A New Life Far Away

on Friday, 15 July 2016. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire People

We’ve recently been enjoying the company of our Antipodean cousins visiting over the summer, here to explore back in time and research the histories of their families before emigration to the colonies. Wiltshire people have been making a new life overseas for many years and for many reasons, and I thought it was the ideal time to take a quick look at just some of them here.

Painting by Thomas Falcon Marshall, 1852 “Emigration - the parting day "Good Heaven! what sorrows gloom'd that parting day etc" courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In Australia the 19th century began with transportation to the colonies as an outlet for Britain’s prisons, and also for its asylums and workhouses, but it has been realised that these people had not made the most suitable workers for colonising and developing a country. In response an immigration policy tried to temp British people to Australia but it offered little financial support. In the early part of the 19th century, the decision to emigrate was either made for someone due to forced transportation, or it was a last resort, ‘the only escape from an intolerable situation’. As the years passed and communities became better established, the decision had more likely become one of a way to a better life with fewer worries over poverty. The British government had a policy of offering no financial aid except for some occasions of assisting the parish poor, and it meant the colonies were free to choose their potential emigrees. The British government were discussing a state aided scheme in both 1870 and 1886 but at least one province, Queensland, were adamant against losing control of their choice of settler. Private organisations also tried to set up schemes with little success and those who were trying to settle aided by guardians of the poor or public charities were also often refused at this time. By the end of the 19th century, the ‘quality’ of emigrants had much improved.

Counterfoil of a ticket from Malmesbury to Canada, 1900, Ref: WSA 386/1

In the first part of the 19th century migration to America was from farmers; the Swing Riots of 1830 and fear of mechanisation may have affected this trend. It was during this period more than any other which saw the movement of people with other members of their families. The late 1820s had already seen a short-term rise in the number of workers from industry such as textile workers emigrating to America during the depression in the cotton industry. The majority of those emigrating at this time appear to have enough assets to sell to help them on their way, and for many it was not economic hardship, but a sense of concern over the changing economy and worries over their children’s standing and position in that society which affected their choices.

Government handbook for British Emigrants to Canada, 1923. Ref: WSA BB/5

At a meeting at the Vestry Rooms at Whiteparish on 19th February 1836 the Overseers of the Poor resolved that “... the sum of not exceeding three hundred pounds be forthwith borrowed by the Churchwarden and Overseers, as a fund for emigration of poor persons having settlements in this parish and being willing to emigrate or be paid out of or (charged upon) the rates raised or to be raised for the relief of the poor...”

Extract from the Whiteparish Overseers’ Meeting, 1836 Ref: WSA 830/32

As you can see, parishes had to secure money to enable emigration to take place, as the bond below for the parish of Longbridge Deverill shows. The signatories include the Churchwarden and other members of the Vestry. The fund paid the expenses to enable Edward Hiscock and his wife to travel to America in April 1835. As can perhaps be expected, émigrés boarded vessels from Bristol, but I was also surprised to find that some were sent to London initially, and I found lists of claims for clothing and transport costs.

bond, with four receipts, to secure the repayment of a loan put up by John Neate and raised to assist emigration, 1831 WSA 1020/110

Papers relating to the emigration of parish paupers WSA 1020/110

Britain bucked the European trend when it came to emigration in the latter part of the 19th century when in most cases industrialisation reduced the rate of emigration. Gross rates of emigration from Great Britain, 1861-1910 exceeded those of Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, France and the Netherlands with only Sweden, Norway and Ireland above them during the 1880s. In the late 1880s miners and buildings trades workers formed a large part of those emigrating to America in response to the boom industry there, although farm workers were still emigrating too, often having been drawn into British towns initially. As the American building trade slumped in the 1890s and new mines opened in South Africa, many travelled there too. Canada became a popular destination in the 1920s due to the depression and my grandfather from Bromham, like many others, travelled to a new country in search of work. He returned home a few years later, but many stayed on and made their destination their lifelong home.

Julie Davis

Community History Advisor

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