The Irish Famine Orphan Heritage group is now six years old and seeks to place the Famine Orphans as emigrants fleeing famine and oppression, within personal, psychological, socio-economic and world history contexts.

While this highlights a particular time in history, it has direct relevance to refugees and persecution today. It is run entirely by Debra Vaughan, a speaker and published author who also organises the group's annual November event, Great Famine and Descendants’ Commemoration Day.   The great great granddaughter of Sarah O’Malley, an Earl Grey Scheme Orphan, Debra has both a personal connection and a bird’s eye view of the scope of this period and these brave women’s experiences.

New IFO Queue Bay Trail Marker Photo Donna Pendergast 2013In researching and recording our heritage, especially the forgotten or untold stories of the women pioneers Australia-wide, the objective of the IFOH is: to explore and highlight Australia's rich Irish heritage - past, present and future; to preserve the early history of Hobsons Bay, the Port Phillip District and Australia; to explore the big themes of exile, diaspora and settlement;  to build and explore the Australian Irish identity. We encourage the telling and recording of the oral history narratives of individuals and families.

One of the IFOH's objectives is sharing events and information: by cross-pollinating Irish Famine Orphan searchers and the local and international groups’ historical, cultural & artistic connections, they seek to link people & communities, collating and expanding the collective knowledge.

Great Famine and Irish Orphans’ Commemoration Day, second-last Sunday in November, an annual event since 1998.

FAMINE ROCK, Burgoyne Reserve.The Strand, Williamstown, AustraliaFamine Rock, Williamstown, Australia memorialises the suffering of the Great Famine in Ireland (1845 – 1852).

It commemorates & celebrates the courage and enterprise of over 1700 Irish Famine Orphan Girls who sailed into Hobson’s Bay over a two year period under Earl Grey’s Scheme, ending in 1850 (4100 plus young women sent to Australia).  These women, their experiences, work and their families, became part of the fabric & backbone of Australia.

Part of the ceremony includes descendants identifying themselves, their orphan and her ship.  “Lost” cousins and the particular ships’ passengers have been found this way.  It is attended each year by between 150 and 170 people. 

Local Tour Guiding

Debra conducts local tours for interested folk such as film- makers, writers and historians, having been on the Williamstown Historical Society Committee for five years.

Supported by Hobsons Bay City Council

A strong relationship has been built and continues with our City of Hobson’s Bay Council.  In 2013, they gifted the Irish Famine Orphan Heritage group with a Bay Trail Marker, part of a 23 kilometre coastal path, which names all six ships which arrived here, with a local slant on their arrival and dispersal throughout the Port Phillip District of the Colony of New South Wales.

Guest Speakers

Guest speakers are historians of local and international repute, including our Master of Ceremony, Dr Val Noone, and luminaries such as Drs Perry McIntyre and Liz Rushen, Australian authors specialising on female emigration from the 1830s forward.  We have a musical and performing community of at least 12 people on the Day.

IFOH Commemoration Day 2011, photo Vince Brophy 2011


IFOH Commemoration Day 2011, photo Vince Brophy





IFOH Members

Leo Kelly our piper since 1999 photo B Matheson 2011All of our members are interested specifically in Irish Genealogy, Heritage and Culture.

A goodly proportion are interested in education and tourism.

A large proportion are descendants of these Irish Famine Orphans

For information specific to the Irish Famine Orphan Heritage, contact Debra Vaughan direct.



(03) 93976619


Irish Famine Orphan Heritage, Unit 8 , 14 Stevedore Street, Williamstown, Victoria 3016 Australia