BLEAK HOUSE October 24, 2004Posted by wmmbb in Uncategorized.
There are many things of which I know very little, not least from where my family came and why. For me, at least family history is always like placing a toe in the more general history of social policy and social forces that lead, for example, to the rupture of immigration.
We are immigrant nations – Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Canada, Brazil, Chile, and the United States. Many of us do not understand our own past, let alone appreciate the dislocation that the impress of peoples from the across the seas caused to the native populations.
The causes of the Agricultural Depression of the 1870′s in England and Scotland, and before that the Potato Famine in Ireland and the clearing of the Highlands were all causes for the reasons for the Anglo-Celtic immigration to often distant, remote, and sometimes harsh environments on the otherside of the globe. East Anglia, for example, was among the leaders of agricultural innovation and by 1870 school children were singing, The Emigrant Ship”.
At Wickham St Paul, in 1874, the schoolchildren sang ‘The Emigrant Ship’ to the schools inspector. A poignant illustration of the way that, by then, Emigration had become part of the culture, in a rural population that Britain no longer wanted. The steady stream of emigrants from East Anglia to Canada, Australia, The United States and New Zealand became a vast flood of hopeful humanity as Victoria’s reign progressed, fleeing a homeland without jobs or prospects. As in Ireland, the collapse of the agricultural economy brought about by cheap imports was not compensated by a rise in industry. The Industrial Revolution passed East Anglia by and the countryside slid into a recession that was to last eighty years -The Foxearth & District Local History Society
Humphrey Clarke in his article, The Song of the Emigrant Ship – Emigration from Rural East Anglia, with the above quote. He goes on to make the following opening observations:
East Anglia, comprising the three eastern counties of Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk, was for centuries the crucible of agricultural advancement in Britain, but it was hard hit by the devastation of the agricultural sector after the Napoleonic wars. To make matters worse, the cottage spinning and plaiting industries collapsed around the same period. Such was the unemployment, and consequent disorder, that parish authorities were forced to explore the possibilities of assisted passages to deal with the rural unemployed. Emigration increased throughout the 1830s and became widely popularised after 1850.
The 1870′s and 1880′s saw extensive rural depopulation as people migrated to urban and industrial areas, with significant numbers choosing to move overseas to the USA, Canada and Australia.
English emigration is not a fashionable subject for historians. Studies of rural Britain commonly concentrate on internal migration. Those that do touch on overseas emigration focus on the 1830s and the New Poor Law debate, of which East Anglia was an important element. Most studies ignore emigration in the second half of the century completely. An analysis of mass movement in Britain suffers from the fact that the British government largely lost interest in emigration in the 1850s, before the large scale emigration of the 1880s. During the peak of emigration in the late 19th century, virtually no data was collected and the figures that do exist are inaccurate and unreliable.
What can be said about East Anglia, might also apply to other agricultural regions, such as Hampshire.
Those who stayed behind, or could not emigrate often suffered from harst social policies. Since I know my forebears came from Preston Candover, Hampshire, I could search for other evidence. Prisons at least keep good records, and the description of “agricultural labourer’ is common amond these inmates. And then I notice that Kate, Annie and Edward are all scholars, and no more than that ten years old, yet still inmates.
This provides a new insight for me into the concept of mateship, and reminds me that today there are still children, whose parents bravely did make the trip to escape in the hope of a better life, locked up in prisons today in remote parts of Australia.