Tuesday, 3 October 2017


Starving Irish people raiding a government potato store; wood engraving from the Illustrated London News, June 1842..jpg  Public Domain

For those of us who have never really gone hungry, it is very hard to comprehend just how devastating the Great Famine was.  There have been, and always will be, lots of conflicting discussions as to the reasons it happened, where the blame lay, how bad it was, why it lasted so long, who profiteered... you can find numerous articles about all of those and if if you dig deep enough, you will be sure to find articles that bolster your particular outlook.

 This is not the intention of this post, rather to present the news of the day as portrayed in the local press in Australia and available to us through TROVE.

Towards the last few years of the official era of the famine, there were many discussions as to how best to help... food, money and local support were first offered, then it was realised that the disaster was far greater than anything that could be 'fixed' in any one or two ways. Those who were fortunate enough to be able to emigrate, did so in droves... to America, England, Canada and Australia in particular.

Emigrants_Leave_Ireland_by_Henry_Doyle_1868.jpg Public Domain Wikimedia

Victims of the Irish Potato Famine arriving in Liverpool,  Encyclopaedia Brittanica.Jpg Public Domain

 There was a lot of discussion, sometmes dissension, as to the value of bringing Irish migrants to Australia, as portrayed in the Argus (Melbourne) in 1850.

Transcription of above...

The Argus (Melbourne) Sat. 12 Jan. 1850

I am glad to see that you are not in-
clined to look with a partial eye upon
Orphan Immigration. Most sensible
people here hold the opinions which you
have expressed, and regard this species
of immigration as a mere humbug. The
bulk of the females introduced under
this system, coming as they do from the
bogs of Ireland, are so grossly ignorant
of every point of domestic economy that
they are worse than useless to the fami-
lies in which they are admitted as mem-
bers. Again, coming here with exalted
notions of their own importance and of
the means of accumulating wealth ; their
earliest acts are generally of a rebellious
nature. To make the matter worse,
there is no remedy to the employer be-
yond the cancellation of the indentures,
and I very much doubt whether these
indentures are not bad, ab initio, inas-
much as they are not executed by the
apprentice, nor are the latter even called
upon to signify their assent. The prin-
ciple, and indeed only argument, for the
introduction of these females—that they
add to our population without diminish-
ing our land fund—is a fallacious one*.
In the first place, they occasion the
keeping up of an extensive and at the
same time a far from efficient establish-
ment of clerks and agents, and in the
second place their irregularities and the
disputes which arise out of their engage-
ments are the means of affording consi-
derable employment to the police and
magisterial establishments.
After all, we shall have the Anniver-
sary celebrated by a regatta. Some
spirited individuals have taken up the
matter warmly, and the necessary pre-
liminaries have been completed, but I
am afraid that it will be a lame sort of
an affair, for there does not appear to
be a general disposition to second their
The new postage act is now fairly in
operation, but sufficient time has hardly
elapsed to test its working. Much in-
convenience was caused by the Post
office authorities not having the stamps
ready in time, but that has been got
over. These stamps, however, are very
paltry-looking affairs, and might be
forged by any ordinary engraver or
wood cutter. Some of our Sydney
journalists are beginning to cry out
against the tax imposed upon them by
the receipt of British and colonial
papers, and by the necessity of giving
additional temptation to country sub-
The government seems inclined to
accede to the City Corporation as large a
grant of swamp land as the latter may
deem necessary for ensuring a continuous
supply of water. It is intended forth-
with to fence in the actual swamp, to
erect a dam for preventing the escape of
water, and to lay out the surrounding
ground, from whence the swamp derives
its supply, as a place of exercise and
recreation to the Citizens. The surveys
have shown that the supply is abundant,
provided the necessary precautions are
taken, and confidence is therefore begin-
ning to be restored in reference to this
There are no changes in the market
of note. The grain is beginning to pour
in, but the bread-stuffs are, as yet,
unaffected by it. The timber trade is
rather improved by the demand for the
erection of exportable houses, but this is
only a temporary improvement.
Friday, Jan. 6, 1850.
[* Very fallacious ; the importation of orphans
being a charge upon the land fund equally with
any other immigration - Ed. A.]

Two years later, the discussion still raged, with letters to the editor a frequent occurrence... So many different schemes were proposed and discarded, all the time more in Ireland were succumbing to starvation... and for those who had survived, there were few prospects of work. Emigration agents were asking the princely sum of £15 a head... the scheme was initially dropped, though a loan of£6,000 was sought.

If, and when, the paupers arrived in Australia, they would still need feeding, housing and clothing up to the time they were able to support themselves.. a great burden on a comparatively young country. Still, the calls for accepting emigrants rose, as many could see the long term benefits as well as the humanitarian side of the proposal. Australia needed more people to establish the colony.

Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904), Saturday 29 May 1852, page 3 

National Library of Australia

The official end of The Great Famine has been listed as 1852, however the effects were to last much longer.

Just one year later, there was some progress... this article talks of progress, cattle being sold at market, poorhouses empty, more food available to many. 

Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 - 1875), Thursday 7 April 1853, page 3 
National Library of Australia

However, to quote from the first page, second column, of this article, which appeared in the Empire...

"The ignorance and destitution of the bulk of the Irish were very remarkable, the report shows, prior to 1846, and the famine was only an active paroxysm of a long standing chronic disorder. Partial famines, public relief, and large private subscriptions, were common before the census of 1846."  and so it goes on.. discussing the high rents, poorly designed laws..and lack of responsibilty taken by the landowners.

Click to enlarge..

By 1858,  there was a lot of talk about bringing over Irish Orphan girls to even out the numbers of male to females. 

 There have been many studies re this scheme... and these are just a selection of some of the articles which will enlighten you and perhaps even link you to one of your Irish ancestors who came to Australia this way...

The Earl Grey scheme | trevo's Irish famine orphans

earl grey scheme - Irish Famine Memorial

Earl Grey Irish Female Orphans in Australia - Geni

Earl Grey Irish Orphans - Home | Facebook

Irish orphan girls at Hyde Park Barracks | Sydney Living Museums

2016.. Irish Orphan Immigration, Maitland Mercury 1848, The Earl ...

This is just one of the ships that transported Irish girls in the Earl Grey Scheme, the 
Lady Kennaway departure 11 September 1848 arrived 6 December 1848 Port Philip. Click on the ship's name to take you to the list of the girls named on the Famine Orphan Girls database..

Freeman's Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1850 - 1932), Saturday 24 April 1858, page 2 
National Library of Australia

Please click on images to enlarge... easy reading then. They detail the scheme and define the means and destinations..



One of a number of articles I also found interesting, but you might like to read this at your leisure.. They are easily found by pasting the NLA link into the TROVE search engine at 

South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), Wednesday 16 February 1859, page 2
National Library of Australia http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article49902158
* discusses how even though the emigrants were still living on a very basic wage, they still managed to send some money home to aid their families, often at the detriment to their own health.

On a much lighter note, I thought you might find this column interesting...The Sydney Morning Herald ran a column titled 
The Irish Letter Writer. It wasn't meant to do anything else other than give a voice to those who otherwise had none... The letters are from boys at war, as well as those at home, general appeals and, of course, what would Irish letters be without a smile to follow the sadness  ...   enjoy.

Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), Friday 2 February 1855, page 2 (3)National Library of Australia

Click to enlarge..

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