Labouring for the good of the people

Caroline Chisholm is well known for her work with female immigrants and family migration schemes in New South Wales. In Victoria, she pursued the idea that immigrants needed to be dispersed inland in order to find land and/or employment.

Gold was discovered in 1851. Consequently, Victoria experienced a large influx of immigrants from overseas and from other Australian colonies. Vast numbers of people followed the gold discoveries from field to field. After a tour of Bendigo and Forest Creek in 1854, Chisholm formulated a plan which she considered would meet the lack of affordable accommodation en route to the diggings. She approached the Chief Secretary's Department with a proposal to construct ten shelter sheds along the route to Castlemaine. Her letter dated 15 November 1854 detailed the benefits of the scheme to the public and the Government should it be enacted:

Having lately returned from the Bendigo Simpson's and Castlemaine Diggings, I beg to call your Excellency's attention to the great want of accommodation along the line of Road for the wives and families of Diggers, as well as all newly arrived Immigrants who may wish to make their way into the interior in search of more profitable employment than they can find in Melbourne. Good and respectable Hotels are to be met with along the line of the road, and considering the enormous rents they pay, their charges may be considered moderate, viz. Beds 5/- & 4/- Breakfast's 4/- Dinner's 4/ & 5/- Tea 4/-, still such rates are not within the means of second class Travellers, and men in search of work, - Refreshment Tents are freely sprinkled along the line of road where at 3/- per meal travellers can be accommodated, and although Beds can be had at 2/6 & 3/-, I doubt very much whether a family of young children would be willingly received.

Bread can be purchased every few miles at from 2/- to 3/- the 4 lb loaf. Fine mutton from /2 to 8d. per lb consequently at these rates for all articles of consumption, Families could provide themselves with meals at the rate of 9d. or 1/-.

If some more reasonable mode were adopted to bring the road expenses, with regard to night shelter, within the range of a working man's means, we should not have so many wives and families left as they are now unprotected, or hear complaints from the unemployed walking the streets of Melbourne.

I propose therefore to attempt to remedy this evil by establishing respectable Homes along the line of Road where for 1/- per night Beds could be procured by Travellers and for 2d. each meal they should have conveniences for cooking, the use of crockery and a sheltered place for taking their meals seperate [sic] from their Bed rooms. These Encampments I would propose to have at such distances from each other that females could walk from one to the other without fatigue as I hold it to be a matter of great importance not to exhaust the system or energies of the Travellers by over fatigue, sufferings, and other privations along the line of the road.

I beg to call Your Excellency's attention to the fact that the establishment of such resting places would not immediately interfere with any established interest along the line of road, as the parties for whom I am desirous to procure cheap and respectable accommodation either sleep in the Bush or are deterred from going into the country by the difficulties attending a journey.

These Shelter places I propose to establish on self supporting principles, securing from the profits increased comforts for the people and an extension of the system throughout the country.

The first difficulties in establishing such a system of dispersion being great, I have the honor to request Your Excellency will sanction the loan of some tents to aid me in the undertaking - the same to be returned when required for the public service, also permission to occupy Crown lands for such a purpose without charge.

It is perhaps right that I should very clearly state that I do not mean to recommend that stores for the sale of goods should be kept up at these Establishments, further than that parties should be supplied with Hot & Cold Water, Soap and Candles.

I propose to raise the Funds by Subscription, every subscriber to be entitled to receive 20 tickets of accommodation for one pound, Subscribers of five shillings five tickets.

I beg most respectfully to call your attention to the Tax on Immigrants of 5/- on landing, and would suggest that purchases of tickets could be made from that Fund and given by the Immigration Agents to such persons as may wish to push their way into the interior. [1]

It is a credit to Caroline Chisholm's persistence and skills of persuasion that she won the interest and support of the Government. The scheme also owed its success to her personal labours. Chisholm was prepared to oversee the construction and running of the shelter sheds herself. In a letter dated 11 January 1855, she provided further detail about how to make the sheds self-supporting, and enclosed a prototype plan and a quote for the construction of ten shelters:

It is my wish to stimulate the exertions of the parties engaged by holding forth to them the prospect of establishing such places on their own account, and for their own benefit ... Should these Sheds be erected I propose to visit the same frequently until they are in good working order and their usefulness fairly tested ... I think it would be right that such Lodging Houses should be held only under Licence and subject to such inspection as may be considered necessary.

The season is now favorable for commencing such an experiment and no effort or toil on my part shall be wanting. [2]

A committee responsible for conducting the business of the shelter sheds was nominated at a public meeting. The all-male committee worked in conjunction with Chisholm. She received a letter from the Chief Secretary's Department, expressing concern that the shelters could result in long-term costs to the Government. The committee's reply to the letter was direct:

Your Excellency deems it necessary that "a guarantee should be given that the Government shall not at any future time be called upon to pay the salaries of the persons whom it will be necessary to employ or any part of the expense of maintaining the Establishments".

To that guarantee required by your Excellency the Committee give a cordial acquiescence. [3]

As well as expressing her concern for the settlement of the immigrants, Caroline Chisholm was interested in the process of immigration itself. She believed that the systems which were in place did not encourage the migration of families and therefore hindered the social and economic growth of the colonies. In November 1854, Mrs Chisholm proposed a government-sponsored system of immigration that would allow families to reunite and gain access to land:

Under our present system of Emigration to these colonies. both as regards free and voluntary emigration, the seperation [sic] of Families has gone on to such a frightful extent that I beg most respectfully to submit for His Excellency's consideration a system of Colonization calculated to give a stimulus to the Reunion of Families ... I may perhaps be allowed to preface my explanation by observing that probably no man of good reputation and character ever emigrated to these Colonies without entertaining the hope, that he would be someday the possessor of a bit of Land, and I trust that under His Excellency Charles Hotham's Government, this hope may become a reality. In explanation, say we take the case of A.B. A man who has left his wife and children in England. He has been two years in this country and has 140 Sovereigns in a bottle, and moreover 20 ozs. of Gold; He has also a Horse and cart. The great aim of this man is to procure a Homestead in Australia for his aged Father and family now in England, but in order to obtain this advantage he must either sacrifice for years all chance of a Farm, or remain seperated [sic] from his family. Now the case seems to me to be this - this man wants land; He wants out his Wife and six children, and we want the labour of that family, and his idle money brought into immediate circulation. It may not be out of place for me here to state that in my latter travels to the Gold Diggings, I ascertained that at one Gold Digging alone upwards of 50,000 of the people's money were kept under the guardianship of Government, thus without any gain to the people, at an expense to the Govt. and loss to the public.

To gain then these objects, the Reunion of Families, a wholesome and independent system of emigration, and the immediate circulation of now hoarded and unproductive money, - I would most respectfully suggest that Government should issue 5 Passage Tickets and Land Remission orders. [4]

The authorities were not enthusiastic about the scheme. The reservations expressed by the Government with regard to both of Mrs Chisholm's schemes concerned long-term expenditure of public money. Once those concerns were resolved, the shelter sheds plan was successfully implemented.


1.   VPRS 1189, Unit 120, attached to Item 54/ J 13443   [Return to text]

2.   VPRS 1189, Unit 120, Item 55/799   [Return to text]

3.   VPRS 1189, Unit 120, Item 55/4789   [Return to text]

4.   VPRS 1189, Unit 120, Item 54/ J 13243   [Return to text]


VA 475 Chief Secretary's Department

VPRS 1189 Inward Registered Correspondence, Unit 120, Item 55/799

VPRS 1189 Inward Registered Correspondence, Unit 120, Item 54/ J 13243

VPRS 1189 Inward Registered Correspondence, Unit 120, Item 55/4789

VPRS 1189 Inward Registered Correspondence, Unit 120, Item 54/ J 13443

VPRS 115 Immigration Branch Inward Correspondence, Unit 7, Item 51/36

VPRS 115 Immigration Branch Inward Correspondence, Unit 7, Item 51/53

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