Australia and New Zealand



The negative popular vision of emigration can only have been reinforced by the start of transportation of Irish convicts to Australia in 1780. The offences for which transportation could be imposed were manifold, ranging from the pettiest of thefts to "treasonous" political crimes; by 1803, of the 2086 Irish convicts in Australia, 40% were political prisoners and the remainder sentenced for criminal offences. By 1836 there were about 20,000 Irish in the country and in 1861, three years after transportation had ended, the Irish community constituted almost 20% of the population of Australia.

Because of the distance involved, the journey was very costly, and this meant that very few arrived without assistance of some sort, either the unwelcome assistance of transportation, or one of the many schemes, in general privately funded, which evolved over the course of the nineteenth century.

These schemes to subsidize the cost of the journey aimed to encourage the migration of family groups and those with skills, and resulted in many communities leaving en masse. Once a network of family ties existed in Australia into which new emigrants could fit, the breaking of the links with Ireland became easier.

In the late nineteenth century, during the New Zealand gold rush, the numbers of Irish entering that country grew dramatically, and a strong Irish settlement developed along the west coast.

Although the smaller population of New Zealand meant there were fewer obstacles to intermarriage and social mobility, Irish Catholics still faced many of the same disadvantages as they did in Australia and, to some extent, America: anti-Catholic prejudice, resentment against rural immigrants living in urban conditions, discrimination in housing and employment.

As in America, these disadvantages were ultimately overcome in Australia and New Zealand through growing power in the labour associations, the political parties, and the Church itself. Even at its height, however, it must be said that emigrants to Australia and New Zealand remained only a small fraction of the total numbers leaving the country in the nineteenth century.