She was actually RC (required to convert on marriage) — one of the few significant Victorian God-botherers not to be a paid-up Evangelical. She robustly took the line “I promise to know neither country nor creed, but to serve all justly and impartially.” It didn’t get her brownie points with the hierarchy, but she walked through all the bitter denominational cowboys and indians of her age, very pronounced in colonial Australia, ignoring the lot. Her integrity and energy won the respect of all, principally Lord Shaftesbury and Florence Nightingale. Mrs Jellyby in Dickens’ Bleak House is said to be a hostile portrait.
The White Hat guide gives a refreshingly honest, characteristically Antipodean view:
She has given her name to suburbs of Melbourne and Canberra, and appeared on stamps and five dollar bills. Her life is an inspiration to all good Christian women to stick a brick in their handbags and change the world. If you aren’t doing anything else about it, click here, join up, for Caroline’s sake, do something!
Caroline Chisholm is one of those remarkable women that most Australians admire but are probably secretly pleased is no longer with us.
Why do we admire her? Australia is a practical country. We admire people who roll up their sleeves and do things. rather than those who make a big fuss saying "'they ought to do something about it". When Caroline Chisholm arrived in your office or workplace it wasn't to say "You must do something about this!", it was to say "I have already done such and such and if you were to do so and so we could achieve even more."
Why are we a little relieved that she is no longer around? We realise that if we came within her sphere we would probably be bullied or charmed or shamed into doing something for 'the cause'. What excuse could we put up? We could hardly claim lack of time or resources because in front of us was a mother of five (later six) children without a lot of money in a rough and ready colony already doing significant things. Even her husband, who is buried with her, is probably a little relieved. He was a competent army officer, and spent much of his life and energy in the services of the colonies and with Caroline's causes. His name doesn't even appear on their tombstone, and he probably died of exhaustion just trying to keep up with her. He is still possibly resting uneasily in case he hears the words "Archie, what are we going to do about this?"