Caroline Chisholm’s Emigration Letter 1

Caroline Chisholm was a long-time champion of emigration to relieve the poor and to progress the colonies. She had lived in both India, establishing a female school of industry, and Australia, where she provided support and accommodation for homeless immigrants. Her words carried great weight.

This four-letter series was published in The Morning Chronicle in connection with the Labour and the Poor letters.

The Morning Chronicle, Friday, December 14, 1849.


No. I.


Sir—I rejoice to find that the all-important subject of Colonization and Emigration is now beginning to lay hold of the public mind; and feeling a deep interest in the amelioration of the poor, I purpose, with your permission, to trouble you with a series of letters relative thereto. Emigration ought not to be encouraged unless there is a sound and equitable system of colonization pursued. The one, without the other, is like the heaping together of materials for the building of some vast edifice, without first engaging a skilful architect to lay the foundation or see it erected in due proportions; like laying the seed without any consideration as to the quality or preparation of the ground—whether the season be apt, the climate congenial, or the seed itself of the right sort. The subject, then, should be seriously approached, and the work itself wisely begun. It is not the political economist alone, or the capitalist, that should have the whole control of emigration, but the philanthropist and the religionist should take a prominent and active part in it. Emigration however, to be carried on satisfactorily and with advantage, must be left to the natural feelings of the people; for such as are prevailed upon to emigrate by the enticement of others generally become dissatisfied and discontented, and thus both parties retard the cause of emigration, instead of advancing it. Emigration, therefore, should be a voluntary act; facts should be stated with all truthfulness and sincerity, and the matter left to men’s own impulse and judgment. We ought then to feel sensibly alive to the solemn responsibility which attaches to those who advocate the cause of emigration. The working of it involves many important considerations; it affects the happiness or misery of thousands; it necessarily rends asunder many natural ties and long-cherished associations; it breaks up family circles; it causes at times deep sobs and heart-burning tears; it in fact expatriates the man from his native land. Deep and strong, then, should be the conviction of those who take up the subject of emigration as a mode of relief; for home and every association connected with it are feelings that are as dear as household-gods to the minds of the yeomanry, the peasantry, and the poor of England. Such ideas send us back to former times;—they are links that chain us to the land of our birth; we love the contemplation, and to picture to ourselves “merry old England” as she was. We can hardly let go the phantom of what we once were, until stern reality breaks in upon the pleasant scene. Until we see the pale faces, haggard countenances, anxious and woe-worn looks which meet us in every path, and knock at our doors, we cannot give our minds as we ought to colonization. Poverty indeed, like an evil one, has stricken our people; famine and its concomitant pestilence are now the gloomy and consuming inmates of the cottager’s abode. The appalling poverty, however, amongst which we exist, Mr. Editor, is not a new thing, but one of gradual growth: the benevolent and the humane have from time to time called the attention of the charitable public to it; and your Commissioners have of late stirred up the muddy waters afresh. The tales of woe recorded in your columns have awakened anew public sympathy.

The low prices complained of is one of the natural consequences of an excess of competition in our labour market, which can only be relieved by precautionary means and corresponding remedies; and one of these should be the removal of a portion of our redundant population. The advantages which our Australian colonies hold out in this respect are beginning to be acknowledged; but still there remains much to be done.

In contradistinction to the painful statements which your able Correspondents have lately given in your journal, I would like at this particular time to show to the people of England the different position of the people of New South Wales—a similar class to those enumerated in your columns. Circumstances have placed me in possession of facts, the contrast of which to yours may do at this moment an incalculable deal of good: these show the vast amount of misery and poverty in which our people are here steeped; the others depict the bountiful abundance which a section of the same race enjoys in a different hemisphere: the first occupy the limited and over-populated kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; the latter hold mere spots here and there of the almost boundless continent of New Holland, whole provinces of which remain as yet unexplored. The facts in question, which I have named “The Voluntary Information from the People of New South Wales,” I stated in a former letter to you, “were collected by me some months previous to my leaving the colony, by visiting their farms and homesteads, sometimes taking down their statements in their own dwellings, sometimes on the road side, and sometimes in the ploughed field, having the plough as my table.” These statements, as they were intended, may now be of service to our struggling poor here; these simple annals of the working classes in Australia may stimulate the charity of the wealthy and benevolent in England, and encourage them to aid some of the struggling thousands around them, so that the objects of their benevolence may be placed within the reach of similar comforts. It may not be also irrelevant to the subject—the amelioration of the poor—if I annex to this letter an article which I published at Sydney, in August, 1845, in connection with this mass of facts, and which runs as follows:⁠—

“The objects which I have in view in publishing ‘The Voluntary Information from the People,’ are of a multifarious and diversified nature. To make known to a British public the resources of the Australian colonies—to furnish the labourer, the mechanic, and the capitalist with information that can be depended upon—to point out obstructions to immigration which should be removed, and to expose evils which ought to be eradicated. Immigration is a matter of such vital importance to the British poor, that it cannot be brought too prominently or too frequently before the tribunal of the public. The day is not far distant when the overwhelming and redundant population of Great Britain, the happiness and advancement of her people, and the stability of her colonies, will force upon the British Legislature the economy and prudence of establishing a system of national colonization, which will have for its object the good of the whole, instead of the interest of the few. Whether this subject is considered in a commercial, political, or philanthropic spirit, a decided national advantage is to be gained, and every reflecting mind must rejoice as the impediments in the way of immigration are removed, and prejudices are made to yield to well authenticated facts. In order, however, to effect this desideratum, an accurate knowledge of the colonies is necessary, so that what may be beneficial may be adopted, and what may be injurious may be rectified. While, then, commercial men and statesmen give their minds to this subject, both may derive much useful information from this collection of facts—from this viva voce of the people. Pledged to truth, I cannot encroach on fiction; no exaggeration, no wilful misstatements, and no interested motives shall be permitted to find place in this work, or interfere with its completion. The philanthropist will peruse with interest statements that point out the advantages which the Australian colonies hold out to the British peasantry, while he will cautiously examine and investigate the difficulties which the emigrant has to encounter, and see how far his industrious efforts may be encouraged by the government with advantage to the labour market. The poor man, as he reads these plain and simple narratives, may extract comfort from their contents, at the same time that the information thus placed before him will enable him to weigh with circumspection and discretion the obstacles which he may have to contend with, and to calculate upon, with some degree of certainty, the reward which he may reasonably anticipate. The moralist, as he views with painful concern the monstrous disparity of the sexes in this colony, will take into mature consideration the best, the speediest, and the most legitimate mode of removing this fearful anomaly, by introducing that equalization which has been ordained by an all-wise Providence; he will estimate the weight of the objection which exists against employing married couples who have children, and show how far this crying evil affects our population, and is gradually demoralizing a virtuous people. To supply the flockmasters with shepherds, is a good work. To supply those shepherds with wives, is a better. To find employment for families that will enable them to rear a well-fed peasantry, is a God-like undertaking. Australia can boast of her high spirited sons—her virtuous daughters—her sunny sky—her rich pastures—her ships laden with her wool—her cattle wild and countless on her mountains: her sheep crowd her hills, and seek the shelter in her valleys; she can grow her own sugar—make her own wine—press her own oil—spin her own cotton—weave her own wool—grow her own corn. But, until Australia can prove that she can rear her own children—that God’s blessings are not considered ‘encumbrances’—she will never be able to maintain her proud position, or be competent to defend the noble harbour which Providence has given her—a harbour to be defended by her children, who, at the call of old England, will issue forth, and by their gallant and meritorious deeds do honour to the race from whence they sprang. It would be the height of presumption and folly in me to obtrude my views upon the public, on a subject of such paramount importance as the one in question, were it not for the practical experience which I have gained during the last six years. Without any fear of contradiction, I may be permitted to say, that few persons, if any in the colony, are more intimately acquainted with the actual condition of the working classes, than I am. Silence therefore would be culpability. The servant in Sydney, the shepherd in the Bush, and the small settler, are known to me: I have visited their homes—witnessed their trials and wants—seen their struggles and exertions, and I have now the inexpressible delight to lay before the public proofs of their importance as a body, and of their merits as individuals. If, as a class, they have their faults, their virtues are greater than their failings. To improve the moral condition of these people is my object; to break up the bachelors’ stations, my design—happy homes my reward. To give the shepherd a good wife, is to make a gloomy miserable hut a cheerful and contented home; to introduce married families into the interior, is to make squatters’ stations fit abodes for Christian men. Painful circumstances connected with my experience have strongly impressed upon my mind the duty of exertion, and the advantage which will accrue to the colony by furnishing authenticated details, which will aid and support the efforts of those friends in England to the British poor who advocate a national system of colonization, and whose disinterested position will qualify them to judge impartially of the best interests of the employer and the employed. Moreover, if I meet with that co-operation which the wants of the colony, and the spirit of her people, lead me to anticipate, it is my intention to submit to her Majesty’s Commissioners of Emigration a plan for female immigration, which will prevent much of the evil attending board-ship engagements, and secure to the young women the protection which they so essentially require during their passage, and on their arrival in this country. I deem this branch of immigration of such momentous and immediate importance, and one in which the dearest interests of the colony are so intimately involved, and I feel at the same time, as an individual, such a lively concern in the happiness of this class of her Majesty’s subjects, that if the home Government will afford that protection, which I know from observation and experience to be indispensably necessary, I could readily procure two thousand young women, of good character, and at least one thousand of them experienced servants; a due proportion to be sent as servants to respectable families in the interior. May many thousands yet find their way there—may British habits of industry, frugality, and care find a shelter and protection in the far bush—may the impediments that have been thrown in the way of the moral advancement of this colony meet with the grave consideration which the subject claims from a British nation. If her protection is extended—if her moral banner is unfurled in the interior—if, like a just parent, she distributes her favours impartially amongst her children, thousands of peaceful and thriving homes will be found in the wilderness! Civilization and religion will advance, until the spires of the churches will guide the stranger from hamlet to hamlet, and the shepherds’ huts become homes for happy men and virtuous women. The money now spent in rum and champagne will be expended in purchasing clothing for children. Gentlemen of moderate income in England, who have families to provide for, may glean from this mass of evidence a certain assurance that they cannot serve their children better, or advance their interests more effectually, than by emigrating with them to Australia, and placing their sons in the path of independence. When this conviction once seizes the mind—when almost a certainty of success becomes apparent, parents will, with less hesitation, make a sacrifice of certain comforts and feelings, and undertake all the disagreeables of a sea voyage, for their children’s good. It is highly important and desirable that such parents should have particularly impressed upon their minds, the dangers which attend sending their unmarried sons with their money to this colony. To form a bachelor’s station—to allow them to emigrate with no higher views, no better motives, than to obtain a high interest for money, is to expose both their children and their capital to fearful risks. A married gentleman, living on his station with his lady and family, will, with the sum of 500l., do more for the amelioration of the country than a bachelor can with 5,000l.

It is with some deference I venture also to solicit the attention of officers in the Honourable East India Company’s service to the certain advantages which this colony holds out to them, whether as to salubrity of climate, or to the prospect of making a suitable provision for their children. It may not likewise be irrelevant to observe, that many of the elegancies and luxuries of life are not incompatible or inconsistent with a pastoral station in Australia. My residence, for several years, in the Madras presidency, gives me an opportunity to speak with greater positiveness and assurance upon this point, and encourages me to hope that many officers there, with large families, will give the matter its due weight and their careful deliberation. Fully aware how much this colony has lost character by the late insolvencies, and the exposures regarding them, and how its commercial credit has been shaken thereby, I refer with greater confidence and satisfaction to the voluntary and accredited statements of the people, which are the true and decisive criterion as to the capabilities of the colony, and which demonstrate that her resources enable her to yield a liberal per-centage for all capital invested in her, whether that capital be money or labour. Where the radical evil—the real root of the insolvencies—existed, was not in the soil or innate poverty of Australia; it arose from the false and pernicious system that had been pursued, proving in many instances fatal to the innocents as well as to the guilty. Justice would not be done to individuals, or the colony, if this information were confined to a particular class or period; particular cases, however deserving of consideration they may be, will not influence the judgment of the calm and deliberate inquirer: he will investigate causes before he judges of their effects. Wages are now on the rise, and whether a high or a low rate prevails, it is of great moral importance that the rate payable for female labour should be proportionately on a lower scale than that paid to the men. High wages are apt to tempt single women to indulge in a style of dress that exposes them to much danger, and not unfrequently prevents their being happily provided for as wives. High wages also tempt many girls to keep single, while it encourages indolent and lazy men to depend more upon their wives’ industry than upon their own exertions: thus partly reversing the design of nature. When to these evils are added the baneful and demoralizing tendency which this rate of wages has in inducing married couples to accept of separate service, conjoined with the feelings which predominate among the employers of labour against their servants being encumbered with children—when all this is considered in a religious point of view, it is fearful to contemplate what an injurious and contaminating effect it must have upon the moral tone of society in general—how it must harden, age, and corrupt youth.

I feel then that I have a right, as every one has who deeply weighs the matter, to appeal to every friend of Christian morality and humanity, and to beseech the well-disposed to exert their influence, until these evils are corrected, and until the inequality of the sexes is removed. To increase this calamity England has offered these colonies her ‘Exiles.’ Would that she would act the part of a wise and humane parent, and not make crime a passport to her colonies! Would that she would afford her children every facility to proceed to her colonies, while they are virtuous and good, before their better feelings are hardened and destroyed, and before they have passed through all the demoralizing stages of want, misery, and crime, until she is at last necessitated to support them as captives and victims to her injudicious policy. Overwhelmed with a population that is daily becoming more burdensome to her, she enlarges her gaols—augments her police force—has recourse to parochial rates and private charities; but this is only suspending the calamity until it eventually accumulates to an overwhelming extent. There is but one effectual and certain remedy: to take a wise advantage of her outlets—her colonies—and place her poor in a position where they can exercise the ability and energy which they may possess, for their own benefit and profit. If England would but strengthen her strongholds—distribute her subjects—people her colonies, on just and equitable principles, by establishing a fair system of leasing her lands, that would give the working settler and farmer an equal chance with others: they need no favour. If this just right and blessing are conceded to her Majesty’s subjects in the colonies, England would no longer groan under the sin and burthen of supporting ‘one-tenth of her population’ in pauperism and idleness; and yet, what is the source of her poverty, ought to be the cause of her wealth, and add to her strength, prosperity, and renown. If, then, England would invest a portion of her capital—a tribute from the poor-rates—for the purpose of founding a humane system of immigration to her colonies, she would not only be repaid the principal, but derive an interest for her money; her exports would increase three-fold—her idle capital would be turned into profitable account—her consumers would become producers—her murmuring, idle poor, would become contented subjects and useful members of society. In conclusion, it may not be inappropriate to remark that personal interest in the labour market I have none: ‘the good of the whole’ is my object. All, therefore, that I claim, and which, I hope, I may be permitted to enjoy, is the proud and gratifying satisfaction of doing justice to a misrepresented people, by laying before a British public proofs of the good character and persevering energy of her Majesty’s subjects in New South Wales.”


3, Charlton-crescent, Islington, Dec. 12, 1849.

The Morning Chronicle, Friday, December 14, 1849.