David Arnold, author of many books on the Great Irish Famine, states: “From an historical perspective famine migration, in its various forms, constituted an important survival strategy and contributed to famine’s most significant long-term effects” (qtd. in Maharatna 283). For the Irish population, emigration was the last resort and final chance at survival due to the catastrophic famine situation in their home country. However, this large wave of emigrants was different from what had been noticed prior to the famine. In March 1847, the Cork Examiner states: “The emigrants of this year are not like those of former ones; they are now actually running away from fever and disease and hunger, with money scarcely sufficient to pay passage for and find food for the voyage” (qtd. in O’Grada 107). Previously, the Irish had been more calculated in emigrating, but as the famine got progressively worse they became more and more desperate to escape before they died of starvation or disease. It was a way of finding a new place away from the British government: a way of survival.
In order to convince the Irish to leave their homeland, the British government passed several laws to help them emigrate. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1847 allowed Poor Law Union guardians to assist the poor Irish to emigrate if they gave up their land and left immediately. Two years later, the Rate-in-Aid Act allowed the established Treasury to use the tax money to assist emigration, but it was not used extensively (Kinealy, This Great Calamity 309-310). In Ballykilcline, Ireland, several farmers on land owned by Queen Victoria “had shown their solidarity against the land agents by employing a young lawyer from Dublin” (Keneally, Three Famines 170). With this lawyer they were able to receive money straight from the Crown that they could use for ship fare and food.
Assisting Irish emigrants happened often, though mostly from Poor Law officials, guardians, or landlords. Peter Gray states that “Only about 22,000 emigrants were directly assisted by their landlords from 1846 to 1850” (The Irish Famine 101). This number was doubled when including any sort of government emigration assistance, which would include no more than free passage (yet no extra food). Landlords would usually provide their former tenants with money for food and establishing a house on the other side. The only condition was that they peacefully left their homestead. Another way of receiving assisted emigration opportunities was through a workhouse. Workhouse records from Cork states that “inmates were assisted in their emigration to such diverse places as ‘the Cape of Good Hope’, Australia and America, including in one particular instance, to Shawneetown, Illinois” (qtd. in O’Mahony 155). Normally, the workhouse inmates would be sent to remote places, but other times workhouses were contacted about certain types of people that could help colonies in Australia or cities in America.
Australia was a popular destination for the Irish receiving assisted emigration, though mostly because more people were needed to keep the colonies afloat. According to The Outgoing Letter book at the Cork workhouse in May 1848, “200 names were forwarded to the Poor Law Commissioners for assisted passage to Australia” (qtd. in O’Mahony 155). These would receive free passage to one of the British colonies, and normally these would be young adult women. A particularly fine novel that details the experiences of young women sent to Australia, usually to become domestic servants, is Evelyn Conlon's Not the Same Sky. Frequently, emigration committees would seek out suitable individuals or families as additions to a certain colony, which is evident as “emigrants were accepted for free passage to New South Wales, Port Phillip or South Australia” (Keneally, “The Great Famine and Australia” 550). Most likely these would be colonies lacking wives for the men or families to farm the land, and were therefore recruited to emigrate there.
Some sections of the Irish population would have relatives or already emigrated relatives in places like the United States. Therefore, “the great majority of the emigrants could pay for their passages only with money sent by relatives in America” (Miller, “Revenge for Skibbereen” 182). This money was essential in emigrating, but it would cause problems if the ship fares suddenly went up, or crew would attempt to trick the emigrants into giving more money. Emigration eventually became so popular that the ship lines were having trouble tackling the gigantic wave of emigrants as they were trying to survive the catastrophic famine.
Conlon, Evelyn. Not the Same Sky. Kent Town, South Australia: Wakefield, 2013. Print.
Gray, Peter. The Irish Famine. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc. Publishers, 1995. Print.
Keneally, Thomas. “The Great Famine and Australia.” Atlas of the Great Irish Famine. Ed. John Crowley, William J. Smyth, and Mike Murphy. New York: New York University Press, 2012. Print.
-----------------------. Three Famines: Starvation and Politics. New York: The Serpentine Publishing, 2011. Print.
Kinealy, Christine. This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845-1852. Ireland: Gill & MacMillian, 2011. Print.
Maharatna, Arup. “Food Scarcity and Migration: An Overview.” Social Research: An International Quarterly 81.2 (2014): 277-298. Web.
Miller, Kerby A. “Emigration to North America in the Era of the Great Famine, 1845-55.” Atlas of the Great Irish Famine. Ed. John Crowley, William J. Smyth, and Mike Murphy. New York: New York University Press, 2012. Print.
--------------------. Revenge for Skibbereen: Irish Emigration and the Meaning of the Great Famine.” The Great Famine and the Irish Diaspora in America. Ed. Arthur Gribben. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999. Print.
O’Grada, Cormac. Black ’47 and Beyond: The Great Irish Famine in History, Economy, and Memory. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999. Print.
O’Mahony, Michelle. “The Cork Workhouse.” Atlas of the Great Irish Famine. Ed. John Crowley, William J. Smyth, and Mike Murphy. New York: New York University Press, 2012. Print.