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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

Christian Auer

XII. Emigration

82. Ill Treatment of Passenger Emigrants, 1850

Texte intégral

1Much of the strength of the Inverness Advertiser—which was created in June 1849—came from the powerful personality of its editor, Thomas Mulock. Mulock’s ebullient and ardent style, his virulent criticism of the elite’s economic choices and his caustic sarcasm against the government’s policies made him one of the most controversial journalists of the Scottish press of the 1850s (also see introductions to chapter 12, p. 237 and to text 81).

2“Maltreatment of passenger emigrants”, The Inverness Advertiser, 12 March 1850.

  • 9 Quote taken from Othello, act 1, scene 3.

We are pleased to perceive that this subject [emigration] is likely to come correctively before the public. That poor creatures should be harassed into compulsory emigration, in order to be flung out upon distant shores, where no immediate comfort, nay, no assured subsistence, awaits them, are afflicting facts but, we are sorry to say, ordinary occurrence; but that, in mournful addition to these miseries, humble emigrants should be exposed to privation, tyranny, and pollution on board ship, is exceedingly painful to philanthropic minds. Of the treatment of the better classes we hear few or no complaints; and the reason is obvious: they are able to take Iago’s counsel—“Put money in thy purse.”9—and all is well except when fire or shipwreck comes to thwart a prosperous passage. Not so with the indigent emigrants who are compelled to resort to vessels affording most inferior accommodation; badly found; badly manned; badly victualled; and void of discipline or decency. This, it may be urged, is the common lot of depressed humanity, arising from the inequality of conditions, and we subscribe to the melancholy truth; but even where social position cannot be altered, something may be done to restrain oppression; and to this part of the subject we shall briefly address ourselves. It strikes us very powerfully that all precautionary checks, devised by the Legislature, for the protection of emigrants, have not only proved nugatory, but to a certain degree, they operate to increase the evils sought to be averted. Blindly relying upon the supposed supervision of the Government officials, personal inquiries are relaxed on the part of the confiding emigrants, who believe that a paper of regulations, pasted up in a dingy office, of some agent at a sea port, is an infallible safeguard for passengers! But this is a deplorable error; for all that the sharpest and most investigating Government agent can do, is to see that certain rules have been complied with before a vessel is under weigh; and in all cases where it is meant that he shall be deceived he is sure to be mystified by dishonest owners and crafty captains. For example certain quantities of stores must be shipped; but where is the security for sufficient distribution? When complaints are wafted home that such and such articles were withheld, emigrant agents and custom house officers choke all murmuring by handfuls of certificates testifying that they saw surplus supplies of this, that and t’other, heaped up for the use of the passengers. But did they get them? For if not, all these certificates, so valued by Earl Grey, are only so much waste paper. In like manner, if a miscreant surgeon perpetrates the vilest abominations, a string of testimonials, from conniving practitioners, is immediately paraded in the House of Lords or Commons, and it is at once asserted that rascals, well recommended, are not blameable for any atrocities. Having, therefore, no confidence whatever in any arrangements made by the Government in behalf of poor emigrants, we earnestly advise them to make strict inquiries into the character and ascertainable conduct of shipowners. If employers are covetous and narrow-minded, they will give the command of their badly-found vessels to a low class of mariners who put with low pay, and who ship a crew of half-waged lubbers like themselves. Owner, captain and crew are all in league to defraud and maltreat defenceless passengers, who, in many instances, endure horrible privations. But all shipowners and their subordinates are not liable to these charges; and, therefore, we recommend the most searching inquiries to be made by all emigrating parties. And, as our journal penetrates into regions wither the tide of emigration flows, we suggest to settlers the wisdom and propriety of transmitting to us for publication, authenticated statements of good treatment experienced by passenger emigrants, the names of owners of vessels, their captain, surgeon or even mate whose conduct was worthy of commendation; and thus we should be enabled to indicate to those intending to cross the ocean, the safest trading parties to whom they might apply for a passage, free of the sore wants or disgusting disorder which the public know to prevail on board many emigrant ships.


9 Quote taken from Othello, act 1, scene 3.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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