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Sam Plank update 35: June 2021

Across the seas: transportation and emigration

Without giving anything away, emigration in the late 1820s has been on my mind.  Those who have read “Faith, Hope and Trickery” will know that someone ends up high-tailing it to Australia, and when I was writing that I was in two minds about the destination.  Australia is useful shorthand, because everyone knows that there was sustained emigration to Australia in the nineteenth century – some voluntary, much forced – but actually from 1815 to 1850 Canada was the primary destination of English emigrants.  So what was the difference?

At the end of the eighteenth century, British prisons were becoming – even by the low standards of the day – uncomfortably full.  The plan was hatched to transport prisoners to Australia, and what is known as the First Fleet (of eleven ships and about 1,350 people) set sail in 1787.  They landed at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788, and the new colony was formally proclaimed as the Colony of New South Wales on 7 February 1788.  Further ships arrived, carrying more convicts as well as free settlers.  Free settlement grew rapidly from about 1815, with people attracted by the prospect of making a new life on virtually free land – back home in Britain, there was a post-war depression, widespread famine and massive unemployment (as a result of industrialisation and changing farming practices).  As you can imagine, tension sometimes arose between a British desire to get rid of paupers and drunks and the colonists' desire for respectable and useful labourers.  Free settlers in Sydney became more and more uneasy about their criminal neighbours and managed to force a halt to transportation of convicts to Sydney in 1840 – although transportation continued to other parts of Australia until 1868.  By then, about 165,000 people had entered Australia as convicts. 
The same economic issues of depression and unemployment drove many from England, Scotland and Ireland to try their luck in Canada, with over 650,000 British people finding their way there.  Military settlers and Loyalists (Americans who were loyal to the Crown during the American Revolution and found themselves on the losing side, but still wanting to remain connected to Britain) account for nearly 200,000 of those.  Unfortunately for historians, transportation to penal colonies like Australia is much better recorded than voluntary emigrations.  Passenger lists for those emigrating to Canada are rare before 1865.  And so, in trying to find a suitable vessel for someone who may or may not set sail for Canada in “Plank 7” (I have yet to decide…) I am turning to a wonderful website called TheShipsList (  This fabulous resource offers “ships’ passenger lists… immigration reports, newspaper records, shipwreck information, ship pictures, ship descriptions, shipping-line fleet lists and more”.  I’m not sure it’s been updated since April 2015, but as I’m looking for information from nearly two centuries before then, I’m not that bothered.
A poster offering free emigration to Van Diemen’s Land - often bounty schemes targeted specific groups, such as unmarried women, mechanics and their families, Irish domestics, or Chelsea (military) pensioners who exchanged their pensions for free travel and a small land grant
This British cartoon titled "The Emigrant's Welcome to Canada" is poking fun at ill-equipped emigrants who know nothing about Canada before setting sail
This advert appeared in the "Norfolk Chronicle" in April 1832, advertising passages to Canada
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