Royal Hibernian Military School Badge
The Royal Hibernian Military School (1765-1924)
Navigation links at the bottom of this page

Chapter 3
The Pemberton Orphan Ship

  Immigration - Plymouth, Jan. 22 (1850)
From Papers Relative to Emigration
Orphan Immigration

In 1849, when the effects of the Irish potato famine of 1846-1847 were still being felt, a ship load of orphan Irish children left Liverpool via Plymouth for Australia. Numbers vary according to the various reports. Between 307 and 317 girl immigrants sailed in the ship and, of these, 24 were reported to be volunteers from the Royal Hibernian Military School. Although 24 are reported, only 21 are listed in the 'Disposal List (of the) Pemberton' prepared for their hand over to the Government Depot 26. The first report of the orphan ship Pemberton is in the Times.

  Immigration - Plymouth, Jan. 22 (1850) (1)

'The full-rigged ship Pemberton, Captain J.H. Richardson, arrived here from Liverpool on the 12th instant, for the purpose of embarking Irish girls for Sydney.

They (the girls) were selected as follows:- From the Poor Law Union at Rosecrea, 60; Nenagh, 40; Limerick, 50; Kilrush, 30; Lisnakes, 20; Tipperary, 40; Mallow,20; South Dublin, 7; from the Dublin Royal Hibernian Military Asylum, 24; and from the Cork Foundling Hospital. 16; in all 307, under charge of a head matron, 1 school mistress, and 4 sub-matrons. After they had been mustered and sent below, the crew, consisting of 63 persons, were inspected by Her Majesty's Emigration officer, Lieutenant Carew, R.M., who in addition to some general advice, endeavoured in the most feeling manner to impress upon the minds of the men the propriety of treating the unfortunate orphans with every proper respect during the voyage....Thus in every way the bodily and physical wants of these expatriated girls have been cared for. The mental abilities of those from the unions have received little or no cultivation-scarcely any one can write, and very few can read. To aid them in this deficiency, and to provide suitable employment during the long and tedious voyage is the peculiar object of the benevolent institution denominated the Female Emigration Employment Society, which distributes its donations by the hands of the Rev. T. C. Childs, minister of St. Mary's, Devonport, a gentleman who (with Mr. Allen) received the orphans on their leaving the main deck of the Pemberton, and was soon actively employed in giving them spiritual and moral advice, in kindly ranging them in classes, supplying them with books and appointing teachers and monitors to instruct them on the passage. The latter were selected mainly from the girls of the Dublin Asylum and the Cork Foundling Hospital, whose education, discipline, and general appearance, reflected credit on the conductors of those humane establishments.'

The Sydney Morning Herald (2) reported the arrival of the Pemberton at Port Phillip, listing its cargo.

'The Pemberton, ship, has on board, 11 married couples, 317 single women, 3 male children, and 1 female child, under 14 years old. The above emigrants are principally from the Unions. The Pemberton is a magnificent ship, and the largest that ever arrived in Port Phillip.'

In a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald in 1965 (3) Frank E. Hawkins wrote:

Recently in some 'Notes on the History of the Royal Hibernian Military School', Dublin (founded 1769 for the children of British soldiers; dissolved 1992; on the evacuation of British troops from Southern Ireland) at which I was a student in training for Army Schoolmaster, 1905-7 and a master on the staff, 1919-22, I found the following: 'In mid-January, 1849, 21 girls volunteered to emigrate to Australia.'

One wonders about the experiences of these girls in a packed imigrant ship leaving Ireland from the miseries cause by the potato famine and pestilence of 1846-47. The girls would be about 15 years of age, and probably travelled in a group under arrangements made by the governors of the school, and may have had a prearranged destination with some organisation (maybe religious) in Australia.

There may be grandchildren of some of the girls still surviving who can recall hearing of their grandmother's experiences; or there may be records of what happened to the party in the organisation which may have received them. If so, I would be grateful for any information.

The official records of the Hibernian School were stored in London after its disbandment, and there were destroyed by enemy action in World War II.

Frank H. Hawkins
Bournemouth, U.K.

In his notes, Hawkins records that his efforts to contact descendants of any of the Hibernian emigrants to Australia failed. He had two replies: one from a descendent of a daughter of a sailor on board the Pemberton, but she would not have qualified for admission to the RHMS; the other from one who arrived in Sydney five years after the Pemberton.

  From Papers Relative to Emigration (4)

Entry 28 reads 'Pemberton'; number of souls, 339; under the heading, 'Conduct of Surgeon' is the entry, 'The ship arrived in superior state of cleanliness; the arrangement are said to have been highly satisfactory, and the emigrants very grateful for their treatment. The efficiency of the surgeon, Dr. Sullivan, has since led to his receiving a colonial appointment.' Under a further column headed, 'Selection of character of emigrants' is the stark entry, 'An Irish orphan ship.'

  Orphan Immigration (5)

'In the course of 1848, the Home Government conceived a design to transmit to this portion of the Colony of New South Wales, a supply of female labour, consisting of orphan girls selected from the poor-houses of Great Britain and Ireland - chiefly the latter. In May the first batch arrived, and thenceforth only at infrequent intervals.'

[To look after the children and procure employment for them, the Sydney Government formed the Port Phillip Orphan Immigration Committee and Board of Guardians. Charges of incapacity, dishonesty and immorality, however, were laid by the Argus newspaper. It reported that the City recruited harlots from the ranks of the immigrant girls, a charge strongly denied and refuted by the St. Patrick Society with strong connections to the rival newspaper, the Herald.]

'The girls, though rough enough in some respects,' the Chronicles continue, 'were honest, virtuous and teachable. After entering service many of them proved to be excellent household servants. There were at the time certain malcontents in Melbourne, chronic fault-finders and foremost among them....the Argus newspaper.' The Chronicle details the reaction to the criticism of the Argus and continues, 'But the most irrefutable vindication of the Irish orphan girls' came 'from the St. Patrick Society.' At a special meeting attended by 700 visitors, E. Finn, vice-president of the Society delivered a stinging rebuke, which led to a resolution denouncing as gross and unfounded the charges of immorality and dishonesty that blackened the national character of Ireland.

1. Quoted from the TheTimes. Back to 1
2. Sydney Morning Herald, supplement to 22 May 1849, p2. Back to 2
3. Frank H. Hawkins, the ex-Hib who compiled the notes from which this material is here taken. The precise date of the letter to the Herald is not known. Back to 3
4. List of ships despatched to New South Wales (Port Philips) in Melbourne Historical Archives. Back to 4
5. The Chonicles of Early Melbourne, p494. Back to 5

Table of Contents - Royal Hibernian Military School
1769 Petition
1806 Pay and Allowances
1806 Weekly Governor's Report
1806 Time Table
1819 Charter
1819 Diet
1819 Staff Duties
1819 General Regulations
1844 Return of Religions
1849 S.S. Pemberton Orphans
1856 School Inspector Gleig
1857 China
1873 Religion
1900 Review at Phoenix Park
1918 Lost Boys
1919 Roll of Honour
1919 Recollections
1919 Lives of the Hibernians
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
1922 Last cricket match
1924 A soldier's orphan's story
1924 Last roll call
1924 Laying up the colours
1924 The final era
1937 A military misfit NEW
1969 The bicentenary reunion
1994 Capt. Harry Bloomer MBE
2001 IGS No.25 History
2004 Newsletter
2005 The last known Hibernian
2007 Sources of Hibernian documents

Delta Tech Systems Inc
  Duke of York's Royal Military School
Royal Hibernian Military School
Reminiscences of a Queen's Army  Schoolmistress
World War I letters and Reports
Books and Militaria
Wellington on Waterloo
Related Links

© A. W. Cockerill 2005

Site Map     Contact me