Significant individuals: Caroline Chisholm

Topic: The Australian colonies
Learning Activity
Schools & Teachers
Stage 3

Students research Caroline Chisholm and her contributions to the shaping of the colony in its early years.

Student Activities

The life of Caroline Chisholm

Students analyse a source on Caroline Chisholm and plan their own research into her life and her achievements

Number of set tasks:

This is your life

Students use the 'This is Your Life' script scaffold to present a role play to the class.

Number of set tasks:

NSW Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum History K - 10

HT3-1 describes and explains the significance of people, groups, places and events to the development of Australia

HT3-2 describes and explains different experiences of people living in Australia over time

HT3-5 applies a variety of skills of historical inquiry and communication

The role that a significant individual or group played in shaping a colony; for example, explorers, farmers, entrepreneurs, artists, writers, humanitarians, religious and political leaders, and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples (ACHHK097)

Comprehension: chronology, terms and concepts

  • use historical terms and concepts (ACHHS099, ACHHS118)

Analysis and use of sources

  • locate information related to inquiry questions in a range of sources (ACHHS102, ACHHS121)
  • compare information from a range of sources (ACHHS103, ACHHS122)

Perspectives and interpretations

  • identify points of view in the past and present (ACHHS104,ACHHS123)


  • identify questions to inform an historical inquiry (ACHHS100, ACHHS119)
  • identify and locate a range of relevant sources (ACHHS101,ACHHS120)

Explanation and communication

  • develop texts, particularly narratives and descriptions, which incorporate source materials (ACHHS105, ACHHS124)
  • use a range of communication forms (oral, graphic, written) and digital technologies (ACHHS106, ACHHS125)

Significance: the importance of an event, development or individual/group.

Cause and effect: events, decisions or developments in the past that produce later actions, results or effects. 

Learning across the curriculum

  • Literacy
  • Work and enterprise
  • Personal and social capability

What do we know about the lives of people in Australia's colonial past and how do we know?

What were the significant events and who were the significant people that shaped Australian colonies?

Background notes for teachers

In 1838, Caroline Chisholm arrived in New South Wales with her husband and children. She soon became horrified by the desperate situation of single emigrant women who were exploited when they first arrived. Often when emigrants arrived they were taken advantage of by people who would rob them or take their money on pretence of getting them accommodation or employment. The situation was particularly bad during the depression of the 1840s, especially for women.

Caroline Chisholm decided to help them. She persuaded Governor Gipps to provide accommodation in a 'Female Immigrants' Home'. She then decided to organise appropriate work for these girls and started the first free employment agency.

Because potential employers in the bush found it difficult to come to the city, Caroline Chisholm took groups of women and girls by wagon and boat to country regions where they quickly found well-paid positions. By 1846, when she returned to England, she had helped eleven thousand people to find jobs or settle as farmers in New South Wales. In England, she continued to publicise and work for improved emigration to Australia.

Her significance in the history of Australia has been recognised in poems, a play and a number of biographies. Her image was featured on the old $5 note and stamps.


Additional primary sources for teachers:

Note: The below additional primary sources have been included for teachers to use with students at their own discretion, depending on literacy levels of students.

Source A: Extract from Australasian Chronicle, 21 December 1841. 

The good done by the " Female Immigrants' Home" is but partially known. The following case, related to me by one of the committee, will show it to be a grand means of preventing the ruin of virtuous females. A few days ago, at a very early hour in the morning, there stood outside of the door of the "Female Immigrants' Office" a tall respectably dressed female. At first Mrs. Chisholm took her to be a person looking for a servant, and accordingly asked her if she wanted one. She stooped her head, and made no reply. Her silence and the early hour at which she called caused Mrs. Chisholm to think that, instead of looking for a servant, perhaps she herself wanted employment. Mrs. Chisholm therefore said, "Do you want a situation?" The immigrant, for she was one recently arrived, expressed her assent by a slight motion of her head, and at the same time applied a handkerchief to her eyes. Mrs. Chishom took her into her own private room, and, to answer a call from another apartment of the barracks, left her by herself for a few minutes. When she returned she saw her taking a letter out of a bag, and the tears still dropping from her eyes. Mrs. Chisholm said, "Let me see that letter;" she hesitated. "Tell me," says Mrs. Chisholm, "have you lost character?" She now spoke for the first time, and in the most feeling manner slowly said, "Not yet:" Being encouraged to speak unreservedly, she said that for the last three days her only nourishment was coffee; that the letter in her hand was the letter of a seducer, and that it contained a cheque for £20. Hereupon Mrs. Chisholm read the letter. It gave directions for the poor, the destitute, but virtuous female to go and reside in a cottage not seven miles distant from Sydney. Mrs. Chisholm placed her in the service of a respectable family in the country, and wrote to the vile fellow that, if he attempted to give her any further annoyance, his letter would be published. Had the "Female Immigrants' Home" rescued from ruin but this one female since its foundation, it would have done much good...
Yours truly,
Cowpastures, 16th December, 1841.

‘Original Correspondence’, Australasian Chronicle (Sydney, NSW: 1839 - 1843) 21 Dec 1841: 2.

Source B: Extract from The Sydney Herald, 19 March 1842 

To the Editors of the Sydney Herald.
Gentlemen,-As the engagements in the Immigrants' Home are made in my presence, I can fully deny the statement made by a "Householder," which appeared in your paper of yesterday. It is quite necessary that a servant should have a correct idea of the work she is engaged to perform, and I usually ask the number in a family myself, as I can then judge better of the girl's competency for the situation. It is also of some consequence for a girl to ask if water is convenient to the kitchen: with reference to what is stated regarding wages, it is usual for the sum given to be named by me; indeed of the 1400 who have obtained places from this Institution, the wages of more than 1000 have been fixed by me, (not the request of the young women); I endeavour to act justly between both parties, and no girl has yet refused to take the sum I have considered right...nor have I, since the opening of the Home, encountered a rude reply; and I can also affirm, that an insolent remark was never made to any lady who entered this office. ..
When I commenced there were great numbers wanting employment, these have found their way into the interior and are doing well: with five exceptions all have expressed themselves as being happy, well fed, and kindly treated.
I did not commence this work expecting to please everyone, but to procure employment for the young women who required it; I started with many difficulties, but with the full assurance of completing the work...
I have the honour to be, Gentlemen,
Your obedient servant,

‘Original Correspondence’, The Sydney Herald (NSW: 1831 - 1842) 19 Mar 1842: 2.  

Source C: Extract from poem about Caroline Chisholm by Henry Kendall, 1862

God’s servant came forth from the South: she told of a plentiful land;
And wisdom was set in her mouth, and strength in the thews [sinews] of her hand.
She lifted them out of their fear, and they thought her their Moses and said;
“We shall follow you, sister, from here to the country of sunshine and bread.”
She fed them, and led them away, through tempest and tropical heat,
Till they reached the far regions of day, and sweet-scented spaces of wheat.
She hath made them a home with her hand, and they bloom like the summery vines;
For they eat of the fat of the land, and drink of its glittering wines.