For the last 170 years the stories of our orphan girl ancestors remain largely untold and unknown to the wider community.
The girls arrived in the Port Phillip District just before a vital time in its history. 1851 saw the onset of the gold rush and the District’s separation from New South Wales creating the new state of Victoria. The girls would have been caught up in the hype and mayhem of the new Melbourne.
As men left in droves to travel to the goldfields to seek their fortune, the women left behind moved in together for economic reasons and personal safety. As the police force was drained of its members, only two police officers remained to oversee the safety of a city being inundated by tens of thousands of fortune-seeking immigrants from interstate and overseas.
There was a shortage of everything – accommodation, supplies, sanitation and transport. Crime and lawlessness increased hundredfold. Drunkenness and prostitution became rife and, needless to say, our teenage orphans got themselves caught up in it all.
There were certainly some who made good marriages and went on to have happy and successful lives. I believe the majority found a less happy existence. Many of the girls married ex-convicts and Exiles, or much older men who treated the girls as chattels. Melbourne Gaol registers had many of the girls as inmates and these are the records I hope to research and expand on.
With the help of descendants and other researchers who have gone before, and my own ongoing research, it is my plan to gather the stories of the 1277 girls who sailed into Port Phillip and share the stories of their first years in the colony.
If you have a story of your Irish orphan girl ancestor relevant to this timeframe in Melbourne, I would be grateful for the information.