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Date Posted: 20:29:22 09/09/02 Mon
Author: Unit 5a
Subject: Emigration

Irish Famine
Unit V.
Emigration: Departure,
Crossing and Arrival



1. The student will be able to describe the conditions in Liverpool, where Famine emigrants disembarked, and explain the deaths on board the "coffin ships".

Students will examine the problems faced by Famine victims before and during their transport to America.

Activity 1. Students will read excerpts from The Great Hunger , and The End of Hidden Ireland, and answer questions immediately following. Students will discuss the viewpoint of landlords, ship captains, and the public, as well as the hazards faced by the emigrants.
Scally, Robert James, The End of Hidden Ireland: Rebellion, Famine, and Emigration, Oxford University Press, New York, 1995, pp.212-215

Woodham-Smith, Cecil, The Great Hunger; Ireland 1845-1849 Penguin Books, London, England, 1991. First printing: 1962. pp.226-228

Objective 2.

The student will be able to describe the conditions at the quarantine station at Grosse Ile (Isle) Quebec, where the Famine emigrants landed.

A.Examine two of the historical descriptions of Grosse Ile.

Activity 1. Students will read excerpts from The Great Hunger and Robert Whyte's 1847 Famine Ship Diary, answer questions following the readings and discuss the issues raised.
Mangan, James (Ed.), Robert Whyte's 1847 Famine Ship Diary Metclef Press, Dublin Ireland,

1994. pp.lll-121

Woodham-Smith, Cecil, The Great Hunqer: Ireland 1845-1849 Penguin Books, London, England, 1991. First printing: 1962. pp. 218-221

Irish Famine
Unit V
Activity 1

The passage through the Liverpool funnel was also the most common experience of the famine emigrants. One might even say it was their first truly "national" experience. The sight of the exodus was concentrated and magnified in the few square miles of the waterfront where, in a sense, all of Ireland's townlands met for the first time and witnessed the commonality of their fate. Whatever the circumstances of their leaving home or their ultimate destination, the vast majority of emigrants were unmistakably linked by characteristics that identified them as one in the eyes of Liverpool if not yet in their own. Rags, disease, and the ravages of hunger were among the signs attached to them, as we have seen.

For Rushton's police, baggage was the telling sign. The health officers looked for symptoms of "Irish fever." Adult males of the most ordinary appearance in Ballykilcline were the ape-like "Milesian' brutes of Victorian caricature. Above all, the symbols of Irishness in Liverpool were the signs of a poverty so extreme that, when found in the heart of the empire, it was seen as a fall from civilization and likened to savagery.

In Liverpool, the poverty of the emigrants was visible in their bodies, in their rags, and malnutrition. Toothlessness, matted hair, body smells, and other missing vanities also set them apart. But, according to some observers Irish poverty could be distinguished from that of other paupers as something more than just a lack of cash, something as evident in their gait and demeanor as in their obvious need. "Passive," "resigned," "stunned," and "mute" were descriptions most commonly given to distinguish Irish emigrants along the docks. The authorities, especially the unenviable health and parish relieving officers, were repeatedly frustrated by the tendency of sick or starving emigrants to hide themselves from view in the cellars and tenements, as though fearing to approach even those who meant to help them.

There was some reason to remain unseen, since Irish-born paupers could be brought before the magistrates and immediately returned to Ire-land under the Poor Removal Acts. Short of that dreaded prospect, the sick could be removed from the family for quarantine or "treatment" in the fever sheds. Inadvertently, the law also gave the lodging-house keepers and their intermediaries a new means of threatening their guests with exposure and repatriation. The laws and regulations aimed at emigrants, as well as the discretionary powers of health and parish officers, tended to reinforce the ingrained habits of isolation and secrecy with which the emigrants had long used to cloak themselves from scrutiny. In the townland, all deputies of the law or authorities were to be shunned indeed, many succeeded in evading them and some lived entirely out of their sight for years. But anonymity was no longer possible, since in Liverpool the law or the threat of it was everywhere in the person not only of every official but of almost any native citizen.

It is unlikely that most of the newly arriving emigrants understood the variety of proceedings of the law that could derail their hopes and plans: discovery by the relieving officers might be followed in a few hours by a summary hearing before the magistrates and forced removal along the same route they had just survived, as deck passengers back across the Irish Sea. Medical or ship's officers could reject one or all in a family without appeal moments before they boarded. Health officers could order immediate quarantine in the fever sheds or the hulks moored in the river to isolate the infected. Doctors or beadles could remove "lunatics" from the poorhouses to the crowded asylum at Rainhill, where the wards were filled with hundreds who were diagnosed as suffering from "mental paralysis".

A large minority were also handicapped by language or illiteracy. The Irish accents of both native- and Irish-born could be heard throughout the city, distinguishing their bearers' place of origin or even their religious identity to each other. But speaking Irish above a whisper outside the Irish wards instantly marked the emigrant to both the authorities and the swarms of predators. More than half of the native population of the city was also illiterate, but new arrivals from Ireland were at greater risk of exploitation from this cause in the unfamiliar workings of the emigration system, in which reliable information and directions about ship movements, delays, and regulations were essential. At least in these circumstances, the literate children were more likely to be a help than a burden to many emigrant families; indeed, the value and status of the young adults had almost certainly risen as the distance from the townland lengthened and the powers of the elders diminished.

Another large but unknown number arrived in Liverpool with their tickets or their fares only and were completely unprepared for even slight setbacks. The routine delays in sailing dates were especially dangerous for these and accounted for the thousands caught in the gauntlet of official and criminal coercion from which few emerged unscathed and many totally penniless. Many were also vulnerable to the devious practices of the freelance banditti who infested the lower levels of the emigrant trade, being as unused to complicated transactions as they were to schedules or lodging houses. These easily fell afoul of money changers, offering to "dollar" their English coin into American currency of less or no value, or of lodging-house keepers who might keep a family "on the cuff" for food and shelter and strip them bare when payment came due, by force if threats failed.

Many of the petty frauds practiced on them were common bullying: baggage would be stolen by the runners and "commissions" demanded for its return; half-fare childern's tickets were sold to illiterate adults who would then be turned away at the gangplank. Worthless out-of-date tickets were casually altered and bought by the gullible or desperate. Others were refused passage because they lacked the additional one dollar "head money" required at American ports. In their rush to fill the steerages, brokers were known to book emigrants for New York on vessels bound for Baltimore or Boston, or even New Orleans, assuring them that these places were only hours apart.

The fleecing of "greenhorns" was widely practiced in all big cities in Europe and America, often as in Liverpool by those who had survived a similar experience themselves not long before. It soon became a kind of initiation rite for migrant peasants in the new moral niceties of city life. But Liverpool's well-earned fame for this skullduggery could probably not have been achieved but for the overabundance of fresh and easy victims, a role the townland emigrant of 1848 was suited for as if by order.

The exposure of their weakness had begun at the moment they were assembled in the Strokestown square and proceeded daily on the road to Liverpool as they were marched and herded under the eyes of strangers, all now reduced to homeless paupers whatever their former standing had been. Patriarchs and independent widows who had ruled adult families on the land became burdensome dependents when severed from their holdings, and together with infants and children under five suffered the highest rates of attrition en route.

James Connor's father, a patriarch of one of the largest and oldest townland families, was rejected as "too old and debilitated" by a reputable captain who merely wished to reduce the risk of mortality aboard his ship during the crossing. Such descriptions tell us little about the old man's actual condition, since the same description was sometimes used of men or women of less than forty years of age as reason for rejection. Hundreds of similarly described emigrants were "repatriated' weekly from Liverpool alone, some of them no doubt creating bits of the scenes of "want and woe" described by Melville. Of the nearly 300,000 who arrived in 1847, some 15,000 were removed to Ireland under the new Poor Law Removal Act

Scally, Robert James, The End of Hidden Ireland: Rebellion, Famine, and Emigration, Oxford University Press, New York, 1995, pp.212-215


How were the Irish waiting to emigrate from Liverpool set apart and isolated?
How were the Irish famine refugees in Liverpool victimized and exploited?

Irish Famine
Unit V
Activity 1

"In April Stephen de Vere, of the well-known family of de Vere, Curragh Chase, County Limerick, took a steerage passage on an emigrant vessel to Quebec, in order 'that he might speak as a witness respecting the sufferings of emigrants'. 'Before the emigrant has been a week at sea,' wrote Stephen de Vere, 'he is an altered man... How can it be otherwise ? Hundreds of poor people, men, women and children, of all ages from the drivelling idiot of 90 to the babe just born, huddled together, without light, without air, wallowing in filth, and breathing a fetid atmosphere, sick in body, dispirited in heart... the fevered patients lying between the sound in sleeping places so narrow, as almost to deny them... a change of position... by their agonized ravings disturbing those around them... living without food or medicine except as administered by the hand of casual charity, dying without spiritual consolation and buried in the deep without the rites of the church.'

The food, de Vere continued, was seldom sufficiently cooked because there were not enough cooking places. The supply of water was hardly enough for drinking and cooking-washing was impossible; and in many ships the filthy beds were never brought up on deck and aired, nor was the narrow space between the sleeping-berths washed or scraped until arrival at quarantine. Provisions, doled out by ounces, consisted of meal of the worst quality and salt meat; water was so short that the passengers threw their salt provisions overboard - they could not eat them and satisfy their raging thirst afterwards. People lay for days on end in their dark dose berths, because by that method they suffered less from hunger. The captain used a false measure for water, and the so-called gallon measure held only three pints; for this de Vere had the captain prosecuted and fined on arrival at Quebec. Spirits were sold once or twice a week, and frightful scenes of drunkenness followed. Lights below were prohibited because the ship, in spite of the open cooking-fires on her decks, was carrying a cargo of gunpowder to the garrison at Quebec, but pipes were secretly smoked in the berths, and lucifer matches used. The voyage took three months, and apart from fever, which does not seem to have been serious, many of the passengers, wrote de Vere, became 'utterly debased and corrupted'. Yet he was told that the ship was 'more comfortable than many'.

The worst ships were those which brought emigrants sent out by their landlords, and of all the sufferings endured during the famine none aroused such savage resentment, or left behind such hatred, as the landlord emigrations.

Before the famine, responsible landlords, for instance, Lord Bessborough and Lord Monteagle, advanced money and paid the cost of passages for tenants to emigrate. Lord Monteagle, in particular, believed that in emigration lay the solution of Ireland's population problem, and the Monteagle Papers contain a number of letters from grateful emigrants; he was also responsible for setting up the Select Committee of the House of Lords on Colonization, that is, emigration, in 1847.

Another landlord, Mr. Spaight, of Limerick, a well-known ship broker, bought Deify Castle, in Tipperary, for 40,000 in 1844, and found `a dead weight of paupers'. As he was engaged in the passenger trade, he offered free passage and provisions to those willing to emigrate, and the value of two pounds on landing, provided the tenants 'tumbled', that is, pulled down, their cabins. He made the offer only to entire families, and said he had 'got rid of crime and distress for 3 10s. a head'. The first failure of the potato was followed by a number of landlord emigrations, and a total of more than a thousand tenants from various estates reached Quebec in 1846, those arriving early in the season being reasonably healthy and, on the whole, adequately provided for.

The fatal year 1847 brought a change. In January the Government announced that the whole destitute population was to be transferred to the Poor Law, to be maintained out of local rates at the expense of owners of property, and the only hope of solvency for landlords was to reduce the number of destitute on their estates. Emigration began to be used as an alternative to eviction, and Sir Robert Gore Booth, a resident landlord, was accused by Mr. Perley, the Government emigration agent at St. John, New Brunswick, of 'exporting and shovelling out the helpless and infirm to the detriment of the colony'. Sir Robert in reply put forward the landlord's point of view, declaring that emigration was the only humane method of putting properties in Ireland on a satisfactory footing. The country was overpopulated, and it was not right to evict and turn people out on the world. To emigrate them was the only solution.

Emigration also saved money; the cost of emigrating a pauper was generally about half the cost of maintaining him in the work-house for one year, and once the ship had sailed the destitute were effectually got rid of, for they could return only with immense difficulty. In 1847, therefore, the temptation was strong to ship off as cheaply as possible those unfortunates who, through age, infirmity or the potato failure, had become useless and an apparently endless source of expense.

No attempt was made to regulate landlord emigration, but the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners did warn landlords that each tenant should have at least one pound landing-money, and provided the necessary organization for remitting money to British North America. No money, however, was sent.

On December 11, 1847, Mr. Adam Ferric, a member of the Legislative Council of Canada, wrote a furious open letter on Irish landlord emigration to the British Colonial Secretary, Earl Grey. He denounced landlords by name, the best-known being Lord Palmerston and Major Mahon, of Strokestown, County Roscommon, who later was tragically murdered. Hordes of half-naked, starving paupers, declared Mr. Ferric, including aged, infirm, beggars and vagrants, had been shipped off to 'this young and thinly populated county without regard to humanity or even to common decency'. They were given promises of clothes, food and money and told that an agent would pay from two to five pounds to each family, according to size, on arrival at Quebec; when they arrived no agent could be found, and they were thrown on the Government and private charity. Twice as many passengers as the ship should hold were 'huddled together between decks'; there was too little food and water and conditions were 'as bad as the slave trade'.

Nine vessels had left Sligo carrying tenants emigrated by Lord Palmerston from his estates, and additional passages were hooked from Liverpool, about 2,000 persons leaving in all. The first vessel to arrive, the Elira Liddell , at St. John, New Brunswick, in July, 1847, raised a storm of protest; it was alleged that she brought only widows with young children, and aged, destitute, decrepit persons, useless to the colony. Another vessel, the Lord Ashburton , arrived at Quebec on October 30, dangerously late in the season, carrying 477 passengers, 174 of whom, Lord Palmerston's tenants, were almost naked: 87 of them had to be clothed by charity before they could, with decency, leave the ship. On the Lord Asburton 107 persons had died on the voyage of fever and dysentery; 60 were ill, and so deplorable was the condition of the crew that five passengers had to work the ship up to Grosse Isle. The Q uebec Gazette described the condition of the Lord Ashburton as 'a disgrace to the home authorities'. Even later in the year, on November 8, 1847, the brig Richard Watson arrived, carrying tenants of Lord Palmerston's, one of whom, a woman, was completely naked, and had to have a sheet wrapped round her before she could go ashore.

Most notorious of all was the Aeolus --bringing tenants of Lord Palmerston's from Sligo--which arrived at St. John, New Brunswick, on November 2. The St. Lawrence was then closed by ice, the Canadian winter had begun, and caleches, or horse-drawn sleighs, had replaced carriages in the snow-filled streets of Quebec. The captain of the Aeolus paid 250 in bonds to be allowed to land 240 emigrants at St. John. They were 'almost in a state of nudity', and the surgeon at Partridge Island, the quarantine station, asserted that ninety-nine per cent must become a public charge immediately: they were widows with helpless young families, decrepit old women, and men 'riddled with disease'.

The citizens of St. John declared that they could not feed or shelter the unfortunate emigrants; notices were posted in the streets offering to all who would go back to Ireland a free passage and food; and message was sent to Lord Palmerston that the 'Common Council of the City of St. John deeply regret that one of Her Majesty's ministers, the Rt. Hon. Lord Palmerston, either by himself or his authorized agent should have exposed such a numerous and distressed portion of his tenantry to the severity and privations of a New Brunswick winter... unprovided with the common means of support, with broken-down constitutions and almost in a state of nudity'."

Woodham-Smith, Cecil, The Great Hunqer; Ireland 1845-1849 Penguin Books, London, England, 1991. First printing: 1962. pp.226-228


What were the conditions for the Irish Famine victims on board the "coffin ships"?
Why did the landlords in Ireland wish to pay for their tenants to leave?
Why were the worst conditions found on the ships paid for by the landlords?

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