Immigrants to Canada

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1828 Voyage

Due to the great demand for transportation to North America many of the regulations of the Passengers Acts were ignored by Masters as there was money to be made. The conditions in steerage onboard one of these ships was described by Mr. Stephen E. De Vere who reported what he experienced to the Chairman of the Colonial Land and Emigration Commission.

Before the emigrant has been a week at sea he is an altered man. How can it be otherwise? Hundreds of poor people, men, women and children of all ages, from the drivelling idiot of ninety to the babe just born, huddled together without light, without air, wallowing in filth and breathing a fetid atmosphere, sick in body, dispirited in heart, the fever patients lying between the sound, in sleeping places so narrow as almost to deny them the power of indulging, by a change of position, the natural restlessness of the disease; by their ravings disturbing those around, and predisposing them, through the effects of the imagination, to imbibe the contagion; living without food or medicine, except as administered by the hand of casual charity, dying without the voice of spiritual consolation, and buried in the deep without the rites of the Church. The food is generally ill selected and seldom sufficiently cooked, in consequence of the insufficiency and bad construction of the cooking places [as passengers had to cook their own meals]. The supply of water, hardly enough for cooking and drinking, does not allow washing. In many ships the filthy beds, teeming with all abominations, are never required to be brought on deck and aired; the narrow space between the sleeping berths and the piles of boxes is never washed or scraped, but breathes up a damp and fetid stench, until the day before the arrival at quarantine, when all hands are required to 'scrub up' and put on a fair face for the doctor and Government inspector. No moral restraint is attempted, the voice of prayer is never heard; drunkenness, with its consequent train of ruffianly debasement, is not discouraged, because it is profitable to the captain who traffics in the grog. (From Emigration From The British Isles, by W.A. Carrothers, p.194.)

Mr. De Vere went on to say that this was not an isolated case. And, after talking to many other emigrants, found that his ship was better off then many others. The result of these deplorable conditions, he said, left the emigrant demoralized and without the will to carry on.

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© Marjorie P. Kohli, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, 1997-2007
Last updated: February 14, 2007 and maintained by Marj Kohli