BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

28 October 2014

BBC Homepage

Local BBC Sites

Neighbouring Sites

Related BBC Sites

Contact Us

Coast Walks

You are in: Devon > Coast > Coast Walks > Point 8 - Emigration and The Colonies

The point where many people left for Australia

The last remaining emigration building

Point 8 - Emigration and The Colonies

For many centuries Plymouth's fine harbour has helped shape its future - providing a starting point for colonists and adventurers on their journeys around the world. At one time it was the busiest emigration point in England.

Plymouth has been associated with the voyages of pioneers and colonists for centuries - so it's hardly surprising the city is the inspiration for around 50 places of the same name around the world.

Sutton Harbour has been the starting point for some of the great adventurers of our time - Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Richard Grenville, Captain Cook, Charles Darwin and the Pilgrim Fathers all set sail from here.

Perhaps less well known is that in the 18th century, Plymouth was the only government emigration point in country.

The harbour as it is today

Emigration was once big business here

Between 1815 and 1914, over 430,000 people left Plymouth as emigrants - imagine the thrill and adventure of setting off to a new country, eager to welcome you with open arms!

From here you can see the only building left of the former Emigration Depot - it was from here that people took their first steps to a new life. Look out for a white house on the waters edge where today's pleasure boats pick up their passengers.

Many of those who stepped into the emigration buildings were promised free passage to a prosperous new future and were even fed and given new clothes before setting off for Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the Cape of Good Hope. Interestingly America wasn't a major destination for emigrants from Plymouth.

At the height of the exodus, the emigration depot on Phoenix Wharf had room to accommodate 1118 people, with 372 berths for single men, 402 for single women and 344 for families.

In 1878 a staggering 15,500 emigrants sailed from Plymouth in 100 ships - with a record 1,800 departures in a single week.

The Mayflower Steps

The Mayflower Steps

Three hundred years earlier, in 1585, Sir Richard Grenville had led what was probably England's first expedition to colonise the New World. Seven ships sailed from Sutton Harbour to Roanoke Island, in what is now North Carolina.

Despite several attempts to establish themselves over the following five years, most returned home. Those that remained are believed to have been 'adopted' by native Indian tribes.

A quirk of fate gave Plymouth its historic connection with the Pilgrim Fathers - the group of Puritans who  famously built the first permanent settlement and were founders of the American constitution.

They had originally set off from Southampton in two ships; the Speedwell and the Mayflower, in August 1620. But the Speedwell was not up to the voyage and they were forced back twice due to leaks.

Pilgrim father on Mayflower Steps

Pilgrim Father on Mayflower Steps

They eventually made the perilous journey across the Atlantic from Plymouth on board the Mayflower - landing on the coast of Massachusetts on 21st December 1620 at a spot now called Plymouth Rock.

It may have been by accident, but the Pilgrims couldn't have picked a better port for help and encouragement and they later expressed their gratitude for all the kindness they received during their time here.

The original quay disappeared long ago, but if you continue walking you'll reach the Mayflower Steps - the symbolic spot where the Pilgrims last set foot on English soil.

Take time to look at the many plaques which line the walls around the quayside which help explain the significance of Plymouth's maritime roots.

The Mayflower Steps bring us back to our starting point at The Mayflower Visitor Centre. The centre tells the full story of the Pilgrim Fathers, the Mayflower and Plymouth's historic past. The National Marine Aquarium is also nearby on the opposite side of Sutton Harbour.

last updated: 18/02/2008 at 16:58
created: 08/06/2005

You are in: Devon > Coast > Coast Walks > Point 8 - Emigration and The Colonies

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy