Category: Migration
Evacuees to New Zealand
Evacuees to New Zealand (Photo credit: The National Archives UK)

In the summer of 1938, war loomed on the world’s horizon. Though fighting had not yet touched Britain, the government began preemptive plans to evacuate the cities.  The Anderson Committee divided the country into “evacuation,” “neutral” and “reception” zones, and established priority evacuees: school children and teachers, mothers and young children, pregnant women, and incapacitated adults.

At the time, London was as yet out of reach of the German Luftwaffe; however, evacuation plans progressed, rehearsals were held, and additional rural camps were set up for evacuees. By 1939, it became increasingly clear that war was on Britain’s doorstep, and local evacuation suddenly seemed an insufficient measure.

In June of 1940, France crumbled under relentless German attack. The Germans then set their sights on Britain, starting with air assaults and progressing to Blitz and bombing of British cities by September of the same year. The British government began to fear for the country’s survival in the case of an all-out invasion; thus, suggestions began to surface for a large-scale overseas evacuation.

While the suggestion was initially rejected, the government soon began to look to Commonwealth nations such as  Australia, South Africa, and Canada and also the  United States as safer havens – a way of survival for some, even if Britain was invaded. Thus plans were developed with the goal of evacuating 1 million children to British Dominions overseas.

The first “guest children” sent abroad were those of the upper class families. Personal efforts were made to send children to family or friends in Canada or America. In some cases, parents from an entire school combined efforts in private arrangements to send the whole group of children abroad. Eventually, however, the public began to demand government assistance for those less fortunate.

The possibility of an eminent Nazi invasion had parents clamouring to send their children to safer shores, while private groups in America and the other Dominions were inspired to offer a haven to Britain’s children. In order to facilitate this emigration, the government established the Children’s Overseas Reception Board (CORB) in May of 1940. The CORB was responsible for organizing this overseas evacuation, and applications began pouring in from all over the country.

Rather than processing the applications on a first-come-first-served basis, CORB placed greater priority on some children than others. It’s unclear exactly how selections were made; however, the press was soon accusing CORB of giving preferential treatment to children of the wealthy. Many more applications were received than the government was able to move, and ultimately, many of the children who were sent abroad were indeed children of wealth with contacts overseas.

The CORB process was a slow one, and in fact, far more children were sent abroad through private arrangements. An estimated 13,000 children were sent abroad by parents with the means to do so. While CORB received 210,000 applications by the time the scheme was ended, it’s estimated that a mere 3,300 were actually sent to the Dominions by the organisation.

Evacuees were primarily sent to the United States and Canada, since the trans-Atlantic passage was relatively short. Most, however, were sent to Canada, as immigration between England and Canada was more easily accomplished. Of course, some children had families in the other Dominions, so a number did end up in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and the Caribbean as well.

In 1944, the tide of the war had shifted, and Britain decided to bring its children home. Troopships brought American and Canadian soldiers to their home shores and returned with British children. Families were reunited, and Britain set out on the path to rebuilding the nation.




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)

An Italian immigrant was quoted as saying: “I came to America because I heard the streets were paved with gold. When I got here, found out three things: First, the streets weren’t paved with gold; second, they weren’t paved at all: and third, I was expected to pave them.” This sentiment was echoed by many who made the migratory voyage with high hopes, only to be disappointed upon arrival.

We hear many success stories of immigrants who left on a one-way trip and never looked back. We must consider though, that out of the hundreds of thousands who successfully emigrated from the UK and made new homes abroad, there were many who gave up and returned home. We have put much discussion into the decision to migrate; however, in this article, we look at some of the reasons that caused a large number of immigrants to return home.

How Frequent are Return Migrations?

Return migration can be somewhat difficult to measure. Some immigrants returned home to stay, while others returned to their home countries temporarily, only to emigrate once more.

Most countries also kept poor records on those leaving the country, focusing instead on those arriving. The US, for example, only started recording departing passengers in 1908. Even those statistics can be fairly misleading, as the records only state that an immigrant is leaving. No mention is made of whether the departure is permanent or temporary.

Prior to the 19th century, return migration was far less frequent. Travel was expensive, time-consuming and dangerous, and immigrants tended to settle since returning was so difficult. In the late 19th century, trips home became more frequent, and by the early 20th century, we begin to see clear statistical patterns of return migration.

An immigrant Punjabi family in America. c. 1900s
An immigrant Punjabi family in America. c. 1900s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For example, some scholars have estimated that a full third of American immigrants returned home. During certain periods, such as the Great Depression, return trips were even higher.

Interestingly, however, immigrants from the UK had a fairly low return rate compared to many other nationalities. English immigrants returned at a rate of about 10.4%, while only 6.3% of Irish immigrants ever returned home.

Why Did Immigrants Return Home?

Reasons for return are almost as varied as the immigrants themselves. Some went with high hopes and gave up when those hopes were not realized. Others never intended to immigrate permanently in the first place.

“Birds of Passage”, for example, traveled purely for economic reasons. They intended to work long enough to make a bit of money so that they could better their lives back home.

Others returned due to family obligations. Many women emigrated to earn enough money for a dowry, and once that objective was achieved, they returned home. Others were forced to return home to care for parents or siblings they had left behind.

Others still had been unwilling emigrants in the first place. Shipped off as indigents, many in this group simply returned home as soon as they were able to earn passage.

Finally, a great number of immigrants were just unhappy in their new country. Instead of the easy life they had hoped for, the immigrants were faced with struggles and hostility. They looked back on their home with nostalgia and decided that perhaps things were better there after all.

Guernsey evacuees and kind Canadians during the Second World War

For 5 years Gill Mawson has been interviewing evacuees who fled Guernsey, in the Channel Islands,  to England, just before the Germans occupied the islands in June 1940. 17,000 children and adults left Guernsey, which was British territory, with the majority arriving in England with just the clothes on their backs. Whole schools were evacuated with their teachers, and some reopened in England during the war as ‘Guernsey schools’ so that the evacuated teachers and pupils could remain together. One school was financially supported by Americans, with one child being sponsored by the President’s wife, Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt. The only communication between England and Guernsey was through 25 word Red Cross letters. The evacuees remained in England for five years until the war ended. Some evacuees chose not return to Guernsey but to remain in England where they had settled into their local communities.

Interviews with the evacuees, together with surviving wartime records, show there were certain individuals and organisations that made a huge difference to the lives of these penniless evacuees, not just financially, but  also emotionally. Amongst these were the Canadian Channel Islander‘s Societies.When news of the Channel Islands evacuation and occupation reached the 500 Channel Islanders living in the Vancouver area, a sense of shock swept through the community. They quickly realised that the evacuees would need clothing, shoes, cash and medical supplies, and a writer, Philippe William Luce, formed the Vancouver Channel Islanders Society. Some of their newsletters have survived, and the society noted at one meeting,

“Thousands of old folks, women and children urgently need help, and every dollar counts. It costs about $1000 a week for shoe repairs and dental attention alone. Every letter from the kiddies to their parents in the Islands costs one shilling and families building homes in England need stoves, furniture, bedding etc.” [i]

The society’s newsletters give details of the fund raising efforts they made. They sold Christmas cards and Jersey seed potatoes, and held raffles – with one prize being a prize Jersey calf which raised $3,000.  Local people donated clothing, shoes, socks, quilts and books to the society, which were sent to Victory Hall, 535 Homer Street, Vancouver, for packaging on Thursday afternoons. The society organised lunches for which admission was $25 per person, together with musical evenings, concerts, film shows and picnics. In October 1941 the Vancouver Lion’s Club donated all the proceeds of its annual charity concert to the society, which featured an appearance by Lansing Hatfield, a star of the New York Opera.  By February 1942, the Vancouver society had sent $3,254 to London for the evacuees together with 119 crates of clothing, and letters of thanks began to arrive from Channel Island evacuees in England,

“More and more letters of thanks are coming from the recipients;some exceedingly touching scribblings from little children.”

Some of the Canadians who donated clothing to the society placed little notes in the pockets of coats and jackets.  A Guernsey evacuee at the Forest School in Cheshire found the following note in the pocket of his coat,

“To the little boy who receives this parcel. Please write to me at the above address and let me know how you like it. May God Bless you, and keep you safe from harm. Sincerely yours, Mrs C J Collett.”

Canadian note found in pocket  Martel

Another society was established in Victoria,Vancouver Island, containing around 100 members. At their first meeting in August 1941, the committee decided to arrange a Channel Islands Arts and Crafts event, to arouse interest in the islands, and between 1941 and 1945, the Victoria society raised $4,992 for the evacuees. They used the Women’s Institute rooms on Fort Street for the collection and packaging of clothing, before sending the crates to the Vancouver society, or directly to London.4

It is not known exactly how many more Channel Islanders in Canada carried out this wonderful work, but their efforts clearly went a long way in helping hundreds of  unfortunate evacuees in England who had been torn from their homes.

Guest post by Gillian Mawsom. For more information on Guernsey Evacuees, please visit

[i]      Martel, Diary, Vancouver Channel Islanders Society Minutes, February 1942

4     The Daily Colonist, Channel Islanders in Victoria, 3 May 1979, p.4


The Matrimonial Fishing Fleet

In the early days of the Indian Raj, mixed marriages were encouraged in the hopes of improving relations between the two cultures. Young British soldiers and civil servants spent years away from home, and the majority took up with Indian prostitutes, mistresses or wives.

East India House in Leadenhall Street was the ...
East India House in Leadenhall Street was the London headquarters of the East India Company. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Lord Cornwallis came to power as Governor General of Bengal in the 1780s, things began to change. Cornwallis rapidly initiated a number of divisive reforms that drove a gradual wedge between the British and Indians. Children of mixed race were banned from education in England, and were unable to procure employment with the East India Company.

With each subsequent reform, sexual relations with native women became a greater taboo. Of course, the young EIC employees were soon seriously frustrated. Many still frequented brothels, leading to regular outbreaks of venereal disease in the garrisons.

In order to remedy the problem, the authorities turned their sights on the wealth of British girls back home. At the time, a full third of British women aged 25-35 were unmarried. Parents of these unmarried girls saw India as prime husband-hunting ground, and happily sent them off in pursuit of marriage. Meanwhile, the EIC felt that paying to ship the girls over was a worthwhile investment in keeping the men happy.

Thus, the girls of the “Fishing Fleet” began to arrive. Each was offered an allowance of £300 a year for life if they were able to find a husband within a year. While there were plenty of prospective husbands, the Company kept the girls to a strict set of rules. If a girl misbehaved in any way, she would be put on a bread and water diet and shipped home. If a girl was unable to secure a husband within a year, she would be sent home, disgraced as a “returned empty.”

Symbols on East India Company Coin: 1791 Half Pice
Symbols on East India Company Coin: 1791 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, this put an enormous pressure on the girls to find a husband right away. Some girls were snapped up while still on the voyage. Others began courtships within days of landfall. With each ship’s arrival, eligible British bachelors were invited to dinner on board – to look over the “cargo” as it were.

The prettiest girls of the lot were always married off quickly, and they often secured husbands in good social standing. The lucky ones would soon find themselves comfortably settled in a breezy bungalow with a bevy of servants. The plainer girls would often have to look further afield, ‘up country’, where life was tough and comforts were few.

Nonetheless, the girls of the Fishing Fleet continued to flock to India. Throughout the late 1800s, the number of unmarried women in Britain continued to rise. For many, India was the perfect solution. After all, that’s where the men were.

Despite the hardships, sickness and struggles that India presented, many of the Fishing Fleet girls fell in love with the country and the culture. They were intoxicated by the breathtaking beauty and the exotic thrills. Those who returned to England upon their husband’s retirement keenly felt the loss and longed for the country that had become their home.

From Yorkshire to Nova Scotia: Reflections on a Migration

The Chignecto isthmus is a narrow body of land which connects the Canadian Atlantic provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.  In the late 1700s, a modest-sized but significant migration of settlers took place from Yorkshire to this area. Depending on the time frame chosen, the number of migrants exceeded 1000 and apparently involved something less than 15 shiploads. The migration was promoted at the time by the Nova Scotia Lieutenant Governor Michael Francklin.  Additionally, many of the potential settlers were disgruntled tenants of the Duke of Rutland.  For years, Francklin had been trying with spotty success to get settlers of British stock to replace the Acadienne population expelled some twenty years earlier.

English: The edge of the North York Moors Nati...
The edge of the North York Moors National Park in Howl Dale Wood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My own ancestors were part of what became the Yorkshire migration.  Indeed, I am descended from at least eight family lines of these Yorkshire migrants.  I will frame my comments about the migration around the family from which I derive my surname, that of William (1729-abt 1800) and Mary (1732-bef 1788) Chapman.

Prior to migration, these Chapmans resided in the village of Hawnby, located in what is now the North York Moors National Park..

When I look at the circumstances of William and Mary as they decided to uproot their family, I cannot help but wonder about the turmoil they must have felt in their own time. In the spring of 1774, when the sea voyage for this family from the port of Hull actually took place, William, a Yeoman farmer, was 44 years old. Mary was 41. They had been married almost 20 years. One presumes that they had lived in the same location — certainly the same rural region for the years of their married life. The youngest of their nine children was a 3-year-old girl, Ann. The eldest was 19-year-old William.

On the face of it, except for the variations in the seasons and the years, one might well ask why a family of 11 would choose to undertake a dangerous and uncertain change. The Yorkshire migrants did live in turbulent times. As we look at it today, perhaps the most benign of the changes was the religious turmoil of the times. Religious adherence was central to the migrants’ lives.  Not long before departure, many had decided to take an unconventional religious path. The Chapman family had taken up with the dissenting Wesleyans, in the cause of the new Methodism — a grass-roots incarnation of the dominant church. Early Methodism had an evangelical-emotional appeal. It was a popular movement, but also involved the new adherents in some level of persecution.  For example, the existing Church would not allow the Wesleyans to preach in Church buildings, so Methodist meetings took place in the open. Speakers and listeners were often pelted with stones.

Added to this, for at least a century prior to migration, the economic circumstances of the Yorkshire migrants had been in a state of flux.  A rural-to-urban migration had begun.  There were changes in farming practices and the economic hardships of the 19th-century industrial revolution were already on the horizon.  The technology of the steam engine was invented in the decade prior to the Yorkshire migration.  Landowners were consolidating their land holdings through enclosure and if some tentants remained, the rents were raised.  The sense of change was all about. It is clear from the Yorkshire migrant passenger lists that rent increases or making a living were key to the decision to move to Atlantic Canada.  This was a classic economic migration, although many of the Yorkshire families were not without some financial means.

If events in England were not enough, events in the region of the world to which William and Mary Chapman were planning to move were perhaps even more fluid.  William and May well may have known that Acadian settlers in the area to which they were headed had been expelled twenty years earlier, but that many had returned. The couple certainly would have been aware that the ever-exotic and unpredictable “Indians” were still present in the region in large numbers. Imagine what little they understood of these people.

On making casual inquiries into the prospects for the region, they also might have heard that the Fort Cumberland area was far from markets, and that both the selling of produce and obtaining of materials would be no easy matter. In fact, at the time, the local economy was very poor, although the publicity of Governor Franklin painted a more rosy image.

The Chignecto area is only a short sailing trip away from where the revolutionary Boston Tea party took place. Revolution was brewing in the North American colonies, and what was then Nova Scotia was no less one of these colonies than any of the others along the eastern seaboard of North America. Indeed, shortly after the families arrived, their own area was caught up on the margins of such events through what is now called the Eddy Rebellion.

Further ‘encouragement’ for the prospects of the migrants apparently came from the captain of the vessel Albion on which the Chapmans sailed. Nathaniel Smith, one of their 180 fellow passengers, in a letter to a relative, tells that prior to embarking, the captain indicated to his passengers that his optimistic estimate was that likely only 1/3 would survive the journey. While fortunately the captain’s prediction did not come true on that particular voyage, more than a handful of people did die on the journey, and apparently there was much sea sickness and smallpox. In the face of such circumstances, either these migrants were very sturdy folk,or one can assume that the economic and social prospects in England must have been very difficult indeed.

Cold Kirby, North Yorkshire
Cold Kirby, North Yorkshire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In circumstances such as I have outlined it is not surprising that families would have sought to travel as extended families. They likely would have lent support to one another and in fact, among unrelated families well-documented shipboard romances later resulted in marriages upon arrival.  William and Mary and their family were accompanied to their land of new opportunities by the family of Lancelot Chapman and his wife, Frances.  Lancelot’s family included six of the couple’s nine children. Until recently it was thought that Lancelot was the older brother of William, but further genealogical research now suggests this sibling relationship is unlikely.  Yet it seems sensible to conclude that there was some sort of familial relationship between the two men.

We know little of the particulars of Lancelot and his wife and children, but what we do know is that they all appear to have returned to England — most likely quite soon after arrival in North American. We do not even know if Lancelot and Frances – after their arrival in Halifax – did any exploration of the local opportunities. Records indicate that Lancelot and Frances died in Cold Kirby, not far from Hawnby, in the early 1800s. So, it appears that not all migrants found the “better livelihood” they were seeking in the new land. However, as far as we know at the moment, returnees such as these were the exception.

Selected resources:

Yorkshire 2000: A Migration Celebration On-line Repository

(1945) Here Stays Good Yorkshire. Will R. Bird, The Ryerson Press: Toronto (novel)

(1995) The Siege of Fort Cumber, 1776. Ernest Clarke, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal and Kingston.

(2012) Yorkshire Immigrants to Atlantic Canada – Papers from the “Yorkshire 2000” Conference. Paul A. Bogaard (Ed.), Tantramar Heritage Trust: Sackville New Brunswick.

 Guest Post by Don Chapman
Don is a retired educator who resides near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  He has dabbled in genealogy for the past twenty-five years and maintains a genealogical web site at: .  It was at Don’s suggestion that a celebration of the Yorkshire migration took place in the summer of 2000 at Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada.



Irish Migration into Liverpool in the 19th Century

There has long been much coming and going between Ireland and England. In fact, historians note that a scattering of Irish names existed in Liverpool as early as 1378. However, it was when Liverpool gained prominence as a port city that it became the primary access point for Irish immigrants as they made their way to England.

Liverpool waterfront
Liverpool waterfront (Photo credit: djmcaleese)

The Irish population in England grew gradually through the 19th century. Many poor labourers, drovers and artisans emigrated due to economic reasons. They weren’t the only ones, however. Middle class Irish moved in and made their mark on the history of Liverpool. Michael Whitty, for example, founded the Liverpool Fire Brigade and the Liverpool Daily Post. William Brown was another prominent figure, who financed the building of the public library.

But the situation took a drastic downturn during the tragic Potato Famine which stretched from1846 to 1852. A succession of the worst potato crop failures led to massive poverty and starvation in Ireland. The potato was a staple food of the poor, especially in winter, and the loss of the crops was devastating. Over one million people lost their lives over the course of the famine.

The Irish escaped in droves, with approximately 1.3 million immigrants passing through the port in Liverpool. Though a substantial Irish population already existed in England, the enormous influx deeply impacted the city of Liverpool.

English: Irish immigrants in Kansas City, Miss...
English: Irish immigrants in Kansas City, Missouri in c.1909 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many immigrants saw Liverpool as a stepping stone on their way to the United States; however, a large number ended up staying on, making their homes in Liverpool. By the end of the famine in 1851, there were some 90,000 Irish born and living in Liverpool. In fact, the Irish immigrants made up about 25 percent of the town’s population.

Those that stayed in Liverpool gravitated toward established Irish communities. The Irish community developed predominantly around St. Anthony’s Church in Liverpool. Further Catholic churches quickly sprung up throughout the 19th century, providing a ballast for the droves of Irish immigrants.

Unfortunately, the Irish who arrived in Liverpool were starving, weak and extremely vulnerable. Certain groups sprung up almost immediately and found an easy livelihood taking the little money the immigrants possessed upon arriving on the Mersey docks. Many of the Irish immigrants quickly moved on; however, those who stayed near the docks were at great risk and were often preyed upon by the unsavoury characters.

Conditions worsened as the enormous volume of immigrants quickly exceeded the available housing and employment. The sanitary system was taxed to its limit – as was the Poor Law system. Liverpool taxpayers quickly became disgruntled, feeling that the immigrants were overburdening the Poor Law system.

Many Irish workers were forced to take low-paid, labour-intense jobs at the docks, processing plants, in the chemical industries, and as warehouse and construction workers. Irish women found even fewer opportunities, and were relegated to low-level jobs like hawking box chips and crushed sandstone residue.

To compound matters, typhus, dysentery and cholera swept through the population with epidemics so severe that floating hospitals and fever sheds were built along the Mersey. The overcrowded living quarters were breeding grounds for disease, and despite numerous attempts to improve sanitary conditions, “Irish Fever” persisted. In fact, at that time, life expectancy in the dock areas of Liverpool fell to the lowest in the country.

Eventually, the Irish came to dominate the Liverpool docks, and in fact had quite an impact on how the port developed. As Liverpool became a prominent port city, efficiency on the docks was a priority, and Irish dock workers played a huge role in making that possible. Irish “lumpers” loaded and unloaded cargo on the ships. Irish “carters” carted tobacco between the port and various private warehouses. Around 1900 Irish porters were employed in warehouses on the Liverpool docks. The Irish were involved with dock construction on the Mersey, and many found work as stevedores, sailors and ship’s firemen.

All-in-all, Liverpool just might not be the place it is today without the influence of the great Irish migration. The impact of the Irish on the city as a whole can still be felt today. After all, a couple of the most famous fellows to come out of Liverpool – John Lennon and Paul McCartney – do carry Irish surnames.

All roads lead to London

Every English child can recite the story of Dick Whittington, the poor country boy who finds fame and fortune – and eventually becomes Lord Mayor of London thanks to the ratting skills of his cat.  Richard Whittington was the real-life inspiration behind the story, and while he wasn’t a poor orphan, he was a younger son with no inheritance. He set off for London, intent on making his fortune as a mercer, and ended up making his name as a successful trader. In the end, he did indeed become Lord Mayor of London and eventually a Member of Parliament.

Portraits of Sir Richard Whittington, & his Ca...
Portraits of Sir Richard Whittington, & his Cat from an original painting at Mercers Hall. 19th Century engraving printed for Alex Hogg and Co, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whether you’ve heard the historical account or the whimsical rendition, the story of Dick Whittington exemplifies the aims of so many who come to the big city seeking their fortunes. As many capital cities do, London acts as something of a magnet for the general population. The allure of the big city, the greater potential for employment and the promise of opportunity continues to draw people in, just as they once did for young Dick Whittington.

An ever-growing population

Today, London is growing more rapidly than ever. In fact, in eight short years (from 2001-2009), the population of London expanded by more than 430,000, bringing the population count over 7.75 million. London is the UK’s single most populated region, with an average of 4,900 people per square kilometer. To break that down a little further, the city of London makes up just 0.6 percent of the UK’s land area, yet it hosts approximately 12.5 percent of the UK population.

Certainly, some of the population growth could be attributed to births; however, upon further inspection, this hardly explains the massive population growth. Upon examination of the bills of mortality, historically London’s death rate has always outweighed the rate of births in the city. Thus, we can assume that the majority of London’s growth is due to migration.

The impact on London’s economy

Whether they come from abroad, smaller towns within the UK or migration from the countryside, those who migrate to London find work across a broad spectrum of industries. They can be found in upper echelons of financial and business services, as well as in humble construction jobs; however, today many of those surveyed seem to drift toward the catering and hospitality business.

Wherever they find work, migrants produce two specific positive effects on London’s economy. The first is a qualitative effect, as migrants bring new flexibility, diversity, and skill sets to the work environment. The second is a quantitative contribution to the job market, as the high numbers of labourers reduce upward wage pressure.

Unfortunately, many migrants are concentrated in the low-earning segment. While jobs are abundant, labourers are also abundant, placing a steady downward pressure on wages in an already low-paid sector. In spite of this, there has been no significant increase in unemployment rates as of yet.


Accommodation of migrants

As the population increases, accommodation becomes a serious concern. Some come into the city with the resources to buy housing; however, the high demand has put pressure on steadily-increasing housing prices. Fortunately, rents have remained somewhat stable in spite of increased demand.

Some migrants do come into the city with extremely limited resources, and are unable to find adequate accommodation. Most are not immediately eligible for social housing, making life particularly hard for migrant families. Eventually some become eligible for social assistance if their income remains low and their housing is below standard. Others, however, often face homelessness before receiving assistance.

Lord Mayors State Coach 1
Lord Mayors State Coach 1 (Photo credit: Gauis Caecilius)

The “most culturally diverse city in the world”

Migration can be an uncomfortable and politically-charged topic to discuss; however, many see the ongoing influx to be a good sign of the city’s modernity and adaptability. In spite of the various struggles that inevitably arise from ongoing migration – namely, poverty and low wages – London has remained socially cohesive and continues to look at in-migration as a positive thing.

The Mayor’s London Plan proclaims proudly that London is “the most culturally diverse city in the world,” noting that “London’s diversity is one of its great historical social, economic and cultural strengths.” With this perspective and an ongoing effort to assist new arrivals, migration should continue to have a positive impact on London.

Gallowglass and the Black Oath: Ulster Scots

By the beginning of the 17th century, there was already a significant Scottish presence in Ireland. From the late 1200’s to the 1500s, Scottish mercenaries known as “gallowglass” had been brought over by Irish leaders to supplement their own armies. The gallowglass were typically paid with clan land from the clan chief they had served. Naturally, they settled in Ireland, bringing with them such Scottish names as MacSweeny and MacDowell.

Sign in County Down with Irish and Ulster Scot...
Sign in County Down with Irish and Ulster Scots text (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During the 16th century a new wave of Scottish mercenaries flooded into Ireland from the Isles and Highlands; however, this group was paid in currency rather than land, and most returned to Scotland. A branch of the Macdonnell clan didn’t leave. They instead settled in the northeast corner of Ulster (in modern day Antrim county), and quickly dominated the region politically. The government in Dublin viewed this Scottish settlement as a serious threat, however, and in 1556 legislation was passed banning all Scots from Ireland.

A mere 50-odd years later, James VI of Scotland ascended the thrones of England and Ireland, bringing an about-face in the Irish perspective on Scottish settlers. Knowing that Northern Ireland was typically hostile to English rule, James conceived the idea of a Protestant colony as a means of establishing the royal hold on the region.

James found his opportunity when the Roman Catholic Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell fled Ireland to take refuge in France. Their lands were quickly seized by the crown and divided up amongst new owners. These seized lands included the counties of Antrim, Down, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Coleraine (later renamed Londonderry), and Donegal. Plans were drawn up, dividing the counties into precincts, and each of those precincts was assigned to Irish servitors or English or Scottish undertakers (so called because they “undertook” the commission of building fortifications and establishing settlements).

By 1610, the Scots were awarded nine separate precincts. Greater nobles received up to 3000 acres of profitable land, while fifty Scottish chiefs received grants of 1000-2000 acres. The government hand-picked each recipient to ensure that the noblemen had the means to meet the costs of establishing a profitable settlement.

In 1630, a military muster was conducted, and these records show the progress of the various settlements. Certain precincts, such as those in Donegal, had seen little to no growth by the time of the muster. Elsewhere, however, small communities of Lowland Scots were established and thriving. According to the muster of 1630, the adult Scottish population of Ulster had nearly reached 14,000.

Though no surveys were conducted in the years after the muster of 1630, the incoming Scots established a strong presence not only in Ulster, but also further afield. Counties Cork, Mayo, Sligo, and Wexford all show signs of a significant Scottish presence at the time. In fact, so strong was Scottish establishment in Ireland that they posed a serious threat to Charles I when he faced disputes with the Scots in the late 1630s.

English: William Petty (1623-1687)
William Petty (1623-1687) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those very disputes brought Scottish migration to a near halt for almost a decade. When Charles tried to force the Prayer Book of the Church of England on them, denying the Scots their own form of worship, many simply pulled up stakes and went home. Charles added insult to injury in 1638 by demanding that Scots in Ulster take “The Black Oath” – a solemn vow to never take up arms against the King. Many sorely insulted Scots simply chose to return to Scotland rather than being subjected to Charles’ whims.

Finally, in 1641 an Irish rebellion broke out. Men, women and children were slaughtered, and many survivors rushed to return to Scotland. In 1642, however, ten thousand Scottish soldiers flooded in to quash the rebellion. Thousands of the soldiers stayed on in Ireland, renewing the Scottish population.

It is estimated that in all, as many as 200,000 Scots crossed the North Channel throughout the 17th century, though not all remained or survived. Exact figures vary greatly; however we know that Scottish presence throughout the time of the Restoration was substantial. Sir William Petty estimated the Scottish population to be around 100,000 in 1672, and that number continued to grow significantly until around 1715.

Finding Ancestors using Passenger Lists

In your hunt for elusive information, one brilliant resource that you have at your disposal is passenger lists. The excitement of finding your ancestor on a list of ship passengers brings an absolute thrill and can fill in details that were previously cloudy. provides a wealth of information online. Their BT27 records are an invaluable resource with 24 million passengers accounted for on 164,000 passenger lists. This incredible resource was previously only available for viewing at the public search room in Kew; however, thanks to a dedicated data capture team, researchers around the world now have 24/7 access to these records – and never have to leave the comfort of their home!

Happy Canada Day
Happy Canada Day (Photo credit: Anirudh Koul)

Who can be found on the passenger lists?

The passenger lists primarily document mass migrations prior to WWI, when nearly all travel was via ships. A huge number of British citizens moved abroad between 1890 and 1914, with an estimated 125,000 moving to the USA, 50,000 to Canada, and 25,000 to Australia each year in that period. After WWI, emigration was increasingly controlled, and though it continued, destinations shifted somewhat. Australia, for example, became a very popular destination.

The majority of passengers on the lists are, of course, British emigrants; however, many European trans-migrants are also included. During this time, trans-migration was hugely popular due to the cheap package deals made available by railroad and steamer companies. Many on the lists began their journeys in continental Europe, and only stopped in Britain on their way to their final destination.

Of course, scattered among the immigrants are a substantial number of business and leisure travelers. Businessmen, civil servants and diplomats often had cause to travel frequently, thus their names may appear often. Wealthier families traveled abroad on pleasure cruises or to visit family. Researchers will often find the names of these travelers appearing multiple times throughout the various records – one time for each journey.

Where were travelers headed?

The passenger lists on provide records of long-haul voyages. You’ll find coverage of voyages to all continents, including Asia, South America, West Africa, and the Caribbean. The most prominently featured destinations include Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

The lists document voyages setting out from all British ports, including those in Wales and Scotland, as well as those from Irish ports before partition in 1921. After 1921, only the Northern Irish ports are covered in the records.

The passenger lists  also provide a record of any port calls en route, including stops in Europe. If passengers disembarked at any port along the way, the passenger lists will show a record of it.


How are the passenger lists formatted?

Unfortunately, there was no industry standard for the recording of passenger lists. Different shipping lines had their own method of recording information, as well as their own pre-printed forms (which often changed over time as well). Thus, lists vary greatly in length and size. Some are typed out neatly, while others are handwritten. Some contain a surprising amount of information on passengers, including their exact home address as well as their ultimate overseas destination. Others contain only the very basics on each passenger.

How can I find specific passengers?

The online search feature makes finding specific passengers fairly easy. In many cases, you can simply put in your available information and quickly browse the results to find what you’re looking for.

At times, however, you might be unsure of the spelling of a name. The wildcard feature helps solve this problem. For example, if you’re searching for a Howard Greene and are unsure of the spelling, put in Howard Gr*, and you’ll get a list of results including names like Howard Grove, Howard Grady – and Howard Greene.

Traders and Nabobs – Migration and Trade with India

In the late 18th century, the implications of colonial expansion were being hotly debated. East India Company merchants in particular, were socially derided and criticized. These merchants, labeled “nabobs”, had amassed enormous fortunes through their business ventures in India, and effectively ruled huge territories in the name of Britain, thus increasing the trade, property and power of Great Britain. While they did serve a purpose, many looked on Britons of the East India Company as corrupt criminals at the worst, or vulgar nouveaux riches at best.

East India House in Leadenhall Street was the ...
East India House in Leadenhall Street was the London headquarters of the East India Company. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

British society saw them as despotic and given to decadence and “oriental vices”. This is partly due to the fact that European women were scarce in India until around 1837, so many of the traders took Indian wives or mistresses. Polite society at home looked on this as succumbing to the temptations of the exotic and largely unknown India.

After the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the East India Company transformed from a private trading enterprise into more of a ruling bureaucracy in India – with merchants acting as rulers or “princes” over the Indian territories. Seeing as the merchants of the EIC rarely stood higher than middle class, the elite in Britain were made increasingly uneasy about these nabobs ruling such a rich and populous resource. The Britons back home assumed that the nabobs would simply ransack the treasures of India for their own enrichment – to the detriment of the nation at large.

Toward the end of the 18th century, the nabobs were typically looked on as common criminals. For example, the anonymous satirical poem The Nabob or the Asiatic Plunderer depicts the Anglo-Indians as cruel and indifferent to the suffering of the native Indians. Some like Edmund Burke even passionately fought to defend Britain from the “vices” brought back by the nabobs from the east. He argued that the nabobs’ sole intent was to plunder, oppress and destroy India, and pressed for reform of the EIC.

Eventually, governor Lord Cornwallis and his successors did reform the way business was conducted and put much focus on overcoming nepotism and bribery among the nabobs in India. Britain also began to see the treasures of India as a way to relieve mounting British debts.

Slowly, Britain began to look on India less and less as the victim and more as a seducer and corrupter of British subjects. During the last part of the 18th century, this became ever more the sentiment toward India. Britain became convinced that India needed a “civilizing mission”, giving rise to the overwhelming notion of European superiority.

While the nabobs were no longer looked on as purely criminal, they were still considered “corrupted” by India. This caused ongoing negative sentiments toward them. The nabobs were left walking a very fine line of trying to fit into British society by masking their Indian connections while still holding on to that part of their lives. After all, many had Indian wives or mistresses and children – in fact, quite a significant Anglo-Indian community had formed.

English: Dutch East India Company Merchant Ship
English: Dutch East India Company Merchant Ship (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After living life as princes in India, some traders returned to England, hoping to expand (or at least maintain) the miniature empires they had built. While they had gained great wealth, the traders had little to no social standing in England, and they hoped to improve that as well. To their surprise, their welcome home was far from warm – in fact, the public reaction was near hostile. They were branded with extremely negative stereotypes and smeared in popular media.

The nabobs were also looked down upon for their “decadence” and “oriental tastes”. Diamonds, precious stones, gold and certain fabrics were heavily connected to the picture of the “wickedness” of the orient. Possessing these items was considered a serious lack of decorum. The nabobinas (women of the merchants) were typically condemned for their similar tastes for these luxuries.

Unfortunately, most nabobs often fared poorly financially in the end. Though some tried to live lives as country gentlemen, they were looked on as presumptuous by the ruling class. Some quickly lost their fortunes to gambling and other vices, while others like Warren Hastings even faced confiscation, disgrace and impeachment.


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