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Ellen Boyle – Earl Grey Famine Girl

October 22, 2019

Recently I posted about the earlgreyirishfamineorphans and the young girls who were sent to Australia between 1848 and 1850.  This post is about the Earl Gray Girl in our family.

Ellen Boyle was born at Inver Donegal Ireland in 1833. Her parents were Daniel Boyle and Ann Gallagher. Ellen was probably sent to one of the two workhouses at Inver, when her mother was no longer able to care for her, after the death of her father. Ellen was selected from the workhouse girls to go to Australia under the Orphan Emigration Scheme.

Not all girls chosen were orphans. Many were girls, like Ellen who found themselves destitute due to the death of a parent or other circumstances.

On 11 September 1848 the ‘Lady Kennaway’ departed Plymouth with 191 young girls on board and arrived in Australia almost three months later on 6 December 1848. On arrival Ellen was immediately employed as a maid by Charles Ryan, Doogalook, Goulburn River, Victoria

Ellen married William Calnan, originally from Kilkenny, Ireland, at St. Francis Church, Melbourne on November 12, 1849. They went on to have 12 children – 6 boys and 6 girls.

John Calnan b 1850
Thomas Calnan b 1852
Ann Calnan b 1854
Catherine Calnan b 1856-1856
Catherine Calnan b 1856
William Calnan b 1859
James Reynolds Calnan b 1860
Mary Calnan b 1863
Henry Calnan b 1864
Lorenzoe Calnan b 1865
Edward Calnan b 1867
Phoebe Sophia b 1871

In 1857, Ellen was reunited with her mother, her brother Patrick and his daughters, when they arrived in Melbourne on the ship ‘Pomona’. The family settled at Violet Town where they lived close to Ellen.

Ellen and William were pioneer farmers at Violet Town. It seems that they lived a quiet life, as there is very little information to be found about them on the public record, other than the buying and selling of cattle and sheep.

William Calnan died on 26 May 1883, aged 55 years.  In 1888, five years after her husband’s death, the farm was sold and Ellen moved into the township of Violet Town,settling at Catherine Street Violet Town, where she lived until her death on 14 November 1896. Ellen died at home and was buried at the Violet Town Cemetery. There is no headstone to Ellen’s grave.


from The Violet Town Sentinel, 20 November 1896

Mrs Calnan, a resident of the district for about 40 years, passed away on Friday last, death resulting from influenza and pneumonia. Deceased, who was 63 years of age, and a native of Donegal, Ireland, arrived in the colony early in the century, and soon afterwards settled in the district, where she resided up to the time of her death.

During her residence here, she made a large circle of friends, by her kind and sympathetic disposition, being always ready to help the needy. She was a strict adherent of the Roman Catholic Church, and her life was an example worthy of copying by those with whom she came in contact.

During the last few months, she had been ailing slightly, not to such an extent as would lead anyone to believe that death was so near. Therefore, her demise was unexpected, and came as a shock to her many friends.

Deceased was a sister of Mrs. Boyle, and leaves a large family – all of whom are grown up – to mourn her loss. Deep sympathy is expressed for the bereaved ones. Her remains were interred in the local cemetery on Sunday afternoon. The funeral cortege being one of the largest ever seen in Violet Town. The mourners at the grave were led by the very Rev. Dean Davy of Benalla and the mortuary arrangements were satisfactorily carried out by Riddell Bros.

 My Conclusion

Many of the orphan girls lived long happy lives in Australia, but some did fall on hard times and struggled. The question to be asked is ‘was the Earl Grey Orphan Emigration Scheme a success for Ellen Boyle? I would say a definite ‘yes’ to that. When Ellen Boyle boarded The Lady Kennaway in 1848 as a destitute young girl with very little in the way of future prospects, she could not possibly have foreseen the life that lay ahead of her in the new land. A future that included a long marriage, the birth of many children and a long healthy life. I would say that hers was a life well lived after a rocky beginning.



Single and Free by Elizabeth Rushen

Passenger List: Lady Kennaway

Various civil registration certificates (in hand)

Copyright: 2019,

  1. allisonpeacock permalink

    A fascinating glimpse into your family history. I’m always interested in knowing the reasons behind migration patterns. One would hope these young people found prosperous lives after having to leave the only home they knew. I’m glad it was so for your Earl Grey Girl.

  2. A nice obituary indeed. Touching to read. And good to realize Ellen was reunited with her mother and brother later. Was the Mrs Boyle mentioned a sister or was that her sister in law?

    • I thought it was a lovely obituary too. I’m sure they meant Mrs Boyle her brother Patrick’s wife, so her sister in law

  3. Jennifer, It does seem that becoming an Earl Gray Girl led to a good life for Ellen. With their dire circumstances back in Ireland, that might not have been the case if she had stayed home. She not only had a good life in Australia, but her mother and family were also able to build a good life there p, also.

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