Monday, 14 November 2016

FIRST WAVE: Emigrant Settlers



One aspect of settlement that interested existing colonists was the extent to which new arrivals spread throughout the District. Adoption of different locations to their port of disembarkation reflected their willingness to seek and accept rural employment.

The bounty scheme was funded by the sale of colonial land to capitalist-investors (mostly the squatters), and rural employers were the most vocal advocates of assisted immigration. The squatters had a direct interest in ensuring that the benefits of an increased labour supply were also felt in the inland regions where they held their sheep stations.

Some indications of the emigrants' settlement patterns are to be found in the details of the 1846 colonial Census. The Abstract of this Census collates information, like "Country Where Born" and "Religion", according to the administrative regions which colonists inhabited.

Another aspect of settlement to be explored in this chapter is the impact of the arrival of high numbers of bounty emigrants on colonial wages for the period. This inquiry has two parts. First is the physical or actual rate of wages, an economic question that is problematic because these sorts of statistics were not collected at the time. Second is how the emigrants themselves responded to this state of affairs, a social question related to expectations met, or disappointed. Some summary information on wages was reported by officers of the colonial administration, but contemporary press accounts will have to be called into service to complement the picture.

Settlement Patterns

According to the official Abstracts of the 1846 Census, there were a total of 32,879 Europeans residing in the Port Phillip District at 2 March. This population consisted of 20,184 males and 12,695 females. They fell into two almost equally divided residential categories, Rural and Urban. 17,827, or 54.2%, resided in the rural areas of the surveyed Counties of Bourke, Grant and Normanby, and the outlying Commissioners' Districts of "Gipps Land", Murray, Portland Bay, and "Western Port". The other 15,052 settlers, or 45.8%, occupied the urban areas of Melbourne (including Brighton, Brunswick, Richmond, and Williamstown), Geelong (including Ashby, Irishtown and Newtown), and the smaller southwestern settlements of Portland and Belfast (since renamed Port Fairy).(1)

 As might be expected, the majority of rural dwellers were male and the greatest proportion of females resided in urban centres. 12,217 males, or 60.5%, lived in rural areas whereas only 5,610 females, or 44.2%, lived outside of urban settlements. Explanations of comparative living conditions or negative perceptions of isolation and danger may have applied to produce this contrast. However, couples with young families do not seem to have been deterred from country living to the same degree. Of the 5,612 children under fourteen years that were counted in the census, 2,474 resided in towns, but 3,138, or 55.9%, lived beyond the coastal fringe.(2)

Urban settlements displayed a clear ranking of importance in terms of population numbers. Melbourne and its surrounding "Villages", (now inner suburbs of the city) was the most significant, with 12,352 inhabitants, or 37.6% of all European settlers in Port Phillip. Next was Geelong and its "Villages", with 1,921 residents, or 5.8% of all settlers. Last came the small but strategically located "Country Towns" of Portland (510 residents) and Port Fairy (269) in the far west.

Rural Port Phillip displayed slightly altered but no less pronounced ranking. The central pastoral district of Western Port, including the non-urbanised parts of the County of Bourke, had the highest numbers with 8,504 European inhabitants, or 25.9% of all settlers. Not far behind was the western pastoral district of Portland Bay, including the non-urbanised parts of County Grant and County Normanby, which hosted 6,913, or 21% of all Port Phillip settlers. Languishing in the rear was the northern Murray district, with 1,558, and the eastern district of Gipps Land, with only 852. (The relative unpopularity of the north and east is probably due to their geography. The squatters' preference was for open land with reliable rainfall, and ease of transport for wool and supplies from the major port.)

It can be seen from the 1846 Census that by the middle of the decade, and after the intensive program of assisted immigration under the bounty scheme, nearly half of all European settlers were located in the urban areas of Melbourne and Geelong. This did not accord with the squatters' imagined ideal of reproducing the southern English shires in the Port Phillip District. They had envisaged an agrarian social model (even feudal), with a small elite commanding the automatic loyalties of their large rural workforce. The notion of urban labour in general, and discontented slum-dwelling Irish emigrants fermenting rebellion in particular, was at odds with their pastoral vision.

The emphasis of the rest of this section is therefore on establishing whether Irish emigrants were, in fact, over-represented in urban settlements (or did they disperse into the rural hinterland in similar proportions to English and Scottish emigrants?) The 1846 Census counted the "Country Where Born" of European colonial residents. These results were grouped into seven columns: "In the Colony" (7,583, which does not include Aborigines), "In England" (10,100), "In Wales" (121), "In Ireland" (9,126), "In Scotland" (4,225), "In other British Dominions" (1,403, which includes India, West Indies etc), and "In Foreign Countries" (321). From this basic data it is possible to plot Irish emigrant-settler behaviour with reasonable confidence.

The census entry of Born "In Ireland" is synonymous with the nomination of an Irish "Native Place" in the Bounty Emigration Passenger Lists. The Census, taken in March 1846, identifies 9,126 residents born in Ireland, whereas the Lists reveal the introduction between 1839 and 1845 of 7,713 emigrants with an Irish "Native Place" In other words, Irish bounty emigrants comprised 84.5% of Port Phillip's total number of inhabitants who were Irish-born. They were, to a very large extent, the same population.

Having made this correlation, it can be argued that the proportion of settlers born in Ireland who inhabited different residential zones in the Port Phillip District according to the Census, were also an approximate reflection of the choices in location made by Irish bounty emigrants. When interpreted in this manner, the census data indicates that the 'incoming' Irish behaved pretty much as the rest of the settler population in choosing where they worked and lived.

Of the 9,126 settlers born in Ireland, 4,839 lived in the rural zones of Port Phillip, compared to 4,287 who remained in urban locations. That is, 53% of the Irish-born went on to the 'Bush' to work in pastoral situations. The same statistic for the entire settler population was 54%, a strikingly similar result.

This similarity with other 'national' groups is maintained when the locations of male and female are examined. Of 5,037 males from Ireland, 3,109 or 61.7% were counted in rural zones, slightly more than the 60.5% recorded for all male settlers. Likewise, of 4,089 Irish-born females, 2,359 or 57.7% resided in urban settlements, slightly more than the 55.8% recorded for all female settlers.

Map 9 below illustrates the extent of dispersion of  Irish-born settlers throughout the administrative regions of the District that are used in the Census. Note that the component, or proportion, of all European settlers who were born in Ireland was 27.7% of the total (9,126 of 32,879). This percentage, plus or minus 2.5%, gives a useful benchmark from which to compare the regional populations. The map shows that for every region apart from Gipps Land and the small southwestern settlements of Portland and Belfast, the Irish proportion was within the same rage of 25-30% of the broader population.
Map 9: IRISH-BORN SETTLERS. A map of the administrative regions of the Port Phillip District, in each of which the relative densities of Irish-born residents are portrayed as percentages of the general population. The arid and underpopulated Wimmera District in the northwest is unshaded as its residents were counted in neighbouring regions. Source: 1846 Census of the Colony of New South Wales.

For example, the results for the Commissioner's District of Western Port (28.2%), the rural areas of the surveyed County of Bourke (25.9%) and the main urban settlement of Melbourne (28.5%), show relatively little difference. There is no marked divergence from the overall Irish benchmark of 27.7%. Similar densities of Irish settlement existed in 'the city', on 'the fringe', and out on 'the remote'.

These regional figures do not suggest that emigrants from Ireland stopped at the wharf and were reluctant to proceed further inland. Quite the contrary. However, even hardened proponents of "Anti-Irish feeling" were ultimately forced to recognise that Irish emigrants were not one, single, indistinguishable, mass of 'aliens'. When pressed, the squatters' fall-back position became that it was Irish Catholics that were the problem, rather than Irish Protestants.

In an earlier chapter it was established that 31.5%, or nearly a third, of all bounty emigrants from Ireland to Port Phillip were Protestant. This is a significant minority. It begs the question whether the other 68.5% of Irish emigrants who were Catholic behaved differently as settlers, and whether this difference was in some sense disguised by an over-representation of Protestant Irish in rural areas? Did Irish Protestants behave differently to Irish Catholics in selecting location?

Map 10 below is an attempt to identify signs of Catholic conservatism or cultural 'clinginess' in the District. It seeks evidence supporting the suspicion that Irish Catholics stayed together in tight-knit communities at shoreline centres, instead of dispersing throughout the colony. 

Map 10: CATHOLIC SETTLERS. A map of the administrative regions of the Port Phillip District, in each of which the relative densities of Catholic residents are portrayed as percentages of the general population. The arid under-populated Wimmera District in the northwest was counted as parts of neighbouring regions. Source: 1846 Census of the Colony of New South Wales.

Map 10 is a more speculative venture than Map 9. It is based on a less convincing link between the 1846 Census and the bounty emigrant Passenger Lists. Any 'correlation' between 9,075 Catholics in the Census and 4,259 Irish-Catholics in the Lists is a statistical leap too far, for obvious reasons. Neither group can plausibly represent the other.

Nevertheless, if some regional 'hotspots' for Catholic settlers were to emerge from the map, it might be reasonable to suggest some distinctive 'group' behaviour was also occurring among Catholic-Irish emigrants. In Map 10, therefore, the key search is for high densities, not relative absences as was the case in Map 9.

The interpretive idea being 'tested' here is that if the 1846 Census results for the subject "Religion" were plotted regionally, then evidence of Catholic 'clustering' might be found, pointing to a sort of cultural 'tribalism' that was spatially focused around priest or church.

 The 1846 Census counted 9,075 Catholics out of a total Port Phillip District population of 32,879. This gives an average benchmark for the map of 27.6%. The map shows that Catholics were under-represented in the Portland Bay and Gipps Land regions. However, the proportion of Catholics residing in the Districts of Murray and Western Port, in the Counties of Bourke and Grant, and in the settlements of Melbourne and Geelong, were all within the range of 25-30%. Melbourne and Bourke were slightly above the benchmark at 29.5% and 28.5%. Geelong and Grant were slightly below the benchmark at 26.6% and 25.5%.

It seems fair to conclude that, at this regional level of analysis, there is no obvious evidence of Catholic 'clustering' in the Port Phillip District. A slight tendency toward Melbourne and Bourke is apparent from comparison with the benchmark, but this does not seem sufficient to upset the general conclusion. It is certainly not significant enough to be assuming that most Irish-born Catholic emigrants were congregating in town-based communities.

The lack of higher than average densities of Catholics in urban centres is also a reminder of the arguments visited in earlier chapters. Catholic bounty emigrants from Ireland were a pre-Famine population. The universal imposition of doctrinal discipline by the Catholic hierarchy, what Emmet Larkin calls "the devotional revolution" in the Irish Church, was a post-Famine phenomenon. That is, bounty emigrants in the 1830s and 1840s came from a less uniform religious background than subsequent impressions (from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century) would suggest. In this context, Map 10 really confirms what an informed reader might expect to find.

In practice, colonial Catholics from pre-Famine Ireland were probably no more tied to the authority of the priest and the holy calendar than Presbyterians were to their minister and his sermons on the Sabbath. Religious constraints, real or imagined, played little role in determining whether an Irish-Catholic emigrant-settler took employment in urban or rural areas. The Census figures do not indicate that Irish Catholics responded to work and location choices any differently to others in the Port Phillip District. Approximately half stayed in Melbourne and Geelong but the other half moved into the pastoral hinterland.

Colonial Wages

The first wave of bounty emigration had another, more profound, impact on the Port Phillip District. The influx of immigrants, especially at its highpoint in 1841, led to an immediate and dramatic drop in wages paid to colonial workers. Those intent on 'talking up' the prospects of emigration sought to mask this effect, claiming it was the result of a temporary economic recession.

In July 1841, when arrivals of emigrant ships were approaching their peak, the Port Phillip Herald was one such voice.
"WAGES. -- Several of the recently arrived emigrants have been engaged at 25 Pounds per Annum, for single farming men -- Their wages used to be from 35 to 45 Pounds. This is to be attributed solely to the pressure of the times, and not to the labour market being overstocked".(3)
The "gentlemen" of Melbourne "and surrounding districts" knew better. They were in no doubt that emigrant numbers were responsible and were very pleased.
"The late large importation of labour into the district has had the most beneficial effects: it has brought labour, or rather wages, down from their former oppressive price to a more equitable rate; it has made servants of every class more obedient to their employers, and more careful and diligent in their respective callings".(4)
The introduction of large numbers of emigrants increased competition for existing jobs and drove an effective transfer of bargaining power from employee to employer. The close alignment between the arrival of vessels with emigrants and the corresponding plunge in wage rates belies the argument that it was not a function of multiplying the supply of labour.

Graph 14 below is a composite graph demonstrating the strong inverse relationship between migration and rates of pay. It compares the wages paid to shepherds from 1837 to 1844 (an industry-sensitive category of high demand), with the numbers of bounty emigrants admitted to Port Phillip between 1839 and 1844.

Graph 14: PRICE OF LABOUR. A composite graph superimposing 'shepherding wages paid' over 'number of emigrant arrivals' for each year from 1837 to 1844. The key to number of emigrants arriving is on the LHS, the rate of annual wages paid in Pounds Sterling is on the RHS. Source: Passenger Lists, Parliamentary Papers, Port Phillip Gazette, Herald, Patriot.

Note that while emigrant numbers were collected in the Passenger Lists (or Lists of Immigrants), no similar statistical record was kept for contracts of employment by non-government ships in the bounty trade. The source of these wage rates above are therefore anecdotal to some extent -- 'semi-official' or 'informed opinion'. The figures graphed here are 'summary-estimates' of 'pay-ranges' made by District Commissioners of Crown Lands, officers of the Port Phillip Immigration Board, and other administrators at the time. A conservative mid-range figure has been used in these cases. Where this information was not provided for any year, it has been supplied by the least sensational annual reviews reported in the three local papers.

The 'reverse fit' of wages and emigrant arrivals in Graph 14 is very neat. The year 1841 presents a very clear cause-and-effect relationship between the two. Even after a gap in 1843, with no ships, the partial resumption of the bounty scheme in 1844 was sufficient to force wages lower again. Reports of 14 to 17 Pounds per annum for shepherds were common for 1844 (as were pay rates from 9 to 16 Pounds per annum for housemaids).

In the interests of balance, it is important to recognise that rations and (rudimentary) shelter were also supplied to annually contracted shepherds (as was food and lodging for house servants). These workers were not dependent on their wages alone and so a halving of their cash-pay was closer to losing a third of their 'conditions of employment' overall. None the less, many emigrants had a legitimate grievance when they compared what was actually on offer in the colonies with the expectation of 'high wages' that had been encouraged by emigration agents at 'Home'. 

For example, in February 1839 the Sydney importer William Walker & Co advised their agents in Britain of the extraordinary demand for labour in the Port Phillip District.
"The settlers in that quarter are quite at a standstill for want of labourers, and mechanics of the ordinary description...any common labourer can here command 6s.6d. to 7s. per day; shepherds cannot be had for less than 40 Pounds a-year; bullock-drivers can earn a guinea a-week, with board and lodging...Women servants cannot be obtained here -- 15 to 20 Pounds per annum wages would be readily given by families for female servants".(5)
These were heady words for a Irishman earning 8 or 9 pence per day, or even an Englishman earning 2 or 3 shillings a day. Consequently, there were some dashed hopes when Port Phillip employers clambered aboard emigrant ships to make their selections. Voices were doubtless raised, but bounty emigrants were eventually forced to compromise or lose the hope of regular employment. This was their experience as early as October 1840, as those on the Himalaya discovered.
"WAGES. -- The immigrants by the Himalaya, being rather conceited of their superior qualifications, or presuming on the state of the labour market, have considered 50 Pounds per annum for a single man, or 80 Pounds for a married pair, as a reasonable demand for their services! They will no doubt find a safety valve for this high pressure demand engine, or ere long the machinery must explode".(6)
Disillusioning emigrants of 'unrealistic' expectations was one thing. Dealing with emigrant unemployment was another. In January 1842 the Port Phillip Gazette reported that the high level of shipments over the previous 12 months had left "a number of unemployed hands a burden on the government...Indeed the poverty and discomfort of the numerous families now congregated in town from the lately arrived vessels [and] waiting for engagement" had become so "prominent and pressing" as to require immediate "sympathy and assistance".(7)

The collateral effect of the influx of bounty emigrant ships was unemployment. At 1 January 1842, "42 men with families and 65 single women...were without employment" in Melbourne.(8) By the end of July 1842, 243 married men were "in Government employ" and 74 single women and destitute children were "in Government charge".(9) And in August 1843 "a number of men with families...offered their services to the Town Council at two shillings per diem", such was their desperation to find work.(10)

One glimmer of protest from the emigrants at this unexpected state of affairs has already been mentioned in the first chapter. On 10 May 1842, a group of Irish emigrants on government relief marched in Melbourne to protest their anger at having their 'wages' cut from 20 to 18 shillings per week. The pay cut was in response to complaints from the squatters, who wanted to make government assistance so unattractive that it would force the unemployed to accept rural work at reduced rates. The protesters were dispersed by police and their ringleaders taken into custody.(11)

Three other instances of 'strike' action took place in Melbourne around this time, with similarly disappointing results. Carpenters, bricklayers and builders labourers struck for better wages in November 1839, journeyman bakers did the same in March 1840, and house carpenters 'went out' in August 1840. These industrial disputes were all unsuccessful from the workers point of view.

In the latter instance, the Master Builders negotiated for an extension to their construction contracts ("which was granted as a matter of course"). Once free of their own obligations they then imposed a 'lock-out' on the strikers ("by which the combination gentlemen were given the opportunity of walking about for a few weeks for the good of their families").(12) Employers in the Port Phillip District had zero political tolerance for any industrial action, and in an economic climate of falling wages and rising unemployment they possessed all the 'bargaining' power they needed to defeat the workers.

These events probably occurred too early in the bounty emigration program to assume that many emigrants were directly involved in them. Newly arrived, their priorities were more likely to be getting a job in the first place, rather than risking dismissal for protesting at how much the boss paid. Similar reasoning would possibly exclude emigrant participation in the two main rural outbursts of discontent that got press coverage at the time, even though these took place later in the emigration cycle.

In September 1841, shearers in the Geelong district tried to 'organise' other shearing teams in an effort to raise the going rate of 15 shillings per hundred sheep shorn to 20 shillings. They were accused by the squatters of using violence and intimidation to achieve their goal of  unity amongst all shearers. Some shearers, under pressure from a couple of the bigger sheep owners, insisted on completing their existing 'sheds' at the lower rate. Four 'ringleaders' were arrested and charged with "conspiracy to raise wages". Their case did not go to trial as the prosecution witnesses (other shearers) absconded rather than give evidence against them.(13)

Bounty emigrants were probably not involved in this dispute either. Shearing work gangs of the period were predominantly ex-convict and fiercely exclusive. These seasonal workers, originally from Van Diemen's Land and still talking to each other in 'prison-patter', were as suspicious of competition from 'free' labour as they were of authority. They chose who they traveled from station to station with, who they worked beside when they got work, and who they drank and fought with at the grog shanty afterwards. This social exclusiveness of 'old lags' from VDL is also relevant to the second incident of industrial unrest in the Bush.

In the far west region of Portland Bay the rural work-force (not just the itinerants) were still mainly the 'old hands' who had come over Bass Strait with the original squatters in the 1830s. By 1844 their resentment at having to take lower wages than they had received in earlier years was intense. On 1 March of that year the Port Phillip Herald reported that "the greatest irregularities and the most lawless depredations prevail" around the Port Fairy settlement. The "settlers in that quarter" (read squatters) were apparently "in their persons and property quite at the mercy of a band of lawless vagabonds, principally the 'old hands' who will not put up with the present reduced rate of wages".(14)

Threats of arson and murder were directed at the squatters by "parties of men...associating together". These threats were sporadic and personal in nature, very often coming to nothing beyond frightening the individual concerned. Letters threatening to burn crops or injure the boss were tied to isolated and specific grievances revolving around 'looking after their own'. There was no general groundswell of industrial action and no suggestion of emigrant involvement.

In November 1844, the Port Phillip Gazette noted that "shearing was now in progress" and "many wool drays have come into town this week". Interestingly, it went on to state, "Shearers are in demand, and several shepherds have bolted from the service of their employers, in order to get the increased wages". For the Gazette, "This is a practice which ought in every instance be severely punished".(15)

It is unlikely that the squatters affected by this 'bolting' needed any prompting to pursue 'remedies' available to them under the Masters and Servants Act. By the mid-1840s, the pendulum of market power had well and truly swung in their favour and they were determined it would not swing back. But the newspaper's commentary does indicate one possible avenue of economic protest for recently arrived emigrants. Individuals could display the same self-interest that motivated their frugal employers, simply by disappearing 'down the track' to a higher paying seasonal job. 

In summary though, bounty emigrants do not seem to have been involved in collective industrial action in the Southern District of the Colony of New South Wales (of which there was very little anyway). Nor did they take part in the vengeful 'private' actions of the ex-convict 'old hands' in the Geelong and Portland Bay areas.

Emigrant settlers, including Irish or Irish-Catholic bounty emigrants, appear to have merged into colonial society in a remarkably peaceful and productive manner. The Irish contributed their labour to urban and rural localities in roughly the same proportions as the rest of the population. And despite the provocations of greatly reduced wages (and for some, periods of unemployment on government 'relief'), they do not seem to have resorted to social unrest or industrial action.

The Irish profile in the Port Phillip District (before the Gold Rush and prior to the mass emigrations from the Potato Famine), was lawful and compliant. Irish bounty emigrants contributed to the growth and development of this part of the mainland colony in the same positive manner that characterised those with English and Scottish origins. There was really nothing in their subsequent behaviour that vindicated the negative slurs of the squatters and newspaper proprietors who so consistently derided them.


(1) HCCDA Document, NSW-1846-census, p. 46, 'Country Where Born'
(2) HCCDA Document, NSW-1846-census, p. 41, 'Number of Each Age'
(3) Port Phillip Herald, in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Tuesday 13 July 1841, p. 3
(4) Lonsdale and Patterson to La Trobe, 22 July 1842, in British Parliamentary Papers, 1843, Vol. XXXIV, Appendix N, p. 77
(5) Twenty Years Experience in Australia, 1839, London, Smith Elder & Co, p. 58
(6) Port Phillip Gazette, in The Sydney Herald, Saturday 24 October 1840, p. 2
(7) Port Phillip Gazette, in Australasian Chronicle, Tuesday 18 January 1842
(8) 'Report on Immigration', The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Tuesday 7 June 1842, p. 4
(9) 'Papers Relating to Emigration', British Parliamentary Papers, 1843, Vol. XXXIV, Appendix L, No. 64, p. 69
(10) 'The Working Classes', Port Phillip Gazette, in The Australian, Monday 4 September 1843, p. 4
(11) Port Phillip Patriot, in The Sydney Herald, Friday 13 May 1842, p. 2
(12) Port Phillip Gazette, in The Colonist, Saturday 2 November 1839, p. 2; P. Mullaly, 2008, Crime in the Port Phillip District 1835-1851, Melbourne, Hybrid Publishing, p. 716; Port Phillip Herald, in Colonial Times, Tuesday 18 August 1840, p. 6
(13) P. Mullaly 2008, p. 717
(14) Port Phillip Herald, in The Australian, Monday 11 March 1844, p. 3
(15) Port Phillip Gazette, in The Australian, Wednesday 27 November 1844, p. 4


Wednesday, 26 October 2016

FIRST WAVE: Patrick's Temper

FIRST WAVE: Emigrant Ships to Port Phillip 1839-1845


A major charge, perhaps the major charge, raised against Irish emigrants was their 'national' reputation for violence. The Irish people, it was alleged, were 'by nature' volatile and violent. Their reputation for violence was reinforced in the colonial environment by frequent newspaper reports of public disorder and political murders in Ireland during the last decades before the Famine.

At the outset of this chapter, it is important to separate the anti-social violence then prevalent in Ireland into two categories. The first type was practised on a large scale, part 'recreation' and part 'settling the score'. This will be discussed under the heading "Riots and Affrays". The second was practised on a smaller scale and was more lethal and calculated. This will be examined later in the chapter under the heading "Targeted Assassinations".

Both forms of violence resulted in personal injury and death, but the degree of intentional malice involved in each was quite different. It was unfortunate that the delayed, and abbreviated, press reports from Britain did not make this distinction. The details of these incidents were lost in the sensational depiction of general horror and lawlessness.

The conclusion reached in Australia was that not only were the Irish lawless and uncontrollable, which was bad enough, but that they were also deliberate and vicious killers, which was much worse.

Riots and Affrays

To the leading 'free' colonists, the predominantly English and Scottish class of investor-capitalists, Irish emigrants were much like the Irish convicts who had preceded them. It was assumed that Irish emigrants were similarly quick-tempered -- quick to take offence and quick to raise their fists -- and would be equally difficult to manage as employees on distant stations.

All Irish were predisposed to violence according to this assessment. So ingrained was this national 'reflex' supposed to be, that many squatters believed that even allowing the Irish to congregate in any numbers would inevitably result in an outburst of 'tribal aggression'. The theory seems to have been that once a 'critical-mass' of Irishmen (or Irish women) arose in one location, it would 'spontaneously combust' into mob violence.

The following 'cautionary tale' is reproduced from a report of an Executive Council of New South Wales Meeting with Governor Sir George Gipps in 1842. It was related by prominent squatter James Macarthur and was no doubt intended as a sincere contribution to this august gathering of the Colony's elite.

Macarthur began by assuring the Council that he was not anti-Irish. "God forbid that any such feeling should exist". But as a pastoralist "he had the management of many Irish", and from his experience "he could give a practical instance of the disadvantages likely to arise from the great preponderance of the Irish".
At Camden, some years ago, they had upwards of one hundred men; at first they endeavoured to keep a pretty equal number of English, and Irish, and Scotch, but at length the Irish behaved so well, that they were allowed to become the preponderating number. A dispute arose between the two worst of the men, -- an Englishman and an Irishman, -- the Englishman was the better boxer of the two, and gave the other a drubbing; the Irish looked upon this as a reflection of their national character and taking up their shillelahs, sallied forth and attacked everyone they came across. The next day, after their hot blood had somewhat subsided, he went amongst them; it would have been somewhat dangerous to do it while their blood was up; and he remonstrated with them; they said they knew they had done wrong, but it was constitutional with them, that they could not help it, and that even if he had come amongst them, they should probably have knocked him down also. This might have been the subject of serious complaint before the Magisterial power...but it was deemed more prudent to let the matter drop, and by removing the cause, that was by reducing the number of Irishmen to a par with that of the others, to prevent the recurrence of such a disturbance, and when this was done all went on well, and they worked together harmoniously as before.(1)
Macarthur's story concerned a convict work-force on Camden. However the squatter clearly meant to apply the same 'lesson' to the more recently arrived bounty emigrants from Ireland. In Macarthur's mind, all Irish whether convict or 'free', had the same innate tendency towards unrestrained rioting and assault. In their own words, "it was constitutional with them...they could not help it".

Macarthur's 'lesson' was extremely condescending. Nevertheless, there is extensive evidence that, historically and culturally, Ireland was a violent place. For instance, the tradition of "faction fighting" persisted in pre-Famine Ireland despite the strong disapproval of the Catholic clergy. Faction fights were all out brawls, organised in advance between rival villages or family clans.

At the conclusion of regional market fairs, or Celtic-Catholic rituals like the annual 'pattern-day' at certain sacred sites, crowds would indulge in whisky drinking at the publicans' tents. Insults would be exchanged between the factions and then the fight would begin. It sometimes involved hundreds of combatants throwing half-brick "stones" and wielding lead-weighted "hurling sticks". And it ended only when the rate of casualties forced the defeated side from the field.

Faction fights were a customary form of violence, both a release of communal tensions and a revival of the old hatreds that drove them. Priests and bishops condemned them and strove to remove the whisky sellers' "booths" from religious events such as funeral "wakes", mass-stations, weddings and baptisms.

Ecclesiastic efforts to eradicate the stimulus of drunkenness from religious events had some success in the first half of the nineteenth century. However, an increased "reverence" and respect for 'holy places' did not restrain activity at more commercial venues, where much of the lawlessness and limb-breaking continued as before.

On Monday 24 June 1834, insults were uttered at the Milltown fair in County Kerry. The Colheens, who inhabited one side of the River Cashen, and the Lawlors and Mulvihills who occupied the other, had longstanding emnities. On the following Wednesday at the Balleagh races, after the last race had been run and the prize of a saddle awarded to the winner, the rival clans clashed.

More than one thousand fought, "furiously engaged in mortal strife and no quarter given on either side...the Colheens were at length defeated...the fugitives driven into the water [where] their brains were beaten out". The official death toll was 16. (The authorities arrested 18). All achieved with "sticks" and "stones". Not a shot was fired. A detachment of armed British soldiers from the 69th Regiment were reduced to onlookers, impotent observers of "a savage atrocity".(2)

These sorts of scenes went beyond tolerance of boisterous spirits and 'boys will be boys'. They 'endorsed' a casual attitude to violence, an acceptance of boorish and brutal behaviour, and submission to bullies. Faction fights 'sanctioned' the dominance of the group, led by the most violent, and this is likely to have had a coercive, or suppressing, effect on Irish society.

The Ballyreagh massacre was a late and possibly extreme example of Irish faction fighting. Still, it does prompt the question: Did this background of social violence transfer to the Port Phillip District with the first wave of bounty emigration? In other words, did these Irish emigrants bring a culture of violence with them? One method of inquiry towards answering this question is to investigate records of criminality from the early settlement period.

Emigrant Crime

Paul Mullaly's Crime in the Port Phillip District 1835-1851 is a well researched collection of all serious crime that came before Melbourne sittings of the Court of Petty Sessions and the Supreme Court. It is a near-exhaustive record of those offences that came before a judge and jury in the period before Separation and the Gold Rush.(3)

The following handful of reports extracted from Mullaly's Crime make up a sort of Irish emigrants' case list. This short list is restricted to crimes against the person (murder, assault, etc.) and does not include offences involving property (robbery, fraud, etc.). It is limited to those trials in which the parties have been able to be identified, with a strong degree of certainty, as former bounty emigrants from Ireland. It does not include minor charges, arrests, or short periods of confinement, where the matter was heard by individual magistrates or justices of the peace.

It begins with two personal and very human tragedies. The first of these is "Crown v. Carrig". In the early morning of 4 July 1844, Ann Carrig ("or Carrick") was discovered walking along the Yarra River "with blood about her shoes and stockings". Because she seemed to be "in a weak condition", a Dr Bryant was called to examine her. He diagnosed that Ann had been "very shortly delivered of a child". Ann denied this. At about the same time the body of a child was discovered, "gnawned by dogs".

On 3 June 1841, Ann Carrick, a 19 year old "single female" from County Clare, had arrived in Port Phillip as a bounty emigrant on the Duchess of Northumberland. She was a Roman Catholic, "reads only", and her occupation was "house servant".

At her trial before Justice Jeffcott on 19 August 1844, Ann Carrig's admission to another doctor that she had given birth to a stillborn baby and buried the body was heard. The jury found her not guilty of murder, but guilty of the offence of "concealing a birth". The judge sentenced Ann to nine months imprisonment with hard labour for each alternate month.(4)

The second of these tragedies is "Crown v. Harren". In the first half of 1847 Henry Harren ("or Warren") returned to Melbourne "from the bush" and resumed living with his wife Sarah in a dwelling off Lonsdale Street. Over the next few days he assaulted her several times. One of these assaults was witnessed by Mary Walton. On the afternoon of 9 July, Walton later testified, Harren went to where his wife was standing at the wash tub and "gave her a severe blow on the side of her head with his fist and also kicked her".

On 13 December 1840, Sarah Warren, a 28 year old "house servant" and literate Catholic from Dublin, had arrived in Port Phillip as a bounty emigrant on the notorious ship Orient. Sarah was one of the 20 "unmarried women" on that vessel found to have "embarked unprotected" and one of the 9 who were also found to have "behaved infamously while on board".

Susan had Henry arrested and swore that she had not given her husband any provocation before the assaults. At his trial before the Supreme Court on 29 July 1847, Henry Harren was discharged after stating "he would be more affectionate to his wife in the future".(5)

The Irish case list continues with two of what Mullaly calls "Sectarian Offences" (although they could also be classified under "Excessive Consumption of Alcohol"). The first of these is "Crown v. Connell". On 15 April 1844 Jeremiah Connell, a 22 year old Roman Catholic "labourer" from County Cork, arrived in Port Phillip as a bounty emigrant on the Sea Queen. By 1846 he was employed by the Yuilles family on their station near Mount Buninyong.

On the afternoon of 16 November 1846, Jeremiah Connell went drinking at John Veitche's Boninyong Inn with fellow employee Robert Cameron. During the afternoon the publican observed that Jeremiah became "riotous and quarrelsome". Connell was arguing "about religion and King William" with another man, whom he seemed to think was "an Orangeman". At one stage Connell was overheard saying he "would never be satisfied till he had the blood of an Orangeman on his souls [sic]".

That evening outside the inn, when he was supposedly heading back to the station, Connell hit his companion Cameron, knocking him down. A man called Edward Martin, who was going into the inn at the time of the fight, remarked that "if he was a papist he made a very cowardly one to strike a man while he was on the ground". Connell was then seen going back inside "with his hands behind his back" and, "with the poker he had concealed, struck Edward Martin two blows on the head and Martin fell insensible". Martin died the following morning from his wounds. Trooper William Hines subsequently arrested Connell and took custody of the offending iron bar. 

At his trial before Justice a'Beckett in Melbourne on 15 December 1846, Connell had no memory of the incident and pleaded "intoxication and excitement". He was convicted of murder by the court and sentenced to death. Jeremiah Connell was executed on 27 January 1847 and "the body was handed over to Mr Therry the Catholic clergyman for internment".(6)

The year 1846 was a time of heightened sectarian tensions in the Port Phillip District. A celebratory dinner to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne (1 July 1690) was advertised to be held at Thomas Gordon's Pastoral Hotel on the corner of Queen and Little Bourke Streets. Banners supporting the Orange cause were strung from the upper storey windows. "An angry crowd gathered in the vicinity". Shots were fired from inside the hotel. One bullet grazed Father Geoghegan as he attempted to disperse the protesters. Others wounded David Hurley and Thomas O'Brien.

Arrests were made, of William Hinds for "shooting with intent to murder", and Patrick Buckle, John James, and George Hunter for "being armed and riotous". Later, these charges were quietly dropped. The authorities were reluctant to provide any more occasions for a noisy crowd to gather. Protestant-Catholic rivalries were a political incendiary, with any action taken by the government deemed likely to be misinterpreted by one side or the other. Inaction was the wiser course.

The policy of doing as little as possible to avoid inflaming the situation further had already been partially adopted in an earlier case from 1846, "Crown V. Gorman". In March a three day race meeting had been held at Flemington. After the final race was run, "Mr Dewing, the rider of [the winning horse] Wild Harry...was bludgeoned by a ruffian and for a few moments it was thought he was killed". Patrick Main, rider of the second place-getter, Jane, said "he saw David Gorman strike Dewing on the head with a stick until Dewing fell from his horse. Others then attacked Dewing".

At Gorman's trial a jury found him guilty of assault but made a strong recommendation for mercy. (A surgeon Dr David Thomas testified that there were "many contusions" on Dewing's head and he thought the concussing wound was "caused by the kick of a horse"). On 17 June 1846 Justice a'Beckett sentenced Gorman to 12 months imprisonment.

David Gorman, an 18 year old Catholic from County Limerick, arrived in Port Phillip as a bounty emigrant on the William Metcalfe on 24 November 1839. Travelling on the same bounty emigrant ship were his parents 39 year old Patrick and 35 year old Mary Gorman, along with David's younger brothers and sisters.

In July 1846 David's father Patrick sent a petition to Superintendent La Trobe seeking mitigation of the 12 month sentence. The petition was referred back to a'Beckett, who refused to "express any opinion about this particular case because of its connection with Irish problems which he thought he should avoid creating any impression of support for any faction [sic]". Similarly, the Governor in Sydney declined "to interfere".(7)

Because of its "connection with Irish problems", the colonial administration did not want to be seen to be acting extra-judiciously. The Gormans were Roman Catholics and the 'gentleman-rider' Henry Dewing was linked to the Orange-Protestant cause. The matter was therefore considered 'sensitive'. Neither La Trobe nor Gipps wanted to act lest their decision be misinterpreted as religious bias. David Gorman served his full term.

By the end of the 1840s, however, tempers appear to have cooled on the sectarian front. Periodic outbreaks of street brawling in Melbourne were no longer solely motivated by religious antagonism. On Boxing Day 26 December 1850, two "riotous affrays" took place in Melbourne. Both occurred after local sporting events, both were outside local hotels, and both included large numbers of local inhabitants. The second of these, around Michael Sheedy's Richmond Hotel, is the one most reliably linked to the 'Irish case list' of former bounty emigrants.

Sergeant Walter Murphy and three constables attended the fight. Out of a crowd of "about 60", 20 were actively fighting and there were "others running away". After sending to Melbourne for reinforcements, the sergeant returned to find people still congregating around "Sheedy's public house...some of whom had marks of blood as if fighting". In particular he "saw 7 men standing close together", who he later identified as James Joseph Murphy, Michael Murphy, Richard Micklan Murphy, Alexander Murphy, John Scully, James Ready, and James Hasely.(8)

The background of five of these assailants reveals some unexpected cross-cultural  links. On 14 February 1842 the fever ship Manlius arrived in Port Phillip from Glasgow. The vessel landed 245 live emigrants but 61 had died during the passage or later in quarantine. Among those who died were Bartley and Margaret Murphy, parents of Richard aged 15, James aged 13, Sandy (diminutive of Alexander) aged 12, Bartley (Michael?) aged 5, and their three young sisters, Anne, Mary, and Margaret. This now orphaned family were Protestants from Dunbartonshire in Scotland.

A few weeks earlier, on 16 December 1841, 26 year old John Scully and his wife Margaret (nee Sheedy), with their surviving infant daughter Catherine, had arrived on another notorious fever ship. The Ward Chipman from Bristol landed 363 live emigrants but another 23 had died on board. The Scullys, and the Sheedys, were Catholics from County Limerick in Ireland.

Despite their religious differences, the Murphys and Scully stood side by side in the Boxing Day melee of 1850. As  allies, they threw stones, fought with their fists, and wielded palings torn from fences. Together they earned the Melbourne Argus title as the "ringleaders of an affray". Despite different religious and national origins, (but perhaps because of similar emigration experiences), these 'neighbours' defended 'their pub', 'their team', or simply 'their pride', against outsiders. It is interesting that at their trial, a 'jury of their peers' agreed that all parties to the brawl "were equally blameable", and the accused were consequently acquitted.(9)

These few examples of crimes against the person from a short Irish-emigrant case list are, of course, a tiny fraction of the overall numbers of the first wave to Port Phillip. Nevertheless, they do suggest a tentative progression of colonial experience for the new arrivals. Firstly, there are the pathetic human tragedies born of poverty and misjudgment (R v. Carrig, R V. Harren). Then in the middle of the decade, a period of sectarian animosity appears (R v. Connell, R v. Gorman). Finally, some evidence arises of a dilution of religious loyalties (R v. Murphy, Scully et al). Rather than a gradual 'hardening' of attitudes in a defensive circle of 'us' and 'them', there may be emerging signs that religious rigidities were not the only basis on which the Irish emigrants defined themselves.

A detailed analysis of lower court records may in fact confirm the popular view that the Irish were more raucous and rowdy than English or Scottish emigrants under the bounty scheme. At the level of magistrates' hearings the 'victimless' minor offences of public drunkenness and street brawling could well have attracted more than their share of emigrants from Ireland. From the perspective of the local 'benches' in Geelong or Portland it might have seemed that Celtic names were in the majority among a familiar litany of repeat offenders.

However the abbreviated Irish case list from the higher courts, where serious crime was tried, indicates that this (perceived) unruliness did not translate into the vicious and vengeful patterns of murder and destruction that disfigured Ireland. Macarthur's half-jest, that the Irish "could not help themselves", masked a much deeper concern about Irish violence. It was a fear of being slaughtered in their beds, of night-time arsonists destroying their property, of political terror.

At an earlier meeting of the Executive Council in October 1840, Macarthur had quietly stated what was probably at the back of every squatter's mind. He said then that, "he did not think it would be prudent to have a country composed of Protestant landlords and masters, and Roman Catholic tenants and servants".(10)

In other words, Macarthur (and his ilk) wanted to avoid the reproduction of the calamitously failed demographic structure of Ireland into the 'new' colonial society. He feared most of all that the same dedicated anti-landlord violence that was currently terrorising Anglo-Irish elites would be introduced into the Colony of New South Wales.

The Terries

The Terry Alt movement of secret agrarian societies began in County Clare in the early 1830s. It was an underground rebellion that would have been in the recent living memory of many of the first wave of Irish bounty emigrants who arrived in Port POhillip between 1839 and 1845. And it proved a popular form of protest, soon spreading to southern Galway, most parts of Limerick, and areas of Tipperary and Kilkenny.

It exploded into notoriety in January 1831, with the murder of William Blood in his Corofin home by six armed men. Blood was a land agent for Lord Stradbroke and known for his previous role in estate evictions, so there was no mistaking the political point of his execution.

The Terries had an Irish sense of humour. According to 'legend', a retired veteran with the name of Terry Alt lived near Corofin, where he regularly attended the village church -- "a most harmless and inoffensive man". One Sunday morning another man was attacked and severely beaten. The victim described on of his attackers as wearing a straw hat. At that moment Terry Alt appeared, walking on his way to church. Terry was wearing a straw hat. A local joked that "Terry did it!" This was thought so funny that, whenever a violent attack or some other outrage was instigated by the secret societies in southwestern Ireland, the same mocking claim was made.(11)

The most publicised exploits of the Terries were their mass protests in broad daylight. In Clare there were 591 cases of crowds, in their hundreds and accompanied by the music of tin whistles and drums, which converged on pasture fields and began digging up the sods. This ruined the land for grazing and forced farmers to use the ground for tillage (which required the employment of labourers) and 'conacre' (which supplied potato plots for labourers). Another favourite was the dismantling of stone-walls and fences around pasture, and the driving off of cattle to be impounded or 'lost'. 132 of these cases were reported.

There was, however, a darker side to the Terries' 'mischief'. In Irish Peasants:Violence and political unrest 1780-1914, James Donnelly analyses the official crime statistics for 1831 in County Clare. Donnelly identifies the following offences committed by the Terries. There were, in that year alone: 19 murders; 201 beatings or "assaults"; 397 cases of "assaulting habitations", a crime found only on Ireland's statute books, when gangs would launch attacks on farm houses at night and terrorise the inhabitants; 288 cases of "robbery of arms" and 100 of "demanding arms" (a major focus of the Terries was the seizing of guns); 303 cases of "tendering oaths", where victims were forced to their knees to make promises to meet certain demands; and 227 cases of robbery and burglary, most of which were really the offence of "demanding monies" in order to buy arms, fee lawyers, and bribe witnesses.(12)

Until the sittings of Special Commissioners in Ennis and Limerick later in 1831, those who had absolute control over the use of land were at the mercy of those who normally had none. This dramatic reversal of roles panicked the leading citizens of Britain (and in the colonies). Extra detachments of soldiers and police were rushed to the province of Munster to deal with the 'crisis'.

The Special Commissioners convicted 119 Terries. 21 were condemned to death, 58 were sentenced to transportation, and 40 were imprisoned with hard labour for periods of three to twelve months. Of the 57 prisoners charged with "assaulting habitation", 11 were found guilty of felonious assault and hung, and the remaining 46 were transported to the penal colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land.

The movement went deeper underground, relying on intimidation and communal loyalties to ensure silent witness. The recorded number of offences plunged.(13)

Targeted Assassinations

A review of Mullaly's Crime in the Port Phillip District 1835-51 indicates that no similar crimes of terror were carried out by Irish emigrants, or anyone else, in the period of early settlement. Patterns of rural revenge and coercion did not translate from Ireland to Port Phillip.

An explanation of why the feared Irish uprising failed to eventuate in the colonies lies in the highly specific nature of the secret society killings in Ireland. In his article "Whiteboys and Ribbonmen: Early Agrarian Secret Societies", Pat Feeley notes "the lack of indiscriminate violence" involved:

"Violence was employed on a calculated, specific basis, in contrast to the gratuitous bloodletting of the faction fights and the sectarian riots. Victims were carefully selected...Attacks were always clearly linked to a specific issue -- a particular eviction, a rise in rents, a protest against labourers being hired from another county. There was rarely much difficulty in ascribing a motive; the perpetrators took pains to publicise the reason for the violence as a warning and a lesson to others."(14)
This argument is supported by M.R. Beame's article "Rural Conflict in Pre-Famine Ireland: Peasant Assassinations in Tipperary 1837-47". Beame's definition of the Irish phenomenon is concise: "Assassination in this context is defined as the calculated, planned killing of a specific person for identifiable motives". The 27 Whiteboy murders in Tipperary between 1837 and 1847 had "identifiable motives" that are distinctive for their clear linkage to local disputes over land.(15)

Ten of the victims in Beame's survey were landlords, nine of them were 'factors' or representatives of landlords, and eight were classified as 'farmers'. Sectarian issues were not decisive in landlord selection. Five of the landlords killed were Catholic. Neither was class hatred of a spendthrift aristocracy who inherited their wealth a decisive issue. Seven of the landlords had commercial backgrounds, coming to landlord status relatively recently.

What connected these murders was the landlord's attitude towards economic 'Improvement'. As 'Improvers', some landlords had sought to increase the profitability of their land by adopting 'modern' farming practices. This invariably meant grazing rather than cultivation, herds of cattle instead of communities of farm labourers. Eight of the landlord deaths were directly related to actual eviction proceedings against existing smallholders and cottier-tenants.

The second group of victims comprised three process-servers, two stewards, one wood-ranger, a herdsman, and two day labourers. They were chosen precisely because they were carrying out the 'Improving' policies of their master -- "often in determined and loyal fashion" -- or stood to personally gain from those policies.

In the third group, classed as 'farmers', five of the eight had taken up situations where the previous tenant or tenants had been evicted. The other three had taken an action, such as marrying against family wishes, which disrupted the traditional occupancy-expectation of someone else. Taking all three categories of victim into account, it was the occupation of leased land, or more accurately, the loss of occupancy through eviction, that led to assassination by the Tipperary Whiteboys.

A sensible footnote to bring this chapter to a close is the conclusion that conditions were different in the Port Phillip District. By comparison with rural Ireland, work was more available and better paid, food was in ample supply, and families did not face starvation from a landlord or his agent acting arbitrarily to change the way things had always been done in the past.

Critically, contractual employer-employee relations in the colonies did not bear the same weight of mutual obligation and customary expectation that was the case in Irish society. Emotionally laden elements, like personal 'betrayal' or 'breach of trust', could accumulate into longstanding resentments and family feuds in a traditional economy, but the preconditions for their existence were largely absent in Australia. 

In the colonial setting, labour was exchanged for wages. This was a simple money-transaction. No obsequious cap-tucking or bowing was required. Each party knew exactly where they were in the weekly or yearly agreement, and they fully expected its renegotiation at the end of the nominated term.


(1) 'Legislative Council of New South Wales - Immigration Report', The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 9 September 1842, p. 2
(2) Babette Smith, 2014, The Luck of the Irish, Sydney, Allen & Unwin, pp. 17-18
(3) Paul Mullaly, 2008, Crime in the Port Phillip District 1835-51, Melbourne, Hybrid Publishers
(4) As above, pp. 282-283
(5) As above, pp. 405-406
(6) As above, pp. 272-273
(7) As above, pp. 747-749
(8) As above, pp. 737-739
(9) 'Criminal Sittings', The Melbourne Argus, Wednesday 5 February 1851, p. 2
(10) The Sydney Herald, Monday 26 October 1840, p. 3
(11) Flan Enright, 'Pre-Famine Clare: Society in Crisis', <>
(12) James S. Donnelly Jr, Irish Peasants: Violence and political unrest 1780-1914, <>
(13) As above
(14) Pat Feeley, 'Whiteboys and Ribbonmen: Early Agrarian Secret Societies', City of Limerick Public Library, p. 26
(15) M.R. Beames, 1978, 'Rural Conflict in Pre-Famine Ireland: Peasant Assassinations in Tipperary 1837-47', Past and Present, No. 81, p. 75. Also in C.H.E. Philpin (ed.), 2002, Nationalism and Popular Protest in Ireland, Cambridge University Press.


Thursday, 6 October 2016

FIRST WAVE: 'Bog' Irish

FIRST WAVE: Emigrant Ships to Port Phillip 1839-1845

Chapter Eight: 'BOG' IRISH

Among the many epithets of abuse hurled at Irish emigrants were allegations of their 'ignorance' and 'uselessness' as employees. These views were so generally held as to be considered universal in the colony. In 1842 the Port Phillip Patriot called bounty emigrants "from the South of Ireland" a "corps of bogtrotters", and "as utterly useless for any supposable species of farm labour as can well be imagined".(1) In the same year, District Superintendent La Trobe was similarly scathing in a letter to his superior, Governor Gipps in Sydney. La Trobe described emigrants from "the south and southwest of Ireland" as "so-called labourers" and "exceeding indifferent, if not worthless hands".(2)

Melbourne Immigration Board members Dr Patterson and Lieut. Patterson were no less critical in an earlier report to La Trobe. "A large proportion of single females, chiefly from south and south-west Ireland" had been brought into Port Phillip during 1841, they said."These young women have been found so totally unqualified for the common wants of the colony" that they "could not find employment but with great difficulty". In order "to obtain good, useful and virtuous farm and domestic female servants", concluded Patterson and Lonsdale, "the country towns and rural districts in England, Scotland, and the north of Ireland, are to be preferred".(3)

An alternative, albeit minority, interpretation of Irish emigrant unemployment had been put to Governor Gipps in 1840. The Attorney General for New South Wales, himself an Irishman, argued instead that unemployed Irish emigrants "remained on hand because they were Irish, and for that reason alone". In his opinion "there could be no doubt that it was Anti-Irish feeling which prevented them from being engaged while there were any immigrants from England and Scotland". This prejudice persisted "although Irishmen are found as good servants, as good shepherds, and as good men in every respect".(4)

The colony's chief legal officer felt it was "the duty of every Irishman to protest against the Anti-Irish feeling which is raised in this Colony; especially when the press had taken it up, and endeavoured to raise a prejudice against Irishmen, not only on account of their country but of their religion".(5) In these comments the Attorney General gets very close to accurately predicting the situation in Port Phillip a couple of years later. The issue of "national antipathies"  both excited the popular press and it appealed to religious bigotry. The examples mentioned at the start of this chapter disclose an undisguised preference for emigrants from the Protestant north of Ireland, while rejecting those from the Catholic south.

The question to be examined in the balance of this chapter is whether there were 'reasonable' grounds for the "Anti-Irish feeling" expressed by senior government officers and newspaper reporters alike. Were "Irish immigrants", or more precisely, "emigrants from the south and south-west of Ireland", less educated and less employable than their fellow-travellers from England, Scotland, and "the north of Ireland"?

The Lists of Immigrants recorded two columns of information that provide some usable forms of 'measurement' here. One is a measure of literacy, called in the Lists "Read & Write". The other is a description of work skills, often called "Trade or Calling" in the Lists. By reading this information from the perspective of a third column called "Native Place", it is possible to compare English Scottish and Irish attainments in education and occupation.

Literacy and education

The following graph, "Comparative Literacies", shows that Irish emigrants overall had lower levels of competency than bounty emigrants from England or Scotland. Ireland provided a greater percentage of people who could neither read nor write (24.1%) and those who could read only (20.8%). The Irish percentage of real literacy, the ability to both read and write (55.1%), was accordingly lower than the English (71.5%), and much lower than Scotland's high standard (84%).

Graph 10: COMPARATIVE LITERACIES. A composite bar graph showing relative competencies in literacy between English, Scottish, and Irish bounty emigrants, and a further division between those from northern (Ulster) and southern Ireland. Figures from Wales are included with those from England.

This graph also supports the view of colonial critics who saw a difference between Irish emigrants from the more Protestant north (Ulster) and those from the almost exclusively Catholic south (Leinster, Munster, and Connaught). Emigrants from Ulster had considerably higher levels of competence (at 65% literate) than those migrating from the southern provinces (51,2% literate).

If the broad slander of 'ignorance', or more bluntly 'stupidity', can be defined in terms of education received, then literacy rates present some form of measurement of that definition. However, these are emotive and abusive words, and they were mostly used in this insulting sense in the colonial controversy surrounding Irish immigration.

Discounting this inflammatory element of the public 'debate', and on the score of literacy alone, Irish emigrants were clearly at an educational disadvantage when compared to their fellow emigrants from England and Scotland. The pattern of advantage and disadvantage is specified further when Irish percentages of literacy and illiteracy are subdivided between the north and south of Ireland. Illiteracy was not an Irish problem so much as it was an Irish-Catholic problem.

The next graph compares the extent of il-literacy among Irish emigrants to Port Phillip between 1839 and 1845, with the percentages of il-literacy in Irish society as a whole according to Census of 1841. Both the Immigrant Lists and the national census provided this information in relation to each county of Ireland. To give a more accurate contrast, the graph has been organised so that each county is ranked first in its province, and then in alphabetical order.

Graph 11: IRISH ILLITERACY. A 3 dimensional bar graph comparing rates of illiteracy for Irish bounty emigrants and the whole Irish population (per Census 1841). Percentages are calculated for each county and counties are grouped in the four provinces of Ireland. The emigrant figures do not include 355 out 6,211 who recorded their "Native Place" as the generic "Ireland". Sources: Author's figures from Lists of Immigrants; Data collated from the Census of Ireland 1841 (in Walter Freeman, 1957, Pre-Famine Ireland: A Study in Historical Geography, Manchester University Press, Table 6, p. 136).

This graphical representation indicates two things. The first is that emigrants had much lower rates of illiteracy (i.e. they were more literate) than the greater Irish population. Emigrants were generally better educated. This supports the argument that those who left Ireland under the bounty scheme were not the most destitute. Migration was a deliberate decision made by those who still had something to lose if they persevered in Ireland. Emigrants tended to be a little better off than the 'vagabond and beggar' class, and part of their small advantage was reflected in slightly higher levels of elementary education.

The second point made by Graph 11 concerns the connection between lower levels of education and Catholic Ireland. The predominantly Catholic south and west of Ireland had higher rates of illiteracy (i.e. they were less literate) than the north and east where Protestant populations were larger. The variation in the Census county results for Ulster, and to a smaller degree for Leinster, support this interpretation.

The province of Ulster was not exclusively Protestant. There was a belt of less fertile country which crossed its southern and western counties (Cavan, Fermanagh, Monaghan, Donegal) and was home to Catholic majorities. Presbyterian majorities were more common in the north eastern counties of Antrim and Derry, (and the more fertile parts of Armagh, Down, and Tyrone). Similarly, in the province of Leinster there were older areas of Anglican settlement that predated the Ulster plantations of the late 17th century.

In the greater detail of county-level illiteracy, Graph 11 continues to leave little doubt about the existence of a Catholic-illiteracy connection. Where the colonial criticism of Irish 'ignorance' falls down however, is when the evidence of illiteracy is used to infer that a sort of congenital idiocy prevailed in Ireland in general, and Catholic Ireland in particular.

Literacy is a measure of education, not intelligence. Graph 10 and Graph 11 are also telling the reasonable observer that there was a gulf of opportunity between Catholics and Protestants in pre-Famine Ireland. Irish Catholics did not reject educational values. Rather, sufficient schools and teachers were simply unavailable for many Catholic families to educate their children, even at an elementary level.

The Irish-Catholic hierarchy of bishops and archbishops recognised that a better education system was an essential part of restoring their parishioners to their former social position in Ireland. But they remained suspicious of Protestant motives, fearing conversion of Catholic youth, and determined to pursue their own, separate institutions. Unfortunately, following a century and a half as a prorogued church, with persecution of personnel and complete confiscation of property under the Penal Laws, the bishops were starting from a long way behind.

A number of advances were made in the late eighteenth century, finally allowed by the gradual repeal of the most restrictive anti-Catholic Acts of Parliament. In 1777 the Presentation Sisters were founded as a teaching order of nuns. In 1795 St Patrick's College was established at Maynooth in Kildare, to supply an Irish-trained clergy. And in 1802 the Christian Brothers were founded to educate Catholic boys.

By 1824 there were 7,575 students in 46 convent schools, 5,541 students in 24 schools run by the Brothers, and 391 students attending the Maynooth Seminary. While these achievements were real enough, they represented a very small drop in a very big bucket of educational need.(6)

For example, the Irish Census of 1821 recorded a total of 1,749,000 children aged from 5 to 15 years. The Irish Census of 1831 revealed that approximately 80% of the Irish population was Catholic. It follows that the number of Catholic school age children in 1821 was roughly 1,400,000 (i.e. 80% of the total 1,749,000 Irish children counted in that year). 

The Second Report of the Irish Education Inquiry established that the number of Catholic children attending any type of school in Ireland in 1824 was 397,212. This leaves approximately 1,000,000 Catholic children unaccounted for.(7)

Diagram 1: 'Catholic Education 1824', below, is a pyramid-shaped representation of all those Catholic children. It descends from tertiary, through secondary, then primary, to no schooling. Colour shading also decreases from a pinnacle of the Catholic Church's influence on the educational process (Maynooth Seminary), down through the probably negligible influence of the local parish priest over an array of "hedge" or "pay" schools operated by independent 'teachers' throughout rural Ireland, to the nadir of neglect and no influence at all --- the million nominally Catholic children aged between 5 and 15 years, those who had either finished their few years of rudimentary schooling, or had never had the opportunity to attend school in the first place.

Diagram 1: CATHOLIC EDUCATION 1824. Not to accurate scale. Source of Data: S.J. Connelly, 2001, Priests and People in Pre-Famine Ireland 1780-1845, Dublin, Four Courts Press, pp. 58-61 & 96-98.

One further observation is worth making in the context of educational opportunity for Catholic school age children in pre-Famine Ireland. As the influence of the Catholic Church diminishes towards the base of the educational pyramid, so too does the quality of the teaching.

Catholic and Society schools were in large part funded by philanthropy and were staffed by religious orders or trained professionals. The "hedge" or "pay" schools, on the other hand, were funded by what parents could afford to pay each week. Impoverished areas could not attract the best teachers and classroom facilities tended to be "impermanent" or nonexistent.

In summary, this section on literacy and education suggests some substance to the colonists' accusation of 'ignorance' among Irish emigrants to Port Phillip. By redefining 'ignorance' in terms of education, the sting of insult is (partially) removed. It is then possible to acknowledge that the Irish had lower levels of educational achievement than others arriving under the Bounty Scheme.

This pattern of a lower percentage of literacy is repeated when statistics from southern and northern Ireland are compared. The Irish-Catholic education system was chronically under-resourced and the flow-on effect from this disadvantage was clearly reflected in the Immigrant Lists.

'Trade or Calling'

This next section examines the Immigrant Lists' recording of occupations and employment skills. Colonial administrators and employers regularly criticised the reliability of these descriptions. They claimed that many of the nominated categories were in fact fraudulent misrepresentations of an individual's actual work experience.

The habit of emigration agents in British ports 'topping up' ships to Australia and blatantly contriving to meet 'quotas' of preferred employee-types has already been mentioned in Chapters Two and Seven. Instances of emigrants being supplied with pre-filled certificates of character, or pre-signed medical certificates, were detected by Immigration Boards in Sydney and Melbourne. In 1842 Superintendent La Trobe admitted that such "instances of gross fraud are not wanting, and when the perfect impunity with which certain of these have been practised, is remarked, the suspicion arises whether they are much more numerous than supposed".(8)

The prevalence of this practice places a large question-mark over data collected from the "Trade or Calling" columns in the Immigrant Lists. It qualifies any interpretation of emigrant employability that is based on this information. Nevertheless, some value may be retained by these (admittedly dodgy) figures if analysis is limited to comparing them with themselves -- 'bad' apples with 'bad' apples. (This approach assumes that instances of corruption were linked to ports and agents, rather than determined by national or ethnic origins). It is with this reservation in mind that Irish emigrants' 'occupations' are set alongside those from England and Scotland in Graphs 12 and 13 below.

Graph 12: COMPARATIVE MALE OCCUPATIONS. A bar graph comparing the "Trade or Calling" of English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish bounty emigrants to Port Phillip between 1839 and 1845. Source: Authors figures derived from the Lists of Immigrants.

Graph 13: COMPARATIVE FEMALE OCCUPATIONS. A bar graph comparing the "Trade or Calling" of English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish bounty emigrants to port Phillip between 1839 and 1845. Source: Author's figures derived from the Lists of Immigrants.

These graphs plot real or absolute numbers rather than percentages. An obvious inference to draw from them is that Irish emigrants, both male and female, were mainly unskilled workers. 1,797 Irish males were labourers and 1,841 Irish females were house-servants. In addition, the proportion of unskilled to skilled Irish emigrants was much higher than the corresponding ratios for emigrants from England and Scotland.

From these figures it is reasonable to conclude that in relative terms, more Irish emigrants lacked specific marketable skills, both in rural or agricultural occupations and in industry or construction trades, than was the case with emigrants from other regions. In this context, and after the pejorative tone of 'useless' has been disregarded, the colonial employers' complaints seem less incoherent.

Importing a person without the requested skills and experience meant that he or she was not immediately employable. That emigrant may be employed straight off the ship, but the benefit of his or her labour would not accrue to the employer straight away. There was a delay until expertise and full productivity was reached. Meanwhile, costly mistakes could be made by the inexperienced "New Chum".

However, this argument probably sounds more significant in theory than it proved in practice. Squatters on the Governor's Immigration Committee implicitly conceded as much when they published their pamphlet, "Sketch of a Shepherd's Duties in New South Wales", in 1841. In that document, designed to be distributed to emigration agents throughout Britain, it was claimed that, "almost anyone is capable of taking charge of a flock...the shepherd only has to follow the directions he may receive...and if possessed of common intelligence, he will soon be capable of acting for himself".(9)

Employers nonetheless continued to worry that emigrant ships delivered too many unskilled (Irish) workers to the District. The problem of Ireland's stagnant, subsistence, economy turning out masses of unqualified and under-employed labour was already widely acknowledged. Contemporary observers needed to go no further that Ireland's Poor Inquiry of 1835. According to the Inquiry's Commissioners, Ireland was a society in partial paralysis, pending total collapse. 
"The great proportion of the Population about and amongst whom the Inquiry was to be made, is constantly fluctuating between Mendicancy and Independent Labour. In whole districts, scarcely one of that class of substantial capitalist farmers so universal in England, can be found. The small resident gentry are but few, and the substantial tradesman is not to be met at intervals of two or three miles as in England, for there are but few towns of sufficient trade to create such a class...the poorer classes in Ireland may be considered as comprehending nearly the whole population..."(10)
The fundamental absence bemoaned here is that of an entrepreneurial middle class. There are almost no 'Improving' landowners ("substantial capitalist farmers"), or prospering small businessmen ("substantial tradesman"). Instead, the "poorer classes in Ireland" predominate, most of them 'landless labourers' whose fortunes languish between abject beggary ("Mendicancy") and occasional day-rate work ("Independent Labour").

The Census of 1841 counted a population of 8,175,124 in Ireland. Of these, 7,039,659, or 86%, lived outside of towns with more than 2,000 inhabitants.(11) This percentage of 86% describes a society which was trenchantly rural and annually dependent on intensively cultivated agricultural production. It was therefore, in the main, a 'traditional' subsistence economy, on densely settled land, with little stored surplus to withstand a failed harvest.

The 1841 Census also classified the rural population into two groups, "farmers", and those "chiefly dependent on their own manual labour" (which they defined as those occupying a holding of less than five acres). Under the general heading of persons "ministering to food" (i.e. engaged in agriculture), the Census identified 453,000 "farmers" and 1,128,000 labourers, servants, herdsmen, ploughmen, and dairy keepers. It is helpful to keep in mind here that each one of those counted represented an economic 'household', including, in most cases, women and children.

The following diagram, like the earlier one in this chapter, is a pyramid-shaped representation of relative population numbers. Similarly, it is not drawn to exact scale, and it uses aggregate numbers of each group to give a fuller sense of the expansion towards the bottom of the pyramid. Diagram 2 is likewise dependent on census data extracted and summarised by other parties, in this case principally from Kerby Miller in Emigrants and Exiles and Sean Connelly in Priests and People.
Diagram 2: RURAL IRELAND 1841. Not to accurate scale. Source: K.A. Miller, 1988, Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America, New York, Oxford University Press, and S.J. Connolly, 2001, Priests and People in Pre-Famine Ireland 1780-1845, Dublin, Four Courts Press.

In rural Ireland there were approximately 453,000 "farmers" who hired labour, 408,000 "smallholders" who used family labour, and 700,000 "labourers" who sold their labour. Agricultural Ireland was an economy based on leased land. At the top of the pyramid were a small group of well-bred wastrels who had inherited and therefore actually owned the land.

They leased out their estates to 'substantial' farmers and 'middle-men', who in turn sub-let part of their leasehold to smaller farmers, who sub-sub-let it to smallholders. At the bottom of the economic heap, labourers competed to get on-farm positions with a "cabin" (cottiers), or "conacre", a small plot to grow their own potato crop ('day' labourers).

Rents for "conacre", or the small stone and turf "cabins" that cottiers occupied, were high because competition for them was fierce amongst a rapidly growing population. For the same reason, but with inverse results, wages were low at 8 or 9 pence per day. The Poor Inquiry Commissioners calculated in 1835 that, on average, agricultural labourers had only 135 days of paid employment each year. Most labourers, and most smallholders, knew the Summer Hunger, a period of semi-starvation between consuming the last of the previous harvest of potatoes and being able to start 'digging' the new crop.

The weeks or months of the Summer Hunger were a time of seasonal migration to England and Scotland for those who could get to a port, or begging on the roadside for those who could not. The Poor Inquiry did not exaggerate when it stated that three million of "the poorer classes" in Ireland were "subject every year to the chances of absolute destitution". Labourers and smallholders alike were only ever a harvest away from disaster.(12)

It is apparent from this background that opportunities to gain useful or marketable employment skills were virtually nonexistent for the vast majority living in pre-Famine rural Ireland. There is nevertheless a final comment to make on Diagram 2, which is relevant to a small section of the Irish emigrants who shipped to Port Phillip under the bounty scheme.

Graphs 12 and 13 show a noticeable number, 101 males and 165 females, who nominated their occupation as "farm servants". Diagram 2 shows 100,000 labourers classified as "farm servants". These were described in 1837 as "young men between sixteen and twenty-five years of age who reside in the family of their employer...for remarkably low wages seldom exceeding 1 Pound per quarter".(13)

In rural Ireland the position of "farm servant" was a customary and socially approved form of agricultural apprenticeship. It was "a phase passed through" by many adolescents, "between leaving their parents' home and setting up their own families, either as day labourers, cottiers, or small occupiers". In other words, the label of "farm servant" did not necessarily have the negative connotations of cheap, exploited labour. Instead, it was viewed as an important stepping-stone in life, a preparation for independent adulthood in an essentially agricultural society. (14)

In conclusion, the 'occupation' columns in the Immigrant Lists show a large contribution of unskilled labour from Ireland, and this bias applied to both male and female emigrants. In addition, a higher proportion of Irish emigrants were unskilled than was the case with their counterparts from England or Scotland.

However, contemporary concerns about the 'uselessness' of Irish labourers and house servants were probably exaggerated. The tasks awaiting the emigrants on sheep stations in the Port Phillip District were not difficult to learn, and in any event, most of the Irish came from a fundamentally agrarian background (albeit a subsistence form of agriculture). A willingness to apply themselves to new variations of this type of work was really all that was required of them. 


(1) 'Immigration', Port Phillip Patriot, in The Sydney Herald, Friday 13 May 1842, p. 2
(2) 'Copy of a Letter...', British Parliamentary Papers, 1843, Accounts and Papers - (5) - Emigration, Vol. XXXIV, Appendix M, p. 75
(3) As above, Appendix N, p. 78
(4) 'Legislative Council', The Sydney Herald, Monday 26 October 1840, pp. 2-3
(5) As above
(6) S.J. Connelly, 2001, Priests and People in Pre-Famine Ireland 1780-1845, Dublin, Four Courts Press, pp. 58-61, 96-98
(7) As above
(8) Parliamentary Papers 1843, p. 76
(9) British Parliamentary Papers, 1843, Accounts & Papers - (6) - Emigration, Vol. XXXI, Appendix D, p. 49
(10) First Report from His Majesty's Commissioners into the Condition of the Poorer Classes in Ireland ('Poor Inquiry'), 1835, London, House of Commons, p. 369 <>
(11) T.W. Freeman, 1957, Pre-Famine Ireland: A Study in Historical Geography, Manchester University Press, pp. 13 & 33
(12) K.A. Miller, 1988, Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America, New York, Oxford University Press, pp. 51-53
(13) SJ Connelly 2001, p. 45
(14) As above