Caroline Kearney faced a heartbreaking dilemma.
Caroline was a thirty-one-year-old mother of six when her husband died in Melbourne, Australia in 1865. Having no legal rights herself to the sheep station in Wimmera, Victoria that her late husband owned, she had great hopes that her sons would inherit it. But that was not to be. Her husband’s will, written on his deathbed, offered a reasonable annuity to support her and the children, but it came with a catch. To get that money, Caroline had to move to Ireland with her children and live in a house of her brothers-in-law’s choosing. English-born, Caroline had migrated to Australia with her family when she was only seventeen. She had never even been to Ireland. Her husband and his family – unlike her – were Catholic.
This extraordinary book combines storytelling with a historian’s detective work. Pieced together from evidence in archives, newspapers, genealogical sites, legal records and old-fashioned legwork, Caroline’s Dilemma sheds new light on the workings of colonial gender relationships and family lives that spanned the nineteenth century globe. It reveals much about women’s property rights, migration, settler colonialism, the Irish diaspora, and sectarian conflict. It shows how one middle-class woman and her family fought to shape their own lives within the British Empire.