Tuesday, 14 October 2014

From Derry to New South Wales -part 3 - why did they leave

For this third part of From Derry to New South Wales I thought I would further explore why they left Ireland in 1838 before 'the famine'.
Previously, I wrote about the Poor Law Act of 1834 as an attempt to address the widespread poverty and hunger in Ireland and I will attempt to put some context around what was life was like in the pre-famine years.

Under the dry and official title of The First Report from His Majesty’s Commissioners for Inquiring into the Condition of the Poorer Classes in Ireland  (1835) comes an enormous amount of opinion, reminiscence and description of life by ordinary Irish people in the early nineteenth century. 

Ireland was the subject of innumerable investigations throughout this period, due to a large extent to the growing economic and social crisis in rural Ireland after about 1820. Grain prices declined, the textile industry collapsed outside north-east Ulster (the weavers of Ennistymon are described in the report as being completely destitute) and the population continued to grow.

Beggars, County Kerry
The result was a society of massive unemployment, tiny landholdings and large-scale poverty. This poverty struck all observers at the time, and contemporary accounts are full of descriptions of poor housing, lack of clothing and enormous numbers of beggars. In the summer months in particular, before the potato harvest, tens or even hundreds of thousands of people would take to the road temporarily.

Although much of the early census data for Ireland is lost and only fragments of the pre 1901 census remain the following from the Limerick Chronicle, 29 July 1831 illustrates the poverty:

"In taking the Census in May Street, Limerick, the Enumerator reports that in one house there are 22 families, comprising 91 persons".

With the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 many small farmers, agricultural labourers and rural tradesmen in Ireland saw emigration as the only solution to their declining economic prosperity. Emigration thus acted as a 'safety valve," enabling young men and women with little economic prospects to leave Ireland.

Derry's importance as an emigration port continued to grow in the 19th century. Prior to the 1860s, and the establishment of a railway network in Ireland, the port of Derry served as the emigration port for Counties Derry, Donegal and Tyrone.

The majority of 19th century Irish Immigrants to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa departed from major British ports such as Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Plymouth and Southampton. Most emigrants from northwest Ireland to these countries would  have begun their journey on the cross-channel steamer out of Derry to either Glasgow or Liverpool.

However, and a big however, 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. Eligible emigrants, and in particular, "married agriculturists, not exceeding a certain age, with their wives and families" were given a free passage.

In 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 in to the counties of Derry, Tyrone and Donegal, it having been found to be inconvenient bringing people from remote places."

Hugh Connor Immigration record
By 1830 the total population of New South Wales was 46,000; by 1836, 64 per cent of the population was free; and by 1850, on the doorstep of the Famine itself in Ireland, the population had reached 256,500. The Irish were particularly keen to take advantage of assisted schemes and, between 1832 and 1845, 30,000 Irish had emigrated to Australia. Between 1839 and 1845, more than half of the 46,500 immigrants to New South Wales were Irish. 

The idea that the Irish were all ‘bog stupid’ - couldn't read, couldn't write and were totally destitute - is absolutely wrong. The other thing that these assisted immigrants and of course the ones that pay for themselves show is that they were not the destitute poorest of the poor. They had to have a kit of clothing to get on the boat, so they had to be able to afford some clothes. They also usually had to afford to be able to get to the port of departure. If you were from somewhere like north-west Donegal, you may have been lucky enough to sail out of somewhere like Derry or Belfast,as did the Hugh Connor family, but in the main the ships that came to Australia sailed from Cork until 1848 and after that they sailed from Plymouth or Portsmouth. So they had to be able to get across the Irish Sea.    

Thomas Falcon Marshall, Emigration – The parting day
‘Good Heaven! What sorrows gloom’d that parting day etc’ Goldsmith 1852, oil on canvas 92.0 x 153.7 cm Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, M. J. M. Carter AO Collection, 2004

No wonder when Hugh Connor & his family had the opportunity to come to Australia on a government scheme Hugh jumped at the chance. I am sure that they had no idea of what lay in store in that far off land. However, being staunch Presbyterians with a firm belief that God would protect them, they could look forward with hope of a new life. Possibly this is why Hugh Connor was noted as age 49 on the 1831 Census and 46 on his immigration papers in 1838. Obviously he needed to be under a certain age to be eligible for the government scheme, and miraculously when he died in 1870 at Clarenza, New South Wales (near Grafton) he was his correct age of 83 years.

To be continued ... what they found on arrival.

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