Fred’s search for the local famine orphans who emigrated to Australia

Fred and Kathy Smith � Edward Byrne Photography INBL1433-237EB
Fred and Kathy Smith � Edward Byrne Photography INBL1433-237EB

In a quest to find out more about the famine orphan girls from Banbridge, Fredrick Smith and his wife Kathy have made a journey of over 10,000 miles from New South Wales, Australia to the steps of the Workhouse Memorial in Linenhall Street.

It was from this very spot that Fred’s great-grandmother left in 1849 to make a new life in Australia under a special emigration scheme designed to resettle destitute girls from the workhouses of Ireland during the Great Famine.

“It sends shivers down your spine to know that you are standing where she once was and to know that it’s real – it really happened,” said Kathy, talking about their visit to the memorial situated beside what was once the hospital gate lodge, near the Poly clinic.

Fred who has been researching his family tree for 40 years knew early on that his great grandmother had arrived as an immigrant from Ireland, but a little help from the Immigration Museum in Australia uncovered more.

Fred found out that his great grandmother, Mary Achison or possibly even Hutchinson, arrived in Australia under the Earl Grey emigration scheme designed to help resolve Australia’s chronic shortage of female labour, while at the same time reducing the serious overcrowding in Irish workhouses.

Around 20 ships sailed during this time with 4,175 young girls sent from Irish workhouses to Australia. Estimates vary on how many girls left the Banbridge workhouse with Raymond’s County Down website suggesting as many as 36 but the - website of the Australian Monument to the Great Irish Famine in Sydney, Australia listing the names of 16 girls from Banbridge.

Mary is listed among them, having sailed on the Diadem which departed on October 13, 1849 and arrived January 10, 1850 in Port Philip.

“The information I found came predominantly from a small booklet that I think was produced here in Australia called ‘Barefoot and Pregnant’” said Fred.

“Mary was 16 years old when she arrived on the Diadem in 1850.

“I also know she later married a John Smith in Portland, Victoria in 1851.

“At her wedding a Mary Burns was a witness together with a Charles Smith. Charles was probably John’s brother, but what’s interesting is that a Mary Burns from Banbridge also arrived on the Diadem in 1850, so presumably they were friends from the workhouse. Mary died in Orange, New South Wales, in 1911 just one month after her husband.

Please contact us here at the Leader if you have any more information about the orphan girls.