The Lady Kennaway
The Lady Kennaway left Plymouth on 11 September 1848 and arrived in Port Phillip (Melbourne) on 6 December 1848. In total, 191 Irish orphan girls sailed on the Lady Kennaway, from counties Donegal, Cork, Galway, Leitrim, Louth, Queen’s (Laois), Sligo, and Tipperary, in addition to Mayo.
All the Mayo girls on the Lady Kennaway were from the Ballina workhouse (Ballina was the only Mayo workhouse to participate in the first year of the Emigration Scheme).
The Shipping List only records 'Native place' as either Ballina or Co Mayo for the Lady Kennaway girls, so unfortunately the exact place of origin for the girls on this ship cannot be confirmed. There are also discrepancies in the 'Native place', with some girls recording different native places in different records, for example, Mayo and Galway, or Mayo and Sligo.
Whilst the Return of Orphan Girls records the total number sent from Mayo, work is still ongoing on to conclusively confirm the corresponding names and workhouse of origin for these girls. As a result the list to the right contains 29 names, however, it is known from the Ballina Union Board of Guardian Minute Books that a total of 25 girls left Ballina workhouse for the Lady Kennaway to Port Phillip.
Any information on individual Mayo orphan girls, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the girl's underlined name to the right.
Report of the Immigration Board of Inspection - Lady Kennaway
On arrival in Australia the emigrant ships were boarded by the Immigration Agent, who recorded the particulars of each immigrant (known as the Shipping Lists, or Immigration Board Lists).
The Immigration Board also made a general report of their findings. The Public Record Office of Victoria has made the Report of the Board of Inspection for the Lady Kennaway available online. This is discussed here.
Contemporary newspaper reports from both Ireland and Australia can add to the understanding of the experiences of the Mayo orphan girls.
Almost one year after the departure of the Lady Kennaway, the Ballina Chronicle wrote on 4 July 1849 of a fascinating letter received by the mother of one of the girls sent to Australia (the term ‘orphan’ could also be applied to a child who was in the workhouse as their parents could no longer support them). The article is produced in full, for the amount of information it provides about the journey, life in Australia, and insights into the girl’s family and experience of the workhouse in Ireland:
“A letter, dated from Melbourne, 29th December, 1848, addressed to her mother by one of the girls who were sent from this union workhouse to Australia in August previous, is before us. The writer, in fulfilment of her last promise to her mother, sends a letter by the first ship that sailed after her arrival. "My dear mother," she writes, "I only want you, my brothers and sister, to complete my happiness. We had a lovely voyage, a real good captain and doctor, and only 3 months at sea" – the shortest passage, as the girl remarks, ever made to that colony. She and her companions were very kindly treated by the Governor, and were not hurried off into places, though there was a great demand for them. The poor girl had a wish she frequently expressed to her mother gratified, that of being with a good mistress who is willing and able to make her a good servant. The character she got was, "that she was one who would rather be below, cleaning and sewing, than on deck." She advises her sister and brother to mind their schooling, and concludes a very nicely-written and affecting letter by sending her blessing to Mr. and Mrs. Hart (the Master and Matron), Dr. Devlin, the School Mistress, and others in the Workhouse to whom she felt attached.
This letter is highly creditable to the training of those girls. The habits of industry to which the younger inmates of this workhouse are brought up, and the useful education they receive, are sure to make them good members of society, and it is to be regretted that a greater number of them have not been sent to the colonies.”
It is regrettable that the writer of the letter cannot be ascertained. It is noted in official records from the Lady Kennaway that the mother of three Mayo girls was still living, but this information was not recorded in all instances so it cannot be said with certainty that the letter was written by one of those three girls. Nevertheless, the letter provides a view into the experiences of one of the Mayo orphan girls.
The Australian newspapers initially reported the arrival of the Irish orphan girls in positive terms at the prospect of the supply of new labour to the colony. However, the early demand and enthusiasm for the employment Irish orphan girls unfortunately did not last very long.
On 19 May 1849 the Geelong Advertiser complained of the lack of qualifications as house servants of the Lady Kennaway girls, with the declaration that “the good housewives of Melbourne” were looking for servants with “…a docile disposition, with a hearty willingness to obey orders, and simply perform their duties in such a manner as shall be pointed out to them”. The implication of course is that the Lady Kennaway girls possessed none of these traits. The article also referred to the high cost of wages for domestic servants, with the demand for servants pushing up wages, even for these “mere slips of girls, who appeared to have had but slight practice in household work, before their arrival in this colony”.
Employers also faced the problem of the girls leaving their employment to get married; of course one of the intentions of the Scheme was to even the gender imbalance in the colony. The Argus on 22 June 1849 complained of one of the Lady Kennaway girls “being initiated in her duties, and when she was useful, she was going to leave a comfortable place under the plea of getting married”. One of the main complaints it seems was that the girls were being “seduced in the most abominable ways to leave respectable situations”, with one girl described as possessing “silks and satins fit for a countess, although he knew she had no money”. This was ascribed to her connection with “a Van Dieman’s Land expiree [an ex-convict], it seemed, [who] had been making presents to her under pretext of marrying her”.
Mary Ann Davis
Bridget (Biddy) Duffy
Bessey (Bessy) Forbes
Winifred Nelis [Nealis]
© Barbara Barclay (2015)