Caroline Chisholm’s Emigration Letter 4

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, January 14, 1850.


No. IV.


Sir—The effort made in behalf of the London needlewomen, has brought the subject of female emigration prominently before the public; emigration, as a mode of relief to this suffering class, is now viewed with anxious hope, by thousands, and this course has been suggested by the benevolent spirit of Mr. Sidney Herbert. I think that circumstances may justify us in calculating that the course of his action will take a different and wider channel than the present movement, not confined to one branch of emigration or particular locality, but that the spirit of benevolence which dictated the one will so expand itself that it will embrace within its views all classes of her Majesty’s subjects. What we require is not so much the removing the objects of distress within a certain locality, such as London, but in trying to relieve the pressure of the struggling crowd without, and which forces the needy to seek alleviation in this great metropolis from their misery. If the cause is looked to and wisely directed, we shall be sure to see the salutary effect. It is no use our attempting to empty a reservoir that we wish to get cleared, unless we turn off the current that fills it.

It is well in all parties to do all they can to reform the criminals in our gaols, but a greater amount of good, and a more national act can be performed by looking to the reformation and the improvement of the people without, as to their social habits and moral training. Some there are who have a special calling to the confining themselves to the improvement of those within the precincts of the gaol, or the house of refuge, and there they may do much good, but there are other minds again who cannot be so circumscribed, and must have a more enlarged field for the spirit of their benevolence—who, if they will do justice to themselves—justice to the nation at large—justice to struggling humanity, will circumnavigate this rocky-girt isle in the enlargement of their charitable views. Such a man, I fain hope, we shall find the Right Hon. Sidney Herbert to be. It is right, it is highly charitable to look to the poor needlewomen of London—to relieve their physical wants—to improve their moral condition; but charity must be guided by discretion, for there is a charity that impoverishes in the end and pauperises the object, a charity that may only lead to greater moral turpitude; and there is a charity that tends to ennoble the being of its bounty, that excites and elevates the soul of man to noble exertions. The first requires to be dealt with prudently, and kept within due limits, and the other cannot have too large a field for its operation. In our charities we must take due care we do not put a premium upon poverty, as, I fear, we do upon crime.

With respect, however, to the poor needlewomen of London, I will suppose they are such as the settlers of New South Wales would like to have as domestic servants. I will take the most favourable view of the case, and that sufficient money is raised to ship off half the number mentioned; still it is my firm conviction that the principle of the plan cannot be carried out in a satisfactory manner. At the present stage the thing may look feasible. The money is collected—the women are in a crowd—they are shipped—they are off; but in emigration an aggregate of human beings must be dealt with as individuals. Let the committee consider well the effect here, and the probable result there—let them look to the work in detail, and I am certain that the majority of them will say, as they think with veneration of the deeds of a Clark and a Wilberforce—“we cannot work at emigration, we must colonize to do any permanent and salutary good.” If, then, the projectors and supporters of this plan intend to send out the virtuous and the good of the needlewomen, it is most earnestly to be hoped that they will be also prepared to facilitate the passage of their parents, their brothers, and their relatives, if they so wish it. The shoots should not be severed from the parent-stock, the sister from the brother, without the hope of a reunion. Our feelings then will not be harrowed by the idea of expatriation; the domestic hearth of England will then be implanted in the wilderness of Australia; industry there would replenish the board; every homely tie, every link of nature would be kept together; the associations of home would be fondly cherished, and handed down from father to son; gratitude would be the rivet which would bind their loyalty to that country that treated them with such parental care. Much, then, do I rejoice to observe the spirit that is now gathering the benevolent together; and, as I view it, I cannot but consider the Hon. Sidney Herbert as an instrument in the hands of Providence in digging a grave for emigration, that it may be replaced by a general and judicious system of colonization.

What is emigration, Mr. Editor, but a species of slavery—a cruel necessity that separates parents from their children, children from their parents, husbands from their wives, and even imposes a tax on little children? Emigration ships off her cargoes to make labour cheap or dear, at the caprice of capital. Colonization again, like a prudent guardian, watches every movement with parental care and religious anxiety—endeavours to provide for every want—studies the interest of each individual. If you take fifty of the girls to whom passages are now proposed to be given on the principle of emigration, painful indeed will be the examination: one poor girl will have an aged parent; another a younger sister; a third a brother, whose protection she may require; or they in turn may need her help. Colonisation, on the other hand, loves to keep families together, or, if separated by necessity, takes care to see them reunited. It advances civilization, implants loyalty, and cherishes religion.

There is one fact I feel most anxious to impress upon the minds of all who are interested in the amelioration of the poor by means of emigration, viz., that their emigrating to Australia improves under ordinary prudence the circumstances of the individuals, and if they conduct themselves with propriety, raises their position in society. With young women the greatest caution is necessary in this respect, for their opportunities of doing well and advancing themselves by marriage in the colonies are much greater than in England; indeed, as regards the working classes, the advantages in this way bear no comparison. Emigration gives to every man who by character likes to try for it, a certain position in the community which he could not arrive at in this country; every office I may say is open to him, and if he is by education unfit to forward his interest in this way, he at least can by rectitude of conduct gain a station which will enable him to give his children every advantage. We have not in our colonies the titles that in this country give importance to a name—we have not old baronial castles to appeal to our feelings of national pride in behalf of the owners; consequently men look to men through a more equalizing standard, and if one man is to be raised above another it is by mutual consent; the suffrages of the people and character become there in a more especial manner the ladder by which an ambitious man must rise. Bearing in mind what has struck me on this subject, I have always, in giving advice to a poor man wishing to emigrate, looked more to the position his children were likely to gain than to any immediate advantages to himself. Since my arrival in England, a poor man came to me, having three daughters, aged from twenty-one to nineteen; he proposed to emigrate with his family, through the aid of the parish to a certain extent. When I looked at his well-reared and intelligent girls, I was so certain of their doing well that I advised the father to send only one under the care of a friend that was going. He took my advice. I felt confident that she would soon have a better offer than 20l. a year. Four months after she left, I sent the second sister. On her arrival in the colony, she had a married sister to receive her. A letter has since arrived from the husband of the first married with a remittance for the third daughter, who is now on the way out. This again has been followed by a joint letter from the husbands of the two first girls who went out, promising a remittance of 50l. to make the father and mother comfortable, with instructions to an agent for the emigration of the family. In the daughter’s letter to the father, she says:—“Don’t, when you are board ship, say how you got your living at home, or talk about what you are to do when you come here. Mrs. Chisholm will tell you how to act. Remember, you are to be a gentleman if you come here; that is, you will be dressed as well as any country farmer in Scotland—you will have the best food, a good horse to ride on, and a farm of sixty acres to go to, well stocked, so that you can keep my brothers to help you. On no account get a pound from the parish: if you should run short of money, get Mrs. C______ to manage with the agent. I am so thankful I took advice, and came as I did.” This is one instance of what I call “family colonization.” I would expand the family links, but never sever them. I would have hope to keep up the communication. If necessity breaks up the family group for a time, I would have a national system established to see them reunited, in which he, or you, or I, or anybody else could aid in having so desirable an object accomplished. But prejudice, Mr. Editor, must be guarded against if we would work satisfactorily at colonization, and particularly as regards females. In this country you are aware that to a certain extent there is an opinion which prevails that needlewomen do not make the best managers as wives, from their peculiar training. In the colonies this opinion is still more prevalent, and we know that they are generally delicate in their constitutions, and much attached to town life, consequently there is not so great a demand for females of that class, either as domestic servants or wives, in the colonies; therefore her Majesty’s Emigration Commissioners do not, as appears by their printed regulations, consider them eligible. I cannot then but regret that the present movement in favour of female emigration should be confined to the London needlewomen, for supposing all the girls were as good as every man wishes his own wife to be, a more unpopular or more unfortunate name could hardly have been given to this very popular and well-intended movement. Nothing induces me to offer these remarks but the lively desire I feel to avert any misfortune befalling these poor girls, and to beg of the committee to use the greatest circumspection. No one knows better than I do the withering and heart-crushing effect any unpopular idea, whether well grounded or otherwise, has upon the future prospects of poor girls arriving in the Australian colonies. I could give many instances of a most painful character upon this point; and it can hardly be credited in this country how high moral prejudices particularly run in those colonies. When I established at Sydney the “homes” for single females—and I had six of them in different districts—one light-headed girl had the imprudence to get out at a window at night to get to a country dance; and though I firmly believe she was guilty of no further impropriety, still I had to travel sixty miles in order to have her removed from that home, and sent to a distant district, for so serious was this act of hers considered that I felt convinced she would neither get a place, nor get well married there. I have now a letter (July, 1849) upon my table, from an unfortunate man, near Sydney, to his still more unhappy wife, who is in one of the London parishes with two sick children, having lost one since her husband was sent out. The poor man writes, “You must come out as emigrants, and when you come ask for me as an emigrant, and never use the word convict, or the ship Hashemy. On the voyage never let it be once named among you; let no one know your business but your ownselves.” And, in order to show the feeling with which the colonists are actuated in this respect, and which spring from the noblest principles of our nature, I will here quote an article from the Sydney Morning Herald, July 14, 1849, being a portion of a “circular,” addressed by the “National Education Board of Commissioners to the local patrons in the various districts of the colony.” It says: “The board think, moreover, it very advisable that some fee (however small) should be exacted from the poorest parent, in order that no child may be taunted by schoolfellows with being a pauper, depending entirely for education on the charity of the community.”⁠—

Yours respectfully,


3, Charlton-crescent, London, Jan. 5, 1850.

The Morning Chronicle, Monday, January 14, 1850.