When Caroline Chisholm knew death was near, she asked that the sacrament be brought to her. She died in London of bronchitis on this day, March 25, 1877. The Times gave her ten lines. Australian papers printed only a notice paid for by her children. This was shocking treatment of one whose faith had done much for Australia.
While still a newcomer to Australia, Caroline had seen a group of girls standing on the shore looking confused and dejected. She spoke with them and found that they were immigrants, sleeping at night in the shelter of "the rocks," Sydney's crime district. No one would hire them. Although they were decent orphans, they were labeled as trollops. A few girls had turned to prostitution when their hunger became acute. Their neglect was owing to the fact that most were Irish, and the Protestants of Sydney despised their Catholic faith. Another factor which played into their neglect was past experience, for criminal women had been put on the ships.
Her conscience stirred, Caroline inquired what each girl could do and promised help. She called on her acquaintances and placed several girls as servants in homes. If Caroline vouched that they were decent--well, the ladies would give them a try. Those that Caroline couldn't place, she took home with her. Her housekeeper taught them a few skills, and soon Caroline found positions for them, too.
Meanwhile, she lobbied the government for an old barracks to house new arrivals. The governor resisted. Then Mary Teague, a newcomer, was charged with drunkenness. She protested that she was just wobbly from hunger, not having had a bite to eat in two days. The judge did not believe her and ordered her exposed in the stocks for an hour. When released, Mary wandered off until she collapsed. She was found lying in a ditch, near death, with nothing but the clothes on her back. The Chronicle printed the story.
Embarrassed, the governor finally gave Caroline a small space. She decided to spend the night there. "But I was put to the proof at starting: scarce was the light out, when I fancied a few dogs must be in the room, and, in some terror, I got a light." To her horror, she saw rats everywhere. She almost fled, but hesitated. If she ran now, she would be the laugh of the town. Her plan to shelter immigrant girls would be ruined. "I therefore lighted a second candle, and seating myself on the bed, kept there until three rats, descending from the roof, alighted on my shoulders. I knew that I was getting into a fever, in fact, that I should be very ill before morning; but to be out-generaled by rats was too much..." She stuck it out and fed the vermin poison the next night.
Caroline devoted her leisure time to the poor girls, "determined with God's blessing, never to rest until decent protection was afforded them." This meant she had to leave her own children in care of others. She even established a job registry and drove girls into the country herself.
When churches would not help, she turned to God alone. The good she did was incalculable. That is why Australia later carried her picture on its five dollar bill for over twenty years.
- Chisholm, Caroline. "Female Immigration Considered in a Brief Account of the Sydney Immigrants' Home." London, 1842.
- "Chisholm, Caroline." Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921 - 1996.
- "Chisholm, Caroline." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998.
- Glimpses #135. Worcester, Pennsylvania: Christian History Institute.
- Hoban, Mary. Fifty-One Pieces of Wedding Cake: A biography of Caroline Chisholm. Lowden Publishing, 1973.
- Kiddel, Margaret. Caroline Chisholm. Melbourne University Press, 1950.
- Numerous web sites mention Caroline Chisholm.