The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History
The most well-known emigration to take place through Plymouth was, of course, the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620 but at the end of the eighteenth century new destinations presented themselves, in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Towards the end of 1838 or in early 1839, the New Zealand Company was formed by Mr Edward Gibbon Wakefield with the intention of settling a colony the other side of the World. On May 12th 1839 he and his settlers set sail from the West Pier of Sutton Harbour in the "Tory", an event commemorated by a plaque near the spot.
Whether or not the party sent word back to Plymouth that they had arrived in New Zealand is not clear but certainly the spirit shown in setting out on the voyage prompted local merchants to form the Plymouth Company of New Zealand on January 25th 1840. Under the leadership of the Earl of Devon as governor, Mr Thomas Gill as deputy governor and Mr Thomas Woollcombe as managing director, the Company purchased 60,000 acres from the New Zealand Company. On November 19th 1840 they despatched the first party of 64 adults and 70 children aboard the "William Bryan". As a result, New Plymouth was founded on North Island.
The Plymouth Company sent out six ships in all, carrying 897 emigrants, before their enterprise was brought to a halt by the failure of their London bankers.
Following the appointment of a local man, Mr Frederic Rogers, as Assistant Under-Secretary for the Colonies and Commissioner for Emigration, some of the old warehouses on Elphinstone Wharf, just outside Sutton Harbour, were made into a Government Emigration Depot. That was in 1847,which fortuitously coincided with the potato famine in Ireland. Hundreds of Irish men and women used the Dublin and Cork to Plymouth steamship services as a passage to a new life. Apparently it cost 10s 6d to cross to Plymouth and a further £14 14s to get to Australia. For just £8 8s they could get to North America instead.
That year twenty-six vessels sailed from Plymouth carrying 1,730 emigrants.
The Government Emigration Depot
occupied the buildings
In 1848 the South Devon Railway opened its line as far as Laira and a year later it completed its route into Millbay Station. With Plymouth now accessible from the north via the Bristol & Exeter Railway, this made the Port more attractive as a departure point. In 1848, 89 ships left with 8,505 emigrants and in 1849 it had risen to 130 ships carrying 15,895 people, of which 109 ships (14,118 people) went to Australia and 10 ships (1,171 emigrants) headed for Canada.
At daybreak on Wednesday February 7th 1849 three ships sailed from Plymouth for Australia: the "Agenoria", Captain Newby, for Sydney with 257 souls; the "Susannah", Captain Lukey, for Adelaide carrying 216 passengers; and the "British Empire", Captain McEwer for Port Phillip, with 242 people. 
The emigrant ships "Dorothy", "Hope", and "Emigrant", sailed from Plymouth to Adelaide and Port Phillip in March 1849. Other ships that sailed to Australia that year included the "Mary Banntyne", the "Elizabeth", and a local vessel, the "Prince Regent". Read more .....
On Saturday April 14th 1849 the "Dædalus" was due to leave Plymouth with emigrants for Quebec, Canada.
In 1850 they even had their own "Emigrants' Penny Magazine" to keep them up-to-date with developments.
An announcement in the Plymouth, Devonport & Stonehouse Herald in February 1860 concerning the awarding of contracts for board and lodging of emigrants states that the depot must have sleeping and other accommodation for 150 adults at the same time and 'afford facilities for embarking the people and keeping them isolated when necessary, until embarkation.'
Even the tragedy of losing some 260 passengers, mostly from North Devon, in 1855 when the barque "John" was wrecked just outside the Harbour did not diminish the numbers wanting to leave the country. In 1878, for example, 100 ships took away 15,000 people. The record was 1,800 emigrants in a single week.
It is impossible to list all the departures from Plymouth but a report of the sailing of the "Hesperides" on Friday May 14th 1875 can be read by CLICKING HERE.
Business was so good that in 1883 the contractor who ran the Depot, a Mr Arthur Hill, extended the Depot and made improvements like adding separate toilets. This resulted in 372 berths being available for single men, 402 for single women, and 344 for married couples with children. Unfortunately, these improvements were made at just the wrong time. By 1893 financial problems in both America and Australia brought about the end to assisted passages and by 1897 the Depot had become the Government Torpedo Depot of the Royal Engineers. It was then known as Elphinstone Barracks.
The only building that remains from those days is the white house by Phoenix Wharf, which can be seen in the photograph above.
|© Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK|
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