Chisholm was born in England. She arrived in Australia in
Her work was first focused in NSW working to assist single
women and families migrating to Australia. A Female Immigrants
Home was one of the ventures she undertook. In 1846 she
returned to England but in 1854 she returned to Victoria.
In 1854 Caroline Chisholm ('The Emigrants Friend')
began her campaign to provide cheap and safe accommodation
for Diggers and their families. During this Gold Rush period
she had been concerned that people walking to the Gold Fields
could not get a ‘good pudding’. She wanted them
to get a safe place to stay with decent food at a cheap
Her letter dated 15 November 1854 detailed the benefits
of the scheme to the public and the Government should they
" … I propose therefore to attempt to remedy
this evil by establishing respectable Homes along the line
of Road where for 1/- per night Beds could be procured by
Travellers and for 2d. each meal they should have conveniences
for cooking, the use of crockery and a sheltered place for
taking their meals seperate [sic] from their Bed rooms.
These Encampments I would propose to have at such distances
from each other that females could walk from one to the
other without fatigue as I hold it to be a matter of great
importance not to exhaust the system or energies of the
Travellers by over fatigue I beg to call Your Excellency's
attention to the fact that the establishment of such resting
places would not immediately interfere with any established
interest along the line of road, as the parties for whom
I am desirous to procure cheap and respectable accommodation
either sleep in the Bush or are deterred from going into
the country by the difficulties attending a journey.
These Shelter places I propose to establish on self supporting
principles, securing from the profits increased comforts
for the people and an extension of the system throughout
In a letter dated 11 January 1855, she provided further
detail about how to make the sheds self-supporting, and
enclosed a prototype plan and a quote for the construction
of ten shelters:
"Should these Sheds be erected I propose to visit
the same frequently until they are in good working order
and their usefulness fairly tested ... I think it would
be right that such Lodging Houses should be held only under
Licence and subject to such inspection as may be considered
Mrs Chisholm convinced the Victorian Government to build
the Shelter Sheds in 1855.
The ten Sheds or Shakedowns were established along the road
to the Bendigo region. The first was in Essendon and then
the second in Keilor. The distances advertised between the
'Stations' and the 'Miles from town, about', in the Government
Gazette of 24 April, 1855 were 5 miles to Essendon, 10 miles
to Keilor, 16 miles to Robertsons, 25 miles to The Gap,
34 miles to Gisborne, 40 miles to The Black Forest, 47 miles
to Woodend, 54 miles to Carlsruhe, 63 miles to Malmsbury
and 71 miles to Elphinstone.
Caroline Chisholm had origingally wanted 16 sheds but settled
for 10. She travelled to view her sheds being built. That
was typical of her ability and will to follow through and
pay attention to all of the projects she undertook.
Argus advertisement, 1855.
“Shelter Sheds. Originated by Mrs Chisholm. Shilling
Tickets: entitling holders to a night’s shelter for
each ticket in the sheds on the line of road to Castelemane,
are now on sale by Mrs Chisholm: Mr Walsh, Bookseller, Elizabeth
Street North: and Mr Reid office of this paper.”
Managers were appointed for the sheds. At each post there
were four buildings. The accommodation large shed which
had separate sleeping quarters for single men and women
and families. Then there was a cook house, privies and stables.
Candles, soap and wood for the stoves were supplied.
Shelter Sheds, Shakedowns or Protection Posts were three
titles given to this accommodation. Richard Fitzgerald won
the contract to build them at a cost of 3,800 pounds. He
was also given an additional 100 pounds to provide a stove
for each Shelter Shed. The cost to stay was one shilling
for adults and sixpence for children for a night’s
By the beginning of the next century no shelter sheds existed.
The only empty landholding is at Keilor. Mrs Kate McGrath
lived in a tent behind the sheds for twenty years. Keilor’s
site is the only empty landholding.
The site of the former shelter shed at Keilor is located
on Old Calder Highway and as you enter the Village along
this highway you will see the site and historic panel recording
the history of the sheds after you have crossed the Maribyrnong
Caroline Chisholm’s work was always focused on social
justice and she had a determination to make things happen.
When she lived in Kyneton she would give the local Chinese
people English lessons. Her work to do with immigrants in
all its different facets reflected an inner strength and
stamina which would produce an outcome of goodwill for those
who needed help and assistance.
Maybe she was spiritually driven but she certainly defied
the odds when she undertook her philanthropic projects in
her adopted land of Australia. She was an advocate of caring
about other peoples needs and social welfare. All of her
work was emphasised by a passion to consider others with
dignity and respect.
A Saint Caroline?
Certainly an Australian legend.
Susan Jennison OAM
5th October, 2005