Margaret Sullivan (Kilgarvan) daugthr Ellen on her marriage

Margaret Sullivan (Kilgarvan) daughter Ellen on her marriage

On 6 December 1849, the John Knox sailed out of Plymouth with twenty five  Kenmare girls departing on the Earl Grey ‘Orphan’ Scheme for Sydney.   There were two hundred and seventy nine girls in all from Ireland on board.

By October 1849, Lieut. Henry had been to Kenmare and made his selection:, ‘Lieut  Henry RN, Emigration Agent having selected 30 Females of whom 25 are to be fitted out for Emigration to Australia and to leave for Plymouth on 29th November, resolved that the forms of consent be affixed  in the emigration of the persons therein and to the payment of a portion of the expenses of such emigrants.   Cost of the funds of this Union to be now signed and forwarded to the Poor Law Commissioners’ (i)

After arrival in Port Jackson, the majority of the Kenmare girls were sent on to Moreton Bay, the town of Brisbane was just opening up and the rapidly developing rich grazing and farming lands in the interior were being settled.  These girls became the female pioneers in the newly developed inner unexplored tracts.  They mostly married older men who had been in the colony for a number of years, as squatters, stockmen or ex-convicts who had secured their tickets of leave.   We have a number of cases where the Kenmare girls were not happy with their new employers and applied to have their Indentures cancelled.  Reading newspaper accounts now,  of the evidence we are glad to see that they were well able to defend their rights and their characters and did not intend  to be subservient to anyone.  They were supported by a Fr. Downing, Parish Priest of Brisbane and Ipswich, who was originally from Kenmare, in sorting out their grievances.

From my research for The Kerry Girls: Emigration & the Earl Grey Scheme, I found that Kenmare had the highest number of what we would call ‘real’ orphans.    Both parents of twenty two of the Kenmare girls were dead, while Jesse Foley and Margaret Murphy’s mothers were ‘living at Kenmare’.  Kenmare also had the highest number of those who could not read or write. Despite all these disadvantages, their resilience, courage and hard work, led them to economic and family success.   We have accounts, provided by their descendants of the land that they and their husbands acquired, no landlords or ‘middle men’ to move them on. They and their families ran hotels and small businesses.  Their grandchildren became active in politics and public life      What would life have been like for them if they had remained in the Workhouse?

List of Kenmare Girls

The Kerry Girls: Emigration & The Earl Grey Scheme, available from good bookshops, The History Press Ireland , Amazon,  Book Depository

(i) Minutes Kenmare Board of Guardians,    Wednesday 31 October 1849, p. 186. (Held in Kerry Local History Library, Tralee).