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Image Priest blessing Irish emigrants in 1851

TLF ID R3171

This is a black-and-white print made from a wood engraving, which appeared in the 'Illustrated London News' in 1851, of a priest blessing a group of poor Irish emigrants who are packing their belongings onto a horse-drawn cart. The people are dressed in hats and coats, and some are kneeling to accept the blessing. The landscape in the background looks bleak and uninviting. The print measures 14.7 cm x 23.4 cm.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset shows survivors of the potato famine of 1845-49, when a previously unknown blight destroyed the staple potato crop, resulting in the deaths of more than 1 million Irish people and the emigration of 1.5 million - the majority left not only because they were looking for a better life for themselves and their families, but also because they did not see a way to build that better life in an Ireland that was ruled from England, and where Catholics were discriminated against in their access to education and employment.
  • It shows people leaving Ireland in the middle of the 19th century with the aim of starting a new life in another country - well over half of the emigrants went to the USA, while the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia also received large numbers; about 19,000 Irish people settled in Australia at this time.
  • It shows a small amount of luggage being loaded onto the cart - although most of those who emigrated from Ireland were poor and owned little, they were also restricted in the amount of luggage they could take with them as they would be travelling in cramped, unsanitary conditions in the overcrowded steerage sections of small ships (often referred to as 'coffin ships') that were originally designed to carry cargo and were often unseaworthy.
  • It shows representatives of a group of people that made up a large proportion of Australia's population in the middle years of the 19th century - by 1861, three years after transportation of convicts had ended, the Irish made up 20 per cent of Australia's population of 2.1 million.
  • It shows a large group of men and women leaving from one village - assisted migration schemes, whereby migrants' fares were subsidised by governments or sponsors, encouraged the migration of family groups, resulting in some communities departing en masse; often it was cheaper for a landlord to arrange for the emigration of tenants rather than fulfil the obligations he had to them under the Poor Laws.
  • It shows the priest blessing the emigrants before they leave, illustrating the importance of the role of the church in everyday life - the sea voyages were both traumatic and dangerous and, while life in Ireland might have become impossible for many, the voyages emigrants had to face posed threats from the weather, inadequate provisions, unseaworthy ships, fire, overcrowding and sicknesses such as typhus.
  • It illustrates the trauma of leaving to begin a new life in a new country - because distances were so great and communication not always efficient, many people who left Ireland were never able to see or contact relatives again; many families were split up, with members settling in different countries.
  • It shows a typical illustration from the 'Illustrated London News', a weekly news magazine with a social agenda that began in 1842 with a circulation of 70,000 - stories in magazines and newspapers were illustrated by engravings and woodblock prints until the end of the 19th century, when the use of photography became more widespread.
Year level

3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • history;
  • studies of society and environment
  • History/Historical knowledge and understandings
  • Studies of society and environment/Culture
  • Studies of society and environment/Time, continuity and change

Other details

  • Content provider
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: National Library of Australia
  • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of National Library of Australia
  • Author
  • Date of contribution: 1851
  • Organisation: Illustrated London News
  • Remarks: publisher
  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 30 Aug 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning resource type
  • Image
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer - minimum version: 8.0 (MS-Windows) - maximum version: 9.0 (MS-Windows)
  • Firefox - minimum version: (MS-Windows)
  • Safari - minimum version: 5.1 (MacOS)
Operating systems
  • MacOS - minimum version: 10.6
  • MS-Windows - minimum version: XP - maximum version: 7
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements