The Immigrant’s Friend

Our History and the Christian Connection

Caroline Chisholm.

“The richest and most powerful Government of the world, master of India and a million men, failed in the colony, where a single woman succeeded through her force of character and vigour of soul.  Without fortune or help she did more for the new world (Australia) than all the emigration societies and the British Government put together”.

Thus wrote the French historian, Michelet, in the Sydney Morning Herald 8th February 1911.

Two other assessments from the same report include; Robert Lowe (later to become Viscount Sherbrooke) said of her: “Her mission is one of the most original ever devised or undertaken by man or woman.” From the ‘Westminster Review’: “She has done more for the moral regeneration of the Australian colonies than all their clergy with their four of five bishops to boot”.

Why would Caroline Chisholm receive such accolades? Most of us would recognise her face, because it was featured on the familiar $5 bank notes from 1967 to 1990. This was to do with her deeds during the early settlement of Australia.

Caroline was brought up in a strong Christian home in England and as a child she would visit the poor and the sick with her mother. People who were in need were brought to the family home and looked after.

The teachings of Jesus of “Love your neighbor as yourself” were very much a part of Caroline’s lifestyle, as she saw this lived out by her parents.

After arriving in Australia with her family, she noticed the plight of many single women. These women were arriving in Australia without money or prospects of employment. They were forced to live on the streets and were always in danger of being attacked.  However, the government of the day showed no interest in trying to help these desperate women find shelter or jobs. Initially using her own resources, she took single women into her home.

Soon the problem of accommodating so many young women became obvious and an approach to Governor Gipps was made. The Governor is recorded as saying, “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 the question as if she thought her reason and experience were worth as much as mine.”

The Governor, capitulated and gave her an old rat infested government building in which she could house more women.

Caroline realised that this problem was great and beyond her capabilities. On Easter Sunday 1841 she offered all she had to the Lord and told Him she would be dedicate her life to the cause of helping these poor immigrants. “I felt my offering was accepted and that God’s blessing was on my work” she recorded. Within six years of making this commitment to God, over 11,000 immigrants were settled.

Caroline was very aware that families should be strengthened and kept together. She organised free passage for many of the seventy-five wives and children who were left behind in England, to be united with their husbands and fathers in Australia. Later on she set up an organisation in England to send skilled workers and their families to Australia. In merely the first four years some 3000 immigrants were sponsored.

 What caused this woman to be so concerned for the welfare of others?  It was her desire to live out the teachings of Jesus. Although for Caroline fame came, that was not what she sought. She lived her life for the benefit and wellbeing of others.

How different our society would be if more people lived for the benefit and wellbeing of others.

Written by:  Graham and Pam McLennan