Tuesday, 20 September 2016

FIRST WAVE: Irish Girls

FIRST WAVE: Emigrant Ships to Port Phillip 1839-1845

Chapter Six: IRISH GIRLS

On the 13th of December 1840, the 560 ton barque Orient anchored at Port Phillip. She had departed London on the 2nd of August and left Plymouth on the 11th of the same month, making it a relatively swift passage of 95 days at sea.  The Orient was one of John Marshall's well-appointed London ships. She was not flying the yellow fever flag as she sailed up the Bay to Melbourne. The local Immigration Board was not expecting any trouble.

Captain Wales duly reported to the harbour authorities that the barque's manifest included 18 cabin passengers, 3 stud Durham cattle, and 216 bounty emigrants. The Surgeon-Superintendent advised that no deaths had occurred on the voyage. It looked as though the processing and disembarkation of the 39 married couples with their 39 children, the 40 single males, and 59 single females would be prompt and without incident.

The Orient girls

However, according to the rather supercilious tones of a later edition of the Port Phillip Gazette, the Orient had not, after all, been such an orderly ship. 
"Upon the arrival of the Orient at the port of her destination, several of that grade of passengers, who reaping the advantage of the free Bounty System, who are usually classed as being steerage passengers, waited upon Mr La Trobe, with an intimation that a number of profligate female characters had joined the ship, in the same rank, and under similar circumstances, as they themselves had reached the Colony."
Consequently, after receiving the additional testimony of Captain Wales and the Surgeon responsible for the welfare of the emigrants on board, His Honour the Superintendent of the Port Phillip had "felt it his duty to recommend the refusal of the usual bounty on some eighteen or twenty females on the plea that their testimonials of good character had been falsified by their subsequent conduct".(1)

The Orient's List of Immigrants presents the known facts in stark terms. Next to the "Recapitulation" or summary at the end of the document is the following brief entry:
"N.B. The Single Females having a black mark (*) opposite their names Embarked unprotected. Those having a red mark (*) opposite their names Embarked unprotected; and behaved infamously while on board; in consequence of which the Bounties have been withheld".(2)
The eleven "Single Females" who had a black asterisk beside their name were:
  • Anne Caine, 23 yrs, general servant, Catholic, literate, Dublin
  • Salina Dillon, 16 yrs, general servant, Catholic, reads only, Dublin
  • Ellen Foyle, 22 yrs, general servant, Catholic, reads only, Dublin
  • Mary Anne Grymie, 18 yrs, house servant, Catholic, reads only, Tipperary
  • Catherine Gammon, 17 yrs, house servant, Protestant, reads only, Tipperary
  • Catherine Haggarty, 18 yrs, house servant, Catholic, illiterate, Dublin
  • Jane Kennedy, 19 yrs, house servant, Protestant, literate, Wexford
  • Mary Larkin, 21 yrs, house servant, Catholic, literate, Dublin
  • Catherine Larkin, 24 yrs, house servant, Catholic, literate, Dublin
  • Eliza Matthews, 22 yrs, house servant, Catholic, literate, Dublin
  • Eliza Pick, 19 yrs, house servant, Catholic, literate, Dublin
The first point to be noted here is that all the girls were Irish. The second point is that in these cases the breach of travel conditions ("Embarked unprotected") was caused by a relative shortfall of married women (39) available to chaperone all the unmarried women (59).  This was the Emigration Agent John Marshall's error and it was he who was being punished by the 19 Pound bounty being withheld. That is, Marshall bore the costs of their journey and was then unable to reclaim his expenses, losing nearly 400 Pounds on all 20 "unprotected" young women.

The nine "Single Females" who had a red asterisk against their names were:
  • Sarah Aldridge, 23 years, house servant, Protestant, reads only, Nottingham
  • Marry Barry, 19 yrs, house maid, Catholic, illiterate, Tipperary
  • Bridget Buckley, 21 yrs, general servant, Catholic, illiterate, Tipperary
  • Susan Bell, 19 yrs, house servant, Protestant, illiterate, Cork
  • Mary Kennedy, 18 yrs, house servant, Catholic, illiterate, Wexford
  • Sarah Mander, 17 yrs, house servant, Protestant, literate, Plymouth
  • Susan Martin, 19 yrs, house servant, Catholic, literate, Dublin
  • Mary Peters, 19 yrs, house servant, Catholic, literate, Dublin
  • Sarah Warran, 28 yrs, house servant, Catholic, literate, Dublin
The first point to be noted here is that nearly all were Irish (7) and most of them were still in their late teens (7). The second point is that it was these (very) young women who were being punished for behaving "infamously", rather than anyone else whose responsibility it was to ensure their physical and moral safety during the voyage.

By singling them out and naming them, the authorities were denying these unmarried women the possibility of respectable employment. They also lost their right to secure accommodation in the government barracks until such time as suitable employment was found. With tarnished reputations they were unloaded from the ship and then left to their own resources -- which in real terms probably meant serving as barmaids in rough grog shanties near the docks, or prostitution.

Marshall was already bearing a financial penalty for failing to provide a sufficient number 'guardians'. He incurred no further punishment for the nine misbehaving girls, even though it was the regulated duty of his appointed officer, the Orient's Surgeon Superintendent, to oversee separation of the sexes below decks, and proper conduct above. 

The rigorous enforcement of the "under protection" rule by the Port Phillip Immigration Board was continued in subsequent ships, although emigration agents in Britain were fairly quick to adjust their passenger lists to minimise further losses. Marshall complained about the "overly technical" interpretations being applied in the colonies, but his own recruiting pamphlet in 1839 had emphasised that "Single Females...go out under the protection of a family on board".(3) He knew as well as anyone of the hard lessons learnt under the earlier government scheme to balance the sexes in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land.

The Princess Royals

In 1832 the British Colonial Office sent out the first of a number of ships containing only young women. The first two of these carried 400 females. The Red Rover  departed Cork in Ireland and arrived at Port Jackson without drawing adverse comment. The Princess Royal, on the other hand, left London direct for Hobart Town, and it is possible Tasmanians have been talking about her ever since. As a former Sheriff of Van Diemen's Land wrote in a letter published in 1837, "To be called a Princess Royal was considered a reproach for a long time".(4)

The raucous antics of the Princess Royal  girls were reported at every opportunity, and with exaggerated disgust, by the southern colony's newspapers. One Hobart editor wrote, "We by chance happened to stroll into the Police-office, when Miss Ann Dallan, one of the Royals, made her third appearance for drunkenness, in the short space of ten days, having been fined, confined, and bailed. She was sent back to gaol in default of further sureties." The "importation of good, useful, virtuous females", this newspaperman concluded, "is not effected by emptying the London Workhouses, Penitentiaries, and Magdalen Asylums".(5)

Another  member of the press protested indignantly at the free accommodation provided by the colony's Ladies Committee for the Port Royals at the New Town Orphan School.
"We beg to draw the attention of the Chief Police Magistrate to the disgraceful scenes which now occur by day and night, on the New-town road, which, before the arrival of the female emigrants, was as peaceable and quiet as the most secluded hamlet throughout Britain. To such a pitch has this most gross and indecent conduct risen, that the wives and families of respectable inhabitants cannot take their accustomed walks."
The solution suggested by this offended reporter was that the Ladies Committee immediately evict their unruly guests: "Once unhoused from this nest of idleness in which they are now placed, the Police will take care of them".(6)

The unfortunate reputation of the Princess Royal women is likely to have cast a long shadow on the minds of colonists at Port Phillip. Most of the early squatters and their employees were originally 'Bass Straiters' from Van Diemen's Land, rather than 'Over Landers' from Sydney's Settled Districts. Their experience of colonial life in Van Diemen's Land, and its scandals, through the 1830s were likely to have been more influential in the new settlement than distant reports from Port Jackson.

However, the irony of responding to the Orient as if it were a repeat performance of the Princess Royal (a sort of 'told-you-so' moment that reinforced anti-Irish feeling), was that the troubled ships that came out under the Female Emigration scheme of the early 1830s were all English vessels. They were not from Ireland.

In New South Wales, problems arose from the London ships Bussorah Merchant in August 1833 ("many of Females have turned out very bad"), and the Layton in December 1833 ("a very large proportion of women of very bad character"). The worst ship was the David Scott, also from London, which arrived in October 1834.

Out of 226 female emigrants on board the David Scott, 52 were the subject of official complaint. 41 of these women "appear to have been common prostitutes" and "had an unrestrained intercourse with the men, and by their abandoned and outrageous conduct, they kept the ship in a continuous state of alarm during the whole passage". It was David Scott women, "some of whom had been allowed to land, immediately after the ship came to anchor", who "were picked up quite drunk in the streets of Sydney, on the evening of their arrival".(7)

It was not Irish ships from Cork, the Red Rover in August 1833 or the Duchess of Northumberland in 1835, that were the cause of public concern. In fact, the Attorney General Alexander M'Leay made clear statements to the contrary. He reported that "a greater proportion of the women by the Red Rover turned out well than either of the English ships", and that "of all these ships, there was the greatest portion of well-conducted women by the Duchess of Northumberland".(8)

The truth of the matter did nothing to prevent the merger of two distinct concerns into one unwarranted generalisation in colonial opinion. The worry that Irish emigrants had too great a share in the Bounty scheme, and the idea that too many single women on a ship generated an unacceptable moral risk, combined in a suspicion that Irish girls were by nature uncontrollable and wanton, potentially introducing lower sexual standards into the young colony.

In characteristically bombastic manner, the squatter Hannibal Macarthur connected the two points into one slander at a public meeting in Sydney's Royal Exchange during 1840. "At present", he thundered, "we find that great numbers of useless people are imported, prostitutes and vagabonds...A few respectable people are put on board and then whole cargoes of people sent by steam boat from the south of Ireland".(9)

Their personal wealth, and the importance of their Camden Merino flocks to the colonial economy, meant that the Macarthurs could pretty well say whatever they wanted to, no matter how irrational or scurrilous. But prejudice, perhaps more politely stated, a slur more subtly inferred, was also the general rule in the Port Phillip District.

Charles La Trobe, usually considered a very able and reasonable administrator, was not above slyly interposing the prevailing nastiness into his official communications to Governor Gipps. In a letter dated July 1842 he manages to insinuate that on-board pregnancies and unexpected childbirth were a far larger issue than his officers could report. In typically long-winded prose he writes, 
"Once furnished with the requisite certificates, and passed by the officers appointed to the duty in England, it is impossible for the local Board to reject an individual presenting himself or herself here, unless occurrences during the voyage, that could not be concealed, have given premature publicity to the impropriety of the selection".(10)
This is an example of cunning inuendo that, fortunately, his officers on the Immigration Board did not attempt to copy. Lieutenant Lonsdale and Doctor Patterson still felt obliged to more or less stick with the facts as they knew them. Their Report of that year rather surprisingly comes to the defence of the "large proportion of single females, chiefly from the south and south-west of Ireland...It ought to be known that these helpless peasants have at all times been very desirous to obtain employment, and have generally shown virtuous dispositions".(11) 

In these officers' experience, it was some young girls, often less than 16 years old, and "selected in large towns such as London, Liverpool, Leith, and Bristol", who "generally turned out badly, and soon resumed their former abandoned habits". Lonsdale and Patterson conscientiously try to determine who were the problem (a few poor street-kids from industrial cities) rather than following the lazy path of lumping it all together and naming it "Irishness".

Withheld bounties

Information supplied in the Lists of Immigrants for Port Phillip indicates that colonial insecurities about sexual misbehaviour by the Single Female contingent on emigrant ships was much overdone. The Orient was an isolated case. There was no repetition of the Princess Royal taking place under the colonists' noses.

Indeed, of the 2,836 unmarried women who were brought to the settlement, only 88 of them were denied Bounty on arrival, and this figure includes the 20 Orient women. Of the 88 deemed ineligible for free passage, the great majority were excluded from the government's reimbursement scheme on the grounds that they were "not under proper protection". 

In other words, in 57 cases it was really the shippers who were being reprimanded, for not taking on board enough married women to meet the guardianship requirements for unmarried women under the Regulations. The penalty was on the 'exporters/importers', who were then not able to recover their costs on those numbers of single females who were in excess.

Other instances of the local Immigration Board refusing Bounty for single women included 8 where their occupations were not in demand (Governess, Dressmaker, Bonnet Maker, Ladies Boot-binder); another 6 where they were underage (13 years, 14 years); and 3 where they were judged too unhealthy ("Sickly during the voyage and on embarking", "Bounty retained until produced in health", "This girl is very subject to Epileptic fits"). 

It was made clear to all participants in the emigrant trade that the government only paid Bounty for those who disembarked alive and well. It did not pay for the dead or dying and it withheld payment on those emigrants who landed sick or were sent into quarantine until after they had recovered.

The remaining 14 instances where Bounty was disallowed for single women are in what might be called the morality or "impropriety" category. Nine of these rulings were made for the Orient. Superintendent La Trobe, as already noted, decided that these girls had "behaved infamously while on board". In the other five 'morality' cases, which occurred on five separate ships, the circumstances of the women involved were just plain sad.

A 26 year old from Fermanagh was found to be a "Soldier's wife"; a 26 year old from Cork was discovered to be "a widow" who had smuggled her 3 year old daughter on board; two girls, a 20 year old from Monaghan and a 25 year old from London, were both exposed by having "had a child born on board"; and an unfortunate 24 year old from Lancashire who "came out with a Mr Hedley and family, a Cabin Passenger, and is now near he accouchement [sic], consequently ineligible for Bounty".

Daughters of Erin

Clearly the Single Females who came to Port Phillip as Bounty emigrants were not the wanton strumpets that some colonists thought they were. But a great many of them were certainly Irish.

Graph 8: EMIGRANT PROFILES. A 3D graph showing the comparative contributions of each region of the British Isles to the four categories of adult Bounty Emigrants to Port Phillip from 1839 to 1845. MM = Married Males; MF = Married Females; SM = Single Males; SF = Single Females.

A total of 2,836 young women came out to Port Phillip during the first wave of bounty emigration. Most of them, 2,122 or 75% of the total, were Irish. Classified as "Single Females" or "Unmarried Women", they also made up a sizeable portion of the overall number of emigrants from Ireland. One third of the 6,219 adult Irish emigrants were in this category.

The high numbers of single women from Ireland represented a distinctive feature of assisted migration to Port Phillip in the early colonial period. They were almost the only source of available, marriageable, women coming into the District. As such, they formed the most likely foundation of future, colonial, families of their own, no matter whether they ended up married to English, Scottish, Welsh, or Irish men.

Most of them, 1,208 or 57% of the total from Ireland, were from adjoining counties in the southwest: the Munster counties of Tipperary (433), Cork (245), Clare (129), and Limerick (89); the Connaught county of Galway (150); and the neighbouring Leinster counties of Kilkenny (82) and Kings County (80). Another small cluster, 309 or less than 15%, originated from the Ulster counties in the north: Tyrone (101), Antrim (80), Cavan (62), and Armagh (62). (The other 28% were scattered throughout the remaining Irish counties between these two regions, or clusters, of higher emigration).

Most of them, 1,600 or 58% of 2,773 single females whose religion was declared in the Lists of Immigrants, nominated their religion as Catholic. Most of them too were virtually uneducated. 1,275, or 46% of the 2,773 single females who declared their literacy levels in the Lists of Immigrants, claimed they could both read and write, but another 910 admitted they could "read only", and another 588 could do neither.

And, needless to say, none of them appeared to have any money. All of the unmarried women, and the Irish portion of them in particular, therefore seem to have been singularly ill-equipped to launch out on independent (which is to say unprotected and unprovided for) lives in the distant Australian colonies.

The unique profile of the "Single Females" who emigrated to Port Phillip -- mostly Irish, mostly Catholic, and mostly under-educated -- raises an interesting question. Why, in an Early Victorian Age of increasingly strict moral standards, were these young women allowed to embark on a one way journey to the ends of the earth, by themselves? What, in a society no less paternalistic and patronising than the rest of Britain, were their Irish-Catholic parents thinking when their daughters left for Port Phillip, without the support and protection of their family?

The answer, (where a common thread can be reasonably assumed) is that these momentous decisions were probably made, not in careless disregard of parental responsibilities, but after a lengthy period of family discussion and eventual agreement.
The application process for bounty emigration was in itself many months in the making. Decisions for individual family members to emigrate were not taken casually or quickly. They were deliberate and very often strategic in nature.

Impartible inheritance in Ireland

As a preparation for understanding the argument that follows it is worth recalling the counter-intuitive observation made in Chapter Two; that it was the simply desperate, rather than the utterly destitute and disheartened, who applied to emigrate under the bounty scheme.

Life was grim enough for most people in pre-Famine Ireland, but those who chose to leave were those who still had something to lose by staying -- a slightly higher standard of living that was being steadily eroded by economic conditions -- unlike those who had already experienced complete impoverishment. 

This is a generalised hypothesis, of course. However, there was probably a grain of truth in the landlords' lament, that "the young, the enterprising and the industrious...leave us whilst the old, the impotent and the indolent portions...stay with us".(12)

This next section is structured around three short quotes from Kerby Miller's Emigrants and Exiles. These excerpts have been selected from Miller's extensive history of Irish emigration to North America because they provide astute summaries from the statistics of that much larger event. 

In the period from 1838 to 1844 more than 351,000 Irish people migrated to the United States and Canada. This puts the first wave of 6,219 Irish emigrants to Port Phillip between 1839 and 1845 into sobering perspective. The extracts from Miller's comprehensive history are used here as accurate 'snapshots' of the much bigger picture of Irish emigration.
1.    "...in 1836 almost 60 percent of the Irish arriving at New York were classified as labourers and servants, compared with only 38 percent in 1826; farmers constituted 8.5 percent - only a slight drop since 1826 - but the proportions of artisans and professional men had declined steeply, to 27 percent and 3 percent respectively...most Irish emigrants now travelled alone or with siblings rather than in nuclear families; of those landing in New York about two-thirds were males, usually in their early twenties, although witnesses reported increasing numbers of young women travelling singly".(13)
The pattern of Irish migration across the Atlantic changed in the first half of the nineteenth century, from overwhelmingly Protestant northerners, to a majority of Catholics, increasingly from the south of Ireland. These new emigrants were less affluent (although "not destitute"). To minimise the cost of fares, they travelled as individuals rather than in family groups.

Ticket prices had fallen from four to six Pounds in the 1820s to two to three Pounds in the 1830s, but emigrants on the North American run normally had to supply their own provisions and bedding for the four to six week journey. Rising numbers of young single women were also travelling, on a ratio of one female to two males.
2.    "...between 1830 and 1840 the rural marriage rate per 1,000 inhabitants [in Ireland] declined by more than a third, while the proportion of men marrying at age twenty-five or younger fell from nearly 40 percent to only 28 percent...According to the 1841 census, in rural Ireland 44 percent of the male and 36 percent of the female population aged twenty-six to thirty-five were still single".(14)
The pattern of Irish marriage changed in the first half of the nineteenth century, from marrying young and having many children on smaller and smaller plots of potato ground, to marrying later, if at all. This reflected a fundamental (although gradual and geographically uneven) shift in Catholic attitudes to inheritance.

Traditionally, for historical reasons related to prohibitions on Catholics acquiring land in previous centuries, the custom was an equal subdivision of land between all sons and the provision of dowry money for daughters. This is a system of 'partible inheritance' and it was dominant in the three southern provinces. The practice of 'impartible inheritance', where the eldest son got all the estate, was the prevalent system in Protestant Ulster. It was hard on non-inheriting children but it preserved the family farm intact.

As the legal constraints on Catholics owning land were removed, and as repeated subdivision of Catholic farms led to unsustainable allotments and inevitable poverty, so more Catholics began to adopt impartible inheritance. For many non-inheriting Protestants, and now for many more non-inheriting Catholics, lifestyle choices were reduced to abstinence (no land or no dowry meant no marriage) or emigration.
3.    "...the increasingly prevalent practice of impartible inheritance began to oblige permanent patterns of chain migration, as the first son or daughter to emigrate was duty-bound to send remittances and prepaid tickets to his or her other non-inheriting siblings...By the early 1830s between one-sixth and one-half of Irish emigrants leaving from Liverpool or Ulster ports had received their tickets or passage money from America, and by 1840 over half of all Irish migration was so financed".(15)
This, it should be remembered, was the American experience. It is not possible to ascertain from the Lists of Immigrants how many of the bounty women to Port Phillip were responding to the same familial pressures. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assume that some, if not most, were their Irish family's 'ambassador' to Australia.

These unmarried women from Ireland were not being cast out of the family fold. Nor were they being 'abandoned' to their own fate. Their journey was, in significant part, the result of their parent's planning, one critical piece of a carefully considered strategy to improve the lot of all family members.

This chapter has already discounted the popular myth that the "Unmarried Women" from Ireland were uncontrollable 'wild girls'. Now it seems that the opposite myth, of poor pathetic waifs heartlessly cast adrift on the world's oceans, is also without much substance. Their family backgrounds were no doubt mixed in reality, but it is also probable that many of them were the 'forward-representatives' of a family-inspired move to improve the circumstances of those left at home.

Irish women were over-represented in the category of "Single Females", it is true. In this respect they were ahead of the trend of the "spinsters" and "servants" who went to North America. On the Atlantic crossing, equal numbers or larger numbers of single females than single males, did not happen until after the Great Hunger of 1846-49. The financial preference given to males in a patriarchal society may provide some of the explanation for both the American and Australian experience in the pre-Famine era, however.

Once family funds were exhausted on American tickets for sons wishing to emigrate, the remaining need to send daughters too may have been achieved, at no cost, by taking advantage of the Bounty Scheme to Australia ("free passage" and provisions and bedding supplied). This was a positive, if unintended, encouragement for Irish parents to send more girls than boys to New South Wales. They quite possibly had a 'surplus' of girls to send.

Nonetheless, these 'Irish girls' could hold their heads up high. They definitely were not "prostitutes" and "vagabonds" of Hannibal Macarthur's fetid imaginings.


(1) 'Mr Marshall's Emigrants', Port Phillip Gazette, reproduced in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Saturday 23 January 1841, p. 2
(2) Immigrant List of the Orient, 13 December 1840, <http://srwww.records.nsw.gov.au/...4-813...Orient>
(3) 'Australian Packet Ships, Emigration to New South Wales, Free Passage', in Twenty Years' Experience in Australia, London, Smith Elder & Co, 1839, p. 61
(4) 'Female Emigration', The Sydney Herald, Thursday 2 March 1837, p. 2
(5) 'Female Emigrants', The Sydney Monitor, Saturday 3 November 1832, p. 2
(6) As above
(7) 'New South Wales, Immigration, Minutes of Evidence Taken Before The Committee...May 18, 1835', from The Sydney Herald, reproduced in The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, Saturday 31 October 1835, p. 590
(8) As above
(9) 'Immigration - Public Meeting', The Sydney Herald, Monday 21 September 1840, p. 2
(10) 'Copy of a Letter from CJ La Trobe, Melbourne, 26 July 1842', British Parliamentary Papers, 1780-1849,Emigration, 1843, Vol. XXXIV, Appendix M, p. 75
(11) As above, Appendix N, p. 75
(12) KA Miller, 1988, Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America, New York, Oxford University Press, p. 201
(13) As above, pp. 198-199
(14) As above, pp. 218-219
(15) As above, p. 271


Wednesday, 14 September 2016



Chapter Five: THE IRISH

 The Irish 'problem' in emigration, as seen through colonial eyes, was that 'the Irish' represented one, indistinguishable mass of 'alienness', that threatened their vision of peaceful and profitable pastoralism. A number of negative characterisations of 'Irish-ness' were lumped together to form a single generalised 'mob' of objections in the squatters' minds. All Irish bore these attributes in the colonists' imagination. 

The arrival of many thousands of Irish emigrants was interpreted as if it were the approach of a massive storm front, a wall of mounting black cloud, that would deluge the existing small society of 'British' settlers in social disruption and disorder. 

Chief among their fears was the supposed religious fanaticism of Ireland, the Irish people's adherence to one universal Catholic Church ruled by one absolutist Roman Pope. The Irish population's assumed allegiance to a foreign power (the Vatican), and their apparent unquestioning obedience to their priests (the Confession), were serious concerns for Protestant proprietors from England and Scotland.

Factual or not, it all conjured up sinister images of political sedition and future discontent. The Irish were mostly Catholic. They were therefore, by default, a vanguard of civil disobedience and potential religious hegemony.

Suspicions of Irish emigration being an Irish-Catholic invasion by stealth did not seem far-fetched in this 'climate' of public opinion. Community leaders like Anglican Bishop Broughton, and the prominent Presbyterian J.D. Lang, spoke often of the inherent dangers of non-Protestant immigration. Their concern at eventually being outnumbered provided fertile ground for conspiracy theory.

The Bishop, and Chairman of The Immigration Committee in Sydney, feared that "means had been taken to cast a damp upon the disposition of the English emigrant, insomuch that few or none were found willing to come, while at the same time every encouragement was given to the impulse of the Irish" to emigrate. Furthermore, he believed, he was not alone in this 'understanding'. "His situation [as leader of the Church of England in the Colony] enabled him to know that this persuasion was very extensively prevalent...He received numerous communications drawing his attention to it".(1)

These views had become such common currency that the Governor of New South Wales felt it necessary to quietly rebuke his public officers, reminding them that such wild anxieties and speculations were not the official policy of his administration. "He would take this opportunity", he said at a meeting of his legislative Council in 1840, "of deprecating any distinction being made between English and Irish immigrants. The question should be, is a man a good shepherd, or labourer; if he is, never mind whether he is Irish or English, Roman Catholic or Protestant".(2)

Irish Protestants

The Bishop and others on the Immigration Committee already had sufficient real information on hand to make more sensible readings of the situation. The Lists of Immigrants that their Boards at Sydney and Melbourne compiled on the arrival of each bounty emigrant ship from Britain were comprehensively detailed to give reassurance on the relative numbers of Protestant and Catholic (In the previous chapter examination of this issue revealed a ratio of 58% to 42% in favour of the preferred Protestantism).

From this data, it is fair to say a couple of things about the 9,984 adult emigrants that disembarked at Port Phillip between 1839 and 1845. The first is that, if they were Catholic, they were probably Irish. The second is that, it does not follow that if they were Irish, they were necessarily Catholic. This is evident from Graph 7 below.

Graph 7: CATHOLIC EMIGRANTS. A plate-graph demonstrating the respective religious loyalties of adult bounty emigrants to Port Phillip in the period 1839-1844, according to their region of origin.

Only 110 of the bounty emigrants who professed Catholicism came from England, 7 from Wales, and 61 from Scotland, totalling a miniscule 178 (or 0.04%) of all 4,437 Catholics landed. The balance came from Ireland. But with those 4,259 Irish Catholics also came another 1,959 emigrants who were Irish Protestants.

Out of the total number of 6,219 adult emigrants to Port Phillip who gave Ireland as their birthplace, the ratio of religious allegiance was actually 31.5% (or nearly one third) Protestant to 68.5% (or two thirds) Catholic. This was a higher proportion of Protestant Irish than was the case in the Irish population itself, suggesting the selection process undertaken by emigration agents was not biased towards Catholics at all.

In 1835 a revised census of pre-Famine Ireland was published by the Commissioners of Public Instruction. They were particularly interested in the "State of the Irish Church", which is to say, the implanted 'established' Church of Ireland -- a denominational graft of English Anglicanism which had failed to thrive despite confiscated Catholic property and annual subsidies from Parliament. 

In their Report the Commissioners found that "The total population of Ireland...of whom the religion could be ascertained...is 7,943,940." This total was made up of 6,427,712 "Roman Catholics", 852,064 professing the "Established Church", 642,356 Presbyterians, and 21,808 "Other Protestant Dissenters". They concluded "Thus the members of the Established Church are about 103/4 per cent of the total population, the Roman Catholics nearly 81 per cent, and the Presbyterians a little more than 8 per cent."(3)

As already noted, the 4 to 1 majority of Catholics over Protestants in 1835 Ireland is in plain contrast to the 2 to 1 ratio of Irish emigrants to Port Phillip between 1839 and 1845. In relative terms, a greater number of Irish Protestants in proportion to their overall population numbers were prepared to emigrate than Catholics. This pattern of emigration, with Catholics more reluctant to leave traditional practices and places than Protestants, is historically consistent with parallel (and much larger) migrations to Britain and North America.

According to historian Kerby Miller in Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America, it was not until the mid-1830s that the absolute numbers of Catholics began to outstrip the number of Protestants leaving Ireland. Prior to this point, "typical emigrants were still relatively affluent Protestant farmers and artisans from the northern province". However, "by the early 1840s a majority were comparatively poor Catholic sub-tenants, farmers' sons, and labourers from the three southern provinces", and "more Irishmen now took ship at Cork than at Belfast".(4)

Bounty emigrants coming to Port Phillip had a similar religious profile to those paying their own fares to America. Map 5 provides a comparative impression of their religion and origins.

Map 5: IRISH LOYALTIES. A map of the relative proportions of Catholics and Protestants from those Irish counties which contributed more than 100 emigrants to the bounty scheme.

In the southern counties the picture is strongly Catholic, with the darker blue shading indicating more than 80% of emigrants from those areas professed that loyalty. The northern counties are much less uniform, with the purple shading indicating Protestant loyalties between 40 and 60%. There were no instances of a Protestant dominance above 80% in Ulster.

While this map is emigrant-specific, it does reflect the religious divide in Ireland to some extent. In the pre-Famine period, the province of Munster had a small minority of Protestants, whereas Ulster was more evenly divided between Catholic and Protestant denominations. And, as the map suggests, in the north both Catholics and Protestants were now prepared to consider the move.

Irish Catholics

If they had thought carefully, the members of the colonial Immigration Committee, and the officers of the respective Immigration Boards in Port Phillip and Port Jackson, would have acknowledged that one third of the Irish emigrants they received were Protestants. What they may not have known was that the other two thirds who were Catholics did not necessarily come from one doctrinally conformist tradition either. 

The post-Famine image of a powerful denomination able to enforce compulsory Mass attendance and automatic obedience to clergy was not the only version of Catholicism prevailing in pre-Famine Ireland.

In the midst of 'The Troubles' in modern Ireland (1968 onwards), three historians began to study the 1835 Report of the Commissioners of Public Instruction  with renewed attention to the statistical detail it contained. The results of this research by Emmet Larkin, David Miller, and Sean Connolly, has transformed the way the influence of the pre-Famine Catholic Church is understood.

The monolithic impression gained from late nineteenth and early twentieth century Ireland (along with the significant Irish diasporas in North America and Australasia) of Catholics cowering beneath an inflexible Church hierarchy did not apply, at least not uniformly, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The pre-Famine Church was in reality a recovering but still impoverished institution. It was impoverished as a result of anti-Catholic legislation and recovering only slowly as those repressive Penal Laws were gradually being repealed. In the 1830s and 1840s it remained, in large part, depleted in manpower (clergy) and property (churches), although it was making attempts to remedy both of these shortfalls.

In summary, the demands of a rapidly multiplying Catholic population far outran its available resources. One convincing measure of the limits to the Church's effective control of its parishioners was the number of trained Catholic priests. This dilemma is represented in Map 6, which shows the number of people per priest in Irish dioceses.

Map 6: CATHOLIC CLERGY. A map of Catholic dioceses in Ireland showing the number of Catholics to be served by each available priest, according to data from the Commissioners of Public Instruction compiled in 1835. Source: SJ Connolly, 2001, Priests and People in Pre-Famine Ireland 1780-1845, Dublin, Four Courts Press, pp. 60, 259, 261.

As the tincture of red leaches out of Map 6, so too does the effective reach of the official Catholic Church in the first half of the nineteenth century. The overall average of potential parishioners per priest in Ireland in 1835 was one to 2,991. The best arch-diocese was Dublin in the east with one priest per 2,451; the second best was Armagh in the north with one priest per 2,805; then Cashel in the south with one priest per 3,188; and coming last was Tuam in the west with one priest per 3,675 Catholics. To put these figures in historical context, the comparable ratios for European countries in the Irish Catholic Directory for 1839 included one to 800 for France, one to 750 in Austria, and one to 900 in Prussia.(5)

The inevitable consequence of this 'paucity of priests' in Ireland was a dramatically lower observance of sacramental duties associated with Church membership -- an ever widening gap between those in the east who were practising Catholics and those in the west who were, at best, nominal Catholics. The official Church was forced to make compromises to accommodate this reality, with the institution of 'Stations', and a reduction in ritual obligations. In Emmet Larkin's words:
"Confession and communion, for example, were administered twice a year at the Christmas and Easter Stations in the homes of the more substantial laity, and baptism, marriage and last rites were also often celebrated at home...The chief obligation that defined a practicing Catholic before the Famine, therefore, was not attendance of mass on Sundays and obligatory holy days, but fulfilling one's Easter duty, which entailed going to confession and receiving communion annually between Ash Wednesday and Ascension Thursday".(6)
These were significant concessions in recognition of the chronic shortage of priests, but did little to prevent a diminishing effect on the moral authority of the official Church in many rural and Gaelic-speaking parts of Ireland. David Miller's map of the rates of regular Mass attendance in 1834 provides a striking illustration of non-compliance with devotional requirements. 

Unlike the other maps and graphs presented throughout this text, Map  7 is not calculated from the raw data. It is basically a map taken from a map -- not an accurate, drawn-to-scale reproduction of the original, but a general impression of it. Miller's map was itself a statistical smoothing of 'lumpy' and sometimes incomplete 'parish by parish' information he extracted from the Commissioners' Report. Map 7, in its revised and very approximate form, is nevertheless included here for the vivid historical truth it portrays.

Map 7: MASS ATTENDANCE. An impression of an original map that was drawn from data in the 1835 Report by the Commissioners of Public Instruction in Ireland. Source: DW Miller, 'Mass Attendance in Ireland in 1834', in SJ Brown & DW Miller (eds.), 2000, Piety and Power in Ireland 1760-1960, Indiana, University of Notre Dame Press, p. 173.

As the tincture of green fades out of the map from east to west, so too does the level of active devotion in Catholic Ireland. From the fervent attendance of 80 to 100% in Leinster to the sporadic attendance of 0 to 20% along the Atlantic coastlines of Munster, Tuam and Armagh, there was a declining range of Catholic practice that occupied most of the rural hinterland (where four fifths of the Irish population lived).

'Celtic' tradition

In a social environment where "the religious practice of a section of the laity failed to reach even the minimum level prescribed by canon law", it is perhaps not surprising that the Catholic poor continued to rely on traditional or customary beliefs and practices as their primary source of spiritual consolation and comfort. They resorted to their religious 'heritage', of 'unorthodox' but popular rituals associated with holy places (springs, wells, Iron Age forts and mounds), and veneration of the inhabitants of the 'underworld' (fairies, 'the good people').

This was an alternative and much older religious culture to that promoted by the Catholic Church. It was a system of local "beliefs and practices that were only superficially Christianised or belonged wholly to the non-Christian supernatural". And in the opinion of historian Sean Connolly, these "survivals from earlier religious traditions" were "not merely a colourful folk tradition" but "seriously held magical beliefs" -- they formed "a very real part of the mental world of large numbers of Irish Catholics in the decades before the Famine".(7)

Before the seventeenth century brutalism of Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads, Ireland had enjoyed a uniquely subtle 'layering' of spiritual history. Thanks to the (relatively) tolerant evangelising of early Christian missionaries, previous religious use of holy sites was not completely extinguished by subsequent practitioners with different beliefs.

This sense of almost uninterrupted continuity is appropriately illustrated by the diary entry of a twenty-first century 'pilgrim who walked along St. Declan's Way in southern Ireland. She describes her discovery one afternoon,
"...of a circular wall with a couple of stone steps down to the shallow water in the bottom of the well, then a channel of water running into a second stone cavity and out into a narrow stream surrounded by boggy ground. It is called Tober Iosa, which means Well of Jesus, but it actually goes back to pre-Christian days...Near the well is a rough stone altar, on which stand three pieces of stone. On the centre one which is over 1200 years old is a carving of a small cross in a circle. This altar was used as a mass rock 300 years ago when, due to the Penal Laws, it was difficult and dangerous to hold a Catholic mass...Beside the well is a holly tree. To the Celts, holly represented balance and [because of its non-deciduous green foliage] ensured the rebirth of the year...Like at St. Brigid's Well, dozens of ribbons and pieces of material have been tied to the tree...token pieces of cloth...petitions..."(8)
The resilience of ancient customs is demonstrated by another tradition uniquely Irish. The word Pattern is a corruption of the word Patron, an abbreviation of the phrase Patron Saint's Day. It was the name given to assemblies of 'the faithful' at particular sites considered sacred or holy. 

They generally took place on the festival or 'patron day' of the saint for whom the well or shrine was (re-)named. And they were often an unashamed "combination of ritual observance and boisterous celebration". In his Priests and People, Sean Connolly cites a contemporary observer's summary of the widespread pre-Famine practice.
"It is quite usual to see young men and women devoutly circumambulating [sic] the well or lake on their bare knees, with all the marks of penitence and contrition strongly impressed on their faces; whilst again, after an hour or two, the same individuals may be found in a tent dancing with ecstatic vehemence to the music of the bagpipe or fiddle".(9)

The mixture of 'Christian devotion' and unrestrained 'partying' provides an important clue, both to the common people's persistence in these centuries old practices, and to the Catholic Church's unofficial toleration of them (turning to outright censure in post-Famine decades). The fun, or pagan, part of the Pattern was the proliferation of whisky-sellers' booths set up around the site on the day, the coming together of neighbouring communities "to make merry, which in frequent interpretation is to drink and fight", and "to do what the others do and to see the women". 

For the participants, there was no contradiction between beginning the day with "a circuit barefoot or on bare knees over sharp stones or up a steep slope" (a practice that also predated Christianity), and ending it with drunkenness and dancing and an all-in brawl between families or villages (with the infamous 'faction fight' usually anticipated weeks in advance).

The other clue to the popularity of the Pattern lies in the 'coincidence' of saint's days to significant points of the agricultural year. There was a fundamental similarity between Catholic and pagan calendars. The older, Celtic year was divided into twelve, based on the summer and winter solstices, the spring and autumn equinoxes, and the dates partway between these four major festivals. 

Fifth and sixth century Catholic missionaries expelled the Druidic custodians of Celtic sanctuaries, renaming the sites in honour of Christian saints. However their underlying ritual significance survived because of critical linkages to the seasonal turning points they originally represented. The agricultural cycle of life did not change and neither did most of the religious practices of rural Ireland.

For example, the Celtic festival of Imbolc, the beginning of the northern-hemisphere Spring, was celebrated on the first of February as St. Bridgett's Day. It marked the start of preparations for sowing the next season's crops. Similarly, the festival of Lughnasa, in honour of the Celtic god of light, occurred at the end of July. It marked the beginning of harvest. These ancient rituals were embedded as regular landmarks of the seasonal changes that governed the peasants' existence, year in, year out.

On May Eve, which descended from the Celtic festival of Bealtaine, the beginning of summer was observed. Amongst other things, it meant moving the cattle from winter stalls to home fields, or from home fields to rougher pastures some distance away. St John's Eve in late June was the festival of midsummer, after which the power of the sun grew weaker and the days shorter. Bonfires were lit and the precious few cattle were driven through the smoke or embers, their coats singed with burning branches to protect them from disease or ill-thrift.

These were crucial times of the year, that if not recognised and duly observed, could result in economic disaster. The distinction between what was practical and what was supernatural was blurred. The distinction between what was magical (unorthodox popular religion) and what was miraculous (orthodox official religion) was irrelevant.

This section has been a very brief and simplified introduction to the alternative spirituality pursued by a large portion of the Irish population before the Famine. Hopefully, it is sufficient to indicate that the variance between the two forms of supernaturalism should not be dismissed as mere rural quaintness or social oddity.

The Catholic Church took the practices of Patterns (and Wakes and eventually even Stations) very seriously. Irreverent and unruly behaviour was the obvious tip of the theological iceberg. But the heart of the issue for prelates and clergy, was the effective diversion of fervour and piety away from them, towards a competing supernaturalism. 

As early as 1768 the statutes drawn up for the diocese of Cork attempted to address the problem for parish priest in distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate forms of spirituality. So subtle was the deception thought to be that clergy were advised not to further confuse the issue by reading stories from the apocryphal parts of the Catholic scriptures, or refer to miracles not properly authenticated, or to any prophecy predicting the future.

While some 'reforming' bishops did try to enforce similar anti-populist provisions in the pre-Famine decades, the Church's efforts had a limited and uneven effect until the post-Famine era. It was not till the latter half of the nineteenth century, when agricultural catastrophe had stripped Ireland of nearly 2,500,000 people (1 million died, 1.5 million emigrated), that what Emmet Larkin describes as a "Devotional Revolution" occurred uniformly across the Irish Catholic Church. Prior to that calamitous event, the Church could not claim anything like doctrinal obedience and regular attendance among all those who professed themselves to be 'Catholic'.

It is not possible to calculate the percentage of Irish-Catholic emigrants to Port Phillip who were customary or unorthodox believers, and those who conformed to the Roman or Tridentine model of official Catholicism. The information supplied by the Lists of Immigrants is simply not detailed enough to differentiate between them. Emigrants were classified as either "Protestant" or "Catholic".

However, as Irish Protestants were made up of both "Anglicans" and "Presbyterians", it is reasonable to assume that Catholics too were made up of at least two versions, or interpretations, of Catholicism. On the one hand, an official 'Roman' group of regular Mass attenders. On the other, an unofficial 'Celtic' group whose religious practice had been tied, in the main, to an older tradition.

In conclusion, the colonists' fear of Irish-Catholic emigration (and the Bishop of Australia's dread of "the Genius of Rome") was based on a myth of ecclesiastic hegemony, on a 'papist dominion' which did not exist. The Irish did not form a monolithic threat. They were a diverse lot, even in religious terms. One third of actual arrivals were Protestant. And the other two thirds had, in all likelihood, a range of experiences of what it meant to be 'Catholic'.


(1) 'Legislative Council', The Sydney Herald, Monday 26 October 1840, p. 2
(2) As above
(3) 'State of the Irish Church', Article X, First Report of the Commissioners of Public Instruction, 1835, The Edinburgh Review or Critical Journal, Volume LXI, Edinburgh, Longman Rees & AC Black, p. 495
(4) Kerby A Miller, 1988, Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America, New York, Oxford University Press, pp. 193 & 199
(5) Emmet Larkin, 2006, The Pastoral Role of the Roman Catholic Church in Pre-Famine Ireland 1750-1850, Dublin, Four Courts Press, p. 10
(6) As above, p. 4
(7) Sean J Connolly, 2001, Priests and People in Pre-Famine Ireland 1780-1845, Dublin, Four Courts Press, pp. 16, 113
(8) Rosamund Burton, 2011, Castles, Follies and Four-Leaf Clovers, Sydney, Allen & Unwin, p. 67
(9) Sean J Connolly 2001, p. 144
(10) As above, p. 123



Saturday, 10 September 2016

FIRST WAVE: Emigrant Identities

FIRST WAVE: Emigrant Ships to Port Phillip 1839-1845


Information on individual 'bounty emigrants' collected by the emigration authorities included "Religion", literacy ("Read or Write"), occupation ("Trade" or "Calling"), and details on age and family status (called "Social Condition" in the colonial census). The principal concern of colonist-employers was that emigrant-employees were able-bodied and immediately employable. 

This 'fit-for-work' concern focused the Port Phillip Immigration Board Members' attention on two issues. The first of these was age and sex, or ensuring that the incoming migrants were within the most productive age-group ranges. The second was that their nominated skills were within the preferred occupation-types.

1. Able-bodied

Bounty emigrants were recruited according to three broad classifications: "Families" (married couples with children), "Unmarried Males", and "Unmarried Females". In order to promote a sexual balance between males and females in the colony, numbers of single women on board each ship had to exceed the numbers of single men. Bounty payment was withheld on 'surplus' males where this was not the case. 

In addition, a rough parity between the number of families and the number of single women was generally observed by ships dedicated to the emigrant trade. This was a practical matter as the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners' revised regulations of 3 March 1840 required each unmarried female to be "under protection" of one married woman while at sea.

Graph 1: MARITAL STATUS. Bar graph indicating numbers of bounty emigrants disembarking at Port Phillip according to individual family status. MM = Married Male, MF = Married Female, m = male child, f = female child, SM = Single Male, and SF = Single Female.

Graph 1 illustrates the actual numbers of emigrants received under the three classifications. Over the period 1839 to 1845, a total of 2,286 families were shipped to Port Phillip between 1839 and 1845. These included 2,268 married men and 2,241 married women (some widowers as more women died during the voyage than men), and 3,116 children (1,707 boys and 1,409 girls). The unmarried adults totalled 2,634 young men and 2,833 young women.

There are two observations to be made here. The social goal of introducing more females to the colony was achieved by a surplus of 199 single females. And the myth of large families is exposed, with an average of 1.46 children per household. Some married couples had more than two children, but many had none.

The squatters' fear of too many "useless mouths" was exaggerated. Even when emigrant families had two or more children, their employers could always find ways to turn them into 'useful mouths'. 

For example, John and Vera Armstrong and their five children came out as bounty emigrants on the Palmyra in 1839. In 1841 John Armstrong took up employment as station manager for Miss Drysdale and Miss Newcomb on Boronggoop near Geelong. His wife Vera became the homestead cook, his eldest son became a shepherd on an out station, and in the following year his second oldest son became a stock keeper (in charge of cattle) at the home station.(1)

In another instance, John and Mary Mundy came out on the emigrant ship Abberton in 1844, bringing their two sons Henry, aged 13 years, and John, aged 9. The Mundys were immediately contracted as a family unit by 'Hopping' Sprott for his Caramut run. John Mundy senior acted as nightwatchman, moving the overnight hurdles for three flocks, his wife Mary became hutkeeper and cook for her family and two other shepherds, and the boys worked as apprentice shepherds with one flock between them. All this for 25 pounds per annum plus rations.(2)

However, individual ages in emigrant families meant this was not always a ready solution. Many were young couples and so were their children. This is apparent from Graph 2.

Graph 2: EMIGRANT AGES. Line graph showing the numbers of emigrants landed at Port Phillip from 1839 to 1845, according to their nominated ages from newborn to 65 years.

Age ranges for the three classifications of bounty emigrants were rigorously enforced by Port Phillip Immigration Board. Competent consignors like John Marshall of London soon learnt this, to their initial cost, and henceforth strictly reviewed their applicants to ensure their eligibility for bounty. The age limit for married couples was 18 to 40 years, for single females from 18 to 30 years, and for single females from 15 to 30 years.

General compliance with the regulations by shippers is reflected in the middle section of the graph. From relatively few at 14 years old (102), the line rises steeply to peak at 20 and 22 years of age (904 and 905). Then there is a more gradual fall to 31 years (130), followed by a plateau of numbers to 39 years (121), before a sudden plunge at 40 and 41 years (34 and 5). This slightly skewed 'bell-curve' shape indicates that the bounty scheme successfully captured the desired profile of ages.

At the juvenile end of the scale, it is noticeable that infant numbers were quite high with 616 newborns and others between 0 and 2 years, and a total of 1,589 children aged up to 5 years. This is most probably a factor of the ages of their parents. 

However, there is also the intriguing possibility that the thoughts of passage, the inevitable periods of waiting involved with applying for shipment, prompted more frequent occasions of sexual intimacy between these couples. This is an empathetic interpretation as much as it is prurient. Together, these young people were preparing to cross three oceans, leaving behind them what was familiar and fond. It was unlikely they would ever return 'home'.

At the senior end of the graph, numbers are scattered and low. This is clearly a product of the financial penalty borne by the shippers if their emigrants did not meet the age criteria. To some extent, the few exporters who did ignore the regulations were responding to over-riding cultural factors, and they probably did not bear alone the risk of withheld bounties.

These exceptions applied only to ships from Scottish ports and Scots were already known for their reluctance to emigrate without all members of their extended families. In the few Scottish ships to Australia, emigrants who wished to take their elders (those above 40 years of age), were prepared to run the risk of them being refused bounty. If the majority of family members were successful in gaining free passage, they could then pool their remaining resources to fund the passage of grandparents in the event of them being found ineligible at the receiving port.

2. Semi-skilled

The other important issue for colonial employers was the employment skills and experience that the emigrants brought with them. Those who had the right skills were in demand and immediately employable.

In Chapter 2 the matter of fraudulent misrepresentation of occupations was discussed. It was not alleged there that all claims were false, but that those frauds that were detected were committed by the same unscrupulous emigration agents based in the same corrupt ports. Fraud or no fraud, the aggregate figures for "Trade or Calling" over the 70 bounty ships suggest that the occasional fabrication of certified occupations may not have meant very much. The overwhelming majority of bounty emigrants were manifestly un-skilled.

The revised regulations of 1840 stipulated the varieties of workers that were then required  in the colony. These were stated briefly in the Government Gazette. "Emigrants of the following description, viz. -- Agricultural Labourers. Shepherds. Carpenters. Smiths. Wheelwrights. Bricklayers. Masons. Female Domestic and Farm Servants".(3)

In 1842  Port Phillip's employers were equally concise in their requirements. "The universal opinion is, that the description of labour chiefly required in this district comprises shepherds, good farm servants who can plough with reins (horse-drawn) or bullocks, reap, sow grains, and use the spade; a few good gardeners, a few mechanics (trades-men), and some male and female good domestic servants who really understand their business, and who are of good character".(4)

Graphs 5 (male) and 6 (female) present the professed occupations of the emigrants who actually disembarked at Port Phillip between 1839 and 1845. It is quickly seen that most male emigrants were "farm servants" and "labourers", and most females were "house maids" and "house servants". These task groups are so general as to require little beyond a willingness to do as they were told.

Graph 3: MALE OCCUPATIONS. Bar graph of the nominated occupations of 4,918 male bounty emigrants to Port Phillip in the period 1839-1845. Abbreviation 'Fm' = Farm.

Of the 4,918 adult males who nominated their "Trade or Calling", 3,663 opted for the generic status of "Labourers" or "Farm Servants". That is, 74% of the bounty emigrant men and youths seeking colonial work were unskilled, or low skilled. The preferred occupation of "Shepherd" attracted only 290 applicants over the six year period (or 6% of the total). 

The proportion of those who, by their choice of occupations, implied some familiarity with rural work, was also comparatively low. Shepherds, skilled farm workers (farmers, overseers, stock-keepers, ploughmen, horse grooms, etc.), and farm servants, made up 1,194 of the total male cohort, or 24%.

Graph 4: FEMALE OCCUPATIONS. Bar graph representing the nominated occupations of 5,048 adult female bounty emigrants to Port Phillip in the period 1839-1845. Abbreviations: 'Md' = Maid; 'Fm' = Farm; 'Servts' = Servants; 'Hse' = House.

Of the 5,048 female bounty emigrants who expressed their "Trade or Calling", 3,885 (or 77%), chose to call themselves "House Servants" or "Farm Servants", another indication of low skill levels. Some version or other of domestic service dominated the women's and teenage girls' selection of employment areas.

Those who possessed what is characterised here as "House Skills", such as housekeeper, cook, sempstress, laundress, or nursery, etc., and those who opted for the more general "House Servant" or "House Maid", together numbered 3,824, or 76% of the total cohort. The "Dairy Maids" and "Farm Servants" specifically requested by rural employers for work on their inland stations, mustered out at only 316 and 477 respectively.

Strangely enough, the disparity between the squatters' "labour requisites" and the emigrants' "trade or calling" did not draw forth prolonged protests of dissatisfaction from the colonists. Instead there appears to have been a subtle change in the employers' approach to the labour problem over time.

Hints of an increasing flexibility are to be found as early as the Immigration Board's annual report for 1839. The Colonial Agent for Immigration at Sydney, J. Denham Pinnock, was characteristically scathing about some of the emigrants being sent out -- "men who have been accustomed to no distinct occupation, but who have earned a precarious subsistence by casual and irregular labour" -- but he was more nuanced in his "description of people most in demand".

"The class of persons now in the greatest requisition are skilled shepherds and agricultural labourers; the more skilled mechanics [tradesmen] are in little demand...but that class of mechanics who can make themselves generally useful, and rough it up in the country, such as village blacksmiths, carpenters, and a few good sawyers and fencers, with others of a like description, would readily find employment, and at high wages".(5)
There is an openness here to disregarding the detail of inexperience if an emigrant is earnest and adaptable. This idea developed as 'unsuitable' emigrants continued to arrive. By late 1841, the squatters on the Immigration Committee had produced an article for publication and distribution in Britain titled "Sketch of a Shepherd's Duties in New South Wales". This was a promotional flyer that began with the words, "The duties of a shepherd in New South Wales are exceedingly simple". 

The purpose behind the Committee's extraordinary move into print was reported by The Sydney Herald as follows:
"The Committee have shown a praiseworthy anxiety to correct...erroneous notions, and especially to make it understood, that 'the points of attention in a shepherd's employment in this Colony are so few and simple, that they may be mastered by anyone possessing the disposition to observe and learn'. For this purpose they have inserted in the Appendix to their Report a paper 'exhibiting a brief view of the shepherd's duties, which, it will from this appear, are such as any man, or even boy approaching to manhood, with steady habits and ordinary activity, is qualified to undertake. It would be advantageous that copies of this paper should be circulated as generally as possible in the United Kingdom, not only in those districts where pastoral occupations prevail, but also in manufacturing districts'."(6)
The quite radical re-adjustment in the colonists' minds that this article represented is illustrated by reference to a brief extract from its contents.
"In fact, a weaver or button-maker, after a few months experience, will generally prove a better shepherd in New South Wales, than the man who having been brought up as a shepherd in England, may have acquired habits or prejudices exceedingly difficult to shake off, however unsuitable to the new position in which he is placed; in proof of this it may be noticed that some of the best superintendents of sheep in the colony are natives of London, Manchester, or Birmingham, and that few professed English or Scotch shepherds are entrusted with the care of a single flock."(7)
It is probably advisable to take this indication of newfound open-mindedness among colonial employers with caution. It is unlikely the life of a shepherd in New South Wales was entirely the pleasant picture of bucolic ease that the article painted. And, it should be noted, the squatters' inclusiveness did not extend to the Irish, for all of the localities named are resolutely English.

Nevertheless, this document suggests that employers' concerns, as represented by the squatter-dominated Immigration Committee, were slightly different to the scheme's administrators. The squatters were not so much concentrated on checking exact ages and occupations, as they were looking for the 'right' attitudes in their prospective workers. From Pinnock's words in 1839, these land owners and licence holders wanted emigrants who were prepared to "make themselves generally useful, and rough it up in the country".

By virtue of their active position in the labour market, squatters had a clearer view of the subsequent stages of emigration. They knew the when (how soon and how much), and the where (the position and locality), of emigrants' employment. The move towards a wider recruitment strategy may well have been prompted by their awareness that 'port arrivals' were not necessarily translated into 'rural settlers'. The emigrants were getting off the boat all right, but in many cases that was as far as they got.

 3. Literacy

Another area of emigrant identity that Emigration Commission and Immigration Board recorders took seriously was education. The measure of education used was literacy. Under the heading of "Read or Write" the emigrants were assessed according to three levels of competency: "Both", "Read Only", and "Neither". The relative numbers that fell into each category are presented in Graph 5 below. This graph also includes a 'rounding' section called "Underage", to capture those children for whom no category was recorded.

Graph 5: EMIGRANT LITERACY. Bar graph comparing the numbers of bounty emigrants who nominated each category of literacy. Includes a column representing those for whom no category was recorded - "Underage".

A total of 6,608 of the 13,092 emigrants who landed at Port Phillip, or 50.5%, advised that they could both read and write. Another 1,966 claimed they could read but not write. A further 2,091 admitted they could do neither. 

The second category of "Read Only" is a problematic indicator of competency. It is unclear what level of skill these partially literate people really possessed. For example, George Mundy on the Abberton claimed he could read, but according to his son Henry's "Diary", he could only "recognise" some short verses from his Wesleyan hymn book, (and even then, with some difficulty).(8) A safer interpretation of these figures might be to assume that approximately half of the emigrants (6,608, or 50.5%) were effectively literate, and the other half, effectively, were not.

Whether they were educated to proficiency in the written word or not, the matter of their education drew next to no interest from their prospective employers. Education, or the lack of it, was being debated in the colony at this time. However, its instigators were mainly religious leaders like the sectarian Presbyterian, John Dunmore Lang, and their appeal was directed to schooling the children of existing settlers in their parents' faith. 

When squatters mentioned the issue of literate employees in their journals or correspondence, the subject was approached obliquely. If a judgment could be made of the collective view from these scattered records, it would be that the landed elite were generally sceptical of the the benefits of an educated workforce. For example, Katherine Kirkland on Trawalla station seemed unimpressed by her dray-man's reported ability to "read so beautifully". Her perspective on this skill and its utility differed from that of her maid, Mary.
"Our bullock driver was very careless; his only work seemed to be finding his bullocks one day, and losing them the next; he was a melancholy-looking little man, and went by the name of 'Dismal Jamie'. Mary told me he was sure he had been a great man at home, he read so beautifully, and knew so much; but certainly he knew little about bullock-driving".(9)
Squatters were more interested in what their workers were reading, rather than how well they read it. As employers, they were better pleased when their literate employees devoted themselves to reading Scripture. After inspecting the Glenormiston 'run' with his overseer one Sunday morning in early 1840 ("Sheep looking better and lambs thriving splendidly"), Neil Black observed, "On our return found all the men and their wives with each a Bible in hand -- what a happy contrast to what I have usually seen at other stations".(10)

A similar note of pride in his well-behaved Scots is evident in a letter from David Wilsone on Upper Wirrobbie. He writes to his brother in Glasgow that, while there was no time to "read the Service & a Sermon to our men at the Station...I have noticed our Scotch Shepards take their Bibles out with them" to mind their flocks during the day.(11)

Their workers' attention to their Bibles was approved of as a sign of their steady, sober and reliable character. It pointed to industrious and diligent work habits, as opposed to the possible inconvenience of an intelligent or independent-thinking employee. Squatters did not consider the economic benefits of an educated worker, theoretically more efficient and more productive, to out-weigh the critical issues of labour-discipline. In remote and isolated settings, and as a management-minority, the values of compliance and obedience were more important to them.

It is in this context that something of the fear of Irish Catholics might be better understood. That this fear was irrational and unfounded does not remove the fact of its historical existence.

4. Religion

Graph 6: EMIGRANT RELIGION. Bar graph representing the relative numbers of Protestant and Catholic bounty emigrants arriving each year at Port Phillip in the period 1839-1844. Note that religious affiliation was not reported for 816 children and they are not included above.

Graph 6 demonstrates the relative proportions of Protestant and Catholic bounty emigrants who landed at Port Phillip in the years 1839 to 1844. Fears of a Catholic majority were clearly exaggerated. The overall totals of 7,089 Protestants and 5,187 Catholics give a ratio of 58% Protestant and 42% Catholic.

One further point needs to be made. The question of religious allegiance may not originally have been presented to applicants as an 'either-or' proposition, but that is how they answered it. Only 20 Presbyterians and 7 Methodists thought it appropriate to respond denomination-ally. The balance of emigrants quickly discerned the true purpose of the question. It was about identifying the 'foreign' bogeyman, the "Church of Rome", and everyone else was Protestant. No other distinctions were necessary to answer correctly.

In conclusion then, this chapter has confirmed the carefully 'selected' nature of bounty emigrants to Port Phillip. Emigration agents in Britain and Immigration agents in the Colony compiled, and then checked, the details of the various ship's lists to ensure that those taking passage were eligible. But no matter how thorough (or flawed) these administrative processes were in guaranteeing the emigrants' able-body-ness and immediate employability, colonial employers and existing settlers remained fixated on things that could not be counted so easily.

The next chapter is therefore the first of five that incorporate a significant re-calibrating of the data provided in the Lists of Immigrants. The purpose of this rearranging is to analyse that information from the perspective of emigrant origins, or "Native Place". An aggregate picture gained from summing the columns in the ships' lists has been important in establishing an overall impression, of all emigrants. However, it is the places these people came from that really determined what the colonists thought of them (and quite probably determined the sort of economic opportunities that they offered to them).

Was there, in fact, a valid reason for relegating the Irish to the status of least desirable nationality for settlement in the Port Phillip District? In idiomatic language, were the Irish 'superstitious', immoral, dirty, stupid, useless, and violent, to any greater degree than the English and Scottish emigrants they shared the dark wet holds to Australia with? Each of these criticisms will be addressed in the following chapters.


(1) Bev Roberts (ed.), 2009, Miss D & Miss N: An extraordinary partnership: The Diary of Ann Drysdale, Nth Melbourne VIC, Australian Scholarly Publishing, pp. 80, 88, 92, 121
(2) A.D. Reid (ed.), 1999, The Land of Their Adoption: Henry Mundy's Diary From England to Australia, 1838-1857, Kialla VIC, pp. 54, 69, 79, 87
(3) 'Immigration', New South Wales Government Gazette, Wednesday 4 March 1840, p. 200
(4) 'Copy of a Letter...22 July 1842', 1843, British Parliamentary Papers, 1780-1849, Volume XXXIV, Appendix N, p. 77
(5) 'Copy of a Despatch from the Governor of New South Wales...Immigration, 1839', 1840, British Parliamentary Papers, Volume XXXI, Appendix NN, p. 32
(6) 'The Report on Immigration', The Sydney Herald, Wednesday 25 August 1842, p. 2
(7) 'Correspondence Relative to Emigration: New South Wales', 1842, Accounts and Papers: Twenty Volumes - (6) - Emigration, Volume XXXI, Appendix D, p. 49
(8) Bev Roberts 1999, pp. 15, 37
(9) Katherine Kirkland, 1844, Life in the Bush, By a Lady, Edinburgh, Chambers Miscellany
(10) Neil Black's Diary, State Library of Victoria, MS 8996, Box 99/1, 24 February 1840
(11) Dr Wilsone's Letters, State Library of Victoria, MS 9285, Box 267/2b, 20 July 1840