Queensland in  1897. Given what we know about the geographic mobility of some orphans that is not beyond the bounds of credibility. That Dunwich Mary Murray per Roman Emperor married William Campbell at Armadale (sic) New South Wales when she was 26. Her second husband was John Edward Clark whom she married when she was 34.

Catherine Duffy per Roman Emperor (CO 13/70) 23 March 1850. charged along with  Susannah Griffiths with ‘feloniously receiving’ two rings stolen by Joseph Cooper. The prisoners were committed for trial on the 26th and allowed bail 2 sureties each of £25. ‘Bail was procured by Cooper and Griffiths, but no one coming forward to answer for the appearance of Duffy, she was taken to gaol’. See South Australian, 29 March 1850, p.3, col. 2. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/71625931/6252341

Young Catherine was to have a long criminal career. 6 January 1851 disorderly prostitute in Light Square discharged, 13 February, 1 March 1851 Prostitute disorderly in Hindley St. fined 40 shillings paid, 28 March using obscene language Morpeth St. discharged, 9 May 1851 drunk and disorderly pleads guilty, 10 July drunk,  4 October, drunk and disorderly fined 20 sh., 16 October, 24 October drunk fined 5 sh., 18 November drunk, 19 January 1852 drunk in Currie St., 5 April 1852, drunk, 27 July drunk in Rosina st., 24 August driving on footway in Currie st., fined 5 sh. 15 November drunk in Hindley st. fined 10sh. 1 March 1854 Drunk in Hindley st. But there is no sign of her in the first six months of 1857. I wonder what became of her.

Ann Curran per Inconstant (CO 13/70) Monday 8 April 1850 drunk and using obscene language in Hindley St. fined 10 shillings paid. Ann Curran and June Rogers charged with wilfully breaking eight panes of glass belonging to Catharine Duffy at Light Square, complainant declined to prosecute. 31 July 1851 to answer complaint of Mary Tilly for using obscene language to her near the Theatre, fined 5 sh.

Margaret Kenny per Inconstant (?) There was a Mary Kenny according to the S. A. Register. See Mary Murray above. 15 July 1850 charged with Sarah Hannon, Fanny Clarke and Sarah Cobbe disorderly prostitutes fined 20 sh., 28 august 1850  Margaret Kenny Irish orphan charged with stealing 14 shillings from John Iris at Adelaide imprisoned for three calendar months as a rogue and vagabond. 13 March 1852 obscene language.

Mary Kelly per Inconstant 24 February 1851 indecent behaviour in Light Sq. discharged with a caution, 13 June 1851 Emma Baker and Mary Kelly prostitutes fighting in Gilles Arcade fined 5 sh., 17 June Margaret Kelly drunk and using obscene language, 24 July drunk, 14 August 1852 Margaret Kelly obscene language 10 shillings fine.

Catherine Ryan Irish Orphan per Elgin CO13/70  There was another Catherine Ryan fined for her hog sty nuisance 2 March 1849. Obviously not the one by the Elgin which didn’t arrive until 12 September that year. 17 August 1850 stealing in the dwelling house of August Fischer at Adelaide one gold brooch and one gold locket, remanded,  24 August 1850 remanded last Saturday for stealing a brooch and a locket. Committed for trial. 27 September 1851 theft committed for trial. 9 March 1854 Larceny.

Bridget Cotter per Elgin CO 13/70  23 September 1850 with three others including Catherine McDonald per Elgin CO 13/70 prostitutes with using indecent language in Hindley St. Cotter and two others 40 sh. each plus 20 sh. costs in default one month hard labour. McDonald discharged.

Mary Ann Dorgan per Inconstant CO 13/70 12 October 1850 using obscene language in Currie St. fined 40 sh. plus 20 sh. costs or one month hard labour. A  Margaret Doran per Inconstant appears 10 march 1851, 26 November 1851 and 29 July 1852, possibly the same person(?)

Jane Robinson Irish orphan per Roman Emperor CO 13/70 17 august 1850 using obscene language in Light Square fined 40 sh. and 20 sh. costs paid. 23 September 1851 obscene language discharged. 4 December drunk in Currie St. fined 5 sh. 27 January 1852 theft of one silver watch prosecuted  discharged.

Catherine Reardon Irish orphan per Inconstant CO 13/70 13 August 1850 obscene language in Hindley St. 40 sh. plus 10 sh. costs paid.

Elizabeth Quinlan per Elgin CO 13/70 12 August 1850 drunk and using obscene language in Hindley St. 40 sh. paid.

Mary Maher per Inconstant CO 13/70 4 July 1850 drunk and disorderly in Currie St. fined 20 sh. or 14 days in prison

Sarah Johnston per Roman Emperor CO 13/70 5 August 1850 disorderly and obscene Hindley St. 10 sh. or one month in gaol.

Rose McShane per Roman Emperor CO 13/70  22 January 1851 drunk Rundle St. 5 sh.

Sarah McEwen per Roman Emperor CO13/70 30 June 1851 indecent, 26 November 1851 obscene language discharged, 4 February 1852 abusive language.

Clearly there is a lot more work to be done on this subject. I’m far from satisfied with the hurried nature of my research in the Archives. How do we trace those who changed their name with marriage or by adopting an alias? What are the limitations of the sources available to us? What explanation should we give for the petty criminal behaviour of these particular orphans? Poverty and hardship? A desire to be independent? Alcohol? Lack of extended family support? Domestic abuse? Psychological or other medical problems? Pizzazz? And what of those who fell on hard times later in life? How do we find those? Fortunately this last question is taken up in the next section.

New South Wales

I am indebted to Julie Poulter for the information contained in this next section. The cases below are taken from Julie’s careful research and pursuit of ‘Earl Grey orphans on the streets of Sydney’. It is work she did for her studies at the University of New England. Most of her information has made its way to the database http://www.irishfaminememorial.org/orphans/database/

The first five cases from Julie’s work are Sarah Packham née Arlow, Jane Lansdowne née Kelly, Mary Ann Lankenon née Hanbury, Cecilia Day née  Maguire and Margaret Hanlon née Burke.

Old Darlinghurst Gaol
OLd Darlinghurst Gaol. Bird’s eye view from Sydney Illustrated News 16 November 1866

These women who fell on hard times and were imprisoned in Darlinghurst Gaol in Sydney led tragic lives. They suffered domestic abuse, desertion, habitual intemperance, grinding poverty and illness. They lived in the dirtiest, most insalubrious parts of the city and sold their bodies for sex, and neglected their children in their desperate struggle for survival.

Julie argues it was not so much  their Famine experience as their experience in New South Wales that tipped them into the quagmire of petty criminality. Unlike the Adelaide cases above, it would be a long time, on average more than fourteen years in the colony, before they committed any crime.

Sarah Arlow from Banbridge, Co. Down per Earl Grey

Sarah was one of the ‘good’ girls on board the notorious Earl Grey, according to the Matron Maria Cooper. Deserted by her husband on the goldfields of Turon River, she and her two children went to the Benevolent Asylum. (On the Asylum see Tanya Evans, Fractured Families, UNSW Press, 2015). Sarah’s first crime was committed eight years after her arrival. In 1862-5 she was sent to gaol for her indecent behaviour, being idle, drunk and disorderly, and as a vagrant. She was found in a laneway in a drunken stupor and died in 1865 aged 36. Here is her database entry.

  • Surname : Arlow
  • First Name : Sarah
  • Age on arrival : 19
  • Native Place : Banbridge, Down
  • Parents : William & Eliza (both dead)
  • Religion : Church of England
  • Ship name : Earl Grey (Sydney 6 Oct 1848)
  • Workhouse : Down, Banbridge
  • Other : shipping: house servant, reads only, no relatives in colony. Empl. Mr O’Brien, Sydney, £10, 1 year; married Alfred Packham in 1850 at St Andrews, Sydney; Aug 1855 Alfred Peckham (alias John Harris) charged with deserting wife & children, ordered to pay 20s a week for 2 years; Sarah & children went to Benevolent Asylum; Sarah drunk and disorderly in 1856 & 1862; Sarah Packham (aka Davis) died at the Infirmary.

Mary Hanbury from Boyle Roscommon per Digby

See Julie’s account of Mary’s life on the database link below. Mary’s first crime was committed seventeen years after her arrival in the colony. Between 1866 and 1872 she had thirteen convictions for  drunkenness, assault and robbery, prostitution and vagrancy.  (see Sydney Morning Herald 23 January 1872, p.3 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/13251153/1455990). She too sought refuge in the Sydney Benevolent Asylum.

  • Surname : Hanbury
  • First Name : Mary (Mary Ann)
  • Age on arrival : 16
  • Native Place : Boyle, Roscommon
  • Parents : Terry & Kitty (father living in Manchester)
  • Religion : Roman Catholic
  • Ship name : Digby (Sydney 4 Apr 1849)
  • Workhouse : Roscommon, Boyle
  • Other : shipping: house servant, reads & writes, no relatives in colony; with her two sisters, Bridget & Catherine; Register No.584 request for her, in Sydney, to be with sister; No.724 30 Jul 1849, request for her & 26 Sep 1849 indentures cancelled; de facto husband, Johannes Lankenon whose illness in 1866 apparently began their life of crime; Nov 1866 Mary admitted 2 children to Benevolent Asylum & Johannes numerous criminal convictions 1866-71; Mary had 12 convictions: drunk & disorderly, assault & robbery and charges of prostitution; 12 months hard labour Parramatta Gaol 1867; dau Charlotte Maria’s birth 1862 confirmed her mother was Mary Ann Hanbury; 3 children died (1863, 1867 & 1868). See attached story
  • Read Her Story

http://www.irishfaminememorial.org/media/Hanbury_from_Julie_Poulter.pdf

Jane Kelly from Athlone, Co. Westmeath per Digby

Jane’s first crime was committed fifteen years after her arrival on the Digby. In 1856 whilst she was pregnant her husband assaulted her so severely she needed surgery and a long stay in hospital. She said he tied her to triangles and cut her clothes off. While she was undressed he struck her back with a whip. He accused her of infidelity and associating with prostitutes. (see, Goulburn Herald, 30 December 1857, p.2 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/118246611 and 2 January 1858, p.3 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/118244726/10143494). She fled and found work  with a local Reverend Sowerby. As Julie put it (Jane is one of Julie’s ancestors, her great great great grandmother) ,”she took up with another man {William Garner} who by 1862 had deserted her, and facing starvation Jane endured a 200 kilometre walk during summer, whilst pregnant and with three small children, in order to reach help at the Benevolent Asylum”. By 1863-4 she  was living in Sussex Street and associating with her shipmate Bridget Higney. Both were living in the worst of Sydney slums. She was first jailed for vagrancy, and then, by 1866, three other times for indecent and riotous behaviour. She died of tuberculosis in 1872. From memory, Jane’s story also appears in Tanya Evans’s Fractured Families.

Below is Jane’s database entry.

  • Surname : Kelly
  • First Name : Jane
  • Age on arrival : 19
  • Native Place : Athlone, Westmeath
  • Parents : Patrick & Isabella (both dead)
  • Religion : Church of England
  • Ship name : Digby (Sydney 4 Apr 1849)
  • Workhouse : Westmeath, Athlone
  • Other : shipping: houseservant, reads & writes; Jan 1850 working for James W Chisholm at ‘Kippelaw’, Mummel nr Goulburn, indentures cancelled after absconded; married Thomas Lansdowne (alias Digby) at Yass 4 Nov 1850; 6 chi; marriage broke down, he assaulted her, case in Goulburn Court Dec 1857/Jan 1858, 5 children remain with Thomas; Jane awarded maintenance, began work for William Garner whose wife had died in Nov 1857; 1858-1863 5 children with Garner who deserted her in 1863; she walked to Sydney Benevolent Asylum; Garner charged with desertion & ordered to pay 7s6d weekly; 1864-1866 Jane Lansdowne (alias Digby) gaoled for vagrancy in Sydney, sometimes with friend & fellow Digby shipmate Bridget Higney; two of Jane’s daughters sent to the Randwick Asylum for Destitute Children; 12 Jul 1872 Jane Digby died of tuberculosis in St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst. No trace of her sister Isabella also arrived on the Digby

Celia Maguire from Castlebar, Co. Mayo per Panama

There isn’t a lot of information about Celia or Cecilia Maguire either on the irishfaminememorial database or on Barbara’s brilliant website http://mayoorphangirls.weebly.com/

Both will be grateful to Julie for her research. Celia’s first crime was committed seven years after her arrival in Sydney. In 1852 she married Edwin Day of the 11th Regiment but in 1856 Edwin struck an officer and was sent to prison, leaving Cecilia to fend for herself and her four year old daughter. She did so by working in a brothel.  In 1857 she was found guilty of larceny and sent to Darlinghurst Gaol for twelve months. Shortly afterwards, in May 1858, a Coronial Inquest found that she died of “disease brought on by intemperance“.  See The Illawara Mercury 6 May 1862, p. 2, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/136441137

Here is the database entry.

  • Surname : Maguire
  • First Name : Celia
  • Age on arrival : 18
  • Native Place : Castlebar, Mayo
  • Parents : Michael & Sarah (both dead)
  • Religion : Roman Catholic
  • Ship name : Panama (Sydney 12 Jan 1850)
  • Workhouse : Mayo, Castlebar
  • Other : shipping: house servant, cannot read or write, no relatives in colony, sister Jane also on Panama; Empl. E Cherry, Fort Street, Sydney, £8, 1 year

Margaret Burke from Portarlington, Co. Laois per Tippoo Saib

Only fourteen when she arrived, it would be thirteen years before Margaret Hanlon née Burke was convicted of any crime. It was the first and only time she was convicted  for theft. She then embarked on a twenty-five year period of petty crime. In the 1870s she was hardly out of gaol. By 1873, Julie tells us, she was well-known to police as a habitual drunkard. See Empire 17 June 1873 p.2. https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/63231600/5662874

In all, she was convicted more than 122 times, mostly for drunkenness and vagrancy but also for assault, riotous conduct, obscene and indecent language, being disorderly, and in 1883, when she was 47, as a prostitute. What set her on this life of crime is unknown. She may even have used the vagrancy laws and the police watch house as a means and source of shelter and food. What became of her is unknown. She disappears from the record after 1886.

Here is the current  database entry.

  • Surname : Burke
  • First Name : Margaret
  • Age on arrival : 14
  • Native Place : Port Addington [Portarlington], Queens [Laois]
  • Parents : John & Mary (both dead)
  • Religion : Roman Catholic
  • Ship name : Tippoo Saib (Sydney Jul 1850)
  • Workhouse : Queens [Laois], Mountmellick
  • Other : shipping: nursemaid, reads & writes, no relatives in colony. Mary also per Tippoo Saib with same parents is probable sister.

Finally, for now anyway, an orphan Julie has begun work on. She has yet to confirm all that she has suggested here. So please take this as work in progress.

Mary O’Brien from Ballina, Co. Mayo, per Inchinnan

What Barbara has on her website would suggest that Julie may be on the right track. See

http://mayoorphangirls.weebly.com/mary-obrien.html

where Mary was threatened with being sent into the interior for breaking her indenture.

Julie suggests this is the same Mary who married John Reily (Riley, Reilly, etc) in Sydney in 1852. Her first (next?) conviction is in 1856 eight years after her arrival. But then she is gaoled 26 times between 1856 and 1871 for being idle and disorderly, using indecent language and found guilty of riotous conduct, prostitution and theft.

Her husband John died in Liverpool Asylum in 1872.  Mary in 1873 then married John Coy, a West Indian known as “Black Jack”. He had been given a twelve month sentence in 1864 for ‘keeping a bawdy house’. Mary was not to survive much longer. She died after  a fight with Julia Mahoney alias Jane Mathews in Sussex Street in 1874.  We shall await further news from Julie on this one.

——————————————————————-

Julie has very kindly offered to answer any enquiries via email . Her email address is juliepoulter19[at]hotmail.com. I’d be most grateful if you would also put your queries in the comments section at the end of this post. Thankyou in advance. And thank you Julie for your research.

To be continued

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Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (54): Skibbereen and beyond (cont.)

 Skibbereen and beyond (cont.)

The poster above contains essential information about the November commemorative ‘Gathering’ in Williamstown this year. Wouldn’t it be good to see an Outreach programme associated with this Standing Rock in memory of the young Irish Famine women who arrived in Port Phillip? Organisers and descendants could choose the kind of outreach they would like. What do you think? I’m sure Dr Noone would encourage any proposal.

To return to some of the issues raised in my last post. Most of us will agree that the Earl Grey orphans had psychological baggage when they came to Australia. Some of them from places such as Skibbereen or Dingle or Kilrush may have been damaged more than others, making it hard for them to cope with the troubles they met in their new home.

If I may quote from Dr Kildea’s poignant oration, ‘Only Nineteen ‘ delivered at Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney at the end of August 2017,

To be uprooted from your home country by force of circumstance, whether it be persecution or the prospect of starvation, and transported to a strange and foreign land can be a deeply traumatic experience. The fact that the refugee is thereby enabled to survive is unarguably a good thing. But that obvious benefit does not eliminate the emotional damage which the forced displacement causes”.

I encourage you to read Jeff’s speech if you haven’t already done so. https://tintean.org.au/2017/09/06/only-nineteen/

Reading his oration again I’m aware how much I’m indebted to him in these two blogposts on “Skibbereen and beyond”.

Were Skibbereen orphans especially vulnerable?

But let me play the devil’s advocate. What counter arguments or qualifications might be made to the claim that orphans from the Skibbereen area were especially vulnerable? Was Skibbereen so exceptional? Some qualifications to the claim have appeared already viz. there are places other than Skibbereen just as badly affected by the Famine. Dingle and Clare Abbey were mentioned in the previous post, for example. Note too the cover picture of the last post which features Captain Arthur Kennedy’s young daughter distributing clothing to children at Kilrush.

Kilrush evictions

Kilrush, in County Clare, was notorious for the number of evictions that drove people from their homes. Captain Kennedy, the Poor Law Inspector in Kilrush Poor Law Union, reported in July 1848,

“These helpless creatures are not only unhoused, but often driven off the land, no one remaining on the lands being allowed to lodge or harbour them. Or they, perhaps linger about the spot, and frame some temporary shelter out of the materials of their old homes against a broken wall, or behind a ditch or fence, or in a bog-hole (scalps as they are called), places totally unfit for human habitations, or they crowd into some of the few neighbouring cabins still left standing, when called to do so, as lodgers, where such numbers congregate that disease, together with the privations of other kinds which they endure, before long carry them off. As soon as one horde of houseless and all but naked paupers are dead, or provided for in the workhouse, another wholescale eviction doubles the number, who in their turn pass through the same ordeal of wandering from house to house, or burrowing in bogs or behind ditches, till broken down by privation and exposure to the elements, they seek the workhouse, or die by the roadside”.

scalp of brian connor nr Kilrush union house
scan0009

Or to take a different tack, there were another eighteen or so orphans from Skibbereen on board the Eliza Caroline and another eighty-five (85) on board the Elgin to South Australia about whom we know little or nothing. We just do not know how they fared in Australia. And therefore surely cannot be certain their Famine experience predisposed them to disaster in Australia.

Remember too that the orphans did not board ship carrying disease or wearing lice infected rags. They had an outfit, a wooden box, a Bible, and would be well fed during their voyage to Australia.

Dunmanway was different?

My thanks to  Síle Ní Muirchú (O’Driscoll) whose spiritual home is the beautiful Gougane Barra in West Cork. Síle provided the following excerpts from the Dunmanway Board of Guardian Minute Books. Dunmanway is just up the road from Skibbereen. Fifteen orphans from Dunmanway were also on board the Eliza Caroline.

“1st December 1849  “The Reports of the Master and other Officers were read, and orders made thereon, as follows”:

“The matron reported that 350 yards of gingham was required for girls bibs” 

The clerk was directed to advertise for contractors to supply gingham. Contracts to be made on the 8th inst.

8th December 1849

Letter from the Commissioners of 6th Inst No. 76770 containing instructions respecting Female emigrants – directions were given to the union officers to carry out the instructions of the Commissioners.

Special Business “Tender for supply of gingham deferred for consideration”.

The clerk was directed to advertise for persons willing to convey to Cork 15 female emigrants with their boxes etc? – tender to be considered on the 15th inst”.

15th December 1849

Special Business “Tenders for conveying female emigrants to Cork deferred for a few days”.

The tender of Mr Ralph Phipps? To paint boxes for the female emigrants at 5/2d each was accepted”.

22nd December 1849

“Debit Workhouse Invoice Account, and Credit Treasure, with the several sums as above”. 

“4. Emigration Account”.

Messr Skilling? And Co Books £1 s3 d9

Mr. ? for Bonnets 1 0 0

Mr Standley for Emigrants shoes 1 5 0

Mr Winder? For conveyance to Plymouth 3? 13 10 0

Mr ?? Fares to Cork 1 15 0

“The Reports of the Master and other Officers were read, and orders made thereon, as follows”:

That all? The clothing and requirements/requisites? Required for the outfit of the Female emigrants are now complete”.

Bibles, bonnets, boxes, shoes, and dressed in gingham, the Dunmanway orphans were privileged indeed, and cut a fine bib as they made their way to Cork en route to Plymouth and thence Port Phillip.

I doubt that today many Syrian children seeking refuge in Lebanon or Jordan, or in Canada or Germany are receiving professional counselling. Nor are the Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh. How far have we failed to come? Such psychiatric help did not exist for our Famine orphans either. Yet maybe 235 Earl Grey orphans living close to one another on board the recently built, well appointed but small, Eliza Caroline, fostered memories of home. Living cheek by jowl for a ninety day voyage provided plenty of opportunity to share and talk about past experiences, and about anxieties, and hopes, and dreams. Good medicine in itself, for some at least, was it not?

There are different and subtle hues to our picture of ‘Skibbereen and beyond’, are there not?

Australian circumstances and events

gillslygrogc
Sly Grog Shop on the road to Bendigo by S. T. Gill, 1852. Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria picture collection

Vulnerable orphans

What tipped a vulnerable orphan into the abyss? What things made her life so difficult in Australia? Maybe the life cycle of an ‘at risk’ orphan became a disaster because of events that happened in Australia. How many of them fall into this category? It is hard to know. We may never know. My gut reaction would be, about ten percent (10%) of the whole. But if we include any Earl Grey orphan who went into an institution, even once, to a Benevolent Asylum, a Lying-in hospital, a women’s prison, a Mental Asylum, or whose children went to an Industrial school, I’d put the figure higher. We just do not know the history of all the orphans. Which is why the work of people such as Perry Mc Intyre, Karen Semken, Cheryl Mongan, Richard Reid, and committed family historians is so important to our understanding of this issue.

Let me briefly explore, in general terms, the kind of thing that had an adverse effect on an orphan’s life. Here’s an incomplete list just off the top of my head. I hope you will identify others. Let me know your thoughts.

  • the vulnerability of a lonely female immigrant who lacked a support network from ‘home’
  • sexual and domestic abuse
  • criminal misdemeanours
  • alcoholism
  • mental illness, and other maladies
  • poverty and hardship
  • desertion, illness and death of her husband

Sexual and domestic abuse

I’ll just look at a couple of things from the list above. Under sexual and domestic abuse let’s include any orphan, vulnerable because of her servitude, who was a target for an employer abusing his or her power as master in the master-servant relationship. There will be more than the ones that came to court. Here are a few that were reported in the Melbourne press, the Argus.

Sarah Higg/Head ( the Melbourne Daily News named her as Sarah Head) a 14 year-old from Limerick per Pemberton took her employers to court in November 1849. Richard Clarke a printer in the Gazette office in Melbourne abused her with ‘the most insulting language’, calling her a ‘poor-house brat’. His wife had grabbed her by the neck and thrown her out the door. See Argus, 13 Nov. 1849 p.2 col 6 http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/504313

Catherine Mackie per New Liverpool was also a 14 year-old but from from Wicklow. The Argus 3 Nov 1849 reported as follows,

“The evidence went to prove that Mr.Williams (a schoolteacher of Brighton) had struck the girl repeatedly with a broom handle, and when she cried with pain he filled her mouth with ashes, to prevent the neighbours being alarmed”.
Or in Catherine’s words,”he then knelt upon me and took two fists full of ashes and put them down my mouth”.

Tragically, in April 1850, Alice Ball  a 16 year-old from Enniskillen per Diadem committed suicide by throwing herself into the River Yarra in Melbourne. “Even though reins were thrown to her from the bank of the river, she would not, she refused to lay hold of them”. She was pregnant by her married master. See the Argus, 26 April, 29 April and 1 May 1850.  http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/4773296

On Alice see https://www.prov.vic.gov.au/about-us/our-blog/tragic-end-irish-alice

My final example, one that i cannot forget, is Mary Coghlan from Skibbereen per Eliza Caroline. You can read about some of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband via this link http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/6455284?zoomLevel=1

“He pulled me out of bed and shoved me one way and then another. I was stupid and taken in labor after he beat me, and I can’t tell half what he did to me… The child was born dead. Prisoner struck me with his hand and his foot. He struck me all over. He struck me with the point of his foot. I was tumbling on the floor. My daughter was in the house when he beat me. He ill-used me from the Saturday till the Friday, when the child was born. Sometimes he’d up and give me a shove or a slap”.

The sad thing is, a husband’s so-called “rights” to discipline and punish his wife and children was enshrined in law, a legal position which was underpinned by the ideology of most churches of the time. The head of a household, that is, the male, had a duty to administer ‘moderate’ correction to his wife and children to keep them on the straight and narrow. I wonder do we really live in more enlightened times. There are still plenty of troglodytes about.

Mental Hospitals

In the 1990s I did some research on Irish women in Mental asylums for my Irish Women in Colonial Australia. I am glad to say some excellent work has appeared since then, particularly by the former Professor of Irish studies at the University of Melbourne, Professor Elizabeth Malcolm. Have a look for Elizabeth Malcolm, “Mental Health and Migration: The case of the Irish, 1850s-1990s”, in Migration, Ethnicity and Mental Health…, ed. A. McCarthy & C. Coleborne, Routledge, 2012, and her chapter on Yarra Bend Asylum, “Irish Immigrants in a Colonial Asylum during the Australian Gold Rushes, 1848-69”, in Asylums, Mental Health Care and the Irish:1800-2010, ed. Pauline M. Prior,  Irish Academic Press, 2012, 2017.  One can gain access to substantial portions of these works by searching via Google books.

Professor Malcolm identifies two orphans in her chapter on case histories in Yarra Bend, Bridget Ferry  from Dunfanaghy in Donegal per Lady Kennaway, and Elizabeth Armstrong from Enniskillen per Diadem. One was described as a ‘congenital idiot’ and the other as suffering from ‘paralysis’ and ‘dementia’. But both were released ‘cured’ after only a few months stay in the institution. Professor Malcolm suggests they may have used the asylum for their own ends, “as a means of escaping from intolerable living conditions”.

There was no shortage of Irish women in Australian mental hospitals. Dr Malcolm lists the reasons for their being there; post natal depression, grief at the death of children, alcoholism, head injuries and poor physical health, and some evidence of ‘gold fever’ i.e. overwhelming disappointment at not finding gold on the Victorian gold fields.

And if I may add, from my own research notes, the reasons given by the medical authorities of the day as the ‘supposed cause’ of an inmate’s illness. They help identify some of the ‘difficulties’ an ‘at risk’ orphan may have faced. These are taken from mental hospital records in Victoria, Queensland, and New South Wales;

“her mind is affected by her child burning to death”,

“feeble and much emaciated”,

“drunkenness and ill usage of her husband”,

“death of her husband and destitute circumstances”,

“states she has been living in a solitary hut, her husband having been up the country and that continued fear was the cause of her illness”,

“form of mental disorder, nostalgia. Supposed cause, grief at leaving her country and ardent desire to return to it”,

“she continually reads her Prayer Book…becomes excited over religious subjects stating she has renounced her husband, that she considers sexual intercourse a crime and that she would sooner die than submit”,

“supposed cause of her melancholia, ‘regret at leaving home coupled with her recent desolate condition'”,

“she is a native of Ireland and lived by selling fruits…she has been long parted from her husband on account of his brutal usage”,

“the mother states that during her pregnancy with this child she received the most cruel usage from her husband”.

No matter how heavy the psychological baggage the orphans brought with them from a Famine ravaged Ireland, sometimes the struggle they had in their new home in Australia  tipped them over the edge, and determined the downward course their lives.

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Woogaroo, later Goodna, now known as Wollston Park mental hospital in Queensland, built in 1865.

Benevolent Asylums

Elsewhere in my blog I’ve drawn readers’ attention to the fact that because so many orphans married older men, in their old age they were more likely to spend their last days in an institution such as a Benevolent Asylum. Or as Dr Malcolm puts it, ‘elderly working class widows were especially vulnerable to psychiatric institutionalisation’. They coped as best they could, whatever way they could.

Unfortunately records of the names of those in the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum have not survived. But they have done so elsewhere. One needs to be aware of the name of the ship and date of arrival to detect an Earl Grey orphan. Here are a few from the ‘Register of Personal details relating to persons admitted to Dunwich Benevolent Asylum’.(Queensland State Archives Ben 2/4). Dunwich is on Stradbroke Island in Moreton Bay.

In alphabetic order,

Mary Clark aged 69 admitted January 19th 1897. Born in Belfast, daughter of Charles Murray and Mary Donnelly…came to Australia 49 years ago by ship Roman Emperor, landed at Adelaide S.A. Goodness how far had she travelled.

Eliza Dwyer aged 75 admitted May 4th 1898. Born in Belfast, daughter of John Frazer and Margaret Gallagher…came to Australia 50 years ago landed Moreton Bay. Eliza was one of the original Belfast girls who arrived by the Earl Grey.

Ellen Agnes Hickson aged 61 admitted Oct. 29  1895 . Born Clare Ireland, daughter of John Leyden and Mary Cronin…came to Australia 1850 landed in Sydney…last two years in Asylum Goodna. Ellen Leydon  from Ennistymon in County Clare arrived by the Thomas Arbuthnot.

Eliza Scholes aged 52 admitted October 10th 1889. Born Belfast, daughter of Anthony Rodgers and Jane Harver…came to Brisbane ’48 & have been in Queensland ever since. Eliza was another of the original Belfast girls who arrived by the Earl Grey.

It would be a major research project searching for, and cross referencing orphans in different institutions throughout Australia. Eliza Scholes nee Rogers had served three months for vagrancy in March 1888 and another 6 months for the same ‘crime’ in January 1889 in Toowoomba Women’s prison.

A reminder, though, searching for orphans in such institutions, as I’ve said elsewhere, ” is merely adding the bias of expectations to the bias of the evidence itself”. But it is still worth doing.

The work of family historians can act as a counterweight to this, even if they too have a bias of their own. Their concern is not with the ‘lost’ orphans. They are the survivors, and sometimes, maybe too often, view things through rose-tinted spectacles. As Noeline Kyle puts it in her very useful book, Writing Family History Made Very Easy, Allen & Unwin, 2007, in her chapter called “Nostalgia, Sentiment and Blazing Sunsets”, “we read about devoted wives, hardworking men, dear children and pious wives” (p.165). Noeline has important and valuable advice for all would-be genealogists and family historians.

My intention was to include some Port Phillip orphan stories via family reconstitutions in this post, on the occasion of this year’s Williamstown commemoration. But the post is too long already. Next time, I promise, before the ‘gathering’ occurs.

Here’s an incomplete key to the contents of my blog http://wp.me/p4SlVj-oE

I hope it may be of use to the actors researching their roles for Jaki McCarrick’s play “Belfast Girls”. Break a leg!

At the bottom of each blog post after the comments there is a search box. Type in whatever you are looking for and click enter and you will find what reference there is, if any, in the whole of the blog. Thus if you enter “Ellen Leydon” you will be told she appears in posts 51, 25, 9, and 4. Happy hunting.

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (53): Skibbereen and beyond

More stories

Skibbereen and beyond

For this post, I found myself facing something of a dilemma. How could I remind people of the conditions that sent the Famine orphans fleeing from Ireland, and at the same time, how could I draw attention to the commemoration of the Port Phillip orphans held at Williamstown in mid November, 2017? They were two separate  subjects.

I decided to put the Eliza Caroline in my cross-hairs. She was the last Earl Grey orphan vessel to arrive in Port Phillip, filled with young Famine refugees from all over the country, from Tipperary, Sligo, Wexford, Carlow, Waterford, Dublin, Cork, Donegal and Kilkenny. Fittingly, she was one of two vessels carrying young women from an area that symbolizes the Great Irish Famine, the area in west Cork around Skibbereen. The other vessel was the Elgin the last orphan vessel to arrive in Adelaide. Alas, we do not know the names of those on board the Elgin who came from Skibbereen.

News of the Famine around Skibbereen

Many of you will be familiar with the engravings of James Mahoney and others in the London Illustrated News making its readers aware of the tragedy unfolding in Cork. This one perhaps?

A funeral in Old Chapel Lane Skibbereen

or this one?

boy and girl at Cahera

From London Illustrated News 1847

These two youngsters were scratching the ground with their bare hands looking for potatoes. Cahera is about four miles north of Skibbereen on the road to Dunmanway.

Or perhaps,

woman begging Nr Clonakilty

Woman begging for a coffin for her dead child, near Clonakilty

Clonakilty is about twenty miles to the west of Skibbereeen.

Skibbereen has passed into Irish folklore, and into the identity of the ‘Rebel’ county. Try typing the town’s name into your browser and see what you come up with. Here’s a couple of results to sample

http://skibbheritage.com/great-irish-famine/

http://www.skibbereeneagle.ie/uncategorized/skibbereen-witness-to-the-great-famine/

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/disturbing-remains-a-story-of-black-47-1.3365683

Of course it wasn’t only Mahoney’s engravings that made an impact on middle-class sensibilities. It was the accompanying articles as well. Along with the pictures that appeared in February 1847, in the middle of that terrible winter, came the report, “Neither pen nor pencil could ever portray the misery and horror, at this moment, to be witnessed in Skibbereen”.

The reporter quoted from the diary of the resident medical officer, Dr Donovan, describing the Barrett family who had ‘literally entombed themselves in a small watch-house‘ in the cemetery in Skibbereen. “By the side of a hut is a long newly made grave…near the hole that serves as a doorway is the last resting place of two or three children;…in fact the hut is surrounded by a rampart of human bones…and in this horrible den, in the midst of a mass of human putrefaction, six individuals, males and females, labouring under most malignant fever, were huddled together, as closely as were the dead in the graves around”.

The ‘malignant fever’ may have been brought on by any of the Famine diseases, relapsing fever, typhus and dysentery being the most common. In typhus for example, a host scratches and releases bacteria from an infected insect into their own bloodstream. The small blood vessels are attacked causing a spotted rash and delirium. Eyes become bloodshot, muscles twitch and the delirium deepens to stupor. With dysentery, bacteria is transmitted by rotting food, fingers and flies, bacteria that multiply, inflame and ulcerate the intestines, bringing about painful and exhausting straining, violent diarrhoea and the passage of blood. The ground is often marked with blood. In both cases the death rate is high.

Knowing your parents were dead, Bridget Driscoll, you had even watched them become delirious, fall into a stupor and crawl into a corner to die, it’s okay to fear the worst and forever worry about what will become of you. You’d need to have the skin of Tollund man not to be concerned. So many Earl Grey orphans would be affected psychologically by their Famine experience.

Were the orphans from Skibbereen more vulnerable than other orphans because of their unique circumstances and experience? Were they more likely to become casualties in Australia? Or was the experience of other orphans, in other places, you Mary Kearney from Dingle, or you Mary Carrigge from Ennis, equally traumatic? Clare Abbey

“I ventured through that parish [Clare Abbey] this day, to ascertain the condition of the inhabitants, and, although a man not easily moved, I confess myself unmanned by the extent and intensity of the suffering I witnessed, more especially amongst the women and little children, crowds of whom were to be seen scattered over the turnip fields, like a flock of famishing crows, devouring the raw turnips, mothers half naked, shivering in the snow and sleet, uttering exclamations of despair, whilst their children were screaming with hunger; I am a match for anything else I may meet with here, but this I cannot stand”. (Letter from Captain Wynne, District Inspector for Clare to the Chairman of the Board of Works 24 December 1846, cited in M. Kelleher, The Feminization of Famine, Cork U.P., 1997, p.27.) Clare Abbey is close to Ennis.

Dingle

“About a fortnight ago a boy named John Shea of Tullaree died of starvation–such was the verdict of a jury. On yesterday week his sister died, entirely from the same cause: she lay naked and uninterred on what had been the hearth, for four days, during which time she had been gnawed by rats. On Friday evening last a brother of hers died of dysentery, brought on by hunger,and on Saturday the father also fell a victim to this desolating scourge. They had no food for many days…The door was hasped on the outside, and the famishing family abandoned by every relative”. (John Busteed, Surgeon attached to the Castlegregory dispensary, in the Kerry Evening Post, 24 February 1847, cited in Kieran Foley, “The Famine in the Dingle Peninsula”, Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, p. 401).

We haven’t heard of these so much: the contemporary media did not direct our attention there. As today, we’ve heard more about a hurricane in Puerto Rico and Florida, and little about what happened to Barbuda or Antigua or other small Caribbean islands.

Understanding the psychological baggage the orphans brought with them to Australia is not an easy task. Did some ‘friendless’ orphans become more vulnerable than others when they faced the harshness of the Australian environment?

I thought I’d look into this a bit more, first turning to the Irish Famine memorial database for the Eliza Caroline. You can find it here, http://irishfaminememorial.org/orphans/database/

Mary Coghlan again

And lawdy, lawdy what jumped out at me were two names I knew only too well, Mary Coghlan and Mary Minahan, both from Skibbereen. I was alerted to Mary Coghlan’s history by her descendant Barbara Borland back in 1990.  I’ve written about Mary before, towards the end of blog post 22 on ‘Cancelled Indentures’. You can read it here, http://wp.me/p4SlVj-vf

Mary was the victim of the most shocking domestic abuse by her husband James Walton. Barbara was descended from the couple’s eldest daughter who had married a Swedish seaman. She wrote that she was “happy her great grandmother had a rewarding marriage and descendants to be proud of which makes Mary Coghlan’s life seem to be of some worth”.

Mary Minahan

Mary Minahan‘s history has been researched by her descendant, Kathleen Newman. Kathleen told me about her in 2000. A synopsis of Mary’s story appears on the Irish Famine memorial database. Only one of Mary’s eight children survived. All the others died young. Was that sad history of childbirth related to her Famine experience, i wonder? Or indeed her history of petty crime?

  • Surname : Minnahan [Minahan]
  • First Name : Mary
  • Age on arrival : 17
  • Native Place : Skibbereen, Cork
  • Parents : Not recorded
  • Religion : Roman Catholic
  • Ship name : Eliza Caroline (Melbourne 1850
  • Workhouse : Cork, Skibbereen
  • Other : shipping: house servant, cannot read or write. Empl. John Hopkins, farmer, Mercer Vale [now Beveridge] 24 miles from Melbourne, ₤8, 6 months; convicted many times (by 1899, 32 previous convictions) for a variety of misdemeanors (assault, vagrancy, being idle and disorderly, soliciting) and under a variety of aliases (Brown, Sorento, Freck, Coutts)’ & sent to Melbourne Gaol. She had 8 children, the first by Henry Wallace, the next 4 by Charles Joseph Pruen, the last to Charles J Brown (the same man?). By 1867 only 1 child, David William Minahan, had survived. Her death not located. kathleennewman[at]optusnet.com.au

Kathleen tells us, her gaol record in 1878 described her as “5 feet 3 inches tall with a fresh complexion, red hair and hazel eyes.”  By the time of her court appearance in 1894, (Richmond Guardian 24 November), she was “a wretched looking old woman…charged with having no lawful means of support”.

Maybe these were  exceptional cases. To check I looked through some of my family reconstitutions which are biased toward stable family histories. Here’s two I have.

Jane Leary

Jane Leary was also from Skibbereen. She married twice, had a family of nine children but lived to the ripe old age of eighty. [Thanks to R.M. Reilley for alerting me to Jane. I’ve gone back to my original forms; that’s were i recorded names of those who sent me information. In some cases I still had access to vital statistics that allowed me to add  precise dates. That precision was necessary for a demographic analysis.]

blogfojlearyecaroline

Ellen Fitzgerald

Ellen Fitzgerald, likewise from Skibbereen, also married an ‘exile’ per Maitland. Thanks to Jenny Dedman for this one. Ellen and William had all of their eleven children on the Victorian goldfields. It looked to be a stable family. But wait, how did she die? Of malnutrition! How on earth did that happen? What exactly does that mean? Did she not have enough food? Was she suffering from some kind of illness?

blogfoefitzgeraldecaroline

This prompted me to look carefully at the other Skibbereen orphans on board the Eliza Caroline. And found Catherine Coughlan, who had numerous convictions for drunkenness and vagrancy, and died in 1869. c. 36 years old: Mary Donovan married well; her husband was later a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria, and she too became a social activist. But she died in 1866, also c. 36 years old. Julia or Judy Driscoll died in Ballarat Hospital, aged about 39. And Mary Hicks‘ husband deserted her and their eleven children in 1866. This was not a particularly happy outcome for these West Cork orphans. Maybe there is some substance to the claim West Cork orphans were especially vulnerable, after all.

Let me continue with this in the next post. https://wp.me/p4SlVj-1G0 I’d advise against making up your mind about this argument just yet.

May I finish by reminding you of the Irish Famine Orphan commemoration in Williamstown on the 19th November? Thankyou Chrissy Fletcher for this.

“SAVE THE DATE
Irish Famine Orphan Girls Commemoration – Melbourne
Sunday 19 November 2017 – 3pm start
Standing Stone Famine Rock, Burgoyne Reserve, The Strand, Cnr Stevedore Street, Williamstown”.

“…She fainted in her anguish, seeing the desolation round
She never rose, but passed away from life to mortal dream
And found a quiet grave, my boy, in dear old Skibbereen”.

Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Orphans (22): Cancelled Indentures 

CANCELLED INDENTURES

One of the things I ‘d love to do is put the young Irish Famine orphans at the centre of their own story. It would mean looking differently at the sources we have. Maybe it’s beyond this aging, increasingly discombobulated male. Old methods are also still valuable. The first thing I learnt as a history student many, many, years ago, was to examine the source I was using–where did it come from? How authentic was it? Was it reliable? If it was a document, who wrote it, and why? What was its purpose, what barrow was the author pushing, what axe did he or she want to grind? There’s no such thing as an unbiased source.

I’m beginning this post with Appendix J Return of Cases of Orphan Female Apprentices whose Indentures were cancelled, by the Court of Petty Sessions, at the Water Police Office [in Sydney]. It is part of the Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee on Irish Female Immigration, 1858, pp. 373-450. The Legislative Assembly also ordered it to be printed in February 1859. I know some people may have trouble finding it, so I’ve scanned the whole of Appendix J. I’m sure a librarian in your State Library will help you too, should you wish to see more of the evidence.

Appendix J is a submission made by Immigration Agent H. H. Browne to a New South Wales Parliamentary Enquiry. The Enquiry was a result of a Petition by the Celtic Association complaining about the Agent’s remarks in his report for 1855, concerning Irish female immigrants. Browne had claimed Irish female immigrants were “most unsuitable to the requirements of the Colony, and at the same time distasteful to the majority of ‘the people'”. In other words, the ‘Return of cases of cancelled indentures’ is part of Browne’s defense. It would be worth a close scrutiny at some later date.

Below is the Appendix in full. You should be able to read each page in turn by clicking, or doing whatever you do with tablets and ipads. There are eight pages, listing 254 cases in all. Browne did not become Immigration Agent until mid 1851. Before that, he was a member of the Sydney Orphan Committee and Water Police Office Magistrate. In other words, he was the Magistrate who presided over the cases listed here.

As the observant Surgeon Strutt noted in his diary, on Friday 3 May 1850, Went to the Water Police Court to hear the complaints made against the orphan girls. Six of them were summoned and one mistress for harsh treatment, but the tone of the Magistrate was against all the girls…”.

Appendix J

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Newspaper reporters of the day were strongly influenced by the political ruckus surrounding the Earl Grey Scheme. No doubt they were influenced too, by gossip, rumour, and innuendo, some of which came from the Water Police Office late on a Friday afternoon, after Browne had finished with the orphan cases. Petty sessions court reports, a standard feature of major colonial newspapers such as the Sydney Morning Herald or the Argus in Melbourne and even local, country, newspapers, were full of stories about individual female orphans in 1849, 1850 and 1851. The Sydney cases listed above were not reported in the Herald as often as cases from other Courts of Petty Sessions, in Parramatta, Windsor, and Penrith, for example.

Let me examine one particular case, the case of Francis Tiernan. It may alert you to different ways of interpreting evidence. Remember, just as there were specific legal requirements before a person could be incarcerated in a mental asylum, or before a divorce would be granted, so too, there were specific legal grounds for cancelling indentures. “Insolence” or “disobedience”, “improper conduct”, “absconding” and “neglect of duty” on the part of the apprentice, or servant, were permissible legal reasons. Have a look at the ‘nature of charge’ column in the lists above. See also the apprenticeship agreement at the end of my blogpost 13, http://wp.me/p4SlVj-g4 for information about the obligations of both master and servant.

Reading against the Grain: the case of Francis Tiernan

Here’s the case I want to examine; it’s a report of proceedings at the Court of Petty Sessions in Parramatta, from the Sydney Morning Herald, 4 January 1850, page 3.

Irish Orphan Girl—FRANCES TEARNEN (Tiernan),

apprenticed to Mr John Kennedy, appeared

before their Worships, Mr Hardy, P. M., and

Dr Anderson, J. P. The girl’s behaviour be-

fore the Bench clearly indicated her character.

Mrs Kennedy deposed that the girl was impu-

dent in the extreme, and informed her (Mrs.

K.) that she would not stand at the wash tub

unless she was allowed to wear patent leather

shoes; she was in the habit of beating and ill-

using the children, and with showing her mis-

tress sundry five-shilling pieces, stating she

had received them from single men; also, that

Frances had expressed her determination to be

married, and be her own mistress. Mr Ken-

nedy stated he cold not keep the girl, and the

indentures were cancelled.

Putting aside the reporter poking fun at Frances’s desire to wear inappropriate shoes at the wash tub, what do we see? Surely, you might say, Frances was guilty of ‘improper conduct’ and her indentures should have been cancelled.

Now what happens if you read the report ‘against the grain’, not as the reporter wants you to read it but if you put yourself in that young Famine refugee’s shoes? What stands out? I’m going to get married and be my own mistress”. I won’t have to submit to this life of drudgery or obey your stupid commands, your bossiness, and your snotty children who deserve the smack around the ears I give them. I have men friends who want to marry me. I’ve never before had money to spend on myself and buy what I like.You don’t know what it was like in Longford when there was no food, and the workhouse was so crowded people were dying like flies. http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Longford/ I swear you have no idea what happened on board our vessel, the DigbyThe Captain was a right bastard. I had to protect my poor wee sisters all the time.

I’m suggesting there are different ways of reading the evidence. To counteract the ‘official’ ‘establishment’ view, I’m suggesting, put yourself in the shoes of  the Famine orphans, see things from the viewpoint of the young women themselves.

Some time ago, in the introduction to Barefoot vol.1, I wrote the following,

‘…indentures cancelled on grounds of the orphans’ absconding, insolence, misconduct, negligence or disobedience are not simply evidence of the orphans being ‘improper women’ ‘unsuited to the needs of the Colony’.  Such evidence might also reflect the young women’s resistance to being treated as drudges by ‘vulgar masters who had got up in the world’. [Archdeacon McEncroe at the 1858 Government Enquiry] It might reflect the young women’s ‘culture shock’…

Undoubtedly, too, both master and servant tried to work the ‘system’. The protection offered the young women by colonial officials encouraged employers to complain the more. Masters thought they could return their unruly servants to… Barracks, forgetting that they were already compensated for the orphans’ ignorance of domestic service by the low wages they paid. Masters’ dissatisfaction was also fuelled by the bad press the young women received. “They had been swept from the streets into the workhouse and thence to New South Wales’; they were ‘Irish orphans, workhouse sweepings. ‘hordes of useless trollops’, ‘ ignorant useless creatures’,  a drain upon the public purse who threatened to bring about a Popish Ascendancy in New south Wales…

In turn, the young women, hearing of better conditions elsewhere–higher wages, a kinder master or mistress–knew full well that insolence or neglect of their duties was the means of terminating their employment. Cancellation of their indenture by the Magistrate at the Water Police Office in Sydney, a return to Hyde Park Barracks before being forwarded up the country to Goulburn, Bathurst, Bega, Yass or Moreton Bay may have been preferable to remaining in their current position. It was a gamble many were willing to take’.

Now if I had the energy, or the talent, I’d unpick this argument and develop it some more. To repeat, I’m trying to insist we view what was happening through the eyes of the orphans themselves. What explains the orphans’ relatively high rate of cancelled indentures?

Culture shock

Let me try to develop something I mentioned briefly in that quote above, viz. the culture shock the young women must have experienced. What kind of culture clash upset their well-being? In the example I used in that quotation from the introduction to Barefoot 1, I drew attention to the anger, and anomie, and frustration, of young Mary Littlewood. (See my  post 9 http://wp.me/p4SlVj-dQ )

But there were other things as well, things that every migrant experiences to a greater or lesser degree–how to feel your way, how to keep your identity, and yet adapt to your new society. Our young Famine orphans, however, were different from this. They felt the usual uprooting and confusion more acutely than others. They were first and foremost refugees, refugees fleeing a society torn apart by a tragedy of monumental proportions. They were young females without the ‘normal’ support of family and ‘friends’. They were adolescents whose religion and ethnicity was at odds with many members of their ‘host’ society. The figures in authority who were to give them guardianship and support–Orphan Committees, Sisters of Mercy, Matrons in Immigration Barracks–were not always people with whom the orphans could easily communicate. They more likely trusted their shipmates.

What do youse think you’re doin’, dressin’ up like a wee tart Ellen Lynch? Where’d ya get those clothes an’ those silly flowers?

Jealous Missus? Your old man has nuthin’ for ye. He just loves the drink. I’m goin’ to see ma frens an ye can’t stop me.

C’mere ya cheeky wee hussy. I’ll box yer ears. You’re going nowhere. C’mere. C’MERE. ELLEN. I’m warning ya.

I’ll tear yer guts out, silly old sow.

Sydney Morning Herald 18 January 1850 Ellen Welch… appeared before the Court, dressed in the latest fashion, her face was encircled with artificial flowers of the most choice selection, and her general appearance was certainly not that of a servant…

Sydney Morning Herald 19 December 1849 Judy Caerney…appeared before their Worships…charged with refusing to do her work. The bench ordered the indentures to be cancelled and Judy to be returned to barracks. In an hour or two afterwards she was seen walking through the town smartly dressed, and apparently in good spirits at having received between two and three pounds balance in wages. There is not a doubt but that was more money than the girl ever possessed before…

It’s not hard to imagine how excited young workhouse famine orphans were, at receiving wages, having money in hand, money to spend on new clothes. And excited, too, by the gifts and attention of male admirers. Or the feeling of independence, they had rarely known. Their mistresses and masters may well have been concerned, even jealous of their charge. Such displays as those of Ellen and Judy could lead to disapproval, words exchanged, quick wit, cutting repartee, impudence, and absconding on the part of orphan servants. The young women also may have resented their ‘inferiority’ in the household, and having to work harder than they’d ever worked before.

Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser 23 January 1850 Yesterday, Mr James Quegan applied to the bench to cancel the indentures of Bridget Kearney…[who] had latterly become insolent to her mistress and had refused to obey her orders. Kearney also wished to leave her service. The bench cancelled the indentures.

Ties formed on the long sea journey to Australia could be incredibly strong. The orphans made new friends and crafted their own moral code, doing what was right by each other, even if it meant breaking the law.

Sydney Morning Herald 22 April 1850 Irish Orphan Girls.–One of these girls, in the service of a family no great distance from the Emigrant Barracks, committed a robbery on her mistress. The articles consisted of a variety of baby linen, which were not missed till after the girl had left her service, when suspicion falling upon her by her mistress, search was made among the girls in the Barracks, and the articles found in the boxes of two other girls. It was ascertained that the object of the girl committing the theft was, to supply the anticipated necessities of the two girls, whose early accouchement is expected.

For some who were finding their way in their new land, it would involve a loss of sexual innocence. {All this makes me realize how little I know about Irish attitudes to work, the depth and extent of religious belief, and female sexuality before the Famine. I’m fairly confident their sex lives were not as repressive or as puritanical as they became in post-Famine Ireland}.

Sydney Morning Herald 19 September 1850. Page three provides an account of a case against Captain Morphew of the Tippoo Saib  for a breach of the Hired Servants Act, he having harboured Julia Daly, a runaway from the service of A. H. M. McCulloch, an Elizabeth Street solicitor. Early in August Mr McCulloch had hired two orphans, Julia Daly and Mary Connor. By the end of the month they had absconded and gone to a hotel. Mary acted as witness in the case, stating “…they went to a furnished house at Newtown: there were two bedrooms in the house, one of which was occupied by her and the other by Julia and the Captain…she left Mr McCulloch’s because Julia would not stay, and she would go any where with her rather than stop alone… Other witnesses, including the owner of the house in Newtown, stated that Captain Morphew “represented Julia Daly as his wife”. Morphew was convicted, and fined £20, with costs.

No doubt an orphan’s experience would differ from place to place, Sydney Town, the Port Phillip district, Geelong, the Victorian goldfields, Adelaide, country South Australia, and we’d need to examine that sometime in the future. Let me look at one in particular, for the moment.

The Moreton Bay District: orphans in court

One of the most interesting aspects of this whole saga of cancelled indentures is the freedom and skill with which orphans in the Moreton Bay district used the law to defend themselves and to ‘contest the hostile environment they found themselves in’. The history of the orphans’ cancelled indentures is a lot more complicated than Immigration Agent Browne would have us believe.

Some details of the story are in my Barefoot 2, Section 5 ‘Feisty Moreton Bay Women’, pp.112-23. Maybe your library has a copy? I didn’t learn about the court appearances of these young women, most of them from Clare, Galway and Kerry, until Libby Connors’s brilliant conference paper, at the 7th Irish-Australian Studies conference, in the University of Queensland, in 1993.

Assoc. Professor Connors examined the cases concerning orphans and the cancellation of their indentures that came before the Brisbane Court of Petty Sessions, in 1850 and 1851. Sometimes orphan apprentices initiated prosecution of their employer. Sometimes an employer was the plaintiff. The orphans, Professor Connors argued, were willing to assert their ‘legal rights and privileges’ and to contest ‘wage and employment issues’. Even as defendants, they ‘readily resorted to counter-claims of religious or ethnic discrimination and moral impropriety in the face of strong evidence of their own misbehaviour’.

Thus, for example, 2 August 1850, when Mary Byrnes from Galway complained to the court about her employer using “improper expressions“, she was awarded the wages owing to her; she had her indentures cancelled; and court costs were shared equally.

Likewise, 22 October 1850, Mr Windell, the master of feisty young apprentice, Margaret Stack from Clare, found her more than a redoubtable opponent in court. Windell presented evidence of Margaret’s persistent impudence and neglect of duty. She has for some time conducted herself in a most insolent manner…when sent to the butcher’s for meat, she took off her muddy shoes, and placed them in the basket, on the meat, which was consequently covered with filth; and when remonstrated with, and asked if she did not know better, she replied, NO I Do Not! He beat me and boxed my ears–many times. 

A master did have a legal right to beat his apprentice, Dr Connors explains, but the Brisbane authorities, given the controversy surrounding the orphans, could not afford ‘any allegation of impropriety’. Margaret’s indentures were cancelled and she lost the 8 shillings in wages owing to her. But when an orphan had her indentures cancelled, she oftentimes considered herself to be the victor.

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Margaret Smith Ni Stack and family

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In 1851, when Thomas Hennessy complained of the absenteeism and misconduct of young Mary Moriarty  from Kerry, Mary countered with allegations of sexual harassment and beatings. Hennessy used to come to the sofa every morning and make uses of expressions I cannot repeat and because I laughed he struck me and kicked me down. Mary’s indentures were cancelled and she received the £1.2s.8d wages owed to her.  For more information see Kay Caball, The Kerry Girls. Unfortunately we do not have the accent, or the intonation, of the young women recorded. Perhaps you would like to add that yourself? (See below for details of the origins of these particular young women).

Catherine Elliott Ni Moriarty and her family. Mary's sister.

Catherine Elliott Ni Moriarty and her family. Catherine was Mary’s sister.

Whether the Moreton Bay District was unique or whether the orphans were as feisty and combative elsewhere, has yet to be discovered. There were, however, exceptional Moreton Bay circumstances we need to acknowledge. Setting aside the spirit and determination of the young women themselves, Dr Connors alerts us to a bureaucratic loophole that allowed them some freedom of movement. Because there was no Orphan Committee in Brisbane, she says, all orphan master-servant, master-apprentice contracts were sent to Sydney for approval, a delay the orphans were not slow to exploit. “They found themselves without legal restraint and took the opportunity to go from one job to another, residing at the barracks in between” (Connors, ‘Politics of ethnicity’, Papers delivered, 177).

It was an intolerable situation that should not be permitted, according to the Moreton Bay Courier,  25 August 1849 p. 2 column 4, http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/541372?zoomLevel=1

When one of those immigrants is engaged as an apprentice, the indentures are prepared in triplicate, signed by the employer, and transmitted, by the local Immigration Agent, to Sydney, for completion by the signatures of the guardians there. In the meantime, the servant is taken home by her master or mistress, who is not long in discovering that the young lady has full consciousness of her freedom from any restraint to bind her to her service. She will work if she pleases, but, if not,she returns to her idle quarters kn the barrack, and by the time that the indentures are signed and returned from Sydney the apprentice” is perhaps making trial of another service, to be vacated afterwards in a similar manner. This is clearly an evil that calls for remedy…we cannot recognise their claim to greater immunities, and it is certain that in ordinary cases, an apprentice would not be permitted to exercise the wilfully independent spirit which has been evinced in some instances by these Government “Orphans”. During the past week we have heard of a case where one of these gentle dames left her service for the avowed reason that she “would not eat the brad of a heretic”, and this is not a bad sample of some of the excuses given by others”.

Hurrah for the young women’s ‘wilfully independent spirit‘ that occasionally tipped the scales in their favour is all I can say.

Another ‘exceptional circumstance’ working in the young women’s favour was the ‘village’ scale of Brisbane. People knew each other, and each other’s business. The orphans met regularly and gave each other support. The Courier even reported the local Catholic priest, the Reverend Father Hanly, having a quiet word with the Bench, in favour of the feisty young Margaret Stack.

And if I may add something more…here are the orphans who appeared before the courts in Brisbane over breaches of Master-Servant legislation. What strikes you?

Mary Byrnes 15 year old from Ballynakill, County Galway per Thomas Arbuthnot

Catherine Dempsey 17 year old from Castlehackett, County Galway per Panama

Margaret Stack 14 year old from Ennistymon, County Clare per Thomas Arbuthnot

Catherine King 14 year old from Loughrea, County Galway, per Thomas Arbuthnot

Alice Gavin 16 year old from Ennis, County Clare per Thomas Arbuthnot

Mary Moriarty 16 year old from Dingle, County Kerry per Thomas Arbuthnot

Mary Connolly 14 year old from Kilmaley, County Clare per Thomas Arbuthnot

Jane Sharp 15 year old from Cavan per Digby

Apart from their tender years, and their origin in the West of Ireland, what struck me most is the name of the vessel they sailed in, viz. the Thomas Arbuthnot. If we could hear these orphans talk, what might they say? Perhaps “Thankyou Surgeon Strutt. God Bless you. You treated us with kindness and compassion. You believed in us and you made us believe in ourselves. You told us we, too, had rights, and we should stand up for ourselves”. (Every teacher knows that praise and positive encouragement are  the best skills they can have).

MARRIAGE

Finally, the single most important reason for ending an orphan’s indenture was her marriage. Remember Frances Tiernan’s, “I’m going to get married and be my own mistress”. For marriage, permission from Orphan Committees had to be sought, and if the proposed spouse was a ticket-of-leave holder, from the Superintendent of Convicts as well. But this was usually granted: once the orphan married she was no longer the legal responsibility of her Guardians. I suspect most of the older ones did not bother seeking permission. From my family reconstitutions, an Earl Grey orphan married when she was just over nineteen years of age, and within two and a half to three years of her arrival. There are examples of my family reconstitutions in earlier posts. See, for example, http://wp.me/p4SlVj-gb  [It follows that ‘orphans’ marrying’ is where I should go for the next post. Maybe I’ll do it later. I would like to take a closer look at the 1858 NSW Government enquiry first. Who knows]?

The marriage lottery; the sad case of Mary Coghlan

Allow me to finish by drawing attention to how much of a lottery an orphan’s marriage could be. The Moriarty sisters mentioned above, married well, and raised large families. Their story is told in Kay Caball’s lovely book,  The Kerry Girls.

On the other hand, the ‘lottery’ was a disaster for Mary Coghlan from Skibbereen. I wonder if the Skibbereen orphans, badly traumatised by their experience of the Famine, found it harder than others to settle in Australia. Mary was a 17 year old when she arrived in Port Phillip on board the Eliza Caroline in 1850. With a number of shipmates–Mary Driscoll, Ellen Collins, Mary Donovan, Julia Dorney–also from Skibbereen, she was sent round the Bay to Geelong, where she was to meet her husband, James Walton. The pair quickly took off for the gold diggings at Ballarat. We know that Mary, returned to Geelong to baptise her first two children, Mary and James, in the St Mary’s of Angels Church.

It wasn’t till 1857 that we hear of them again, when both of them were on trial for the murder of Edward Howell in Ballarat. The report of the case in the Miner and Weekly Star, 1 May 1857, shows that alcohol played a part. Mary claimed Howell had called her a whore which provoked her to hit him on the forehead with a wooden batten. But what killed Howell, was not that blow but the head-kicking he received from James. A witness spoke in favour of Mary, The male prisoner [James Walton] was under the influence of liquor but he understood what he was about. I know the prisoner [Mary Walton] to be a hard working woman, and at the time the occurrence took place her husband was bound over to keep the peace towards his wife. At the end of the trial, after Mary was acquitted, the Judge, Mr Justice Molesworth, turned to Mary’s husband, James Walton, You appear to be a man addicted to liquor and using violence to your wife, and that violence perhaps led to her violence to the deceased. This, your violence has resulted in the melancholy loss of the life of a human creature. The jury with one exception, have recommended you to mercy, and I shall pass a more lenient sentence than I otherwise should do. The sentence of the Court is that you be kept to hard labor on the road for eighteen months.

 

Once again it is the Miner and Weekly Star 4 April 1862 that provides details of what happened. Luckily a more accessible copy of the report from the inquest is available in The Star Ballarat, 31 March 1862, Supplement, page 1, under the headline “Brutal Outrage in South Street”. You can view it at http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/6455284?zoomLevel=1 You will need to zoom in closer.

The inquest tells us more about what happened to Mary. Evidently, she suffered badly from domestic abuse. Her husband beat her physically and cruelly abused her psychologically. In mid March 1862, she was about a month short of full term when her husband assaulted her. After being thrown out of their tent into the cold, at night, from 7 p.m. till the early hours of the next morning, semi-clad, and having been “shoved and kicked about” by James, Mary lost yet another of her babies. Mary claimed he had made her lose four others by ill-treating her the same way. Before she died Mary made a deposition to the Police Magistrate in Ballarat, Stephen ClissoldHe pulled me out of bed and shoved me one way and then another. I was stupid and taken in labor after he beat me, and I can’t tell half what he did to me… The child was born dead. Prisoner struck me with his hand and his foot. He struck me all over. He struck me with the point of his foot. I was tumbling on the floor. My daughter was in the house when he beat me. He ill-used me from the Saturday till the Friday, when the child was born. Sometimes he’d up and give me a shove or a slap.

Jane Skilling, a neighbour, deposed While I was undressing, I heard her repeatedly asking to be let in. He refused, and she was still outside at two o’clock, when I had retired to my tent and fallen asleep. While sitting on the children’s bed, she told him that he had killed four children to her, and that he was trying to kill the fifth…The witness said that their 11 year old daughter had seen her father beat her mother on several occasions.

Margaret Mickison, another neighbour, deposed…During the nine months they have resided near us, the woman was a hard working woman, especially when her husband was in prison. While he was in prison I have once seen her intoxicated. She seemed to have taken drink at other times, but did her work. They were decent-like for a fortnight after he came out of gaol. She was never actually drunk, and kept her children very respectable during the time her husband was in prison. She was always working hard, and went out to wash.

After a brief period…the jury returned the following verdict:- “Her death took place…in the Ballarat District Hospital, and was caused by typhoid fever and enteritis brought on by a miscarriage, and such was occasioned by the ill-treatment of her husband, James Walton”. The prisoner was then removed to prison on the charge of manslaughter.

Poor Mary Coghlan, a victim of the Famine in Skibbereen. Indentures cancelled. Brutalized in Ballarat.  Life ended.

And death shall have no dominion

no more gulls cry at their ears

or waves  break loud on the seashores; (Dylan Thomas)

Post script.

As always, my thanks to family historians who provided me with documents and photographs.

Thanks also to Judith Kempthorne who did brilliant work as my research assistant (in late 1987 was it, whilst still an undergraduate?) working professionally through  newspaper microfilm uncovering references to ‘Irish orphans’. Thanks heaps Judith.

Finally, a link to a post that lists the contents of this blog. I hope it will help us navigate our way around it.

 http://wp.me/p4SlVj-oE

For information about the annual gathering at Hyde Park Barracks and other events, see www.irishfaminememorial.org