In the late 1830s, both the Madras Military Male Orphan Asylum and Madras Female Orphan Asylum were experiencing difficulty finding employment for children old enough to leave the institution. The Madras government approached the authorities in New South Wales outlining a scheme for sending children to be apprenticed there. It was said that the asylum pupils’ superior education and the care bestowed on their morals might make them a valuable acquisition to the colony, especially the girls.

The New South Wales authorities agreed on the condition that the children would be at least 12 years of age and of “pure European descent”. They were to be sent to Sydney free of charge and would be apprenticed in the same way as children from local orphan schools. Apprenticeships lasted until 21 for males and until 21 or marriage for females.

Masters or mistresses had to provide sufficient and suitable food, clothing and bedding and make payments into the Savings Bank of New South Wales that were handed to the apprentice, with accrued interest, at the end of their term. When practicable, apprentices had to attend divine service at least once every Sunday. Particular attention was to be given to the apprentice’s morals. Justices were to investigate complaints about ill-treatment by masters and lack of provisions, as well as misdemeanours by apprentices.

List of children

The Madras Military Male Orphan Asylum compiled a list in August 1840 of seven boys willing to emigrate who met the criteria set by New South Wales:

  • Samuel Hobart, aged 14 years 3 months, son of Matthew, Sergeant Major of Artillery and Ann. He could read and was learning to write, cypher and make shoes.
  • James Marlow, aged 13 years 7 months, son of Edward, Private HM 45th Foot, and Catharine. He was learning to read and write and could make shoes.
  • John Harris, aged 12 years and 7 months, son of Hugh, Sergeant HM 41st Foot, and Jane. John could read, write and cypher well and was employed at the Asylum Press as a printer.
  • James McKin or MacKin, aged 13 years 7 months, son of Thomas, Private HM 48th Foot, and Mary. He was able to read, write and cypher tolerably well.
  • Christopher Connors, aged 12 years 6 months, son of Daniel, Private HM 54th Foot.
  • William Bird, aged 12 years 5 months, son of William, Sergeant Major HM 54th Foot.
  • James Barry, aged 12 years, son of Patrick, Gunner Veteran Battalion and Anne.

Connors, Bird and Barry could all read, write and cypher well.

The terms of emigration and apprenticeship were explained carefully to these boys. They arrived in Sydney in the Sesostris in February 1841.

Five more lads from the Asylum “anxious to emigrate” took their passage in the British Sovereign (or Royal Sovereign) that arrived in Sydney in December 1841:

  • Matthew Thornhill, born October 1827, son of Matthew, Commissariat Department and Julia.
  • Matthew and James Bradshaw, born 1827 and 1829, sons of Matthew, Private HM 41st Foot and Ann.
  • James Callaghan, born 1828, son of Patrick Callaghan, Hospital Sergeant and Louisa.
  • Edward Wallace.

Our next post will tell the story of what happened to these twelve boys when they arrived in New South Wales.

This article first appeared on British Library’s Untold Lives blog.