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Margaret Hurley from Gort, County Galway was one of 4114 single teenage women from the workhouses in every county of Ireland who immigrated to Australia from Ireland between 1848 and 1850. She was one of 16 girls from the Gort workhouse who boarded the Thomas Arbuthnot on 28 October 1849 at Plymouth with 192 others bound for Sydney. All these girls travelled from their workhouses to Cork or Dublin then across the Irish Sea to Plymouth from where all 20 ships sailed to Sydney, Port Phillip or the South Australian capital of Adelaide.

Margaret Hurley's Travelling Chest

Picture: The travelling chest that contained all of Margaret's wordly goods upon arrival in Australia. On loan to the Hyde Park Museum from Orphan Girl descendant Mrs Perry.

The Surgeon-Superintendent of the Thomas Arbuthnot, Edward Strutt wrote a diary of the journey and was very attentive to the needs of ‘his girls’, commenting on how proud he was of them when they arrived in Sydney. As they crossed into the southern ocean they keened for their homeland and such was the terrible noise that he threatened not to give them plum pudding on Christmas Day if they did not stop.

Image removed.Eleven ships arrived in Sydney with 2253 orphan girls. Six ships to Port Phillip (Melbourne) conveyed 1255 and 606 travelled on three ships to Adelaide. All the Sydney arrivals were housed in the Hyde Park Immigration Depot from where they were hired out or sent to country depots before they too were hired as domestic or farm servants. Such was Surgeon Strutt’s concern for the young women of the Thomas Arbuthnot that he volunteered to escort over 100 of them on a long journey south of Sydney to Yass and Gundagai where most of the girls became indentured servants to respectable settlers. Margaret Hurley was one of these young women who travelled to Yass. She was hired as an apprentice house servant by William Henry Broughton at his property ‘Broughtonswith’, Burrowa for two years on an initial annual wage of £7 rising to £8 in the second year.

These young women were among the few immigrants who paid nothing to immigrate to Australia. Most immigrants had to provide clothing as nominated by the Colonial Land and Immigration agents and make their own way to the port of departure, which after 1848 was in England. In the case of these ‘orphan girls’ the workhouse provided the obligatory outfit of clothing and paid their passage to Plymouth and the Australia colonies paid their passage to Australia. The emigration scheme was run from London by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Earl Grey, and thus came to be known as the Earl Grey Scheme.

The workhouse provided the sea trunk with each girl’s name prominently painted on the front. Margaret Hurley’s trunk is the only one we know that has survived to the current day. Pasted inside the lid, can still be read most of the list of items that were in the box. The standard issue was 6 shifts, 6 pairs of stockings, 2 pairs of shoes, 2 gowns, 2 short wrappers, 2 night wrappers, 2 flannel petticoats, 2 cotton petticoats, 1 stout worsted shawl and a cloak, 2 neck & 3 pocket handerkerchiefs, 2 linen collars, 2 aprons, 1 pair of stays, 1 pair of sheets, 1 pair of mitts, 1 bonnet, day and night caps, 2 towels, 2lb soap, combs & brushers, needle, thread tape etc, 1 prayer book and the box measuring 2 feet long, 14 inches wide and 14 inches deep with a long and key. The articles were to be new and of good quality of various [their emphasis] patterns.

While most of the orphan girls had lost both parents and were thus true orphans in our modern sense of the word, a number did have one or both parents alive and over 500 travelled with sisters or cousins so had the support of some family members. Most, like Margaret, came in groups from the same workhouse so they at least knew other young women who had been with them prior to beginning their voyage. Margaret’s mother, Mary née Walsh, was still alive in Gort but her father, Thomas, was noted on the shipping list of the Thomas Arbuthnot as dead. Margaret also indicated that she had an uncle, Thomas Welsh in the colony, but due to his common name he has not been positively identified.

Margaret Hurley married Dublin-born shepherd Joseph Patterson on 7 February 1852 at the Catholic Church in Yass. Joseph had arrived free with his brother in 1838 from Edenderry and also worked at ‘Broughtonsworth’. Eliza and Joseph had seven children; two sons went to Ireland and one took over the Patterson Funeral business in Edenderry. Margaret died at Alectown near Parkes in western New South Wales in September 1922, aged 90 and is buried in Burrowa with her husband.

Written by Dr Perry McIntyre, former Chair of Great Irish Famine Commemoration Committee & current historian on the committee.

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