Earl Grey’s Famine Orphan Scheme

Between 1848 and 1850, more than 4,000 orphan girls emigrated from Irish workhouses to Australia under a government-sponsored programme known as ‘Earl Grey’s Scheme’. Grey was secretary of state for the colonies in the Whig government of that era.

The names of some of the girls are inscribed on the Great Irish Famine Memorial in Sydney. An online database Irish Famine Memorial – Sydney contains information about the history of the scheme and the girls involved. Of this group, eighty-three came from Co. Westmeath.

The entries in the database include one for Honora Smith, a fifteen year old Drumraney girl who arrived in Sydney in 1849. She subsequently married Thomas Henry Thatcher before being drowned in the Gundagai Floods in 1852. You can view Honora’s entry in the database by scrolling down the page linked here.

Enter ‘Westmeath’ in the ‘Native Place’ search box to view the records of other local girls, including a number from Ballymore, Mount Temple and Moate. For example, Eliza and Mary Claffy from ‘Coldry’ [Caulry] were sisters aged 17 and 18 respectively. They left the workhouse in Athlone and arrived in Sydney in July 1850. Their parents appear to have been alive at the time, but their father John was noted as being in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), Australia’s main penal colony.