Emigration from Donegal in the Mid 1800s
Judging from the number of advertisements in just one edition of the Derry Journal in April 1841, it is clear that emigration was widespread in the mid 1800's. In that edition of the Journal there are over 40 different advertisements for Ships about to sail, both from Derry and from Liverpool, to the New World.


The splendid new first class brig
(Captain William Allen)
Is intended to sail for the above Port on the 28th day of April.

THIS vessel is high and roomy between decks, will be comfortably fitted up for Passengers and have an abundant supply of Water and Fuel put on board for the voyage. Persons wishing to engage their passage in this fast sailing ship will require to make immediate application.

Apply to Mr. Robert Laud, Ballybofey; Mr. Robert Paterson, Letterkenny; Mr Charles McMaster, Omagh, Mr. Hugh Hamilton; Strabane, Mr Richard Corscadden; Donegal, or the owner JOHN MUNN.

Derry April 12th 1841.

Most left just in hope, for three meals a day, and in some cases for even one meal a day. According to Terry Colman in his book, 'Passage to America', quoting a witness at the American Senate hearings in 1851, "There is nothing unnatural in the desire of the unfortunate Irish to abandon their cheerless and damp cottages, and to crawl inch by inch, while they have yet a little strength, from the graves, which apparently yawn for their bodies."

It was understood that America was not the place to go if you were looking for an easy life. It was a difficult place for those unwilling to do menial jobs, as there was no welcome for the lazy. The emigrant was not asked what he was, but what he could do - if you can work with your hands, you will succeed.

The emigrants to America always travelled in Steerage Class. In the early part of the 1800's, the fare to America was £12, but by 1830's the fare for steerage passengers, due to the competition between ship owners, was down to £3. - 10s. for a journey that took from 4 to 6 weeks.

Posters, similar to these Journal advertisements, were displayed in Irish villages and towns. Many of the Irish who emigrated could not speak or read English and generally the local priest helped with the translation. People left from ports all over Ireland, from Cork, Limerick, Galway and judging by the Journal of 1841 great numbers from the North West sailed from the Port of Derry. Observe, from the ads. the number of towns in Donegal where an Agent was available.

Every company agent seemed to make the claim that his ships were bigger, faster and more luxurious than others. The Captain's reputation, and other details were also used to entice the wouldbe traveller. It was believed that the American ships were bigger and better and that American Captains treated the passengers more humanely.

In most all emigrant ships, space was very restricted, as most ship owners wished to carry as many passengers as they could possibly accommodate, and it was common to see 500 or 1000 passengers crowded into the steerage. Each wooden bunk was 6 ft. long by 6 ft. wide and a passenger was entitled to the use of one quarter of such a bunk. The berths were usually arranged in two or three tiers, with four people to each tier. The advertisements all boast of the extra space available between decks, but many passengers found that they rarely had enough room to enable them to stand in comfort. Unscrupulous agents often put more passengers aboard than the regulations allowed.

Ninety percent of the vessels did not have a surgeon on board, only one of the advertisements boasts of the services of a Surgeon for the duration of the voyage. Sea sickness was always a problem, but cholera and typhus were the killers. In 1853, in the ship Washington nearly 100 passengers died from cholera while crossing to New York. In the 1840's, the Exmouth left Londonderry on her way to Quebec, and within hours it was lost, and 248 persons on board were drowned. As many as 59 emigrant ships were lost between 1847 and 1853, while on their way to America.

Most shipping lines offered the Irish emigrants a free passage to Liverpool. This was the second largest city in England at the time, and the largest emigrant port for travel to the New World. Russians, Poles, Germans, Italians, English and Irish all converged on this sea port because the greatest number of emigrant ships left from Liverpool. Liverpool was a difficult place for these passengers in transit, as they had to cope with Touts, Dishonest Lodging-house Keepers, Shipping Agents, Thieves, and Con-men, all of whom tried to relieve the poor emigrant of any money of goods that he or she possessed.

During 1841, about 120,000 people emigrated from the UK, mainly to the United States and British North America, but during the famine years, 1847 up to 1854, the numbers leaving increased to over 300,000 each year. For most of these emigrants, finding enough money for the fare was difficult, leaving home was sad, escaping the thieves in Liverpool was tough, but the voyage itself was Hell. They always held on to the hope that life in the New World would be worth it all.

Sailing regularly from Liverpool to New York, Philadelphia, Quebec, etc.

The well-known first-class American Packet Ships,
ROBERT ISAAC:- Captain Trueman, 820 Tons... 22nd April
SILVANUS JENKINS:- Capt. Seymour, 700 Tons... 28th April.

Captain Connor, 1050 Tons - To sail 2nd May.

The above are splendid first-class American Packet Ships, coppered and copperfastened, sail fast, seven to eight feet between Decks, and fitted up in a superior manner for the comfort and accommodation of Cabin, Second Cabin and Steerage Passengers.
For Terms of Freight, Cabin, Second Cabin and Steerage Passage apply to:-
W G. CAIRNS, American & Australian Emigration Agent 68, Foyle St., Londonderry.

Or the following Agents:-
Mr. Wm. Kerr, P O., Raphoe; Mr. Brown, P. O., Stranorlar; Mr. James Brown, Grocer, Magherafelt; Mr. E. Moore, Merchant, Castlederg; Mr. Wm. Shannon, Maghera; Mr. John Elliott, Innkeeper, Enniskillen; Mr. Thompson, P. O., Dungiven.

And expenses of 1s. per day, agreeable to Act of Parliament, if detained after the date set forth in their order for sailing.


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Text from Stranorlar Parish Magazine 2001
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