First leg of the Orphans’ Journey from Ireland to England

By Averil Staunton

The orphans were to be accompanied by the Master and an assistant Matron to the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company, North Wall, Dublin (which also carried the Royal Mail) where they would connect with a steamer bound for Plymouth Harbour. There are several possibilities as to how they made this journey.

This reference by Stanhope Kenny (1827-1910) who, as a schoolboy travelled frequently from Ballinrobe in his junior years to Winchester school in England, gives a clue as to options for travel. He writes that the journey: from Dublin to the West is two days … the stage coaches indeed accomplished the journey from Longford or Athlone within 12 hours.

Kenny also relates a journey he took on a canal boat from Ballinasloe, a slow mode of progression drawn by one horse in which we were refuelled with boiled mutton and turnips and nearly stifled at night by the fumes of tobacco and whiskey punch. This opens up the possibility that the girls could have been transported by Bianconi and continued by barge on the Grand Canal from Shannon Harbour (which opened in 1828) to the canal basin in Dublin.

On the other hand, Bianconi horse drawn services were designed to link market towns. Bianconi had acquired large cars (carriages) with four wheels and up to four horses. These carriages could carry up to 16 passengers with 8 on either side and were called the Fionn Mac Cumhaill. Each of these large vehicles required up to 8 grooms for the 16 seaters, with changes of horses en route, together with supplies of hay and barrels of oats at some of the stops. The Ballinrobe depot was located behind the Valkenburg Hotel where the Post House was located. It is ironic that the Famine of 1845-50 assisted Bianconi’s business indirectly as, during those years, men in the Workhouses broke stones for road making and later the relief schemes helped build roads.

One would wonder how 26 girls would fit in one carriage, but we must remember that they were very light with slight frames; their boxes might have been sent ahead or stored at the centre of the car.

Having examined the options and, bearing in mind that the Poor Law Union had to fund this part of the girls’ journey, the most likely choice was the larger Bianconi open carriage travelling via the post roads, with all 26 girls plus their guardians packed closely together.

The proximity to each other would have helped ward off the cold especially as they were seated in the open and at the mercy of all weather conditions.  

Asenath Nicholson, an American missionary, who visited Ireland in 1845, wrote about the unmerciful loading and overcrowding of Bianconi cars and coaches in Ireland.

It is more than likely that the girls would have overnighted in another Workhouse en route, as it took 17 hours to get to Mullingar from Ballinrobe in those days, with possibly five changes of horses.

We are not sure how the Ballinrobe girls were dressed and whether they wore a gingham print or blue-patterned dress. Their cloaks would have been a more practical, darker and heavier fabric. Some would never have worn shoes before and possibly no underwear either; knickers/bloomers were only becoming fashionable among the upper classes at that time.

Edward Hayes, quoted in Charles Bianconi: A Biography 1786-1875, notes (p 134-5): A long Bian was a long car carrying nineteen passengers eight on each side, two on the well, and one on the high seat next to the driver. It was drawn by three horses, two wheelers and a leader, to which another horse was added when the roads were heavy.


Course: Remembering our Heritage – Ballinrobe Workhouse

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