Category: Emigration

Assisted Emigration from Ireland

During the 19th century, Ireland saw a rapid increase in unemployment. Thousands suffered in poverty, and were often regarded as “permanent deadweight”, “feckless”, or a “redundant” population. Because so many were desperate for jobs, employers were able to reduce wages even further – far below the proper acceptable level – leaving even the employed in dire straits.

English: engraving of 'Emigrants leaving Ireland'
‘Emigrants leaving Ireland’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This left much of the population looking abroad for relief. Most had family or friends in America, and these fortunate folks often had their fares paid. There was a sizeable group, however, that had neither the connections nor the finances to move.

These poorest of the poor turned to England and Scotland for jobs. Before long, however, the English government became alarmed at the prospect of thousands of migrant paupers pouring across the borders and negatively affecting the native labour conditions. The British job market was already overloaded with English workers, and there were simply not enough resources to provide for the Irish influx.

Thus, a plan was conceived to fund assisted emigration programs. The British government and poor law unions along with independent philanthropists and landlords conspired to pay the fares of 300,000 of the most destitute in Ireland. Those sent abroad were typically able-bodied workers who simply could not find employment at home. These primarily included workhouse paupers, single women, and landless agricultural labourers. This group was overwhelmingly Catholic, and made up nearly 10% of the total migration.

A number of schemes were implemented, and each saw varying degrees of success. Some colonies such as New Zealand and Australia were desperate to attract skilled immigrants, and offered money or land grants to any Irish who chose to emigrate. Most, however, were sent to North America.

Conditions varied greatly for the newly arrived emigrants. Many struggled enormously, finding conditions abroad little better than back in Ireland. Some programs, however, were very successful.

A program led by Peter Robinson, for example, stands out as a highly successful venture. A select group of Irish emigrants was chosen from a number of estates in County Cork, as well as a few from estates in the southeast of Ireland. Stringent rules required emigrants to be Roman Catholic peasants under the age of 45.

English: Emigrants memorial, Larne. This statu...
Emigrants memorial, Larne. This statue in the Curran Park, Curran Road, Larne was unveiled in 1992 to commemorate the departure of the first emigrants from Larne to America. They left onboard the ?Friends Goodwill? in 1717. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Roughly 300 families were selected, and each emigrant was given 70 acres of land in Canada’s Ottowa Valley. Emigrants would be required to pay an annual quit rent to the Crown at a rate of 2 pence per acre; however, each emigrant was provided with needed supplies, including food, seed corn and potatoes, cattle, and tools for building and farming. Log cabins were even constructed and clearings made on each settler’s land grant.

By contrast, other programs were significantly less successful. Those implemented during the Great Famine created the greatest hardships, as many schemes were enforced by landlords on unwilling evicted tenants. These were poorly funded ventures which generated great difficulty for both the emigrants and the host nations.

Overall, however, a great many of these assisted emigrants went on to prosper in their new homes. Despite the difficulties they faced, many made the courageous choices necessary and established prosperous settlements for following generations.

Barnado’s Emigrant Children

Thomas Barnardo never intended to settle in England. He set out with grand ambitions to become a missionary in China. As it turned out, however, he found his mission among the destitute and drifting children in the slums of England’s cities.

English: A boy ploughing at Dr. Barnardo's Ind...
A boy ploughing at Dr. Barnardo’s Industrial Farm, Russell, Manitoba, ca. 1900. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thomas was born in Dublin, Ireland on July 4th of 1845. He was the second youngest of the five children born to Abigail and John Michaelis Barnardo. John, a furrier by trade, had emigrated from Hamburg to Dublin in the early 1840s – not long before young Thomas was born. Over the course of two marriages, John fathered seventeen children.
John’s children were well cared for, and young Thomas began his working life as a store clerk. Before long, however, Thomas converted to Evangelical Christianity. He left his employer and spent much of his time preaching in the slums of Dublin.

After a time, Thomas set his mind to becoming a doctor, with the plan of working as a medical missionary with the China Inland Mission. In pursuit of this plan, Thomas moved to England to begin his studies at the London Hospital. He went on to further his studies at colleges in Paris and Edinburg, where he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Despite his extensive studies, Thomas never earned a doctorate. As he studied in London, he began an evangelical work which made him aware of the plight of homeless, drifting children adrift throughout England’s biggest cities.
Barnardo was a powerful speaker, and brought his concerns to the Missionary Conference in 1867. His speech fell on the receptive ears of Lord Shaftsbury and prominent banker, Robert Barclay. They were moved by the plight of England’s homeless children, and offered to support the establishment of homes for these children. Thanks to their support and encouragement, Thomas gave up his plans to move abroad.

The first of “Dr. Barnardo’s Homes” opened its doors in 1870 at London’s 18 Stepney Causeway.  This first home was the beginning of Barnardo’s life’s work. From this small beginning, his humanitarian reach continued to increase, ever with the goal of feeding, clothing and educating the waifs and strays of England.

English: Dr Barnardo Memorial, Village Holmes,...
Dr Barnardo Memorial, Village Holmes, Barkingside (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The youngest children Barnardo received were “boarded out” to families in rural homes. Older girls were trained in useful occupations and housed in industrial training homes. Boys in their upper teenage years were also trained in labor homes before they were given employment in businesses at home, at sea, or abroad.

Barnardo’s was one of a number of charities that were actively involved in child migration. The policy was widely accepted at the time, and Barnardo was a prominent figure in enabling child migration in the late 19th century. He primarily worked at placing children in homes throughout Canada, and succeeded in sending over 30,000 children to new homes there.

Barnardo went on to establish further institutions, including a convalescent home, a hospital for the very ill, and a rescue home for girls in danger. Barnardo and his wife also converted their Barkingside home into “The Girls’ Village Home,” complete with 66 cottages and a modern steam laundry.

Thomas Barnardo succumbed to angina pectoris on September 19th, 1905, and was buried in front of his house in Barkingside. At the time of his death, over 8500 of England’s destitute children were being cared for in his 96 homes.
Proving the great value of his work, a national memorial fund was instituted, providing financial support for Barnardo’s work on a permanent basis.

The Unemployed Workmen’s Act of 1905 and its Emigrant Register

In 1905, the Liberal Government passed the Unemployed Workmen’s Act. The initiative had been inherited from the previous Conservative administration, and the goal of the program was to provide assistance for unemployed workmen throughout the country.

The Act was based on the establishment of Distress Committees in metropolitan boroughs with a population of over 50,000 residents. Each Distress Committee throughout England, Scotland and Ireland would be responsible for setting up public work schemes, as well as providing assistance for families to relocate in order to find employment (either elsewhere in the country or abroad).

Alexandra of Denmark, Queen Consort to Edward ...
Alexandra of Denmark, Queen Consort to Edward VII of the United Kingdom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The government threw its full weight behind the program, putting a huge contribution into the scheme. Queen Alexandra was also fully supportive of the act, and raised over £153,000 from private donors to support the various enterprises.

Each Distress Committee was entrusted with the responsibility of helping unemployed workers with small cash handouts or with temporary work. Grants were given to select businesses and local authorities, enabling them to hire more workers; however, applicants had to meet a stringent set of requirements. “Proper cases” would be thrifty and of “good character;” they could not have a previous criminal record, and they could not have received poor law assistance.

The Act also made provision for unemployed workmen and their dependents to migrate or emigrate in order to find work. Distress Committees could refer unemployed individuals to the “Central Body”, who would assist with emigration or migration as needed.

Of course, there were conditions in place governing the emigration of any unemployed worker and his family. They would need to meet specific age and fitness requirements, as well as certain qualifications showing employability in agriculture, forestry, husbandry, horticulture, breeding livestock, or growing fruits and vegetables.

Those who met the requirements would receive assistance in relocating and finding employment abroad. In some cases, the unemployed person would agree to repay the Central Body in part or in full for the sum expended for relocation. This was not a requirement, and it’s unclear how many emigrants actually repaid the Central Body for provided assistance.

The Central Body was required to report to the Local Government Board at the end of each month. Details were provided on each person who had been aided to emigrate.

Despite heavy financial backing by the government, the monarchy and by private donors, money soon ran out and the programs were no longer financially viable. The London Committee reached the conclusion that “it is impossible to deal adequately with unemployment by local authorities and we are therefore of the opinion that in future legislation the question should be dealt with nationally.”

Despite its obvious flaws and failings, the Unemployed Workmen’s Act of 1905 was a step in the right direction. It raised public awareness of the problem of unemployment and started a serious discourse on the topic in government circles.

If you know more about this Act and can enhance this article, please comment accordingly – Ed.

Gold Rush: California to Kimberley

Few things spark the adventurer’s spirit like the promise of gold. People are willing to leave the security of home for the dream of striking it rich on the gold fields. Time after time, gold rush fever has struck the general population, spurring massive migration to the latest gold find. Few truly find a fortune, yet this rarely stops folks from trying.

Britain has not been immune to gold fever. There are always those who are beguiled by the potential for instant wealth, and each new strike has spurred heavy migration as fortune hunters flock to the find.

English: Sailing to California for the Califor...
Sailing to California for the California Gold Rush (originally published in 1850s). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

America: The California Gold Rush (1848)

When James Marshall struck gold at John Sutter’s mill on January 24th, 1848, it went largely unnoticed. News of the find moved slowly and it wasn’t until late in the year that gold fever really caught on in El Dorado County. Sam Brannan was a store owner at Sutter’s Fort, and he immediately saw the potential for gain. He began advertising the strike in San Francisco and from there, the word spread like wildfire.

By June, nearly 5000 miners were working in the gold district. When news of the strike was legitimized by a statement from President James Polk, news began to spread across the country. Stories of gold, free for the taking, could hardly be contained and by 1849 immigrants were pouring into the country from the UK, China, Europe, Australia, and South America. According to the census in 1850, there were some 3,010 Britons living in California.

English: Australian 'Gold Rush' house The vill...
Australian ‘Gold Rush’ house ‘The Adelong’ was built by a local who made his fortune in the Australian Gold Rush! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Australia: The Victoria & NSW Gold Rush (1851)

Bathurst in New South Wales was little more than a backwater penal settlement when Edward Hargraves discovered gold there in 1851. Within weeks, however, thousands of settlers had flocked to Australia and were digging frantically for a fortune. The governor of Victoria saw potential in the new settlers and offered a reward for anyone who struck gold within 200 miles of Melbourne. Diggers took up the challenge and soon found gold in even greater abundance.

By the end of 1851, the Australian gold rush was at full steam. Tens of thousands of settlers arrived, tripling Victoria’s population to 237,000 in 1861, and doubling it again to 540,000 by 1861. New South Wales also saw a significant population increase, reaching 357,000 by 1861. Of these immigrants, 290,000 came from the British Isles and quickly became the dominant nationality in the region. In fact, by 1861, 60% of the population was from the UK.

South Africa: The Kimberly Gold Rush (1886)

The initial riches of South Africa were found in diamonds; however, in 1886, George Harrison discovered an enormous amount of gold-bearing conglomerate along the reefs of the Witwatersrand Basin. Unlike previous strikes, there were no nuggets to be found. Instead, there were miles of low-grade ore covered in thousands of feet of hard rock.

News of the strike spread quickly and men came flocking, but only those with capital could get in on the action. A number of men who had made a fortune off of Kimberly diamonds quickly grabbed control of the gold fields. Claims were soon staked along the fringe of Johannesburg, and new techniques were being developed for extracting gold from the ore.

Not many were able to capitalize on this gold rush; however, Cornish hard rock miners had just the skills that were needed to extract diamonds and gold from the mines.  Over 2500 Cornishmen migrated to South Africa and soon made up a large percentage of the white workforce in the South African mines.

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The Female Middle Class Emigration Society

Throughout much of the early 19th century, emigration assistance for women was directed almost entirely toward women working in domestic service. Domestic working women were in high demand throughout the colonies, thus, emigration societies and organizations largely focused their efforts on “matrimonial colonization”, helping women who fit this domestic profile.

English: The Last of England by Ford Madox Bro...
The Last of England by Ford Madox Brown, 1855.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There were, however, a substantial number of women in England who had a decent education and were suited for more than basic domestic labour. Unfortunately, these educated women were finding employment opportunities scarce at home. In the colonies, however, there was a dire need for such women.  By the middle of the 19th century, emigration societies began to realize that this neglected group of women was in need of help.

The need came to the foreground when a Miss Maria S. Rye published a paper entitled “The Colonies and their Requirements.” She drew attention to the serious plight of young, educated women who were consigned to English workhouses for want of more appropriate employment. She posed the poignant question, “Are women to perish simply because they are women?” Her viewpoints were soon republished by The English Woman’s Journal, and then printed in pamphlet form by Emily Faithful.

With the help and support of friends, Maria Rye began to act on her convictions. She sent her first group of educated women to Melbourne, Sydney and Natal, where they were met by local supporters and settled in posts of employment. These early emigrants were soon publishing letters of their own in The English Woman’s Journal, pointing to the great success of Maria Rye’s initial venture.

The small success so bolstered Miss Rye’s convictions that she began to appeal to the general public for funds to establish a larger permanent emigration scheme. An appeal was published in The Times, and soon Miss Rye had received over £500 in public support. With the funds raised, Maria Rye launched “The Female Middle Class Emigration Society” in May of 1862.

The Society opened its first and only office at  12 Portugal Street, sharing a building with the offices of The English Woman’s Journal. To approved applicants, the Society offered interest-free loans that could be repaid over a period of 28 months. Correspondents were set up in the various colonial ports where young women might choose to travel, so that wherever the women went, there would be someone there to greet them.

Maria Rye joined the first party which set out for New Zealand in late 1862. She dedicated the next couple of years to studying the conditions in greater depth, leaving her friend, Jane E. Lewin in charge of the Society. By the time Miss Rye returned to England in 1865, she had set her sights on the emigration of children; thus, Miss Lewin ended up running the Society for the duration of its existence.

While the FMCES never became a large or wealthy organization, it did assist quite a number of middle class women in their emigration efforts. In 1886, the FMCES was officially absorbed into the Colonial Emigration Society.


Ellis Island: Gateway to America

On January 1, 1892, a 15-year-old Irish girl named Annie Moore was granted entry to the United States. She and her two brothers were the first to be processed through Ellis Island. Over the following 62 years, millions would follow Annie Moore through the Ellis Island port of entry.  The island, in Upper New York Bay, would become a major gateway as the busiest immigrant in section station in the United States.

English: Immigrants entering the United States...
Immigrants entering the United States through Ellis Island, the main immigrant entry facility of the United States from 1892 to 1954. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While most connect Ellis Island with immigrants from other parts of the world – particularly southern and eastern Europeans – the port was, in fact, an entry point for many British immigrants as well. In fact, throughout the 1890s, nearly 329,000 emigrants left the British Isles and set sail for the United States. Those who were first and second class passengers were processed aboard ship and weren’t required to pass through Ellis Island – thus, their entry is not recorded there. Many others, however, were traveling in steerage, and they joined the masses flowing through the Island facility.

Before Ellis Island opened, many millions of immigrants had flowed into the country through New York’s harbour. Initially, immigrants were processed by state officials; however, the Federal Government took over immigration control in 1890 and put $75,000 into constructing an official processing facility.

The first facility was a huge Georgia pine structure with several outbuildings and numerous amenities. Three ships full of immigrants docked the day it opened and 700 immigrants were processed. The first year at Ellis Island saw nearly 450,000 immigrants pass through its halls on their way to a new life in America. The first facility was short-lived, however, and in 1897 the entire structure burned to the ground. No lives were lost in the blaze; however most immigration records up to that date were lost.

Immigrants just arrived from Foreign Countries...
Immigrants just arrived from Foreign Countries–Immigrant Building, Ellis Island, New York Harbor. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Plans were put in place for a new, fireproof immigration station, and while construction was underway, passengers were processed at the nearby Barge Office. The newly constructed facility was enormous with the capacity to process as many as 5000 immigrants per day. The red brick building could house a huge number of immigrants at a time, and the dining facility was so large that it could seat 1000 at once.

Thousands passed through daily. Immigrants were given “six second physicals” during which they were checked quickly for any physical ailments, questioned, and then sent on their way. That was only a portion of the process, however, and most immigrants spent up to five hours under inspection. The majority of those processed were steerage passengers. First and second class passengers weren’t required to pass through the various inspection points at Ellis Island because the government assumed that if they had the money to buy a first or second class ticket, they would be able to support themselves sufficiently upon entry.

Between 1900 and 1929, over 1.2 million Britons migrated to the United States, many of whom were processed through Ellis Island before they were allowed entry. By the time Ellis Island closed in 1954, approximately 12 million immigrants had been processed there by the U.S. Bureau of Immigration.


Economic Migration: Jamestown, Virginia

In May of 1607, three British ships landed on the shores of Virginia. On board the Discovery, the Godspeed and the Susan Constant were men, boys and crew members who hoped to better their fortunes in the New World. The ships were loaded with all the supplies they thought might be needed in establishing a colony. The settlers had high hopes as they set out, spurred on by visions of the “mountains of gold” that the Spanish had found. Little did they know what hardships they were set to face.

Obverse and Reverse of the Seal of the Virgini...
Obverse and Reverse of the Seal of the Virginia Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While other settlements across America had been largely spurred by other (primarily religious) factors, the colony of Jamestown was established entirely for economic purposes. The economic climate of 16th and 17th century England was undergoing great changes. Many farmers had lost their rented lands and had moved to the cities looking for work. Jobs were few and far between, however, and many of these migrants were forced to beg or steal to survive.

A number of enterprising folks began looking for a solution to the problem, and migration to the New World seemed like a viable and practical option. Establishing new colonies abroad was risky and expensive; however, in many ways it seemed the risks were outweighed by the political and economic benefits.

Early in the 17th century, a group of merchants approached King James as the joint-stock Virginia Company of London. In 1606, they were granted the right to establish colonies in Virginia. Rather than the crown footing the bill for the venture, wealthy men put up the money to buy the ships and supplies needed for the voyage and initial settlement.  A large number of Englishmen became stockholders in the venture, and held high hopes that they would see great returns on their investments in the form of gold and other goods like tar, pitch, oil, and citrus fruits.

Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, comme...
Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, commemorated on the Virginia State Quarter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first 104 settlers arrived in Virginia in 1607. A third of these settlers were “gentlemen” who had been recruited by the financers of the expedition. Many were military men who had fought the Spanish or in the Irish wars. Aside from these came a number of skilled craftsmen, bricklayers and carpenters, a blacksmith, a mason, a minister, a barber, and two surgeons, along with other unskilled workers and common seamen.

Upon arrival, Captain Christopher Newport, commander of the largest ship, opened the sealed orders from the Virginia Company and declared the names of those who had been appointed to run the colony. Edward Maria Wingfield was named president of the colony, and the settlers began the arduous task of establishing themselves in the new land.

Others soon arrived; however, life in the colony was more difficult than expected. Soon the colonists were starving, and over eighty percent of the immigrants died within a year. The Virginia Company was still hoping for a return on their investment, so they put out propaganda to entice more Britons to join the new colony. Another 3,750 were sent off to the supposed land “of milk and honey” in the hope of finding profit.

Unfortunately, the Virginia Company saw very little profit for many years. The settlers struggled to find a profitable product that could be exported. Their search for gold was fruitless, lumber was too expensive to ship, and other small ventures saw little success. The settlers established a fur trade with the Indians; however, even this was not financially lucrative until many years later.

It wasn’t until John Rolfe began to experiment with tobacco that Virginia finally began to turn a profit. Once they had learned to grow and cure the leaves, the colonists gave up all other products to meet the rising demand for tobacco in England. The economy in Virginia was revived as this great cash crop finally brought financial success.

Edward Gibbon Wakefield and his New-Model English Society

Though he was a rather colorful fellow with questionable views on society, Edward Gibbon Wakefield is remembered today as a colonial reformer and advocate of systematic colonization. His writings and actions helped to reform British views on colonial development. He was one of the founders of New Zealand and much of the settlement was based upon his ideas for a model societal structure.

Edward Gibbon Wakefield (* 1796; † 1862), Brit...
Edward Gibbon Wakefield (* 1796; † 1862), British statesman and promoter of colonization of Australia and New Zealand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wakefield was a London land agent’s son, born on March 20, 1796, and educated at Westminster. In 1826, he met Ellen Turner, the young daughter of a wealthy silk merchant. Wakefield spirited her away to Scotland where he pressed her into a quick marriage ceremony. When they were discovered, the wedding was annulled by Parliament and Wakefield was sentenced to three years in prison for kidnapping.

During his time in prison, Wakefield turned his thoughts toward corrective punishment and colonial development. From prison, he began to publish papers stating his position on these topics. He strongly promoted the colonization of Australasia and provided detailed plans for how he felt it should be accomplished.

His plan involved the New Zealand Company buying land at a pittance from the indigenous tribes, and then selling it at a high price to “gentleman settlers” and investors. Revenue earned through these land sales would finance the immigration of free settlers; however, since these newcomers would be unable to purchase land of their own, they would make up a laboring class to work for the landowners.

Many members of the New Zealand Company embraced Wakefield’s ideas and put them to use in the colonization of South Australia. While these supporters envisioned the creation of a “perfect English society,” Wakefield viewed their work there as a failure and instead turned his focus toward New Zealand.

In 1837, Wakefield chaired the first meeting of the New Zealand Association, where he was joined by a number of wealthy supporters. A bill was drafted detailing their intentions; however, it was strongly opposed by Colonial Office officials and the Church Missionary Society. The opposition was horrified by claims made in Wakefield’s pamphlets, where he declared his intentions to “civilize a barbarous people” who could “scarcely cultivate the earth.” They took issue with the unlimited power that would be wielded by the colony’s founders, and felt that the indigenous peoples of the region would simply be exterminated.

By the end of the year, however, Wakefield’s association was gathering favour throughout the government, and in December they were offered a Royal Charter which gave them responsibility over the administration of the colony of New Zealand. They soon merged with the New Zealand Company and continued under that name.

treaty of Waitangi version in the museum on th...
treaty of Waitangi version in the museum on the Waitangi grounds, New Zealand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before the government could impose further control, the Company set out to buy up as much land as possible. By the end of 1839 they had purchased land in Wellington and as far north as Patea, and intended to buy as much as 20 million acres in Nelson, Wellington, Wanganui, and Taranaki. Their ambitions were cut short though, when the government intervened with the Treaty of Waitangi. This treaty allowed only the government to make any further land purchases.

When the government began to question the land titles of the Company, Wakefield campaigned for self-government, though this was easily opposed by the governor, Sir George Grey. In 1853, Wakefield emigrated to Wellington and became involved in the political institution in New Zealand. Just one year later though, his health broke and he was forced to live in retirement until his death in 1862.

While Wakefield’s views were often impracticable due to his lack of first-hand knowledge, he was instrumental in the colonization and settlement of New Zealand. Due to his strong beliefs in modeling the settlements on the structures of British society, many New Zealand towns were established this way. While population growth wasn’t rapid by any means, many were attracted to life in New Zealand and colonies were quickly established. When the New Zealand Company arrived in 1839, there were a mere 2,000 immigrants in the country; by 1852 that number had climbed to 28,000.

The Pioneer Column

Cecil Rhodes was anxious to occupy the territories of Mashonaland and Matabeleland in Southern Rhodesia before the Germans, Portuguese or Boers could get to it. To accomplish this, Rhodes and his British South Africa Company raised the Pioneer Column.

Cecil Rhodes
Cecil Rhodes (Photo credit: BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives)

Rhodes approached the Matabele King Lobengula and persuaded him to sign a treaty in 1888. This treaty gave Rhodes full rights to mining and administration (though not particularly to settlement), throughout the area of Mashonland. Using this Rudd Concession (as the treaty was dubbed), Rhodes approached the British government for a charter which would allow him to occupy the territory. The British South Africa Company was granted the right to form an armed body of men to protect the Pioneer Column as they travelled across Africa.

Rhodes’s military advisers were wary of how Lobengula would react when he realized that Rhodes intended not only to mine, but to occupy the land that he had granted. The military advisers were almost certain that war would break out, and estimated that it would take 2,500 men and approximately one million pounds to accomplish their goals.

A young adventurer by the name of Frank Johnson wasn’t nearly so cautious, however. He proposed to deliver the territory within nine months, for no more than £87,500, and with a mere 250 men. Johnson recruited Frederick Selous, a hunter with an excellent knowledge of the region, to act as the Column’s guide. He then began recruiting men for the expedition by offering each volunteer 15 mining claims and 3000 acres of land in the newly claimed territories.

English: Cecil Rhodes makes peace with the Nde...

They received thousands of eager applicants; however, Rhodes cleverly selected sons from rich families. He predicted that if the Column was indeed attacked and in danger, the wealthy families would be more successful in enlisting help from the British government.  The Pioneer Column was placed under the command of Irishman Lieutenant Colonel Edward Pennefather, an officer of the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons.

The initial Column was made up of 180 colonists, 200 volunteers and 62 wagons. Another group soon attached themselves to the Column, adding 110 men, 16 wagons, 130 horses, and 250 cattle. They set out from Macloutsie on June 28, 1890, and arrived on September 12 at a flat, marshy meadow protected by steep rocky hills. The British flag was hoisted over the plain the following day, and settlement began.

Three towns were founded nearby: Fort Victoria (now named Masvingo), Fort Charter, and Fort Salisbury. The Pioneer Corps was disbanded and each of the members was given the promised lands on which they could begin farming.

In one fell swoop, the Pioneer Column drastically changed the destiny of this previously neglected territory. What was once an undeveloped backwater became a productive region that has achieved great things since its founding.

Irish Diaspora and the Typhus Epidemic of 1847

When they were building Victoria Bridge (Montr...
When they were building Victoria Bridge (Montreal), the workers discovered the remains of Irish immigrants who died in the fever sheds – quarantined with Typhus ( “Ship fever”). This rock was thus moved and put here to remember the memory of those who died there. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The year 1847 was a year of deep tragedy for the nation of Ireland. The first half of the century had seen unprecedented demographic growth, with the population doubling from four to eight million by 1845. Naturally, the structures were not in place for such rapid growth. Agrarian land holdings became smaller as the population expanded. The remaining farms had to maximize their food production to keep up with the demand. Farms that were already in a precarious state financially due to heavy farm tariffs were put completely out of commission when a series of crop failures occurred in the late 1830s.

In 1845, problems were compounded further when Europe’s crops were ravaged by a potato blight. Ireland was the hardest hit, and its potato crops were decimated. The resultant famine combined with the precarious economic conditions triggered a huge wave of immigration and subsequent Irish diaspora.

Nearly 100,000 boarded ships bound for Canada and the United States. These ships soon became floating coffins as immigrants – already weakened by lack of sustenance – succumbed to disease.

On May 17, 1847, the Syria floated into Grosse Isle in Quebec. Sickness had wracked the passengers and 430 were down with fever. In the days that followed, eight more ships pulled into the harbor, each carrying even more typhus victims. A week later, 17 more vessels had arrived, each carrying passengers infected with the fever. At this point, 695 people were already in hospitals and the doctors hardly knew where to put the new arrivals.

The number of ships soon reached 30, and over 10,000 immigrants were aboard waiting to be processed through immigration. By the end of May, 40 ships were lined up along the St. Lawrence River, stretching along the banks for two miles. Each ship held passengers affected by typhus and dysentery. Soon 1100 infected passengers were laid out in tents and fever sheds.

The island was rapidly overwhelmed, and some immigrants were transferred to Montreal where three long fever sheds had been constructed.  Thousands more continued to arrive, and soon there were 22 sheds full of invalids. Troops guarded the area so no one could escape; still, typhus quickly reached epidemic proportions in Montreal. Between 3,500 and 6,000 Irish immigrants died in Montreal’s fever sheds.

Other Canadian cities were affected as well. During the summer of 1847, 863 Irish immigrants died in the fever sheds of Toronto, and 2115 more died in New Brunswick. When over 3,000 Irish arrived in Bytown, fever broke out there as well. Fever sheds were erected and the Rideau Canal was shut down to prevent the spread of disease; still, approximately 200 died in quarantine. Kingston also was affected when fever-stricken immigrants passed through and took shelter in immigrant sheds. Some 1,400 immigrants died of fever there.

The consequences of the typhus epidemic hit Canada hard. Death and disease took their toll, but the country was also put under serious financial stress as much trade came to a standstill. In time, however, the country began to recover. Today there are 1,230,000 Irish descendants in Canada, many of whom can trace their lineage to the Immigrants of ’47.




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