Protection to Emigrants

This detailed Letter to the Editor was published shortly after the series of letters by Caroline Chisholm and explains the emigration process and how emigrants would be treated and protected once they arrived in the colonies.

The Morning Chronicle, Saturday, January 26, 1850.



Sir—My attention has been directed to the following postscript of a letter published within the last few days, by Mr. Samuel Sidney, and addressed to the Right Hon. Sidney Herbert on the subject of female emigration:⁠—

“January 19, 1850.—To-day, after my pamphlet was printed, the report of the sub-committee appeared, containing the following passage, under the head of ‘Aid and Protection to be insured to the Emigrants on landing’:⁠—

“‘The Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners have placed at the disposal of the committee the machinery already established in our colonies, for securing to new comers the same protection, aid, and guidance, which they are in the habit of affording to parties who emigrate under their own direction.

“‘On reaching the colonies, the emigrants will be received by Government officers, who will be instructed to give them all the assistance and advice they may require. They will also be received in barracks, and rationed for a limited period, should any delay occur in procuring employment for them.’

“I have only time to observe, that if you are about to depend on Government aid, and the present Government machinery, for the care and distribution of your emigrants in Australia, God help the poor women! Had I time or space, I would prove the flagrant want of common sense displayed by the emigration officials, and the utter absence of all proper means for protecting and distributing female emigrants, as shown in the course of 1848 and 1849. If you have nothing better to depend on than the present Government machinery, the principal result of your charity will be to increase the number of unfortunates who already crowd Australian seaports.”

My own personal knowledge of the official arrangements at New South Wales, up to no distant date, being totally opposed to the sweeping condemnation of the colonial authorities which Mr. Sidney has been so ill advised as to put forth, I cannot imagine upon what data it has been founded, but would fain believe that he has acted upon mis-information. I feel, however, that so broad an assertion of assumed fact is alike an injustice to the functionaries to whom he alludes, and calculated, at the present moment, to thwart Mr. Herbert’s object in providing the most efficient agency for the protection and settlement of those females whose interests he has so benevolently espoused. I therefore lose no time in endeavouring, through the columns of your paper, to set the public mind at rest on this subject, by placing before you, from unquestionable authority, the nature of the measures adopted at Sydney and Port Phillip respectively for the protection and guidance of emigrants of all classes, and more particularly of single females, on their arrival.

With this view it will be my duty to extract largely from a valuable document now before me, and which I shall gladly place at your disposal, namely, “Report on Immigration for the year 1848, with Appendices, by Francis L. S. Merewether, Esq., Agent for Immigration,” laid upon the table of the Legislative Council of New South Wales, “by command of His Excellency the Governor, and ordered by the Council to be printed on the 21st of June, 1849.”

The following is the form of notice published in the New South Wales Government Gazette, and the leading colonial newspapers on the arrival of each emigrant ship:⁠—

“Colonial Secretary’s Office, Sydney, 1848.”


“His Excellency the Governor has directed it to be notified, for general information, that the ship ______ with ______ immigrants, arrived yesterday in Port Jackson.

“The callings of the adult immigrants, and the number of each calling, are as follows, viz.:⁠—

males. Married. Unmarried.
Agricultural labourers 
Ploughmen and labourers 
&c., &c.    
General House Servants 
Dairy Women 
Farm Servants 
&c., &c., &c.  

“On ______ the ______ instant, persons desirous to obtain *female servants from this ship will be admitted on board between the hours of ten a.m. and four p.m., but it is to be understood that on that day the hiring will be restricted to the unmarried females.

“On ______ the ______ instant, and following days, between the hours of ten a.m. and four p.m., the hiring of the remainder of the immigrants will be proceeded with.

“Before ten o’clock on the morning of ______ the ______ instant, or at any other times than those fixed, as above stated, for the hiring of the immigrants, no stranger or person in quest of servants will be admitted, or allowed to remain on board. Strict orders have been given to the policeman on duty in the ship to enforce the observance of this rule.

“All applications for servants must be made to the surgeon superintendent on board, and the immigrants will be cautioned against hiring themselves to any person without his sanction, and without a formal agreement, to be signed by the two contracting parties, and witnessed by an officer of the immigration department, who will attend on board of the ship for the purpose.

“Before sanctioning any engagement, the surgeon superintendent will be required to satisfy himself of the respectability of the hiring party, either by reference to the officer of the immigration department who will be in attendance, or by such other means of inquiry as may be available. This rule will be observed in every instance, but it will be acted upon with especial strictness in the case of the unmarried females; and these latter will be recommended not to accept situations in inns or other houses of public entertainment, as it is considered that such places are better suited to servants who have been for some time in the colony, than to immigrant girls on their arrival.

“No stranger will be allowed to visit the ’tween decks of the vessel unless accompanied by the surgeon superintendent. Any person infringing this rule will be ordered to quit the ship forthwith.

“The ship will be anchored on the western side of Sydney Cove, near the landing place between the Water Police-office and Campbell’s wharf, and will be provided with an external accommodation ladder.

“By his Excellency’s command,


Immigrants are also forwarded, under proper care, from time to time, at the expense of the local government, to depôts formed in several districts of the interior; and the report notices their establishment, and the mode of superintendence and treatment, as follows:⁠—

“22. Under the authority conveyed in a despatch from the Right Honourable the Secretary of State, dated the 30th August, 1847, the government here adopted measures early in the past year for the removal of bodies of immigrants, as they arrive, into the country districts, with a view to check, as far as possible, that tendency to an undue accumulation of labourers in Sydney, which has occasionally caused serious inconvenience. Established depôts have been formed at Paramatta, Goulburn, Bathurst, Maitland, and Moreton Bay, to any of which immigrants may be conveyed at the public expense immediately on their arrival. The depôt at Parramatta is made use of, not merely for the purpose of supplying the neighbourhood with the labourers required there, but also as a starting place for immigrants proceeding to Bathurst and Goulburn. Such immigrants are taken from the ships and forwarded by the steamer up the river to Parramatta, where they are lodged and victualled until the drays can be got ready for their conveyance onward, and in this manner are removed from exposure to the temptations of Sydney.

“23. At all the depôts the immigrants are provided with food and lodging until they receive such offers of employment as may be considered fair by the officers appointed to superintend them. These officers are:—At Parramatta, Captain Elliot, police magistrate; at Bathurst, Colonel Morisset, police magistrate; at Goulburn, Mr. Francis Macarthur, justice of the peace and visiting magistrate of the gaol; at Maitland, Mr. Day, police magistrate; and at Moreton Bay, Captain Wickham, R.N., police magistrate. They are expected to watch generally over the interests of the immigrants, and to see that good order and regularity are observed in the depôts; and although it is their duty not to allow immigrants to be any longer provided with board and lodging at the public expense if they refuse suitable offers of employment, at fair wages, they are instructed to caution immigrants against entering into the service of persons of questionable character, or into any service at wages below the fair value of their labour, according to the rates current in the district.

“24. A few immigrants have been sent to the Clarence River district from time to time, and it will probably be found expedient to make an established depôt there when the intended township in that locality shall have been formed, and the adjacent land thrown open to sale.

“25. I may here mention that the experiment of sending ships direct to Moreton Bay and to Twofold Bay, was tried during the past year. As respects the former place, there appears to be no doubt that it will be found desirable to continue the practice. As respects Twofold Bay, I fully concur with the local authorities, who have been consulted on the subject, that it will be more expedient to form a depôt there, and to forward drafts of suitable labourers from the ships arriving at Sydney.

“26. The paper marked I in the Appendix shows the number of immigrants who were forwarded, during the past year, to the different districts under the arrangements above described, and of the expense incurred on this account, which, considering the want of facilities of conveyance in the colony, must be regarded as very moderate, the measure, on the whole, has been attended with successful results, and if care be taken to select for emigration to this colony persons whose inclinations and habits will lead them to prefer country employment, the opportunity of proceeding into the interior, with a certain provision at the expense of the Government until they can obtain situations, which this arrangement affords, will, I am satisfied, effectually prevent an undue accumulation of immigrants in Sydney.

“27. The officers in charge of the depôts report to me weekly, in the form shown in paper J appended, and I am thus constantly informed of the immigrants remaining on hand in each depôt, and can regulate the forwarding of further numbers accordingly.

“28. The paper marked K in the Appendix shows the rates of wages now current according to returns rendered to me by the several courts of petty sessions throughout the colony; and in the paper marked L will be found a statement compiled from the same returns, showing the principal productions of each district, the existing demand for labour, and the descriptions of servants required. This statement fully confirms the correctness of the repeated reports which I have made, that the demand throughout the colony is almost entirely confined to field labourers and shepherds amongst the males, and domestic servants amongst the females. The current money wages in the several districts for these descriptions of labour, will be seen on reference to the return K to be at various rates, of which the highest and lowest are as shown below, food and lodging being provided by the employers⁠—

  Sydney Port Phillip
  District. District.
Farm labourers 
£17 to £30 £16 to £30
15 to 28 16 to 27
Female cooks 
15 to 25 16 to 26
Other female domestic servants 
8 to 25 12 to 28

The rates will be observed in most instances to increase proportionately to the distance from, or difficulty of communication with the ports at which the immigrants are landed.

“29. Having shown, by reference to the district reports just noticed, the state of the labour market throughout the colony, it is almost superfluous to mention the fact, that the farm labourers and shepherds and female domestic servants who immigrated during the past year, obtained employment as fast as they arrived. Most of the tradesmen and mechanics having chosen to take lodgings before they procured work, I have no information on record respecting the manner in which they are settled. Cases of individual disappointment amongst persons of this class have fallen under my notice in Sydney, but I hope that, as yet the influx of tradesmen, mechanics, and others looking for town employment, has not been sufficiently large to cause any serious distress.

“30. Of the measures which have been adopted by her Majesty’s Government during the past year, with a view to supply the colony with the labour so urgently required, the most important perhaps is the arrangement made for the immigration of such of the female orphans who have become inmates of workhouses in the United Kingdom, as may be proved to the satisfaction of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners to be of good character, of good bodily and mental health, and likely to become useful members of their class in society. The benefits expected to result from this measure are a much larger supply of unmarried female emigrants than could otherwise be procured, a saving to the colony by reason of the assistance which will be rendered out of parochial funds, and the power which it will afford to the commissioners of sending unmarried males in a larger proportion to the total number of emigrants than heretofore, without disturbing the equality of the sexes.

“31. The female orphans who have arrived up to the present time have been taken entirely from the workhouses in Ireland, and in consideration of their mature age, and their being regarded as not inferior to the ordinary female emigrants, her Majesty’s Government has accepted from the parochial authorities, as their share of the expense, the females’ outfit and conveyance to the port of embarkation, and, I believe, though I am not precisely informed on the subject, the payment of the schoolmaster and matron appointed for their instruction and supervision during the passage. Intimation has, however, been given to the local Government, that this plan of orphan immigration will be extended to England, and that, as in the workhouses there few females, whom it would be desirable to send, will be found above the age of 14 years, a contribution of £4 towards the passage money, in addition to the outfit and other incidental expenses, will be made out of the parochial funds.

“32. As respects the female orphans, who have arrived up to the present time, I am happy to be able to report that the number of those who did not bring good characters from the authorities placed over them in the ships was comparatively small; that the conduct of the whole of them whilst inmates of the building provided for their reception here was orderly to a degree which could scarcely have been expected; and that a large majority of them have given satisfaction to the employers in whose service they were placed, both at Melbourne and here. In very few instances indeed have I heard complaints respecting them of a more serious nature than ignorance of the duties of domestic service, and inaptitude for learning them.

“33. Before leaving this subject, it may perhaps be proper that I should notice the arrangements which have been made by the local government for the reception and protection of the female orphans on their being landed in the colony. At Sydney, the guardianship of the orphans and the duty of placing them in service is confided to a committee composed of the under-mentioned gentlemen:”⁠—

Here follow the names—The committee at Sydney, consisting of clergymen of the different religious persuasions, the Speaker, and other members of the Legislative Council, police magistrates, &c.

“34. To residents, in the United Kingdom, and others personally unacquainted with them, it will be evident, from the offices filled by the lay members of this committee, that they must possess large experience respecting the characters of employers in the colony, and that they can, therefore, materially aid the efforts of the clerical members to secure for the orphans belonging to their respective churches situations in which their moral and religious welfare will be duly regarded.

“35. The building known as Hyde-Park Barracks having survived the system of supplying this colony with labour, to which it so long ministered, has been appropriated as the place in which the orphan immigrants will be lodged until provided with places. Situated at the corner of Hyde-Park, in an open place, which, though in immediate proximity to the business thoroughfares of Sydney, is not one itself, with the Government domain behind it stretching to the waters of the harbour, and an uninterrupted view to the heads of Port Jackson, surrounded by a spacious yard enclosed by high walls, and close to the principal Church of England and Roman Catholic churches, and to the residences of the clergymen who officiate there, this building appears to possess every advantage which could be desired, with reference to the health, the seclusion, and the moral and religious instruction of the inmates, and the convenience of persons coming to hire them. It consists of three stories, divided into large airy wards, and affords convenient accommodation for about 300 persons. The females are under the immediate superintendence of an experienced resident matron, who was appointed by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners, to the charge of the children who arrived last year in the Sir Edward Parry, and whose efficiency in that situation caused her appointment to the office which she now fills.

“36. At Melbourne, in the district of Port Phillip, a building has been erected for the orphans’ reception, and a similar committee to that formed at Sydney has been appointed there.”

The report concludes with the following observations, and, it will be seen, deals with some mis-statements given in evidence before Lord Monteagle’s Committee on Emigration from Ireland in the session of 1847:⁠—

“46. As regards the prospects which this colony now affords for persons of the working classes, I have only again to refer to the papers K and L in the Appendix, to show that for additional field labourers and shepherds, and for female domestic servants, there is a very extensive demand, and that the current wages are highly remunerative. There is scarcely any demand for tradesmen and mechanics, and still less for clerks and persons, whether male or female, whose dependence rests entirely on their mental acquirements. To possessors of a small capital, from which they are unable to create an income sufficient to support themselves or their families in comfort at home, who are practically acquainted with the details of farming business and the management of stock, or whose habits have been such as to give them an aptitude for learning them, this colony holds out at the present time great advantages from the very low prices at which they could purchase sheep and cattle and improved landed properties, which, in the late period of commercial distress, passed into the hands of mortgagees, by whom they cannot be disposed of, for want of working capitalists in the colony to buy them. These advantages have been recently enhanced by the considerable and apparently still progressive rise in the price of wool—the staple commodity of the country—in the British market.

“47. For the removal of any misapprehension on the subject which may have been created in the minds of persons interested in the promotion of British Emigration to the colonies, by some of the evidence given before the Committee of the House of Lords on Colonization from Ireland, I think it necessary to show in this report, the measures which are taken at Sydney for the protection of immigrants on their arrival. I have accordingly appended the form of advertisement published in the Government Gazette, at Sydney, upon the arrival of an immigrant vessel, containing the regulations observed here, which, it may be remarked, were carried out to their full extent during the immigration of the years 1844 and 1845, although the public notices were not then issued. By this document it will be seen that from the time of a vessel’s anchorage to her clearance of passengers a constable of the water police force is stationed on board, for the purpose of preventing improper characters from communicating with the immigrants, that regular hours are fixed for the attendance of employers in quest of servants, that an officer of this department is present during those hours for the purpose of advising the surgeon-superintendent as to the wages which the several immigrants should demand, according to the rates current in the colony, and that for every individual hired a formal agreement is drawn up, executed, and witnessed, so as to enable him to proceed against his employer for any breach of contract under the summary jurisdiction, which, by the local laws, is granted in such cases to two magistrates in petty sessions.

“48. Under the rules above described, unmarried females who came to the colony unaccompanied by parents or relatives were, up to a recent date, hired on board ship in the same manner as the other immigrants; it having been my own opinion and that of the other responsible officers in the colony, that it was far better for young women thus situated to remain in the ships, subject to the discipline there enforced, until provided with places, unless they could be lodged in a building on shore, with a spacious enclosed yard, which would admit of their being kept in the same privacy as they would be subjected to in respectable service. Sufficient and suitable accommodation for the purpose being afforded in the building of Hyde-Park barracks, which I have above described, unprotected females are now removed thither from the vessels, on their arrival, and are maintained there until suitably placed in service.

“49. As my excuse for having dwelt thus long on this subject, it will be sufficient to state that the mistaken impression which it is my object to remove was entertained by the Lords of the Committee themselves, in respect to Sydney, as will be perceived from the following extract from the evidence taken before their lordships on the 14th of July, 1847:⁠—

“‘Extract from the evidence of T. F. Elliot, Esq., (then chairman of the Colonial Land and Emigration Board).

“‘4,425. It has been stated before this committee that inconvenience arises in Australia at times upon the arrival of emigrant ships by engagements being contracted, and permitted to be contracted, on board ship, between the employer of labour and the emigrant, before the emigrant has had an opportunity of ascertaining either the character of the employer, the rate of colonial wages, or the advantage of the proposal that is made to him. Have any such complaints reached you, and do you consider such a practice to exist, and that it is one which ought to be guarded against?

“‘I have not before heard of the complaints. The emigrants arrive as free agents, and it would of course be a subject of some delicacy to determine how far to interfere with their course upon their arrival. It has frequently been represented to us, in a direction opposed to this complaint, that emigrants arrive with exaggerated notions of the wages which they may expect, and that they consequently often hold out too long without accepting employment, and are unreasonably dissatisfied. I would not pretend myself to determine which of those accounts may be true; possibly each may be true sometimes; but this much I can state, that at Sydney all the local authorities and several of the principal people take a warm interest in emigration; that besides an officer specially devoted to the functions of emigrant agent, they have a committee on the subject annually composed of some of the first people in the community, and also a board of officers, who inquire into the particulars of each emigrant ship that arrives; and I should feel very confident, therefore, that on the spot, and at that great city, the local authorities would find a remedy for any real evil of this kind.

“‘4,426. Has it ever been suggested to you that some degree of protection, in respect to which allusion has been made, is necessary, to give safety to the young female population who form a part of the emigration to Australia?

“‘That is a subject I think peculiarly deserving of the care of the local authorities. They ought to have a proper building, in which young women may be received, and kept under good protection.’

“50. To Mr. Elliot the authorities here are much indebted for having in great measure set their lordships right as to the real state of the case; and I can fully confirm the accuracy of his information that, instead of being duped through ignorance, immigrants are usually too exorbitant in their demands, in spite of the remonstrances of the Government officer who is on board to advise them. They thus prejudice their interests by repelling employers whose services are in the highest repute; and they are often ultimately obliged to take situations at lower wages than those which in the first instance they refused, in consequence of their having lost the benefit of the prestige which exists in favour of immigrants just arrived. Had Mr. Elliot however at that time held the office which he now fills, he would have been enabled further to inform their lordships, from the records of the Colonial Department, of the existence of the arrangements which I have above detailed; and he might have added that, in signifying to Sir George Gipps his approval of those arrangements, the Right Honourable the Secretary of State (then Lord Stanley) concluded his despatch with the following laudatory recognition of the attention ever paid by this Government to the business connected with immigration:—All the blank forms and standing instructions ‘which have been transmitted by you are very systematic and complete, and worthy of the interest which the Colonial Government has always shown in this branch of the public service.’

“51. As respects the North American Colonies, the immense amount of immigration places it utterly out of the power of the local authorities to render the same assistance to immigrants as is afforded here, where every individual is, if he chooses, placed in service through the Government agency, and, until able to obtain service, is supported at the public expense. Over many other colonial capitals Sydney has an advantage, as respects the means of watching and protecting the interests of immigrants, in the close proximity of the public offices to the harbour in which the vessels lie. I do not, therefore, assume on the part of the Government here any further credit than that of having taken due advantage of the facilities at its disposal, when I state that the official accounts of the assistance and protection rendered to newly arrived immigrants in other places, and the information which I have received from surgeons and masters of vessels who have been employed in the immigration service of other colonies, enable me to assert that in no port in her Majesty’s colonial dominions, to which an extensive immigration is conducted, is more regard paid to the immigrants’ welfare, or more active exertion made for its promotion, than in the port of Sydney.

“I have the honour to be, sir,

“Your Excellency’s most obedient servant,


Agent for Immigration.

“His Excellency

“Governor Sir Charles A. FitzRoy, K.C.H., &c. &c. &c.

I trust, sir, you will agree with me, after a perusal of the foregoing, that it must require something stronger than Mr. Sidney’s “postscript” to shake public confidence in arrangements so admirably devised for the protection and welfare of emigrants as those which exist at New South Wales; but if further proof were wanting of the estimation in which the efforts of the Home and Colonial authorities are held upon the spot, it would be supplied by the following extract from a leading article, with reference to the report in question, contained in the Sydney Morning Herald of the 29th of August last, a copy of which most opportunely came into my hands a few days ago:⁠—

“And we must say, that a candid examination of Mr. Merewether’s last report, and of the elaborate tables appended to it, has impressed our minds with the belief that, as regards the selection of the emigrants, the administration of the funds by which the cost of their removal has been defrayed, and the means adopted for giving them a fair start upon their arrival in the colony, the emigration which commenced last year has been more judiciously conducted than emigration to these shores ever was conducted before. The Land and Emigration Commissioners in London have never been great favourites of ours; but it would be positive injustice to deny that the report before us, together with the facts of which the colonial public are cognisant, furnish conclusive evidence that those functionaries have at length, in this particular department of their duties, begun to earn their salt, and to merit the confidence of the people whose funds they expend. Nor does the immigration agent on this side the water appear to have been wanting in anything that pertained to him for giving complete effect to the improvements commenced on the other. The whole business of his department seems to be conducted with the most admirable order and good sense. The report itself is a monument of zeal, diligence, and ability. But we must invite the attention of our readers to some of the information which that document has furnished.”

I would only add, in conclusion, that the Sydney Morning Herald is the principal journal of New South Wales, and has never been sparing in its strictures on the conduct of emigration, when occasion called them forth.

I am, sir, your most obedient servant,


*Since the adoption of the arrangement described in paragraph 47 of the foregoing report, the following clause respecting the hiring of single females, has been substituted for that contained in the above form of notice:—“The unmarried females will be landed from the vessel, and lodged in the Depôt at Hyde-park Barracks, where they can be hired between the hours of 2 and 4 p.m., on the ______ instant, by employers whose respectability is known at the immigration-office, or who bring introductory letters from persons of known respectability, provided that such employers do not keep inns, or other houses of public entertainment.” 

The Morning Chronicle, Saturday, January 26, 1850.