Caroline Chisholm (née Jones) was a Victorian humanitarian from Northampton. She was known as the ‘emigrant’s friend’ for her work supporting British settlers in Australia.
Caroline was born in 1808 in Northampton. Her father had been a shoemaker and an inn keeper, before working as a pig dealer when Caroline was born. The family lived in a house on Mayorhold.
Caroline met Captain Archibald Chisholm while he was on leave from the East India Company army and they married at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Northampton in 1830. She began her charitable work while Archibald was stationed in India, but it was in Australia that she found her lifelong cause.
Roll call on an emigrant ship, showing the crowded conditions for settlers
Britain had set up a penal colony in Australia in the late 18th century. When the Chisholms arrived in 1838, Australia was also accepting free settlers. Conditions were harsh for new emigrants. Most arrived with little money and few job prospects.
Caroline was especially sympathetic to young women who were alone. She set up a home for them in Sydney, which served as both a refuge and a job centre. Caroline wrote letters seeking jobs for women and found work for many as domestic servants. She often accompanied them to the outback to ensure they were cared for. Later, the home housed men and families too. In her first seven-year stay in Australia, she helped 11,000 emigrants.
Back in England, Caroline continued to campaign for emigrants. She petitioned the government to send the families of former convicts to Australia. She pushed for better conditions on ships. She also founded a society that sailed ships and allowed free settlers to pay for their journey through instalments and part-loans.
Caroline was successful, but at a cost. Her health suffered, her family lived in poverty, and she could not afford her children’s school fees. In 1866, after another decade in Australia building shelters along the route to the goldfields, Caroline and her family retired to England.
She died in 1877. Archibald died a few months later. Both their funerals were held at Northampton Cathedral.