Starving Ireland, Hungry Australia: The Irish Female Orphan Emigration Scheme, 1848-1850

Emily Lieffers


From 1848-50, the British government sent 4,175 famine-stricken orphan girls from Ireland to Australia to give them a better life and fulfill population needs in the colony. The controversy surrounding the orphan emigration scheme suggests that prejudices against the Irish and their poverty were easily exported to a colonial setting. The girls’ physical appearance and ignorance, largely a result of poverty and terrible conditions in workhouses, were taken as racial deficiencies, while their religion was viewed as a threat. This orphan scheme is thus a valuable case study for historians seeking to explore the limits of colonial citizenship in the British Empire and to reinvigorate historiography concerning Anglo-Irish relations in the Famine era.

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