Emigrating

The 19th century population explosion in the United Kingdom saw millions living in poverty or, when faced with disaster such as the Irish potato famine, even starving to death. Emigration was seen as an opportunity to seek better conditions or a new life.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the Australian continent was only sparsely populated by convicts, soldiers, and pioneer settlers. In 1831, the British government established the Emigration Commission which offered assisted migration schemes to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land for those who could not otherwise have afforded it. Over one million immigrants (either assisted or unassisted) arrived in Australia from the United Kingdom during the 1800s. 

[Collection of lithographs and sketches, 1853-1874] / by S.T. Gill
1853-1874
Samuel Thomas Gill
Digital ID: 
a1833016
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a128887h.jpg
Item 12: Going to Sea, 1883 / watercolour by Oswald W. Brierly
1883
Oswald Walters Brierly
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a128887
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Emigrants on board the Royal Tar
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a4636001
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The "Great Britain" before leaving Liverpool for Australia, 1860s
1860s
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a928396
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Wharves near Fort Macquarie, Bennelong Point
1870-1875
American & Australasian Photographic Company
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a2825071
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Before 1860, the British Emigration Commission selected potential assisted emigrants by a set of strict criteria. The Australian colonies sought single and married agricultural workers and, with so many male colonists, single female domestic servants were also in demand. Specific assisted emigration schemes were set up to encourage women to undertake the passage to Australia.

Voyages were long, uncomfortable and dangerous. Emigrants faced the threat of storms, sickness, fire, icebergs, and shipwrecks. For passengers in steerage, conditions were cramped and levels of hygiene poor. Bad weather meant passengers were often stuck below deck, unable to access their trunks in the hold for clean clothes or bedding.

The discovery of gold in 1851 saw a rise in full fare-paying passengers and an increasing demand for faster travel. Prior to the 1850s it was common for sailing ships to stop en route but, by the early 1850s, most ships made the trip without stopping. The voyage became faster, with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the increasing speed of ocean-going steamships, but still took six or seven weeks to reach Australia.

Passenger lists

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Detail, List of Passengers, from The "Sutlej" Times. Published aboard the P. & O. vessel Sutlej during the voyage from England to Australia, and republished in this form in Melbourne by Ferguson & Moore, Printers, 1887

Passengers on ships to and from Australia often produced shipboard newspapers. These were handwritten or printed at sea, and often reprinted after the voyage.

The Sutlej times.
1887
Melbourne : Fergusooon & Moore, Printers
Digital ID: 
a5651003
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Detail, List of Passengers: First Saloon, from The "Garonne" Journal, no. 1, 12 July 1879. Printed on board the S.S. "Garonne": R.W. Comley, 1879

While shipboard newspapers played an important role in recording activities on board, they also regularly contained lists of passengers.

The "Garonne" journal.
1879
[S.l.] : Printed on board the S.S. "Garonne" by R.W. Comley
Digital ID: 
a5323002
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Detail, List of Passengers: Second Saloon, from The "Garonne" Journal, no. 1, 12 July 1879. Printed on board the S.S. "Garonne": R.W. Comley, 1879

Passenger lists in shipboard newspapers do not always record all emigrants on board. Often only passengers in the First and Second Cabins were included.

The "Garonne" journal.
1879
[S.l.] : Printed on board the S.S. "Garonne" by R.W. Comley
Digital ID: 
a5323003
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Detail, List of Passengers: Third class, from The "Garonne" Journal, no. 2, 26 July 1879. Printed on board the S.S. "Garonne": R.W. Comley, 1879

Not all newspapers contained lists and in some papers the lists were published across different editions.

The "Garonne" journal.
1879
[S.l.] : Printed on board the S.S. "Garonne" by R.W. Comley
Digital ID: 
a5323008
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Detail, List of Passengers: Steerage, from The "Garonne" Journal, no. 3, 4 August 1879. Printed on board the S.S. "Garonne": R.W. Comley, 1879

Often the names of passengers in Steerage were not included. This might have been due to the large number of passengers, the editorial staff not knowing their names, or the cabin class editors not considering the emigrants important.

The "Garonne" journal.
1879
[S.l.] : Printed on board the S.S. "Garonne" by R.W. Comley
Digital ID: 
a5323012
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Detail, List of Passengers: Steerage, from The "Garonne" journal, no. 3, 4 August 1879

Printed on board the S.S. Garonne: R.W. Comley, 1879

The "Garonne" journal.
1879
[S.l.] : Printed on board the S.S. "Garonne" by R.W. Comley
Digital ID: 
a5323013
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Detail, List of Passengers, The "Massilia" Gazette : the ship's newspaper a reproduction of a newspaper published weekly on board the ... Massilia ... during a voyage from London to Sydney, November 13th 1890 to January 1st 1891 / edited by Edward Noyes, 1891

The Massilia gazette : the ship's newspaper a reproduction of a newspaper published weekly on board the Peninsular and Orient Steam Navigation Company's Royal Mail steamship Massilia (Captain Charles Fraser) during a voyage from London to Sydney, November
1891
Edward Noyes
Digital ID: 
a6205007
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Detail, List of Passengers, The "Massilia" Gazette : the ship's newspaper a reproduction of a newspaper published weekly on board the ... Massilia ... during a voyage from London to Sydney, November 13th 1890 to January 1st 1891 / edited by Edward Noyes, 1891

The Massilia gazette : the ship's newspaper a reproduction of a newspaper published weekly on board the Peninsular and Orient Steam Navigation Company's Royal Mail steamship Massilia (Captain Charles Fraser) during a voyage from London to Sydney, November
1891
Edward Noyes
Digital ID: 
a6205008
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Detail, List of Passengers, from The Sobraon Occasional, 7 October-26 December 1875

Published on board the Sobraon during outward trip to Melbourne

Item 01: The Sobraon Occasional published on board the Sobraon during her outward voyage to Melbourne, 7 October-26 December 1875
7 October-26 December 1875
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Passenger tickets

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Passengers' contract ticket issued to Jonathan Jones and family on the Samuel Plimsoll, No. 9, 1 April 1882

Jonathan Jones, his wife Esther, and children George and Esther travelled on the Samuel Plimsoll from Plymouth to Sydney on 3 April 1882 as steerage passengers.

Passengers' contract tickets (2) issued to Jonathan Jones and family on the Samuel Plimsoll, No. 9, 1 April 1882 and the S.S. Hohenstaufen, 27 March 1894; with biographical notes on the family, 1853-1974
1853-1974
Jones, Jonathan George
Digital ID: 
a5487002
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Passengers' contract ticket issued to Jonathan Jones and family on the S.S. Hohenstaufen, 27 March 1894

Jonathan Jones, his wife Esther, and children George, Esther, John, Bessie, Jane, and Mary travelled on the S.S. Hohenstaufen from Southampton to Sydney on 28 March 1894 as steerage passengers.

Passengers' contract tickets (2) issued to Jonathan Jones and family on the Samuel Plimsoll, No. 9, 1 April 1882 and the S.S. Hohenstaufen, 27 March 1894; with biographical notes on the family, 1853-1974
1853-1974
Jonathan George Jones
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a5487001
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Passenger's contract ticket issued to Alexander Innes, his wife and children, 20 December 1882, for a passage on the Otago from Glasgow to Brisbane, Queensland
20 December 1882
Alexander Innes
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a5315001
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Passenger's contract ticket issued to Alexander Innes, his wife and children, 20 December 1882, for a passage on the Otago from Glasgow to Brisbane, Queensland
20 December 1882
Alexander Innes
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a5315002
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Passengers' contract ticket issued to George Armer and his family for a voyage on the Northern Monarch from Plymouth to Sydney, 19 June 1883
19 June 1883
George Armer
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a5316001u
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Passengers' contract ticket for David Jones, his wife and children from London to Port Phillip, 18 October 1852
1852
David Jones
Digital ID: 
a5317001
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Ticket for transport of Mr Anderson and family and Thomas Robertson from Glasgow to Port Phillip, 18 October 1852
18 October 1852
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a5318001
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Ticket for transport of Mr Anderson and family and Thomas Robertson from Glasgow to Port Phillip, 18 October 1852
18 October 1852
Digital ID: 
a5318002
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William J. Jenkin's Passenger ticket, 31 May 1878
1878
Digital ID: 
a5319001
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Charting the route

During the 19th century, emigrant ships travelling to Australia sailed into the Bay of Biscay (off the coast of France) before heading south to the equator. Stopping for supplies either at Cape Town or Rio de Janeiro, sailing ships could often spend weeks in the doldrums waiting for wind. Great Circle sailing took ships south into the Roaring Forties, where travellers faced freezing conditions and the risk of icebergs, before heading back up towards the Australian coast. With the advent of steam-powered ships and the opening of the Suez Canal, the time to reach Australia decreased significantly. 

This chart was used to plot the track of ships 'Vimeira', 'Walter Hood', 'La Hogue', and 'George Marshall' in 1851, 1855, 1857, and 1868.

A general chart for the purpose of laying down a ship's track on her voyage from England to the East or West Indies or the Pacific Ocean [cartographic material] : additions to 1852 / by J. W. Norie, Hydrographer.
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a6743001

Made possible through a partnership with Robert John Pritchard