Sydney, in the early 1840s, was still very much a convict town and hardly a hotbed of feminism. Caroline Chisholm was aware of this but she still was not prepared for what she saw when she arrived in the colony.
She was horrified at the way the young, single women were mistreated by men. They were considered nothing more than a disposable commodity to be used, abused and then thrown out when of no further value.
Caroline was a get-ahead person who thrived on seeing other people get ahead as well. She wasn’t going to sit idly by and watch these young women destroyed.
She came up with a plan that was practical. She was sure it would be endorsed by the leaders in Sydney. If accommodation was provided for these women on arrival in the colony they would have a chance to settle in and find work with respectable families. It was a low cost plan that Caroline was sure would work.
Caroline never expected the outcry and opposition her plan received. The press, the churches, the government and even her own friends thought she was mad. The opposition was ferocious. The universal advice was “give it up!”
After a particularly fruitless round of discussions to try and muster help for her scheme Caroline was leaving Sydney and heading home to Parramatta. It would be fair to say she was depressed by the resistance to her ideas. Then something providential happened – she missed the ferry!
Always organized, always punctual, Caroline never missed ferries. But she did this day. As she walked back to town to find accommodation for the night, Caroline came to a bridge she had to cross. As she approached she saw someone standing on the bridge. In no mood to talk, Caroline intended to hurry past but then she realized she knew the person.
The person on the bridge was a young woman called Flora. By a strange twist of fate, Flora was the very first young woman Caroline had unsuccessfully tried to help in the colony. Flora saw it was a typical case. Used and abused by a married man, she was intoxicated with rum and about to jump from the bridge.
Caroline stayed with Flora long enough to see her give away any idea of suicide. Caroline settled Flora with safe accommodation for the night. Flora left the bridge a changed person, and so did Caroline Chisholm.
Caroline’s meeting with Flora lifted the fog from her mind. She now saw the error of her ways. She had expected others to champion her cause. She had expected them to share her vision. She had hoped that others would shoulder some of the responsibility for this work.
Now though, she resolved that this work of settling young women would be her job. Others could help if they wanted to, but ultimately this was her cause. She would cheerfully shoulder the full responsibility.
What happened on the way to Parramatta? Caroline changed. She got out of fuzzi-land. She stopped hoping, wishing, praying that someone who help her.No one wants to give you a hand? Forget it! Get real! Have a “road to Parramatta” experience. Accept the cause as yours. Start today and take direct, deliberate action.
Get on with it. Your new motto. “If it’s going to be then it’s up to me.” Amazingly, when Caroline did decide to go it alone, circumstances changed. Support came from areas she had not expected and her work took off.
Caroline Chisholm, who would eventually start her own bank, created an emigrants’ scheme. She settled over 58,000 immigrants. Not bad for a women living in the 1840s in a convict town and facing universal opposition.
© “Stand on the shoulders of giants” 2007 well imagine that