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Title: Letter from John Porter, Dublin To Editor The Vindicator Belfast
CollectionIrish Emigration Database
FilePorter, John/30
SenderPorter, John
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationunknown
Sender Religionunknown
OriginDublin, Ireland
DestinationBelfast, N.Ireland
RecipientEditor of The Vindicator
Recipient Gendermale
Relationshipwrites letter to newspaper about emigration
SourceThe Vindicator, Belfast, Wednesday, March 12, 1845
ArchiveThe Linenhall Library Belfast
Doc. No.9410226
Partial Date
Doc. TypeLET
LogDocument added by LT/JW, 13:10:1994
Word Count2801
TranscriptThe Vindicator, Belfast
Wed. March 12. 1845

To the Editor of the Vindicator

Sir. - In concluding a former letter, I stated my anxiety
that one I intended to send you in a short time, should be read
with attention. In lifting my pen to write it, I am painfully
impressed by two considerations - 1st, my inability to do justice
to the subject, and 2nd, a fear that anything I can say will have
little or no effect.
The present system of emigration is attended by many great evils,
which call imperiously for a sweeping and thorough reform. Before
leaving our shores, poor emigrants are exposed to the devouring jaws of
the land sharks; on their voyage, there is no adequate attention shown
to their comfort and accommodation, and, in many cases, they have to
endure much hardship and petty tyranny; arrived at the port for which
they are bound, they are beset by locust swarms of blackguards, who
live by robbing them; during the journey to the interior, they are
still surrounded by unexpected difficulties and temptations, and, at
last, having reached their destination, they find themselves without
money and without friends, alone in the depths of the forest, where
sickness or a trivial accident may blast their energies, and destroy
their prospects. Is it any wonder that many should fall into vice and
crime - others into sickness - others into despair - and others (alas!
too many) into a premature grave!
Perhaps we have been criminally indifferent to the welfare
of these unfortunate exiles. It is a great truth that every honest and
industrious man has a right to a decent living in the land of his birth
- a right which no human law can contravene, for it is antecedent to
all such law, a primary object of which should be to guarantee its
peacable enjoyment. - Upwards of 2,000,000 of our countrymen have not
food, clothing or house accommodation fit for human beings: and not
withstanding their unparalleled patience and industry, they cannot
earn a comfortable subsistence. To do this many are willing to go to
the ends of the earth, yet no-one comes forward to guide, cheer, and
assist them in carrying out such a laudable desire! This, Sir, is
not as it should be. Whatever may be the cause - on which it is not
my business to offer an opinion - they are virtually denude of
their birthright; whence it clearly follows, that it is the duty of
those who have the means - of the public at large, to succour them
in their efforts to establish themselves in more highly favoured
The first suggestion I shall offer is, that emigrant societies
be formed in all our large towns and cities. They might be of
incalculable service in a variety of ways - in diffusing information
respecting the best and cheapest mode of travelling, the most
advantageous localities for settling, and generally, of shielding
the unsophisticated from the dangers which surround their path. Such
Societies, supported mainly by voluntary individual subscriptions
have been in successful operation for some time in several of the
United States Atlantic cities, and have been productive, as I myself
can bear witness, of unspeakable benefit to thousands. In New York
the corporation have such a favourable impression of the services
of the society in that city, that they annually contribute a large
sum to the funds. Here is a lesson for us, we are too apt to charge
the Americans with a total disregard of human rights, but before
again doing so, would it not be well for us to remove the reproach
to which our conduct, in this respect, lays us open? We ought,
undoubtedly, to feel a deeper interest in the welfare of our
countrymen than strangers; yet where in the United Kingdom is there
an emigrant society? and what municipal body contributed œ100 a year
to be spent in furthering the prosperity of those who are compelled
to sever the ties that bind them to Fatherland? A due regard for our
character should stimulate us to immediate exertion, for whether
undeservedly or not I do not say, we have acquired the reputation
of sending our paupers to foreign nations for support.
There is one class of emigrants, in particular,
whose case should awaken public sympathy, and to whom such societies
as I speak of would be of infinite benefit. I allude to that of
young and unprotected females, who at present, are left to shift
for themselves the best way they can, and not a few of whom, owning
to the sordid and cruel neglect of a merciless world, are lost. We
are bound by the highest and firmest obligations, to those the
strong arm of support. They should be shielded from the probability
of such diabolical wrongs. When injured, the public feeling
evaporates in a wild cry for vengence on the offender; but it would
be more to the purpose if that feeling were directed to the
organisation of means to preserve them from injury. The societies
which I recommend should open a channel of communiction with those
abroad; and taking these poor girls out of the hands of chance,
guard them from their native village to the vessel, place them
directly under the care of the captain, and provide as might easily
be done employment for them in respectable families in America.
I cannot pretend to mention more than a few of the ways
in which such association could be of benefit; but there is one
point to which, in my view, attention has not been sufficently
directed in Ireland, wherein their labours would likely be of
important service. With us, emigration consists of individual
efforts; whereas it is obvious at a glance, that collective
enterprise would be far more certain of success, besides
possessing other advantages over the present system. A number of
persons joining together would not be so easily cheated as
separate individuals - they could purchase their store of
provisions cheaper - make a better bargain for their passage -
would be society in health, and solace and support in sickness -
would not be so liable as to fall into the snare spread for them on the
other side of the Atlantic - and in forming a settlement, how valuable
the assistance each would render the other in building, tilling, and
clearing the ground - in cases of sickness, accident, or death, or any
of the numberless casualties in which an isolated settler would be
utterly ruined! The advantages of combined emigration are better
understood by other nations. Whole villages, pastor and and all, will
rise up, and make an exodus from Germany to the states. The hardy and
intelligent Norwegians go out in strong colonies This plan should be
sirenously [sic] put before our people. A single isolated family runs more risk
and endures greater hardship than one of a number about to settle together
and has not as fair a prospect. This is so obviously true, that every
person of intelligence would think me stupid if I were to say any more
about it by way of explanation.
In the United States and British America, there is ample room for
the whole population of Europe to live in affluence; but, at the same time,
there are some localities where it would be unwise for emigrants to plant
themselves - the large cities - where they have so many temptations to
remain. No adequate means have yet been devised for distribution strangers
over the face of the country. There is a great want of information on this
subject. Many wander about for a time, spending what little they have
before settling. Few individuals have got the time, the disposition, the
influence, and the funds requisite to procure correct intelligence, but a
number of societies co-operating with American ones, could easily do so.
I approach a delicate part of the subject,yet it is that
which I have particularly in view - the accommodation provided for
steerage passengers on board the liners. My opinion here is decided - I
would abolish the plan in toto. People may urge on me the impossibility
and the inexpediency of great change; but I reply it is not impossible,
and no plea of expediency can justify the degradation of human beings
below the level of brute creation. I have not a moments hesitation in
saying, that more comfort has been provided for the comfort of prisoners
in the new jail of Belfast than is exhibited in fitting up steerage
accommodation for honest men. It is a mockery to talk either of comfort
or accommodation - there is neither; and I do believe that an
intelligent farrier would not allow his cattle to remain in a hole
similar to that where the majority of emigrants have to pass one half
their time. What kind of place is the steerage. A space, say eight feet
high, between decks, lighted by a few bulls-eyes in the upper deck
and two hatchways, which latter are the only means of ventilation, in
general, there are four rows of berths, one at each side and two in
the centre - two and often three tier in each row - and each berth
made to hold two, three and sometimes four persons. In this
miserable hole - dark and unventilated - from 100 to 200 persons, of
all ages and conditions, and of both sexes, have to eat, dress, and
sleep. Accommodation! - a box of rough deal boards. Accommodation! -
a chamber where young and innocent females have to dress and
undress in the presence of the other sex. Accommodation! a place as
dark as night, and where you can hardly breathe from the impurity
of the air. Stand over one of the hatchways at sea, and the stench
ascending from below would almost suffocate you. Accommodation! -
what a humbug! Is it any wonder that grossly immoral practises
should be carried on in such a dog-kennel? Is it any wonder that
many, when arrived at the other side of the water, and breathing
the exhilarating air of transatlantic freedom, should curse the
government of this country because of their treatment of the poor?
I may be asked - " well, what would you do to make the
steerage better?" I answer, what have you done with regard to the
cabin? If there was a will there would not be the slightest
difficulty in constructing in the upper deck, glass lights similar to
those above the cabin, which in fine weather could be thrown open,
and when a storm came on could be covered. And what is to prevent
the steerage being divided into several compartments so that sexes
and families might be separated? The sides of the vessel should
only be fitted up with berths, and a long table placed in the
centre, where people might eat their food like Christians; and
some kind of fixtures should be thrown up, where boxes could be
secured, so as they might not be smashed to pieces, as at present,
whenever it blew a bit of a gale.
I am also of the opinion that it might be a great improvement
if the passengers (steerage) were victualed by the ship; instead of each
individual providing for himself. This plan has been put into successful
practice on board the government ships for Australia. At present, I think
I may assume that each grown up person lays out an average œ3.10s for
stores, including provision chest, cooking vessels, plates and soforth.
Now in the Belfast workhouse, the cost per head per week does not amount
to 1s. for food. This arises from the economy in purchasing and cooking
largely at the one time. extend the same principle: let the ship owners
purchase and cook the provisions; and I am quite sure that the result
would prove, that for £1.15s (7s per week for a five weeks' passage), the
passengers would have better food, prepared in a better manner, than they
have now.
How is it possible for, say one hundred persons, which is a small
number, to prepare their food properly, at a regular time, at one small
stove? They cannot do so and after pushing, jostling, and squabbling, not
one in ten can get his get his breakfast, dinner, or tea as to be fit for
eating. The plan I suggest would do away with all this, for three or four
persons, in a caboose, could cook for two hundred easily enough.
According to the present plan, every one at meals has to shift the best
he can, with his plate on his knee, and the food on a box or barrel lid;
but I would have tables down the centre of the vessel regularly served up,
so that something like decency be preserved. By the present plan, every
person has to wash, and scrape, and make ready his victual, and consequently
there is a continued mess below deck; by mine, this would be all avoided.
There would no longer be any necessity for each person purchasing a
provision box, and an assortment of tin-ware, in many cases of no use to
him after the voyage. The ship should furnish all these necessities. Now
supposing 5s a head additional were charged for the passage - and that would
pay for the wages of the extra cooks - would it not be better and cheaper
to pay this sum than to put up with the confusion, the annoyance, the dirt
and filth, the discomfort, and injury to health arising from the present
I cannot see for the life of me, what there is to prevent some
arrangements being made by which the passengers might able to wash
themselves properly. The usual allowance of water per day on board ship
is half-a-gallon to each adult; and this must serve him for breakfast and
tea, and every other purpose. suppose the steerage divided into four large
divisions; would it be a matter of impossibility to have three wash-stands
erected in each, with a tap to let in the water and a pipe to carry it off?
Instead of being attended with waste, I think there would be a saving; for
there must be a serious loss of this valuable article in serving out 100
half-gallons. If some thing of this kind were introduced, we should no
longer see men and women go for a whole week without washing their faces.
Another thing - every person now going out has to provide bed
and bedding; but what the deuce are young men to do with such things when
the voyage is over? Just what they do at present - give them away. Many,
knowing this, do not purchase them, but lie in their clothes on the bare
boards the whole voyage. Is this right? whats to hinder the ship providing
at least the straw mattress and rug for each berth. Accommodation! bare
boards and a dungeon.
In conclusion, I think it absolutely necessary that a series of
rules should be drawn up for the government of passengers, so as that they
should no longer be subject to the petty tyranny of every cub of a mate
or other sub-officer. It is requisite that the captain should have
sovereign authority, being vested with responsibility; but, in order that
every steerage passenger should know his place and to prevent the rude
and impertinent interference of the subordinate officers in other people's
business, I would prepare a set of regulations, read them, or give a copy
to, every individual, before going on board, and make him sign them - a
breach of them to be attended with a certain fixed penalty. At present,
any bad character may render the whole voyage a scene of uproar and
confusion; I'd put an effectual stopper on all such gentlemen at once.
Having thus set the subject at some length before the public
allow me to express my warmest hopes, that some of the philanthropic
gentlemen in Belfast, and it can boast of many, will take it up, and urge
it forward. At a trivial expense, and by a little labour, a vast amount
of good might be effected. I know that some Liverpool gentlemen are fully
aware of the evils depicted, and the necessity of a change. Government
should put forth its energy but it will not, and therefore, let us arise,
and shame the government by our patriotic exertions. The columns of the
most influential journal in the empire are open to any well written
communications on the subject. Throughout the country are scattered many
noble-minded men, who only want the signal to unite in an efficient and
well arranged scheme, and devote their energies to the procuring of a
better system. - in gods name let a movement be made.
Dublin 18th March 1845. John Porter.