We are often asked about the relationship between Caroline Chisholm and the Sisters of Charity at the Archives, and a recent request prompted us to write a response for the blog.
Caroline Chisholm arrived in Sydney in 1838, the same year as the first five Sisters of Charity. She was deeply troubled by the neglect shown to newly arrived immigrants, especially the single women. Her entreaties to the Government resulted in the opening of The Female Immigrant’s Home in Bent St, Sydney, in 1841, where she assisted these women with accommodation and employment. The Sisters of Charity recorded in their annals that they were frequent visitors to the Immigrant’s Home to “console, advise, and administer medicine”. When one of the early Sisters was to return to Ireland in 1846, the Sisters had nominated Caroline Chisholm to accompany her.
William Chisholm, one of Caroline’s children, married Susan McSwiney around 1852. Within two years both William and their baby daughter had died. Susan Chisholm became a Sister of Charity in 1862, and was known as Sr Mary Joseph Chisholm. She was in charge of several of the early Convents, and became the first Rectress of St Joseph’s Consumptive Hospital at Parramatta, a hospital for those suffering with tuberculosis, from 1886 – 1892. It was the second hospital to be established by the Sisters in Australia. She was in charge of the day to day operation of the hospital, as well as discharging nursing duties.
She is remembered for her work amongst the poor, and being “strong of constitution and agile of limb, no distance being too great for her to walk when there was need of her charitable aid”. Sr Mary Joseph Chisholm died in 1901.
Archiving can be serendipitous work. Here is an extract from a letter found in our Archives just after our last blog posting where we delighted in our discovery of another site visited by our early Sisters:
The young ladies Boarding School established since our coming is going on very well. Mrs Davis will shortly have twenty boarders, amongst others my cousins, the Therry’s. They come to the Convent twice a week for Religious Instruction, preparation for their Communion, Confirmation etc. The good example the School gives attending daily Mass, singing in the Choirs etc is of much use to religious.
The letter from M.de Sales O’Brien (one of the first five Sisters to come to Australia from Ireland) was written from the Convent of St Mary’s, Parramatta in 1840, to a Sister of Charity in Dublin. We now know that the Sisters of Charity not only visited the boarding school, but also received students at St Mary’s Convent for religious instruction from 1840.
The Norfolk House Establishment for Young Ladies, run by a Mrs Davis, commenced at Parramatta in the early 1840s. Described as ‘an excellent boarding school for young ladies’ by Parramatta’s Rev. Michael Brennan, it transpires that the Sisters of Charity were regular visitors to the establishment from 1841 providing religious instruction to the girls.
Thanks to June’s index (see A Welcome Indexer below), I came across an article in the Australian Chronicle which stated that two young women, Margaret O’Brien and Mary Gibbons, entered the Sisters of Charity Congregation at Parramatta in 1840 with a special service where the hymns were sung by the pupils of the convent and Mrs Davis’s excellent seminary – of whom the Parramatta choir was principally composed. This would have been a happy meeting of voices as singing was very much part of the Sisters’ background. During this period they were also teaching singing at the Female Factory.
Later articles reveal that the Superioress of the Convent of the Sisters of Charity as well as Archbishop Polding were present at the ‘usual yearly examinations’ of the young ladies at Mrs Davis’s establishment in 1843.
Does Norfolk House still exist? I could only find one other mention of ‘Norfolk House’ in the early newspapers beyond 1845, when the name appears again in 1850 as being an educational establishment run by a Mr and Mrs Underwood.
Using research notes provided to me by the Parramatta Historical Society and information from the Australian Heritage Database listing (http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/heritage/photodb/imagesearch.pl?proc=detail;barcode_no=rt10007) , it seems that the Norfolk House that exists today in Parramatta was not the Norfolk House where Mrs Davis conducted her boarding school. The house still surviving was built by John Tunks in the early 1840s and kept in his family until the death of his wife in 1888. It was later purchased by the Methodist Church.