Tag Archives: Caroline Chisholm

Caroline Chisholm — March 25

1985 Five Dollar note

Bible connection

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. — Matthew 25:36-36

All about Caroline Chisholm (1808-1877)

Although we could place Caroline Chisholm in England or India, her heart mostly seemed to be with Australia most of her life.

She was born in 1808 in Northampton, England, the youngest of at least twelve children of her father, and the last of seven born to her mother. Her father was a pig dealer who fattened animals for sale. Her family was a product of the evangelical revival and influenced by William Wilberforce.

When she was 7 years old a soldier recuperating from his injuries came to live with them and he captured the little girl’s heart with his stories of the battles and hardships of emigrants to Britain’s colonies. He also told tales of the tremendous potential for those emigrants who worked hard to make a much better life for themselves than they ever could have done at home. After hearing these things, one of Caroline’s favorite games became “Immigrants” with boats she made out of fava beans. Her pocket money went to buy little dolls who emigrated to far off lands. Her mother was not amused when she spilled an “ocean” on her bed one day. After that, she played the game in the coal cellar by candlelight.

As a young woman she had several young men propose to her, but she made it clear she would only marry someone if she were free to carry out what she felt was her God-given calling to help the poor. She met such a man. In December of 1830 when she was 22, Caroline married Archibald Chisholm who was ten years older than she. He was an officer serving with the East India Company’s Madras Army and a Roman Catholic. Around this time, Caroline converted to his faith. They raised their children as Catholics.

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 his health so they set sail for Sydney and settled nearby.

On trips to Sydney, Chisholm and her husband became aware of the difficult conditions  facing immigrants arriving in the colony. They were particularly concerned for the young women who were arriving without any money, friends, family, or jobs to go to. Many turned to prostitution to survive. Chisholm found placement for many of these young women in shelters, including her own home, and helped find them permanent places to stay. She started an organization to create and sustain an immigrant women’s shelter.

In 1840, Captain Chisholm returned to his regiment in India, but he encouraged his wife to continue her philanthropic efforts. Her singlemindedness is reflected in this quote in her hometown newspaper: “I never can imagine that Almighty God sent females into the world to be cooks and housemaids all their days” (Northampton Mercury, 5 March 1853).

She set up a home in Sydney for young women and organized other homes in several rural villages. Where she knew there was an eligible bachelor, she would often place a capable girl with the nearest neighbors. This resulted in numerous marriages.

Caroline Chisholm
Monument in Woodend, Victoria reads: Erected to honor the work of Caroline Chisholm who established shelters, one of which was in this vicinity, for women travelling to the goldfields.

In March 1842, Chisholm rented two rowhouses in East Maitland (about 100 miles north of Synday, outside Newcastle). She converted them into a single cottage to be used as a hostel for homeless immigrants who had travelled to the Hunter Valley in search of work. Now called Caroline Chisholm Cottage, it is the only building in New South Wales directly associated with Chisholm. Built in the 1830s, the cottage offers a rare example of early working-class housing.

During the first seven years Chisholm was in Australia, she placed over 11,000 people in homes and jobs. She became a well-known woman and much admired. She was asked to give evidence before two Legislative Council committees. She carried out her work in New South Wales without accepting money from individuals or individual organizations, as she wanted to act independently. She did not want to be dependent upon any religious or political body. What’s more, the young women and families Chisholm helped came from different backgrounds and held different religious beliefs and she did not need “authorities” questioning their propriety. She raised money for the homes through private subscriptions.

Her husband was forced to leave the Army for health reasons in 1845 and returned to Australia. They returned to England in 1846, where she continued her advocacy for Australian immigrants.

In 1854 Chisholm returned to Australia and toured the goldfields of the new Victoria Colony. She was appalled by the conditions of miners and their families. She proposed the construction of shelter sheds which received support from the government. Chisholm continued to work in Melbourne, travelling to and from the home and store which the Chisholms had purchased in Kyneton. Due to her ill health, the family moved back to warmer Sydney in 1858 where she recovered. Her health improved and she gave political lectures calling for land to be allocated so emigrant families could establish small farms. She also wrote a novella, Little Joe, that was serialised in the local paper.

Her husband accompanied the younger children back to England in 1865. Archibald Jr. accompanied his mother on her return 1866. There, they lived in relative poverty and obscurity. Caroline Chisholm died in London, England on March 25, 1877, and her husband died in August that year. Five of their eight children survived their parents.

Here’s what the Governor of New South Wales had to say about her:

I expected to have seen an old lady in white cap and spectacles, who would have talked to me about my soul. I was amazed when my aide introduced a handsome stately young woman who proceeded to reason..as if she thought her reason and experience were worth as much as mine.

Caroline Chisholm did her utmost to encourage family life. By protecting immigrant women, she gave them the opportunity to become valuable colonists. She helped everyone, regardless of religious affiliation and she did this in spite of the fact it was improper for a woman in those times to be involved in the public arena. Caroline Chisholm was an inspiration to her contemporaries; even Florence Nightingale declared that she was Mrs. Chisholm’s friend and pupil.


Chisholm is an Anglican saint. Her feast day is May 16.

Letter to Australasian Chronicle, December 21 1841:



The good done by the ” Female Immigrants’ Home” is but partially known. The following case, related to me by one of the committee, will show it to be a grand means of preventing the ruin of virtuous females. A few days ago, at a very early hour in the morning, there stood outside of the door of the “Female Immigrants’ Office” a tall respectably dressed female. At first Mrs. Chisholm took her to be a person looking for a servant, and accordingly asked her if she wanted one. She stooped her head, and made no reply. Her silence and the early hour at which she called caused Mrs. Chisholm to think that, instead of looking for a servant, perhaps she herself wanted employment. Mrs. Chisholm therefore said, “Do you want a situation?” The immigrant, for she was one recently arrived, expressed her assent by a slight motion of her head, and at the same time applied a handkerchief to her eyes. Mrs. Chishom took her into her own private room, and, to answer a call from another apartment of the barracks, left her by herself for a few minutes. When she returned she saw her taking a letter out of a bag, and the tears still dropping from her eyes. Mrs. Chisholm said, “Let me see that letter;” she hesitated. “Tell me,” says Mrs. Chisholm, “have you lost character?” She now spoke for the first time, and in the most feeling manner slowly said, “Not yet:” Being encouraged to speak unreservedly, she said that for the last three days her only nourishment was coffee; that the letter in her hand was the letter of a seducer, and that it contained a cheque for £20. Hereupon Mrs. Chisholm read the letter. It gave directions for the poor, the destitute, but virtuous female to go and reside in a cottage not seven miles distant from Sydney. Mrs. Chisholm placed her in the service of a respectable family in the country, and wrote to the vile fellow that, if he attempted to give her any further annoyance, his letter would be published. Had the “Female Immigrants’ Home” rescued from ruin but this one female since its foundation, it would have done much good…

Yours truly,


Cowpastures, 16th December, 1841.

World-famous French historian Jules Michelet (1798-1874) who died before Chisholm, said, “The fifth part of the world, Australia, has up to now but one saint, one legend. This saint is an Englishwoman.”

Charles Dickens, an admirer of Caroline’s, amalgamated her and two other women into the matronly but formidable character who is also a “telescopic philanthropist” called Mrs. Jellyby in his novel Bleak House (1852-53).

What do we do with this?

Caroline Chisholm talked a local government leader into giving her an empty barracks for a women’s shelter. We might want to consider how often we take no for an answer.

Chisholm had an idea of who she was as a child and organized her adulthood to obey that hevenly vision, even holding out for a husband who supported work women generally did not take on individually at the time. Are you underestimating how valuable your are?