Saturday, 28 February 2015

Why not get rid of tuition fees?

I was one of the lucky ones.  When I went to university there were no tuition fees and, depending on parental income, there was a maintenance grant.  My parents were not high earners but I still only got two-thirds of the grant, not an enormous amount but, combined with working during every university vacation, it was enough to get through four years doing a degree and PGCE without any student debt.  When I went to university perhaps 5 per cent of my age cohort followed suit; today it’s heading for 50 per cent.  I was the first in my family to go to university and came from what I suppose was a non-manual working-class background.  Was I at a financial disadvantage at university?  Of course I was…on my landing were two scions of local business families who could easily have afforded to pay the running costs of the hall of residence without drawing breath.  They had cars…very noisy sports cars I remember…could afford all those expensive things that an eighteen year old craved at the time.  Wealth, of course, did not buy intelligence and they were not the brightest individuals…mannered rather than cultured, on occasions annoyingly patronising (though they would not have recognised it as such) but also considerate and grateful when given assistance with their work.  It was a learning experience for all of us: me from grammar school, them from minor public schools.  But then, that’s what university was about in the late 1960s and early 1970s when a degree was your passport into the professions and a reasonable, though rarely excessive, income.
It was taken for granted that, although maintenance costs were the individuals’ responsibility, tuition fees should be paid through national taxation.  Everyone, at least in theory, had the opportunity of going to university—though in practice the numbers remained stubbornly low—and so financing this was the responsibility of society as a whole which would benefit from the expenditure.  Doing a university course, irrespective what the subject, was a ‘good thing’ that would contribute to the ‘commonweal’ of society.  Universities were already beginning to recognise the untapped human resources in areas where university admission was never considered an option and started a process of evangelising and popularisation that still continues.  By the 1990s, this ‘benefit to society’ view was increasingly questioned as the costs of higher education burgeoned and universities increasingly looked to the free-market approach to university funding evident in the United States and elsewhere.  Should the state be funding the costs of higher education or the individual who benefits, in terms of greater earning-potential, from having a degree?  The free-market won the argument with the introduction of tuition fees in 1998.
Today it is almost taken as read that students should pay tuition fees either during or after their courses and is rarely challenged lest you raise the ire of Vince as an ‘economic illiterate’.  The argument is not about whether but how much…£3,000, £6,000, £9,000!  In which case, vote for me and you’ll pay £6,000 and for them £9,000 but never we’ll abolish them.  A 1p rise in income tax raises £3 billion so, assuming that universities need £10 billion to operate that’s just over 3p to make university education free.  If, and all political parties go on about the need for an educated workforce, a university education is essential to society’s well-being, then there is a case for society funding at least the cost of the courses.  This does not eliminate student debt—cost of living during the courses remains—but it does remove the debt to the state that is increasingly being written off anyway.  Individual students will have to negotiate their own overdrafts with their banks to fund term-time expenditure while holiday jobs can then pay it off.  This leave living costs, which you would have to have paid anyway, the responsibility of the individual.
The reality is that the free-market in university education has not really worked.  The question, ‘what is university for?’ is today answered not as a place for the development of learning, but in accounting terms.  Value is defined not in terms of value to the individual or to the broader common good but almost entirely in terms of its contribution to the development and continuance of the free-market enterprise economy.  Yet there is no reason why what is of value about university education should not be both individually and socially enhancing.  In the increasingly competitive jungle of higher education, academics are only as good as their last piece of research—and that research must accord with political priorities—not the service provided for the paying undergraduates frequently taught in large groups and often by post-graduates dependent on the patronage of their supervisors.  Whether they get value for money is debatable though there is probably little difference between contact times for Chemistry and History today than there was in the 1970s.  Chemistry courses cost more than History courses, so why should history students pay the same as Chemistry students?  The answer is that money from cheaper courses is used to supplement more expensive ones.  This reinforces the argument that the free-market  is an illusion, a valuable construct to defend fees but without recognition by universities of the financial implications that it implies. 

Friday, 27 February 2015

Rising tuition fees and student debt.

I can remember when the Labour government introduced tuition fees making the announcement just before the end of the summer term in 1997 to be applied to students taking A Levels and going to university in 1998.  The students finished their first year thinking that their fees would be paid at university and began their second year knowing that this was no longer the case.  Did it put people off from applying to university that year?  Well, two people who I would have expected to apply decided not to.  Did it affect which university they applied to?  Again slightly, with two or three students applying to universities nearer home so they could reduce their living costs and keep part-time work.  For these students, there was to be no student debt at the end of three years…they earned sufficient to cover tuition and other costs.

If the average student debt today is £44,000 then the issue is not living costs as universities seem to be arguing but tuition fees: £27,000 fees and £17,000 living costs.  It suits universities to divert attention away from tuition fees.  Many students who I’ve spoken to about this suggest that their courses did not provide value for money.  For instance, a History student who has a seminar a fortnight and two lectures a week in the second and third year of her course is not getting value for money…and that was at one the Russell Group universities.  In that respect, Ed Miliband’s proposal to reduce fees from £9,000 to £6,000 makes some sense.  The response has, however, been predictable: universities are concerned that their loss of revenue will impact of what they can deliver while the Students’ Union is all in favour of the proposal.  To argue as Mr Miliband is expected to say that ‘the government has designed a system which is burdening students with debt today and set to weight down the taxpayer with more debt tomorrow.’, implying that it’s all the Conservatives’ fault takes a little swallowing.  Was it not Labour that introduced tuition fees in the first place?  Student debt was an implicit feature of tuition fees from the outset…the question is what is an acceptable level of student debt?  So too was writing off that debt after thirty years.

A Labour government will cut tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000

What is being suggested is a blatant piece of electioneering.  If you vote Labour in the election then you’ll pay £9,000 less for tuition fees over three years…it’s a good ploy but will it work?  Labour's private polling suggests that tuition fees isn't just an important issue for young people, but that older voters too dislike the idea of the next generation apparently being saddled with debts.  Now I’m not really cynical about polling—oh yes I am—I can see the question ‘do you like/dislike the idea of the next generation being saddled with debt?’  No self-respective individual is going to say that she ‘likes the generational debt.  It rather like the now almost forgotten promise to cap fuel bills…it’s all smoke and mirrors.  Today’s headline is tomorrow’s forgotten promise. 

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Forgotten and whispered memories: Eureka and its contemporary sources

The precise nature of violent events is often problematic. What was said or written about them is not always what occurred. Society’s interpretation of violent events changes over time and differs across different sections of society. Low economic status, ethnic heterogeneity, residential mobility and high population turnover lead to disruption of community cohesion and organisation. [1] Explaining the context of a violent event is often easier than explaining the event itself.

This problem is linked to the ways in which the actions of crowds have been perceived. There have been two leading interpretations of the politics of working-class crowds. One sees popular protest as occurring spontaneously and without prior organisation as a reaction to immediate material deprivations such as food shortages or wage reductions. The other views the crowd as an inchoate and unselfconscious mass that can be galvanised into activity, shown how to constitute itself as a potentially revolutionary class, only by an elite, usually of middle or upper class provenance, who may exploit its potential for violence for their own social and ideological agendas. The problem, Rudé observed

…is that conservatives and ‘Republicans alike had projected their own political aspirations, fantasies and / or fears onto the crowd without having asked the basic historical questions’...law-and-order conservatives, he complains, see all protest as a ‘crime against established society’; liberal writers have tended to comprehend all crimes as a form of protest.[2]

The classic conservative images of proletarian anarchy are Edmund Burke’s depiction of the rioting mob as a ‘swinish multitude’ in Reflections on the Revolution in France, and Hippolyte Taine’s account of revolutionary action as the breeding-ground for the ‘dregs of society’, ‘bandits’, ‘thieves’, ‘savages’, ‘beggars’ and ‘prostitutes’.[3] By contrast, the Leninist approach assumed that the revolutionary activities of the crowd must be directed by an elite, the Party, converting anarchic energy into effective political action. Rudé in his earlier writings, tended towards Leninism concluding that the sans-culottes were on their own capable of nothing more than economic motivation and that movement beyond that required the leadership and political ideas developed by bourgeois intellectuals, a model he later questioned recognising that the lower classes had ideas and motivations of their own.[4]

Both these issues are evident in the sources for the Eureka rebellion in December 1854 and create major problems for historians who want to describe and explain what actually happened. For example, government sources tended to overestimate the threat posed by the rebellion if only to justify the draconian actions that it took and playing up the role of ‘foreigners’, especially the European revolutionary participants at the Stockade while playing down the role of Americans. A further problem with the sources lies in the nature of the protest at Ballarat in late 1854. Although there is a succession of reports from the goldfield to Sir Charles Hotham that provide a developing view of the position of authority, most of the information from those involved in the protest was written after the Stockade was stormed and contains a strong dose of self-justification. Only the less than neutral reporting of the local and Melbourne press provides evidence for the developing crisis on the goldfield from the perspective, and then via a critique, of the miners’ stance.

The accounts of Eureka in various histories of Australia have a tendency to elide the specific details of the incident in favour of situating the event in a narrative of the nation. [5] The writing of histories of Eureka began soon after the event. The difficulty is that unusually the production of sources on Eureka and the early writing of histories of Eureka were almost indistinguishable. Many of those involved on both sides of the rebellion wrote accounts that were both partial and attempted to locate Eureka within a causal nexus. Normally, these accounts would have been used by historians to construct their narratives but not in this particular instance. It was not until 1913 that a specific history of Eureka was written as opposed to a literary heritage was published. [6] Hotham’s version of events is contained in a despatch to the Colonial Secretary dated 20 December 1854 [7] with the account in the Report from the commission appointed to inquire into the condition of the goldfields following in late March 1855. [8] Surprisingly few participants at Eureka wrote accounts of the event and they are for the most part partial. Lalor, [9] Vern [10] and Carboni produced accounts in 1855 and H. R. Nicholas [11] and John Lynch[12] in the 1890s. The same can be said of the only eyewitness account from the government camp written by Samuel Douglas Smyth Huyghue, a Canadian who was chief clerk to Robert Rede the Resident Commissioner on the Ballarat gold fields. Though originally drafted in Ballarat in November 1857, it was revised in September 1879 and not completed until 10 December 1884, some thirty years after the event.[13] The contemporary diary of Samuel Lazarus, though valuable on the aftermath of the attack, is silent on the attack itself that Lazarus appears to have slept through. A neglected source is the history of Ballarat written by W.B. Withers who deliberately sought out written and oral testimony from those involved in the rebellion.[14]

The most remarkable is Raffaello Carboni’s The Eureka Stockade that offers a vivid if unconventional history.[15] Geoffrey Serle made little sense of the book

Carboni Raffaello’s Eureka Stockade stands apart as a literary freak…its qualities of vigour, observation, humour and sarcasm raise it to considerable heights.[16]

Although roughly linear, Carboni included commentaries on events and what characterises him as a narrator was the mobility of his stance, ‘using the voices of reporter, judge, polemicist, philosopher, satirist, historian and participant’. [17] It is, however, a mistake to view the book as the record of a partisan and a tale of damnation of tyranny without scholarly detachment rather than a history. In two important respects, The Eureka Stockade is clearly a history: first, its use of particular narrative forms and secondly, its attention to evidence.[18]

Carboni wrote within the European historiographical tradition that had begun in the eighteenth century based around distinctive forms of emplotment, the narrator’s position and reader’s expectations. His account is consistently written in the forms of satire, comedy and tragedy but all these devices are subordinate to a romance of heroes, a vindication of his own character and those of the diggers. [19] Carboni was writing for the future in the expectation that the events at Eureka would be accorded the ‘historic’ status they deserved. He saw the book as an act of remembering events for the future that he was sure would be forgotten:

…it is in my power to drag your names from ignoble oblivion and vindicate the unrewarded bravery of one of yourselves...But he [Ross] was soon forgotten. That he was buried is known by the tears of a few true friends! The place of is burial is little known, and less cared for. [20]

He supported his case by an extensive accumulation of evidence that provided both the basis for his narrative and his means of authenticating the text as historically accurate. Carboni also drew on a much older form of history, the notion of historian as witness and made this claim explicit in the introduction:

I was at the centre. I was an actor and therefore an eye-witness. The events I relate, I did see them pass before me. [21]

Carboni was right that Eureka would not be instantly remembered in written history. Once the battle ended, the focus for most historians moved to Melbourne to pursue the effects of events: the demonstrations in the capital and across the goldfields, the resignation of Colonial Secretary Foster; the reform of the goldfields and the constitution and Hotham’s death. This shift was possible because Eureka was on the cusp of two processes already in motion: the demise of imperial autocracy and the emergence of limited self-government dominated by colonial liberalism. The introduction of the miner’s right deflated the causes of the crisis of 1854 and the local political élite, liberated by their new constitution, had little appetite for grappling with demands from the forces of popular protest, ‘the dark side of their commitment to democracy’. [22] Eureka had served its purpose and, with reforms secured, the rebellion became an event that had passed quickly and for the moment was left in the past.

This was clearly the case with Peter Lalor. His statement in April 1855 was, unlike Carboni, neither a narrative of heroism nor a history. [23] It is a defence of the diggers’ actions written by a man who deeply regretted having been forced to take up arms. His lesson from the rebellion was that reforms should have been introduced earlier and that, despite the bloodshed, civilisation would prevail. His only use of the word ‘history’ was in his boast that ‘I have taken measures to have the history of the outbreak and its causes brought before the House of Commons’, a very different audience to the one Carboni had in mind. Whether Lalor was a ‘forgetter’ as Molony suggests, it was increasingly the case that Lalor, now the parliamentarian, regretted Eureka as an ‘unfortunate affair’. [24] These characteristics were shared by other immediate historians of the event. Captain H. Butler Stoney arrived in Ballarat shortly after the battle and, like Carboni, relied heavily on evidence especially the Royal Commission and the report of Captain Thomas to provide a historical veneer. [25] His explanation for the rebellion was an even-handed apportioning of blame to abuse of power and wayward citizens and was the first historian to focus attention on foreigners.[26] ‘Even though their wild passions of rebellion had for a moment made them lose sight of their loyalty and obedience to her law’, Stoney concluded that the diggers were really loyal to the Crown, that there had been substantial progress in Victoria and that it was a fine place for investment opportunities.[27] For him, Eureka was an unfortunate aberration in the inevitable progress of the colony to economic prosperity.

Myth is a highly charged concept when linked with the study of history. To suggest that fable and fact may be reconciled to explain the past suggests that truth and falsity can explain the same historical event. Yet myth cannot be easily dismissed from a consideration of history, particularly from histories of nations and national identity. All histories have some element of myth, a distortion of the truth produced to draw out a significant explanation of the past; a sense of significance shared by a cultural group embracing a mythic explanation of the past in order to reinforce shared values. [28] Ernest Scott, for example, sought to explain how British racial origins and an accompanying heritage of liberal ideals creatively flourished in Australia. Gifted with ‘the most liberal endowment of self-government that had ever been secured in the history of colonization by dependencies from a mother-country’, the ‘thoroughly British’ Australian population had been left ‘free to work out their own destiny’. Thus Australia became ‘…a field for the exercise of their racial genius for adaptation and for conquering difficulties’. [29] In his identification of shared British origins, Scott offered a reassuring sense of familiarity, proudly enhanced by an account of how Australians had proved themselves worthy of their inherited traditions and faced the challenges of developing a new country.


[1] Reiss, Albert J., Understanding and Preventing Violence, 2 Vols. (National Academies Press), 1993, Vol. 1, pp. 31-41, 129-139.

[2] Kaye, Henry J., ‘Introduction: George Rudé, Social Historian’, in George Rudé, The Face of the Crowd: Selected Essays of George Rudé, (Harvester Wheatsheaf), 1988, pp. 7-15.

[3] Ibid, Kaye, Henry J., ‘Introduction: George Rudé, Social Historian’, p. 6.

[4] Ibid, Kaye, Henry J., ‘Introduction: George Rudé, Social Historian’, p. 24.

[5] Elder, Catriona Being Australian: Narratives of National Identity, (Allen & Unwin), 2007, pp. 23-40.

[6] Ibid, Turner, Henry Gyles, A History of the Colony of Victoria From its Discovery to its Absorption into the Commonwealth of Australia, Vol. 2, pp. 23-51, and Our Own Little Rebellion: The Story of the Eureka Stockade, Melbourne, 1913. McCalman, Iain, ‘Turner, Henry Gyles (1831-1920)’, ADB, Vol. 6, 1976, pp. 311-313.

[7] Duplicate Despatch Number 162 reporting a serious collision and riot at the Ballaarat Gold Field: Victoria Public Record Office: 1085/P, Unit 8, reprinted in ‘Eureka Documents’, Historical Studies: Eureka Supplement, (December 1954), pp. 3-7.

[8] Anderson, Hugh, (ed.) Report from the Commission appointed to inquire into the Condition of the Goldfields, 1855, (Red Rooster Press), 1978.

[9] Lalor, Peter, ‘Statement on the Ballarat rebellion’, Argus, 10 April 1855, reprinted in ibid, ‘Eureka Documents’, Historical Studies, pp. 8-14.

[10] Vern, Frederick, ‘Col. Vern’s Narrative of the Ballarat Insurrection, Part I’, Melbourne Monthly Magazine, November 1855, pp. 5-14. Part II does not appear to have been published.

[11] Nicholls, H. R., ‘Reminiscences of the Eureka Stockade’, The Centennial Magazine: An Australian Monthly, (May 1890), in an annual compilation, Vol. II., August, 1889 to July, 1890, pp. 746-750.

[12] Lynch, John, ‘The story of the Eureka Stockade’, Austral Light, October 1893-March 1894, republished as a pamphlet Story of the Eureka Stockade, (Australian Catholic Truth Society), n.d. [1946?].

[13] Huyghue, S.D.S., ‘The Ballarat Riots’, printed in O’Brien, Bob, Massacre at Eureka: the Untold Story, 1992, (The Sovereign Hill Museums Association), 1998, pp. 1-39.

[14] Ibid, Withers, W. B., History of Ballarat, pp. 72-163.

[15] Ibid, Raffaello! Raffaello!: A Biography of Raffaello Carboni, and Rando, G. ‘Raffaello Carboni’s Perceptions of Australia and Australian Identity’, based on a paper presented at the Eureka 150 Democracy Conference, University of Ballarat, 25-27 November 2004 and ‘Raffaello Carboni’s Perceptions of Australia’, Journal of Colonial Australian History, Vol. 10, (1), (2008), pp. 129-144.

[16] Serle, p. 360.

[17] Healy, Chris, From the Ruins of Colonialism: History as Social Memory, (Cambridge University Press), 1997, p. 137.

[18] Ibid, Healy, Chris, From the Ruins of Colonialism, pp. 139-142.

[19] Rando, G., Great Works and Yabber-Yabber: The Language of Raffaello Carboni’s ‘Eureka Stockade’, St Lucia (Qld), 1998, considers Carboni’s use of language.

[20] Ibid, The Eureka Stockade, p. 2.

[21] Ibid. The Eureka Stockade, p. 2.

[22] Ibid, Healy, Chris, From the Ruins of Colonialism, p. 141.

[23] Lalor, Peter, ‘Statement on the Ballarat rebellion’, ibid, ‘Eureka Documents’, Historical Studies, pp. 8-14.

[24] Ibid, Moloney, John, Eureka, p. 210. See also Sunter, Anne Beggs, ‘The Apotheosis of Peter Lalor: Myth, Meaning and Memory in History’, paper in Remembered Nations, Imagined Republics: Proceedings of the Twelfth Irish-Australian Conference, Galway, June 2002, Australian Journal of Irish Studies Vol. 4, (2004), pp. 94-104.

[25] Stoney, H. Butler, Victoria: With a Description of its Principal Cities...and Remarks on the Present State of the Colony; Including an Account of the Ballarat Disturbances, and of the Death of Captain Wise, 40th Regiment, London, 1856.

[26] Ibid, Stoney, H. Butler, Victoria, pp. 106-138 considers Eureka.

[27] Ibid, Stoney, H. Butler, Victoria, p. 137.

[28] Collins, Rebecca, ‘Concealing the Poverty of Traditional Historiography: myth as mystification in historical discourse’, Rethinking History, Vol. 7, (2003), pp. 341-3, 356.

[29] Ibid, Scott, Ernest, A Short History of Australia, pp. 330-332, 336.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Australia and Irish settlement: after the Famine

A strong Irish network existed in Melbourne before 1850 and indeed the meeting place of the first Parliament of Victoria was St Patrick’s Hall.[1] Bounty immigration swelled Irish numbers before 1850, but major waves of migration commenced only after the discovery of gold in Victoria and during the reconstruction of Irish agriculture in the period after the 1840s famine.[2] As a result, while the vast bulk of Irish settlers in Melbourne were drawn from rural Ireland and most likely from the small land-holding class, a steady stream of Irish professional men arrived in the 1850s, especially lawyers and doctors, who made an early and long-lasting mark on Melbourne life. The new University of Melbourne was shaped by its association with Trinity College, Dublin, most notably through the Irish political economist and one of the four foundation professors at Melbourne, W.E. Hearn. The first chancellor of the university, Redmond Barry, had also graduated from Trinity and emigrated in 1839. He founded the Melbourne Mechanics Institute, sat on the Supreme Court bench and played a central role in the creation and expansion of the State Library of Victoria.[3] Another Trinity graduate, Richard Ireland, born in Galway in 1816, was admitted to the Irish Bar in 1816 and arrived in Melbourne in 1852, where he defended the Eureka rebels before becoming a minister in governments headed by Irishmen Charles Gavan Duffy and John O’Shanassy.[4]

Bourke Street, Melbourne c1890

In Melbourne, the Irish settled most densely in the inner city. For a time some of the poorer lanes of the central city sustained conspicuous Irish populations. Yet the Irish-born were never a numerical majority in any local government area or city ward, even though they may have controlled local political and cultural life. In the city itself, Bourke, Gipps and Lonsdale wards had populations which were more than 20 per cent Irish in 1871, the peak year for the city’s Irish-born population. Irish women, who most typically worked in domestic service, moved from these concentrations to wealthy suburbs such as St Kilda and Kew. For most of the nineteenth century the inner municipality of Hotham (North and West Melbourne) was the most Irish locality, largely because of its position near the unskilled labour markets in the railway yards, warehouses and wharves and in carting at the western end of the central city.

Ulster Protestants gradually established a place in the skilled trades of Melbourne and also dominated some civil service departments by the end of the 1860s. Catholic Irishmen were typically unskilled workers or small shopkeepers. They too sought to cement networks in government employment, filling many positions in the ‘uniformed working-class’ such as the railways, post office and customs services. From its formation, the Victoria Police was structured along the same lines as the Royal Irish Constabulary and the typical constable was likely to have been born in Ireland, as were many of those he arrested.

‘Canvas Town’: South Melbourne in the 1850s showing temporary accommodation during the Gold Rush

There had been surprisingly little movement during the Famine and the heaviest influx was delayed until the 1860s. While the 1850s remained the most significant decade for Irish migration to Victoria, perhaps more important single years of emigration were 1864, 1879 and 1884, peaks associated with crises in Irish agriculture. The last great Irish immigration occurred between the mid-1870s and mid-1880s when immigration to the United States was less attractive because of depression in its economy. Australia was only ever the destination of choice for Irish immigrants when recession elsewhere made foreign labour markets unattractive for immigrants. The same applied when Australia experienced depression as it did in 1867, 1878-1879 and 1885-1886 when Irish immigration slackened. Colonial demand for immigrant labour and a willingness to provide assisted passage was greatest when there was significant economic growth in the absence of a large settled population. Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania offered little assistance after the 1860s while Queensland invested heavily in immigration during the 1879s and 1880s. NSW stopped providing assistance between the late 1880s and 1910. Since most Irish immigration depended on some form of state or private assistance, this resulted in settlers in different colonies coming largely from different generational cohorts. The most significant county of origin remained Clare but comparatively rich farming regions such as Meath, Tipperary and Armagh were more highly represented than the poorer western counties of Kerry, Galway and Mayo. Extended chain migration allowed these regional concentrations to persist until the last decade of the nineteenth century.

Melbourne Cricket Ground, 1864.

Although Victoria proved a magnet for immigration in the 1850s, the other colonies continued to receive Irish immigrants. The 1859 census for Western Australia records 2,406 Irish-born representing 16 per cent of the total non-Aboriginal population. This had risen to 3,569 by 1870 and 9,862 during the gold rush of the 1890s though many of these came from the eastern states rather than directly from Ireland. The Irish made up about a tenth of the convicts sent to the colony between 1850 and 1868.[5] NSW also saw an increase in immigration in the 1850s partly as a result of gold but also because of the continuing distress in Ireland. Most assisted immigrants between 1848 and 1870 were Catholic but about a fifth was Protestant. Apart from higher levels of literacy, there was no real difference between the two religious groups: men tended to be labourers and women farm or domestic servants. In the 1850s, for example, there was much distress in rural Donegal.[6] Under the British landlord system, the native inhabitants had to pay rents and were liable to be evicted if they could not keep up the payments.[7] After 1855, some of these emigrants took advantage of the NSW assisted immigration scheme. Under this, residents of NSW could pay a contribution to the government in Sydney to bring out a relative or friend from Britain or Ireland with the government subsidising the cost of the passage. As the immigrants of 1855 became established in NSW, many sent sums of money ranging from £5 to £50 back to Donegal to help their relatives to survive or to emigrate. By 1858, there was mounting concern in Australia about news that landlords were squeezing Donegal people off the land to make way for more profitable farming procedures such as large-scale sheep-raising, using Scottish shepherds.

In May 1858, Archdeacon John McEncroe, a Catholic clergyman from County Tipperary, convened a public meeting in Sydney to form a Donegal Relief Fund. McEncroe had been in NSW since 1832 and was the founder of a periodical newspaper, the Sydney Freeman’s Journal. He sought to make systematic use of the government’s assisted immigration scheme and took a deputation from the Donegal Relief Fund to interview government officials in July 1858. He gave the government a deposit of £900 pounds that then issued a certificate providing passages for 225 people. This special fare to Australia was £5 per male and £3 per female. McEncroe made subsequent deposits, bringing the total for 1858 to £3,800 and the government issued further certificates for passage. The first batch of Donegal Relief Fund migrants arrived in Sydney from Liverpool on the Sapphire in May 1859 after a voyage of 15 weeks. The vessel landed 286 passengers though not all sponsored by the Donegal Relief Fund. The sexes were evenly balanced with 138 males and 133 females over 12 years including 42 married couples, plus eight boys and seven girls under 12 years. The arrival of each the subsequent four Donegal Relief Fund ships was reported in the Sydney Freeman’s Journal, which recommended the passengers to prospective employers as farm labourers or domestic servants. The NSW government encouraged the immigrants, especially the men, to go to ‘immigrant depots’ in country centres such as Maitland, Newcastle and Bathurst, from where they would be hired by landholders. The Donegal Relief Fund enormously boosted the number of Irish migrants to NSW in 1859. According to parliamentary reports, 3,723 immigrants entered NSW that year from all sources under government’s assistance scheme. Of these, the Irish accounted for 2,544, more than 68 per cent of the total, of which about a third came under the Donegal Relief Fund scheme.

Only two per cent of those who left Ireland in the nineteenth century came to Australia and the majority of these came through assisted passage. This seems to have been more likely the case for women since British and colonial authorities maintained assisted female emigration over longer periods and at lower rates. Irish women made up between 50 and 60 per cent of assisted female migrants during the 1850s and 1860s and in NSW they made up to 80 per cent. The peak periods of female immigration coincided with years of heaviest assistance. There was a boost to early Irish female immigration to the colony with government-sponsored ‘bride ships’ of the 1850s containing poor, predominantly Catholic Irish women.[8] Many of these girls went into the country as servants and sometimes married Protestants but more often men from the bond class. They represented a small if important part of the large-scale process of female migration to Australia that gathered momentum in the 1850s and 1860s. Some 1,700 single British and Irish women came to Western Australia but substantially more came on colonial-sponsored schemes to NSW (18,000), Victoria (13,000), South Australia (9,100), Queensland (46,000) and Tasmania (1,600).[9] The reason why many of these women migrated may have been to seek a spouse[10], but the attitude of colonial society was more ambiguous and bidders at the immigration depot included middle-class women seeking domestic servants of whom there was a major shortage as well as single men.

Over half of Irish women, even in the 1880s and 1890s entered domestic service and they appear to have not sought alternative avenues of employment though their daughters frequently entered factory work. There were several reasons why a higher proportion of Irish women than any other nationality entered domestic service. First, they came from a largely rural background and had no familiarity with factory work. Secondly, domestic work provided food and lodgings as well as wages and allowed women to save money easily to send back home to pay debts, to buy land or acquire a few luxuries. Finally, domestic service was a job that did not compete with the male labour market and work was available even during economic depression.

The Irish in Australia in the nineteenth century were simplistically seen as either Catholic, nationalist and republican or Protestant, empire loyalists, Orangemen or members of Masonic lodges. Irish Protestants made up a small proportion of the total Irish migration and comprised about five per cent of the total Australian population in the nineteenth century. Despite this, they played a disproportionately important role in the development of the country.[11] They can be divided into the Anglo-Irish who originated in the Irish gentry and who emigrated to Australia from the 1820s and Ulster Protestants representing a cross-section of Ulster society. The Anglo-Irish, dependent on their British connection, became the main stay of colonial administration, followed traditional routes into the law, the church or the military or entered the professions. The Trinity College link proved important and by 1880, for example, four of the five judges on the Supreme Court of Victoria were Irish Protestants.

The Australian Irish, like the American Irish, came from a variety of destinations and had emigrated for a variety of reasons. Many were born in Ireland but others arrived only after perhaps years in some British city or in the eastern and then western United States and who came with other ‘diggers’ in search of wealth on the goldfields. Yet while Irish descendants in America have retained pride in their ancestral culture, this is less the case in Australia. [12] The nineteenth-century Irish represented the major discordant element in what were strongly Anglicised colonies. Their role as loyal opposition, niggling and ridiculing the dominant English colonial culture was however a defining element in the shaping of Australian society and the Australian character. Their identity was Australian first and Irish second.


[1] Strauss, Valda, ‘Irish influences in early Melbourne’, Mallow Field Club Journal, Vol. 14, (1996), pp. 149-153.

[2] Davison, Graeme, ‘Gold-rush Melbourne’, in McCalman, Iain, Cook, Alexander and Reeves, Andrew, (eds.), Gold: forgotten histories and lost objects of Australia, (Cambridge University Press), 2001, pp. 52-66 and The Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melbourne, (Melbourne University Press), 1978.

[3] Phillips, John H., ‘A Black-Letter Lawyer’, La Trobe Journal, Vol. 73, (2004), pp. 23-28, and Ryan, Peter, ‘Sir Redmond Barry, (1813-1880)’, ADB, Vol. 3, pp. 108-111, provide contrasting succinct studies of Barry. Neither Galbally, Ann, Redmond Barry, An Anglo-Irish Australian, (Melbourne University Press), 1995 nor Ryan, Peter, Redmond Barry, A Colonial Life, (Melbourne University Press), 1980, are enthusiastic about Barry’s judicial qualities.

[4] Ingham, M., ‘Sir John O’Shanassy (1818-1883)’, ADB, Vol. 5, pp. 378-382.

[5] Oriesen, I.H. van den, ‘Convicts and migrants in Western Australia, 1850-1868: their number, nature and ethnic origins’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 72, (1986-1987), pp. 40-58.

[6] McClintock, May, ‘Donegal Orphan girls’, Donegal Annual, Vol. 53, (2001), pp. 59-65 considers Donegal orphans sent to Australia 1848-1850. Conaghan, Pat, The great famine in south-west Donegal, 1845-1850, (Bygones Enterprises), 1997 examines the impact of famine.

[7] See O’Donnell, Martina, ‘Government intervention in land improvement in county Donegal, 1846-1880’, Donegal Annual, Vol. 48, (1996), pp. 158-192.

[8] Erickson, Rica, The bride ships: experiences of immigrants arriving in Western Australia 1849-1889, (Hesperian Press), 1992.

[9] Gothard, Jan, ‘Wives or workers? Single British female migration to colonial Australia’, in Sharpe, Pamela, Women, Gender and Labour Migration: Historical and global perspectives, (Routledge), 2001, pp. 145-162.

[10] Britain had a ‘surplus women’ problem: in 1851 there were 1042 women to every 1000 men and by 1901 this had risen to 1068. Assisted emigration was a possible solution to this problem for Britain by reducing the number of women and for the colonies by reducing their imbalanced sex-ratios.

[11] Forth, Gordon, ‘”No petty people”: the Anglo-Irish identity in colonial Australia’, in O’Sullivan, Patrick, (ed.), The Irish world wide: history, heritage, identity, Vol. 2: the Irish in the new communities, (Leicester University Press), 1992, pp. 128-142.

[12] Ibid, O’Farrell, Patrick, The Irish in Australia: 1788 to the Present, pp. 5-21 considers the contentious issue of Irish Australian identity. Campbell, Malcolm, ‘Irish nationalism and immigrant assimilation: comparing the United States and Australia’, Australasian Journal of American Studies, Vol. 15, (2), (1996), pp. 24-43 provides comparison.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Australia and Irish settlement: Gold

Word that gold had been found in Australia in mid-1851 spread quickly as it had done in California three years earlier. The result was a massive movement of people from Britain, Europe, China and America but also within Australia and Victoria’s ports bustled with new arrivals. In just four months in 1852, 619 ships arrived in Hobson’s Bay carrying 55,057 passengers; 1853 saw the arrival of 2,594 ships. In March 1851, Victoria’s population was 80,000, not including its indigenous population; by 1854, it had tripled to 237,000 and doubled again to 540,000 by 1861. [1] The population of the Victorian gold fields was 20,000 in 1851; 34,000 the following year; 100,000 in 1855 peaking at 150,000 in 1858. The majority of migrants came from the United Kingdom; [2] between 1852 and 1860, 290,000 people came to Victoria from the British Isles. Of the other migrants, less than 15,000 came from other European countries and 6,000 including some Irish Americans migrated from America. In December 1851, E.E. Griggs wrote from Sacramento City, California to the Rev. J. Orr in Portaferry

It appears that her majesty’s dominions are not destitute of gold; and if the reports from Australia are true, a great rush will be the result; in fact many have already left this [California], for that land of promise.[3]

The NSW gold fields were poorer but the state’s population increased from 200,000 in 1851 to 357,000 ten years later. By 1861, 29% of the population was Australian born, 60% were from the United Kingdom and 11% were from other parts of the world. [4]

Irish immigration increased with the discovery of gold. Between 1851 and 1860 roughly 101,540 of them had arrived in Australia with the vast majority finding their way to the goldfields.[5] John Sherer, commenting on the inhabitants of the goldfields, observed that

...many of these were the offspring of the teeming soil of Ireland, which seems to throw off its population with the same degree of prolific spontaneity that it shoots forth the riches of its vegetation.[6]

Unlike their Welsh, Scottish and English neighbours, most of the Irish lacked mining skills. Initially this was not a problem since alluvial mining required little expertise. However, as surface deposits of gold were exhausted and alluvial mining gave way to deep, shaft mining, mining skills became essential. Lacking these, the numerous Irish on the goldfields became a ready source of unskilled labour for large-scale mining. A few miners did strike it rich on the goldfields but for most, their experience was similar to that of Hugh Maguire of Strabane, Co. Tyrone

As far as my own success upon the diggings I must candidly say that up to the present time it has fell far short of what I expected. I was fourteen months in the diggings … yet I have been only able to come to Melbourne with about sixty-five pounds sterling.[7]

For the vast majority a short, fruitless stint as a miner soon gave way to more profitable occupations as grocers, publicans, cartage operators, brewers, domestic workers, policemen and general labourers and the wealth of available work meant that many of the Irish enjoyed a standard of living far exceeding their experience in Ireland. The abundance of available work, fuelled by the needs of the diggers, meant that many of the Irish enjoyed a standard of living well beyond that they had left behind in Ireland. Reporting on the Daisy Hill diggings near Castlemaine, the Cork Examiner informed readers that

Young Irish Orphan girls who scarcely knew the luxury of a shoe until they put their feet on the soil of Victoria lavish money on white satin at 10/- or 12/- a yard for their bridal dresses and flout out of the shop slamming the door because the unfortunate shop keeper does not have the real shawls at ten guineas a piece.

The Irish had a large impact on the goldfields communities that sprang up quickly earning a reputation for their colour and flamboyance on the diggings. The rapid rise in population caused by the influx of gold seekers and their followers was still insufficient to populate the vast ranges of Australia, which still had a dearth of general and domestic labour. Miners were too preoccupied with digging for gold, and besides, they were mostly male, exacerbating the gender imbalance

Women are the only scarce people that is here, in a city of some 10,000 Inhabitants, you will not see more than twelve or twenty women in a day there are only about 300 in the whole city.[8]

The familiar Irish brogue could be heard issuing forth from hotels with iconic names such as Brian Boru, Harp of Erin and Shamrock. The legacy of the Irish immigrants who came to the Victorian goldfields is diverse ranging from the leading role they played in the Catholic institutions of the major gold rush towns to the iconic Queensland beer, XXXX, originally brewed by two Irish brothers in the early days of the Castlemaine diggings. However, a perception persists that few of the Irish had the skills or inclination, or would risk their money by setting up manufacturing plants.[9] In fact, immigrants from practically every Irish county and culture established a wide range of manufacturing businesses in Victoria during the nineteenth century. Although not all were successful, many Irish-owned businesses not only survived, but prospered. The number of Irish-born manufacturers was not proportional to the Irish population in Victoria, but the individual and collective contribution and legacy of these industrial pioneers to the colony’s social, civic, and industrial life deserve recognition.

Nonetheless, political discontent was never far from the surface and of the diggers that took part in the 1854 Eureka rebellion,[10] one witness at the Gold Fields Commission claimed that, ‘quite half of them were Irishmen’.[11] Withers stated:

There were among the insurgents men who hated British rule with a hereditary hatred. There were Irishman who felt that feeling, and there were foreigners who had no special sympathy, if any at all, with British Government’ and reported that one of the Eureka leaders later said ‘Most of our men were Irishmen. [12]

It was estimated by one witness, Mr G. C. Levey, that about 863 men had actually taken up arms and that about half of them were Irish. [13] H. R. Nicholls stated, regarding the Stockade on the morning of the day before the battle that ‘the movement at that time seemed to have become almost an Irish one’. [14] There is, however, no evidence that the Irish diggers had a republican design; they may have used the rhetoric of rebellion but they produced no republican political statement. In 1940, H.V. Evatt claimed ‘A democracy was born at Eureka’, and credited the Irish with fathering it. The initially reluctant leader of the Eureka protest was Peter Lalor, the brother of James Fintan Lalor, the Irish patriot and the list of the dead featured a great many Irish names.[15]


[1] Knott, J. W., ‘Arrival and Settlement 1851-1880’, in ibid, Jupp, James, (ed.), The Australian people: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people and their origins, pp. 367-370; Broome, R., The Victorians: arriving, (Fairfax, Syme & Weldon Associates), 1984, and Goodman, D., Gold seeking: Victoria and California in the 1850s, (Allen & Unwin), 1994. See also, ibid, Brown, Richard, Three Rebellions, pp. 346-363.

[2] Jupp, James, The English in Australia, (Cambridge University Press), 2004, pp. 52-86, especially pp. 71-74.

[3] Ulster American Folk Park, serial no: 9701195, copyright John McCleery, Belfast.

[4] Beever, A., ‘From a Place of “Horrible Destitution” to a Paradise of the Working class: The Transformation of British Working class Attitudes to Australia 1841-1851’, Labour History, no. 40, (1981), pp. 1-15, examines how and why Australia became the place where British workers wanted to emigrate.

[5] Coughlan, Neil, ‘The Coming of the Irish to Victoria’, Historical Studies, Australia and New Zealand, Vol. 12, (1965), pp. 64-86, MacDonagh, Oliver, ‘The Irish in Victoria, 1851-91: a demographic essay’, Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 8, (1971), pp. 67-92 and McConville, C., ’The Victorian Irish: emigrants and families 1851-91’, in Grimshaw, P. et al. (eds.), Families in Colonial Australia, (Allen & Unwin), 1985, pp. 3-7.

[6] Sherer, John, The Gold-finder of Australia: how he went, how he fared, how he made his fortune, (Clarke, Beeton), 1853, p. 254.

[7] Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, D1420/2.

[8] Ulster American Folk Park, serial no: 9701190, copyright John McCleery, Belfast.

[9] Pescod, K., The Emerald Strand: Nineteenth-century Irish-born Manufacturers in Victoria, (Australian Scholarly Publications), 2007.

[10] Of the many studies of Eureka, Gold, Geoffrey, (ed.), Eureka: Rebellion beneath the Southern Cross, (Rigby Limited), 1977 and Molony, John, Eureka, (Melbourne University Press), 1984, 2nd ed., 2001, are the most useful. Of the earlier studies, Turner, Henry Gyles, Our Own Little Rebellion: The Story of the Eureka Stockade, Melbourne, (Whitcombe & Tombs Limited), 1913, retains its vigour. Ibid, Brown, Richard, Three Rebellions examines the rebellion, its causes and consequences in detail.

[11] Anderson, Hugh, (ed.), Report from the Commission appointed to inquire into the Condition of the Goldfields, first published 1855, (Red Rooster Press), 1978, p. 45.

[12] Withers, W. B., History of Ballarat from the First Pastoral Settlement to the Present Time, 1st ed., Ballarat, 1870, 2nd ed., Ballarat, 1887, p. 159.

[13] Ibid, Withers, W. B., History of Ballarat, p. 109.

[14] Nicholls, H. R., ‘Reminiscences of the Eureka Stockade’, The Centennial Magazine: An Australian Monthly, (May 1890), in an annual compilation, Vol. II: August, 1889 to July, 1890, p. 749.

[15] Turner, Ian, ‘Peter Lalor (1827-1889)’, ADB, Vol. 5, 1974, pp. 50-54 provides a concise biography. Berry, A., From tent to parliament: The life of Peter Lalor and his coadjutors: history of the Eureka Stockade, (Berry, Anderson & Co), 1934; Turnbull, Clive, Eureka: The Story of Peter Lalor, (The Hawthorn Press), 1946, and Blake, Les, Peter Lalor: The Man From Eureka, (Neptune Press), 1979, are more detailed. See also, Currey, C. H., The Irish at Eureka, (Angus and Robertson), 1954.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Australia and Irish settlement: women and the Famine years

One of the biggest problems facing the guardians was how to cope with ‘the permanent dead-weight’, a phrase applied to those young people who were likely to remain in the workhouse for a long time. Normally designated orphans, many still had one, and sometimes both, parents still alive, but once they entered the workhouse they were regarded as the wards of the Poor Law guardians, to be disposed of as the guardians saw fit. The result was an Orphan Emigration Scheme.[1]

Early in 1848 the Colonial Office under Earl Grey began its carefully organised emigration of young females from Irish workhouses. Irish Poor Law Commissioners circularized the Boards of Guardians of Irish Poor Law Unions asking if there were any young women ‘between the ages of fourteen and eighteen’ in their workhouses willing and eligible for a passage to Australia. By May 1848, 68 unions had provided the Poor Law Commissioners with lists of children suitable for emigration. 4,175 female orphans and 967 males had been nominated. However, in order to prevent people from entering the workhouse for the sole purpose of obtaining assisted migration, the offer was limited to those who had previously been resident in the workhouse for at least one year. Young female orphans were considered the most suitable candidates for emigration to Australia. [2] They would help redress the gender imbalance and, in the long term, normalise the social composition of the populace. In the short term, they would fulfil the need for domestic servants.

Medical examinations were arranged and the chosen young women were inspected on behalf of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners in London by Lieutenant Henry, a semi-retired Royal Navy officer. In return the CLEC chartered ships to carry ‘our’ Irish famine orphans to Australia, arranged their berth, the food they ate and their supervision by a government appointed Surgeon Superintendent. The first vessels the Earl Grey and the Roman Emperor with young women chosen from workhouses in Ulster left Portsmouth in June and July 1848. Isabella McDougall, aged 16, sailed on the first orphan ship, landing at Sydney in 1848. Transferred to the Maitland depot, she found work as a nursery maid until she married ex-convict Edward Spicer in 1849 and had 13 children. Fifteen year old Mary Kenny sailed from Plymouth on the Lismoyne, landing at Sydney in November 1849. Both her parents were dead at the time she left County Kilkenny. Quick to find work in the colony, she married Hornby Lighthouse keeper Henry Johnson in 1852 and lived at South Head.

Gender balance was a defining characteristic of Irish migration to Australia throughout the nineteenth century and Irish women made a major contribution to Australian society.[3] About one third of convict women were Irish. For example, on 20 January 1849, Lord Auckland arrived at Hobart from Dublin with 211 female convicts. More than 1,000 young women came to Sydney and Hobart in the 1830s from Foundling Hospitals in Dublin and Cork. Approximately 18-19,000 Irish bounty and government assisted migrants arrived in Melbourne and Sydney between 1839 and 1842 of whom about half were female. In 1855-1856 over 4,000 single Irish women arrived in Adelaide. Such infusions of Irish female blood had a powerful influence on the development of colonial society. The ‘Earl Grey’ female orphans sit within that tradition. Most workhouse girls found positions within a few weeks and disappeared into colonial life. Others were sent to makeshift depots in outlying settlements, where servants and wives were in more demand. The difference is that these ‘orphans’ stand as symbolic refugees from Famine and came from among the genuinely destitute sections of Irish society.

Although the young girls from the workhouses were sent out to take up domestic service, very few had any experience of the work. This did not please the Australians: they had been led to believe they were getting proficient labour cheaply, not realising that the profession ascribed to each girl was what the guardians considered her fit for, and not for any previously acquired skill. This led to problems and the Irish orphan ‘girls’ were soon maligned in the Australian metropolitan press as immoral dregs of the workhouse, ignorant of the skills required of domestic servants. Although all the workhouse girls from the first three ships to arrive in Australia had been hired almost as soon as they came ashore, a report to the Children’s Apprenticeship Board claimed that in Adelaide in 1849 ‘there are 21 of the Irish Orphans upon the Streets’ and ‘indeed there appears to be a greater number of orphans than any other class of females’.[4] While some of the ‘girls’ were neither as young nor as innocent as was inferred, it was also the case that many of the employers came from humble backgrounds themselves and often had no idea of how to treat or train a servant. Nor did the training the girls received in the workhouse prove useful in a domestic setting. When the immigrant girl failed to provide the level of service expected, she was frequently returned to the depot, or turned out of doors and left to her own devices. Having no other means of support, some of the discarded servants turned to prostitution. As protests grew more vocal, and as the famine in Ireland appeared to have abated, the British Government agreed to the scheme being terminated. The final group of Irish workhouse orphans left for Australia in April 1850. Altogether, 4,175 girls were sent overseas during this period; 2,253 to Sydney, 1,255 to Port Phillip, 606 to Adelaide and the remaining 61 went to the Cape of Good Hope.

Colonial government sanctioned free immigration to Australia at the end of the 1820s, having relied on British convict labour until labour supply constraints made it difficult to exploit the European boom for wool exports, created in part by declining transport costs between pastoral source and industrial market. About half of the 19th century mass migration to Australia and New Zealand of almost three-quarters of a million individuals was achieved by subsidy. The share subsidised was even greater during the transition decades between 1832 and 1851 when three-quarters of the immigrants to NSW and South Australia were assisted, but a little lower for Victoria. For the assisted migrants, subsidies were essential not only for the steerage cost, but also

...money was needed to get to the port of embarkation and to the ultimate destination after arrival in Australia; money was required for clothes for the journey...and [there was] the loss of earnings in transit.[5]

Australia was simply an impossible destination for the unassisted poor. Even though the cheapest fare had fallen dramatically from £30 to £18 in the eight years up to 1836, £18 in 1836 still amounted to about 60 percent of the male farm labourer’s annual earnings in England and was well beyond his means. If that worker wanted to leave England, the options were to take the cheaper route to North America (one sixth the cost of the fare to Australia), successfully apply for a government subsidy for the Australian move, or stay. The problem would have been greater for Irish male labourers since their wages were half their English counterpart and the Irish were about half of the assisted Australian immigrants in 1839-1851.[6]


[1] McClaughlin, Trevor, ‘Barefoot and Pregnant? Female Orphans who emigrated from Irish Workhouses to Australia, 1848-1850’, Familia, Vol.2, (3), (1987), pp. 31-36; see also McClaughlin, Trevor, Barefoot & Pregnant? Irish Famine orphans in Australia, 2 Vols. (Genealogical Society of Victoria), 1991, 2001 and Strauss, Valda, ‘Irish famine orphans in Australia’, Mallow Field Club Journal, Vol. 11, (1993), pp. 132-157.

[2] ‘Young’ was a very elastic term when applied to single females.

[3] See, McLaughlin, Trevor, (ed.), Irish Women in Colonial Australia, (Allen & Unwin), 1998, pp. 64-81, 105-122.

[4] Cit, Report to the children’s apprenticeship board, Poor Law Commission Office, Dublin, 27 November 1850.

[5] Richards, Eric, ‘How Did Poor People Emigrate from the British Isles to Australia in the Nineteenth Century?’ Journal of British Studies, Vol. 32, (1993), pp. 250-279, at p. 253

[6] Ibid, Madgwick, R.B., Immigration into Eastern Australia 1788-1851, p. 234. Moran, Gerard. ‘‘Shovelling out the poor’: assisted emigration from Ireland from the great famine to the fall of Parnell’, in ibid, Duffy, Patrick J. and Moran, Gerard, (eds.), To and from Ireland: planned migration schemes c.1600-2000, pp. 137-154.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Dah, dah, di, dah: yes I know the tune.

There is a very old educational joke that begins with a teacher dealing with times tables in her classroom.  ‘We’ll do the five times table today.’ The lesson begins and the class begins the tables…one five is five, two fives are ten, three fives are fifteen, four fives are twenty…  She then stops the pupils.  ‘George, what are you saying….you’re only saying dah, dah, di, dah.’  ‘Yes, miss’.  ‘Why?’  ‘Well I know the tune, I just haven’t got the words yet.’  Today, the Education Secretary, Nikki Morgan, announced that pupils should know up to the twelve times table by age 11, that they should have lessons on punctuation and grammar and teach ‘British values’, whatever they really are.  The problem with each of these initiatives is that you really can’t disagree with them: by aged 11 pupils should know their times tables, be able to punctuate and write in grammatically correct ways and have some understanding of the values that underpin our society.
This is motivated, in large part, to the desire of the educational establishment to push Britain up the international league tables.  The problem is that league tables, whether domestic or global, are inherently biased tools through which to measure educational performance.  It all depends on what is being measured—what is being left in and what is excluded.  So the Pisa tests showed the UK as a middle-ranking education performer, overtaken by high-achieving systems in Chinese cities such as Shanghai and ambitious, hungry improvers such as Poland and Vietnam, an unimpressive performance that provided proof of the need for radical improvement.  However, the latest international league table, published by Pearson and compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, places the UK in sixth place overall and  only beaten by Finland in Europe.  The Pearson tables includes university-level information as well as school-level tests - and to get really specific, it measures entry to a type of academic university path which is likely to boost the UK's position rather than some other countries. There are shorter, vocational higher education courses--more popular in some other countries--that are not included in these rankings.  So which is a more accurate reflection? Pisa has more international status, but the Pearson rankings use a wider range of indicators. 
The problem is that there is no one agreed test for determining how a successful education system should be measured.  In many respects it’s a case of smoke and mirrors. Some things can be easily measured such as whether students are better or worse at solving mathematical problems or whether an individual has reached a particular level of reading or not.  The Pisa tests, for instance, measure reading, but not writing. It's much harder to measure the handling of ideas rather than numbers. How would you compare written analytical skills across so many different cultures and languages? How would you compare creativity or innovation?  The same problem applies to measuring a sense of individual or collective well-being or really anything concerned with socialisation.  The issue is how these tests are used and that comes down to political priorities: not surprisingly teacher unions have jumped on the Pearson tests to show that teaching is doing quite well while the government highlighted the inadequacies illuminated (or not) by the Pisa tests.  Remember the phrase allegedly coined by Benjamin Disraeli, though it first appeared after his death and is not found in any of his writings: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.’