Caroline Chisholm

For the Conservative life peer, see Carlyn Chisholm, Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen.
Caroline Chisholm
Born Caroline Jones
(1808-05-30)30 May 1808
Northampton, England
Died 25 March 1877(1877-03-25) (aged 68)
Occupation Humanitarian work
Known for Humanitarian work, immigration reform, aboriginal help
Home town Northampton, England
Religion Anglicanism, Catholicism
Spouse(s) Archibald Chisholm[1]
Children 8 children

Caroline Chisholm (30 May 1808 – 25 March 1877[1]) was a progressive 19th-century English humanitarian known mostly for her involvement with female immigrant welfare in Australia. She is commemorated on 16 May in the Calendar of saints of the Church of England. There are proposals for the Catholic Church to also recognise her as a saint.[2]

Early life

Caroline Chisholm came from a very large family. Her father, William Jones, had been married four times .His first three wives had died in childbirth and from illness. Caroline was William's sixteenth and last child. Her mother, also named Caroline, had seven children. William, who was born in Wootton, a village just south of Northampton, was a pig dealer who bought in and fattened pigs and sold them on. By the time he died in 1814, when Caroline was only six, he was able to leave his wife £500 and several properties to his twelve surviving children. Caroline was born in Northampton and lived with her family at 11 Mayorhold. When she was a young child, her father brought a poor maimed soldier into the house. He pointed out the children's obligations to the man who had fought for them. There is little doubt that this would have had an effect upon the young child, and something she would have remembered in later life. Caroline was 22 in 1830 when she married Archibald Chisholm, a Roman Catholic ten years her senior, serving with East India Company Army. It is believed that Caroline converted to her husband's faith at this time. They were married at the Anglican Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Northampton. The Roman Catholic clergy at that time were not legally empowered to perform wedding services.[3]

Madras, India

Archibald returned to his regiment in Madras, India in January 1832. Caroline joined him there 18 months later. Caroline became aware that the young girls in the barracks were picking up the bad behaviour of the soldiers. She appealed to the Governor of Madras for assistance in establishing a school, but was refused. In 1834 Caroline founded the Female School of Industry for the Daughters of European Soldiers that provided a practical education for the girls. They were given instruction in reading, writing and religion, cooking, housekeeping and nursing. It was not long before the soldiers asked that their wives could also attend the school. Caroline gave birth to two sons, Archibald and William, as well as following her husband around the Indian subcontinent.[4]

Sydney, New South Wales

In 1838 Captain Chisholm was granted a two-year furlough on the grounds of ill health. Rather than return to England, the family decided the climate in Australia would be better for Archibald's health. They set sail for Sydney, aboard the Emerald Isle, arriving there in October 1838. The family settled at Windsor. On trips to Sydney Caroline and Archibald became aware of the difficult conditions that faced emigrants arriving in the colony. They were particularly concerned for the young women who were arriving without any money, friends or family or jobs to go to, and many ended up working the streets to make ends meet. Archibald returned to his regiment in 1840, but encouraged his wife to continue her philanthropic efforts. Caroline originally set up a home in Sydney for the young women, and organised other homes in several rural centres. The home was soon extended to help families and young men. During the seven years Caroline was in Australia she placed over 11,000 people in homes and jobs. Her 'home'- the Female Immigrant Home helped over 40,000 people in its 38-year lifespan. She became a very well-known woman who was very much admired. She was requested to give evidence before two Legislative Council Committees. Caroline carried out her work in NSW without accepting money from individuals or individual organisations, as she wanted to act independently and did not want to be dependent upon any religious or political body. The girls and families Caroline helped came from different backgrounds and held different religious beliefs. Money was raised for the homes through subscription. Archibald was invalided out of the Army and returned to Australia in 1845.

Migration reforms and the Family Colonization Loan Society

Before Caroline and Archibald returned to England in 1846, they toured the colony, at their own expense, collecting over 600 statements from those who had already settled in NSW. Caroline believed the only way to encourage emigration was for prospective emigrants to read letters from those already living in the colony. Back in England Caroline and Archibald published some of these statements in a pamphlet Comfort for the Poor – Meat Three Times a Day. Charles Dickens also used some of the statements in his then new magazine called Household Words. Caroline gave evidence before two House of Lords Select Committees and gained support for some of her initiatives, including free passage to Australia for the wives and children of former convicts, and for the children that through necessity emigrants had left behind in England.

In 1849, with the support of Lord Shaftesbury, Sir Sydney Herbert and Wyndham Harding FRS, Caroline founded the Family Colonization Loan Society from her home in Charlton Crescent in Islington. The Society’s aim was to lend half the cost of the fare, the emigrant finding the other half of the cost, which was to be refunded after two years in Australia. Caroline held regular meetings at Charlton Crescent giving very practical advice to emigrants.The Society initially found accommodation on board emigrant ships, and then chartered its own ships to transport the emigrants. It was through Caroline’s insistence that the Society’s ships have better accommodation that led to the upgrading of the Passenger Acts. Archibald Chisholm returned to Australia in 1851 to act as Honorary Colonial Agent to help the newly arrived emigrants and to collect repayment of loans. By 1854 the Society had assisted more than 3,000 people to travel to Australia. Caroline gave emigration lectures throughout Britain, and toured France and Italy, where she collected her son William from the Propaganda College; he had been studying to become a Priest. Caroline had an audience with Pope Pius IX, who gave her a Papal Medal and bust of herself.

Return to Australia and later life

In 1854 Caroline returned to Australia aboard the Ballarat. She toured the Victorian goldfields and was appalled by the conditions en route. She proposed the construction of shelter sheds about a days walk apart for prospectors and their families to travel to the goldfields, a project that received support from the government. Caroline continued to work in Melbourne travelling to and fro to the home and store the Chisholms had purchased in Kyneton. Caroline joined the family there three years later. Archibald was a Magistrate during his time in Kyneton and the two elder sons helped him run the store.

Due to Caroline’s ill health the family moved back to Sydney in 1858. Her health improved and at the end of 1859 beginning of 1860 Caroline gave four political lectures in which she called for land to be made available so that migrant families could establish small farms, a move Caroline saw as providing greater stability in the colonies. Caroline also wrote a novelette Little Joe that was serialised in the local paper.[5]

Archibald senior accompanied the younger children back to England in 1865. Archibald junior accompanied his mother back home in 1866. Caroline died on March 25, 1877. Archibald died in the August of that year. Five of their eight children survived to mourn their deaths.


A number of educational facilities in Australia and England have been named after Caroline Chisholm,[6][7][8][9][10][11] as well as a suburb of Canberra[12] and a federal electoral division.[13] The Federal Government Department of Human Services' headquarters, located in Tuggeranong (ACT), is named after her (the building is known as the CCC, i.e. Caroline Chisholm Centre); DHS is Australia's welfare agency ( Chisholm has also appeared on Australian stamps[14] and banknotes.[15]

In Charles Dickens's novel Bleak House the character of Mrs Jellyby is said to be an amalgamation of three women of the period, including Caroline Chisholm.[16]

On the front of 32 Charlton Place, Islington, London is a blue plaque commemorating Chisholm.[17]


  1. 1 2 3 "TIME-LINE — CAROLINE AND ARCHIBALD CHISHOLM" (PDF). April 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 November 2008. Retrieved 24 August 2009.
  2. The Age: Chisholm's supporters push for sainthood 24 October 2007 Retrieved on 2008-05-28
  3. Walker, Carole, A Saviour of Living Cargoes – The Life and Work of Caroline Chisholm, (first published in Australia in 2009 by Australia Scholarly Publishing; republished in Australia 2011 by Connor Court Publishing; UK edition published by Wolds Publishing, 2010)
  4. Walker, Carole, See Chapter on India and Appendix 5 for Rules and Regulations of the Female School of Industry
  5. Chisholm, Caroline, ed. by John Moran, Radical in Bonnet and Shawl: Four Political Lectures; and Little Joe. (Australia: Preferential Publications, 1994 and 1991)
  6. Chisholm Catholic College. Retrieved on 2011-09-22.
  7. Caroline Chisholm College. (2011-08-23). Retrieved on 2011-09-22.
  8. Caroline Chisholm School. Retrieved on 2011-09-22.
  9. Chisholm College – La Trobe University. Retrieved on 2011-09-22.
  10. Chisholm Institute of TAFE Archived 28 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved on 2011-09-22.
  11. Caroline Chisholm Education Foundation. (2011-08-03). Retrieved on 2011-09-22.
  12. Place name search Archived 27 October 2009 at the Wayback Machine..
  13. 2007 Election:Profile of the Electoral division of Chisholm. (2010-10-07). Retrieved on 2011-09-22.
  14. Australian Stamp Bulletin No 277, Oct–Dec 2004, p. 21. Retrieved on 2011-09-22.
  15. Museum of Australian Currency Notes: Australia's First Decimal Currency Notes Archived 22 August 2005 at the Wayback Machine.. (1966-02-14). Retrieved on 2011-09-22.
  16. Walker, Carole, A Saviour of Living Cargoes, see pages 104-6
  17. "A-Z of Islington's Plaques". Islington Council. Archived from the original on 22 October 2014. Retrieved 22 October 2014.

Further reading

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