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Emigrant motives

2 November 2009 by stepheng

Illustration of people getting on a ship

Emigrants on the Guion Liner, Wisconsin. Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

The nearest I’ve got to emigrating is briefly wanting to flee to the Isle of Man – in the summer it matches any other exotic island in the sun. It was a bright sunny day and I was taking a lunchtime stroll while covering a heavy-going criminal trial at Liverpool Crown Court. Balmy breezes drifted off the sea. Down at the Pier Head the Manx ferry was waiting with last boarders being called.

I was sorely tempted to dash up the gangplank but then common sense kicked in.

Emigration is a drastic step into the unknown and there are usually very good reasons for people wanting to make new lives in different countries

People emigrate for three main reasons – poverty, persecution and ambition. In the great movements of people around the globe in the 19th century, many were fleeing from hardship and poverty.

Emigration was also a way of fleeing political and religious persecution. Many Jewish people left east Europe for this reason.

However, a lot of people were simply attracted by the opportunities offered by life in such places as the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Gold Rush years in North America and Australia triggered mass emigration from Europe as prospectors sought wealth beyond their wildest dreams.

The new emigrants’ gallery at Merseyside Maritime Museum looks at many different aspects of the trade that helped generate wealth in Liverpool for shipping companies, hotels and many other businesses.

A fascinating colour print shows the emigration of Russian Jews in 1891 (pictured). They are seen crowded on the deck of the Guion liner Wisconsin as she prepares to leave Liverpool.

Other exhibits are linked to the Gold Rush. A 19th century board game called A Race to the Gold Diggings has a box emblazoned with a colourful scene, tiny model sailing ships and a set of rules.

A contemporary poster advertises the Royal Charter emigrant steamer run by the Liverpool and Australian Navigation Company. Saloon passengers paid top prices of between 60 guineas (£63) and 75 guineas (£78.75) – around £4,500 in today’s money – for the voyage while Third Class paid between 16 and 20 guineas.

The Royal Charter met her cruel end in October 1859 when, heading for Liverpool, she was wrecked on the Anglesey coast with the loss of 498 lives. Exhibits include items from the wreck including a section of ornately-carved wood believed to be from the ship’s stern. There’s more on the Royal Charter on our main site.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1.50 p&p UK).

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