Friday, 9 January 2015

Pre-famine Irish free settler immigration

Despite the emphasis on the early convict settlements, free immigrants had settled in NSW from the earliest days of British Australia. Mass immigration to Australia, however, did not really get underway until around 1820 when the disruption caused by the Napoleonic Wars had eased. Even from that early date, Australian immigration showed marked differences from other migration centres favoured by Irish emigrants. It was more attractive than emigration to America because it was mainly aid-provided. The tyranny of distance meant that the numbers going to Australia compared to North America were much smaller. By 1828, free Irish immigrants only numbered 500 including a liberal sprinkling of Protestants. Australian immigration was also much more controlled and regulation was applied at points of departure in Britain and Ireland and at entry points in Australia. The highly bureaucratic nature of Australian immigration in the colonies may have been a legacy of the bureaucracy of transportation that was geared to handle the regulation and administrative processing of batches of convicts.

While the majority of Irish emigration was paid for out of public funds, usually raised by the sale of land, this does not imply that these immigrants were from a lower class or poorer than, for example, those who went to North America. It has been suggested that it was the middle-classes, who could read, who took advantage of the advertised government schemes. On the other hand, landlords anxious to clear their estates of the poorer classes would have opted for the cheaper passage to the North Americas. Those who travelled without government assistance, less than 1,000 a year before the 1850s, had greater resources than those who left Ireland for North America as the total costs involved were much higher. Australia, therefore, attracted a significant proportion of immigrants with resources to set themselves up either in business or on the land.[1]

From the 1820s, a significant number of free settlers with capital entered Australia. These were usually the younger sons of the gentry or of well-to-do tenant farmers and from merchant and professional classes, who could be given funds by their families to establish themselves in Australia.[2] Some commissioned officers at British Army outposts such as India sold their commissions and for the money purchased ranches in Australia. For £1,000 one could purchase more than 2,000 acres of good land. They needed shepherds, stockmen, ploughmen, artisans and miners who came from among evicted tenants and others as ‘indentured’ labourers, whose passages were mostly paid for. ‘Improving’ landlords such as Col Wyndham, offered free passage to tenants and their families to emigrate to Canada or Australia. Many families took up of the offer when their only alternative was eviction. Emigration from Ireland to South Australia only began in the 1840s and was much encouraged by Charles Bagot, land agent for Bindon Blood and supervisor of the Burren road system. He chartered a boat, the Birman that arrived into Adelaide in 1840. His son discovered copper at Kapunda. Several North Clare families, probably prompted by Bagot, settled in the district: Kerin, Canny, Linnane, Davoren etc and all have descendants. Dr Blood, first medical doctor in Kapunda and first mayor of the town, emigrated from Corofin in 1844. The Clare Valley, the great wine-producing area in South Australia and the town of Clare were named after the County Clare in Ireland.

Before the gold-rush caused a population explosion, Australia was considered vastly under-populated. More people were needed and Australia looked to the British Isles as a provider of labour.[3] Britain had a significant amount of surplus labour yet the Poor Law Guardians in England, who controlled the English workhouses, were initially rather slow to take advantage of the need for servants in Australia.[4] Under the Poor Law Act of 1834, they were permitted to send paupers abroad and pay the cost out of the poor rates.[5] While it was well within the confines of the Act to migrate whole families, the few Poor Law Boards in Britain who took advantage of this proviso, normally did no more than provide outfits and discharge small debts allowing the migrant to take advantage of free passages offered by the Australians. Furthermore, it was the urban based and, notably, the London boards, who initially made the most use of the clause. Daniel O’Connell commented on the problem of surplus population in Ireland during the debates on the poor law in 1834

The apparent surplus population, for it was nothing else, and the bad consequences that followed, proceeded solely from the long-continued misgovernment and misrule under which that country laboured, and he was sorry to see that the present Government seemed as fresh to continue that misrule as if it had never been tried; but, thanks be to God, they would fail of success in this as in everything else.[6]

When the Poor Law Act was extended to Ireland in 1838, the Irish Poor Law Guardians used the emigration clause from the outset sending paupers to Canada. [7] Emigration, as a short-term remedy for Irish poverty, had been recommended in the 1833 report by the poor law commissioners, but this was ignored and the workhouse system instituted instead. Between 1838 and 1843, 112 workhouses were built and a further 18 were under construction.[8] These 130 workhouses were intended to cater for 94,010 paupers and probably would have been adequate had the Irish famine not occurred.

In early 1831, fifty girls from the Foundling Hospital in Cork were given free passage to NSW. This was the only emigration that was assisted by the British Government whose attitude in the early 1830s was dominated by its prohibitive cost. Viscount Goderich, the Colonial Secretary, said that parishes should continue to send their surplus population to Canada or the United States unless they were reimbursed for the greater expense of the voyage to Australia. The critical question was not whether sending surplus labour to beneficial, but who should carry the cost. One possible solution was revenue from the sale of colonial land introduced at the beginning of 1831 replacing the existing system of granting land. However, the Legislative Councils in NSW and Van Diemen’s Land did not support these proposals fearing that they would become the dumping ground for British and Irish paupers. This marked a significant shift in colonial attitudes. During the 1820s, paupers would have been welcomed but there was growing suspicion of any suggestion coming from London and especially from the Colonial Office. The colonies were prepared to accept ‘industrious and well conducted labourers’ but only if they were ‘selected by the colonists, or by friends of the colonists resident in England’.[9] Although Goderich sought to allay colonial fears by arguing that the colonists had an entirely false view of the typical pauper, this attitude persisted with colonists exaggerating the defects of various schemes of assisted emigration in the 1830s and 1840s.

Despite colonial concerns, a system for assisted female emigration to NSW financed from the revenue from land sales in the colonies was introduced in September 1831 and was soon extended to artisans.[10] Both projects were briefly placed under the supervision of the newly appointed Commissioners for Emigration but it was the London Emigration Committee that acted as the official organisation through which emigrants were sent to the colonies between 1832 and 1836. In 1832, Red Rover carried women from Cork and Dublin to NSW; in 1834, the Edward carried thirty women from the Mendicity Society in Dublin.[11] Between 1832 and 1836, sixteen shiploads of emigrants, most of them women, were dispatched from English and Irish ports. Though welcomed by some in Australia, this scheme was not without its critics

The females which have come to us by the present opportunity, are of unusually tender years to be thus launched upon the world. Contrary to the stipulation, many of them are under fifteen; and about thirty, we learn, under twelve or fourteen, will require to be kept like our own orphans, and reared and educated for some years at the public expense, until fit for service. A person of common sense, whether male or female, will naturally ask these urgers of forced emigration—’If it be so fine a thing, how comes it, gentlemen, that you are not gone?’ Example is better than precept—is much better than persuasion based on so rotten grounds. [12]

The emigration of women and artisans in the early 1830s was of little effect on the labour market in NSW because the number who emigrated was so small. By contrast, in Van Diemen’s Land, free immigrants caused problems in what was largely a penal colony. Settlers would not employ convicts when free labour was available and although Governor Arthur was not opposed to assisted emigration, he believed in should only operate when special types of people were required. He maintained that the colony would be better served by the arrival of small farmers and capitalists who could employ the convicts and single women whose arrival might reduce levels of immorality caused by the lack of balance between genders.


[1] Parkhill, Trevor, ‘With a little help from their friends: assisted emigration schemes, 1700-1845’, in Duffy, Patrick J. and Moran, Gerard, (eds.), To and from Ireland: planned migration schemes c.1600-2000, (Geography Publications), 2004, pp. 57-78 provides a general overview.

[2] McClelland, Ian, ‘Worlds apart: the Anglo-Irish gentry migrant experience in Australia’, in Walsh, Oonagh, (ed.), Ireland abroad: politics and professions in the nineteenth century, (Four Courts), 2003, pp. 186-201.

[3] See, for example, the debate on waste land in the colonies in 1839: Hansard, HC Deb, 25 June 1839, Vol. 48, cc840-919.

[4] Howells, Gary, ‘”On account of their disreputable characters”: parish-assisted emigration from rural England, 1834-1860’, History, Vol. 88, (2003), pp. 587-605 considers Bedfordshire, Norfolk and Northamptonshire.

[5] Poor Law Commissioners’ Report of 1834: Copy of the Report made in 1834 by the Commissioners for Inquiring into the Administration and Practical Operation of the Poor Laws. Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of His Majesty, (Printed for H.M. Stationery Office by Darling and Son), 1905, Part II: Remedial Measures, Section 4: Emigration.

[6] Hansard, HC Deb, 16 June 1834, Vol. 24, cc446-79, at c476.

[7] Clause 47 on emigration was not without its opponents as can be seen in the debates on the clause on 2 March 1838: Hansard, HC Deb, 2 March 1838, Vol. 41, cc374-85. Nicholls, George, Sir, A history of the Irish Poor Law: in connexion with the condition of the people, (J. Murray), 1856, Burke, Helen, The people and the poor law in 19th century Ireland, (WEB/Argus), 1987, Gray, Peter The making of the Irish Poor Law 1815-43, (Manchester University Press), 2009 and Crossman, V., The Poor Law in Ireland 1838-1948, (Economic and Social History Society of Ireland), 2006 provide a good summary of developments. See also, MacDonagh, Oliver, ‘The poor law, emigration and the Irish question, 1830-55’, Christus Rex, Vol. 12, (1958), pp. 26-37.

[8] See, O’Brien, Gerard, ‘The establishment of poor-law unions in Ireland, 1838-43’, Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 23, (1982), pp. 97-120.

[9] Darling to Goderich, No. 19; Arthur to Hay, 11 July 1831, C.O. 280/29, cit, Madgwick, R.B., Immigration into Eastern Australia 1788-1851, (Sydney University Press), 1937, republished, 1969, p. 90.

[10] On female emigration 1832-1836, see, ibid, Madgwick, R.B., Immigration into Eastern Australia 1788-1851, pp. 88-111. The government contributed £8 (about half the cost of passage to NSW and Van Diemen’s Land) as a free and unconditional grant to women; artisans were required to repay the advance of £20 out of their wages.

[11] O’Brien, Margaret, ‘Cork women for Australia: assisted emigration, 1830-40’, Journal of the Cork Historical & Archaeological Society, Vol. 93, (1988), pp. 21-30.

[12] Hobart Town Courier, 12 February 1836, p. 2, cit, Hansard, HC Deb, 11 July 1836, Vol. 35, cc99-100.

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