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Living in the British empire - migration
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Extracts from the Illustrated London News showing the situation in Ireland 1847-51
(Catalogue ref: ZPER 34/10, ZPER 34/13, ZPER 34/18)
  • These images show scenes from Ireland in the period 1847-51.
  • Source 4a shows a soup kitchen run by Protestant Quakers in County Cork in 1847. This was set up to feed the starving small farmers of Ireland whose crops were wiped out by the failure of the potato crops.
  • Source 4b shows small farmers being evicted from their land by landlords because they could not pay the rent. This was due to the failure of their crops. The prospects for this family were very bad indeed.
  • Source 4c shows a family being blessed by the local priest before emigrating in 1851. They were probably going to Canada and then on to the USA. They may have been going to Liverpool first, to catch a boat from there. Relatives who were already in America or England probably paid for the emigration. In some areas, however, landlords provided money to help tenants to emigrate.
  • Ireland was the first English colony and proved one of the most troublesome. The majority of the population were Catholic farmers who rented small properties from landlords. Most of the landlords were Protestant Anglo-Irish (descended from English or Scottish settlers).
  • The landlords made their money from rent paid by the small farmers. The landlords’ agents therefore tried to get as many rent-paying tenants on their lands as possible.
  • By about 1840 the population of Ireland was around 9 million. This large population was able to live on small plots of land because of the potato. It was an excellent food and it gave three crops every year. However, in the early 1840s a terrible disease called blight destroyed the potato crops and continued to do so until 1851.
  • Ireland was devastated. The Irish Famine was the largest natural disaster in Western Europe since the Black Death of the 1300s. Around 1 million died from hunger and disease. At least 1.5 million more emigrated in the famine period. Emigration continued after that. Even today, the population of Ireland is about 5 million. It is the only country in Western Europe whose population has fallen since the 1800s.
  • The famine caused great bitterness towards British rule. Irish emigrants in the USA supported anti-British movements. There were even accusations that the British deliberately did nothing to stop the starvation as they wanted to reduce the population of Ireland.
  • The Irish Famine was one of the greatest failures of British rule, along with the terrible famines in India of 1876-77 and 1899-1900, which killed even more people. It is not true that the British did nothing. The government spent millions of pounds on food aid and schemes to create work. Private individuals, the churches and charities all made huge efforts to help the starving poor. However, the British government thought that private enterprise by farmers would solve the problems of food shortages. The government failed to see how great the problems were and did not take enough action in time.
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