Sunday, 23 July 2017

Jane Feeny - From Ireland to Port Macquarie

Jane Feeny is the matriarch of our family - the hundreds of descendants of Edward John (Jack) Killion, Rose Porter (nee Killion), Thomas Killion, Mary Jane Newton (nee Killion),  Margaret Gersbach (nee Killion), Annie Quinn (nee Seward) and Matilda Hand (nee Seward).

Very few details remain about Jane's life.  We've relied on the records that exist which allow us to follow her voyage from Ireland to our young colony.

Times were hard in Ireland between 1845 and 1852.  We know it as the time of the Irish Potato Famine.  Although, the Irish refer to it as the Great Famine or Great Hunger.  While pototo crops were ravaged throughout Europe, the impact was most severe in Ireland where there was mass starvation, disease and immigration.  During this period, about one million people died and the same number emigrated from Ireland to England, Scotland, South Wales, North America and Australia.  About a quarter of the population died or left Ireland.

Young destitute girls who had lost one or both parents were accommodated in workhouses across Ireland.  Workhouses were introduced in 1838 and there were 123 by 1845.  Conditions of entry were strict and seen as the last resort for destitute people.  The workhouse was generally segregated between men, women, boys and girls.  The inmates worked, food was poor and accommodation was cold and cramped. 

According to records held in Ireland, Jane Feeny entered a South Dublin workhouse on 14 July 1848.  Conditions in the workhouses worsened as the famine took hold.  It's reported that there was widespread shortages of bedding and clothing which led to the practice of giving unwashed clothes of inmates who had died from fever or disease to the next new inmate arriving at the workhouse!

At this time, Earl Grey was the Secretary of State form the Colonies in the British Government.  Faced with the situation in Ireland and the need for females in the Australian colonies, his plan was to take adolescent female orphans from the Irish workhouses and settle them here.  Between 1848 and 1850, over 4000 young women emigrated from Ireland as part of what is now referred to as the "Earl Grey Famine Orphan Scheme".  

Jane Feeny left the workhouse on 02 December 1848 bound for her new life in Australia.  We don't know how Jane was "transported" from Dublin to Plymouth, England.  On 16 December 1848, Jane boarded the 787 tons Digby in Plymouth for Port Jackson.  On board, there were 22 married immigrant couples and 234 "orphan" immigrant girls.  The ship's captain was Captain W B Tabor and he travelled with his wife and child.  The Surgeon-Superintendent was Dr Neville.  

After a voyage of 107 days, the Digby arrived in Sydney on 04 April 1849 with a 16 year old Jane Feeny aboard.  Two of the girls died on the voyage.
SHIPS' MAILS. (1849, April 5). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 2. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from
Our first record of Jane is the NSW Assisted Immigration Passenger List for the Digby's 1849 arrival.  Jane's parents are recorded as William and Jane, both deceased at the time of her immigration.  Jane's occupation is shown as children's maid, her religion is Church of England, she can read and write, has no relatives in the colony and is in good health. Her native place is stated to be Rathieham, County Wicklow, Ireland. 
New South Wales, Australia, Assisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1828-1896
The above map shows the area where Jane was born in County Wicklow
Jane and the other girls on the Digby disembarked somewhere off Benelong Point where the Sydney Opera House now stands.  They made their way to Hyde Park Barracks in Macquarie Street.  In 1848, the old convict barracks were converted to a Female Immigration Depot.  The girls were looked after here until they were hired out as domestic servants or farm workers or sent to other parts of the colony to be hired out.

Twelve day's after the Digby's arrival, on 16 April 1849, it's reported that "a large number of the Irish girls by the Digby still in the depot; but as there were 400 applications for their service, and only 230 girls, they will be forwarded to the different districts as fast as arrangements can be made for that purpose".  (Advertising (1849, April 16). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 2. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from

Reading the article below gives a sense of the how the colony's administrators "managed" these young women, like Jane, who had suffered so much in their homeland and now found themselves in a foreign county usually without any close family.  
PARRAMATTA. (1849, May 17). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 2. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from
It's not clear how long Jane spent at the Female Immigration Depot in Sydney before travelling to Port Macquarie. The letter below from the Agent for Immigration shows that Jane along with six other girls from the Digby and two from the Earl Grey were indentured to employers in Port Macquarie i.e. they were bound by a contract to work for that person for a fixed period.

Letter from The Agent for Immigration to the clerk of the Bench, Port Macquarie 
Dated 5 September 1849 (transcription below)
Jane and five of the other girls, Rosanna (Rose) Cartwright, Frances Patterson, Rose Donnell and Anne Jane (known as Mary Jane) McBride, married and settled in Port Macquarie and Kempsey region. Rosanna Lawrence (nee Cartwright) died in Kempsey in 1909 - the year after Jane died. Could John and Jane's first two daughters have been named after Rosanna and Mary Jane?
In 1999, the Australian Monument to the Great Irish Famine was unveiled at Hyde Park Barracks.  Jane's name is one of 420 etched in the glass panels of the memorial. These names are intended to represent the 4114 single, young, female, workhouse emigrants who came to Australia between 1848 and 1852 along with all those who died or fled the Great Irish Famine (1845 to 1852). 

If you're interested, you can find out more about the memorial or become a friend or supporter at

Australian Monument to the Great Irish Famine
Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney


Clerk of the Bench Port Macquarie

The Agent for the Immigration to the Clerk of the Bench, Port Macquarie, returning Indentures of nine orphan females forwarded to Port Macquarie

Immigration Officer
Sydney, 4 September 1849

In accordance with the request of the Orphan Immigration Committee, I do myself the honour to return to you herewith duly completed the Indentures of the Female Orphans names in the margin who have been apprenticed from the Depot at Port Macquarie, and I beg to request that you will have the goodness to cause these to be delivered to the respective employers and orphans entitled to receive them.

(signed) Francis Merewether

Mary Bowes
Mary Anne Buchannan
Catherine Craig
Frances Patterson
Rosanna Cartwright
Emily Colston
Jane Feeny
by the "Digby"
Rose Donnell
Anne Jane McBride
by the "Earl Grey"

No comments:

Post a Comment