George Holland (1829 – 1883) was my maternal great great grandfather. When I began my ancestral journey, I knew nothing about him.
In 2016 when on holiday in South Australia, we stopped on the main road a few kilometres north of Clare, where George Holland had a farm. My great grandmother Margaret Holland was born there in 1861, the 5th child to be born in South Australia. As I gazed at the land that was once their farm, I wondered what their lives were like in 1861.
George Holland is buried in the Jamestown cemetery. As I stood beside his grave, I realised how little I knew about his life. What county was he from in Ireland? Why did he emigrate to the far-away colony of South Australia?
Some ancestors are very elusive. It can be very difficult to find any trace of them in the records. This was not the case with George Holland. The Holland family were tenants on the estate of Evelyn John Shirley (1788-1856). This estate was located in the southern part of County Monaghan in the Province of Ulster. It was the largest estate in the county, covering 26,000 acres with a tenant population exceeding 20,000 people in the early 1840s.
As a family history researcher I was delighted to find that a vast archive of documents relating to the affairs of the Shirley estate was deposited in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) in 1982. The Shirley papers document generations of history across several hundred years. Of particular interest to me was the detailed information on the assisted emigration from the Shirley estate between the years 1843-1854, when 2,000 people were assisted to go to the United States, Canada, England and Australia. Even more importantly, there is material relating specifically to two ships, the Constance and the Trafalgar which carried Shirley emigrants to South Australia in August and December 1849. My ancestor George Holland and his brother Peter were passengers on the Constance.
The Shirley estate had been in the hands of the Shirley family since 1646. The original Irish owners of the land were dispossessed in 1576 when Queen Elizabeth I granted this estate and the neighbouring Bath estate to the First Earl of Essex, Walter Deveraux. When the third Earl of Essex died in 1646 leaving no heirs, his estate passed to his two sisters, one of whom was married to Sir Henry Shirley. The Shirleys lived on their English estate, Ettington Park, near Stratford-upon-Avon, County Warwickshire and their estate in Ireland was managed by land agents for hundreds of years. In 1826, Evelyn John Shirley commenced building a mansion on the estate, Lough Fea House, which still stands today. From 1829 onwards, Evelyn John Shirley and his family spent a few months each summer in residence at Lough Fea, though the house was not finally completed until 1837.
Source: National Library of Ireland. No copyright restrictions
Background to the emigration of George and Peter Holland
The vast majority of tenants on the estate were living at subsistence level in the mid-19th century. Ninety-three percent of the tenants were Catholic, a proportion utterly different from other large estates in Ulster where most tenants were Protestants. The poor quality of housing meant that diseases such as typhus, dysentery and typhoid fever were common. The agent managing the estate between the years 1830 and 1843, Alexander Mitchell, was a tyrant who was feared and hated. Upon taking up his appointment, he surveyed the estate and increased rents by as much as 30 per cent. He infringed on the tenants’ ancient rights to cut peat on bog land to use for fuel for heating and cooking. He trampled on the rights of the Catholic tenants, particularly in regard to the education of their children, and being the agent of an absentee landlord there was no limit to his authority.
Mitchell died suddenly in 1843 of apoplexy in Monaghan town while attending the Spring Assizes as a member of the Grand Jury. It was recorded that when news of his death made its way to the inhabitants of the Shirley estate, bonfires were lit on every hilltop to celebrate the death of the ‘unscrupulous monster’.
Mitchell’s successor, William Steuart Trench did a survey of the estate in 1843 when he assumed office. He reported that having visited a great number of homes across the estate he found that ‘even in Ireland, it has never fallen to my lot to witness destitution to the same degree and over such a large extent, as I have seen it on this property. Trench was a strong advocate of assisted emigration as a way of reducing the numbers of poor tenants who were a drain on the estate.
Following the passage of the Poor Law in 1838, workhouses were constructed throughout the country to house the poor. The workhouse in Carrickmacross opened in 1840. The Poor Law tax bore most heavily on estates with large pauper populations. Agents and landowners calculated that it would cost less to send paupers to the New World than to maintain them in the workhouse for a year.
The records of those who were assisted refer constantly to the landholding status of the potential emigrant and that he/she will give up the land or has had his/her house knocked down. Among the petitions from the poor seeking assistance to emigrate there are many poignant examples of small farmers who had had their cottages demolished and were left penniless and homeless. Landowners wished to consolidate their estates by getting rid of tenants on the smallest plots of land. Evelyn John Shirley and his agent George Morant were strongly criticised for their eviction policies during the famine.
County Monaghan suffered greatly during the Famine. The population fell by 29 per cent between the years 1841 and 1851, from 200,407 to 141,758. Yet even during the Famine, tenants were being ejected from their homes. Estate papers indicate that between 1846 and 1856, there were over 650 ejectment processes served on tenants. In the decade 1841-51 the population of the Shirley estate decreased by 44 per cent while the number of houses decreased by a substantial 42 per cent. It is difficult to comprehend the suffering which lies behind these figures.
Some of those emigrants who were ‘key’ tenants from the point of view of farm consolidation on the estate, had to be coaxed and cajoled to go. This was especially true of the earlier forties, and of the Australian emigration in 1849.
The policy of assisted emigration left an indefinable scar on local folklore. It was often depicted as highly exploitative of pauper tenants who were ‘exiled’, ‘rejected’, ‘dispossessed’ and ‘exterminated’ from their land. This may not be entirely true. It was the memory constructed by those left behind and does not reflect the level of popular support for assisted emigration at the time. This support is evident in the numerous petitions to the Shirley estate office by people appealing for assistance to emigrate.
George Holland was born on 23 June 1829 in the townland of Latinalbany, near Carrickmacross. His parents were Patrick and Catherine Holland.
There is a document, dated 2 July 1845 granting Patrick Holland a lease for 16 acres, 32 perches in the townland of Latinalbany for a yearly rent of £10-14-0. Patrick Holland died sometime before December 1846. A cottier named Patrick Byrne then lived on the property. He was a son- in- law of Patrick Holland.
In 1849 the names of Peter, George and Ellen Holland appeared on a list of emigrants for South Australia. Beside their names was written “10 acres”, presumably the amount of land that had been given up. Assisted migrants were drawn largely from among the sons and daughters of small farmers. Irish immigrants to Australia were not drawn from the poorest of the poor.
Although Ellen’s name was on the list, she did not go. She was aged 17 at the time. Perhaps she decided to stay behind to care for her widowed mother. Catherine Holland died in 1852, three years after her sons left for South Australia. At some point Ellen emigrated to the United States, where she died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on 25 July 1890 aged 58.
I wondered why South Australia was chosen as a destination for the Shirley emigrants, and not New Zealand or one of the other Australian colonies. The answer may lie with the family connection which Evelyn John Shirley had with the colony. In 1843 his daughter Louise Shirley had married Neill Malcolm, 13th Laird of Poltalloch estate in Argyllshire, Scotland. In 1839 Malcolm had purchased 4,000 acres of land in South Australia near Lake Alexandrina which he had named Poltalloch Station. Because of this large land purchase, Evelyn John Shirley was allowed to nominate emigrants from his estate at minimal cost. The emigrants to South Australia were subsidised by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission in London. The cost to the Shirley estate was only £2 per head for the fare.
I do not know if Peter and George had to be persuaded and cajoled to go to South Australia or if they went willingly. The list of tenants selected to emigrate to South Australia began with 335 names, but in the end only 140 people left, 95 of whom were on the Constance. The Shirley estate agent George Morant said in writing to London on 28 July I know not what the government may think of our failure in providing the full complement of Emigrants but if the people are fools enough to refuse they can not be compelled…..There could be numerous reasons why the number of selected emigrants fell so dramatically but I suspect some of them may have been reluctant to go to a destination on the far side of the earth.
The Colonial Land and Emigration Commission required all emigrants bound for South Australia to be properly outfitted for the journey. The clothing requirements each emigrant had to meet before boarding the ship proved to be more costly than the Shirley estate had anticipated. There were also other sundry expenses such as sheets, towels, soap and luggage boxes. The correspondence reveals that outfitting the emigrants was very troublesome for the agents and the preparations were somewhat frantic. They regarded the regulations as red tape, but their successful implementation meant that there were no coffin ships to Australia, as there were to North America.
Finally, on the morning of 14 August 1849, the departing emigrants were gathered for inspection in Carrickmacross. I imagine that it was with heavy hearts that Peter and George said goodbye to their mother and sister. The emigrants then travelled to Dundalk where they took a train for the short journey to Drogheda. They stayed overnight at lodgings in Dublin and from there they sailed to Plymouth, where they boarded the Constance on 19 August 1849.
Little did the departing passengers know that a horrendous voyage lay ahead of them, a voyage which became infamous in the history of sailing to Australia in the 19th century and became the subject of several official enquiries. George and Peter were to meet their future wives on the voyage of the Constance, young sisters from County Tipperary. But that is the subject for another story.
Griffith’s Valuation in the 1850s and the 1901 and 1911 Census returns reveal that many Hollands continued to live in the vicinity of Carrickmacross, including Latinalbany townland itself. Perhaps I may meet some distant Holland relatives when I visit Carrickmacross.
 Lorraine O’Reilly, ‘The Shirley estate 1814-1906 : the development and demise of a landed estate in County Monaghan’, [thesis], Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland). Department of History, 2014, p 131
 Ibid, p 191
 Patrick J Duffy ‘ “Disencumbering our crowded places”; theory and practice of estate emigration schemes in mid-nineteenth century Ireland’ in Patrick J Duffy (ed) To and From Ireland: Planned Migration Schemes c.1600-2000 (Dublin, 2004), p. 102
 Patrick J Duffy, Assisted Emigration from the Shirley Estate 1844-1854, Clogher Record, xiv (2), (1992), p. 17
 O’Reilly, op cit, p 192
 PRONI catalogue number D3531/S/58 (1844): Book recording names of tenants in occupation on the Shirley estate.
 Trevor McLaughlin, Stephanie James, Simon O’Reilly, Migration to Australia mid-nineteenth century: emigration from the Shirley Estate at the time of the Famine, Clogher Record, xx (2) (2010), p.290
 Each of the males were allocated 5 shirts, 5 pairs of stockings, 2 pairs of shoes, 1 jacket, vest and trousers and 1 ‘suit reserved’. The females were allocated 5 shifts, 5 pairs of stockings, 2 pairs of shoes and one gown and petticoat each.