Across much of Europe in the late nineteenth century there was a fundamental problem, notably in those zones where industrialisation had had little impact and where the agricultural sector confronted declining returns to labour. Population growth was evidently occurring in a transforming context of agrarian and industrial change, which carried the ultimate causes of mass migration. The absorbent capacity of European cities and towns was the critical factor in the long run. The scale of intra-European migration was extraordinary: Europe's industrial cities attracted foreigners in vast numbers. The Canadian historian Norman Macdonald declared that the great diasporic European phenomenon was a migration with 'many roots, chiefly the adverse conditions in the Old World and the appeal of the New'. By the late nineteenth century, emigrants were streaming out of most parts of Europe.
The life of Robert Malthus (1766-1834) spanned the decades in Britain of the rapid transition towards mass international migration. In 1826/7, in his famous explication before the Emigration Committee of Parliament, Malthus argued that the ineffectiveness of emigration as a permanent remedy was a consequence of the 'vacuum effect'. He proposed a series of apparently inescapable tendencies regarding the causes and consequences of population growth, which were generally 'dismal'. Malthus' best-known propositions about emigration related to the utility or otherwise of emigration as a means of relieving the pressure of population on subsistence. There exists a debateable let-out clause for Malthus, located in his doctrine concerning the longer-run. There was less rigidity and less pessimism in Malthusian doctrine than is conventionally understood. The most favoured explanation of the demographic order relates to the escape from 'the Malthusian trap'.
By the 1880s, emigration to North America was rapidly exceeding the entire rural exodus in England and Wales and 'the reserves of potential migration in the rural areas were much reduced'. By then most British emigrants were urban people. In the British case there is a crucial question about the extent of internal mobility in the home context, studied most influentially by Clark and Souden. The campsites, despite their diversity, align in the conditions favourable to migration and emigration, and therefore encourage broader explanations of the British discontinuity. In terms of the structural underpinnings of population mobility and its eventual expression in actual emigration, there are long lines of causation as well as matters of contingency in the story. In the end the rural sector expanded positively and unprecedentedly, to the demands generated by the essential needs of the expanded and industrialising population of the country.
Historians have resorted to a language of mystery and metaphor when they come to grapple with the great structural changes which underpin the array of contributory causes of migration. The British Isles was the prototype case of agrarian transformation associated with industrial growth and mass migration. Frank Thistlethwaite in the early 1960s re-shaped the subject by insisting on linking the two sides of the Atlantic into a connected explanation of the migratory turmoil. There were links along the chain of causation towards the migration of millions of the British people in their confusing permutations. Migration history comes in three main schematic forms: first the individual account, second the general narrative of migratory behaviour, and third the grand theories of migration. International emigration has depended on the basic facilities of migration. The British case was the prototype of modern rural-urban migration and has been replicated, with important variations, across the world.
Most of the islands of Britain were largely unaffected by direct industrialisation before 1850: they were on the periphery of the great changes. The Isle of Man provides relatively straightforward conditions in which to examine the operations of migratory flows in a context which remained primarily rural, with some mining and fishing as secondary factors. The emigration records of the Isle of Man and Guernsey display great contrasts in their trajectories, though the final shape was rather similar. The Isle of Man was only marginally affected by the emigrations, though population pressure slowly diminished during the rest of the nineteenth century. Dramatic and sudden exoduses of several hundred people from the Isle of Man began in the mid-1820s. It was essentially a concentrated outflow of Manx people to Ohio, where the emigrants developed strong connections which were sustained for more than a century.
A radical shift in the velocity and volume of general mobility was a sine qua non of mass emigration. The pre-existing shape of labour mobilities set the context for the emergence of mass emigration. The beginnings of mass emigration were located in the British Isles in the 1820s, but the scale of the discontinuity requires a measure of the circumstances before the change. Modern mass mobility erupted in the western world in the early nineteenth century, especially in Victorian times. The case of Alexander Somerville in Scotland provides a standard pattern for mobility in the transitional age. English historians have long identified an array of categories of mobility in the pre-modern population, some long-distance, some seasonal, some local and circulatory. A composite picture has emerged which emphasises the essential fluidity of the population before industrialisation, of people in localised motion and perhaps increasingly so.
West Sussex was a classic zone on the receiving end of the increasing economic divisions in the national story. Turmoil in rural Sussex had been rife at the turn of the century, marked by harvest failures, disorder and protest about food monopolies and inflated prices. Emigration from Sussex to remote Australia was riskier. Sometimes a local Sussex parish intervened and provided assistance to poor emigrants, in effect to paupers. Emigration was only one of many solutions to the problem of rural poverty in the district and across the nation. Much more common in the years before 1830 were certain initiatives taken to promote the emigration of poor people from Sussex, mainly to Canada and the United States. These schemes were led by local philanthropists and landowners seeking to diminish the burdens of poor relief.
The supply and demand of emigrants were evidently entangled and it is unlikely that the propaganda machine was the first cause of the new scale and urgency of mass emigration. The years 1768 to 1776 may have marked an earlier fundamental discontinuity in emigration but the evidence is ambiguous. There is ample remaining contention among the migration scholars, and the views of the historical geographer Ian Whyte are typical of modern scepticism about the notion of any fundamental discontinuity in the long narrative of mobility. Strong support for the discontinuity thesis comes from the quantitative historians T.J. Hatton and J.G. Williamson. The American scholar Raymond Cohn has provided emphatic reinforcement to the claim of 'discontinuity' in the later 1820s when, he declares, that 'mass migration began'. He says there was a break in trend in Atlantic migration between 1827 and 1831.
The Darien scheme was one of the most spectacular imperial misadventures of early modern history. The Darien scheme has all the hallmarks of an authentic Scottish 'El Dorado' moment. There were widespread symptoms of a genuinely El Dorado excitation across Scotland. The social psychology of El Doradoism entailed a heightened collective enthusiasm for a distant enterprise, and the implicit negotiation of risk in a colonial setting. Colonisation, especially in the seventeenth century, was always a speculative enterprise, associated with high risks and heavy persuasion, often also with exaggeration and deception. In 1684 Robert Barclay had sought emigrants for the colony of New East Jersey in a deliberate effort to recruit Scots. The emigrants were also to be accompanied by ministers who were 'enjoined to instruct the native inhabitants in the gospels'.
Intercontinental mobility and migrant expectations in the nineteenth century
The history of Australian immigration has a number of distinctive features which bear upon the question of returning home, much of it to do with the tyranny said to have been exercised by its distance from the homelands in the British Isles. This chapter concentrates on the nineteenth-century segment of the Australian story, the time when the return movement became significant. Assisted migrants to Australia, generally speaking, expected to emigrate for good: they had neither the funds, nor the anticipation of future income, to indulge the expectation of returning to the original homeland. Some emigrants were absurdly triumphant about their new life in the colonies, scorning the idea of return. Rising colonial incomes and the improvement in transport facilities between Australia and Britain were elements in the increasing mobility.