Mrs Chisholm and the Female Home by Margaret Fitzgerald

This Play is the copyright of the Author and must NOT be Performed without the Author's PRIOR consent

Mrs Chisholm and the Female Home

By Margaret Fitzgerald


Caroline Chisholm: 33 years English, russet coloured hair,
tall, charming, well spoken with a gentle manner
Archibald Chisholm: 46 her husband, Scottish, Captain in East India Army, fond and caring
Mrs MacKenna: 30’s outspoken, well educated
Lady O’Connell: 58 English daughter of former Governor Bligh,
Wife of Maurice O’Connell Deputy Governor, small stature Mrs Therry: 30’s Irish, conservative, wife of Attorney General
Governor Gipps: 50’s English Tall and imperious, well spoken, short tempered but compassionate
Mr Francis Merewether: 20’s Immigration Agent fastidious, officious
Flora: 20’s Scottish immigrant, attractive, vivacious Sinaed: 20’s Irish immigrant, timid
Tessa: 14, English, immigrant, orphan
Mr MacKenna: 30’s, Irish, local official
Mrs O’Keefe: 50’s, English immigrant
Man at Lavender Bay: 40’s, English, local business man Boatman: 40’s, Cockney, former convict
Mr Clarke: 40’s farmer, Irish
Margaret Bolton: 23yrs, English immigrant
Mr Therry: 40’s, Irish, Attorney General
Man at Barracks: “Edward Green”: 40’s Irish, local business man Old Man at Barracks
CAST SIZE: 11 with some doubling up.

Mrs Chisholm and the Female Home SCENE 1 IMMIGRATION BARRACKS SYDNEY 1841
LX.DAY INT Bright sunlight comes in through open doors and
SFX Town and port: horse traffic, dogs barking, port calls.
Inside a long hall, wooden floors, with a table and chair.
Mr Merewether sits at a table with a register, pen and papers.
Tessa, Sinaed, Flora, Mrs O’Keefe, and other girls walk in
with small cloth bags; they wait at the table, staring around.
Men enter and walk around, peering at the girls.
Some move to talk to girls, draw them away from the throng.
MAN: My dear – I’m Mr Edward Green. I have a fine house-
look no further for employment!
SINAED: I don’t know you Sir! Leave me be!
MR MEREWETHER: Name and ship?
FLORA: Flora McDougal, “Fairlie”.
Caroline hurries in towards the girls, carrying papers.
The man speaks to Flora, taking a silk wrap out of his coat. MAN: Flora! The prettiest flower of Scotland!
Caroline smiles at Flora, passes by her.
The man takes Flora’s arm and guides her towards the door. Mr Merewether rises and bows to Caroline, then sits again. MR MEREWETHER: Name and ship?
TESSA: Tessa O’Malley, “Fairlie”.
MR MEREWETHER: Who did you travel with?
TESSA: A minister’s wife took me in-
MR MEREWETHER: Passed. Next!
Sinaed and Mrs O’Keefe go to Mr Merewether.

They murmur and then move away.
Flora leaves with Mr Green.
CAROLINE: My dear. I’m Mrs Chisholm. How old are you?
TESSA: Fourteen, Ma’am.
CAROLINE: What work are you looking for?
TESSA: Governess-
Merewether gets up, bows goodbye to Mrs Chisholm and leaves.
CAROLINE: Do you know French, Arithmetic, Music?
TESSA: I can sing a tune-
CAROLINE: Which music book do you know?
TESSA: (tearful) None of them, Mum...
CAROLINE: Can you write? Do needlework?
MRS O’KEEFE: (forcefully) I can, Ma’am, I’m Mrs O’Keefe- and I can do needlework, Ma’am. And I write!
CAROLINE: Mrs O’Keefe. Please write down their names, what
work they can do. Tessa, we’ll find something for you.
Mrs O’Keefe sits at the desk and takes up pen and paper.
SINAED: Ma’am, is there any food?
CAROLINE: We’ll have some bread from the baker soon.
MRS O’KEEFE: We‘ve heard there aren’t any jobs! But the
immigration agent back home said there was -
CAROLINE: There’s work for you all, but not in the town. You
have to go out into the country-
Girls cries of dismay.
GIRLS: We can’t Missus – it’s too dangerous! There’s snakes,
and bushrangers, and the blacks –
MRS O’KEEFE: I’m too old to go far away. I’ll starve!
SINAED: I work in a town, in a smart house – not on a farm!

CAROLINE: This is a fine and generous country. But the work is
in the bush. I’ll make a contract for you -
TESSA: (faintly) What’s a contract, Missus?
CAROLINE: An agreement with your employer, for your pay-
SINAED: (indignant) How do we get to the country?
CAROLINE: I have letters from the farmers and settlers on the
land. We’ll match you to the right people-
TESSA: Ma’am...(faintly) I haven’t eaten- Tessa staggers.
Caroline catches her and holds her up. CAROLINE: Help her! A chair!
Mrs O’Keefe helps Tessa to a chair.
A baker appears at a door with baskets of bread.
Sinaed takes the basket from him.
SINAED: Here, take this!
She passes a bun to Tessa, and the others.
MRS O’KEEFE: I’m starving! Thank the Lord!
SINAED: (taking a bun) I thought I’d never eat again! TESSA: Thank you Mrs Chisholm!
CAROLINE: Stay here everyone! I have another ship to meet! Caroline hurries out.
Lights Down
LX EVENING INT Lamplight, soft edges/shadows
SFX Crickets and faint sounds of birds
A table and two chairs: the table set with casserole, plates
and cutlery.
ARCHIBOLD CHISHOLM is standing, reading a letter.
Caroline enters hastily and takes off her wrap.

ARCHIBALD: Caroline, I was worried.
CAROLINE: I’m sorry, Archibald. Are the children-
ARCHIBALD: They’re settled.
CAROLINE: I visited the Immigration Barracks today.
ARCHIBALD: Ah ha! You’ve that glow about you! Stand by for
frontal attack, Chisholm. Weapons at the ready-
CAROLINE: Archibald! You know me too well!
ARCHIBALD: Ten happy and rousing years, my dear Caroline.
I was just thinking how blessed we’ve been in this generous
country, a healthy family-
CAROLINE: That’s what I want to talk to you about... in a way.
ARCHIBALD: My dear, I’ve news too. But what new campaign is my
fearless warrior-
CAROLINE: It’s chaos! Some don’t speak English – from the Scottish Highlands. Young girls - scared out of their wits - the tales they’ve been told-
ARCHIBALD: Ah, the Bounty scheme again. There are already
fearful waifs creeping through my doors. They scatter when I
CAROLINE: Yes, and I’ve found them work. But girls are taken
off the ships to houses so depraved! I feel quite ill -
ARCHIBALD: Dearest, you’re already helping, and have rallied
CAROLINE: One Highland beauty, Flora, your countrywoman – a
gentleman was showering her with attention-
ARCHIBALD: The women are needed for labour-
CAROLINE: But there’s no work for them in Sydney, nowhere for
them to go!
ARCHIBALD: My dear! Our little house can’t fit many more.
Once Archie counted nine... finding them in unexpected places,
like soft little moths-
Caroline goes to the table where a casserole is waiting.
She takes up a ladle and stirs the food.

CAROLINE: Some can’t even afford food! The government must
provide accommodation for them!
ARCHIBALD: It’s always a matter of government budget. My dear,
I support you as always, but - I’ve been recalled to the
regiment, to go back to India.
CAROLINE: We’re so happy here-
ARCHIBALD: Indeed. But duty calls! It may be a short stay. And
you know India -
CAROLINE: Archibald. I can’t go! The children are settled, and
they keep so well here -
ARCHIBALD: (shocked) Caroline, you’d stay here – without me?
CAROLINE: Dearest, I can’t leave. I have work to do here!
ARCHIBALD: (Slowly) You’re reminding me of our marriage agreement!
CAROLINE: The children will miss you-
ARCHIBALD: The boys are very young - William and Henry hardly
leave their Mama’s side. How will you-
CAROLINE: Young Archie’s five, and becoming a sensible lad.
And I’ll have the Nanny, and the cook, and Tilly-
ARCHIBALD: Tilly – the native girl?
CAROLINE: Tilly’s very good with the children. She’s been with
us for years, since Father Therry baptised the family. My poor
dear, you must be famished –
Caroline dishes up the food.
ARCHIBALD: I never imagined your missions would take us
continents apart! It could be years!
CAROLINE: I’ll write to Lady Gipps. As a mother, she must see
the horrifying neglect, and as the Governor’s wife...
ARCHIBALD: Caroline, I’ve supported you willingly over the
years. But we have the young boys, and maybe –
Archibald takes her hand and holds her close.
CAROLINE: Archibald – I feel I have no choice, the Lord-

ARCHIBALD: Is it the Lord calling you? CAROLINE: (shocked) What do you mean?
ARCHIBALD: (turns away) Perhaps you find satisfaction in working for others, and being in the newspapers, with everyone’s admiration-
CAROLINE: Archibald! (appalled) You can’t think it’s about fame! I can’t refuse! I feel this purpose- so clear in my head-
SFX: OS Baby stirring, continues under dialogue. Caroline moves to the door.
Archibald stops her.
ARCHIBALD: I’ll go –
CAROLINE: Archibald! It’s a sacrifice I have to make! And I
have to ask it of you, too. I’m sorry-
She takes his hand.
ARCHIBALD: Caroline – I’m afraid – that we won’t be together
again! You’d risk that, even after I’ve been ill the last few
CAROLINE: (slowly)I believe the Lord will preserve us both... I love you Archibald, and I’ll miss you-
SFX Baby louder
ARCHIBALD: Now that we’re older, you could be satisfied with
the work you’ve already done!
CAROLINE: Archibald, you’re the rock and foundation of our
little family - and of my missions. When do you leave?
ARCHIBALD: (Pause, gruffly) There’s a vessel next week.
He leaves.
SFX Sobs quieten
Caroline gets writing paper and pen, sits at the table and starts
Lights down

LX DAY INT Well lit room, Bright sunshine from outside. SFX Sounds of port: horses’ hooves, sails flapping, shouts.
A table set with cloth, teapot, milk jug, two cups and
Four chairs.
LADY O’CONNELL and MRS THERRY sit with cups of tea.
MRS MACKENNA stands with a sugar bowl, offering it around.
LADY O’CONNELL: Many of the female immigrants are Irish and
have no English, no proper training. Mistresses out here need
reliable, clean women, for house duties, and to teach their
MRS THERRY: Lady O’Connell, the Irish girls are hardworking-
Caroline enters.
CAROLINE: Yes, Mrs Therry, quite suited to work in the
LADY O’CONNELL: Mrs Chisholm, growth of Irish numbers harms
law and order. In my day, it was the Irish Catholics that
caused the trouble, leading to the rebellion. I arrived here
thirty-five years ago...
MRS MACKENNA: Lady O’Connell! The Anglicans surely know Mrs
Chisholm’s talking about young girls -
CAROLINE: Yes, I’m a Catholic, but I’ve worked for all creeds.
In India, I set up a school for girls- English, Indians - for
everyone - to learn home skills. The poor Indian soldiers sent
their wives to me-
MRS THERRY: Don’t they have relatives to take them in?
CAROLINE: Many girls are sent out ahead of the family, Mrs
Therry. We won’t attract decent people-
MRS MACKENNA: Some churches assist with places, as they do
with the recruitment at home-
Mrs MacKenna passes a cup of tea to Caroline.
CAROLINE: Yes, Mrs MacKenna, for women of their own creed, but
the vast numbers that have come! There are about six hundred
destitute girls in Sydney! They’re sleeping in parks, in the

Caroline sits down.
LADY O’CONNELL: What are you suggesting?
CAROLINE: The Government must take responsibility for female
immigrants of all creeds. The clergy must support us-
Mrs MacKenna sits down with her cup of tea.
MRS THERRY: The Catholic press is opposed to including all-
CAROLINE: I’ve spoken to the clergy, Father Brennan –
MRS THERRY: I’ll talk to my husband, but as Attorney General
he may need to remain impartial-
LADY O’CONNELL: Mrs Therry, I heard your husband was an
associate of the famous trouble maker Daniel O’Connell – the
leader of Irish movement against the British Union -
MRS THERRY: Lady O’Connell – you’re married to Daniel
O’Connell’s nephew!
CAROLINE: (hastily) I’ve written to Lady Gipps, to ask for the Governor’s support. I’ve had letters in the Press, we could hold meetings -
LADY O’CONNELL: The Press get rather raucous for a cause!
MRS THERRY: It’s not a lady’s place to speak at meetings!
MRS MACKENNA: Mrs Therry, the Empire now has a Queen -
Victoria, a young woman who’s Head of Government for millions
of people!
CAROLINE: Women send me letters asking for help! I’m going to
talk to the Governor -
MRS THERRY: Aren’t you interfering in Government business? And
doesn’t your duty lie in looking after your family – your
CAROLINE: My husband fully supports my actions, Mrs Therry.
LADY O’CONNELL: I’ll ask Bishop Broughton - the Anglican
churches could have a sermon on the Good Samaritan!
CAROLINE: Perhaps the Clergy could write letters of support to
the Governor?
Mrs Therry gets to her feet, passing her cup to Mrs MacKenna.

MRS THERRY: Ladies, I must get back. Good day. MRS MACKENNA: (standing) Thank you for coming.
CAROLINE: Good day, Mrs Therry. Lady O’Connell, your husband
Commander O’Connell is an Irish Catholic, and Head of the
Armed Forces -
Mrs Therry leaves.
LADY O’CONNELL: Mrs Chisholm, people will see your campaign
as a Catholic initiative; there will be suspicion and discord,
now and in the future.
CAROLINE: Lady O’Connell, we believe in the same God. Together
we’ll save all his children!
Lady O’Connell gets up, passing her cup to Mrs MacKenna.
LADY O’CONNELL: I’ll see myself out.
Lady O’Connell leaves.
MRS MACKENNA: Mrs Chisholm, I’m sure you’re disappointed-
CAROLINE: My dear, I still have arrows in my quiver.
MRS MACKENNA: Captain Chisholm supports you? Wouldn’t he be
concerned about your children?
CAROLINE: When he proposed, I said I’d marry him only if
I could continue my charity work-
MRS MACKENNA: (shocked) He lets you put charity work before your family?
CAROLINE: My family is always first in my love. But I can’t
neglect God’s other poor creatures.
Caroline gets up and passes her cup to Mrs MacKenna.
MRS MACKENNA: Pause (awkwardly) You speak so well – I’m sure
you’ll find more support -
CAROLINE: Thank you for your time, Mrs MacKenna. Caroline leaves briskly.
Lights down.

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