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The Irish Orphan Girl In Our Family

February 22, 2022

Parts of the following post have been published here previously. This is the updated version, with extra information added.

Ellen Boyle

In 2019, I posted about the Earl Grey Irish Famine Orphans and the young girls who were sent to Australia between 1848 and 1850.  This post is about the Irish Orphan Girl in our family, my 2x great grandmother Ellen BOYLE.

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. I am only guessing about this, as I haven’t been able to find any evidence of the death of Ellen’s father. The workhouses were overcrowded with girls, and at the same time there was a need for females in Australia to be domestic servants. The Earl Gray Emigration Scheme was set up to send orphans to Australia. Between 1848 and 1850, 4114 girls aged from 14 to 20 years, from 117 Irish Workhouses to the ports of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

Ellen was selected from the workhouse girls to go to Melbourne, 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

Before they left Ireland each orphan girl was given a regulation kit of clothing, linen and utensils stored in a lockable box. The girls shared bunks in third-class quarters and mustered in small mess groups. Each shipment was overseen by a surgeon-superintendent and a matron, who guarded against contact with sailors and fellow passengers.” –

Lady Kennaway

Ellen BOYLE was aged 16, when she boarded the Lady Kennaway, bound for Australia. She was listed as being a nursemaid, and a Roman Catholic. Ellen could neither read nor write.

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. Charles RYAN and his family were very prominent in the early years of Victoria’s settlement.

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Report of the Immigration Board of Inspection – Lady Kennaway

We have the honor to inform you, that according to your instructions, we, on the 7th instant, proceeded, on board the Lady Kennaway, which arrived at Port Phillip on the day previous with female orphans, immigrants, after a voyage of 85 days. The females in question, have been selected out of several of the Poor House Unions, in Ireland, and consist of girls of the age from 14 to 19 years. Their general condition aspect indicates good health, and gives the impression that they belong to the humbler ranks of life. They are generally of the stout make, rather low in stature and are endowed with strongly marked Irish physiognomies. They are almost exclusively of the Roman Catholic Religion, and it would appear that most of these have been in service of some kind or other, either in town or country, previous to leaving their native homes.
We do then, consider these to be, on the whole, a most seasonable supply and acquisition, to this city and it’s environs, and hope that we may in future have many importations of a similar kind, and as they came originally from small country towns and adjoining districts, they have never seen or been accustomed to witness those demoralizing scenes too frequent in the large towns in many parts of the Empire, and we do not but that they will continue to conduct themselves as hitherto, and keep in the paths of virtue.
Every person that was fortunate enough to get on of them, that we have spoken with express themselves well pleased with them. They are most anxious to please their employers, and as they have much to learn, in the line of their callings, we doubt not, that they will be teachable and make good and useful servants. Very few of them can read, and scarcely any of them can both read and write, altho each of them was given a prayer book and testament from their respective unions.
They are represented as having been generally well conducted during the voyage, and amenable to the rules and regulations established for their observance. Some few of them were inclined to be rather noisy and boisterous occasionally, and would not hesitate at times to let out a bit of an oath.
The importation by this vessel consists of seven families, comprising 19 souls, Orphan girls 191. One girl aged 11 years, sent out to join her parents in Melbourne to whom she was delivered up. Chief Matron 1, sub matrons 4, making a total of 216 souls. Only one death, that of a child occurred on the passage. The people all arrived here in excellent health, none being on the sick list, and they certainly exhibited the appearance of having been on full allowance on the voyage.
Not a single complaint of any kind was made by any of them. All expressed themselves satisfied with the treatment they experienced during the passage.
The surgeon superintendant, being an old navy surgeon, and besides having had experience in this particular line of employment, seems, with the cordial co-operation of the master and other officers of the ship, to have maintained strict order and to have preserved that moral restraint so necessary under the peculiar circumstances of this case.
We beg leave in this place, to represent to your Honor to be brought under the consideration of the proper authorities at home, should such be declared expedient, that in cases likely to happen in future where a large number of immigrants have been selected either in Ireland or Scotland, a great benefit would be conferred on them, by substituting a quantity of oatmeal for a portion of the articles of diet, as supplied at present by the dietary scale, together with a proper proportion of molasses to be used with the porridge, in lieu of milk, the article generally used ashore, such substitution would be most grateful and better suited to their tastes and habits, but we consider would be conducive to their well being and health.
There is a milk made with maize meal in the same manner that oatmeal is treated, equally palatable, nutritious and wholesome, which during the voyage, might be alternated with the porridge, with much benefit. It may not be out of place here to remark, that the applicants for the service of these females, were numerous, and at the present time they are all hired in respectable places, but three not yet engaged.
(signed) John Patterson, Chairman
(signed) Henry Green
(signed) P. Sutton

Almost one year after arriving in Australia, Ellen married William CALNAN, originally from Kilkenny, Ireland, at St. Francis Church, Melbourne on November 12, 1849. Ellen was aged 16 years.

William and Ellen went on to have a long marriage and a large family of 12 children – 6 boys and 6 girls. Only two of their children died as infants. I know nothing of the early life of William CALNAN, but I do wonder if he was also employed by Charles Ryan, and met Ellen there. As the marriage occurred so soon after Ellen’s arrival in Australia, I feel that this is entirely possible. I need to do further research on the early years of William CALNAN. All I know is that he was from Kilkenny, Ireland.

In 1857, Ellen was reunited with her mother, Ann GALLAGHER, her brother Patrick BOYLE, and his daughters, Ellen, Ann and Margaret, when they arrived in Melbourne on the ship ‘Pomona’. The family settled at Violet Town where they lived, just a short distance from 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.

Ellen’s husband William, 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, 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 at site no. 216.


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.

#Please note: Punctuation and paragraphs have been added to the above transcription for ease and speed of reading.


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 future and the life that lay ahead of her in the new unknown land, so far away. 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.

VPRS 28/POUnit 826 Item 64/65Imaging The Great Irish Famine: Representing Dispossession in Visual Culture by Niamh Ann Kelly
Superintendant Report, Lady Kennaway 1848, Public Record Office of Victoria, (PROV) VPRS 14/P/0000 Book No. 4
Will, Ellen Calnan, 1897, Public Record Office of Victopria (PROV) VPRS 28/P0000 64,650.
Farewell My Children by Richard Reid

©2022 copyright. All rights reserved

From → Family stories

  1. Very interesting in deed! I have never heard of the Earl Grey Orphan Emigration Scheme, it was very interesting to read about! Seems like you’ve done a tremendous amount of research on the matter; impressive. How were you able to find the information about your 2nd great grandmother being a part of it?

    • Hi Diane. Many years ago I found out the ship my ancestor came on. I later read that this ship was involved with the Earl Grey Scheme. That led to further research. Thanks for your interest

  2. Having never heard of this emigration scheme, I was fascinated by your post and happy that your ancestor ultimately did well.

  3. It’s so cool that you found so many documents to show the steps your ancestors took (and trials they endured) before going to Australia.

  4. Hi Jennifer! Great story. Several of my American ancestors who came from large families were servants living away from their families. Very interesting to hear about the Earl Grey scheme!

    Thank you, Chris
    Great read as always…

  6. I had heard of the scheme before Jennifer but it is always wonderful to hear a personal story. It would be interesting to find out more about those witnesses to the wedding. Or have you already?

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