Museum Article Week Fourteen

03 Jul 2020
Admin Manager By Admin Manager

Museum Article Week fourteen

Welcome again all friends of Mountmellick Embroidery and Heritage Museum to week fourteen in our series of articles relating to our museum and local history. We hope that this finds you well and staying safe. In many ways the loosening of restrictions around Covid 19 while welcome, will impose more challenges and risks for all of us as the danger of complacency and noncompliance with best practice guidelines is something that we all need to be mindful off. Thanks as always for the positive feedback which our weekly publications are generating, please feel free to share any of the articles which may be of interest to your friends.

In last week’s foreword I had indicated that we would bring you the continuing story of a local Girl Mary Miller who was one of 4114 very young girls selected from the workhouses around Ireland during the famine times and transported to Australia under an assisted passage scheme known as the Earl Grey Scheme. The main purpose of this scheme was to alleviate serious overcrowding in the workhouses where living conditions were abominable, and to send female immigrants to Australia where there was a huge shortage of women settlers.  Mary along with thirteen companions from the Mountmellick and Abbeyleix workhouses travelled on the ship Tippoo Saib which departed from Plymouth for Sydney on the 8th of April 1850. (For background to this story see week eight article by Ger Lynch “The voyage of the Inconstant”).  Each Girl selected was given a travel box which contained their worldly possessions. In almost all cases we never know what their subsequent history was. The circumstances surrounding the revelation of Mary’s history as you will see is a story in itself.   In a unique collaboration with the Irish Prison Service, replica travel boxes have been made to honour the memory of these girls who endured such hardships both prior to leaving Ireland in their attempts to force a new life in this new emerging Country of Australia, many miles from their home. Each replica Box made told the story from an Irish perspective of one Girl selected at random from a ships list.  Mountmellick Museum was presented with one such Box with the details of Mary Miller as known inlaid into its timbers, which in itself was a very fortuitous name selection as you will see.  Like so many other girls who departed our shores, what were the chances of ever finding out what became of her after her brave decision to leave her native Country at 19 years of age in 1850. To answer that question, I would like to hand you over to Lou Walsh, her Great, Great, Great Granddaughter who will tell you what she knows of Mary’s story and of her own unique experience while travelling here. It was a pleasure to host Lou in my home and now count her amongst our friends. Thank you Lou for your contribution. There is no doubt that Mary Miller and the other 4113 other girls transported under this scheme through their indomitable spirit and perseverance overcame many trials and tribulations and in doing so laid the foundations of what Australia is today.

Over to you Lou and thank you for your contribution.

Ann Dowling – Chairperson Museum Committee.


My name is Lou Walsh and I live about 15 kilometres outside the city of Toowoomba, a large inland town on the Darling Downs, in the state of Queensland, Australia. I am married to Kev and we have 3 married children, 9 grandchildren, an angel and three great grandchildren. We are semi-retired and love travelling. My favourite pastime is researching my family at the Toowoomba and Darling Downs Family History Society.

Ten years ago, my husband and I visited the Mountmellick Museum and it was closed for lunch. In September 2018, we visited the Museum and it was again closed for lunch but the guide, Ger Lynch, said he would show us through. A chance remark to Ger, that my 3rd great grandmother came from Mountmellick and was an Irish orphan, was the start of a wonderful experience for me.  I don’t have the words to describe the look on Ger’s face when I told him my Irish orphan’s name. He took me into the next room to show me ‘a box'. …and there was a photo of my great-great-great grandmother, Mary Miller, looking back at me.  For Ger – a descendant of a Mountmellick orphan had walked in off the street. The box was the Mountmellick Travel Box.   

In Ger’s story, he explained the idea behind the making of the box. Thanks to the Chair of the Mountmellick Museum, Kev and I visited Arbour Hill Prison and saw the Travel Box being made.  I have been lucky to view the only original travel box in existence, which is on display in ‘The Barracks’ museum in Sydney, Australia.

I was pleased to be able to travel to Mountmellick in May 2019 when the museum was presented with the Travel Box by the Minister for Justice, Charles Flanagan. At that event I was given the honour of telling Mary’s story.  Since then, I have visited the area where Mary and her family lived here in Queensland. I have walked on the land they first bought.

We all know it is harder to research a female than a male as most leave fewer traces in contemporary records unless they manage to acquire land, run a business, write a novel or fall foul of the law – Mary seems to have done none of these things. I have used documentation such as marriage, birth, death certificates and land grant documents that mention Mary and her family, as well as events of that time from newspaper articles, family histories accounts and stories written by the early settlers to tell the story of Mary.

Mary Miller – who was she?

In Ireland, she is one of the 4114 girls who left Ireland as part of the Earl Grey scheme to parts unknown.  She is someone’s daughter, maybe sister, wife and mother, but to me she is my great, great, great grandmother.  I am her descendant through her first-born son Richard.

Mary was born in Ireland on the 6th of July 1831 to parents Ann Humphries and Thomas Miller.

As an adolescent, Mary grew up during the well-documented hardships of the Great Famine that occurred in Ireland, hence her admission to the workhouse.  Her father was deceased, but what became of her mother?

The Earl Grey scheme is responsible for the next step in Mary’s life. She ticked the boxes and was selected by Lt Henry of the colonial and emigration services to go to Australia.  Did she consider saying no? What was the alternative?

The aim of the Earl Grey scheme was to relieve the overcrowding of the workhouses in Ireland, and in Australia, women were needed to restore the gender imbalance.

The first step of Mary’s journey to the Colony of New South Wales was to travel from the Mountmellick Workhouse to Plymouth in England.   She left Ireland with all her possessions in a wooden box supplied by the work house.

On her arrival in Plymouth, Mary gathered with other orphans at the immigration depot while they waited for the ship to take them to their new life.  The orphans were again scrutinised for their suitability to travel to the colony. For Mary, that ship was the ‘Tippoo Saib’, described by the newspaper as a well fitted- out ship of 1022 tons that was built in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada in 1849’. It went on to say ‘It was under charter to her Majesty’s Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners and was to convey 300 female Irish orphans and about 30 married couples to Sydney. The captain was Captain Morphew and Dr Church was the surgeon superintendent.  Dr Church was described as a gentleman of great experience in the service of Emigration – a most able officer, and one who has given the Government the most entire satisfaction, and Mrs Church his wife.’    

Mary was one of the immigrants on board. On the shipping list she was listed as a nineteen-year-old Catholic; she couldn’t read or write and was a house servant. That is the total information I know about her.

The ‘Tippoo Saib’ departed Plymouth on the 8th April 1850. The trip to the colony was a long trip, over 13,000 miles. It took 110 days to complete. Life at sea was uncomfortable and often hazardous. Storms were common.

The ship left England, sailing south to the equator then into the Great Circle Route. This route involved enormous risks from drifting icebergs and the wild seas generated by frequent storms. It required exceptional navigational skills, as even the slightest error could lead to disaster.

When the Tippoo Saib arrived in Australia on the 30th of July 1850, it anchored in Port Jackson, now known as Sydney Harbour. The girls had to remain on board for another week before they were able to set foot on dry land.  During this time the girls were probably groomed for hiring.

A notice from the Colonial Secretary ‘s office went out to advise people of Sydney the ship ‘Tippoo Saib’ had arrived with 347 immigrants aboard and they would be available for hiring.  Included in this number were 17 married males who were hired out first.

The notice read:  

The orders for the hiring of the girls read -

‘all application for servants must be made to the surgeon superintendent on board,

and the immigrants will be cautioned against hiring themselves to any person without his sanction

and without a formal agreement, to be signed by the two contracting parties and witnessed by an officer of the immigration department,

who will attend on board the ship for this purpose.

After a week the orphans were conveyed to the Immigration depot. As the records of the Tippoo Saib have not survived, we don’t know who hired Mary.  But we do know that a letter went to the Police Magistrate in Moreton Bay, advising that the girls were on their way.

On September 2nd a group of 15 Irish orphans left Sydney for Moreton Bay by the steamer ‘Eagle’.  Mary was one of these girls. 

On 2 Sep 1850 A letter from the Immigration Office, Sydney to Police Magistrate, Moreton Bay notifying of dispatch of 15 orphans to Moreton Bay.

Sir, In accordance with the request of the Orphan Immigration Committee … inform you that fifteen female orphans will to be forwarded by this evening’s steamer to your district there to be kept subject to the Regulations and hired under the conditions expressed in the Memorandum of the Cttee which was forwarded to you in my letter of 19 Feb last.

2. orphans now sent to be placed in service under ordinary agreements for the term of one year with wages

The names of the Irish Orphans were listed in the margin of the letter. 

They were-

Catherine Downey 19 - John Knox

Bessy Fitzgibbon 19 by Maria

Margaret Ford 18, by Maria

Catherine Fitzgibbon 18, by Maria

Catherine Sullivan 18, by Maria

Esther Reilly 18, my Maria

Bridget Flemming 18, by Maria

Ellen Flannery 17 by Maria;

Mary Creagh 19, by Tippoo Saib

Mary Smith 18, Tippoo Saib

Johanna Redmond 18, Tippoo Saib

Mary Miller 18, Tippoo Saib

Margaret Rooney 18, Tippoo Saib

Bridget Parbridge 17, Tippoo Saib

Bridget Farrell 19 by Tippoo Saib

During the 1840s and 1850s there was a shortage of labour in Queensland. Shepherds, stockmen, bushmen and agriculture labours were in short supply, as well as personal servants such as cooks, nursemaids and laundresses.  Maybe this is the reason this group of women were sent to Moreton Bay. We can only assume Mary was employed by one of the land owners mentioned in her obituary.

Fifteen months after her arrival in Moreton Bay (Brisbane), on the 27th of October 1851 Mary wed Richard Browning, from Monmouthshire England, the son of Richard Browning and Sarah Jones. Little is known of Richard before his marriage to Mary.

The marriage certificate states that Richard was a member of the Wesleyan Methodist Church and Mary the Catholic Church. The witnesses to Mary and Richard’s wedding were William North and Francis North. The marriage was officiated by John Watsford, a minister of the Wesleyan Church.  In 1851 there was no Catholic Church in Brisbane but there was a Wesleyan Methodist church. There is no place of marriage mentioned in the records so maybe the Rev John Watsford married Mary and Richard when he visited the property where they were working.  It was his practice to visit the outlying settlements and properties to marry couples and baptise babies.

The North family had leased the Wivenhoe Run, a large parcel of land 38,000 acres in size in the Brisbane Valley, on the edge of the Moreton Bay settlement. William North, one of the family chose 5,000 acres of this land for a sheep farm which he named Bellevue.

At the time of their marriage there is a chance that Mary or Richard or both were working for the North family of Bellevue. The marriage probably took place in the North home. On her marriage certificate Mary signed with a cross. On the birth certificate of Eliza, their first child, the abode of Mary and Richard was Bellevue.

From this union 11 children were born: Eliza 1852, Richard 1854, Mary Ann 1856, Sarah 1858, Robert 1860, James 1862, Charles 1864, Maria 1866, William 1869, Isabella 1870 and Rachael 1872.

While Mary and Richard were establishing their family, the colony was undergoing change.    1859 saw Queensland separated from NSW. For those of us searching for past family members this means looking for information on families becomes harder as some records are in NSW and others are in Queensland.

The Queensland Government Land Act of 1868 opened up land that was known as The Rosewood Scrub for selection.  It was only 50 miles from the new colonial capital, Brisbane. The land was advertised in the newspaper of the day and Richard applied for land.  In November 1869 at Ipswich in the new colony of Queensland, Richard’s application to select land in the district of Ipswich was accepted. The area was 92acres, 1 rood.  He paid six pound, eighteen shillings and six pence for the first year's rent of the Lease and a survey fee.

This Land was at Walloon about 28 miles from Ipswich, Queensland.   The land was covered in dry vine scrub and had to be cleared, fenced, a slab hut built and a crop planted to fulfil the conditions of the lease. Richard and Mary managed to fulfil the requirement of the lease in the time frame set down.  He had built a pine weatherboard dwelling, cultivated 12 acres, and erected a three-rail split fence and lived there continually for five years. Early in 1877 the land was signed over to them.  Richard and Mary had worked hard to achieve this land.

Mary and Richard already had nine children when this application was accepted and Mary would have worked beside him, looking after the children and bearing two more.

In 1885 Mary and Richard sold their farm and moved to the town of Ipswich. Only months after this move, in the September of 1886, Richard trod on a nail and died of tetanus in the Ipswich Hospital.  He predeceased Mary by 20 years. Rachael the youngest child was 13 years old at the time of her father’s death. The other children had married and were having their own families.  For some of her grandchildren Mary was listed as the nurse at their birth.

What did Mary do for the next 20 years?  Was she a midwife? Did she clean houses? Take in ironing?  Electoral rolls sometimes help us with the occupations of women.  The vote was given to women in 1902 and the following year Mary registered.  She listed her occupation as domestic duties but it didn’t establish how she supported herself.

During the last few years of her life Mary was living in the town of Ipswich with her daughters Isabella and Rachel.

Mary was obviously a strong woman. She had the courage to accept each challenge as it came.  The first was to leave Ireland; the next was to go to Moreton Bay; then, the move to the Rosewood Scrub and finally, moving to Ipswich.

I'll finish with Mary’s obituary that gave direction for my research.

'We have the sad duty of recording the death of yet another very old resident of Ipswich, Mrs Mary Browning, who had been a sufferer for 12 months past. She arrived in Moreton Bay 56 years ago by the Tippoo Saib.  Mrs Browning, who died on Sunday night at the age of 74, leaves a large family - five sons, six daughters, 43 grandchildren and 27 great grandchildren - a total of 81 descendants.  Mrs Browning, who husband pre-deceased her 19 years ago, was at one time engaged at Cressbrook and Mount Esk (Ivory’s) cattle station.  The funeral took place yesterday afternoon, leaving the residence of the deceased’s daughter, Mrs Springhall at 4 o’clock.  The Rev T J Malyon FSSc pastor of the Baptist Church, officiated at the graveside.' - Queensland Times May 22, 1906.

Mary is buried somewhere in the Ipswich Queensland Cemetery in an unmarked grave.


This map shows the settled area of Queensland, Toowoomba where I live, and Ipswich where Mary lived the last years of her life.



Lou Walsh relaying Mary's story to large attendance at presentation of Travel box on the 18th May 2019

Closeup of the Travel Box showing a photo of Mary Miller and three more generations of her family


Minister Charles Flanagan, Lou Walsh and some members of the MDA / Museum Boards and Irish Prison Service at the presentation of Travel Box  on the 18th  May 2019


Replica Cake of  Replica travel box made by Sweet Bakery and enjoyed by all guests attending a presentation in MDA on the 18th May May 2019.


Chairperson of Museum Committee Ann Dowling addressing the audience at presentation of Travel Box - May 18th,  2019.


The lid of the Travel Box


93 supplement to the NSW Government Gazette 2 Aug 1950