“The Coffin trade is the most flourishing one at present here.”
This quote appeared in the January 8, 1847 edition of the Cork Examiner. Steve Taylor of Vassar College has compiled a fascinating collection of newspapers, illustrations, and other items from Irish and British sources pertaining to the Great Famine. The collection, Views of the Famine, is available online and provides a glimpse into how the press was reporting the crisis, and what people were doing (or not doing) to cope with the disaster.
The collection includes excerpts from the Cork Examiner during 1846-47. The weekly reports of death by starvation and disease and a pervasive sense of hopelessness can be difficult to read. Entire families perished, their lifeless bodies found on the dirt floors of make-shift huts, post-mortem exams showing not even a trace of food in their stomachs and intestines. Columns reporting over-capacity in the workhouses appear alongside advertisements for steerage passage to North America costing more than most Irish could ever afford.
On September 1, 1847, a column Emigrant Disasters ran in the Cork Examiner. The column explains why the journeys of emigrants bound for the United States were more “successful” than those destined for Canada. The major difference was the ships used to transport emigrants to Canada were timber ships, vessels utterly unsuitable for passengers. The Examiner explains: “…less attention to be paid to their [ship’s] sea-worthiness, since they are laden half the way with what can’t sink, and the other with a freight, which is thought no loss if it do.”
The passage to Canada (British America) was cheaper and the preferred route for much of the “assisted emigration” that took place during the Famine years. Owners of the large estates in Ireland who favored a more “humane” method of getting rid of tenants, chose to send them to Canada rather than merely evict them from the land.
The destination for many of these emigrant ships was New Brunswick, Canada. The New Brunswick Archive offers a collection of online databases pertaining to the Irish who came to Canada. Specifically, there are some useful resources related to assisted emigration.
The Fitzwilliam Estate Emigration Books 1848-1856 lists the tenants evicted from the Coolattin estate of Lord Fitzwilliam in County Wicklow, Ireland. The archive provides an informative introduction, a narrative by Jim Rees providing context, a finding aid, and a transcript, complete with genealogical information. Quite an interesting and useful tool.
The New Brunswick Archive also has a collection of letters, transcribed and available online. I will address some of these letters in my next post, but I would like to turn your attention to a group of letters, Letters from Irish Emigrants and others, put in by Sir Robert Gore Booth Bart: [1846-1849]. Click here and scroll to the last group to read these letters. Sir Robert owned an estate in Sligo. These letters speak to the conditions and challenges faced by the Irish in the New World.
For more information on the Famine Irish in New Brunswick, read this essay by Dr. Stewart Donovan of St. Thomas University, In the Wake of Dark Passage: Irish Famine Migration to New Brunswick.
Just a couple more examples of the resources available online to help us better understand the Irish experience in America (and Canada, too!)