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.
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.
The turmoil in the agrarian and demographic foundations of life reached across the British archipelago. They were on display most critically in Ireland where, in 1821, the population was more than half that of England and three times greater than Scotland's, and also growing very rapidly. The emigration question was interconnected with the way in which the labour supply for the industrialisation of the British economy was achieved. The state of mobility and the transfer of labour out of rural England was becoming much clearer by mid-Victorian times. The beginnings of modern mobility were essentially rural, the origins are found in country cottages and villages, and along the very long and tortuous paths which, for a minority, led to the emigration ships. Only later did mass emigration become an overwhelmingly urban and industrial phenomenon.
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.
Emigration from Cornwall outstripped all other counties in England and Wales in the late nineteenth century: it was at the top of the league table of per capita emigration. The international adjustment by the Cornish migrants was framed by the income differential which had decisively widened under the impact of the much more successful copper mining operations overseas. Cornish emigration showed that the effects of mining decline were written on top of the conventional processes of rural decline as the industrial economy of Britain expanded, sucking away much of the demographic revolution. Cornwall and Kent were two variants of the general responsiveness of rural England to the opportunities of emigration and the imperatives of population shifts. Kent was a more purely rural county, with little mining activity, but adjacent to London.
The Scottish Highlands and Islands were furthest from London, remote from the trade routes and commerce of the nation, the last region to experience a battle of great military forces. The Highlands present a clear-cut case of emigration as extrusion, of a poor population propelled outwards by force majeure. The Highland story was punctuated by recurring and dramatic episodes of exodus by emigration, but most of the intermittent and sporadic outflow was within Scotland. Even in wartime, emigration from the Highlands continued, usually associated with landlord policies to rationalise their estates, as in the early Clearances in Sutherland in 1806-1807. Famine was a conclusive symptom of land hunger and low productivity, vulnerability and a misshapen community, in the 1840s emigration accelerated, urged on by landlord assistance, pressure and coercion, and the availability of philanthropic, landlord and colonial assisted passages.
This chapter deals with Ireland's place in the more generic context of the origins of migration from the British Isles. The first crescendo of mass international migration came in the mid-1840s and was disproportionately Irish. Population growth, famine and emigration in the Irish case are commonly regarded as tied together inextricably. The spread of the potato facilitated economic expansion which included 'a huge movement of population from east to west with new communities growing up in previously little populated areas'. The potato failure in 1846 produced catastrophic levels of mortality and then massive migration. The evacuation of rural Ireland eventually issued forth into a flood of emigrants across the Irish Sea and across the Atlantic. Whatever the ideological assumptions, the readjustment of agriculture in Ireland, especially in the decades of the Great Famine, was radical and ruthless.