Charlotte Grace O'Brien.

Charlotte Grace O'Brien; selections from her writings and correspondence online

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as have gone on in certain vessels even within the last
year would be things of the past altogether. I have
working with me Mr. Moore, Member for Clonmel ;
Mr. Frank Hugh O'Donnell, and virtually the whole
Irish Party, so that practically any point I want to bring
to public notice I can bring forward under privilege of
Parliament.' "

She returned from America in the end of 1882 to re-
open the Queenstown Home, and it existed for another
year. The work was done, however. I must tell now,
as it were from the inside, the story of that work how
it moved her, how it coloured her personal life, how she
felt what she was doing in a word, what her own life
was in these years.

Here is a letter to the younger of her daughters by
adoption, dated June] 15, [1881, [from her home at
Ardanoir :


" To think that yourjbirthdayf passed without a letter
from me but you must forgive me, for I have been
writing morning and night, heartsore and tired, fighting
for these poor young girls, many not older than yourself,
who are going away into unspeakable dangers. So
you must forgive me, dear, dear children. When I think
of those who love their children as I love you, and then
think of what I now know, it breaks my heart ; but I am
very hopeful of being able to do good and reform matters
very much, if not altogether. Uncle Monteagle is here
now, and he is going back to London fully prepared to
carry on the fight there. It won't be' necessary for me
to go, for Mr. Chamberlain is receiving my evidence
from here. I will send to your father in a few days a


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letter printed for private circulation on the subject.
Did any of you see a paper of mine in the Fortnightly
Review of this month ? It is on emigration, but not on
this branch of the subject. . . I am so haunted
with this nightmare I can think of nothing but it."

Later in the year (November, 1881), after she had
failed in her efforts to set others to work, she wrote :

" I think of making a further move now and trying to
establish a depot for single emigrant girls here. This
would entail my leaving Ardanoir for the time, and I
wish I could see my way to letting it, but fear I shan't.
If I could get it even inhabited and the expenses off my
shoulders it would be a good thing. I am asking to find
if I can get a committee of gentlemen to get the thing
afoot and money. In any case I think I shall make the
attempt out of my own means as it ought to be self-
supporting, the emigrants paying as to the common
lodging-houses. It is horrid to think of leaving Ardanoir ;
but I see well nothing will be done unless I do it, and I
might be able to do great good."

What helped her greatly in her work was her gift for
making friends. In January, 1882, she wrote :

" I was in Liverpool a few days ago and made acquain-
tance with Father Nugent and Mr. Ismay, of the White
Star Line. They are both very good and nice. I have
seen the Germanic again in dock. When there dis-
mantled, it became more easy to see where I was right
and where wrong. I believe that it will be possible
to get on good terms with White Star, as I shall give
them as full a withdrawal as I possibly can."

The letter goes on to deal with money matters. Nothing

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but a frugality which bordered on asceticism could have
made it possible for her to provide as she did, mainly
out of her own means, for this campaign.

" There are so many expenses, especially travelling ;
going to Liverpool for a few (two) days cost me about
j3, and yet I find I always gain the value in knowledge
and experience. I want, for the same reason, to go to
London in order to get into personal communication
with the Women's Emigration Society, to see Australian
ships, &c. My head gets so desperately full of this
question I can think of nothing else. I believe there
can be no doubt that I have now in my hands a very
considerable power, and if I carry out my plan of going
to America this autumn, that power will probably be
greatly increased."

Here in June, 1882, is an even more humane apprecia-
tion of those whom she was attacking :

" Meanwhile we continue persecuting the Lines.
Poor dears ! they have had a fearfully hard hit from
America; all the bad stories of the last twenty years
have been raked up against them, debated in Congress,
and printed. I am sure they have all been bitterly
discomforted, but their troubles have made me relent,
as it is too hard to make them responsible for all the
wrong that may go on among thousands of people : and
so many of them are such nice people. I went to Liver-
pool (a second visit), mainly to make friends with Mr.

. You may remember how fierce I have been

against them all the spring ; well, having made them
evidently in a fright, I thought I'd go and see if anything

could be done through the heads. I found Mr. ,

a fine-looking, strong-faced young man, just come into


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the work. The question is, will he be able to pull up
the Line. I am hopeful of him anyhow. We had a very
friendly meeting after all."


Here, now, is her account of one of the crossings from
Liverpool to Queenstown about twenty-four hours
on which she travelled as a steerage passenger :


" I am all right after my voyage, which I enjoyed
notwithstanding all the hardships. Tell Uncle Monteagle
that I have a new point for him to fight on in the need
to have the law revised. There were four horses berthed
among us ! It appears it is legal to berth up to ten, but
these were not quite legally arranged. Captain Wilson
made a great fuss about them, though they had been
cleared by the officer in Liverpool. Altogether, Captain
Wilson was inclined to refuse to clear the ship ; the
hospital accommodation was so bad, and ventilation,
but it had passed the Liverpool officers without comment.
I shall have a deal to tell Uncle Monteagle of my ex-
periences. Whenever I woke in the night there was an
old woman in the next berth working away at the whiskey
bottle (not an Irishwoman). I had the advantage of
an empty berth on each side of me, but below and
opposite were a lot of women and children. It was all
awfully dirty and disgusting and the food bad enough,
but, on the other hand, the people were so friendly,
so good to one another, so cheery, I was happy enough :
and in the morning we had a really beautiful scene. The
day was exquisite bright sun, still sea so the people
were quite happy again. Some Baptists began singing
hymns, and shortly all the emigrants were gathered
together, and we spent the whole morning thus. I
made friends especially with one young man, a Baptist,


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a coal miner, black and grimy, but I believe the man to be
a true apostle. I have seldom come across anyone who
seemed to me so transformed by Christianity, truly a
beautiful and grand character under a very rough outside.
I was talking a long time to him. There were also a
married man and wife, Baptists, Bradford factory workers,
very attractive, but the miner was a man of more depth
I think, just the hero for George Eliot. He is to write
to me and tell me of his life in the mines in America.
He has a quantity of books and hymns, and is evidently
the stuff to make a missionary of. It would have repaid
a great deal more miserable living to have realised, even
for a few hours, the life of such a man, silently working
among the poor, one of themselves, but raised so far
above them by principle. I saw a share of the bad side,
too, and I ascertained one very important fact that is,
though there were a great many children, they were
hardly any trouble, but went to sleep at once, and were
not at all sick, though the men and women were so,

Here, also, is a letter to her elder niece, giving her
impressions of America :


October 9, 1882.

" Far away you see, aboutfmy furthest point. I am very
much taken with this country, it is so wonderfully more
congenial than I had expected everything more home-
like looking, and much prettier too. The fact is the
whole country, as far as I have seen, has a great deal of
quiet loveliness, no striking or impressive scenery, but
beauty of foreground almost greater than any country
I know, except Switzerland. Of course the autumn
is the time to see America, for the colouring is more


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exquisite than you can conceive in the woods. If you
took your paint-box with absolutely pure new paints and
gradated every shade from pale canary down to the
deepest browns in madder, you would get some idea of
the colouring. It is simply unbelievable. You see on
one side of you a tree of pure lake, mixing its branches
with one of gold, and side by side with another of rich
orange above shading into scarlet. The Virginian
creeper, like our ivy, twines round every tree and in grand
masses over the ground, and you have acres of sumach
in the swampy places of pure blood red. It is magnificent,
the country is not half as lonely looking withal as I
expected. The New England States are like a succession
of beautiful English parks, the natural woods and
cultivated lands alternating as in park scenery, and up
and down rolling land beautifully shaped, but all in soft
masses, nothing approaching to mountain scenery.
Out away West here, however, the scenery becomes
more Irish. The views open and the highlands are more
marked, the foregrounds, though still beautiful, are not
quite so rich as in the East, and the distances are finer.
St. Paul's might very easily be in Co. Limerick, but the
stone is nowhere visible as at home. The land out
West here looks much richer than nearer New York.
I need not have worried about expenses as far as I can
see. Hitherto I have been so handed on that I have
spent about fifteen dollars since I left England. The
railways give me passes, and people pay all for me
and won't hear to the contrary. I was at Mr. A. M.
Sullivan's lecture on Saturday. Curiously, he, Father
Nugent, Bishop Ireland and I had met in this far-away
corner. Father Nugent introduced me to the two or
three thousand people in the Hall. The next day's
papers say the applause was * terrific.' Anyhow, I have
got my hold pretty tight now in this country ; the


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Lines will know that the inevitable fact has a pretty
extensive royalty. I have been speaking my candid
opinion of the poor dears in a way that will hardly secure
a welcome in Liverpool from some of them. I hope it
will teach the backsliders to come up to mark. I send
you a sonnet you may like to see. You know Americans
don't speak of * autumn ' but * fall.' I shall make you
laugh plenty when I get home, but I am now going out
driving with a Mr. Kelly, a very pleasing and gentleman-
like person, though a grocer. Everyone in this country
is in business. I wish many of our landed gentry were as
gentlemanlike as these business men. Bishop Ireland
is magnificent, so is his sister, mother of this convent.
Such a lark ! I got the sisters off singing ' Tramp, Tramp,
Tramp the Boys are Marching,' yesterday, Sunday, and
as excited as any batch of pure-blooded Fenians."

None of her letters tell of the sharp struggle which
she had to face in Queenstown itself when she actually
started. A grave part of the evils which she undertook
to remedy occurred there : the unfortunate people, dis-
gorged from the trains and compelled to wait a day or
days for their boat, were often mercilessly fleeced. The
keepers of the lodginghouses resented this new com-
petition, this interference with their trade ; and when she
and her man John went down to the station to meet
arrivals they were hustled violently and threatened with
worse. She described to me a perfect pandemonium,
poor creatures from the wilds of Kerry or Connaught
emerging like cattle from the crowded carriages, sick with
hunger or fatigue, stupefied with grief ; and then the
mob of lodginghouse runners seizing them, dragging them
this way and that, with noisy exhortations.

Thus she began her work of love in a turmoil of mean
and jealous hatred, bullied and browbeaten.


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And, as so often happens in Irish affairs, even she
did not escape suspicion. The drain of emigration grew
worse : it was in the heart of the agrarian war, peasants
lost confidence, believed that the Land League would
fail, lost hope, and rushed away ; and in the thick of it the
Government did what I believe no other civilised Govern-
ment has ever done : it began to pay its subjects to go
abroad. Lord Derby, at Manchester on December 13,
i882,*after deprecating that creation of peasant proprietary
by State-aided purchase which was advocated from the
first by Parnell, and which after a generation of demora-
lising agitation and more demoralising legislation, has
been with universal consent adopted as the sane solution,
said that there was another remedy which he did believe in.
" Personally I believe that some millions spent in promot-
ing Irish emigration, if Parliament and the Cabinet saw
their way to it, would pay us well."

Private philanthropists were already busy : one boasted
of having enabled fifty thousand persons to emigrate.
Now, Government acted on Lord Derby's suggestion,
and offered a grant of five pounds to each Irish family
willing to leave Ireland for the United States.

This action called forth fierce indignation in America.
On January 23rd, 1883, the best of the friends whom
Charlotte O'Brien had made in America, John Boyle
O'Reilly, the exiled Fenian, poet, novelist, journalist,
wrote to her from the rooms of his paper, The Boston
Pilot :

" Since you were here the whole face of affairs has
changed,Tand I have changed with it. The plan of
* assisted*" emigration ' proposed by the Government has
called out* a'< more indignant spirit of opposition and
protest than I have ever seen among the Irish in America.
Mr. Vere Foster and Major Gaskell have been here

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arranging for the reception of immigrants sent by the
Government. We have refused to co-operate with them
in any way. The Charitable Irish Society, which you
addressed, had appointed a committee to consider your
proposition, and they meant to report favourably on it.
Instead, they have passed a resolution of emphatic protest
against the proposed assisted emigration, and on my
motion have resolved to call a public mass meeting in
Boston to denounce the scheme and create public opinion
against it. It may be a harsh measure for the unfortunate
immigrants it is. But we will let the odium for their
condition fall on the shoulders of the English Government.
It has been written to several persons here that you also
were working in the interests of the Government scheme.
We said that if this were so, they had deceived you by
specious argument. Believe me, dear Miss O'Brien, there
can be no co-operation between the Irish and the English
Government on this matter. Even if our poor unhappy
ones died on the wharves here, I for one would say
* let them die,' and let their death protest against the
merciless hand that drives them out of their own land,
which is rotting for want of human labour.

" Major Gaskell has, I believe, hired a man to receive
his emigrants at this port.

" I beg of you to write me at once, if the report that
you are associated with the Government agents is untrue.
And if it is true, I beg you to pardon me if I trust that
you will soon sever the connection. So long as Irishmen
and women are found to aid such an accursed policy,
so long will it be pursued. Your influence, marvellous
and beautiful as it was, will die in one moment if it be
known that you act as the agent of the Government.
As it is at present, Major Gaskell can give you more
information than I. Nothing will be done by Irishmen
here to relieve the English Government of its difficulties


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in getting rid of the people. As soon as Philadelphia
learns that they are doing so, they too will stop.

" I cannot tell you how grieved I am to write such a
letter to you. But I have written so for weeks in The
Pilot, which you may have read."

The attacks on her which Boyle O'Reilly wrote of
dated from some time back, and were not unknown to
her, as is proved by this letter to the Wisconsin :

" SIR, Having received a copy of your paper of
October 29th, containing my letter relative to the
emigration law, I regret to see myself described as an
agent of the British Government. I am not so, never
have been, and never shall be so. I had at first to fight
down the bitterest opposition from the English Board
of Trade. Now we are working in harmony, but indepen-
dently. I am no believer in the English idea that to
improve Ireland you should exile its people, but I do
believe in the duty of the Irish race here and in Ireland
to make a united effort for the protection of those who
must and will emigrate. To succeed in this I trust soon
to be able to start a Western Emigration Aid Society,
such as shall command the confidence and assistance of
all true Irishmen. I could also, I feel sure, improve the
foreign traffic, if the German emigrant societies would
communicate with me, writing to Miss O'BRIEN,
Emigrant Home, Queenstown, Ireland.
" Yours faithfully,

" C. G. O'BRIEN."

Her proposals and her point of view are more fully set
out in another communication to the American Press :


"January ytb, 1883.

" SIR, While in America, daily more and more was

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impressed on my mind the great need of a larger
organisation of the strength of the Irish-American nation
in aid of immigrants. Now, I am utterly opposed to the
English policy of state-aided emigration. I believe it
to be fatal and misleading, useless in itself, and only fit
to turn the attention from the more potent remedies of
Land reform, industrial revival, and before and above
all, self-government. But I cannot close my eyes to the
fact that a large part of Ireland is in deep distress ; that
starvation is, in parts, imminent ; that the steamship
companies have lowered their fares, and that in America
there is fair prosperity. That these circumstances com-
bined will produce a heavy immigration next year, I look
on as certain. No declamation will prevent it. Apart
entirely from the Government emigration, a large
number, probably not less than sixty or seventy thousand
people, will leave the shores of Ireland next year ; of these
the largest proportion will go to the United States. Some
will have money enough to go west to friends, but many
will not. Of these how large a proportion will fall victims
to the traps and snares of the great cities ! How many
girls whose life in America should be as the pure and holy
mothers of a noble people will be led astray into the
foul dens of New York ! How many young men who
might bring wealth and honour to the Irish name will
sink into the life of saloon boardinghouses ! How many
fathers of families who, forced by the distress at home
to flee to America, leaving behind wife and children to
the mercy of neighbours as poor as themselves, will, week
after week, dread to write home the empty letter will
try for work, with the anxiety of despair, and yet will
know of wealth in the West while they famish in the East,
while wife and children drift into the workhouses in
Ireland ! And all the while these men, these women,
would be invaluable if in their right places on the western


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lands, in the young cities, or on the great railways. If
they even knew where certainly to find work they might
make shift to get there. All that is wanted is organisation.
Surely Irishmen who unite so readily in societies might
unite in this object, which would turn a national weakness
into strength. A poor, ignorant man leaves Ireland ; he
sinks to the lowest level in the great cities. He is lost to
Ireland, his name and his race are blotted out, his children
die, or if they live, it is too often a life of shame.

" See, on the other hand, what might be done with
these sons of God and Ireland. Men of the West, unite !
Stretch out your hands to meet the weak ones of your
nation on their first landing ; provide a small sum to ad-
vance means to take them where their work would be
valuable. But union is far more wanted than money.

" Let us take any great Irish city in the West, say
Chicago. Let the Irishmen there form a committee,
ascertain where and what sort of labour is required in
the State of Illinois ; let them send such information to
agents of the society in the eastern ports. In Philadelphia,
the agents of the C. T. A. Union and of the Hibernian
Society are already at work, and both would and could
work directly with any western society. Let the com-
mittee arrange with some house of good Sisters to receive
girls in Chicago, while places are being found for them.
Let coffee boardinghouses for the young men take the
place of the saloon boardinghouses. They may be made
to pay equally well, and lead to good instead of evil.
Let the clergy of the great church which has so long led
Irishmen upward again take their place in this great
movement. Let the holy women of the church think not
alone of rescuing the lost, but rather of preserving the
unstained youth of their sex. I believe I may say with
certainty that the emigrant ship is no longer the scene
of vice it once was.


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" The emigrant reaches the shores of America uncon-
taminated : but there, how many evils lie in wait for
them ! The scandals daily being revealed in connection
with Castle Garden are bad enough, but worse lies outside.

" Seeing that it is at present hopeless to get the steam-
ship companies to exert themselves, I have decided, if
I can get others to work with me, on going myself to
New York to endeavour to get on foot some house for the
protection of women. What I can do, Irishmen can
depend on me, I will try to do. But will they put all the
work on the shoulders of a woman ? Will they have it to
be said that only one, and that a woman, was to be found
who cared for the children of Ireland when young and
inexperienced, scarce knowing their right hand from their
left when they reached their new country ?

"Irishmen, the day is coming, the morn is dawning,
when once more the nation may look homeward ; when
not emigration from Ireland, but emigration to Ireland,
shall be the word ; when a free nation at home shall
welcome once more to its heart the sons and daughters
who have gained knowledge and wealth and independence
in exile. Look to that day as I look. See, then, what
your duties are by the children of your nation who are
still pouring into America. They are rude material,
unshaped, unformed, and weak. Raise, unite, and
educate them. Remember the day is coming when to
America we shall look for our political strength, our
wealth and capital, our industry, our knowledge, our
enterprise, as we now look for our freedom and our hope.
To you, the elder sons of the re-awakened Ireland, we
look. Remember that the emigrant of to-day may be
the soldier in the battle of freedom to-morrow a battle
which, as I believe, will be fought, not with the weapons
of physical strength, but with the noble weapons of in-
tellectual and moral force. Neglect these poor, these

81 F

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ignorant, these weak Irishmen, and the nation will remain
poor, weak, ignorant, and dissipated slaves. Receive
them, raise them, protect and enrol them, and every
man who leaves Ireland will be a greater strength to
Ireland in America than ever he could be at home.

" I call on the National League of Irishmen in America,
on all who honour the name of Ireland, on all who desire
for her a new history and a name of freedom, to work for
the improvement of the emigrant, to bring him out to
the open field of Western America, or to the young
and growing cities, where he can take the place God
designed for him now in the great new world, hereafter
in the birthplace of his race.

" Faithfully yours,

" C. G. O'BRIEN."

The hope of her heart was to join in the movement
inaugurated by Mr. William J. Onahan, forwarded by
Archbishop (then Bishop) Ireland, for inducing the Irish
emigrants to shun the cities and move out to the open
lands of the West.

She wrote from America to Lady Monteagle :

"... There is no doubt that so far as appearances
go at present I have been very successful. Everywhere
I have gone the papers have lauded me in an absurd

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Online LibraryCharlotte Grace O'BrienCharlotte Grace O'Brien; selections from her writings and correspondence → online text (page 6 of 16)