Thursday, 29 January 2015

Australia and Irish settlement: The Famine years

Unlike the United States and Britain, Australia did not receive a great flood of immigrants following the Great Famine. ‘Fast relief was necessary and Australia’s colonies offered no analgesic to the famine’s distress.’[1] The famine emigration came too early for Australia to benefit. She was too young, too small, and too far away. This did not prevent their arrival proving high contentious, a consequence in part of the depressed nature of the Australian economy from the early 1840s. ‘As a group, Irish migrants to Australia were far from well-off financially, but they were not refugees from the Famine’.[2] In 1846 the second year of the Famine in Ireland, the government of NSW conducted a census that revealed that among the foreign born, virtually all from England, Scotland and Ireland, Irish immigrants were an astonishing 38 per cent. More than half of these colonial Irish were recent arrivals nearly 26,000 reaching Australia between 1839 and 1845 as free immigrants. Never again, for the great ‘gold rush’ immigration was soon to hit eastern Australia, would the Irish form such a high proportion of Australia’s population. NSW had a distinctly Irish character during the years of the Great Famine.[3]

One of the predictable consequences of famines is that they tend to be associated with increased crime. Ireland during the Great Famine was no exception. Using the indictment returns of the Inspector of Prisons, Wilson showed that the number of crimes increased from an annual average of 19,000 between 1842 and 1846 to 31,000 between 1847 and 1850.[4] The outrage returns tell a similar story. Between 1842 and 1845, they averaged 6,700, but between 1846 and 1850, the number increased to more than 13,000. Although a good deal has been written about Irish crime, surprisingly little of it is about how crime changed during the Famine. [5] Hunger-related crimes are thought to have increased in relative importance, as well as disputes over employment and land tenure, increasing the proportion of protest crimes. It also seems possible that the Famine would have pulled into criminal activity many people who would not normally have been involved, such as women and older people. Sixteen ships arrived with convicts from Britain and Ireland in Van Diemen’s Land between 1843 and 1847 but there were thirty between 1848 and 1850.

What happened in Ireland during the terrible years between 1845 and 1850 had a big impact in Australia. Proportionately, the impact was perhaps greater than in North America, although the overall numbers are very small by comparison. Between 1848 and 1850, more than 10,000 Irish immigrants arrived in Sydney, Port Phillip and Moreton Bay directly from scenes in Ireland of starvation, dislocation and widespread emigration. Few of the Irish born who lived in Australia would have been untouched by the first-hand stories from home brought by these new arrivals. Anxiety for relatives at home would have been widespread. This resulted in collections being made throughout Australia for famine relief. The Sydney Herald reported that over one week more than £600 had been collected in Sydney and how much the situation in Ireland was bringing out the best in the city’s inhabitants[6]

However widely they may have differed upon other matters, each one has vied with his neighbour in contributing towards this good object, and the large subscription which has been raised in so short a time redounds much to the honour of the Colony, and will, no doubt, be duly appreciated at home.

Newspapers published long lists of subscribers to public causes and during early October, Sir Charles Augustus Fitzroy, Governor of NSW led the donations with a gift of £10, followed by £5 each from the Colonial Secretary, Edward Deas Thomson, married to the daughter of earlier Irish governor, Sir Richard Bourke, and the famous politician and later framer of the NSW constitution of the mid 1850s, Sir William Charles Wentworth of Vaucluse House. William’s father was Darcy Wentworth from County Armagh, given the option of transportation or self exile in 1790 by a London judge for highway robbery. While Irish names are prominent in the lists for donations of between £1 and a few pence, ‘sundry small sums, the Herald called them, there were many others personally moved by Irish distress. Mr Birnstingel, a Jewish jeweller, gave a pound and three pounds was subscribed by the government employees at the Barracks, then still a convict establishment. Other donors were described as ‘A Friend’, ‘A Liberal Protestant’, ‘26 labourers in the blue metal quarry’ and 2 shillings and sixpence from Mundahalay, an Aborigine living in Braidwood.

Sydney’s Catholic paper, The Sydney Chronicle, also reported that a mechanism had been set up to allow local people to remit small sums in safety to their relatives in Ireland. Emigrants who had already settled abroad and managed to save, were able to send home money to enable other members of their family to join them. One local who certainly did this was Peter Reilly, a builder, from South Head Road. In a letter written in September 1846 to his mother and his brother accompanying the money, and later published by Caroline Chisholm in her book Emigration and Transportation Relatively Considered,[7] Peter referred to the ‘lamentable news’ from Ireland of ‘starvation’ and ‘sickness’ and of how glad he was that he had left the country

I thank God for leaving it at the time I did...This is a fine plentiful country, there is no person starving here, I am sure the dogs in Sydney destroys more beef and bread than all the poor in Ireland can afford to eat, there is one good thing in Sydney, that the poor man can afford to eat as good beef and mutton as the rich man—we are very comfortable thanks be to God.

Peter’s family had arrived in 1842 with him in Sydney from Ballyhaise in County Cavan on the government immigrant ship Margaret. Lack of money at the time had forced him to leave one very young daughter at home in Ballyhaise with her grandmother. In his letter, which included a much needed £2 for his ‘poor broken-hearted mother’, Peter begged his brother and his mother to send Mary Anne out to them through arrangements being made by Caroline Chisholm[8], ‘The Emigrant’s Friend’ and she arrived in Sydney on the Sir Edward Parry in February 1848. It is worth noting that this ship carried the first group of what might be called Irish ‘famine refugees’ to Australia well before the first ship carrying the now well-known Irish orphan girls, the Earl Grey, anchored in Sydney Cove on 6 October 1848.

During, and for some time after, the famine years, Irish workhouses were severely over-crowded. In 1849, 250,000 people were being accommodated: by June 1850, there were 264,048. Although the death rate in these institutions was, so many destitute people clamoured to be admitted that there was rarely room to spare. A general emigration scheme was introduced in 1849 that allowed Boards of Guardians to help paupers emigrate. People who were judged as able to work and who had been in the workhouse for over a year were eligible. Between 1849 and 1851, 1,592 men, women and children emigrated under the terms of this scheme.


[1] Ibid, Campbell, Malcolm, Ireland’s New Worlds: Immigrants, Politics and Society in the United States and Australia, 1815-1922, p. 38.

[2] Akenson, D.H., Small Differences: Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants 1815-1822, (McGill-Queen’s University Press), 1991, p. 60.

[3] Reid, Richard, ‘The great famine: Australian connections’, Ronayne, Jarlath and Noone, Val, (eds.), Australian commemoration of the great Irish famine: proceedings of conferences, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, March 1996, (Victorian University), 1996, pp. 21-30 and O’Farrell, Patrick, ‘Lost in transit: Australian reaction to the Irish and Scots famines, 1845-50’, in ibid, O’Sullivan, Patrick (ed.), The meaning of the famine, pp. 126-139. See also, O’Brien, John B. and Travers, Pauric, (eds.), The Irish emigrant experience in Australia, (Poolbeg), 1991, pp. 6-102.

[4] Wilson, James Moncrieff, ‘Statistics of Crime in Ireland, 1842 to 1856’, Journal of the Dublin Statistical Society, Vol. 2, (10), (1856), pp. 91-122.

[5] Woodward, N.W.C., ‘Transportation Convictions during the Great Irish Famine’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Vol. 37, (1), (2006), pp. 59-87.

[6] Sydney Herald, 5 October 1846.

[7] Chisholm, Caroline, Emigration and transportation relatively considered: in a letter dedicated, by permission, to Earl Grey, (John Ollivier), 1847.

[8] Iltis, Judith, ‘Chisholm, Caroline (1808-1877)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 221-223 and Bogle, J., Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend, (Gracewing), 1993, pp. 99-112

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Coalitions, zombie parliaments and elections

In 2011, the new coalition government introduced five-year, fixed term parliaments in legislation passed on 15 September.  This ended the incumbent’s advantage of being able to call a general election when it suited the government best as Margaret Thatcher did in 1983 or delaying it until the last minute as John Major did in 1997 and Gordon Brown in 2010. Let’s consider that we’ve had fixed-term parliaments for the last thirty years and what the possible outcomes of elections might have been. 

Would the Conservatives have won the election in 1980?  Probably yes, Callaghan’s government would have found it difficult to come back from the ‘winter of discontent’ and the widespread belief that ‘Labour isn’t working’.  Given the rifts within Labour and the outcome of the Falklands War, a Conservative victory in 1985 was likely but, given the increasing debacle over the community charge and the increasing unpopularity of Margaret Thatcher, the Conservatives lost in 1990.  With Labour under Neil Kinnock in power, the Conservatives elect Michael Heseltine as leader and he wins the 1995 election after a lack-lustre Labour government floundered.  With the economy improving in the late 1990s, the Conservatives win again in 2000.  Given that the modernisation of the Labour Party had begun while it was in office between 1990 and 1995, it is questionable whether Tony Blair would have risen to prominence in the party.  Either way, Labour wins the 2005 election but falls victim to the global financial crisis in 2010. 

If we had four-year parliaments then the electoral history could have been very different.  The Conservatives again win in 1980 and 1984 and, as the community charge issue had yet to achieving toxic intensity, in 1988 as well.  With John Major as prime minister from 1990, he surprisingly wins in 1992.  With Tony Blair as Labour leader after 1994, Labour wins in 1996, 2000 and 2004.  Gordon Brown takes over as Prime Minister in 2007 and wins the election in 2008.  With his strong global leadership over the financial crisis, Gordon Brown gains in national influence and, though he does not win the 2012 election, Labour is the largest party and, with the support of the Liberal party, forms a coalition government.  David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives since 2006, falls on his sword and Boris Johnson takes over as Conservative leader. 

Although these scenarios are speculative, they do suggest that there is a considerable difference between the possible outcomes of having either four of five year fixed parliaments.  The reason why, I assume, the decision was made to go for five year parliaments was because that was what already existed and had done since 1911.  In reality, five year parliaments and there have only been four since 1945—1945-50, 1959-1964, 1987-1992, 2005-2010—are far from the norm in British politics, four year parliaments are.  Whether, as some have suggested, it means that the final year of a five-year government is a zombie parliament is questionable but it is clear that in the final year of the government, the prospect of an extended general election campaign is almost self-evident.  This might be less the case with four-year parliaments when the incumbent government will presumably still have aspects of its programme to complete.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Pre-famine Irish free settlement and policies

The Whig Government could not disclaim responsibility for the actions of the Emigration Committee but it had no mechanism in place before 1836 through which to exercise control. The services of the London Emigration Committee were dispensed with at the end of 1836 and responsibility for the operation of the government system taken by T. F. Eliot as Agent-General for Emigration. His work coexisted with the bounty scheme devised in 1835 by the Government of NSW, to encourage the immigration of skilled agricultural workers as well as unmarried women and mechanics.[1] The colonial bounty system to aid potential immigrants came into being in 1837 and was revised in 1840. [2] It granted financial aid under certain conditions to persons bringing into New South Wakes from the Britain and Ireland agricultural labourers, shepherds, tradesmen, female domestics and farm servants.

The sum of £38 would be paid as a bounty for any married man, of the above description, and his wife, neither of whose ages on embarkation to exceed 40 years; £5 for each child between 1 and 7 years; £10 for each child between 7 and 15 years and £15 for each above 15 years; £19 would be allowed for every unmarried female domestic or farm servant not below 15 nor above 30 years, coming out under the protection of a married couple as part of a family.

This proved cheaper than the government’s scheme by between 30 and 50 per cent. Although over 13,000 emigrants had been sent to NSW under the government scheme, there were increasing demands for its abolition. In September 1840, the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners, who had superseded the Agent-General for Emigration earlier in the year, sought to justify the government scheme suggesting that the cost of the bounty scheme would increase but this did little to dampen colonial criticism.

There were two main reasons for colonial complaint that were evident in the colonial press and in the despatches send by Sir George Gipps. First, emigrants were chosen more with the aim of reducing Britain’s pauper population than supplying NSW with able labourers. This argument was reinforced by the close links between the Agent-General and the Poor Law Commission and their close collaboration in the management of assisted emigration. This criticism was especially directed at the Irish who were regarded as being entirely unsuited to the needs of the colonists and the colonial press maintained that the interests of the colony were being ‘thrown overboard to promote the Irish poor laws’.[3] Secondly, the occupations of immigrants were inappropriate for work in the colonies leading to some trades being overcrowded while others, especially in the country districts, were being restricted because of the lack of suitable labourers.

Increased pressure for reform was helped by the appointment of Lord John Russell to the Colonial Office in 1839 and resulted in the creation of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission in January 1840 with responsibility for land and emigration across the Empire centralised in one body. This sought, not altogether successfully, to resolve the tensions between Britain’s and Ireland’s desire to reduce its surplus population and supply the colonies with efficient labourers. For the next three years, the bounty system coexisted with the activities of the Land and Emigration Commission but divided control failed to deliver the necessary labour to the colonies and in mid-1842 the NSW government recommended that the bounty system should be abandoned. Faced with a mounting depression from 1842, the NSW Committee on Immigration argued that too many immigrants since 1839 had been artisans and not agricultural labourers who might have reduced the labour scarcity and the consequent high wages.

Slightly over half of all United Kingdom assisted immigrants between 1837 and 1850 came from Ireland and, though small in comparison with the flood to the United States, proved to be of major importance for Australia.[4] By 1846, a quarter of NSW’s population was Irish-born. The Irish already in Australia were very adept at using free or assisted passage schemes to help their siblings and neighbours. In certain areas, whole villages were transplanted from Ireland, or sections of a town or city would be almost exclusively Irish. Although there were tensions between them and immigrants from Britain, Irish immigrants had little difficulty finding employment and were soon merged into the colonial population. They did not avoid agricultural districts. The heaviest concentrations of Irish settlers were found neither in the cities nor the outback, but in relatively populous regions surrounding major towns. As one hostile observer wrote

The Irish do not like going into the interior; but like to hold together like cattle, where they can squat down and gossip about all the ins and outs of the neighbourhood and have their priests and chapel in sight. An Irishman out here for twelve months knows more of the history of the people than an Englishman in seven years.

Until 1850, pastoralism dominated the Australian economy and, though not insignificant, industrial and urban growth lagged behind.[5] The major class realignments that occurred in the industrialising United States were absent but there were important colonial divisions between the ex-convicts or emancipists and the exclusives who had come to the colony as free men. The critical question was one of civil status: should emancipists have the same civil and legal rights as exclusives? The Irish-born came from both sides of this social divide, though more were emancipists than exclusives. The result was a campaign to ensure that emancipists could sit on the newly formed district councils and the defeat of proposals to include civil status in the 1841 census. What characterised this campaign was its bipartisan nature with Catholic and Protestant reformers working together in a common interest.

Religion proved the other major division in colonial life. The Church of England maintained a savage attack on the practice of Roman Catholicism from the early years of penal settlement. However, the its hope for exclusivity was ended by Catholic Emancipation in 1829 and following the removal of civil disabilities on Roman Catholics, two Irish Catholics[6] were appointed to important positions in NSW that coincided with the appointment of Richard Bourke, an Irish liberal Protestant, as governor. In 1836, the Church Act provided state assistance to all religious denominations relative to the number of adherents effectively ending any monopolistic ambitions of the Church of England. Bourke was anxious that the sectarian divisions of Ireland should not be replicated in Australia and the legislation successfully established state disinterest in doctrinal matters that proved resilient throughout the nineteenth century. Even John Dunmore Lang, a Scottish Presbyterianism whose early life instilled antagonism to Irish immigration and the Roman Catholic Church, could defend the civil and religious liberties of Roman Catholics already settled in Australia as British subjects in the 1840s while at the same time agitating strongly against further Irish immigration to the colony. In addition, there was no evangelical movement in Australia that paralleled the strength of the American revival. This is not to say that religion was unimportant and by the end of the 1840s there was a visible increase in religious consciousness through it never generated the same level of religious bigotry as in the United States.[7]

In general, the Irish in Australia were well dispersed and seldom without non-Irish neighbours to gossip about. Even within the cities, Irish ghettoes never developed: as another witness pointed out, ‘Melbourne is far too Irish as a whole to have any special ‘Irish quarter’. The Irish-born were no longer inevitably marked as outsiders but were contained within the colonial mainstream. Unlike in America and Britain, the Irish immigrants shared in the development of the country in ways that they did not in America and on the mainland. Bourke’s religious liberalism meant that the Australian environment was beneficial to many Irish immigrants and there were few divisive issues that set them apart from their fellow colonists.


[1] Huntsman, L., ‘Bounty emigrants to Australia’, Clogher Record: Journal of the Clogher Historical Society, Vol. 17, (3), (2002), pp. 801-812; Haines, Robin F. and McDonald, J., ‘Skills, origins and literacy: a comparison of the bounty immigrants into New South Wales in 1841, with the convicts resident in the colony’, Australian Economic History Review, Vol. 42, (2), (2002), pp. 132-159.

[2] On the operation of the government scheme and the colonial bounty system in the late 1830s, see, ibid, Madgwick, R.B., Immigration into Eastern Australia 1788-1851, pp. 130-168. See also, Haines, R., ‘Nineteenth century government-assisted immigrants from the United Kingdom to Australia: schemes, regulations and arrivals 1831-1900, and some vital statistics 1834-1860’, Flinders Occasional Papers in Economic History, Vol. 3, (1995), pp. 1-171.

[3] Sydney Herald, 17 February 1840.

[4] Table IX, in ibid, Madgwick, R.B., Immigration into Eastern Australia 1788-1851, p. 234.

[5] For a positive view of economic expansion, see, ibid, Brown, Richard, Three Rebellions, pp. 171-175.

[6] Roger Thierry was appointed commissioner of the court of requests in 1829 and John Plunkett as attorney-general three years later.

[7] Campbell, Malcolm, Ireland’s New Worlds: Immigrants, Politics and Society in the United States and Australia, 1815-1922, (University of Wisconsin Press), 2008, pp. 30-36.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Chickens coming home to roost…I think not!

I have read with interest the speech Ed Miliband made today as part of what he sees as ‘the most important election for a generation’…presumably he means since 1997.  Lets deal with the ‘let those who are without sin…’ points first.  He says he is serious about dealing with environmental issues and that climate change would be at the centre of his agenda…well he couldn’t really say I don’t give a damn about climate change could he?  Of course it’s going to be at a heart of his agenda though what that actually means in practice is unclear.  He also said that vocational and academic qualifications would be valued ‘equally’ by his party.  I’ve been hearing this for thirty years by a succession of party leaders, ministers and MPs and the reality for most people is that academic qualifications are still regarded as superior to vocational ones.  I’d like to know how he intended to achieve this. 

Ed Miliband

Let’s move on to more substantive issues.  The minimum wage would rise to more than £8 an hour under Labour.  It’s currently £6.50 and will rise before the election.  In effect, what he is saying is that by 2020, it will go up by less than £1.50…that’s 30p a year…so much for a ‘living wage’!  As far as immigration is concerned—you know the subject Labour candidates have been advised not to talk about on the doorstep—there’s really little to distinguish Labour from the other parties, UKIP apart.  Immigration, he says, makes the UK ‘stronger, richer and more powerful’ but those who enter the country should ‘play by the rules ‘and ‘contribute before they claim’.  Talk about vacuous generalisation!  He also believes that the A & E crisis would be solved by improving community health services.  So having introduced the GP contract that effectively made it a five day, 9-6 service, Labour is going to do what?  Given that two GPs failed to recognise that my wife had pneumonia—hardly a difficult illness to identify--something A & E picked up immediately, can we really have confidence that GPs can fulfil the same or similar functions as A & E?  Yes too many people go to A & E for trivial reasons or are there because of their own, often drunken, stupidity, but are Labour planning to introduce a 24/7 National Health Service rather than what is in effect a Monday to Friday service?

As for people ‘chocking on their cornflakes’ after David Cameron urged firms to use windfalls from cheaper fuel to fund pay rises, that seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable position to take.  Yes, wage increases have either been non-existent or extremely low over the past five years and I’m afraid I don’t think that this was any more than a practical position for those in both public and private sectors to take—though poorly managed when executives were getting high levels of remuneration giving a lie to George Osborne’s ‘we’re all in this together’.  In a recession everyone suffers or should suffer and people are worse off today than they were in 2010 but was there an alternative?  The Ed Balls’ solution would simply have increased borrowing and would have done little for the private sector that would have effectively cut wages to survive.  With their argument about a cost of living crisis shot, Labour now appears to be saying the economic success and a concomitant improvement in wages is an attempt to ‘wipe away five years of failure’.  Well it’s coming up to an election, what else did he expect! 

I’m hardly a supporter of the Conservatives, but is this really the best that Ed can do?

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Chickens, dead parrots and political debate

It was hardly a surprise that Prime Minister’s Questions today saw David Cameron and Ed Miliband trading blows over the proposed TV leaders’ debates in April.  Both accused each other of being ‘frit’ with Cameron saying that he would not debate if the Greens are not included while Miliband using the well-worn chicken analogy to explain his resistance to the debates.   Let’s be clear the decision of who should or should not be involved in the debates was not made by politicians.  The result was that UKIP was in, but the Greens were not.  The SMP, Plaid Cymru and the Northern Ireland parties were not included since they are seen a national not UK parties.

Why the broadcasters made its decision is really one of logistics.  Imagine a debate between the leaders of all the political parties in the UK…it wouldn’t be a debate, more a series of statements…so you can understand why they took the decision.  The debates are, or at least should be, a combination of spectacle as well as reasoned debate and simply a series of statements would not be that.  The solution seems to me to be relatively simple.  

  • There should be a series of national debates including all of the UK political parties who have members of Parliament.  This would include the Greens and end Cameron’s reluctance to debate.
  • There should also be a national debates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland involving the leaders of the political parties in each respective country who have members of Parliament.
If you already have a member of Parliament not a political party, then you should be involved in the debates. 

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.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Accident & Emergency: a political imponderable

In the past two weeks I have had direct experience of Accident & Emergency…not personally but a member of the family has had a serious bout of pneumonia though she’s now on the mend.  Did the four hour target for getting her on to a ward matter?  Well no.  She needed to be treated in Accident & Emergency before being moved after about five hours to ICU and then to the Coronary Care Unit. The doctors and nurses were brilliant and got her through the initial crisis.  So why is there, in fact is there, a crisis in A & E?

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The problem with targets is that that when they are not met, it is seen as a failure with all the concomitant political flak.  The reality is that when there is increased demand for A & E services, it is almost inevitable that targets will not be met.  The NHS is an organisation that is extensively managed but A & E ultimately cannot be managed…it is a service that reacts to immediate demands.  You also have the day-to-day work that hospitals do…appointments, doing operations, providing support etc.….that are planned.  So you have two elements in many hospitals—the ‘normal’ planned operation of the hospital caring for people and A & E where planning is based on ‘predicted’ demand and predictions are always tentative.  Take an emergency patient who needs to be admitted but the only way this can be achieved is that another non-emergency patient is told ‘your operation has been postponed’ or ‘we need your bed, we’re sending you home’.  It’s a matter of priorities…the emergency patient may died if not admitted but the patient whose operation is postponed may be living with some non-life threatening pain.

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Does this mean that we need to expand A & E services?  Well we could but whether this would be a good use of constrained resources is questionable.  It isn’t a case of there being insufficient A & E services, it’s the reasons why people use them today.  Until relatively recently, A & E was the last recourse for people…it was an emergency option often accessed through calling 999.  That is no longer the case.  Today people who, in the past, would have gone to their GP turn up at A & E because they can’t get an immediate doctor’s appointment.  Many A & E departments deal with this by having a minor injuries section dealing with triage leaving emergency staff to deal with real emergencies.  The problem is that we no longer have a 24/7 GP service…yes I know we have an emergency call out system operating outside GP working hours but how effective this is in practice is open to question. 

A further and an increasingly important issue is the aging population.  With people living longer because of improvements in medical technology, it is inevitable that the number of older people going to A & E is going to increase.  I was recently in a respiratory unit of 24 beds in which 17 of the patients were over 65 of whom half had been there for over a week.  Care in the community does not provide a solution for these patients…they are seriously ill and need to be in hospital.  This does, however, put pressure on the limited resources hospitals have and puts pressure on A & E, the route most of these patients took to get into hospital in the first place. 

So have we, what many of today’s newspapers call ‘a meltdown’ in A & E?  If the four hour target is taken as the criterion for measuring this, probably yes.  But then that target is an aspiration, not a true reflection of the realities in A & E.  Our obsession—or should I say politicians’ obsession with targets—gets in the way of the superb work done in A & E across the country in often difficult circumstances.  We don’t plan to be an emergency patient but if we are what concerns us is the expertise of those treating us, not whether they hit a spurious target.