A new project by the Headford Lace Project aims to commemorate the 139 young women who left Ballina Workhouse in mid nineteenth century Ireland and were transported to help regenerate and boost the population of Australia, writes Eileen Casey.
Some weeks ago now, I had the pleasure of attending a sewing and embroidery session in Malahide, County Dublin. Hosted by Mary Ryan, who is prominent in many women’s groups nationwide, the morning was organised by The Headford Lace Project (HLP), a vibrant County Galway Community Organisation seeking to revive, reimagine and research the story of local lace-making.
The HLP have embraced many interesting activities in their quest to highlight Headford lace, projects which connect them to events on a national and global stage. One such current connection is ‘Irish Roses, Bride Ship Lasses’, a project which aims to commemorate the 139 young women who left Ballina Workhouse in mid nineteenth century Ireland and were transported to help regenerate and boost the population of Australia.
Focused specificially on the Ballina Workhouse, these single women emigrants are representative of what was happening in other counties at the time. Women who left workhouses and travelled under the Orphan Emigration Scheme (OES) which came about due to the demand for domestic female labour in mid-nineteenth century Australia.
At the time, this demand – spurred by the rise of the middle classes – coincided with an overflow of female inmates in the workhouses in Ireland. The solution therefore seemed obvious, solving two problems in one fell swoop.
The Colonial Secretary, Earl Grey, sent 4,114 girls between 14 and 20 years, from 117 workhouses to the ports of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide in the years 1848 to 1850. Some of these emigrants subsequently married and had families but they themselves never returned.
It should be noted that the OES was a completely different proposition to the flood of emigration heading to Northern American ports at the time. For one thing, the costs of free passage under the scheme was borne by the Australian Colonial Authorities, provided that the Boards of Guardians of each workhouse was willing to bear the cost of outfitting the girls and conveying them to either Dublin or Cork and from there to Plymouth. It was considered much cheaper to do this rather than feed the girls on an ongoing basis.