Vere Foster:

1856 Emigrants' Story

The "Lady Franklin", "Calhoun" & "Orient"


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© Brendan Hall 2001

Vere Foster (1819-1900) was the son of a diplomat Augustus Foster and Albinia Hobart (1). His father was a distant cousin of John Foster, Lord Oriel, last speaker of the Irish House of Commons. Vere was the youngest of three brothers, Frederick being the eldest and Cavendish Hervey the second. His early childhood was spent in Italy. At the age of eleven he went to Eton College where he remained for four years before returning to Turin to continue his education. His chosen career was that of civil servant, starting in the Audit Office in London before entering the diplomatic service. His first visit to Ireland appears to have been made in the autumn of 1841 when he, his brother Frederick and their father stayed in Ardee, guests of the McClintock family. In 1848, having endured a long illness, Augustus committed suicide. Frederick was already living in Co. Louth at this stage (Castlering) (2) and in 1849 Vere decided to enrol for a year long course at Glasnevin Model Farm. In 1850 Vere travelled to America, with a large group of Irish emigrants, aboard the Washington. So horrific was the journey that he kept a diary of the experience - he was assaulted by one of the sailors when he complained about conditions on board; the treatment of the poor emigrants was little short of barbaric. His account, signed by about 120 (out of about 1,000) of the passengers, later became the basis of a Parliamentary White Paper, which lead to the introduction of legislation to improve the conditions for emigrants on board ship (3).


In 1852 he established his ‘Irish Female Emigration Fund’ which was set up to provide free passage to America for young Irish females. This was not a compulsory emigration, or a plan by an unscrupulous landlord to force tenants off their holdings, but rather a genuine attempt by a very good man to better the circumstances, by providing employment abroad, of a number of poverty-stricken people. It was all done on a voluntary basis. His plans met with considerable opposition among the clergy, farmers and shopkeepers, all of whom, for their own reasons, did not want to see their congregations, stock of cheap labour, or potential customers, already effected from the mass emigration as a result of the recent famine, further dissipated.


The following article appeared in the Drogheda Argus (County Louth) on 17 May 1856:


On Monday morning last Vere Foster, Esq., left Ardee with about seventy female emigrants for Canada. About twenty of them had been inmates of the Ardee Union Workhouse, the remainder were from the town and surrounding country – they were all decently clad with comfortable clothes. The procession as it moved along the road, with the worthy gentleman mounted on a common dray amongst his protégées reminded us forcibly of the patriarch Jacob on his journey to the land of Goshen. We confess, however, that it is a sight which must be anything but in unison with the feelings of Irishmen. It shows that there is ‘something rotten in the state of Denmark’ when our rural population are thus obliged to be annually expatriated. It certainly is not for want of the raw material to employ them, as our island, if properly managed, could employ and sustain double its present population. We think if this wholesale exportation of the bone and sinew of the country is permitted to go on thus annually that it will in the long run be the cause of regret to all classes of society.


The seventy-five females referred to above boarded the Lady Franklin at Liverpool on 15 May 1856. The ship arrived in New York on the evening of 24 May. The majority of the these emigrants (from the Ardee area of County Louth) were bound for Canada West (CW), where they would take up positions as servant-girls, with a smaller number staying, or opting to stay after they had disembarked, in New York (NY). On arrival they were attended to by Commissioner Kennedy, who saw them safely despatched to the various destinations. They were all reported to be in good health and to have had a satisfactory journey, with no complaints. The following is a list of those females (two would appear to have been accompanied by a male sibling):



Name, Age, Destination

Barton Alice, 20, Port Dover, CW

Bellew Maria, 16, Port Dover, CW

Brady Anna, 16, Port Dover, CW

Brady Catherine, 16, Port Dover, CW

Brady Mary, 20, Port Dover, CW

Brady Rose, 18, Paterson, NJ

Byrnes Catherine, 20, Amiensville, NY

Byrnes Ellen, 18, Amiensville, NY

Campbell Anne, 16, Port Dover, CW

Campbell Mary, 19, Port Dover, CW

Campbell Mary, 16, New York City, NY

Carney Bridget, 22, Port Dover, CW

Carroll Mary, 19, Port Dover, CW

Carrollan Catherine, 18, Port Dover, CW

Carry Biddy, 16, Port Dover, CW

Clarke Mary, 25, Port Dover, CW

Coleman Margaret, 16, Port Dover, CW

Condra Anna, 22, New York City, NY

Conlon Anne, 17, Newburg, NY

Connor Mary, 16, Port Dover, CW

Creaton Catherine, -, Port Dover, CW

Cummerford Mary, 21, Port Dover, CW

Cunningham Andrew, 20, New York City, NY

Cunningham Bridget, 20, New York City, NY

Drumgoole Margaret, 20, Port Dover, CW

Duffy Anne, 18, Port Dover, CW

Duffy Anne, 18, New York City, NY

Duffy Elizabeth, 20, Port Dover, CW

Durnin Mary, 16, Port Dover, CW

Flanagan Ellen, 18, Port Dover, CW

Gaherty Mary, 16, Port Dover, CW

Gartland John, 25, Boston, Mass

Gartland Mary, 22, Boston, Mass

Green Mary, 17, Port Dover, CW

Grimes Bessy, 16, Port Dover, CW

Grimes Catherine, 17, Port Dover, CW

Hand Jane, 14, Sisters of Mercy for Seneca Falls,

Kernan Ellen, 17, Port Dover, CW

Lamb Mary, 20, Port Dover, CW

Mackle Margaret, 18, Port Dover, CW

Malone Margaret, 16, New York City, NY

Malone Mary, 20, Port Dover, CW

Marron Rose, 20, Port Dover, CW

Mathews Margaret, 37, Port Dover, CW

Mathews Margaret, 14, Troy, NY

Mathews Mary, 20, Port Dover, CW

McArdle Margaret, 17, Port Dover, CW

McCanna Margaret, 21, Port Dover, CW

McCormack Catherine, 20, New York City, NY

McDonald Mary, 21, Port Dover, CW

McIntegart Eliza, 16, Port Dover, CW

McLean Catherine, 18, Port Dover, CW

McNeill Anne, 14, Rochester, NY

Meade Anna, 17, Port Dover, CW

Murphy Bridget, 23, Troy, NY

Murphy Jane, 21, Port Dover, CW

Murphy John, 21, Troy, NY

Murphy Mary, 22, Troy, NY

O'Brien Catherine, 16, Port Dover, CW

Reilly Margaret, 17, Richmond, S.I.

Reynolds Essy, 18, New York City, NY

Rogers Anne, 26, New York City, NY

Sanders Isaac, 22, Boston, Mass

Shallcross Henrietta, 16, New York City, NY

Sheridan Patrick, 26, Boston, Mass

Skelly Catherine, 18, Port Dover, CW

Smith Catherine, 16, Port Dover, CW

Smith Kate (Bridget), 20, Port Dover, CW

Taffe Anna, 15, Port Dover, CW

Tiernan Jane, 18, Port Dover, CW

Victory Anne, -, New York City, NY

On 02 June the Arran left the docks at Drogheda bound for Liverpool. On board were around forty more Vere Foster emigrants. They departed for New York on 05 June on board the Calhoun.


In the meantime, the newspaper article, quoted above, had obviously come to the attention of Foster and must have taken him by surprise. On 07 June, the Argus inserted the following few lines:



We inserted last week [sic], depending on the good sense of the contributor, an article in reference to the female emigrants who had left Ardee under care of Mr. Vere Foster, and it was calculated from its tone to induce the example to be followed. We at present request our readers not to be influenced by the article we allude to until we make more particular enquiries.


The reason for the last line above was that, on that same day, Foster met with the editor of the newspaper, in the offices of the Argus, for what was reported to be a ‘warm’ discussion. Two days after the meeting, in a letter dated 09 June written in Liverpool, Foster wrote to the editor saying


…. I am anxious to say that I regret very much having been berated into undue warmth of language and disrespectful expressions towards yourself, and I request you will accept my apologies for so doing.


It is a measure of the man that he should apologise immediately upon finding out he was wrong and the Argus was fulsome in its praise (in a long article on the 14 June) of Foster as a gentleman, but rounded once again on his aims. The misunderstandings that lead to the row revolved around an incident at Drogheda docks as the last ‘batch’ of Foster emigrants were boarding the Arran for Liverpool on 02 June. Public unease at, and general distrust of Foster’s motives in sending females to America, gave rise to riotous scenes at Drogheda docks and accusations of proselytising and souperism against him. At the time of his meeting with the Argus editor, Foster was unaware that any unpleasantness had occurred at Drogheda and when told about it at that meeting, must have been unwilling to accept the story as true. In his letter he continued, ‘I think it most likely that the person who informed you of my having distributed tracts was himself the distributor, for the purpose of creating a prejudice against my proceedings’.


At its most basic, souperism was the offensive and derogatory term used for those people (the Soupers) who had converted from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism in exchange for food during the recent famine.


A day later, 10 June, having investigated further, Foster wrote another letter (4), this time in Ardee, to the Argus editor, setting out his understanding of what had happened at Drogheda. According to him it would appear that one of his passengers, Eliza Adams, alias Doolan, had some tracts in her possession, reviling the Roman Catholic religion, which she proceeded to circulate at the quay. It was a very foolish act. She was the only Protestant girl there and was being sent by Foster to Quebec, whereas all the other emigrants were going first to New York. Foster did not pay her fare as a special collection had been held for her among her co-religionists to which the Lord Lieutenant of County Louth donated £3. Foster pointed out that she had ‘evidently been made the organ of some mischievous, though possibly well intentioned, proselytisers’. Many years later (5) Foster would recount that day and the atmosphere at Drogheda quays:


Many of the farmers were mad at me for reducing the supply of labourers and servant girls; and alternate entreaties, threats, and force were used to prevent many of my party from embarking, cries being got up that my intention was to make Protestants of them; that they were to be bound for a term of years; to be sold to "the blacks", to the Mormons, etc etc.


It is not clear, in fact, whether a single tract was actually distributed or not that day. More than anything else, it seems that the unfortunate Eliza Adams, for some reason, most likely related to the fact that she was the only Protestant in the group, was used as a scapegoat for the crowd’s anger and her pockets were searched. Tracts were found and thrown into the air amid accusations that this was proof positive of Foster’s proselytising intentions. It should be pointed out that Vere Foster was probably agnostic and would have been horrified at any accusations made against him of religious bigotry. In its article of 14 June, the Argus went on to discuss Foster’s female emigration policy saying that:


the majority of young women who leave Ireland for America make a bad exchange. They have to work as hard, if not more so, for their sustenance than at home, and Catholic girls in particular, removed very often a great distance from religious example and instruction, lose the peace and ease of mind necessary for even worldly comfort.


It went on to denounce the fact that the girls were being removed from their ‘natural protectors’ – men, and suggested that if anyone should emigrate, it should be men, not women. It advised Foster to make some attempt to alleviate the worries of the families of the female emigrants by letting them know that the women had arrived safely in America and were being properly looked after and where they were. The paper also quoted from a letter of a Catholic priest, the Rev. Mr. O’Dowd in Montreal, to the Board of Guardians of the Drogheda Union who had offered assisted passage to some girls to Canada, stating, ‘I am glad you send none but persons whose conduct you could vouch. It is a great evil to help others to come out. They seldom improve for the better by being changed to a strange place’.


On 28 June, the newspaper again returned to the topic of female emigration, Mr. Foster’s ‘depopulation system’, again making the point that there was no need for it, that it endangered the morals of the women and left them liable to the temptation of Souperism. It also claimed that Foster was playing into the hands of unscrupulous landlords and that ‘he would eventually strip the country of its population more effectively that the Ejectment Acts’. It claimed that not a single ship left the port of Liverpool bound for America without a souper agent on board ‘and agents too, if possible, of a worse description’. It also gave a not implausible description of the traps into which the unwary could fall:


They are beset on board ship with false advisors; they are surrounded by them when they land, and after taking shelter in some miserable boarding house are kept there under lying pretences until their last sixpence is exhausted, and then driven by necessity to take the first situation that offers no matter how degrading.


Finally it demanded that Foster ensure the spiritual, moral and physical welfare of his emigrants before allowing them to embark for America.


And with that, the Drogheda Argus let the matter rest. Foster, on the other hand, seemed to take some of the criticism on board, however unjustified it was. In fact he did ensure and had ensured since starting his project in 1852, that his protégées were met at New York, that they had a place to rest when they arrived there, that they were seen to their destinations and that they had jobs to go to. He made annual trips to America since 1850 and travelled extensively there and even at times accompanied his emigrants to their final destinations. On 12 June 1856 he wrote to P. Lynch, editor of the Irish American newspaper, advising him of the arrangements he had made for the Calhoun emigrants and included a list of their names (all from County Louth):



Name, Age, Destination

Brady Elizabeth, 20, Simcoe, CW

Byrne Margaret, 17, New York, NY

Campbell Mary, 20, Simcoe, CW

Cassidy Mary, 20, Simcoe, CW

Conelly Ann, 24, Simcoe, CW

Conelly Catherine, 17, Simcoe, CW

Crany Mary, 22, Simcoe, CW

Craven Catherine, 20, Chillcothe, Ohio

Cummerford Catherine, 18, Simcoe, CW

Devlin Jane, 18, Simcoe, CW

Devlin Maria, 20, Simcoe, CW

Downes Catherine, 19, New York, NY

Durnin Biddy, 16, Simcoe, CW

Fanning Bridget, 17, Boston, Mass

Flanagan Bridget, 18, Boston, Mass

Gallagher Peter, 23, New York, NY

Halligan Ann, 24, Simcoe, CW

Harmon Ann, 17, New York, NY

Hickey Judith, 23, Simcoe, CW

Kavanagh Margaret, 17, Simcoe, CW

Kelly Mary, 22, Simcoe, CW

King Betty, 20, Simcoe, CW

Lamb Margaret, 25, Simcoe, CW

Lannon Mary, 19, Simcoe, CW

Levins Patrick, 22, Boston, Mass

Magee Rose, 20, Simcoe, CW

Magennis Bridget, 17, Simcoe, CW

Matthews Bridget, 20, Providence, RI

Matthews Mary, 17, Simcoe, CW

McAvoy Ann, 17, Simcoe, CW

McCabe Bridget, 16, Simcoe, CW

McDonald Bridget, 18, Simcoe, CW

McGuire Ann, 20, Simcoe, CW

McGuire Catherine, 24, Simcoe, CW

McKeown Bridget, 17, Brooklyn, NY

McKeown Mary, 23, Simcoe, CW

Murray Mary, 18, Simcoe, CW

O'Brien Ann, 19, New York, NY

O'Neill Margaret, 20, Simcoe, CW

Poor Catherine, 28, Simcoe, CW

Quigly Margaret, 17, Bradford, CW

Smyth Bridget, 16, Simcoe, CW

He included a further short list of five of his emigrants who left Liverpool on 06 June aboard the Orient. One of these was from County Louth and the rest from County Clare, but he does not specify which:



Name, Age, Destination

Anglin Bridget, 18, Broklyn (sic), NY

Burke Honora, 14, Broklyn (sic), NY

Butler Mary, 17, New York

Duffy Winifred, 22, Springfield, MS

Fitzpatrick, Margaret, 20, Amsterdam, N

The letter, with its names, was picked up by the Newry Examiner and printed in that newspaper on 23 July 1856. The Drogheda Argus ignored it. In his account of the incident in later life, Foster conflated the Lady Franklin and Calhoun stories, but it is clear from contemporary newspaper articles that the Eliza Adams incident related to the Calhoun only. In 1857 another party of 120 girls left Ireland and sailed to New York, via Liverpool on the City of Mobile. Once again Foster had to face the wrath of the Press, this time in the guise of the Freeman and the Times (which picked up the story), and once again the accusations flew.


In 1858 Foster embarked on his next great project, the reorganisation of the National School system in Ireland. His work in this area, paid mostly out of his own pocket, is still not properly recognised or appreciated.



(1) Biographical information taken from, McNeill Mary, Vere Foster: An Irish Benefactor, G.B. 1971

(2) Thoms Irish Almanack, 1848

(3) See Appendix 1, McNeill Mary, Vere Foster, 1971. The text of the Report and list of names can also be found at

(4) Both letters were included in the Drogheda Argus article of 14 June 1856

(5) McNeill Mary, Vere Foster, 1971, page 89



McNeill Mary, Vere Foster 1819-1900: An Irish Benefactor, G.B. 1971

The Drogheda Argus 17 May 1856, 07 June 1856, 14 June 1856, 28 June 1856

The Newry Examiner and Louth Advertiser, 23 July 1856

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© Brendan Hall 2002, 2003