Report on the Affairs of British North America/Emigration

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I now proceed to another subject, which, though ultimately connected with the colonization and improvement of the Provinces, must yet be considered separately; for it is one in which not the colonial population only, but the people of the United Kingdom have a deep and immediate interest. Emigration.I allude to the manner in which the emigration of the poorer classes from Great Britain and Ireland to the North American Colonies has hitherto been conducted.

Number arriving at Quebec.About nine years ago, measures were for the first time taken to ascertain the number of immigrants arriving at Quebec by sea. The number during these nine years has been 263,089; and there have been as many in one year (1832) as 51,746. In the year before, the number was 50,254; in 1833, 21,752; in 1834, 30,935; in 1835, 12,527; in 1836, 27,728; in 1837, 22,500; and in 1838, only 4,992. The great diminution in 1838 was occasioned solely, I believe, by the vague fears entertained in this country of dangers presented by the distracted state of the Colonies. I am truly surprised, however, that emigration of the poorer classes to the Canadas did not almost entirely cease some years ago; and that this would have been the case, if the facts which I am about to state had been generally known in the United Kingdom, there can, I think, be no rational doubt.

Diseases and deaths on board of Emigrant Ships.Dr. Morrin, a gentleman of high professional and personal character, Inspecting Physician of the Port of Quebec, and Commissioner of the Marine and Emigrant Hospital, says:—'I am almost at a loss for words to describe the state in which the emigrants frequently arrived; with a few exceptions, the state of the ships was quite abominable; so much so, that the harbour-master's boatmen had no difficulty, at the distance of gun-shot, either when the wind was favourable or in a dead calm, in distinguishing by the odour alone a crowded emigrant ship. I have known as many as from 30 to 40 deaths to have taken place, in the course of a voyage, from typhus fever, on board of a ship containing from 500 to 600 passengers; and within six weeks after the arrival of some vessels, and the landing of the passengers at Quebec, the hospital has received upwards of 100 patients at different times from among them. On one occasion, I have known nearly 400 patients at one time in the Emigrant Hospital of Quebec, for whom there was no sufficient accommodation; and in order to provide them with some shelter. Dr. Painchaud, the then attending physician, with the aid of other physicians, incurred a personal debt to the Quebec Bank to a considerable amount, which, however, was afterwards paid by the Provincial Legislature.' ... Miserable state of Emigrants when landed.'The mortality was considerable among the emigrants at that time, and was attended with most disastrous consequences; children being left without protection, and wholly dependent on the casual charity of the inhabitants of the city. As to those who were not sick on arriving, I have to say that they were generally forcibly landed by the masters of vessels, without a shilling in their pockets to procure them a night's lodging, and very few of them with the means of subsistence for more than a very short period. They commonly established themselves along the wharfs and at the different landing-places, crowding into any place of shelter they could obtain, where they subsisted principally upon the charity of the inhabitants. For six weeks at a time from the commencement of the emigrant-ship season, I have known the shores of the river along Quebec, for about a mile and a half, crowded with these unfortunate people, the places of those who might have moved off being constantly supplied by fresh arrivals, and there being daily drafts of from 10 to 30 taken to the hospital with infectious disease. Infectious diseases spread into the City.The consequence was it spread among the inhabitants of the city, especially in the districts in which these unfortunate creatures had established themselves. Those who were not absolutely without money, got into low taverns and boarding-houses and cellars, where they congregated in immense numbers, and where their state was not any better than it had been on board ship. This state of things existed within my knowledge from 1826 to 1832, and probably for some years previously.'

Infectious diseases annually imported into Quebec by Emigrants.Dr. Morrin's testimony is confirmed by that of Dr. Skey, Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals, and President of the Quebec Emigrants Society. He says, 'Upon the arrival of emigrants in the river, a great number of sick have landed. A regular importation of contagious disease into this country has annually taken place; that disease originated on board ship, and was occasioned, I should say, by bad management in consequence of the ships being ill-found, ill-provisioned, over-crowded, and ill-ventilated. I should say that the mortality during the voyage has been dreadful; to such an extent that, in 1834, the inhabitants of Quebec, taking alarm at the number of shipwrecks, at the mortality of the passengers, and the fatal diseases which accumulated at the Quarantine Establishment at Grosse Isle and the Emigrant Hospital of this city, involving the inhabitants of Quebec in the calamity, called upon the Emigrants Society to take the subject into consideration, and make representations to the Government thereon.'

Operation of the Passenger Act.The circumstances described took place under the operation of the Act 9th Geo, 4, commonly called the Passengers Act, which was passed in 1825, repealed in 1827, and re-enacted in 1828. In 1835, an amended Passengers Act was passed, the main features of which, so far as they differed from the former Act, are stated to have been suggested by the Quebec Emigrants Society. Mr. Jessopp, Collector of Customs at the Port of Quebec, speaking of emigration under the last Act, says, 'It very often happens that poorer emigrants have not a sufficiency of provisions for the voyage; that they should have a sufficiency of provisions, might be enforced under the Act, which authorizes the inspection of provisions by the outport agent for emigrants. Neglect of Emigrant Agents.Many instances have come to my knowledge in which, from insufficiency of provisions, emigrants have been thrown upon the humanity of the captain, or the charity of their fellow-passengers. It will appear, also, from the fact that many vessels have more emigrant passengers than the number allowed by law, that sufficient attention is not paid at the outport to enforce the provisions of the Act, as to the proportions between the numbers and the tonnage. Such instances have not occurred this season [1838], emigration having almost ceased, in consequence, I presume, of the political state of the Province; but, last year, there were several instances in which prosecution took place. Vessels are chartered for emigration by persons whose sole object is to make money, and who make a trade of evading the provisions of the Act. This applies particularly to vessels coming from Ireland. We have found, in very many instances, that, in vessels chartered in this way, the number was greater than allowed by law; and the captains have declared, that the extra numbers smuggled themselves, or were smuggled, on board, and were only discovered after the vessel had been several days at sea. This might be prevented by a stricter examination of the vessel. Frauds and evasions.The Imperial Act requires that the names, ages, sex and occupation of each passenger should be entered in a list, certified by the customs officer at the outport, and delivered by the captain with the ship's papers to the officers of the customs here. Lists, purporting to be correct, are always delivered to the tide-surveyor, whose duty it is to muster the passengers, and compare them with the list; and this list, in many instances, is wholly incorrect as to names and ages.' ... 'The object of the falsification of the ages is to defraud the revenue by evading the tax upon emigrants.' ... 'The falsification of names produces no inconvenience; and I have only referred to it for the purpose of showing the careless manner in which the system is worked by the agents in the United Kingdom.' But Dr. Poole, Inspecting Physician of the Quarantine Station at Grosse Isle, further explains the fraud, saying, 'These falsifications are, first, for the purpose of evading the emigrant tax, which is levied in proportion to age, and the common fraud is to understate the age; and, secondly, for the purpose of carrying more passengers than the law allows, by counting grown persons as children, of which last, the law allows a larger proportion to tonnage than of grown persons. This fraud is very common, of frequent occurrence, and it arises manifestly from want of inspection at home.'

Measures by which evils have been mitigated.From this and other evidence, it will appear that the Amended Passengers Act alone, as it has been hitherto administered, would have afforded no efficient remedy of the dreadful evils described by Dr. Morrin and Dr. Skey. Those evils have, however, been greatly mitigated by two measures of the Provincial Government: first, the application of a tax upon passengers from the United Kingdom, to providing shelter, medical attendance, and the means of further transport to destitute emigrants; secondly, the establishment of the Quarantine Station at Grosse Isle, a desert island some miles below Quebec, where all vessels arriving with cases of contagious disease are detained; the diseased persons are removed to an hospital, and emigrants not affected with disease are landed, and subjected to some discipline for the purpose of cleanliness, the ship also being cleaned while they remain on shore. By these arrangements, the accumulation of wretched paupers at Quebec, and the spread of contagious disease, are prevented. An arrangement, made only in 1837, whereby the Quarantine physician at Grosse Isle decides whether or not an emigrant ship shall be detained there or proceed on its voyage, has, to use the words of Dr. Poole, 'operated as a premium to care and attention on the part of the captain, and has had a salutary effect on the comfort of the emigrants.'

Quarantine Establishment.I cordially rejoice in these improvements, but would observe that the chief means by which the good has been accomplished indicates the greatness of the evil that remains. The necessity of a Quarantine Establishment for preventing the importation of contagious disease from Britain to her Colonies, as if the emigrants had departed from one of those Eastern countries which are the home of the plague, shows beyond a doubt either that our very system of emigration is most defective, or that it is most carelessly administered.

State of present arrangements.It is, I know, contended in this country that, though great defects existed formerly, present arrangements are very different and no longer objectionable. For example, in the Report of the Agent General for Emigration from the United Kingdom, ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 14th May 1838, it is stated, with reference to that emigration to the Canadas before the year 1832, which has been described by Dr. Morrin and Dr. Skey, eye-witnesses of the miseries and calamities that took place, that 'these great multitudes had gone out by their own means, and disposed of themselves through their own efforts, without any serious or lasting inconvenience.' ... 'A practice,' it is added, 'which appeared to thrive so well spontaneously.'

Duties of Emigration Agents.The same Report states, with reference to the present operation of the Passengers Act, and the officers employed by the Colonial Department to superintend its execution, that 'their duty is to give ease and security to the resort to the Colonies, and to promote the observance of the salutary provisions of the Passengers Act. In all that relates to emigration they constitute, as it were, in every port, the appointed poor man's friend. They take notice whether the ship offered for his conveyance is safe, and fit for its purpose; they see to the sufficiency of the provisions on board; they prohibit over-crowding; and they make every effort to avert or to frustrate those numerous and heartless frauds which are but too constantly attempted, at the moment of departure, upon the humbler classes of emigrants.' 'Every effort,' adds the Reporter, speaking of emigrants to North America, 'is made for the ease and safety of their transit.'

Real state of Emigrants landed at Quebec.At Quebec, at least, where are landed the great majority of emigrants to the North American Colonies, an opinion prevails which is greatly at variance with the above representation. Nobody in the Colony denies that the Passengers Act, and the appointment of agents to superintend its execution, is a considerable improvement upon the utterly lawless and unobserved practices of former times; nor, I should imagine, would any one in this country object to such an approach, however distant, to the systematic and responsible management of emigration, which has been repeatedly urged upon the Government of late years; but that there is still great room for further improvement, as respects emigration to the Colonies in North America, is, I think, established by Mr. Jessopp, and the following evidence of Dr. Poole.

Vessels with Emigrants destitute of provisions on their arrival.Dr. Poole holds an important office, of which I am enabled to state that he has performed the duties with great skill and exemplary diligence. He did not volunteer the information which he has supplied. He was summoned to give evidence before the Commissioners of Inquiry on Crown Lands and Emigration; and it was in answer to questions put to him that he said, 'I have been attached to the Station at Grosse Isle for the last six years. My description applies down to the present year. We had last year upwards of 22,000 emigrants. The poorer class of Irish, and the English paupers sent by parishes, were, on the arrival of vessels, in many instances, entirely without provisions, so much so, that it was necessary immediately to supply them with food from shore; and some of these ships had already received food and water from other vessels with which they had fallen in. Other vessels, with the same class of emigrants, were not entirely destitute, but had suffered much privation from having been placed on short allowance. This destitution, or shortness of provisions, combined with dirt and bad ventilation, had invariably produced fevers of a contagious character, and occasioned some deaths on the passage; and from such vessels numbers, varying from 20 to 90 each vessel, had been admitted to hospital with contagious fevers immediately on their arrival. Diseases produced by defective arrangements.I attribute the whole evil to defective arrangements: for instance, parish emigrants from England receive rations of biscuit and beef, or pork, often of bad quality (of this I am aware from personal inspection); they are incapable, from seasickness, of using this solid food at the beginning of the passage, when, for want of small stores, such as tea, sugar, coffee, oatmeal and flour, they fall into a state of debility and low spirits, by which they are incapacitated from the exertions required for cleanliness and exercise, and also indisposed to solid food, more particularly the women and children; and, on their arrival here, I find many cases of typhus fever among them.' ... 'I also wish to mention, as loudly calling for remedy, a system of extortion carried on by masters of vessels, chiefly from Ireland, whence come the bulk of our emigrants. Extortions of Masters of Vessels.The captain tells emigrants the passage will be made in three weeks or a month, and they need not lay in provisions for any longer period, well knowing that the average passage is six weeks, and that it often extends to eight or nine weeks. When the emigrants' stores are exhausted, the captain, who has laid in a stock for the purpose, obliges them to pay often as much as 400 per cent, on the cost price for the means of subsistence, and thus robs the poor emigrant of his last shilling. Such cases are of frequent occurrence, even down to the present year.' ... 'Parish emigrants are generally at the mercy of the captain or mate, who serve out the provisions, and who frequently put emigrants on short allowance soon after their departure. Provisions insufficient;Complaints of short weight and bad quality in the provisions are frequently made.' ... 'The captains have, in many instances, told me that the agents only muster the passengers on deck, inquire into the quantity of provisions, and, in some cases, require them to be produced, when, occasionally, the same bag of meal or other provisions was shown as belonging to several persons in succession. This the captain discovered after sailing. The mere mustering of the passengers on deck, without going below where the provisions are kept, is really no inspection at all; and it frequently happens that passengers are smuggled on board without any provisions.' ... and water.'Very few of these vessels have on board a sufficient quantity of water, the casks being insufficient in number, and very many of them old oak casks, made up with pine heads, which therefore leak, if they do not fall to pieces, which often happens. I have had many similar cases from Liverpool.' ... Height between decks not such as required by Act.'That part of the law which regulates the height between decks of emigrant ships is frequently evaded in the smaller class of vessels, by means of a false deck some distance below the beams, bringing the passengers nearly in contact with the damp ballast, pressing them into the narrow part of the ship, and the beams taking an important part of the room allotted to them by law. It is quite impossible that such fittings should escape observation in the port of departure, if that part of the vessel intended for emigrants be visited,' ... 'There is another evil which might be readily obviated by a proper selection of vessels at home, Vessels selected which are scarcely sea-worthy.that of employing as emigrant-ships vessels that are scarcely sea-worthy; and which, consequently, being unable to carry sail, make very long passages. As the tonnage of the best class of vessels coming to Canada is more than sufficient to bring all the emigrants in any year, the employment of these bad ships ought not to be permitted.' ... 'The reports made to me by the class of captains and surgeon-superintendents now bringing passengers are seldom to be relied upon. In illustration, I beg leave to mention a case that occurred last year. It was a vessel with about 150 passengers on board, from an Irish port. The captain assured me that they had no sickness on board; Concealment of disease by Surgeons.and the surgeon produced a list, which he had signed, of certain slight ailments, such as bowel complaints and catarrhs, which had occurred during the passage, and which appeared on the list with the remark "cured" to all of them. On making my usual personal inspection, I found and sent to hospital upwards of forty cases of typhus fever, of which nine were below in bed. These nine they had not been able to get out of bed. Many of the others were placed against the bulwarks, to make a show of being in health, with pieces of bread and hot potatoes in their hands. As there are many most respectable captains in the lumber trade, a proper selection by the emigrant agents at home would prevent this abuse.' ... 'The medical superintendence on board vessels obliged by the Passengers Act to carry a surgeon is very defective. The majority of such persons, called surgeons, are unlicensed students and apprentices, or apothecaries' shopmen, without sufficient medical knowledge to be of any service to the emigrants, either for the prevention or cure of diseases. Ignorance of Surgeons.On board a ship the knowledge of the means of preventing disease in such a situation is the first requisite in a medical man, and in this the medical superintendents are lamentably deficient. It is not much better as to the cure of diseases. I boarded a ship last year, of which the captain and three passengers, who had met with accidents, had their limbs bandaged for supposed fractures, which, upon examination, I found were only simple strains or bruises. On examining the captain's arm, I said that there had been no fracture. The surgeon, so called, replied—"I assure you the tibia and fibula are both broken". It happens that the tibia and fibula are bones of the leg. This is an extreme case, apparently; but it is not an unfair illustration of the ignorance and presumption of the class of men appointed to comply with that part of the Act which is intended to provide for the medical care of emigrants during the voyage.'

Want of provision for emigrants after their arrival.The Agent General's Report, which was laid before Parliament last year, does not even allude to another feature of our system of emigration, on which I have yet to offer some remarks. However defective the present arrangements for the passage of emigrants, they are not more so than the means employed to provide for the comfort and prosperity of this class after their arrival in the Colonies. Indeed, it may be said that no such means are in existence. It will be seen, from the very meagre evidence of the Agent for Emigrants at Quebec, that the office which he holds is next to useless. I cast no blame on the officer, but would only explain, that he has no powers, nor scarcely any duties to perform. Nearly all that is done for the advantage of poor emigrants, after they have passed the Lazaretto, is performed by the Quebec and Montreal Emigrants Societies—benevolent associations of which I am bound to speak in the highest terms of commendation; to which, indeed, we owe whatever improvement has taken place in the yet unhealthy mid-passage, but which, as they were instituted for the main purpose of relieving the inhabitants of the two cities from the miserable spectacle of crowds of unemployed and starving emigrants, so have their efforts produced little other good than that of facilitating the progress of poor emigrants to the United States, where the industrious of every class are always sure of employment at good wages. In the Report on Emigration, to which I have alluded before, I find favourable mention of the principle of entrusting some parts of the conduct of emigration rather to 'charitable committees' than to 'an ordinary department of Government.' Objection to trusting conduct of Emigration on Charitable Committees.From this doctrine I feel bound to express my entire dissent. I can scarcely imagine any obligation which it is more incumbent on Government to fulfil, than that of guarding against an improper selection of emigrants, and securing to poor persons disposed to emigrate every possible facility and assistance, from the moment of their intending to leave this country to that of their comfortable establishment in the Colony. No less an obligation is incurred by the Government, when, as is now the case, they invite poor persons to emigrate by tens of thousands every year. It would, indeed, be very mischievous if the Government were to deprive emigrants of self-reliance, by doing every thing for them: but when the State leads great numbers of people into a situation in which it is impossible that they should do well without assistance, then the obligation to assist them begins; and it never ends, in my humble opinion, until those who have relied on the truth and paternal care of the Government, are placed in a Situation to take care of themselves. How little this obligation has been regarded, as respects emigration to Your Majesty's North American Colonies, will be seen from the following evidence:—

No rules for guidance of Emigrant Agents at Quebec.Mr. Buchanan, the chief agent for emigrants at Quebec, says, 'I have had no communication from the agent-general of emigration;' and, 'The instructions I have mentioned as regulating the proceedings of my office do not, I conceive, contain any specific directions as to the duties I have to perform. In fact they were not addressed to my office at all. I suppose that they were transmitted to my predecessor, in order that he might be acquainted with the views of the Home Government on the subject.' 'There may have been specific instructions for the guidance of the agent for emigrants, but I am not aware of any. I have myself followed the routine that I found established.'

Emigrants ignorant of the country.Dr. Skey says, 'A pauper emigrant on his arrival in this Province is generally either with nothing or with a very small sum in his pocket; entertaining the most erroneous ideas as to his prospects here; expecting immediate and constant employment, at ample wages; entirely ignorant of the nature of the country; and of the place where labour is most in demand, and of the best means by which to obtain employment. He has landed from the ship, and from his apathy and want of energy, has loitered about the wharfs, waiting for the offer of employment; or, if he obtained employment, he calculated upon its permanency, and found himself, at the beginning of the winter, when there is little or no employment for labour in this part of the country, discharged, and without any provision for the wants of a Canadian winter. In this way emigrants have often accumulated in Quebec at the end of summers, encumbered it with indigent inhabitants, and formed the most onerous burthen on the charitable funds of the community.'

Total want of system produced re-emigration to the States.Mr. Forsyth says, 'Emigration has improved of late years with regard to the destitute sick, and to the totally destitute, by means of the emigrant society, and the fund raised by the emigrant tax; but with regard to the main body of emigrants, the evil results of a total want of system are as conspicuous as ever. The great evils that have hitherto existed have arisen from the want of system, and especially from the want of all adequate means of information, advice and guardianship. This want of information necessarily gives a vagrant character to their movements. Unable to obtain information as to the best mode of proceeding in this Province, they move onward to Toronto, and find the same want there; they become disgusted, and leave the Province in large numbers, to become citizens of the American Union. My observation on the subject has led me to estimate the proportion of emigrants from Britain who proceed to the United States, at 60 in 100 during the last few years.

Leads to great suffering.Mr. Stayner says, 'Many of those poor people have little or no agricultural knowledge, even in a general way; and they are all ignorant of the husbandry practised in the country. The consequence is, that, after getting into "the bush", as it is called, they find themselves beset by privations and difficulties which they are not able to contend with, and, giving way under the pressure, they abandon their little improvements to seek a livelihood elsewhere. Many resort to the large towns in the Provinces, with their starving families, to eke out by day-labour and begging together a wretched existence; whilst others of them (more enterprising) are tempted, by the reputed high wages and more genial climate of the United States, to try their fortunes in that country, Now and then, some individual better gifted, and possessing more energy of character than the mass of the adventurers who arrive, will successfully contend with those difficulties, and do well for himself and family; but the proportion of such is small.'

Emigrants from parishes generally of an improper class.Mr. Jessopp says, 'Emigrants sent out by parishes are very generally inferior, both morally and physically, to those who have found their own way out. The parishes have sent out persons far too old to gain their livelihood by work, and often of drunken and improvident habits. These emigrants have neither benefited themselves nor the country; and this is very natural, for, judging from the class sent out, the object must have been the getting rid of them, and not either the benefit of themselves or the colony. An instance occurred very recently, which illustrates this subject. A respectable settler in the Eastern Townships lately returned from England in a vessel, on board of which there were 136 pauper passengers, sent out at the expense of their parishes; and out of the whole number he could only select two that he was desirous of inducing to settle in the Eastern Townships. The conduct of the others, both male and female, was so bad, that he expressed his wish that they might proceed to the Upper Province, instead of settling in this district. He alluded principally to gross drunkenness and unchastity. ... The inhabitants of Quebec and Montreal are subject to constant appeals from persons who arrive here, and linger about in a state of total destitution.'

Case of the commuted pensioners.The most striking example, however, of the want of system and precaution on the part of Government is tha of the old soldiers, termed Commuted Pensioners, of whom nearly 3,000 reached the colonies in the years 1832 and 1833. A full description of the fate of these unfortunate people will be found in the evidence of Mr. Davidson and others. Many of them landed in Quebec before the instructions had been received in the colony to pay them the sums to which they were to be entitled on their arrival, and even before the Provincial Government knew of their departure from England. Many of them spent the amount of their commutation money in debauchery, or were robbed of it when intoxicated. Many never attempted to settle upon the land awarded to them; and of those who made the attempt, several were unable to discover whereabouts in the wilderness their grants were situated. Many of them sold their right to the land for a mere trifle, and were left, within a few weeks of their arrival, in a state of absolute want. Of the whole number who landed in the colony, probably not one in three attempted to establish themselves on their grants, and not one in six remain settled there at the present time; the remainder generally lingered in the vicinity of the principal towns, where they contrived to pick up a subsistence by begging and occasional labour. Great numbers perished miserably in the two years of cholera, or from diseases engendered by exposure and privations, and aggravated by their dissolute habits. The majority of them have at length disappeared. The situation of those who survive calls loudly for some measure of immediate relief: it is one of extreme destitution and suffering. Their land is almost entirely useless, and they cannot obtain any adequate employment either as farm labourers or as domestic servants, At the commencement of every winter, therefore, they are thrown upon the charity of individuals. In the Upper Province their situation is equally deplorable, and numbers must have perished from absolute starvation if they had not been fed by the Provincial Government. I confidently trust that their pensions may be restored, and that, in future, whenever the Government shall interfere directly or indirectly in promoting the emigration of poor persons to these colonies, it will be under some systematic arrangements calculated to prevent the selection of classes disqualified from gaining by their removal, and to guard the other classes from the misfortunes, into which they are now apt to fall through ignorance of the new country, and the want of all preparation for their arrival.

Valuable emigration field in these colonies.It is far from my purpose, in laying these facts before Your Majesty, to discourage emigration to Your North American colonies. On the contrary, I am satisfied that the chief value of those colonies to the mother country consists in their presenting a field where millions even, of those who are distressed at home, might be established in plenty and happiness. All the gentlemen whose evidence I have last quoted, are warm advocates of systematic emigration. I object, along with them, only to such emigration as now takes place—without forethought, preparation, method or system of any kind.