Life On The Job

Caroline Chisholm (1808 - 1877)


Summary of her life:

"Caroline Chisholm was born on the 30th of May 1808 near Northampton, England. When she arrived in Sydney in 1838, Caroline was shocked to find the situation of immigrant girls. Most had come to Australia seeking a better life but found themselves with no job, no food and living in shocking conditions. She took some of them into her house and set about establishing the Female Immigrant Home. She became known as 'the emigrant's friend'. She earned this title for her work with poor migrants to Australia last century.

She died on the 25th of March 1877 at home in England. By then she was very poor and almost forgotten"

(Source: Australian Bank Notes)


5 Dollar Note bearing Caroline Chisholm


"Caroline Chisholm began life as Caroline Jones in the English country town of Northampton in 1808. Her father was a landowner and a pig-dealer.

As a child, Caroline the youngest of a large family, was educated for some of the time at least, by a governess. She spoke French, was good with figures and became a fluent writer of English. She was encouraged by her parents to take an interest in public questions of the day.

Caroline met and married Archibald Chisholm [in 1830] who was a Scottish soldier in the East India Company’s Army. After their marriage, the Chisholms lived for two years in England and then were posted to Madras, India. It was here that their first two sons were born, and Caroline began her first social work. Noticing that the daughters of soldiers were at something of a loose end, Caroline Chisholm founded a school at which these girls not only learnt the three R’s but also practical domestic skills as well. The school was a great success, but in 1838 Archibald became ill and had to take sick leave. The Chisholms decided that Australia’s healthier climate would be best, and sailed for Australia." (Source: Caroline Chisholm Society)

(Source: ABC Splash with National Portrait Gallery)

Experiences & Opportunities:


On reaching Australia in September 1838, the Chisholms found a very class-conscious society in the process of change. The convict era was nearing its end in New South Wales, and a period of prosperity was giving way to the depression of the “hungry forties!” Boatloads of immigrants were arriving in the colony and had to fend for themselves. Single men fared best, whilst married men with families to be fed were at a strong disadvantage. Most unfortunate were the single girls - no concern was shown for their welfare either physical, material or moral.

Mrs Chisholm was now living at Windsor, and her third son Henry had been born in 1839. In 1840, Archibald had to return to his regiment, and Caroline decided to remain in Australia.


Observing that something had to be done to assist the young girls who were starving, unemployed and ready prey for the unscrupulous, Caroline Chisholm embarked upon a work for which she was eventually to become famous.

Grudgingly, the Governor allowed her to use a rat infested old barracks to house these girls. She called it a “Home” which was also a Registry Office and temporary shelter for girls. It was here that she could give motherly protection tot he girls whilst arranging employment and suitable homes for them to go to. (It is this work at the “Home” that was portrayed on old the $5.00 note.) Employment was available in the country areas, and Caroline Chisholm personally arranged employment and accompanied the girls to their new-found positions, travelling with them by bullock-dray to distant settlements. Many of these girls married and settled in the country areas.

During the years 1841-1844 Caroline Chisholm’s work assisted the amazing total of 14,000 people. Over 11,000 of these were new comers, the rest being “old hands” in the colony. (Source: Caroline Chisholm Society)

Did You Know?


Apart from appearing on this stamp she also has the distinction of being the first non-royal woman to be depicted on Australian banknotes!
(Source: AKPhilately)

"Next, she began the Family Colonsation Loan Soviety to help families come to Australia to join their families who were already here. She sailed to England and demanded and received support from politicians and wealthy business people. She also received important support from Charles Dickens who wrote about her work in his newspaper. She became so well known that she received up to 300 letters a day...

Not only did she get free passage for people joining husbands and fathers in Australia, she upgraded ships so they had decent accommodation for families and good rations on the voyage to Australia.

She returned to Australia in 1854 ( her husband returning in 1850). She was welcomed publicly and given money, which she immediately used to build ‘shelter sheds’ for people travelling to the gold fields; the sheds being set one day’s walk apart."
(Source: Australia4kids)

Caroline Chisholm's scorn for material reward and public position contributed to the obscurity of her last years in Australia. Yet, although almost unknown to the new population of gold seekers, she saw many of her earlier aims accepted by the new society. In June 1866 the Chisholms left for England. Granted a pension of £100, they lived first in Liverpool, then in dingy lodgings at Highgate, London. Mrs Chisholm died on 25 March 1877. Her husband died next August and was buried in the same grave at Northampton; it bears a headstone inscribed 'The emigrant's friend'. They were survived by three of their four sons and two daughters. (Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography)



Australian Dictionary of Biography: Caroline Chisholm (1808 - 1877)
ADB Caroline Chisholm
ABC: Australians Caroline Chisholm

ABC Caroline Chisholm
Wikipedia: Caroline Chisholm

Wikipedia: Caroline Chisholm

Department of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations: Caroline Chisholm

DEEWR: Caroline Chisholm
Australian Tales

Australian Tales
Video of Moya McFadzean, Senior Curator, Migration, at Museum Victoria, showing the Caroline Chisholm Scrapbook!

Video showing Caroline Chisholm's scrapbook

Dickens' Journals Online: Caroline Chisholm

Dickens' Journal Online
Caroline Chisholm Society - About Caroline Chisholm (1808 - 1877)

Caroline Chisholm Society
Australian Women's Register





Caroline Chisholm - Australia's First Social Worker?

PrimaryPrimary MiddleMiddle  High SchoolSecondary

ICT Capability Australian Curriculum General Capability: ICT Capability

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy



1. Read the following article:

To re-balance the ratio of males to females within the colonies, young women were actively recruited with low priced 'bounty' tickets to Australia. Once in Sydney or Melbourne, though, these women found themselves in a miserable situation.

Caroline Chisholm, the wife of a British soldier, arrived in Sydney in September 1838 and there she saw the misery of unemployed immigrant women who lived on the streets in the areas known as the Rocks, not far from the wharves where the ships arrived.

Caroline began helping some of these women find work and took others into her home. She taught them the basics of housekeeping and cooking so they could be employed in the homes of the middle and upper classes.

Caroline convinced Governor Gipps to let her use an old shed as a welfare agency. She and her sons moved into the 45-foot long shed that was home to thousands of rats. Within a short time, it was also home to 100 women. Caroline worked hard to educate the women and get them paid work. She expanded her welfare agency beyond Sydney, setting up sixteen emigrant women's hostels around the colony.

She ended up helping over 11,000 women find jobs and accommodation while raising her 9 children."
Australian Government: Women in Colonial Times)

2. After reading and viewing through the websites (Links above), what do you think? Is Caroline Chisholm Australia's first Social Worker?

3. Discuss and debate this issue within your class by creating an EduBlogs....




What about unaccompanied minors today?

MiddleMiddle  High SchoolSecondary

Ethical Understanding Australian Curriculum General Capability: Ethical Understanding

CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking

Personal and social capabilityAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability

Cooperative LearningCooperative Learning Activity



1. In groups of 4 - 5 students, read the following articles: Reading

Single, femles refugees in Autralia endure social isolation, financial hardship: Afghan teen

News item

Unaccompanied children seeking asylum face uncertainty and risk of exploitation

The Conversation 06012015
Detained children risk life-long physical and mental harm

The Conversation 19022015
Appoint asylum seeker children an independent guardian: churches

The Conversation 30072014

2. As a group, analyse the parallels with the work of Caroline Chisholm.

3. Should charities be the "Caroline Chisholm" today to help them? Who is responsible? Is it you?

Discuss with your group what should be done with this situation.

4. Using Moovly, create a video about the plight of young unaccompanied refugee minors and show to the class.



Did You Know?

Caroline Chisholm has a suburb named after her in Australia's Capital, Canberra.

To read more about this suburb, click

Chisholm ACT
Chisholm, ACT

Caroline Chisholm School, ACT


Material sourced from 

Australian Bank Notes
Australian Dictionary of Biography
Caroline Chisholm Society

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