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

Thursday, 29 September 2016

FIRST WAVE: Unlucky Ships

FIRST WAVE: Emigrant Ships to Port Phillip 1839-1845

Chapter Seven: UNLUCKY SHIPS

An insult commonly levelled at bounty emigrants from Ireland was that they were dirty and diseased. They may have been unwashed and dishevelled, an understandable reflection of their subsistent-peasant backgrounds. The more serious accusation, however, was that their poor standard of personal cleanliness was directly linked with the killer-fevers of the age. Their untidy appearance provided grounds for assuming they were also carriers of devastating diseases like typhus and cholera.

All emigrants who gathered at British ports for colonial destinations such as Port Phillip had to overcome several legitimate fears about the journey that lay ahead of them. Principal among these was dying from illness contracted during the voyage. In the case of Port Phillip bound ships, fatalities from sickness averaged 3.5% of those who embarked. In real terms this meant that of the 13,092 emigrants who landed safely, another 475 died during the passage to Australia, including 303 children.(1)

Some vessels had very little illness but a considerable number experienced major outbreaks of disease, with horrific results. Often emigrants spent days or even weeks confined below decks due to bad weather ("Batten down the hatches!"). In distressing conditions -- dark, wet, cold, foul-smelling, with unending noise from the storm outside and the frightened people within -- it would have been difficult not to think negatively of those around you, to find fault and to blame.

Most ships carried Irish emigrants who, from contemporary accounts, looked and sounded very different to those from other parts of Britain. They were sometimes boisterously behaved, and they were clannish, sticking together despite their arguments. The congestion of bunk bedding and shared latrines increased tension. Suspicion of their unwashed, and therefore possibly contagious, bodies grew with the general irritation at their (mutually) trying circumstances.

Epidemic diseases

Ideas that poor hygiene led to poor health, and that disease spread from person to person, are not recent inventions. Understood imperfectly perhaps by modern standards, but by the middle of the nineteenth century simple connections, or pathological pathways, had already been made by emigration agents and medical officers in Britain and the colonies.

For instance, in 1839 John Marshall's well-run "London ships" already insisted on various measures to minimise the risk of disease outbreaks. These were publicised in his recruitment pamphlet.
"With a view to the preservation of perfect cleanliness, health and comfort on the passage, new bedding will be provided for all steerage passengers; they will not be allowed to take their own bedding on board (except sheets), filth being frequently introduced by such a practice, to the serious annoyance of all on board...Cleanliness being indispensable to the health and comfort of all on board during the voyage, steerage passengers will not be admitted unless furnished with a proper supply of clothing, especially linen, stockings &c. for the voyage...and such other articles of dress as are essential to cleanliness, health and comfort...combs, soap &c...every steerage passenger will be required, before embarkation, to put sufficient linen and other changes for a month's use into a box not more than 15 inches square...once a month the larger packages will be brought on deck, when each person must exchange his or her dirty clothes for clean ones..."(2)
Marshall's emphasis on new bedding and 'regular' changes of clothing was, in historical hindsight, particularly appropriate for combating one of the killer-fevers of the period. Typhus, also known as "gaol-fever" or "ship-fever", is caused by the spread of rickettsia prowazeki (through lice on humans) or rickettsia typhi (through fleas on rats). It is rife in crowded living conditions where clothing is unwashed and bodies huddle together for warmth.

The name "Fever" was a generic term in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, compounding the two distinct diseases Typhus and Typhoid Fever. Typhoid means 'like Typhus' and is caused by the spread of salmonella typhi (through contact with human faeces). It flourishes in conditions of poor sanitation and inadequate personal hygiene, and is normally ingested through contaminated food or drink.

Cramped sleeping quarters and primitive sanitary arrangements in the holds of emigrants ships were potentially 'ideal' environments for the incubation and contagion of Typhus and Typhoid Fever. Bad vessels were called Fever Ships. 

Other illnesses that spread in these conditions were "Scarlatina" or scarlet fever, chickenpox, measles, smallpox, whooping cough, and "croup", all contracted by inhalation and touch, and lethal for children. A final range of sicknesses, the ones that rendered the situation almost intolerable below deck, were dysentery, "bloody flux", and diarrhoea.

The Glen Huntly

Preventing the introduction of the already sick onto emigrant ships was the task of port medical officers and the Surgeon Superintendent of each vessel. Dr Boyter, the Government Emigration Agent for Scotland, and Superintendent James Brown, the Surgeon on the Glen Huntly, did not insist on rigorous standards of good health when loading their passengers. Perhaps they felt they could not, as the emigrants had already been waiting for several weeks for their ship at the Highland port of Oban. The consequences, however, were tragic.

In one of several reports made by the Port Phillip authorities after the Glen Huntly limped into the Bay flying the yellow fever flag, the source of the problem was revealed.
"The emigrants amounting to about one hundred and seventy, were taken on board at Oban, in which town it appears Fever was then prevalent...Whilst undergoing [repairs to the ship's hull at Greenock, after twice running aground at Oban], Fever appeared among the passengers, in consequence of which several of them (about seventeen) had to be removed from on board and sent to the Hospital at Greenock, where seven or eight died...The repairs of the ship having been concluded, they were re-embarked after a stay of about seven weeks at Greenock, and sailed for New South Wales on the 13th Decr [1839]. The convalescents alluded to were most of them excessively debilitated, and several of the passengers who had fever on board but were not removed to the Hospital, were also far from being perfectly restored to health.(3)
Even before leaving Glasgow, "seven or eight" had already died. On the voyage out a further ten died from Fever, one from Scarlatina, one from Measles, one from Smallpox, and two from unspecified "other complaints". A further three died from Fever in Quarantine after their arrival. Out of the 169 emigrants who had embarked from Oban on the Glen Huntly, at least 25 were dead, a mortality rate of nearly 15%.

In a later version of the Immigration Board's series of reports in 1840, the circumstances were politely, but damningly, summarised for La Trobe.
"It is evident that the ship left Greenock for sea with disease on board, and that her departure under such circumstances was permitted by the authorities under the vague expectation that her passage into a finer more genial climate might render her healthy...It is to be feared that the state of discomfort & uncleanliness into which the emigrants were evidently thrown at the commencement of the voyage from bad weather and inexperience of the gentleman in charge was never remedied or ameliorated during the whole voyage, and the state of their bedding &c. [subsequently piled on Brighton beach and burnt] at their landing date strongly impressed the authorities at P. Phillip that this conjecture is a true one...It is not intended to cast any imputations upon the character of the Surgeon Supt. beyond that of evident inexperience in the character of the duties which devolved upon him in enforcing that order, cleanliness and regularity, on board an Immigrant ship".(4)
It should be noted here that the fever ship Glen Huntly carried an all Scottish contingent. These emigrants were Highlanders who boarded initially at Oban in Argyll, rather than Irish internal-migrants boarding at Glasgow. The luck, or otherwise of getting on a 'good' ship was related to the port they loaded from, not the ethnic background of the emigrants they would travel with.

Dangerous ports

Map 8 below shows that high death rates from disease were directly related to a vessel's port of departure. The map locates those bounty ships that had more than ten deaths during their voyage. All the British ports involved in sending emigrants to Port Phillip had one fever ship, but Glasgow had three and Liverpool had six. There is a point where bad luck becomes bad management.

Map 8: DANGEROUS PORTS. A simple depiction of the number of fever ships that departed from each British port for Port Phillip 1839-1845. A fever ship is defined as having 10 or more disease-related deaths on the voyage, including deaths in quarantine after arrival.

A total of 13 ships suffered more than 10 sickness-related deaths. In 1839 the William Metcalfe from Plymouth and the Westminster from London had 11 and 10 deaths respectively. In 1840 the fever ship Glen Huntly registered 25 deaths, including 3 in quarantine after her arrival. In 1841 no less than 5 fever ships from Liverpool entered the Rip -- the Salsette (13 deaths), the Georgiana (17), the Argyle (45), the England (18), and the Wallace (10) -- followed by the Ward Chipman from Bristol (23 dead). In 1842 came the Robert Benn and the Manlius from Glasgow, having lost 19 and 61 respectively, and the Martin Luther from London via Cork with 12 deaths. Last of all, the Wallace arrived again from Liverpool, this time having lost 38 lives to sickness.

Every exporter, and importer, of bounty emigrants was in pursuit of profit. The priority they gave to their financial self-interest varied only in degree. For example, in 1842 the Port Phillip District Superintendent, Charles La Trobe, informed the Governor in Sydney that all consignors were extracting additional fees from the emigrants, despite their intention to also claim the full bounty rebate for each one of them: "...from Mr Marshall downwards, a practice has prevailed with many of the exporters, to exact sums of various amounts, under diverse pretexts, from the emigrants, in part payment of their passages...a most culpable practice".(5)

This was quite true. In 1839, in Marshall's own recruitment pamphlet, a 5 Pound payment was demanded from "Single Males", even if they were "well acquainted with agricultural work". Others who were not so acquainted, "single mechanics" or tradesmen, "must pay their own passage" at the sum of 21 Pounds. In this way Marshall was deferring the entire risk of possible refusal of bounty back onto the heads of those who wanted to go. (If, however, they could persuade their unmarried sister to travel on the same vessel, "they will both be taken free!").(6)

La Trobe's investigation into the Salsette from Liverpool in 1841 uncovered uglier evidence of systemic efforts to reduce the shippers' costs at the expense of the emigrants' welfare. He found that in that instance, "the provision made by the agents in Liverpool for the comfort and health of the immigrants was very inadequate...there was an insufficiency of water [not remedied "until they were considerably past the Cape"]." La Trobe criticised "the badness of the bread", the spoiling of "flour" through bad packaging and stowage, and the poor quality of "the beef and pork". (In reply to the latter, the unloading agents insisted "there was both bad and good in each cask"!).He also remarked on the oddness of these inadequacies occurring despite the fact that "the provisions were examined and approved by Lieut. Henry, R.N., the Government Emigrant Agent of the port of Liverpool".(7)

The District Superintendent was particularly angered by the apparent coercion of the ship's Surgeon by the "supercargo" during the passage: "...that the surgeon superintendent  of the ship was put on board by the importers without having received any power and authority whatsoever to see that justice was done to the immigrants during the voyage, as respects the quality of the provisions...the duty of serving out the daily rations being under the sole control and management of the supercargo, who was one of the joint proprietors".(8)

As a result of the shippers' representative (the "supercargo", abbreviating 'superintending owner of cargo'), doling out meagre and "spoiled" food rations, the impact of disease on board was increased. By the time the Salsette arrived in Port Phillip Bay, some 13 emigrants had died.

In a later letter to Governor Sir George Gipps, La Trobe tried to press home his argument. He reported that "from the very week of their disembarkation, and before they could provide for themselves, a very considerable number of the immigrants by the Salsette were attacked by low fever then rife in the town and neighbourhood. Many have since died, and in general it has been observed by the medical men that these immigrants were, from previous hardship, and insufficient nourishment, much less able to bear up against than others, and much more liable to sink, even after the fever had been subdued".(9)

To no avail. "These bounties may be paid", the Governor had already ruled. Although he also said, "Unless Messrs [A.B. Smith & Co of Sydney's] future ships are better managed, I shall not feel at liberty to grant any fresh permission to them to import immigrants".(10) Hark the sound of a very light slap on the wrist.

Mortality rates (A)

The most consistent records of births and deaths on emigrant ships are the Returns of Persons compiled by the Port Phillip Immigration Board for the eighteen month period 1 January 1841 to 30 June 1842.(11) Prior to this, ship's surgeons, under instructions from their employers, the emigration agents, refused to supply the Board with this information. It was not until new regulations in 1840 came into force that they were compelled to provide a proper Return of Deaths On Board to port authorities.(12)

While these official returns are limited to a one and a half year portion of the five year bounty scheme, they actually cover the busiest part of it -- 51 ships, out of the total 71, landed emigrants at Port Phillip in 1841 and 1842. During this time 9,395 emigrants, men, women and children, disembarked at Melbourne, but at the cost of 325 lives lost to disease on the voyages. These figures indicate a mortality rate of 3.45% between the nominated dates. (Adding 325 deaths and subtracting 166 births from 9,395 emigrants landed provides the number of people who embarked, from which this average mortality percentage has been calculated).

The mortality rate of 3.45% over all 51 vessels in the one and a half year period is used as a benchmark in Graph 9. Seven ships from Liverpool and seven ships from Glasgow are then compared with this benchmark. The consecutive 'runs' of vessels from Liverpool and Glasgow depicted in the graph were all dedicated emigrant ships, fitted out below deck for the trade, and carrying in excess of 100 passengers on Bounty. Individual mortality rates have been calculated for each voyage.

Graph 9: FEVER SHIP DEATH RATES. A line graph comparing a series of mortality rates on ships from Liverpool and Glasgow with the bench-marked average percentage of disease-related deaths (3.45%) incurred over the same period (1 Jan 1841 - 30 Jun 1842) by vessels from all ports. Source: British Parliamentary Papers, 1842 & 1843, Vols XXXI & XXXIV.

Ships from Liverpool suffered high death rates in 1841. Five ships, starting with the Salsette, were flying the yellow fever flag when they arrived at Port Phillip and three of these were immediately put under Quarantine. After official inquiries and complaints to their consignor, A.B. Smith and Co of Sydney, standards for the later vessels seem to have improved, with death rates reduced to about average.

Ships from Glasgow were generally comparable to the average in 1841, with the exception of the third ship, the Grindlay, which carried 147 survivors off the India from Rio de Janeiro to Port Phillip. The India from Glasgow was burnt-out at sea in the South Atlantic, when 16 emigrants and a seamen were drowned in the panic to launch the ship's boats. Apart from these non-disease related deaths, the first five ships, which were all contracted by Robert How and Co of Sydney, suffered death rates no worse than the bench-marked average.

However, the last two ships in this group were sent in 1842 by a new consignor, Francis Reid and Co of Glasgow. Both of them were fever ships, and the last of them, the Manlius, suffered 61 deaths from disease (41 adults and 20 children) out of 298 emigrants embarked.

Map 8 demonstrates that high disease-related death rates on emigrant ships were linked to particular ports of origin. Graph 9 indicates that deaths from disease can also be more accurately linked to particular consignors of bounty emigrants. The different experiences of the Glasgow ships contracted by Robert How in 1841, and those organised by Francis Reid in 1842, provide graphic evidence of this.

Mortality rates (B)

The tragedy of the India shows that there was more to fatalities at sea than illness alone. The risks that potential bounty emigrants had to face down before committing to the voyage went beyond the horror of Fever. There were accidental deaths, the not insignificant consequences of fire and shipwreck. To gain a real appreciation of these dangers as they weighed on the minds of the emigrants, it is necessary to expand our measure of mortality beyond the statistical certainty of the official Returns of Persons.

Calculating a death rate for the entire 'first wave' of bounty emigration to Port Phillip between 1839 and 1845 requires information from additional sources. The core of data is drawn from Lists of Immigrants and Returns of Persons. This has been supplemented by shipping reports from colonial newspapers, published books, 'ancestry' sites (where these rely on original manuscripts or published histories), and government posts (e.g. <heritagevictoria> on quarantine cemeteries at Point Ormond and Port Gellibrand).

When all but the last vessel is taken into account, emigrant ships had an average mortality rate of 3.55% over the course of the bounty scheme. This percentage is very similar to the 3.45% arrived at from the Returns of Persons for the shorter period of eighteen months. The aggregated index of deaths for five years was calculated in the same way: 13,092 emigrants landed at Port Phillip, plus 475 deaths on board and in quarantine, minus 217 on board births, equals 13,350 emigrants who embarked from British ports. However, this figure still only tells part of the story.

The 'rabbit out of the hat' for this chapter concerns the last shipload of bounty emigrants. In 1845 the seventy-first ship, the Cataraqui, carried 369 assisted migrants intended for Port Phillip. The reason it has not appeared so far in this study is that only one of this consignment survived the voyage and reached their destination.

On 20 April 1845, the 800 ton Cataraqui left Liverpool. According to her almost entirely posthumous List of Immigrants, she had on board 62 families (61 men, 62 women) with 190 children (93 boys, 97 girls) and 60 young adults (23 male, 33 female).(13) Contracted by emigration agents William Smith and Son of Liverpool (not connected to A.B. Smith and Co of Sydney), and specially overseen by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission in London under recently amended regulations, she sailed with an experienced Master (Captain William Finlay) and two Surgeons (brothers Charles and Edward Carpenter).

On 4 August 1845, the Cataraqui struck teeth-shaped rocks off King Island. The surviving First Mate, Thomas Guthrie, recalled "At half-past four [AM], it being quite dark and raining hard, blowing a fearful gale, and the sea running mountains high, the ship struck on the west coast of King's Island, at the entrance to Bass' Straits".(14)

In a note to the Cataraqui's List of Immigrants that was subsequently published in the Government Gazette, the Port Phillip Immigration Agent, Dr John Patterson, summarised the circumstances leading to Captain Finlay's fatal error.

"The ship Cataraqui...had a very favourable passage until the middle of July, when after passing St. Paul's Island she met with continued heavy weather. As she approached the termination of her voyage, several days passed without satisfactory observations being obtained; but on the evening of the 3rd of August, she was considered to be about 141 degrees 22 minutes East longitude and 39 degrees 17 Minutes South latitude, or about 100 miles from land, according to the ship's reckoning. She was nevertheless hove-to until three o'clock A.M., on the 4th, when she bore away steering East by North. An hour after, she ran upon the reefs near the south-western extremity of King's Island, where she was totally lost".(15)
The difficulty of taking clear navigational observations of the sun and the horizon during the last part of the journey prevented accurate measurements of longitude and latitude being made. As a result, Captain Finlay believed he was many miles north and west of his actual position. All but one of the 369 bounty emigrants on board drowned, along with 39 members of the crew, including the Captain and both Surgeons.

Every emigrant embarking on the journey to Port Phillip risked shipwreck. The entrance to Bass Strait was particularly hazardous to ships at the end of a long voyage, with few sightings of land to provide reliable reference points along the way. For example, on 13 May 1835 the convict ship Neva, sailing from Cork to Sydney, struck reefs off the north-west of King Island. From this vessel's original complement of 150 female convicts with 33 children, and 9 'free women' (wives of previously transported male convicts) with 22 children, only 15 survivors remained to be rescued a month later.

When the 368 emigrant deaths from the Cataraqui are taken into account, the overall mortality rate for the Bounty Scheme of 1839-1845 rises from 3.55% (mainly disease related) to 6.05%. The dangers of a vessel foundering en route, along with the threat of falling fatally ill during the passage, were more than idle fears. For every 100 bounty emigrants who arrived alive at Port Phillip, six did not.

In conclusion, this chapter has questioned the accusation that Irish emigrants were particularly dirty and diseased. In the absence of more precise registers of ship-board deaths, it has investigated what information is available from the Immigrants Lists and Returns of Persons.

The Irish were undoubtedly responsible for some of the instances of Fever and other contagious illnesses on emigrant ships to Port Phillip. About 60% of all emigrants were Irish.
It is probable, in a logical and statistical sense, that they were therefore 'responsible' for a commensurate portion of introduced disease. However, whether they were the major source of incubation and contagion beyond their equivalent proportion of total emigrant numbers is a moot point. It is more likely that emigrants from Ireland were being scapegoated by this allegation, at least to some degree.

For example, in the early 1830s an epidemic of Cholera swept through Ireland. Cholera is a disease of poverty and Ireland was very poor. However, similar outbreaks of this killer-disease occurred throughout Britain at this time. Similar conditions of inadequate housing, poor sanitation and contaminated water supply, meant that the Scottish Highlands and crowded cities like Glasgow, Liverpool and London were also hard hit.

It is possible then, to exaggerate the influence of the Irish in this regard. The information that was compiled in the Immigration Board's 'Lists' and 'Returns' suggests a much stronger link existed between the fever ships and their ports of origin, and those who organised each shipment, than with the respective 'national' backgrounds of the emigrants themselves.

Vessels from the Irish port of Cork, for instance, had lower disease-related mortality than the Scottish port of Glasgow. And Liverpool, a major port of departure for both English and Irish emigrants, was responsible for the most fever ships of all.


(1) Author's figures derived from Lists of Immigrants
(2) 'Australian Packet Ships - Emigration to New South Wales - Free Passage', 1839, (John Marshall, Australian Emigration Agent, 26 Birchin Lane, Cornhill, London), in Twenty Years Experience in Australia, London, Smith Elder & Co., pp. 62-63
(3) Public Records Office of Victoria, VPRS 19/P1, 1840/0479
(4) As above
(5) British Parliamentary Papers, 1843, Accounts and Papers (5) Emigration, Vol XXXIV, Appendix M, p. 76
(6) Australian Packet Ships 1839, p. 61
(7) 'Attachments to the Report from the Committee on Immigration 1841', Australasian Chronicle (Sydney), Saturday 11 September 1841
(8) As above, La Trobe's Letter, 25 January 1841
(9) As above, La Trobe's Letter, 9 March 1841
(10) As above, Governor Gipp's Letter, 14 February 1841
(11)'Return of Persons' 1 July 1840 - 30 June 1841, British Parliamentary Papers, Accounts and Papers (6) Emigration, 1842, Vol. XXXI, Appendix I, p. 56; and 'Return of Persons' 1 July 1841 - 30 June 1842, British Parliamentary Papers, Accounts and Papers (5) Emigration, 1843, Vol. XXXIV, Appendix B, p. 58.
(12) 'Testimony of James Denham Pinnock, Immigration Agent,' 1841, British Parliamentary Papers, 1841, New South Wales (EMIGRATION) Copy of a Despatch..., pp. 18-19
(13) <>
(14) Port Phillip Herald, 13 September 1845, in The Courier (Hobart), 20 September 1845
(15) 'Government Notice: Shipwreck of the Emigrant Vessel "Cataraqui" on King's Island, 4th August, 1845', Port Phillip Government Gazette, No. 90, Wednesday, September 24, 1845, pp. 418-423

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.    " 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, <>
(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