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.
Thomas Robert Malthus was an equivocal advocate of emigration. Malthus was a keen observer of the course of emigration from the British Isles at the end of the eighteenth century. The Malthusian world was a pre-industrial world in which population growth seemed always most likely to outstrip and swamp any achievable economic growth. There were numerous categories of migration out of Britain, often associated with different dynamics, moving with different velocities and under widely different pressures. Malthus was adamant about the self-defeating consequences of emigration and drew on cases from the West Highlands of Scotland, most notably the island of Jura. The process of emigration was accompanied by the relative decline of agricultural employment in the region. Malthus's outline of the social psychology of the migration was applicable especially in the case of the Isle of Skye.
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.
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'.
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.
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.