Pioneering Wexford Women

Pioneering Wexford Women

Exhibition: Pioneering Wexford Women at The Irish Agricultural Museum, Johnstown Castle Estate, Museum and Gardens.

On the 8th of May, 1849, twenty brave young Wexford women left the overcrowded, disease ridden Wexford town Workhouse for a new life in Cape Town, South Africa. A new exhibition area in the Museum tells their poignant story.

By 1849 the workhouses of Ireland, including Co. Wexford, were hugely overcrowded and infested with diseases, death often the only way out. However a British politician, Earl Grey, had the idea of addressing the gender imbalance in some British colonies with the overpopulation of British and Irish workhouses.

He set up an assisted emigration scheme known as the Earl Grey Orphan Scheme and contacted the workhouses looking for young women of good character, vaccinated against small pox and able to read and write. Unlike unassisted emigration the cost of the voyage would be covered and the young women would be supplied with clothing, accompanied on their journey and assisted to find work and accommodation on arrival.

“Terrible as their circumstances were in the workhouse a long, dangerous sea voyage to a far distant shore must have been terrifying for these young women. However, the scheme was soon oversubscribed with brave young women prepared to travel half way around the world for the chance of a new life. We wanted to tell their stories and in some cases we managed to trace them to South Africa and it was very moving to discover their marriage certificate or the birth certificates of their children,” said Myles, Miller, exhibition curator.

Matt Wheeler, Museum Curator, said, “This exhibition is particularly ideal for schools and families as the young girls were only teenagers and their story is a unique way to address the story of the Great Famine and their courage to escape their terrible circumstances to forge a new life half way around the world.”

The exhibition is now open to visitors as part of the Great Famine Gallery of the Irish Agricultural Museum, usual opening hours and entry fee applies.