A Saint Caroline?
Essay by Susan Jennison OAM
5th October, 2005
Caroline Chisholm (1808-1877)
Caroline Chisholm was born in England. She arrived in Australia in 1838.
Her work was first focused in NSW working to assist single women and families migrating to Australia. A Female Immigrants Home was one of the ventures she undertook. In 1846 she returned to England but in 1854 she returned to Victoria.
In 1854 Caroline Chisholm ('The Emigrants Friend') began her campaign to provide cheap and safe accommodation for Diggers and their families. During this Gold Rush period she had been concerned that people walking to the Gold Fields could not get a ‘good pudding’. She wanted them to get a safe place to stay with decent food at a cheap cost.
Her letter dated 15 November 1854 detailed the benefits of the scheme to the public and the Government should they be enacted:
“ … I propose therefore to attempt to remedy this evil by establishing respectable Homes along the line of Road where for 1/- per night Beds could be procured by Travellers and for 2d. each meal they should have conveniences for cooking, the use of crockery and a sheltered place for taking their meals seperate [sic] from their Bed rooms. These Encampments I would propose to have at such distances from each other that females could walk from one to the other without fatigue as I hold it to be a matter of great importance not to exhaust the system or energies of the Travellers by over fatigue I beg to call Your Excellency's attention to the fact that the establishment of such resting places would not immediately interfere with any established interest along the line of road, as the parties for whom I am desirous to procure cheap and respectable accommodation either sleep in the Bush or are deterred from going into the country by the difficulties attending a journey.
These Shelter places I propose to establish on self supporting principles, securing from the profits increased comforts for the people and an extension of the system throughout the country.”
In a letter dated 11 January 1855, she provided further detail about how to make the sheds self-supporting, and enclosed a prototype plan and a quote for the construction of ten shelters:
“Should these Sheds be erected I propose to visit the same frequently until they are in good working order and their usefulness fairly tested ... I think it would be right that such Lodging Houses should be held only under Licence and subject to such inspection as may be considered necessary.”
Mrs Chisholm convinced the Victorian Government to build the Shelter Sheds in 1855.
The ten Sheds or Shakedowns were established along the road to the Bendigo region. The first was in Essendon and then the second in Keilor. The distances advertised between the ‘Stations’ and the ‘Miles from town, about’, in the Government Gazette of 24 April, 1855 were 5 miles to Essendon, 10 miles to Keilor, 16 miles to Robertsons, 25 miles to The Gap, 34 miles to Gisborne, 40 miles to The Black Forest, 47 miles to Woodend, 54 miles to Carlsruhe, 63 miles to Malmsbury and 71 miles to Elphinstone.
Caroline Chisholm had origingally wanted 16 sheds but settled for 10. She travelled to view her sheds being built. That was typical of her ability and will to follow through and pay attention to all of the projects she undertook.
Argus advertisement, 1855.
“Shelter Sheds. Originated by Mrs Chisholm. Shilling Tickets: entitling holders to a night’s shelter for each ticket in the sheds on the line of road to Castelemane, are now on sale by Mrs Chisholm: Mr Walsh, Bookseller, Elizabeth Street North: and Mr Reid office of this paper.”
Managers were appointed for the sheds. At each post there were four buildings. The accommodation large shed which had separate sleeping quarters for single men and women and families. Then there was a cook house, privies and stables.
Candles, soap and wood for the stoves were supplied.
Shelter Sheds, Shakedowns or Protection Posts were three titles given to this accommodation. Richard Fitzgerald won the contract to build them at a cost of 3,800 pounds. He was also given an additional 100 pounds to provide a stove for each Shelter Shed. The cost to stay was one shilling for adults and sixpence for children for a night’s accommodation.
By the beginning of the next century no shelter sheds existed. The only empty landholding is at Keilor. Mrs Kate McGrath lived in a tent behind the sheds for twenty years. Keilor’s site is the only empty landholding.
The site of the former shelter shed at Keilor is located on Old Calder Highway and as you enter the Village along this highway you will see the site and historic panel recording the history of the sheds after you have crossed the Maribyrnong River.
Caroline Chisholm’s work was always focused on social justice and she had a determination to make things happen. When she lived in Kyneton she would give the local Chinese people English lessons. Her work to do with immigrants in all its different facets reflected an inner strength and stamina which would produce an outcome of goodwill for those who needed help and assistance.
Maybe she was spiritually driven but she certainly defied the odds when she undertook her philanthropic projects in her adopted land of Australia. She was an advocate of caring about other peoples needs and social welfare. All of her work was emphasised by a passion to consider others with dignity and respect.
A Saint Caroline?
Certainly an Australian legend.
About the Author
Susan Jennison, OAM as an Historian and Writer on a range of projects. Member of the Professional Historians Association. Previously Editorial Research
Co-ordinator for the New Zealand Herald in Auckland and teacher of Computer Assisted Reporting to Journalists here in Melbourne.
Last year published a non-fiction book on the biographies of four women. Previously written two history books about Keilor. Life member and President of the Keilor Historical Society.
M.A. in Public History. Citizen of the Year, City of Brimbank, 2004. Nominated for Australian of the Year 2004. President of Keilor Residents and Ratepayers Assoc.Inc. Member of the Management Committee of Melbourne's Living Museum of the West since 1992. Length of tenure, annual. Sub-Committees: ex officio on all sub-committees of the Museum.
Received Order of Australia Medal, June 2005.