Very large numbers of people began to depart the British Isles for the New Worlds after about 1770. This was a pioneering movement, a rehearsal for modern international migration. This book contends that emigration history is not seamless, that it contains large shifts over time and place, and that the modern scale and velocity of mobility have very particular historical roots. The Isle of Man is an ideal starting point in the quest for the engines and mechanisms of emigration, and a particular version of the widespread surge in British emigration in the 1820s. West Sussex was much closer to the centres of the expansionary economy in the new age. North America was the earliest and the greatest theatre of oceanic emigration in which the methods of mass migration were pioneered. Landlocked Shropshire experienced some of the earliest phases of British industrialisation, notably in the Ironbridge/Coalbrookdale district, deep inland on the River Severn. The turmoil in the agrarian and demographic foundations of life reached across the British archipelago. In West Cork and North Tipperary, there was clear evidence of the great structural changes that shook the foundations of these rural societies. The book also discusses the sequences and effects of migration in Wales, Swaledale, Cornwall, Kent, London, and Scottish Highlands. It also deals with Ireland's place in the more generic context of the origins of migration from the British Isles. The common historical understanding is that the pre-industrial population of the British Isles had been held back by Malthusian checks.
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.
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.
North America was the earliest and the greatest theatre of oceanic emigration in which the methods of mass migration were pioneered. The European re-peopling of America stretched over four centuries from the earliest years of the seventeenth century but for the first 200 years it was dominated by emigrants from the British Isles. Emigration was fundamentally an expression of demographic conditions which had shifted decisively over the time span. The pursuit of a general view of the emigrational relationship between the two sides of the Atlantic is strewn with difficulties of interpretation. Indenture systems had been widespread in the recruitment of eighteenth-century emigrant. Indenturing through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was the primary vehicle of British and Rhineland emigration to North America. The ending of indenturing was essentially connected to the great change in the supply and demand circumstances underlying the evolving emigration systems.
Shropshire and the English Midlands provide instructive examples of mobility induced by rapid economic and demographic change, redistributing and dislocating its population in certain key districts. Precocious industrialisation came to Shropshire by the 1770s and performed its dynamic and disruptive functions in classic but localised form. In adjacent Staffordshire there were parallel developments, though the course of industrialisation was more comprehensive and cumulative than in Shropshire. Farmers and the rural community in Shropshire had faced turbulent times as parts of the county experienced the impact of industrial growth and then relative decline. Contemporary perceptions emphasised the common reluctance of rural folk to migrate, and still more to emigrate. Highley was a middling rural parish losing a large proportion of its people, mostly young folk, who migrated short distances; they were predominantly male, and followed the decline of agriculture and its reduced use of labour.
West Cork was an outstanding and clear-cut version of the wider Irish experience, before and after the Famine. North Tipperary was not the most famine-ravaged part of Ireland, but it became the most turbulent. By the 1830s, Ireland was already becoming a primary supplier of emigrants to the great and insatiable needs of the United States. Emigration from south-west Ireland in the decades between 1770 and 1830 followed a clear sequence in the rural transformation. First came the amassment of population without any appreciable relief by migration. Much more significant was the emigration of Richard Talbot in 1818 from Tipperary to Upper Canada. T.J Elliott discovers the pathways and passages to America of the Protestant emigrants: using methods of family reconstruction and historical biography, he connects both ends of the 'migration corridors'.
The transition to mass emigration by the 1830s coincided with the extension of the British emigrant flows to their furthest extremity, the Antipodes. Australia became a new theatre of migration which reflected the new circumstances of expatriation. The Australian case was famously different from, and began more than a century later than, the great transatlantic migrations from the British Isles. The Australian immigration story was improbable from the start when, in 1788, it began as an extremely remote penitentiary for outcasts from British gaols. The eventual despatch of 160,000 convicts to the Australian colonies between 1788 and 1867 barely merited the name of an emigration system. Like the other Australasian colonies, New Zealand conducted its own assisted immigration policies: many of its immigrants indeed came via Australia, especially during the New Zealand gold rushes of the 1860.
West Wales and Swaledale and the sequences of migration
Wales, in common with many locations in the British Isles, had a mixed career during the economic and demographic upheavals of the late eighteenth century. Rural west Wales was especially prominent in the emigration account; it also vividly manifested some of the classic conditions making for mobility. Increased mobility in rural Wales was marked also by particular episodes of emigration which entered the folk memory. The demographic and economic career of the upland Swaledale region in the North Yorkshire Pennines demonstrates with unusual clarity several typical sequences within the long-term decline of its rural population. The Swaledale economy remained dominated by agriculture, and productivity increases were impressive, especially in dairying. Swaledale was a classic case of rural change associated with migratory adjustments to demographic and economic pressures, and was a regional variant of the common experience in rural Britain.