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Extracts from an article printed in the Illustrated London News on Saturday
July 6th 1850. It is a contemporary account of the procedure of Emigration
from the port of Liverpool to the New World and the Colonies.
The Tide of Emigration to The United States And to The British Colonies.
The great tide of Emigration flows steadily westward. The principal
emigrants are Irish peasants and labourers. It is calculated that at least
four out of every five persons who leave the shores of the old country to
try their fortunes in the new, are Irish. Since the fatal years of the
potato famine and the cholera, the annual numbers of emigrants have gone on
increasing, until they have become so great as to suggest the idea, and
almost justify the belief, of a gradual depopulation of Ireland. The
colonies of Great Britain offer powerful attractions to the great bulk of
the English and Scottish emigrants who forsake their native land to make
homes in the wilderness. But the Irish emigration flows with full force upon
the United States. Though many of the Irish emigrants are, doubtless,
persons of small means, who have been hoarding and saving for years, and
living in rags and squalor, in order to amass sufficient money to carry
themselves and families across the Atlantic, and to beg their way to the
western states, where they may 'squat' or purchase cheap lands, the great
bulk appear to be people of the most destitute class, who go to join their
friends and relatives, previously established in America.
Large sums of money reach this country annually from the United States.
Through Liverpool houses alone, near upon a million pounds sterling, in
small drafts, varying from 2 Pounds or 3 Pounds to 10 Pounds each, are
annually forwarded from America, for poor persons in Ireland, to enable them
to emigrate; and the passage-money of many thousands, in addition, is paid
in New York. Before the fatal year 1847, the emigration was very
considerable; but, since that time, it has very rapidly increased
This human stream flows principally through the ports of London and
Liverpool; as there is but little direct emigration from Scotland or
Ireland. In the year 1849, out of the total number of 299,498 emigrants,
more than one-half, or 153,902 left from the port of Liverpool. We learn
from a statement in a Liverpool newspaper, that in the months of January,
February, March and April of the present year, the total emigration was
50,683 persons; and as these four months include two of the least busy
months of the year, it is probable that the numbers during the months of
May, June, July and August, the full emigrational season, will be much more
considerable, and that the emigration for the year will exceed that for
1849. Her Majesty's Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners publish in
the spring of every year a useful little pamphlet, entitled the '
Colonisation Circular', which contains the names and duties of the
Emigration offices in the ports of The United Kingdom and in the colonies-
the cost of passage to the various colonies-a statement of the demand for
labour-the rate of wages, and the price of provisions in each colony-an
explanation of the mode of disposal of Crown lands-the privileges granted to
naval and military settlers-the victualling scale on board ships-an abstract
of the Passengers Act, and other valuable particulars. The Government
however, gives no information relative to the United States-so that its
admirable little circular is of comparatively little service to at least
one-half of the great crowds of emigrants.
The majority of emigrants take a steerage passage, and go out at the
cheapest rate. Out of the 153,902 mentioned above as having left the port of
Liverpool in 1849, the number of first and second cabin passengers was only
Emigration From Liverpool
We now proceed to detail the process of emigration, beginning with the
arrival of the emigrants at Liverpool, the great port of intercourse with
the United States. The first care of the emigrants, if their passage have
not previously been paid for them by their kind friends in New York, is to
pay their passage-money, and make the best bargain they can with the
passenger-brokers. The competition in this trade is very great, and fares,
accordingly, vary from day to day, and even from hour to hour, being
sometimes as high as 5 Pounds per passenger in the steerage, and sometimes
as low as 3 Pounds 10 Shillings.
The walls of Liverpool are thoroughly placarded with the notices of the days
of sailing of the various packets, for which many firms act as
passenger-brokers, and set forth in large letters the excellent qualities of
such well known and favourite packets as the YORKSHIRE, the NEW WORLD, the
ISAAC WEBB, the WEST POINT, the CONSTITUTION, the ISAAC WRIGHT, the LONDON, the STAR OF THE WEST, the QUEEN OF THE WEST, and scores of others.
The average number of steerage passengers that can be accommodated in these fine
vessels (which are mostly owned in New York) is 400; but some of them, such
as the ISAAC WEBB, can comfortably make room for double that number. After
the emigrant has chosen the ship by which he will sail, and perhaps run the
gauntlet through scores of designing and unscrupulous 'man-catchers'-a class
of persons who get a commission from the passenger-brokers for each emigrant
that they bring to the office-his next duty is to present himself at the-
Medical Inspector's Office.
By the terms of the New Passenger Act, 12 and 13 Vict., c.33, no
passenger-ship is allowed to proceed until a medical practitioner appointed
by the emigration office of the port shall have inspected the medicine-chest
and passengers, and certified that the medicines etc are sufficient, and
that the passengers are free from contagious disease. The master, owner, or
charterer of the ship is bound to pay the medical inspector the sum of 1
Pound sterling for every 100 persons thus inspected. When the emigrant and
his family have undergone this process, their passage-ticket is stamped, and
they have nothing further to do, until they go on board, but to make their
own private arrangements and provide themselves with outfits, or with such
articles of luxury or necessity as they may desire over and above the ships
All persons who may be discovered to be affected with any infectious
disease, either at the original port of embarkation or at any port in the
United Kingdom into which the vessel may subsequently put, are to be
re-landed, with those members of their families, if any, who may be
dependent upon them, or unwilling to be separated from them, together with
their clothes and effects. Passengers re-landed are entitled to receive back
their passage-money, which may be recovered from the party to whom it was
paid, or from the owner, charterer, or master of the ship, by summary
process, before two or more justices of the peace.
The scene in the Waterloo dock, at Liverpool, where all the American sailing
packets are stationed, is at all times a very busy one; but, on the morning
of the departure of a large ship, with a full complement of emigrants, it is
peculiarly exciting and interesting. The passengers have undergone
inspection, and many of them have taken up their quarters on board for
twenty-four hours previously, as they are entitled to do by terms of the act
of Parliament. Many of them bring, in addition to the boxes and trunks
containing their worldly wealth, considerable quantities of provisions,
although it must be confessed that the scale fixed by the Government to be
supplied to them by the ship is sufficiently liberal to keep in health and
comfort all among them, who, in their ordinary course of life, were not
accustomed to animal food. The following is the scale, in addition to any
provisions which the passengers may themselves bring:-
2 and 1/2 lb of Bread or biscuit (not inferior to navy biscuit)
1 lb Wheaten Flour
5 lb Oatmeal
2 lb Rice
2 oz Tea
1/2 lb Sugar
1/2 lb Molasses
Per week. To be issued in advance, and not less often than twice a week.
Also:- 3 quarts of Water daily.
5 lb of good Potatoes may, at the option of the master, be substituted for
1lb of oatmeal or rice; and in ships sailing from Liverpool, or from Irish
of Scottish ports, oatmeal may be substituted, in equal quantities, for the
whole or any part of the issues of rice.
Vessels carrying as many as 100 passengers must be provided with a seafaring
person to act as passenger's cook, and also with a proper cooking apparatus.
A convenient place must be set apart on deck for cooking, and a proper
supply of fuel shipped for the voyage. The whole to be subject to the
approval of the emigration officer.
Dancing Between Decks
The scenes that occur between decks on the day before the sailing of a
packet, and during the time that a ship may be unavoidably detained in dock,
are not generally of a character to impress the spectator with the idea of
any great or overwhelming grief on the part of the emigrants at leaving the
old country. On the contrary, all is bustle, excitement, and merriment. The
scene of a party of emigrants, male and female, dancing between decks-to the
music of the violin-played for their amusement, by some of their
fellow-passengers, is not a rare one. Sometimes a passenger is skilful upon
the Irish Bagpipe, and his services are freely asked and freely given for
the gratification of his countrymen and countrywomen-not simply while in
dock, but, according to the reports of captains and others, during the whole
voyage. Any person who can play the Violin-the Flute-the Pipe, or any other
instrument, becomes of interest and importance to the passengers, and is
kept in constant requisition for their amusement. The youngest child and the
oldest man in the ship are alike interested; and grey headed men and women
are frequently to be seen dancing with as much delight, if not with as much
vigour, as if Seventeen, not Seventy, was the number that would most nearly
express their age.
But, as the hour of departure draws nigh, the music ceases. Too many fresh
arrivals take place every moment, and the docks become too much encumbered
with luggage to admit of the amusement. Although notice of the day and hour
of departure may have been given for weeks previously, there are a large
class of persons (-not confined to emigrants it may be observed 'en
passant'-) who never will be punctual, and who seem to make it a point of
duty and conscience to postpone everything to the last moment, and to enjoy
the excitement of being within a few minutes or even moments of losing their
passage. These may be seen arriving in flushed and panting detachments,
driving donkey-carts laden with their worldly stores, to the gangway, at the
ship's side. It often happens that the gangway has been removed before their
arrival, in which case their only chance is to wait until the ship reaches
the dock-gate, when their boxes, bails, barrels and bundles are actually
pitched into the ship, and men, and women, and children have to scramble up
among the rigging, amid a screaming, a swearing, and a shouting perfectly
alarming to listen to. Not infrequently a box or barrel falls overboard, and
sometimes a man or a woman suffers the same fate, but is speedily re-saved
by men in a small boat, that follows in the wake of this ship for the
purpose, until she have finally cleared the dock.
There are usually a large number of spectators at the dock-gates to witness
the final departure of the noble ship, with its large freight of human
beings. It is an interesting and impressive sight; and the most callous and
indifferent can scarcely fail, at such a moment, to form cordial wishes for
the pleasant voyage and safe arrival of the emigrants, and for their future
prosperity in their new home. As the ship is towed out, hats are raised,
handkerchiefs are waved, and a loud and long-continued shout of farewell is
raised from the shore, and cordially responded to from the ship. It is then,
if at any time, that the eyes of the emigrants begin to moisten with regret
at the thought that they are looking for the last time at the old
country-that country which, although, in all probability, associated
principally with the remembrance of sorrow and suffering, of
semi-starvation, and a constant battle for the merest crust necessary to
support existence is, nevertheless, the country of their fathers, the
country of their childhood, and consecrated to their hearts by many a token.
The last look, if known to be the last, is always sorrowful, and refuses, in
most instances, to see the wrong and the suffering, the error and the
misery, which may have impelled the one who takes it, to venture from the
old into the new, from the tried to the untried path, and to recommence
existence under new auspices, and with new and totally different prospects.
'Farewell, England! Blessings on thee- Stern and niggard as thou art.
Harshly, mother, thou hast used me, And my bread thou hast refused me: But
'tis agony to part:
-is doubtless the feeling uppermost in the mind of many thousands of the
poorer class of English emigrants at the moment when the cheers of the
spectators and of their friends on shore proclaim the instant of departure
from the land of their birth. Even in the case of the Irish emigrants, a
similar feeling-though possibly less intense-can scarcely fail to be
excited. Little time, however, is left to them to indulge in these
reflections. The ship is generally towed by a steam-tug five or ten miles
down the Mersey; and during the time occupied in traversing these ten miles,
two very important ceremonies have to be gone through: the first is 'the
Search for Stowaways;' and the second is the ' Roll-call of the Passengers'.
The Search for Stowaways
The practice of 'stowing away', or hiding about a vessel until after the
passage tickets have been collected, in order to procure, by this fraudulent
means, a free passage across the Atlantic, is stated to be very common to
ships leaving London and Liverpool for the United States. The 'Stowaways'
are sometimes brought onboard concealed in trunks or chests, with air-holes
to prevent suffocation. Sometimes they are brought in barrels, packed up to
their chins in salt, or biscuits, or other provisions, to the imminent
hazard of their lives. At other times they take the chance of hiding about
the ship, under the bedding, amid the confused luggage of other passengers,
and in all sorts of dark nooks and corners between decks. Hence, it becoming
expedient to make a thorough search of the vessel before the steam-tug has
left her, in order that, if any of these unhappy intruders be discovered,
they may be taken back to port and brought before the Magistrate, to be
punished for the fraud which they have attempted.
As many as a dozen stowaways have sometimes been discovered in one ship; and
cases have occurred, though not frequently, of men, women, and young boys,
having been taken dead out of the barrels or chests in which they had
concealed themselves, to avoid payment of 3 Pounds or 4 Pounds passage
money. When the ship is fairly out, the search for stowaways is ordered. All
the passengers are summoned upon the Quarter-Deck, and there detained until
the search has been completed in every part of the ship. The Captain, Mate,
or other Officer, attended by the clerk of the passenger broker, and as many
of the crew as may be necessary for the purpose, then proceed below, bearing
masked lanterns or candles, and armed with long poles, hammers, chisels,
etc, that they may break open suspicious looking chests and barrels.
Occasionally, the pole is said to be tipped with a sharp nail, to aid the
process of discovery in dark nooks; and sometimes the man armed with the
hammer hammers the bed-clothes, in order that if there be a concealed head
underneath, the owner may make the fact known, and thus avoid a repetition
of the blows. If a stowaway be concealed in a barrel, it is to be presumed
that he has been placed with his head uppermost, and the searchers, upon
this hint, whenever they have a suspicion, deliberately proceed to turn the
barrel bottom upwards,- a process which never fails, after a short time, if
the suspicion be well founded, to elicit an unmistakable cry for release.
Although this search is invariably made with the upmost care, it is not
always effectual in discovering the delinquent; and instances have occurred
in which no less than eight, ten, or even a larger number, including both
men and women, have made their appearance after the vessel has been two or
three days at sea. Some captains used to make it a rule to behave with great
severity, if not cruelty, to these unfortunates; and instances are related
of their having caused them to be tarred and feathered, or to walk the decks
through the cold nights with nothing on but their shirts: but this
inhumanity does not now appear to be practised. As there is a great deal of
dirty work that must be done on ship-board, the stowaways are pressed into
that service, and compelled to make themselves useful, if not agreeable.
They are forced, in fact, to work their passage out, and the most unpleasant
jobs are imposed upon them. After the search for them in every corner of the
ship, the next ceremony is commenced.
This is one that occupies a considerable space of time, especially in a
large ship, containing seven or eight hundred emigrants. The
passengers-those in the state cabin excepted-being all assembled upon the
Quarter-Deck, the clerk of the passenger-broker, accompanied by the ship's
surgeon, and aided in the preservation of order by the crew, proceeds to
call for the tickets. The clerk, or man in authority, usually stands upon
the rail, or other convenient elevation on the Quarter-Deck, so that he may
be enabled to see over the heads of the whole assemblage-usually a very
motley one-comprising people of all ages, from seven weeks to seventy years.
A double purpose is answered by the roll-call-the verification of the
passenger-list, and the medical inspection of the emigrants, on behalf of
the captain and owners. The previous inspection on the part of the governor
was to prevent the risk of contagious disease on board. The inspection on
the part of the owners is for a different object.
The ship has to pay a poll-tax of one dollar and a half per passenger to the
State of New York; and if any of the poor emigrants are helpless and
deformed persons, the owners are fined in the sum of seventy five dollars
for bringing them, and are compelled to enter in a bond to the city of New
York that they will not become a burden on the public. To obviate this risk,
the medical officer of the ship passes them under inspection; and if there
be a pauper cripple among the number who cannot give security that he has
friends in America to take charge of him of arrival, and provide for him
afterwards, the captain may refuse to take him.
The business of verification and inspection generally occupies from two to
four hours, according to the number of emigrants on board; and, during its
progress, some noteworthy incidents occasionally arise. Sometimes an
Irishman, with a wife and eight or ten children, who may have only paid a
deposit of his passage-money, attempts to evade the payment of the balance,
by pleading that he has not a farthing left in the world; and trusting that
the ship will rather take him out to New York for the sum already paid, than
incur the trouble of putting him on shore again with his family. Sometimes a
woman may have included in her passage-ticket an infant at the breast, and
may be seen, when her name is called, panting under the weight of a boy of
eight or nine years of age, whom she is holding to her bosom as if he were
really a suckling. Sometimes a youth of nineteen, strong and big as a man,
has been entered as under twelve, in order to get across to America for half
the fare of an adult; and sometimes a whole family are without any tickets,
and have come on board in the hope that, amid the confusion which they
imagine will be attendant upon the congregation of so many hundred people on
a ship, they may manage to evade notice, and slip down unperceived amid
those whose documents are found 'en regle'.
These cases, as they occur, are placed on one side; and those who have duly
paid their passage money, and produced their tickets, are allowed to pass
down and take possession of their berths. Those who have not paid, either in
whole or in part, and are either unable or unwilling to satisfy the claim
against them, are then transferred on board the tug, with bag and baggage,
to be reconveyed to port. Those who have money, and have attempted a fraud,
generally contrive, after many lamentations about their extreme poverty, to
produce the necessary funds, which, in the shape of golden sovereigns are
not unfrequently found to be safely stitched amid the rags of petticoats,
coats, and unmentionable garments. Those who have really no money, and who
cannot manage to appeal to the sympathy of the crowd for a small
subscription to help them to the New World, must resign themselves to their
fate, and remain in the poverty from which they seek to free themselves,
until they are able to raise the small sum necessary for their emancipation.
The stowaways, if any, are ordered to be taken before the magistrates; and
all strangers and interlopers being safely placed in the tug, the emigrant
ship is left to herself. May all prosperity attend her living freight!
'Far away-oh far away-
We seek a world o'er the ocean spray!
We seek a land across the sea,
Where bread is plenty and men are free,
The sails are set, the breezes swell-
England, our country, farewell! farewell!
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