The Irish in Australia/Chapter 8

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Queensland, the youngest of the Australian colonies, had the good fortune, during its infancy and early growth, to receive excellent nourishment in the shape of a steady and systematic supply of Irish emigrants. Through the instrumentality of a devoted Irish-Australian priest, who is now the Very Rev. Patrick Dunne, D.D., Vicar-General of the Diocese of Goulburn, the newly-founded northern offshoot of the parent colony was blessed with many willing Hibernian hearts and hands, that have done much to promote its progress and prosperity, and to accelerate its development in various directions. Soon after the formation of a government in Queensland, the wisdom of fostering and encouraging immigration to so large an unoccupied territory, was immediately recognised and acted upon. An immigration agent (Mr. Jordan) was appointed and despatched to London with instructions to arrange, if possible, for a ship to leave London once a month with emigrants for Queensland. Mr. Jordan experienced some difficulty in securing in England the class of immigrants suitable for the new colony, and it was understood that, in carrying out his mission, he should confine himself almost exclusively to the selection of immigrants from England and Scotland. About this time (1861) there was great distress in Ireland—a partial famine, in fact—and, as usual under such painful and unforeseen circumstances, the heartless landlords were busily engaged evicting and exterminating the poor afflicted people who were unable to pay their rents. On the estate of Lord Digby, near Tullamore, King's County, a large number of families were under notice to quit. Under ordinary circumstances they would, no doubt, like thousands of their compatriots before them, have found new homes and words of welcome across the Atlantic, but America was then the scene of sanguinary strife between the North and the South, and that avenue of escape was thus closed against the persecuted people. There seemed to be no alternative before them but the poor-house, when some of them remembered that Father Dunne was then in the town of Tullamore. Knowing that he had spent some years as a missionary priest in Australia, they came to him in the hour of their affliction, and besought him to obtain passages for them to any of the Australian colonies. Father Dunne communicated at once with Mr. Jordan, the immigration! agent of the Queensland Government, but that official's reply was the reverse of encouraging. It amounted indeed to a practical exemplification of a still-cherished maxim in some quarters—"No Irish need apply." Nothing daunted by this rebuff, the good priest lost no time in opening up negotiations with the owners of the Black Ball line of ships, with whom Mr. Jordan had contracted to carry his selected immigrants to Queensland. This immigration was conducted under what was known as the "land order" system, by which every adult paying his or her own passage became entitled to a land order of the value of £20. This order was negotiable and transferable, and could be sold for its market value. The Act further provided that those who paid the passages of others, and landed them safely in the colony, would be entitled to the land orders of such immigrants. Father Dunne at once saw that under this system he could take to Queensland any number of eligible Irish immigrants, if he only had the means of paying their passages. The circumstances of the poor people whom he wished to befriend, could brook no delay. He had recourse to some of his well-wishers in Ireland, and succeeded in borrowing sufficient money to induce him to proceed with his philanthropic scheme. In less than a month he had received upwards of 500 applications for free or assisted passages to Queensland. It was only natural that he should meet with some opposition from Irish priests, who could not but view with sorrow and pain the sad spectacle of their people preparing to leave their native country for a far-distant land. Still, with nothing before them but starvation or the poor-house, it is not to be wondered at that the poor people were ready to fly anywhere in order to avoid the ordeal of choosing between two such dismal alternatives. The landlords, with a few honourable exceptions, were inexorable in their demands for the payment of impossible rents after a succession of bad seasons, and, as a result of their inhuman conduct in this respect, hundreds of unfortunate tenants and their families were bereft of house and home. Most of them willingly embraced the opportunity afforded them by Father Dunne to emigrate to a new country, which freely offered them the means of obtaining that honest livelihood which they were not permitted to earn on the soil of their forefathers. The Queensland Government Agent displayed to the last an ungenerous opposition to Father Dunne's benevolent enterprise, and even went so far as to declare that it was very doubtful if land orders would be given to any immigrants who did not come out under the government regulations and through the accredited agent. Undismayed by this uncharitable threat, the indefatigable priest persevered in his arduous undertaking, succeeded in chartering a ship, gave it the patriotic name of "Erin-go-bragh," and placed 400 Irish immigrants on board at Queenstown. Nor did his pastoral care and oversight cease when he saw them all safely on board the "Erin-go-bragh." Far from it. He accompanied them on the long voyage to their future antipodean home, cheered them with his genial presence and fatherly counsel, shared with them the privations and discomforts of ship life, and, all through the dangers of the deep, showed himself to be a genuine Soggarth Aroon, When at last they arrived in Queensland, Father Dunne's living active interest on their behalf was naturally directed into a new channel. He smoothed away all governmental difficulties, set to work energetically to place his people on the road to success and independence, and never left them until every one of the 400 was settled in some industrial occupation in the new land of their adoption.

The voyage of the "Erin-go-bragh" was a memorable one in many respects. It lasted for the long period of five months. The ship, although roomy between decks, was the reverse of a rapid sailer, and this drawback caused a jovial immigrant to suggest to Father Dunne the propriety of rechristening her the "Erin-go-slow." Besides, there was an almost constant succession of head winds and calms throughout the voyage. As there were signs of the water giving out, the ship called in at the Cape of Good Hope, where the tanks were replenished, and a fair quantity of fresh provisions obtained. On setting sail again, the same provoking head winds continued to be encountered, and, what was still more alarming, when the "Erin-go-bragh" was about 300 miles from the Cape, she commenced to leak. The pumps had to be kept working every alternate hour, and, strange to say, the leak appeared to be most troublesome during calm weather, when there was no strain upon the ship. It was afterwards discovered, when the vessel was placed for examination in the dry dock at Sydney, that a large auger hole had been bored through the bottom, which allowed the water to flow in freely when the copper was displaced by the action of the waves. This discovery pointed very plainly to foul play on the part of some bigoted miscreant, as it was well-known in Liverpool that the ship had been chartered for the conveyance of Irish immigrants to Queensland. Moreover, it was remembered, and this intensified the aforesaid suspicion, that a Scotch family, who had taken their passage by the "Erin-go-bragh," were privately warned in Liverpool not to travel by that particular ship, as it was very doubtful if she would ever reach her destination. But a good angel watched over the Irish barque, and the prophecy of evil was not verified by the event. It is true the ship was a long and anxious time on the water, but she reached her destined port at last. Captain Borlase and his mate, Mr. Myler, both Irishmen, were most kind and attentive to the immigrants, whilst commendably strict in preserving due discipline amongst them. There was of necessity some little grumbling and discontent occasionally. Two sturdy immigrants thought one day they would settle their little differences with their own muscular arms, and without troubling any outside tribunal. But the captain decided the dispute for them in a very practical and good-humoured fashion. He called them both on deck, made a ring, and ordered them both to strip and see which was really the better man. At the same time, he quietly told the mate to put on the hose and have the force pumps in readiness. When the combatants made their appearance inside the ring, the captain gave the signal to the mate, the hose was immediately brought into operation, and the would-be fighters received so thorough a drenching that nothing more was heard of such personal quarrels for the remainder of the voyage. Every Friday the passengers were supplied with fish and pea soup. It happened on one day that a piece of pork was found in the soup, and the alarming discovery caused considerable commotion. Some of the immigrants lost all faith in the Friday soup after that little accident, and could not be prevailed upon to taste it again. Indeed, one old woman, in the height of her indignation, went so far as to charge the captain with being a "souper" in disguise, that being the repulsive epithet applied by the people to those aggressive Protestant zealots who, with most unchristian indecency, did their best during the famine years, but with very little success, to pervert and demoralise the starving Irish Catholics by offering them basins of soup on Fridays. As a rule, it took some time to reconcile the Irish immigrants to the ship biscuits and the pea soup. They sometimes imagined that the biscuits were t the cause of their sea-sickness, and they could not bear the; sight of them. On one of the ships the immigrants rebelled against the pea soup, waited on the captain, and remonstrated with him for offering them such "dirty-looking stuff," and, when the captain answered them it was the same as that used by the ladies and gentlemen in the first cabin, an Irishman made the amusing retort that "it might do very well for the quality and the pigs, but it was not tit for poor people like him." During the voyage there was an outbreak of measles and low fever that caused some mortality amongst the infants. But, if there were some deaths, there were also births on board the "Erin-go-bragh."

One of those interesting domestic occurrences happened on St. Patrick's Night. When Father Dunne was called upon to baptise the child, the usual inquiries were made as to what name should be bestowed on the infant; and, in recognition of the happy coincidence that the child's natal day corresponded with the feast of Ireland's patron saint, Patrick was unanimously selected as a fit and proper title for the baby. Next morning the father of the child came to the priest in an awful state of trouble and anxiety. "Oh, your reverence," said he, "we made a great mistake last night." "How is that?" inquired the priest. "Oh, your reverence, it was all through that ape of a woman who attended my wife. Sure Paddy is a little girl!" Here was a truly perplexing state of things. A conference of all interested was held, and the priest eventually pacified all parties with the assurance that the little innocent victim of the baptismal blunder should be registered, as "Mary Patrick."

On arrival in Moreton Bay, a large inlet about 25 miles distant from Brisbane, the capital of the new colony of Queensland, the "Erin-go-bragh" was subjected to a short detention in quarantine. When the immigrants were permitted to land, they were taken up the river in a special steamer and heartily welcomed by the Right Rev. James Quinn, the first Bishop of Queensland, and the people of Brisbane. The brother of this energetic and patriotic prelate, the Rev. Dr. Matthew Quinn, of Dublin, afterwards Bishop of Bathurst in New South Wales, followed immediately in the footsteps of the pioneer. Father Dunne, and chartered the "Maryborough" to carry another batch of Irish immigrants to Queensland. The "Maryborough" made a fair passage, and reached Moreton Bay shortly after the "Erin-go-bragh." As soon as the system inaugurated by Father Dunne was found to work satisfactorily, and when it became known that the Queensland Government had decided to offer no positive opposition to the movement, ships conveying a most desirable class of immigrants for a young colony were despatched from Ireland to Queensland month after month in regular succession. Even Mr. Jordan, the government agent, who was so hostile to Father Dunne's scheme at the beginning, completely altered his views afterwards, and bore public testimony to the excellent results it had accomplished. Under the auspices of Dr. Quinn, he went over to Ireland, and lectured in Dublin and Cork on the advantages and prospects of Queensland as a field for emigration.

Having seen his first batch of immigrants comfortably settled on the soil. Father Dunne hastened back to Ireland and safely brought out a second contingent by the "Fiery Star." This vessel had the misfortune to be burned at sea on the return voyage, somewhere between the Auckland Islands and Cape Horn. The passengers and a portion of the ship's crew took to the boats and were never heard of again, whilst the few who remained on the burning hull were luckily rescued at the last moment by a passing barque. The indefatigable priest made still another trip to the old land, and returned to Queensland in the "Sunda," bringing with him a band of Irishmen as noble, as earnest, as gent and a industrious as ever quitted the "green shores of holy Ireland," to aid in building up a new colony "by the long wash of Australasian seas." Thus in three short years, and with none of to-day's conveniences for ocean travelling, this intrepid Irish missionary accomplished six of the longest voyages that are possible on this planet for the benefit of his poor, sorely-tried countrymen and countrywomen, many of whom were saved by his splendid exertions from the fearful effects of famine or the dreaded degradation of the poorhouse. Altogether, about 6,000 people were successfully transplanted through his instrumentality from Ireland to Queensland, and it is highly gratifying to be in a position to state, without fear of contradiction, that all of them who permanently settled in the colony, and avoided the curse of their race, strong drink, have prospered to a remarkable degree, and enjoyed the esteem and good-will of their fellow-colonists of other nationalities. Many of them have risen to wealth and opulence, and are to-day familiar, respected figures in the commercial life of the colony; others have devoted themselves with conspicuous success to agricultural and pastoral pursuits, whilst not a few are to be found filling some of the highest positions in the government service. It was unquestionably the fixed intention of the first government of Queensland to exclude the Irish immigrant, and to make the place as far as possible of a Scotch and English complexion, but, thanks to the immigration scheme initiated by Father Dunne, and followed up by the late Bishop Quinn, that narrow-minded policy was wisely abandoned, and the young colony was allowed to assimilate its fair proportion of the Irish element. Before the arrival of the "Erin-go-bragh," one small church—40 feet by 25—sufficed to accommodate the Catholics of the city of Brisbane, and outside the capital there was but one more in the whole of the vast diocese of Queensland, viz. at Ipswich. Not the least important of the good results of Father Dunne's immigration scheme was the planting in the young colony of a good stock of practical Catholics, whose presence soon became manifest in the number of Catholic churches that sprang up all over the country. It was an essential part of Father Dunne's system to make ample provision for the spiritual welfare of his immigrants, and, with that object, free passages for two priests were secured on each of his ships.

Father Dunne not only laboured most devotedly in the work of rescuing thousands of his unfortunate fellow countrymen and countrywomen from the horrors of famine, and of piloting them to "homes and homesteads in the land of plenty," but, with a kindly sympathetic interest in their future, he published for their benefit some weighty words of sterling advice as to the rule of life they ought to follow, and the special dangers they should try to avoid in starting on their colonial career. He warned the young immigrant to guard against allowing the first feelings of disappointment and dissatisfaction to gain upon him, but rather to look forward hopefully to the position he might gain after a few years of perseverance. On no account should he lose that energy which was so essential for the ultimate success of people starting in a new country. Some of the greatest men in Australia, both as regards their social position and their wealth, had to commence their career in the humble capacity of shepherds. The man most respected in Australia was the man who had raised himself to power and prosperity by his own honest exertions. To the young Irish girls who formed so large a percentage of his immigrants, Father Dunne addressed these words of wisdom:

"It is a fact which very few will dispute, that ninety-nine out of every hundred of the single females who emigrate to Australia, are more or less influenced by the hope of getting married as soon as possible after their arrival. I would by no means find fault with their motives, but I would warn them to be very cautious about the selection of a husband. It is on this point that girls should be particularly on their guard, as it is in this they generally make their first false step. They are too ready to accept the first proposal and to run off to get married to a man of whose religion, country, or character they know nothing. In the majority of such cases, the man perhaps has a wife in some other part of the world, or he is a drunkard, or a bad man, and will of course give his wife the worst of treatment as long as they live together, which is generally from six to twelve months, and then she is deserted or discarded, to pine away with a broken heart the remainder of her miserable existence."

Not a few Irish girls, unfortunately, have come to grief in the colonies from the over hasty desire to change their condition in life, and these warning words of a veteran Irish priest will continue to have their full force and application for many years to come. A generous, unthinking impulsiveness of thought and action may be one of the strongest and most characteristic points of the Irish character, but there are occasions when, if not checked in time, it becomes an element of weakness and disaster. It is a quality that has made Irishmen the very best of soldiers, and Irishwomen the most self-sacrificing of heroines, but, on the lower fields of life, and under less heroic conditions, its exercise is calculated to become a source of sorrow and ruin.

After his impressive admonition to young female immigrants, Father Dunne proceeds:

"I will now offer a few words of sincere advice to the young men. In the first place and before all, I would warn them to be careful to shun and repel the snares and allurements of intoxication. Let temperance be their watchword and their guide. If, after having been preserved from the dangers of the sea, the first act, when they have put their foot on shore, is to go to the public-house and get drunk, how can they expect that God will bless their efforts in their adopted country? Such conduct is invariably the starting on the road to temporal and eternal destruction, and Irishmen are, unfortunately, too easily led into the snare. To ensure success, the young man must add energy and perseverance to sobriety. Let him, under every circumstance, pursue an honest and straightforward course, and he need not fear for the result: success, plenty and comfort will crown his career. Those who now hold the highest places of distinction in Australia, to their praise be it said, landed, as most emigrants do, without money or interest. They had to battle against the most adverse circumstances through many anxious years; but they had energy and perseverance, they were sober and honest, and they now enjoy the rewards of their labour."

The motives that actuated Father Dunne in undertaking his philanthropic immigration enterprise have been thus clearly stated by himself:

"In taking the part which I have during the last few years in directing emigration to Australia, let me not be misunderstood. I have neither promoted nor encouraged it. On the contrary, if our poor people had protection and could live at home, I would say, 'Let them remain by all means.' But when they must leave, when there is no other alternative except the poor-house or emigration, I am persuaded I could not employ my time better than in directing my countrymen to that part of the world where there is abundance of good land, a salubrious climate, where their faith will not be in danger, and where they can enjoy peace and prosperity after a few years, if it be not their own fault. As soon as I see the priests and the people standing together, and firm in the resolve to demand justice and protection for the farmers and labouring classes of Ireland, I will become the most strenuous advocate to keep the people at home. But I must say with all sincerity, I see no other hope at present for the poor downtrodden people of this country but to fly to the most distant part of the world, where there is perfect equality, civil and religious liberty, no poor-houses to demoralise the people, and no landlords to exterminate them."

Since Father Dunne penned these indignant words, the condition of the Irish peasant has been somewhat improved by remedial legislation, but it is susceptible of further improvement still. Though Irish families may no longer be under the dire necessity of flying for refuge to the most distant part of the world, they have yet many evils to encounter and many trials to endure in the land of their birth. But they are consoled by the hope and the expectation, that the day is not far distant when a domestic Parliament will sit in Dublin, and pass the requisite laws for the rectification of the long-standing evils and abuses of arbitrary power.

To say that one of these poor and friendless Irish emigrants to Queensland rose in a few years to be the chief guide and exponent of the public opinion of his adopted country, seems at first sight a somewhat extravagant statement; but it is nevertheless perfectly true of the late William O'Carroll, in his time the premier journalist of Queensland. A native of Cork, he joined one of the first emigrant bands to the new Australian colony, where he soon found scope for the exercise of his vigorous brain-power and his innate literary talent in the leading journals of Brisbane. For many years, and up to the day of his death, O'Carroll was universally recognised as the ruling literary force in the Northern colony—a lofty altitude for an erstwhile unknown Irish emigrant to attain in a mixed community. "What characterised him above all," said the Brisbane Courier, the principal journal of Queensland, whose pages he brightened with his best work and his noblest thoughts, "was the conscience he put into his work. He was never the sort of man who would take up a subject—like a lawyer his brief—and make the best of it without much thought or care concerning the truth of the matter at issue. Truth was the keynote of his nature. The same love of truth made him the most loyal and trusty of comrades to his press colleagues. And there was a strong strain of chivalry in his nature, which found vent in a devotion to his paper similar to that which a soldier bestows upon his regiment. Neither in himself, nor in anyone under his orders, would he tolerate half-hearted service, or anything less than the very best work that could be done. There are men holding high positions in his profession in other countries, who will testify to the value of the sometimes sharp, but always kindly, lessons they received from him when they were among 'O'Carroll's boys.'"

Another brilliant journalist, who was carried away in the very prime of life, was Robert Atkin, a kinsman of Thomas Davis and a member of the Legislative Assembly of Queensland. The monument over his grave by the sea at Sandgate, thirteen miles from the capital, bears the following fraternal inscription: "Erected by the members of the Hibernian Society of Queensland to the memory of their late vice-president, Robert Travers Atkin. Born at Fern Hill, County Cork, Ireland, November 29th, 1841. Died at Sandgate, Queensland, May 2oth, 1872. His days were few, but his labours and attainments bore the stamp of a wise maturity. This broken column symbolises the irreparable loss of a man who well represented some of the finest characteristics in the Celtic race—its rich humour and subtle wit, its fervid passion and genial warmth of heart. Distinguished alike in the press and parliament of Queensland by large and elevated views, remarkable powers of organisation, and unswerving advocacy of the popular cause, his rare abilities were especially devoted to the promotion of a patriotic union amongst his countrymen, irrespective of class or creed, combined with a loyal allegiance to the land of their adoption."