Thursday, 29 October, 2020
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During the 1800’s, a number of assisted migration schemes were established as a means of coping with the extreme poverty and starvation that was experienced in Ireland. People were persuaded or sometimes forced, to leave their homes for a chance at a new life in a far away land. In some cases, some of the less savoury Landlords were looking for an easy way to clear the land, and in others, members of the Church wrote home espousing the opportunities available on foreign soil. 

Chronicles Insight - Mountbellow Orphan Girls

Assisted Migration

The scheme which is discussed in this piece is one of the Orphan Girl Schemes wherein young girls were taken from the Union Workhouses and sent to Australia with the intention of marrying and starting families. Though such a concept may seem strange to our modern sensibilities, it must be remembered that these schemes gave many girls a second chance at life, one that would never have been afforded them had they remained in the Workhouses. Here we will learn about the journey taken by a group of girls from a Workhouse in County Galway to Fremantle in Australia. 

Mountbellew Workhouse

The Mountbellew Poor Law Union was officially declared in 1850 with the Workhouse formally opening on 22nd February 1850. This means that Mountbellew was part of the second phase of Workhouse construction in Ireland. Though they are generally associated with the Great Hunger, there were in fact 130 built before the Famine, with a further 33 built in the post-Famine years so as to cope with the overcrowding from the original 130. Mountbellew Poor Law Union was formed from the northern part of the Ballinasloe Union and occupied an area of 160 square miles. It comprised of the following electoral divisions:

  • Annagh
  • Caltra
  • Ballynakill
  • Castleblakeney
  • Castleffrench
  • Clonbrock
  • Cloonkeen
  • Cooloo
  • Derryglassaun
  • Kileroran
  • Killian
  • Mountbellew
  • Mounthazel
  • Taghboy. 

The Mountbellew Workhouse was built to house 500 paupers, though records show that it never reached full capacity, a common theme amongst second phase Workhouses as the need for poor relief was lessened by both the end of the Famine, and also the fact that the population had been decimated by years of starvation, disease and migration. 

The Journey to Australia

In 1852, 31 Orphan Girls from Mountbellew Workhouse set sail on The Palestine. Their names were as follows; Marianne Atkins 18, Mary Butler 19, Elizabeth Carberry 20, Mary Carberry 18, Celia Coldhan 20, Catherine Coleman 16, Biddy Concannon 22, Catherine Cunningham 20, Mary Cunningham 20, Mary Dooley 20, Margaret Egan 18, Martha Egan 18, Biddy Fitzgerald 18, Mary Flanagan 18, Mary Flynn 18, Mary Geraghty 21, Catherine Glynn 18, Ellen Hansberry 22, Mary Heavy 20, Catherine Hughes 18, Mary Kilfoyle 22, Mary Kilroy 20, Marie Lowe 19, Mary Mannion 24, Jane Neille 18, Maria Neille 18, Mary Noon 20, Biddy Staunton 19, Mary Taylor 19, Biddy Tully 21, and Catherine Tully 22.

The journey was a difficult one. It began with travelling across the country to Dublin and then on to Plymouth where they remained for two days while they were processed. On the 29th of November, 1852, they finally set sail for a new life in Australia. Five months later the girls arrived in Fremantle on the 28th of April 1853. One can only imagine the hardships they endured on their long and arduous voyage. It was feared at one stage that the ship was lost at sea due to bad storms. The ship docked at the Cape of Good Hope from March 19th – 22nd in 1853 to restock essential items for the remainder of the voyage. In Australia the girls were met as they disembarked the ship by an Immigration Agent who entrusted them to the care of an Immigrant Orphan Committee, but their difficulties did not end with their voyage. Life in the Australian colonies wasn’t easy. Many people there were openly hostile towards Irish Catholics, and the girls would have been confronted with these hostilities from the moment they set foot on Australian soil. However, in spite of the odds which were stacked against them, many of the girls managed to lead happy and prosperous lives, one of which is described below.

Elizabeth Carberry

Elizabeth Carberry was born in 1832 in Galway. Not much is known about her life prior to traveling to Australia. It is believed both of her parents died in 1852, this is the same year that Elizabeth and her sister Mary were transported to Australia. 

Two years after arriving in Western Australia, Elizabeth married Limerick man James Maguire. The wedding took place on the 31st of May, 1855, in Perth, Western Australia. The couple would go on to have nine children in 17 years, though sadly one would not survive infancy.

Elizabeth Carberry died on November 24th, 1886 at the age of 54, in Dardanup, Western Australia. Through discussions with descendants with regards to Elizabeth and her family it was discovered that her husband James Maguire helped the famous Fenian John Boyle O'Reilly make his escape in 1869 from Australia to America. 

Remembering the Girls Today

Today there are a number of groups throughout Ireland dedicated to recording and commemorating the lives of the many Orphan girls who journeyed to Australia during the 1800’s. There is even a monument dedicated to these young women in Sydney. The girls covered in this piece are currently being researched by The Mountbellew Workhouse Orphan Girls Project and The Mountbellew Orphan Girls Project. For more information on this Click Here.

It is imperative that we remember these young women who undertook these arduous and at times life-threatening voyages in search of a better life. It is largely thanks to them that we have such a diverse Irish diaspora today. Their struggles and their triumphs over adversity should not be forgotten. 

This Chronicle was created with thanks to the Mountbellew Orphan Girls Project who kindly shared their research with us. If you are part of a local history project and would like to collaborate with IrelandXO then please contact us at

Click on the images to learn more about the entries that inspired this Chronicles Insight.

Mountbellew Workhouse

Mountbellew Workhouse

Voyage of Mountbellew Orphan Girls to Australia 1852

Voyage of the Plymouth

Elizabeth Carberry 1832

Elizabeth Carberry 1832

Click here for more information on assisted migration schemes.

Did one of your ancestors participate in an assisted emigration scheme? Please consider adding them to the XO Chronicles to enable the community living there today to understand what happened to them after they left the locality.