Tag: England

From Shanghai to Chinatown

In 1865, Alfred and Philip Holt founded the Blue Funnel Line and established the first direct steamship service between Europe and China. Prior to 1861, the London census showed a mere 78 Chinese-born residents in the entire city. This new steamship line would change all that.

English: Stenton (ship) Blue Funnel Line.
Stenton (ship) Blue Funnel Line. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Blue Funnel Line quickly built up its reputation thanks to its high quality service, management and crews. Much of the staff was hired from England, Scotland and Wales; however, a large percentage of the crew was made up of Chinese sailors. By using Chinese crews, the Blue Funnel Line was able to cheaply staff their liners, as the Chinese workers were paid a mere fraction of the salary earned by the European seamen.

The first major influx of Chinese immigrants arrived in 1866. Quite a number of Chinese sailors arrived in Liverpool and decided to stay on rather than return with the ships. The sailors settled in near the docks in Cleveland Square, and the beginning of Europe’s oldest “Chinatown” was born.

The Holt Shipping Company established a series of boarding houses in the area to accommodate their workers, as many Chinese immigrants signed on for temporary service with the ultimate goal of settling in England. Numbers rose steadily, and by 1871 – a mere six years later – there were over 200 Chinese living in Liverpool.

A strong Chinese community naturally grew up in the area, as Chinese immigrants settled in and opened their own businesses. The resident Chinese ran a bustling trade, catering to their own countrymen who arrived unaccustomed to the English language and traditions. Chinese-run boarding houses, restaurants, laundries, and stores opened practically overnight, offering familiar comforts to new immigrants and visiting seamen.

Many of the Chinese men who settled in Liverpool ended up marrying local women. In fact, the Chinese seamen were often seen as better prospects for marriage (than their British counterparts) as they didn’t drink and were typically hard workers and good providers.

English: Liverpool Chinese Gospel Church, Chin...
Liverpool Chinese Gospel Church, Chinatown, Liverpool, England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a further expansion of Chinese influence both in Liverpool and throughout England. The Chinese settlement in Liverpool gradually spread further inland, stretching along side streets such as Kent Street, Greetham Street and Cornwallis Street. Dozens of Chinese restaurants were established, as were quite a number of gambling houses which catered to visiting Chinese seamen.

London was seeing a similarly expanding Chinese population, with two distinct communities established in the East End. The 1891 census recorded 582 Chinese-born residents in London, and a full 80% were men (mostly settled sailors).  By 1911, approximately 1,319 Chinese-born residents were living in England, and another 4,595 were serving in the British Merchant Navy.

The extension of the Alien Registration Act in 1919 brought a decline in the Chinese population; however, this provided the resident Chinese to further establish themselves and improve working conditions. Hundreds of Chinese laundries were established across the country, along with dozens of restaurants and even the first Chinese school.

World War II provided work for thousands of Chinese seamen, who were recruited to serve aboard British ships. At the end of the war, however, the Blue Funnel Line fired all of its Chinese employees – as did most other shipping lines – and thousands of Chinese seamen were forcibly repatriated. Many left behind wives and children, as they were never able to return to England.

Immigrants Made Good – Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad is regarded as one of England’s great novelists. However, while he wrote in English, became a British national, and even took an Anglicized pen name, Joseph Conrad was always a Pole at heart.

English: Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Conrad was born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in Berdyczew, Poland, on December 3rd, 1857. He was the son of Appollonius Korzeniowski and Ewa Korzeniowski, a Roman Catholic couple who were part of the szlachta, the land-owning gentry-nobility.

It’s quite likely that Joseph learned his love of literature from his father, who was a writer and translator of the works of William Shakespeare. Appollonius was also heavily involved in underground resistance to the Russian authorities. Under the guise of starting a cultural periodical, Appollonius moved his family to Warsaw where he formed the clandestine “Committee of the Movement”. He was imprisoned just days later.

The little family was exiled to Vologda in Northern Russia, and placed under strict police supervision. When both Ewa and Appollonius fell gravely ill, they were allowed to move to the Ukraine. There, Ewa succumbed to tuberculosis. Appollonius and young Joseph were allowed to return to Poland; however, Appollonius soon passed away as well, leaving Joseph with his uncle.

Like his parents, Joseph was often sickly, and he rarely attended public schools. His father had educated him well, however, and upon his return to Poland, Joseph was tutored at home until he passed his formal exams.

In hopes of improving his health, Joseph was sent to Southern France in 1874. Here he began a maritime career with the French merchant fleet. He had always dreamed of going to sea, and for the next twenty years, he devoted his life to a career as a ship officer’s.

In 1878, he visited England for the first time. He spent some time working on various English ships before officially beginning his career as an officer in the British merchant marines. His voyages took him around the world, not only allowing him to rise rapidly through the ranks from third mate to master, but also providing him with the background for many of the books he would soon write.

While it wasn’t his original intention to remain in England, Joseph chose to become a British citizen in 1886. He soon received command of his first ship, which took him to many ports in Africa and the East.

As he entered the 1890s, Joseph began to consider writing novels based on his experiences abroad. He began work on his novel Almayer’s Folly, and by 1894, Joseph fully retired from the merchant marines, intent on finishing the book.

Rudyard Kipling
Cover of Rudyard Kipling

Almayer’s Folly was published in 1895, and received such favorable reviews that Joseph decided to begin a new career as a writer. He met Jessie George, an Englishwoman, and they were married in 1896. They settled in Kent and had two sons.

Joseph Conrad soon became a prominent name in the world of literature, and he was befriended by a crowd of English and American writers. John Galsworthy was the first, and a significant influence on Almayer’s Folly. Conrad went on to befriend such literary greats as Henry James, Rudyard Kipling and Stephen Crane.

Before his death on August 3rd, 1924, Joseph Conrad would write a full 20 novels along with dozens of short stories and a number of essays. A large number of his works have since been adapted for film and opera. He was buried at Canterbury, England.

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:  http://chignecto.tribalpages.com/ .  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.



Immigrants Made Good – Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm

The name Joseph Boehm may or may not be familiar to you, but it’s quite likely that you see his work on a daily basis. This prolific medallist and sculptor is responsible for the Jubilee head of Queen Victoria that you may see emblazoned on the 1887 Jubilee coinage.  Further works are scattered in gardens, parks and museums throughout England.

British sculptor, Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, with...
British sculptor, Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, with Princess Louise, the sixth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, in about 1885. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joseph was born in Vienna on July 6th of 1834. Sculpting and metal-work must have been in his blood, as his Hungarian father was director of Vienna’s imperial mint. Joseph had an early interest in the art form and spent a number of years studying plastic art in Italy and Paris before returning to work as a medallist in Vienna. In 1856, he launched into a full time career by winning the Austrian Imperial Prize for Sculpture.

He moved to England in the early 1860s and began furthering his studies in sculpture. His career skyrocketed in 1862 when he exhibited his work at the 1862 International Exhibition. Owing largely to his success at this exhibition, Joseph decided to leave aside his work with coins and medals and to focus his creative energies primarily on sculpting portrait busts and statuettes.

In 1866, Joseph Boehm became a naturalized British citizen. His works continued to gain notoriety across Britain, and the royal court began to take notice. Some of his first works for the royal court include an enormous marble statue of Queen Victoria for Windsor Castle (completed in 1869) and a monument of the Duke of Kent in St. George’s Chapel.

His star continued to rise, and he was made an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1878. In 1881, he was named sculptor in ordinary, and by 1882, he was elected to the Royal Academy.

Photograph of old bronze statue, of famous wri...
Bronze statue, of famous writer preacher and killjoy, John Bunyan, at the end of Bedford High Street. Statue was given to the lucky people of Bedford, England by the Duke of Bedford in 1874. The sculptor was Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm (1834 – 1890). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1887, he was called upon to design a new effigy of Queen Victoria to be emblazoned on coins in commemoration of the Queen’s 50th year on the throne. Unfortunately, his design received harsh criticism from his artistic peers as well as from the public. Despite his painstaking work, numerous drafts and dozens of tweaks, the final product was the brunt of considerable mockery – particularly due to the “absurdly small crown” that perched on the Queen’s head. The design was eventually replaced in 1893.

Nonetheless, this snafu did little to hurt Joseph Boehm’s career. He continued his work as a prominent sculptor, commissioned by numerous members of Britain’s aristocracy. In 1889, he was granted the baronetcy of Wetherby Gardens in the Parish of St. Mary Abbots, Kensington, in the County of London.

Joseph went on to produce a great number of commissioned works for the Royal Family and members of the aristocracy. His sculpture of St. George and the Dragon can still be seen outside the State Library of Victoria, while his equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington stands today at Hyde Park Corner.

A number of his more notable works also include a sculpture of Francis Drake, a memorial of General Charles George Gordon at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and a large sculpture of the stallion King Tom, which was created for Baron de Rothschild.

While he had an English wife and four children, there were rumours that Boehm was engaged in a romantic relationship with one of his pupils, Princess Louise, a daughter of Queen Victoria. Princess Louise was present at his house when Boehm passed away suddenly on December 12th, 1890 complementing the speculation.

Escaping the Guillotine: French émigrés from Revolutionary France

"The Storming of the Bastille", Visi...
“The Storming of the Bastille”, Visible in the center is the arrest of Bernard René Jourdan, marquis de Launay (1740-1789), (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the years following the French Revolution of 1789, a large number of Frenchmen fled France and took refuge abroad. Nearly one percent of the French population abruptly left France, including many members of the royal family and the French aristocracy, as well as priests, clergymen and others who had lost lands and privileges during the great uprisings.

While a large number of these émigrés gathered in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and in the United States, a significant number – particularly those from Normandy and north western France – found a safe haven in Great Britain. Though the British had nothing to gain politically from helping the Catholic French, Britain was, in fact, the only European nation to reach out to the émigrés with financial assistance.

The French refugees found an established French-speaking community in England where the Huguenots had previously settled. Some made their homes in Richmond, Surrey, though the largest community of émigrés settled in London, where they found a strong social structure and an active political lobby. In 1796, England’s Alien’s Act was renewed, and all émigrés were moved inland from the coasts and Channel Island.

By 1801, London’s West End and the Parish of St. Marylebone were populated with a substantial number of French political refugees. Aside from the 4,000 or so lay French Catholics, the area was home to some 5,600 priests and clergymen as well.

Other French communities thrived in London as well. Some settled in Soho where the Huguenots had established a French community. Others made their homes along Tottenham Court Road, Thames Street, Aldgate, Cripplegate, Temple Bar, Bishopsgate, and Shoreditch. Others still settled in Somers Town near Old Pancras Church, which was a predominantly Catholic area and the traditional burial grounds for English Catholics.

King Louis Philippe
King Louis Philippe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, many members of the royal family and the aristocracy found a comfortable home in England as well. The comte d’Artois, the brother of Louis XVI, who would later become King Charles X spent the majority of the Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic years in England. Louis-Philippe, the duc d’Orleans (who would later become King Louis-Philippe) also took refuge in England after spending a number of years in Scandinavia and the United States.

A few émigrés were lucky enough to have English relatives who welcomed them into their homes. These were typically Stuart supporters who had followed James II to France. Many Walshes and Dillons, as well as the Duc and Duchesse de FitzJames numbered among the émigrés who fled to England at this time.

A large number of émigrés were not so lucky, unfortunately. The poorest settled in St. George’s Fields, Southwark, and many fell ill and died. Though a significant number suffered gravely during this time, this fact is often overlooked due to the fact that the more prominent émigrés were wealthy members of the church or aristocracy. Some prominent Britons like the Duchess of York and John Eardley Wilmot worked tirelessly to raise awareness. Through their efforts, they provided a measure of relief for the suffering émigré population.

Many working class émigrés were industrious, however, and established themselves fairly quickly. Some offered lessons in French, dancing, fencing, and chess. Others became tailors, seamstresses and hatmakers. Some opened boarding houses and restaurants. A number found work with the Post Office which gave them safe access to France where they were able to gather information.

The émigrés left a mark on England in more ways than one. Chapels, hospitals and schools were constructed by these industrious immigrants – many of which still remain today. St. Cross in Dudley Court, Soho Square, was the first built, followed by others in Somers Town, St. George’s Fields, Tottenham, and St. Mareylebone.

Fur Traders in Canada: The Hudson’s Bay Company

Pierre-Esprit Radisson Source: National Archiv...
Pierre-Esprit Radisson Source: National Archives of Canada, Canadiana Collection / C-015497 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Throughout the 17th century, the Canadian fur trade was fully controlled by the French. When two French traders, Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Medard de Groseilliers, found that the Hudson’s Bay area was rich with furs, they approached the French government with the idea of setting up a trading post on the Bay. The French Secretary of State was uninterested in backing the scheme, as he opposed exploration and trapping and was trying instead to promote farming in the colonies.

Radisson and des Groseilliers were undaunted, and instead approached a group of Massachusetts businessmen with their plans. The businessmen immediate saw the potential and in turn, brought the two Frenchmen to England to raise financing for the venture.

In 1668, two ships were commissioned for exploration and trade in Hudson’s Bay. One ship was forced to return home off the coast of Ireland, but the Nonsuch continued on to a successful trading expedition throughout the winter of 1668-1669.

When the ship returned to England with its bounty of furs, a number of wealthy English merchants were fully ready to participate in the venture. They formed the Hudson’s Bay Company, and in 1670, the King of England granted them a complete monopoly over the fur trade throughout the lands surrounding Hudson Bay. The fact that those lands did not belong to the crown seemed of little consequence.

The Company proceeded to build strategic trading forts along Hudson’s Bay, securing key points at the mouths of rivers. These key ports were valuable not only because they provided access to some of the richest fur country, but the deep-water ports gave Britain a distinct advantage over the French as well.  French fur traders had no nearby forts, so they were forced to paddle long distances to reach their sale points in the interior. The British could simply sail their ships straight into the Bay where they could unload their trade goods and load up on furs to bring home.

Business was hugely profitable until the late 1740s, as the HBC held a tight monopoly on the fur trade in the region. Naturally, the Company needed hundreds of employees as traders were required for expeditions deep into the Canadian interior. Most of these employees were brought from England and Scotland as indentured servants. Many of these men married native women, and while company policy forbade such unions initially, they soon allowed it and a distinct ethnic group – the Metis – was formed.

Hudson’s Bay Company Logo
Hudson’s Bay Company Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 1750s saw the fur trade slow considerably due to the Seven Years War between France and England. When Britain won the war, they took full control of New France and the fur trade. While this should have spelled prosperity for the HBC, competition began to spring up. The North West Company was formed in 1783, spurring fierce competition. No longer could the HBC sit back and wait for the furs to arrive – both companies launched out toward the west to find new sources of fur. Eventually the feud came to an end when the British Government pressed the two companies into a merger.

As Canada received more and more settlers, the fur trade went into decline. Since it was soon unrealistic for the HBC to administrate the huge region, the British government negotiated a settlement, transferring the company’s lands to the dominion of Canada. The HBC received a hefty payment and a substantial land grant in payment; however, the company soon diversified its interests. They invested in real estate, marketing and other ventures, and due to their wise investments, the company exists to this day as one of the largest private companies in Canada.

Immigrants Made Good – Sir John Reeves Ellerman

john ellerman
Father and son in the 1920s Photo Credit  -Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Although Sir John Ellerman was not technically an immigrant, his father immigrated to England from Hamburg in 1850 – shortly before John’s birth. He was the only son of Johann Hermann Ellermann, a German corn merchant and shipbroker who served as Hanover’s honorary consul in Hull. The Ellermann family quickly Anglicized their surname by dropping the second ‘n’, instead going by the name “Ellerman”.

John was born in Kingston upon Hull in 1862 to a German father and an English mother. His father died when John was just nine years old, leaving the family an estate of just £600; however, this early tragedy didn’t prevent him from going on to great success in life. He was, in fact, one of the very most successful entrepreneurs in all of British history – though few even know his name.

Though he hardly got along with his mother, she ensured that the young John received a good education. He spent a number of his childhood years in France before attending the King Edward VI School in Birmingham. When he turned 14, he found employment as an accountant which gave him a measure of freedom from his mother and allowed him to live independently.

Once he was fully certified as an accountant, he moved to England to seek his fortune. He was immediately offered a partnership in one of the leading British firms, but he turned it down, choosing instead to found his own practice, J. Ellerman & Co.

He was well ahead of his time, as one of the very first British businessmen with actual certification in accountancy. He put that training to good use, applying modern accounting practices to find floundering companies fit for takeover. He began buying up established businesses, choosing those that offered valuable products but were failing due to poor management. Under his oversight, these once-floundering businesses began to flourish. His first investment, the Brewery and Commercial Investment Trust, appreciated by 1300% in the first nine years of his management.

35029 - 'Ellerman Lines'. Sectioned to show in...
‘Ellerman Lines’. Sectioned to show internal workings of a steam locomotive. NRM, York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Few could have called Ellerman an innovator; however, his cautious investments and brilliant management paid off and assets rarely failed to flourish under his hand. In 1892, he launched into shipping, the industry that would truly make his fortune. He bought the Leyland Line in 1892 and sold it just nine years later to J.P. Morgan for £1.2 million. He immediately invested that capital into other shipping lines, and by 1917, Ellerman Lines owned 1.5 million tons of shipping.

He continued to invest in other interests as well. By 1918, Ellerman held stock in some 70 breweries, and several newspapers including the Financial Times, the Daily Mail, The Times, the Illustrated London News, and others. He launched into the coal industry, and by 1920 he held stake in over 22 mining interests. After WWI, many British aristocrats began selling off slices of their vast estates. Ellerman had cash to burn and he soon became a major landowner in London.

Despite his enormous financial success, Ellerman was an intensely private person. He lived quietly, and though he was made a baronet in 1905, he avoided further honours, choosing instead to live unostentatiously. He was very likely the richest man in England at the time, though his quiet lifestyle left journalists guessing. When he passed away in 1933, his estate was assessed at over £36 million.


The “Ten Pound” Pom

Orient Liner
Orient Liner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shortly after World War II, one of the largest planned mass migrations of the 20th century began. Britain was a fairly depressing place at the time, plagued by housing shortages and post-war rationing. Australia, on the other hand, had more land than they could handle, and a burgeoning economy to boot.

Australia was desperate for new immigrants to populate its shores; however its racist “White Australia Policy” kept blacks and Asians from applying. The British government was only too happy to help populate the Commonwealth, and thus, the assisted migration scheme came into being.

By the end of 1944, the British and Australian governments had begun negotiations for the planned assisted migration scheme. The government began to promote Australia as a land of glorious opportunity – a place where Britons could escape the difficulties of England and live a new, modern British lifestyle in sunny Australia.

The proposed scheme seemed nearly too good to be true to many in England. Hundreds of thousands of Britons were seduced by a fare of only £10 per adult and free passage for children. The government offered housing and great employment opportunities for all participants. In the first year alone, 400,000 Britons applied for the migration plan.

Starting in 1947, the migration began in earnest. Most migrants traveled aboard refitted troop ships, though a lucky few were able to make the voyage on luxury P&O liners that provided comfortable cabins, good food and even swimming pools.

The £10 plan didn’t come without a catch, however. As great as the deal seemed, the contract stated that migrants were required to stay in Australia for a minimum of two years or else they would be required to pay back the full fare. The risks were disregarded by most. Migrants were blinded by government propaganda films, and seduced by the idea of a stunning new life.

In reality, most had no idea what they were in for. Most Australian cities seemed little more than backwater towns to the incoming Brits. Many arrived without savings, thus, they were housed in former army barracks. The conditions seemed appalling to the immigrants, and many complained of being misled. Some didn’t even bother to get jobs, deciding instead to simply sit tight for the required two years until they could go home. The Australian media retaliated by labeling the British migrants “whinging Poms”.

Others truly did see Australia as a chance for a fresh start. Opportunity was everywhere – both for men and women – and those who tried were quickly able to find gainful employment. Some saved carefully and were able to buy their own land within the first year.

Over 1.5 million Britons took up the offer and relocated to Australia on the £10 fare. However, it’s estimated that about 250,000 of the “Ten Pound Poms” returned to England after the first few years. Oddly enough, half of the returnees eventually decided that returning had been a mistake and ended up going back to Australia after all. These became known as the “Boomerang Poms”.

English: Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gil...
Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A number of well-known personalities actually participated in this scheme. The Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is in fact one of the most famous Ten Pound Poms. She migrated with her family from Wales in 1966 in the hopes that the warmer climate would aid in the healing of her lung infection.

The Gibbs brothers – better known as the Bee Gees – moved from Manchester, England to Queensland, Australia in the late 1950s. They kicked off their music career in Australia in 1958.

Other famous Ten Pound Poms include actor Hugh Jackman, singer and actress Kylie Minogue, and English cricketers Frank Tyson and Harold Larwood.


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The Second Fleet: The Women of Australia

English: Arthur Phillip.
Arthur Phillip. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Australia had proved a valuable dumping ground for England’s overflow of convicts. In 1778, the First Fleet had launched under the command of Governor Phillip, transporting 1480 people to the Australian continent. Approximately 759 of these “First Fleeters” were convicts, including 586 males, 192 females, and 13 children. The remainder of the fleet was made up of seamen, marines, officials, and merchants.

Despite being provided with livestock and seed, the new colony struggled from the word go. Disease took its toll and food supplies dwindled. The convicts were poor farmers with little to no experience, so most crops failed and much of the livestock died off. Morale was low, the colonists were distraught, and many vented their anger on the local Aborigines.

The British Home Under-Secretary Even Nepean concluded that a colony could not be built on a population of mostly men. He decided that for the colony to succeed, it would need more than provisions – it would also need the stability of women, children and family living.

This was accomplished by rounding up a shipment of female convicts to be sent off to Australia. At first, the British government had a difficult time finding sufficient women, so they quickly resorted to imposing much harsher punishments on women convicted of crimes. While only the most hardened male offenders were sentenced to the Colonies, women could be sent for even fairly minor crimes, provided they were under 45 years of age and in good health.

English: The Lady Juliana in tow of the Pallas...
The Lady Juliana in tow of the Pallas Frigate. The Sailors Fishing the main Mast which was shatter’d by Lightning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thus, the Second Fleet set out for Sydney, the first ship being the Lady Juliana, carrying 225 female prostitutes, thieves and con artists. The Lady Juliana set sail from England in July 1789, and charted a leisurely course through the Canary Islands, on to Cape Verde, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town before finally arriving at Sydney Cove. Though the Lady Juliana left England months before the rest of the fleet, its voyage lasted ten months, and the ship only arrived a few weeks before the rest of the fleet.

The Lady Juliana became something of a “floating brothel,” with both the crew and the ladies profiting from a bustling sex trade at each port of call. The women sold themselves for money or alcohol to the sailors from their own ship, as well as to men from other ships as they met at the various ports. This resulted in several women giving birth on the ship, and others soon after arriving in Australia. Some women chose instead to become “wives” of the crew members, as attaching themselves to one man would often provide them with better accommodations and rations.

When the women finally arrived, they didn’t receive quite the warm welcome they might have expected. Instead of a ship full of supplies, the colony received over 200 “damned whores” – and the colonists made their disappointment clear to the new arrivals. Fortunately, the supply ships arrived in Sydney Cove just three weeks later.

parramatta river
Cliffs on the Parramatta River, New South Wales, circa 1875 (photo credit: Museum of Victoria)

Unfortunately, the women were largely unable to escape enforced whoredom. For the first twenty years or so, all convict women were considered whores. While some certainly were depraved, others formed attachments with single men, and even marrying in some cases. The stereotype was strong though, as seen in sentiments voiced by magistrate Thomas McQueen who described the women as “the most disgusting objects that ever graced the female form.”

Nonetheless, these women became the founding mothers of Australia. Many rose above their humble beginnings and went on to achieve great things.  Ann Marsh, for example, founded the Parramatta River Boat Service which is still in use today. Mary Wade became Australia’s greatest matriarch, leaving a legacy of more than 300 descendants. Though the women of the Second Fleet were initially the dregs of Australian society, many now look on them with pride as the ones who helped lay the foundation for today’s prosperity.

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