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Irish Australian & looking for your ancestors?
by Bridget Haggerty
A very hot topic in Australia at the moment is where did you come from? According to the most recent census, there are almost 2m people living in Australia who claim Irish ancestry and Irish-Australians form the second largest migrant group after the English. If you are one of the many Australians who are proud of your irish roots, no doubt you are interested in how your family came to live in the land down under. Basically, the history of the Irish in Australia can be divided into two distinct groups - forced transport and subsidized travel.
It's a well known fact that many of the Irish who first went to Australia didn’t go of their own free will. In the early nineteenth century, Britain embarked on a social engineering scheme that saw Australia become the first colony to build a society on the labour of convicted felons. About 50,000 of them were Irish men, women and juveniles who were sentenced to transportation for crimes that in the majority of cases were minor - petty theft being the most common.
There were exceptions. While the majority of convicts were common offenders, social and political rebels accounted for up to ten percent of the Irish population. The Crown viewed these dissidents as the worst kind of convict. Irishmen, known as “United Irish” and “Defenders”, had been sent out in dribs and drabs during the 1790s. But between 1800 and 1805, their influx began in earnest. This convict class is perhaps best remembered for the first and only attempt at rebellion - the 1804 uprising at Castle Hill, which was ruthlessly put down. With many of its leaders hanged in chains, further opportunities to rebel were removed by scattering the dissidents across the land.
As for the rest of the convict colony, a labour system was devised whereby prisoners were employed according to their skills. This saw large numbers of people benefit from being categorised as a particular kind of worker carpenter, brick maker, nurse, servant, farmer and so on. Interestingly, after authorities complained about the arrival of women who had no skills and thus no way to contribute to the labour force, female convicts were sent to the Grangegorman Female Penitentiary in Dublin where they had to spend three months preparing for transportation. There, they were trained in skills that would enable them to work for the free settlers in Australia as servants.
Up until the 1820s, in order to entice immigration to Australia, free land was offered mostly to men of money. However, in 1831 the British government began to subsidise the fares of poorer migrants. It was not long before the number of assisted migrants exceeded those who paid their own way to New South Wales. Passage to Australia was generally too expensive for the desperate and poor of Ireland who usually opted for the quicker routes to Britain or North America. The four-month journey was not only expensive, it also meant no wages could be earned. Subsidised fares were to become essential for most British Isle migrants throughout the nineteenth century. In Ireland, following the 1897 Rebellion, minor famines contributed to numbers leaving the country; these numbers were small in comparison to the numbers who left Irish shores during the Great Famine and its aftermath.
Ironically, as convict and free migrant transportation over-lapped, occasionally a convict and immigration ship could be seen anchored close together in the bays of Sydney and Hobart disembarking their new arrivals, ready to start very different lives.
It was during the 1860s and 1870s that the bulk of Irish arrived in Australia. They established towns and farms away from the city building churches, social clubs and schools throughout the countryside returning to the work that had sustained them in their homeland. While the majority travelled via government-assisted passage, it was women who were seen as the most important import. British and colonial authorities sustained female assisted passage over a long period of time in an effort to even out a population dominated by males who had come to Australia either as convicts or in search of gold. Some writers claim that over 30,000 single Irish women arrived over a fifteen-year period between 1848 and 1863. May be your Irish ancestor was one of these? Or perhaps, she was among another distinctive group - the orphans.
More than four thousand young female orphans from Irish workhouses were shipped to the Australian colonies to meet a demand for domestic servants. The Catholic Church became involved in the 1870s, when its relief agencies in England were overwhelmed with Irish immigration; still, only about 10% of the resettlements were through Catholic agencies until after World War II. Australian Catholic groups began importing children in the 1920s to increase the Catholic population, and became heavily engaged in placing and educating them after World War II. The majority of these children were often taken from unwed mothers - a practice that quietly died out during the 1950s. Today, many of these Irish adoptees are looking for information about their mothers - and vice versa. If you are in this group, Adoption Jigsaw may be able to help. This not for profit agency was was founded in Perth, Western Australia in 1978, and provides search, mediation and counselling services to anyone involved in adoption and/or separated from family through fostering or for other reasons. For more details, please click Adoption Jigsaw.
So, who might your Irish ancestors have been? As exciting as it might be to uncover who your people were, be prepared for surprises. But, whatever you discover, as you map out your family tree, keep in mind that you are preserving a very personal history and heritage to pass on to future generations - a legacy your family will be eternally grateful you left behind.
To begin your search, we recommend taking a look at a web site which became the catalyst for this article and encouraged us to delve deeper into the origins of the Irish in Australia. For valuable tips and tools, please click Australian Irish Genealogy.
Good luck with your search!
Historian Brad Webb
Irish Rebels to Australia
Convict Ship: Independent Australia
Women's Prison in Dublin: Hub Pages
Female Migration: Single and Free
Orphans & Related Story: News.com Australia
For a super fund (pension fund) in Australia try this:
Sun, Oct 1, 2017
Ireland's Most Haunted Castle
South-east of Birr between Kinnity and Roscrea, in Co. Offaly are the remains of Leap Castle. Originally an O'Carroll fortress, it guarded the pass from the Slieve Bloom into Munster. Said to have more than 50 ghosts, its dark and mysterious past includes the murder of a priest by his brother in the "Bloody Chapel" and the slaughter by their Irish employers of more than 50 Scots mercenaries in order to avoid payment. It has always had a reputation of being haunted and locals have described seeing the windows at the top of the castle "light up for a few seconds as if many candles were brought into the room" late at night. For more details read our article Creepy Irish Castles & Houses.
Photo Credit & More Details: H. J. Moncrieff
Click for More Culture Corner.
Free Passage: The Reunion of Irish Convicts and Their Families in Australia
by Perry McIntyre
A controversial government policy encouraged reformed married men to apply from the colonies for a free passage for their wives and children. These women and children travelled on female convict ships, and until now have remained hidden in the records. A must-buy for those interested in genealogy and Australian connections.
Click here for Free Passage US
Click here for Free Passage UK
Lost Children of the Empire
by Philip Bean & Joy Melville
The extraordinary and untold story of Britains child migrants is one of 350 years of shaming exploitation. Around 130,000 children some just 3 or 4 years old, were shipped off to distant parts of the Empire, the last as recently as 1967. The five star review on Amazon USA is a must read.
Click here for Lost Children - Amazon US.
Click here for Lost Children - Amazon UK.