Caroline Chisholm: A good Australian [by Mary E. Fullerton, 14 May 1932]

[Editor: An article about the life of Caroline Chisholm, written by Mary E. Fullerton. Published in The Argus, 14 May 1932.]

Caroline Chisholm.

A good Australian.

By Mary E. Fullerton.

London, March 21. — One important figure in the colonisation of Australia has been somewhat overlooked — Caroline Chisholm. In my childhood Mrs. Chisholm was not yet forgotten. I remember hearing the “old hands” speak with great respect of “Mother Chisholm.” Curiosity took me to the British Museum recently, there to make myself acquainted with the record of Mrs. Chisholm’s activities. Even there information about Caroline Chisholm is somewhat meagre. Several of the volumes — most frequently pamphlets — containing it are wretchedly printed, yellow with age, and not always intact. Nevertheless my reading causes me more than ever to wonder why Caroline Chisholm does not hold a larger place than she does in the memory of Australians. She was the most beneficent, intrepid, and incorrigible meddler in the affairs of others who ever put a finger into public matters.

Caroline Chisholm was the daughter of William Jones, of Wootton, Northamptonshire. She was born in 1808. Her father had “philanthropic tendencies.” When 22 years of age Caroline married Captain Chisholm, and with him sailed to India, where he was stationed. Almost at once she began to agitate for better schools for the soldiers’ children in Madras. She caused many improvements to be made; she also formed housekeeping classes for the girls. In the two years of her residence there she set in motion many reforms. The health of Captain Chisholm caused them to go to Australia, and they settled in Sydney. Mrs. Chisholm was almost immediately concerned with matters outside her own house. One day she saw a number of Highland immigrant girls landing at the wharf. One of them she observed being accosted by a man. Characteristically she “butted in.’’ The incident led her on. She found that many of the new arrivals were penniless and unprovided with lodgings, and without any definite plans, except that they wanted work. She set herself to befriend them. She did what she could at her own expense, but the task was huge.

Mrs. Chisholm enlisted the help of the press. Warm tributes to the Sydney newspapers may be read in her writings concerning the struggles of those times. The publicity obtained was invaluable. People began to know a little of what she was trying to do for the new arrivals, and help came. But it came slowly; there was much misunderstanding of Mrs. Chisholm’s aims and a deal of prejudice. She continued to bombard the Government. She contrived to obtain an interview with the Governor himself, Sir George Gipps. Gipps had heard all sorts of stories of the “wild schemes of Mrs. Chisholm.” When at last be came face to face with her, he was astonished to see instead of the grim Amazon he had been led to expect, a stately, handsome young matron, whose pleasant, fluent eloquence pressed a logical argument. Gipps was impressed. He granted Mrs. Chisholm the use of a Government building — very rough and comfortless it was — for her girls. To this rat-infested place, she accompanied the waiting batch. She occupied a room about 7ft. square, without a fireplace. She would keep her eye on her charges, and would share with them. Soon there were more than 90 girls in this place, and new arrivals were being accommodated in tents — many slept in the Domain.

The best immigrant.

Lady Gipps became sympathetic and helpful, and soon upward of 600 female immigrants from England, Ireland, and Scotland were temporarily provided for. Situations with reliable families in and about Sydney had to be sought. Mrs. Chisholm went into the country with batches of girls. The parties went in drays and waggons. When one lot had been happily disposed of, another was gathered from the depot. Ere long this was seen to be a slow process. More and more people were coming in, and the journeys took a long time. Mrs. Chisholm therefore established depots outside Sydney at such places as Parramatta, Liverpool, Campbelltown, and Maitland. Under this arrangement the newcomers were quickly placed in work. Many of the girls became the wives of young farmers — as Mrs. Chisholm put it, “giving the country a sounder population than the British Government had begun with.”

But the unfortunate earlier immigrants were not neglected by her. In time she widened her plan to embrace the ticket-of-leave people. She reunited many a parted couple whom harsh laws had tom apart. There was no end to the schemes of this “meddler.” The Government was won by the clear proof of Mrs. Chisholm’s capacity. The committees formed in the country in connection with the depots received help from all sorts of people. Private people lent drays and waggons for the conveyance of the girls, and in all the seven years in which Mrs. Chisholm personally accompanied these expeditions, she was never charged for her own accommodation at any place, private or public, at which her party put up. Sometimes no charge was made at all. Stores were often supplied free of cost to her and her party when they camped out. Sometimes a month was exceeded on one trip. It requires little imagination to envisage the hardships that must have been encountered on the rough roads and broken country. Eleven thousand souls were settled in this manner by Mrs. Chisholm’s efforts.

Having discovered that many of the emigrants wanted to go on the land, Mrs. Chisholm induced the Government, and also many private landowners, to grant small sections of land to families. By this means many were established on small farms. One of her plans that met with much success was a kind of “bush partnership.” Under the system two men worked a piece of land together. In 1840 Mrs. Chisholm resolved to go to England in furtherance of her proposals for the settlement of people in Australia. She spent some months collecting at first hand detailed information about the people already settled in the new land. She went from house to house among the more remote districts till she had amassed a huge amount of material. She would track the head of the family to where he worked, tramping in stout boots across rough places to interview him, so that her facts might be complete. In England her home at Islington was immediately thrown open to intending immigrants, who flocked to her for advice and help. By that time Mrs. Chisholm had been joined in her work by her husband, who had always been sympathetic. She bore a letter of warm commendation from Sir George Gipps to “Mr. Secretary Gladstone,” asking that her requests to the Government should be, as far as possible, granted. The Government was satisfied with the soundness of her new immigration proposal, and, with the aid of Lord Grey, a detailed plan of it was presented to the New South Wales Government, and adopted by it. “The Family Colonial Loan Society Fund” was established to assist families to reach Australia. The system pledged the repayment of part of the money lent when the parties were successfully established overseas. Captain Chisholm preceded the first shipment of people under the scheme to Australia, Mrs. Chisholm remaining in England to superintend details. She accompanied the first batch to Sydney, and went many times to and fro with subsequent shiploads of settlers to the new land.

“Meat three times a day.”

This remarkable woman collected the children of poor immigrants who had been left behind in workhouses in England and took them to their parents in Australia. She established “rest huts” on the routes to the new goldfields. She constantly wrote and spoke for the causes she espoused. Her pamphlet entitled “Meat Three Times a Day” is said to have made half the peasant population of Ireland eager to emigrate to Australia. The correspondence connected with her public work was enormous. She received more than five thousand letters of inquiry from Ireland alone on the subject of immigration. These she answered mostly herself.

The time came when even Mrs. Chisholm’s energy began to flag. She had to “take in sail.” In addition to loss of strength, her private position was not affluent. Both she and her husband had always given beyond their means. Seeing her public schemes safe she turned to the problem of helping to provide for her family. There were six children. Mrs. Chisholm turned to the teaching of music to support them. In 1866 the family returned to England. Shortly after that Mrs. Chisholm was granted a civil pension of £100 a year. She lived in Walham Green, a suburb abutting upon Kensington West. There she died in 1877. She was buried in her native town in Northamptonshire.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 14 May 1932, p. 6

Editor’s notes:
ticket-of-leave = a permit, pass, or certificate (a ticket) allowing a convict leave from prison (or other government custody), allowing the bearer to live a non-custodial life, albeit under certain conditions or restrictions; a certificate of parole

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