In 1849 the British Land and Emigrant Commissioners released 81 female orphan paupers between the ages of 15 and 18 from workhouses in Co. Clare (Ennis, Scarriff, Ennistymon) to Plymouth, England, where they joined 113 other girls, virtually all of them from workhouses in Galway and Kerry. These fortunate young women were given new clothes and safe transport from Ireland - which was in the terrible grip of the Great Famine - to a fresh start in Yass, New South Wales, with arrangements being made for employment.
The voyage on the "Thomas Arbuthnot" took three months, during which time they were under the kind care of Englishman Charles Edward Strutt, the Surgeon Superintendent of the ship, whose diary has survived.
On Sunday, February 3, 1850 the ship came to anchor off Garden Island, Sydney and, and on Friday, the 8th, they walked a few hundred yards from the Circular Quay to the Female Immigrant Depot at Hyde Park. From the Depot on Monday, the 18th, a party of 105 of these girls set off for
Yass, a small country settlement approximately 300 kilometres southwest of Sydney. Here, in faraway places with strange-sounding names like Tumut, Boorowa, Jugiong, Gundagai and Binalong, many of them made homes for themselves and brought up families. Their descendants, and those of the 4,000 odd other orphan girls sent to the Australian colonies between 1848 and 1850, number in the many thousands. It should be noted that some of the girls may not have been orphans in the true sense; often children were sent to workhouses during the famine when their parents found themselves no longer able to care for them. Girls, in particular, became inmates of workhouses, and while they did have access to a subsistent diet, in those close confines they were in even greater danger of becoming victims of disease.
The fascinating story of the successful settling of the "Thomas Arbuthnot" girls from such places as Ennis, Dingle and Gort in the British colony of New South Wales, some 12,000 miles from home can be found in the following:
1. "Irish Roots" periodical, issue #2, 1997, published in Cork.
2. "A Decent Set of Girls, The Irish Famine Orphans of the 'Thomas Arbuthnot,' 1849-50" - publication (1997), Yass Heritage Project, POB 471, NSW, Australia 2582.
3. Old typewritten version of Strutt's diary, which I believe is still in the La Trobe Library, Melbourne.
4. Book by well-known Irish-Australian author, Thomas Keneally, "A Decent Set of Girls," 1997.
Of note - Mention was made of many letters received from the girls (documenting the kindness and attention of Charles Strutt during their voyage) being presented at an October, 1850 meeting of the Board of Guardians, Ennis Union Workhouse, which was under the direction of a Mr. O'Brien, Master of the Workhouse - perhaps there is a document in the National Library of Ireland, Dublin, giving more information.