The Murray Family – Chapter Two – Destination: Why NSW?

CHAPTER 2    Destination – Why New South Wales?


With Ireland pushing and New South Wales pulling, it was not surprising that emigration took off. In the late 1830s and early 1840s, newspaper advertisements were appearing in Tyrone and West Fermanagh seeking immigrants for New South Wales.  In spite of the image of the Australian colonies as being penal, an increasing number of free settlers began to flow from all of Ireland to Australia.

Many emigrants already had relatives in the Australian colonies. Charles and Susan Murray were only part of what was to become known as ‘chain migration’ from particular counties in Ireland from the late 1830s.  The process was one by which a pioneer immigrant encouraged out another family member, who encouraged out a friend, who encouraged out aunts, uncles, cousins, and so on.

Many of these emigrants, once in New South Wales tended to settle close to family and friends from their original native place in Ireland.  Chain migration functioned as a social mechanism, easing the immigrants’ inevitable sense of exile and loss by making it possible to surround themselves with some familiar faces.[1]

An advertisement from the Northern Standard of 1840 by an immigration agent, John Harpur of Clones sought migrants.  Publicity encouraging emigration to Australia took a variety of forms including handbills posted in strategic places, newspaper reports, and letters. Such letters, from happy settlers in the new land, were read by recipients beyond the family circle to the whole village, and raised expectations for personal and social improvements.

As another illustration of how attractive emigration to New South Wales was portrayed, here is an encouraging advertisement from The Londonderry Sentinel of 25 April 1840:

Emigration to Australia per ‘Champion’ James Cairns Emigration Agent at Londonderry

The subscriber begs leave to acquaint the public that he has made arrangements with a most respectable House in Liverpool, which sails a first class, well appointed ship every month throughout the year for the above flourishing colony, by which A FREE PASSAGE will be given to approved married mechanics, gardeners, shepherds, farm – servants, etc. 

(Those having families will find the subscriber’s terms very advantageous, and the members are not separated on board these ships, which is not the same by the regulation of other companies).  

Unmarried labourers and good household servants will receive a passage on very moderate terms … Emigrants on their arrival in New South Wales, will be quite unrestricted, and at perfect liberty to engage themselves in any way they may consider the most for their own advantage’. [2]

  Alick Osborne, Immigration Agent for Australia

John and Alick Osborne, naval surgeons in the service of His Majesty George IV, had sailed to New South Wales as surgeons in charge of convict ships.  They liked what they saw, and eventually settled there.  With the imminent cessation of the convict free labour system in the late 1830s, there was a growing need to find agricultural labourers to work on their various Osborne farms in the Illawarra district of New South Wales.

It was timely that in 1836 the Irish Governor of New South Wales, Sir Richard Bourke,

Map showing proximity of Dromore and Kesh.

dispatched Alick Osborne back to Ireland ‘to select emigrants and bring them out to this colony’.  With Captain Alick Osborne RN setting himself up as an Emigration Agent [3]at the port of Londonderry, the Osbornes advertised their free immigration scheme in newspapers in Tyrone and West Fermanagh.  Alick had taken to himself the title of  ‘ His Majesty’s Emigration Agent for Australia, Omagh .’  With advertisements in newspapers such as the Erne Packet, he would expect to receive many applications from West Tyrone, Fermanagh and South Donegal[4].

Numerous families from the north Fermanagh area, close to Dromore, were inspired by the Osbornes to emigrate to the Illawarra in NSW with an assurance of work. Just across the border from Fermanagh, Dromore in County Tyrone was probably no more than ten miles from Kesh and Aghinver.

Assisted immigration to New South Wales

The proceeds from sale of Crown lands in Australia were used to finance the ‘free passage’ emigration scheme. The passage would be free, but applicants were required to pay a small deposit. Although the Government would provide bed and board gratis, the passengers were expected to provide their own clothing, both for the journey and for use in the Colony afterwards.

It seems likely that Charles Murray was aware of the Osbornes’ advertisements and was convinced that emigrating would offer a better life for his family.  North America was, of course, an attractive alternative destination; “Ameriky ,” was a more familiar name and idea. Those, like Charles Murray who chose far-off Australia, perhaps had a particularly adventurous streak.  However, there would be many decisions and tasks to attend to before setting off on such a journey.  Even with bounty assistance, a large emigrant family needed a lot more money to travel to far-off New South Wales than to America.

West Fermanagh tenants possessed church land that was not of high quality, being rough unproductive pasture. Many sold the tenant rights in their farms and used that towards expenses for their passage to Australia[5]; Charles Murray of Kesh/Aghinver may have been in a similar situation.  Contributions towards their fares were only part of the expense; they had also to provide themselves with a substantial sea chest of clothing appropriate to a lengthy voyage of between three to four months and on which extremes of climate were experienced.[6].

There was also the expense of fares to and accommodation at the port of embarkation, often in England.   Between 1837 and 1845, some of this inconvenience was lessened somewhat for the Irish, as some of the emigrant ships sailed directly for Sydney from Irish ports.  Fortunately, in 1838, Charles Murray’s family had only to get themselves and their belongings as far as Londonderry; the Susan would sail from there on the long sea voyage to Port Jackson.

Farewelling the emigrants

Cruickshank and Co’s full rigged “St Vincent” was a regular visitor to Australian ports during the 1840s and 1850s.[Illustrated London News 13 April 1844]

There are many accounts of the tearful farewells when the emigrant ships departed Ireland’s shores. It is very likely that some Murray family members accompanied them from their Fermanagh villages or townlands to the port of Londonderry, in order to say their last goodbyes. One such emigrant[7] described the final parting . ‘Shrieks and prayers, blessings and lamentations, mingled in “one great cry” from those on the quay and those on shipboard, until a band stationed i n the forecastle struck up Patrick’s day.’

William Allingham[8], Ballyshannon poet and customs officer, was present when the emigrant ships made ready to sail.  In his Diary 1824-1846, he writes,

‘I never heard anyone express the least fear of the dangers and hardships of the long voyage in an often tightly – packed and ill – found sailing ship; but great was the grief of leaving home and “the ould counthry ”, and vehemently, though not affectedly, demonstrative were the frequent parting scenes.’

  Allingham illustrates this anguish in his poem, ‘ The Winding Banks of Erne’.  His following words surely reflected the feelings of our Fermanagh emigrant Murray family as they said their farewells to family and friends left behind when the Susan left Londonderry for New South Wales on 18 October 1838.

Adieu to evening dances, when merry neighbours meet

 And the fiddle says to boys and girls, ‘Get up and shake your feet!’

 To ‘shanachus’ and wise old talk of Erin’s days gone by

 Who trench’d the rath on such a hill, and where the bones may lie

Of saint, or king, or warrio r chief; with tales of fairy power,

 And tender ditties sweetly sung to pass the twilight hour.

The mournful song of exile is now for me to learn –

 Adieu, my dear companions on the winding banks of Erne!

However, those emigrants who arranged their travel to Australia were generally better off than those who left Ireland for North America.  The costs involved in shipping out to Australia were obviously much higher.  Australia, therefore, attracted a significant proportion of emigrants with the resources to set themselves up in business, or on the land, in the expanding agricultural hinterland of the coastal settlements; Charles Murray did just this.

In spite of the image of the Australian colonies as being penal, an increasing number of Free Settlers began to flow from all of Ireland to Australia.  It has been estimated that prior to the famine years, 1,000,000 Irish emigrated and perhaps 40 per cent were Ulstermen, and a large number of these went to New South Wales in Australia.[9] They spent months at sea on their journey and came for many reasons – to own homes and land for the first time, to find gold, escape established class systems, poverty and overcrowding.

They were adventurous, forward thinking, hardworking and ambitious. The descendants of these Ulster emigrants were to play a significant role in the shaping of Australian society.  And, in the year 1838, the Murrays of Fermanagh were on their way to New South Wales to play their part in all of this.



Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. REID, Richard. “Green threads of Kinship: aspects of Irish chain migration to New South Wales, 18201886”, Familia: Ulster Genealogical Review, Vol. 2, No. 3, p.47-56.
  2. McLAUGHLIN, Trevor.  From Shamrock to Wattle: Digging up your Irish Ancestors, Sydney: Collins, 1985, P65-66
  3. An Australian emigration agent called Ramsey was based in Derry at this time. (Ref: email from Brian Trainor 8/11/99)
  4. McDONNELL, Pat. ‘The voyage of the Adam Lodge’, Clogher record 1988 (p.132-137)
  5. TRAINOR, Brian (Dr.)  Visiting Lecture at Archives Authority of NSW 1988
  6. The Irish Australians: the Irish emigrant, ed. by Richard Reid and Keith Johnson, Sydney: SAG & UHF, 1984, p.29
  7. Ireland: Its Scenery, character, etc by Mr and Mrs Samuel Carter Hall 1841-43
  8. ALLINGHAM, William, Poet, born at Ballyshannon March 19, 1824.  Died London Nov 18,1889
  9. PARKHILL,Trevor, “Aspects of Ulster Emigration to Australia 1790-1860”, Familia, Ulster Genealogical Review Vol 2, No. 3, p.57-68