Thoughts on “Farewell My Children” by Dr Richard Reid: Irish migration to Australia 1848-1870

If you have Irish ancestry in Australia, there’s a good chance that at some point you’ve referred to an index of Irish Assisted Immigrants to New South Wales (NSW) 1848-1870, available in most family history libraries around Australia.  I doubt I was alone in thinking, when I first used the index, that this was another very comprehensive genealogy-related index. In fact, it was a by-product of Dr Richard Reid’s doctoral thesis, awarded in 1992 by the Australian National University, the topic of which was Aspects of Irish Assisted Emigration to New South Wales 1848-1870. This thesis can only be read on-site at ANU.

What is exciting news for family historians with an Irish background is that in mid-2011 Richard released Farewell My Children – a book based largely on his thesis. I bought a copy at this year’s Shamrock in the Bush because I’d already read the thesis and I was desperately keen to have my own copy of this benchmark work. Read it, you won’t regret it!

You might be thinking that if this started life as an academic publication it will be too “heavy” and too difficult to read. Not at all! The topics are clearly presented throughout and add greatly to our understanding of our ancestors’ emigration experiences. What I most like about Farewell My Children, and Richard’s historical writing in general, is that he illuminates the topic with specific examples. This personalises the history revealing the nuances at the grassroots level as well as the bigger picture. Another feature of Richard’s work is that he views Ireland as an entity not just Eire or Northern Ireland. While the focus is on Irish migration to Australia, it would also offer a comparative understanding to anyone whose Irish ancestors migrated to North America –after all they are quite likely to have distant family in Australia –it’s surprising how family sometimes took divergent migration paths.

There are multiple strands in the book which address the emigration experience:

1.   The emigration process

If you’ve found it difficult to get your head around the nuts and bolts of how your ancestors obtained their government assisted passage, and what evidence they had to supply, you will find it here.

The practicalities of the Remittance Regulations[i] are also dealt with, including their occasional manipulation by representatives in Ireland and Australia.

2.  The journey to Australia and experience on arrival

The complex and careful management of the immigrants is highlighted. It is pertinent to note the difference between the Australian journey and that of many migrant experiences to North America. It may have been a much longer journey, but the government was particularly attentive to its immigrants. A further benefit of this is the wonderful detail available in the bureaucratic records and especially the Board’s Immigrants Lists where they survive.

3.   Who were the migrants?

Do you ever wonder how typical your Irish family really was? Richard talks about the characteristics of the immigrants, their literacy and skills, age and gender balance as well as their marital status. This is a fascinating insight into the differences between Irish and other immigrants.

4.   Clonoulty, Co Tipperary

The book and thesis train the research lens on the emigrants from Clonoulty. If you have ancestors from there, you will find this chapter especially useful.

5.  The poor of Ireland

The book talks in detail about the Irish Famine Orphan migration from Ireland’s workhouses, which is relevant to our family as my husband’s ancestor was a Famine Orphan. It’s pertinent to note that not all were actually orphans.

Wives and children of convicts also come under this heading as they were often impoverished by the breadwinner’s transportation. (Dr Perry McIntyre’s recent book Free passage : the reunion of Irish convicts and their families in Australia, 1788-1852 is also a must-read for anyone whose family fits this category).
6.   Donegal Relief Fund

When I read the thesis I had no reason to be particularly concerned about Donegal so I only skimmed this section. In the meantime I’ve learned my son-in-law’s paternal ancestry is tied into this migration from Donegal, so I found this chapter especially interesting.[ii

7.  Remittances and chain migration

Remittances played a key role in the chains of Irish migration in families and friendship groups and are what led me to Richard’s thesis in 2004. This was the link between this broader Irish research and my own East Clare research focused on Broadford, Parish of Kilseily where the parish priest and some key representatives in Australia appear to have manipulated the system to ensure a positive migration outcome for East Clare people.

It’s no doubt obvious that I regard this book as the door to Dr Reid’s benchmark research on Irish migration to Australia. I for one am very grateful this research made the transition from academic thesis to an accessible book I can keep on my shelves. There are any number of reasons why Richard’s book is particularly relevant to my own research (especially East Clare migration) but I’m confident that anyone with Irish ancestry, or others, would be able to add to their understanding of the migration experience by reading it. Dr Reid’s history-writing style has made him one of my own “history heroes”. In my library his book sits beside Oceans of Consolation by David Fitzpatrick and Robin Haines’ Life and Death in the Age of Sail.

With such significant and informative content Farewell my Children should become a prime resource for Irish family historians and anyone with an interest in Australian migration. If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for yourself, print out the book details and leave it lying around as a “hint” for the family gift-givers. Don’t forget, too, that if you live near a large reference library you can have the book sent on inter-library loan from the National Library of Australia.

If you are interested in Irish migration you might also be interested in the small Visible Immigrants series which are collaborative publications: their content vastly outweighs their slight appearance.

Visible women : female immigrants in colonial Australia / edited by Eric Richards

Poor Australian immigrants in the nineteenth century / edited by Eric Richards
Neglected sources for the history of Australian immigration / Eric Richards, Richard Reid & David Fitzpatrick

Disclosure: I have not been asked to comment on this book, nor did I receive any remuneration for promoting it. It stands entirely on its own merits.


[i] The Index to the NSW Immigration Deposit Journals 1853-1900 produced by Pastkeys is a valuable entry-point to the remittances at a name level.

[ii] A complementary source is the wonderful information on the Donegal Genealogy Resources webpage

Text Queensland: a gold mine of information

Text Queensland is a new and exciting innovation which provides a “collection of full-text, searchable, digitised sources on Queensland Colonial and state history”[i]. I learnt about this a few days ago when I read an update on the John Oxley Library blog.

This is a wonderful site which will be invaluable to historians of all ilks who are interested in Queensland’s history. It has a great deal to offer family historians in terms of the background information we all need to understand the factors which affected our ancestors lives in Queensland and how certain issues affected them in the broader context. Understanding these wide influences can make us realise that what was happening to our families was not necessarily unique to them or it might show the opposite, that they were different from prevailing trends.

The site has several tabs and I was most excited to see the one labelled Theses as these are sometimes difficult to access unless one is able to visit a particular university’s library or has academic access to their resources. I simply searched for “Irish” and turned up over 20 theses which refer to this topic. Immediately I found one thesis that I’ve wanted to read for quite a while but never have the time to sit and peruse it when in Brisbane. That thesis is by M R Macginley “A study of Irish migration to, and settlement in, Queensland 1885-1912”. Another one I’ll be reading is about Robert Dunne, one of Queensland’s early bishops and previously a parish priest in the Toowoomba area where my ancestors lived. I’ve read Neil Byrne’s excellent book, Robert Dunne, Archbishop of Brisbane and found great quotes in there as well as references to his difficulties with the German Catholics on the Downs. While family historians may be intimidated by the thought of reading an academic thesis, they can take heart from the fact they are mostly clearly written with comparatively little jargon. Any phrases requiring specific expertise can be easily followed up. Given them a go, I promise they will reward the effort you put into them.

Another tab which bears close inspection is called Journals and includes the Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland. Again lots of topics of relevance to my family history.

The Books tab offers an array of books of relevance to Queensland’s history and I found quite a few from my own bookshelves on there.

The Queenslander tab takes you to Trove so you can limit your search to just that newspaper. However I could not find any reference to the 1909 images of early Queensland pioneers: something that will merit further investigation.

I didn’t find the Government Gazette tab as helpful I must admit and will probably stick to the digitised indexes provided by QFHS.

When you find something you would like to read it’s easy to read it on-screen page by page. If you want to download it you can but I did find that rather time-consuming as the files are quite large. I guess it depends on how much you want to keep a copy.

So many thanks to The University of Queensland, UQ Press and State Library of Queensland for this wonderful resource. I anticipate using it a lot.


[i] The description is provided on the website.