Assisted Emigration to Upper Canada, 1832-37

Assisted Emigration to Upper Canada, 1832-37

The poor in our society have never been totally neglected; from before the 15th century the monasteries provided poor relief to those in dire need. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, subsequent legislation gave power to parish officers to administer and provide charity for the poor. Acts of Parliament required every parish to appoint Overseers of the Poor who were responsible for finding shelter and work for the unemployed. This was easier said that done since the reason they were seeking poor relief was usually due to high local unemployment. To get around this the overseers would often rent houses (using collected taxes) and provide materials such as flax, hemp and wool for the able-bodied to work in these “poorhouses”.

In 1745, Henry Murrell and Henry Halsted, as local Overseers, bought a “tenement, shop and orchard” from Samuel Roe for £85, for use as housing for the poor of the parish. These buildings were later known as Rope Cottages and were on the site of what is now The Black Dog/Olive Branch car park. In 1818 a new poorhouse was built in the orchard behind — now known as Laburnum Cottages.

Numerous Acts followed aimed at helping with the administration of the poor-relief followed, but they served only to create more and more administration and ever increasing rate demands on the parish ratepayers. These higher taxes resulted in lower wages to agricultural workers which culminated in the Swing Riots of 1830 when farm labourers across the south of England rioted, attacking many poorhouses (which they saw as partly responsible for their plight).

A Royal Commission was appointed to review the system of poor relief which culminated in a radical change in the way relief was to be administered; authority was now removed from the parish’s control and centralised in London, the role of the local government now being reduced to merely enforcing central policy. Despite the good intentions this did little to reduce the tax burden on ratepayers. The Earl of Egremont — the wealthy and influential owner of the Petworth Estate — was an outspoken critic of the new system. He sought an alternative approach.

The idea of assisted emigration — paying for passage of those seeking work in America and Australia — had been discussed in government, and Egremont saw this as a way to help those who had a genuine desire to work but couldn’t find employment.

Between 1832-37 the Petworth Emigration Committee chartered ships and in 8 voyages across the pond, assisted 1,800 emigrants to travel to Canada. George French (aged 22) from Yapton was one of the first to travel.

Riots in Yapton and Walberton had been serious in the Swing disturbances and to pre-empt further trouble, the Committee paid for 23 emigrants from these parishes to sail to Canada on board the Burrell in 1835. From Yapton:-

Benjamin Chatfield (36) and wife Charlotte (44)
Charles Cole (30), wife Harriett (30) and son Charles (4)
Philip Harwood (33)
James Jarrett (22)
Charles Saxby (39), wife Charlotte (29) and children Emily (15), Mary Ann (1)
William Sims (19)

The Scheme continued until the Earl’s death in 1837 but no further emigrants from Yapton are recorded.

Geoff Westcott
December 2010