Living in Poverty

Many of our ancestors came to this country to seek a better life for themselves and their children. Life in the old country left much to be desired and in desperation they sailed to the far side of the world in search of something better. Many needed help to emigrate, from their parish and from the colonial government.

Many of them were in abject poverty. No food, no education, no clothes, nowhere to live but the workhouse. I am thinking in particular of the thousands of immigrants who left Ireland during the Great Famine. The potato crops failed two years in a row, the weather was too rough to go fishing, and there was no food. They were evicted from their homes for not paying rent and the workhouses were overcrowded and couldn’t cope. Typhoid and other fatal diseases were rampant. It was a time that we today can scarcely imagine.

And yet there are many in the world even today that live this way. Watching their children starve and die and being able to do nothing. Refugee camps are overcrowded and under-equipped. Borders are closed to keep them out. Diseases spread easily. Natural disasters flood the landscape and wipe out crops, homes and livelihoods. Governments keep charity workers out.

There is as much poverty and misery in the world now as there was when our ancestors sailed for many months to find a new life here in the Colonies. A few, a very few, are accepted as immigrants to start a life here and elsewhere, in a new country with a new language and customs. The rest hang on as best they can. Or they don’t.

Today’s post is in honour of Blog Action Day, to raise awareness of the poverty that still abounds in the world.

Irish Education Opportunities

There is a wealth of seminars and other educational opportunities concerning Ireland and the Irish in the next few months. They are not all in Sydney so be prepared for some travel.

From There to Here – Exploring 19th Century Irish migration to Australia

Celtic Club 316-320 Queen Street Melbourne     Saturday 13th September 9:30am to 4pm

This seminar is being hosted by Genealogical Society of Victoria Irish Interest Group. Facilitator is Dr Val Noone and the speakers are:

  • Dr Richard Reid – Why They Came (Keynote address)
  • Dr Keith Pescod – 19th Century migration hostels – care or control?
  • Dr Richard Reid – The Irish in Australia
  • Dr Pauline Rule – Irish Women in 19th Century Colonial Victoria
  • Dr Charles Fahey – The Irish in Northern and Central Victoria

This is a rare opportunity to hear such learned speakers covering a single topic of Irish relevance in such depth. Cost is $45 including lunch and morning and afternoon tea. Bookings through the Genealogical Society of Victoria on (03) 9662 4455.

Far From Famine – a gathering of the descendants of Irish Famine orphans 1848-1850

St Clement’s Monastery, Galong, NSW           Thursday 2nd to Tuesday 7th October

St Clement’s Monastery is host to Shamrock in the Bush every year. This special gathering is to be held in honour of the 4114 female orphans sent to the Australian colonies from Irish workhouses between 1848 and 1850 during the Great Famine, although you don’t need to be descended from one of these orphans to attend.

Keynote speaker will be Irish archaeologist and historian Michael Gibbons. The long list of speakers will include Richard Reid, Cheryl Mongan, Perry McIntyre, Cora Num, Brad Manera, Jeff Brownrigg, and many others on a range of topics related to Irish and Australian history and the immigration of the Irish to Sydney, Moreton Bay, Victoria and South Australia.

Workshops and research assistance will be available from Cora Num and other experienced researchers. Irish Australian music and culture will be on display, with entertainment provided in the evenings. A ecumenical thanksgiving service and commemorative tree-planting have also been organised.

This is a marvellous opportunity to immerse yourself in the history and culture of this period in Australia’s history. The price includes accommodation, all meals, lectures and entertainment, including the official dinner in Galong House on the Saturday night. The price varies according to the accommodation chosen from $570 to $640 for 5 nights with a discount offered for payment before 30th August.

Full details of the programme and further information can be found at the website or by emailing the organisers at famine@shamrockinthebush.org.au.

Convicts! – a day of seminars at the Society of Australian Genealogists

Richmond Villa, 120 Kent Street, Sydney Saturday 25th October

Not strictly about the Irish, to be sure, but so many of the 140,000 or so convicts brought to this country were Irish that I thought this day warranted inclusion. Topics include:

  • Getting started with convict research
  • The administration of government-employed convicts
  • Beyond the basics – finding out more about your convict
  • Convicts/transportees and those colonial convictions in the UK and Ireland

A collection of convict items will be on display. Morning and afternoon tea are included in the price of $50 for members of the Society and $60 for non-members.

Irish Day – a day of seminars at the Society of Australian Genealogists

Venue to be confirmed Saturday 29th November

This seminar day is still in the planning stages but promises to be another excellent opportunity for Irish researchers in Sydney. Organised by Perry McIntyre. More details will become available at the Society of Australian Genealogists in the next few weeks.

Tour of Ireland May 2009 with the Society of Australian Genealogists

A regular feature on the calendar of the Society of Australian Genealogists is a genealogical tour of Ireland hosted by Perry McIntyre and Richard Reid. These tours are very popular and focus on repositories of interest to researchers. The exact itinerary can be tailored to the interests of participants.

I hope to see you at one or more of these events – please say hello!

If you know of any other Irish seminars or events please let me know and I will include them here.

How did they get here? An introduction to NSW immigration indexes

There are four ways that our ancestors could have arrived in Australia in the early years of the Colony before Federation. These are:

  1. Convict transportation
  2. Soldiers assigned to the convict colony
  3. Ships’ crew
  4. Immigrants, whether assisted or unassisted

Today we will be concentrating on immigrants – people who chose to leave their homeland to make a new life in the new Colony. These fall into two categories, depending on whether their passage was subsidised by the government (assisted) or they paid their own way (unassisted). This distinction is important for us looking for their arrival because of the differences in the records that were kept at the time.

sailing_ship 200x300

Assisted immigrants

Immigrants were assisted in order to more quickly populate the new Colony of New South Wales. Of the estimated 1.4 million free immigrants to Australia in the nineteenth century, about half arrived through government assistance. The first assistance scheme was introduced in 1831 in response to the demand for skilled labour and female domestic and farm servants. The schemes were funded initially from the sale of crown land, and later through more direct government funding and contributions from sponsors – usually employers or family members.

Prospective immigrants had to show themselves to be suitable candidates for assistance. They had to be young, healthy, and “useful” in their work experience. The records kept for assisted immigrants contain the answers to many questions asked of them, and these records are invaluable to genealogists today. At best they contain occupation, religion, education (whether they could read, write, or both), parents’ names and residence, and relatives living in the Colony – the Immigration Board’s Lists.

Assisted immigrant online indexes

The first, best, place to look is the online indexes at State Records NSW. Indexes are available for assisted immigrants to Sydney, Port Phillip (before it became the separate Colony of Victoria), Moreton Bay (before it became Queensland) and Newcastle from 1844 (for Sydney, earlier for other ports) to 1896. Index entries give surname and first name, age, vessel, year, and one or two reel numbers. The reel numbers lead to the Immigration Agents’ Lists and the Immigration Board’s Lists, respectively. The Board’s List has more information but both should be examined if possible in case difficult handwriting or transcript errors give different information.

A new index of some assisted immigrants between 1828 and 1843 has also been made available online. Be aware that this index does not cover all arrivals.

Unassisted immigrants

If we cannot find our ancestor among the assisted immigrants, and we have discounted the possibility of arrival as a convict, soldier or ship’s crew, we must look to unassisted passengers, or free settlers. Very little information was collected for these passengers; they paid their money and got a berth, or a cabin, on a ship. At best there will be a title, first name and surname (eg Mr John Smith); age; occupation; country of origin (eg England, Scotland or Ireland); and family members listed by name and age. Less common names might give a positive identification, especially if family members are also identified.

At worst there will be a name only (eg Mr Smith) “and family”, making a conclusive identification impossible. Before 1854 many passengers were not even listed individually, especially in steerage, but just counted in a total. We will never find records of these in passenger lists but must rely on indirect evidence, such as newspaper reports.

Unassisted immigrant online indexes

Again, the first place to look is the online indexes at State Records NSW. An index of unassisted passengers from 1842-1855 gives Surname and initials, age (not always given), Ship, Status (crew or passenger), date of arrival,  previous port, remarks, and a reel number. Use this reel number to find the record at State Records reading rooms or libraries that have State Records reels. Quite often you will find no more information on the reel than is in the index, making it impossible to determine whether the person is your ancestor.

The next place to look is the indexes available at Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters, an epic undertaking by Mary-Anne Warner and her volunteers to index passenger lists from 1845 to 1892 and eventually 1922. This index is still in progress and more volunteers are always welcome!

Another possibility is the Index of Inward Passenger Lists for British, Foreign and New Zealand Ports, 1852-1923 at the Public Record Office of Victoria website. Ships from the UK often stopped at Melbourne before coming on to Sydney and your passenger may be listed there. You can then look for the film on which the ship arrived in Sydney a few days later to see if your passenger arrived here.

Another possibility, so far only for later arrivals, is to find the departure from Britain. FindMyPast has indexes and digital images of passenger lists for 1890 to 1939 with more to come. The information is sometimes more detailed than the arrival information, including occupation and nationality, and is reproduced in full colour. FindMyPast is pay-per-view or by subscription. In some cases it is possible to find a departure from England, arrival in Melbourne and then in Sydney, and all three can give much more certainty than looking at one passenger list alone that may have the bare minimum of information.

Microfilm indexes

Once you’ve exhausted the online indexes it’s time to look for microfilmed indexes:

The Bounty Index 1828-1842 for assisted immigrants is available on microfilm at State Records NSW reading rooms and many libraries. It has also been produced on CD. It can lead you to the passenger lists for Bounty ships, held on microfilm at State Records NSW and many libraries.

An incomplete index of paying passengers from July 1826 to 1853 is available in State Records NSW reading rooms on Reels 1358-1372.

The Society of Australian Genealogists has produced an Index to Passengers Arriving 1826-37, which is available in the Society library at 379 Kent Street, Sydney, and the State Records NSW reading rooms.

Sources:

Haines, Robin F., Nineteenth Century Government Assisted Immigrants from the United Kingdom to Australia: Schemes, Regulations and Arrivals, 1831-1900, and some vital statistics 1834-1860. Adelaide: Flinders University, 1995.

State Records New South Wales, Archives in Brief Nos. 1, 24. Sydney: State Records Authority of New South Wales, 2004-5.

Websites:

FindMyPast

Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters

Public Record Office of Victoria

Society of Australian Genealogists

State Records NSW