Question: What was the Earl Grey Scheme?
Answer: The Great Famine in Ireland in the 1840s was a time of great change for the people of Ireland. The population of Ireland reduced significantly during this time with many people making the voyage to Australia.
Among those making the journey were approximately 4000 Irish female orphans under the Earl Grey Scheme. The immigration scheme was the brain-child of Earl Grey. He was the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and designed the program to meet an Australian demand for domestic servants and marriageable young women. It would also serve to reduce overcrowding in Irish workhouses.
In the late 1840s many ships came to Australia bringing young girls travelling alone. Ships carrying orphan girls included the William Stewart in May 1848 with 51 aboard, followed by the Mahomed Shah in July 1848 with 12 orphan girls. The largest number of orphans arrived on the Pemberton in May 1849 as part of the Earl Grey Scheme. 305 orphans disembarked from this ship after a voyage of 113 days.
The orphans arrived in Sydney, Adelaide, Hobart and Port Phillip and from these ports were spread across eastern Australia. Many suffered at the hands of their employers and husbands with beatings and violence. Others found their experience in Australia to be prosperous. Many married successful gold miners, landowners, farmers and shop keepers and led happy and fulfilling lives in Australia.
The scheme was relatively short-lived and only lasted two years as many ‘anti’ groups saw Australia being flooded with Irish immigrants. These young women were condemned in local newspapers as being unskilled, untrained and useless, and a financial strain on Australia. The Earl Grey scheme, although the brain-child of the Irish Secretary of State for the Colonies, was funded by the Australian people. In May 1850 the scheme was suspended. With the beginning of the gold rush, discussions surrounding assisted immigration passages were dropped as many migrants were now willing to pay for their own journey in the hope of making it big on the gold fields of Australia.
A great source of information about Irish orphans in Australia is this printed resource, available in the Immigration Discovery Centre. It has a great deal of information about individual migrants and the conditions under which they travelled to Australia.
Hi Síle – The Irish Famine Memorial website contains some very helpful information about the Earl Grey Scheme and includes passenger lists of the various ships that came out to Australia as part of the scheme. Official passenger lists for the Eliza Caroline can be obtained through State Records New South Wales. Another great source of information about Irish orphans in Australia is this printed resource, available in the Immigration Discovery Centre. It has a great deal of information about individual migrants and the conditions under which they travelled to Australia.
We love receiving comments, but can’t always respond.
Hi Vivienne, unfortunately PROV changed their website since we wrote that answer, so the link broke. The new link can be found here. We looked at the passenger list for the Mahomed Shah but no Ellen Regan is listed. There is someone with that name on the Thames in 1853 however.
According to the PROV’s online index Assisted (or Bounty) British Migrations 1839-1871, three John McDermotts arrived on the ship John Knox on the 30 July 1851. You can view the original microfiche of these records at the State Library or Public Records Office in North Melbourne; the Book numbers are 5A and page numbers 147, 132 and 335.
Hi Sean, thanks for the enquiry. We have sent you an email with some links and information.
We have found http://api.records.nsw.gov.au/series/5240 held at the Western Sydney Records Centre (no digital copies) but we are not sure this is what you are looking for. You may have to contact the State Records Authority of NSW directly for further information.
I have done a search on the Tasmanian Archives for the ship Calcutta and have come up with these results. I suggest contacting the Tasmanian Archives to find out if they have any further information on your relative. A great source of information about Irish orphans in Australia is this printed resource, available in the Immigration Discovery Centre. It has a great deal of information about individual migrants and the conditions under which they travelled to Australia.
To find more information on workhouses, there are number of resources you can consult. There is some information at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, accessed here. These workhouses were a last resort for the destitute, those worst affected by unemployment and the famine. They were overcrowded and unsanitary, with “inmates” separated on the basis of gender and age. This Irish Family Research website also has some essential information. For more general historical research, we also have a great Reference Sheet, here.
Museum Victoria does not hold any records that could help you. Please refer to the Related Resources and External Links at the top right hand side of this page. If you read through other responses from the Discovery Centre, you will find more resources.
Please visit the the following South Australian Shipping List for the Inconstant. This lists an ASHMERE / ASHMORE, Rose - orphan (parents were John Ross and Margaret O'Donnell) travelling on the ship which you may find useful. There is also a number of links to various websites associated with Irish Orphan girls that may give you an insight to her past.
Gosh did i give you the link to my first post on the Earl Grey irish famine orphan scheme blog ?
To read the latest tweets from @immigration_mv
Follow Immigration Museum on
Am having a go at a wordpress blog on earl grey's Irish female orphans. It's at http://wp.me/p4SlVj-Z for anyone who is interested