Caroline Howard achieved national prominence in 1874 as one of those involved in a celebrated controversy about Irish women immigrants. She was also well known throughout Otago during the 1860s as a businesswoman and public figure. Little is known about her early life. She was born on 3 August 1821, probably in London, England, the daughter of Ann Bollin and her husband, Charles, a plumber. On 1 August 1843 at St Pancras Church, London, Caroline Cadette Bollin married William Morris Alpenny, an artist. There may have been a daughter of this marriage. During the 1850s Caroline Alpenny went to Ireland; she divorced William Alpenny in 1859.
Caroline Alpenny established a flax farm in Ireland to provide work for women and children. In this first undertaking, as in her later work, she was interested in making opportunities for women and girls who had to work for their living. While in Ireland, she read about Caroline Chisholm's work in organising the emigration of women to Australia, and was excited by the possibilities of such an enterprise.
Caroline Alpenny's association with New Zealand began after her return to London in 1862. While living at Notting Hill she met Maria Rye, who asked her to take charge of a group of 74 young women due to leave England for Otago. They were recruited as part of the province's female immigration programme, which aimed to counterbalance the influx of men into the settlement in search of gold. At one week's notice Caroline Alpenny prepared for the voyage to New Zealand. She sailed as matron aboard the Sarah M on 24 September 1862, arriving at Port Chalmers on 31 December 1862.
For three months after her arrival Caroline Alpenny worked at the immigrants' barracks helping the matron, Jessie Crawford, to supervise several hundred young women who had arrived direct from England and Scotland. The barracks building was rudimentary; so too were the preparations for receiving the new arrivals. Caroline Alpenny's experience was essential in bringing some order to a near chaotic situation.
Her immediate preoccupations did not prevent her from reflecting on other issues. She sought a wider sphere of influence and did not hesitate to take part in the public life of Dunedin. Barely a fortnight after landing, she delivered the first in a series of public lectures on the importance of education and cultural pursuits in colonial communities. Her lectures featured readings from the works of William Shakespeare, John Milton and Charles Dickens.
In April 1863 Caroline Alpenny opened a servants' registry office in the provincial buildings, Princes Street. For a small commission she matched potential employees and employers, and negotiated wage rates. She kept the business for eight years, during which time it appears to have supplied her with a steady income. Although she dealt principally with female domestic servants, Caroline Alpenny also acted as an agent for male workers. In 1870 she claimed to have made around 2,000 engagements each year through her office.
Through this work Caroline Alpenny met most of the young women who arrived as government immigrants through the 1860s and, like Jessie Crawford, she advised and helped them. She was equally well known to and trusted by employers. For about seven years she provided the Otago Daily Times with regular reports on the labour market. She travelled throughout Otago collecting information about the kinds of labour in demand, wage rates and living conditions for workers. On one tour through the goldfields districts in 1865 she gave lectures in places she visited. Audiences in Lawrence, Wetherstons, Tuapeka Flat and Waipori heard her speak on the 'Moral and intellectual influence of woman on society'. She was eager to give her opinion on issues that concerned her but unlike Maria Rye, she had no desire to become involved in public controversy. She took no part in the debate which erupted in the wake of Maria Rye's allegations in 1863 that the Otago government had mismanaged female immigration. She was, by nature and circumstance, more inclined to take a pragmatic than a doctrinaire stance.
On 26 December 1867 Caroline Alpenny married George Richard Howard, a widower, who ran a chemist's shop close to the servants' registry office. He was a member of the Dunedin Town Board. He died on 27 April 1872 at the age of 43, and Caroline Howard decided to return to England.
It was an opportune time: 10 years earlier people had flocked to Otago; in 1872 a new wave of immigration was about to begin. Isaac Featherston had recently been appointed New Zealand's agent general in London. His objective was to persuade people to settle in New Zealand. Caroline Howard saw an opportunity for employment for herself. Featherston was initially reluctant to take on another recruiting agent but finally agreed to appoint her in early 1873. She carried impressive recommendations; before she left Otago in December 1872 she had received numerous testimonials of appreciation. A purse containing 50 sovereigns was presented to her by Dunedin's leading citizens, including members of the congregation of St Paul's Church, which she had attended.
In her new position Caroline Howard had the task of increasing the number of single women selected for assisted passages. She immediately opened an office on The Strand and in August 1873 made the first of what became regular trips between London and Ireland. During the autumn she gave lectures in Limerick and advertised widely in newspapers and through local agents. Hers was by far the most effective campaign which had ever been waged to make New Zealand known in Ireland as an emigrant destination.
The New Zealand government's attitude to recruitment in Ireland, however, was equivocal. Featherston had been attacked on the grounds that his recruitment was prejudiced in favour of English and Scots people against the Irish. Both the government and the agent general denied these accusations. In sending Caroline Howard to Limerick, Featherston was attempting to prove his neutrality on the question.
Early in 1874 Caroline Howard visited Cork and met with the board of guardians who administered the Cork workhouse. She arranged for a party of 200 people in their charge to go to New Zealand. The first group, of 37 young women, sailed from Cork for Dunedin in February 1874 on the Asia. When they reached Port Chalmers in April a storm of indignation broke. The Otago Daily Times vigorously denounced the new arrivals, as did newspapers outside Otago. Not only were the women ignorant and disreputable, according to the critics, but worse still, they made no pretence to conceal the fact that they had come from a workhouse. Caroline Howard was lambasted for allowing the 'importation' of 'certificated scum' into the colony.
The women embodied the fears of those who doubted the worth of the immigration scheme. They were Irish, Catholic, and tainted with pauperism. Because they were single women, they were subject to more searching scrutiny regarding their moral character than any other group of immigrants and they had been found wanting. It was Caroline Howard, rather than the agent general, who bore the brunt of colonial rebuke. She was summarily dismissed. Despite the fact that other groups of people sent out by Caroline Howard were unexceptionable, the Asia episode became one of the most notorious associated with the Vogel immigration era.
This controversy marked the end of Caroline Howard's association with New Zealand but it did not deter her from pursuing a career as an emigrant entrepreneur. In February 1875 she became a recruiting agent for the Queensland government. On 11 June 1874 probably in London she had married the playwright and critic Edward Litt Laman Blanchard, whom she had known for some 20 years. The marriage was the fulfilment of an early romance. As Caroline Blanchard she continued to assist women wishing to emigrate. Through the 1870s and 1880s she worked for colonial governments (mostly Australian) as an accredited recruiting agent, and for a series of private emigration societies, notably the Women's Emigration Society and its successor, the Colonial Emigration Society. She also founded the Dorset Street Home, a hostel for emigrants, in Portman Square, London. Under the pen name 'Carina' she wrote numerous articles on emigration and colonial life for the Woman's Gazette and Work and Leisure. Towards the end of her life it was claimed she had sent over 12,000 people to Australia and New Zealand.
Edward Blanchard died on 4 September 1889 in London. Caroline Blanchard was by this time 68 years old and had only modest means. The Drury Lane theatre staged a benefit performance on her behalf and the following year she was granted a civil pension of £50 a year in recognition of her own and Edward Blanchard's work. She died in London on 29 November 1907.