Oceans of Consolation: Personal Accounts of Irish Migration to Australia

Oceans of Consolation: Personal Accounts of Irish Migration to Australia

Oceans of Consolation: Personal Accounts of Irish Migration to Australia

Oceans of Consolation: Personal Accounts of Irish Migration to Australia

Excerpt

Oceans of Consolation: Reverberant phrase of a Clareman in rural New South Wales, thanking his father for writing him a letter and so bridging the gap created by migration. Migration: expected episode in the life-cycle of most men and women reared in nineteenth-century Ireland. Australia: remote colonies in the British Empire, notorious for their penal origins, yet a major destination for Irish emigrants in the second half of the century. Personal accounts: the words through which emigrants and their connections at home strove to maintain contact, influence each other, and find solace in their separation.

This book explores the personal correspondence of a few of those emigrants. It reproduces fourteen sequences of letters in both directions, mainly composed by writers with little education and less property. These 111 letters have been selected from a thousand or so that survive, out of the millions exchanged between Ireland and Australia in the nineteenth century. Each sequence has intrinsic interest as personal testimony, often expressed in popular idiom with scant regard for conventional spelling, grammar, or syntax. Every letter has been transcribed in full, without alteration except for the introduction of sentence and paragraph breaks. Clarifications are indicated [thus]; authentic oddities are represented thuss; elements lost through mutilation appear th[u]s. The sequences, otherwise unadorned, make fascinating reading.

Yet they cannot truly 'speak for themselves'. In order to understand how an emigrant in Maitland or Rochester might have interpreted messages from Clare or Down, we must explore that emigrant's personal journey. We need to discover the relationships of those mentioned by name, the events to which allusions are made, the social and economic contexts in . . .

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