Eliza and Catherine Dooley from the Parsonstown Workhouse to Sydney in 1850. By Dr Perry McIntyre

This is the second of two Heritage Week 2021 blogs by Dr Perry McIntyre AM, a Sydney-based historian, who has used the Birr Workhouse registers to research the lives of workhouse girls who emigrated to Australia under the ‘The Earl Grey Scheme’ during the Great Famine. An accompanying podcast featuring Perry in conversation with Lisa Shortall, Offaly Archives, is available here. The Heritage Council has generously supported the conservation of the Birr Workhouse registers by way of a Community Grant.

My previous blogs have told some stories of these girls and the last one related the sad fate of Elizabeth Walsh. This time we hear about two sisters who remained together for their lives in Australia and had a good outcome.

Sisters, Eliza and Catherine Dooley arrived in Sydney from the Parsonstown (Birr) Workhouse on the Tippoo Saib on 29 July 1850. They were two of the 35 young ‘orphan’ girls who left that workhouse in on 27 March 1850 and travelling by train to Dublin to catch the steamer to Plymouth to meet the sailing of the ship on 8 April 1850.[1]

During February and March 1850 the Parsonstown Poor Law Guardians were getting organised to send out 35 orphan girls to Australia. For example, the minutes of the week ending 9 March 1850 ordered that the clerk of the workhouse contact the Superintendent of the Great Southern and Western Railway to let him know the workhouse intended forwarding 35 orphan girls ‘by rail from Ballybrophy to Dublin’. They wanted to know ‘the amount which may be required to defray their expenses. The Guardians having been given to understand that such persons are conveyed at a cheaper than the ordinary fares. John Warburton, Chairman’. Ballybrophy station was completed in 1847 and many of its original structures remain today so I encourage local people to go and look.[2]

At 14, Eliza Dooley was younger than her sister by a year. They were Catholic and their parents, Michael and Bridget, née Maher or variously Meagher in Australian records, from Kilcolman were dead. Descendants claim that an unnamed uncle was in the workhouse but this has not been confirmed. All 297 workhouse girls on board the Tippoo Saib remained on board the ship in Sydney Harbour for several days before walking up Macquarie Street to the old convict barracks which had become the Immigration Barrack in 1848.

Unfortunately, the ‘disposal list’ which would have told us who first employed each girl from the Immigration Barrack does not survive for the Tippoo Saib. This would have specified where they went and shown their occupation, the terms of indenture including annual payment. While a number of married couples on the Tippoo Saib went to the Immigration Depot at Maitland, 170 km north-west of Sydney to be employed in that country area it seems that none of the single Irish workhouse girls were sent there for their initial employment.[3]

However, I suspect that a group may have gone to Maitland later and then moved to other places in northern New South Wales such as Armidale. On 28 June 1854 Eliza married at St Peters Church of England, Armidale to Englishman, John Blanch. He was born in Kent, was a member of the Church of England aged 20 when he arrived in Sydney as an assisted emigrant on the Agenoria in May the year before the Dooley sisters. He was an agricultural labourer, could read and write and his parents were still alive in Kent. Like the Dooley girls his employment immediately upon arrival remains unknown.[4]

Armidale in the New England district was opening up large grazing properties of thousands of acres to raise merino sheep for wool production. Properties at Kentucky and Terrible Vale near Uralla, 23 km from the main town of Armidale, employed many agricultural labourers and shepherds. Presumably John and Eliza Blanch were one of the many families whose skills were employed in this huge pastoral expansion, but they soon looked to be independent. Following the Robertson Land Act of 1861, selectors purchased small farms which had been part of the huge Kentucky Run. One of the best know was ‘Church Gully’ near Uralla, selected by John and Eliza where from 1864 until 1882 they conducted the ‘Royal Oak Inn’. This was near the Uralla gold diggings which was no doubt a wise financial decision as it became the hub of the local community. This inn was one time terrorised by the bushranger Thunderbolt whose inquest took place in their inn after he was shot nearby on 25 May 1870.

Eliza and John Blanch raised 13 children while running the inn and also grazing sheep. John Blanch died at ‘Church Gully’ on 28 July 1890 and probate was granted to Eliza the following month.[5] Soon after her husband’s death Eliza moved to the town of Armidale and one son continued the businesses at Uralla. Eliza died on 15 January 1912, one death notice in the Tamworth Daily Observer ten days later, noted:

URALLA. The death occurred in Armidale last week of Mrs. Blanch, relict of the late Mr. John Blanch, of Church Gully, near Uralla. Deceased, who had reached the age of 73 years was well known and highly esteemed in the district. She was the mother of eight sons and five daughters, six of the former and three of the latter surviving her. The cause of death was senile decay. The body was brought to Uralla and interred in the old cemetery. The Rev. Father McGrath performing the last sad rites.

At least seven reports of her death appear in the local district newspapers as well as the Catholic Freeman’s Journal in Sydney. All give testimony to her as a well-respected member of the community who had ‘full possession of her faculties’ was ‘strong in mind, and vigorous in body. She could unfold a ‘a plain unvarnished tale’ of interesting episodes. Despite her marriage in the Church of England, it appears she adhered to her Catholic faith, being buried by Fr. McGrath.

There is little remaining evidence of the ‘Royal Oak Inn’ today other than a flagstone associated with a doorway and the remains of a cellar but the site is listed on the New South Wales Heritage Register.[6] The association with the bushranger, Thunderbolt keeping the site alive in local memory far more than the many years of association with the Blanch family.

Image of headstones in Uralla Cemetery. Eliza is the headstone second from the left.

Eliza’s sister, Catherine married Thomas Cleary in 1872 at Armidale. The registration of her death confirms she was a daughter of Michael & Bridget and an obituary in the Sydney Freeman’s Journal, 6 June 1918 provides other information about Catherine:

MRS. C. CLEARY, URALLA. The death took place on Sunday week at Uralla of an old and highly respected resident of the district, in the person of Catherine, relict of the late Mr. Thomas Cleary, at the advanced age of 90 years. The deceased lady, who was a native of Ireland, came to this country as a girl with her relatives, and about 45 years ago the marriage was celebrated to Mr. T. Cleary in Uralla. There were no children of the marriage.

The obituary continues, noting that:

Mrs. John Murray, of Wollun, who is 92 years of age, is a sister, and the late Mrs. John Blanch, of Church Gully, was also a sister; Mr. Patrick Dooley, of The Rocky, is a brother. The interment took place beside the grave of her husband in the new cemetery, the last sad rites at the graveside being read by the Rev. Father McGrath.— R.I.P.

This last paragraph begs comment. Mrs John Blanch is obviously her Catherine’s sister Eliza, but extensive research to locate Patrick Dooley and Mrs John Dooley (Ellen?) failed to confirm a direct relationship despite the above report indicating that they were part of the extended Dooley family from Parsonstown. John Murray had paid an immigration deposit in September 1862 to bring out 23-year-old labourer, John Dooley from Clonkelly, Parsonstown but again documentation is ‘wobbly’ at best and the search continues.

Ellen Dooly or Doorley, also on the Tippoo Saib from Parsonstown workhouse, had parents Kyron and Ellen noted on the shipping list. Some genealogies note she is a sister of Eliza and Catherine but there appears to be no direct relationship as the parents are different. She married John Flynn at Dapto, south of Sydney in 1851 and went to live in Queensland. Thus, she had no association with Eliza and Catherine Dooley in the Armidale district of New South Wales.

A final bonus is related to work done by Blanch descendants in the 1980s and 1990s, in particular Trevor McClaughlin’s connection with Russell Blanch who provided the attached brilliant photograph of Eliza Blanch, née Dooley. Although it is not very well focused it shows a proud woman, dressed in a very respectable outfit who achieved status and respectability in her new life in Australia.

Image of Eliza Blanch née Dooley

[1] Shipping list of Tippoo Saib, 1850, SRNSW 4/4919. Five girls were found in the Parsonstown Indoor Register BG/164/7/2 who were discharged from the workhouse on 27 March 1850 with the word ‘Australia’ annotated. Another Tippoo Saib girl who had been in the workhouse since 11 June 1842 with her mother, sister and brother was discharged in September 1843 but she must have returned in order to qualify as an emigrant on the Tippoo Saib. Her mother’s name was the same in the workhouse and on the shipping list.

[2] Parsonstown Minute Book BG/164/1/6, specifically 9 March 1850, page 297(8) where the page number was written in the minutes book in pencil and the number in bracket was printed on the original minute books.

[3] NSW Government Gazette, 2 August 1850. Immigration Agent to Bench of Magistrates, Maitland re list of immigrants per Tippoo Saib to be sent to Maitland, SRNSW 4/4638, Reel 3115, Immigration 50/589, p.240, 3 August 1850. Unfortunately the list was not enclosed. The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River Advertiser, 14 August 1850, p.2 reported hiring of married couples from the Tippoo Saib.

[4] Shipping list of Agenoria 1849, SRNSW, NRS 5316, 4/4786. NSW Government Gazette, 28 May 1849, No.74, p.831.

[5] NSW Government Gazette, 15 August 1890, No.436, p.6396.

[6] https://apps.environment.nsw.gov.au/dpcheritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5061605

Dr Perry McIntyre AM



The conservation of the Birr workhouse registers was supported by The Heritage Council through the Community Grant Scheme 2021.