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Desperate Haven - The Famine in Dungarvan

13. Emigration

Flight From Famine 

Interior of an Emigrant Ship - Illustrated London News

During the first failure of the potato crop in 1845 there was no significant increase in the emigration figures. However, things had changed by the following year when the crop failure was repeated. Lord Monteagle wrote in 1846 that the second potato failure had 'reversed the peasant's attitude to emigration; what had been looked upon as a banishment was now regarded as a release.' [1]  The Cork Constitution of 2 April 1846 noted that 'vessels were reportedly taking in emigrants at Shannon, Bantry, Skibbereen, Youghal, Dungarvan and Waterford. The poorest cottiers were the first to leave, followed by the small-holders and then the better off farmers and townspeople.' The cost of emigration in 1846 was between 50-60 shillings to Canada and from 70 shillings to £5 to America. The cost for a labourer, his wife and three children came to about £15, an entire year's wages at that time. [2]

Many emigrants left from Liverpool having endured a rough passage from Ireland. A contemporary account noted that 'The people were positively prostrated from the inclemency of the weather, seasick all the way, drenched from the sea and rain, suffering from cold at night.' Conditions on arrival in Liverpool were poor. Lodgings were extremely bad and the innocent new arrivals fell prey to the numerous confidence tricksters.

Cecil Woodham-Smith states that 4,000 emigrants left from Waterford in the spring of 1847. [3] In May of that year a newspaper in St. John, New Brunswick, noted that 'The (Irish) provincial newspapers appear to be alarmed at the  magnitude and character of the emigration from all parts, more particularly from the counties of Limerick, Waterford, Cork and Sligo.' [4] In June 1847 an Act was passed to enable funds to be raised via the Poor Rate rates to help towards emigration expenses. The requirements were that the applicant should be three months in a Workhouse. Assistance would be given in certain circumstances to poor people not residing in the Workhouse and those who had been less than three months in the Workhouse. A high proportion of the emigrants from Ireland were women. There was a great demand in America for Irish girls as domestic servants. In Australia there was an acute shortage of  females.

There was a fall in the numbers emigrating in the latter part of 1847. By the Spring of 1848 numbers had increased again due to the fact that fares were due to increase under the new Passenger Bill that was to come into force in March. People wished to avail of the old rates. The Cork Constitution of 9 November 1848 noted that: 'No less than 1,500 respectable farmers have left the port of Waterford for America during the last five weeks. At this season of  the year, it is most extraordinary.' The following details concerning the cost of emigration are taken from the Dungarvan Union Minute Book for 1850 :
'The cost estimated upon the ratepayers for the maintenance of each adult pauper under the heads of food and clothing alone cannot be estimated at less than £3.5s per annum. While it would appear that for a sum of £5.5s, an individual may be sent out from this country, to America, with a sum after landing of 10 shillings to cover his travelling expenses to the point of his destination.
The Board will perceive that at an expense of less than the charge of one year and a half maintenance, an adult pauper may, instead of remaining a Burden on the resources of the Union be visited to the comparatively superior condition of a labourer supporting himself by his own industry in a country where for many years to come demand will continue probably to exceed the supply.'

Poor Law Assisted Emigration
The Boards of Guardians had been eager to assist the Workhouse inmates to emigrate as it would reduce the numbers in the Workhouses and give them a fresh start overseas. The Poor Law Commissioners supported the Guardians but the Colonial Office believed that the paupers would make bad citizens. However the situation changed during the Famine. An agreement was made with the Colonial Office that orphan girls between 14 and 18 years would be sent from Irish Workhouses to Australia. It was also felt that this would help alleviate the problem of the shortage of women there. The Poor Law was amended to enable the Guardians to use funds from the Rate-in-Aid scheme to help with the paupers' emigration expenses. The applicant had to be fit for work and an inmate of the Workhouse for at least one year. Early in 1848 a memorandum was sent to all Boards of Guardians, promoting the scheme and describing job prospects, travel etc.,:
The voyage to these colonies generally occupies about 100 days. The males and females are intended to be conveyed in separate ships, teachers are to be appointed to them, and means will be taken to provide for the instruction of the emigrants in conformity with their respective creeds. In those of the ships which may carry orphans there will be a trustworthy Matron.

The Guardians were required to pay for clothing and the cost of transport to Plymouth. Lieutenant Henry R.N., the emigration agent in Dublin, was given the task of selecting the girls. Between May 1848 and April 1850 twenty ships carrying a total of 4,175 orphan girls from Irish Workhouses set out from Plymouth for Australia. Eleven ships went to Sydney, six to Port Philip and three to Adelaide. The scheme lasted for two years. Between August 1849 and the end of March 1851, 2,592 men, women and children were sent from the Workhouses at a cost of just over £11,000 to the Poor Law. The majority of these emigrants appear to have gone to North America. Twenty three orphan girls were sent to Sydney from Waterford Union in September 1849 on the ship Panama. The secretary of the Poor Law Commissioners wrote to the Clerk of the Waterford Union on 24 August 1850 enclosing part of a report of the 'surgeon superintendent' of the ship:

'of the conduct of the Emigrants generally I cannot speak too highly and considering that most of them had been brought in Unions and thrown as strangers together, it was wonderful how soon they became obedient to whatever orders were given them, and with what avidity they entered into each others amusement.'

By the mid 1850s opinion turned in the colonies. It was felt that the girls were totally untrained as servants and therefore unemployable. There was also a certain amount of discrimination against Catholics at this period. Taking these factors into account the commissioners decided to abandon the scheme.

Emigration from Dungarvan Union

Adverts From The Munster Citizen 1852

Adverts From The Dungarvan Journal 1882

The first reference to groups emigrating from Dungarvan Union appears in the Minute Book of February 1849. The entry notes a letter from the Poor Law Commissioners informing the Guardians of the impending visit of Lieutenant Henry, the emigration agent, to select suitable female orphans for emigration to South Australia. He was also to discuss the outfits required by each emigrant. On 15 February the Matron was ordered to purchase the articles required by the emigrants. The following is a list of the items purchased and the names of the suppliers:

  • Michael Troy for making 18 boxes £5.8.0                                                  
    Catherine Sherin for clothing £5.15.9                                                 
    William Orr for clothing £15.17.5
    Thomas Hannigan for clothing £4.15.8
    Jeremiah Morrissey for combs, brushes and scissors £2.19.8
    Mary Kiely for clothing £4.0.9
    Patrick Ronayne for calico and stockings £4.1.1
    John Lacey for clothing £1.9.5
    Rev. Maurice O'Gorman for Testaments and Prayer Books £1.4.9
    Thomas Cleary for clothing £4.12.4
    William Ryan for clothing £5.13.6

On 1 March the Clerk was asked to write to 'Mr. Bianconico' (Bianconi of Clonmel) to ascertain the cost of 'a conveyance' to transport the 19 emigrants from Dungarvan to Thurles. He was also asked to contact the North Dublin Union to enquire if the emigrants could stay overnight before boarding their ship. Miss Catherine Connolly was paid £20 'for defraying expenses of emigrants to Plymouth.'

On 3 April 1849 Lieutenant Henry wrote to the Guardians stating that the emigrants should be sent to Dublin on the 3 o'clock train on the 18th, in time for the steam vessel which would sail from Plymouth at 6 in the evening.

On 12 April the Medical Officer submitted the following report on the health of the emigrants: 'I have examined the several girls selected for emigration to South Australia, such persons as appear to require it have been placed under treatment for cutaneous and other diseases, they are all now in good health and fit to undergo the voyage - all have been inoculated.'

Lieutenant Henry wrote to the Clerk of the Dungarvan Union on 9 April 1849 stating that the cost per person for the passage from Dublin to Plymouth was 13 shillings and six pence 'including diet on the passage.' On the 23 August the Guardians agreed to pay the clothing and travel expenses. This is the last reference in the minutes to this particular group.

The Poor Law Commissioners wrote to the Dungarvan Guardians on 17 November 1849 informing them that Lieutenant Henry would be coming to Dungarvan to pick 34 people for emigration. On 22 November the Master was directed to produce the names of the 'young women' who would be suitable candidates for emigration to Australia. On the 29th the Master presented the names to the Board and estimated the cost of  outfits and travel to the port of embarkation to be £160.13.4. The Board decided that they would avail of 'the offer of Government to send 34 orphan girls to Australia.'

The Poor Law Commissioners wrote to the Guardians on the 6 December stating that they had received Lieutenant Henry's report noting that he had picked 22 girls and expected them to leave from Dublin for Plymouth on 26 December. The Master and Matron were to ensure that the emigrants would be 'of unblemished moral character.' On 13 December Mrs Eliza Connelly was appointed sub-matron for the voyage.

On 20 December the Clerk informed the Poor Law Commissioners that the Guardians had decided that the emigrants would leave from Cork as it was cheaper. They would leave on a steamer from Penrose Quay on the 27th. The Cork Steam Packet Company was paid £19.16s for transporting the emigrants to Plymouth. William Ryan charged £3.13s for each emigrant's outfit. James Dobbyn of Waterford was paid £5.15s for transporting the emigrants to Cork on the 26th.

North America
On 2 May 1850 the Guardians ordered that advertisements be placed at once in the Waterford, Cork and Liverpool papers so that they would be ready 'to receive proposals from people willing to contract for the number of persons, not exceeding 200, for each adult person, male and female to Quebec, Montreal, St. John's, New Brunswick, from this port. Contractor to have the ship ready to sail on the 1st of June next.'

The following were the conditions for eligibility of the emigrants: 'able-bodied women, single or married, without families, who have been inmates of the Workhouse for at least one year.' Preference was to be given to the long-term inmates. In the minutes of 16 May it was reported that Mary Snow and Mary Shea had refused to go to America. Both were discharged at once from the Workhouse. At the same meeting the Clerk was ordered to inform Messrs Lambert & Co. that the Guardians would accept their tender to transport the emigrants.

The following is a list of the clothing supplied to each of the emigrants: 1 shawl, 1 calico dress, 1 calico wrapper, 2 chemise, 1 flannel petticoat, 1 calico petticoat, 2 pair of stockings, 2 pocket handkerchiefs, 1 neck handkerchief, 1 pair of shoes, 1 bonnet trimmed, 2 caps, 1 clothes bag, 2 lbs of soap, thread, tape and needles. Each emigrant was to receive 15 shillings from A.C. Buchanan, chief emigration officer in Quebec, to enable them to travel for work.

Burke, the Poor Law Inspector, compiled a report on 3 June stating that as most of the emigrants were young girls it was necessary to have a 'respectable matron' to accompany them. He recommended a Mrs Cotter and a Mrs Ryan, being 'women of excellent character.' Burke rejected 50 of the emigrants and picked 40 more to replace them. On 13 June the Master reported that they would be ready to leave for Liverpool on Thursday 20 June. Miss Julia Keane was appointed as Matron to accompany the emigrants.

Usually the minutes do not record the individual names of the emigrants, but on this occasion, 36 women did not have suitable clothes for the journey and their names were recorded:

Bridget Brien, Mary Griffin, Julia Morrissy, Mary Coleman, Eliza Galvin, Ellen Mahony, Catherine Connolly, Mary Hannigan, Margaret McCarthy, Julia Clancy, Mary Noakler, Mary Ducey, Honora Hardy, Bridget Power, Bridget Egan, Johanna Humphry, Mary Power, Bridget Flynn, Catherine Kilmartin, Mary Sullivan, Johanna Flynn, Margaret Lynch, Catherine Sullivan, Margaret Fitzgerald, Mary Lonergan, Mary Walsh, Bridget Fitzgerald, Mary Lynch, Alicia Whelan, Mary Foley, Margaret Mahony, Catherine Roche, Mary Fitzgerald, Ellen Murphy, Eliza Fitzgerald, Kitty Murray.

The following supplies were ordered for the emigrants: 200 spoons, 200 oz of thread, 500 needles, 1 stone of sugar. Cheques for £50 and £600 were sent to Lawler and Co., the emigration agents in Liverpool 'on receipt of Lieutenant Hudder's report to the effect that 200 emigrants were on board the ship Colonist at Liverpool for transmission to Quebec, removed this night to Waterford' (July 11th).

The emigrants apparently left Liverpool on 15 July. It is not clear where they were accommodated while waiting for the ship to depart. The next reference to them appears in the minutes of 1 August 1850 where we learn that things had not gone as planned. The Dungarvan Board of Guardians learned about the fate of the ship from one of the emigrants, Mary Burke. According to her they left Liverpool on the ship Essex (not on the Colonist).

However, the ship sprang a leak and they had to return to Cove (Cobh) on Wednesday 31 July. The pauper emigrants were debarked and put into an old hulk used as an hospital, where they were 'treated with rudeness.'  Forty three of them escaped, including Mary Burke who had returned to the Workhouse in Dungarvan. She commented that many others had also returned. The Clerk was ordered to go to Cork to discover why the emigrants had been allowed to escape and to learn when the ship would be ready to sail. On 8 August the Guardians sent a report to the Poor Law Commissioners concerning the escape of 43 emigrants, to enable them to recover the passage money.

On 29 August an order was made that those emigrants who had escaped and who had refused to return to the ship should hand up their clothes. If they failed to do so they would be prosecuted and would never be allowed into a Workhouse again(sic). The Medical Officer was ordered to select 17 in 'place of the deserters, a horse and cart to be hired to send them to the ship.' On 28 August W. Roberts, emigration agent in Queenstown, wrote to the Guardians stating that Julia Keane, the Matron in charge of the Dungarvan emigrants, required straw and soap. We hear nothing further of the group until January 1851 when reference was made to the non-receipt by the emigrants of the 15 shillings allowed to them by the Guardians. The money had been retained by the emigration agent in Quebec. The Minute Book for the remainder of 1851 is missing so we have no further details on the fate of the emigrants.

A Dungarvan newspaper, The Munster Citizen, [5] in its issue of 20 March 1852, carried the following piece on emigration from this district:
'The mania for Emigration seems fairly to have been caught by the inhabitants of this, comparatively secluded locality, and it is really melancholy to witness the eagerness with which our people rush from this lovely and fertile district as if fleeing from some terrible impending calamity. On Thursday, nearly two hundred persons, men and maidens, old men and matrons left this and two adjoining parishes, on their way to Waterford, from thence to embark to different parts of North and South America.
Fifty of those emigrants were from the mountain parish of Comeragh, 38 from the parish of  Dungarvan, and the greater portion of the residue from Old Parish and other places contiguous to this town. The road from Dungarvan to Waterford presented the appearance of a veritable exodus, being all day crowded with cars containing the emigrants and their baggage. Many of the younger of those voluntary exiles were about proceeding to California to follow the fortunes of an adventurer named Stephen Smallfield, who originally emigrated from this locality to California, and lately returned, bringing with him indisputable evidence of his success in several glittering specimens of the precious ore of the modern El Dorado. This man's father was an old and respected settler in this town, and the greatest confidence seems to have been placed in the brilliant representations made by the son. Stephen Smallfield Senior, the father, marched into this town one fine St. Patrick's morning, as a private soldier, and afterwards married a young woman here. The son has been destined to lead away the largest band of emigrants that ever left this locality.' [6]

The same newspaper carried a story on 3 April concerning a large scale eviction at Kilmacthomas. The landlord, the Marquis of Waterford, had levelled the homes of about 87 families. They would depart for America on the 12 April. The editor concludes with the following sarcastic comment on the affair: 'Their "most honourable" landlord is paying their passage money.'

Several months later the paper printed the following article extracted from the Waterford News: 'Emigration still continues, and in a few months hence, will be quintupled from this, and other Irish ports. The 'Mars' steamer sailed yesterday morning for Liverpool, with 150 passengers - many of whom were of the middling classes - nearly all bound to the United States.'

Text Of A Public Notice

T O   S H I P O W N E R S .

THE BOARD  OF  GUARDIANS  of  the above  Union  will be ready to receive Proposals, on  THURSDAY, the 16th of MAY Instant, from Shipowners, or other par-ties competent to contract for the  Conveyance of a Num- ber of  Adult  Persons, Males and Females, not exceeding Two Hundred, from this PORT to QUEBEC, MONTREAL, or  ST.   JOHN'S   NEW   BRUNSWICK. Such  Con-tractor furnishing all necessary Provisions and accomodation for the number of persons to be agreed for. Security will be required for the due performance of the  Contracts, and that no unnecessary delay will be given, but that the Ship  will be ready to Sail from the above Port on the First Day of June Next.
Sealed  Proposals  to  be addressed to  me at  the Union Workhouse, Dungarvan, on or before 5 o'Clock p.m.,Wednesday, the 15th. Inst.,
By  Order,
Acting Clerk of the Union. Board-room, 4th May,1850.

In the minutes of 16 April 1854 there is a reference to the 'recent selection of pauper inmates from Dungarvan poor house as emigrants.' Captain Hamilton was to arrange the travel and outfits on behalf of the Guardians. On 20 April the Guardians approved £40 to purchase outfits for 29 emigrants, including one child.

On 8 May the Master was authorised to proceed to Liverpool with the emigrants. On 11 May, the morning of their departure, they were given a special breakfast. The Master issued 29 lbs. of bread, 3 lbs. of sugar and 2 lbs. of cocoa. The cost of the fares for the 29 emigrants came to £124.13.9. Of this, £28.10s was set aside to be divided between them on landing in Quebec. James Lynch was paid £2.11s and M. O'Brien £1.16s for transporting them to Waterford.

The Master returned from Liverpool on 3 June and that: 'the emigrants sailed in good health and spirits' having left on 31 May on the ship Southern Light. W. J. Hamilton, Poor Law Inspector, wrote to the Guardians on 2 August. He informed them that Mr. Buchannon, the chief emigration officer, had told him of the safe arrival of the emigrants in Quebec on 10 July: 'They have all proceeded up the country, where Mr. Buchannon states they are sure to do well.'

A similar group who emigrated to Quebec in 1857 from Waterford Union were paid from 12 shillings and six pence to 15 shillings per month, as domestic servants. [7]

Individual Emigration   

Gregory O'Neills Emigration Office, Cork. Illustrated London News 1851

There are many references in the minutes to individuals or families emigrating from Dungarvan Union. A large number were assisted by friends or relatives who had emigrated in the early 1840s. In 1854 £1,730,000 was sent from emigrants in America to the United Kingdom. A large percentage of these remittances consisted of pre-paid passage tickets.

The following are some examples of emigrants from Dungarvan Union who were given assistance by the Board of Guardians. Thomas Broderick of Carriglea, Dungarvan looked for financial assistance on 1 July 1865 to enable him and his family to emigrate. Broderick, his wife and six children had been inmates of the Workhouse for the previous nine months. Simon O'Brien, the Guardian for Carriglea, stated that Broderick had been an 'extensive farmer' who now wished to emigrate to join his friends in America. O'Brien noted that it had cost the Carriglea Division £90 to keep the family in the Workhouse up to that date, the cost per annum being about £50. He agreed that it would be more economical in the long term to give them the passage money. 'Their passage money and outfit would require about £42, and £5 upon landing.'

Early in August the Guardians granted £34 to the Brodericks 'their friends having agreed to assist them with clothes and the balance of money requisite to enable them to emigrate and provide for them on landing.' The last entry relating to the family appears in the minutes of 7 September: 'Thomas Broderick, about to leave the Workhouse, bed clothes for two beds were granted to him.'

Edmond Dalton from Cappagh had been an inmate of Dungarvan Workhouse since 1850 and was 19 years old. On 3 August 1854 he wrote to the Guardians stating that he had received £2 from friends in America and asked for further assistance. He was granted £4.10s by the Poor Law Commissioners on 31 August. On 5 September the Guardians received a letter from Gregory O'Neill, emigration agent in Cork. It stated that Dalton would sail on the ship 'Queen of the West' from Liverpool to New York on 12 September. He would travel by steamer to Liverpool on Saturday evening, 9 September. O'Neill wrote again on 10 September stating that Dalton would board his ship that Monday morning.

A Helping Hand Across The Ocean.

Some people were not forgotten by their friends who had emigrated and done well for themselves. George Keane, a deaf and dumb inmate of Dungarvan Workhouse received a passage ticket from a friend in America. Keane had been an inmate of the Workhouse for several years and was expected to stay there for the remainder of his life. He required £3.10s for clothing and transport to Queenstown. His friend gave the 'necessary security in a bond for 1,500 dollars to the authorities of the State of New York that he will not become a burthen on the state. So he is free to emigrate.' Keane left for America in January 1871.

Emigration To England
There was a large percentage of emigrants who went to England. George Nicholls writing about the Irish Poor Law noted that in the first 9 months of 1847 278,000 Irish emigrants reached Liverpool 'of whom only 123,000 sailed from thence to foreign parts; and the remainder therefore have continued a burden on the inhabitants.' In 1856 Nicholls made the following comments on the effects of emigration: 'I think that it has been already carried further than was desirable. There appears to be no excess of labourers anywhere, and now in the harvest season there is evidently a want of hands to do the work. The rage for emigrating however, continues, although the occasion for it has ceased. It pervades every class, and is strongest with the best educated and most intelligent. I found this to be the case among the boys in the Workhouse schools.'

England had laws of settlement. This meant that the authorities in England could send Irish people who applied for relief there back to Ireland. If a person was to be expelled from England it was necessary for the authorities there to have a hearing before a Justice. A warrant was then obtained from this hearing authorising the expulsion. However, many were unfairly treated and sent back to Ireland and left at the port of arrival to fend for themselves. Between 1855 and 1858, 5,580 people were sent back from Scotland and England.

In 1861 the law concerning the 'Removal of Irish Born Paupers' from England was amended. This relieved the situation to a certain extent but the Irish Poor Law Commissioners were unhappy with it and by 1866 were calling for its abolition. An example of this is recorded in the Minute Book for 16 July 1863: 'A warrant was received from the authorities in the parish of St. George East, Middlesex, authorising the removal of Philip Brown and three children from that place to Dungarvan.' On 22 July the Clerk reported that 'Philip Brown lately removed from England has, with his three children, been admitted to the Workhouse. The statement made by Brown on his admission shows a great irregularity in the proceedings taken by officials in England for his removal, as well as the illegality of it, if his statement be true.' The Guardians recommended that the case be investigated. There are many other similar cases recorded in the minutes.

Between 1851 and 1861 an average of 3,500 people emigrated to other countries from Co. Waterford each year. This increased to 8,200 between 1881 and 1891.


  1. Burke, Helen, The People and the Poor Law in 19th c. Ireland. England 1987. p. 148.
  2. Donnelly, James S., The Land and People of 19th. c. Cork.London 1975. p. 125.
  3. Smith, Cecil Woodham, The Great Hunger. London 1965. p. 211.
  4. Mackay, Donald, Flight From Famine. Toronto 1990. p. 261.
  5. The Munster Citizen, dated 20 March 1852. British Library, Newspaper Library, 28 February-11 September 1852. No. 9300369.
  6. The Dungarvan Church of Ireland register records the marriage on 20 October 1821 of Stephen Smallfield Wickings 'late of the 10th. Royal Veteran Battalions' to Elizabeth Thulgen
  7. Waterford Workhouse Correspondence 1857. Decies No. 5, May 1977. pp. 27, 28.

Author: William Fraher

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