New spoken word and poetry from GDS contributor Tiggy Johnson, who also provides a commentary on the creative work that emerged from her research into the Earl Grey Scheme of the mid-1840s. The scheme brought young orphaned women from the Irish workhouses to Australian colonies.

The Argus (Melbourne)



Advices have reached the local government, of another ship load of female orphans, from Ireland, being on their way to this province; it becomes, therefore, an imperative duty on the colonists to offer a public remonstrance against this outrageous prostitution of the  immigration fund.  

Without stopping to enquire whether, as Dr. Lang alleges, we owe this inflic-tion to the agency of Mrs. Chisholm, we feel assured that we are but expressing the universal voice of the public in declaring the present system of Irish female orphan immigration a serious injury to the community, and a wanton abuse of the funds intended by the colonists to procure the immigration of virtuous and reputable parties. With-out reverting to, or recapitulating the reasons previously assigned in our columns why Irish female orphan immigration should not further be proceeded with, we feel it to be our duty to state that further experience has but shewn that the evils we before referred to are increasing, and that now, from the general disinclination of the colonists to have anything to do with them as servants, they hang on hand at the depot till a very considerable proportion of their number join the ranks of the prostitutes infesting the more public streets of the city.



The Sydney Orphan Immigration Board has, at a numerously attended meeting, come to a unanimous resolution expressive of the inexpediency of continuing this species of immigration, which resolve is, or is on the point of being, transmitted to the Right Hon. Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for the Colonies. The Melbourne Board

Ought immediately to follow the example for it is obvious that the importation of these girls is inflicting a complete curse on the community, and we believe we are speaking the sentiments of  

Three-fourths of the Guardians when we



Another ship-load of female immigrants from Ireland has reached our shores, and yet, though everybody is crying out against the monstrous infliction, and the palpable waste of the immigration fund, furnished by the colonists, in bringing out these worthless characters, nobody has, for so far, sufficiently shaken off the ordinary apathy which besets the community, to set about the necessary means for getting up a remonstrance against the farther continuance of a system fraught with such fearful evilto the whole community.

It is the duty of gentlemen, placed in such a position, to see that they are not made the instruments of wrong-doing to the community, and their fellow colonists have, therefore, the right to expect that, as they must see the evils which belong to the present system, they will remonstrate against its continuance, and, failing success, refuse to have anything

Further to do with the matter.


We must say there is an utter want of decency in Bishop Gould’s conduct in

This matter. The Right Reverend prelate cannot be ignorant that, at the very least, three-fourths of the entire number of his co-religionists who have come out here as immigrants, have been brought out with funds furnished by Protestants of the various denominations; gratitude should, therefore, have restrained him from seeking to thrust upon an unwilling community whole hordes of useless trollops, whose only merit is their kind devotion to Popery.

Even Bishop Gould, however, could not venture upon anything like approbation o



They cannot, surely, mean to endeavour to persuade us that these girls are the most eligible class of immigrants that could be obtained. They cannot wish us to believe that, while our. They will scarcely go the length of justifying the

are the most stupid, the most ignorant, the most useless, and the most unmanageable set of beings that ever cursed a country by their presence.

Eminently defective in everything calculated to make them useful or desirable members of society, they are surely not now to be rammed down our unwilling throats, simply because they are Roman Catholics. Bishop Gould has taken will of course be followed up by the other religious denominations in the City, if they wish to save the Province from this frightful evil.

Already upwards of thirteen hundred of these girls, of who not fifty are Protestants have been sent to Melbourne through this shameful prostitution of the Immigration Fund. And if the system be not specially checked, many additional shiploads may he



A meeting convened by the Right Revd. D. Gould, Roman Catholic Bishop, was held last evening at the Temperance Hall, at the rear of St. Francis’ Church. The object was to protest against the resolution adopted at the late meeting of the City Council respecting Orphan Immigration, and more especially to vindicate the females from the charges then preferred against them. Dr Gould occupied the chair. The following resolutions were carried unanimously.

Mr. O’Connor, and supported by Mr. O’Shannassy, ” That it is the opinion of this meeting that the City Council of Melbourne here in this instance meddled with a subject which should have been carefully excluded from their discussion, and thereby have given the Irish residents reason to believe that they have been advised to take this step against the Irish orphans through a prejudice to.




The remarks in the Argus! We are glad of it, for we like difference of opinion to take a good-humoured shape and there is little room for real malice behind a good laugh. And in the same spirit we obtained. All living, of course, that every immigration fund; English, Irish, and Scotch ought still to insist upon the very best representatives of their various countries, which can be induced to emigrate. And are these orphans such? Are these poor, stunted, ignorant creatures to be considered a fair specimen of the much-vaunted Irish-women? Would any one country- women? You, who would lead us to believe that your country can produce nothing better than these poor creatures; or we who know how very much more it has done, and can do? But Paddy, dear funny Pat, with all his rich tendency to mistake, with all his inimitable patriotism, blundering in his self-love, and blundering in his gallantry, boldly takes his stand by his thick-waisted orphan, and rashly risks the character of the whole body of the bright-eyed daughters of Erin, upon his success in proving the dumpy darling a Venus di Medicis There is no doubt that general charges of flagrant immorality ought to be very carefully made, as when made, it is equally difficult either to prove or disprove them. Our own impressions, from conversation with employers of these into contact with them, are certainly unfavourable; but we feel our inadequacy to express an opinion upon such a subject, character of these girls, we ground it not on the fact of their being Irish, not on the fact of their being Roman Catholics, but because we conceive that the workhouse is not a desirable school for the views confirmed in this matter to the very letter, by no less an authority than the London Spectator, who

Nearly the worst class that can be chosen. Our poor law is in a degree a penal law, and the workhouse is a sort of lax prison for offenders against that penal law; the girls are from the most professional paupers, and therefore ill-organised, diseased, and incorrigibly depraved; or they are young persons who have sunk into their abject condition through early corruption; are the most demoralised refractory, and unmanageable class in emigrant ships.

that in this happy land ” the shop- keepers, pectably in these matters, we can only say, our simplicity or good temper ; and the worst we could wish him as an appropriate punishment, is that he may run the gauntlet of the next ship load, as chefs belies his appearance, if such a course would not materially modify his ideas of

But to be serious. We have treated this matter in a light and cheerful strain, meet even our we again warn our Roman Catholic neighbours that matter, is an and one; that the advocacy of this species of immigration cannot do a of our land fund; as a mean, despicable trick, ment.



The tone we have felt it our duty to adopt upon this question has been dictated, not by a mere wish for victory, or anxiety to foster unfriendly discussion or national bickering, but from a sincere conviction that this class of immigration is ineligible from many causes. We therefore beg to suggest to our Irish friends the propriety of abstaining from their high-flown heroics; and if they will act so far reasonably as to limit themselves to the real questions for Those questions are the following: First- Allowing that Ireland is entitled to her fair share of the expenditure of the fund devoted to Immigration, are these workhouse orphans the best immigrants that Ireland can supply? Secondly- As we are discussing the expenditure of our own money, are we justified in being satisfied with less than the very best?

We leave these two questions in all their simplicity in the hands of the meeting, and we beg of our Irish friends not to insult the community to combat an obvious truism.


MONDAY 13 MAY 1850

visit their houses, and such is the knowledge we have acquired of the city, and the houses of ill fame, that almost immediately on a girl becoming a prostitute, we (the detectives) are aware of the fact ” He would wind up his list with Chief Constable Bloomfield, and few would be found to refuse admitting him as the higher authority on such a subject. Mr. Bloomfield says “As far as my recollection serves me, I was obliged to bring before the Police Court only one Irish Orphan Immigrant upon a charge of prostitution, and two for very trifling charges of larceny. Generally speaking, I should say but very few of them have turned out disreputably, and relying on my experience as a police officer I have no hesitation in declaring my opinion that there are no grounds for charging the Irish Orphans as a body with immorality.”


FRIDAY 24 MAY 1850

No man could say that it was just in any one point of view that females, of tender years such as the girls ho alluded to, should be sent out to such a colony as this with, out their natural protectoral, to be turned loose upon society, as they were in effect . A short time after their arrival, though not at first. ‘He objected to the system also as grossly unjust, inasmuch as it had been exclusively Irish. 1,300 of these girls had been landed in Port Phillip and the whole of these had been from Ireland – no assistance had been given to England or Scotland. On the very contrary, ho had always hean, from the commencement of Ina po li leal caicer, one of the firmest sdvocales of ciul and religious liberty to every clave No doubt Ireland was entitled to a full and fair share of the emigration fund, but this would not con teni them, they wanted something more, and, so unreasonable were they, that they even wanted us to take an inferior description of girls from Ireland.




To the Editor of the Argus.

Sir – The city of Melbourne has now arrived at such a crisis, as deserves the most serious consideration from every Port Phillipian.  

The character of the Province is at stake, and unless every intelligent member of the community lends his helping hand to purge public opinion, and to battle with Nationalism run mad, we shall bid fair to bring upon ourselves the contempt of the people of Great Britain, and become the laughing stock of surrounding colonies.

The Home Government has lately sent out to this District some thirteen hundred Irish orphan   girls. These girls, it is alleged, have been selected principally, if not wholly, from Workhouses and are consequently not a fair sample of the home population-not quite what is wanted   in this portion of Her Majesty’s dominions. Some people blame the Government, propagandism, but however this may be, the girls were landed and received open-handed by such people as were in want of servants and wives and a very short time indeed sufficed to establish the fact that these girls were the most useless ignorant, and wasteful lot of females that ever set foot on these shores. It was known, felt, and commented on. Their incapacity was notorious, their stupidity unbearable, and their innocence of anything like economy, rendered their services extravagantly dear at the lowest wages.

The knowledge of the unsuitableness of these   girls was not confined to the natives of any one of the British nations. English, Irish and Scotch   -Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and Presbyterians have, in my hearing, expressed the greatest pity for these poor ignorant creatures and declared that they were utterly hopeless of their low conditions.  



About the poem

Since I began researching and writing my family history, the Great Famine of the mid-1840s has fascinated me. One of my Irish ancestors was transported to Australia as part of the Earl Grey Scheme, which brought out young women from the workhouses who’d lost one or both parents. It was considered a win-win solution: an opportunity for a better life offered to starving young Irish women, and the Australian colonies welcoming more women to balance the numbers. But after the first couple of shiploads, the women weren’t really welcomed.

Once I’d read accounts of the treatment the women received on arrival, I was keen to write about it, particularly as it seemed to echo contemporary issues. But I had a lot of trouble finding a way to express this without sounding trite. It occurred to me during a workshop with 2012 Arts Queensland Poet in Residence a.rawlings to use the original text of newspapers of the time, and so I created an erasure poem from reports in Melbourne’s The Argus. The Irish orphans that arrived in other Australian ports were treated similarly.



Tiggy Johnson’s stories and poems have appeared in Cordite, Quadrant, Island, Overland Audio II, Black Inc’s Best Australian Poems 2012 and Going Down Swinging No. 33. Her short story collection Svetlana or otherwise was published in 2008, her poetry collections First taste in 2010 and That zero year (co-written with Andrew Phillips) in 2012. She is currently writing her family history in poetry and can be found online here.

Photo used under Creative Commons from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington D.C., USA