Thirty five Killarney girls were meant to sail on the Elgin from Plymouth to Adelaide, (Southern Australia) on 31 May 1849. Finding the identity of these thirty five girls has been a major problem for me, since starting the research on the book The Kerry Girls: Emigration & the Earl Grey Scheme.
In April 1848, the Killarney Board of Guardians received a letter from the Poor Law Commissioners in Dublin, asking for the names of ‘young women between the ages of fourteen and eighteen in Killarney Workhouse, willing and eligible for a passage to Australia’ The Board of Guardians would have to be willing to pay for ‘outfits of clothing for the girls and the cost and responsibility of taking them to Plymouth in England from whence they will sail to the Australian colonies’. Just one month after receiving the letter, the Board of Guardians in Killarney noted in their Minutes of 29 April 1848 ‘the Master having reported after due enquiry that there are about 150 Paupers in the House of the age of 14 to 18 years w willing to emigrate to the Colonies…’ However matters in Killarney moved slowly.
The Board obviously had money problems and their first response was to ask the Poor Law Commissioners if it would be possible ‘whether the Ships in which it is proposed to send out these orphans, could call at Cork for them, which arrangement would save the expense of sending them to Plymouth’. Letters went back and forth between Killarney and Dublin and it would appear that they received permission for a maximum number of thirty five ‘orphans’ and their request for direct passage from Cork was rejected.
The Killarney girls (not all ‘orphans’) finally left Penrose Quay, Cork by steam vessel for Plymouth on 24 May 1849. Mystery surrounds the identity of the ‘list of names’ of the actual girls selected. This ‘list’ is mentioned on a number of occasions in the Killarney/Dublin correspondence. No copies exist as far as we now know and the loss of this record has had serious consequences. In the case of the other Kerry girls, lists were kept in the appropriate Minute Books and also a register identifying them on arrival at Immigration in Australia. Again no such list is available from the arrival records of the Elgin at Adelaide. There is a full list of all the 196 Irish girls who travelled on the Elgin so my only option was to try and find if the parents’ names, stated on the Immigration list, matched the individual names of the girls in Kerry Baptismal records. I have provisionally identified sixteen girls. According to the South Australian Register newspaper on the day of their arrival 12 September 1849, ‘The female orphans on board the Elgin expressed themselves highly satisfied with their treatment and the Captain says he has not a fault to find with the young women’. It also reported that one of the passengers had died at sea. This was Johanna Donahue (sic) one of the Killarney girls and the only Kerry girl who did not survive the voyages.
These Killarney girls were unfortunate also, in that they had the most trouble and least success of the one hundred and seventeen Kerry girls who travelled on the scheme. They had little or no support in Adelaide, they were thrown on their own resources. They were the girls who had most trouble in getting employment, in keeping their jobs and in what the Adelaide newspapers called ‘behaving in what was known as a seemly manner’. Read their stories in
The Kerry Girls: Emigration & the Earl Grey Scheme