Caroline Chisholm was a progressive 19th-century English humanitarian known mostly for her involvement with female immigrant welfare in Australia. She is commemorated on 16 May in the Calendar of saints of the Church of England.
Caroline Chisholm began life as Caroline Jones in the English country town of Northampton in 1808. Her father was a landowner and a pig-dealer, and an upright man. Her mother was a kind and cheerful disposition, and neither of them knew the meaning of the word meanness, either spiritually or materially. Quite simply, they put their Christian principles into practice.
Caroline was christened and grew up as part of the Church of England. As she grew, she became convinced that God was calling her to dedicate her life to help people in need. After her marriage and after much thought, Caroline became a Catholic in 1831. Her religious faith inspired her work – for example, before commencing her work in Sydney, she committed herself to this task before the altar in St Mary’s Cathedral.
As a child, Caroline the youngest of a large family, was educated for some of the time at least, by a governess. She spoke French, was good with figures and became a fluent writer of English. She was encouraged by her parents to take an interest in public questions of the day.
After a happy girlhood, Caroline met and married Archibald Chisholm who was a Scottish soldier in the East India Company’s Army. Lieutenant Chisholm although having little private means apart from his salary, promised Caroline that he would stand by her and help her to be truly herself in her ideal of helping people who needed it. Caroline and Archibald were married at the end of 1830 in the Holy Sepulchre Church at Northampton.
After their marriage, the Chisholms lived for two years in England and then were posted to Madras, India. It was here that their first two sons were born, and Caroline began her first social work. Noticing that the daughters of soldiers were at something of a loose end, Caroline Chisholm founded a school at which these girls not only learnt the three R’s but also practical domestic skills as well. The school was a great success, but in 1838 Archibald became ill and had to take sick leave. The Chisholms decided that Australia’s healthier climate would be best, and sailed for Australia.
ARRIVAL IN AUSTRALIA
On reaching Australia in September 1838, the Chisholms found a very class-conscious society in the process of change. The convict era was nearing its end in New South Wales, and a period of prosperity was giving way to the depression of the “hungry forties!” Boatloads of immigrants were arriving in the colony and had to fend for themselves. Single men fared best, whilst married men with families to be fed were at a strong disadvantage. Most unfortunate were the single girls - no concern was shown for their welfare either physical, material or moral.
Mrs Chisholm was now living at Windsor, and her third son Henry had been born in 1839. In 1840, Archibald had to return to his regiment, and Caroline decided to remain in Australia.
HER GREAT WORK
Observing that something had to be done to assist the young girls who were starving, unemployed and ready prey for the unscrupulous, Caroline Chisholm embarked upon a work for which she was eventually to become famous.
Grudgingly, the Governor allowed her to use a rat infested old barracks to house these girls. She called it a “Home” which was also a Registry Office and temporary shelter for girls. It was here that she could give motherly protection tot he girls whilst arranging employment and suitable homes for them to go to. (It is this work at the “Home” that was portrayed on old the $5.00 note.)
Employment was available in the country areas, and Caroline Chisholm personally arranged employment and accompanied the girls to their new-found positions, travelling with them by bullock-dray to distant settlements. Many of these girls married and settled in the country areas.
During the years 1841-1844 Caroline Chisholm’s work assisted the amazing total of 14,000 people. Over 11,000 of these were new comers, the rest being “old hands” in the colony.
From helping single girls, Caroline Chisholm’s work expanded to the assistance of family people, especially those who had large numbers of young children, by finding employment for the breadwinner.
As well as her practical work, Caroline Chisholm thought out her principles for the good of Australia. She pointed out that whilst the young country had a large number of single men, what was needed was the migration of young women who would provide a balance of sexes and though marriage would establish a community based on family life.
RETURN TO ENGLAND
When her husband Archibald returned in 1845, he found that Caroline was well-known throughout New South Wales. En route to England in 1846, the fourth Chisholm Son was born under very difficult circumstances. Both mother and baby were ill, and the baby survived on goat’s milk. This hardship made Caroline think of the plight of poor immigrant women in the overcrowded, dirty ships bringing them to Australia, and inspired her to do something to alleviate their hardship.
On arrival in England, she obtained passages for the stranded families of some ex-convicts and traced the children left behind by bounty migrants. The re-unification of families was very dear to Caroline Chisholm’s heart, and she was responsible for bringing many families together again after years of separation. The first children to be reunited with their families arrived in Melbourne on the “Sir Edward Parry” in 1848.
Caroline could see the need for a national emigration plan, especially as the famine caused by the failure of the potato drop was forcing many hungry people to try to get to Australia. Little official help was forthcoming, so Caroline Chisholm founded the Family Colonization Loan Society which assisted the free migration of families. During these years, Caroline had become the mother of two daughters, but even then with a busy household such as hers, did not allow her family life to suffer. In her efforts to bring about a more liberal migration policy, Caroline Chisholm collected “statements” from those she had helped to settle. These were like case histories of successful migrants, but unfortunately were never published as a whole because of lack of finance.
The horror of the Irish Famine and the distress being experienced in England and Scotland seemed to Caroline to be quite unnecessary since Australia was a land of plenty needing only manpower to harvest its abundance. Why should hunger drive a man to crime, and the State have to bear the cost of transporting a convict she asked? By alleviating hunger, crime could be reduced and the dignity of the human being preserved. Government assisted immigration seemed to be the answer. In her pamphlet “The ABC of Colonization” she put forward her reasons for a proper policy for migration.
THE FAMILY COLONIZATION SOCIETY
Founded by Caroline Chisholm as a pilot scheme to demonstrate her ideals, the Family Colonization Scheme fostered and made possible the emigration of complete families, who, departing voluntarily, were well-equipped for the voyage, optimistic for the future and guaranteed the necessary information on arrival.
Emigrants belonging to her Society had to save most of the cost of their fares, and small loans were made to complete the cost. The loans were to be repaid within two years of arrival in Australia. A small Savings Bank was conducted to handle the prospective emigrants’ savings, and with a cheerful prospects of a new life, emigrants were given an incentive to make good.
Caroline Chisholm, herself experienced in the practicalities of shipboard life, was most attentive to all the details of travel, from actually chartering ships to planning adequate hygiene, ventilation, plentiful fresh water and food and even medical and schooling facilities. The innovations introduced by Caroline Chisholm were a revelation to ship owners, crews and passengers alike, and helped overcome much disease and discomfort which had until then been an accepted part of travel to Australia.
From her humble home in Islington, Mrs Chisholm conducted the Society, and a house next door was used as temporary accommodation for intending migrants.
About this time she was called as a witness before two enquires of the House of Lords (to the Penal System and the Colonization of Ireland) and one of the House of Commons (into Emigrant ships).
The discovery of gold in Australia brought changes. The Society needed an Australian agent, and Archibald Chisholm set off for Australia whilst Caroline remained until she could satisfactorily hand over. Caroline travelled through England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland telling people about Australian life and her ideas, and later visited France and Rome where she was honoured by Pope Pius IX.
The outbreak of the Crimean War delayed Caroline and her five children from returning to Australia until July 1854. On arrival in Melbourne, the sight of so many diggers heading for the goldfields at Bendigo and Ballarat prompted her to consider the need for cheap, suitable accommodation for diggers and their families en route. The establishment of “shelter sheds” at approximately a day’s journey apart long the route was her answer to the problem.
Increasing years, and ill-health made Mrs Chisholm retire from public life to Kyneton and later she went to Sydney. Like so many people in the post-gold rush slump, the family found themselves in straightened circumstances. Partly to help make ends meet and partly for the education of her own daughters, Mrs Chisholm opened a girls’ school in Sydney. Eventually, the Chisholms took their teenage daughters to the old country, from which Caroline’s illness prevented their return. Heart trouble, which without modern treatment kept her confined to bed for the last years of her life, claimed her. On 25th March, 1877, Caroline died at the age of 68. A few months later, her devoted husband Archibald died.
Caroline Chisholm was a pioneer in many ways. As a bush pioneer, she coped well with the difficulties of the early days, as she led parties of people by bullock dray or covered cart, on horseback or foot, to start a new life. As a pioneer of thought and action she promoted the idea that the state would be concerned with the social needs of the people in a positive way. The penal system was a negative way of punishing people for not obeying society’s rules. She thought that prevention would be better than cure or punishment, for punishment did not often cure. A chance to earn a living would prevent much crime. She therefore tried to get a decent and healthy passage to Australia and a job or some land on arrival for her settlers. This kind of positive thinking was unusual for a woman to express on public questions, but Caroline Chisholm’s comments were not only well received, but she was invited to give more to the Committees of Enquiry into Immigration in 1843, 1844 and 1845. She wrote our first woman’s book and was seen by her contemporaries as the great woman figure of early Australia.
WAYS IN WHICH THE AUSTRALIAN NATION HAS REMEMBERED CAROLINE CHISHOLM
- Her portrait appeared on the old $5.00 note;
- A suburb of Canberra bears her name;
- A Federal electorate bears her name;
- La Trobe University, Melbourne has a College, Chisholm College, named after her;
- A memorial seat in Kyneton, a natural rock monument at Woodend.
- An inscription on a memorial stone at Essendon commemorates Caroline Chisholm’s initiative in organising the building of shelter sheds along the route to the goldfields;
- a memorial plaque in Burston Reserve (opposite St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne) commemorates the centenary of her death.
- Amalgamated secondary colleges in Sunshine and St Albans (Melbourne), Caroline Chisholm Secondary Colleges, named after her.
Clancy's comment: Again, another woman ahead of her time.