As we approach mid-night on the eve of St Patrick’s Day, my son and I sit here with two precious friends who have recently emigrated from the UK to Australia. We remember the Irish Orphan Girls who so bravely came to our shores as involuntary emigrants from Ireland and England all those years ago. Australia can be a harsh land even at this time in history. These young girls must have endured much suffering during their experiences of dislocation and resettlement. Those voyages to Australia would have been long and uncomfortable. The experiences of our Irish Orphan Girls are woven into the fabric of our Nation.
You can read a little about experiences of the Irish Orphan Girls and how difficult their life must have been in a Report by The Children’s Apprenticeship Board at Adelaide to the Poor Law Commission Office Dublin dated 27th November 1850. Between 1848 and 1849, twenty ships brought a total of 4,114 Irish girls from the Irish Workhouses to Australia. Eleven ships to Sydney with 2,253 girls, six ships to Pt Philip with 1,255 girls and three ships to Adelaide with 606 girls. In 1849 when the effects of the Irish potato famine of 1846 – 1847 were still being felt, a ship load of orphan Irish children departed Liverpool via Plymouth for Australia. You can read the story about The Pemberton Orphan Ship in the Times: Immigration – Plymouth, January 22 (1850).
So many people from many lands were dislocated and resettled in Australia. The result of those times when there was so much hardship and despair is the wonderful country we enjoy today. Rather than mourn the dreads of the past, let us embrace the result of those years and strive to unite on this day of Celebration, St Patrick’s Day, March 17th, 2007.
To leave you on a happy note, you can explore some of the Irish heritage of Australia in this ancestral tribute by descendants of Irish families who came to Australia to escape the devastation of the An Garta Mor – The Great Starvation better known as, the potato famine.
Although I have written about the Irish Orphan Girls before, St Patrick's Day is such an appropriate time to celebrate the memory of these brave girls and the enormous contribution they made to Australian society then and also as we know it today. I hope the story about these girls has touched your heart, wherever you may be.
Sue Bayliss. Cairns, Australia.