Caroline Chisholm’s Emigration Letter 2

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, Wednesday, December 26, 1849.


No. II.


Sir—There is no branch of emigration which comprises within itself so many important and responsible points as the emigration of single females. It is one that requires to be managed with much delicacy and forethought. Such females may be destined to fill every domestic situation in life; they may become house-servants, nurses and guardians of infant children, wives, mothers, mistresses of families, and directors of establishments. It is a subject, therefore, worthy the deep consideration of the highest, the most humane, and the most religious in the land—it is truly a Christian work. We in England have only to place ourselves in the position of those in Australia, and the question will come feelingly home to every domestic circle. Parents will look to their children, brothers to their sisters, masters to their inmates. Grave and serious, then, is the duty that devolves on those who undertake to promote female emigration, and numerous and earnest are the inquiries which the present proposal has given rise to, regarding the future prospects of single females in Australia. Feeling deeply alive to the case in question, and circumstances of no ordinary nature having made me familiar with the character of the Australian people, and conversant with the class of girls suited to the colonies, I will venture to enter upon such particulars as may enable the public to judge how far and in what manner such an emigration may be pursued with advantage to both parties. You may observe, Mr. Editor, by my last letter, that the subject of female emigration has occupied my attention for years.

The demand for females in the Australian colonies may be thus classified:—first, the demand for servants; second, what may be properly called the matrimonial demand. Every one who weighs the matter well, and wishes to promote the social and moral condition of mankind, must allow that the first state can only be viewed as a secondary consideration to the latter, and must be always held as subservient to the sacred relationship of wife and mother. No master and no mistress, therefore, should engage servants without being prepared and willing to permit them every proper facility to enter the matrimonial state, should they so wish it, under ordinary prudence. Those who throw obstructions in the way of those in humble life entering into that sacred ordinance incur very solemn responsibilities indeed—it often leads to the most calamitous results. It is my anxious desire then, in offering comments on female emigration, to encourage the benevolent in doing all the good they can, and not to mislead those unacquainted with the subject.

It is not perhaps so generally known as it ought to be, that the frightful disproportion of the sexes in New South Wales, the females being vastly in the minority, is the result of the penal policy of Great Britain; and that this demoralizing state of things has been promoted by both Whigs and Tories. It is a truth, worth observing, that the penal character of our Australian colonies has impressed the minds of many in England with strong prejudices, which is so detrimental to the moral amelioration of the people. People at home seem as if they could not understand the fact that a man may have been guilty of joining in a riot and smashing a machine in England, or making one of a party in a ribbon row in Ireland, and yet may have strong moral feelings. The brand of convictism, cankering and revolting as it is, and cruelly as it has crushed, borne down, and trampled on, the broken spirits of thousands, marking them with the finger of scorn, does not at all times extinguish every virtue in the bosom of man. When we look at the mass of criminals, we find that God’s grace has rendered powerless, in thousands of instances, this worldly weapon—that, like pure gold, well tried in the crucible, multitudes of these poor men have come out of the fearful ordeal they have to go through with sterner and more inflexible morality than people in England will give them credit for, or can believe possible. For who is more penitent than the repentant criminal? Who is so sensitive to danger as he who has fallen into the pit—who has got up, and, by the grace of God, conquered the worst passions of man? Who, indeed, can guard with greater care and more tenderness those he loves best, than the man who has thus sinned, suffered, and expiated the offences of his past life? The lives of the class I allude to offer in innumerable instances the most beautiful and touching solution of those questions, and which seem to be overlooked or ill understood in this country; but I can speak as one who has frequently joined the family circle of the emancipists of New South Wales, as to the moral tone of their minds. I have often been privileged to witness their worth, and to listen with delight and edification to the advice given by them to their children. One poor man, as I stopped for the night at his house, in one of my journeys, was dwelling with much emphasis on the dangers of “town-life.” He had a son too fond of going to Sydney. The son smiled at the father’s fears, and then, for the first time in his life, he went into his own sad history. He was surrounded by a fine family. Two daughters, young, innocent, and beautiful, listened with pale countenances as he told his tale of crime; How he, too, had smiled at his father’s fears; how, step by step, he fell until he was branded with convictism. The girls slowly crept to their father’s side, and threw their arms around him. His wife, with tears streaming down her cheeks, sat mutely by his side, and kissed his hand. Infant children, struck with awe at what they could not understand, held up their little hands, and with pouting lips, said, “Me kiss dadda, too.” The son—sullen and sorrowful—stood afar off; an old servant, who had been a prisoner, with clasped hands watched the son’s countenance; his lips moved as though he was entreating one above in behalf of the heart-stricken father; there was a sad, sad sobbing scene, and as the father held out his hand to his stubborn son, he in a few brief and heart-touching words addressed his family. At last there was a yielding—an approaching on the part of the son—he knelt for the parental forgiveness, humbled, subdued, and conquered. At bedtime the voice of prayer and praise sounded in the dwelling, and the following morning the father gave me a statement of his circumstances. He had two sons of marriageable age. There was something particularly touching and pathetic in this family scene; hard-bought experience carried an irresistible weight with it; the remembrance of all the trials, and all the sorrows he had undergone, seemed then to throw a saddened solemnity, mixed with anguish, into the features of the father—it was so blended with humility, virtue appeared to struggle so with proud nature, until strong religious sentiments and parental affection made every other feeling give way. I wish Lord Ashley, Mr. Sidney Herbert, and such good men had heard this man’s anxiety to have his sons married. He said he would give them a respectable start on a farm or station: “I care not,” said he, “how poor the girls may be, if they are only honest and good. I can give 600l. to each of my sons; so, with prudence, in time they may be rich. They want no money with their wives.”

Another poor man, who had been twice convicted, but who, when I knew him, had borne a good character for years, and was anxious to get married, said to me, “A bad wife would be better than I deserve. I don’t much care for myself, but it’s when I think of having children I get anxious—I want a good mother for them, for what should I have been if I had had a bad mother; but in the worst moments of my life, when I trampled on God’s word, and set man’s laws at naught, I never could shake off my mother; I have sat up all night, when I was bent on what was bad, because I knew if I slept, my mother would come in my dreams. I do believe, whether good mothers are dead or alive, they have the power to warn their children from danger, and often keep them from crime.” On another occasion an emancipist, who was doing well, said, “I do not want an ignorant woman as a wife—now I don’t mean that I want one of your over-clever women, that has had a fine education; that’s not what I mean—I’d like a wife that could talk to the children about Heaven, and the like of that—a good mother is better than a daily sermon. Lord bless you, how nice it was to hear my mother talk so soft, so easy, so coaxing like. I lost her too soon; but I never forgot what she said. My sufferings at Norfolk Island were so dreadful that I often thought about murdering my keeper, and hanging myself. And so I should, I am sure I should, if it had not been for my mother. She kept me from it, there is no doubt of that. Her prayers would never let me tie the rope; it could not have been mine, for I never prayed. But she was always praying for me, I remember that. So God heard her, and had pity on me for her sake. I don’t mind whether the gal you get me be pretty or ugly; I don’t mind if she has not a rag; and I don’t mind if she has an old mother that wants a home; but don’t forget the children. Don’t let her be ignorant of them there things, or I shall have a family that will be worse than the brute beasts.”

It is when I read such passages as appear in the leading journals of the day that the strong moral feelings of the people of New South Wales come vividly to my remembrance. One observes, “We concur cordially in the proposition of those who would give a helping hand to send forth the destitute, the degraded, and the desperate from sin and suffering.” Another influential paper says, “They do not blush to know that unhappy women, of the same mould and heart as their sisters, their lovers and wives, and their daughters, are tempted, and blasted in the bloom of youth; a few victims to the other great metropolitan demand may be rescued from death for reformed lives in the colonies, and the metropolitan sphinx will still fill its votaries with the lives of young English women.” Again, he says, “Nor can you arrest them by removing the present victims.”—To where?—New South Wales! The case under consideration, Mr. Editor, is of such a nature that my own private feelings would dictate to me silence, only that circumstances of no common character have placed me in a position in which I feel myself paramountly called upon to do violence to my own inclinations on the present occasion. I have seen much of the Australian people. When, then, I consider the tendency—the real meaning—the purport conveyed by the articles which are now going the round of the press, and recall to memory the scenes I have witnessed in the Australian bush—the strong native virtue which I have seen springing up there—the patriarchal sort of life the people in the rural districts lead—the innocent ignorance of their young people—the simplicity and holiness of their manners—the sort of rude and pastoral happiness they live in—I do feel that an invasion of a most disastrous character is about to be committed, I believe unwittingly, against a whole race of people—against the emancipists, the free emigrants, and the native Australians, the descendants of Englishmen, Irishmen and Scotchmen—a people whose native virtue for honesty, morality, and hospitality, would do honour to our best and most religious rural districts, and are the beau ideal of what I believe our yeomen ancestry to have been. I have the painful conviction then upon my mind that, if we do not take care, a moral panic will be created in the colonies against the reception of the outpourings of what one paper calls “the immense unhallowed woman-market;” or as another designates them, “the unfortunate”—their sufferings overcoming shame, and the sad story of their sins and sorrows, and a protest far more intense, far more unanimous and general than has been raised against the resumption of the penal system. The pledge of the committee is a wise and prudent precaution—that only the best, the good, will be sent out. In female emigration not more than 10 per cent. of the respectable portion of the needle-women should be sent out to the other people; they ought to be absorbed in the mass and conveyed unobtrusively. On reading over the list of the committee it afforded me much satisfaction to observe the name of the Lord Bishop of London amongst them; his name will give some confidence to the colonists, they all know how hard and earnestly Bishop Broughton, of Sydney, laboured for the moral advancement of the colony, and what has been done by one bishop they will expect another will strengthen.

Yours respectfully,


No. 3, Charlton-crescent, London, Dec. 18, 1849.

The Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, December 26, 1849.