The story of emigration from Derry in the age of sail and steam - Part 2
From the late 1600s, in the age of the sailing ships, to the onset of WW2 in 1939, when the last transatlantic steamer sailed from the port, Derry was one of the principal emigration ports in Ireland.
We pick up the story in the 19th Century with emigration in the age of sail.
William McCorkell & Co.
William McCorkell, born in 1728, was the founder of the shipping line, William McCorkell & Co., in 1778. Initially the company acted as agents for American-owned ships in the passenger trade from Derry to North America.
In 1815, they bought their first ship, the Marcus Hill, for the passenger trade. From 1815 until 1897 when their last vessel, the Hiawatha, was sold the McCorkell Line owned 26 ships.
In the 1860s the McCorkell Line demonstrated that first-class sailing ships could compete with steam on the North American passenger run.
They had five ships plying between Derry and New York and Philadelphia: the Mohongo, Minnehaha, Stadacona, Village Belle and Lady Emily Peel. Minnehaha, the McCorkell flagship, which was known in New York as “the green yacht from Derry,” maintained a passenger service of two voyages per year to New York throughout the American Civil War (1861-1865).
The Minnehaha, between 1860 and 1873, crossed the Atlantic 55 times and carried 7,000 immigrants to New York. By the 1870s sailing ships could no longer compete with the speed, comfort and reliability of the transatlantic passenger steamers. In 1873 the Minnehaha made the last passenger voyage by a Derry-owned ship to New York.
From its earliest days Irish migration has been a family affair. The Irish either moved with kin or moved to join kin. By the nineteenth century the emigrant trade in Derry depended to a large extent on people in North America paying the fare to bring out family and friends.
Digital sources relating to the DuPont Company at the Hagley Museum and Library, at https://www.hagley.org/research/digital-exhibits/sources, sheds light on the Company’s role in arranging passage for emigrants through Irish ports, and through the port of Derry in particular.
In 1802, DuPont’s gunpowder works was established at Hagley along the banks of the Brandywine in Wilmington, Delaware, and almost from the start the Company aided its workforce to send for their families and friends in Ireland. The agents that handled the DuPont Company accounts were based in Philadelphia.
There had been trading connections between Philadelphia and Ireland since colonial times and ‘the Londonderry to Philadelphia route was the oldest Irish emigrant trade route’. Initially, Irish merchants dominated the emigrant trade but by the late 1820s agents began to take over.
This practice coincided with the advent of the pre-paid passage. Irish immigrants in America found it easier to pay a ship’s captain or agent for passages for their friends in Ireland rather than sending money direct to them.
The trade in pre-paid passages was primarily confined to areas of extensive emigration. In the late 1820s and early 30s the trade was confined primarily to Ulster, and Derry was the leading city in dealing with pre-paid passages.
The DuPont archive carries extensive correspondence and documentation from two agents for the Company in Philadelphia, namely Andrew J. Catherwood from 1847 to 1854 and Robert Taylor from 1830 to 1850.
These two men also acted as agents in the middle years of the 19th century for the two biggest shipowners in Derry; Andrew J Catherwood, from his Philadelphia office at ‘62 North Second Street above Arch’, for J & J Cooke, and Robert Taylor for William McCorkell & Company.
The Passenger Book of J & J Cooke records the names and addresses of 22,199 emigrants carried on their ships from Derry to North America between 1847 and 1867, many of whom held pre-paid passage certificates that had been purchased in the office of J & J Cooke’s agent in Philadelphia, Andrew J. Catherwood.
The order book of Robert Taylor and Co. of Philadelphia, dating from November 1863 to April 1871, records the names and addresses of 5,184 Irish emigrants who were ‘engaged’ in Philadelphia, i.e. in receipt of pre-paid passage, to sail from Derry on ships of the McCorkell Line.
From the 1830s to the 1860s the port of Liverpool emerged as the preferred port of embarkation for Irish emigrants destined for North America.
By the Famine the Liverpool-New York route was the main artery of Irish emigration. New York received about 67% of the total number of Irish who emigrated to the US between 1848 and 1851.
In the same period nearly 74% of Irish emigrants departed from Liverpool with Irish ports carrying only 20% of Famine emigrants. The introduction of regular steamboat services in the 1820s to Liverpool and Glasgow from Derry facilitated the transport of intending emigrants from Derry to North America and Australia, via Liverpool and Glasgow.
The Scotch Boat
Steamer connections, established from the 1820s, between Irish ports and the ports of Liverpool and Glasgow also transported large numbers of Irish emigrants to the cities of a rapidly growing industrial Britain.
The Derry to Glasgow passenger and livestock steamer was known as ‘The Derry Boat’ in Donegal and as ‘The Scotch Boat’ in Derry. It was an important part of Derry’s maritime history; indeed for 137 years, running from 1829 until the autumn of 1966, there was a timetabled passenger service between Derry and Glasgow.
The majority of 19th century Irish emigrants to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa departed from major British ports such as Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Plymouth and Southampton.
Most emigrants from northwest Ireland destined for Australia, New Zealand or South Africa would have begun their journey on the cross-channel steamer out of Derry to either Glasgow or Liverpool.
However, in the period 1837 to 1845 the British Government fitted out ships to take selected emigrants from Irish ports such as Belfast, Cork, Derry and Limerick to New South Wales, Australia.
Eligible emigrants and, in particular, “married agriculturists, not exceeding a certain age, with their wives and families” were given a free passage.
In 1837 and 1838 three ships provided by the government – Adam Lodge, Parland and Susan – sailed direct from Derry for New South Wales with, in total, nearly 1,000 emigrants.
Emigrants sailing from Derry were selected, at the Custom House, by Dr James Hall, the government selection officer, with the selection process being “confined to a certain distance into
the Counties of Derry, Tyrone and Donegal, it having been found inconvenient bringing people from remote parts.”
The Age of Steam
From 1861 right through to 1939 ocean-going liners called at Moville, in the deeper waters of Lough Foyle, some 18 miles downstream from Derry, to pick up emigrants who were ferried from Derry in paddle tenders.
During this period, at various times, four shipping lines – Anchor Line, Anchor-Donaldson Line, Allan Line and Dominion Line – made Derry a stage on the voyage from Liverpool or Glasgow to Canada or the United States.
Much of the emigrant business that had drifted away to Liverpool was now brought back to Derry. In 1883, emigrant departures from Derry exceeded the number that went through the port in the peak famine year of 1847 (12,385); when 15,217 emigrants boarded 154 steamers calling at Moville, with 10,496 destined for the United States and 4,721 for Canada.
The railway had a vital role to play in the development of transatlantic passenger services as the railway was the usual form of transport by which emigrants reached Derry.
The extensive rail network that converged on Derry carried intending emigrants, from the northern half of Ireland, towards Derry. Hence, the passenger manifests of transatlantic liners departing Derry, listed, not only passengers from the city’s traditional catchment areas of Counties Derry, Donegal and Tyrone, but also emigrants from the other six counties of Ulster (Antrim, Armagh, Cavan, Down, Fermanagh and Monaghan), the cities of Belfast and Dublin, the northern counties of Connacht such as Leitrim and Sligo and the northern counties of Leinster such as Longford and Meath.
Derry now became the major emigration port for the northern half of Ireland. Annual Emigration Reports from the Port of Londonderry published in the Londonderry Sentinel show that between 1877 and 1897 inclusive 193,887 passengers embarked at Moville for North America; with 153,886 destined for USA and 40,001 to Canada.
For many emigrants the boarding houses in and around Bridge Street, was where they slept on their arrival, usually by train, in Derry.
At the bottom of Bridge Street was the jetty, at the ‘Transatlantic Tenders’ shed (built 1904 and destroyed by fire in 1961) on Abercorn Quay, beside the Great Northern Railway station, where the tenders of the Moville Steamship Company and, from 1928, of the Anchor Line took emigrants to Moville to board the liners that left weekly for the USA and Canada.
The Shipping Lines
In September 1854, the Allan Line, or the Montreal Ocean Steamship Company, introduced weekly steamship sailings from Liverpool, calling at Moville from 1861, to Quebec and Montreal during the summer and to Halifax, Nova Scotia and Portland, Maine during the winter.
In Derry Almanac and Directory of 1861 the Montreal Ocean Steamship Company was advertising “All the Year Round, Every Friday from Londonderry to America” the “Cheapest and Shortest Sea Passage by Steam.”
By 1890, the Allan Line advertised that the average passage time from ‘Londonderry to Canada Direct Every Friday’ was seven days, and the fare charged was £4 10 shillings ‘Steerage,’ £7 7 shillings ‘Second Cabin’ and 10 to 18 Guineas ‘Saloon.’
Direct departures from Derry on Allan Line ships ended with the First World War. In 1917, the Allan Line merged with the Canadian Pacific Line.
By 1920, Canadian Pacific Line, retaining Allan Line office at 50 Foyle Street, Derry were advertising ‘through bookings from Ireland to Canada,’ and, by 1923, they had vacated their Derry Office and were advertising sailings from ‘Belfast to Canada fortnightly during season.’
The Glasgow shipping company of Handysides & Henderson, in 1856, inaugurated a new mail, cargo and passenger service, the “Anchor Line of Steam Packets” between Glasgow and New York. From 1866, the company’s Glasgow to New York steamships started calling at Moville and continued to do so until 1939.
Off Moville, prior to the First World War, Anchor Line ships, with their all black funnels, could be distinguished from the Allan Line ships with their distinctive funnels of red with narrow white band below a black top.
In 1916 the Anchor Line and another Glasgow company, the Donaldson Line, merged their services to Canada and formed a joint company, Anchor-Donaldson, to operate the route. Four Donaldson ships, the Letitia, Saturnia, Cassandra and Athenia, were transferred to the new shipping line.
By 1930, the Anchor Line were promoting their ‘Londonderry & Belfast to New York’ service on their ‘New Oil-Burning Liners “California,” “Caledonia,” “Cameronia,” “Tuscania,” “Transylvania,” – all 16,700 Tons;’ and the Anchor-Donaldson Line their ‘Londonderry and Belfast to Canada’ service which sailed ‘in Summer to Quebec and Montreal; in Winter to Halifax and St. John, N.B., or Portland, Maine.’ From 1887, departing from Derry every alternate Friday, the Dominion Line of Liverpool was operating a passenger service to Canada (to Quebec and Montreal during the summer and to Halifax and Portland during the winter). By 1902, however, the Dominion Line was absorbed into the White Star Line and its transatlantic ships picked up passengers at Cobh, not Derry.
From the early 1900s, the links forged by mass emigration together with Derry’s position as an Irish transatlantic hub became a tourist asset.
The shipping companies printed posters emphasising the style and romance of the ocean liners to encourage holidays abroad. One such poster campaign proclaimed: “Come Back to Erin: ANCHOR LINE New York and Londonderry”.
The outbreak of war in 1939 meant the end of this emigrant and tourist trade. With the return of peace, in 1945, the transatlantic liners didn’t come back to Derry. In the 1950s and early 1960s emigrants from all over Ireland headed, by train, to Cobh.
Brian Mitchell’s booklet ‘Derry~Londonderry: Gateway To A New World’ is available at the Tower Museum and the Guildhall.