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24 September 2014

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Coast Walk

Steam Packet building, Liverpool

Stage 5 - Steam Packet Company

In front of you is the area from which millions emigrated to a new life and new hope in the New World. Walk ahead, through the black gates, and you’re taking the same steps as one of those emigrants heading for the ships.

Today ships berthing here carry mainly passengers to Ireland, but 150 years ago this area was crowded with immigrants fleeing the terrible conditions caused by the Potato Famine. Liverpool was overwhelmed by millions of people seeking a new life, many stayed just a short time before they moved on.

Liverpool's Pier Head
This area was once packed with people

Two million Irish came to Liverpool in one decade, fleeing a country that had been devastated by famine, this was approximately a quarter of Ireland’s population. From January to June 1847 300,000 Irish immigrants arrived in vessels that were termed ‘coffin’ ships, passengers were packed together on deck in all manner of weather, some ships arrived with a third of the passengers dead. The trip across the Irish Sea could take three days if the weather was bad.  The onward journey to America was almost an even worse ordeal, one in six of emigrants who sailed for America in 1847 died. Nine million people emigrated to America through Liverpool, at the peak of this tidal wave of humanity a thousand ships a year were leaving the port.

A new life

The crossing to America could take anything from a month up to 14 weeks, steerage berths on ships could be as small as six feet square for four people. Many died on the journey, the food and water was unhealthy and disease was prevalent. The peak year for emigration was 1852 when almost 300,000 people left Liverpool.

Dockyard scene
Emigrants would gather here

Liverpool’s pre-famine population was about 250,000, the burden of feeding and housing the Irish immigrants was immense. Lodging houses were full and people slept where they could in unsanitary and densely packed conditions causing a typhus epidemic. In June 1847 the British government passed a law allowing authorities to deport homeless Irish back to their country of origin. About 15,000 were loaded onto boats and returned to Dublin and Cork, where they were abandoned on the docks.

For those who remained in Liverpool conditions were if anything even worse. Many of the immigrants lived in crowded cellars in the Vauxhall and Scotland Road area. Typhus, dysentery and Cholera were prevalent, Liverpool’s first public health officer Dr Duncan estimated that in the town 60,000 people caught the fever and 40,000 contracted dysentery.

On 28th May 1865 a tea-clipper left Liverpool with 153 Welsh men, women and children on board, it was bound for Patagonia in the southern tip of South America. By 1869 there were 5000 Welsh living in Patagonia and the Welsh language is still spoken there to this day.

A ship in dock in Liverpool
One of the many ships in dock

To your right inland is St Nicholas’ Church. A Fisherman’s chapel has been sited here since the 1200’s. The church once led directly onto the shore and the River Mersey would lap onto the wall which is built quite high up from the street. Bull and bear baiting took place on the shore area directly in front of the church in the middle ages. And during the Naploeonic war cannons were put on the site to protect the city.

The road between the waterfront and St Nicholas Church is The Strand, named after strand of river. Along this road was the overhead railway, known locally as the dockers umbrella, which ran a 7 mile length from Seaforth dock to Dingle in the south.

last updated: 21/07/05
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