Not only were there difficult conditions in the Australian colonies, but there was also a gender imbalance where men exceeded women eight to one. Therefore, they wanted “more females to settle in the colony for their house-keeping skills, their child-bearing capabilities and most importantly, their civilizing influence” (Kinealy, This Great Calamity 316). There was no trouble getting men to move to Australia, but the women were more reluctant. The emigration agents would encourage the Poor Law Commissioners in Ireland to recommend women, “the most orderly and best educated” (Kinealy, This Great Calamity 318) to become matched with men in Australia. Qualifications for the women were specific in order to make sure they would be able to farm and take care of the land. Usually, the women would be between fourteen and eighteen years, but older women were frequently sent. They were called orphans, but most of these were either strongly encouraged or forced to leave their families in the workhouses.
These alleged orphans were well taken care of, both before and during the journey. When 60 girls left Roscrea workhouse in December 1848 “they were supplied with soap, towels, combs, hairbrushes and ‘such other articles […] as the Matron may know young females to require” (O’Kelly 148). These were one of the few groups of the famine that were supplied with anything they might need. This could partly be because they were going to be the pride of Ireland that saved the Australian colonies. Evelyn Conlon's novel Not the Same Sky illustrates the situation and experiences of individuals experiencing life as servants in Australia and also the conditions they faced.
While these women were encouraged to immigrate to Australia, there was another group that were forcibly removed there. Between 1844 and 1850, fifteen ships brought criminals to exile in cities such as Port Philip, Hobart, Moreton Bay, Sydney, and Geelong. These cities received 3,734 exiles in the late 1840s, but the settlers did not welcome their arrival. Because of protests, “the policy was modified so that after serving half their detention time, the detainees were awarded a ticket-of-leave so they arrived as free men” in Australia (Harrison 565). Since the men were now free when they arrived, they could be used as labor power to enhance the quality of the colony.
Australia was the only nation that actually recruited Irish famine victims to populate their colony. They were forced to accept the immigrants, all the disease, and the drainage of resources that came with it. That was because Australia had a need to populate their barren wasteland. The number of vessels was raised from 54 to 72 in 1847 to accommodate the rising number of people being willing to emigrate to Australia. In the end there were only 70,000 Irish immigrants that went to Australia between 1845 and 1855 (Keneally, “Australia” 550). Coffin ships travelling there were usually in a decent shape since they were attempting to deliver the people in good health to the colonies. In this case, there was a need for people, and not a need for a sanctuary free of famine.
Harrison, Jennifer. “Week After Week, The Eviction and the Exodus: Ireland and Moreton Bay, 1845-52.” Atlas of the Great Famine. Ed. John Crowley, William J. Smyth, and Mike Murphy. New York: New York University Press, 2012. Print.
Keneally, Thomas. “The Great Famine and Australia.” Atlas of the Great Famine. Ed. John Crowley, William J. Smyth, and Mike Murphy. New York: New York University Press, 2012. Print.
Kinealy, Christine. This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845-1852. Ireland: Gill & MacMillian, 2011. Print.
O’Kelly, Hilary. “Famine and Workhouse Clothing.” Atlas of the Great Famine. Ed. John Crowley, William J. Smyth, and Mike Murphy. New York: New York University Press, 2012. Print.