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Author: Christine O'Donnell
My obsession with the Irish Famine Orphan Immigration began as a result of being asked to present an Information Session at the Immigration Museum in October 2012 as part of their "Leaving Dublin" Exhibition". After a great deal of research, my session, titled "Irish Immigration to Victoria using the Resources of Public Record Office Victoria (PROV)" was born.
Not a very catchy title, I'll admit, but the stories that I discovered had me caught .... hook, line and sinker!! There were stories of good girls who went bad, those who went mad, those whose lives were filled with an almost inevitable tragedy, those who vanished and those who made good lives for themselves and the children who followed them.
These (mainly illiterate) girls - and a few from England and Scotland - are the stuff that the pioneers of Australia were made of - in fact, they were pioneers who explored a frightening land, totally alien to anything that they had ever previously experienced in their short lives before reaching Australian soil. Many of them married within a very short time of arriving here and life, for many of them, was very hard - as it was for many of the working-class people of the time.
I began my research with perhaps fifteen stories of girls whose lives told the story of Australia - the most memorable for me are the tragic ones like Alice Ball, Mary Coghlan, Margaret Gorman,
There are websites and memorials dedicated to these brave girls who traveled half-way around the world to make a life for themselves in Australia - Irish Famine Memorial Sydney and the Memorial Rock at Williamstown. An invaluable resource is "Barefoot and Pregnant?" by Trevor McLaughlin.
What I have commenced doing is to list all the girls who arrived in Victoria on the six vessels and to research their stories through the official records held by Public Record Office Victoria - records such as Nominal Passenger Lists, Disposal Lists, Prison records, Criminal Trial Briefs, Inquests, Wills and Probates, Licensing Registers, Land Records, Inward and Outward Correspondence, Rate Books and Asylum Records. It is a very ambitious task - especially seeing that I do it in my spare time. The website is http://wiki.prov.vic.gov.au/index.php/Irish_Famine_Orphan_Immigration
Through this blog, I plan to share the stories that I am currently researching with all the highs and frustrations of the search.