Workhouse orphan emigration, particularly those from Parsonstown (Birr). By Perry McIntyre

Perry McIntyre is the Chair of the Great Irish Famine Commemoration Committee (Email: Website: 

On 4 May 2017 Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society archivist, Lisa Shortall, brought up the Parsonstown Union Letter Book [Reference OHS 71] for me to consult at Bury Quay. (This item is now available to consult at Offaly Archives). My interest was to see what clues may have been recorded about any of the 136 young women who left King’s County for Australia during 1848-1850 as part of the Famine emigration to Australia, now often referred to as ‘Earl Grey’s workhouse orphan scheme’. During these three years 4114 young women aged between 13 and 18 were selected as healthy, suitable domestic servants and potential marriage partners and they were given a free passage from Ireland to one of three Australian colonies: two in New South Wales (Sydney and Port Phillip) and Adelaide in South Australia.

Letter from John Brown, Clerk of Parsontown Union to the Superintendent of the Great Southern and Western Railway, 18 March 1850. (OHS71/115, Offaly Archives)


Details of these women appear on the shipping lists to Australia, created by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners who ran emigration under the watchful eyes of a group of emigration agents on the ground, in this case Lieutenant John Henry RN who inspected each prospective emigrant in almost all of the 119 workhouses which sent girls under this scheme. Thirty-five were selected from Parsonstown to sail on the Tippoo Saib from Plymouth on 8 April 1850. This was the last of twenty ships which took these young women to Australia and it lists parents’ names. The surviving Parsonstown letter book provides valuable details about the journey from the workhouse to Plymouth which for many workhouses has been difficult to locate. The shipping lists show ‘native place’ rather than workhouse so without a full surviving Indoor Register it has been difficult to name all 35 of these women. Offaly Archives holds the Indoor Register as part of Offaly County Library’s holdings of the Records of Parsonstown Union. It is unfortunately in a very fragile condition with some pages missing. A list of the 28 who have been confirmed as part of this group appears at the bottom of this article with their age, native places, parents’ names and any details of living parents as noted on the shipping list. There are an extra 2 possible, making 5 I’ve yet to confirm were from Parsonstown and on the Tippoo Saib. Where no comment appears about a parent, both parents are listed as dead. The name in square brackets is my interpretation of the nominated native place and any with an asterisks are unconfirmed as Parsonstown girls.

Letter from John Brown, Clerk of Parsonstown Union to Lieut. Henry R.N., Emigration Officer, 20 March 1850. (OHS71/118, Offaly Archives)


John V. Brown, the clerk of the Parsonstown workhouse wrote to the superintendent of the Great Southern and Western Railway, Dublin on 18 March 1850 seeking ‘a cheaper rate than the regular scale’ for 35 emigrant orphan girls to travel from Ballybrophy to Dublin by train [Letter 115]. He wrote again two days later asking the Emigration Officer, Lieutenant Henry RN, for information about ‘the exact amount required to defray the expenses for their transmission by steamer from Dublin to Plymouth. He also wanted to know how to transmit the ‘sum required’ [letter 118]. The next letter, 21 March 1850, he informed the railway superintendent that the 35 girls would leave Ballybrophy early on Thursday 28th to arrive in Dublin at 4.30 the same morning. This would allow time to board the steamer which was due to leave the North Wall at 10 o’clock the same morning for Plymouth. The cost to the workhouse was £23.12.6 [letters 120 & 122]. It seems that they would have had little sleep the night before in the excitement of the eminent departure and the early hour. Thirty-five young women would hardly have slipped silently out of the workhouse in the middle of the night.

Mary Cahill, Patricks Town [Parsonstown]; aged 18, parents William & Kate

Johanna Curry, Kings, Kennissy [Kinnitty] found in Parsonstown Indoor Register; aged 18, parents names John & Margaret

Mary A. Dillon, Kings, Kilcolaine [Kilcolgan or Kilcolman], aged 18, parents Francis & Margaret (mother in Parsonstown workhouse)

Catherine Dooley, Kings, Kilcolain [Kilcolgan or Kilcolman], aged 15, parents Michael & Bridget (sister of below)

Eliza Dooley, Kings, Kilcolain [Kilcolgan or Kilcolman], aged 15, parents Michael & Bridget (sister of above)

Ellen Dooley [Doorley], Kings, Parsonstown, aged 18, parents Kyron & Ellen (mother in Parsonstown workhouse)

Sarah Dunleavy, Kings, Parsonstown, aged 13, parents Thomas & Bridget

*Rose Dunn, Kings, Clonnesley [not confirmed so possibly Parsonstown workhouse], aged 18, parents John & Catherine

Ann Fahy, Kings, Bannahar [Banagher], aged 18, parents Edward & Bridget

Mary Galvin, Aglish [Eglish], aged 13, parents Partrick & Bridget

Catherine Farrel, Kings, Shannonbridge, aged 18, parents Peter & Bridget (mother living at Shannonbridge)

Ann Franklin, Gillan [Gallan which is Shannon Harbour], aged 17, parents Patrick & Ann, found in Parsonstown Indoor Register

Fanny Groves, Aglish [Eglish], aged 14, parents unknown, found in Parsonstown Indoor Register

Winifred Kelly, Askan [??], aged 16, parents Connor & Ellen, (mother living in Parsonstown so I have assumed she was in that workhouse)

Catherine Lantrey, Bannagher [Banagher], aged 17, parents Thomas & Margaret

Sarah Larkin, Dora [Drinagh], aged 17, parents Michael & Sarah (mother living in Parsonstown)

Margaret Lawler, Kennedy [Kinnity], aged 18, parents Edward & Kitty (mother living in Kennedy)

Margaret Lowe, Drummond [Drummin], aged 17, parents John & Jane

Eliza Matthews, Parsonsonstown, aged 18, parents Timothy & Margaret

Ann McLaughlin, Ferbain [Ferbane], aged 16, parents Patrick & Mary (mother living in Ferbain)

Mary Mullen, Shannon Bridge, aged 17, parents Patrick & Margaret

Maria Murray, Cloghan, aged 17, parents John & Honora

Margaret Nocton [Norton, Naughton?], aged 16, parents Patrick & Mary

Ellen Ryan, Eglish, aged 14, parents Patrick & Jane (mother living in England)

Mary Scally, Lorah [Lackagh or Lorrah in Tipperary?], aged 15, parents John & Julia (mother living in Parsonstown)

Mary Taylor, Parsonstown, aged 16, parents Edward & Catherine

Ann Walsh, Kilcoreman [Kilcolman], aged 14, parents William & Mary

Elizabeth Walsh, Ferbane, aged 16, parents Thomas & Mary (found in Parsonstown Indoor Register)

These two are also probably in Parsonstown Workhouse:

Mary Fox, Tipperary, Lorah [Lorrah] but almost certainly in Parsonstown workhouse. Lorrha town and parish are in the new Borrisokane PLU built from northern part of Nenagh and S-W part of Parsonstown but Parsonstown covered Lorha]

Johanna Goggin, Tipperary, Lorah – see explanation at Mary Fox above

I’d like to thank descendants of many of these orphan girls who have supplied subsequent information about their lives in Australia. Also Michael Byrne who has help ed in all things Irish and historical for many years, particularly relating to County Offaly. Also Margaret Hogan who has been a wonderful guide over the years. Thanks also to archivist Lisa Shortall for her valued assistance.


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