Tag: immigration
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.

Immigrants Made Good – Cornelius Vermuyden

Sir Cornelius Vermuyden was a brilliant Dutch engineer who introduced some of the very first land reclamation methods to England. He was one of the most talented Dutch waterway and drainage engineers and made groundbreaking attempts to drain The Fens of East Anglia. Through his work he reclaimed many tens of thousands of acres for new development.

Tranquility - The Ouse Washes at Sutton Gault ...
Tranquility – The Ouse Washes at Sutton Gault (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cornelius was born in 1595 on the Isle of Tholen in the Netherlands. He was the son of Giles Vermuyden and Sarah Werkendet. As a young man, he completed his training in the Netherlands before briefly working in England on embankments in the Thames Estuary. He spent time repairing a sea wall at Dagenham and then moved on to Essex where he worked on reclaiming Canvey Island in a venture financed Dutch haberdasher Joas Croppenburg.

Through these various ventures and some subsequent work at Windsor, Cornelius caught the attention of King Charles I. The English King commissioned him with the task of draining Hatfield Chase in the Isle of Axholme, Lincolnshire. The King owned a number of manors in the region, and offered Vermuyden one third of the drained land as payment for his work. In order to finance the venture, Vermuyden sold shares to his land, bringing in a number of Dutch, French and Walloon investors.

As the King also intended to enclose a full third of the common fen for his personal use, the local population was left with a mere third. Locals were enraged, and though they didn’t particularly care about the drainage attempts, they were unhappy about losing much of the common land. They made their displeasure apparent by attacking the Dutch workers. In 1630, an agreement was finally reached, the Fenmen were compensated for their losses, and work proceeded.  The project was completed in 1637, though other engineers objected that the system was inadequate for proper drainage.

Nonetheless, Vermuyden was knighted for his efforts and he became a full-fledged British citizen.

He soon became involved with lead mining ventures in Derbyshire, and with an effort to make the county’s River Derwent navigable. In the 1650s Vermuyden got involved in the efforts to drain the Great Fen in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. The marshland was inadequately drained by a mess of poorly maintained rivers. Attempts had been made to solve the problem, but the work did not really begin in earnest until Vermuyden got involved. He proposed two innovative solutions: washes to catch floodwater in bad weather, and a catch drain around the eastern edge of the fen. The first solution was completed in the 1650s; however, the second phase was not put in place until the 20th century.

When the Civil War broke out in the 1640s, much of Vermuyden’s work was destroyed. Parliament ordered the dykes broken in order to flood the land and stop the Royalist advance. Once the war was over, Vermuyden was commissioned to reclaim the Bedford Level. Over 40,000 acres were drained and the New Bedford River was flowing.

Cornelius Vermuyden passed away on October 11, 1677.

The Diversity at Tiger Bay

Few places in Britain show such cultural diversity as Cardiff’s Tiger Bay. The region is a veritable potpourri of colours, creeds and nationalities – and it has been so for many years now.

English: Immigrant Statues, Cardiff Bay A bron...
Immigrant Statues, Cardiff Bay A bronze of an immigrant couple symbolising the arrival of many to Tiger Bay seeking a better life in Britain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Welsh capital served as one of the great global coal producers. Naturally, this industrial boom was something of a beacon for immigrants, who found work aboard ships and on the docks.

Immigrants poured in from the Middle East, Africa, Greece, Spain, Portugal, the Caribbean, and China. Norwegians, Italians and Irish soon joined the mix. They began to settle in around Cardiff Docks and Butetown in the early 1900s, bringing with them their own unique cultural heritages and traditions. By the 1950s, the mile long stretch of dockland commonly known as Tiger Bay (incorporating Butetown and Cardiff Docks) could boast some 57 nationalities and over 50 languages scattered throughout its 10,000 inhabitants.

Rather than the intense cultural clashes that we might expect, Tiger Bay became a truly amicable melting pot where cultures blended and even mixed with existing Welsh traditions. Racial intermarriage became quite common, particularly between male immigrants and Welsh women. There was an overall attitude of tolerance, harmony and respect between cultures as the immigrants settled in and made Wales their new home. Thus, Butetown essentially became one of the UK’s very first multicultural communities.

Unfortunately, despite the pervading harmony between races, Tiger Bay soon earned a reputation as a hotbed of immorality, rife with prostitution, gambling and violence. It was considered to be a very rough and dangerous area, and in many cases it was. Merchant ships arrived from all over the world loaded with rough and rowdy seamen who only stayed long enough to unload and reload their ships.

Catering to the demand, Tiger Bay essentially became the red light district of Cardiff, offering all the comforts that the sailors demanded. The rough sailors often caused trouble before moving on, leaving murders, thefts and lesser crimes unsolved. So prevalent was this reputation of vice and immorality that the name “Tiger Bay” began to be applied to any seaside dock or neighborhood with a similar notoriety for violence and crime.

The locals, however, do look on Tiger Bay as a friendlier place – a place closer to the harmonious community described earlier. Rita Delpeche, a 69-year-old local recalls that “There was so much love here in the old days. But outside Butetown all the women were portrayed as prostitutes and the men as pimps.”

Shirley Bassey
Shirley Bassey

Despite its rough reputation, Cardiff’s Tiger Bay remains as one of the most fascinating melting pots in UK history. The rich mix of culture brought about a powerful character in its community – and much of that can still be seen today.

Tiger Bay even produced a number of celebrities. Singer Shirley Bassey was born in Tiger Bay and went on to rank among the most famous female vocalists of 20th century Britain. The rugby world can also thank Tiger Bay, as it produced league stars like Frank Whitcombe, Billy Boston and Colin Dixon.

In 1999, much of the old derelict buildings in the area were bulldozed to make way for new living spaces. Yet, though the landscape has changed, the diversity of Tiger Bay remains. Today, more than 100 years later, Butetown can still claim the highest percentage of ethnic minorities in the Welsh capital. It has become something of a haven for refugees, attracting a large number of immigrants from war-torn countries like Somalia.

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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.

Single to Wisconsin, Please!

Kingston upon Hull sits quietly at the junction of the Rivers Hull and Humber. Due to its ideal location, the port has long enjoyed a successful and lively trade with most of Northern Europe. Shipping lines not only brought significant financial revenue to the town, but also added greatly to the culture and community as migrants made their way through the port.

English: "Farewell to home." Emigran...

Prior to 1836, however, migrants flowed in at a mere trickle. Those who passed through were primarily there for commercial reasons. Some migrant ships did pass through Hull on their way to Canada or the US, though these were infrequent and the numbers negligible. The few ships that did accommodate migrants were unpleasant and the journey was a tiresome ordeal. Accommodations were cramped and voyage timings were irregular.

All of this changed in the 1840s as steamship companies in Hull, Leith, Hamburg and Gothenburg began offering regular emigrant services via the UK. The steamships dramatically shortened the time it took to travel between mainland Europe and the UK ports, and thanks to contracts with the Royal Mail postal service, steamship companies were able to offer trips all throughout the year (rather than being limited to the previously established “immigrant season”).

The Wilson Line of Hull began running steamship services from Norway and Sweden as early as 1843. The North Europe Steam Navigation Company followed in 1853, running a strong fleet of nine steamers back and forth on the Christiania and Gothenburg route. By 1858, however, the Wilson Line practically monopolized the route from Scandinavia to Hull, and brought the majority of emigrant traffic.

From the port cities, the transmigrants were taken by train to Southampton, Liverpool, Glasgow, or London. In these larger cities, the migrants boarded large transatlantic liners for the final leg of their journey to the United States. Passengers could purchase a complete travel package that covered the entire trip including the steamship to Hull, the train ticket on the Transpennine Railway Line to Liverpool, and the final ocean liner ticket that would take them to their final destination.

This brought on a boom of transmigration as folks travelled en masse from Sweden and other Northern European countries. Of course, the city of Hull was not initially prepared for such an enormous number of emigrants, thus emigrant houses and railway stations quickly became overcrowded and a serious health risk. After a cholera outbreak in 1866, the city put major preventative measures in place. Travellers were no longer allowed to roam the city on foot, but were required to remain on board the steamers until their trains were ready to depart.

In 1871, the Northeastern Railway Company built a waiting room near Paragon Railway station so that the emigrants could relax, meet ticket agents, use the washrooms and facilities and be sheltered from the wind and weather. Eventually, the majority of the emigrants were passing through the Paragon Railway Station. Though the travellers were only there for a short time, their numbers were so great that in 1881, the station doubled the size of its waiting room. Women and children were able to wait in a separate room, and sanitary facilities were expanded and improved to meet the greater demand.

At times, so many emigrants were arriving that up to 17 carriages would be hooked up to a single steam engine. Passengers would cram into the forward carriages, while their baggage was piled high in the rear four cabs. Trains pulled out of Hull every Monday morning to make the three to four hour trip to Liverpool.

By 1914, however, transmigration had slowed to a crawl once more. The UK’s Alien Immigration Act of 1905 had severely restricted travel, and when WWI broke out followed by the passing of immigration acts in America, mass transmigration came to an end. Over those 70-odd years, however, 5 million transmigrants flowed through the UK, with approximately 60% of them passing through the port in Hull.

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1. The research of Dr Nicholas J. Evans at the University of Hull. For further information please access the following article he has written Indirect Passage from Europe. European Transmigration via the UK, 1836-1914,  Journal for Maritime Research, Volume 3, No 1 (2001), pp. 70-84


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