Emigration and Immigrant Life -  Subject Cards


"The early 19th cent. saw the beginning of a great age of expansion & exploitation in the U.S. & the British colonies. In Canada there were considerable Irish settlements... & the emigration to the U.S., which began to assume substantial proportions after Waterloo, averaged between 1840 and 1845, 37,000 persons per annum. A large number of the emigrants went from the Protestant areas of the North, where in the '20s & '30s industrial depression replaced landlord oppression as a propulsive factor."

The Great Famine, p. 4-5

The repeal of the English Corn Laws (which protected Irish wheat) made grazing more profitable than tillage & the landlords & farmers decided to do away with the host of cotters & their little holdings. By 1848 the smallest cotters were practically extinct. They had constituted the bulk of the flight of 1847.

1848 - The urge to depart was accelerated by the heartless process known as "clearing." Most of those affected had not met their obligations since the autumn of '45, & when called upon the sheriff had no choice but to perform his official duty, though it was little to his liking. When families were evicted & their dwellings razed lest they move back in, it was the landlord's bailiffs & his agents who wielded the crowbars.

Despondency sank to its lowest depths in the winter of 1848-49. Continuation of disease, hunger, & unemployment seemed the lot of those who stayed in the land of their fathers, & even many of the Catholic clergy who had heretofore urged them to stay, recommended departure. From America came letters telling of plenty to eat, drink, & spend.

1849 - People neglected spring tillage to prepare for departure. The pawn-brokers got what little was left, pewter plates & dishes, brass candlesticks, & pieces of furniture. Remittances came from America for the "Emigration Fund." The great wave of departing Irishmen that reached its crest in 1852 began in 1849.

Another thing that encouraged emigration was the passage by Parliament of the Encumbered Estates Act of 1849. The landlords had such accumulated debts & unpaid taxes that it was hard for a buyer to get a clear title if they sold. This law created a special court with almost despotic powers over the transfer of land. Any arrangement the judges sanctioned wiped away all previous claims. In the next few years this court did its work. The buyers were English & Scots seeking a profitable investment. They had no sentimental attachment to the dwellers on the estate; they had no associations with the community; they did not have enough capital to tolerate tardy payments. Like the proverbial new broom they swept clean, increasing the number of evictions which the mounting emigration figures reflect.

- Marcus Hansen, The Atlantic Mig., p. 266-71