The factors that cause people to leave long established homes and homelands can generally be described in terms of push and pull. They are most often extreme in nature. This was certainly the case in Ireland in the late 1840s and early 1850s as the political cartoons below suggest. Many Irish were literally being pushed off their land and from their homes by landlords who had given up hope of collecting long overdue rents, who looked for an easy way to avoid poorhouse rates, or who hoped to consolidate their land holdings under unified and more cost efficient management. And more importantly, the prospects of starvation, disease, and extreme poverty at home were obviously powerful forces pushing the Irish abroad. And then there were the promises of life abroad in England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and, mostly, the United States - work, cheap land, a regular income - pulling at the stricken Irish.

In 1848 the British periodical Punch proposed a mass emigration from Ireland. Their satirical idea actually came to pass over the next decade. Approximately 1.2 million Irish moved overseas during the 1850s. Of these, almost a million emigrated to the United States alone.1 Not everyone could move, though. As you will see in studying the map at the right, there is a definite geographic pattern defining the areas where migration was at its highest rate, a pattern that differs in important respects from that defining other impacts of the famine. Open the map and explore. You can Change Styles in the Ireland - Counties layer to look at different characteristics of the famine across Ireland. Compare, for example, migration with the percentage of the population living in the poorest housing, death rates, and levels of illiteracy.

Emigrants MAp

The simple truth was that you could not leave unless you could afford to leave. The cost per person varied by the nationality of the carrier. Fares to Canada in 1848 were £3-5 for each adult with children paying half as much.2 The Canadian ships were primarily cargo ships carrying American timber to British ports and passengers back to Canada, basically as ballast. The cheapest fares on these ships came with horrific conditions. US passenger ships made their money carrying Irish abroad and generally charged about twice as much for travel to Boston and New York. Many families, though, chose the cheaper fare and then made the short journey to Maine and New England on arrival in Canada. Some had the money to make the journey having sold what they could. Many, as suggested in a letter home from America by Mary Garvey, were financed by family members who had proceeded them abroad and could afford to help out. Still others were financed by their Irish landlords who demanded that rights of tenancy be surrendered and houses be knocked down in exchange for debts being forgiven and passage abroad paid. Records from the estates of Lord Midleton in County Cork demonstrate this possibility as do accounts of the Earl Fitzwilliams in County Wicklow. In the face of increasing poorhouse rates and non payment of debts many landlords saw this arrangement as a cheap means of ridding themselves of the burdens of tenants and of consolidating their landholdings to be managed more cost effectively.


The five to seven week transatlantic passage was relatively comfortable for the 2% of passengers who could afford a cabin. For those in the packed steerage compartment life was anything but - as the sketch below suggests. Time above decks was limited, food and water rationed, seasickness common, and the potential for the spread of infectious diseases like typhus and cholera ever present. Vessels carrying emigrants abroad became known as coffin ships largely because of experience during the summer 1847 aboard Canadian timber ships. Sick and weak passengers moved up the St. Johns River to be kept in quarantine for weeks aboard ship only to be quarantined again on Gross Pointe Island where typhus was rampant. It is estimated that 30% of emigrants who traveled to Gross Pointe that summer died.3 Excerpts from the journal of Robert Whyte, a cabin passenger bound for Canada, chronicle the experiences of the poorer passengers, telling of two very different emigration experiences.

To Start You Thinking

1) The Here and There cartoon in the introduction is rich in symbolism - the shovel on the right side indicating the possibility of work in America, for example. Pick out two symbols on each side of the cartoon and explain their significance.

2) The cartoon was published in the British periodical Punch. The title, "Here and There; or Emigration a Remedy," carries a double meaning depending on the point of view. Discuss its meaning first from the perspective of the Irish family pictured and then from that of the British reading public for whom the cartoon was intended.

3) The excerpts from the records of Lord Midleton indicate a variety of means of removing tenants from his estate. Identify each. Why do you suppose that different means were used?

4) Open the ship's manifest of tenants of the Earl Fitzwilliams estate who were emigrated to Canada in April, 1848. Notice that you can sort each column by clicking on the arrow at the head of the column. Characterize the emigrants in terms of family and age.

5) Robert Whyte's experience as a passenger aboard the Ajax was dramatically different than that of the steerage passengers. Use the Cost of Passage table above and compare the cost for Whyte and his wife as cabin passengers with that of a husband and wife in steerage. Identify differences in the experience between Whyte's family and a steerage family according to his journal.

6) According to the  Emigration from Ireland  map, were the counties with the highest rate of emigration also those with the highest rate of poor housing, illiteracy, and the greatest decline in population between 1841 and 1851? Discuss your comparisons.


cartoon from "Here and There; or Emigration a Remedy," in Punch, July 15, 1848 as found at Views of the Famine.

images from “The Departure,” in “The Tide of Emigration to the United States and to the British Colonies,” The Illustrated London News, July 6, 1850 as found online at Views of the Famine.

The Ejectment,” The Illustrated London News, December 16, 1848 as found online at Views of the Famine.

Now in Port,” poster as found online at Derry-Londonderry links to Philadelphia.

”Emigration Vessel - Between Decks,” The Illustrated London News, May 10, 1851 as found online at The Smithsonian, “Enterprise on the Water."

1 "Number of Overseas Emigrants from Ireland Classified by Destination, 1851-1921," Dublin: Commission on Emigration and Other Population Problems, 1954 as found in Colm Toibin and Diarmaid Ferriter, The Irish Famine: A Documentary, New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002, p 171.

2 "Colonization Circular, No. 8, Ninth Edition," August 26, 1848, London: Colonial Land & Emigration Commissioners as found at The National Library of Australia.

3 Colm Toibin & Diarmaid Ferriter, The Irish Famine: A Documentary, New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001, p 27.

Last modified in May, 2015 by Rick Thomas