Illustration by Christine Fuller
Borrowing to Fund the Emigration of the Poor Persons of the Parish
One of the provisions of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, was the legislation which enabled the rate payers of a parish to set up a fund to pay for the ‘emigration of the poor persons settled in the parish who were willing to emigrate‘.
In Great Ellingham, and following the appropriate notice being given, a meeting (chaired by the Rector, Samuel Colby) was held in the vestry of St James’s Parish Church on the 20th April, 1836. The Vestry Minutes are unclear as to who attended the meeting. However, it was likely attended by the churchwardens, the overseers and those inhabitants of the village who were rate-payers and owners of property, and, accordingly, had a vote.
At the meeting it was unanimously resolved that a certain sum of money should be borrowed to fund the emigration of those living in the village ‘who had expressed their desire to emigrate to Canada‘.
Further meetings were held in this regard. At a meeting on the 1st May (1836), it was agreed that £450 should be borrowed by the churchwardens (named as Benjamin Barnard and Nathaniel Weston) and the overseers (Samuel Warren and Richard Pitcher), to fund or contribute to the expenses of the poor persons ‘having settlements in the parish and being willing to emigrate‘. The repayment of the borrowing would be charged upon the rates of the parish (for the relief of the poor), and in accordance with the rules, orders and regulations of the Poor Law Commissioners for England and Wales. It was also agreed that the repayment would be by equal annual instalments of £90 with interest not exceeding five per cent.
An application was duly made to the Poor Law Commissioners for the advance in Exchequer Bills for the sum of £450, and a copy of the application of the 5th May, 1836 was entered in the Vestry Minute Book.
It is possible that not every inhabitant of the village would have qualified for assistance from the fund. It was only open to those ‘having settlements in the village’. There were varying rules for being granted ‘settlement’ and thus qualifying for parish relief (including the contribution towards the cost of emigration). It was straightforward if you were from a ‘village family’ and you and your parents had always lived in the village. However, if you moved into the village (for example, for work), the overseers of the parish would have to consider (by various factors) whether you had established settlement.
Emigrating Families & Individuals to Canada
We can only assume that the families and individuals listed in the Vestry Minutes as wanting to emigrate to Canada had settlement status and, in consequence, qualified for the assistance. The first families and individuals listed were:
- Samson Coates, aged 40 and his 38 year old wife Hannah with their children John aged 15, James 12, Emily 10, Ann 8, unnamed child aged 2 and George aged 1.
- Shadrick Rivett 38 years with his wife, Mary Ann aged 34. Their children were listed as 10 year old Elizabeth, Mary Ann aged 8, Robert 7, Jane 6 and Maria aged 1½.
- John and Rhoda Howlett, both aged 38, with their children James 19, Susan 17, Rebecca 13, Jane 11, Robert 9, George 7 and Edward 2.
- Robert Laurence 28 with his wife Jemima aged 29, with children George 4, Eliza 2 and one year old Robert.
- Benjamin and Martha Margerson and their six month old son, William.
- Singleman, 20 year old Robert Beales
- 42 year old Brandford Brown with wife Mary (aged 31) and children James 14, Matilda 11, Harriet 9, Mary Ann 7 and William aged 4
- Abram (Abraham) Houchen aged 40 with his 38 year old wife (unnamed) and their children Hannah 6, Charles 4 and one year old Martha
Further names were added on the 5th and 12th May:
- W Brown aged 35 and his wife Elizabeth aged 33
- Timothy Clark 26 and his wife Mary Ann aged 23 with children James 3, Charles 2 and Hannah, an infant
- Robert Bales aged 19 years
- 60 year old Benjamin Long and his son, W Long aged 15
- W Saunders 22, Thomas Margerson 17 and James Chapman 19
- Edward and Lydia Chapman both aged 43 with children Rebecca 17, Sarah 16, Robert 11, William 9 and Eliza aged less than one year
- James Long, a single man aged 21 and 20 year old Rachel Warren, also single
Emigration to America
The Vestry Minutes also tell us that nine people from the village were wanting to emigrate to America. A meeting (with the rate-payers and property owners in attendance), chaired by William Colman, was held in the village on Sunday 8th May, 1836. A resolution was made that a sum of £60 should be borrowed by the churchwardens and the overseers to cover the cost of emigrating the nine persons (unnamed) to America, subject to the approval of the Poor Law Commission.
Samuel Warren and Richard Pitcher agreed to convey 25 emigrants with their luggage to [Great] Yarmouth at the time specified by the Parish Officers at the sum of £3, but in default of this agreement, they would each forfeit the sum of £5.
Assuming that the 81 inhabitants (including the children) all emigrated as planned, it would follow that in later times of trouble and hardship, there would have been less inhabitants in the village reliant on the parish for financial support.
We don’t know exactly what prompted the individuals and families to leave Great Ellingham, but I suspect work may well have been scarce and earnings low. Most if not all of the heads of the individual households wanting to emigrate were labourers. They may have been tempted by one of the advertisements appearing in the local newspapers offering opportunities for ‘a better life’ in Canada – particularly if they qualified for free passage.
The 1830s was certainly a difficult time for agricultural labourers in the country. There was great opposition to the mechanised practices which resulted in unemployment and reduced wages. In 1832, Great Ellingham farmer, John Barnard, suffered an arson attack on his premises which may have been connected to the ‘Swing Riots’
Mass Emigration from Norfolk
The Workhouse, the story of an institution … website reveals that between June 1835 and July 1836, 3,068 people emigrated under the funded scheme from 91 parishes in Norfolk – and Norfolk had the highest number of emigrants in England. Suffolk was the second highest with 787 inhabitants from 32 parishes. The village of Banham (just 8 miles from Great Ellingham) saw 250 of their inhabitants emigrate at this time.
Steady decrease in the Population of Great Ellingham
In 1801, the population of Great Ellingham was 655 increasing steadily over the next three decades. The 1831 census recorded 882 inhabitants in the village.
However, between 1831 and 1841 the population decreased from 882 to 838 (a decrease of just over 8%). Some of this decline can be attributed to the emigration of the certain families and individuals during this period. In addition, there will always be some movement in the population due to relocation in the local area (or nationally).
Apart from a slight rise in the populace in 1871, from 1841 the population of Great Ellingham steadily decreased – 838 (in 1841) to 583 by 1901.
Prosperous & Successful?
How many of the emigrating families survived the crossing to Canada and America? Was their emigration as prosperous and successful as they would have hoped? I certainly hope so, and my next challenge will be to track and trace the families!
If you are descended from one of the above mentioned families – or any other family who emigrated (or migrated) from Great Ellingham, please do contact me via the Contact Page.
Parish Chest Materials of Great Ellingham 1741-1839. Items 1-2 Overseer’s Accounts and rates 1804-1819: Vestry Minutes, 1822-1839. Viewed via https://www.familysearch.org/ 08 October 2020.
Original Vestry Minute Book 1822-1839, Great Ellingham Vestry. Norfolk Record Office. Catalogue Ref: MC2213/139
Great Ellingham Parish Registers. Norfolk Record Office. PD609. Also available via https://www.familysearch.org
Great Ellingham. Population Table. https://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/NFK/Ellingham_Great Accessed 10 October 2020