Farewell My Children
Assisted Emigration to Australia
Richard E Reid
During the 19th
century Ireland became a land of emigrants, many of them leaving for Britains Australian colonies. To reach that
distant new world most took advantage of a government
assisted passage which by the standards of the time was a well organised
journey in ships supervised by Surgeon-Superintendents, Matrons,
Sub-Matrons, Schoolmasters and Water Closet Constables.
Farewell my Children tells the story of these emigrants
as they left their Irish homes between 1848 and 1870 to sail to Sydney, a
journey mirrored by those who left for Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart or
Moreton Bay (Brisbane). Who were these emigrants, what propelled them out
of Ireland and what were their first experiences of Australia as they
battled for employment? Orphan girls fled the destitution and disease of
Irish workhouses during the Great Famine; hundreds left the impoverished
parishes of north-west Donegal; families sponsored other family members
in chains of migration stretching back to counties Clare, Tipperary,
Tyrone and Fermanagh; and family members joined
convicts who had been transported years before. Here were the thousands
who formed the basis of that large component of colonial society that
thought of themselves not as British but as the forerunners
of somewhere called Australia.
Dr Richard Reid, an Irish immigrant and
Australian citizen, works as an historian in Canberra, Australias capital city.
Postage within Australia & NZ: $7.50
Postage outside Australasia: on request
For further information or to
request review copies or author interviews, please contact : email@example.com
Farewell My Children, published June 2011, ISBN
9780980335477, RRP $34.95
Farewell My Children:
Assisted Emigration to Australia, 1848-1870
speech at State Records NSW, Globe Street, Sydney, 21 July 2011
L-R Dr Richard Reid, Christine Yeats, Alan Ventress, Director SRNSW
hurried down close to the side of the water thinking I might have got one
sight of Faithy’s black bonnet or your jacket—as I would have known them. I
would have waved my hat … for the last time. But I could see neither …
though I looked with more desire than the watchman doth for the morning.
Then I came to the side of
wall where I bid yous farewell and I stood until I could not discern the
Liverpool Boat from the Glasgow one. The cry of my heart at that moment was
farewell, farewell, farewell my children.
[William Fife on the departure of his children Faithy and Nixon for New
South Wales in 1859]
an enormous pleasure to be here tonight for the Sydney launch of Dr Richard
Reid’s long awaited book Farewell My Children: Irish Assisted Emigration
to Australia, 1848-1870. I say long-awaited with a real sense of the
midst of the 1980s genealogical boom I was a reference archivist in the then
Archives Authority’s city reading room and Richard was working on the
research for his PhD. He was looking at the 44,188 Irish men, women and
children who received assisted passage to the British colony of New South
Wales. Along with the other reading room archivists, I watched with interest
as Richard sifted through assisted immigration shipping records; immigration
correspondence; surgeons reports; immigration deposit journals … the list
goes on—piecing together the story of those like Faith and Nixon Fife who
left family and friends behind to make a new life in New South Wales.
in July 2011—a little bit of a wait—it is a delight to hold the finished
product here in my hands. The outcome of Richard’s hours of painstaking
research provides the reader with an insight into assisted immigration in
the years between 1848 and 1870. It also goes a long way towards answering
the question, who were the Irish immigrants who chose to make New South
Wales their home?
Richard’s book takes us on an informative and often moving journey (the term
‘journey’ is a somewhat over used phrase these days but there is no better
way to describe it) from the quayside, to the ‘most uncomfortable part of
the whole voyage’—the Irish Sea passage — the immigration depots, the sea
voyage to New South Wales, the arrival in Sydney, the time in the
immigration barracks and then on to places such as Maitland Yass, Goulburn
and beyond. In speaking of the ‘most uncomfortable part of the whole
voyage’, Richard describes the frightful conditions experienced by the
‘deckers’. We learn that they were often exposed to the weather with no
covering and no food for over 30 hours, arriving at Plymouth, Liverpool,
Southampton and London in a wet emaciated and forlorn condition. These
conditions had to be endured before spending time in the immigration depots
prior to embarking on the voyage to New South Wales.
fact, even getting to the quay to board the boat across the Irish Sea was a
challenge for some, as Richard outlines. The immigrant had to be properly
kitted out for the voyage and they had to bear the cost of travelling to the
I was impressed by the sheer determination of some of these
immigrants. Despite her poverty, internal travel costs did not deter Ellen
In September 1849 she received an Embarkation order for the
Anglia, due to sail from Plymouth in October. With Bridget 15, and
Daniel 13 she set out to walk to Dublin from
Buncrana, County Donegal, a distance of about 250 kilometres. They missed
but finally got away on the St Vincent in 1851.
Others resorted to
strategies such as taking part in the trafficking in Passage Certificates.
The case of Joanna Taafe from 1855 is one such example. Joanna bought Ellen
certificate for £5 as Ellen was blind in one eye and would have been refused
embarkation. Although the papers were clearly altered to reflect Johanna’s
age, Joanna was not questioned about this discrepancy and she was permitted
to sail for an additional £2/17/-. Joanna confessed to the deception after
‘close questioning by Agent Browne’ in Sydney.
Richard analyses the legal
framework behind the operation of assisted immigration to New South Wales in
the middle years of the 19th
century. This was a period marked by the separation of Victoria and
Queensland from New South Wales; parliamentary reforms in New South Wales
leading to Responsible Government in 1856; the Robertson’s Land acts and the
ensuing land reforms of the 1860s and of course the gold rushes.
gives us the local context. Of course he also gives us the Irish context.
context–we refer to it as administrative history–the who, why, when and how
of the records. We know that these elements can transform a seemingly
obscure colonial document into something precious, prompting that ‘Eureka
moment in the historian’s research.
While this book is about context, it is
of course, about much, much more. Richard deftly weaves his way through the
acts and regulations underpinning the operation of assisted immigration in
New South Wales in the period 1848-1870—and a little more either side. That
this is no heavy handed legal treatise, must be due to Richard’s experience
as an educator.
As I sat reading his book on a rainy cold Sunday afternoon I
was enthralled. The official records that are used–and there are many–are
juxtaposed beautifully with the letters from the
immigrants and their families. The history of those who chose to leave
family and friends behind came to life through Richard’s words. Clonoulty
and its New South Wales assisted immigrants are covered. We learn of the
hardship and heartbreak of those in Donegal and the efforts of the Donegal
Relief Committee to relieve the poverty.
estimated that there were over 600 persons houseless–lying behind rocks–and
that there were a thousand families without bed or cooking. The very
the drinking vessels, called noggins, were taken from them.
four attempts to bring his family to New South Wales between 1841 and 1853
another example in determination. As Richard tells us the family was
eventually reunited in 1858, 25 years after John had left Sligo. We follow
the chain migration of the Hinchy family, begun Michael in 1862 and
concluding with the arrival of his elderly parents in 1877.
to avoid the highest assisted passage payments he [Michael] falsified their
ages at nomination as 49 and 48. On arrival [Michael’s father] Dennis said
he was 64 and [his wife] Mary 61.
Falsified ages! The bête noir of the family historian!
the way we follow the efforts of Caroline Chisholm, we encounter the
wonderful Ned Ryan–if ever there was an example of a convict made good it
would have to be Ned Ryan – the Irish Orphan Girls and so many more.
evocative title of Richard’s book also reminds us of those, like William
Fife, who were left behind. The book is as much about them as about the
families who were prepared to embark on what was an adventure. An adventure
that would change their lives forever.
would like to end by quoting from the final sentence of Richard’s book.
While it was the convicts who first established an Irish presence in
Australia, it was the assisted immigrants who ensured that the Irish would
play a key role in the
development of a free colonial society in the second half of the nineteenth
gives me great pleasure to formally launch Farewell my children: Irish
Assisted Emigration to
Manager, Public Access
Records New South Wales
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