Caroline Chisholm’s Emigration Letter 3

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, Monday, December 31, 1849.


No. III.


Sir—Feeling sensibly alive to the importance of giving a correct idea to the English mind of the moral feeling and religious tendency of the working classes and emancipists of New South Wales, which may be of essential service at this moment, I shall venture to detail some further facts as to the moralizing influence of mothers, and to show how carefully the moral advancement of a great continent like New Holland should be weighed in the same scale with the well being of our own superabundant population—how the even hand of justice should direct the equilibrium. We are accustomed in our youth to read of, and admire too, the devoted acts of Roman matrons in ancient days, but I can give you the case of a spirit of Christian devotedness and moral duty on the part of an Australian matron, in a cause of all others the most noble, and which may be taken as an instance of thousands of mothers in those colonies who are actuated by a like spirit. The highly respectable female alluded to, one of the industrious classes, and the mother of a large family, who by frugal industry and rectitude of conduct raised herself, and I may say her family, from a humble sphere, to live now in comfort and independence, and who has besides daughters married to respectable men with their tens of thousands of sheep in Australia, assured me that she used to clean and sweep out her own house at Sydney with an infant child tied round her back, sooner than take into her family a girl of doubtful character, having at the time orphan apprentices, as well as her own children, about her. It was the same noble-minded woman that, on a sweeping charge being published by a right reverend divine in Ireland, some years since, against the moral character of the colonists, made one of a party of matrons, and waited on an influential prelate in the colony to protest against the unjust insinuation. Common justice, then, calls upon me to speak of the people as I found them and know them to be, and my testimony upon this point I recorded in a little work I published at Sydney in 1842, called “Female Immigration Considered,” on my bringing to a satisfactory conclusion for the time being the “Female Immigrant’s Home” instituted by me in 1840, and which runs thus:—“I have now to tender my sincere and grateful thanks for the handsome manner in which the institutions have been supported by the public. To the Liverpool, Campbelltown, and Maitland committees and secretaries my best thanks are due. The institution has had working friends in all quarters—zealous friends. Without them, my wishes, my plan, could not have been fairly tried and carried out; they have done much for me; they have allowed no sectarian spirit to creep in; charity and good will have united them; they nobly stepped forward to protect the young women sent into their several districts; and they have their reward, for, without their aid, I could not have stated a fact I feel it an honour to pen, that out of fourteen hundred girls sent through my office since October, 1841, into Sydney and the interior, only seven have lost character. This fact must be gratifying to the benefactors, as it is creditable to the girls and honourable to the colony. In Sydney and the country I have been ably supported by the clergy of all denominations, and I am certain this statement will give them sincere and heartfelt satisfaction.”

I should hope “this statement” will even now give “heartfelt satisfaction” to every well-disposed person who reads it in England. Let us suppose those virtuous girls have since become good wives and happy mothers. What a matter for contemplation! What a field for the moralist! With what a religious care should he cull those beings on whom so many hopes rest; on whose moral and religious training so many domestic and social ties depend. Truly, it is a work that carries with it the most awful responsibility, and I felt it deeply when working in the Bush of New South Wales; and I cannot now refrain from expressing my admiration to an English public, as I did to the colonists, of the moral support which I received from that much calumniated people. The fact which I have related will convey comfort to parents who have written to me from different parts of England, Ireland, and Scotland, as to the prospects their daughters would have in the colonies. It was only yesterday that I had a letter from a poor but respectable family in Scotland, saying, that two or three of the daughters would be emigrating to Australia next month, the father being compelled by circumstances to remain behind for the present. They seek for my advice in the matter, and I have written them to come to London, offering them free quarters in the “Emigrant’s Home,” next to my own house, and placing them under the protection of some respectable family going out. The benevolent and the well-disposed will understand my position—the sacredness of giving every possible protection to virtuous girls thus devotedly undertaking a voyage of 16,000 miles, and mixing amongst strangers, in order to help their struggling parents. Only just now, a respectable tradesman’s widow called upon me, having lost her husband a few months ago, saying, she shall be compelled to send out her son aged seventeen, and her eldest daughter, so much does she fear the trials before her. Clergymen, respectable farmers, tradesmen, and other classes, have been writing and applying to me as to the propriety of sending out one or two of their daughters; even some of the poor girls themselves have, unknown to their parents, addressed me, so much do they feel their parents having to support them. It is a duty, then, I owe to them and to the colonists, to state facts which do the highest credit to the moral feeling of the Australians. When I commenced my system of taking girls into the interior of New South Wales, I had but a very partial support. Influential parties looked upon the plan with suspicion, and many considered it a visionary one. In fact, I met with the most determined and heart-annoying opposition; the Government at first would give no support, so that the whole moral responsibility of sending girls into the Bush rested upon my shoulders. Circumstances then compelled me to appeal to the public; to state how I was situated to bullock drivers, and rough travellers on the high road; to secure the moral guardianship of a class of men, who, if so disposed, could have given much annoyance. Thus, I entreated men to treat the poor girls wherever they met them as if they were their own sisters, and had no police, nor other sort of protection, but the rough honour of a bushman, and his own sense of moral duty. I placed confidence in them as men; and such confidence was never abused—not one of the girls was insulted, nor even a common assault attempted. Even the “flying mob,”—a term used for a class of high-spirited, daring men, belonging to the old hands, whose recklessness of character and determination to keep up high wages, are their most distinguishing characteristic, I frequently met in the far interior; yet though bodies of them, from ten to twenty men, had often stopped in the close neighbourhood of my party, far from any house or home, I have slept for the night under a waggon, with a number of young girls, with as much repose and confidence as I can in my present residence in London. The further I penetrated into the interior, the more encouragement I met with. In fact, Mr. Editor, I found that the parsimonious spirit of the Government and the helpless innocence of the young girls had made every bushman a policeman. Such conduct deserves at least from me something more than common gratitude, something more than ordinary exertion, in inducing young girls of respectable character to emigrate: such men deserve good wives. Some of those very girls afterwards came to me at Sydney, as mistresses, for servants; and one of them called upon me with her husband since my arrival in England, and, through me paid for the passage out of fifteen of her relations. I am induced to state these facts now, in order to give comfort and confidence to parents anxious to send their sons and daughters to Australia.

Hardly too many instances, Mr. Editor, can be given of what I may call comfort for mothers, as to the salutary and holy influence which the example or remembrance of a good mother has even upon the bad—how the recollection of one who nursed them in infancy, and instructed them in youth, touches upon chords which, I believe, are never totally eradicated in the human heart. Time, distance, and crime may deaden the best feelings of one’s nature; but let some unexpected occasion recall vividly to mind the acts of a good mother, and those feelings which were thus supposed to be extinct will be powerfully and often salutarily awakened. A striking instance of this nature was related to me in the Bush by a woman who had been confined with several hundred others in the Female Factory, near Sydney. This woman was a Catholic, and was, when in England, under the care of Mrs. Fry, a woman whose name is endeared to every benevolent mind. In speaking of that lady she said: “We (the Catholics) looked upon her with doubt, and this fear on our part made her do less good amongst us than she otherwise would; for, bad as we were, we looked upon it as the last fall to give up our faith. Now, she had a remarkable way with her—a sort of speaking that you could hardly help listening to, whether you would or no; for she was not only good, but downright clever. Well, just to avoid listening when she was speaking or reading, I learnt to count twelve backwards and forwards, so that my mind might be quite taken up, and I actually went on until I could thus count 600 with great ease. It was a pity we had such a dread. Well, she had a way of speaking to one of us alone, and I was anxious to shuffle this lecture; the fact was, I expected she would put many questions, and, as I respected her character too much altogether to tell her a lie, I kept from the sermon, as we in derision used to call it. But when she was taking leave of us, she just called me on one side, saying she would like to speak a few words to me; so, says I to myself, says I, ‘caught at last.’ Well, she comes close to me, and, looking at me in a very solemn sort of way, she laid her hands upon my shoulders, and she gave me a pressure that told that she felt for me, and her thumbs were set firm and hard on my shoulders, and yet her fingers seemed to have a feeling of kindness for me. But it was no lecture she gave me: all she said was ‘Let not thy eyes covet.’ No other words passed her lips, but then her voice was slow and awful; kind as a mother’s, yet just like a judge. Well, when I got to the colony, I went on right enough for a time, and one day I was looking into a workbox belonging to my mistress, and the gold thimble tempted me. It was on my finger and in my pocket in an instant; and just as I was going to shut down the box-lid, as sure as I am telling you, I felt Mrs. Fry’s thumbs on my shoulders—the gentle pleading touch of her fingers: I looked about me—threw down the thimble—and trembled with terror to find I was alone in the room. Careless, insolent, and bad enough I became often in the Factory. Well, do you see, at night we used to amuse each other by telling our tricks—egging one another on in daring vice and wickedness. Well, amongst us we had one uncommon clever girl—a first-rate mimic, and she used to cause us grand sport, and was a vast favourite; she used to make us roar with laughter. Well, this fun had been going on for weeks; she had gone through most of her characters, from the governor to the turnkey, when she starts on a new tack, and commenced taking off Parson Cowper and Father Therry. Some way, it did not take, so she went back to Newgate, and came Mrs. Fry to the very life; but it would not do; we did not seem to enjoy it—there was no fun in it for us. So then she began about the ship’s leaving, and our mothers crying and begging of us to turn over a new leaf, and then, in a mimicking jesting sport, she sobbed and bade us good-bye. Well, how it happened I know not, but one after the other we began to cry, and ‘Stay, stay, not my mother,’ said one. ‘Let Mrs. Fry alone. Father Therry must not be brought here, nor Parson Cowper—stay, stay.’ Well, she did stop; but tears were shed the whole of that night. Everything had been tried with me. Good people had sought in vain to convince me of my evil ways; but that girl’s ridicule of my mother I could not stand. Her grief was brought home to me, and not to me alone, but to many. I do believe that night was a great blessing to many. I was so unhappy, that the next day I tried to get out of sight to pray, and when I got to a hiding place, I found three girls on their knees; we comforted each other, and then how we spoke of our mothers! Mine was dead—she left this world believing me past hope, but the picture of her grief made me earnest in search of that peace which endureth for ever.”

Although the disparity of the sexes is very great in the Australian colonies, and though the removal of the evil would be a God-like work, still this blessing must be brought about by moral means: our desire to relieve distress here must be restrained by prudent forethought and great discretion. It is the moral duty of England to guard against what may be called bush contracts; the helpless, hopeless condition of our young females must be watched by the parental care and religious feeling of the nation. Your paper of to-day contains a long and highly influential list of names. They are pledged to no ordinary work, and it is no common charity they are engaged to perform. Commanding here high influence, they may increase and extend that influence in the colonies, and thus confer a national benefit: but they must not for a moment lose sight of the wedding ring; their acts here must be sanctioned and sanctioned there. But after all, Mr. Editor, we cannot do much good by emigration. Colonisation ought to be the word to make the present movement terminate in a moral, religious, and satisfactory manner.⁠—

Yours respectfully,


3, Charlton-crescent, London, Dec. 28.

The Morning Chronicle, Monday, December 31, 1849.