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The Canadian Press and the Great Irish Famine: The Famine as an Irish, Canadian & Imperial, Global Issue

La presse canadienne et la grande famine en Irlande
Pauline COLLOMBIER-LAKEMAN

Résumés

Pour les Irlandais qui firent le choix d’émigrer pendant la Grande Famine (1845-1851), le Canada fut une terre d’exil et d’asile qui accueillit jusqu’à 45% du total des émigrés irlandais en 1847. L’article qui suit entend étudier la presse canadienne afin de déterminer comment les Canadiens réagirent à l’annonce des pertes massives de récoltes de pommes de terre qui survinrent en Irlande à partir de l’automne 1846 et comment ils répondirent aux arrivées massives de pauvres en provenance d’Irlande en 1847. Cette étude de la presse canadienne permettra d’établir l’intensité des liens de solidarité qui pouvaient exister à l’époque au sein de l’empire britannique

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Texte intégral

Introduction

1The Famine was not just a purely Irish or Anglo-Irish issue. As Britain was at the head of a growing and expanding Empire, in which Ireland played the double role of colony and colonizer, the Famine may also be regarded as an Imperial and even global issue.

  • 1 351,000 people emigrated to North America between 1838 and 1844. Ch. Kinealy, This Great Calamity: (...)
  • 2 K. Miller, Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Exodus to North America, Oxford: Oxford University (...)
  • 3 Emigration to British North America even experienced a peak at 45% of the total Irish emigration in (...)
  • 4 South Africa was not among the favoured destinations of Irish emigrants (see D. P. MacCracken, “The (...)

2British colonies experienced the Famine or felt its repercussions in various ways. First, they were amongst the destinations chosen by the Famine-stricken Irish who opted to leave Ireland. Even though it is now recognized that significant emigration had taken place before 1845, the Famine may be viewed as a “catalyst”, which transformed Irish emigration to a great extent and turned it into a mass phenomenon.1 K. Miller indicates that 2.1 million adults and children left Ireland between 1845 and 1855, including 1.2 million before 18512. The primary destination was the United States of America, followed by British North America (Canada), Britain, and Australasia. Between 1845 and 1855, 1.5 million Irish people travelled to the United States, 340,000 migrated to British North America3, between 200,000 and 300,000 settled in Great Britain and a few thousand sailed to the Antipodes4.

  • 5 Ch. Kinealy, The Great Irish Famine: Impact, Ideology and Rebellion, London: Palgrave, 2002, pp. 75 (...)

3Secondly, colonies received news of the Famine through Irish and British newspaper reports, letters and witness accounts, which reached the colonies by boat and were reproduced in the colonial press. As distress increased in Ireland after the extensive crop failure experienced in the summer and autumn of 1846, places and communities outside Ireland and Britain became involved in relief initiatives. The first donation for Irish relief was actually collected in India in late 1845 but soon the rest of the British empire followed, with donations coming from places as varied as British Guiana, Barbados, Jamaica, the British West Indies, Australia, South Africa, and of course British North America5.

4This paper will study how the British Empire reacted to the Great Famine by focusing on Canada. Canadian reactions to the Irish Famine will be assessed by studying a selection of Canadian newspapers and periodicals, both in French and English. The documents quoted in the paper — editorials, meeting reports, accounts by local correspondents and letters to editors, mostly dating from 1847 — voice a strictly Canadian point of view (as opposed to reprints of European/Irish/British news and views). They will be relied upon to present and discuss the amount of financial and moral support shown by Canada towards the starving Irish. They will also serve to illustrate how Famine emigration became a significant domestic concern in Canada, notably during the notorious “Black ‘47”. Finally they will be used to examine whether or not the Famine helped reinforce the idea that Canada and Ireland shared parallel destinies within the Empire.

From Canada to Ireland: moral and financial support

Charity from Canada

  • 6 J. B. O’Reilly, “The Irish Famine and the Atlantic Migration to Canada”, The Irish Ecclesiastical R (...)

5It has proven difficult so far to estimate precisely how much private aid was sent from Canada for the benefit of the starving Irish. In May 1847 the Governor General for the Province of Canada Lord Elgin told the Secretary for the Colonies Lord Grey that he estimated the collected amount at £20,000. Historians have established that significant donations as well as far smaller sums were collected in all parts of Canada and sent to various bodies providing relief in Ireland: the Society of Friends, the Roman Catholic Church, the British Relief Association and the Irish Relief Association. In an article dated 1947, John B. O’Reilly lists contributions from Montreal, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Toronto and a few other places, which indeed amounted to a total close to £20,0006:

Contributor

Beneficiary

Collected sum

Catholics of the city of Montreal

?

$8,676

Dr. William Dollard, 1st Bishop of the diocese of New Brunswick

?

£80

Nova Scotia

?

£665

House of Assembly, Nova Scotia

?

£2,250

Quebec

Irish Relief Association

£1,165

Other(s)

Irish Relief Association

£1,656

Montreal

General Central Committee for all Ireland

£5,873

Quebec

General Central Committee for all Ireland

£1,571

Toronto

General Central Committee for all Ireland

£3,472

Other(s)

General Central Committee for all Ireland

£1,547

TOTAL

£18,279 + $8,676

Contributions to Irish relief from Canada during the Famine according to John B. O’Reilly

  • 7 Over £2,000 were collected by April 1847 in Toronto. In Quebec, the local Relief Committee set up i (...)
  • 8 Ch. Kinealy, Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland: the Kindness of Strangers, London : Bloomsbur (...)

6In her more recent and very detailed work Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland, Christine Kinealy was able to trace significant contributions from Toronto, Quebec, Halifax in Nova Scotia, Kingston in Ontario7. Smaller sums were collected in Newfoundland, Bayton near the Ottawa River, Chatham near Miramichi in New Brunswick and Niagara. Food and clothing were also collected and shipped over. Kinealy gives the example of the cargo ship the Georgian, which was used by the relief committees of Toronto, London (Ontario) and Montreal to send flour to the Society of Friends for distribution in Ireland8.

Reactions

7The newspapers and periodicals that were browsed through in order to write this paper confirm that support came from various provinces in Canada and that public meetings led by local political and religious elites were organised to collect donations as early as February 1847. The British Whig (Ontario) dated 5 February reported a “public meeting in Kingston City Hall, chaired by the Mayor T. Kirkpatrick,” set up to determine how a relief committee should be formed and where donations should go:

(…) That with the best-felt thanks to Almighty God for the mercies bestowed on us, the starving conditions of our fellow subjects on Ireland calls for our warmest sympathy and compassion; and that we endeavor with our humble tribute to alleviate their sufferings under the present calamity.

2. That the clergymen of all denominations in the City, S. D. Kirkpatrick, Esq, Doctor McLoan, Dr. Meagher, and Thomas Baker, be a Committee to receive subscriptions and to forward them to the Central Relief Committee in Dublin.

3. That the Aldermen and Councillors of the City of Kingston be requested to act as Collectors in their respective Wards.

4. That W. G. Hinds, Esq., Cashier of the Bank of Upper Canada, be requested to act as Treasurer.

  • 9 The British Whig, 5 February 1847.

5. That a copy of the foregoing resolutions be forwarded to the District Council now in Session and that the members of that honorable body be solicited to procure subscriptions in the Townships which they represented9.

  • 10 The Newfoundlander, 11 February 1847. This meeting was only to take place a few days later, as anot (...)
  • 11 Quebec Mercury, 13 February 1847 & Le Canadien, 16 February 1847.

8Similarly The Newfoundlander dated 11 February noted that “some of our most influential fellow citizens were actively engaged in the getting up of a public meeting to raise subscriptions for the relief of Irish suffering10.” Another meeting was held in Quebec on 12 February “in aid of the famishing poor of Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland” and chaired by Andrew W. Cochran. Among the resolutions passed during the meeting, it was agreed “to set up an appointed Committee of seven persons in order to name collectors in the responsible wards of the city and neighbourhood” and to give this Committee the power to forward any amount of money that was collected11.

  • 12 The British Whig, 12 March 1847.
  • 13 Canada Gazette, 2 June 1847: “I cannot refrain from adverting to the fact that among those whose ge (...)

9Initiatives were varied and included for example a concert by the Philharmonic Society of Kingston (11 March 1847)12. Indians were also praised for contributing to Irish relief by the Governor General, in a speech opening the third session of the second Parliament of the Province of Canada (June 1847)13.

  • 14 The Niagara Mail, 10 March 1847.

10More importantly these initiatives involved all denominations. This is highlighted by an account of a district meeting held on 4 March 1847 in St Catharine’s (Niagara region). One resolution presented relief as “a duty imperative upon us as men and christians”14, while another specified that “the clergymen of the various denominations in the district [should] be ex-officio members of the District Committee.” At the 12 February 1847 Quebec meeting, the chairman A. W. Cochran had not only appealed to the “feelings of a common humanity” but had also rejoiced that the “requisition for the meeting proceeded from persons of all sects and classes and parties.” The newspaper Le Canadien actually praised the meeting for its oecumenical and universal character:

  • 15 Le Canadien, 16 February 1847.

Il était beau de voir des prélats, des ministres de différents cultes faire et seconder les mêmes propositions ; des hommes de toutes les origines et de toutes les nuances politiques, oubliant leurs distinctions (…) se donner la main et rivaliser de zèle pour une œuvre de philanthropie et de charité15.

  • 16 Quebec Mercury, 13 February 1847 & Gazette des Trois Rivières, 18 & 25 February 1847.
  • 17 Ch. Kinealy, Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland, 2623-32 & 3113-3131 (Kindle version).

11The Roman Catholic clergy of Canada was certainly at the forefront of the relief efforts, especially in the province of Quebec. The Quebec Mercury indicated on 13 February that the Archbishop of Montreal had sent a circular to the clergy of his diocese, urging local priests to “raise subscriptions among their parishioners in aid of the starving population of the British Isles.” The Gazette des Trois Rivières includes a similar circular letter from the Archbishop of Quebec dated from 12 February 1847, which suggested organising door-to-door collections or collections at church16. The involvement of the Canadian Roman Catholic clergy was undoubtedly inspired by the appeal made by Pope Pius IX at the beginning of 1847 asking Catholics to assist Ireland and its poor. The involvement of the Canadian Protestants may be explained by the fact that Queen Victoria had also urged the Anglican clergy in England and Ireland to read prayers for the famine-stricken Irish in October 1846 and had provided the largest donation (£2,000) to the British Relief Association17.

  • 18 Quebec Mercury, 20 February 1847; see also 25 February as well as 18 & 20 March 1847 to see example (...)

12Substantial sums of money appear to have been collected fairly quickly. The Quebec Mercury dated 20 February 1847 indicated that donations were “upwards of £3,000” and predicted that “the whole collection in Quebec, once finished, [would] exceed £3,500, and perhaps, approach £4,000.” As was shown previously, collectors had been appointed in various localities, wards and suburbs of Quebec City and the Quebec Mercury shows that this local network of collectors was fairly successful in raising money (March 1847)18.

13Canadian relief committees collected money but were also open to receiving alternative forms of relief such as foodstuffs. During the 4 March meeting at St Catherines (Niagara region), it was decided:

  • 19 Niagara Mail, 10 March 1847.

That in order to afford the greatest possible facilities for increasing the amount of donations, and also to meet the views of those to whom it could be more convenient to make contributions in produce than in money, the several Millers of the District be requested to open their Mills respectively as depots of any kinds of produce that may be deposited for this purpose, to be by them ground gratuitously, and also that the Flour-warders be requested to carry the same to the shipping ports free of charge19.

  • 20 The Newfoundlander, 11 February 1847.

14The Canadian press illustrates that the solidarity of the Canadians can be attributed to various forms of sympathy felt for the Irish: they were pitied as fellow human beings, fellow Christians, fellow Catholics (in the case of the French Canadians), and sometimes as fellow Irishmen & women and fellow countrymen or “brethren” within the British Empire. In February 1847, The Newfoundlander justified the organising of a meeting at St John’s by highlighting that many Newfoundlanders had Irish roots: “we think it must be obvious, that no claims upon Newfoundland can be deemed of superior justice to those of that country to which so large a portion of this population owe their birth, which must be ever endeared to them by a thousand associations (…)20.” In the circular letter sent to the clergy of his diocese, the Archbishop of Quebec invited his priests to emphasise the links binding their parishioners to the Irish:

  • 21 Gazette des Trois Rivières, 18 February 1847.

Vous leur représenterez que ceux qui souffrent de la sorte sont nos frères, qu’ils sont sujets comme nous de l’Empire Britannique, et qu’ils ont d’autant plus droit à nos sympathies que dans les désastres qui, il y a deux ans bientôt, ont si cruellement affligé la ville de Québec, ils sont venus à notre secours avec une libéralité au dessus de tout éloge21.

  • 22 Quebec Mercury, 13 February 1847.

15Reciprocity was seen as a duty particularly in locations that had benefited from Irish generosity in the past. The contributors from Quebec expressed their gratitude for the help they had received from Ireland in 1832 and 1834, when cholera plagued Quebec City, and also in 1845, after a fire had destroyed part of the city22. Similarly the inhabitants of Newfoundland were asked to contribute to Irish relief because they themselves had benefited from Irish donations after a “devastating fire” and a “destructive gale”. In an account of a meeting organised by the Benevolent Irish Society and held in St John’s on 7 February 1847, The Newfoundlander reminded its readers that:

  • 23 The Newfoundlander, 11 & 18 February 1847.

We have, undeniabl[y], been large recipients of the bounties of others, and amongst the many contributions for the support of our population, impoverished, famine-stricken Ireland extended her willing hand. The total amount that she could bear to wring from her own destitution was trifling indeed; but it was her all, and it was proffered with an alacrity that bespoke the good will to give more23.

  • 24 The Newfoundlander, 11 February 1847.

16Despite the overall impression of general sympathy, there are a number of texts expression doubt about the relevance and benefit of sending relief to the starving Irish. The Newfoundlander acknowledged that “a question [had] been raised by some, as to the propriety of originating a subscription here” since Newfoundland “[had] been so recently soliciting assistance herself24.”A letter sent to the British Whig in March 1847 echoed British anti-Irish prejudice: it interpreted the Famine in providentialist and moralist terms, and defended the idea that the Irish were too dependent on the potato, and that the fiscal and moral responsibility for the famine ought to be transferred back to the Irish countryside:

The subscriptions in England for the relief of the Distressed Irish have not attained that height which they were expected to reach. – The principle of subscription for the relief of a nation has been vehemently opposed in the London papers, (…) and with success. The chief plea is, that it devolves upon the Irish Landlords who have fatted upon the poor of that country for centuries, now to step forward to the relief of their tenantry, even to the high taxing of their estates, or the partial sale thereof. (…)

  • 25 The British Whig, 30 March 1847.

In the midst of the darkness which now overwhelms this unhappy land, we can see two bright lights, both fraught with hope to its hard-working peasantry. The one, the abandonment of the Potatoe, as a chief means of support; and the second, the establishment of a proper and permanent Poor Law, that shall compel the Land and Landlords to support the people25.

From Ireland to Canada: the issue of emigration

  • 26 M. G. McGowan, “Black ’47 and Toronto, Canada”, in J. Crowley, W. J. Smyth & M. Murphy (eds.), Atla (...)

17While Canada contributed significantly to Irish relief, it also received a significant number of Irish emigrants. Emigration to Canada rose to 32,750 persons in 1846, and peaked during the notorious ‘Black 47’, when well over 100,000 Irish people (106,000 or 110,000 at the minimum depending on the estimation) left Irish and British ports to reach Canada. Thereafter, heavier head taxes on immigrants in North American ports and stricter rules of navigation were introduced thanks to the vote of 3 new navigation laws (the Passengers to North America Act in 1848 and the Navigation Act et Passengers Act in 1849). These new measures led to a drop in figures from 1848 onwards: 31,065 Irish emigrants entered British North America in 1848 and 41,367 in 1849. According to Mark G. McGowan, “this marked the beginning of a decline of Irish migrants to Canada and Britain’s neighbouring Atlantic colonies26.”

  • 27 Ibid., p. 525.

18The main route into Canada was through Quebec. Prior to their arrival in Quebec city, immigrants had to go through a quarantine station situated at Grosse Ile, 48 km northeast of Quebec. From Quebec, many immigrants would continue their journey to Montreal, Toronto as well as the small lake ports of Cobourg, Port Hope and Port Windsor (Whitby) on the shores of Lake Ontario. There some would go further inland in Canada or the United States. Once they had left Quebec, immigrants who fell ill could be quarantined at further fever sheds and quarantine stations — Point St Charles along the St Lawrence River or Kingston. A smaller number of immigrants also landed in other British North American ports: St John in New Brunswick, Halifax in Nova Scotia and St John’s in Newfoundland27.

19Estimates vary but clearly show the importance of the Quebec route. J. B. O’Reilly uses passenger lists to establish that “by way of the St Lawrence River route 90,409 immigrants from Great Britain and Ireland entered Lower and Upper Canada”, and that “of these no less than 75,000 were Irish.”

Origin

Number of boats

Number of passengers

Irish ports

211

54,329

English ports

140

32,328

Scottish ports

42

3,752

TOTALS

373

90,409

  • 28 J. B. O’Reilly, “The Irish Famine and the Atlantic Migration to Canada”, available on the Irish Emi (...)

Numbers of passengers entering Canada by way of the St Lawrence River route according to John B. O’Reilly28

20Mark McGowan puts forward slightly different estimates for 1847 but they also reveal the same preference for the Quebec/St Lawrence route:

By the end of the sailing season, in Black ’47, ships landed at Quebec carrying over 80,000 passengers; the largest number of these ships had come from Liverpool (72) and Glasgow (30), where Irish refugees had sojourned and waited for transatlantic passage. Limerick and Cork dominated the direct Irish routes to Quebec, sending 50 and 33 ships respectively. Over 20 ships came from each of Dublin (27), Sligo (26), and Belfast (21).

  • 29 M. G. McGowan, “Black ’47 and Toronto, Canada”, p. 526.

21McGowan adds that “such a variety of ports of departure meant that the Irish who ventured in Canada came from nearly every county and both English and Irish speakers could be counted among their numbers29.”

What type of emigration?

  • 30 Ch. Kinealy, This Great Calamity, 6781 & 6975-7003 (Kindle version) & O. McDonagh, “Irish emigratio (...)
  • 31 M. G. McGowan, “Black ’47 and Toronto, Canada”, p. 526.

22The Great Famine raised an intense debate on the question of state intervention, landlord responsibility and also the relevance of emigration as a possible relief policy. Two state-sponsored schemes in favour of emigration towards British North America were envisaged (the first at the end of 1846 and the second in 1848). But they were heavily criticised and therefore both abandoned despite the backing of Prime Minister Lord John Russell. Landlord-assisted emigration was very limited in scope: it likely affected fewer than 50,000 Irish emigrants and represented only about 5% of the total emigration30. In the case of Canada, Mark G. McGowan estimates that, out of the 80, 000 passengers who landed at Quebec by the end of the sailing season in 1847, “6,000 (…) or roughly 7.5%, had been subsidized by their landlords31.” In other words, the vast majority of emigrants relied on their own income if they had any, on charity, or for the poorer migrants, on the system of remittances — pre-paid tickets paid for by family members already settled overseas. Since Canada was the cheapest destination and the quickest way to reach North America, it was attractive to potential Irish migrants. Emigration from Ireland to Canada was made all the easier as Irish people were British citizens and as such, could not be refused entry into Canada.

The notorious travelling conditions and their impact

23Limerick landlord and philanthropist Stephen de Vere depicted the notoriously harsh conditions, that the Irish emigrants experienced crossing the Atlantic. He journeyed to Canada in the spring of 1847 and bemoaned the fate of the Irish migrants in the report of his voyage to the Colonial Secretary Earl Grey:

  • 32 Quoted in B. Ó Cathaoir (ed.), Famine Diary, Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1999, p. 120.

Before the emigrant is a week at sea, he is an altered man. (…) How can it be otherwise? Hundreds of poor people, men, women, and children, of all ages, from the drivelling idiot of ninety to he babe just born; huddled together without light, without air, wallowing in filth and breathing a fetid atmosphere, sick in body, dispirited in heart (…); the fevered patients lying between the sound (…); by their agonised ravings disturbing those around them and predisposing them, though the effects of the imagination, to imbibe the contagion; living without food or medicine except as administered by the hand of casual charity; dying without the voice of spiritual consolation, and buried in the deep without the rites of the church32.

  • 33 O. McDonagh, “Irish emigration to the United States of America”, in R. D. Edwards & T. D. Williams (...)

241847 was a particularly dark year, during which “mortality and sickness (…) were unprecedented and unparalleled”: it is estimated that 17,445 Irish emigrants (out of roughly 106,000 bound for British North America in that year) died during the journey or shortly after. The mortality rate of the Irish migrants in 1847 amounted to 16%. Death tolls aboard ships were as high as one passenger in fourteen on vessels departing from Liverpool and Sligo and one in nine on ships leaving from Cork.33

25Irish migrants also experienced dreadful conditions while they were quarantined at and around Grosse-Ile near Quebec. On 31 May 1847, 36 ships accommodating 12,500 emigrants were waiting to disembark on the St Lawrence River; on 5 June, the number of emigrants had increased to 21,000 and was still as high as 14,000 in early September. Overcrowding led to the rapid spread of disease, which could not be controlled due to poor care facilities: the quarantine hospital on the island could house only 200 patients and the temporary sheds and tents erected did not have enough beds to solve the problem of overcrowding; on 20 July, there were over 2,500 fever patients in the island hospitals. In these circumstances, the mortality rate soared, from 50 deaths a day on 23 May to 150 a day by 5 June. The Chief Emigration agent at Quebec estimated that 3,000 emigrants died on the coffin ships at sea and over 2,000 on Grosse-Ile. In total over 5,000 people were buried on the island but estimates suggest that as many as 20,000 people died on the island or aboard ships quarantined around it.

  • 34 J. B. O’Reilly, “The Irish Famine and the Atlantic Migration to Canada”, available on the Irish Emi (...)

26Grosse Ile was not an isolated case. According to J. B. O’Reilly, on the transit route used by emigrants to Canada, there were 1,137 deaths in Quebec City; 200 deaths out of the 1,000 sick people in Baytown/Ottawa. In addition 4,326 people were admitted to the hospitals and fever sheds in Kingston and 1,400 died; 863 others died in Toronto. O’Reilly defines Montreal as a “second Grosse Ile”, explaining that “at Point St Charles, 11,000 lay sick with fever”; and Partridge Island, at the entrance to the harbour of St John in New Brunswick is described as a “third Grosse Ile” with a total 1,195 deaths on the island or in the city’s fever sheds out of a total of 17,074 arrivals34.

Reactions

27Following the massive crop failures of 1846, people in British North America clearly expected the number of Irish immigrants to rise significantly. The problem was clearly anticipated in the press, as is shown by the Quebec Mercury dated 20 March 1847:

We have the best authority for believing that our wharfs will not be overcrowded with emigrants sent out at the government expense, but the lessons taught us in former years of the misery resulting from an over influx of the self-expatriated inhabitants of the old country ought to induce some preservative action of the part of the provincial government and the civic authorities of Quebec. The wretchedness and personal evils of 1832 are not forgotten; and a repetition of them may be anticipated as consequent upon the arrival of the many immigrants who will, undoubtedly, seek these shores to escape the horrors of famine and the uncertainty of future prosperity in their native land.

We are not of those who look forward to the certainty of the introduction among us of an important virulent epidemic, but we should be wanting in our duty did we not urge upon the proper authorities the necessity of early and active preparation to meet a threatened evil.

  • 35 Quebec Mercury, 20 March1847

The Quarantine Station at Grosse Ile will prove of much efficacy in diminishing the preconceive danger, but it is beyond dispute that of itself, in a season fruitful of disease, it is insufficient (…)35.

28The British Colonist gave a similar warning on 11 May 1847, as the sailing season was starting:

  • 36 British Colonist, 11 May 1847.

[The emigrants we may expect from Limerick, Sligo, and Londonderry] are represented to be possessed of moderate means; but we must look forward, in addition to these, to a large influx of pauper emigration, and it behoves the authorities to be prepared for the occasion, as great misery and disease are likely to accompany these unfortunate sufferers, in their progress. At Quebec proper steps have been taken for the establishment of a Board of Health, and a similar precaution ought to be observed in all our frontier towns and cities to which the emigrants are likely to resort in considerable numbers36.

  • 37 Quebec Mercury, 13 February 1847.

29However emigration to Canada was not necessarily seen as a problem by all. On the contrary some welcomed it. Like the British, they saw emigration as a possible form of relief because it offered employment and possible prosperity for the starving Irish, relieved Ireland and Britain and helped provide “advantage, strength and consolidation to colonies and Empire.” To quote A. W. Cochran, chairman of the Quebec relief meeting of 12 February 1847, emigration could work as a “safety valve — one mode of relief for Ireland which must suggest itself to any statesman effecting that which no expenditure could.” The last resolution voted during the meeting actually urged the British government to consider state-aided emigration for a railway project to Halifax37.

30As more and more ships landed in British North American ports and as great numbers of passengers proved to be ill, fell ill and died, new relief initiatives were put into place to deal with the flow of immigrants, especially with those suffering from fever and disease. The British Whig dated 22 June 1847 reports on “a Public Meeting (…) called by the Mayor” organized with the following aim:

  • 38 The British Whig, 22 June 1847.

To contrive (…) to relieve (…) the indigent and suffering Emigrants [and to appoint] a Committee of 21 persons (…), exclusive of the Clergymen and all the Medical men (…) to whom should be left the details of all measures to be conducted for the relief of the sufferers, and to whom should he deputed the task of corresponding with the Government, on all matters concerned with the Emigration38.

  • 39 British Colonist, 11 May 1847.

31An Emigration Settlement Society devoted to assisting new migrants (especially in their quest for work) had also been formed by the Toronto Relief Committee in early May39.

32As time went by, concern grew significantly but was clearly variable depending on the type of publication. Between 25 May and 1 June 1847, as the number of emigrants arriving at Grosse Ile was sharply increasing, the tone of the Quebec Mercury — an Anglophone, conservative, pro-British and anti-Lower Canada newspaper — remained relatively confident in the capacity of emigration authorities to cope with the influx of emigrants and the spread of disease. The newspaper kept dismissing any kind of alarm among the Quebec City population:

To deny that an unexpected extent of disease prevails at the Quarantine Station would be not only impolitic but untrue. The passenger ships arrived up to this time have been visited with a heavy mortality, but not altogether arising from a malady which should create in the people of Quebec that alarm which would appear to have seized them. (…) Typhus has also declared itself: but even that malignant affliction of the human race need be no source of terror to us if the officers at the Quarantine ground faithfully discharge their duty, and we are but active in preserving cleanliness among ourselves, and energetic in those measures which common prudence suggests as the duty of one and all.

We have had access to the latest and most authentic information from Grosse Ile, and can assure our readers that the alarming stories current in town pervert the actual state of things.

The state of affairs at the Quarantine Station imperatively demand[s] some prompt action on the part of the Government, if we would spare human life and at the same time preserve the Province (…) from the spread of disease in the coming warm season, which may extend its ravages to a degree not to be anticipated.

  • 40 Quebec Mercury, 25 May & 1 June 1847.

(…) It will be proper here to state that no cause for alarm at present exists. We have been afforded every facility in obtaining the correct matters of things at Grosse Ile (…)40.

33Other publications were more vocally critical. Le Canadien, a Francophone working class newspaper competing with the Quebec Mercury, urged for a change in the existing navigation regulations on 28 May 1847:

  • 41 Le Canadien, 28 May 1847.

Ne serait-il pas urgent aussi d’insister strictement sur l’exécution de la loi qui règle le nombre de passagers dont chaque bâtiment peut se charger. C’est principalement à la non-observation des règlements que l’on doit attribuer le fâcheux état de choses auquel il est aujourd’hui presqu’impossible de remédier, autrement qu’en rendant les capitaines de navires responsables des infractions de la loi. Si la loi même telle qu’elle est se trouvait inefficace il appartiendrait à la législature qui va siéger bientôt d’en passer une nouvelle et de limiter le nombre de personnes que l’on peut agglomérer dans un espace aussi malsain et aussi étroit que l’est ordinairement l’entrepont d’un navire de commerce41.

  • 42 The Newfoundlander, “The Quarantine Burlesque”, 27 May 1847: “In these days of nil admirari philoso (...)
  • 43 Ibid., 12 & 26 August 1847 ; Gazette des Trois Rivières, 17 July & 21 August 1847.

34Other newspapers, such as The Newfoundlander, vigorously criticised the Canadian authorities for failing to implement Quarantine legislation properly and for failing to manage efficiently health and quarantine facilities42. These critical views persisted throughout the summer. Concern about health and safety was all the greater as a number of local male and female volunteers involved in the care of the sick (doctors, nurses, nuns and priests) fell ill themselves and sometimes died43.

  • 44 The Niagara Mail, 2 June 1847.
  • 45 Quebec Gazette quoted by the Niagara Mail, 2 June 1847 & The Cork Examiner, 18 August 1847.

35The sanitary crisis experienced by British North America was blamed on external factors — the lack of adequate quarantine measures in the ports of departure, ship-owners and landlords. While the latter had “sent out [their tenants], without the slightest provision for their sustenance on arrival”44, the quarantine at Liverpool was denounced as a body that was “not only worse than useless as regards this country, but absolutely murder[ed] the emigrants intending to embark hitherward45.”

36In total £150,000 was spent by the Canadian government for the care of the emigrants during the 1847 shipping season. This sum was reimbursed by the British (Imperial) Government, but it was also stipulated that the Canadian government could no longer expect such grants. The inflow of sick emigrants experienced in 1847 led local and national newspapers to express a wide range of feelings and reactions — worry, anxiety, suspicion, but also sheer pity and sympathy at the fate of the emigrants. These expressions of empathy suggest that there existed a form of deep moral and emotional connection between Ireland and Canada, which could be further examined.

Parallel destinies within the Empire?

Irish crop failures/Canadian crop failures

  • 46 M. G. McGowan, “Black ’47 and Toronto, Canada”, p. 525.

37Blight reached Ireland in 1845 but had been responsible for potato crop failures in the St Lawrence Valley and North-East America from 1842 to 1845. There was even a reported famine in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in 184546.

38After 1845, blight seems to have struck again, as can be inferred by a number of articles and reports found in the local press. Potato crop losses were reported with growing alarm both by the Niagara Mail and The Newfoundlander in September and October 1847:

Mr James Hiscott, a practical farmer resident in this neighbourhood, informed us last week that his potato crop is principally destroyed by the blight. The attack was sudden and unexpected, and occurred within a week or ten days past.

  • 47 The Niagara Mail, 22 September 1847 & The Newfoundlander, 23 September &14 October 1847.

The existence of the Potato disease in St John’s, and its vicinity, has unhappily ceased to be subject of question – we very much regret to learn there are now indications abroad which with but too much certainty determine the fate of a considerable portion of the crop.47

The Famine a turning point in relations between the Irish and the French Canadians?

  • 48 J. King, "’Their Colonial Condition’: Connections Between French-Canadians and Irish Catholics in t (...)

39Canada and Ireland both suffered from blight, which may have helped reinforce reactions of empathy and solidarity between the Irish and the Canadians. It has been argued however that the Famine marked the beginning of a turning point in the political relations between the Irish and the Canadians, notably the French Canadians. Papers by Mary Haslam, David Wilson and Jason King confirm that connections and alliances existed between Irish settlers in Quebec and French Canadians long before the Irish Famine48. The Canadian Irish were instrumental in providing support to the Patriot movement led by Louis-Joseph Papineau. At the same time, some in Ireland — such as Young Irelanders Thomas Davis, John Mitchel and Charles Gavan Duffy — regarded the French Canadian Patriot movement as providing Irish nationalists with lessons to follow. On the contrary the post-Famine period witnessed, until at least the end of the 19th century, increasing political and ethno-religious tensions between the Irish and the French Canadians. The Canadian Irish acquired a more distinct Catholic identity within Canada. At the same time, Canada remained a political model only for the moderate Irish Home Rulers but ceased to inspire republican nationalists in Ireland. In between, the period of the Great Famine and its immediate aftermath are seen as a moment of both climax and transition. J. King notably asserts:

L’arrivée des immigrants de la Grande Famine irlandaise (1845-1849) marque non seulement un point tournant démographique, mais, politiquement, elle met fin à l’alliance irlandaise et canadienne-française.

  • 49 J. King, «L'historiographie irlando-québécoise”, consulté sur le site en ligne du Bulletin d’Histoi (...)

(…) On pourrait dire que les alliances irlandaise et canadienne française atteignirent un sommet en même temps qu’elles amorcèrent un déclin durant la même année 184849.

40King supports his view by examining the deeds and words of Bernard O’Reilly, an Irish priest based in Sherbrooke, who looked after the sick at Grosse Ile in July 1847. Upon his return to Sherbrooke, O’Reilly promoted the idea of setting up an association promoting the interests of the French Canadians in the eastern townships, a majority of whose inhabitants were English-speaking. O’Reilly wrote several letters to various newspapers to support his project and these letters do illustrate King’s theory about the Famine. O’Reilly urged the Irish and French Canadians to unite:

(…) en dépit des jalousies ou des haines des autres races, (…) le peuple canadien restera là debout, comme l’élément principal de notre société autour duquel dans le bonheur comme dans le malheur, se ralliera un autre élément, l’élément irlandais. (…) Ce ne sera que sur les débris de leur union et de leur mutuelle affection que la tyrannie assoira son trône.

41However his letters also reveal the economic gap that was starting to emerge between the two communities:

  • 50 Le Canadien, 22 October 1847 & 11 February 1848.

[Mes fidèles Canadiens-français] viennent, pour la plupart, travailler à la journée, ou s’employer aux manufactures de Sherbrooke et autres lieux. Ils sont bien pauvres. Quelques-uns ont acquis, par leur persévérance et leur industrie, une assez jolie indépendance. Malheureusement, ceux-ci font exception à la pauvreté qui domine chez leurs frères. Les Irlandais, de leur côté, au bout de quelques années après leur arrivée dans les townships, réalisent un bien-être qui contraste avec leur premier dénuement50.

Conclusion

  • 51 Ch. Kinealy, Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland, 1160-1279 (Kindle version) & O. McDonagh, “As (...)

42Reactions in Canada were not unique. Studies of what took place in Australia show that relief measures were also taken in the Antipodes from the second half of 1846: a Relief Fund for the famine-stricken Irish and Scots was established in Sydney in August, while meetings gathering all denominations took place to help the Irish as early as November in large cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide) as well as smaller towns (Berrima, Bathurst and Goulburn in New South Wales, Port Philip in Victoria, Hobart on Van Diemen’s Island). Ch. Kinealy emphasises the generosity of the Australian settlers who, like the Canadians, believed in a “shared imperial responsibility”. Money was soon collected to encourage emigration to Australia: over 2,000 Irish orphans were sent there thanks to a Government scheme financed essentially by the colonial authorities, and a few other thousands came thanks to other forms of assistance (1847-8). As in the case of Canada, emigration was seen by a number of Australians as a way to increase the available labour force and boost the Australian economy. But anti-Irish prejudice acted as a brake on further Government-assisted emigration schemes51.

43What is shown by our study of Canadian reactions to the Great Irish Famine and by previous assessment of solidarities in Canada, Australia and other parts of the British Empire is that the Famine was truly a global phenomenon. British colonies sent donations to Ireland and welcomed Irish immigrants, so that they formed new bonds with the Irish and their native country. The networks of trade and communication available by the mid-19th century contributed to the flow of news and information from Ireland to the colonies and back: as a result, the colonial press also turned the Famine into a cross-imperial and international issue.

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Bibliographie

Bibliography

Primary documents :

British Colonist

Canada Gazette

Gazette des Trois Rivières

Le Canadien

The British Whig

The Newfoundlander

The Niagara Mail, 10 March 1847.

Quebec Mercury

Secondary documents :

Crawford, E. Margaret, The Hungry Stream: Essays on Emigration and Famine, Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, Queen’s University of Belfast, 1997.

Haslam, Mary, “Ireland and Quebec 1822-1839: Rapprochement and Ambiguity”, The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, vol. 33, No. 1, Ireland and Quebec / L'Irlande et le Québec (Spring, 2007), pp. 75-81.

Kinealy, Christine, This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine, 1845-1852, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1994.

______, The Great Irish Famine: Impact, Ideology and Rebellion, London: Palgrave, 2002.

______, Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland: the Kindness of Strangers, London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

King, Jason," ‘Their Colonial Condition’: Connections Between French-Canadians and Irish Catholics in the Nation and the Dublin University Magazine”, Éire-Ireland, Volume 42:1&2, (Spring/Summer 2007), pp. 108-131.

____, «L'historiographie irlando-québécoise: Conflits et conciliations entre Canadiens français et Irlandais», Bulletin d’Histoire Politique. Le Québec, l’Irlande et la Diaspora Irlandaise, vol. 18, no 3 (Spring 2010), pp. 13-36 (consultable sur le site du Bulletin d’Histoire Politique (Association québécoise d’histoire politique) http://www.bulletinhistoirepolitique.org/le-bulletin/numeros-precedents/volume-18-numero-3/l’historiographie-irlando-quebecoise-conflits-et-conciliations-entre-canadiens-francais-et-irlandais/ (5 December 2014).

McDonagh, Oliver, “Irish emigration to the United States of America and the British colonies during the Famine”, in R. D. Edwards & T. D. Williams (eds.), The Great Famine: Studies in Irish History, 8409-11152 (Kindle version)

McGowan, Mark G., “Black ’47 and Toronto, Canada”, in John Crowley, William J. Smyth & Mike Murphy (eds.), Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, Cork: Cork University Press, 2012, pp. 525-31.

Miller, Kerby, Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Exodus to North America, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Ó Cathaoir, Brendan (ed.), Famine Diary, Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1999.

O’Reilly, John B., “The Irish Famine and the Atlantic Migration to Canada”, The Irish Ecclesiastical Record 5th series, vol. 69 (October 1947), pp. 870-822 in Irish Emigration Database, DIPPAM (Documenting Ireland: Parliament, People and Migration, http://www.dippam.ac.uk/ied/records/29620 (5 December 2014).

Quigley, Mickael, “Grosse Ile: ‘The most important and evocative Great Famine site outside of Ireland’”, in E. Margaret Crawford (ed.), The Hungry Stream: Essays on Emigration and Famine, Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, 1997, pp. 25-40.

Wilson, David, “The Narcissism of Nationalism: Irish Images of Quebec, 1847-1866”, The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, Vol. 33, No. 1, Ireland and Quebec / L'Irlande et le Québec (Spring, 2007), pp. 13-21.

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Notes

1 351,000 people emigrated to North America between 1838 and 1844. Ch. Kinealy, This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine, 1845-1852, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1994, 6687 (Kindle).

2 K. Miller, Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Exodus to North America, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985, pp. 199 & 569.

3 Emigration to British North America even experienced a peak at 45% of the total Irish emigration in 1847.

4 South Africa was not among the favoured destinations of Irish emigrants (see D. P. MacCracken, “The Land the Famine Irish Forgot”, in E. Margaret Crawford (ed), The Hungry Stream: Essays on Emigration and Famine, Belfast: Queen’s University of Belfast, 1997, pp. 41-48).

5 Ch. Kinealy, The Great Irish Famine: Impact, Ideology and Rebellion, London: Palgrave, 2002, pp. 75 & 81-2.

6 J. B. O’Reilly, “The Irish Famine and the Atlantic Migration to Canada”, The Irish Ecclesiastical Record 5th series, vol. 69 (October 1947), pp. 870-822, available on the Irish Emigration Database, compiled by the Centre for Migration Studies, Omagh, DIPPAM (Documenting Ireland: Parliament, People and Migration) website, http://www.dippam.ac.uk/ied/records/29620 (5 December 2014).

7 Over £2,000 were collected by April 1847 in Toronto. In Quebec, the local Relief Committee set up in February 1847 raised £1,500 for Ireland. The Halifax bishop sent to Ireland over £1,800. In Kingston (Ontario) the local provincial House of Assemble gathered over £1,500.

8 Ch. Kinealy, Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland: the Kindness of Strangers, London : Bloomsbury, 2013, 1702, 3307-16, 5514-40 (Kindle version).

9 The British Whig, 5 February 1847.

10 The Newfoundlander, 11 February 1847. This meeting was only to take place a few days later, as another article published on 18 February 1847 shows.

11 Quebec Mercury, 13 February 1847 & Le Canadien, 16 February 1847.

12 The British Whig, 12 March 1847.

13 Canada Gazette, 2 June 1847: “I cannot refrain from adverting to the fact that among those whose generosity has been so conspicuous on this trying occasion, are our Indian brethren.”

14 The Niagara Mail, 10 March 1847.

15 Le Canadien, 16 February 1847.

16 Quebec Mercury, 13 February 1847 & Gazette des Trois Rivières, 18 & 25 February 1847.

17 Ch. Kinealy, Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland, 2623-32 & 3113-3131 (Kindle version).

18 Quebec Mercury, 20 February 1847; see also 25 February as well as 18 & 20 March 1847 to see examples of reports indicating the amounts collected in the various existing wards.

19 Niagara Mail, 10 March 1847.

20 The Newfoundlander, 11 February 1847.

21 Gazette des Trois Rivières, 18 February 1847.

22 Quebec Mercury, 13 February 1847.

23 The Newfoundlander, 11 & 18 February 1847.

24 The Newfoundlander, 11 February 1847.

25 The British Whig, 30 March 1847.

26 M. G. McGowan, “Black ’47 and Toronto, Canada”, in J. Crowley, W. J. Smyth & M. Murphy (eds.), Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, Cork: Cork University Press, 2012, p. 531.

27 Ibid., p. 525.

28 J. B. O’Reilly, “The Irish Famine and the Atlantic Migration to Canada”, available on the Irish Emigration Database, compiled by the Centre for Migration Studies, Omagh, DIPPAM (Documenting Ireland: Parliament, People and Migration) website, http://www.dippam.ac.uk/ied/records/29620 (5 December 2014).

29 M. G. McGowan, “Black ’47 and Toronto, Canada”, p. 526.

30 Ch. Kinealy, This Great Calamity, 6781 & 6975-7003 (Kindle version) & O. McDonagh, “Irish emigration to the United States of America”, 8844-9036 (Kindle version).

31 M. G. McGowan, “Black ’47 and Toronto, Canada”, p. 526.

32 Quoted in B. Ó Cathaoir (ed.), Famine Diary, Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1999, p. 120.

33 O. McDonagh, “Irish emigration to the United States of America”, in R. D. Edwards & T. D. Williams (eds.), The Great Famine: Studies in Irish History, 1845-52, Dublin: Browne & Nolan, 1956, 10140 (Kindle version), & M. Quigley, “Grosse Ile: ‘The most important and evocative Great Famine site outside of Ireland’, in E. Margaret Crawford (ed.), The Hungry Stream: Essays on Emigration and Famine, Belfast : Institute of Irish Studies, 1997, pp. 25-40.

34 J. B. O’Reilly, “The Irish Famine and the Atlantic Migration to Canada”, available on the Irish Emigration Database, compiled by the Centre for Migration Studies, Omagh, DIPPAM (Documenting Ireland: Parliament, People and Migration) website, http://www.dippam.ac.uk/ied/records/29620 (5 December 2014).

35 Quebec Mercury, 20 March1847

36 British Colonist, 11 May 1847.

37 Quebec Mercury, 13 February 1847.

38 The British Whig, 22 June 1847.

39 British Colonist, 11 May 1847.

40 Quebec Mercury, 25 May & 1 June 1847.

41 Le Canadien, 28 May 1847.

42 The Newfoundlander, “The Quarantine Burlesque”, 27 May 1847: “In these days of nil admirari philosophy surprise is one of the most unfamiliar sensations; but the recent conduct of the Government on a question involving the dearest of human interests, has been such as not only forbids us to simulate unconcern, but defies the suppression of our astonishment. (…) Notwithstanding the facilities that have been afforded for the introduction of disease amongst us, and thereby giving the death-blow to the already depressed energies of the country and people, we are happy to state that there is little or no apprehension of the spread of the state of fever; for up to this time, we learn, it has been confined to Hospital cases. In the merciful dispensation of Omnipotence, the progress of pestilence may be stayed, and that current may be dammed up at its source, which, if permitted to flow, would deluge the town in its destructive inundation; but the people will offer their gratitude where alone it is due, and will remember that it is in spite, and not in consequence of, the conduct of our Government that their deliverance has been effected.”

43 Ibid., 12 & 26 August 1847 ; Gazette des Trois Rivières, 17 July & 21 August 1847.

44 The Niagara Mail, 2 June 1847.

45 Quebec Gazette quoted by the Niagara Mail, 2 June 1847 & The Cork Examiner, 18 August 1847.

46 M. G. McGowan, “Black ’47 and Toronto, Canada”, p. 525.

47 The Niagara Mail, 22 September 1847 & The Newfoundlander, 23 September &14 October 1847.

48 J. King, "’Their Colonial Condition’: Connections Between French-Canadians and Irish Catholics in the Nation and the Dublin University Magazine”, Éire-Ireland, Volume 42, n° 1&2, (Spring/Summer 2007), pp. 108-131; J. King, «L'historiographie irlando-québécoise: Conflits et conciliations entre Canadiens français et Irlandais», Bulletin d’Histoire Politique. Le Québec, l’Irlande et la Diaspora Irlandaise, vol. 18, no 3 (Spring 2010), pp. 13-36; Mary Haslam, “Ireland and Quebec 1822-1839: Rapprochement and Ambiguity”, The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, vol. 33, No. 1, Ireland and Quebec / L'Irlande et le Québec (Spring, 2007), pp. 75-81; David Wilson, “The Narcissism of Nationalism: Irish Images of Quebec, 1847-1866”, in ibid., pp. 13-21.

49 J. King, «L'historiographie irlando-québécoise”, consulté sur le site en ligne du Bulletin d’Histoire Politique (publié par l’Association québécoise d’histoire politique), http://www.bulletinhistoirepolitique.org/le-bulletin/numeros-precedents/volume-18-numero-3/l’historiographie-irlando-quebecoise-conflits-et-conciliations-entre-canadiens-francais-et-irlandais/ (5 December 2014).

50 Le Canadien, 22 October 1847 & 11 February 1848.

51 Ch. Kinealy, Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland, 1160-1279 (Kindle version) & O. McDonagh, “Assisted emigration to Australia”, in R. D. Edwards & T. D. Williams (eds.), The Great Famine: Studies in Irish History, 9705-10004 (Kindle version).

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Pauline COLLOMBIER-LAKEMAN, « The Canadian Press and the Great Irish Famine: The Famine as an Irish, Canadian & Imperial, Global Issue », Mémoire(s), identité(s), marginalité(s) dans le monde occidental contemporain [En ligne], 12 | 2015, mis en ligne le 16 avril 2015, consulté le 25 mars 2017. URL : http://mimmoc.revues.org/1787 ; DOI : 10.4000/mimmoc.1787

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Pauline COLLOMBIER-LAKEMAN

Ancienne élève de l'Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon (anciennement Fontenay/St Cloud) et agrégée d'anglais, P. Collombier-Lakeman est Maître de Conférences en civilisation britannique à l'université de Strasbourg et membre de l’équipe Savoirs dans l’Espace Anglophone: Représentations, Histoire, Culture (EA 2325). Sa thèse, soutenue à l’université de Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle, est intitulée « Le discours des leaders du nationalisme constitutionnel irlandais sur l'autonomie de l'Irlande: utopies politiques et mythes identitaires » (2007). Ses travaux portent sur le nationalisme parlementaire irlandais et sur la relation entre l'Irlande et l'Empire britannique, 19ème siècle-20ème siècle. Elle a notamment contribué à "Ireland and the Empire: The Ambivalence of Irish Constitutional Nationalism”, Radical History Review, n° 104 (2009), à G. Doherty (éd.), The Home Rule Crisis 1912-14, Cork: Mercier Press, 2014, 118-37 et a publié, avec Peter Gray, La Grande Famine en Irlande, 1845-1851, Paris, éditions Fahrenheit, 2015

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