Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Derry as an Emigration Port

From the early 1700s, in the age of the sailing ships, to the onset of the Second World War in 1939, when the last transatlantic steamer sailed from the port, Londonderry was one of the principal emigration ports in Ireland.

Derry port possessed an ideal situation. She stood at the head of a virtually land-locked Lough Foyle, 24 miles long and only 2 miles wide at its head. The Lough was sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds by the Inishowen peninsula, thus making it, in the age of sail, a harbour of refuge, accessible and safe in all weathers.
Owing to her westerly situation Derry was seen as being halfway between London and the American colonies; a Derry ship “is no sooner out of the river, but she is immediately in the open sea and has but one course”.
In the period 1837 to 1845 the British Government fitted out ships to take selected emigrants from Irish ports such as Belfast, Cork, Derry and Limerick to New South Wales, Australia. Eligible emigrants and, in particular, “married agriculturists, not exceeding a certain age, with their wives and families” were given a free passage.  
Sketch of Derry by artist J. Nixon just prior 1790. Note St. Columb’s Cathedral on the hill and houses running down to river's edge. 

The port would have looked little different in 1838.  1837 and 1838 three ships provided by the government - Adam Lodge, Parland and Susan – sailed direct from Derry for New South Wales with, in total, nearly 1,000 emigrants. Emigrants sailing from Derry were selected, at the Custom House, by Dr James Hall, the government selection officer, with the selection process being “confined to a certain distance into the Counties of Derry, Tyrone and Donegal, it having been found inconvenient bringing people from remote parts”. 
A barque similar to the Susan
As I said in a previous blog - From Derry to New South Wales - Hugh Connor & family were aboard the Susan and his daughter Martha with her husband John Miller and her son John were aboard the Parland.
From the passenger list of the Susan, there were all religious denominations - Wesleyan, Methodist, Baptist, Protestant, Church of Ireland and a few Roman Catholics. Most of the emigrants on the Susan were Protestants. Dissenting Protestants, i.e. Presbyterians and others not of the established Church were now being treated as second class subjects and debarred from civic and public life in Ulster along with the Catholics.
SRNSW: Assisted Immigrants Passenger Lists - Susan 1839
The ship's surgeon, Charles Kennedy, kept a log of the voyage which gives us a picture of conditions on board the Susan. He remarked in his log that, 'On the ship leaving Londonderry the weather was very stormy for twelve days, during that time the emigrants in general suffered very much from seasickness.'
For the emigrant Connor family's experience at this time, we can look through the eyes of another arrival on the Letitia also in 1939, who wrote:

The entrance to Port Jackson is grand in the extreme. The high, dark cliffs we had been coasting along all morning, suddenly terminate in an abrupt precipice, called the South Head, on which stand the lighthouse and signal station. The North Head is a similar cliff, a bare bluff promontory of dark horizontal rocks; and between these grand stupendous pillars, as though a colossal gale, we entered Port Jackson ... Near the North Head is the quarantine ground, off which one unlucky vessel was moored when we passed.
Mrs Charles Meredith. Notes & Sketches of New South Wales during residence in the colony from 1839 to 1844. Sydney, Ure Smith, 1973
Maybe the earlier Susan, with suspected whooping cough, was moored there for a time before proceeding to a berth at Circular Quay.
Early look ... the North Head of Sydney Harbour painted by J. Lycett and published in Views in Australia (1824). Thomas Nelson Reprint, 1971.

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