This article will explore some of the meanings and experiences of poor, white single mothers who used the Orphan Schools and The Benevolent Society's Asylum in nineteenth-century Sydney, Australia. Poor mothers with children and without fathers have always made up the largest proportion of welfare recipients across the globe, in different geographical and historical contexts. This article argues that it is vital that the history of fatherless families is examined in its global context and the links between Australia and elsewhere in the nineteenth-century made clear. The impact of migration, both coerced and by choice (via transportation and later free settlement), and the legacy of imperialism has meant that fatherless families have been constructed, represented and experienced in diverse but also similar ways in Australia and Britain, which is where many nineteenthcentury Australian immigrants hailed from. This piece points to some of the ways in which unwed mothers around the world at this time accessed social welfare, some of the circumstances of their lives and the ways in which charities and the state responded to their need.