Emigration from Liverpool - 1850

We now proceed to detail the process of emigration, beginning with the arrival of the emigrants at Liverpool, the great port of intercourse with the United States. 

In the annexed illustrations, our Artists have portrayed the principal incidents that occur in port—from arrival of family to their final departure from the Mersey.

Front of Steerage Passage Contract from 1854, Le Havre to New York

Front of Steerage Passage Contract from 1854, Le Havre to New York GGA Image ID # 102808387e

The first order of business for the emigrants is their Passage Contracts. If their passage has not been prepaid for them by kind friends in New York, payment for their journey is now due, and emigrants can make their best deal with the passenger-brokers.

The competition in this trade is exceedingly high, and fares are based accordingly. They often vary from day to day, and even from hour to hour, being sometimes as high as £5 per passenger in the steerage, and sometimes as low as £3 10s.

All persons contracting to convey passengers to North America are required to take out a license; and, under the new act, have also to give bonds by themselves and two sureties to the Colonial land and Emigration Commissioners, to the amount of £200.

There are at present twenty-one licensed passenger-brokers in Liverpool. The following list appears in the Liverpool Journal

  1. George Percival, representing the house of Messrs. Harden and Co.;
  2. John Wilson, representing Messrs. Pilkington and Wilson, 55, Waterloo-road;
  3. Daniel P. Mitchell, representing Messrs. Train and Co.;
  4. Josiah Thompson, representing Messrs. Grimshaw and Co., 11, Goree-piazzas;
  5. J. T. Crook, 2, Tower-chambers, Old Churchyard, and 115, Waterloo-road;
  6. George Saul, 36, Waterloo-road;
  7. J. W. Shaw, 90, Waterloo-road;
  8. Robert Dunn, 1, Cook-street;
  9. Orson Pratt, 15, Wilton-street;
  10. Thomas Elliott, 11, Waterloo-road;
  11. W. Robinson, 48, Waterloo-road;
  12. William Tapscott, Regent-road;
  13. Frederick Sabell, 28, Moorfields;
  14. Eleazar Jones, 25, Union-street;
  15. G. C. Beckett; 116, Waterloo-road;
  16. J. S. Holmes, 120, Waterloo-road;
  17. D. O'Donovan, 117, Waterloo-road;
  18. Edward Matthew Norris, 6, Regent-road;
  19. William Russel Grace, 120, Waterloo-road;
  20. Thomas Lockhart, 192, Great Howard-street;
  21. William Maume, 6, Regent-road; and
  22. Michael McDonnell, 47, Union-street.

Amongst this twenty-one (22?), says the Liverpool Journal, are the names of parties well known in Liverpool, of high honor and strict integrity. But, on the other hand, it must be confessed that there are some to whom this character will not apply.

Lt. Hodder, the Government Emigration Agent, with his officers kept in a state of constant combativeness in protecting poor emigrants and making sure regulations are followed.

[unintelligible sentence reproduced below without edits]

If a summons be taken out, the chances are ten to one but that the poor people whom it was intended to victimize are treated with; and, to save the exposure which would otherwise result, the case is compromised at any price.

The magistrates may, for any irregularity or delinquency, withdraw a license— a power sometimes exercised. Still, no instances are yet on record of the forfeiture of a bond.

The walls of Liverpool are placarded thoroughly with notices of the sailing dates for the various packet ships. The above firms act as passenger-brokers and outlined in large letters the excellent qualities of such well-known and favorite packets as the Yorkshire, the New World, the Isaac Webb, the West Point, the Constitution, the Isaac Wright, the London, the Star of the West, the Queen of the West, and scores of others.

The average number of steerage passengers that can be accommodated in these fine vessels (which are mostly owned in New York) is 400. Still, some of them, such as the Isaac Webb, can comfortably make room for double that number.

After choosing the ship to sail on, the emigrant runs the gauntlet through scores of designing and unscrupulous "man-catchers." Man-catchers get commissions for each emigrant that they bring to the passenger-brokers office. The emigrant's next duty is to present himself with his family at the Medical Inspector's Office.

Medical Inspector's Office

The Government Medical Inspector's Office at Liverpool.

The Government Medical Inspector's Office at Liverpool. The Illustrated London News, 6 July 1850. GGA Image ID #

By the terms of the New Passenger Act, 12 & 13 Vict, c. 33, "no passenger-ship is allowed to proceed until a medical practitioner appointed by the emigration office of the port shall have inspected the medicine-chest and passengers, and certified that the medicines, etc. are sufficient, and that the passengers are free from contagious disease."

The master, owner, or charterer of the ship is bound to pay the medical inspector the sum of £1 sterling for every 100 persons thus inspected. When the emigrant and his family have completed this process, their passage-ticket is stamped.

They have nothing further to do until they go on board. They now make their own private arrangements and provide themselves with outfits, or with such articles of luxury or necessity as they may desire over and above the ship's allowance.

All persons who may be discovered to be affected with any infectious disease, either at the original port of embarkation or at any port in the United Kingdom into which the vessel may subsequently put, are to be re-landed, with those members of their families, if any, who may be dependent on them, or unwilling to be separated from them, together with their clothes and effects.

Passengers re-landed are entitled to receive back their passage-money. This may be recovered from the party to whom it was paid, or from the owner, charterer, or master of the ship, by the summary process, before two or more justices of the peace.

The Embarkation

The Emigrants Begin the Process of Embarkation at the Waterlook Docks in Liverpool.

The Emigrants Begin the Process of Embarkation at the Waterlook Docks in Liverpool. The Illustrated London News, 6 July 1850. GGA Image ID # 14b686ca8a

The scene at Liverpool's Waterloo Dock, where all the American sailing packets are stationed, is at all times a very busy one. But, on the morning of the departure of a large ship, with a full complement of emigrants, it is peculiarly interesting and exciting.

Of the passengers that passed inspection, many take up quarters onboard the ship twenty-four hours before sailing, as they are entitled to do by the terms of the act of Parliament. Many of them bring, in addition to the boxes and trunks containing their worldly wealth, considerable quantities of provisions.

Life in Steerage Between Decks on an Emigrant Ship.

Life in Steerage Between Decks on an Emigrant Ship. The Illustrated London News, 17 August 1850. GGA Image ID # 14b721f545

However, it must be confessed that the provisions fixed by the Government to be supplied to the emigrants by the ship is sufficiently liberal to keep them healthy and comfortable. All among the emigrants, who, in their ordinary course of life, were not accustomed to animal food.

The following is the scale, in addition to any provisions which the passengers may themselves bring: —

  • 3 quarts of water daily
  • 2 ½ lbs. of bread or biscuit (not inferior to navy biscuit)
  • 1 lb. wheaten flour
  • 5 lb. oatmeal
  • 2 lb. rice
  • 2 oz. tea
  • ½ lb. sugar
  • ½ lb. molasses

These rations (excluding water) are per week. To be issued in advance, and not less often than twice a week.

5 lb. of good potatoes' may, at the option of the master, be substituted for 1 lb. of oatmeal or rice. In ships sailing from Liverpool, or from Irish or Scotch ports, oatmeal may be substituted, in equal quantities, for the whole or any part of the issues of rice.

Vessels carrying as many as 100 passengers must be provided with a seafaring person to act as passengers cook, and with a proper cooking apparatus.

A convenient place must be set apart on deck for cooking and an adequate supply of fuel shipped for the voyage. The whole to be subject to the approval of the emigration officer.

Dancing Between Decks

Steerage Passengers Dancing Between Decks.

Steerage Passengers Dancing Between Decks. The Illustrated London News, 6 July 1850. GGA Image ID # 14b6b9ef2f

The scenes that occur between decks on the day before the sailing of a packet, and during the time that a ship may be unavoidably detained at the dock are not generally of a character to impress the spectator with the idea of any significant or overwhelming grief on the part of the emigrants at leaving the old country.

On the contrary, all is bustle, excitement, and merriment. The scene represented by our Artist, of a party of emigrants, male and female, dancing between decks-to the music of the violin-played for their amusement, by some of their fellow passengers, is not a rare one.

Sometimes a passenger is an Irish bagpipe musician. He is often called upon to play music for the gratification of his countrymen and women. Not merely while at the dock, but, according to the reports of captains and others, during the whole voyage.

The key person who can play the violin, the flute, the pipe, or any other instrument, becomes of interest and importance to the passengers and is kept in constant requisition for their amusement. The youngest child and the oldest man on the ship are alike interested.

The grey-headed men and women are frequently seen dancing with much delight, and much vigor as if they were seventeen and not seventy years of age.

But, as the hour of departure draws nigh, the music ceases. Too many fresh arrivals take place every moment, and the decks become burdened with luggage to admit of the amusement.

Although the day and hour of departure may have been given weeks in advance, there is a large class of persons—not confined to emigrants, who never will be punctual.

They seem to make a point of postponing everything to the last moment to enjoy the excitement of being within a few minutes or even moments of losing their passage.

These may be seen arriving in flushed and panting detachments, driving donkey-carts laden with their worldly stores, to the gangway at the ship's side. Often, the gangway has been removed before the late arrivals. In this case, their only chance is to wait until the ship reaches the dock-gate.

At this point, their boxes, bales barrels, and bundles are actually pitched into the ship. Then men, women, and children have to scramble up among the rigging, amid a screaming, a swearing, and a shouting utterly alarming to listen to.

Frequently a box or a barrel falls overboard, and sometimes a man or a woman shares the same fate. Fortunately, they are speedily re-saved by men in a small boat that follows in the wake of this ship for that purpose, until she has finally cleared the dock.

The Departure

Departure of the Emigrant Ship from Liverpool.

Departure of the Emigrant Ship from Liverpool. The Illustrated London News, 6 July 1850. GGA Image ID # 14b6f94fe9

There are usually a large number of spectators at the dock-gates to witness the final departure of the great ship, with its large freight of human beings. It is an exciting and impressive sight.

The most callous and indifferent can scarcely fail, at such a moment, to form cordial wishes for the pleasant voyage and safe arrival of the emigrants, and for their future prosperity in their new home."

As the ship is towed out, hats are raised, handkerchiefs are waved, and a loud and long-continued shout of farewell is raised from the shore, and kindly responded to from the ship.

It is then that the eyes of the emigrants begin to moisten with regret at the thought they are looking for the last time at the old country. That country which, although, in all probability, associated principally.

It is the country of their fathers, their childhood, and the country consecrated to their hearts. With the remembrance of sorrow, suffering, semi-starvation, and a constant battle for the merest crust necessary to support existence.

The last look always sorrowful and refuses, in most instances, to see the wrong and the suffering, the terror, and the misery, which may have compelled the one who takes it.

To venture from the old into the new from the tried into the untried path. To recommence existence under new auspices. And with new and totally different prospects.

"Farewell, England! ' Blessings on thee—
Stern and niggard as thou art.
Harshly, mother, thou hast used me,
And my bread thou hast refused me:

But the agony to part is doubtless the uppermost feeling in the minds of many thousands of the poorer class of English emigrants.

The cheers of the spectators and friends on shore proclaim their departure from the land of their birth. Even in the case of the Irish emigrants, a similar feeling—though possibly less intense can scarcely fail to be 'excited.'

Limited time, however, is left to them to indulge in these reflections. The ship is generally towed by a steam-tug five or ten miles down the Mersey.

During the time occupied in traversing these ten miles, two essential ceremonies have to be undertaken. The first is "the Search for Stowaways," and the second is the "Roll-call of the Passengers."

The Search for Stowaways

The Ship's Crew Search for Stowaways.

The Ship's Crew Search for Stowaways. The Illustrated London News, 6 July 1850. GGA Image ID # 14b6f0a3a7

The practice of "stowing away," until after the passage tickets have been collected, is stated to be very common to ships leaving London and Liverpool for the United States. It is the intent to procure by fraudulent means a free passage across the Atlantic.

The "stowaways" are sometimes brought onboard concealed in trunks or chests, with air-holes to prevent suffocation.

Sometimes they are brought in barrels, packed up to their chins in salt, or biscuits, or other provisions, to the imminent hazard of their lives.

At other times they take the chance of hiding about the ship, under the bedding, amid the confused luggage of the other passengers, and in all sorts of dark nooks and corners between decks.

Hence, it is becoming expedient to make a thorough search of the vessel before the steam-tug has left her. If any of these unhappy intruders are discovered, they may be taken back to port and brought before the magistrate, to be punished for the fraud which they have attempted.

As many as a dozen stowaways have sometimes been discovered in one ship. Cases have occurred infrequently of dead men, women, and young boys, being taken out of the barrels or chests that they concealed themselves in to avoid payment of £3 or £1 passage money.

When the ship is reasonably out, to search for stowaways is ordered. Steerage passengers are summoned upon the quarter-deck, where they are detained until the search has been completed in every part of the ship.

The captain, the mate, or other officers, attended by the clerk of the passenger broker, and as many men of the vessel as may be necessary for the purpose, then proceed below.

With masked lanterns or candles and armed with long poles, hammers, chisels, etc., they rummage and poke into dark places and may break open suspicious-looking chests and barrels.

Occasionally the pole is said to be tipped with a sharp nail to aid the process of discovery in dark nooks. Sometimes the man armed with the hammer strikes the bedclothes.

This method is used to reveal a concealed head underneath. Its owner may make the fact known, and thus avoid a repetition of the blows. Stowaways hidden in barrels are presumed to have placed with his head uppermost.

When searchers find a suspicious barrel, they deliberately proceed to turn the barrel bottom upwards. This process never fails, after a short time, if the suspicion proves well-founded, it elicits an unmistakable cry for release.

Although this search is invariably done with the utmost care, it is not always adequate in discovering the delinquent. Instances have occurred in which eight, ten, or more stowaways, both men and women, have made their appearance after the vessel has been two or three days at sea.

Some captains acted with high severity, if not cruelty, toward these unfortunates. Instances occurred of stowaways being tarred and feathered or made to walk the decks through the cold nights with nothing on but their shirts.

But this inhumanity does not now appear to be practiced. As there is a great deal of dirty work that must be done on shipboard, the stowaways are pressed into that service and compelled to make themselves useful, if not agreeable.

They are forced, in fact, to work their passage out, and the most unpleasant jobs are imposed upon them. After a diligent search for stowaways in every corner of the ship, the next ceremony, Rollcall, is commenced.

Roll Call

Steerage Passengers Summoned to the Quarter-Deck of the Emigrant Ship for Roll Call.

Steerage Passengers Summoned to the Quarter-Deck of the Emigrant Ship for Roll Call. The Illustrated London News, 6 July 1850. GGA Image ID # 14b6f47c6f

This is one that occupies a considerable space of time, especially in a large ship, containing seven or eight hundred emigrants. Once the steerage passengers are assembled upon the quarter-deck, the clerk of the passenger-broker accompanied by the ship's surgeon and aided by the crew (to preserve order) proceeds to call for the passage tickets.

The clerk, or another man in authority, usually stands upon the rail, or other convenient elevation on the quarter-deck, so that he may see over the heads of the whole assemblage.

Steerage passengers are usually a very motley one-comprising people of all ages from seven weeks to seventy years.

The dual purpose of the rollcall requires verifying the passenger list and medical inspection of the emigrants on behalf of the captain and owners. 

The previous inspection on the part of the Governor was to prevent the risk of contagious disease on board. The review on the part of the owners is for a different object.

The ship has to pay a poll-tax of one dollar and a-half per passenger to the State of New York. If any of the unfortunate emigrants are discovered to be helpless and deformed persons, the owners are fined the sum of seventy-five dollars.

They are also compelled to enter a bond to the city of New York that they will not become a burden upon the public.

To prevent this risk, the medical officer of the ship passes them under inspection. The captain may refuse to take a pauper cripple unless he has friends in America to take charge of him on arrival and provide for him afterward.

Emigrants Crowded Onto the Steerage Deck on an Emigrant Ship.

Emigrants Crowded Onto the Steerage Deck on an Emigrant Ship. The Illustrated London News, 17 August 1850. GGA Image ID # 14b736055c

The business of verification and inspection generally occupies from two to four hours, according to the number of emigrants on board, and, during its progress, some noteworthy incidents occasionally arise. 

Sometimes an Irishman, with a wife and eight or ten children, attempts to evade the payment of any passage balance due by pleading that he has not a farthing left in the world. He is trusting that the ship will instead take him out to New York for the sum already paid than incur the trouble of putting him onshore again with his family.

Sometimes a woman may have included in her passage ticket an infant at the breast. And when her name is called, she is panting under the weight of a strapping boy of eight or nine years of age, whom she is holding to her bosom as if he were really a suckling.

Sometimes a youth of nineteen has been listed in the passage contract as being under the age of twelve to get to America for half fare. Sometimes a whole family is without any tickets, having come on board in the hope that amid the confusion, they may manage to evade notice. They hope to slip down unperceived - amid those whose documents are found en règle.

These cases, as they occur, are placed on one side and those who have duly paid their passage money, and produced their tickets, are allowed to pass down and take possession of their berths.

Steerage passengers who have not paid in full and unable or unwilling to pay the balance due, are then transferred to the tug, including bag and baggage, to be reconvened to port.

Those who have money produce the necessary funds, which, in the shape of golden sovereigns, are not infrequently found to be safely stitched amid the rags of petticoats, coats, and unmentionable garments.

Those who really have no money and cannot manage to appeal to the sympathy of the crowd for help must resign themselves to their fate. They will remain in the poverty from which they seek to free themselves until they can raise the small sum necessary for their emancipation.

The stowaways, if any, are ordered to be taken before the magistrates. After all strangers and interlopers have been safely placed in the tug, the emigrant ship is left to herself! May all prosperity attend her living freight!

" Far away—oh, far away—
We seek a world o'er the ocean spray!
We seek a land across the sea,
Where bread is plenty, and men are free.
The sails are set, the breezes swell—
England, our country, farewell! farewell!"

"Emigration from Liverpool," in The Illustrated London News, Vol. XVII, No, 434, Saturday, 6 July 1850, pp. 19-22.

Note: GG Archives has edited this article from 1850 for spelling, grammar, and clarification purposes. The piece was written using prose not easily understood, as was the style in that era. Those requiring direct quotes should access the original article. An example of a prozaic sentence appears near the beginning of this article without edits.

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