History of Bulla Victoria Australia Published 1910

This is the essay which won the second prize at the Bulla Horticultural Show in 1910 and was written by Frank Cleary and published in the Sunbury News Aug 6 1910:


Bulla is a pretty little village, situated on the banks of a clear stream called Deep Creek. In the year 1850 there were very few houses in Bulla- mostly all tents. A police station was opposite Mr Hillary’s house. The constable Mr Talty, was very clever with a sword. Where Mr Honan is living now was known as the “Trooper’s Bend”, as the police horses used to graze on it.

There was a pound yard on the main road. The first poundkeeper, Mr Gilbert, was the father of John Gilbert, the bushranger. The first blacksmiths and wheelwrights were Campbell and Stewart, who had their dwelling and shop in Trap-street, where Mr Allen now resides.

The price of cutting a tyre was 1 pound and for mending a bullock yoke 5 shillings. Mr Stewart removed to Lancefield, and Mr Hall started business in his place. There was one hotel, the Deep Creek Inn, owned by Tulip Wright; he was owner of much land. In the early days he had a boat, and when the creek was too high to cross otherwise, he rowed people across for 5 shillings each way. He also held church service on part of his premises before the church was built. In 1850 the Church of England was built. Mrs Green gave the land. In the following year the Presbyterian Church was built. The first school was on the main road. It was opened in the year 1854. The teacher was a Mr Lazarus. The second school was in Trap-street. The third move was opposite the Deep Creek Inn. First taught by Mr Lazarus, then Miss Thorpe, Mr Freeman, Mrs Cox, Mr Cassidy and Mr Saunders, in succession. The present school was built in 1871, and in the year 1877 the old school was burned down.

In the year 1850 a post office and store were opened in Trap-street by Messrs Smith and Duff. Mr Smith was a son-in-law of Tulip Wright. Mr Bethell had the first contract for the carrying of the mails, and he afterwards bought the store and post office from Mr Smith.

The first newspaper to Bulla was the “Argus”. The price was sixpence.

The Kaolin works were in full swing for many years(in the end of the ’50’s and early in the ’60’s) and over 40 men were employed. In March, 1860,a flood destroyed the works for a time; but they started again in 1868. For many miles around the district it was a great wheat-growing country. Men were employed in cutting the crops with scythes and reaphooks. They used long handle rakes to rake up the crop. My grandfather, Mr O’Brien, reaped and cradled oats on Mr Dicken’s Coldingham Lodge farm (owner), and occupied by the Dickens family for over half a century. There was one butcher, Mr.Dean. He had a slaughter yard on his property. He was a famous shot. He was known to shoot a bullock over his shoulder while his horse was galloping with a bullock giving chase.

Bulla is a very hilly country in parts. The cutting on the Bulla hill was made in the year 1862. Mr Falvy was the contractor. Previous to that the bullock teams crossed the hill where the quarry now is, then known as the “Gluepot Hill”, from the many teams stuck in crossing.

Another short lived industry was the flour mill, which worked for a few years, but closed in 1861. It was built by Mr Hunter and the miller was Mr Straughan. The ruins of the mill still stand by the creek in Lockton.

The first council meeting was held in the Deep Creek Inn in the year 1862. The first secretary was Mr Sutherland; then Mr Harris, who absconded with about 500 pounds of the council’s money; next Mr Daniel, Mr Lethbridge and our present secretary, Mr Daniel. In the year 1868 the Bulla Shire Hall was built. In 1868 and 1869 the Bulla bridge was made of blue stone taken from the Bulla quarry. Also the Shire Hall and many other buildings.

There were only two blacks in Bulla- Jimmy and Jenny. There was also a family of half casts, called the Brigs.

The first bootmaker was a Mr McDonald.

Bulla was once famous for goats. A crossing is still known as “The Goats”.

The beauty spot of Bulla is “Glenara”, the residence of Alister Clark Esq., with its beautifully laid out gardens and flowers. “Glenara” has been the residence of the Clarke family for more than half a century.

In the early ’50’s a gold mine was struck on Mr Batty’s Red Stone Hill farm. There has been a good yield of gold taken from it, and it is still working.

To the east of Bulla,from Lockton to the Inverness Hotel, was all a forest of trees. In later years it was selected and cut up for farming purposes.

A big flood occurred in the year 1870, and washed away the Wildwood bridge. The Catholic church was built in 1876. There have been a good many people drowned in the Deep Creek.

An omnibus used to run from Bulla to Melbourne. The fare was 5 shillings, and in after years a cab took the place of the bus. Bulla was a flourishing township before the railway to Bendigo was opened, the bullock waggons carting from Melbourne to Bendigo passing through it. Previous to the stone bridge there was a wooden bridge, and before that was built the bullock teams used to cross by a ford. Mobs of wild cattle used to pass through on their way to Melbourne.

Brick works were started in 1877, as Mr Gillies had promised a railway, and 18,000 bricks were made. Carting was too dear to continue, and as there was no railway, the bricks were carted away in the following year to the chemical works, and thus another chance for the township to rise again was lost.

Many people were buried in the township -some close to the creek and others close to Trap-street- before the present cemetery was made. There was a small one opposite the Deep Creek Inn which had to be closed when  the road was getting made.

The Burke and Wills’ party passed through Bulla on their way to Cooper’s Creek.

Native cats and opossums were plentiful some years ago. There were more fish in the Deep Creek then than at the present time. The Recreation Hall was built a few years ago. The industry of Bulla at present is farming and dairying.

On the creek just below where the present school is situated is a swinging bridge which has often been wrecked by floods. There have been many floods in the Deep Creek, but the highest was in December, 1906.”

Life in Melbourne Victoria Australia 1841-1852

William and Catherine Fanning arrived in Port Phillip, in the Colony of Victoria, on the 4th of October 1841. This is what they would have seen and experienced when they arrived.

Melbourne was only five years old, with a population on 2nd March 1841 of 4,479 people. Every week during that year migrant ships poured more and more people into it. Although there was plenty of work up country, many hung unemployed about the Immigrants’ Depot. Though the town had some brick houses, because of rapid increase in population it also had many tents and calico huts. It had three banks, two newspapers, two sawmills, a flour mill and several shops. Some doctors were practicing and clergymen of five denominations ministered to their flocks. People had watches, but no-one was certain of the correct time, for the clock at the Post Office was not installed until 1843.

“The streets were quagmires, and the only beacon to guide the wayfarer’s slithering course at night was the dingy spluttering oil lamps, one of which every publican was to keep alight at night in front of the groggery. There was no hospital, no Benevolent Asylum, no lunatice asylum; but there was a gaol, a stocks, and instead of “Black Maria” the sombre hearselike police van now in requisition, a huge chain officiated as assistant pacificator at races and sports, to which refractory individuals used to be manacled, and a very unwholesome string of rascals might, at times, be seen escorted through the streets by the non-descript expiree constables of the period.”

The streets still had stumps in them and were dust-bowls in summer and slushy in winter, Elizabeth Street being a water-course which could only be negotiated with difficulty.

Stagnant water in the streets and insanitary conditions led to epidemics. During that summer there were epidemics of typhoid and dysentery and a patient was buried each week. Drainage from properties was into William’s Creek (as Elizabeth Street was then called) or Batman’s Swamp or the Yarra. From the Yarra, water was sold to the community, the carriers charging two shillings for eighty gallons.

Mail was brought from ships by Mr Liardet and handed to the Postmaster, Mr Kelsh, who operated from a small brick building on the side of the present G.P.O. He was a sour and uncivil person and was superseded in July 1841 by Mr Kemp, a polite and efficient officer, from whom the Clancy’s and others received good service.

At the corner of Elizabeth and Lonsdale Streets, on the edge of the town, was St. Francis Church, where Father Patrick Bonaventure Geoghegan ministered. He arrived in Melbourne on 15th May 1839 and celebrated the first Mass in Victoria on 19th May in an unroofed store belonging to Messrs Campbell and Woolley at the corner of Elizabeth and Little Collins Street .

The great influx of Irish migrants during 1841 caused congregations to increase, collections to become larger, and the need for a Church building to replace the small wooden structure to become imperative. Only a month before the arrival of the Clancy’s the foundation stone of St. Francis Church was laid on 4th October 1841 (the Feast of St. Francis). The day was stormy, but nevertheless a large crowd assembled, including many Protestants. Nearly £200 was collected at the ceremony. Coins were deposited under the Foundation Stone but thieves stole them.

The month of March began with a round of outdoor entertainment. Races were held on 1st March, a sultry day when the attendance was good and on 2nd March when the day was cool. The country came to town when the First Annual Pastoral and Agricultural Society Show held in the cattle market but the show of cattle was not numerous. Business generally was buoyant and building was going on apace in the suburbs and “where the bird whistled today, the chimney smokes tomorrow”. Present high rents encouraged some to rush up Jerry built houses. New Town was renamed Collingwood and building blocks were advertised in several streets. Bushrangers were operating on the outskirts of Melbourne and in the Geelong area. These men – Martin Fogarty, Charles Ellis and Daniel Jeep – were captured, condemned to death, and paraded through the streets to their place of execution. There also took place, for the first time, the public execution of natives on 21st January 1842 when two Tasmanian murderers, “Bob” and “Jack” were hung.

Natives strolled about the streets in considerable numbers. The annual Census in 1841 showed 175 blacks in Melbourne. This number dropped to 92 in 1848 and continued to dwindle. Later, they were prohibited from the town by the Corporation because of their non-conformity of attire, the temptations to drink and their constant begging. From time to time, they held corroborees, the last of these being held near Melbourne in the middle of 1844. A blacks’ school was started near the junction of Merri Creek and the Yarra River, under Mr Peacock. The school was later transferred to Newtown.

By 1842, the boom period of employment for migrants was over and many were finding difficulty in obtaining employment. A depot was formed, the first of the immigrant Homes, and work was found for a hundred or two during several months in making a good carriage road from the falls of the Yarra to Sandridge. A reduction of wages from twenty shillings to eighteen shillings per week led to a strike.

The first elections for a Municipal Council were held in 1842, there being 729 burgesses entitled to vote.

The first Regulations for Schools in Australia took effect from 1st January 1842. A Government grant, not exceeding a penny a day, was made for children whose parents could contribute little toward the cost of education. Quarterly returns were checked by the Inspector of Schools. In 1842, Melbourne had schools conducted by the Church of England, Church of Scotland, Wesleyan, Independent and Roman Catholic Churches, with a gross enrolment of 422 children. Private schools had 2l4 children. Only one-third of the children were attending schools.

Towards the end of 1843, Melbourne experienced a grasshopper plague, when potato and turnip crops near Melbourne were destroyed. “The grasshoppers were lying in myriads all the way from the Catholic Church to the Supreme Court”. An idea of the cost of living can be gained by prices reported on New Year’s Day 1844 – potatoes 8/6 to 9/-per cwt, retailing at 1d to 1d per lb, lettuce 1d a head, French beans 2d per quart, oranges 2d to 3d each, eggs 1/- a dozen, fresh butter 7d to 8d per lb, bacon 1/- per lb, beef 1d to 2d per lb, flour first-grade retailing at 12/- per 100 lb.

Irish people in Melbourne were dining in luxury compared with most of their compatriots in Ireland. The year 1845, with the widespread failure of the potato crop, ushered in a famine the like of which the people of Ireland had never known before, a famine that brought appalling misery and widespread death.

News of this appalling tragedy was published in the papers. This item from the Port Phillip Patriot is indicative of the nature of many published reports. Lamentable records of starvation are published in the May, files of Irish papers, eg., from the Nation -“Cork is like a city of the plague – the unburied corpses trip men in the streets”.” In addition, details would come in letters .

The Rev P.B. Geoghegan called a meeting on 12th August 1846 to consider what they could do to help the people who were suffering. Some 300 attended . A sum of £250 was collected from those present. In four days, this grew to £423 and a little later, the sum of £500 was remitted to Ireland. Later, the amount reached £l,362:17:3.

In 1846, 9,000 – or one quarter of the population of Victoria – was Irish born. As a result of the famine from 1847, another 16,000 Irish arrived in Victoria in the next six years, many of these coming from County Cork. Coming from one region, sharing one religious faith (in the main), belonging to the same economic and social class, they provided a remarkable homogeneity in this rapidly growing community. Indicative of their numbers is the fact that when St. Francis Church was completed and blessed on 25th October 1845, 23 babies were baptised A Census of Gipps Ward taken in March 1846 revealed 886 Roman Catholics, 691 Church of England, 343 Presbyterians 99 Wesleyans and 99 adherents to other denominations, making a total of 2,118.

Gold was discovered in Bendigo in 1851. In that one month, December 1852, 120 ships arrived in Port Phillip, bringing 12,000. Melbourne was a very expensive city in which to live. Rents were multiplied by five and ten; a four pound loaf of bread rose from 6d to 1s 4d for most of 1852, then to 2s late in the year, vegetables and dairy produce trebled in price.

Thanks to Brian Powell for allowing me to post extracts from Eric Clancy’s book “The Overflow of the Clancy” http://www.webcore.com.au/clancy/


The Argus 28 March 1916


Interesting memoirs of the boyhood days of Mr. J. W. Miller, one of the oldest mem bers of the Historical Society, depicting life in Melbourne between 1842 to 1851, were read by the secretary (Mr. A. W. Greig) at a meeting of the society in the Mel bourne Town Hall last night. The paper was compiled from notes prepared by Mr. Miller, who was born in Little Collins street, near the present site of Cole’s Book Arcade, in 1841. Melbourne was pictured as a sparsely populated common, with primi tive buildings and with tall gum trees and wild bush vegetation encircling the out skirts of the settlement. Mr. Miller told how the Government Domain was once used for small farms, and how the spot where Federal Government House now stands had been the rendezvous of the aborigines. He told of the swarms of dogs that infested the settlement, and how in one year the police were praised by “The Argus” for having s laughtered no lower than 1,200.


The writings of an Englishman upon arriving in Melbourne 1852


Decr 26/52

My Dear Papa

We arrived here on Saturday , and by all accounts everything was very dear – for instance – bread 2/- the 4lb loaf, salt 4d per lb – meat 6d per lb, coffee 1/8 per lb, sugar 4d per lb, lump sugar 10d. Spirits etc very dear – beer 6d per glass or 2/- per pot etc and everything in comparison.

I did not intend going on shore till I went for good for they charged 5/- to land. I stayed on board all Sunday – packed up on Monday – and Tuesday morning at 8 o’clock went by the steamer to Melbourne which is about 10 miles from where we were anchored.

It cost me nearly £2. to land with my luggage and all, for labour is so expensive.

Entering the town, it seemed so queer and strange – my chum and I went and walked about, after we had got our luggage stored – we were quite bewildered.

We went to a lodging house and there were two beds – mind I say beds because a room is a thing impossible to get.

These beds were in a room where 12 slept – and I hear there are some houses where 20 sleep together in a room. We took these beds and paid 3/- each for them, and we then had dinner – 2/-.

After dinner I walked in the town and I saw put up in a printers, “Compositors wanted” so I walked in and was engaged at £4.18/- per week.

It is a jobing office and I like it very much – Well I was to go there next morning at 6 o’clock – after that I went and found Frank Wyman, who was very glad to see me – he is doing nothing, but he is not single in this – but of this I will write more of, when I have finished about myself.

After that I went to the tents – or “Canvas Town” as they call it. I should think there must be nearly nearly 1000 tents, and it looks for all the world like Eden in the “Martin Chuzelwitt” of Dickens.

There I saw Mountee and Charlotte, very miserable. They had arrived about 10 days before us – and were 120 days at sea.

They are both very miserable and wish they had never come – which is the cry of everyone that arrived. We had tea with them, and then went home and went to bed.

Since then I have been to work every day from 6 till 6 and have felt very tired when the day is over, and I generally turn in about 9 o’clock. On the morning after I arrived I went to a boarding house to live where they charged me £2.2/- per week for breakfast dinner and tea, and a bed with 12 in the same room.

Oh it is a wretched place destitute of every comfort is this Australia. Cherries 4/- per lb – Cabbages 1/ each Apples 4/ per lb and not worth eating. Washing 12/- per dozen if you send all shirts – but if you mix the things large with the small you can get them done for 8/- per doz.

On the first Monday and first week after I came on Shore I was so dreadfully bit by the Moschettos they bit me all over while I was asleep, you must not scratch the place when they itch for it makes them worse.

My face was so covered with these bites that I looked as if I had the small pox, and really thought I was going to be ill, but I stood up against it, and Charlotte and Mountee, hearing of a house to let at 30/ a week near my office I said I would take one room with them for the houses have only two rooms most of them.

Well – the second Monday after I arrived we were in this house, and thank God I am now free from moschettos, for it was only through so many living and sleeping in one room at the boarding house that I was so bit.

On Christmas day we had some baked pork and plum pudding which was very good. They charged 9d for baking it and if you take 1/- will not give you the change.

Coppers are rare things here nothing hardly is to be bought under 6d .

Change is never hardly given.

To give you an idea of the things here is today that 10/- here is only equal to 1/- in England this is a fact.

I bought a bottle of Port wine and Rum to drink at Christmas and they charged me 6/- for the bad wine and 4/6 for the Rum – one thing of this, I don’t care for I am no drinker.

I drank all your healths at home and thought of what you were all doing calculating the 9½ hours we have gained on you for when we are going to bed at ½ past 9 it is 12 at noon with you. I did not wish any of you here for it is a horrid country.

The summer season is now on , and they say they have no rain, in England.

There have been four or five showers – not such showers as we have in England, but rain that seems to pour – not “little babies in long clothes ” but ” Giants with pitchforks “.

The morning after I arrived I had to cross a street. The water was nearly up to my knees – this the old settlers call nothing.

They don’t call this rain – they say it lasts for 3 months right off.

The Sunday before last I took a walk with Mr Wyman to Pryham, a place about 5 miles off – and nearly knocked myself up, you cannot walk here in the middle of the day – nor at night for murder is nothing here and no one thinks of walking out without a pistol in his pocket, they are “stuck up”, as they call it and thrown into the Yarra river –

It is a wicked country and a devil’s life.

To advise anyone to come out I certainly should not for though I have got a tolerable situation – I am one in a thousand, besides persons who are no trade are useless out here – Clerks are no good here – all they do is work on the road at £3 a week, which with the high price of things is not too much, considering what hard work is.

If Alfred Newman was to come out he would not know what to do – I can assure him for no one but Carpenters and Brickmakers are wanted – not even printers, for they are plentiful now – and I can only say that I am very very lucky.

As for coming out for the ” beautiful country “, it is nothing on England – even in the worst parts. It is a horrid place and where I never hope to settle.

All I say is stay in England – don’t leave her she is not to be equalled.

What some have endured living in the tents I cannot tell you but it is dreadful.

There are many out of work out of employment here as there are in England – and it is only the good workmen – and they must be lucky – that succeeds.

As for letters of introduction they are not worth a dump – in fact I have not used mine.

Bigamy is a constant occurance here that no notice is taken of it.

If a man leaves his wife to go to the diggings she marries another man and when her husband comes back, if he goes to say anything about Justice, gets laughed at, and perhaps a bullet through the head for his trouble.

All I have written is not overdrawn in the least – I can assure you,

and after leaving beautiful England to come to such a different place, where comfort is not known.

Do not advise anyone to come. I do not say this from any selfish mood but for their good while they can exist in England, let them stay.

I was not born to be lucky in some things – I shall give myself ten years and then come home again and see old England again, that is to say if I don’t make my fortune before.

To make a fortune here is easy if you can get established well. Mr Lyon and Roy is here starving, but I don’t think they make much of their London madrigal and Glee Club.

The theatre and all connections with it is far from respectable.

I went to the tents the other day and coming home heard a lady playing on the piano and singing in one of them, “I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls” – poor thing.

I thought that all you can do here is to dream of those places here.

Many persons who work on the roads get sun stroke, and die.

The dysentry has carried off a great many – the water is very bad – in fact nothing is good – meat tough – the flies plentiful, and everything dear.

The gentlemen wear veils as well as the ladies here, to keep off dust and flies.

I have a wide-a-wake and green veil, to look like the rest.

Dogs are very numerous. You have to carry a stick to knock them off to prevent them biting you.

Every one is on an equality here and the only thing that I am not obliged to keep up any great appearances here.

I can wear what I like and no one looks at you. I shall become a rough and uncouth being – and not the civilised Henry Severn that was.

It is no good making friends here for they only cost money and I want to save so shall remain quite by myself going through the routine of the day like a clock.

I have not been able to get all my clothes out of the box but shall go next week.

I hope to send by next letter something to give you but must not promise till I know where I am and must keep a little store in case of illness which please God I may not have.

Good bye.

Give my love to all at home. I hope you are getting on well.

I am expecting letters from you.

Give my love to all – everyone.

Tell them I am doing well and believe my dear father I am your loving son.

Thomas H. Severn

Tell Moma and children they must not be offended because I have not sent my love separately.

A Letter to his Father from Thomas Henry Severn, a newly arrived passenger on the ship “PRINCE ALFRED”.

Written in Melbourne Australia on 26 December 1852.

Source: http://home.iprimus.com.au/foo7/rombook1vic.html

Ireland in 1841

maynooth Ireland 1851

“In 1841 Ireland had long been under British rule, and became united with England in 1801. A large Anglo-Irish population, descendants of people who had settled in Ireland some centuries earlier, were the land-owning aristocracy. The Church of Ireland was also in a privileged position, and tenants were required to pay tithes to a parson of a faith they considered heretical.

Rebellions against British rule occurred in 1798 and 1803. Many people perished, and many rebels were transported to Australia. Others were transported because they were convicted of crimes of violent protest against poverty and landlordism; yet others were transported because they were ordinary criminals, mostly thieves, often as a consequence of their poverty.

The period from the late eighteenth century until the big potato famine in the eighteen-forties was one in which there was literally a “population explosion”. Montesquieu calls population “une immense manufacture”. It certainly flourished in Ireland. From an estimated population of 4,753,000 in 1791, the figure rose to 8,175,124 in 1841. This increase was achieved despite the migration in the period 1780-1845 of 1,140,000 to the U.S.A. and Canada, 600,000 to England and Scotland, and a smaller number to Australia.

The standard of living improved in the second half of the eighteenth century. Arthur Young visited Ireland in 1776, and in the most fertile districts he found “lower classes” – tenant farmers’ -had a sufficient supply of potatoes. They normally kept a cow, a pig, a flock of hens, which lived in the cabin with the family, and numerous lakes abounded with fish.

“But reverse the medal: They are ill-clothed and make a wretched appearance, and, what is worse, are much Oppressed by many who make them pay too dear for keeping a cow, horse, etc., and the wretched cabins, sometimes made out of sods of clay, have to house the livestock as well as the family.”

This oppression was due to the land tenure system. Landlords farmed out rents to middle-men, who put the screw on “rack-renting”. Many tenants felt their only recourse was to force. Land-leagues sprang up in the 1760’s “Whiteboys” (so named for their hoods) terrorised the country.

The housing position remained shocking. The census of 1841 graded “houses” in Ireland Into four classes. The fourth and lowest class consisted of windowless mud cabins of a single room. “Nearly half of the families of the rural population” reported the Census Commissioners, “are living in the lowest scale”. Pigs slept with their owners.

There were severe famines in Ireland in 1817, 1822, 1826, 1831,1835-37. Then came the Great Famine of 1845, so called because instead of attacking one and a half million, as in 1817, it killed some two million people directly and forced a million more into the hunger-hulks to emigrate.

Over most of the first half of the century, there was extreme agrarian distress. William Carleton called Ireland “one vast lazar-house, filled with famine, disease and distress”. The Poor Law Commission of 1836 reported that for about 30 weeks of every year some 585,000 (with 1,800,000 dependants) were “out of work and in distress”. This led to the passing of the Irish Poor Law and the establishment of workhouses.”

From 1831-1836 the tithe resistance movement was in full spate in County Cork, as well as in Kilkenny, Tipperary and Waterford. Tithes were taken on two things touching the peasant’s life closely, bog-turf and potatoes. The clerical income derived from potatoes was enormous. Farmers armed with pitchforks and pikes engaged in hand to hand fighting with the military and police, who had rifles, bayonets and artillery. The last of these encounters took place at Rathmacormac, a hamlet between Cork and Castletownroche, in December 1834 when soldiers with a Protestant clergyman (who was also a justice of the police) proceeded to collect a tithe of forty shillings from a widow. In 1838 the resistance proved successful and Parliament passed the Tithe Commutation Act.

Taken with permission from “The Overflow of Clancy” by Eric G. Clancy.

The Great Famine in Ireland 1845-1852

The Great Hunger
1845 -3,251,907 quarters (8 bushels=1 quarter) of corn exported from Ireland to England

1845 – 257,257 sheep exported to Britain

1846 – 480,827 swine exported to Britain

1846 – 186,383 0xen exported to England

1847 – 4,000 ships carrying peas, beans, rabbits, salmon, honey and potatoes left Ireland for English ports

1847 – 9,992 Irish cattle sent to England

1847 – 4,000 Horses and Ponies sent to England

1847 – Approximately 1,000,000 gallons of butter sent to England

1847 – Approximately 1,700,000 gallons of grain derived alcohal sent to England

1847 – 400,000 Irish people died due to starvation

No issue has provoked so much anger or so embittered relations between two countries England and Ireland as the indisputable fact that huge quantities of food were exported from Ireland to England throuhout  the period when people were dying from starvation.
B0KH45 The Irish Famine, 1845-1849, (1900). Artist: Unknown
B0KH45 The Irish Famine, 1845-1849, (1900). Artist: Unknown


Grosse Isle, Quebec Quarantine Station – 10,000 Irish dead
* Deaths between 1.0 and 1.5 Million Famine-related deaths

* Emigration: Between 1.5 and 2.0 million Irish left Ireland due to the Famine

* Evictions: Between the years 1849 and 1867 109,000 families were evicted

* Coffin Ships: 20,000 Irish died enroute to Canada

* At the peak of the famine 3 million people were fed in soup kitchens

* The potato blight was recorded in the US in 1843. It then crossed over to
Europe and hit Ireland in 1845

* By March 1847 there were nearly 750,000 Irish in work houses

* By 1806 only 4% of the land was owned by the Irish (compared to in 1600 96% of the land was owned by the Irish)

Coffin Ships: Fares to British North America ( Canada ) was less expensive than to the US because of its shorter distance and less strict passenger regulations. These coffin ships contributed to 20,000 deaths enroute in 1847, representing at least one in six who left Ireland for Canada.

Potato Crop versus grain: A family of six could be fed for a year on one acre of potatoes compared to four acres of grain.

Potato Blight: The cause of thr blight confounded European leading scientists and botonists, many theories were brought out as to the cause of the blight which included insects, fog, weather, parasites, static electricity, guano and even the Pope was blamed. An antidote was not discovered until 1882 when Alex Millardet created a mixture of copper sulphate solution.
Famine and emigration
The Irish Famine By Jim Donnelly

A million people are said to have died of hunger in Ireland in the late 1840s, on the doorstep of the world’s richest nation. Ideology helped the ruling class avoid grappling with the problem of mass starvation. Jim Donnelly describes how.

The Great Famine in Ireland began as a natural catastrophe of extraordinary magnitude, but its effects were severely worsened by the actions and inactions of the Whig government, headed by Lord John Russell in the crucial years from 1846 to 1852.

‘The Irish famine was proportionally more destructive of human life than the famines of modern times.’

Altogether, about a million people in Ireland are reliably estimated to have died of starvation and epidemic disease between 1846 and 1851, and some two million emigrated in a period of a little more than a decade (1845-55). Comparison with other modern and contemporary famines establishes beyond any doubt that the Irish famine of the late 1840s, which killed nearly one-eighth of the entire population, was proportionally much more destructive of human life than the vast majority of famines in modern times.

In most famines in the contemporary world, only a small fraction of the population of a given country or region is exposed to the dangers of death from starvation or infectious diseases, and then typically for only one or two seasons. But in the Irish famine of the late 1840s, successive blasts of potato blight – or to give it its proper name, the fungus Phytophthora infestans – robbed more than one-third of the population of their usual means of subsistence for four or five years in a row.

An artificial famine?

This was not an artificial famine as the traditional Irish nationalist interpretation has long maintained – not at any rate at the start. The original gross deficiency of food was real. In 1846 and successive years blight destroyed the crop that had previously provided approximately 60 per cent of the nation’s food needs. The food gap created by the loss of the potato in the late 1840s was so enormous that it could not have been filled, even if all the Irish grain exported in those years had been retained in the country. In fact, far more grain entered Ireland from abroad in the late 1840s than was exported-probably almost three times as much grain and meal came in as went out.

‘Why didn’t the British government do much more to mitigate the effects of the …food gap?’

Thus there was an artificial famine in Ireland for a good portion of the late 1840s as grain imports steeply increased. There existed – after 1847, at least – an absolute sufficiency of food that could have prevented mass starvation, if it had been properly distributed so as to reach the smallholders and labourers of the west and the south of Ireland.

Why, then, was an artificial famine permitted to occur after 1847, and why didn’t the British government do much more to mitigate the effects of the enormous initial food gap of 1846-47? In many contemporary famines a variety of adverse conditions make it difficult or impossible to deliver adequate supplies of food to those in greatest need. Such conditions include warfare and brigandage, remoteness from centres of wealth and relief, poor communications, and weak or corrupt administrative structures. Ireland, however, was not generally afflicted with such adversities.

famine family 2

Ideological resistance

Though it had a rich history of agrarian violence, the country was at peace. In addition, its system of communications (roads and canals) had vastly improved in the previous half-century, the Victorian state had a substantial and growing bureaucracy (it generated an army of 12,000 officials in Ireland for a short time in 1847), and Ireland lay at the doorstep of what was then the world’s wealthiest nation. Why, then, was it not better able to deal with the problems caused by the failure of its potato crop?

‘Prevailing ideologies…militated against heavy and sustained relief.’

In answering this question, it is instructive to contrast the role of ideology in the general response to famines today with the part played by ideology in response to the Great Famine in Ireland. Today, wealthier countries and international organisations provide disaster assistance (though, alas, often not nearly enough) as a matter of humanitarian conviction and perceived self-interest. But in Britain in the late 1840s, prevailing ideologies among the political élite and the middle classes strongly militated against heavy and sustained relief.

Political inertia

Before examining this issue of ideology in the 1840s and 1850s, however, we should review what the British government might have done to mitigate the natural catastrophe arising from repeated ravages of potato blight.

First, the government might have prohibited the export of grain from Ireland, especially during the winter of 1846-47 and early in the following spring, when there was little food in the country and before large supplies of foreign grain began to arrive. Once there was sufficient food in the country (imported Indian corn or maize), from perhaps the beginning of 1848, the government could have taken steps to ensure that this imported food was distributed to those in greatest need. Second, the government could have continued its so-called soup-kitchen scheme for a much longer time. It was in effect for only about six months, from March to September 1847. As many as three million people were fed daily at the peak of this scheme in July 1847. The scheme was remarkably inexpensive and effective. It should not have been dismantled after only six months and in spite of the enormous harvest deficiency of 1847.

Third, the wages that the government paid on its vast but short-lived public works in the winter of 1846-47 needed to be much higher if those toiling on the public works were going to be able to afford the greatly inflated price of food. Fourth, the poor-law system of providing relief, either within workhouses or outside them, a system that served as virtually the only form of public assistance from the autumn of 1847 onwards, needed to be much less restrictive. All sorts of obstacles were placed in the way, or allowed to stand in the way, of generous relief to those in need of food. This was done in a horribly misguided effort to keep expenses down and to promote greater self-reliance and self-exertion among the Irish poor.

Fifth, the government might have done something to restrain the ruthless mass eviction of families from their homes, as landlords sought to rid their estates of pauperized farmers and labourers. Altogether, perhaps as many as 500,000 people were evicted in the years from 1846 to 1854. The government might also have provided free passages and other assistance in support of emigration to North America – for those whose personal means made this kind of escape impossible.

Last, and above all, the British government should have been willing to treat the famine crisis in Ireland as an imperial responsibility and to bear the costs of relief after the summer of 1847. Instead, in an atmosphere of rising ‘famine fatigue’ in Britain, Ireland at that point and for the remainder of the famine was thrown back essentially on its own woefully inadequate resources.

Doctrines of inaction

What, then, were the ideologies that held the British political élite and the middle classes in their grip, and largely determined the decisions not to adopt the possible relief measures outlined above? There were three in particular-the economic doctrines of laissez-faire, the Protestant evangelical belief in divine Providence, and the deep-dyed ethnic prejudice against the Catholic Irish to which historians have recently given the name of ‘moralism’.

‘The idea of feeding …a large proportion of the Irish population violated …the Whig’s cherished notions.’

Laissez-faire, the reigning economic orthodoxy of the day, held that there should be as little government interference with the economy as possible. Under this doctrine, stopping the export of Irish grain was an unacceptable policy alternative, and it was therefore firmly rejected in London, though there were some British relief officials in Ireland who gave contrary advice.

The influence of the doctrine of laissez-faire may also be seen in two other decisions. The first was the decision to terminate the soup-kitchen scheme in September 1847 after only six months of operation. The idea of feeding directly a large proportion of the Irish population violated all of the Whigs’ cherished notions of how government and society should function. The other decision was the refusal of the government to undertake any large scheme of assisted emigration. The Irish viceroy actually proposed in this fashion to sweep the western province of Connacht clean of as many as 400,000 pauper smallholders too poor to emigrate on their own. But the majority of Whig cabinet ministers saw little need to spend public money accelerating a process that was already going on ‘privately’ at a great rate.

An act of Providence?

The Irish were portrayed as freeloaders in the British press of the time.Recent historians of the famine, while not neglecting the baleful role of the doctrine of laissez-faire, have been inclined to stress the potent parts played by two other ideologies of the time: those of ‘providentialism’ and ‘moralism’. There was a very widespread belief among members of the British upper and middle classes that the famine was a divine judgment-an act of Providence-against the kind of Irish agrarian regime that was believed to have given rise to the famine. The Irish system of agriculture was perceived in Britain to be riddled with inefficiency and abuse. According to British policy-makers at the time, the workings of divine Providence were disclosed in the unfettered operations of the market economy, and therefore it was positively evil to interfere with its proper functioning.

‘This mentality of Trevelyan’s was influential in persuading the government to do nothing.’

A leading exponent of this providentialist perspective was Sir Charles Trevelyan, the British civil servant chiefly responsible for administering Irish relief policy throughout the famine years. In his book The Irish Crisis, published in 1848, Trevelyan described the famine as ‘a direct stroke of an all-wise and all-merciful Providence’, one which laid bare ‘the deep and inveterate root of social evil’. The famine, he declared, was ‘the sharp but effectual remedy by which the cure is likely to be effected… God grant that the generation to which this great opportunity has been offered may rightly perform its part…’ This mentality of Trevelyan’s was influential in persuading the government to do nothing to restrain mass evictions – and this had the obvious effect of radically restructuring Irish rural society along the lines of the capitalistic model ardently preferred by British policy-makers.

Finally, we come to ‘moralism’-the notion that the fundamental defects from which the Irish suffered were moral rather than financial. Educated Britons of this era saw serious defects in the Irish ‘national character’-disorder or violence, filth, laziness, and worst of all, a lack of self-reliance. This amounted to a kind of racial or cultural stereotyping. The Irish had to be taught to stand on their own feet and to unlearn their dependence on government.

‘Moralism’ was strikingly evident in the various tests of destitution that were associated with the administration of the poor law. Thus labourers on the public works were widely required to perform task labour, with their wages measured by the amount of their work, rather than being paid a fixed daily wage. Similarly, there was the requirement that in order to be eligible for public assistance, those in distress must be willing to enter a workhouse and to submit to its harsh disciplines-such as endless eight-hour days of breaking stones or performing some other equally disagreeable labour. Such work was motivated by the notion that the perceived Irish national characteristic of sloth could be eradicated or at least reduced.

Famine fatigue

This set of ethnic prejudices, which have now been abundantly documented, had the general effect of prompting British ministers, civil servants, and politicians to view and to treat the Catholic Irish as something less than fully human. Such prejudices encouraged the spread of ‘famine fatigue’ in Britain at an early stage, and they dulled or even extinguished the active sympathies that might have sustained political will – the will to combat the gross oppression of mass evictions, to alleviate the immense suffering associated with reliance on the poor-law system, and to grapple with the moral indefensibility of mass death in the midst of an absolute sufficiency of food.

‘It seems doubtful that the British governing classes learned much from their Irish experience.’

The Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has rightly insisted that famine is almost always a preventable occurrence if only the government in question has the political will to prevent it. This dictum applies as much to Ireland in the late 1840s as Sen meant it to apply to India a century later. Just as in the case of the Bengali victims of famine in the early 1940s, so too with those of the Great Famine in Ireland, the mass death of enormous multitudes of people stemmed partly from their perceived status as the cultural and social inferiors of those who governed them. This status, imposed by British rulers on their colonial subjects, made their plight seem much less urgent in Britain and caused it to be misperceived.

It seems doubtful that the British governing classes learned much from their Irish experience in the late 1840s. In British India, during the years 1876-79, famine claimed the lives of between six and ten million people. And between 1896 and 1902, an almost certainly even higher toll from starvation and disease (the estimates range from six to nineteen million) was recorded there, just as the reign of Victoria, the Empress-Queen, came to its inglorious close.

The Great Irish Potato Famine by James Donnelly (Sutton Publishing, 2002)  http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/famine_08.shtml

Famine Village Achil at the bottom of Slieve More ireland
Famine Village Achil at the bottom of Slieve More ireland

Timeline of Irish History 1695-1850

Between 1695-1728 a series of acts is passed by the Irish parliament against Catholics. These: Prevent Catholics from bearing arms and owning horses worth more than £5. Restrict their rights to education. Stop them buying land and on death, Catholic property has to be divided among all sons. Ban Catholics from serving in the army, holding public office, entering the legal profession, becoming MPs or voting.

From 1719 Protestant emigration from Ulster to America begins to gather pace, mainly due to poverty.

The American colonies rebel against British rule in 1776. The American John Paul Jones raids Belfast Lough in 1778. With the British unable to respond, thousands join the mainly-Protestant Volunteers to defend Ireland against possible French invasion.

Volunteer influence Henry Grattan’s Patriot party wins nominal independence for the Irish parliament from Westminster in 1782, following resolutions passed by a convention of Volunteer companies.

Catholic Relief From 1782-93, several Catholic Relief Acts restore some rights – inheritance, to practise law, to vote.

Wolfe ToneUnited Irishmen Wolfe Tone founds the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast in 1791, with the aim of parliamentary reform and religious equality.

Orange Order formed. A skirmish between Protestant Volunteers and Catholic groups at Loughgall in County Armagh in 1795 leads to the formation by the victors of the Orange Order.

French invasion A French invasion fleet, accompanied by Wolfe Tone, tries to land in Bantry Bay in 1796, but with little sign of any military opposition, is beaten back by storms.

Failed revolt Rebellion breaks out in Wexford and after initial success is defeated at the Battle of Vinegar Hill on June 21, 1798. Two French expeditions land, with Tone in the second. Both fail and Tone is captured and commits suicide.

Pitt the Younger: resigned on principleAct of Union A Bill joining Ireland and England comes into force in 1801.

Prime Minister William Pitt, who had promised Catholic emancipation after Union, resigns when it is vetoed by George III.

A disastrous revolt by Robert Emmet is crushed with ease in Dublin in 1803. Before being executed, he is immortalised among Irish nationalists by his speech from the dock:

“Let no man write my epitaph … When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then and not till then let my epitaph be written.”

The United IrishmenO’Connell emerges Catholic political leader Daniel O’Connell forms the Catholic Association in 1823.

Banned Unlawful Societies Act of 1825 bans groups such as the Catholic Association and also the Orange Order.

Elected Daniel O’Connell elected MP for County Clare in 1828 despite not being allowed to take his seat as a Catholic.

Emancipation Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 allows Catholics to become MPs and the franchise is reformed.

A ‘Monster’ Meeting’Monster meetings’ O’Connell organises “monster” meetings of many thousands of supporters in 1843 to campaign for repeal of the Act of Union and a separate Dublin parliament. The Clontarf meeting is banned and O’Connell backs down.

The English were seen as uncaring about Ireland’s plight when the Great Famine Disaster strikes in 1845-49 because the potato harvest, on which millions of the poor are dependent, failed. Westminster organised limited corn imports and public works schemes, but failed to halt mass starvation and disease, with people dying where they fell. Some 1.5m people emigrate but about 1m are believed to have died out of a population of 8m. The memory of that time is seared deep into the nation’s consciousness.

BBC News Thursday, March 18, 1999