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Emigration To North America In 1847

The year 1847 was a unique year for emigration. Famine in Ireland leads the list of reasons for the increase in the number of emigrants in that year. However, if one reads newspapers of the day other facts soon come to light.

There are reports of vessels leaving various parts of the United States and Canada (this will be used to describe New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Upper and Lower Canada) with supplies for Europe. For example, on March 4, 1847, the Constitution and Sarah Sands had unfurled their sails, while at Boston, the Tartar sailed in April. These vessels were on their way to Ireland. A New York paper reported that in March some $1,250,000 of supplies a week were leaving from that port for Ireland and about $5,000,000 from all parts of the U.S.

On April 24, 1847, the vessel Morea was leaving Boston for Scotland with food stuffs for relief of the starving. There is also a report of the French government buying up thousands of pounds of food to alleviate the situation in that country. Reports also came from Holland, Germany and Switzerland about fever and hunger.

A report from England stated that the emigration of 1847 would probably go to 200,000 or 300,000 from Ireland alone. Government agents in other countries were also reporting large increases in the number of people heading to the port cities of the continent. Ships were being hired at an every increasing pace and Captains were carrying full compliments of passengers, some exceeding the legal limits. Some 6,000 Germans, the papers reported, were already at the ports of Breman, Harve and Antwerp preparing to sail.

medical inspectors office

Just to add to the misery, the northern U.S. and Canada had a hard winter in 1846-7 and the snow and ice were causing delays for many of the vessels. There are reports of gales and of vessels being stuck in the ice for weeks. The Albion, from Greenock, for example, sailed on March 25, 1847 and on April 10 hit the ice about 40 miles off Cape Ray. The vessel did not arrive in Quebec until June 4, 1847!

Even knowing that they were to receive more emigrants than in former years did not prepare the agents in the ports of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Saint John, Quebec, and others for what was to come. By May 5, New York stated that they had already received 17,668 emigrants since the 1st of April. Boston had turned away a vessel, the Mary, carrying 46 passengers from Cork, Ireland because, "the city authorities would not suffer them to be landed, owing to their destitute condition, unless the master gave bonds that they should not become a burthen to the city." Quarantine stations in various US ports were running out of space. In New Orleans they reported they were, "doing all in their power to make them [the emigrants] comfortable."

Quebec began to receive emigrants in May as the ice finally left the St. Lawrence river and ships were able to make their way up to the city. Grosse Isle, the quarantine station, began to feel the strain within the first few weeks of May. On May 11, Mr. Buchanan, the Chief Emigrant Agent at Quebec, reported that "From the above statement it appears there are now on their way to this port, 31 vessels, having on board 10,636 passengers." Before the year was out Grosse Isle would be completely overwhelmed.

arrival at cork

The Virginius, from Liverpool on May 28, had 476 passengers on board but, by the time she reached Grosse Isle, "...106 were ill of fever, including nine of the crew, and the large number of 158 had died on the passage, including the first and second officers and seven of the crew, and the master and the steward dying, the few that were able to come on deck were ghastly yellow looking spectres, unshaven and hollow checked, and without exception, the worst looking passengers I have ever seen..." wrote Dr. Douglas, Medical Superintendent at Grosse Isle, in the 1847 Immigration Report.

The fever they spoke of was Typhus Fever, more commonly known as "ships fever." Typhus was spread by body louse and within ten days of a person being bitten they would start to show symptoms of high fever, pain in muscles and joints, cerebral disorders, and headache. By the fifth day, a dark-red rash with elevated spots would appear on the trunk and shoulders, spreading to the rest of the body. Delirium would often set in by the second week. If the patients survived to the third week, they would often recover but would soon have a relapse with high fever, from which they would recover very quickly. The death rate was often as high as 50-70 percent of those infected.

The Irish were in the worst condition upon arrival at Grosse Isle. "An eye-witness called it the Isle of Death, and found a strange contrast of beauty and suffering, of levity and sorrow", wrote Guillet, in his book The Great Migration. One cabin passenger described the difference between the Irish and German immigrants:

...all of them, without a single exception, comfortably and neatly clad, clean and happy. There was no sickness amongst them, and each comely fair-haired girl laughed as she passed the doctor, to join the group of robust young men who had undergone the ordeal...

As we repassed the German ship, the deck was covered with emigrants, who were singing a charming hymn, in whose beautiful harmony all took part; spreading the music of their five hundred voices upon the calm, still air that wafted it around....As the distance between us increased, the anthem died way until it became inaudible. It was the finest chorus I ever heard,--performed in a theatre of unrivalled magnificence....Although it was pleasing to see so many joyous beings, it made me sad when I thought of the very, very different state of my unfortunate compatriots; and I had become so habituated to misery, disease and death that the happiness that now surrounded me was quite discordant with my feelings.
Page 151 of Guillet but taken from The Ocean Plague by Robert Whyte.

the departure
As the emigrants continued to cross the ocean the US ports began to reject vessels thus forcing them to make their way to Quebec or New Brunswick ports. It was not just the passengers who suffered as Boston reported the arrival of the Jas. H. Shepherd from Liverpool with 228 passenger of which 26 died on the voyage and 105 were ill upon arrival. They also reported that, "...part of crew sick and for the last 10 days has had but 6 men all to do duty." In the end, Grosse Isle reported 9,572 deaths for the 1847 season and New York 703. (from Immigration Report of 1847)

With the terrible conditions on board ship some children arrived in Canada orphans. Others lost their parents, or remaining parent, at the quarantine station or on the way inland. Due to conditions on Grosse Isle, those in good health were removed by steamboats to Quebec and Montreal as quickly as possible, often leaving behind sick members of the family. This became such a problem that the emigrants began to remain at Montreal and Quebec instead of moving on to their destination. Mr. Buchanan, the Emigrant Agent at Quebec, took over some facilities to house these emigrants as they awaited word from Grosse Isle about loved ones and ads, such as this one, began to appear in the newspapers. Some of the orphans remained in the province of Quebec (partial lists) but some were sent on to Upper Canada. A list of 197 orphans and widows was kept by the Asylum in Toronto, set up specifically to care for the widows and orphans of 1847.

Quebec immigration increased from 32,153 in 1846 to 97,953 in 1847; New Brunswick reported 9,765 immigrants in 1846 and 16,251 in 1847; while that to New York increased from 97,843 in 1846 to 145,890 in 1847. Boston's increase was 6,666 souls while Philadelphia doubled the number of emigrants. New Orleans went from 22,148 emigrants in 1846 to 40,442 in 1847. (The Ocean Plague, published in 1848) Between 1846 and 1847 the number of emigrants to America from the British Isles increased fom 125,678 to 251,834. (Carrothers, Emigration From The British Isles, p. 305.)

THE IRISH EMIGRANTS IN CANADA
Surely the Government will not allow the feeling for the disasters attending the poor Irish in a foreign land to pass away with the miserable deaths of the victims? Will there be no enquiry into the causes, mediate or remote, which produced all this loss of human life? —into the modes of transport— the state of emigrant vessels— the abominations of emigrant agents, and all the etceteras which have become, and are, accessory to the deaths of the Irish poor? Out of 2,235 who embarked for Canada in those wretched hulks, called emigrant vessels, not more than five hundred will live to settle in America.

"From information recently given to us," says the Quebec Gazette, "the quarantine at Liverpool is not only worse than useless as regards this country, but absolutely murders the emigrants intending to embark hitherward. We are told that from 15 to 16 hulks are stationed off the port for the reception of the refugees from Ireland, who, when sick or doubtful looking, are transferred to them from the Irish steamers and from whence, after a short probation, shipped on board vessels destined for Canada; and that, too, as may be naturally conceived, in a worse state than if allowed to proceed on their voyage at once. The passengers in the Triton were of this class, among whom disease appeared the day they left the docks. Her deaths before reaching Grosse Isle numbered 83, including all the officers of the ship and several of the crew; the master, also, being very sick."

It can hardly be believed that affairs in Liverpool are conducted, as to the shipment of emigrants, as represented. The imputation is boldly made, and if untrue, an immediate contradiction is necessary. The report from the office of her Majesty's chief superintendent of emigration to Canada, dated Quebec, 24th July, states the numbers of emigrants who had arrived this year there, were 56,855. In the same period of last year, 24,576 settlers reached the port, showing an increase this year of no less than 32,279. August 18, 1847 Cork Examiner

THE FEVER IN CANADA
The following is an extract from the letter of an emigrant, addressed to one of his friends in this city, and received by the last mail from Boston. It contains a vivid and painful picture of the emigrant catastrophe in Canada. The letter is dated from the barque Bridgetown, lying off Grosse island, in front of Quebec, which, it appears, was converted to a vast burial place:--

We arrived here on the 22nd from Liverpool. I regret to tell you that fever broke out, and that seventy passengers and one sailor were committed to the deep on the voyage. There are several more ill. We buried six yesterday on shore. The carpenter and joiner are occupied making coffins. There are six more dead after the night. I cannot say when we can go to Quebec, as we cannot land the remainder of the sick at present, there being no room in the hospitals for them, though the front of the island is literally covered with sheds and tents.

The accounts from the shore are awful, and our condition on board you can form no idea of— helpless children without parents or relatives, the father buried in the deep last week, and the mother the week before,— their six children under similar unfortunate circumstances, and so on. I trust God will carry me through this trying ordeal— I was a few days sick, but am now recovered. Captain Wilson was complaining for a few days. It is an awful change from the joyous hopes with which most of us left our unfortunate country, expecting to be able to earn that livelihood denied us at home— all— all changed in many cases to bitter deep despair.
September 17, 1847 Cork Examiner

On the following pages you will find the daily shipping reports from several papers. Items on the events of the time have been added to these reports to help keep things in perspective.

 

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