In the early 1830s the British Government set up a committee or twenty members for promoting the emigration of females to the Australian Colonies. (NRO, HEA 570, 257X5)
The Committee was set up in order to encourage and assist the ’emigration of single women to the Australian Colonies’. The main reasoning of this was to reduce the ‘great disparity which exists between the sexes’ and improving the social conditions in the Australian colony. The government of the time authorized the committee to grant a free passage to such single women and widows, from the age of fifteen to thirty. These women had to pass the committees health and character assessments and had to prove that they would be likely to conduct themselves with ‘discretion and usefulness in the Colonies’. The committee promised women that they would be paid ‘liberal wages’ and due to the ‘great disparity between the sexes’ would be able to marry ‘under circumstances of provisions and comfort’. The women were told that these were advantages which they were unlikely to find in the ‘crowded population of Great Britain’ and therefore the opportunity was one worth taking.
The committee said that this opportunity was especially recommended for servants who were ‘accustomed to the duties of a farmhouse in England’ because the newly set up farms in Australia had a desire for more women with experience. Housemaids were also encouraged to journey to Australia and were much in demand. The committee also wanted any single or widowed woman who ‘proceeds with a determination to conduct themselves with industry and propriety’ saying that they ‘are certain to do well in these prosperous colonies’.
On their arrival to Australia the women were helped in their adaptation to their new lifestyles by ‘a committee of highly respectable and benevolent ladies’ who provided them with aid, advice and assistance until they are placed in ‘suitable situations.’ The women were told what vacancies were available and were allowed to make their own decisions on what positions they would like to fill.
Unmarried females under thirty were subsidised by the government while for males, females over 30 and married women had to pay either £5 on embarking or a promissory note for the payment of £6 due when they were settled in Australia. It wasn’t only single and widowed women who were assisted by the government. Married agriculturists, gardeners, shepherds and mechanics, ‘of good character’, were also assisted by the government for their journey to Australia. A limited number of such families were assisted if they were assessed to be of good character and of use to the colony which they are planning on journeying to. It was necessary that all applications were accompanied by a satisfactory certificate of character from a resident minister of the parish or another respectable person that the applicant knows well.
Bedding was provided for all females, however men were asked to provide their own. This was because on the voyage men and women slept in different apartments. The females were accompanied by an experienced surgeon and matrons who watched over their health and to ‘secure the protection and comfort of all during the voyage. Each woman was instructed to put their belongings in a box, no bigger than what was necessary. Any belongings not necessary for the first month of travel was not kept by the women but stored in the lower hold of the ship. All passengers were given a list of items to bring, labelled the ‘List of Outfit’. This list included; caps, gowns, shorts, towels, a clock, handkerchiefs, aprons, night caps, combs, soap, cutlery and pots and pans.
In 1834, three ships set sail for Australia. On the First of May 1834 the Strathfieldsaye set sail to Van Diemen’s Land with 309 people aboard, 256 were females under 30 taking advantage of the government’s subsidy. A further 14 were women either married or over the age of 30 and 18 female passengers under the age of 15 were also on board. The average age of females on the ship was 20. On the 10th of July The David Scott set sail for Sydney, carrying 356 passengers in total, 247 of them unmarried females under the age of 30, helped out by the government. On the 16th of October the Sarah set sail for Van Diemen’s Land carrying a further 196 passengers.
Some females who arrived in Sydney were disappointed by their reception and treatment and were worried about their lack of protection of care for their future welfare. The committee suggested that instructions should be sent to Australia and that a house should be prepared for the reception of at least 150 young women, who, on arrival, should be placed under the care of a ‘respectable man’ and his wife and housekeepers. They also suggested that an educated person should be sent to Australia to keep track of the immigrants and help find them employment.
Entry researched and written by Dylan Read.