Some 4,000 adolescent female orphans emigrated from Irish workhouses to the Australian colonies, arriving at Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide between 1848 and 1850. Their emigration became known as the ‘Earl Grey Scheme’ after its principal architect, Earl Grey. Many of the 4,000 teenagers faced anti-Irish sentiment, discrimination and abuse, but were a resilient group, writes MARTIN GLEESON.


The Irish Famine also known as the ‘Great Hunger’ followed the failure of the potato crop in 1845 and left one million people dead. About two million eventually emigrated. Workhouses had been set up to provide what was called ‘indoor relief’ for people who had no job or home.

The workhouses also held abandoned children, the disabled, the mentally ill and unmarried mothers. Conditions were made harsh to discourage only the desperate from entering them.

Thousands of young people were orphaned and ended up in workhouses. There were 163 workhouses and most of the unfortunate people who entered them were already starving and ill with fever.
The workhouses were packed beyond capacity and ridden with disease.

Breakfast consisted of oatmeal with milk. Potatoes, a tiny amount of meat and vegetables, formed the inmates’ dinner. The final day’s meal was bread and tea.

The inmates had to work hard on tasks like breaking stones or crushing bones to form fertiliser.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own