Thursday, March 18, 2010

Caroline Chisholm

I have been reading a lot about Caroline Chisholm lately. Why? Because I have been learning about the contributions of Christians to the formation and development of what we benefit from as citizens of Australia today. I've only just started reading about it but i'm already surprised by how much I didn't know, how much of a contribution Christianity has actually made to the formation of this country that I've taken for granted.

I'll be the first to say that Christians aren't perfect, and in regards to Australia – Yeah there were some pretty ugly stuff ups along the way. But I actually want to focus on the positive today (for a change!). There were numerous Christian Men and Women who worked very hard to see the Kingdom blossom in colonial Australia, and who had a real impact. Caroline Chisholm is one of these people.

But who is Caroline Chisholm? Here are some random facts:

  • They call her 'the emigrants friend'.
  • The Catholic Church wants to have her canonised.
  • It's said that the character of Mrs Jellyby from Charles Dickens 'Bleak House'- a 'telescopic philanthropist' who fails to live up to her duties at home - was based in part on the woman Chisholm.
But who is she? Well, have a look at this:

If you were alive and observant before 1992, you may recognise this old Australian $5 note featuring Caroline Chisholm. She was the first women who wasn't a monarch to appear on Australian currency. She featured on the note for 20 years. She was immortalised in this fashion in honour of the huge amount of work she put in improving the lives of immigrants to Australia.

She was- by the sounds of it- a very practical woman. When she saw a need she was willing to get in there herself and do something about it. Her great great Grandson Don Chisholm said of her,

“... she was intensely practical so when she came to talk to a bureaucrat or Government official, they were always amazed first of all by how practical she was and secondly as to what she'd already done before she got in their door..”

Sounds like she made it easier to make things easier for people.

The quote I have most often found of hers during the period of my research is this,

I promise to know neither country nor creed, but to serve all justly and impartially."

In an unsettled period of sectarianism and interdenominational angst, she had an ability to look past differences in belief to the reality of human need in colonial Australia, and that was what enabled her to make a real difference.

The Background stuff

Caroline was born in Wootton, England (yeah I had no idea where it was either) to a well-to-do pig farmer and land owner. She was one in a large family. As a kid she was pretty good at Math and French. It seems her family was quite hospitable (a streak that ran also through Caroline in adulthood as we will learn), they made a habit of opening their home to rich and poor.

When she was 22 she married Captain Archibald Chisholm. I did a google image search for “Archibald Chisholm” and came up with this:

But I suspect that isn't him. Actually I'm certain it's not. He was 13 years her senior, a Catholic and a Scot. She became a Catholic after him. Archibald was posted to India in 1832, and Caroline joined him a year later.

While in India...

Caroline felt concerned about the welfare of the wives and children of the soldiers in Madras. Many were poor and taken advantage of - driven to prostitution and other crimes. In an effort to improve their lives Caroline sought permission from the Governor to start a school which would give young women practical education. She succeeded and in 1834 started The Female School of Industry for the Daughters of European Soldiers.

On to Australi-land

Caroline arrived in Australia in 1838. Here is a small picture of what was happening in Australia at the time:

Seriously though things such as Sir George Gipps being the Governor of NSW were happening. There was controversy about education- should denominational schools continue receiving money from the government or should funding instead go entirely to national schools? There were issues with land boundaries and squatters and the treatment of Aborigines. More Immigrants arriving all the while.

When Caroline arrived it wasn't long before she became concerned by what she saw around her. She was disturbed by the number of immigrants – men and women – who were destitute, living on the streets and involved in crime. She was especially worried for the girls, who were particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse in that context.

After a considerable effort of her part Caroline secured permission from Govener Gipps to turn an Immigration Barracks building into a home for those girls who had none. It was called the Female Immigrants Home and it served as a safe place and a new beginning for lots of people. Caroline looked for long term living situations and work for many of these girls. The home was up and running - in the first two years she found jobs and homes for at least a thousand people - within three years of her arrival in Australia. It was able to close in 1842 due to its enormous success. Even after the close of the home Caroline kept helping men, women and even entire families settle in Australia. Between 1841 and 1844 she assisted some 14,000 people.

Read this:

"I would like a building to house these girls. I'm willing to work hard, assist in any way, give my time freely, provided such a home for young girls becomes a reality."

Caroline had a certain way of operating. She always seemed to be very personally involved (to the extent of personally escorting young ladies to their new jobs in the country) in her projects, giving a lot of time and energy in seeing them through.

Caroline of Many Hats..

Here are some other things Caroline was a part of:

One Hat - After the close of the Women's home Caroline and Archibald continued to help settle people. During this time the pair (then retired) gathered statements from settlers about what life in Australia was like. These testimonies were used to encourage and give information to those back home considering immigration to Australia. Caroline went back to England in 1846 as an advocate and 'publicist' for Australia. She helped establish a society that worked to send groups of families to Australia – dispatching some 3000 in 5 years. Through lobbying, she also gained free passage for immigrants wives and children.

Two Hat- While in England she chartered and personally supervised (to the extent of choosing a doctor to be in charge of the rations) the embarkment of a ship – 'Slains Castle' – which left for Australia in 1850.

Three Hat- Back in Australia the Gold Rush hit. Concerned for the hordes of people flocking to Victoria in search of Gold, Caroline lobbied the government to set up shelters alongside the roads to the gold fields.

Four- Caroline's lobbying efforts also turned to the unlocking of the lands (significant amounts being wrapped up by squatters) She believed that if many farmers could be settled on their own small farms the overall wealth and well being of society would improve.

Being the young woman I am, it can be all too easy for me to forget the difference one person, one woman, can make in the big scheme of things. Caroline Chisholm is to me a very encouraging example of what God can accomplished through willing people. It is after all less about what I can do, but what God can do through me if I submit myself to being used for his purposes. Caroline submitted her skills, time and health to the service of God and achieved good things for this country. I am very grateful.

I'd like to finish this blog off with a short story about Caroline that I read recently. She has been running the Female Emigrants home for a few months, it's believed this story takes place in 1942. A 15 year old girl, fresh off a ship has been swept away by a young man.. Caroline - concerned for her safety - goes in search of her...I am of course, rewriting and simplifying the story so bear with me.

The ship arrived and Caroline heard there had been some flirtation on board. A group of girls had been sent to her at the home, but one was missing. It turned out that a man had picked her up in a boat shortly after she left the ship. Caroline knew where the two had gone, so heading toward the jetty she hired a boat and began a search. At their destination Caroline disembarked with a little difficulty, and began looking for the girl on foot. Upon discovering the pair, Carolina urged the girl to return with her. The girl laughed and told Caroline that she hadn't come this far (to Australia) to be treated like a child. Her 'partner' arrogantly suggested Caroline leave. Caroline's response was to say that if he gave the girl up now he wouldn't have to reap the consequences of the alternative. He asked what consequences. She replied 'First, when I leave here, I shall report at Capt. Browns Office that a girl from ship ___, (who is underage) is here. I shall then call at the 'Herald' Office, and the “Gazette” Office, and state all I know. I shall then report the circumstances to Mr. Mereweather, the immigration agent, when nothing more will be necessary for me to do: what steps he may feel justified in taking, I know not, but I can assure you the Press of Sydney wont spare you.”

The young man, scared out of his wits let the girl go with Caroline. Before the two left he stopped Caroline to tell her the girl was an innocent one, and assisted her into the boat.

Must.. Not.. Say.. Girl Power!



Breward. L, A History of the Australian Churches, Allen and Unwin 1993
Piggin. S, Evangelical Christianity in Australia: Spirit, Word and World, Oxford University Press 1996


Kay said...

Well done hannah! I did know about Caroline....but not that much. Thanks xx