Emigration from Bideford
Emmigration to the New World
North Devon Exodus
It is a striking fact that W. G. Hoskins’s justly famed book on Devon, published in 1954 as part of a comprehensive survey of the then existing state of knowledge about the local history of the English counties, does not contain a single indexed reference on the theme of emigration. (1) It had to wait for the work of the maritime historians Basil Greenhill and his wife Ann Giffard to first make us aware of the extent, significance and duration of emigration to Canada from North Devon between about 1818 and 1868. In their book Westcountrymen in Prince Edward’s Isle they examined records of departure and arrival between 1830 and 1841 and estimated that about 2,250 people emigrated to North America from North Devon in that period and another 3000 between 1842 and 1855. (2) These are recorded movements only. All told they estimated that the actual figure for the latter period may be as high as 7000. (3) It is very important to see these figures in perspective. A total figure of between say 9,000 and 10,000 for the entire period 1830 to 1855 appears derisory when seen in a national context. But when seen against the background of a very sparsely populated region in which the population of the two biggest towns in 1851, Barnstaple and Bideford, was 8,667 and 5,775 respectively it takes on a very different perspective.
Poor given a helping hand to start a new life in the colonies
The national government (Colonial Land and Emigration Commission), local Boards of Guardians, trade unions, individuals and emigration societies of various kinds saw it as a charitable duty to give grants and assistance to the poor to start a new life in the colonies and thereby reduce the surplus population. At the same time the emigrants were helping the development of the empty lands of colonies like Canada. For those able to read, an annual Colonisation Circular published by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commisssion gave details of wage rates, cost of passages, demand for labour, cost of living, opportunities for land acquisition etc, in each of the British colonies, and the names of the Commission’s emigration officers.(5)There is no doubt either that the poor were desperate to take advantage of the opportunities.
One of the most significant features of the emigration is that many of the North Devon migrants departed not from the Atlantic ports of Plymouth and Bristol but from Appledore and Bideford (counted as a single port for customs purposes) and that they did so as paying passengers rather than assisted emigrants. This is one of the features that leads to the constant underestimation of the numbers involved. The British government had little or no interest in privately funded emigration. It was assisted emigration that mainly concerned them, both because of its much greater scale and the expenditure of public funds. Consequently much of the information on the scale of privately funded emigration from North Devon depends upon the gathering of scattered information from many varied and different sources. The local press, on both sides of the Atlantic, is a particularly important source. It was the intense and detailed investigation by Giffard and Greenhill, of these scattered sources that gradually revealed the scale of the exodus from North Devon.
The official figures for nineteenth century emigration were collected in a notoriously casual way and almost certainly under-record the true scale of emigration. But the figures for Devon have now been collected by Mark Brayshay from 58 different Parliamentary Papers, including 32 Annual Reports of the Colonial Land & Emigration Commission and 26 Board of Trade Reports on immigration and emigration. (6) The figures for Devon can be summarized as follows:
Officially Recorded Emigration From Devon ports, 1840-1900 (Brayshay, table 10.1)
1. Figures for Bideford refer to 1840-1856 only, thereafter official statistics record no further emigration.
2. Barnstaple and Appledore figures subsumed within those for the Port of Bideford.
3. Until 1853 Torquay came within the Port of Dartmouth, thereafter it came under Teignmouth.
4. Official figures for emigration were not published in the period 1874-1875, following the closure of the Colonial Land & Emigration Commission and the resumption of publication of full reports by the Board of Trade.
We simply do not know what proportion of the Plymouth emigrants came from North Devon. These figures undoubtedly reflect the order of importance of the Devonshire ports engaged on the emigrant trade with North America. Nevertheless, they manifestly underestimate the Bideford figures because emigrant ships are known to have sailed to North America from Bideford, both before 1840 and after 1856. The official breakdown of the destinations of the 2,751 leaving for Canada from Bideford in the period 1840-1856 are as follows: Canada (all destinations) 2,080, Prince Edward Island 363, U.S.A. 284, New Brunswick 16 and Nova Scotia 8. (See Brayshay, table 10.3.). All of these figures are dwarfed by the numbers of emigrants travelling from Plymouth to Australia and New Zealand (374,335) and to South Africa (208,620).
The North Devon Exodus Begins
In 1830 Thomas Burnard Chanter advertised in the North Devon Journal that his ships Collina, Calypso, Sappho and Euphemia had been “conveniently fitted up for Families and will take out passengers on moderate terms to Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick” In the following year the North Devon Journal described some 5000 people lining the Quay and Long Bridge at Bideford to wave farewell to the Apollo, Calypso and Bacchus, bound for New York, St. Andrews (Newfoundland) and Montreal. (7) Such, it reported, “is the prevailing rage for emigration, that a female who had given birth to a child but three days before, would not be persuaded by the most urgent entreaties….to remain behind for another season”.
None of this early emigration was officially recorded by national government. It coincides with the outbreak in 1830 of rural unrest throughout southern England, known as the “Swing Riots,” and followed a series of bad harvests. Letters of protest against rural distress, signed by a pseudonymous “Captain Swing” were sent to clergy, prominent landowners, magistrates etc. This was followed by rick burning and demonstrations of various kinds.
In counties like Kent, horse operated threshing machines were destroyed. Before threshing machines appeared the corn harvest was collected into barns. It was then threshed by labourers using hand flails, so that it provided important employment during the lean winter months. Threshing machines therefore threatened the livelihoods of agricultural labourers. The authorities reacted ferociously. Hundreds of special constables were sworn in and the yeomanry (part-tme volunteer cavalry) employed to restore order. Subsequently there were numbers of executions and hundreds were fined, imprisoned or transported. In France there had been a revolution in the same year and the authorities were clearly worried that the unrest might have a political dimension.
The unrest in Devon was somewhat less than in counties further east and may be explainable by the absence of the effects of the Enclosure Movement. Farming in Devon had not been characterised by the communal cultivation of great open fields in which individual land holdings had been scattered in small strips across a wide area. Consequently there was no equivalent to the Enclosure movement in Devon which so disrupted the agrarian landscape and way of life further east. In counties like Wiltshire and Hampshire Enclosure more or less destroyed the small, subsistence farming class and polarised rural society between landless labourers and large land-owning farmers. Enclosure had mainly taken place at the end of the eighteenth century or early in the nineteenth, so memories amongst the rural poor were still strong. In Devon there was a higher number of small independent farmers, usually described as husbandmen or small yeoman farners and there had been no revolutionary change in the shape of the landscape and rural life.
Nevertheless, there was unrest in Devon and it is known, for example, that 300 special constables were sworn in at Barnstaple and two Swimbridge men sent for trial at Exeter. The author remembers, as a boy, seeing the very large collection of constables’ truncheons that used to be displayed in the museum in Bideford Town Hall. At the time he was puzzled why so many of them bore the Royal cypher of King William IV.
Emigration continued throughout the forties and as late as 1857 (16th April) the North Devon Journal had the following illuminating comment: “About seven years ago, a young farm servant from a neighbouring village went to America leaving his sweetheart behind in a state that added nothing to the good reputation of either. When he had been there about a year, he sent home for the latter; she went out to him, and they were married. He now writes home that he has maintained his increasing family during that period, and has worked himself into a farm – not a hired one – but 50 acres of purchased land, to which 10 more are soon to be added. Besides the land, there is the stock enumerating 25 bullocks besides other animals wuth the rest of the etceteras of a farm. A few miscellaneous particulars were added, such as that they had to be their own tailors, in the spring to make their own candles and soap, etc. Suppose the couple has been married seven years ago in this country, where would they have now been with their half dozen children? Where would have been the acres, the bullocks, the sheep, the corn, the candles, and the soap. Not only would there have been nowhere for them, but instead there-of hopeless poverty, dirt, drudgery, the Union, and a pauper’s grave.”
For the less well-off the most their relations might expect was the very rare letter, written in a crabbed hand or perhaps laboriously dictated to someone else and with a long list of friends and kinsmen in neighbouring villages to whom it was to be carried. Such letters were semi-public documents read aloud to groups of relations and fellow villagers and included news about neighbours as well as near relations. Thus, William Fulford of Buckland Brewer, who sailed in Civility from Bideford to Quebec in 1848 sent an account of his voyage back to Bideford with the following instructions at the end: “I send this Journal first to John and Jane Mills at Northam, and beg that you will favour John and Elizabeth Fulford, Rebecca Davidson, Thomas and Mary Ann Cook with the perusal of it; and that John Mills will have the kindness to send or carry it to Robert and that Sister Taylor will favour mother-in-law, Maria, Sam and Betsy Bray, Mr. Hookway and Mary Jane, Mr.Oatway and Christianna, Mr. Pridham and Susan, Mr. and Mrs. Mathews, also Mary Hare. They all will have perusal of it, and I beg that Sister Taylor will have the goodness to send it to Buckland Brewer to Brother John and Grace Fulford; and Sister Fulford will convey it to John Rowe who will convey it to Mr. Barth Fulford who will have the goodness to send it back to Bideford, to Mr. Robert Taylor on the Quay, after you have all read it.” (8) William Fulford was a non-conformist, hence the use of the title Brother and Sister to describe fellow members of his church. It was in ways like this that knowledge about Canada was spread in the district and, no doubt, encouraged others to to follow in his wake.
Later in the century stiffly posed studio photographs were exchanged; the sitters in mothballed Sunday best that bore no relationship to the workaday clothes normally worn. Many of the photographs that were sent to Canada came from the Bideford studios of W.H. Puddicombe or W.C. Murphy.
Letters would, of course, be sent to Canada. These are extremely important in giving momentary glimpses into conditions in North Devon at the time that they were written. In 1845 James Ellis wrote to his uncle William Ellis (born Monkleigh 1774) in Prince Edward Island: “I am thinking of trying America as there is nothing here to look to for a living for the inhabitants is so thick and Labour is so dead there is nothing going on.” (9) This picture of an economically depressed area is confirmed right through the “hungry forties” and on into the early fifties.
Another particularly poignant example appeared in The Devon Family Historian in February 2007. (10) The widowed Grace Grills of Bradworthy wrote to her daughter Emma Heard, at Seymour East in Upper Canada (Ontario) in 1851, requesting help towards her rent and bringing Emma up to date with all the family births, marriages and deaths. Grace and her late husband Richard had had 11 children, one of whom died young. Amongst the surviving 10 children, four, including Emma and 3 of her brothers, had already emigrated to Canada and 3 more subsequently followed. Grace’s spelling is entirely phonetic, punctuation is eccentric and the letter is full of the colloquial phraseology of the period :“for I have never had a letter from any of you since last May twelve months agone.” ”Her goes out to work and gets what her can.” “I was obliged to send home the little mead [maid] that I kept.” “I live very mean.” When she writes of scarlettina, “That disorder hath been re[ig]ning very bad last winter in this cuntry [sic],” she is using the word country in the old sense as meaning the local region of North Devon rather than anything national. But she writes as she speaks and her meaning and Devonshire accent are as clear as a bell. The shadow of the Union workhouse was looming and she was in desperate need. “The times are bad in England for labourers. Wages is low and the farmers complain very much. There are a great many gone to America this spring an[d] many going again July…..Corn sells low – year wheat is from 5s 6d to 6s per bushel, w[h]ich is the greatest part of our liveing [sic].” Her letter discusses the possibility of her remaining children emigrating to “America” which she clearly thinks would be best for them. She expresses no bitterness, only quiet resignation and acceptance. Such letters are of enormous importance in understanding the motivation of those who emigrated, and in this case, provides evidence that rural poverty was still intense as late as 1851.
The Bideford ships made the round trip about two or three times during the summer season which began when the ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence broke up. In 1838 the Bravo from Bideford sailed too early and was nearly broken to pieces by the ice, limping into Cascumpeque, P.E.I., on May 2nd badly damaged with two anchors missing. The average sailing time to Quebec lasted about 42 days. The return journey, when the ships had the prevailing south-westerly winds behind them, was always much quicker. Thomas Chanter’s brig Sappho made the easterly crossing from Nova Scotia to Bideford in 1833 in an astonishing 12 days. The length of these sea journeys was nothing like that which faced emigrants to Australia and New Zealand in the nineteenth century and was much less expensive. David Norton writing in The Devon Family Historian in August 2008 provides the examples of John and Elizabeth Talbot who boarded the Accrington on 18th June 1863 at Plymouth and arrived at Lyttelton, New Zealand, on the 23rd September 1863, or John and Sarah Uplowman who sailed from London in the Zealandia in January 1862 but, almost unbelievably, did not arrive at Lyttelton until the 24th May. It may well be that the prospect of a relatively short and cheaper sea crossing, along routes which were known to North Devon sailors since the sixteenth century, was one of the reasons why so many from North Devon chose to go to Canada rather than the antipodes.
How did the unschooled sea captains from North Devon navigate the Atlantic without benefit of radar, wireless, satellite navigation equipment or engines and constantly at the mercy of the wind? Essentially they relied on latitudinal navigation, following a line of latitude that would take them westwards to Prince Edward Island or Nova Scotia. If blown north or south of that line they would doggedly sail north or south in order to return to it. The essential piece of information was an accurate reading of the sun’s altitude at noon (local time) from which nautical tables would confirm their latitude. The magnetic compass would enable them to maintain their westerly course and oncein sight of landfall, charts and their own knowledge of the coastline, its currents, appearance and hazards, plus careful watch-keeping, would bring them into harbour.
Those early emigrants who pushed on from Quebec into English speaking Ontario (Upper Canada) faced a still formidable journey of over 300 miles measured in days rather than hours. When Henry Elliott of Bucks Mills arrived at Prince Edward Island on the 5th June 1831 he had to wait 10 days before Bollina sailed on to Quebec, taking a further ten or twelve days to get there.(11) From Quebec to Montreal was a further 180 miles but Montreal could be reached by overnight steamer. The most trying part of the journey was probably created by the nine miles of the Lachine rapids above Montreal which had to be bypassed by wagon or on foot. From Lachine, at the head of the rapids, a bateau took him up river to Kingston, at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, where he took a lake steamer to Port Hope. The bateaux were flat bottomed open barges about 6 to 8 feet wide and about 40 feet long and designed to cope with the rapids and shallows of the St. Lawrence. Worked by oars, poles and even grappling irons where water was low, a lug sail would be hoisted whenever possible. This leg of the journey between Montreal and Lake Ontario could take at least eight days depending upon the point of embarkation on a lake steamer (Prescott, Brockville or Kingston). Even at Port Hope there was then no landing stage and the final leg of his epic journey was in a locally owned boat (Red Rover).
An important incentive for pushing on to Ontario was that farmers there could, at that stage (until 1841), buy freehold Crown land; whereas in Prince Edward Island farms were rented from large and often absentee landowners. On arrival at Quebec emigrants were given, in 1832, a free government Handbook of advice (Emigrants Handbook For Arrivals in Quebec). Amongst much else it advised them that in Upper Canada “indigent emigrants” bent on “actual settlement”could obtain a 50 acre plot of land at a price of 5 shillings per acre to be paid in instalments. Three pounds three shillings and sixpence was to be paid after 3 years and the rest in equal instalments (with interest) commencing from the expiration of 3 years. The government would provide a “small log house” as temporary accommodation and afford “some assistance” towards opening roads to the lands proposed to be settled. But no provisions or utensils would be provided and settlers “must depend entirely upon their own resources for bringing their lands into cultivation.”
“Settlers with means” were given the opportunity of buying crown land at public auction at the “upset price” of 5 shillings per acre or of buying a standard plot in an urban area at a price of £10. In the latter case the sale was made on the express condition that the purchaser erected “a stone, frame or brick house not less than 24 feet long and 18 feet wide within 2 years from the day of sale.”
Another factor may have been the distinctly milder character of the climate of southern Ontario. Once there they still faced enormous difficulties. They might have to clear virgin land of the ever present Canadian forest, build their own house from the felled timber and then cultivate the land before they could bring in an income. The 1832 settler’s Handbook advised that they build their log house near a spring of water or running stream and dig a cellar beneath the house “to keep your potatoes in.” Brush and timber should be cleared from the immediate vicinity in case a forest fire destroyed the house. Their objective in the first year should be a crop of potatoes and fodder for a cow. By the third year they should aim for “ a yoke of oxen, a cow or two, a year old calf, a couple of pigs, poultry etc.”
One thing that they were probably well prepared to cope with was loneliness, as Ann Giffard pointed out. She quotes the Rev. Richard Warner, writing in 1800, “I departed from Bideford and took the Kilkhampton road. Fortunately it happened to be a market day at the former place otherwise I must inevitably have been lost again in the abominable and intricate roads of North Devon. From those who were going to attend this weekly day of public barter, who frequently ride eighteen or twenty miles for that purpose, I obtained directions through a country wild, desolate, and unpicturesque to Kilkhampton; without a single object to interest or amuse for the distance of two or three and twenty miles.” (12)
A significantly high proportion of the emigrants were non-conformists, particularly Bible Christians. This was a non-conformist body the heartland of which lay in north-west Devon and north-east Cornwall. (13) It had been founded in 1815 at Lake Farm in Shebbear parish following a preaching campaign by William O’Bryan (formerly Bryant) of Luxulyan who had been refused ordination in the Wesleyan ministry. O’Bryan formed an alliance with James Thorne the farmer at Lake, but following O’Bryan’s subsequent defection leadership of the movement fell to Thorne. A printing press was set up in Shebbear and a boarding school which still exists. The movement spread rapidly, relying for its support on the yeomen farmers of the district who provided finance and accommodation for the little congregations. An important preaching role was played by women, although in doctrinal terms there was little to distinguish them from Wesleyan Methodists. By the time of the religious census of 1851 they had numerous small meeting houses and congregations scattered across North Devon. For example, Parkham in 1851 only had the one Wesleyan chapel at Holwell, but Woolsery (the next door parish) had two Wesleyan chapels and two Bible Christian congregations. By 1864 the Bible Christians had 25,000 members in 3 continents. In 1907 they united with the Methodist Free Churches and are now wholly absorbed within Methodism.
In 1831 there were sufficient numbers of Bible Christians in Canada for the movement to send two preachers to minister to them. The Rev. Francis Metherall was sent to Prince Edward Island and the Rev. John Glass to Ontario. Both men encountered great difficulties, John Glass from the huge distances separating his scattered flock and Francis Metherall from the inability or reluctance of his to provide adequate financial support. The early censuses for Prince Edward Island and Ontario confirm that large numbers of Bible Christians were living in places like Port Hope and Charlottetown and that they had originated from Devon and Cornwall. This high proportion of nonconformists may simply reflect their local strength at the time and have no greater significance. It may also reflect the tendency for the Bible Christian movement to receive most support from the slightly better-off husbandman/yeoman group rather than the very poor. Alternatively, it may be related to a concentration of emigration from the parishes where Bible Christians were most strong; that is, in the north-western sector of North Devon.
The Troika. Ship-building, the timber trade and emigration
The dynamic behind the emigrant trade of Bideford and Appledore was provided by the interacting needs of timber importing and ship-building. Without ship-building and timber importing the emigrant trade of North Devon might never have developed. Each of the 3 different economic activities could not have thrived without the other two.
North Devon had, of course, long established maritime connections with North America to which the Newfoundland Inn on Bideford Quay bore witness. They began in the sixteenth century with the Newfoundland cod fisheries and a regular seasonal migration of fishermen to the Island. As late as 1758 Bideford was still petitioning parliament about its declining cod fisheries. (14) At the same time a growing trade in tobacco was developing between Barnstaple, Bideford and Appledore and Maryland and Virginia. By the beginning of the nineteenth century that trade was dead, following the end of the American War of Independence, but a completely new trade began with Canada based on the longstanding ship-building tradition of the Torridge estuary.(15) Between 1800 and 1809 alone no less than 107 merchant ships and 7 warships were built along the banks of the Torridge.
Many people living today will find it difficult to envisage this scale of industrialisation when they look at the Torridge estuary today. What they need to appreciate is that given any sheltered creek providing access to deep water (such as that at Cleave, below Bideford, for example), a plentiful supply of timber and a handful of skilled shipwrights using hand tools, ships could be and were built from scratch in the open air, without any of the superstructure needed today. Consequently, when ship-building ceased there was rarely any physical evidence left behind to remind future generations of what had been done.
In 1806 Napoleon declared a blockade against Britain in the Berlin Decree, closing all French controlled ports to British ships and declaring British goods liable to seizure. In the following year Russia, Prussia and Denmark joined the blockade under the terms of the Treaty of Tilsit. This effectively closed the Baltic Sea to British shipping and cut off Britain’s main source of imported timber. Potentially, this could have been disastrous at a time when every ship was built of wood. The alternative source of supply was Canada and it was this that was now exploited by the shipowners and ship-builders of the Torridge estuary.
Ships built in Prince Edward Island by North Devon shipwrights sailed to Appledore and Bideford with their holds filled with Canadian timber. The holds were emptied, final fitting out was done in the Bideford and Appledore shipyards and the ships then returned to Canada with the same holds filled with emigrants, who were landed in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and sometimes, New York. Without the emigrants the return journey would have been problematic since the colonies rapidly achieved self-sufficiency and did not require continuous supply. In any case most imported goods could be obtained more cheaply from the U.S.A. The necessity to fill the holds with emigrants for the return journey had the further effect of keeping fares low. For about a generation these activities were the backbone of the economies of both Bideford and Appledore.
Barry O. Hughes (Shipbuilding 1740-1900) cites the Ann as the first ship to arrive in Bideford with a cargo of timber from Canada. This was as early as 1810 and the timber came from New Brunswick. The first ship to sail to Prince Edward Island and return with a cargo of timber from the Island was the Four Friends, owner and master, William Ramsay, whose return was registered at the Bideford Custom House (at the bottom of Bridgeland Street) on the 31st October 1812. The cargo was probably destined for Thomas Burnard, a prosperous local ship owner and timber merchant who lived at Orchard Hill and was twice mayor of Bideford. In 1818 Thomas Burnard’s ship the Peter and Sarah took the first gang of North Devon shipwrights, under the direction of William Ellis (born Monkleigh 1774), to Prince Edward Island to begin ship-building there.
Between 1818 and 1855 no less than 106 known sailings of ships from Bideford to Canada took place. In 57 cases emigrants are known to have been carried, based largely upon evidence collected in Prince Edward Island by a group of local historians. Much of this evidence is drawn from shipping reports in the press which, as emigration became more commonplace, became less and less informative as to numbers of emigrants arriving in the Island. It is highly unlikely that only 57 of these ships carried North Devon emigrants. A list of known sailings and an estimate of the numbers of emigrants involved may be found on the www.genuki.org.uk website. Look for Bideford in the Devon section and then under Maritime.
The names of three local merchants are particularly associated with this trade, William Yeo (1813-1872) of Appledore, whose lifetime more or less coincides with the heyday of the trade, Thomas Burnard Chanter (1797-1874) who was the nephew of Thomas Burnard, and Richard Heard of Bideford. William Yeo’s father, James (1789-1868), had settled in Prince Edward Island where he had a shipyard at Richmond Bay and where his son, James junior, built a mansion called Green Park at Campbell Creek. William Yeo’s mansion in Appledore (Richmond House) built in 1850, was named after Richmond Bay, as was Richmond Dock (1856) his shipyard in Appledore. When he died in 1872 his timber and ship-building enterprises died with him. Chanter owned a fleet of sailing vessels, some of which were built for him in Prince Edward Island and erected a signal tower at Appledore from which to obtain advance notice of his vessels crossing Bideford Bar. From this he could signal to Bideford as well as Appledore for labour to unload his vessels. This tower, visible from Bideford and later known in its derelict state as Chanter’s Folly, was built in 1841 and demolished in 1952. He lived at Glenburnie, Orchard Hill, just inside the parish of Northam.
Richard Heard was originally a builder and auctioneer in Bideford but in the 1830’s entered the timber and emigrant trade. His son William acted as his father’s agent in Prince Edward Island, settled there permanently and, amongst other enterprises, opened a shop in Charlottetown. In 1849 Richard Heard had three barques regularly sailing for North America, the Devonia (950 tons burthen), Secret (600 tons burthen) and Civility (450 tons burthen) and was advertising Quebec and St. John’s Yellow and Red Pine, White Lake Oak and birch logs of very excellent quality for sale at his timber yard in Bideford. (16) By 1850 White’s Directory reported that he had added a fourth ship to his fleet and commented that it was a remarkable fact that no accident had occurred to emigrant ships from Bideford “over the last twenty years.”(17)
Heard’s 3 ships only accommodated about 10 cabin class passengers apiece. Most passengers would have travelled steerage which means that families and unaccompanied passengers would simply have bedded down, cheek by jowl, in the emptied timber holds. If they were lucky the ship-owner might erect temporary two-tier bunks for his passengers. They would have been given a basic ration of food and water which they would partly prepare themselves. If necessary the able-bodied men assisted with things like manning the pumps when the crew were hard-pressed.
James Hamlyn was another Bideford shipowner engaged in the emigrant trade He charged between £3 15s and £4 7s 6d for the voyage. The different fares may relate to port of disembarkation as well as distinctions between cabin and steerage class. His advertising contained fascinating detail about the weekly food allowance given to each passenger on the voyage to North America: 3 and a half lbs. of bread, 1 lb. flour, 1 and a half lbs. oatmeal, 1 and a half lbs. rice, 1 and a half lbs. peas, 1 and a quarter lbs. beef, 1 lb. pork, 2 lbs. potatoes, 2 oz. tea, 1lb. sugar, 2 oz. salt, half oz. mustard, quarter oz. pepper, I gill vinegar, and 3 quarts of water daily.
There is some evidence that passengers on these ships arrived in better condition in Canada than those from ports like Bristol. Ann Giffard puts this down to the fact that the captains and crews were all local men united by common ties, including blood relationships, to the passengers they were carrying. Richard Heard’s advertising claimed that “every accommodation possible will be given to the passengers, and no expense spared to make them comfortable during the voyage.” Conditions on board were undoubtedly rough, but as Ann Giffard points out, not one whit harder than agricultural labourers normally experienced at this time. (18)
The emigrant trade from Bideford was undoubtedly competitive and this was another factor helping to keep fares low. In 1843, for example, Greenhill and Giffard identified no less than 8 ships seeking emigrants from North Devon. John How had two ships, Richard Buse one, Thomas Chanter one, William Heard one, James Yeo two, plus the London owned St. Ann’s. (19) If, however, we extend the period from the autumn of 1842 to the spring of 1844 no less than 13 vessels were involved. A Parliamentary Return from the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission (British Parliamentary Paper 1844 XXXV 503) for that period gives the names of 13 vessels sailing from Bideford with a total of 699 emigrants (see table below).
Not only do such figures show the extent of competition but they also reveal the scale of emigration. It is very unlikely that these numbers were maintained for the whole of the period. All the evidence is that the trade was fitful. Nonetheless, if we are seeing a slow drain over 30/40 years, punctuated by short bursts of intense activity then it becomes easy to understand the high estimates produced by Greenhill and Giffard.
Emigration from other Devonshire ports
The character of the emigration from Bideford and the other emigrant ports of Dartmouth, Exeter and Teignmouth was always different from that from Plymouth which was vastly bigger than all the others combined. The differences are admirably summarised by Brayshay: “the impact within the county of assisted passage schemes of various kinds was largely confined to Plymouth, but it should nonetheless be emphasised that, for much of the century, and particularly in the mid-Victorian period, privately-financed emigration was an important feature of the lesser ports in Devon. Although the numbers were comparatively insignificant in national terms, the outflow from Devon’s small ports represents a special kind of emigration. In marked contrast to those departing via the large United Kingdom ports, the passengers were almost entirely local in origin. Moreover, they were rarely drawn from the truly impoverished classes. On the contrary, they were able to afford the higher fares and thereby benefit from the better standard of accommodation provided on the lesscrowded, locally owned vessels … While Plymouth shared in the large-scale national pattern of emigration, other ports were involved in a more intensely local. and much less regular, participation in the emigrant trade.”(20) By the “truly impoverished classes” Brayshay mainly means the pauper inmates of union workhouses travelling on assisted passages. The numbers of people from North Devon emigrating from Plymouth, or indeed Bristol, are unknown; although Brayshay believes that people from Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset predominated in the group classed in the official Plymouth figures as originating from England and Wales.
One event that must have had an influence on the decision to sail from Plymouth or use local ships was the loss of the emigrant ship John, a barque of 463 tons that struck the Manacles Rock, off St.Keverne on the Cornish coast, in 1855, having set sail from Plymouth bound for Quebec. There were 19 crew, 154 adult passengers, 98 children and 16 infants on board; a total of 287. Reporting (in great detail) the disaster on the 10th May 1855 the Plymouth and Stonehouse Journal announced that upwards of 190 of her passengers had been drowned. It wrote “The passengers principally from
the North of Devon, the great source of American emigration in the West of England, numbers from other parts of this country and the remainder from the counties of Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset, – in fact, she was considered what is termed a West Country ship.” That North Devon was considered to be, “the great source of American emigration” is very significant.
Curiously, however, Mark Sandford’s modern reconstruction of the John’s passenger list (see Devon section of www.genuki.co.uk whilst confirming an overwhelmingly westcountry origin for the passengers does not, in this instance, confirm that they were principally from North Devon. Only Thomas and Sarah Pincombe and their six children (all were drowned) and Joseph Bawden or Bowden (who was saved) can be positively identified as coming from North Devon; all nine coming from South Molton. The captain of the vessel, Captain Rawle, was charged with manslaughter at the inquest into the deaths, but at his subsequent trial in Cornwall was found not guilty. A Board of Trade Enquiry was held which made a number of recommendations and the inquest, trial and enquiry were the subject of great public concern and very detailed reporting by the press. The Colonial Land and Emigration Commission had chartered the vessel and their
stewardship came under intense scrutiny.
Decline of the Emigration Trade
North Devon’s emigrant trade with North America died as the timber and ship-building industry died. Even without the death of William Yeo, without a male heir, in 1872, which was disastrous for Appledore, the factors making for decline were already in operation. When Britain turned away from the Baltic to North America for its timber supplies the bankers and financiers investing their capital in the new trade needed to know that in the future their investment would be protected. The government responded by erecting tariff barriers protecting the new trade from any future Baltic competition. But these tariffs were slowly removed and finally abolished in 1860 so that Baltic timber became competitive once again. In any case, by 1870 the age of wooden sailing ships was rapidly coming to an end, to be replaced by iron, steam-driven ships.
The arrival of the railway at Bideford (East-the-Water) in 1855 signalled the era of cheap rail transport and made it easier for would-be emigrants to leave via Bristol or Plymouth. Thus the North Devon Journal reported in 1857: “It is said, that within the last week little short of 200 persons have passed up the North Devon Railway en route for the emigration ports – those for the North American colonies proceeding to Plymouth.” (21) Even earlier it was always relatively easy to sail from Bideford to Bristol. Richard Heard had a steamer, the Water Witch, as well as sailing vessels, making regular weekly passages from Bideford to Bristol. In 1849 his ships Civility and Secret were sailing between Bideford and Canada and his barque Devonia was sailing between Bristol and New York. In his advertising at that time he was actually offering free passages to Bristol from Bideford for those passengers wishing to sail in Devonia. (22)
Inevitably, the emigration choked itself off by creating local shortages of labour. As early as 1853 the Bideford Journal reported : “We understand that not less than 60 persons…….are about to emigrate to the US from Swimbridge and the neighbouring parishes……in the parishes of Holsworthy, Buckland Brewer, Yarnscombe, and throughout all those districts where emigration has thinned the local population labourers are not to be had for money. Everywhere we hear of wages being advanced and the labour market never before looked up so well.”(23) For some, at least, this must have removed the incentive to leave.
Emigration to Canada from Britain started to decline from 1855 onwards. The Immigration Report sent from Canada to Parliament in 1856 reported that 52,364 people had migrated to Canada in 1854, of whom 7,353 had come from England. By the following year only 20,207 entered Canada, a fall of 32,122, with only 4,310 coming from England. The decline continued and in 1858 the report declared that only 12,810 people had entered Canada via the St. Lawrence route, “the smallest number since 1839.” It also recorded an absence of any reports of immigration into New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. Canada was still a massively underpopulated country and in 1861 the population was still only 3,230,000.
Immigration into Canada did not cease after 1858 and there was another surge in numbers between 1881 and 1891, but the really massive spike, which eclipsed all others, took place at the very beginning of the twentieth century, between 1901 and 1931. This, plus the much greater numbers resulting from natural growth, brought the population of Canada up to 10,377,000 in 1931. (24) For a growing database of names, origins, and destinations of those emigrating from North Devon to North America in the nineteenth century see www.genuki.org.uk (look under Emigration and Immigration in the Devon section).
(1) A New Survey of England, Devon, W.G. Hoskins, Collins, 1954.
(2) Westcountrymen in Prince Edward’s Isle, Basil Greenhill and Ann Giffard, Toronto 1967. Their estimates of emigration were based upon detailed study of ships, shipowners and shipping movements between Bideford and Canada and reports of the numbers of emigrants carried by the ships involved appearing in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. As emigration became more commonplace these reports of numbers diminished. They are convinced that much of the emigration from North Devon was never officially recorded.
(3) Same reference, p.180.
(5) The Colonisation Circular appeared between 1843 and 1873 (Vols.1-32). A complete set is held by the British Library.
(6) The Emigration Trade in Nineteenth-century Devon, Mark Brayshay, in New Maritime History of Devon (vol.2), Conway Maritime Press,1994, Table 10.1.
(7) North Devon Journal, 14th April 1831.
(8) Ann Giffard, Towards Quebec, H.M.S.O., 1981, p.36.
(9) Greenhill & Giffard, previously cited, p. 183.
(10) Grace Grill’s Letter to Canada, Richard G. Grylls, The Devon Family Historian, February 2007, p.12.
(11) See Elliott’s Mills, Hampton 1840-1936, J.H.Elliott, The Canadian Statesman, January 1937.
(12) Ann Giffard, previously cited, p.3.
(13) See James Thorne and the Bible Christians, Dr. David Shorney, Devon Family Historian, Nov. 2001, p.12.
(14) National Archives CO/194/8/1416 (transcribed by Brian Randell). “That for many years past we have benefitted and sent to the Island of Newfoundland from this harbour, Twenty-five sail of ships which employed one thousand men but for some years past …trade…decayed and sank to its lowest ebb.” Competition from French fishermen, impressment and the absence of Royal Navy protection was blamed. The fleet that sailed each summer to Newfoundland, caught cod on the Grand Banks, beheaded, eviscerated, and dried them in the open on wooden racks (flakes) on shore and then returned home at the end of summer. Dried cod was known as stockfish, would keep for several years and had a ready market in western Europe. It was from this seasonal migration that some of the permanent resident population of Newfoundland originated. The largest fishing fleets are associated with the south Devon ports.
(15) Ships and Shipyards of Bideford 1568-1938, Inkerman Rogers, Bideford, 1947.
(16) See advertisement in the North Devon Journal, 16th February 1849.
(17) White’s Directory, 1850, pp.757-8.
(18) Towards Quebec, previously cited. Ann Giffard’s book contains two contemporary accounts of the Quebec crossing and represents a much more balanced assessment of the hardships and dangers that faced would-be emigrants than is often encountered. Uncle Billey’s Journal details the experiences of William Fulford of Buckland Brewer who sailed on the Civility from Bideford on the 5th April 1848. William Gliddon of Barnstaple sailed from Appledore in the Ocean Queen on the 2nd April 1855 and his log of the journey was subsequently published in the Western Standard.
(19) Greenhill and Giffard, previously cited, pp. 184-185.
(20) Brayshay, previously cited, p.108.
(21) North Devon Journal, 16th April 1857.
(22) North Devon Journal, April 1849.
(23) North Devon Journal, 31st March 1853.
(24) Statistics Canada (official website of government of Canada’s statistical dept.). There are no official estimates for the period before 1851.
© Arthur Dark, 2009