Philanthropist. Born in Northamptonshire. Lived in Madras, 1832-1838, where her husband, Captain Archibald Chisholm, was stationed; there established school for neglected children of soldiers. In Australia, 1838-1846; established Female Immigrants' Home in Sydney; conducted groups of immigrants into interior to find them suitable situations; established Registry Office for immigrant families. In England, 1846-1854; worked to make possible emigration of wives and children of liberated convicts then in Australia; established Family Colonization Loan Society to enable the poor to emigrate. Wrote pamphlets on emigration; obtained help of influential persons among them, Lord Ashley, M.P., and Sidney Herbert, M.P., in forwarding her projects. Supervised the sending out of emigrant ships. Again in Australia, 1854-1866; then returned to England. In 1867 granted Civil List pension of £100 a year "In consideration of the valuable and distinguished services rendered by her to emigrants in New South Wales (Colles, Literature and the Pension List).
On February 24 1850, Elizabeth Herbert, wife of Sidney Herbert, who interested herself much in emigration, wrote to Mrs. Chisholm: "I saw Mr. Dickens to-day and he has commissioned me to say that if you will allow him, and unless he hears to the contrary from you, he will call upon you at 2 o'clock on Tuesday next, the 26th. I told him about your emigrants' letters, and he seemed to think that the giving them publicity would be an important engine towards helping on our work, and he has so completely the confidence of the lower classes—(who all read his Books if they can read at all), that I think if you can persuade him to bring them out in his new work it will be an immense step gained. He is so singularly clever and agreeable that I hope you forgive me for having made this appointment without your direct sanction, and for having also told him that I knew you wished to make his acquaintance" (Shepard, "Dickens and His Models", Month, April 1902).
Mrs. Chisholm's "emigrants' letters" appeared in the first number of Dickens's "new work," i.e., H.W. Writing to Wills, March 6 1850, Dickens mentioned 'A Bundle of Emigrants' Letters' as "a little article of my own ... introducing some five or six originals [i.e., original letters], which are extremely good". The Office Book assigns the article to Dickens and Mrs. Chisholm. Mrs. Chisholm's share in it, in addition to her furnishing the letters to Dickens, was her giving him information on her experience with emigrants and on the Family Colonization Loan Society, and perhaps a copy of her A.B.C. of Colonization (from which the article quotes). In the article, Dickens paid tribute to Mrs. Chisholm's work in behalf of emigration; he stated and endorsed the purpose of the Colonization Society, and explained its plan, which he considered essentially sound.
On March 4—in the week following the appointment arranged by Mrs. Herbert for his calling on Mrs. Chisholm—Dickens wrote to Miss Burdett-Coutts: "I dream of Mrs Chisholm, and her housekeeping. The dirty faces of her children are my continual companions" (Heart of Charles Dickens, ed. Johnson, p.166). Mrs. Chisholm's preoccupation with philanthropic works, to the neglect of her home and family, obviously suggested to Dickens the similar characteristics of Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House, though another H.W. contributor—Harrier Martineau was generally credited in contemporary report as being Mrs. Jellyby's original.
In the two years following the publication of 'A Bundle of Emigrants' Letters' support of Mrs. Chisholm's Family Colonization Loan Society and commendation of her work for emigration appeared in other H. W. articles. Two such articles ('Safety for Female Emigrants' and 'Official Emigration') were by Wills; the others were by Samuel Sidney, who had of course often mentioned Mrs. Chisholm and her work in his Emigrant's Journal.
Author: Anne Lohrli; © University of Toronto Press, 1973.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography