I am delighted to tell you that I finally finished my book on the 117 Kerry Girls who went to Australia in 1849/1850 and it will be published by The History Press Ireland in Spring 2014.

The Kerry Girls: Emigration & the Earl Grey Scheme

The Story of 117 Kerry Girls sent to Australia on the Earl Grey Scheme

This is the true story of 117 Kerry girls sent out to Australia in 1849/1850 from Workhouses in Dingle (20), Kenmare (25), Killarney (35) and Listowel (37), under the auspices of the Earl Grey ‘Orphan’ scheme.  The majority of these Kerry teenage girls were not in fact ‘Orphans’ as many had one parent alive.   Their emigration has become known as the ‘Earl Grey scheme’ after its principal architect, Earl Grey, Secretary of State for the Colonies in Lord John Russell’s Whig government at the time of the Great Irish Famine

The Imperial government saw it as an opportunity on the one hand to clear out some of the overcrowded Irish workhouses and on the other, to provide much needed female labour and potential marriage partners for colonial settlers.  In the two years that the scheme was in place, over 4000 Irish girls were sent to the other side of the world.

This book seeks to bring to the notice of the public both here and in Australia, the circumstances that lead initially to the Kerry girls confinement   in the workhouses, their ‘selection’ and shipping to New South Wales and Adelaide, their subsequent apprenticeship, marriage and life in the colony.   While it is not a ‘Famine’ book, it sets out the terrible circumstances that they left behind in Kerry and the mixed reception afforded to these ‘useless trollops’ following their arrival.  We ask if their emigration was an opportunity or a tragedy?  Did they become pawns in a political struggle between Imperial and Colonial interests?

It is estimated in Australia that there are 277,173 descendants of these Irish girls.  The Chapters are interspersed with remarkable pen pictures of a number of the girls, provided by their descendants.   These pen pictures show the human side, the different personalities and their reaction to the changed conditions of their lives.   If you haven’t seen the story of Bridget Ryan, one of these girls,  on the recent TAR ABHAILE documentary, you can access it on TG4 Player.  It is highlighted on the boxes on right and Bridget’s story is on Episode 3. Link

My research into the project over the past two years, included identifying the girls from the four workhouses and matching these with shipping and baptismal records.   Further research took place through the individual Minutes of the Boards of Guardians of the workhouses, Tralee/Kerry 1848/1850  newspapers, Australian 1848- 1851 newspapers, British Parliamentary Records  etc., etc.