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by Jon Malings 

The 1820’s and 30’s were hard times for English rural labourers.  The ending of the Napoleonic wars flooded the country with unemployed soldiers and sailors; repeal of the Corn Laws and the advent of Free Trade allowed importation of foreign grain; continuing enclosure of the open fields improved farm productivity and stripped the poor of many of their common-land rights while the advent of new crops and mechanisation, in the shape of threshing machines and the like, further reduced the need for labour.

Unemployed and destitute people were supported by their parish so it was in the interest of the ratepayers of that parish (farmers, shopkeepers and the like) to keep these numbers low.  In 1832 Deddington spent £3000 on poor-relief, a huge burden for the small number of rate-payers in a parish of around 1200 people. Emigration was seen as one of the solutions to this problem.

Economic necessity, and, presumably, adventure, are good reasons for going into the unknown; and unknown it was in the 1830’s.  In those days British North America (Canada) was the usual destination, Australia only recently viable for those who had a choice, New Zealand and South Africa unheard of. Emigrants leaving from London for Quebec were advised to take food enough for 75 days onboard.  Even the “fast” crossing from Liverpool and Dublin could take 50 days.

A one-way crossing to Quebec cost around £6 per person, well beyond the means of most farm labourers, especially those with families. Some parishes encouraged emigration by funding travel costs, raising the money by private subscription from the more wealthy of their ratepayers who saw the economic sense of removing significant numbers of those on poor-relief.  Many of the larger land-owners in Deddington, like the Cartwright family, gave generously, it being in their own interest to do so. As a result, large, organised, groups of people migrated. In 1832 a party of 72 people, out of a total parish population of 1200, left Deddington for Quebec, mostly being single young men and families of the labouring poor. Six years earlier a group of some 175 people left Hook Norton for the same destination.

The national government set up various Commissions to assist and encourage people to leave the country, both as a way of reducing the “surplus” population and of cementing the colonization of the empty lands of the British Empire. The Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners (CLEC) offered some emigrants a free passage if they were under forty, capable of labour, of good character, having been vaccinated against smallpox, and from occupations such as agricultural labourers, shepherds, or female domestic and farm servants. Young married couples, preferably without children were viewed as the ideal candidates. Assisted passages were also available with less stringent restrictions to healthy able-bodied labourers whose moral character could be vouched for. Workhouse inmates, however, or those in regular receipt of parish relief, were explicitly excluded from the CLEC schemes.

In February 1832 the Commissioners published a note for would-be emigrants: “INFORMATION respecting the BRITSH COLONIES IN NORTH AMERICA.”

These emigration schemes had some success.  The Bristol Mercury of September 15th 1832 reported that, in the year up until August 10th, more than 15000 settlers had arrived in Quebec from England, with a similar number arriving the previous year. 

Provision for the emigration of the poor, with the cost being borne by an emigrant's home parish, was included in section 62 of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. This channel of emigration was overseen by the Poor Law Commissioners (PLC) who, with a few exceptions, would approve the emigration of any of its poor that a parish was prepared to fund. Those categories who were not acceptable included the wives and children of transported convicts, of soldiers, or of men who had deserted them and then gone overseas.The responsibility for conducting and managing individual emigration arrangements was, however, in the hands of the Board of Guardians for the union of which the parish was a member.

Although emigration continued throughout the 19th century it did slow somewhat as farming incomes improved, but was given fresh impetus in the 1880’s as agriculture slumped once more.  This wave, however, was characterized by the departure of individuals and small family groups rather than the mass migrations of earlier times.


c.1832  Bloxham and Warner to Susquehannah, Pennsylvania

18 May 1832 The Brutus (Captain Neilson) Sailed from Liverpool for Quebec and Montreal. Cholera broke out early in the voyage forcing the ship to return to Liverpool. Almost one third of the 330 passengers died. Deddington surnames: Abraham, Bray, Cooper, Cowley, Eddon, Fletcher, Gardner, Gibbs, Gilkes, Green, Higgs, Moore, Nichols, Paine, Rymill, Tustain, Wheeler, Wickham. 

19 April 1845 The Saint Anne (Richards, commr.) Sailed from Southampton for Quebec and Montreal.  Deddington surnames: Bennett, Bonham, Gibbs, Miller, Pain, Vincent, Williams.

c.1856 James Knibbs of Clifton to Connecticut

1830's The Matthews brothers, Joseph and Richard of Philcot St: missionaries to New Zealand. Richard journeyed on the Beagle with Charles Darwin.  


19th Century Emigrants from Steeple Aston.

There are many familiar names in surrounding villages as an article (pdf) about emigrants in the Steeple Aston Village Archive demonstrates. It contains names of a family named Wilkins. Coincidentally Joseph Wilkins was a  mid 19 century painter resident in Deddington who is best known for his 'bird's eye' map views of local parishes.It is not yet known if they were directly related.


The Steeple Aston emigrants were setting off for Tasmania where another Deddington had been established as early as 1823 by person(s) unknown at present.