One of my research interests is migration, specifically emigration of the nineteenth century. I enjoy finding evidence of individuals relocating elsewhere, be it to a neighbouring parish or somewhere abroad. For the last ten years I have concentrated on those who left North Devon for overseas destinations. I want to know more about these people who were willing to make such drastic and to all practical intents and purposes irreversible, life choices.
According to Mark Brayshay (‘The Emigration Trade in Nineteenth-century Devon’, in Duffy, Michael; Fisher, Stephen; Greenhill, Basil; Starkey, David J. and Youings, Joyce (eds.) New Maritime History of Devon Volume 2: from the late eighteenth century to the present day, Conway Maritime Press (1994) p. 108), 434,806 people left Britain via a Devon port between 1840 and 1900. Some of those leaving, especially from Plymouth, may have been Cornish but equally, Devonians left from ports outside Devon. Some of the emigrants I have studied left from Liverpool, Bristol, Southampton and even Padstow. Nationally, 75% of Victorian emigrants went to America. In Devon however only 1·1% to America. Instead Devonians headed for Australasia and in the case of North Devon, predominantly for Canada. Nineteenth century emigrants from North Devon appear to have chosen routes and destinations that were familiar to them, if only through oral traditions which persisted from the eighteenth century, when there were regular transatlantic cod fishing expeditions. Whereas earlier travellers to North America had been motivated by economic pressures and were, in the main, not permanent emigrants, by the 1830s, individuals were influenced by other factors and were setting sail without intending to return.
What prompted these life changing journeys? When trying to ascertain the motive behind any movement, it is useful to consider the migrant’s life stage, their migration companions, if any, their occupation and what is happening in both the sending and receiving communities at the time of the move. As it turned out, in the case of my Devon emigrants, I also needed to look at religious belief. The religious climate of North Devon was far more akin to that of Cornwall than it was to that of South Devon. The 1851 religious census shows a very high number of attendances at Bible Christian Chapels in March 1851, notably in Devon’s north-westerly parishes. The Bible Christians were a Methodist offshoot, formed in 1815 by William O’Bryan. The first two circuits were at Shebbear and Kilkhampton. Emigration was a significant part of the Bible Christian way of life. In 1832, 1·1% of total membership left Britain. By the 1860s, the high emigration levels amongst the Bible Christian community were having a detrimental effect on their following in this country. Members of this church were attracted by the prospect of helping to establish circuits abroad. In addition, some were meeting with hostility at home. The emigrants to Canada, in particular the area round Port Hope, in what is now Ontario, formed part of an intricate network of kin who left North Devon during the nineteenth century. Research shows that virtually all of these emigrants belonged to the Bible Christian Church.
More information about the North Devon Exodus can be found here.
For those with little to do and the patience to wait for the file to download, Chapter 6 of my thesis deals with emigration.
You may also be interested in learning more about the Bible Christian Church.
The list of emigrants from North Devon, whose stories I am currently researching are listed here.