Today, on the eve of the International Famine Commemoration in Sydney, we are remembering 117 of our Kerry girls who were part of the 4000+ girls who went from Irish workhouses in 1849/1850 to New South Wales and Adelaide.
For those of you who may not know, these 117 Kerry girls went to Australia from Workhouses in Dingle (20), Kenmare (25), Killarney (35) and Listowel (37), under the auspices of the Earl Grey ‘Orphan’ scheme. The majority of the 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. Later this year, I am hoping to publish a book – a true story of these girls, why they ended up in terrible circumstances in our local workhouses, their ‘selection’ and shipping to the colonies, their apprenticeship and subsequent marriages.
Provided generously by their descendants, we will have the true stories of the challenges they faced in Australia and their success in meeting these challenges – Bridget Ryan (16) of Listowel who was hired by D. MacKellar with a contract for one year of £8 per annum, her meeting and happy and long lived marriage to James Murray, the Moriarty sisters of Dingle – Catherine (17) and Mary (16), both sent to Moreton Bay. Catherine married an ex-convict of Irish parentage, they became successful Hoteliers in Ipswich. Mary Moriarty(16) married Samuel Brassington of Brisbane, original pioneers in the outback, he was a constable, bushman, bootmaker, publican & grazier. Mary Connor (17) from Kenmare, who married ex-convict George Hough, and left a large estate on her death. We also have the story of Ellen Powell (19) from Killarney, who married Richard Bourke of Westmeath. We also remember the only Kerry girl who died on the voyage. Johanna Donoghue of Killarney having died during the passage of the Elgin to Adelaide, was buried at sea. We also remember the girls, whose lives in Australia have not been recorded including Hanora Jones who married Henry Thomas Thatcher and who was drowned with seven members of the Thatcher family in the Gundagai floods of 1852.
We wish all the participants in Sundays’ Memorial in Sydney including our Minister – Jimmy Deenihan, T.D., a very successful memorial event.