Thursday, February 23, 2012

Orphan Emigration Scheme

Athy’s workhouse was opened on 9 January 1844. It was designed and built to accommodate 360 adult inmates and 240 children. The Great Famine which commenced with the failure of the potato crop in 1845 and continued during the following three years resulted in a huge intake of poor families into the workhouses throughout Ireland. Here in South Kildare, where lies the best farmland in the entire Irish countryside, the local workhouse was soon full to capacity. So much so that two auxiliary workhouses were opened in the town of Athy to cater for the 1,399 poverty stricken inmates recorded in the first week of February 1849.

A large number of those workhouse inmates were children. Many were orphans, or alternatively had been abandoned by fathers and mothers no longer able to feed them. While they remained in the local workhouse they were a charge on the landowners of the area where they previously resided. No wonder then that Earl Grey, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies received much support from Irish landlords for his Orphan Emigration Scheme under which young girls from the Irish workhouses were to be sent to Australia. The scheme was designed to fulfill the two-fold purpose of helping to resolve Australia’s chronic shortage of female labour, while at the same time reducing the serious overcrowding in Irish workhouses. Not only that but the Irish landlords who financed the workhouse system also hoped to reduce their own financial burden by transferring as many orphan girls as possible out of the workhouse system.

The Orphan Emigration Scheme commenced in October 1848 and when it was wound up due to opposition from the Australian colonists in August 1850, 4,175 young girls had been sent from Irish workhouses to Australia. Many of the Irish workhouses participated in the scheme, and the following table records the number of girls sent from workhouses in this area.
Athy 37 girls
Carlow 52 girls
Baltinglass 16 girls
Naas 15 girls
Mountmellick 37 girls
Edenderry 18 girls

The first group of girls from Athy Workhouse travelled on the ship “Lady Peel” which sailed from Plymouth England and arrived in Sydney Harbour Australia on 3rd July 1849. The names of these girls and their personal details are :-


Ann Carroll Athy 17 Martin & Biddy Carroll Martin Carroll living in America

Ann Clare Athy 17 Patrick and Ann Clare Her mother was living in Athy

Lucy Connor Athy 19 James & Elizabeth Connor Both dead

Bridget Croak Stradbally 19 John and Ann Croak Her mother was living at Hyde, Kildare

Margaret Dobson Athy 17 Joseph & Julia Dobson Both dead

Bridget Egan Athy 18 John & Jane Egan Mother living in Athy

Elizabeth Fitzpatrick Monasterevin 19 Stephen & Elizabeth Fitzpatrick Both dead

Catherine Fleming Athy 18 Barney and Catherine Fleming Mother living in Athy

Rose Fleming Ballyadams 19 Patrick & Mary Fleming Mother living in

Mary Green Athy 18 John & Catherine Green Both dead

Mary Hayes Athy 18 John & Mary Hayes Both dead

Elizabeth Hayes Athy 18 John & Mary Hayes Both dead

Bridget Ivory Athy 17 James & Margaret Ivory Both dead

Bridget Moore Athy 18 James & Mary Moore James in America
Mary in Athy

Ellen Murray Athy 18 Hugh & Jane Murray Mother living in Athy

Margaret Neill Athy 18 Michael & Catherine Neill Both dead

Ann Sinclair Athy 17 Patrick & Mary Sinclair Both living in Athy

Ellen Sullivan Athy 18 John & Ellen Sullivan Mother living in Athy

The second and last group sent from Athy Workhouse sailed from Plymouth on the ship “Maria” and landed in Sydney Harbour on 1st August 1850. They included :-


Julia Byrne Athy 16 Thomas & Elizabeth Byrne Both dead

Margaret Byrne Athy 18 Michael & Margaret Byrne Both dead

Judith Cullen Timahoe 17 Richard and Mary Cullen Both dead

Catherine Cullen Athy 16 Maurice and Betty Cullen Both dead

Mary Dunne Barrowhouse 15 Michael & Mary Dunne Both dead

Ann Kehoe Narraghmore 15 Patrick & Ellen Dunne Father living at Bolton Hill

Ann Kehoe Narraghmore 15 Martin & Bridget Kehoe Both dead

Catherine Kenny Stradbally 18 James & Ann Kenny Mother living in Athy

Mary Lapsley Timahoe 18 John & Bridget Lapsley Both dead

Catherine Lowry Stradbally 18 William & Betty Lowry Both dead

Mary Maher Athy 16 Patrick & Mary Maher Mother living in Athy

Mary Moore Athy 18 Patrick & Bridget Moore Mother living in Athy

Mary Moylan Aghaboe 18 James & Sara Moylan Both dead

Ellen Moylan Aghaboe 16 James & Sara Moylan Both dead

Mary Murphy Monasterevan 18 Joseph and Ann Murphy No information

Jane Rooney Athy 16 Andrew & Jane Rooney Both dead

Ann Scully Ballynagar, Ballyadams 15 Patrick & Ann Scully Both dead

Ellen Terret Monasterevin 15 James & Ellen Terret Both dead

Margaret Toole Athy 17 John & Martin Toole Both dead

I have been unable to find out what happened to these young girls when they arrived on the other side of the world over 150 years ago. No doubt somewhere in Australia their descendants are going about their daily business, many of them oblivious to the links which their great great grandmothers had with Athy and District in the years immediately following the Great Famine.


Denise said...

Hi I found this blog while researching my great grandmother Ellen Sullivan. (Lady Peel). We were aware that GGG came from Athy but had no idea she was a famine orphan until just recently. We are proud of the fact that from such humble beginnings, awful circumstances and difficult times a branch of our family was sprouted. I can not begin to understand what she must of felt as she boarded that ship. Her mother must of known she would never see her daughter again... Mind boggling. The problems were not over once the girls arrived in Australia; social stigma, difficult employers, and a harsh climate must have been a daunting prospect to face every day. Yet we continue to prosper here because of the sacrifices and circumstances of my GGGGrandmother. (Now there is a woman I would like to know more about, but nearly impossible from here) There is a memorial to the Orphans at The Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney and the topic has been much researched and written about here. There is no definitive list of what happened to the girls. Ultimately, I think, it is up to family genealogists to unearth and tap into the trail of documents to link into these girls and their families.

Unknown said...

While immigration to the United States is well documented, so is emigration from the United States. And while people coming to the United States still exceeds those leaving, most who do leave, do so not as permanent emigrants but as expatriates for a limited amount of time.

Unknown said...


I refer to a comment made by a Denise on August 19 2012 re her ggggrandmother, Ellen Sullivan, who was an Irish Orphan and came to Australia on the Lady Peel in 1849.

Ellen is maternal gggrandmother, and I have only recently established the abovementioned information on Ellen.

I don't suppose someone could contact Denise and give her my email address: - I know no-one else who is related to Ellen except her granddaughter, Selina Kate aka Catherine Selina Wilson nee Smith.

Vivian Bugden