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Caroline Chisholm :1808 – 1877

Caroline Chisholm was a progressive 19th-century English humanitarian known mostly for her involvement with female immigrant welfare in Australia. She is commemorated in the Calendar of saints of the Church of England. There are proposals for the Catholic Church to also recognise her as a saint.

She was the youngest of a large family and was educated by a governess, excelling in mathematics and french. At the age of 22, she married Captain Archibald Chisholm, of the East India Company, thirteen years her senior. The Chisholms were married in the Church of England, but Caroline converted to her husband's religion, Roman Catholicism, at about this time.

In 1832, Captain Chisholm was posted to Madras in India, and Caroline Chisholm joined him there a year later. Chisholm observed that the wives and daughters of British soldiers were living in poverty and involved in crime and prostitution, and so she appealed to the Governor of Madras for assistance in establishing a school. In 1834 she founded the Female School of Industry for the Daughters of European Soldiers which provided a practical education for the girls and young women.

In 1838 the Chisholm family moved to Sydney in the colony of New South Wales. Sydney had a large population of unemployed immigrants, particularly young women, and Caroline began assisting these people by helping them to find work and sheltering them in her home.

Eventually, after she had approached him several times, the Governor agreed to support her philanthropic efforts, allowing her to use part of the old immigration barracks as a female immigrant house. The building housed more than 90 women. She arrange employment for young single women in the country areas surrounding Sydney, and personally accompanied parties of women travelling to take up their new positions. Then she established employment agencies in rural centres, and in 1842 was able to close the Female Immigrants Home because of her success in finding work for unemployed immigrants. Chisholm later exented her work to include families as well as single women, and between 1841 and 1844 assisted 14,000 people to settle in New South Wales.

When Captain Chisholm retired he joined his wife in her work. They returned to England and Caroline began to lobby for reform of the emigration system. Caroline set about trying to locate the wives and children of convicts. She also tried to locate children of convicted couples in the hope of reuniting them with their parents. Caroline fought for and won free passage for convicts' families. She then set up the 'Family Colonisation Loan Society' to help poorer families travel out to Australia. Caroline was extremely concerned about the conditions under which people were being transported. She fought for and achieved better travelling conditions for all passengers on long voyages and began chartering ships herself. In fighting for the rights of passengers travelling to Australia, she helped to ensure the passing of the Passenger Act in 1852. She became an advocate for the Australian colonies and succeeded in sending out 3,000 people in five years. She pursued this work for many years. She and her husband returned to Australia for a time where they continued their work. Their scorn for material reward and public position contributed to the obscurity of their last years in Australia.

Caroline's drive to help those less fortunate came not only from the example set from her parents, but from her strongly-held Catholic values. Her religion caused certain people to misunderstand the nature of her work. Although one of the greatest, if not the greatest social reformer of her time, she was accused in the Sydney Herald of wanting to take over Australia on behalf of the Vatican.

Eventually in 1857 the Chisholms returned to England where Caroline died in poverty and obscurity on 25 March 1877, while her work in Australia earned her continued fame. A number of educational facilities in Australia and England have been named after Caroline Chisholm, as well as a suburb of Canberra and a federal electoral division. Chisholm has also appeared on Australian stamps and banknotes.

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