The Petworth Emigration Scheme

During the early part of the 19th century, following the elimination of the bubonic plague and the introduction of a vaccine to control smallpox, life expectancy of the population was slowly increasing. The birth rate had started to exceed the death rate, consequently there were more mouths to feed. Add to this the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 meant that more and more soldiers and sailors were returning to their homes, unable to find work.

As poverty increased, more and more families went hungry. In an effort to alleviate the situation, local committees of landowners and clerics were formed to help house and feed the worst cases, paid for by local property taxes. As the levels of poverty increased so did the taxes. In southern England agricultural labourers began to riot, smashing equipment and burning hayricks and barns threatening to continue doing so unless the landlords increased pay and reduced rents. These were known as the 'Swing Riots' and lasted many months.

The situation that they found themselves in prompted landowners to think of ways to ease the problem and perhaps remove some of the prominent agitators from the community. One such scheme was the Petworth Emigration Scheme, partly funded by the 3rd Earl of Egremont. A committee of three was organised under the leadership of the Rector of Petworth, Thomas Sockett. The other two members of his committee being William Knight and Thomas Chrippes. The Earl of Egremont was prepared to pay £10 per person making the trip, while local parish funds paid for the personal equipment that the voyagers would need. Items recommended to Parishes included:

A fur cap
A warm great coat
A flushing jacket & trowsers [sic]
A duck frock and trowsers
A canvas frock and two pairs of trowsers
Two Jersey frocks
Four shirts
Four pairs of stockings
Three pairs of shoes
A bible and prayer book

3rd Earl Egremont

In 1832 the Committee chartered four ships, the Lord Melville, Eveline, England, and Brunswick, to sail from Portsmouth to Canada. For the next five years until his death in 1837, the Earl sponsored a ship a year, the England (1833), the British Tar (1834), the Burrell (1835), the Heber (1836) and the Diana (1837), carrying collectively approximately 1800 people over the period. It was further to sail to Canada than to the United States but the ships were able to bring back timber to offset their costs. 

Several villagers from Yapton made the trip. The first being George French, aged 22, who made the voyage in 1832 on the England. More followed in 1835 on the Burrell, they were:

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

During the years of the Petworth emigration Scheme, over 30 parishioners were assisted by the Yapton Vestry to emigrate. Many of these were resident in Yapton Poorhouse (now Laburnham Cottages).

Emigrants boarding at the start of their voyage

In general, the emigrants were mainly arable workers who would find it easier making a living in their new country than stockmen.

The crossing took about seven weeks and the living quarters were very cramped. A berth six feet by six feet had to accommodate three adults and six children. The passengers had to do their own cooking using a stove on deck. When they eventually arrived at their destination, civilian migrants were given five acres of land which was part of the deal, while ex-military received one hundred acres which had been the lure to entice them to emigrate.

As would be expected, everything wasn't a bed of roses. England's wish to ease the country's overpopulation problem found them sending people who lacked the skills to fend for themselves in an inhospitable country. Many were sick or fell ill during the crossing and had to be cared for on landing.

There are several books and web-sites dedicated to the Petworth Emigration Scheme which give such details as ship's lists, type of ship and what the requirements were for emigrants which make excellent reading for interested readers.

Allen Misselbrook
July 2019

(Originally published in Sussex Local Magazine, Arundel, September 2019)