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British Canadian, Toronto, Saturday, May 20, 1848.


We have the promise before us of not being inundated during the present summer with such a frightful amount of disease and destitution as was inflicted on us by the Imperial Government in the summer of 1847. The threatened Emigration Bill from Canada, and the Act which has been passed by the Imperial Legislature, appear to have had the effect of warning the brokers and ship-owners – of showing them that something may possibly be lost by again attempting the deadly trade in carrying human beings, which brought so much profit to them last season. Two parties were greatly to blame for the horrors of last year – the parties engaged in the shipping trade, and the British government – the former for active, gain-seeking, unscrupulous cruelty; and the latter for the “permissive waste” of human life, which was the effect of no law being passed to check the cupidity and avarice of those who profited by the trade. Nor were we, the people of Canada, altogether free from blame. We remonstrated, but we waited too long without doing so, and then did not speak strongly enough. The horrible facts have, however, taught us a lesson, and it is our own fault if we suffer in a similar manner a second time. The imperial statute, although as we have shown on a former occasion defective enough, is tolerably strict and has been followed up some Orders in Council, under the authority of the Act, enforcing the observances of cleanliness, and regulation on board the ships – the neglect of these by the masters and officers, as well as the passengers, having been among the most prolific sources of fever. A great deal of the blame has been laid upon the poor emigrants, for this evil, but when we remember that the poor creatures were crowded together like negroes in the slave-ships, and deprived of proper conveniences – with no one to attend their sick, we are surely justified in condemning the conduct, not of the unfortunate people who were sacrificed, but of those who place them in the floating charnel-houses, caring for nothing but making money out of them. The “shipping interest” is loud in complaint against the new law, and Willmer and Smith’s journal became counsel for the Liverpool passenger merchants, but without success. The law may do something for a short time towards checking valuable emigration, but this will soon be remedied, when the true state of the case is understood; and, at all events, we must make up our minds to lose a few desirable settlers, rather than again suffer under such a visitation as we have already experienced. It remains still for our government to make and enforce proper regulations for the transport of emigrants up the country. We must not see them crowded into the steamers at the rate of ten and twelve hundred at a cargo, as they were last summer.

It was with much difficulty that the would-be plausible Colonial Secretary was induced to take any notice whatever of the subject. The complaints of the colony were voted a bore at the colonial office. “We do not stimulate emigration,” quoth the men in power, “We do not create the evil.” At last the solid Earl was made to understand that something must be done to check the evil, which the government had permitted to arise; and in course of time we may manage to convince even the dull ears of the Downing Street officials, that the prosperity of those great arms of the empire – the colonies – depends mainly upon the proper regulation of emigration to them. Found well-ordered and prosperous settlements, and you will have flourishing colonies. Send us people able to labour and find them employment, and they will create wealth for themselves, the colonies, and the empire; and the tie between British North America and the Mother Country will become strengthened by affection and (what Earl Grey and the Utilitarians think about more) INTEREST.

For such improvement as we have obtained, we may thank, to some extent, the remonstrances we have made, the complaint of our public journals, and, to a degree not often thought of perhaps, the exertions of private enterprise and philanthropy. Of this latter, we have it in our power to give a rare instance, by narrating a few facts.

Among the Irish landlords who last summer were desirous of providing an asylum for a portion of their tenantry, was one who was actuated by far other motives than merely getting rid of so many people – we trust there were many others urged by similar good motives, but there were some not very creditable exceptions. Steven E De Vere, Esq., a gentleman of fortune, and the proprietor of some estates in the south of Ireland, having heard a great deal about the evils and benefits of emigration to this Province, and hearing also of the sufferings of many poor people who had been from the country, determine to try the experiment himself. This he came to the conclusion to do, not by making arrangements for the transport of so many hundreds or thousands of his tenantry, and remaining at home, to hear as much or as little as might be of their fate, but he would see for himself. He accordingly picked a dozen volunteers from among the numbers who would gladly have accompanied him, and with them took shipping for Quebec, in the steerage of one of the regular passenger ships. Landlord and tenants fared alike, the former taking careful notes of the events of the passage. Of the voyage we need say nothing more than that it was of the average character – there was all the disease, ill-usage, and wretchedness of which our readers have often been made painfully aware – the state of things which imported the fever that carried off many of our most valued friends and citizens. At Quebec, proceedings were commenced against the Captain, which were ultimately compounded upon his paying a certain amount for the benefit of the suffering emigrants.

Mr. De Vere proceeded to Upper Canada, and closely observed the whole process of transportation, to the very last destination – the graves of the fever-stricken people. In Toronto, this philanthropic gentleman attended in the emigrant office, and rendered much assistance to the lamented and indefatigable agent, Mr. McElderry, boarding with him every steamer filled with the wretched cargoes, and transmitting to the “proper authorities” the result of his laborious experience. He was well pleased with the management of our hospitals; but shocked, as every one was, with the mode of transport of poor people hither. Some of the steamboat cargoes were sufficient to recall to the mind the horrors of the sea voyage. Mr. De Vere’s people suffered from fever, but recovered, receiving his constant personal attention.

The fact of the gentleman’s investigations being [m]aid [sic] in minute detail before the Colonial Secretary and some members of the House of Lords, coming as they did from one well known, and who could not possibly have any interest in writing, but the benefit of his countrymen, has had a good effect, and he well merits the thanks of the people of this Province, as well as of the emigration population of the Mother Country. Few men are found to act from such pure disinterestedness in these days; and it is gratifying to observe the result of such labours. Mr. De Vere returns shortly to England, and, by making his views public, will, we hope, be the means of obtaining further improvements, as those already made are not sufficient. One fact is certain. His information may be implicitly relied upon by Government; for he has obtained it himself, on the spot, and by the most careful and indeed dangerous investigation, as the above mentioned facts fully show.

That something similar has been produced by the efforts of Mr. De Vere, we are led to believe by the fact that the Orders in Council, which we append, have the appearance of being framed upon the consideration of such papers as the following, which is among the several letters of the gentleman in question to Earl Grey, and which we have, upon request, been permitted to publish:

The fearful state of disease and debility in which the Irish emigrant reaches this country, must undoubtedly be attributed in the first place to the sickness and destitution prevailing in Ireland, but is, I have no reason to doubt, much increased by the want of due arrangements for enforcing cleanliness, ventilation, and a generally good state of social economy, during the passage.

I can assert from experience that the present regulations for securing health and comparative comfort to emigrants are insufficient, and are not, or perhaps, cannot be enforced. Before the emigrant has been a week at sea he is an altered man. Hundreds of poor people, men, women, and children, of all ages, from the drivelling idiot of 90 to the babe just born, are huddled together without light, without air, walling in filth, and breathing a fetid atmosphere; sick in body; dispirited in heart; with none to relieve or encourage them. Their food is generally ill-selected, and seldom sufficiently cooked, in consequence of the insufficiency and mal-management of the cooking places. The supply of water, hardly enough for cooking, does not allow for washing.

In the ship --, Captain --, of --, on board of which I came to this country, which left London, 29th April, arrived at Quebec after 49 days passage, the great mass of the passengers were found in provisions by the owners. The supply of water shipped on board was abundant; but the quantity served out to the passengers was so scanty that they were frequently obliged to throw overboard their salt provisions (which would have taken a polish like a chimney piece) and their rice, which formed a most important article of their food, from want of water to cook in, and to satisfy their raging thirst afterward. They could afford water to wash their persons only once or twice a week, and then at the expense of food.

I have known persons to remain in their close dark berths for days together, because they thus suffered less from hunger, whilst at the same time they were obliged, by want of water, to heave their salt provisions overboard. No cleanliness was enforced. The beds never aired. The Master, during the whole voyage, never entered the Steerage. The dietary agreed for was nominally supplied, but false measures were used, (in which the water and several articles of dry food were served) the gallon holding only three quarts. Once or twice a week ardent spirits were sold indiscriminately to the passengers, and the scenes of blackguardism that ensued were beyond description; and no lights were allowed, because the ship, with her open deck fire grates, her lucifer matches, and hundred lighted pipes, was freighted with Government Powder for the Garrison of Quebec. The provisions of the Passenger Acts are insufficient to procure cleanliness and ventilation. The machinery of the Emigration Agencies is insufficient to enforce those provisions. A clerk comes on board on the arrival in port, questions the Captain, and ends by asking whether any one means to make a complaint. This is a mere farce, for the Captain takes care to “keep away the crowd form the gentleman;” even were all to hear the questions they would not venture to commence a prosecution, friendless, pennyless, ignorant, disheartened, glad to hasten to their further destination.

I threatened my Captain with proceedings, and made him pay a considerable sum for the relief of destitute emigrants; and yet I believe from information I have received from emigrants, with whom I am well acquainted, arriving this year, that my ship was one of the best ventilated and most comfortable of those that arrived in Canada.

Disease and death among the Emigrants, nay, even the propagation of infectious diseases in Canada, are not the worst results of this atrocious system of neglect and ill usage. A far worse consequence is the utter demoralization of the emigrants, both male and female – by the filth, disease, and debasement of two months so passed.

The enfeebled emigrant arriving in America has not the heart, has not the will to work. He has lost his self-respect, he no longer stands erect.

I have detailed facts seen by my own eyes, the remedies should be found by the Government, who have already admitted the principle that the due regulation of passengers ships is a duty of the state. I would suggest, however, the division of the ship into separate places for the married, for single men, and for single women; the reservation of an hospital ward for the sick and infirm; and the appointment, at the expense of the Government to each ship carrying more than 50 passengers, of an experienced Doctor, who should be at the same time the Government Emigration Agent for the ship with power to investigate all complaints, to institute prosecutions in concert with the Emigration Agent at the landing port, and to enforce the observance of the amending provisions of the Passenger Act.

One of the advantages to be derived from an improved passage economy, would be a rapid advancement in the colonisation of Canada, by men of respectability and moderate capital, who are deterred from settling by the horrors of the voyage, and above all, by the debasement of the character of many of the newly arrived emigrants.

Toronto, July 20th, 1847.