Orphan Emigration from Ballyshannon Workhouse

In February of 1848, the British Colonial Secretary initiated a scheme. Earl Grey, to send orphaned adolescents from Irish workhouses to South Australia. The colonial governors of that country were anxious to import as many workers as possible in order to populate and work the vast amounts of farmland there.

At first, it was proposed to send a total of 4,000 young males and females as farm labourers and domestics, however, the Commissioners for Colonial Lands proposed that the emigration of young females only had a distinct advantage; it would balance the proportion of sexes in this newly developing part of the British Empire, and provide brides for the mostly male population; it would also be beneficial in reducing the numbers of children in workhouses.

Among the young girls selected from Donegal workhouses were sixteen from Ballyshannon. They were Jane Carleton, Margaret Sweeney, Mary Maguire, Mary McCrea, Ellen Feely, Jane Carberry, Sally McDermott, Rose Reid, Ann McBride, Margaret McBride, Letty McCrea, Anne Rooney, Mary Anne McDermott, Mary Allingham, Sally Lennon and Biddy Smith.

Their clothing allowance for the voyage consisted of 6 shifts, 2 flannel petticoats, 6 pairs of stockings, 2 pairs of shoes, 2 gowns, one made of warm material. Their food allowance was increased from the basic "milk and gruel" standard workhouse diet, to include such items as beef, pork, preserved meat, peas, rice, sugar, butter, in the hopes that a better intake of food would insure their good health on the long journey to their new home.

On arrival in Sydney, the young emigrants were kept at the British Army's Hyde Park Barracks until they were hired. This barracks had formerly been a prison for Irish and English convicts sentenced to serve out their prison sentences in Australia. Many of these young orphan girls became the brides of farmers and goldminers, and had large families. Many had tragic lives, and died young in the harsh surroundings of pioneer farms. Today, their memory is held in high regard by their many Australian descendents.

In 1997, Irish President Mary McAleese paid homage to the Famine Orphan girls while on a visit to Hyde Park Barracks, where a memorial was erected to commemorate the arrival of more than 5,000 orphan girls from workhouses all over Ireland.


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