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Sydney Cove 1836, Conrad Martens, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, ZV* Sp.Coll./Martens/12


Farewell My Children

Irish Assisted Emigration to Australia

1848 - 1870

By Richard E Reid


During the 19th century Ireland became a land of emigrants, many of them leaving for Britain’s 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, Australia’s capital city.


ISBN: 978-0-980335477

RRP: $34.95
Postage within Australia & NZ: $7.50
Postage outside Australasia: on request


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For further information or to request review copies or author interviews, please contact : enquiries@anchorbooksaustralia.com.au


 Farewell My Children, published June 2011, ISBN 9780980335477, RRP $34.95



Farewell My Children:

Irish Assisted Emigration to Australia, 1848-1870


Launch speech at State Records NSW, Globe Street, Sydney, 21 July 2011




                                L-R Dr Richard Reid, Christine Yeats, Alan Ventress, Director SRNSW


I 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

the 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]


It is 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 meaning!


In 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.


Here 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.


In 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 quay.


I was impressed by the sheer determination of some of these immigrants. Despite her poverty, internal travel costs did not deter Ellen Doherty.

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 the boat 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 Murphy’s 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.


Richard gives us the local context. Of course he also gives us the Irish context. Archivists love 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. 

It was estimated that there were over 600 persons houseless–lying behind rocks–and that there were a thousand families without bed or cooking. The very blankets and the drinking vessels, called noggins, were taken from them.

John Tighe’s four attempts to bring his family to New South Wales between 1841 and 1853 is 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.


Seeking 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!

Along 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.


The 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.


I 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 century.

It gives me great pleasure to formally launch Farewell my children: Irish Assisted Emigration to Australia, 1848-1870.


Christine Yeats

Manager, Public Access

State Records New South Wales



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