Michael D.’s Famine travel box

Michael Ds Famine travel box
Image: MAXWELLS DUBLIN
(L to R) President Michael D Higgins, Mr. Mark O’Brien and Mr. Michael Blanch

The President was recently presented with a handmade replica of a Famine era travel box

Crafted by prisoners in the Irish Prison Service, the travel box is a replica of the travel boxes used by those who boarded emigrant ships in the 1800s.

The box, commemorating the 4,000 women who were sent from Irish workhouses to Australia under the ‘Earl Grey’ scheme of 1848-1850, was presented to the President by the chairman of the Committee for the Commemoration of the Irish Famine Victims Mr. Michael Blanch and Mr. Mark O’Brien, assistant chief officer of the Irish Prison Service.

About the Earl Grey’s Famine Orphan Scheme

Between 1848 and 1850 over 4000 adolescent female orphans emigrated from Irish workhouses to the Australian colonies, arriving at Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Their emigration has become known as the ‘Earl Grey scheme’ after its principal architect, Earl Grey, Secretary of State for the Colonies in Lord John Russell’s Whig government at the time of the Great Irish Famine.

Michael Ds Famine travel box
Image: MAXWELLS DUBLIN. President Michael D Higgins and Mr. Mark O’Brien

It has not always been recognised that Irish women made a tremendous contribution to Australian society. About one third of convict women were Irish. More than 1000 young single women came to Sydney and Hobart in the 1830s, a handful from Foundling Hospitals in Dublin and Cork but many from ‘respectable’ but often poor circumstances.

Approximately 18,000-19,000 Irish migrants arrived under some form of government assistance to Melbourne and Sydney between 1839 and 1842. Of these about half were female. Gender balance was a defining characteristic of Irish migration to Australia throughout the nineteenth century. In 1855-56 over 4000 single Irish women arrived in Adelaide.

Such infusions of Irish female blood had a telling influence on the development of colonial society. These ‘Earl Grey’ female orphans sit comfortably within that tradition.

To read more about the Earl Grey Scheme, please visit: www.irishfaminememorial.org


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