Page images

public press.

The newspapers, with some hesitation, discussed the proposition, though they eventually became its warm advocates. Fearless courage having overcome the preliminary difficulties, a small committee of ladies was formed. The Governor was importuned to grant the use of a government building for the purposes of the · Home,' Mrs. Chisholm offering her gratuitous services for its management.

Sir George at last, on receiving a guarantee against the Government being put to any expense,' granted her request, but not without first remarking to her (by way of encouragement), 'I believe you have overrated the powers of your own mind, and believing so, and also in your disinterested views, I think it right to tell you. Subsequently

' this same Governor considered her services of such importance, that as she carried on an extensive correspondence, ‘he conferred a privilege upon her never but once known to have been granted to a lady, and that was the wife of President Jefferson '--' he allowed her to frank her letters.' At a later date it is also recorded, that Governor Gipps spoke as follows before the Legislative Council

'I cannot give a stronger evidence of the economy of the people working for themselves, than by referring to what has been done by Mrs. Chisholm, and I am glad of this opportunity of doing justice to that lady's exertions, and do so with much greater pleasure and satisfaction, from having, at the commencement of her labours, thrown cold water upon her plans.'

The government building' granted for the · Home' consisted of a low wooden erection in a tumble-down' condition. Notwithstanding this, as she was convinced of the necessity of a personal superintendence, and had found the advantage of it in the case of the School of Industry at Madras, she determined, at any sacrifice, to reside on the premises. The room appropriated to her private use was not more than seven feet square. The following is her account of • taking possession :'

On closing the door, I reflected on what I had been compelled to endure for forty-nine square feet. My first feelings were those of indignation that such a trifle had been so long withheld ; but better feelings followed. I determined to trust to Providence to increase its size, and prove my usefulness. . . . Having been busy all day, I retired wearied to rest. My courage was put to the proof at starting. Scarce was the light out, when I fancied, from a noise I heard, that dogs must be in the room, and in some terror I got a light. What I experienced on seeing rats in all directions, I cannot describe! My first act was to throw on a cloak, and get at the door with the intent of leaving the building. My second thoughts were-if I did so, my desertion would cause much amusement, and ruin my plan. I therefore lighted a second candle, and seating my. self on my bed, kept there until three rats, descending from the roof, alighted on my shoulders. I felt that I was getting into a fever, and, in fact, that I should be very ill before morning-but to be out-generalled by rats was too bad ! I got up with some resolution. I had two loaves and some butter (for my office, bed-room, and pantry were one); I cut the bread into slices, placed the whole in the middle of the room, put a dish of water convenient, and with a light by my side, I kept my seat on the bed, reading " Abercrombie," and watching the rats until four in the morning. I at one time counted thirteen, and never less than seven did I observe at the dish during the entire night. The following night I gave them a similar treat, with the addition of arsenic, and in this manner I passed my first four nights at the “Home."


[ocr errors]

These enemies being got rid of, Mrs. Chisholm persevered until she obtained increased accommodation for the emigrants, by having four small rooms thrown into one, and in a short time ninety-four young women were sheltered under her protection, not one of whom had any other place of abode. The duties Mrs. Chisholm assigned herself were, to protect them in the town, and to procure situations for them, if possible, in the country. The latter was at first a task of some difficulty, on account chiefly of the opposition of the young women themselves, who had heard not very glowing accounts of the native • boors,' and imagining numberless lions in the way,' feared to venture far away from town. Mrs. Chisholm, therefore, went into the wilderness first herself.

I proceeded,' she says, 'into the interior, to form committees, and to establish country "Homes," taking, in some cases, parties of females with me. When I commenced taking them up the country, I had to meet, in the first instance, their travelling expenses, which were afterwards refunded. The inhabitants of the districts cheerfully supplied them with food. The committees afforded them protection and advice. ... The first parties of young women varied from fifteen to sixty in number.'

These were all willingly received as servants, and settled in families under the protection of married people. It was not long before most of them were comfortably married (there being a great demand for wives in the colony), ' and not one lost her character.'

Besides the Home,' Mrs. Chisholm afterwards established at Sydney a Female Registry Office,'' where all persons that required service used to attend from 10 till 4.' In her evidence before the House of Lords Committee on Irish emigration (1847), Mrs. Chisholm said— 'My first endeavour was always to get one female servant placed in a neighbourhood, and having succeeded thus far, I left the feeling to spread. . . . . I have been able to learn the subsequent progress in life of hundreds of these emigrants. Girls that I have taken up the country, in such a destitute state that I have been obliged to get a decent dress to put upon them, have come to me again, having every comfort about them and wanting servants. They are constantly writing home to get out their friends and relatives.' Not only did Mrs. Chisholm thus apply herself to the work of protecting and settling female emigrants, but she also attempted the reclamation of the 'unfortunate.' Seventy-six of these women were reclaimed, and only seven returned to a career of infamy.'

Another demand was made upon the exertions of our heroine. Labourers were much wanted in the interior of the country, while, at the same time, by the mismanagement of the local authorities, 'there were numbers idle in Sydney supported at the expense of the Government. Things wore a serious aspect,' and mischief was brewing.

The Irish lay on the streets looking vacantly, and basking in the sun. Apart from them, Englishmen, sullen in feature, sat on gates or palings, their legs swinging in the air. Another group was composed of Scotchmen-their hands thrust into their empty pockets-suspiciously glancing at everything and everybody from beneath their bushy


eyebrows. This discontented, mischief-breeding pauperism, Mrs. Chisholm set about destroying. Distrust on the part of employers and those wanting employment, had in great measure caused the evil. Arriving ignorant of the manners and customs of the colony, the emigrants were often imposed upon.

* Frequently the agreement was that wages were not to commence until the arrival of the employed at the place

where he was required to labour, which might be a three weeks' journey. The luggage was heavily charged for conveyance; perhaps the food was innutritious, while the poor man was liable to be discharged at a moment's notice-the verbal arrangement being often disputed. To check this evil, Mrs. Chisholm commenced a Registry-office for male servants, having a printed form of agreement, to be signed by both the employer and the employed, and kept at the office-a duplicate being given to both parties.

This system was not at first liked, but as both master and servant perceived that their interests were served, they readily availed themselves of the bond. Out of all the agreements made, ten only were ever disputed, and they were arranged by a reference to the original documents.'

But not only were young women protected and Registry-offices opened for the advantage of both sexes--Mrs. Chisholm went with numbers in search of employment, far into the country. She undertook journeys of 300 miles into the interior with families.'

• The largest number,' she says, that ever left Sydney under my charge at one time was one hundred and forty-seven, but by accessions on the road they increased considerably. The longest journey of this kind occupied five weeks, three weeks of which were passed on the road.' These excursions into the Australian bush were often beset by great difficulties, and were always attended with much inconvenience, and no little risk to a female adventurer; but having put the women and children in waggons, and made the strong men walk, she mounted a good horse herself,' and rode on at the head of her party. She had, we are told,' as many as two hundred souls at one time, all marching through a wilderness, like the Israelites of old when they marched towards the promised land. At noon they used to halt, make a fire gypsy-fashion, boil water, make cakes, and frizzle meat, then set out again, and at night make a camp under blankets, if they could not find a hut, where the women and children could sleep.'

Mrs. Chisholm sometimes had a murmuring and rebellious people to lead.

On one occasion, she says, when we entered the bush, we found there was no water. I had thirty women and children in the party, all tired, hungry, and thirsty—the children crying. Without saying a word, I sent one of my old bushmen off on horseback three miles, to get enough of milk or water for the children. In the meantime some of the emigrants came up, and said in a discontented tone, “Mrs. Chisholm, this is a pretty job—what must we do? there is no water.” I knew it would not do for them to be idle ; anything was better than that in their frame of mind; so partly judging from the locality I said to them without hesitation—“ If you will dig here, I think you will find water.” Directing the tools to be got out, they immediately set

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]



to work, and they had not dug many feet when they came to water. This had such an exhilarating effect upon their spirits, that they instantly threw off their coats, began to dig fresh holes, and did not leave off till moonlight.'

Rivers had to be forded. One writer says that a gentleman travelling through the wild land of the interior witnessed one day the following scene. He found • Mrs. Chisholm standing on the far side of a swampy ford over a river—a party of emigrants being encamped on the other side. She was calling her docile horse across with two children slung on his back. As soon as he had landed with these, she drove him back with a wave of the hand—when he was again loaded, she called him to her, and so on until all the young things had crossed.

That same day she had ridden thirty miles to find situations for her party.'

Mrs. Chisholm's noble disinterestedness had now won her many friends, and when the beneficial character of her operations began to be felt, the settlers aided her in every possible way. The people

• who kept inns and taverns would not let her pay anything for her own expenses when stopping with them. Everybody was willing to lend her horses, waggons, and oxen. Labouring men travelled miles to offer her a small present of birds, wild honey, or anything they thought she would like.' Whilst travelling on one occasion she came to a small tavern (a wooden hut thatched with bark) of only one room. The husband was out, and no one but the wife at home. Mrs. Chisholm's horse was tired, and she wanted to be driven ten miles ; the people had several horses, but no one at home to drive. The wife, after thinking a bit, said, “ You sha'n't be delayed for want of a driver, I will drive you myself,” and so saying, she turned out a traveller to finish his breakfast under the trees of the forest—locked up the tavern for the day, and taking the reins and whip in hand, declared, “it shall never be said that a wife would not do as much as her husband to help Mrs. Chisholm.”'

For seven years, Mrs. Chisholm pursued the system of which we have given a sketch-meeting, as may be supposed, with many strange adventures, and not only outliving all the contempt with which her efforts had at first been treated, but receiving the thanks and approbation of all classes of the colonists. * By the end of that period, she had been the means of comfortably settling eleven thousand persons. All this had been done too at very little expense to the public, and the Government had only contributed about £150. For other lasting benefits besides those we have enumerated, the people of New South Wales are also indebted to Mrs. Chisholm.

In 1846, Mrs. Chisholm was rejoined by her husband, and returned to England. Previous to her departure, a committee, consisting of

* In one of her first excursions with emigrants, part of the distance had to be undertaken by water, and so great was the ridicule cast upon her labours at that time, that personal friends on board the steam-boat actually kept aloof from her, lest they should share in her disgrace.



eight members of council, the mayor of Sydney, the high sheriff, thirteen magistrates, and many leading merchants,' raised a subscription as a testimonial, and presented her publicly with an address and a purse of 150 guineas, which latter she devoted to emigration purposes. Since her arrival in England, she has had abundance of labour, in communicating with the friends and relatives of the colonists. Her private residence has been thrown open to aid persons desirous of emigrating,' and she has personally superintended the sbipment of the inexperienced. These services have been rendered gratuitously, and notwithstanding his limited means, Captain Chisholm has not hestitated in many instances to become responsible for expenses. Their confidence, however, in the emigrants has never been betrayed, the amounts advanced having been always honourably repaid, as

as the borrowers have had it in their power. How Mrs. Chisholm has laboured in England to promote the emigration of nearly starving families to a land of plenty, during the past five years, is now well known, though all her efforts have been remarkably unobtrusive and free from ostentation. Many reports of her addresses at 'group meetings' have appeared in the newspapers, but these addresses have been of the most practical and unpretentious character -being delivered only for the benefit of intending emigrants, and not for the purpose of captivating the ear of the general public. The * Family Colonization Society,' of which she was the founder a year or two ago, and by means of which many hundreds have immensely benefited, though it is self-supporting, and repudiates alike government and eleemosynary aid, originated not as a merely theoretical speculation, but naturally and almost accidentally, from her habit of practical benevolent observation. Indeed, our readers must have remarked, as eminently characteristic of all her works, that they have grown into public importance from small and quiet beginningsoriginating in a conviction of personal duty to do good. In an address to the children in the school at Madras, Mrs. Chisholm wrote, for let me tell you (and I speak the truth), that there is no situation in life in which you cannot do some good. When at Sydney, oppressed with the difficulties she had at first to contend against, and exposed to the contempt of people who at that time neither appreciated her character nor her abilities, she was still hesitating, with a woman's timidity, to go before the public, she says, ' I saw that my plan, if carried into effect, would serve all. My delay pressed on my mind as a sin ; and when I heard of a poor girl suffering distress, and losing her reputation in consequence, I felt that I was not clear of her guilt, for I did not do all I could to prevent it.' Animated by such a spirit, and possessed of excellent business talents, we cannot wonder either at her perseverance or her success. *

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

* The Times' of November 14th contains a report of the launch of a splendid new screw-ship at Millwall on the previous day, called the 'Adelaide,'

nd de for the Austra service, in which it is stated, that at a banquet afterwards given in the saloon, 'the health of a lady distinguished in the


3 B

« PreviousContinue »