HC Deb 02 March 1854 vol 131 cc203-23

said, he rose to move the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the recent cases of loss of life on board emigrant ships. He wished the proposed Committee to finish the inquiries of the Committee of 1851 on this subject. Notwithstanding the Act which had been passed for the removal of the evils connected with the emigrant system, they had broken out in some instances with greater virulence than ever. There had been a fearful loss of human life caused by sickness on board passenger vessels. He was not prepared in every instance to vouch for the authenticity of the statements he was about to make, but he had taken them from several newspapers, and he had never seen their accuracy called into question. One statement was to the effect that a number of vessels, averaging from five to seven, which sailed between Liverpool and America last autumn, had the large number of 1,034 deaths on board during the passage, those deaths averaging upon the total number of passengers very nearly 30 per cent. He really thought the fact that within the short period of six weeks or two months so great a loss of life should have occurred, amount- ing to so large a number of the passengers as 30 per cent, was alone a fact sufficient to induce that House to institute an inquiry, in order to see if they could not ascertain whether the causes of this loss of life were to be traced to any defect in existing regulations, and, if so, whether some plan might not be devised which would prevent such lamentable occurrences for the future. As it might be said that he ought to have gone to the Government offices for information before bringing a Motion forward for the appointment of a Select Committee, he would at once state that he had done so, and that he had endeavoured to obtain information from every quarter he thought likely to afford it. The result of these inquiries, however, led him to believe that information could only be obtained by calling witnesses before a Committee of that House. Indeed, the Board of Emigration and other departments of Government declared that the regulations at present in force were powerless to ensure a thorough knowledge of the deaths which occurred in vessels going to America, or to take efficient measures of precaution against them. Under such circumstances, it became the imperative duty of that House to devise some means of putting into the hands of Government the power of obtaining a full knowledge of all these matters, and of adopting means to prevent such a fearful loss of life. He would suggest that negotiations should be entered into between the Government of this country and that of America, in order that some well-concerted scheme, some really stringent and efficient superintendence, should be organised, whereby the fullest information might always be procured. In 1851, an inquiry was instituted by a Committee into the condition of emigrant vessels, and he proposed now to touch upon certain matters which had not particularly engaged the attention of that Committee. The emigrants of the poorer classes, when they arrived at Liverpool, were pounced upon by a set of harpies, who, under the pretence of procuring them lodgings and ships, plundered them of money which they could ill spare. The Committee of 1851 had made inquiry into the supply of provisions, and the manner of cooking them; but the labours of the Committee had been inefficient for the purpose of procuring a separation of the sexes, and the due stowage of the cargo, so as to ensure a sufficient amount of space to passengers. He proposed to take up the inquiry where that Committee left off. Emigration from Ireland was going on to as great an extent as ever, if not greater. There were larger remittances sent last year for emigration purposes from persons who had emigrated to America to their friends and relatives in Ireland than in any former year, and emigration in the spring would probably go on more than ever. He was informed that no less a sum than between 70,000l. and 80,000l. had been remitted to Limerick alone, and that large sums had also been forwarded to Waterford, Dublin, Galway, and other towns for this purpose, and that the total amount exceeded that of any former year. It was therefore important that something should be done to secure the health and safety of passengers by emigrant ships. The cholera had raged fearfully in emigrant ships crossing the Atlantic, and the probability that the cholera would again break out in this country in the summer and autumn was an additional reason for taking precautions against the pestilence again devastating our emigrant ships. One important subject of inquiry ought to be the want of provision for the comfort of the poorer class of emigrants coming across the Channel. Men, women, and children, coming from Irish ports to Liverpool and other places, were often exposed without shelter upon the decks to the beating of the sea in the most stormy weather, and in the depth of winter. This subject was not handled by the Committee of 1851. They admitted its importance, but a Bill was then before Parliament which promised to deal with the subject. However, the provisions for the protection of emigrants were one by one abandoned in the progress of that Bill through Committee, and the 14 & 15 of Vict. chap. 79, contained no provision relative to the transit of the poorer class of emigrants across the Channel. This was the first subject into which the Committee ought to inquire; the second was as to the class of ships taken up for emigrant vessels. They were often vessels which had just brought home a cargo of guano, of hides, or of old rags, and were in an unwholesome and offensive condition, which rendered them totally unfit to convey emigrants. He trusted that steps would be taken in future to prevent such inhuman proceedings. No sufficient care was at present taken to see that emigrant ships were in a fit state. It was necessary that such ships should be well whitewashed below, and that the whitewash should be dry before the passengers went on board. Such vessels ought to be examined, not only by a nautical man, but by one of Lloyd's surveyors and a master carpenter, to test their seaworthiness. The next point of inquiry before the Committee should be, whether emigrant vessels should not be chosen out of the same class as Government convict vessels. The Government never took up vessels for the conveyance of convicts unless they belonged to the two first classes, known at Lloyd's as A 1 and Æ. Yet, it was from the classes below these two that the majority of emigrant ships for the poorer classes were taken. The same regulations, too, as to the amount of space for each person which the Government adopted in convict ships ought to be enforced in emigrant ships. It might be said that this was an interference with private enterprise; but surely it was an interference in behalf of human life and health, and that had always been considered by the Legislature sufficient justification. The state of the waterclosets on board the lower class of emigrant ships also required some regulation, for the abominations that took place for the want of this necessary provision could not be described, so cruelly were the feelings of decency of the female passengers outraged. It would be necessary for the Committee to examine witnesses, to see whether the existing regulations in force relative to emigrant ships had been carried out, and particularly whether a larger number of children had not been carried in some of the emigrant ships than was allowed by the Act. The law provided that there should be a space of six feet clear between decks, and that the decks should be laid carefully upon the permanent beams of the ship. These provisions were, he was told, frequently evaded, so as to prevent that cleanliness and due ventilation which it was the object of the Act of Parliament to secure. The American Legislature had passed an Act to provide for some protection to the hatchways, so as to secure to the passengers due access to light and air. In the English emigrant ships the hatchways were flush with the deck, through which the spray and the water, from the washing of the decks, often found its way to the passengers below. In bad weather they were obliged to be closed, or very nearly so, and then the passengers below were deprived of light and ventilation. It would be a question for the Committee to consider whether some kind of booby-hatch could not be constructed over the hatchways, so that the side remote from the wind might be kept open. The Committee might call evidence to inquire whether something could not be devised between the cumbrous house erected in American emigrant ships and the hatchways flush with the deck of English vessels. There was a time when a considerable portion of the passage money in the case of vessels going to Sydney, was retained until the safe arrival of the passengers at their destination. It would be matter of consideration whether that provision should not be revived—whether the passage-money should not be paid to the credit of some Government officer in the sea-port town, either entirely or in part, and not handed over until the British consul had reported that the agent who had sent them out, and the captain of the ship, had properly performed their duty. If any loss of life was caused by the misconduct of the charterers or their servants, of course the passage-money would be forfeited, and, if possible, returned to the relatives of the unfortunate sufferers. There were many recent cases of great loss of life on board this description of vessels, which showed the necessity for some revision of the regulations applicable to them. He would quote first the cases which occurred actually in vessels sent out by the Colonial Land Emigration Commissioners. The Bourneuf, to Melbourne, 1,495 tons, carried 754 passengers, and out of them eighty-four died. The vessel had bad hospital accommodation, having only two large and eight small beds provided. The Marco Polo, for Australia, a vessel of 1,625 tons, and which was very much cried up, carried 887 passengers—fifty more than she was chartered for—and fifty-two deaths occurred on board. The Wanota, 1,442 tons, also for Australia, had 758 passengers, and there were forty-eight deaths. The watercloset and hospital accommodation was bad; there were also bad suet and bad water. The Ticonderago carried 800 passengers; there were 102 deaths, and she landed 300 sick. The casualties to vessels sent out by private parties were but too notorious. Then there were the following:— The Victoria, from London for New York, 50 deaths on the passage last autumn. The Southampton, ditto, 15 deaths. The Annie Jane, from Liverpool for Quebec, the 9th of September, 1853, 380 passengers; lost on Barra Island on the 25th of September, 1853, 340 drowned. The Staffordshire, for North America, in December, 1853, 180 emigrants drowned, 102 passengers and crew saved. The California, from Sligo, on the 18th of September, 1853, put back leaky, and some of the crew deserted for that reason, and were taken and put in prison. She went to sea again in No- vember, and three or four days afterwards foundered. Out of 60 passengers, in two boats, 15 died from exposure. A few days after the Annie Jane sailed, an emigrant ship, 17 days out, put back to Liverpool, with 47 deaths from cholera and the hold full of cases. Hot water was selling on board at 6d. per quart. Another very important question was, whether it was right to allow passengers to be taken out on more than one deck. In some cases, there was a practice of stowing passengers in cabins hastily constructed on the upper deck; that was a system which he thought ought to be put an end to. In most cases passengers were stowed on what was termed the main deck, but, in some instances, they were stowed on the deck below that again. Those lower decks were very confined, and there was scarcely any chance of proper ventilation. It was a matter of very grave consideration whether that system ought to be allowed any longer, for there was scarcely a single case of vessels carrying out emigrants on two decks—one above the other—in which disease had not broken out and proved fatal. He also thought it desirable that this description of vessels should not sail between the months of October and April, inasmuch as vessels so crowded were by no means adapted to overcome the dangers of the Channel and the passage. On these points a gentleman acquainted with emigration details for the last thirty years, wrote:— The greatest amount of mortality always occurs on board of emigrant vessels with passengers on more than one deck. At any rate, at certain seasons of the year the use of a second deck should be entirely forbidden. Passenger ships should not be allowed to attempt the voyage to America during the winter months. The great source of all the neglects and evils is paying the passage-money beforehand. The Legislature ought, at least, to provide that the passage-money of emigrants dying from obvious neglect or ill-treatment, should be refunded. Another experienced person wrote:— One great cause of sickness and death is the permission to carry passengers below the main deck. Only fancy country people coming in from pure air, kept for several days in dirty lodging-houses in Liverpool, and then crowded in a passenger ship, with neither light nor ventilation on the second or lower deck. And the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners themselves said in their Report of 1852, vol. 98 of Accounts and Papers:— In every two-decked ship which has yet reached Australia, a mortality has taken place unprecedented during the many years we have been engaged in sending out emigrants. Surely, it was the duty of that House to inquire into the matter, and examine competent parties, so as to obtain the materials which would enable them to judge whether it was not absolutely necessary to prohibit vessels from taking emigrants on more than one deck. On a previous occasion it had been urged that the rush of emigration was so great that, if restrictions of that nature were placed on the vessels, it would increase the price of the passage to a degree that would cause great inconvenience, but that reason did not exist to the same extent now. He thought human comfort, human health, and human life had paramount claims, and, however good that reason might have been when economists and theorists considered the great object was to get rid of the Irish population, it did not retain the same force now, when labour was abundant, wages high, and the country needing the services of all who were willing to fight her battles. The Committee ought also to go into the question of what kind of officers should be entrusted with the command of emigrant ships. The last case he should allude to was, that most distressing case of the loss of the Tayleur, and he would ask any one who had read the clear and able Report of Captain Walker upon that subject, whether a case had not been made out for legislative interference. That was a case in which a captain had received his certificate, but was allowed to proceed to sea in a vessel which proved unseaworthy; for it was distinctly proved that the error in her compasses had not been ascertained. It was true that the ship had been swung, but that was two months before she sailed, and not after her cargo was put on board. No account was taken of other disturbing causes, and the proper tables of errors had not been supplied. They had not been twenty-four hours at sea when it was necessary to wear, and, in wearing, the vessel took a full hour coming round and ran four or five miles to leeward. He spoke with diffidence on that point, but he thought a vessel could hardly be called seaworthy which took so much room for that purpose. He recommended the Report of Captain Walker to their serious attention, for it would show them that this large vessel, of nearly 2,000 tons measurement, had only thirty-two able seamen, thirteen ordinary seamen, and six boys, just half the number there ought to have been. The twenty or twenty-two passenger stewards would be only lum- bering the deck in bad weather, and would be of no avail whatever. In that Report of Captain Walker, he conceived, there were ample grounds for inquiry into this subject by a Committee, and for legislation by that House. A gentleman who had visited the scene said, that in his judgment the captain had manifested utter incompetency, by the measures he adopted when he found himself close to land. He should have cut away the mizen-mast, to see if she could be brought to, and if that failed, he should have simply hove the sails back upon her, and she would have drifted six miles clear of any land, when she could have been "wore" round with ease. If it were said they were appointing a Committee close upon the heels of the Committee of 1851, his answer was, the Americans were doing the same thing. In the last two years the American Congress had passed three Acts for the better regulation of emigrant vessels, and the masters of our vessels coming from America were obliged to conform to them, and give more accommodation than our law required. Notwithstanding that America had legislated better and oftener than we had, they did not think they had done enough, and had just appointed another Committee, which had addressed circulars to merchants and shipowners throughout the Union, asking for information, in reply to a series of fourteen questions, and for any additional facts within their experience. That House would be only imitating the humanity of the American Legislature, if they appointed a Committee, and gave full scope to this inquiry. He should, therefore, without further observation, and thanking them for their attention, move, in the terms of the notice, for the appointment of a Select Committee.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the recent cases of extensive loss of life aboard Emigrant Ships, whether by sickness, wreck, or other causes; and generally into the sufficiency or otherwise of the existing regulations for the health and protection of Emigrants from the United Kingdom.


said, that some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Clonmel might lead to the conclusion that, not only was there some defectiveness in the law relating to passenger ships, but that there had also been some remissness on the part of the officers charged with the administration of that law. Now, so far as the administration of the existing law was concerned, he (Mr. Peel) could entertain no objection whatever to any inquiry the House might think proper to institute. He felt confident that, however strict and searching the inquiry might be, it would clearly be shown that those duties which, under the existing Passengers' Act, had devolved upon the Emigration Commissioners, or the emigration agents in different parts of the United Kingdom, had been discharged in the most satisfactory manner, and in a mode which he could confidently say had resulted in ensuring a degree of safety and comfort to the emigrants which only a short time back would have been thought wholly unattainable. The hon. Gentleman had anticipated the principal objection which he had to the adoption of his proposition in the form in which he had presented it to the House: it was that the whole subject of the law relating to passengers had been most fully and very recently inquired into. He referred, of course, to the Committee which had been appointed in the year 1851. That Committee had gone into the whole case—had put a great variety of questions—had laid before the House a Parliamentary Paper of unusual bulk—and had presented a Report containing very valuable suggestions. Now, if nothing had been done in consequence of that Report, it might, perhaps, not have been inexpedient to appoint another Committee with the view of recalling the attention of the House to the recommendations there made; but, in consequence of the investigations of the Committee of 1851, a measure, avowedly based upon their Report, was brought into the House in the Session of 1852, and that measure was passed, and was now the law of the country. That measure re-enacted the greater part of the then existing law with regard to passenger ships, which had been found unobjectionable and perfectly adequate for the purpose for which it was designed, and the Amendments then incorporated in the Passengers' Act were founded in a great measure upon the suggestions of the Committee of 1851, and were undoubted improvements upon the previous law. He would not attempt to enumerate those Amendments specifically, but they provided for such matters as the proper separation of the sexes, the adoption of an improved scale of diet, the issue of provisions in a cooked state, and medical inspection on the voyage. Those provisions had as yet been in operation for eighteen months only, and he, therefore, thought that a fair opportunity had scarcely been afforded of judging of their efficiency; but he could say that, so far as they had been tried, they had been found most serviceable, and that the emigrants derived considerable advantage from them. The hon. Member for Clonmel had also anticipated another objection which might be made to his Motion, as to the extent to which Government interference should be carried. It must be admitted that the case of the passenger trade was an exceptional case, which justified the interference of the Government with the private enterprise of shipowners and charterers of vessels, and the principle of that interference was simply to protect the interests of the great bulk of the emigrants from this country—the Irish emigrants—who were so poor and helpless as to be incapable of ensuring the consideration to which they were entitled. He (Mr. Peel) must say, however, that there was a limit beyond which Government interference ought not to be carried, and his own opinion was, that Government interference in this matter had been carried as far as it well could be carried. It appeared to him that, if they were to interfere to a further extent, and to enter into all the points touched upon by the hon. Member for Clonmel, the whole responsibility of emigration would be thrown upon the Government, and the emigrants would be deprived of that protection which they derived from the interest which the private shipowner had in the success of his speculations. The hon. Member for Clonmel had said that the Committee for which he now moved, was intended to be merely supplementary to the Committee of 1851; but he (Mr. Peel) thought that every point alluded to by the hon. Gentleman, with the exception of the removal of emigrants from Ireland to Liverpool, or their port of embarkation, had been inquired into by the Committee of 1851, and the recommendations of that Committee had, as far as possible, been embodied in the Act of Parliament. Some of the recommendations of the hon. Member for Clonmel appeared to him, he confessed, hardly practicable. He (Mr. Peel) understood the hon. Gentleman to propose that no vessels should be employed to carry emigrants but such as would have been taken up by the Government for the purpose of conveying convicts from this coun- try. There was, however, scarcely any similarity between the two cases. The convict ships were employed to remove convicts from this country to Australia, and it was obvious that when Europeans were to be conveyed through a tropical climate, a distance of 16,000 or 18,000 miles, they required larger space and better provision for accommodation and ventilation on board ship than emigrants who were only conveyed 2,000 or 3,000 miles across the North Atlantic to America. The hon. Gentleman had also referred to the case of remittances. The Committee of 1851 reported that the remittances were then very large, amounting, he believed, to nearly 1,000,000l. a year; that they were made through houses of established credit; and that, whatever might have been the malpractices which once existed, the plan had then been, in a great measure, systematised, and that it seldom happened that the friends of intending emigrants from Ireland paid their passage-money to persons who were unable to guarantee such passage. The hon. Member for Clonmel had also made some remarks with regard to the seaworthiness of emigrant ships. He (Mr. Peel) was not aware that any emigrant vessel had left this country in an unseaworthy state. The existing law contained full provisions on that subject. It required an inspection of the vessels by a responsible Government officer, and he believed that inspection was carefully made in the case of every emigrant ship that left this country. The first part of the hon. Gentleman's Motion referred to the extensive loss of life on board of emigrant vessels in the autumn of the last year and the commencement of the present year from shipwreck, disease, and other causes. He (Mr. Peel) thought, however, that the House would be led to an erroneous conclusion if it were to accept, without considerable qualification, the recent disasters at sea as affecting the efficiency of the Passengers' Act. It must be remembered, with respect to the deaths from sickness on board emigrant ships, that last year the cholera existed in this country and on the Continent; that, undoubtedly, many poor persons went on board emigrant ships, carrying with them the seeds of disease, and that such disease was fomented by the crowding together of a number of people in a confined space. What, however, was the course adopted by the Government when they received intelligence of the ravages of disease on board emigrant vessels? The Emigration Commissioners at once published a notice, Commissioners at once published a notice, warning persons that they exposed themselves to great risk by embarking on board emigrant ships during the prevalence of the cholera in this country, and advising them to postpone their departure. That notice was circulated very generally throughout Ireland and the Continent, and he believed that it almost entirely put a stop to emigration. So much so he understood from the Emigration Commissioners that, at the time, great difficulty was found in procuring the complement of passengers for some vessels which were then prepared to sail from Liverpool. With respect to the wreck of emigrant ships, it must be borne in mind that during the last autumn the weather in the Atlantic had been unusually rough. Indeed he had been informed that such tempestuous weather had rarely been known in the Atlantic. He had only that morning read a Report from the emigration agent for Canada, in which it was stated that the average duration of the voyage from this country to Canada for many years past had been thirty-nine days, while in 1853 the average duration of the passage had been forty-eight days. This statement, showing that the average duration of the voyage had been increased by nine days during the last year, proved clearly that the weather must have been usually tempestuous and unfavourable. No doubt, in consequence of this, the emigrants had had to endure considerable suffering and privation. The hon. Member for Clonmel had adverted particularly to the loss of the ship Tayleur, and he understood the hon. Gentleman to say that that case showed the necessity of Government interference with regard to the selection of captains to command emigrant vessels. That instance, however, was one in which the captain appeared to be a person who had had great experience in his profession; and he thought, if the hon. Member read the Report of the Government officer, Captain Walker, who had been sent down by the Board of Trade to inquire into the circumstances connected with the loss of the Tayleur, he would see that the loss of that ship was attributable to causes which could hardly be brought within the reach of any legislation. The Report stated that there could be no doubt the loss of the Tayleur was attributable to the variation of the compass, caused by the ship being built of iron; and that, while the captain was apparently steering his vessel in a direction which would have taken her safely out of the channel, he was, in consequence of not being aware of the variation of the compass, steering directly upon the coast of Ireland. The great question at issue, however, was this:—Was it really the case that there was a large mortality on board emigrant vessels from this country to all parts of the world, either from wreck, sickness, or any other cause? The Emigration Commissioners had given him a return of the number of passenger emigrants who had left this country during 1852 and 1853, since the new law came into operation; and he thought the House would be surprised to hear what a small proportion of the immense number of emigrants had lost their lives by shipwreck. No less than 792,983 persons left this country in the year 1852–53, and of that number only 510, or 6-100th parts of 1 in every 100, lost their lives by shipwreck. Then, with regard to the general mortality:—he would take, in the first place, the emigration to Australia, which was partly assisted and partly unassisted, the unassisted emigration having sprung up entirely since the passing of the Passengers' Act. In 1852 the mortality on board the Government contract vessels, taken up by the Emigration Commissioners, was undoubtedly considerable, amounting to four per cent; but what was the cause of that large mortality? It was referrible, he conceived, to causes which were quite beyond any legislative provision. The Commissioners, at the request of persons who were acquainted with the Australian Colonies, relaxed the regulation with respect to the number of children conveyed by their vessels; they agreed to take families, including a large number of children, under the belief that such persons would be least likely to resort to the gold diggings; and he had not the slightest doubt that at least three and a half per cent of deaths out of the four per cent consisted of children. There was another cause of mortality which had since been removed. In 1852, the rate of freight being extremely high, it was impossible for the Commissioners to obtain the usual class of vessels; they were therefore compelled to take very large ships with two decks; and the four vessels mentioned by the hon. Member for Clonmel were the double-decked ships chartered by the Commissioners, in which the greatest mortality had occurred. Since that time, however, the Commissioners had discontinued taking up vessels with two-passenger decks, and, in consequence of their having ascertained that the mortality on board emigrant ships steadily increased in proportion to the size of the vessels, they had resolved upon not despatching any ship with a larger number than 400 emigrants on board. He was given to understand that the mortality on board Government vessels to Australia in 1853 did not exceed one, or he believed, even half per cent. Then, with regard to emigration to Canada, he found, from the Report of the emigration agent at Quebec, that in 1853 the number of emigrants to Canada was, 36,443, and out of that number only 240 died at sea and in quarantine, the rate of mortality not being much more than half per cent on the whole number. He found, also, that out of this number of emigrants to Canada 14,453 sailed from Irish ports, and in that number there were only forty-three deaths, or not more than a quarter per cent. He would next refer to the United States. In the different ports of our own Colonies emigration agents were appointed, whose duty it was to see that the law relating to passengers was enforced, to afford redress to emigrants who were wronged, or had just cause of complaint, and to punish the captains of vessels who were guilty of any infraction of the law. But the case was different in the United States. They had an excellent law of their own, but it appeared that it was not properly enforced. In New York, for instance, he found that there was no emigration officer. The Custom-House officers were the persons whose duty it was to administer the law, but they had so much to do in their own particular departments, that they could not afford time to attend to any infraction of the law of their own or of this country which might take place on board emigrant vessels. He was, therefore, without any specific information as to the rate of mortality on board emigrant ships proceeding to the United States; but it was incidentally mentioned in the report of the emigration agent in Canada, that it was stated in a New York newspaper that on board twenty-eight emigrant ships, which conveyed 13,752 passengers, there were 1,141 deaths, the rate of mortality being eight per cent. He thought the hon. Member would have acted wisely, if he had not opened up the large question of the passenger law, which had been so fully investigated, and was working so satisfactorily. It was a mistake to suppose that that House could by any legislation prevent vessels from going to pieces, or from running upon the rocks—it was equally impossible to prevent occasional errors of judgment, or to ensure good seamanship, under all circumstances, on the part of either master or crew; but if it was thought that an inquiry into the circumstances of those recent disasters to which the hon. Member had alluded was likely to elicit anything which might diminish the chances of their recurrence, and if the hon. Member would consent to limit the terms of his Motion in that way, he should not offer any opposition to it, and should be glad to find it attended with a beneficial result.


said, it was not his intention to oppose the Motion, and he would beg to call the attention of the House to the terrible sufferings which were endured by the poor Irish who emigrated to this country, and who were thrown in shoals upon the town (Liverpool) which he had the honour to represent. He hoped, therefore, that the Committee would direct their inquiries to the circumstances under which a great number of Irish peasants were brought over from their own country, and shovelled, so to speak, upon the shores of England, with no earthly means of support but such as they might hope to derive from casual charity. Some two or three years ago this evil prevailed to a most lamentable extent, and while the right hon. Member for Morpeth (Sir G. Grey) held the office of Secretary of State for the Home Department, he (Mr. Liddell) had felt it his duty to bring under the notice of that right hon. Gentleman the extreme inconvenience to which the county of Northumberland was subjected from the introduction of shoals of Irish emigrants in the most miserable state of poverty and destitution. He remembered at that period to have seen the roads in the part of the country where he resided, swarming with poor creatures—men, women, and children—with scarcely as much clothing on them as was necessary for the purposes of decency, unable to speak a single word of the English language, and steeped, to all appearance, in as hopeless barbarism as the aboriginal inhabitants of Australia. He had no objection whatever to the emigration to this country of those hard-working, cheerful, and well-conducted Irish labourers, by whose co-operation, at stated periods of the year, the harvest was gathered in, and works of agricultural im- provement were efficiently and expeditiously carried out. On the contrary, he believed that the introduction of that class of Irish was alike advantageous to themselves and to their country; but the poor helpless creatures of whom he had spoken were not of this useful class, and it would be certainly judicious to inquire who paid their passage to this country, and under what circumstances they came here, without the means of doing good either to themselves or others.


said, he was glad that the Government had perceived the propriety of granting this Committee, but he could not see the wisdom of restricting them in their inquiries. The more information they collected, and the more extensive their inquiries, the better for the public; for, in this age of continual emigration, the question was one of the greatest importance. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies had stated that the Emigration Commissioners, guided by experience, had decided not to send out any ship with more than 400 emigrants. This, however, applied solely to the class of assisted emigrants; with the unassisted the Commissioners had no right to interfere, but of these Parliament should take care. He could not concur in the opinion that the statements made by the hon. Gentleman as to the rate of mortality in emigrant ships, were altogether satisfactory. That hon. Gentleman seemed to think that one-half per cent on a voyage to Quebec was not a serious mortality; but it should be remembered that that voyage averaged two months in duration, and hence the mortality per annum would average three per cent, or thirty deaths among 1,000 people. This he considered rather a serious rate of mortality; and it would be well for the Committee to consider whether it might not be practicable to diminish it. But then, when they came to the United States and found a mortality of 8 per cent, or 48 per cent per annum, it did appear to him to be such a state of things as ought to weigh very strongly against restricting the inquiry. He was quite aware that it was impossible to get rid of all the inconveniences or of all the dangers of a sea voyage by legislation; but that was no reason why they should not inquire whether it was possible to mitigate them. The Committee would, of course, inquire into such calamities as the loss of the Tayleur, and endeavour to as- certain the cause of them. Captain Walker had given it most distinctly as his opinion that the vessel was under-manned. The emigration agent, on the other hand, had declared in his evidence that she was adequately manned; so that two Government officers were at issue on a point of the deepest interest and importance.


The statement in the Report is, that the crew were not in any way implicated in the loss of the vessel.


That might be; the crew might have exerted themselves to the utmost of their power, and yet they might not have been numerically adequate to the duties devolving on them. Captain Walker did not attribute the loss of the ship necessarily to this defect, but he stated most distinctly that the vessel was undermanned. There seemed to have been some gross negligence somewhere, in not taking care that the compasses were properly adjusted. It seemed impossible to avoid the conclusion that the emigration officer had not performed his duty in that important respect. However, the whole calamity was as yet involved in mystery, and the Committee would be usefully employed in making such an inquiry respecting it as might possibly prevent the recurrence of similar disasters.


said, he believed he rightly expressed the feelings of his hon. Friend (Mr. Peel) when he said that there was only one object in the limitation to the inquiry that he proposed, namely, that it should be limited to those matters which had not been definitely settled by the former Committee. The Government had no desire to impose unnecessary restrictions on the Committee. They suggested limitations only with a view to prevent the Committee from bestowing its time and labour on such branches of the subject as had already been inquired into by former Committees. The Committee, however, would of course collect as much valuable information as they could, and endeavour to ascertain by what means such disastrous occurrences as the loss of the Tayleur might be averted for the future. There were already before the House two measures which he had introduced a few evenings ago, and which would materially tend to the greater safety of emigrant ships. In addition to those measures, however, he should be most happy to adopt any valuable suggestions that might emanate from the Committee. With respect to the Tayleur, nothing could be clearer than Captain Walker's statement, that the loss of that vessel was chiefly to be attributed to an erroneous assumption that the compass before the helmsman was correctly adjusted. Whether the vessel was adequately manned was, of course, a subject of great importance, and one that would come very legitimately within the cognisance of the Committee. It was undoubtedly a matter of the first importance that the soundings should have been taken accurately, and that, in our narrow channel, the lead should be repeatedly heaved. He would pass no opinion on the conduct of Captain Noble, nor attempt to prejudice his case, because on receipt of the Report of Captain Walker, he had requested the Local Marine Board of Liverpool to institute that inquiry into the conduct of Captain Noble which the Act contemplated, and on which depended the withdrawal or the continuance of his certificate. As inquiry was now in the hands of the Local Marine Board, he felt that he should be doing wrong if he now introduced it in the House.


said, he was very much obliged to the hon. Member for Clonmel (Mr. O'Connell) for having brought forward the present subject; and he hoped the Committee would be invested with sufficient powers to sift it thoroughly. It was a matter of considerable importance that the meaning of the term "emigrant ship" should be clearly defined. In all cases of Government contracts, as was very well known, none but first and second class vessels were invariably employed—as, for instance, in the case of convicts. Surely, then, as much ought to be done for emigrants as for convicts, With regard to the loss of the Tayleur, it appeared undoubtedly that the vessel was very insufficiently manned, there being only thirty-two able-bodied seamen on board, whereas the invariable rule in the case of Government vessels was, that there should be four to every 100 tons burden, and the custom of the port of Liverpool was to have but three; but the Tayleur did not seem even to have had three. The reason for this practice was to be found in the fact that the Government never insured, but bore its own losses; while private vessels almost always insured, and, therefore, were anxious to save as much money as possible. In the case of an emigrant ship, the Themis, which sailed from Liverpool for Melbourne with 300 passengers on board, the crew consisting principally of Chinese and Lascars scarcely had the ship cleared the land, when the crew was found so inadequate to work the ship, that the captain was obliged to put into port to obtain some British sailors. Parties ought to be employed by Government, to see that in all cases a proper number of efficient seamen were on board, while it would remain for another department to decide whether the captains in each case were fit to discharge their duties. In the case of the Tayleur, a crew was shipped only the evening before the vessel sailed. She put to sea on a Thursday, and on the Saturday she was stranded on the coast of Ireland. Really the whole affair was quite disgraceful to the art of navigation.


said, he thought that the Committee, while engaged with the calamities befalling emigrant ships, might with advantage turn their attention to the Government regulations affecting emigrants when on board, and consider whether they were well adapted to the preservation of health, and, what was more important, of morality, which was often endangered by crowding both sexes together on board. He would warn the Committee against being misled by anything which fell from the hon. Member for Liverpool, to inquire into the condition of the deck passengers from Ireland to Liverpool. And when the hon. Under Secretary reminded the House of the law introduced only eighteen months ago, he must say, that it was since that time that most of their calamitous losses of emigrant ships had occurred—a very good reason, he thought, for inquiring into the law as it stood. He found no fault with the Government officers; yet it might be found on inquiry that they were not invested with sufficient power to give effect to the purpose of their appointment. Above all, when so many as 900 human beings were crowded into one vessel, it was surely sufficient reason for inquiring whether accommodation was provided for them, conducive to health and to morality, and for inquiring generally into the whole case. Might it not, also, form a fit subject of inquiry to the Committee, whether an emigration ought not to be confined to vessels with a single deck, and whether temporary decks on deck ought not to be prohibited. He had seen a letter from an emigrant, who had been housed in one of these tem- porary erections, complaining not only of the indecency to which they were exposed, but of the bad weather which they could not escape. For his own part, he did not think the months of December, January, and February, the most favourable time of the year for the purposes of emigration to Australia, and that, too, might very properly come under the consideration of the Committee, whether it would be desirable to make any regulation as to the season of the year for embarkation. With these suggestions, he pressed the Motion on the attention of the House, and hoped the hon. Under Secretary would not continue his opposition.


said, he thought it would render all further discussion unnecessary if he stated at once that he consented to the nomination of the Committee, but subject to the understanding that its objects should be confined to the points contained in the Motion of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. O'Connell).


said, he thought it was a very dangerous principle to lay down that by further legislation they could not guard themselves more effectually from the carelessness of sailors. On the contrary, he believed a great deal might yet be done to check all such negligence and carelessness. In nine out of ten cases of shipwreck he believed the loss of the vessel was attributable either to the insufficiency or inefficiency of the crew, or to the carelessness or ignorance of those in charge of it. All such cases, therefore, ought to be dealt with by legislation. He saw no reason, if the penalties at present enforced in cases of culpable neglect were insufficient, why they should not be increased, and additional means taken to promote the levy of the fines in all cases where loss of life had occurred. He, therefore, would suggest, that it should be an instruction to the Committee to determine whether increased penalties ought not to be imposed on masters guilty of all negligence and carelessness.


said, he must acknowledge that, after the statement just made by the hon. Under Secretary, any remarks from him were almost superfluous. Still, in justice to his constituency, he could not avoid making a few remarks. And in the first place, he wished to point out the remarkable fact, that while on board foreign vessels, American or otherwise, conveying emigrants to the United States or Canada, the mortality was as high as eight per cent, it only reached to one per cent in vessels the property of British subjects. Now, this was a point which well deserved the attention of the Committee, and they might consider whether some arrangements could not be made with the Government of the United States to enforce regulations as regarded emigrant ships of that country, and to put those ships on the same footing as our own. It was very well known that nearly two-thirds of the emigrants to Canada and the United States were taken out by American vessels; and it appeared from the statement of the hon. Under Secretary that, according to statistics in his possession relating to last year, the mortality on board those vessels was eight times as much as that in British vessels. It also seemed to him (Mr. Fagan) that, as so large a proportion as three-fourths of the emigrants leaving Liverpool were Irish, arrangements should be made to enable those poor Irish to emigrate from their own shores, either from Cork, Waterford, or Limerick, where depôts might be established for the purpose.


, in reply, said he must disclaim all intention of conveying any imputation on the conduct of the Colonial Emigration Commissioners, his only object being to arm them with such powers as might secure the safety and comfort of emigrants. With regard to the circumstances which had led to the loss of the Tayleur, if he had been aware that an inquiry was now going on into the professional capacity of Captain Noble he should have abstained from commenting upon that part of the subject.

Motion agreed to.