The history of emigration
Over the past few weeks, and in particular last week, it has been hard to escape the commemorations for the centenary of the sinking of HMS Titanic. With much made of the dreadful fate of those 3rd Class passengers many decks below.
It was not known, until recently, that some of the passengers on board may have been from our area as the Mexborough & Swinton Times, the forerunner of the South Yorkshire Times, was not just a newspaper. Its offices on High Street were also used by Walter Turner, the proprietor, as a booking office for ships used in travel, tourism and emigration, and he became an agent for the Emigration Office. Two of the firms the newspaper were agents for being the ‘White Star Line’, who operated HMS Titanic, and ‘Cunard’ who ran the ‘Carpathia’
For those migrating to other countries of our empire travelling by ship was not the pleasant experience found today, but it could be made easier by the purchase of a better berth and for those willing to pay an extra fee they could travel POSH. This meant that you travelled on the sheltered side of the ship with berths situated port out starboard home. But for the vast majority emigration was a miserable business travelled in Steerage where the emigrant was used as little better than human ballast in the bowels of the ship and some were neither listed nor recorded. Berths were segregated by sex with a man’s wife and children travelling in a female berth whereas he would be placed in a male berth. Berths were overcrowded and the fortunate found themselves in a room with just four bunks, whereas others, where housed in the hold of the ship in a communal space which held hundreds of bunks.
Although there had been earlier attempts to settle and populate other colonies, such as Roanoke Island, North Carolina, the first recognised emigration from this country was in 1607 when the first English settlement took place in Virginia, USA, later to be known as Jamestown. This was followed, shortly after, in 1612 by St. George, Bermuda.
The first wave of mass emigration came in 1762 when the Duke of Sutherland began the Scottish Land Clearances. This was where all humanity was removed from the landscape in favour of the vastly profitable flocks of sheep. Thousands were forcibly shipped to Nova Scotia (which means New Scotland); and the Carolinas. By 1811-1820 people thrown out of their homes had escalated to 2,000 people per day and it was recorded that, Cape Breton, in Nova Scotia, between 1775 and 1850 accepted in all 25,000 Scottish families.
Transportation began in the 17th Century, when prisoners were sent to US Colonies, such as Barbados, to work as a slave on the plantations. But because of the French Wars, in the 18th Century, this was stopped. The colonisation of Australia began in 1787 when the first cargo of 717 prisoners was sent to Botany Bay. But this site proved to be unsuitable and a settlement was established a little further north at Port Jackson. Conditions on board ship were terrible, and convicts were transported in similar conditions to slaves, it is not surprising therefore that one in five died but, despite an outcry concerning this, transportation to Australia continued until 1840. Most never returned to Britain but made a successful life for themselves as settlers, farming the land recently cleared of bush by their fellow convicts.
1815 brought the end of the Napoleonic Wars which, overnight, saw 300,000 men demobbed. This coincided with the closure of many munitions and iron foundries, which were no longer needed due to the cessation of hostilities. The country was heavily in debt and taxes were high. Because labour was simple for manufacturers to obtain wages fell. Life was hard in the industrial cities but in the countryside it was worse. Here the enclosure of land had deprived many of the right to keep a cow, pig or hens on the common and their land had been removed. In 1815 Parliament, in order to protect the British Farmer, brought out the Corn Laws which prohibited the import of foreign corn. This was followed a series of bad harvests and many, not even being able to afford to purchase flour to make bread, began to starve. Then the government past the Game Law which made even the pouching of rabbits, a pest to the farmer, illegal, with a penalty of transportation for seven year. People began to leave these shores in droves and we find that most of the men who fought at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836 were also to be found fighting at Waterloo and as a result, these men, who had been trained professional soldiers, held off the entire Mexican Army.
But the numbers leaving the British Isles then are nothing compared to the exodus of people from our shores brought about not by war or man’s inhumanity to man but by a fungus known as ‘The Potato Blight’. It emerged in the Toluga Valley, Mexico and by 1842 had reached the USA. In 1844 it arrived in Europe, brought on ships carrying potatoes to feed passengers, and by 1845 it had arrived in Scotland. To the poor of Great Britain, who were dependent on potatoes as their staple source of food this caused starvation. Although the potato blight ravaged crops on the mainland of Britain, the impact and human cost in Ireland, where one-third of the population was entirely dependent on the potato for their only sources of food, it was catastrophic causing mass famine. During the famine approximately 1 million people died. Thousands went to the Poor Houses but these could not cope with the vast numbers and the authorities placed those that were able, onto ships for other countries. Glad to flee the starvation, roughly two million left for the USA, Canada and Australia.
Although voluntary emigration must have taken place from this area, prior to the date below, the first advertisement found on the subject was in the Mexborough, Swinton & Rawmarsh Recorder. This was dated Sept. 1859 and told that: the passenger would be carried, not on sailing ship, but on a steam ship; first class cabins could be obtained for between 15 and 20 guineas; steerage (emigration) was £8; food was provided on the journey; goods and chattels would be transported at £3 per ton. An interesting thing to note was that this particular item was for emigration during the winter months to Montreal, Canada and Portland, USA. As the River Hudson, giving access to Montreal froze solid during the winter it was necessary therefore to disembark at Portland and travel to your destination by train, arrangements for which had to be prearranged prior to embarking at Liverpool.
By 1889 settlement to certain areas of the globe was greatly encouraged and emigration had become big business. The British had become a nation of emigrants and it had become common, after marriage, for the young couple to leave this country in order to populate some far flung corner of our vast empire hoping for a better life. The Mexborough and Swinton Times informs us that Walter Turner, the proprietor of the newspaper, was an agent for five steam lines. We note from an advert, for the Dominion Line Mail Steamers that, emigrants to the western states of the USA and Canada could obtain “Free Farms of 160 Acres of Fertile Land”.
In 1904 a huge advertisement, in the same newspaper, could be seen asking for willing workers to emigrate to Canada where free land could be acquired. Alongside this came one for the Cunard Line advertising one of their emigrant ships. This was non other than the ‘Carpathia’ the same ship that went to the aid of the stricken Titanic. Two years after we find on 24th March 1906 another large advert proclaiming “EMIRATION! EMIGRATION! To all parts of the World. W. Turner, Times Office. Mexboro. Is the appointed Local Agent for: the Cunard Line, White Star Line, P&O Line”. It then goes on to list eleven shipping companies in all, bookable at the Times Office. It notes that free passage, for emigrants had now ceased but grants of free land was obtainable on application. In those days it was not socially acceptable for women to travel alone and their menfolk would travel on ahead to establish employment for themselves and living accommodation for his family, and if this was not possible then he would return home to this country, female emigration therefore had become a problem and, following the large advertisement announcing emigration, we find another inviting Female Domestic Servants to emigrate to Canada where there are golden opportunities for them.
The Mexborough & Swinton Times began to cover stories of those who had left our area in favour of other countries. One of the most fascinating covered successful builder and businessman Herbert Bendelow. The articles tell of his migration to British Columbia, Canada in 1912 and tell of: his sea voyage where the passengers promenaded the decks; attended concerts; took part in the ship’s lottery and watched boxing competitions. They ran into fields of ice and he tells of one which looked like a “great white cathedral” and how happy he was to reach the beautiful harbour of Halifax, Nova Scotia. It tells of how shocked he was to see a Russia ship filled to the gunnels with people many of which seemed not to have eaten for days and how they descended on the food stalls of the harbour like a horde of locusts. He heard of the dreadful fate of the Titanic; saw the shanty towns, frozen lakes, and the majestic Rocky Mountains. All this before the advent of commercialisation and mass industry.
The end of the 1st WW brought problems similar to those after the Napoleonic Wars and a great depression hit the country during the 1920’s thus causing mass emigration and my mother’s family were to loose four of its members. The first William Stonehouse, a local policeman, emigrated to South Africa where he worked as part of the security team at a diamond mine. Here he was recruited to work with Eliot Ness in Chicago and moved to live there. After working with him for a number of years he left for Canada where he married and settled down in Toronto. Three of my mother’s aunts emigrated, the first married a policeman and shortly afterwards left this country for New Zealand, where her husband was to take the post of Chief of Police, in an area on the southern island. She was shocked went she discovered the job entailed living in a mansion with dozens of servants and was expected to organise balls and tea parties. This entailed a steep learning curve for the coal miner’s daughter who had been brought up in a two up two down terraced house. The second married the manager of jewellery shop and emigrated to New Zealand were he opened his own string of shop. The third and youngest, which had during the 2nd WW driven a crane for Baker & Bessemer, married and emigrated to Canada.
I would like to conclude by mentioning a scheme which I feel many of us will still remember that of the £10 Assisted Passage. This was created in 1945 by the Australian Government to vastly increase the population of Australia and supply workers for the booming industries. Adults were charged £10, for their passage and children travelled free, in return for subsidising the cost of travel the Australian Government offered jobs and housing, and the immigrant was expected to stay for at least two years. But on arrival many discovered their accommodation was a basic wooden hostel and the jobs were non existent and a quarter returned home. The scheme was at its height in 1969 when 80,000 took the plunge and sailed for fairer climes.
Information obtained from:
Mexborough, Swinton & Rawmarsh Recorder, Sept. 1859
Mexborough & Swinton Times. 27.09.1889, 23.04.1904, 24.03.1906, 06.04.1912, 26.05.1917. 06.04.1912, 27.04.1912, 04.05.1912, 18.05.1912, 25.05.1912, 14.11.1930, and 21.11.1930.
Wikipedia. The Early settlement in the USA, Scottish Land Clearances, Transportation to the Colonies, The Potato Blight, Ten Pound Poms.
British Economic & Social History by C.P. Hill
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